I have been swamped lately. Too swamped to focus on the formal chapters of my work on modernity and its enemies.
But I do feel I owe you folks something, so let's offer a few informal insights.
First, this item from Rand Corporation researcher David Ronfeldt, co author of brilliant works about terrorism and western strategy like IN ATHENA'S CAMP.
"David, I particularly like your turning to discuss the interplay between liberalism and modernism. For what it's worth, I've always liked Karl Mannheim's old book "Ideology And Utopia" for its discussion about how the chiliasm of the Anabaptists, the Hussites, and Thomas Munzer represented an initial, pioneering form of the modern utopian mentality. Their spiritualization of politics signified a break-through whereby previously spiritual ideals became fused with the mundane demands of the lower social strata and were said to be realizable in the here and now:
"It is at this point that politics in the modern sense of the term begins, if we here understand by politics a more or less conscious participation of all strata of society in the achievement of some mundane purpose, as contrasted with the fatalistic acceptance of events as they are, or of control from 'above.'"
Of course Ronfeldt has a point. But in fact there are many ways to "define" the transition process toward modern thinking, which has been amorphous and nonlinear. For example:
* Hobbes and Rousseau and Plato were all far more similar than many scholars will admit. All offered variations on romantic incantory purity and oversimplification of human nature. (Indeed, so do most formal mystical religious systems.) The breakout offered by Locke and Smithwas to say (in effect) "you ALL are partly right, and therefore entirely wrong. It is foolish to write detailed prescriptions of human behavior that are rigidly enforced by an elite class. We must design a pragmatic society that allows each person to hold the others accountable. If it is done right, you will get all the benefits without the vile drawbacks of tyranny."
* Here's another point I raise elsewhere, having to do with literature and the weird obsession that most lit profs seem to feel toward so-called "eternal human verities"... a concept that I find utterly disgusting and chilling.
Before Thackery, almost all novels/stories/legends featured fantasy/fantastic elements. Afterwards, fantasy (and later scifi) became marginalized, as "mainstream" literature focused on contemporary minutiae of mores, conventions, personal drama and tiny variations on normality.
Why such a huge change in the format and content and topics of popular storytelling?
My theory is that the world before 1600 was always pretty much CONSTANT in its macroscopic appearance and social structures - featuring the same cast of feudal and mystical/priestly types - but unreliable in respect to individual luck. (For example, things might be going fine, then a plague or war would hit. Your kids might all die at any moment.)
At an accelerating rate after 1600, this all reversed. (At least in prosperous portions of the West.) Average people started believing that they stood a good chance of becoming grandparents. There was still an awful lot of bad luck churning around, but a majority began to feel a solid chance that war and sudden calamity just might pass them by. But meanwhile, society was growing less stable. Your kids might stand a better chance of seeing the future. But that future started to become vastly more contingent in the way it might look and feel. Your descendants would generally see a new world rocked by macro social changes that often shook elites from their perches.
This may have been what influenced the change in fiction, from being generally about fantastic subjects/situations to focusing in upon contemporary minutia, featuring a fanatical devotion to normality... a pretense that change did not matter.
I could go on. There are dozens of other possible ways of looking at the zeitgeist shift toward modernity. One that I contend is reaching a crisis point as we speak. The most modern nation of all is filling rapidly with panicky reactionaries of left and right who share a common anti modernist agenda.
There doesn't seem to be any sense to why this should be happening right now. For example, terrorism - the much vaunted fear of this decade - is inarguably FAR less disturbing and/or threatening than nuclear war was! There is no way that any of the most inflated estimates can suggest we are in as much immediate danger, as people and as citizens, as we were thirty years ago. (Though that may change in a decade or so, dramatically.)
In fact, evidence suggests that this panic is being engendered by the very success of modernism, bringing us to the brink of a singularity, or something like it.
Are you familiar with that term? It is a broad and marvelous topic having to do with the rapid pace by which the modernist agenda may accelerate and bring about truly fantastic transformations. For a lovely intellectual feast, drop in at: http://www.singularitywatch.com/articles/jsinterview2003.html
You'll see what I mean when I say that modernism itself is always in danger of turning weirdly romantic!
See Next entry on Modernism....