Proposal for a History of Political Thought

It would be most salutary to write a history of political thought from the standpoint of the particular temptations that each system or ideology arouses within the hearts of their subjects.

  1. Within the psyche of the communist, the envious desire for the life of bourgeois plenty.
  2. Within the heart of the bourgeois, the desire to overcome all barriers to his or her pleasures, and liquidate all the restraints (religious, familial, and moral) that are regarded as vital to the legal mechanisms which ensure the transparency and accountability of the market.
  3. Within the soul of the fascist, the impulse to hurry towards one’s death, to establish one’s sovereignty as an individual in the most definite and dramatic way possible by embracing one’s personal extinction: the love of death that mingles with the love of killing, the voluptuousness of exposing oneself to doom as one deals out calamities to others.  In a world where everyone is a killer, only indifference to one’s own fate serves as a marker of distinction.  Men being wolves to each other, only the wolf who most actively courts self-destruction can rise above the pack.

We can notice that a distinct historical type corresponds to each of these temptations, which of course signal the point of undoing for each system.  The communist is really a thwarted bourgeois, who thirsts for the day when he can indulge his desires for material gain, and during the period of actually existing socialism, he takes the form of the corrupt and cynical bureaucrat who no longer believes in communism but enjoys the pleasures made possible by his hypocrisy.  The bourgeois chafes at the burdens imposed on him by the premodern conceptions of the moral life that have been inherited by modern liberal society.  He wills that there be no limits on his capacity for gain, even if this means living in a society with such vast disparities in income and well-being that make a mockery of democracy.  The bourgeois yearns for a society in which he does not need to make sacrifices for his wealth.  But this means he rebels against the very conditions that make the secure possession of wealth and enjoyment of abundance possible.  His singleminded pursuit of his desires will eventually force him to become something else.  Just as Plato notes that innovation, in the form of slavery, is introduced by the city ruled by the erstwhile guardians in order to stay in power, the bourgeois in capitalist society, in order to cope with the changes he brings about, will be compelled to become a repressive policeman or to hire paramilitaries in large numbers to cope with the ensuing social disorder.

The great hazard posed by increasing social violence is the likelihood that the wealthy will, feeling embattled and threatened, hold their possessions even more dear than they might otherwise.  That is to say, they will not have the leisured and peaceable environment in which to grow bored of their money and look to charitable giving or education or some spiritual pursuit to give meaning to their lives.  On the other hand, for Ballard, this boredom sparks the desire for an intensity of experience that can only be produced by sacred violence.  Hedonists, and perhaps former hedonists as well, can only be satisfied by religious experiences that provide “miracle, mystery, and authority.”  The mere love of neighbor is simply too thin a broth – it cannot intoxicate, cannot satisfy the yearning for intensity and drama which are no longer to be found in the fulfillment of corporeal pleasures.

The fascist, or authoritarian, seems to stand at the ready to rescue the bourgeois from his excesses.  But the world he creates will be in many ways substantially different from the one in which the bourgeois could more or less securely pursue the accumulation of wealth, for the moral underpinnings of that world will have been dealt terrible harm.  But though the fascist might salvage some degree of order from the ruins of the bourgeois appetites, what he cannot do is save himself from himself.  Even the most heroic authoritarian cannot extricate himself from his ambitions and the collapse they set in motion.  He cannot help but invade Russia.


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