In the Land of the Rococo Marxists

In the Land of the Rococo Marxists, by Tim Wolfe.

Rudyard Kipling .. and many others had the uneasy feeling that the foundations of European civilization were already shifting beneath their feet … Both Nietzsche and Marx did their greatest work seeking to explain the mystery. Both used the term “decadence.”

But if there was decadence, what was decaying? Religious faith and moral codes that had been in place since time was, said Nietzsche, who in 1882 made the most famous statement in modern philosophy — “God is dead” — and three startlingly accurate predictions for the twentieth century. He even estimated when they would begin to come true: about 1915.

  1. The faith men formerly invested in God they would now invest in barbaric “brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers.” Their names turned out, in due course, to be the German Nazis and the Russian Communists.
  2. There would be “wars such as have never been waged on earth.” Their names turned out to be World War I and World War II.
  3. There no longer would be Truth but, rather, “truth” in quotation marks, depending upon which concoction of eternal verities the modern barbarian found most useful at any given moment. The result would be universal skepticism, cynicism,irony, and contempt. …

Nietzsche saw PC coming too, or at least the people who used it:

Indignation about the powers that be and the bourgeois fools who did their bidding — that was all you needed. Bango! You were an intellectual. …

It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down at the rest of humanity. And it hadn’t cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: “Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.” …

I once heard a French diplomat offer at a dinner party: “An intellectual is a person knowledgable in one field who speaks out only in others.” …

The prime example was Noam Chomsky, a brilliant linguist who on his own figured out that language is a structure built into the very central nervous system of Homo sapiens, a theory that neuroscientists, lacking the instruments to do so heretofore, have only recently begun to verify. But Chomsky was not known as an intellectual until he denounced the war in Vietnam, something he knew next to nothing about-thereby qualifying for his new eminence. …

Then on November 9 the Berlin Wall came down, and in no time the Soviet Union collapsed and its Eastern European empire disintegrated.

It was a mess, all right-no two ways about that. It made it damned hard to express your skepticism, your cynicism, your contempt, in Marxist terms. “Capitalism,” “proletariat,” “the masses … .. the means of production,” “infantile leftism … .. the dark night of fascism,” or even “anti-fascism”-all these things suddenly sounded, well, not so much wrong… as old.. . “Vulgar Marxism” it came to be called, vulgar in the sense of… unsophisticated.

The important thing was not to admit you were wrong in any fundamental way. You couldn’t let anybody get away with the notion that just because the United States had triumphed, and just because some unfortunate things had come out after the Soviet archives were opened up-I mean, damn! it looks like Hiss and the Rosenbergs actually were Soviet agents-and even the Witch Hunt, which was one of the bedrocks of our beliefs-damn again! these books by Klehr and Haynes, in the Yale series on American Communism, and Radosh and Weinstein make it pretty clear that while Joe McCarthy was the despicable liar we always knew he was, Soviet agents really did penetrate the U.S. government. Yale!-so respectable, too!-how could they give their imprimatur to these renegade right-wing scholars who do this kind of stuff? Not to mention the Spanish Civil War-archives! Turns out the Loyalists secretly called in the Soviets at the very outset of hostitities – and if they’d won, Spain would have been the first Soviet puppet state!

And now Vietnam, our other bedrock, the holiest of all our causes – those damnable archives again! How could anybody be so perfidious as to open up secret records? They make it look like the Soviets and the Chinese, in concert with the North Vietnamese Communists, were manipulating the Vietcong all along! …

The point of intellectualism:

We are left, finally, with one question. What exactly do the intellectuals want out of their Rococo Marxist mental acrobatics? …Actual change would involve irksome toil. So what do they want?

It’s a simple business, at bottom. All the intellectual wants, in his heart of hearts, is to hold on to what was magically given to him one shining moment a century ago. He asks for nothing more than to remain aloof, removed, as Revel once put it, from the mob, the philistines . . . “the middle class.”