“Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
– from “A Philosophical View of Reform” (1819-1820), a series of essays by Percy Bysshe Shelley
In our times, there are many in the West who speak of the imminent extinction of our planet due to “man-made climate change”. But the potential extinction of our civilisation, of our humanity, does not seem to be a vital topic for the masses.
What and where is our civilisation today? What does “civilisation” mean? Generally speaking, “civilisation” is defined as “a human society that has highly developed material and spiritual resources and a complex cultural, political, and legal organization; an advanced state in social development; the peoples or nations collectively who have achieved such a state“.
But what are our spiritual resources and what is the role of culture today?
It is vital for us to reflect on this now… as we pass from a decaying unipolar world and begin to build a new, multipolar world.
Culture for society, the state and the world…
Confucius (551-479 B.C.) claimed that “music is the harmonisation of heaven and earth, and ritual is the order of heaven and earth“. According to Analects 8:8, he said: “It is through the Odes (poetry) that a man’s mind is aroused, through the rules of ritual that his character is established, and through music that he is perfected… The only way for society to thrive is to be in tune with the universal norm indicated through music… Rituals are not simply a matter of decorum. They are the institutions, orders and norms that developed from primitive magical ritual and unite the universe with society. If one wants to know whether a kingdom is well governed, whether its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will provide the answer.”
Changiz Moulâyi, (Professor of Old Iranian Culture and Languages; University of Tabriz, Iran) wrote about how culture creates identity and thus meaning: “Among fine Persian works, the theme of any work is not as closely related to the subject of ‘Iranian nationality’ and ‘Iranians national identity’ as Ferdowsi’s ‘Shahnameh’. Elements and national symbols such as ‘land’ with specific geographical boundaries (whether mythical or real), customs and traditions, history, common national language and finally the position of people, religion and government, have been reflected everywhere in this great and unique poem. In this regard, ‘Shahnameh’ has rightly been considered as the “document of national identity of Iranians”. (…) ‘Shahnameh’, while being the highest and most glorious example of Persian poetry, has been incorporated into the Persian language and is sometimes rightly considered as the agent and guarantor of its survival among the Iranian public. It is obvious that the manifestation of such patriotic feelings and passion in our national epic is due to the existence of a country called Iran and a single nation called the ‘Iranian nation’ which, despite being composed of different ethnic groups and tribes with different languages and dialects, because of their unity in culture and nationality, they all consider themselves Iranians, and the Persian language, which has been tied to Iranian culture and nationality throughout the ups and downs of Iran’s history is not considered as a language belonging to a particular nation or tribe, but as their national and common language.”
In his essay “A Defence of Poetry” (1821), the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) argued that: “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”… “But the poets, those, that is, who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and music, dance, architecture, statuary, and painting; they are also the instigators of laws, the founders of civil society, the inventors of the arts of life, the masters who derive from such a communion of beauty and truth, that partial vision of the forces of the invisible world which is called religion… The poems of Homer and his contemporaries, were the joy of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the pillar on which all subsequent civilisations rest.”
The Russian literary critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky (1811-1848) claimed that, “Society finds its actual life in literature” and… “In order to have a literature, a nation must live, not merely on the practical, but on the moral and spiritual plane as well, contributing through its national life to the development of some side of the universal spirit of man.”
A LOOK BACK – AT THE WEST…
Western capitalist civilisation has succeeded in setting material, technological progress as the criterion of “civilisation” while excluding the spiritual aspects from the equation entirely. Has civilisation in the West thus been reduced to a mere expedient? Has culture been reduced to trivial entertainment, an object of consumption, a distraction, a tool of brainwashing and propaganda?
Consumerism, Homogenisation and Gleichschaltung
Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote a text back in 1973, entitled “Acculturazione e assimilazione” (in his “Scritti corsari “[“Corsair Writings”] -1974) in which he warned: “No fascist centralism ever managed to do what the centralism of consumer civilization has successfully accomplished. Fascism proposed a reactionary and monumental model that was nonetheless a dead letter from the start. The various particular cultures (peasants, sub-proletarians, workers) carried on undisturbed and continued to live in accordance with their age-old models: repression was limited to obtaining their verbal support. Today, however, adherence to the models imposed by the Centre is total and unconditional. Real cultural models are repudiated. The renunciation is complete. One is therefore justified in saying that the “tolerance” of the hedonistic ideology of the new power is the worst kind of repression in human history. How has this repression been exercised? By way of two revolutions, which have taken place within bourgeois organizational forms: the infrastructural revolution and the information systems revolution. Highways, cars, etc., have today strictly united the periphery with the Centre by abolishing all physical distance. But the revolution of the information systems has been even more radical and decisive. By means of television the Centre has assimilated the whole country, which was historically so differentiated and rich in original cultures. A project of homogenization commenced, destroying all authenticity and all concrete legacies of the past. It has imposed – as I said – its models: they are the models sought by the new industrialization, which is no longer content with inducing men to consume, but seeks to create a situation in which no other ideology is even conceivable other than the ideology of consumption. A neo-secular hedonism, blindly oblivious to every humanistic value and blindly alien to human knowledge.”
In recent decades, the publishing of books, the promotion of music and the distribution of films worldwide has been handed over and sacrificed to the Moloch machine of financial capitalism that churns out homogenised best-sellers, pop hits and blockbusters. Recently, even “alternative niches” such as authentic rebel rap music and art-house cinema have become victims of Gleichschaltung. Nowhere in the world is there a real subculture any more. And long gone too are the anti-war songs….
Postmodernism in the service of Neoliberalism and Imperialism…
German literary scholar and philosopher Thomas Metscher wrote In his text entitled “Postmoderne und Imperialismus”: “I understand postmodernism as a form of consciousness of a certain stage of capitalist society: the developed imperialist society; a form of consciousness, therefore, of the world condition of the present, related to the imperialist metropolises. Postmodernism is a form of consciousness of this world condition in a comprehensive sense. As a form of experience of everyday alienation, it emerges from everyday life and lifestyles, extends into the culture industry, media, arts, sciences and “grand” theory, and often has the status of dominance in these (with the exception of the natural sciences). (…) Imperialism in its developed, present form is the age of a crisis of world-historical dimensions. In it, a future worthy of human beings, indeed the continued existence of the human species, is at stake. It is the age of a crisis-ridden end time… [The Crisis] is potentially lethal in character and formulates a historical dilemma: the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born [Gramsci]. In this in-between realm, a multitude of morbid symptoms emerge. Indeed, the “morbidity” of imperialist society today has reached a scope and a blatancy (…) that one can justifiably speak of a pathic society – a ‘culture of death‘. …
“There is a method to postmodern nonsense (…) The implicit irrationalism covers the entire contemporary culture and consciousness industry like mildew and threatens to stifle any genuine individual articulation. It now extends from talk shows and feuilleton to the lofty heights of Bayreuth and Salzburg. (…) Certainly, the complicity of postmodernism with the neoliberal offensive is secret – part of the functioning of this ideology is that it remains secret, part of the gesture of radicalism, of political correctness… This complicity, however, explains the front position: against dialectics and reason, against utopias and ideals, against the narrative that explains history and brings connections to consciousness, against the deduction from reasons, against rational explanations of the world of every kind. This complicity explains above all the hostility against enlightenment and communism. It is the hostility against the historical exponents of an alternative conception of life.
In his illustrative essay, “The Aesthetics of Banalisation (Notes on Documenta 13 in Kassel)”, sociologist, philosopher and esteemed critic of “postmodernist culture” Werner Seppmann (1950-2021) wrote about the 2012 exhibition at “dOCUMENTA” (a “cultural event” featuring contemporary “postmodern art” which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany): “ dOCUMENTA had a pioneering role in bringing abstract “avant-garde” artists, initially mostly of US origin, to the fore and stylising them as the pinnacle of art development. They were seen as the only worthy representatives of a “free” capitalist society and positioned against “Eastern state art”. For the founders of dOCUMENTA, art was only considered “free” if it abandoned representationalism and manifested the artist’s unconditional subjectivism and immediate inwardness in his creative act.
“Through the decay of artistic form (…) and a levelling of content, the critical engagement with ordinary exhibition material pushes the critique of ideology and domination to the forefront over the reflection of aesthetic issues. Inevitably, the question arises as to which interests are being served by the privileging of an art of banality and insignificance (often with an open flank towards absurdity). Who benefits philosophically and ultimately socially when obtrusive self-absorption dominates? Which class achieves ideological added value when serious social problems (such as the destruction of our natural basis of life) are disposed of by a merely “symbolic” reference? Who has an interest in solutions to pressing contemporary issues reduced to the level of an esoteric oblivion of being?”
Appropriation of Culture for Propaganda
For some time, the festering unipolar power – the Anglo-American empire – has been the self-appointed magistrate claiming jurisdiction over the planet, as it became the accepted ‘”moral authority of interpretation” in (at least) the western world and was able to exert its influence on public opinion pretty much everywhere. The transatlantic neo-liberal propaganda machine and its various mechanisms of infiltration have always been a powerful tool – they are in fact the imperialist forces’ greatest weapons… stronger than cluster bombs, because they have a global reach and infect minds, while leaving the outward appearance intact.
A brilliantly devious tactic was its appropriation and abuse of symbols, slogans and terminology of the once authentic “left” and “progressive” movements. One of its noxious characteristics is the brazen attempt to rewrite history for its own benefit. With this appropriation, Nazis are seen as freedom fighters, the Russians as Fascists, kleptocracies as democracies, conservatives as right-wingers… and neo-liberals as left-wingers and rebels, with this last group attracting incalculable adulators of the “progressive mindset” in culture and academia, who, in turn, promote the ideas of the neo-liberals. Pasolini clearly expected this back in 1975: “I prophesy the era in which the new power will use your libertarian words to create a new homogenised power, to create a new Inquisition, to create a new conformism. And your clerics will be left-wing clerics.”
Unfortunately, many literary scholars, analysts and journalists have underestimated the imperialist and colonialist infiltration into other cultures around the world… which is why many now seem stupefied at the extent to which postmodern neo-liberal “culture” has overshadowed the local cultures of non-Western countries… Unfortunately the youth of these countries, thanks to global consumerism, have little to no other orientation and roots for their own culture… and they face many identity crises.
Cancel Culture… and the destruction of history
If one does not conform to the hegemonic narrative, one is erased from the mainstream press, from social media and, in many cases, from society… (And some journalists even end up in prison or are blacklisted.) And this increasingly applies to cultures, as well.
In addition to the fashionable trend today of tearing down statues of those repudiated by the ‘woke magistrates’, artists and thinkers from “territories seen as hostile” by the hegemony and NATO are being erased – for example: Russian artists past and present (e.g. Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Chekhov, conductor Valery Gergiev, soprano Anna Netrebko)… Even the letter “Z” is seen as a hostile character of the alphabet in many western countries…
“The proverbial ‘cancel culture’ has become a cancellation of culture,” as President Putin said.
In these days, Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic countries, in the throes of some inexplicable delirium, are feverishly demolishing monuments commemorating the Soviet sacrifices in WWII. In a recent speech, President Putin remarked on this mockery of history: “We remember our ancestors – the [WWII] front-line soldiers and their comrades-in-arms, as well as the tough home-front workers. We preserve and restore memorials in their honour. And we will never understand or accept the desire to destroy that, which reminds us of their heroism, courage, suffering and sacrifices. Or hearts bleed when in some countries we see the demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers, who gave their lives to free the people of those countries. They are mocking history and cynically betraying their own fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. For Russia, all this is unthinkable. We are the flesh and blood of our heroes. The reconstructed memorial to the defenders of Donbass, along with the courage of our soldiers, officers and militias serve as a warning to tell all who renounced their ancestors and forgotten the lessons of history.”
The so-called postmodern neo-liberal western consumerist “culture” is in fact an obliteration of the human being. Devoid of humanity and spirituality, it is a malignancy planted in the cells of the body of civilisation… Its purpose is ultimately to destroy human civilisation in order to drive the world into absolute subservience to corporate technocracy.
A LOOK FORWARD – TO THE EAST…
As we can observe, the postmodern neo-liberal “culture” of the West hast infected the world globally – not only through neo-colonialism but also through the technology of mass communication… But the West cannot be held exclusively responsible for the banalisation of culture in non-western countries. Nurturing one’s own culture and traditions and passing on one’s heritage to the next generation is the duty of every member of society.
No great works of art and thought are being produced anywhere for the moment. But their roots and seedlings in the non-western countries have not been obliterated. Though in a semi-conscious state, they have been kept alive by sovereign societies who still honour their heritage, cherish spirituality and keep the memories of the past alive. After all, great works can only come to light in the footsteps of the masters before them.
Also of note is that, whereas craftsmanship has almost vanished from most western nations, it is still alive in non-western countries. Though considerably diminished in number over the years, artisans still have a place in society in these countries, and their works are still sought.
The greatest challenge for the safeguarding civilisation in the future will be to lure younger generations away from the trivial non-culture flashing incessantly on their umbilical phones and to convince them of the significance and indispensability of their heritage and history…
The dawn of a Multipolar World – a Spiritus Mundi
The recent advancements in mutually beneficial projects spearheaded by cooperative organisations and forums (such as the BRI, BRICS+, EAEU, the SCO, the NAM, etc.) validate the emergence of a new and multipolar world… a world of sovereign states that will be free to develop according to their own needs and wishes, free to exchange goods, ideas and knowledge amongst each other, protected by truly international law. And their myriad diversities, fortunately spared from the monstrous “homogeniser”, can go on to flourish and enrich others.
The perspective of states no longer suffering under the financial, economic and bellicose yoke of a plundering power can inspire citizens and generate fertile ground not only for fruitful exchanges but also for the resumption of the development of their cultural heritages.
As the darkness drops in the West, a glimmer of a light, its hour come round at last – due especially to the recent colossal efforts of Russia – is rising in the East and heralding the birth of a multipolar world… a light that will hopefully awaken some poets from a stony sleep.
Published by The Saker
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.com