Life as an Anarch: Parallels in Mannheim, Jünger and Gramsci

IRONICALLY, perhaps, when it comes to transcending modern society the Jewish sociologist, Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), adopts a similar position to that of Ernst Jünger (1895-1998). The latter, discussing the concept of the Anarch, said that

the catalogue of possibilities seems exhausted. The great ideas have been eroded by repetition; you won’t catch any fish with that bait.

Jünger went on to say that the

special trait making me an anarch is that I live in a world which I ultimately do not take seriously. This increases my freedom; I serve as a temporary volunteer.

Mannheim, on the other hand, writing in his 1936 work, Ideology and Utopia, says that we must develop the notion of a “free-floating intellectual” who could become the “watchman in what otherwise would be a pitch-black night”.

As an unfortunate contemporary of the Frankfurt School, Mannheim was attacked by his fellow Jewish thinkers for allegedly trying to detach the intellectual from the wider ramifications of economic reality, but whilst it is true that one cannot escape the sense of human duty in the great struggle against capitalism, there is a need for intellectuals to exploit the best of both worlds by first providing a detached analysis of our current malaise and then going on to apply the solutions. Even Junger, after all, admitted that

I have to succeed in treating my work as a game that I both watch and play […] It presumes that one can scrutinize oneself as from a certain distance like a chess figure – in a word, that one sees historical classification as more important than personal classification. This may sound exacting; but it used to be required of any soldier.

The left-wing journalist, Stuart Jeffries, says of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), that he

distinguished between traditional intellectuals who tend to conceive of themselves as an autonomous group very much in the manner of Mannhein’s free-floating intellectuals, and organic intellectuals who are defined by their rootedness in a particular social group, giving them experiences which enable them to express the group’s collective will and fight for its interests.

The distinction is correct, but Gramsci inevitably confines himself to the limiting realms of Class and, thus, fails to appreciate the fact that one can transcend the artificial ‘class’ into which one is born.

Intellectuals must reject both the capitalist and neo-Marxian endorsement of the class system and rise above it. Once we are capable of making a detached observation, therefore, at least initially, we will be in a much better position to fight side by side for the things that matter later on. Not for an assumed ‘class’ of people, but for those of like-mind who have also learnt to step outside of the terminological boundaries and see things as they really are.

Only then, will theory begin to evolve into praxis.

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