In earlier Brussels Journal contributions under the general rubric of “Ideology and Literature” I have made reference to Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Isak Dinesen, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ray Bradbury, among others. The West’s cultural crisis has deep roots; the awareness and analysis of that crisis also have deep roots. We tend to look to “experts,” rather than novelists and poets, to understand the prevailing condition. Perhaps the literary men would be better advisors. The corrosive doctrine called multiculturalism, for example, has an ancestry traceable to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s proto-revolutionary rejection of modern European civilization and his notion of “the Noble Savage.” Herman Melville’s South-Sea novel Typee (1848) engages Rousseau keenly. Indirectly, as fiction typically does, but incisively, Typee suggests the gross inadequacy of Rousseau’s “rejectionist” argument and its accompanying “Noble Savage” theory. We may therefore say of Melville’s novel that, in addition to its fascination as a story, it has a cognitive function: in reading it we participate with Melville in careful consideration of the question, answered in the prejudicial affirmative by the author of The Social Contract, whether savagery is preferable to civilization. When Melville’s contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne brings the psychological structure of fanaticism under scrutiny in The Blithedale Romance (1852), his narrative too is a deflationary analysis of socialism, which he regards as misplaced crusading religiosity.
The present essay discusses two provocative novels by a contemporary writer, Gary Wolf, who, while availing himself of genre-fiction conventions, does what the likes of Melville and Hawthorne have done: vividly show, through characterization and action, the distorting effects of doctrinal thinking and true-belief on individuals and on the society as a whole. The two novels are The Kicker of St. John’s Wood (2009) and Alternating Worlds (2005).
I. The notion – becoming harder and harder to avoid – that the United States of America finds itself in the rhetorical-cum-policy stage of its second civil war, and that the nation’s politically polarized society could reach a tipping point for internecine conflict almost at any time, has driven a number of recent novels, most notably Orson Scott Card’s Empire (2006). Card’s saga tells how a leftwing cabal headed by a George Soros-like financier conspires to overthrow the duly constituted government by a one-shot multiple assassination that leaves the Union leaderless and by asserting control in key metropolitan points, such as Manhattan, which then declare themselves part of a new, radical order, “The Progressive Restoration,” that strives militantly to replace the old government. Technical innovations, developed by the plutocrat in private laboratories, contribute to the surprising efficiency of the insurrection. But so do various antinomian themes, which the usurpers have propagated in society relentlessly for decades. These themes deal with race-animosity, class-envy, and environmentalism; they serve the purpose of alienating as many people as possible from traditional forms of society, politics, common culture – and common sense. The attempt collapses, but Card’s point-of-view characters believe that the thwarted power-grab might cleverly have smoke-screened someone else’s takeover. Reviewers reacted touchily to Card’s novel, which nevertheless became something of a hit, because it thumbed its nose at liberal pieties and, in one case, represented a black, female character as a true-believing Leftwing fanatic willing to express her doctrinaire convictions in brazen homicide.
Earlier American dystopias, such as Robert A. Heinlein’s If this Goes On (1939), have dealt with the belated reaction to a coup d’état perpetrated by ideological true believers. If this Goes On supposes a puritanical-religious takeover of the United States, whose perpetrators impose their severe, Islam-like pseudo-Christianity on the captive nation. Heinlein importantly identifies the totalitarian impulse in American culture with the original Puritanism of the Salem colony, whose theocratic tendency has flavored American politics ever since, being currently on exhibit in the zealotry of the Left. Heinlein’s totalitarian inner-party elites zealously enforce all kinds of temporal renunciation on the populace but arrogate to themselves every opportunity for prurient satisfaction. It is the usual Gnostic hypocrisy.[i] Heinlein’s story stands in a line, surprisingly, with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance; both authors study closely the psychology of political religion, revealing it its core the absolute demand that the world be remade to suit the limitations of a stunted, self-loathing ego, so that he might present himself as righteous and saintly. Gary Wolf’s Kicker of St. John’s Wood has points of contact with Heinlein and Card and quite possibly with Hawthorne and Melville – not least because like them Wolf brings to his narrative his powerful curiosity about the mental, social, and cultural circumstances that foster such predispositions.
Kicker, which Wolf sets in 2020, is not only a novel about the coming civil war, or its emergence into the phase of overt hostility; it is also a football novel, than which nothing could be more American. Wolf’s protagonist, Jayesh Blackstone, is the goal-kicker for the fictional New Mexico Coyotes. Blackstone gives his essential biographical details to a female sportswriter (“her left bicep featured a tattoo of a woman curling a barbell”) who interviews him in Chapter One after a Coyotes victory in the playoffs. She begins by asking when Blackstone came to America “from India.” Blackstone corrects her: “I was born and raised in London. My father is American, he was on assignment there when he met my mother, who comes from India.” The elites of Wolf’s near-future America have carried the existing obsession with race, sex, and ethnicity to a new pitch of manic agitation. Hostility to anything traditional has also risen to a climax of righteousness. The reporter, as though she had heard nothing, shoots back with: “How does it feel to be the first star Indian player in American football?” Blackstone offers a minimal “I wouldn’t know” and answers further questions coldly.
The reporter’s story, when it appears, refers to “the arrogant Jayesh Blackstone, an Asian who fancies himself as an upper-class British snob, a classic white-male wannabe rejecting his Third World roots.” The aggressive dishonesty hints at the license that such people feel, in Wolf’s speculative world of a few years hence, to abuse anyone who dissents from ideological dogma.
Blackstone’s teammate Steve Gonzales, who stems from ancient Spanish settlement in New Mexico, has also had an encounter with the lady sportswriter: “The whole time she only wanted to know about my Mexican roots and what I thought about the Separatista movement. I told her five times that I had nothing to do with any such organization.” The governor of New Mexico, hosting a reception for the Coyotes, asks another Coyote, Hank Hubbard, whether he might formally address “the special university graduation ceremony for African-Americans [to] talk about eliminating the racism that plagues our society, that sort of thing.”
Blackstone becomes aware of an agenda, originating not nationally but supra-nationally, from the United Nations, to integrate professional sports sexually. Gonzales tells Blackstone that, “a coalition of human rights and other advocacy groups [have] involved the U.N., which is supposed to pass a resolution calling for the abolition of all-male professional sports teams.” A short time later, readers learn that “Congress was drafting a bill to enforce the recent U.N. resolution.” Wolf has accurately grasped that radicals within any polity nowadays have powerful allies in the long-radicalized, pervasively anti-Western so-called international organizations, the chief of these being the United Nations. Part of Wolf’s authorial talent, on display in Kicker, is to recreate by calculated reader-response the helplessness that his citizen-characters feel as the government subordinates national policy to international policy. As events reach their head later in the story, one of the good guys notes, “We had the rule of law here [but] it has been eroded, piece by piece for many years.”
In line with the program to abolish all-male athletics, the sitting President of the United States, Vesica Malpomme, together with U.N. bigwig, Joseph Hoomty Azala, have coerced the football leagues to field a woman in the next Super-Bowl game. She will act, as “holder,” for a single play of the game, but this will be coordinated with a larger ceremony at halftime. During this halftime event, “the American flag will be lowered to… half-staff,” Azala explains to Blackstone. The kicker himself will “come up to the podium, raise [his] fist, and shout ‘America is guilty.’” Blackstone feigns cooperative willingness but resolves privately to subvert the display. He senses something bigger at work than a cheap tableau: the design to emasculate football belongs to a larger hostile action to destroy what remains of the Constitutional order of the United States.
II. Kicker is not long; it runs about two hundred pages. The novel is fast-paced, even while adroitly executing the double-generics of a sports-narrative combined with a thriller. Wolf’s tale nevertheless manages an impressive measure of astute socio-political analysis. Wolf can make a strong point simply by projecting current trends a short distance beyond where they presently stand. On an excursion to Paris, for example, Wolf has Blackstone visit a number of tourist attractions. Azala’s organization – the United Nations Special Advisory Committee on National Expropriation, or UNSAINE – has commandeered the Ecole militaire, that headquarters of Napoleonic virility, transforming it, in part, into a prison and, in part, into a law court for activities of the “World Tribunal of Peace and Justice.” Blackstone sees, in the grand foyer: “A life-sized bronze sculpture of an Algerian patriot sprawled on the ground, with a pole driven through his chest. At the top of the pole was a French flag. One of the man’s hands was gripping the wound while the other was clutching a book, The Wretched of the Earth.”
Visiting the Louvre Museum, Blackstone remarks a new, “most curious method of display.” “The Mona Lisa was one of twenty illustrious works that were spread out in as many rooms,” each one paired with an item of non-Western art, which supposedly the Western artist had merely and sneakily “copied.” Everywhere the ruling elites conspire with Third-World radicals of the Frantz Fanon variety, like Azala, to denigrate and disestablish Western achievements. For Marxism, property is theft; for multiculturalism, achievement is theft.
Wolf grasps how the alliance between Western usurper-radicals and the West’s external enemies involves the propensity of Westerners on the Left to delude themselves about reality, as they collaborate with those who, in fact, despise them and plan their destruction along with every other aspect of the free society. Azala readily solicits both the sympathy and the active cooperation of President Malpomme, a power-hungry feminist-multiculturalist who wants to impose her view on the entire nation. When Azala mentions Malpomme to Blackstone, however, he does so in the context of denouncing Western accommodation of the sexes: “Your American women… are corrupting society with their behavior.” Azala sees Malpomme as an instrument, purely and simply, “because she supports us on almost every issue”; furthermore, “she will be replaced, like all your presidents.” The misogynistic Azala, who wants to put women where he thinks they belong – that is, “taking care of their families” and out of sight – uses the very phenomenon he wishes to suppress, the liberty and equality of women, to destabilize Western society to the advantage of its “Asian” rivals.
Wolf introduces Blackstone’s sister and her husband, prosperous Londoners, to suggest the carefully prepared vulnerability of many Westerners to anti-Western appeals. The couple’s professional-class suburban home boasts in its bourgeois sitting room an “Essence Mound,” “a five-foot pile of dirt… with a smattering of white pebbles [and with] worms writhing their way through it.” The husband tells Blackstone: “It symbolizes the union of our lives with mother earth… It is a sign-post, a reminder that our lifestyles must be fitted to the earth.” The “Essence Mound” belongs aptly to the symbolic structure of Kicker. Earlier, Blackstone’s girlfriend, whom readers will definitely not trust, tells Blackstone about her dissertation on “the contribution of Christian fundamentalism to sexist attitudes in professional sports.” The girlfriend insouciantly flings about the terms “homophobia,” “patriarchy,” “exploitation,” and “cut-throat business practices,” familiar from actual politically correct discourse. “Fundamentalist Christians,” the girlfriend claims, “may very well attempt a violent takeover of the U.S. government, depose President Malpomme, and institute a regime of martial law.” The frail beauty-contest-winner drafted by Azala to play in the Super Bowl tells Blackstone that she hopes to “break down… the last vestiges of the macho rape culture.”
The dictatorial pronouncement by President Malpomme requires the soil, so to speak, of a faddish and pervasive “Essence-Mound” mentality. Isolated and threatened by increasingly bold politically correct intimidation, with one of their associates already dead, Blackstone and his friends witness the televised speech from the fastness of their head coach’s desert retreat. Malpomme begins in self-adulation: the people elected her so that she might fulfill her promise to “eliminate the last traces of sexism [and] racism” from the society and to see “returned to its rightful owners,” as she says, “all profit stolen from the working man over the course of our history.” By her success, as she boasts, “America has become a sensitive, caring, decent nation,” in which, however, dangerous “forces of reaction… are plotting to undermine our great democracy.” One should remark the not-so-subtle paranoia in Malpomme’s rhetoric, which, in fostering a vision of secret multitudes sapping the agenda of progress, corresponds to the trope of a “vast rightwing conspiracy” ritually invoked by American liberals to denigrate those who oppose their policy initiatives. The same trope has a relation to the accusatory images of “wreckers” and “saboteurs” that Stalin’s minions wielded to justify the purges of the 1930s.
Incorporating once more an actual Democrat-Party outrage – namely, that opposition-party electoral victories can only be a case of clandestine tampering with the ballot-results – Malpomme outlines how, beginning with the upcoming presidential election, a “National Electoral Fairness Committee” in collaboration with UNSAINE will select candidates and monitor balloting. This will assure, she claims, “a fair distribution of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and other relevant characteristics” in the electoral outcome. As Gonzales says, “It’s amazing that just a little while ago our greatest concern was football.” The civil war, which will last for seven years, has begun.
Wolf’s carefully wrought narrative reveals him to understand the link between the seemingly trivial, which, because of its seeming triviality one guesses can be abolished or altered without harm, and the serious: “First the women football players and now this.” Indeed, in Kicker’s opening chapters, people in the football hierarchy – coaches and managers and press-liaison people – cajole Blackstone to go along with arbitrary, destructive changes to the game on the grounds that those changes mean nothing or signify only passing expediency entailing no repercussion. In just this slow and insidious manner, by appeals to courtesy and toleration, people become “detached from tradition,” as the character Hunter puts it. In the end, nothing is trivial, because the fabric of orderly existence is built up, bit by bit over the ages, in a colossal bricolage that is the in-dissociable sum of all its parts.
Missing in Malpomme’s power-grab, or so it seems, is the religiosity that informs so much of radical crusading, until one remembers Azala’s connection to the coup. Although the words Islam and Muslim occur nowhere in Wolf’s story, the reader assumes, for all sorts of good reasons, that Azala is, indeed, Muslim, and that his victory will be a victory for Islam and for Jihad. Belonging to the weakness of the threatened society is that when Christians and Jews cease being Christians and Jews – or cultured Hindus cease being Hindus – and become “Essence Mound” worshippers, their vulnerability to spiritual inveiglement by clever fanatics drastically increases.
III. Wolf’s Alternating Worlds belongs rather more to the generics of the science fiction novel – specifically to the “galactic civilization” subgenre of the science fiction novel, as exemplified by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and James Blish’s Cities in Flight tetralogy – than to those of the thriller although some elements of a thriller are present in the story. It is natural for a writer of Wolf’s cultural acuity to make use of science-fictional tropes. Science fiction, from Plato’s “Atlantis” story, as narrated in the paired dialogues Timaeus and Critias, and onward, has repeatedly dealt in large patterns linking history to cosmic time and in the rhythms of civilizational efflorescence and decay. Science fiction, in its modern manifestation, absorbs an earlier literary genre, that of the Utopia, which also has its roots in Plato, specifically in The Republic. We should remind ourselves that The Republic, that encyclopedic discussion of politics, commences with Socrates’ acquaintances urging him to attend with them the Procession of Foreign Gods being held on that day, as annually, in the Piraeus. In modern political jargon, Socrates’ friends have been smitten by multiculturalism, and are keen to celebrate diversity. And to get to the Piraeus from Athens, one must perforce descend, as Eric Voegelin has pointed out in a commentary.
Everyone who has contemplated multiculturalism – and its faithful sputnik, diversity – objectively knows that there is more to it, or to them, than mere idle curiosity about foreign gods, foreign accents, foreign cuisine, or foreign hygiene; there is, in fact, little or none of that.[ii] Nor did the idea of multiculturalism drop from the sky fully formed and without parentage. On the contrary, multiculturalism emerged from the bubbling cauldron of postwar radicalism – especially from the hybrid of Marxism and militant Third-World liberation rhetoric exemplified in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the allusion to which in Kicker establishes a link with Alternating Worlds. Western radicals then re-imported liberation rhetoric, to serve as an ideological continuation of Marxism in the Communism-shyness of the immediate post-Soviet era. Multiculturalism, whose genealogy is thus entirely documentable, lurched to its feet in Western universities in the train of Deconstruction, its close kindred, and by whose havoc against reason it profited; from the universities multiculturalism metastasized its way into other civic institutions.
Like the Marxism for which it substitutes, and as its name suggests, multiculturalism exhibits the traits of a political religion or indeed of an introverted political cult within whose domain, as in Islam, no dissent is permitted, and every aspect of life must fall under strict Sharia-like subordination. The adherents of the doctrine, obsessed by their own secondarity with respect to that in reaction to which they find their mock identities, elect for themselves a veritable cosmic task: to eliminate, in addition to all internal dissent, all external differences.
Wolf’s protagonist is Graham Rohde, citizen of the planet Cyrus, a successful, affluent dealer in objets-d’art, and a dedicated bon vivant. Wolf’s galactic economy – science fiction takes such things for granted so that the writer can get on with telling his story – is organized as a free-market, not only in goods but also in ideas; Cyrus is a particularly prosperous chapter of this economy. Alternating Worlds tells the story how the easiness of life on Cyrus becomes the occasion for the planet’s cultural deliquescence through the bane of a totalitarian, ultra-puritanical cult. It begins when clients from the planet Gladius approach Rohde in his role as connoisseur-expert, requiring a unique item for the furtherance of the ritual calendar on their world. A closed and secretive society, Gladius resembles actual places like North Korea or Myanmar or much of the Muslim world; Gladius, once functional and free, experienced a destructive-apocalyptic upheaval calling itself “the Sandoz Revolution,” Wolf’s coinage seeming to refer to the pharmaceutical laboratory where chemist Albert Hoffmann invented LSD in 1938.
This revolution, which took place a century before, imposed a psychotic second reality on those whom it enthralled, with a small minority of dissidents escaping to the planet Salvus. The “Sandoz Revolution” institutionalized itself as “AltCom” or the “Alternance Committee,” which governs “the alternance cycle.” The alternance cycle functions with a logically contradictory but fanatically unswerving purpose: to maintain with totalitarian rigidity the unquestionable relativity of all truths. Welch, a Gladian spokeswoman, tells Rohde that the pre-revolutionary conflict arose from “each side claim[ing] that they were keepers of the truth [and] that everyone else’s truth was false.” Rohde asks, “If you have all truths represented, why do you have to alternate?” Why, in other words, would the contending parties in the dispute not have found satisfactory a pluralist dispensation that entitled everyone to exercise his conscience with respect to truth? The answer is that the triumphant fanatics of the Sandoz Revolution hated, and continue to hate, truth, which their perpetual charade demotes to so many plural and self-canceling propositions. Thus under AltCom, life on Gladius conforms to a relentless mandatory role-playing game in which perpetual change, under a five-thousand-year detailed master plan, dictates the daily shifting posture, attitude, and action of every person in every aspect of his life; the regime forbids anyone from being a stable, recognizable person, with enduring opinions and beliefs rooted in a tradition.
According to Welch, Harris Sandoz declared, “It’s not enough to have a truth simply existing, because [a truth] is not a static entity.” But as Elkington, a descendant of the Gladian dissidents, explains it: “The Gladians see it as their obligation to balance all human attributes… race, height, sex and weight, deformities, intelligence, physical strength, and a slew of personality traits. The slightest disequilibrium… is immediately rectified.”
Such rectification can entail surgical dismemberment, disfiguration, and death, to which those who are about to be “alternated” willingly submit. “The people are told that they have a sacred responsibility to implement the alternance cycle.” Elkington’s news explains certain things that Rohde had seen during his visit to Gladius. Take the emotional coldness and sexual neutrality of the Gladians. “Reproduction is strictly controlled by AltCom,” Elkington says: “Sexual relations take place only within the framework of reproduction, not due to any law, but simply because it has no place in the alternance cycle.” So all consuming is the Gladian dedication to the alternance cycle that the obsession “has managed to quash the sexual drive – and most other emotions.” Elkington also corrects Rohde’s impression that the Gladians lack any interest beyond their own world: “The fact is, they intend to expand the alternance cycle to other worlds. As they eliminate the imbalance on Gladius, they are increasingly bothered by the lack of balance elsewhere.”
The name Gladius is not without significance. Latinists will recognize it as designating the particular type of sword associated with and lending its cognomen to the notorious blood sport of Roman imperial antiquity. Rohde meets a number of rescued people who have experienced unwilling, prolonged stays on Gladius, whom the Gladians have “alternated.” All exhibit disfigurement, small or gross. These details establish the alternance cycle, not merely as political religion of the usual intolerant character, but as sacrificial religion, little differing in operation from the known historical instances, such as those of the Carthaginians or Aztecs. Lest the implication – that multiculturalism is also sacrificial, at least in its logic – be thought extreme, one should consider the ideology’s basic application: arbitrary exclusion of persons from participating in institutions and the purgation, by star-chamber procedure, of anyone holding tenure, from before the new dispensation, whose words or beliefs offend the ministers of political correctness. Multiculturalism requires an endless supply of emissary victims, even as strategically it monopolizes the complaint of victimization.
IV. Alternating Worlds, the earlier novel, forecasts Kicker in several ways. Gladian subversion of Cyrus, Rohde’s home world, begins with a flurry of propaganda to discredit the planet’s defining civilized achievements. These are in part curatorial – Cyrus preserves a cultural tradition going back to humanity’s terrestrial origin – and in part novel. The technique of dis-accreditation is at first blatantly to reverse the known facts about the relation of Gladius to Cyrus: the liquidated Gladian culture, before AltCom, derived from Cyrian culture in the distant past. Now, however, “some professors,” who “have become fascinated with Gladian culture,” in collaboration with a Gladian cultural embassy presently active on Cyrus, argue the opposite of the long known truth. The curator of the Olympia Museum, the planetary museum of Cyrus, organizes an exhibition called “THE ROOTS OF CYRIAN CULTURE: NEW DISCOVERIES ON GLADIUS.” Rohde’s visit to the Olympia anticipates Blackstone’s visit to the Louvre in Kicker. An ancient golden unicorn, the Cyrian equivalent of a Greek statue, now stands accused of plagiarizing a Gladian model. In every case the running commentary attributes Cyrian artistic touchstones to “prototypes, found on Gladius.” This claim extends to the Cyrian parliament building.
When Rohde complains to Dragsted, the museum’s chief executive, describing the poverty and brutality of Gladian culture, Dragsted says nastily, “So it’s you who’s been spreading those rumors.” Shortly afterwards, Rohde learns that elements of the Cyrian avant-garde have commenced “their own experimental alternance cycle.”
After the propaganda of reversal comes the propaganda of execration. Rohde, we recall, is an aesthete, in the most responsible sense, and an art-historian. One character tells him, as the Gladian Kulturkampf progresses on Cyrus, that, “For every one of your Rembrandts, there’s tens of thousands of people who have lived horrible lives,” making Rembrandt a cynical freeloader. The same character has joined “The Society for Empathetic Substitution and Spiritual Reciprocity,” which, in addition to adulating all the non-Rembrandts as metaphysically equivalent to Rembrandt, asks its members “to sensitize [themselves] to individuals who have been betrayed by our society.” Of Picasso, another character tells Rohde, “how he abused women.” Next, the leader of the Empathetic Substitutionists proposes a campaign “to reveal the unsung heroes of Impressionism.” He asserts that “while Monet and van Gogh were basking in glory… an army of carpenters, framers, servants, maids, and cooks were toiling behind the scenes.” The campaign will elevate them above Monet and van Gogh, the aim being to drive the real artists and their work down the memory hole. It dawns on Rohde that the eagerness to embrace Gladian nihilism bespeaks “a certain weakness or complacency” that has stolen over Cyrian society.
Violence exerts perverse attraction on the bored and shallowly educated who inherit a bounty from previous generations that relieves them from having to struggle on their own to secure their lives. Infantilized, such people rarely understand, or even try to understand, the meaning of productive achievement. What Rohde sees as a Jihad by the Gladians “to extinguish every bit of culture they can get their hands on,” the newly, stupidly enthralled see as “the greatest wave of cultural refreshment… in a generation.” I shall not detail the calamity – interested parties should acquire Alternating Worlds. I do wish to call attention to a discursive aspect of the story’s denouement. Wolf has seen the swift pervasion of multiculturalism and diversity to all departments of Western society; he intuits how fundamentally anti-Western – ultimately, how anti-life – multiculturalism and diversity are. He finds profoundly disturbing the readiness, the eagerness, with which Westerners have espoused narrow antinomian codes that are profoundly inimical to freedom and dignity.
Rohde too wants to know how people can abruptly and deliriously surrender custom and tradition to brutal nullification. Rohde finds a plausible answer in a study written long before by his father, who concluded: “The mass appeal of ideology is directly proportional to the parsimony of its formulation. Thus we often find widespread support for dubious belief systems when they possess a condensed litany of simple axioms.” Rohde himself judges that “Gladianism was also based on a small number of very simple axioms, backed by a quasi-mystical system.” The first of these is the relativism of truths, which is, of course, in contradiction with itself, as it cannot function axiomatically unless it partakes in truth. Why then do people rush to meld with relativism, egalitarianism, culture-negating multiculturalism, or any of the other totalitarian deformations that currently afflict Western society? The answer can only be that, in its current and perhaps its final phase, Western society has produced cohorts who recoil from truth, hierarchy, cultural creativity, and from the traditions in which such things have taken their nourishment to grow and mature. Affluence leads to acute ennui and to a perverse longing to cede one’s existence.
Submission to authoritarian power, relinquishment of individuality, avoidance of responsibility, and suspension of conscience and judgment: masses of people nowadays yearn for just this kind of moral suicide, some in drugs or the narcotic of consumerism, others in the sadomasochism of so-called popular culture in cinema and music, and others in the oblivion of the crowd, as adherents of doctrines that promise to liberate them from the obligations of their own selfhood.
These topics appear elsewhere in American literature, of course. Henry James took issue with the socialist denigration of creative artists as social parasites already in The Princess Casamassima, published in book form in 1886. Wolf restates the Jamesian, culturally conservative argument on the basis of the last fifty years of Western social history, and in clear terms using intelligently the devices of the popular genres. Readers should hope that Wolf, whose career as a writer is still in a formative period, will enjoy a robust lifetime of authorial productivity.
Readers of The Brussels Journal are a natural audience for Wolf’s novels. I hope that they will buy them and read them. They might also like to browse Wolf’s website, AWOL Civilization.
[i] I use the term Gnostic after Eric Voegelin’s usage – to designate the claim of antinomian radicals to possess special counterintuitive knowledge having no basis in experience or received wisdom, by virtue of which they arrogate to themselves the privilege to reconstruct, not merely society, and not merely the defective consciences of the unenlightened, but reality itself. In antiquity, Gnosticism appeared as militant world-rejection, organized in secretive brotherhoods with elaborate internal distinctions of rank. Augustine’s description of the Manichaeans in his Confessions is the classic account. In modernity, Gnosticism reappears first as Puritanism and then as revolutionary politics, the latter always characterized by counterintuitive doctrines that define the correct attitudes and positions on any issue. According to Voegelin, a salient gesture of Gnosticism as it attains influence is to prohibit questions that might cast doubt on the doctrine. In a contemporary context, we find that such ideas as global warming and the mystic meaning of race or gender are shielded from critical inquiry in just this way, under the intimidating strictures of political correctness. (See Voegelin, Science Politics and Gnosticism.)
[ii] Multiculturalism is therefore also much less than it seems, since it has no actual interest in the “diversity” that it purports to celebrate, its actual goal being severely measured doctrinal uniformity. The doctrine is specifically anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-Philosophical, and anti-reality: it attacks and would undo every feature of the prosperous, open society that had developed, as of a century ago – that is, in the period just before World War One – out of the fortuitous mixture of Greek philosophy, Jewish ethics, Christian post-tribal morality, and Gothic feudal responsibility, that produced the specifically Western way of life. In the shaken vestiges of that optimal society, after countless new wars and upheavals, Westerners continue, dispiritedly, to live. Multiculturalism feeds on the démorale of the West. The program of multiculturalism entails the obliteration of the intellectually and morally autonomous individual on whose private judgments the operation of complex, large-scale, free communities depends; the same program entails the destruction of knowledge, on which private judgment is based, and its replacement by the nescience of epistemological relativism. In essence, multiculturalism is a form of tribal atavism and a form of puritanical totalitarianism all at once, which explains the tacit (sometimes not so tacit) alliance of multiculturalists and Islamists.