Beyond the End of the Night

Thoughts on War, Spirit, and the Megalopolis

by / 17 March 2022

History has ended – and that end has continued to drag on like a ghost, again and again, in search of a new body. But for whom did this ending really take place?

If the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taught – or reminded – us anything, it can be summed up in two points:

  1. History does not end if we stop telling it, or if one announces its end. To place oneself outside the horizon of historicity, as if in an accomplished stasis, or in a dimension free from the passage of time – perhaps justified by the end of the great narratives – is nothing other than making oneself blind and deaf to the fury of what continues to become. Or even, the fury of what has not been exhausted.  
  2. History, not needing to be told, deciphered, analysed, deconstructed, to manifest itself – understanding history does not mean neutralising it -, transcends theory in the form of prediction and interpretation and reveals itself purely as action, and its actors as catalysts, points of a chain of reaction.

The causes of all this are deep and complex and ancient but also recent, part of that history whose end Fukuyama (1992) announced with the fall of the USSR. It was rather the end of the resistance that the West perceived: the way was open to the end of the passage of time, the realisation of liberal democratic dreams. History is not made up of theory; it is composed of deeds, and these deeds are material, and theory is not. The real being of man lies rather in his deed; it is in this deed that individuality is effective (Hegel). Act is a portmanteau word; in it, divergent, are grouped occurrence, an act that is the result of contingency, and vision, a theory of act that has its end in construction. 

Putin is today a fragment of the world’s soul – restorer of the image of Russia as a protagonist in universal history. The divided West, the new geopolitical arrangements, the new zones of influence; reading the present offers guidance to those who thought the West would not bear the return of history. Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.: we in a dome, time seemed to move only outwards. 9/11, Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan: it is difficult for the dome to decode the events of a time that has ceased to be perceived as its own – Putin is ‘mad’, the others were ‘crazy’ and ‘monsters’ before him: the pathological saves the normal from the need for reflection, it simplifies and alienates. The unpredictability of history lies in the incalculable complexity of the reactions that follow a single act. There are actions that are the result of theory; they make up ‘visions’, and manifest the field of history far beyond the past and the present, towards the constitution of the future. Making-history: not a completed act, but a becoming-completed – a tale being written.

Putin’s Panslavism (Dugin’s?1, vision as a coordinated system of acts and reactions, as ‘his’ narrative that contributes to universal history, is opposed to other visions – if any.A vision that becomes operative nourishes the possible dormant flames in the heart of the other fragments of the world’s soul; Volodymyr Zelensky is born, the latest of the faces of the hero archetype, fiction made real that erases fiction itself – art is a way of cautiously saying what should be said violently. One rediscovers “the West”, perhaps “Europe” – hints of the *visions* within those concepts, indications of their absence. That which only reacts when threatened certainly does not show any relevant solidity, and indeed hides malice or inconsistency, yet recomposition is also a reaction, and contributes to history even if only as a poor occurrence. Is there room for a vision in the lap of what has so far proved to be nothing more than a parade of quarrelsome masks? Is there time to wait for the messianic coming of new visionaries, storytellers, inhabitants of the future? 

Russia out of the world; the antagonist is perhaps enough to create the hero, but not to give a name to what comes at the end of that night which outside the Western dome has continued to be the norm. A new West that wipes out {the West}; such perhaps should be the task of the last heroism, so that there are no more domes, but a dense and sticky foam that infiltrates everywhere, and not only as far as it is needed.


Baudrillard wrote in 1990 – in the midst of that History about to be fulfilled:

If one were to characterise the current state of affairs, I would say it is that after the orgy. The orgy is the whole explosive moment of modernity, that of the liberation of all fields. […] We can now only simulate the orgy and liberation, pretending to move in the same direction by accelerating, but in reality we accelerate in a vacuum, because all the aims of liberation are already behind us and what we are beset by, obsessed by, is this anticipation of all the results, the availability of all signs, forms and desires. […] This is the state of simulation, the one in which we can only put all scenarios back into play because they have already taken place – actually or virtually. It is the state of all realised utopias, in which one must paradoxically continue to live as if they were not realised. (2009, 11)

This realised liberation has proved to fall into its opposite, Baudrillard continues: in it, everything that was done to define clear boundaries and produce definite and definitive images has turned, at its theoretical completion, into its own other. General contamination of every field by every other, triumph of the principle of uncertainty, and ineluctable victory of obsessive communication: incessant noise, thoughts inwardly focused on themselves, words talking about words. Having reached utopia, which is the end of History as progress, one is inebriated with the feeling of inhabiting a celestial dome, from which history itself has been exiled. And yet, the corollary goes: let no one keep memory of that exile, time goes on, and the realised utopia is only such if it has yet to be realised – although the playing field, this time, is the desert outside the dome. Let that be the land of those who have failed to make history – Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, … – the weight that holds the scale in balance.

In the dome, safe from the march of time, rational pacifism, eminently moral in the worst sense of the word, a custom of thought, a preaching of the murderer to the murdered, has gestated; organic memory, with great merits and just as many defects, banishes the worst memories beyond the city walls, where – the Greeks said – the gods and the beasts reside. Every condition of existence, be it individual or collective, is the result of an affirmation, always, and of a struggle, sometimes. Today we hear harsh criticism of support for the Ukrainians, we often hear that Ukraine is destined to fall, and so it would be right to accelerate this fall, to lay down their (our) arms: another day is another death. The responsibility for the suffering would be divided between the offended and the offender: the former, the more they fight, the more they cause (their own) death; the latter kills, but the causes are complex, and complexity to some extent justifies. In the dome there is nothing but theory: there is nothing to think about but one’s own thoughts.  The goal is peace, at any cost – the dome dwellers say. They say this because they do not see the contours of the latter, because they take it for granted that their form of society is the most just, and that therefore by nurturing the essence of justice they do not deserve the most infamous side of history – they civilised, heirs of enlightenment, enemies of crude violence. And yet, it would be so easy for great men to go to the field of war, holding hands in front of soldiers and bombs, saying: if you kill us, it will really be war, and it will be your responsibility, and you will prove it to everybody. That would really be an act of peace. Facts run faster than theory.

What is more violent than the claim to be the standard bearers of justice? Does the West have anything to teach us – if not about war, of which we have always been connoisseurs, as in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Yugoslavia? Are there fair wars, or is war always wrong? Why do the constitutions of European states repudiate offensive warfare, but admit defensive warfare? Every word uttered by the West, well defended by the glass of the dome, attempting to explain itself and to explain others what would be the right way to act for those under the burning skies only hides the return of the real, and of the fear linked to it. The noise, the cheering, the polarisation of discourses: fear. What if the glass of the dome cracks from some clumsy slash? What if it’s our turn? Do we flank the offender, who is also to us the threat, or do we flank the offended, because of our values, but risking that the former will get pissed off, or do we remain equidistant, interested spectators but careful not to abandon the terrain of uncommitment? Is there anything left of Europe’s values and history, anything through which to define an identity? Or must we surrender to Kojéve’s idea of the Latin Empire?
At least, fear is an emotion that awakens the senses, and sets thought in motion. 

The end of history has meant this: inhabiting a myth of transparency, whereby the dome is the self-realisation of rational history, and as rational just, and outside it the desert, and what has been accomplished in the dome is not just a fact, but is the truth. Rational pacifism, anti-simplificationism: the claim to purge otherness of the unknown it brings with it – every relationship can be an idyll, and if it can, then it must. On the path of universal history nothing has been accomplished – because nothing can be, everything keeps slipping away and decomposing, and we are supposed to chase it, to swab its purulent sores. How do you fight what you must fight? And on the basis of what criterion does this duty exist? Virtuous Humanism is mythology; it is necessary to recognise the meaning of one’s own history. 


In the central chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit, on Spirit and Morality, Hegel manifests, without directly mentioning it, the Napoleonic order as the ultimate realisation of universal history, through and beyond the French Revolution and the Terror. Hegel perhaps fortuitously witnesses Napoleon’s entry into Jena; he is the necessary witness of this history in the act of burning, of the embodied world soul. In his lectures on Phenomenology, Kojéve recognises in Hegel’s testimony the fact that philosophy, the spirit’s reflection on itself, represents the true fulfillment of the realised ideal of universal history: this fulfillment is in Napoleon, as cosmic-historical actor, and in Hegel himself, as witness. Philosophy, therefore, always arrives at twilight, at the hour in which the action has taken place, or its fulfillment is emerging: the spirit can only contemplate its own acts once they have been fulfilled. The Hegelian “end of history” is the completion of a philosophical science that defines its purpose – but time, and its content, proceed with equal intensity.

The nature of human history, through Hegel’s eyes, is represented as defined by the acts that compose it, by the actors that catalyse the historical becoming, and by the inert matter that undergoes this becoming. There is no repression, no valid strategy of containment that can arrest its progress. No theory can stand before action as a master of keys, the sole holder of the truth of time; theory is the subsequent contemplative act, understanding and learning. Today, terrible or not, Vladimir Putin is a fragment of the soul of the world, the actor who has shown, with a real and tangible movement, that history is not over in any of those places where it seemed to have died out – be it Hiroshima in August 1945, or Berlin in November 1989. But the soul of the world does not have a face: it is fragmented, scattered, sprawling, born of backwaters of silence and unfinishedness, and has no a priori direction. The direction is imprinted, and this makes it an action within the very unfolding of history. As well as Putin, then, the soul of the world manifests itself equally, and perhaps more forcefully, in the figure of Zelensky.
What creates a nation, and what destroys it?

The fall of the Wall, and the consequent end of the Soviet Union, was experienced as the end of an era, the end of a war fought through deterrents and threats of action rather than their concretisation. The end of the division of the world into zones of influence was perhaps for the West the realisation of an utopia in which history would really come to an end with a triumph of virtuous enlightenment after decades of thick darkness. Francis Fukuyama describes the end of history as coinciding with the triumph of liberal democracy and Western capitalism – the enthusiastic conclusion of the march of progress embodied in the sublime achievement that is capitalist democracy. History thus turned out to be a direct path to an outcome that would sanction its conclusion: the fulfilment in which the doorstep is finally crossed and the ancient terror that inhabits the spirit is stomped out for goodl.

The narrative of the end of history has held sway in the form of mythology: even the conflicts following the fall of Soviet communism have been interpreted as remnants, the rumblings of an era gone by, aftershocks. The West has exiled history outside itself, beyond its borders and beyond its semantic territories. The western dome – the megalopolis – affirmed the language of triumph over history as an existential dimension, rather than over a concrete antagonist: there would be no more events or happenings; everything is done, we are free to pursue wellbeing. The West believed in a new sacredness, within the empty spaces where time seems not to proceed. 

It is not surprising that the West was, and is, impressed and afraid of the frenetic pace of events – of their pure neutrality. The drama of 11 September 2001, the attacks on France, the pandemic, as well as the Russian invasion, manifest only this: the West sat on what it thought was the corpse of history, closing the boundary to time, and thinking it could take refuge in a stasis, in a hyperreality for which any attack on its own wellbeing could only be decoded with the language of pathology and horror. It was thus perceived as alien and incomprehensible. The West ended up hiding in its own utopia, which quickly became the stage for quarrelsome actors and bored impulses. History goes on, and we, helpless subjects or complicit actors like everyone else, continue to hear its footsteps treading the threshold. The only real choice is to act in history, contributing to its development, or to suffer it.

The West has lost the vision of itself and its meaning, it has lost the sense of its own narrative – because yes, in the progress of universal history, small local narratives, worldviews, their cosmograms, assert themselves. By losing its vision, it no longer knew which direction to take, what to build, or to understand the meaning of what had been built up to then: it lost the constructive aspect of desire, to return or regress to the pulsionality of libidinal energy left free to expand and penetrate every crevice – just as Lyotard predicted, and not hoped for. Of course, the structures invested by libidinal flows change, they become turbulent, malleable, but all this happens within a dome that makes vain every definition of the other from itself, every recognition of the different, every perception of otherness. It will thus succumb to the constructions of that radically real otherness which will always and in any case, as part and essence of the spirit, continue to manifest itself. 

Without our own meaning, our own narrative – and this applies equally to the individual as to the collective dimension of existence – we are reduced to being simply victims of history, victims of the action of others. By refusing to act, one refuses to be. One must strive to think about one’s place in the cosmos if one is to have access to action, and if one is to have the possibility of being an actor – a fragment of the soul of the world. 

Can there be hope for the condition in which the West finds itself? Not the hope inherent in waiting. 

Jean Monnet said that Europe will be made in crises and will be the sum of the solutions to these crises. Such an ethics of reaction can certainly make sense, if one takes into account the irreducible variety of local narratives and cultural interpretations of which Europe is composed. The best way to define a communion of purpose is to wait until the very freedom that would allow such a communion is threatened: reacting together is still being together. But it is only an indication, a hint of a potentiality; if the shared ground is discovered in the reaction, then it also exists as a power of action, as a motion of the will. Yet desire does not seem to be installed there. Europe procrastinates in search of signs, but while the action within the Russian narrative seems disjointed and indefensible, and offers the possibility of lazy reactions, Chinese modernity continues to claim space for its history.

If there is a “positive” side to this violent manifestation of history within the idyllic panorama from which the West is said to draw heavily, it is therefore related to the unifying power within the figure of the “antagonist”. The danger of ‘war in Europe’ brought by Putin has set in motion – with varying effectiveness – the European conscience. A consciousness that it is time that builds the foundations for its own emancipation from US influence and its equally criminal imperialism, a consciousness that rejects the design of “zones of influence”, and that mobilises its own spirit – if it exists – in search of its own meaning. It is an old tale, which has its roots in the (turbulent) unification of the Greek poleis during the Second Persian War, against the common enemy. The Greeks did not learn from their own, albeit victorious, history and succumbed to far more solid and intertwined cultural architectures later on. This unification of purpose by reaction can only be the pretext for a Europe united in conscience and spirit, in the utmost effort to create a collective vision and narrative that fills the concept of Europe with a true light, a clear and firm identity – in the knowledge that the fertile ground for the production of identity is the boundless ocean of difference and otherness. This is the field in which Europe puts itself at stake, in which it either realises itself as a historical actor, or perishes.

Responding to Jean Monnet as follows: Europe will make itself in crises, and it will be the sum of the lessons learned on the path it has taken towards its own realisation
Beyond that realisation, nothing will be completed – but open, aimed at defining further paths. 

  1. Massimiliano di Pasquale writes in 2018:
    “Dugin applauds the Kremlin’s action and considers the reconquest of Crimea and the birth of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to be key pieces in a more complex puzzle that envisages the colonisation of Ukraine and the constitution of a New Soviet Union, called the Eurasian Union, which should in the future extend from Vladivostok to Lisbon. And which arises in opposition to the liberal and Western world represented by the EU and the United States. The intuition of land powers – Eurasia and the territories of the former Russian Empire – pitted against sea powers – Britain and the United States – theorised by Sir Halford Mackinder in 1904 is manipulated by Dugin to propagate the idea that conflict with the West is a condition that has always characterised Russia.”

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