Friday, July 22, 2011

Ex nihilo nihil fit

George Packer, writing in the New Yorker about the debt ceiling crisis and the ever more strained fault line running through Washington, reminds us of a quote usually attributed to Vladimir Lenin: "the worse, the better."

I rather think Lenin himself was quoting Georgi Plekhanov's 1917 essay "Three Crises," but whatever the source and however Lenin used it, I tend to agree with Mr. Packer that we're looking at a planned destruction of our economy to serve a revolutionary cause that in some ways, in its ideological blindness to practical consequences, looks so much like the Bolsheviks it might cause liquid irony to condense into caustic clouds and rain down upon us.

Indeed, the worse this manufactured crisis becomes, the more likely it is, at least in the minds of the radical right, to destroy the prospects of Obama and the Democrats as well as our national prospects, leaving the Tea Party, like roaches after a nuclear war, in charge of a withered state sure to become a wildly prosperous unregulated utopia. It seems a fatuous dream, of course, to anyone who has read even a little about the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, but if you've read this far I shouldn't have to point it out. Out of a power vacuum, power comes.

Packer quotes Max Weber, writing only only two years later with regard to "the ethic of responsibility" versus "the ethic of ultimate ends," and it seems that little has changed in the course of human events since then -- at least in American events. The distinction: 

between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences,

describes our current struggle -- unser Kampf, if you will. 

These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two.

Is there any doubt about into which group the "tax cuts and deregulation produce prosperity" and "the government is always the problem" people fall? Discussion of practical consequences can't be heard through the roar.

Such a political union is less foreseeable, I think, than at any time in American history that I can call to mind, and a complete rupture or a complete capitulation of the "ultimate responsibility" forces to the anarchists and nihilists may be the only possible outcome. Ex nihilo nihil fit: out of nothing, nothing comes, no longer is supported by science, but in the world of governments and power and people, things are different -- and après ça, le déluge, of course.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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