The Gods that Failed

The Gods that Failed

We’ll be brief-ish today for a handful of reasons – we’re late, we spent most of the morning prepping for a last-minute webinar we just finished, and, most especially, this is an idea we’re just sort of noodling around, trying to flesh out a bit.

In any case, we think that the tyranny of “woke” may soon be ending.

We’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.  “Woke” may soon be over.

Now, to be clear, we’re not saying that we’ve reached “peak” woke yet or that the world is going to settle into some extended period of normalcy after the woke weltanschauung falls.  Indeed, if we’re right, then a brief interval of comparative normalcy will follow the wokeness but will also be replaced, rather quickly, by something even worse.  This isn’t what victory looks like, unfortunately.

At the moment, I (Steve) am working on a lecture/article to be delivered in Sweden early next year and then adapted into a chapter in a book on “woke.”  Because the lecture is supposed to be original, I won’t get too deep into the weeds on it today, but I will say that I have come to believe that our current social and political milieu is part of a recurring pattern in the post-Enlightenment world.  I’m not sure if that makes me a Hegelian, but it does give me the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Hegelians – and specifically, the Young Hegelians – in the evolution of Western Civilization.

Inarguably, the most famous of the Young Hegelians was Karl Marx.  The second most famous was his friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels.  We have come to believe, however, that the most important of this group and inarguably the most prescient was Johann Kaspar Schmidt, a.k.a. Max Stirner.  Recall that Stirner’s radical “egoism” was the precursor of nihilism and of Nietzsche’s dead God.  Stirner believed that man, once freed from the oppressive chains of traditionalism and Christianity, would resist following Marx and the communists into a new religion, a new faith that would require self-sacrifice.  They would instead choose to indulge themselves, to seek the satisfaction of their own beings, rejecting the state and the “party.”

Marx grew to hate Stirner, in part because Stirner mocked his Utopia, and in larger part because he feared that Stirner was right.

So, here’s how the story goes, at least as we’re working through it:

First came the Enlightenment, which purposefully destroyed the old moral order, promising to replace it with a new order based exclusively on Reason.  Given that the Enlightenment both caused and bled into the French Revolution, we’ll say that the post-Enlightenment period begins around 1799, with Napoleon’s ascent to power and the end of the revolution.

From that point to when Stirner wrote The Ego and Its Own was 45 years.  From Napoleon to the composition of The German Ideology – which was Marx and Engel’s angry and desperate retort to Stirner (mostly), was 47 years.  And from Napoleon to the publication of The Communist Manifesto was 49 years.  The point here is that it took roughly 45-50 years from the culmination of the Enlightenment/Revolution period for Marx to develop a worldview and program that attempted both to capture the spirit of the Enlightenment and to dismiss the warnings of Stirner.

This completes the first epoch.

We’ll pin the start of the second epoch in 1867 with the publication of the first volume of Marx’s Kapital, his magnum opus.  From 1867 to the publication of History and Class Consciousness by György Lukács was 56 years.  Although there are many people and many works to pick from in this era, we’ll use Lukacs and his book as the epochal marker because he is generally acknowledged to be the father of “cultural Marxism” and it is generally considered to be his blueprint.

Interestingly, like The German Ideology, History and Class Consciousness was, in large part, an attempted rebuttal of Stirner (although not in those specific terms).

Industrialized Europe emerged from the war shattered and broken, not just physically, but psychologically, emotionally, and most especially, spiritually.  The new Europe was exhausted and scarred, increasingly frustrated with the old gods but far from enamored with the new ones.  It rejected Marx openly, just as it rejected every teleological ethos.

As a result, Nihilism replaced faith. Pessimism replaced hope.  The ego replaced everything else.  Marx’s fears were realized, and Stirner’s prescience was confirmed.

In order to get the Marxist program back on track, Lukacs – plus Gramsci, plus Adorno, et al. – had to fight back against the ascension of the Ego, against the selfish rejection of communism for the satisfaction of the self.  Cultural Marxism and its long march through the institutions constituted the plan for that fight.

Forty-one years into the cultural Marxists’ long march, however, a fellow traveler – Herbert Marcuse – simply conceded defeat.  His book, One-Dimensional Man, was a eulogy for the Long March, a primal scream in frustration at the prescience of Stirner, and, most notably, a blueprint in its own right for advancing the cause and promoting the revolutionary mindset.

Marcuse conceded that the capitalist system was simply too good at providing goods and services that made the masses comfortable and happy and thus deprived them of ever knowing or caring about their true oppressed consciousness.  Workers had become one-dimensional consumers, distracted from their fate by their egos.  And thus, to facilitate the revolution, the Left would have to recruit an entirely new revolutionary class, in this case, the socially oppressed: minorities, women, sexual subgroups, etc.

Marcuse’s focus on identity evolved, over time, into political correctness and then, into “woke,” which is our present-day plague.  It’s powerful.  It’s punishing.  It’s equipped for battle.

The only catch?  Again, it’s Stirner.  The “socialists” of the day demand health care, college tuition, and other middle-class entitlements. The women who founded Black Lives Matter want mansions, not revolution.  The youth of today demand acceptance and affirmation by the state and society, not rejection and rebellion.

The pattern repeats itself.  Marx writes The German Ideology to rebuff Stirner, but he fails.  Lukacs writes History and Class Consciousness to rebuff Stirner, but he fails.  Marcuse writes One-Dimensional Man to rebuff Stirner, but he too fails.  The proletariat is history.  The Cultural Marxists are history.  The Woke identitarians will soon be history.  And yet the Ego will remain.

Marcuse’s book is now 58 years old.  If we assume that these epochs last somewhere between 45 and 65 years, then end of the current one is nigh.

We have no idea what will replace “woke” or when, exactly, that will be.  But we do know that it will fail.  And when it too is gone, only the Ego will remain.  Still.

Stirner updates the apocryphal Chesterton: When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in “anything.” Rather, he makes himself a god and believes in his Ego.


Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.