Friday, 8 July 2011

NIHILISM


Because there is a great deal of literature on nihilism, I will confine my comments to the issues I have raised regarding the CEB. First, there is no contradiction between nihilism and activism as history has shown in 19th century Russia, and 20th century Italy, France, and Spain to mention a few countries where nihilists have been immersed in class consciousness. Second, there are varieties of nihilism from Anarchist to Apocalyptic and Existential. 

After Greek sophists were the first to establish the ideological foundations of nihilism, 19th century Russian and European intellectuals and activists constructed varieties of nihilist ideologies to express discontent with the status quo and at the same time offer a vision for the future. There are indeed varieties of nihilism from Bakunin and Nietzsche to modern-day “Apocalyptic Nihilism” that may be a definition to which many in the western world understand when they use or encounter the term. There is of course Nietzsche’s rejection of the ABSOLUTE and thus the implied absence of values other than ‘power’, and Sartre’s definition that human freedom is in essence negative from which creativity stems. 

In every historical epoch society’s social order in general and hegemonic elites specifically are determined by the political economy. From the late Middle Ages until the last Absolutist monarch in Russia, European kings used ‘Divine Right Principle’ to rule on behalf of spiritual and temporal lords, to the detriment of serfs, workers, and the middle class. 

Resting on the Enlightenment (Locke and Rousseau) the French Revolution introduced ideology as the basis of representative (of the bourgeois elites) government; a development that would have a far-reaching influence in most of the world throughout the 19th and 20th centuries until the Bolshevik Revolution that used ideology to exclude former elites and justify regime theoretically representing the working class.

Whether ideology has been used by bourgeois hegemonic elites to justify conformity to a political economy and institutional conformity essentially designed to perpetuate the social order or whether by Marxian elites to justify forging of a new social order, ideology has been dynamic. Lenin had to modify Marxism to conform to Russia’s pre-industrial social conditions, and then he had to modify his own ideology against the reality of serious problems the country was facing during and after the Civil War. 

Similarly, F. D. Roosevelt had to redefine the ideology on which American political economy and all institutions were based against the reality of the Great Depression. Oblivious to the needs of the population, Stalin and the elites backing him used ideology as a vehicle to justify ruling like Ivan the Terrible. In China Confucianism served the emperors well for centuries in a society that was fairly self-contained, until self-containment in the age of imperialism entailed the decline of China and the imperial system. 

Again, we see that stagnation resulted from the failure of rulers to reject Confucian ideology and embrace reality of change. Ideology under Mao moved society forward, given he inherited chaos that the war lords and imperialists had left behind. After trying the Great Leap forward and Cultural Revolution, Mao embraced d├ętente and opened China to integration with the West.

China as one-party state directs a capitalist economy and is no longer committed to the ideology of the 1940s, or 1950s, or 1960s. In the post-Cold War era of the 1990s and throughout the first decade of this century business elites were greatly elevated in stature. However, a series of market and economic crises since WWII have shaken popular confidence in the propaganda business elites have been using to perpetuate the existing system and their privileged positions.

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