The noted English professor and philosopher, John N. Gray, is controversial for his views expressed in a number of highly-touted books. If I can summarize one of his main contentions it is this: the experiment in universalist “democratic liberalism,” unleashed by the 18th century Enlightenment (and partially fulfilled by the American Revolution in conservative fashion, but by the Socialists and Marxists in a more radical fashion), is coming to a gagging and sputtering end. In a certain—if remote—sense, what Gray is saying is what the traditionalist Christian poet and author T. S. Eliot once famously wrote in his epic poem “The Hollow Men” (1925), written in the disastrous aftermath of the devastation, both intellectual and
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The noted English professor and philosopher, John N. Gray, is controversial for his views expressed in a number of highly-touted books. If I can summarize one of his main contentions it is this: the experiment in universalist “democratic liberalism,” unleashed by the 18th century Enlightenment (and partially fulfilled by the American Revolution in conservative fashion, but by the Socialists and Marxists in a more radical fashion), is coming to a gagging and sputtering end. In a certain—if remote—sense, what Gray is saying is what the traditionalist Christian poet and author T. S. Eliot once famously wrote in his epic poem “The Hollow Men” (1925), written in the disastrous aftermath of the devastation, both intellectual and material, after World War I: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”
In the following essay, Gray examines the current woke rebellion in the streets, but also in the ivory halls of academe and among our elite government and cultural classes. The Age of Enlightenment Liberalism, he asserts, is ending.
And in reading and thinking about it, his short piece seems to go hand-in-hand with something I published recently both at The Abbeville Institute and LewRockwell.com. My essay titled, “Cancel Culture Comes South,” in a different version, was first issued in the MY CORNER series on September 6, as “Cancel Culture and the Religious Origins of the Revolution in the Streets.” I rewrote it to give it more emphasis on the effects of “cancel culture” in the South, and in that new version it was published…and it is that version that I offer today, immediately after Gray’s essay.
Gray compares the present day woke Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) to chiliastic millenarians—religious hyper-fanatics of the past—who attempted to overturn and in effect destroy the traditions of Western Christianity. Those movements, including the Cathares, Lollards, Puritans and Fifth Monarchy Men, and in particular, the Anabaptists with their supreme leader John of Leiden [AKA, Jan Bockelson], sought to either destroy those traditions, or, at the very least to completely re-invent them. And what followed was inevitably a period of social and political anarchy, and quickly the imposition of an authoritarianism more severe and brutal than anything established historic Christianity ever contemplated. They would bring on the thousand year terrestrial reign of the Deity, even if it took the massacre of every human life where they dwelt to do it.
Although there are striking parallels between those earlier millenarian movements and today’s zealots, there are also some significant differences. While both illustrate a kind of frenzied religious fanaticism, these latter day millenarians are mostly characterized by a dominant anarchism. Their religious zeal is secularized. Save for “defunding the police” and demands for total (but ill-defined) equality and reparations of some kind, much of their rhetoric betrays a lack of precision and deeper thought. And unlike earlier movements, our present SJWs are being funded and to some degree directed by our elites, ensconced many times in Silicon Valley, or Hollywood, and on Wall Street. It follows that those empowered elites wish to use the street warriors and the widely-diffused and praised Black Lives Matter campaign for their own purposes, their own well-being, and their own power. And, thus, they have literally cowed and shamed most of our political class into submission; who now dares criticize Black Lives Matter or the s0-called demands for “equality” (and some form of reparations for “white oppression” and past “injustice”) without bringing down the wrath of the entirety of the media and most political leaders? And this includes Republicans and establishment conservatives who run as fast as they can to the tall grass.
Notice one more significant characteristic: many of the street terrorists are rich white kids, children of wealth and position, educated usually (and badly) at places like Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, UNC, and Duke, and with families who can afford to live in gated communities, and who, in fact, in their insouciant and sneering liberalism, disdain and despise what the Jewish writer Philip Roth once called despectively, “fly-over country.” In other words, anyone outside of those centers of power and wealth who might possibly challenge their hegemony. For them the SJWs are effective storm troopers…that is, as long as they don’t get out of control, or go into those posh neighborhoods where a Nancy Pelosi or Madonna live.
Or, if it seems that politically the street terrorism appears to get out of hand, maybe favoring President Trump politically. Ah, then those elites must offer their pro forma, generalized condemnations, just to be on record…despite their real encouragement of the revolution.
Never mind, Gray seems to say, the American faith in a secular universalist redemption and the myth that somehow we are a kind of New Jerusalem, that shining City of a Hill, is dying and we can hope only to pick up the pieces in the new age that is being born.
Reprinted with the author’s permission.