"Today, the unmitigated exercise of what Shelley called the calculating faculty looks just as indifferent to ordinary lives, and their need for belief and enchantment. The political impasses and economic shocks of our societies, and the irreparably damaged environment, corroborate the bleakest views of nineteenth-century critics who condemned modern capitalism as a heartless machine for economic growth, or the enrichment of the few, which works against such fundamentally human aspirations as stability, community and a better future.
"Radical Islamists, among many other demagogues, draw their appeal from a deeply felt incoherence of concepts – 'democracy' and 'individual rights' among them – with which many still reflexively shore up the ideological defenses of a self-evidently dysfunctional system. Very little in contemporary politics and culture seems to be able to match their offer of collective identity and self-aggrandizement to isolated and fearful individuals. This is why the failure to check the expansion and appeal of an outfit like ISIS is not only military; it is also intellectual and moral.
"And now with the victory of Donald Trump it has become impossible to deny or obscure the great chasm, first explored by Rousseau, between an elite that seizes modernity's choicest fruits while disdaining older truths and uprooted masses, who, on finding themselves cheated of the same fruits, recoil into cultural supremacism, populism and rancorous brutality. The contradictions and costs of a minority's progress, long suppressed by historical revisionism, blustery denial and aggressive equivocation, have become visible on a planetary scale.
"They encourage the suspicion — potentially lethal among the hundreds of millions of people condemned to superfluousness — that the present order, democratic or authoritarian, is built upon force and fraud; they incite a broader and more apocalyptic mood than we have witnessed before. They also underscore the need for some truly transformative thinking, about both the self and the world."