Those Two Pesky Waves

What the conventional wisdom at most saw in Leo Strauss’ The Three Waves of Modernity was the irruption and the eventual defeat of, respectively, Communism and Fascism as the concrete forms of the last two waves. In my opinion that is too schematic and of course obvious. What I believe most important is that, slowly but surely, both of those waves deeply embedded themselves into the original liberalism of the first wave so that, individually and in combination, they completely changed liberalism for the worse and the result is what we have to live with in our time. The rejection of this result is also what we’re beginning to see in the form of Trumpism, populism, and nationalism, what their common enemy generically calls “far right” movements.

The Second Wave, mainly the ideas of Rousseau, Hegel and Marx, beginning in the early 20th century and through the first half of the century turned liberalism in a socialist, collectivist direction (Wilson, FDR and the New Deal, European democratic socialist governments, the normalization of state intervention in the economy, the continuous growth of government and the colossal level of government taxing and spending).

The Third Wave, the ideas of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and others, found fertile ground in the West after World War 2. This period marks the second modification of liberalism on top of the previous one, thus resulting in the strange and contradictory liberalism of today (global corporatism and global governmental organizations but also the complete autonomy of the individual, relativism, and nihilistic hedonism) in such a way that —this is important to understand— practically every major political group and leadership in the West accept the radical changes unconditionally. That’s why I say the traditional left-right fight and liberal-conservative fight have been subsumed in this new global fight, an unprecedented situation that tends to confuse the best minds and needs new ways of looking at it.

The main First-Wave thinkers (Hobbes, Locke, Bacon, Smith, etc.) opened the door to the radical transformation of their ideas by abandoning the classic framework, including what Yoram Hazony calls the Anglo-American conservative tradition. When one reads this article in concert with my idea of modernity, the concept of “conservatism” gets illuminated in a new way.

In the same regard, I strongly recommend this lecture about “Socialism versus the Family” by the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher Edward Feser. His blog is also one of the best, worth visiting.

One last thing: one key to understand the modern world is to compare socialism against liberalism, not against “capitalism” or “democracy” or “conservatism” or “libertarianism.” Why? Because one has to study the regime (in the Aristotelian sense), not its particular political, economic, or ideological subsets. And of course, one even more important key is to be able to see modernity in general from outside, beyond the common horizon of all the ideologies it has created.