By David Hale
“When all truth is lost, we at least have irony.” I have always loved Kierkegaard for that remark. In close competition for my affections is Nietzsche’s “hope is the last cry of the slave class.” Is his not the season of the ironical slave? - A time of smug satisfaction that those who are more equal are now in charge of all the rest of the equals? - A time of hope that all things will turn out for the better because of some invisible guiding hand of goodness?
I fear I am hopelessly caught between Kierkegaard’s cynicism and Nietzsche’s utter lack of determinism. Without truth and without hope can there be any life at all? It is in this lifeless indeterminism, somewhere between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, that I wish to respond to Carl Raschke’s rather dark blogs.
Raschke has suggested (darkly) that this greatest nation in all of world history, may be past its nadir. Disregarding this nation’s founding by the hand of God, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and our brave troops fighting oversees… Or, failing that, disregarding this wonderful community of equality, liberality and change… Raschke has described this event horizon. In a decade, he says, we may witness the decline of our beloved America. In his estimation this is an era perhaps comparable to the Roman Empire at the time of Augustine whereas Rome had already been sacked once was headed towards rule by the papacy rather than Caesar. While Washington DC has not been sacked, the World Trade Towers have been destroyed.
Are predictions of America’s demise too soon? But it will happen sooner or later, should we not agree? Should there not be revelry for those who wandered so long in the wilderness as outcastes under the last administration? Why bother to conceive of a post-America? Isn’t this a time for rejoicing? Why try to think the unthinkable or imagine the unimaginable? And won’t we be worse off? - Huddled around open fires, at the mercy of the mob, the elements, and each other, like a pack of animals. This America is the land of law and education - can we imagine life better without either? And don’t we deserve better than the deprivation of the nomad, the Indian, and the aborigine? After all, slaves have been emancipated as have women. Aren’t we better because we know better? Aren’t we more than equal because we know about equality? Don’t we deserve the better and not the worse? Maybe God did not found this country, but at least He ought to have.
Melville as given us a tale almost as entertaining as Augustine’s fanciful justifications for Christian war and Christian rule. Melville’s tale is of a Great White (rhymes with Male). Ahab’s obsession was with that great blank wall punctuated only be two black holes into which we see into all of our own worst horrors. As the Great White heads towards the ship on its fateful charge, we write our own fears on its featureless forehead. The greatest fear might be the vast blue ocean that swallows all in its limitless immanence. There is kind of fate at work here, but it is not of any design, other than that of the hunter and the hunted, Oedipal father and son, master and the slave. A death we know nothing about, takes one and all.
David Hale is a lecturer in philosophy at Mesa State College in Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carl Raschke responds:
Although I do not necessarily read myself necessarily as some kind of coded prophet of darkness and doom, as David Hale (himself the dark prophet of the Rockies' Western Slope) seems to suggest, I will acknowledge the characterization, if only to foster a certain measure of cerebral shock and awe. Hopefully the philosophically minded, such as ourselves, do not have simply to talk politics, as many of our colleagues when they get the occasional opportunity to behave like school children. We can talk perhaps about the political in the way that philosophers like Derrida started doing about two decades ago - about what remains "undecidable," "spectral," "to come."
The Derridean avenir is hopeful, though it is not about "hope." That is evident in Derrida's re-engagement with own Judaism from the late 1990s onwards and in his toying with the "messianic." I suppose, however, Derrida is not ultimately up to snuff when it comes trafficking with real messianism. I call attention to an article in the Wall Street Journal that for what seems the first time in a major American news outlet seriously looks at the international politics of Iran, and the Iranian revolution, as a systematic and self-conscious effort to follow the script of messianic prophecy about the world savior known as the Mahdi in Shiite Islam. If you want, call Derridean messianism - "messianism without a messiah", the messianism of participatory democracy - messianism lite. Or, borrowing from the old saying from the 1980s went, we can say "real messianists don't deconstruct." In other words, they have a real messiah.
Is a real messiah "post-partisan?" If so, we probably no longer have the messiah some thought we would, because we're for now, as the news shows, we're decidedly post-post-partisan. But are we on the threshhold of a "post-America?" If you're a Republican, you probably think that we're getting close, although there is always the 2010 mid-term elections. 1994 anyone? If you're a Democrat, you're probably rejoicing that we're now "post-George Bush's America." But the real America is only starting to rise, like some phoenix-like Big Bird of Real Hope and Change, out of the ashes and rubble. 1992 anyone? The fact is that America keeps rising up every two presidential election cycles or so from the ashes of its ravaged partisan otherness. If I were a Republican I would remember 1996. If I were a Democrat, I would remember 2004.
Melville's great cosmo-historical allegory etched within the timeless classic Moby Dick is often read as a not-so-veiled critique of American political messianism, of the "redeemer nation." But it can also be read as a kind of tragic vision of a kind of messianism now that becomes its own "apocalypse now." From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan perhaps to the Great Stimulation we are always testing the limits of our own messianism. When do we cross the invisible line beyond which we see the roadsign "Welcome to Post-America." Perhaps we've already crossed the line, if we consider the forces of globalization - in both their centrifugal and centripedal fury. Supposedly the taxpayers will "own" all the companies and big banks we continue to bail out, but in reality it's the Chinese. It used to be said "I don't own my house, the bank does." Well, since the invention of financial derivatives, they don't own it either. Nor do the people who bought the derivatives, who really own worthless paper. It's the guys who own the debt to pay for cleaning up the mess that happened in the first place.
Does anyone "own" America anymore? John Locke said that "in the beginning all was America." That's probably true of America as well. The "great American empire," as the rest of the world often says. Sort of like the Holy Roman Empire that Voltaire quipped was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire?
In our messianism do we have the "audacity" or the" arrogance" of hope.
Call me Ishmael.