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The unbearable meaninglessness of modernity 

Asle Toje's newly published book defends conservative values ​​over liberalism and leads a moderate defense of the nation state.


Asle Toja:
Iron cage. The crisis of liberalism
Dreyer, 2016

iron cage% 2bforsideThe EU is in crisis. Europe is in crisis. Will other countries, like the UK, also leave the EU? The opportunity lies there. Confidence in the Union is greatly weakened. The eastern and western countries are arguing about who should take the main weight of the refugee stream. In the shadow of a Europe in crisis it is interesting to read Iron cage. The crisis of liberalism by Asle Toje, now available in a pocket edition. «iron cage is about us being strangers to a system we have created ourselves, ”Toje writes. And he quotes Max Weber: "The iron cage is our destiny." By "our destiny," Max Weber probably meant the destiny of Europe. And Toje is critical of liberal orthodoxy. The reality is more complicated than the ultra-liberalists want it to be, the author believes.

Formation Travel. Toje takes us to the nobility of ancient Europe, to the liberal Europe, he discusses and tells the history of the nation state, discusses the problems of identity versus nationalism and the problems of multiculturalism, and not least he brings us to a meeting with the French author Michel Houellebecq.

Toje has a three-pronged foundation: "I tend to be red in social issues, liberal in economic terms, and conservative in culture and politics," he writes.
This book is an educational journey. In the first chapter, the author is in Poland. It is about Silesia, an area that was divided between Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia after the First World War. Germany retained Lower Silesia, while Upper Silesia, which consisted of both Germans and Poles, was divided between Germany and Poland. There were national battles between ethnic groups in Upper Silesia, with militia groups on both sides.

The next chapter takes us to the multicultural area of ​​Galizia. We are in the double-monarchy of Austria-Hungary, which was torn apart by national contradictions after the First World War.

Toje takes us on to Transnistria, which broke away from Moldova after a short war in 1992.

Many types of freedom. The point of all these journeys is to give self-experienced examples of the problems of liberalism. This makes Toje an excellent way. The author writes: "The liberal decade that started in the mid-1990s was marked by foreign political activism. Western leaders stepped in to fulfill their own prophecy of a liberal world. "

Toje looks at the relationship between EU countries and supranational authorities, what role the Court of Justice in The Hague should play in cooperation between nations that conflict with each other, and how to create economic and moral redress after national clean-ups. The author shows the problems of defending ideas such as multiculturalism and globalism. "A number of European countries have become obsessed with multiculturalism as a social contract," he writes. No wonder. Europe's main value has always been freedom. But freedom can be so many.

"Today we know astonishingly little about nationalism, even though this is the most mobilizing ideology the world has seen."

National identity. The idea of ​​the liberal state, as also Rudolf Steiner, mentioned in the book, portrayed it, was that it should have no educational function. It should be a pure "night watch" state, where the state's duties are limited to the administration of police, judiciary and defense. So the problem is: How to define national identity? And what is most important: individual rights or community? There is no doubt that liberated liberal opinion has now turned its back on the liberal project. Many have begun to swear to the nation state again. The borders in Europe are closed. Values ​​come into conflict with each other.

Francis Fukuyama predicted that liberalism would become the end point of history. But it didn't work out that way. States collapsed. Europe was exposed to mass immigration. We were pushed to our limit. England is on its way out of the EU, and now the country is guaranteed to introduce stricter immigration rules. The goal of the EU has always been the free flow of goods and services. But the problem is that humans are not goods. Labor cannot be separated from those who work. You cannot import labor without importing people.

Where's Huntington? “Today we know astonishingly little about nationalism, even though this is the most mobilizing ideology the world has seen. The diversity of nationalism is its strength, and the cause of its durability and elasticity. In many countries it still acts as a substitute for religious community and as a framework for the welfare state, ”the author writes aptly. But he has trouble defining national identity.

We are long over in the situation described by Samuel P. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations: Worlds Collide. It's a little strange that Huntington is not mentioned with a single word in Toye's book. On the other hand, economist Karl Polanyi mentions him several times. IN The Liberal Utopia, explaining the financial crisis with the false belief in the self-regulatory market that originated in the UK in the early 1800s, Polyani wrote: impulse."

Immigration – again. In the chapter "Immigration in the Age of Liberalism" Toje points out that Europe struggles to reconcile its ideals of humanity and openness with the number of immigrants exceeding the ability and willingness to accept them.

Instead of turning to liberalism, and then closing its borders, one might have wondered if immigration problems could not have been better resolved. One should also discuss what kind of freedom one wants. I miss a deeper discussion in this book, about various alternatives to the most profoundly conservative values ​​that the belief in the nation state values ​​represent.

«iron cage is about us being strangers to a system we have created ourselves. ”

One important reason for Brexit is probably the immigration problem. Besides, the EU has never been as free in immigration issues as some would like. There have always been goods and services that should flow freely, not people. On the contrary, immigrants who have wanted to come to Europe have largely encountered fences and fences, while goods and services have moved across. The EU has, as is well known, decided that all nations have the right to free movement of labor. But whose right is this really about? And what happens when the individual comes into conflict with the legislation? Liberalism is basically about individual rights. As you know, it is not the refugee himself who has the right to decide which country he or she can come to. The person must seek asylum in the first country he or she arrives. And sent back to the last country he left.

"There must be limits," Toje writes. I think he argues well and shows the problems of immigration in an easy way. But he is too limited in his discussions.

Opinion loss. In the chapter "I throw myself down here", which is a conversation with the author Michel Houellebecq, the book is really fun for the first time. What can explain the phenomenon of Houellebecq? Toje has his theory: "He writes about alienated people who yearn for belonging and who have difficulties connecting with others except through sex." Highly recognizable to contemporary Westerners.

The sad character Houllebecq describes seems to be the very incarnation of boring, modern France. Houellebecq emphasizes that we live in a world without meaning, and that Europe's crisis is at the same time a spiritual crisis. The ideals of liberalism and modernity have lost the free spirit life, and thus the meaning of existence. Life has been given a commodity. Liberalism is fundamentally unfair, Houellebecq believes, because it only benefits some privileged people. Besides, it empties life of meaning.

High price. Even though Tjoe has written a good book, it must be allowed to question his values. Perhaps it is the case that his concept of freedom, which primarily covers an economic form of freedom, has killed the real possibility of freedom between people? When culture is no longer free, the feeling that life has a meaning is lost. This is the price to pay for economic liberalism. No one depicts the meaninglessness of modern life as well as Houellebecq. But the discussion about how to define individuality, and the relationship between individuality and nation, continues.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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