Monday, February 15, 2010

The Twilight of the Interdicts

Philip Rieff was one of the most original minds of the late 20th century. He often had to forge his on distinct vocabulary in order to address matters that seemed invisible to other scholars. To dip into his work in media res is like falling into Alice's Wonderland, except that what appears to be topsy-turvy world is under the strict control of Rieff's lucidity. Often one doesn't need to parse his prose in order to feel the power of his core insights. As in this passage from his posthumously published Charisma:
Far from offering less and less in which to "believe," Protestantism, at the end of its tether, began to offer more and more, good and evil; thus, in late Protestant culture, the condition was created for the emergence of therapeutic movements, which disbelieve in nothing and practice everything. . . . the interdictory form itself became not merely ridiculous but sick -- moralizing became neurotic. How horrible to have all our post-Protestant immoralists ... setting the tone in a culture destroying itself by the less sophisticated approving of all transgressors as creative, or at least not "uptight."

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