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Issue 02 – Assumption 2020


Our Post-Political Future

On the origins of cancel culture.


Though it seems all but a self-evident truth now that the “American experiment” in ordered liberty ends in conflagration, the meaning of this “end” still calls for some reflection if we hope to understand our historical moment and anticipate some of what lies in store. There has been some chatter of late in postliberal circles about whether Ross Douthat’s “stagnation” thesis or Patrick Deneen’s “catastrophism” offers the more likely scenario. It is probable that both are right and that we are in for a long combustible period of “catastrophic stagnation,” with warring political factions locked in a self-escalating cycle of lawlessness and reactionary violence, spread like a contagion by comfortable radicals from behind their keyboards, spiking occasionally after the manner of a fever.

Whatever one wishes to call the prevailing liberal-capitalist-technocratic-secular order, it has succeeded spectacularly in eliminating all theoretical and practical alternatives to itself, leaving the revolutionary impulse devoid of imagination, and thus mostly negative and destructive. Yet many are the ties that bind, despite appearances. The American empire still possesses unprecedented police and surveillance powers, though these are no longer concentrated solely in the hands of the state and its police forces and are often used against them. The nation is still duct-taped together by vast and intricate physical and digital infrastructures, a labyrinthine system of commerce and finance, and an omnipresent social media system that is now the gateway to the social and political spheres, replacing the real spatio-temporal public square of political deliberation with a virtual public square of immediate stimulus and response and suspending its participants in a permanent state of anxiety, agitation, and rage between provocations. And then there is still the wealth. It is a convenient discovery of post-Sixties activists that one can be radical and rich at the same time. The suburbs north of D.C., for example, are full of seven-hundred-thousand-dollar homes with signs professing faith in love and science posted on their professionally manicured lawns, rainbow and Blacks Lives Matter flags flying from the porches, and a BMW or two in the driveway. Careers can be made, or at least prolonged, by affixing the obligatory slogans to one’s Twitter handle or sharing a photo of oneself holding a sign at a rally. Even corporations have discovered that “revolution” will be acceptable to customers if they get the branding right—and devastating if they fail to get on board. This may not be the first revolution in history undertaken by the governing and merchant classes, but it is certainly the first to enjoy corporate sponsorship.

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About the author

Michael Hanby

Michael Hanby is an associate professor of religion and philosophy of science at the John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America.