Category Archives: globalism

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Since the Hollywood reboot of the 1995 classic is likely to disappoint, I revisited the original to see how it holds up. Unsurprisingly, the 1995 Ghost in the Shell directed by Mamoru Oshii more than earns its spot in the pantheon of SF classics with its highly plausible technological speculations, dazzling visuals as well as its political and philosophical commentary.

GITS was an early cinematic entry into the what was, at the time, a new subgenre of SF dubbed cyberpunk.  With the advent of the home computer connected to a vast global information superhighway, SF writers turned their attention to previously unimagined futurescapes of mass surveillance, cybercriminal underworlds, technocratic corporatism, information trafficking, and cybernetic engineering. By weaving all these elements together, GITS established itself as an influential example of the genre. Add in some government deep state machinations, immigration terrorism and globalism, and the themes only accumulate strength and relevance. 

Despite the absence of alien civilizations and interstellar travel, one of the main ideas in cyberpunk which connects it to the broader legacy of SF is the exploration of the idea of artificial intelligence. This is the central idea in GITS, and Major Motoko Kusanagi’s quest to uncover the identity of Puppet Master is simultaneously a quest to attain that which defines humanity in the end. 

Like William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, GITS is a high tech crime/espionage thriller which delves into some meaty questions pertaining to race, biological diversity, genetic memories and the nature of consciousness itself. The film opens by delineating the broad conflict between the globalist elites building a vast, decentralized network of technocratic control versus the proles who still claim selfhood through nationalism and racial identity. 

In the near future – corporate networks reach out to the stars. Electrons and light flow throughout the universe. The advance of computerisation, however, has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups.

The film centers around Major Motoko Kusanagi; a cyborg who works in Section 9 and is pursuing a cyber-hacker called the Puppet Master. She possesses a human consciousness, a “ghost”, but her body (i.e. “shell”) is fully cybernetic. The Puppet Master has the ability to hack human brains and overwrite their memories and identity. She and her supercyborg partner, Batoh, are charged with finding the Puppet Master.

The opening scene sets up the intrigue. Major Kusanagi is monitoring a set of diplomats in a hotel room discussing Project 2501 with a programmer.  The Section 6 police force moves into place to storm the room. One of the diplomats claims immunity as the cops enter the room and the bullets start flying. The head of Section 6 announces that it’s illegal to take programmers out of the country just as an invisible attacker from outside the hotel room takes out the foreign diplomat in a rather gruesome manner. The programmer is denied asylum and the diplomat is taken out by the Major without a trail. Two different police agencies working from different ends of the legal spectrum to quash corporate espionage and thwart emigration.  

It’s handled very subtly, but Japan’s tight control of immigration and sense of national identity is very clearly spelled out. After the Major dispatched the diplomat, the Japanese Prime Minister expresses his gratitude to Section 9 leader, Aramaki, that the programmer’s attempt at defection was handled without going through standard bureaucratic channels. He goes on to explain that the he’d love to deport the recently deposed leader of the Gavel Republic if he had a good political excuse. In addition to the references to Section 9’s ongoing crackdowns on immigration terrorists, these pieces of the story strongly suggest that this future Japan is still maintaining a relatively homogeneous population and national identity. Based on what I’ve read about the reboot, this theme has been inverted to serve the globalist mantras around multiculturalism. 

The real philosophical meat of the movie revolves around the true identity of the Puppet Master and Major Kusanagi’s existential ruminations over her own fate. What defines the essence of selfhood? Identitarians tend to claim immutable characteristics like skin pigmentation, racial heritage, genitalia and sexual preferences. Not far behind are religious tradition and national or regional identity. Peel away those labels and then you’re left with ideals and abstractions like belief, pride, and morality.

Section 6 Department Chief Nakamura: Nonsense! There’s no proof at all that you are a living, thinking life form! 

Puppet Master: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?

More specifically, it addresses the extent to which intergenerational memory defines selfhood and ensures the propagation of genetics.

Puppet Master: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So, man is an individual only because of his intangible memory… and memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. The advent of computers, and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.

GITS is posing questions pertaining to the nature of man found throughout the SF canon since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Are humans just a bag of chemicals and organic tissue guided by laws of determinism? Or is the human capacity for thought a unique phenomenon? Are we caretakers and guardians of generations of genetic memory which are passed through procreation and family tradition? Can man become God by replicating life itself through technology?  

Speciation is defined as the evolutionary process by which new genetic lines are created. Since the Puppet Master can only replicate its own code, the only way it can truly live on is by reproducing with another being. After a climactic battle scene, the Major and the Puppet Master conjoin their consciousness to produce a new post-human species merging human and digital being.  

The features which distinguish SF as a genre are the usage of far reaching technological and imaginative speculation to ask the deepest philosophical questions pertaining to the individual and the State. It is a genre that has appealed to our highest ideals and given us some of the most dire warnings.  The fact that GITS has been given the Hollywood reboot treatment is an indication of the strength of the original vision.  

Major Motoko Kusanagi: There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.

Wonder Woman (2017)

After years in development, Wonder Woman has finally gotten her big budget Hollywood screen adaptation with a female director at the helm. Gal Gadot carries off the role with a sufficient level of likeability and physical prowess. One would not be unreasonable to ask “Have we finally reached peak cinematic feminism?” I mean, it’s 2017 fer chrissakes! The answer is most likely a resounding No, but I’ll be damned if Wonder Woman doesn’t set a new standard in feminist pandering and wish fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong. The film definitely has entertainment value, but you are well advised to brace yourself for some serious next level Hollywood-style proselytizing for the Church of Feminism.

In contrast to the annoying trend toward gender swapping revisionism and the near ubiquity of blockbuster heroines, the feminist editorial in Wonder Woman is expected because it was written into the character’s source code from the start. In fact, not only is the Wonder Woman character a pretty explicit piece of feminist mythology, this film is easily the most overt attempt to canonize feminism as a globalist secular religion. Though it eventually resolves with a respectful nod towards Wonder Woman’s origins, it is chock full of contemporary talking points, groan inducing PC orthodoxy and heavily loaded religious symbolism.  I’m not an expert on every aspect of Marston’s original vision, but I know enough to know that they made some pretty dubious revisions to the original mythology in order to cater to current political narratives. 

The film lays it on pretty thick right out of the gate. After delivering a voiceover in which Diana Prince confesses that her idealism had been blunted upon entering the world of mankind, a Wayne Industries armored carrier service delivers a package to our heroine working at what appears to be a cushy curator gig at the Louvre. Instead of an American patriot working from the inside of military intelligence, we have an aesthete working in a key EU member state at the world’s most renowned art museum. The package contains a WW1 photo of Wonder Woman and a note from Bruce Wayne indicating his desire to hear the story behind it. Cue the time warp back to Diana’s childhood in the matriarchal paradise of Themyscira. 

If you thought the Vuvalini in Mad Max: Fury Road was pandering to radfem matriarchal fantasies, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Themyscira. Presumably modeled after Marston’s vision, the Amazons of Themyscira live in a utopia of pure feminine bliss and order. The gigantic architecture resembles classical Greek design and was expertly carved from marble and stone. Young Diana is enthralled by the combat training exercises being carried out under the iron discipline of Robin Wright’s Antiope. Naturally, every Amazon possesses balletic, superhuman combat skills with and without perfectly crafted metal weapons. Young Diana pleads with her mother, Hippolyta, to begin combat training but she forbids it.  “Don’t you think she should learn to defend herself?”, asks Antiope. Absolutely not, says Hippolyta. After all, she is protected by Antiope’s Amazon army of super soldiers. Right away, we’re presented with a matriarchy in which there is perfectly crafted stone architecture, expertly wrought metal weaponry, abundant resources, peace, order, beauty, art, education, military might, cultural tradition, multiracial harmony, political equality and apparently, procreation. We aren’t privy to the details of the male eugenics program which weeds out male births, but it’s safe to assume it’s fully funded by taxpayers. Of course, all of these marvels are achieved without the aid of men. I realize this is superhero mythology, but this level of pandering seems geared towards appeasing the Julie Bindels and Laurie Pennys of the world. 

While putting her to bed, Hippolyta attempts to disabuse young Diana of her desire to learn combat.  I mean, it’s great that you’re breaking gender stereotypes and setting an example for young girls, but you need to get #WOKE to all this war stuff, Diana. Hippolyta busts out the Amazonian Bible and lays down the origins of civilization itself.  Zeus made man in his image and, at first, they lived together in peace and harmony.  Ares, the God of War and a white male, filled the hearts of men with fear and suspicion which put them in conflict one another. Ares killed all the gods, but was vanquished by Zeus and doomed to roam in the world of men. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind from the scourge of Ares. The only way to stop Ares is by wielding the mythical God Killer sword; a sword whose phallic nature can be used to kill Greek and Christian gods alike. Step aside King Arthur and make way for Diana of Themyscira, PYGS! So to recap, a fucking white male poisons the hearts of mankind and fills the world with hatred and strife, but a peaceful civilization of women descended from Zeus lies in wait to redeem and defend the world from evil Ares.  In short, womyn are goddesses, saviors and redeemers, but m*n have only poisoned the world with war because of their toxic masculinity. Kneel before the Church of Feminism and repent! 

Naturally, gender studies are mandatory in Themyscira so Diana is completely unencumbered by harmful gender stereotypes and pursues combat training against Hippolyta’s wishes. Diana rises to the head of the class and not only can she kick everyone’s ass, she has magical bracelet powers and shit.  Clearly, Diana has a little more goddess mojo than her Amazonian counterparts. 

While contemplating her supernatural abilities by the beach, a fighter plane crashes into the ocean.  Its pilot is in danger, so she dives into the ocean to save this hapless dolt. Upon dragging his helpless ass on to the shore, she realizes why this mysterious being has fallen into a state of misfortune and requires the rescue of an Amazonian goddess.  “You’re a m*n”, realizes Diana. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor exhibits his utter cluelessness to gender expression by saying, “Don’t I look like one?” And with this simple exchange, meme #hxstory was made.  

After fending off an invasion in which the Amazons’ balletic badassery is barely sufficient to repel m*n with g*ns, Diana realizes that Ares has plunged the world into a deadly conflagration that threatens to consume all of mankind. Under inducement of the magical Lasso of Hestia, Steve Trevor reveals that he is a spy who stole plans to a deadly bioweapon being developed by….wait for it…..THE GERMANS! Because there has apparently never been a country in the history of the world which has bred genocidal and totalitarian ambitions quite like Germany. Under the command of General Ludendorff and the evil Dr. Isabel Maru, the German army will wreak destruction on countless women and children. Maybe some men, too, but who cares about them, amirite? Knowing that the lives of women and children are at stake, Diana resolves to leave Themyscira with Trevor in order to kill Ares and vanquish evil from the hearts of men. Hippolyta is saddened, but resigns herself to accepting Diana’s choice by reinforcing the valuable lessons in gender supremacy and misandry that the Amazons have cultivated for so long.  “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you. You have been my greatest love. Today, you are my greatest sorrow,” says a tearful Hippolyta. Determined to uphold the tenets of #SocialJustice, Diana sets out to check privilege, smash gender norms, and generally kick the patriarchy’s ass. “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” she promises. And just think. This was WAY before Tumblr. Watch out, fascists! 

Diana and Steve set sail for London to get Dr. Poison’s plans into the hands of British military commanders. While at sea, Steve reveals himself as the patriarchal piece of shit that he is with an antiquated bit of “chivalry”; he makes a comfortable bed for Diana while confining himself to a cramped edge of the deck. She invites him to join her, but he hesitates because it’s not proper to sleep with women outside of marriage. This is an admirable amount of restraint for a rapist who doesn’t understand consent, but Diana persists. Diana reveals that she doesn’t understand why men and women get married and commit their lives to one another if they don’t keep the promise. Steve is stumped, and quite frankly, so are we. Who wants children and families or any of that patriarchal enslavement?  I mean, gender scholars have pulled the veil from all this heteronormative bullshit. After raising Steve’s hopes of getting some Amazonian action, Diana leaves him blue balled by telling him that she’s read all of the works on sexuality written by Themysciran gender scholars. They concluded that m*n were necessary for reproduction but unnecessary for sexual gratification. Guess you’ll have to resort to self-service, Trevor.

Upon arriving in London, Diana is instantly appalled by rampant pollution, shitty architecture, catcalling, and m*n everywhere. In another nod to the Marston mythology, we meet Steve Trevor’s body positive secretary, Etta Candy.  Diana is puzzled by the phenomenon of a secretary and asks what that entails. “Oh, well, I do everything. I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do,” she says. “Well, where I’m from that’s called slavery,” retorts Diana. Oh snap! Burned again, shitlords! EMPLOYMENT is slavery! I mean, it’s not like Themyscira had a very strict military and government hierarchy or anything! It’s not like the cultivation of resources, development of military discipline, or the building of civilization requires some level of submission to leadership or anything. It’s ALL ARBITRARY PATRIARCHAL ENSLAVEMENT. 

Steve insists that Etta help Diana blend in by getting her some new clothes.  Cue the montage in which we’re treated to Gal Gadot sporting early 20th century British fashion while chuckling at the high hilarity of the many patriarchal restrictions it places on her Amazonian combat capabilities. There aren’t any free bleeding-friendly yoga pants which would raise awareness of period shaming, but Diana settles on a smart corporate business suit that comes with glasses. The glasses are essential in order to forestall sexist assumptions that she’s a clueless dumbass because that’s obviously the first thought a m*n thinks when seeing a woman. 

Steve scandalizes the British high command by daring to bring Diana, a woman, into their top secret meeting. They’re totally triggered because of their fragile masculinity, but they listen to his plea to take the bioweapon plans and destroy the secret lab. David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick assures him it’s unnecessary because they’re on the cusp of signing an armistice deal. Diana isn’t buying it. Because she’s been educated in Themyscira University with a degree in postmodern gender theory, she can read Babylonian cuneiform and shit. She tells these clueless dumbshits that they’re risking the lives of innocent women and children. Subsequently, they should send all the men to the front to save them because what good have men ever done in the world? The commanders are too triggered by the presence of such a #STRONG womyn, but Trevor resolves to keep his promise to bring her to the front. As the enthusiasm amongst American feminists for mandatory selective service indicates, women are CLAMORING to fill combat roles and reach the heights of military command positions.  

Before they undertake this dangerous mission, they need to assemble a diverse, multicultural team of men to bumble their way through the mission while marveling at Diana’s Amazonian voluptuousness. Among the mercenary heroes are an English drunkard marksman, an Arabic guy to school everyone on #RACISM, and of course, a Native American(?!?!) dude to remind everyone about the evils of colonialism perpetrated by the American white man.  

With the blessing and patronage of Sir Patrick, the heroes set out to the battlefront to kick some proto-Nazi ass. Upon reaching the front, Diana is unfazed by the bullets and ordnances flying around her and can’t understand why these cowards won’t just advance their position.  The lives of women and children are at stake! Steve tries to spell it out for her. 

Steve Trevor: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine g*ns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.

Diana Prince: So… what? So we do nothing? 

Steve Trevor: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do. 

Diana Prince: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

Checkmate, shitlords.  Cue slow motion robe removal and step ladder climb on to the battlefield.  It’s cheesy as hell, but it works. 

In an unusual concession to patriarchal norms, Wonder Woman actually allows some romantic affection to develop between Diana and Steve.  After liberating a French village from occupation, the heroes enjoy a moment of peace and celebratory revelry. Marksman Charlie attempts to entertain the crowd with some sweet piano ballads and his crude but spirited singing voice.  In what is probably one of the more poignant commentaries on the true legacy of modern feminism, Steve Trevor reveals something remarkably honest about the state of manhood in 2017. It’s a confession that’s probably meant to be another indictment of the shallowness of men, but I suggest that it reveals the dearth of positive paternal examples for young men in general. 

Diana Prince: What do people do when there isn’t a war? 

Steve Trevor: They get a job, get married, have children. 

Diana Prince: What is that like? 

Steve Trevor: I… don’t know.

As much as I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s martial vision of Wonder Woman, I can’t help but think that it lacks the joyful cheeseball patriotism that Lynda Carter brought to the 70’s version of the character. Like Superman and Captain America, Wonder Woman was most definitely a patriotic superhero.  Even her Israeli accent makes her seem more Euro-cosmopolitan and less American. Instead of the bright primary colors of Lynda Carter’s Old Glory-inspired two-piece, Gal Gadot sports an armor-like combat skirt which mutes the traditional blue, gold and red with dull metallic overtones. It looks cool, but it definitely says Globalist Wonder Woman instead of America’s Wonder Woman. 

The film is entertaining enough, but I never felt that Wonder Woman was in danger at any point nor did I sense that she had any real weaknesses or flaws. Besides her bombshell good looks and physicality, Gadot alternates between adequate and bland on the charisma scale. Whether it’s that the role has been flattened by the necessity of fulfilling every item on the feminist checklist or that she’s not that great an actress in the first place, there’s an absence of any real personality. The responses to the film from feminist media have been predictably hilarious.  If it’s not the outrage of Wonder Woman’s shaved armpits, it’s the hope that one day Wonder Woman will be a fat, queer, non-binary WOC.  One gets the distinct impression that the more you pander to feminists, the more petty the complaints become. 

Above all else, Wonder Woman is a hymn to the twin religions of Globalism and Feminism. The one plot twist in the film could easily be seen as a slam on Nigel Farage, UKIP and #Brexit. As for the feminist proselytizing, Wonder Woman represents a new high water mark for religious symbolism. In one of the early battle scenes, Wonder Woman bounds through a church steeple to take out the German snipers endangering the civilians below.  After dispatching them handily, Wonder Woman emerges from the rubble of the Christian Church to bask in the glow of her devout and grateful flock. Symbolism doesn’t get more blatant than that.

The ending of the film is respectful towards the character legacy, but also rife with theological overtones.  Diana recognizes that she may never conquer the evil that lies in the hearts of humanity. As a goddess of love, they are always free to choose the salvation she provides if they just listen and believe. Praise Wonder Woman and get ready for Justice League, PYGS. 

Diana Prince: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know… that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.

Dark City (1998)

Alex Proyas’ 1998 masterpiece, Dark City, may draw easy comparisons to The Matrix, but it deserves to be evaluated on its own terms. Both films deal with the idea that there is a deeper reality beyond material appearances as well as the possibility that there are malevolent forces actively shaping your perception. Both films also give you a protagonist who cracks the code of the reality with his own powers which threatens the controlled order of the world he inhabits. While The Matrix was ultimately a story of the Chosen One who liberates the huddled remains of humanity, Dark City is a story of a man who discovers that the essence of his humanity that could not be controlled made him stronger than his captors. 

Playing the role of John Murdoch, Rufus Sewell awakens in a bathtub suffering from amnesia. To his dismay, he discovers a woman brutally murdered lying on the floor of his bedroom. Fleeing the scene in a panic after receiving a phone call from a mysterious Doctor Schreber, he barely escapes discovery from a trio of ghoulish looking beings known as The Strangers. When the clock strikes midnight, the entire city stops and all its inhabitants fall into a state of hypnosis except Murdoch. This state of hypnosis is induced by The Strangers using a psychokinetic power called “tuning” which allows them to reshape the city and the lives of its inhabitants. Pursued simultaneously by Inspector Frank Bumstead under suspicion of multiple murders, Murdoch is able to escape the clutches of The Strangers by tapping into his own ability to tune. Murdoch tries to recover his memories by reaching out to his torch singer wife, Emma. Murdoch’s ability to tune threatens the control The Strangers exert on the citizens of Dark City.  He seeks to return to Shell Beach, the beachside town he believes to be his home, and unravel the mystery of Dark City before The Strangers catch up with him. 

Dark City belongs to a venerable tradition of SF films which explores the essence of identity, free will versus determinism, the effect of time and memory, and the value of our connection to the past. Given the escalating tensions in neuroscience over the role of biological factors and the nature of consciousness itself, Dark City’s emphasis on the latter theme places it a notch above The Matrix. Through tuning, The Strangers possess the ability to shape time and space, but they imprint people with stolen memories in order to discover what makes humans tick. The Strangers’ mentality can be viewed as a classic representation of collectivist materialism. With Doctor Schreber’s coerced assistance, they distill human experience into chemical combinations. Despite their apparent superiority, The Strangers cling doggedly to the belief that by continuously reshaping the physical, social, and even biochemical conditions, they can mold humanity to fit their desired ends. 

The Strangers’ manipulations of reality also serve as a metaphor for the myriad ways in which globalists, social scientists, and technocrats have intervened in human affairs in the present world. Ultimately, the film is an affirmation of the existence of a sovereign individual consciousness and the ability to exercise free will, but it shows you how difficult it is to develop an awareness of Self. Not only does Murdoch struggle to recover his connection to his own past, he must work equally hard to rip away the veil of deception that has been carefully constructed all around him.

Dr. Schreber: I call them the Strangers. They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it… is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector. The next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality. Arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history… even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?

The Strangers are one of the most chilling representations of an alien dictatorship I’ve seen on film. They share a collective consciousness, but they have no individuality. It is a society of abject servitude to the hive mind. They possess advanced scientific knowledge, but they’re so imprisoned by scientific thinking, they’re completely insensitive to the ways they’re destroying the lives of their subjects. Morality and ethics are absent from their existence. 

In contrast to the messianic nature of Neo and his quest in The Matrix, Murdoch’s heroism is purely the result of his desire to attain meaning and discover the truth of reality. By asserting his individuality and claiming ownership of his own thoughts, it had a ripple effect in the other characters. He instinctively knows that the love he shared with his wife and his connection to Shell Beach were the only things that gave his life meaning and purpose. 

Stylistically, Dark City is a visual tour de force. The film effortlessly updates Metropolis‘ German expressionism with a lush 90’s gothic film noir chic. The overall color palette is suffused with black and other dark tones, but it is not devoid of rich, vivid colors. Visual, stylistic, and thematic references to its forebears abound. Vertigo, Blade Runner, City of Lost Children, Total Recall, and The Crow can all be detected within Dark City’s DNA. 

Dark City is a film which borrows very liberally from other films, but stands alone on its own terms. We continue debate the acquisition of truth amidst a sea of self-interested media elites, the extent to which we’re influenced by our past positively or negatively, the consequences of the endless parade of would-be social scientists peddling postmodern abstraction as policy, what role neuroscience plays in shaping happiness, and what quantum mechanics suggests about human consciousness. Dark City’s themes speak to each of these issues, and its relevance has grown in proportion. Not only does it stand very tall in the SF cinematic canon, but in the annals of all film. 

Isaiah Berlin: The Crooked Timber of Humanity

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made. – Immanuel Kant

If you’re interested in a contemporary philosopher who is able to put thousands of years into clear perspective, I would certainly place Sir Isaiah Berlin at or near the top of the list. Mr. Berlin’s vaunted reputation as an advocate for classical liberal principles and a first rate thought historian is entirely well deserved as The Crooked Timber of Humanity amply demonstrates.  As the title suggests, Berlin focuses on the origins of the movements that have led towards self-destruction and contrasts them against those which have animated modern liberal society. Specifically, he traces the origins of utopianism, cultural relativism versus pluralism, and fascism as well as its ideological bedfellow, nationalism.

Mr. Berlin treats the ideas and subjects with great respect. True to the spirit of his other works, his central goal in this collection serves both as a warning against the encroachment of tyrannical ideas as well to provide as an intellectual antidote to illiberalism. Berlin’s analysis of these thinkers is incisive. When evaluated in light of current political movements, remains relevant and often downright prescient.  One wonders if, with respect to universalism and managerial scientism, he has underestimated the allure and endurance of this doctrine.

Berlin opens with a broadside against the Platonic ideal and the accompanying pursuit of the utopian society.  The Platonic ideal is comprised of three components.

  1. All genuine questions have one true answer and all other answers are errors.
  2. There must be a dependable path towards the discovery of these truths.
  3. These universal truths are compatible with one another.

Human needs and the means by which to attain them could be discovered through same methods by which natural scientific law could be discovered.  Once discovered, these principles could be codified and implemented through policy.  Berlin argues that this impulse is on the decline in the West, but if the arguments of the contemporary social scientists serve as an indicator, the hunger for pseudo-scientific micromanagement of human affairs remains undiminished.

Berlin contends that Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova (1725) and his doctrine of  the “common nature of nations” as well as a later generation of German Romantics, including Johann Gottfried von Herder, pointed towards a “cultural pluralism” which provided a counterpoint and possible antidote to the empirical absolutism of the Enlightenment.  The cultural pluralism Vico and Herder espoused rested on the contention that there were, in fact, incompatible values between cultures which could not be reconciled to universal principles. Both Vico and Herder’s thought contravened the Enlightenment consensus that man was ultimately governed by universal laws.

In this current age of globalization where the watchword is multiculturalism, Vico and Herder’s conclusions certainly warrant further examination and pose very important questions. What constitutes culture in a multicultural society?  If culture is the product of the transmission of practices and traditions which were generated within a genetically homogenous society over the course of centuries, to what extent are these practices meaningful in a multicultural society to those who didn’t belong to the original culture?  Are individuals from different cultures being held to universal standards of conduct in a multicultural society?  Is it possible to have a multiculturalism which isn’t manufactured by social engineers or a Trojan Horse for hollow identity politics and globalist socialism?  Perhaps most importantly, if individuals from other cultures immigrate to a new culture in search of a better life, do they have any obligation to honor the culture into which they’ve inserted themselves whether voluntarily or by necessity?

Since this doctrine ran contrary to the cultural objectivist consensus of the day, Berlin contends that Vico and Herder’s pluralism should not be confused with relativism.  In other words, neither Vico nor Herder espoused a relativism of fact, but a relativism of values.  His emphasis on this difference is not insignificant in light of the current multicultural zeitgeist. In defense of Vico and Herder, he invokes a poignant quote from John Stuart Mill:

It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Commerce is now what war once was, the principal source of this contact. Commercial adventurers from more advanced countries have generally been the first civilizers of barbarians. And commerce is the purpose of the far greater part of the communication which takes place between civilized nations. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.

Mill’s quote refers specifically to commerce as the cultural bridge, but his underlying point about the difficulty of understanding a pluralism of values in the absence of commerce is what warrants deeper consideration. The multiculturalists, social engineers and globalists have attempted to engineer such a consensus artificially by advancing an aggressive agenda of Tolerance™ with an ever diminishing set of results to show for it. It’s ironic that the champions of this doctrine have shown such remarkable contempt for the opponents of their agenda and remain unwilling to appreciate the relativism of values which run contrary to their megalomaniacal ambitions.  Once again, one wonders if it is possible to create a multicultural consensus which doesn’t devolve into a clinical and bureaucratic utilitarianism papered over by empty platitudes of Unity©.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the individual Mr. Berlin believes to be the architect of modern fascism, Joseph de Maistre. In light of the rising tide of nationalism which has engulfed America and much of Europe, Berlin’s discussion of Maistre’s thought is especially poignant given that this phenomenon is largely a backlash to the social engineering of the multiculturalists and globalists. While Greece’s Golden Dawn party certainly represents a rising tide of genuine fascism which contains the twin hallmarks of the movement in its various historical manifestations, racial purity and nationalism, Maistre’s thought reminds us that there is more than a little paranoia and manufactured hysteria in the bleating of the progressive Left when it comes to Trump, Brexit and the various nationalist movements on the rise throughout Europe.

Maistre was a true reactionary to every aspect of the Enlightenment project. While the egalitarians espoused a view of man in which universal truth could be attained through scientific inquiry, Maistre rejected this doctrine with absolute impunity. On every aspect of the Enlightenment consensus, from rationalism to individualism to liberal egalitarianism, Maistre regarded these ideas with pure contempt.  By Berlin’s reckoning, Maistre’s vision of social order demanded absolute subordination to the Cross and the Crown.

While it is not unreasonable to conclude that Maistre provided the ideological template for the fascism of modern times, it certainly prompts questions over the appropriateness of seemingly indiscriminate and ubiquitous usage of the term today.  Especially with respect to the Left and their positively pathological and cartoonish hysteria over Trump. The Trump agenda remains an open question, but there is little doubt that the Left is in the business of conjuring ideological boogeymen out of thin air and painting any opposition to their globalist designs as “fascism”.  If the perpetuation of the multicultural agenda hinges on denigrating the foundations of Western thought which allows the very pluralism they allegedly value, they assure a recursive loop of nationalist backlash which validates their own prejudices.

Berlin concludes with a meditation on nationalism which is prophetic yet cautionary in tone, but raises fresh questions all the same.  While there is little doubt that nationalism in its extreme manifestation when married to the machinery of the State has proven itself a destructive force, Berlin reminds us that there is a deep seated humanity struggling to assert itself from under the dehumanizing designs of the sophisters, calculators and acolytes of scientism. The pursuit of universalism animated the West, but also created a unfortunate desire to manufacture a stultifying and artificial uniformity.  There is little doubt that the primal urge of nationalism has been and can be exploited by demagogues and populists, but it is not unreasonable to conclude that some measure of nationalist pride has, in fact, paved a path for the multiculturalism and genuine pluralism so idolized by the Left.  While much of the Islamic world, Asia and Africa remain ethnic and ideological monocultures, the burden of multiculturalism has been placed disproportionately on Western societies. As this policy unravels by the day, is it any wonder that there is a nationalist backlash towards individuals who apparently have no desire to adopt the cultural values of their adopted countries?  Berlin was keenly attuned to this aspect of nationalism and his words presaged the collective rage of the Brexiters and Trumpians to a t.

There is a growing number among the youth of our day who see their future as a process of being fitted into some scientifically well-constructed programme, after the data of their life-expectancy and capacities and utilisability have been classified, computerized, and analyzed for conduciveness to the purpose, at the very best, of producing the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This will determine the organisation of life on a national or regional or world scale, and this without undue attention to, or interest in (since this is not needed for the completion of the task), their individual characters, ways of life, wishes, quirks, ideals. This moves them to gloom and fury or despair. They wish to be and do something, and not merely be acted upon, or for, or on behalf of.  They demand recognition of their dignity as human beings. They do not wish to be reduced to human material, to being counters in a game played by others, even when it is played, at least in part, for the benefits of these counters themselves. A revolt breaks out at all levels.

While some philosophers and academics seemingly revel in their ability to obfuscate and mistakenly believe that verbosity equals profundity, Mr. Berlin’s prose sings with clarity and actually serves the purpose that philosophical inquiry was meant to serve: to illuminate. Mr. Berlin has written a collection of thought provoking essays which prove that we are well served by understanding how the ideas of the past shape the present, and most importantly, that the contrarians of bygone eras have something of value to offer. Even if it runs contrary to everything we hold sacred. And through this understanding, we may ask the right questions and formulate the answers to the issues of the present and future.