All the News that’s Fit to Kill (OAG #8)

The Post appears to be promising to narrate the death of democracy – or, if unconsciously, to be revealing an intention to embody it.

Democracy Dies in Darkness

They may be right…

Others have been making fun of the WaPo’s well-intended new motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” but we can skip a Buzzfeedy recounting of the predictably snarky first responses, and just acknowledge that the cynics may have a point this time. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” will strike readers as pretentious, since it implicitly casts the newspaper itself as “giver of light,” like Jehovah at the birth of the universe, while the alliteration, which may have been meant to elevate by poetry, qualifies instead as twee. We might find nothing wrong and much right with the aspiration meant to be conveyed, but the statement itself is not aspirational, certainly not in the same way that the most famous motto in American journalism – “All the News that’s Fit to Print” – is aspirational. The WaPo’s motto has the form of a prophetic assertion, more suggestive of “Winter is Coming,” or, as Vikram Bath noted to me on Twitter, “The End is Near”: It asks to be taken as all-importantly true, but we can wonder if it really is true, and whether, even if we want to sympathize, taking it to be true really is better for us: Without pausing to define “democracy” or explain what it is exactly we might mean by its “death” or our “darkness,” and instead simply pretending we all understand the metaphors in the same way, we can ask whether democracy really does die in darkness, or is in fact stronger than darkness, or, for a democrat, is better seen as itself the immortal bringer of light, or potential bringer of light, even in otherwise all-consuming darkness. To fend off these and other questions, the assertion depends on the credulity and even the cooperation of the reader, including an in fact unlikely suspension of the same critical faculties that the motto is in another sense clearly seeking to celebrate. In short, the Post or its publisher and editors are depending on us to give their new proposition a friendly reading, rather than the ironical one which will immediately and intuitively occur to one and all in this ironic age, and especially to those not already inclined to expect prophecy or heroism from the particular enterprise or the larger journalistic enterprise. The enemies and adversaries of the WaPo or of whatever it represents to them will accept the unintended invitation to read the motto in the same way we read that other motto just noted, as a gloss on the content forthcoming: For them and perhaps for many of the rest of us as well, the Post appears to be promising to narrate the death of democracy – or, if unconsciously, to be revealing an intention to embody it, all the news that’s fit to kill.


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13 comments on “All the News that’s Fit to Kill (OAG #8)

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    • Don’t know nothing about no Nick Land, but I see that his site has a tab devoted to NeoReaction, so I’ll presume that his orientation is anti-democratic or possibly even “dark enlightenment.” His statement would seems to belong in the unsympathetic-ironical group.

      • A while ago OT had an extended discussion about the Alt Right that went into some detail about its ideas and origins. At the time I wondered about the absence of discussion about Land, who has I believed been called the “Dark Prince” of the whole thing. I find his writing some combination of impenetrable and puerile, but a lot of people take him seriously, and because of that I suppose we should too. For example here’s a primer by Ray Brassier.

        My interpretation of “Magnificent Prophecy” as Landian assessment, was that the categories of irony and sympathy don’t apply one way or the other. Instead, it represents a kind of “I wish I said that in the course of my own writing.” Any comment on WaPo or journalism in general would be, in this interpretation,incidental, mere contingent vehicle for a truly “magnificent prophecy”. But I could be wrong.

        • His take would be ironical and unsympathetic since he’s saying “yeah, it’s a magnificent thing, isn’t it?” – the opposite of the reaction that WaPo obviously wants and expects, but has invited. You’re supposed to want more light and not to want democracy to die, and so support the WaPo for those reasons, not because you may think that it is advancing the dark and lethal cause unwittingly, or because you think that the WaPo is hopelessly helpless to do more than observe and record the ongoing demise.

          • You could be right.

            OTOH, your remark presupposes a sense of agency that my sense is, Land rejects, that the “machinc” agency he understands to be the case would be located in the larger assemblage that intends to advance his program.

            Following this interpretation, what you take t be irony would be just part of the machinic feedback loop seeking to maximize chaotic efficiency.

            I do have to admit, all of this did have a glancing influence on my Cyborg posts. And seeking to eliminate irony has an ironic appeal for me. But I think Land sees this as epiphenomenon.

            Your remarks seek a fully synthetic perspective. Land seems to me to locate his remark not just a step broader in perspective, but from the perspective that there is no perspective.

            OTOH you may be right.

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To take power, May had to pretend that she, too, dreams these impossible dreams. And that led her to embrace a phony populism in which the narrow and ambiguous majority who voted for Brexit under false pretences are be reimagined as “the people.”

This is not conservatism—it is pure Rousseau. The popular will had been established on that sacred referendum day. And it must not be defied or questioned. Hence, Theresa May’s allies in The Daily Mail using the language of the French revolutionary terror, characterizing recalcitrant judges and parliamentarians as “enemies of the people” and “saboteurs.”

This is why May called an election. Her decision to do so—when she had a working majority in parliament—has been seen by some as pure vanity. But it was the inevitable result of the volkish rhetoric she had adopted. A working majority was not enough—the unified people must have a unified parliament and a single, uncontested leader: one people, one parliament, one Queen Theresa to stand on the cliffs of Dover and shake her spear of sovereignty at the damn continentals.

...Brexit is thus far from being a done deal: it can’t be done without a reliable partner for the EU to negotiate with. There isn’t one now and there may not be one for quite some time—at least until after another election, but quite probably not even then. The reliance on a spurious notion of the “popular will” has left Britain with no clear notion of who “the people” are and what they really want.

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The most extraordinary paragraph in this op-ed, however, is this one:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

...First — and this is so obvious I can’t believe I have to type out these words — the United States can’t simultaneously proclaim “America first” and then claim any kind of moral strength. Saying loudly and repeatedly that American values are not going to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy strips you of any moral power whatsoever.

The second and bigger problem is that the “embrace” of a Hobbesian vision of the world by the most powerful country in the world pretty much guarantees Hobbesian reciprocity by everyone else. Most international relations scholars would agree that there are parts of the world that fit this brutal description. But even realists don’t think it’s a good thing. Cooperation between the United States and its key partners and allies is not based entirely on realpolitik principles. It has helped foster a zone of stability across Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim that has lasted quite some time. In many issue areas, such as trade or counterterrorism or climate change, countries gain far more from cooperation than competition.

Furthermore, such an embrace of the Hobbesian worldview is, in many ways, anti-American.

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The rise of the military, if coupled with the undermining of civilian aspects of national power, demonstrates a spiritual exhaustion and a descent into Caesarism. Named after Julius Caesar — who replaced the Roman Republic with a dictatorship — Caesarism is roughly characterized by a charismatic strongman, popular with the masses, whose rule culminates in an exaggerated role for the military. America is moving in this direction. It isn’t that some civilian agencies don’t deserve paring down or even elimination, nor is it that the military and other security forces don’t deserve a boost to their financial resources. Rather, it is in the very logic, ideology, and lack of proportionality of Trump’s budget that American decline, decadence, and Caesarism are so apparent.

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CK MacLeod
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+ (Well, I didn't, four years ago, call Daniel Larison a vulgar ideologue. I suggested that his polemic on that occasion stooped to that level, in [. . .]
note on anti-Americanist conservatism in re Obama in Israel
CK MacLeod
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+ Thanks, Mr. McK. I don't see the Rs in any better a position, nor the independents for that matter. All the People's Political Scientists and [. . .]
Jennifer Rubin: Pro-Trump Republicans will get nothing, not even retention of a House majority – The Washington Post
Wade McKenzie
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+ It's a common tactic in scholasticism (vide Edward Feser) to take a term of religio-philosophical significance (such as "creation" or "eternity") that has a commonly [. . .]
note on anti-Americanist conservatism in re Obama in Israel

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