The alternative causes abandonment of the public sphere in favor of individualist intellectualizing cedes power to aggressive and reactionary elites that will cause extinction absent political engagement
Carl Boggs (Los Angeles Campus Full Time Faculty Professor) 1997 “The Great Retreat”
The decline of the public sphere in late twentieth-century America poses a series of great dilemmas and challenges. Many ideological currents scrutinized here ^ localism, metaphysics, spontaneism, post- modernism, Deep Ecology ^ intersect with and reinforce each other. While these currents have deep origins in popular movements of the 1960s and 1970s, they remain very much alive in the 1990s. Despite their different outlooks and trajectories, they all share one thing in common: a depoliticized expression of struggles to combat and over- come alienation. The false sense of empowerment that comes with such mesmerizing impulses is accompanied by a loss of public engagement, an erosion of citizenship and a depleted capacity of individuals in large groups to work for social change. As this ideological quagmire worsens, urgent problems that are destroying the fabric of American society will go unsolved ^ perhaps even unrecognized ^ only to fester more ominously into the future. And such problems (ecological crisis, poverty, urban decay, spread of infectious diseases, technological displacement of workers) cannot be understood outside the larger social and global context of internationalized markets, ¢nance, and communications. Paradoxically, the widespread retreat from politics, often inspired by localist sentiment, comes at a time when agendas that ignore or side- step these global realities will, more than ever, be reduced to impo- tence. In his commentary on the state of citizenship today,Wolin refers to the increasing sublimation and dilution of politics, as larger num- bers of people turn away from public concerns toward private ones. By diluting the life of common involvements, we negate the very idea of politics as a source of public ideals and visions.74 In the meantime, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The unyielding truth is that, even as the ethos of anti-politics becomes more compelling and even fashionable in the United States, it is the vagaries of political power that will continue to decide the fate of human societies. This last point demands further elaboration. The shrinkage of politics hardly means that corporate colonization will be less of a reality, that social hierarchies will somehow disappear, or that gigantic state and military structures will lose their hold over people's lives. Far from it: the space abdicated by a broad citizenry, well-informed and ready to participate at many levels, can in fact be filled by authoritarian and reactionary elites ^ an already familiar dynamic in many lesser- developed countries. The fragmentation and chaos of a Hobbesian world, not very far removed from the rampant individualism, social Darwinism, and civic violence that have been so much a part of the American landscape, could be the prelude to a powerful Leviathan designed to impose order in the face of disunity and atomized retreat. In this way the eclipse of politics might set the stage for a reassertion of politics in more virulent guise ^ or it might help further rationalize the existing power structure. In either case, the state would likely become what Hobbes anticipated: the embodiment of those universal, collec- tive interests that had vanished from civil society.75
The Alternative has it all wrong. By focusing on only the bad parts to western history the alternative prevents politics. The most violent wars happen between western countries, not done in the name of some frontier
Simms 10 ( By BRENDAN SIMMS, APRIL 15, 2010. Mr. Simms, a professor of international relations at Cambridge University, is the author of "Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire." Remorse As a Way of Life Dwelling on the West's past sins is strangely narcissistic—debilitating, too.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 4052702304168004575178791674850652.html, DA” 6/26/11, CP)
Over the years, historians and political scientists, studying the ways in which societies organize themselves, have come up with a range of categories to describe the state itself: the "feudal state," for instance, or the "garrison state," or, more recently, the "knowledge state." Properly applied, such labels can be a useful way of understanding the character of a nation or society at a particular historical moment. In "The Tyranny of Guilt," the French novelist and philosopher Pascal Bruckner adds yet another variant: the "penitent state." Its principal characteristic is an eagerness to apologize for the sins of colonialism and genocide and other Western crimes. The penitent state, by definition, is never an innocent victim of terrorist attack but a deserving one: It has, after all, provoked the wrath of the oppressed, either at home or abroad. Mr. Bruckner cites literary figures, journalists and intellectuals throughout the Western world making the case that whatever punishments the West has been made to suffer—e.g., the horrors of 9/11—are merely well deserved. View Full Image .The Tyranny of Guilt By Pascal Bruckner Princeton, 239 pages, $26.95 .The problem with such self-flagellation, Mr. Bruckner notes, is not factual error. On the contrary, the list of Western crimes, from slavery to genocide, is long. The problem is that a culture of remorse makes the justified, and necessary, criticism of non-Western crimes almost impossible. Serial human-rights abusers such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, or Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, are quick to cry hypocrisy, to good effect, when a Western government faults them for their undeniable acts of cruelty. Mr. Bruckner observes that while the crimes with which the West is charged are of a universal character—no society is without sin—the West's record of atoning for them is unique. "There is no doubt," he writes, "that Europe has given birth to monsters, but at the same time it has given birth to theories that make it possible to understand and destroy these monsters." He reminds us that the West's most destructive wars—against Nazism in 20th-century Europe, against slavery in 19th-century America—have been waged against other Westerners, not against hapless Africans or innocent Asians. The West, in Mr. Bruckner's felicitous phrase, is "like a jailer who throws you into prison and slips you the keys to your cell." Though Mr. Bruckner makes frequent references to Nazism and the Holocaust, he has little to say about the politics of remorse in present-day Germany. This is a pity, since the German case is a particularly good example, if not of the penitent state, then of the penitent state of mind. As Bernhard Schlink observes in "Guilt About the Past," Germany first "repressed" the memory of Hitler and then became "fixated" by it. View Full Image .Guilt About the Past By Bernhard Schlink Anansi Press, 143 pages, $15.95 .Mr. Schlink is a German law professor best known for his novel "The Reader" (1995). In its film version, in 2008, Kate Winslet played the role of Hanna, a former concentration-camp guard with whom the teenage hero, Michael, falls in love. Mr. Schlink hardly refers to his novel in "Guilt About the Past," even though "The Reader" has been criticized for giving a human face to a perpetrator of Nazi crimes. In the chapter on literary representations of guilt, Mr. Schlink argues for the primacy of "telling the story" while conceding that "to tell a thrilling story can easily tempt one into tolerating someone else's hurt too easily." He leaves the tension between these positions unresolved, and their implications for his own work unremarked. Most of "Guilt About the Past" is devoted to a scrupulous, if somewhat ponderous, study of the legal and cultural aspects of Germany's guilt after 1945. Mr. Schlink notes that German citizens were considered to be collectively, and continuously, guilty, even though fewer and fewer of them, over the years, were even of adult age at the time of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. Luckily, Mr. Schlink's analysis is peppered with autobiographical vignettes that show how much the Nazi past came to be part of a struggle between the members of the 1968 generation and their parents. Mr. Schlink narrates an incident at Heidelberg University in 1970 when a law professor, himself a conformist during the Nazi period, became involved in a scuffle with students outraged at both his past and the way in which he sought to suppress their protests. Both Mr. Schlink and Mr. Bruckner believe that an obsession with guilt can easily become a disabling form of narcissism. "Fighting and winning yesterday's moral battles with bravery in one's mind," Mr. Schlink writes, "doesn't necessarily prepare one for today's moral conflicts." The patience of the NATO powers wore thin in the early 1990s, for instance, when they were told that their German ally could not participate in the effort to stop Serbian attacks on Bosnian Muslims. When the Berlin government eventually abandoned that position in 1994-95, joining NATO's campaign in Bosnia at last, it couched the decision in terms of the need to prevent "another Auschwitz," as if the Serbian policy of ethnic cleansing was not enough in itself. The French like to say that "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse": He who tries to justify himself incriminates himself. There is much in European history to confirm the adage. Reading Messrs. Bruckner and Schlink, one realizes that the opposite is true as well: "Qui s'accuse, s'excuse." Westerners who fetishize their historical guilt may intend only to own up to past sins, but they often end up conveniently excusing themselves from taking responsibility for the future.