Rotstein’s Monumental Epitaph
The late Abraham/Abe Rotstein (1929-2015) was an economist of a leftist persuasion, literally a Left Liberal. He left behind an almost completed manuscript which he had been working on for more than three decades. It has now been published. Its title Myth, Mind and Religion: The Apocalyptic Narrative is indicative of its extraordinary breadth.
Problems, possibilities, catastrophes, which compel resolution present themselves in an apocalyptic manner: oppressor/victim, inversion of victims into masters, and a salvation regime as the outcome. There are chapters on Jesus, Luther, Hegel, Marx, Hitler, etc. For example, Marx, in a manner familiar to economists: capital oppresses labour, the proletariat as victim overthrows the capitalists, there is heaven a.k.a. communism on earth.
Rotstein chose to go far beyond his own discipline of economics – which is a tribute to his intellectual courage – but he is not without relevance to our present day concerns about matters economic and beyond in these turbulent, perhaps apocalyptic, times.
On contemporary matters, Rotstein reminds us of, in his words, the Radical Decade from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The cry was for liberation – by black people and indigenous people from racism and for civil rights, students, colonies and dependencies from the imperium, women, gays – and for respect for the environment, for Nature, from the assaults of capital in particular. Radicalism proved ephemeral but the demands have not ceased.
Rotstein was writing before Trump and the rise of the alt-right, but, as noted, he does deal with Nazi fascism, of the perverse claim that the populace was oppressed by the Jews, the Other of the times, and must be annihilated. Today it is immigrants and refugees who constitute the Other and who must therefore be oppressed in the name of white supremacy.
Rotstein sees out-of-control technology as the apparent menace of our times – think today’s carbon emissions and climate change, the attacks on privacy and democracy by digital media, job destruction from artificial intelligence, “the robotization of life.” The victims are the many but what or who are the oppressors and what is to be done.
Rotstein is no longer with us to discuss these matters. His legacy is to warn us of the dangers of apocalyptic thinking, a mode of thought that he sees as characterizing the Judaeo-Christian West for three millennia.