It's an interesting piece by a liberal academic, who identifies herself as Clarissa. Clarissa has a similar view of liberal modernity to myself, but unlike me she supports it. She sees modernity as destroying traditional identities and ways of being in favour of a more self-defined, individualistic life. According to Clarissa, many people find the prospect of this transformation terrifying and they react with rage. Therefore, it is anti-modern conservatives who are responsible for acts of violence, including 9-11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Tucson shooting and even the two world wars.
In her own words:
...Today, we have received further proof that when people are exposed to an unstemmed barrage of Tea Party's hysterical rhetoric and when those hate-filled diatribes come in touch with people's intimate terror of encroaching modernity, an explosion isn't far behind.
...There are many people out there who feel confused, lonely and lost in a world where modernity is destroying old certitudes, identities and ways of being. Modernity is liberating in the sense that we are a lot less tied to collective identities ascribed to us at birth. Gender identities, normative sexualities, class origins, religious backgrounds still exist, of course. Nevertheless, they are nowhere as binding as they used to be before the advent of modernity. It isn't easy to challenge the identitarian status quo, but it still can be done. For many people, though, this liberating potential of modernity isn't worth the steep price they have to pay for it: individuality.
There is no burden bigger than that of a personal responsibility, personal choice, individuality. A society that strictly prescribes its collective identities offers people a great degree of freedom from the irksome necessity to make their own decisions. At birth, you are handed a set of norms that you are supposed to observe as a representative of your gender, social class, religious denomination, etc. You accumulate enough of these collective allegiances and you can guarantee that pretty much every aspect of your life will be defined for you. Then all you need to do is follow the check-list of expected behaviors. No painful dilemmas, no fears of making the wrong choice. And most pleasantly - no need to think.
Modernity is terrifying because it erodes the stability of collective identities. Remember, nothing gets people to die for it as disinterestedly and enthusiastically as collective identity. You threaten people's right to live their lives unthinkingly, without the hypnotic dictates of collective identities on how to organize their existence, and they will erupt in violence. If you were told that the Tea Party is about the economy, the taxes, the deficit, the immigrants, the politics, or anything like that, you've been deceived. Tea Partiers are people who are terrified of and confused by modernity. The world is changing, and they don't understand it any more. Internet, new technologies, globalization, world economy - everything is getting too complex for them. That's why they get together on their rallies and scream senseless slogans. That's why they adore their Sarah Palins who offer them simple slogans that seem to offer pithy explanations of incomprehensible realities.
Of course, the sound bites that their leaders offer them ("the best way to deal with a multi-billion deficit is making a budget," "immigrants get free healthcare in the US," "gays bad, abortion bad, taxes bad, guns good," "get the government out of my Medicaid and into that woman's uterus") only offer a momentary relief from the anxieties of modernity. When the burden of dealing with an incomprehensible world gets unbearable, these misfits of contemporary existence erupt in violence. They ram airplanes into the Twin Towers, blow up a truck in Oklahoma City, and start shooting into the crowd in Arizona
In the XXth century, two world wars were fought because the entrance into modernity was more painful for some people than for others. What happened in Arizona yesterday should remind us all about how violent people get when dragged into the modern way of being against their will. Of course, modernity will win in the end. The nature of time, which cannot be stopped in its tracks and frozen in immobility, is proof of that. In the meanwhile, though, modernity's discontents will wreak a lot of damage on everything and everybody they come in touch with.
Let me begin by congratulating Clarissa for not taking the more usual trite liberal attitude that modernity is radically transformative but that nothing is lost in the process. She admits that traditional identities and ways of life are being lost and that it is a deeply unsettling process for many people. She admits too that liberalism has imposed itself on society, against the wishes of many people.
Clarissa believes that the steep price of modernity is worth it, because people are "liberated" from traditional identities, thereby gaining greater individuality, more choices and the responsibility of making personal decisions.
Is she right? Is liberal modernity worth its steep price? I'd suggest the answer is no. First, if people are so traumatised by losing their identity and way of life, then how can it be considered liberating for them to suffer through it? Liberation usually suggests the lifting of a burden rather than the imposition of one.
Second, destroying traditional identities doesn't create a greater depth in individual thought or responsibility.
Look at what has happened in Sweden. The belief that people should "shape their own lives" has led the Swedish state to condemn traditional gender identities as being socially constructed and oppressive. And so the state is "mainstreaming" a unisex future in which men and women must have the same pattern of work and family life.
How does this represent an advance in people thinking for themselves? Swedes are being given just one option determined for them by the liberal state. And it is a less differentiated pattern of life than the traditional one.
If liberal modernity impoverishes the identity of individuals, if it takes away what once gave depth and meaning to our sense of who we are, then it does not and cannot improve our individuality. It is more likely to alienate us and to trivialise our existence.
Clarissa seems to believe that liberal modernity has given people free rein in what to think or believe. She overlooks the way that liberalism itself has become a state ideology, an orthodoxy that the young are indoctrinated in at school and university. It is likely that there were fewer restrictions on what people might think or say in the past than there are today.
And what of the claim that it is conservatives enraged by modernity who are responsible for outbreaks of political violence?
The record doesn't seem to back this claim. For a period of time, many political attacks were carried out by anarchists, a political group wanting a more radical version of modernity. There is a list here of such attacks, which included the assassinations of a Russian Tsar, a French President, two Spanish Prime Ministers, an Austrian Empress, a US President, an Italian King, a Russian Prime Minister and a Greek King.
In the 1970s and 80s, the radical Red Brigades were responsible for acts of political violence in Italy. In Germany, the Red Army Faction killed 34 people during its period of existence from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. In the US in the 1970s, the left-wing Symbionese Liberation Army killed two people. From the 1970s to the late 1980s, the Japanese Red Army carried out a dozen or more acts of political violence.
None of this fits Clarissa's theory that it is the instinct to political conservatism which is responsible for acts of political violence in the modern era. She has forgotten the history of the radical moderns who sought to force revolutionary change on society. She hasn't worked left-wing violence into her theory.