“Another shapeless soul,
Full of revolts and hates and tyrannous force.”
Lewis Moris, Epic of Hades (1876)
There is talk of “reeducation camps” in the lively comment thread ensuant to Kristor’s recent “Never Panic” post. This talk should really be of “more rigorous reeducation camps,” since every culture is nothing but a reeducation camp in which men and women are, as Machiavelli said, “reminded of those ordinances in conformity with which they ought to live.”* The only question is whether those men and women participate in this universal reeducation camp as eager or refractory campers.
For eager campers, the camp program is a combination of refresher course and software update. It includes pep rallies of motivational renewal, not unlike an old-time Christian revival. For refractory campers, the program is, as I say, more rigorous, and also decidedly less pleasant. This is necessary because the refractory campers are slow learners.
The term “reeducation camp” comes from the glossary of totalitarian social technology, and refers to a special facility where the loyalists of a deposed regime are confined, chastised, and (when possible) induced to recant and take a more sensible view of the world. In an especially rigorous reeducation camp, the confinement is carcerial, the chastisement is torturous, and the inducement to take a more sensible view resembles a mafioso’s offer that cannot be refused.
But most humans are malleable and—dare I say it—amorphous. They therefore receive the stamp of the new regime without any need for such rigorous reeducation. And it is generally well for society that they do, since every society requires a host of “well-adjusted” men and women; and to be “well-adjusted,” men and women must have a remarkable capacity for adjustment.
To use the cant of our own time, amorphous men and women have a capacity to “evolve” and become whatever the circumstances require, much as the shape of an amorphous cloud “evolves” and conforms to the requirements of the shifting wind.
The outstanding quality of “well-adjusted” men and women is their ability to treat yesterday’s absolutes as accidents, and today’s accidents as absolutes. George Orwell captured this quality in the phrase:
“Oceana had always been at war with Eurasia.”
Or, as Orwell explains:
“The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil.”
The outstanding quality of refractory men and women is their inability to treat yesterday’s absolutes as accidents, and today’s accidents as absolutes. Frederick William Faber captured this quality in the verses:
“Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword”
Dungeon, fire and sword are vivid symbols of the aggressive methods employed at a rigorous reeducation camp. Faber explained why aggressive methods are sometimes necessary in his well-known refrain:
“Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.”
Many who sing these verses do not actually mean “til death,” or are committing themselves to nothing more than a promise to be true till their painless death, in bed, and at a ripe old age. But those who sing these lines do at least aspire to be otherwise than amorphous. To be otherwise than, say, Orwell’s character Katharine Smith, estranged wife of the protagonist of 1984, Winston Smith.
“She had not a thought in her head that was not a slogan, and there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that she was not capable of swallowing if the Party handed it out to her.”
As Winston explained to his lover Julia, long after his separation from Katharine:
“She was—do you know the Newspeak word GOODTHINKFUL? Meaning naturally orthodox, incapable of thinking a bad thought?”
Katharine Smith had, in other words, an amorphous soul. She was therefore perfectly well-adjusted and entirely open to further adjustment. Her outward orthodoxy may have appeared rigid and inflexible, but her soul was amorphous and had no structure of its own. Katharine Smith was ready and able to believe whatever she was asked to believe, and would do this without requiring the rigors of a reeducation camp.
* * * * *
We have previously noted that, for all its insight and genius, Orwell’s 1984 is imperfect as a guide to the incipient totalitarianism of our own day. We have often said the same thing about our outdated imago of communism, since this is also an amorphous and protean creed. Communism evolves rapidly because it is the creed of rapid and endless evolution, or what Trotsky called “permanent revolution.” Marx taught that the bourgeoise had created a world of permanent revolution in material relations, but that it remaines for the communists to supply this world with a suitably amorphous and protean superstructure. Thus, the famous “Hymn to Amorphousness” in the Communist Manifesto of 1848:
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
When Marx says that “man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life,” he means that man is at last compelled to become amorphous. His choice is to follow the example of Katharine Smith and swallow any imbecility he is asked to swallow, or to suffer the pain of ever-worsening maladjustment. What Marxists say is true for man is also true for Marxism, because the culture of an amorphous and protean world must be an amorphous and protean culture.
It should be obvious that the Marxism of 2020 must look upon the Marxism of 1948 as nothing but “ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions” that must be “swept away,” and it should be equally obvious that the prejudices and opinions of this “new-formed” Marxism of 2020 will “become antiquated” and be swept away too.
The real lesson of Marxism is not the prejudices and opinions of the Marxism of the hour. The real lesson of Marxism is that one must believe these accidental prejudices and opinions are absolutes, until they are swept away, whereupon one must forget these prejudices and opinions or remember them as mere accidents.
“The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil.”
Until it didn’t. And that is the point, because this is how an amorphous and protean Marxist culture produces an amorphous and protean Marxist soul. The Old Church cured souls with repetition, since repetition implies fixed and permanent truths that were known to our fathers, as they are to ourselves, and as they will be to our children. Souls cured in this fashion are stiff and resistant to rapid or infinite adjustment. The New Church cures souls with contradiction, since contradiction implies that every truth comes with an expiration date. Souls cured in this fashion are supple and receptive to rapid and infinite adjustment.
They are amorphous souls.
And they maintain their amorphousness by feeding a diet of shifting and contradictory slogans, and fortifying this diet with regular supplements of potent imbecility.
*) Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy (1531), 3.1