Enslaved By Freedom
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Enslaved By Freedom Friday, July 5, 2024
I just finished another very perceptive article by N. S. Lyons in The Upheaval. Here Lyons looks at the thought of one of the 20th century's great maverick intellects--Ernst Junger. Junger is a controversial figure in that he wrote seriously about the virtues as well as the horrors of modern war, and this has led to diametrically opposed, stereotyped opinions of his work from the left and the right. I am just now becoming more familiar with his work. So far his accounts of World War I and subsequent musings on the west have the virtue of clean observation coupled with great intellectual independence. These qualities taken together put him in the company of similar spirits who stand outside the mainstream such as Eric Hoffer and Hannah Arendt. But more than anything Junger is simply a launching point for Lyons' essay. Readers of Jacques Ellul, James Burnham, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will find much of interest here.  A short snip:

I believe Junger helps resolve a paradox that I at least have wrestled with for some time (especially as a freedom-loving American): the paradox of individual autonomy. The paradox is this: we subsist under an increasingly totalizing and oppressive managerial regime, in which a vast impersonal hive-mind of officious bureaucrats and ideological programmers aims to surveil, constrain, and manage every aspect of our lives, from our behavior to our associations and even our language and beliefs. This rule-by-scowling-HR manager could hardly feel more collectivist - we're trapped in a "longhouse" ruled over by controlling, emasculating, spirit-sapping, safety-obsessed nannies. Naturally, our instinct is to sound a barbaric yawp of revolt in favor of unrestrained individual freedom. And yet, as I've endeavored to explain several times before, it is also a kind of blind lust for unrestrained individualism that got us stuck here in the first place.

The paradox is that the more individuals are liberated from the restraints imposed on them by others (e.g. relational bonds, communal duties, morals and norms) and by themselves (moral conscience and self-discipline), the more directionless and atomized they become; and the more atomized they become, the more vulnerable and reliant they are on the safety offered by some greater collective. Alone in his "independence," the individual finds himself dependent on a larger power to protect his safety and the equality of his proliferating "rights" (desires) from the impositions of others, and today it is the state that answers this demand. Yet the more the state protects his right to consume and "be himself" without restraint, the less independently capable and differentiated he becomes, even as his private affairs increasingly become the business of the expanding state.

Subject to the impersonal regulations of mechanistic processes and procedures rather than his own judgement or that of the people in close communion with him, the individual is molded into a more and more uniform cog to fit into the machine: a mere passive "consumer" and easily manipulated and programmed puppet - an automaton - rather than  a true individual actor. In the effort to maximize his autonomy, his real autonomy has been lost.

Such an individual has succumbed to what Junger fittingly describes as the all-encompassing "automatism" of our modern age, in which more and more of human life seems reduced to "mere functionality" and constrained by unliving mechanistic processes. Even our minds become subject to ideological machine code alongside base desires. And it is out of this loss of our humanity that totalitarianism and its atrocities are born.

By all means read the whole piece.

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