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When revolt has no object, it turns on itself, opposing all imagined foes in wanton destruction of imagined barriers. Most apparently since the advent of Romanticism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, revolt has often been focused on an object considered in more personal terms — the introspective rebel pitched against disinterested systems and in search of a soul divested of the stain of acquisition, the taint of the tangible. Yet, sometimes, all the rebel finds is empty space where identity used to dwell. And this is where we find ourselves in the West today, with open, democratic societies in the grip of revolt against rationalism and its accompanying pluralism.

Pankaj Mishra, in Age of Anger, asserts that Rousseau, a scion of Enlightenment thinking and one of its chief antagonists, saw the danger of shunting the religious, the provincial, and the irrational to the margins and the shadows. Rousseau asserted, after all, that social injustice originates not with the individual but with the existence of institutions. Despite this warning, more repressive forms of nationalism took shape and grew ominously over the next two centuries, culminating in Nazi and Soviet forms of totalitarianism. More… “The Blind Owl and the Underground Man”

Nicholas Cannariato is a writer and teacher living in Chicago.
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