The Republic of Reason never arrived

[3, 11] Everyone’s a policeman. Everyone’s policing their own behaviour. Why? There’s no God to do it for us.

Kant wrote a short essay “What is Enlightenment?” (2009) in which he described a human mind that relied on some external authority as immature (unmundigkeit) and that the courage to trust and use your own reason was the mark of enlightenment. For many of his contemporaries, modern science had consigned supernal authorities, in whatever form they came, to an historical dustbin. The general view was that, once rid of any external transcendent authority, the subsequent freedom would allow the emergence of a new republic of reason and a profound human flourishing. Close to a century later, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated “God is dead” (Nietzsche, 2006) as if the deed was done and the matter was settled. Around the same time Dostoevsky asked: “‘But what will become of men then?’ I asked him, ‘without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?’” (Dostoevsky, 1992). It would seem humanity has indeed done what it likes – it has unleashed two world wars under secular ideologies and massacred around 100 million without religion or God. But is it fair to say unfettered human freedom led to these human catastrophes? Or was there something else that was missed in the Kantian formulae? Consider Jacques Lacan (2004): “The true formula of atheism is not God is dead …the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious”. When God vacated the explicit, metaphysical and mythical throne and all declared him dead he fell into an abyss. But he did not die. He rose, like Jesus, as an undead being and became, what the psychoanalysts, call a relentless demanding internalised drive – a zombie-God, avoiding the gaze of reason, issuing twisted injunctions, deformed by the fall and the abyss of the unconscious – pushing human beings harder towards a cliff edge, pushing harder than any fallen angel could have done so. The loss of an external authority was not the loss of authority but simply a move from the open air to a subterranean, unconscious realm. In making this descent this undead God became a force of pure irrationality. Like characters in Orwell’s 1984 (2008) humanity is not liberated but forced to stand guard over the abyss within them and against this undead God. Humanity is trapped in a deeper prison, left to police its own thoughts and feelings.

May 28, 2016

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