“So far, the 21st century has been a rotten one for the western model,” according to a new book, The Fourth Revolution, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. This seems an extraordinary admission from two editors of the Economist, the flag-bearer of English liberalism, which has long insisted that the non-west could only achieve prosperity and stability through western prescriptions. It almost obscures the fact that the 20th century was blighted by the same pathologies that today make the western model seem unworkable, and render its fervent advocates a bit lost. The most violent century in human history, it was hardly the best advertisement for the “bland fanatics of western civilisation”, as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them at the height of the cold war, “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence”.

Niebuhr was critiquing a fundamentalist creed that has coloured our view of the world for more than a century: that western institutions of the nation-state and liberal democracy will be gradually generalised around the world, and that the aspiring middle classes created by industrial capitalism will bring about accountable, representative and stable governments – that every society, in short, is destined to evolve just as the west did. Critics of this teleological view, which defines “progress” exclusively as development along western lines, have long perceived its absolutist nature. Secular liberalism, the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen cautioned as early as 1862, “is the final religion, though its church is not of the other world but of this”. But it has had many presumptive popes and encyclicals: from the 19th-century dream of a westernised world long championed by the Economist, in which capital, goods, jobs and people freely circulate, to Henry Luce’s proclamation of an “American century” of free trade, and “modernisation theory” – the attempt by American cold warriors to seduce the postcolonial world away from communist-style revolution and into the gradualist alternative of consumer capitalism and democracy.

The collapse of communist regimes in 1989 further emboldened Niebuhr’s bland fanatics. The old Marxist teleology was retrofitted rather than discarded in Francis Fukuyama’s influential end-of-history thesis, and cruder theories about the inevitable march to worldwide prosperity and stability were vended by such Panglosses of globalisation as Thomas Friedman. Arguing that people privileged enough to consume McDonald’s burgers don’t go to war with each other, the New York Times columnist was not alone in mixing old-fangled Eurocentrism with American can-doism, a doctrine that grew from America’s uninterrupted good fortune and unchallenged power in the century before September 2001.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 briefly disrupted celebrations of a world globalised by capital and consumption. But the shock to naive minds only further entrenched in them the intellectual habits of the cold war – thinking through binary oppositions of “free” and “unfree” worlds – and redoubled an old delusion: liberal democracy, conceived by modernisation theorists as the inevitable preference of the beneficiaries of capitalism, could now be implanted by force in recalcitrant societies. Invocations of a new “long struggle” against “Islamofascism” aroused many superannuated cold warriors who missed the ideological certainties of battling communism. Intellectual narcissism survived, and was often deepened by, the realisation that economic power had begun to shift from the west. The Chinese, who had “got capitalism”, were, after all, now “downloading western apps”, according to Niall Ferguson. As late as 2008, Fareed Zakaria declared in his much-cited book, The Post-American World, that “the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions” and that “the world is going America’s way”, with countries “becoming more open, market-friendly and democratic”.

Vice News: The Islamic State

The Islamic State, a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group has announced its intention to reestablish the caliphate and has declared its leader, the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph.

The lightning advances the Islamic State made across Syria and Iraq in June shocked the world. But it’s not just the group’s military victories that have garnered attention — it’s also the pace with which its members have begun to carve out a viable state.

Flush with cash and US weapons seized during its advances in Iraq, the Islamic State’s expansion shows no sign of slowing down. In the first week of August alone, Islamic State fighters have taken over new areas in northern Iraq, encroaching on Kurdish territory and sending Christians and other minorities fleeing as reports of massacres emerged.

VICE News reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings.

In the condition of right or law, then, the ethical world and the religion of that world are submerged and lost in the comic consciousness, and the Unhappy Consciousness is the knowledge of this total loss. It has lost both the worth it attached to its immediate personality and the worth attached to its personality as mediated, as thought. Trust in the eternal laws of the gods has vanished, and the Oracles, which pronounced on particular questions, are dumb. The statues are now only stones from which the living soul has flown, just as hymns are words from which belief has gone. The tables of the gods provide no spiritual food and drink, and in his games and festivals man no longer recovers the joyful consciousness of his unity with the divine. The works of the Muse now lacks the power of the Spirit, for the Spirit has gained its certainty of itself from the crushing of gods and men. They have become what they are for us now—beautiful fruit already picked from the tree, which a friendly Fate has offered us, as a girl might set the fruit before us. It cannot give us the actual life in which they existed, not the tree that bore them, not the earth and the elements which constituted their substance, not the climate which gave them their peculiar character, nor the cycle of the changing seasons that governed the process of their growth. So Fate does not restore their world to us along with the works of antique Art, it gives not the spring and summer of the ethical life in which they blossomed and ripened, but only the veiled recollection of that actual world. Our active enjoyment of them is therefore not an act of divine worship through which our consciousness might come to its perfect truth and fulfillment; it is an external activity—the wiping-off of some drops of rain or specks of dust from these fruits, so to speak—one which erects an intricate scaffolding of the dead elements of their outward existence—the language, the historical circumstances, etc. in place of the inner elements of the ethical life which environed, created, and inspired them. And all this we do, not in order to enter into their very life but only to possess an idea of them in our imagination.

G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Φ753

Many of Lacan’s students, even those who went on to eventually reject their teacher, still permeate the halls of Philosophy departments today. Some of those students, though indebted to his philosophy, have brought to light Lacan’s moral dubiousness. In a recent biography Élisabeth Roudinesco, one of them, describes the thinker of desire as a “temperamental child”, a man who’d often demand his preferred variety of liquor, cigar or food at the click of his fingers, wherever he was.

Lacan’s casual relationship with theft is also documented. Namely, towards the books he was lent by his friends. Unlike your friend who “lost” your copy of 50 Shades of Grey, Lacan was far more premeditated. After poring through her archives of Lacan’s letters, Roudinesco discovered that Lacan would often write to friends to either borrow or purchase books that were rare and collectible. When asked to return them, they were often “lost”, and in the case of purchasing them he rarely shelled out the full agreed-to amount.


More serious are accusations of plagiarism. Lacan is famously known for positing the “mirror stage”, a psychoanalytic term for the point in life at which infants can recognise themselves in mirrors. However, not unlike his book collection, it was stolen from somebody else. Roudinesco notes that the term comes from a Communist psychologist named Henri Wallon, and that Lacan – ever “quick to erase the original archive” – “always suppressed Wallon’s name”.


The women described the tense situation at that time, when civilians were caught between Maoists who demanded support, including food and shelter, and government forces that punished Nepalis who provided such assistance. Some of the women described how members of the security forces raped female combatants after arrest and targeted female relatives or supporters of Maoist suspects. Other women said Maoist combatants raped women who refused to support them or women they forcibly recruited to help their insurgency. Some of the women were still children, under age 18, when they were sexually assaulted.

The report says that a combination of immense social stigma attached to sexual assault and fear of retaliation prevented many women from reporting these crimes during the conflict, and that it still inhibits many others from speaking of the assaults. There is a glaring need for psycho-social and medical support for these women.

In the autumn of 1931, the philosopher Martin Heidegger began to record his thoughts in small diaries that he called the schwarze Hefte, or “black notebooks.” By the early 1970s he had filled no fewer than thirty-four volumes with his handwritten reflections. Several of these notebooks, composed over a ten-year span from 1931 to 1941, have now appeared in three successive volumes of the official German-language series of Heidegger’s collected works. Their name describes their black oilcloth covering, but one could be forgiven for thinking it described their content. They will cast a dark shadow over Heidegger’s legacy.

Heidegger was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern era. He was also a convinced Nazi. During his brief term as rector at the University of Freiburg (1933–1934) he worked to advance the process of Gleichschaltung, or coordination, that brought the university into alignment with the official policies of the Third Reich. Apologists for Heidegger have occasionally sought to underplay the gravity of this political record. They note that he stepped down from his post after less than a year, and they add that many of his academic contemporaries, such as Ernst Krieck and Alfred Baeumler, were both more zealous and more effective in their collaboration. The difference, however, is that few today take those other men seriously as scholars. Heidegger, meanwhile, continues to be read, and his permanent place in the pantheon of Continental philosophy seems more or less secure.

How, then, can one study his philosophy without taking some cognizance of his ignominious past? One strategy for resolving the dilemma has been to insist on a neat distinction: Heidegger was good at philosophy but bad at politics. An elegant defense along these lines was developed by Hannah Arendt, his erstwhile student, whose essay “Martin Heidegger at Eighty” (published in these pages in 1971) compared Heidegger to Thales, the ancient philosopher who grew so absorbed in contemplating the heavens that he stumbled into the well at his feet.

But there is something more radical about the history of art as practiced by Winckelmann. It is not merely a matter of accurately representing the ways of life and expression of people from the past. What matters instead is to think about the co-belonging of an artist’s art and the principles that govern the life of his people and his time. A concept captures this knot in his work: the concept of ‘style’. The style manifested in the work of a sculptor belongs to a people, to a moment of its life, and to the deployment of a potential for collective freedom. Art exists when one can make a people, a society, an age, taken at a certain moment in the development of its collective life, its subject. The ‘natural’ harmony between poiesis and aisthesis that governed the representative order is opposed to a new relation between individuality and collectivity: between the artist’s personality and the shared world that gives rise to it and that it expresses. The progress of primitive sculpture up to its classical apogee, then its decline, thus follows the progress and the loss of Greek freedom. The first age of a collectivity massively subjected to the power of aristocrats and priests corresponds to the rigidity of forms, due both to the awkwardness of art in its infancy and the obligation of following codified models. The golden age of Greek freedom corresponds to great and noble art with ‘flowing lines’. The retreat of this freedom translates into the passage to an art of grace, where style gives way to manner—that is to say, to the particular gesture of an artist working for the particular taste of a narrow circle of art-lovers. This history of art, understood as a voyage between the two poles of collective absorption and individualistic dissolution, was destined for a very long future…Many of our contemporaries still see this as an historicist ‘derailing’ of art. But this ‘derailing’ is nothing other than the route through which the concept of Art as its own world came to light. Art exists as an autonomous sphere of production and experience since History exists as a concept for collective life. And the person who formulated this conjunction was no sociologist spitefully trying to cut down the sublimities of art to the prosaic conditions of their production. He was a hopeless lover of ancient sculpture, hoping to provide it with the most suitable sanctuary for its veneration.

Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art

I look also upon what the bureaucratic destruction process – for this is what it was – as a series of minute steps taken in logical order, and relying above all as much as possible on experience, past experience. And this goes not only, incidentally, for the administrative steps that were taken, but also psychological arguments – even the propaganda. Amazingly little was newly invented until, of course, the moment came when one had to go beyond that which had already been established by precedent, and one had to gas these people or in some sense annihilate them on a large scale. Then, these bureaucrats became inventors. But like all inventors of institutions they did not copyright or patent their achievements, and the prefer obscurity.


They invented very little. And they did not invent the portrait of the Jew, which also was taken over love, stock and barrel from writings going back to the 16th century. So even the propaganda, the realm of the imagination and invention, even these – they were remarkably in the footsteps of those who preceeded them, from Martin Luther to the 19th century. And here again they were not inventive. They had to becom inventive with the “final Solution.” That was their great invention, and that is what made this entire process different from all others that had preceded that event. And, in this respect, what transpired when the “final Solution” was adopted, or to be more precise, when the bureaucracy moved into it, was a turning point in history.

Even here, I would suggest a logical progression, one which came to fruition in what might be called “closure.” Because from the earliest days, from the 4th century, 5th century, 6th century, the missionaries of Christianity had said, in effect, to the Jews, “You may not live among us as Jews.” The secular rulers who followed them from the late Middle Ages had then decided “You may not live among us.” And the Nazis finally decreed, “You may not live.”


General wording—the very wording “final solution” or “total solution” or “territorial solution” leaves something to the bureaucrat that he must infer. He cannot read that document. One cannot even read Goring’s famous letter to Heydrich at the end of July 1941 charging him in two paragraphs to proceed with the final solution,” and examining that document, consider that everything is clarified. Far from it.

[…] It was an authorization to invent. It was an authorization to begin something that was not as yet capable to being put into words.

However, attacks on culture quickly descended into attacks on people. Ignoring guidelines in the ‘Sixteen Articles’ that stipulated that persuasion rather than force were to be used to bring about the Cultural Revolution, officials in positions of authority and perceived ‘bourgeois elements’ were denounced and suffered physical and psychological attacks. Intellectuals were to suffer the brunt of these attacks. Many were ousted from official posts such as university teaching and allocated manual tasks such as “sweeping courtyards, building walls and cleaning toilets from 7am to 5pm daily” which would encourage them to dwell on past “mistakes”. An official report in October 1966 reported that the Red Guards had already arrested 22,000 ‘counterrevolutionaries’ [Red Guards - Wikipedia].

It is as if it was particularly difficult, in the history in which men retrace their own ideas and their own knowledge, to formulate a general theory of discontinuity, of series, of limits, unities, specific orders, and differentiated autonomies and dependences. As if, in that field where we had become used to seeking origins, to pushing back further and further the line of antecedents, to reconstituting traditions, to following evolutive curves, to projecting teleologies, and to having constant recourse to metaphors of life, we felt a particular repugnance to conceiving of difference, to describing separations and dispersions, to dissociating the reassuring form of the identical. Or, to be more precise, as if we found it difficult to construct a theory, to draw general conclusions, and even to derive all the possible implications of these concepts of thresholds, mutations, independent systems, and limited series - in the way in which they had been used in fact by historians. As if we were afraid to conceive of the Other in the time of our own thought.
 There is a reason for this. If the history of thought could remain the locus of uninterrupted continuities, if it could endlessly forge connections that no analysis could undo without abstraction, if it could weave, around everything that men say and do, obscure synthesis that anticipate for him, prepare him, and lead him endlessly towards his future, it would provide a privileged shelter for the sovereignty of consciousness. Continuous history is the indispensable correlative of the founding function of the subject: the guarantee that everything that has eluded him may be restored to him; the certainty that time will disperse nothing without restoring it in a reconstituted unity; the promise that one day the subject - in the form of historical consciousness - will once again be able to appropriate, to bring back under his sway, all those things that are kept at a distance by difference, and find in them what might be called his abode. Making historical analysis the discourse of the continuous and making human consciousness the original subject of all historical development and all action are the two sides of the same system of thought. In this system, time is conceived in terms of totalisation and revolutions are never more than moments of consciousness.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not onesided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.

At any rate, he did not enter the Party out of conviction, nor was he ever convinced by it – whenever he was asked to give his reasons, he repeated the same embarrassed clichés about the Treaty of Versailles and unemployment; rather, as he pointed out in court, “it was like being swallowed up by the Party against all expectations and without previous decision. It happened so quickly and suddenly.” He had no time and less desire to be properly informed, he did not even know the Party program, he never read Mein Kampf. Kaltenbrunner had said to him: Why not join the S.S.? And he had replied, Why not? That was how it had happened, and that was about all there was to it. Of course, that was not all there was to it. What Eichmann failed to tell the presiding judge in cross-examination was that he had been an ambitious young man who was fed up with his job as traveling salesman even before the Vacuum Oil Company was fed up with him. From a humdrum life without significance’ and consequence the wind had blown him into History, as he understood it, namely, into a Movement that always kept moving and in which somebody like him – already a failure in the eyes of his social class, of his family, and hence in his own eyes as well – could start from scratch and still make a career.

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil


In Focus: World War I In Photos, an Introduction

A century ago, an assassin, a Serbian nationalist, killed the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary as he visited Sarajevo. This act was the catalyst for a massive conflict that lasted four years. More than 65 million soldiers were mobilized by more than 30 nations, with battles taking place around the world. Industrialization brought modern weapons, machinery, and tactics to warfare, vastly increasing the killing power of armies. Battlefield conditions were horrific, typified by the chaotic, cratered hellscape of the Western Front, where soldiers in muddy trenches faced bullets, bombs, gas, bayonet charges, and more. On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. Come back next week for part 2.

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Capitalism - renewal or decline? Laurie Taylor explores the future of our market driven economy. He’s joined by David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Colin Crouch, Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Warwick. Professor Harvey examines the contradictions at the heart of capitalism arguing that it’s far from being the permanent or only way of organising human life. Professor Crouch, conversely, suggests that only Capitalism can provide us with an efficient and innovative economy but it should be re-shaped to better fit a social democratic society.