DEATHWORKS: The Third World War is Upon US and it isn’t the terrorists

Weekend Musings

The following article is from Kairos Journal and it is one one of the most interesting 600 words I have read this year. I want to read more from this Jewish scholar and his perspective. See if you don’t see what I mean. Take three minutes and read this article. It’s another great example of “ideas have consequences.”

Sparked by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Serbia, World War I began in 1914. In turn, World War II started in the 1930s, with Japan’s, Italy’s, and Germany’s invasions of China, Ethiopia, and Poland, respectively. But, according to Ivy League sociologist Philip Rieff, there is a longer running “world war,” one which erupted with particular ferocity in 1882, when Friederich Nietzsche declared, “God is dead.”1 The parties to this larger conflict do not bear the names Central Power, Axis, and Allied. Rather, this is a war between first, second, and third “worlds” (overarching cultural perspectives)—the last two in particular.

According to Rieff, the first world is pagan, obsessed with gods, whether the Olympian deities of ancient Greece or the aboriginal spirits of Australia’s outback. The second world is monotheistic; in its realm, the Living God authoritatively issues prohibitive commandments. The third world is obsessed with erasure,2 determined to destroy the second culture, indeed, culture itself, and usher in an “age without moralities and religions.”3 Instead of commandments, it favors the ever-shifting phenomena of “values.”4 While the first world had taboos and the second had divine “interdicts,” the third world starts with “remissives” (excuses and exceptions) and ends in “transgressives,” where once-condemned sins are now celebrated.5

The move from first to third worlds is a transition from fate to faith to fiction. One is finally left in a place where “there is no truth, only rhetorics of self-interest.”6 Where once there was a “Way,” a via (“verticality in authority”), and “the sacred,”7 now there is only human vanity and license, a world where relativistic multi-culturalism is actually anti-culturalism.8 Having thrown off a master, man is now “mastered only by his desires.”

Schools teaching “self-esteem therapy are preparatory schools” for third world “scourges,” driven by “an ideology of anger and hatred,” bent on destroying “white males, patriarchy, biological constraints on sexuality, the ruling class, capitalism, pet ownership, law: any restraint that keeps a man or woman from becoming the world.”Such “[t]hird world education is a matter of indoctrination into the fictive culture of the primacy of possibility”10—a universe with no limits.

In Rieff’s terms, the acts of those committed to this downward spiral are “deathworks,” and its “negational artists” are legion: the American poet Wallace Stevens (“Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”);11 the Irish writer James Joyce (Finnegans Wake);12 American novelist Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness);13 Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Moses and Monotheism);14 German tyrant Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf);15 Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon);16 French artist Marcel Duchamp (Etant donnés);17 British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations);18 American broadcaster Bryant Gumbel (adversarial interview of the Reverend Ralph Abernathy on NBC’s Today Show);19 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade); 20  American filmmaker Martin Scorcese (Goodfellas);21 American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (Self-Portrait);22 and French philosopher Michel Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge). 23

A Jew, Rieff lifts up the Hebrew (and biblical) practice of shuv (repentance).24 He applauds the “interdicts,” the “Nots,” of Pope Benedict: “To be a Christian is a life and to the life belongs: not to have abortion, not divorce, not to have homosexuality.”25 And he cherishes the work of “sacred messengers,” such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose Gulag Archipelago is “the greatest book of remembrance, the greatest martyrology, ever written.”26 Unfortunately, Rieff is suspicious of Christianity as he misreads threats to “sacred order” in the gospel of grace. He is stuck on Sinai, but in this day of third-world barbarism,27 that is not a bad place to begin.


1 Philip Rieff, My Life among the Deathworks (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 69.
2 Ibid., 199-200.
3 ibid., 5-7.
4 Ibid., 11.
5 Ibid., 12.
6 Ibid., 14.
7 Ibid., 12.
8 Ibid.,14.
9 Ibid.,173.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., 38.
12 Ibid., 28, 94.
13 Ibid., 41.
14 Ibid., 67.
15 ibid., 75.
16 Ibid., 107.
17 Ibid., 109.
18 Ibid., 146.
19 Ibid., 153.
20 Ibid., 154.
21 Ibid., 184.
22 Ibid., 198.
23 Ibid., 206.
24 Ibid., 60.
25 Ibid., 59.
26 Ibid., 192.
27 Ibid., 197.

4 thoughts on “DEATHWORKS: The Third World War is Upon US and it isn’t the terrorists

  1. Reblogged this on LDS Poetry by Kelly Miller and commented:
    May all the religions unite and bring us back to light. Lest it be declared that God is dead and the world fall to hell instead. Shifting how we define values is but the first of venues as excuses and exceptions are common vanity and license flaw men


  2. May all the religions unite
    and bring us back to light.
    Lest it be declared that God is dead
    and we fall to hell instead.

    Values defined begin a slow shift
    And the straight narrow path commences to drift
    Excuse and exception become all too common
    As grave self-deception diminshes good men


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