The modern worldview carries within itself many contradictions. It views as the definitive institution of society, as the modern "church" as it were, the state, and an intellectual elite who, with scientific experts, come together to create the scientific socialist state. This state is, in terms of its philosophical premises, the voice of Reason, if not Reason incarnate.
At the same time, a very different perspective is held with respect to the People. Rousseau exalted both the natural man and also the state which embodies the general will. The natural man, however, is clearly not rational man. Rousseau and Romanticism idealized the natural man's untaught feelings and instincts in a manner which led in time to the doctrine, in the nineteenth century, of the subconscious mind in man. With Freud and his followers, this became the unconscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious replaced God and became the new locale of infallibility. Whatever the unconscious in man, in particular, the id, and then the ego, revealed, whether in dreams, actions, words, or in any other way, had for the Freudians an unerring revelatory character. Consciously, man could die; unconsciously, he reveals himself and confesses readily to the mainsprings of his being. The unconscious mind of man thus represents man in his primordial character.
Rousseau's natural man became revolutionary man. In revolution, the pre-civilized energy and power of man shatters the conventions and breaks the chains of civilization. Revolution supposedly revitalizes a corrupt and effete society by unleashing the forces of primordial chaos against it. The French Revolution, as Otto Scott has pointed out, adopted the language of medicine to describe its murderous course. "The purge," the forced expulsion of feces, became a political term, now widely used.
This creates an amazing paradox: at the top in the state, the state as Reason, is the scientific socialistic elite, and, at the bottom, the unconscious forces of society, the masses. Of course, both the views of the elite and the masses are intellectual constructs and in part figments of the imagination. All the same, everything is done to enhance this illusion and better enable all concerned to play their parts. The more power is centralized at the top, the more vocal is the affirmation that power is being exercised of, by, and for the people.
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), described the ancient leisure class as dedicated to the belief that "Whatever is, is right," whereas "the law of natural selection, as applied to human institutions, gives the axiom: ‘Whatever is, is wrong.'1 Veblen thus saw evolution working against the leisure class. Now Veblen's leisure class is not the same as the modern statist elite, but his point applies all the same. The Darwinian premises are very much a part of the main current of modern thought, and of Romanticism. Charles Darwin was a most unromantic soul, but his premises were still derived from Romanticism. Whether in biology, politics, or literature, power was derived from below. Even as the romantic looked to his feelings for guidance and power, so the evolutionist believed in power from below. The magnificence of the universe, its complexity, energy, and diversity, had to have a primordial source of power, chance, and chaos.
The Darwinian enthronement of power derived from chance and chaos delighted Marx and Engels because it verified their revolutionary ideology. The Age of Reason saw hope in its enlightened despots; the new temper created by Romanticism saw hope instead in revolution and the worker. The sins of the enlightened despots became monstrous evils; the mass murders by the revolutionists became revolutionary justice.
Freud's id, the unrestrained pleasure principle, was for him also the will to live. Modern revolutions give expression to Freud's id, to pleasure in destruction. When the Revolution lives, the Revolution kills! Mass executions, slave labor camps, and a continuous rule of a secret police become endemic to revolutionary regimes.
At the same time, the revolutionary id seeks to kill religion, Christianity in particular. The Biblical premises are all hostile to the revolutionary ideology, because Christianity affirms God as the Creator and Redeemer, not chaos and revolution. Power is sought from above, not from below. In fact, for Christianity, power from below is ultimately demonic.
The modern state sees itself as the source of authority and power, not God. It thus seeks steadily to contain every area of life and thought and to rule over all.
In the history of the Church of England, the claim of the crown has been over all the church and its properties and incomes. As Miall wrote,
The last point is epigrammatically put by Bishop Warburton, in a sentence contained in a note on Clarendon's "History of the Rebellion," referring to the demand of Parliament for the alienation of Church lands. "The State," he observes, "may resume what the State originally gave."2
The modern socialist states openly claim such a total jurisdiction, and the democracies implicitly so.
This claim is challenged by some churchmen, although the compromises are many.
There is, however, another potential challenge of a revolutionary sort. If the people are the source of power, and if power, whether in art, politics, or biology, comes from below, what is to keep the masses from revolting?
Since World War II, we have seen evidences of this. Students have occupied university administrative offices and lecture halls and issued nonnegotiable demands. Workers have done some of this also. Welfare recipients have done their share of "demonstrating." In one instance, the office of then Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York was occupied by insolvent welfare recipients who refused to speak civilly to the governor, who tried hard to be patient.
All this might have delighted Freud, who wrote on December 22, 1897, to Wilhelm Fliess: "I can scarcely detail for you all the things that resolve themselves into - excrement for me (a new Midas!)."3
The modern state thus faces a problem. The revolutionary ideology is implicitly hostile to the life of the state. The people believe that they have a right to disobey whatever law displeases them. Freud's id knows no law outside its will; Darwin's evolutionary force recognizes no higher law; and the modern temper had a notable expression in Paris, in the 1960s, when rebellious students declared, "It is forbidden to forbid!" The modern state is in the business of forbidding on its own waning authority.
1. Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, NY: Modern Library, 1934), 207.
2. Edward Miall, Title-Deeds of the Church of England to Her Parochial Endowments (London, England: Longman Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1862), 118.
3. Cited by Jonathan Weinberg, "It's in the Can: Jasper Johns and the Anal Society," Gender (University of Texas Press), no. 1 (Spring 1988).