Walter Benjamin was most certainly a philosopher. However, his awareness of historicism is what interests me most. For instance, he was inspired by Paul Klee's "Angelus Novus," and wrote "Thesis on the Philosophy of History." In this piece, Benjamin described Klee's image as being the "angel of history." This essay is read widely now and deeply appreciated by cultural historians and literary critics.
The angel's face is turned backwards, surveying the past. All he sees is wreckage, and yet he cannot move, because, as Benjamin asserts, his wings are pinned to the ground. There is much controversy about the specific meaning of Benjamin's interpretation. Henry Giroux's analysis, one that is commonly accepted by many academics, will suffice for the purposes of this short piece. He argues that Benjamin is critiquing modernity and progress. Of course, Benjamin lived in bleak and terrifying times (it was a great loss on the day he committed suicide while being hunted down by Nazis). What is more disturbing now, however, is Giroux's take on the angel of history. Giroux writes:
Like the angel of history in Benjamin's rendering of Klee's painting, the American public is surrounded by another catastrophe of history visibly invisible in the horrible suffering produced by two unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current economic recession exacerbating already high levels of poverty, homelessness and joblessness now spreading like a poisonous blight across the American landscape. But unlike the forces constricting Benjamin's angel, the storm that pins the wings of the current diminutive angel of history is more intense, more paralyzing in its hyper-materialistic visions and more privatizing in its definition of agency. The historical forces producing this storm and its accompanying catastrophes are incorrigibly blind to the emergence of a 'pulverized, atomized society spattered with the debris of broken inter-human bonds and their eminently frail and breakable substitutes.' This is best exemplified in the now infamous and cruel tenets of a harsh neoliberalism stated without apology by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s in their mutual insistence that 'government is the problem not the solution" and 'there is no such thing as society.'
Shattering lives. Punishing as many people as possible (through economic torture). Accumulating more capital. Devastating public services. Destroying the last remnants of citizenry. That is neoliberalism in a nutshell. It is not even marching forward, but rather smashing everything in one spot. The present is all it understands. Its defenders may purport to care about the future - that limp and pathetic "winning of the future" slogan comes to mind - but that is only pretense.
So, have you thought about fleeing the country? Or have you already gone through with it? Is there any escaping at this point?
Paul Klee's Angelus Novus (1920)