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Herbert London: The Rise of Utopians Amid Miserabilism

Based on events in Orlando the words of French writer Andre Breton have a certain strange poignancy. Andre Breton, anarchist and the founder of surrealism, which he defined as “pure psychic automatism.” Breton was fixated on a “new reality,” one that considers the destructive, undermining effects on the individual. He called it “Miserabilism” – “the depreciation of reality in place of its exaltation.” Here in capsule form is the plight of the West. Maxim Gorky noted, “A miserable being must find a more miserable being. Then he is happy.” Schadenfreude afflicts us.

Rather than build on the faith that the rising tide lifts all boats, many have arrived at the conclusion that only if we tear down the traditions that bind us can we move forward. There is evident alienation in the new politics technology has ushered in. This technology has created an uncaring difference to the individual, even as tweeting encourages narcissism. Technology has within it the seeds of its own destruction and the seeds of redemption. Albert Einstein said, “I fear the day when technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” At the moment, the politics of the West could be described as miserablism, a depreciation of reality – a belief in “beginning the world again” (maybe this is idiocy). This is the faith of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and politicians from Greece to France. Start over with a tabula rasa.

The problem is, you cannot start anew. A past haunts the future. Utopians, of course, don’t see it that way. In the case of the United States they don’t admire the past; for them, there is the need for change – a reminder that America hasn’t lived up to its promise. The Frankfort School of modern socialists and utopians of various persuasions have penetrated every space on the European political spectrum. Left and right breathe the air of reformation while they choke on the fumes of perverse economic acts. They want what they cannot have, yet want it with a fervor that borders on madness. Greeks go to the voting booth assuming one can retire comfortably at fifty even through the country is bankrupt.

The U.S. has caught the European virus. Sanders and Clinton talk of expanding health care provisions in a nation facing a financial hemorrhage over Medicare. Realism hasn’t a place in Utopia. Trump contends we can make America great again and with this simple pronouncement, he is the front runner for the nomination. Alas, what one says in a campaign is different from the utterance of those who govern, but that distinction is lost on an unwary public.

The depreciation of reality continues apace air borne on the wings of hope. Scholars in the name of critical theory tell us there isn’t any truth. And in a strange way they are right. As the progeny of Fredrick Nietzsche, they have convinced many that there aren’t any facts, only interpretations.  Hillary Clinton didn’t lie about her role in securing the temporary embassy in Benghazi; it was “the fog of war” that altered her judgment. In fact, no one in public life lies. It is all a matter of who is making that claim. Objectivity is a prelapsarian notion unknown to contemporary politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prime Minster Angela Merkle contends refugees can be eased into German society until reality offers another opinion. Tony Blair maintained that a low European birthrate warrants a need to encourage North African immigration. When England was besieged with Muslims assaulting and raping British girls, Blair had moved on to his next utopian project.

Somewhere over the rainbow, things are better and eternally beautiful, but heaven on earth was not meant for mankind. Utopians don’t believe that, in fact won’t believe that. Indeed they do have a right to poor judgment, just as the public has an obligation to see through their absurdities. The problem is the public cannot do so when miserabilism has affixed itself to modernity. Exaltation in the form of the transcendent good, true and beautiful have retreated before the popular standard of the marginal, false and ugly. Breton was a mindless anarchist and Dadaist, but he had one thing right: there is a new reality and utopians are its architects.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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