On Ideological Exhaustion and the Russian Case

We can observe, for the last two hundred years, that every possible locale where one could misplace the ground has been exhausted.   This expresses itself in the fact that we have, since the great ideologists of the mid-and late-nineteenth century, since Comte, Marx, John Stuart Mill, Bakunin (and so on), no new ideologist.   All ideologies belong, in their origin, before that period;  there are no new ideologies in the twentieth century.   Even if one could find a new wrinkle in them, it wouldn't be interesting because the matter has been more or less exhausted emotionally.   We have had it.

Here we come to an interesting fact: Without peering into the future we can prognosticate that when ideas have run their course and are obviously exhausted, we can say certain things about them. First, nobody will be a great thinker of the type of Marx or Hegel or Comte in the future, because that has all been done once.   There will be no further ideological thinker of any stature. We have had them all.

But one must not be too optimistic with regard to the exhaustion of the power of ideologies.  Once ideologies are institutionally established—the communist government in Russia or in China or in the satellite states, or in our society (established in academic institutions) certain intellectual ideologies that do not immediately become political (like positivism of the various kinds, or various kinds of Freudianism)—they last a long while, because there is a vested interest in them.  Every new generation is brought into them through college education, and it takes a while until they snap out of it.  The college teaching level is usually thirty, fifty, or more years behind what is going on. . . . As far as science is concerned, there is no scholar living whom I know who is an ideologist.

. . . . The symptoms show that after this generation nobody can be an ideologist if he is intelligent to any degree or a man of any stature.   That one can say with certainty, but again I must warn:  no optimism with regard to the actual power of ideologies. . . . [Spengler and Toynbee indicate that periods] of great establishment, such as a Communist government in China or a Communist government in Russia, have a habit of running for two hundred and fifty years.

There is, however, one point to be noted that may speak in favor of a shorter period, especially in the Russian case.  Russian Communism takes place on the general background of philosophical and Christian tradition.   If there is established publicly a highly defective conception that neglects the life of reason, that doesn’t permit you to find sense in your life by reflecting on problems of life and death—especially of death—then you get, sooner or later, disappointment that the things promised, like a perfect Communist realm, never come and the restlessness of this defectiveness.  There is no sense in life because indefinite progress doesn’t work. . . .

It doesn’t help for action to know these matters, because people act by emotions and not by reason.   But it helps for understanding what probably are the processes that have to run their course before a particular kind of nonsense is completely finished and out.

CW Vol 11
Chapter 14 In Search of the Ground , pp 236-239.