Saturday, April 16, 2016


Children are natural philosophers, seeking order in the seeming chaos of a world new to them. Most adults are too busy struggling to survive in that world to think about it, so they accept the word of others that it has an order. Only children and the rich have time to think.  

When I was a child, I looked forward to growing old and retiring, because then I would again have time to think; but the mind, like the body, must be exercised or it grows weak. Now when I try to think, I merely remember what I thought when I was young; and when I read what I wrote then, I see how much stronger my mind was when I was young.

Professional philosophers, who are paid to think, say ours is a post-modern age. How, I wondered when I was a child, is it possible to be post-modern? But it’s true.

The modern age was one of revolutions intellectual and social, technological and industrial. It's over now. Ours is a counter-revolutionary age.

When I was a child, it seemed to me that our society, perhaps even our species, had stopped evolving and was now devolving. Even the best modern thinkers – Hegel and Nietzsche, Freud and Marx – were no more than footnotes to Plato. They had rediscovered the ideas of our ancestors, which seem to us controversial only because we post-moderns had forgotten our pre-modern ancestors.

Now that I'm retired, I don't waste whatever time I have left reading new books. The best of them only repeat what our ancestors said, but not as well. I reread the old books on my shelves.  

I just finished rereading a book that asks whether Marx is still relevant, a question often asked when I was a child. Professional thinkers have been saying since I was a child that the moderns are no longer relevant. There's no longer any need, they claim, for grand narratives that seek order in the world's seeming chaos, because history is over. I'm sure ours is. 

It made me think of Goethe’s Faust with his grand project for reclaiming land from the sea, as the Dutch do. The Dutch republic was, for the moderns, a model not only of the ideal polity but a metaphor for bringing order out of chaos. 

I thought also of Freud’s description of the conscious mind as an island of order in a sea of the unconscious. Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. 

Marx can’t be ignored, nor can Freud. We must build on the past if we are to have a future. But instead of continuing the modernist project of remaking our world, post-moderns seek to unmake it and pretend it never happened.

They refuse to admit that change continues to happen despite their efforts to stop and reverse it. The sea is rising, and threatens to drown our oldest cities, the coastal cities our ancestors built when travel was primarily by water, the mother cities of what we used to call civilization. 

Those who can afford to do so have fled to the suburbs, leaving the cities to die. Soon the sea will drown them, as Plato said it did Atlantis.  

Our masters hate what little remains of the modern world and its republics. They're dismantling the state until it’s small enough to drown in a bathtub, in the words of Grover Norquist, after which they'll throw that dead baby out with the bathwater because they want to forget the past and don't want to think about the future. Neither do I.

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