[Teach your children well...]
Ernest Sternberg was kind to send me a PDF of his article, “Purifying the World: What the New Radical Ideology Stands For,” which is in the current Orbis (Winter 2010). I think many readers will enjoy it. Here is a long excerpt:
The hope with which we entered the twenty-first century was that, whatever new specters we would have to confront, totalitarian ideologies would not be among them. Fascism, communism, and their variants would moulder in their political graveyards. Could it be that we hoped in vain? Could it be that that, from their putrefied bodies, another world transforming ideology has emerged?
There is plenty of reason to think so. We are in the midst of the worldwide rise of a non-religious chiliastic movement, which preaches global human renewal and predicts apocalypse as its alternative. Like its twentieth century predecessors, the new ideology provides an intellectual formula through which to identify the present world’s depredations, imagines a pure new world that eliminates them, and mobilizes the disaffected and alienated for the sake of radical change. Like the followers of totalitarianisms past, the new ideologues also see themselves as the vanguard for the highest humanitarian ideals. If many of us have failed to recognize the rise of this new movement, the reason may be that we are still trapped in defunct ideological categories.
The new ideology is most clearly identified by what it opposes. Its enemy is the global monolith called Empire, which exerts systemic domination over human lives, mainly from the United States. Empire does so by means of economic liberalism, militarism, multinational corporations, corporate media, and technologies of surveillance, in cahoots with, or under the thrall of, Empire’s most sinister manifestation, namely Zionism. So far there is no controversy—these points will be readily admitted by advocates as well as critics.
There is much less clarity about what the new movement is for. My task here is to describe what it is for: to make the case that the new radicalism does have a coherent vision and, in postulating both an evil past and an ideal future, does qualify as a full-fledged ideology. Put starkly, the world it envisions is pure. The earth will be protected, justice will reign, economies will be sustainable, and energy will be renewable. Diverse communities will celebrate other communities, with the only proviso that they accede to doctrine. Far purer than democracies of the past, this future regime will operate through grassroots participatory meetings in which all communities are empowered.
As old nation-state boundaries fade away, communities will coordinate with each other globally by means of rectification cadres called non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Hard as it may be to believe, these ideas are not sentimental mishmash but rather the tenets of a more or less well-ordered dogma. This outlook even contains a concept of historical change: the agents of change will be networked bunds called ‘‘social movements.’’ Millions around the world already find this dogma so persuasive that it shapes their politics. For some, this dogma functions as did the fanatical ideologies of the past, as a guide to life’s meaning and an inspiration for fanatical commitment and self-sacrifice.
A new ideology it may be, but a totalitarian one? The adherents think of themselves as exemplars of purity, as progenitors of the utmost in democracy and inter-cultural appreciation. Could it be possible that, despite their sincerest beliefs, they are the vanguard of new totalitarian regime? The movement has yet to establish a regime, so we cannot say for certain. After analyzing this ideology, the essay concludes with some of the warning signs and with the prospect of participatory absolutism.
Read it all here.