Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summary of the centuries

More from Keith Ansell-Pearson, discussing Nietzsche:

The seventeenth century is the century of ‘aristocratism’ (Descartes), consisting in the ‘rule of reason’ and the ‘testimony of the sovereignty of the will’. The aristocratic seventeenth century ‘looks down haughtily upon the animalic’, it is severe against the heart, without sentimentality and un-German. It is the century of strong will and strong passion. The eighteenth century is the century of ‘feminism’ (Rousseau), it is the rule of feeling and ‘testimony of the sovereignty of the senses’. It is the age of enthusiasm in which the human spirit is placed in the service of the heart, ‘libertine in the enjoyment of what is most spiritual’, it undermines all authorities. The nineteenth century is the century of ‘animalism’ (Schopenhauer), submissive before every kind of reality, it is the age of honesty and realism, but also weak in will, ‘full of dark cravings’, and ‘fatalistic’.

What would be the description of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? I guess the twentieth was the century of aggression, when the nation states which emerged in the nineteenth century began to clash and industrialisation was used to macabre ends, when the individual was subsumed by the state and confrontation could only be resolved by conflict.

And the new century? It's too early to say. It could go different ways. Either we are sliding into a self-induced impotence, a narcissistic inability to do anything because we can no longer see further than our own narrow, personal interests; or that state control which emerged in the twentieth century will reassert itself and the individual will be finally swallowed up by the all-seeing, all-conquering nanny.

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