There’s a quote from the glossary at the end of Star Maker – a book so good that even its glossary is worth quoting at length – that came back to me today. I’ve mentioned it before, but hadn’t thought about it for a while. I believe that it encapsulates most clearly what the world so desperately needs.
(a) In the mouths of Communists the word means a particular sort of capitalist dope, namely certain doctrines and practices calculated to withdraw attention from the need for revolution, and to fix it upon an unreal world of fantasy, thus relieving the ‘religious’ person from the moral responsibility of serving the revolution. Some readers may condemn this book as ‘religious’ in this pejorative sense.
(b) In another sense ‘religion’ includes all that is best in the emotional attitude of Communism itself, namely the resolute will to live devotedly in service of mankind. ‘Religion’ in this sense includes also a conviction that this will has in some manner not merely terrestrial but also cosmical significance. Further, it includes the feeling that even the will to fight in life’s battle against the forces of death should be complemented by an ultimate piety toward something superhuman, and even super-vital, a piety toward fate, or the whole of being, or some inconceivable deity. This attitude, so well expressed by Spinoza, is alien to contemporary Communism; but it is not to be confused with capitalist dope, for those who have felt it most strongly have been amongst the most active in the service of mankind. [emphasis mine]
The political situation we find ourselves in is deeply depressing. But it’s not the rise of fascism that is so dispiriting; it is the lack of a meaningful opposition. Once radicals like myself attacked liberalism for its hypocrisy, its inability to stay true to the lofty ideals it espoused. But now the entire Left, liberal and radical alike, has been infected by a rank misanthropy and a nasty, nihilistic individualism. There is no hope on offer, no better world to build, only a slightly different distribution of misery and a celebration of each individual’s eternal victimhood. Even many who consider themselves radical have embraced Thatcher’s credo: there is no such thing as society. There is no such thing as the people. There is no such thing as humanity. We’re told this is freedom, but what it is is despair.
Bringing back the idea of humanity, beating back the tide of adolescent pseudo-profound misanthropic notions about our species, seems to me the most important intellectual task of the age. No successful political movement aimed at changing the catastrophic status quo will be organized without it. Art will continue to wither without a deeper connection to our shared history, past and future. Even on an individual level, people will continue to sink into depression, cast adrift on an ocean of relentless solipsism.
We need humanity, and we need it urgently. We need faith in our abilities, faith rooted in knowledge of history and recognition of potential. We need a radical belief in the value of civilization; not something vague and polite, but a deep, committed belief in the human project, shorn of the banal world-weary nihilism we are taught to believe is pragmatic and wise.
And I think everyone who still believes in humanity has to fight for the resurrection of this belief, fight for it tooth and nail, until it claws itself back into the world.
It’ll be really, really hard. It’ll mean opposing people who think they’re morally superior, people who think their anti-human attitude is enlightened. It’ll mean being called naive, being laughed at, being lectured about Human Nature. Against all that and worse, it will be necessary to say, over and over, without irony, without self-aware defensiveness: I love humanity. I believe in humanity. I will fight for humanity.
You’ll hear me saying this again. And again. And again. You’ll hear me saying it until I’m dead, and then you’ll hear me saying it from the Lands of Dream. I will not relent and neither should you.
I love humanity. I believe in humanity. I will fight for humanity.