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Enlightenment Rationalism in Perspective

The rationalism of the Enlightenment is sometimes blamed for major problems of modernity such as the militaristic organization of the economy, an inhumane corporate obsession with efficiency, environmental destruction arising from alienation of human-kind from nature, and the subversion of democracy by corporate interests. Nietzsche (no fan of democracy) blamed ‘the academic voice’ (a rational style of discourse he traced back to Socrates) for sucking the fun and vitality out of life. Such charges are false and ill founded. What is really sucking vitality and causing the destruction of the planet is the cultural poison of legitimized top-down parasitism that derives from a very particular historical source. In modernity the profit-collecting class is exercising industrial scale parasitism on the whole planet.

Back to The Revolution

The attack of radical rationalists against the legitimacy of totalitarian Christian supervision of society was so effective in the long run that by the time of the French Revolution of 1789 the sovereign power structure in France had been effectively discredited in the popular mind by the spread of rationalist ideas. That was a main event in the slow historical spiral of revolt by which Christendom withered and Modernity emerged, and it was effective enough to enable the Revolution. The Revolution reveals profound hostility toward the crime-family aristocracy in addition to the Church, and also shows acute consciousness of the culture of top-down human-on-human parasitism, misleadingly called “the class war”. However, that consciousness and hostility was strongest among the rural/ agricultural proletariat and not so much among the educated urban commercial and professional classes who also had substantial involvement in the Revolution and in the eventual restoration of civic order. Those urban classes wanted to emulate and benefit from certain features of the crime-family success story, and so they complained about specific practices only, for example, about trade monopolies or prejudicial taxes and fees which they found too restrictive for their aspirations. There was never a penetrating and sustained historical-conceptual critique of aristocratic/ crime-family culture, the parasitic and predatory alpha-trophy-looting culture which was the other foundation of sovereign power in a profound partnership with patriarchal Christianity. That partnership was so profound because both had cultural origins in parasitic nomadic animal herder societies.

The Enlightenment critique of Christian authority succeeded in discrediting the pretensions of both Church and aristocracy to sovereignty by divine appointment, and both of those groups began to wither away, but the military-based institutions by which sovereign power was practiced and projected were enduring models of control which the new rising lot of commercial/ professional crime-families exploited to defend their own legitimacy as effective sovereigns. There are always varieties of crime-families eager to take the places of any that get exposed and put out of business. Since the conceptual foundations of the Old Regime mechanisms or institutions of power were never objects of a thorough discrediting critique, they were simply accepted and conserved on the basis presented by Hobbes, the claim that the only alternative to them was a jungle-like war of all against all. Even Rousseau advised that the institutions of sovereign authority and law should be honoured. Consequently, ‘modernity’ emerged as a period when the culture of power was only partly understood, only partly deconstructed.

Top-Down Political Force on Debate about Crime

One cultural reality-distortion that follows from the uncompleted work of the Enlightenment is that, based on the influence of well-funded right-wing political propaganda, political debate remains silent about, and apparently blind to, top-down human-on-human parasitism at the same time as keeping up a continuous campaign to alarm the public about bottom-up parasitism in the form of petty crimes. There is a connection between the political correctness of never mentioning top-down capitalist power in democracies and the right-wing “tough on crime” alarmism about bottom-up parasitism. The connection is that attention on the political force of capitalist ownership families would risk revealing the top-down human-on-human parasitism of the culture they accept and practice, far more destructive than the kind of crime that is commonly recognized as such. It is a blatant tactic to divert public attention away from the cultural source of intractable criminality. The only real solution to bottom-up crime is the eradication of legitimized top-down parasitism.

Only now, with so much more research into history enabling an identification of top-down human-on-human parasitism (developed from parasitic and predatory animal herding and elaborated into the alpha-trophy-looting culture of masculinity and of uber-masculine crime-families and father-God-in-the-sky religions) as the oppression and malaise at the core of western concepts of sovereignty, executive power, and leadership, can we have a chance to finish the work of the Enlightenment. Now we have to face the fact that the deepest of ancient evil, transmitted culturally, escaped the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Revolution, and still remains in operation at the foundation of our poisoned conceptions of power, hierarchy, social inequality, meritocracy, and sovereignty, for example, not to mention the specific and blatant instances of class, race, and gender parasitism. So the self-justifying culture of the ownership class is only one head of the many-headed cultural legacy of ancient human parasitism. On the bright side, it is still possible to recapitulate the successful strategies of the rationalist Enlightenment, appropriately updated, in marshalling insights into the interiority of individual intelligence. To do that we identify the principles and grounds of our liberating re-orientation.

Vital Knowledge: Documenting the Historical Arc of Top-Down Parasitic Culture

It isn’t necessary to take any particular person’s word for the historical arc of culture. A few books of recent historical research, listed below, make it convincingly clear. What is so inspiring about these works is that the careful and determined accuracy about particular details of events, conditions, and ideas is combined with an equally determined questing and searching for, and recognition of, large scale arcs which are intrinsic to the sense and reality of the details. They create in that way a breathtaking vision, synthesized from masses of observations and pieces of evidence.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, written by Jack Weatherford, Published by Crown (2004), ISBN: 0609610627.

This is about formation of the massive Mongol empire, incorporating China, India, Iran, Mesopotamia, and Russia, conquered by armies of tribal nomadic animal herders who then facilitated the distribution and development of cultural elements that impressed them from the various societies they controlled. It has remarkable insight into social conditions in a completely lawless tribal society, in this case the society of the nomadic people of the Asian steppe. The second half has important insights into the flow of cultural property between China, Persia, and India enabled by the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century. The author’s claim is that this flow also branched off into Europe and created the European renaissance by the fifteenth century. It is a wonderfully un-western view of world history which attempts to restore the credit due to the great Asian civilization which flourished as never before under Mongol administration roughly between 1211 and 1332, ended finally by the great bubonic plague which spread from China to the Atlantic. It is impossible that the thriving of that Asian civilization would not have drawn the admiration and imitation of western Europe. Marco Polo is an individual instance of the cultural diffusion into Europe.

1215: The Year of Magna Carta, written by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham, Published byTouchstone (2005), ISBN-10: 0743257782, ISBN-13: 978-0743257787.

An illuminating glimpse of life in Europe at an important moment in the development of law. At that moment it was perfectly clear that the social layer made up of the landowning aristocracy or nobility was nothing other than crime-families.

Radical Enlightenment : Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, written by Jonathan I. Israel, Published by Oxford University Press (2002), ISBN: 0199254567.

This is packed with information about the Enlightenment and readable through the whole 720 pages. Quite a writing accomplishment, among other things.

The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume I: The Complete Text, written by Alexis de Tocqueville, edited and with an Introduction and critical apparatus by Francois Furet and Francoise Melonio, translated by Alan S. Kahan, Published by University of Chicago Press (2004), ISBN: 0226805301 (0-226-80530-1).

This is a fascinating follow-up to Radical Enlightenment because it documents the political consequences of what the Enlightenment movement of ideas had accomplished.

A History of Western Political Thought, written by J. S. McClelland, Published by Routledge (1996), ISBN-10: 0415119626, ISBN-13: 978-0415119627.

The first four historical studies listed just above provide a perspective from which to interpret this stunning overview of political theory. It is striking that, in spite of the philosophical effort to remove demons from descriptions of nature, the main effort of political theory has been to justify something very close to the familiar structure of power at the time and place the theory was being written, almost as if “to justify the ways of God to man”! It was probably that sort of observation that persuaded Karl Marx that economic conditions determine ideas. However, the point it illustrates is that the parasitism that is familiar and in power over a stable human collective is very difficult to think about and to identify for what it is. Watch for discussions of the iron law of oligarchy. Also watch for the discussion of: “embourgeoisment” (pp. 655-657). Enjoy.

Copyright © 2013 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.