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Thomas Molnar, Crisis

Thomas Molnar, Crisis

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Crisis
Thomas
Molnar
THE
TERM
IN
THE
title
is
used with an in-creasing frequency, and we risk gettingaccustomed to
it,
living with
it.
This
is
in-evitable as our public, or rather civiliza-tional mood becomes similar to that of
all
decadent ages. And the similarity does notstop there: like the contemporaries ofother ends-of-times (see RomanoGuardini’s
title
some thirty years ago), wetoo deny what
is
around us and what wemay expect. Jacques Bainville wrote thatthe majority
of
men never have the imag-ination to conceive other roads than thefamiliarly trod one; crises confront ushead-on, bringing tragedy but no aware-ness.Nonetheless, the elite somehow feel thatour world
is
collapsing, and they respondto this perspective in a variety of ways. Mypurpose here is not to argue whether thecollapse is near or far or what forms itmight take;
it
is
to examine these re-sponses,
at
least some of them.
A
furtherrestriction:notthe response of the officialelite: government, world bodies, the lead-ing media, and the bureaucracies-whichgenerally affirm that the prospects are en-couraging, the GNP
is
rising, more rawmaterial will be found (on the ocean bedand in space) for greater material prog-ress, and more educational television pro-grams will be broadcast for the culturi-zation of
all.
The elite’s responses
I
plan toreview here are derived from seriousminds-writers, thinkers, scholars, proph-ets, psychologists, priests.The crisis, as these men see it, affectsthe two oldest public institutions, Churchand State. Contrary to constitutional pro-visos and
the
theories of modern polito-logues, the two cannot be separated; theircleavage marks the first step in the crisis.Jean Hani,
in
La
Royautk
sacrke
(Paris,
1984),
argues that natural inequality re-quires a hierarchical structure throughwhich inequality is socially integrated.Otherwise, disorder ensues, the materialwhich holds society together becomesporous, brittle, and the body politic fallsapart. In this analysis, the king or emperor
(in
Egypt, Persia, Judea, China, Japan,medieval states, etc.) holds the edificetogether as representative of the divinity,yet subject to some form of popular inves-titure, less by vote than by acclamation.’Leaving the institution of kingship aside,young sociologist Jean-Pierre Dupuy fromthe Ecole Polytechnique presents (in
Or-dres
et
desordres,
Paris,
1982)
a comple-mentary thesis. Modern society’s crisisshould be explained by the fact that
it
recognizes no reference-system beyondand above
itself,
so
that the citizen ac-knowledges no transcendental source ofauthority or ordering principle. Every-body being equal like gas molecules in acontainer,
the
constant agitation appearsto be the only “law,” motivating eachmolecule to rise to the top. This is whatclassical authors used
to
call “anarchy,”
the
end-product of democracy’s inherentlogic.To a question at a recent lecture at theSorbonne (on “legitimacy”),
I
suggestedthat the two just-mentioned analyses areborne out by the respective state of somecontinental nations over against theUnited States. The former (France is theparadigm) had undergone a radical revo-lution, a symbolic decapitation of
the
ruleof the sacred reference, affecting bothState and Church. The popular sovereign-
ty
that followed conforms indeed toDupuy’s thesis since the citizens havedoubt about the validity of their own“sovereignty,” when in practice their
Modern
Age
215
 
elected representatives behave in themanner of an oligarchic class, involvedfull-time with their own interests (accumu-lation
of
power, re-election, enrichment),and only part-time with the interests ofthose whom they represent. They put on amask (the
persona
of Hellenic tragedy)which allows them to play two roles. Inopposition to nations which have “killedtheir God and king,”
I
then pursued: theUnited States has not gone through this in-verted metanoia, has not separated itselffrom the ancestral (English) constitution,from the Bible, from a superior reference-network. Practically the entire citizenry,in spite of the anarchy of American civilsociety, holds on to the belief of “standingunder God” and a system of governmentnot unlike the early Puritanstown meet-ing, thus a semi-religious institution.Perhaps half
of
America’s population
is
bynow atheistic and immoral, cynical, anddisaffected; yet the public discourse hasnot separated itself from its origin in God’swill.With such considerations, however, wedo not close the debate; we merely gain avantage point from which the crisis makessense. For situations are not static, theyfollow a trend, as
is
obvious when weobserve the alienation
of
huge blocks ofpeople, also in the United States, from na-tional ideals, morality, legal system, reli-gion, institutions-and even from the veryconcept of popular sovereignty. After all,an alienation whose habitual form is nowincreasingly violent-from strikes to ter-rorism to child-abuse to legalized abor-tion-cannot be a simple problem
of
statis-tics, better playgrounds-or furtherpsycho-sociological research. Disaffectionseems
to be
built into the routinized life inmass-industrial societies. Remove the rou-tine and the prosperity that sustains
it,
andthe bottom of the abyss could not even beperceived.Hence, other diagnosticians of the crisisdescend beyond the social and politicalplatform of observation. The one im-mediately below, the deeper root of thecrisis,
is
our psychological vision. At rnid-century, we still called it depth-psychol-ogy, theorizing that the general malaise isengendered by the clash
of
the individuallibido as
its
drives are thwarted by the realworld. Freud’s illusion (the exact oppositeof what he suggested in
The
Future
of
anIllusion,
namely religion) was that mancould be emancipated from the stormy im-pulses
of
his psyche (first step), and (sec-ond step) that
a
world of psychoanalyzedindividuals would create
a
state of affairswithout conflict, a liberated humanity.With Jung and his followers the sceneshifted from the individual’s mini-drama tothe collective historical dimension, to thearchetypes from which we borrow ourpsychic structure. Religion, for Freud, was
a
vast network of illusions; for Jung, thedenial of religion and of strata yet deeperwas the real source ofpsychic phenomenaobserved in the modern patient andgenerally in modern man. The “crisis”received thus a new face: it became civili-zational, and more, eventually cyclical,perhaps cosmic. At any rate, an entirelynew “depth” became vaguely visible inthe psyche, in behavior, in man’s histori-cal existence, a depth probed by the struc-turalists, the existentialists, the herme-neutes, the mythologues. Interestingly,this new depth has something in commonwith the latest in mathematics and nuclearphysics: both areas, the psychological andthe scientific, have given up their founda-tion in common sense, in rational judg-ment. Mathematics has become
a
gametheory, its roots no longer in the observ-able world but in its own arbitrarily multi-plied conventional signs; psychology, withits extension toward anthropology andculture-analysis, has left the field of theverifiably conscious, even of the conven-tional subconscious, surrendering to thecollective myth that nobody
is
able to as-certain via introspection. Levi-Strausswrites: “Things happen as
if
society andculture emerged in response to the prob-lem of death: society exists in order to pre-vent the animal’s (man’s) consciousness ofdeath, and culture arises as man’s reactionto the fact that he exists”
(Paroles don-des,
Sorbonne lectures,
1984).
After this,how can one regard existence and culture
216
Summer/Fall198
7
 
as anything but alienating?Others could be quoted, the sum
of
whose work
seems
to be the outrightdebunking of man, consciousness, the con-tent of this consciousness, of meaning,
of
aspirations,
of
civilization. Returning for
a
moment to Jean Hani and J.-P. Dupuy, itbecomes evident that on such a theoreti-cal infrastructure that Levi-Strauss andothers present, no “sacred realm,” noteven a well-ordered political body can beerected. But let
us
tread the Jungian path.Jung’s disciple James Hillman tries to “re-habilitate” the psyche as others,
e.g.,
Saussure and Benjamin Whorf, have “re-habilitated” language. What do these en-deavors aim at? They aim at the demon-stration that the psyche (or language) is anindependent phenomenon, having its ownstructure, without a substratum in con-sciousness and intelligence. Language, forWhorf, is
a
network
of
signs,
so
free fromservitude to man’s perceptions and the in-ner life which it is supposed to express ac-cording to old theories, that, in fact, it dic-tates through
its
own rules how we con-ceive things and make statements aboutthem. In short, it is
a
selfcontained system,
a
structure, which determines our thoughtsand conduct.
As
Professor Jean Brunwrites
(L’hornrne et le langage,
Paris,
1985),
the divine and the human dimen-sions of language disappear in this theory,the modulation
of
words as they expresspoetry, mystery, love, and awe.Similarly the psyche as it is interpretedby Hillman: it exists as bundles of pulsions,each with its own volition toward unin-hibited self-expression. Pulsions and
self-
expressions were what the pagans (alwaysthe Greeks, who were “good pagans”)called
gods,
thereby deifying instinctuallife and emancipating it from under thepublic’s and the authorities’ moraltutelage.‘Christianity decisively interfered withthe unobstructed
life
of pulsions; it turnedthem generally over to the devil’s domain.Pulsions, in Hillman’s, Foucault’s andothers’ interpretation became
sins,
theirpsychic energy repressed. Two thousandyears
of
Christianity has mutilated them,and medical practice diagnosed them as
sickness.
Only a restored pagan view,“beyond good and evil,” will be able toerase psychic ‘‘illnesses,by looking at thesymptoms in a positive light.WE
HAVE THUS THE
modern psychologicalview of man, linking up with, and to alarge extent causing, the political malaise,what we called the first manifest face
of
the crisis. How are we to interpret theircombined significance?On the level of the community, the crisiscan be said to be society’s (nation’s,family’s) detachment from transcendence,its personifications and symbols. It is notimpossible that at the present time,without our being aware of it, a new link isforged between the community and itsprovidential agent. One question, which
I
am not trying to examine here,
is
precise-ly whether the de-sacralized, self-ceferen-tial society
is
viable, whether we areentering a historical era of spiritually self-contained societies. For the time being,this
is
exactly what we would have to calltotalitarian societies (described by
A.
Zinoviev in a frighteningly prosaic mode),omitting now the obligatory reference toHitler and Stalin as
if
the phenomenonwere not taking place elsewhere too,closer to home.
As
said before, it
is
not im-possible that communities may live in astate of exile from God; the crisis maybecome institutionalized.However, we approach
a
more com-plete elucidation of the crisis
if
we con-sider the level on which modern psychol-ogy
operate^.^
Society’s separation fromGod (a historic first, reserved for our age)has its parallel in the individual psyche’sseparation from moral judgment. Society,
so
say our authors, cannot functionwithout transcendence built into its struc-ture; the soul is similarly stunted without aguiding education in virtue. Jung’s,
Hill-
man’s, Foucault‘s and Levi-Strauss’s pre-supposition
is
that
(a)
what we mean byvirtue, morality, the distinction
of
goodand evil
is
conditioned by the Christianview
of
God and man, and that
@)
it is asuperimposed, arbitrary blockage of other
Modern
Age
21
7

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