July 26th, 2013 by Hafiz Noor Shams
This is most obvious in the case of Fascism. The Fascists and National Socialists did not expect inferior classes, or races, or individuals to understand or sympathise with their own goals; their inferior was innate, ineradicable, since it was due to blood, or race, or some other irremovable characteristic; any attempt on the part of such creatures to pretend to equality with their masters, or even to comprehension of their ideals, was regarded as arrogant or presumptuous. Caliban was considered incapable of lifting his face to the sky and catching even a glimpse if, let alone sharing, the ideals of Prospero. The business of slaves is to obey; hat gives their masters their right to trample on them is precisely the alleged fact – which Aristotle asserted – that some men are slaves by nature, and have not enough human quality to give orders themselves, or understand why they are being forced to do what they do.
If Fascism is the extreme expression of their attitude, all nationalism is infected by it to some degree. Nationalism is not consciousness of the reality of national character, nor pride in it. It is a belief in the unique mission of a nation, as being intrinsically superior to the goals or attributes of whatever is outside of it; so that if there is a confliction between my nation and other men, I am obliged to fight for my nation no matter at what cost to other men; and if the others resist, that is no more than one would expect from beings brought up in an inferior culture, educated by, or born of, inferior persons, who cannot ex hypothesi understand the ideals that animate my nation and me. My gods are in conflict whit those of others, my values with those of strangers, and there exists no higher authority – certainly no absolute and universal tribunal – by which the claims of these rival divinities can be adjudicated. That is why war, between nations or individuals, must be the only solution.
We think, for the most part, in words. But all words belong to specific languages, the products of specific cultures. As there is no universal human language, so there exists no universal human law or authority, else these laws, his authority, would be sovereign over the earth; but this , for nationalists, is neither possible nor desirable; a universal law is not true law: cosmopolitan culture is a sham and a delusion; international law is only called law by a precarious analogy – a hollow courtesy intended to conceal the violent break with the universalism of the past.
This assumption is less obvious with the cases of Marxism, which in theory, at least, is internationalist. But Marxism is a nineteenth-century ideology, and has not escaped the all-pervasive separatism of its time. Marxism is founded on reason; that is to say, it claims that its propositions are intelligible, and their truth can be ‘demonstrated’ to any rational being in possession of the relevant facts. It offers salvation to all men; anyone can, in principle, see the light, and denies it at his own peril.
In practice, however, this is not so. Theory of economic base and ideological superstructure of which Marxist sociology is founded teaches that the ideas in men’s heads are conditioned by the position occupied by them, or by their economic class, in the productive system. This fact may be disguised from individual persons by all kinds of self-delusions and rationalisations, but ‘scientific’ analysis will always reveal that the vast majority of any given class believe only that which favours the interests of that class – interest which the social scientists can determine by objective historical analysis – whatever reasons they may choose, however sincerely, to give for their beliefs; and conversely they disbelieve, reject, misunderstand, distort, try and escape form, ideas belief in which would weaken the position of their class.
All men are to be found, as it were, on one of two moving stairs; I belong to a class which, owning to its relationship to the forces of production, is either moving upwards towards triumph, or downwards towards ruin. In either case my beliefs and outlook – the legal, moral, social, intellectual, religious, aesthetic ideas – in which I feel at home, will reflect the interests of the class to which I belong. If I belong to a class moving towards victory, I shall hold a realistic set of beliefs, for I am not afraid of what I see; I am moving with the tide, knowledge of the truth can only give me confidence; if I belong to ta doomed class, my inability to gaze upon the fatal facts – for few men are able to recognise that they are destined to perish – will falsify my calculations, and render me deaf and blind to the truths too painful for me to face. It follows that it must be useless for members of the rising class to try to convince members of the falling order that the only way in which they can save themselves is by understanding the necessities of history and therefore transferring themselves, if they can, to the steep stair that is moving upwards, from that which runs so easily to destruction. It is useless, because ex hypothesi members of a doomed class are conditioned to see everything through a falsifying lens: the plainest symptoms of approaching death will seem to them evidence of health and progress; they suffer from optimistic hallucinations, and must systematically misunderstand the warnings that persons who belong to a different economic class, in their charity, may try to give them; such delusions are themselves the inevitable by-product of clinging to an order which history has condemned. It is idle for the progressives to try to save their reactionary brothers from defeat: the doomed men cannot hear them, and their destruction is certain. All men will not be saved: the proletariat, justly intent upon its own salvation, had best ignore the fate of their oppressors; even if they wish to return good for evil, they cannot save their enemies from ‘liquidation’. They are ‘expendable’ – their destruction can be neither averted nor regretted by a rational being, for it is the price that mankind must pay for the progress of reason itself: the road to the gates of Paradise is necessarily strewn with corpses. [Isaiah Berlin. European Unity and its Vicissitudes. 1959]