CRISIS

the death of humanism

The concept ‘crisis’ has indeed become a motto of modern politics, and for a long time it has been part of normality in any segment of social life. The very word expresses two semantic roots: the medical one, referring to the course of an illness, and the theological one of the Last Judgement. Both meanings, however, have undergone a transformation today, taking away their relation to time. ‘Crisis’ in ancient medicine meant a judgement, when the doctor noted at the decisive moment whether the sick person would survive or die. The present understanding of crisis, on the other hand, refers to an enduring state. So this uncertainty is extended into the future, indefinitely. It is exactly the same with the theological sense; the Last Judgement was inseparable from the end of time…Today crisis has become an instrument of rule. It serves to legitimize political and economic decisions that in fact dispossess citizens and deprive them of any possibility of decision…We must start by restoring the original meaning of the word ‘crisis’, as a moment of judgement and choice.

-Agamben

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I would like to speak more of the theological version of crisis, revolt, and their connection. The original Christian idea tells us that the destruction of the world, and immense unhappiness, are in fact good things, since they lead to a decisive historic change. The resentful Christians are wishing for horrific events to happen, and they have valued this unprecedented suffering as good, since with it Jesus returns a second time to end the world. So they found the sack of Rome, in fact, not so bad, and in this curious way defended the destruction of their world; hence Augustine’s position was a strange justification of the sack of Rome in City of God. Later in the Reformation it was quite easy for things to get out of control, and for wandering sects or preachers to announce it was the end of the world (once again), and to attack the foundation of their society. Marxism only changed from the unhappy end of the world to its continuance in a heavenly state, from bourgeois crisis to communism, all taking place in a thoroughly desacralized world (here, the world doesn’t materially end, nor does God act). This is the revolutionary heritage, such as it has been.

I submit we should take upon ourselves the idea of revolution as a thunderbolt from the heavens of philosophy that punishes a wicked and depraved world, that is to say, the labour of the negative. To the world it destroys, the higher truth and philosophy seems always barbaric and admittedly enters in material form amid much chaos. However the final point to conclude the drama of revolution is that negativity negates itself and makes a new spiritual entity, so that all our violence is only changing the world back to its fundamental permanence of impermanence. Crisis, economic or spiritual, the concept itself in its political-theological designation as “good”, “imperative”, or “historically necessary”, is in crisis. Our revolt is the last one that can relate to this tradition, as revolution, too, faces revolution inside its own borders (Anarchy is the only viable revolutionary tradition left, and the farthest away possible from Christianity and Marxism). Assuredly, this is a contradiction, but History advances by contradiction; the dialectic exists, not in materialistic social classes, but in ideas. The contradiction in our present moment is that of prior social revolution and its end as an historical entity. The truth of our moment exists precisely as divided: revolution conditioned by recent social history, and revolution as ending in its epochal significance. Neither side is any more correct than the other, but both express the divided unity of our current truth.

For us the world itself doesn’t end, but a shape of a world ends, and otherworldly happiness (which has made the world hellish for almost two millenia) doesn’t enter into the world and this does not sadden us as it was never our purpose. Only bare life, such as it has always been, mixing happiness and unhappiness, permanence with instability, the one and the many, with Love as the child of Poverty and Resource. This new revolution we hope for would best fulfill the millenial idea that the world after the messianic historical advent is fundamentally changed, and yet, most curiously and beautifully of all, fundamentally unchanged, since our world is only a material shell for Ideas of Beauty, Love, and Truth, which themselves are eternal and unchanging, even as they endlessly appear in different phenomenal shapes. And if the realm of undying Ideas has survived Christian disfiguration, then, too, our material world, will also in time redeem itself, not as something changed or improved, but as something that never was truly evil or wrong. This last revolution is the ultimate crisis, revolt against the concept of crisis, and against traditional Marxist and Christian revolution: this is the only possible position today, and is the only possible meaning to give to these terms in the present context.

Hand crenade

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