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samedi, 07 décembre 2013

The Faustian Soul & Western Uniqueness

The Faustian Soul & Western Uniqueness


By Domitius Corbulo

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

51gUU36cL2L._SY445_.jpgIf I had to choose one word to explain why the West has been the most creative civilization it would be “Faustian.” My choice of this word hinges on the realization that the West has been following a unique cultural path since ancient times in the course of which it has exhibited far higher levels of achievement in all the intellectual, artistic, and heroic spheres of life.

The current academic consensus is that the West diverged from the Rest only with the onset of mechanized industry, use of inorganic sources of energy, and application of Newtonian science to industry. This consensus holds for both multiculturalist and Eurocentric historians. David Landes, Kenneth Pomeranz, Bin Wong, Joel Mokyr, Jack Goldstone, E.L. Jones, and Peer Vries all single out the Industrial Revolution of 1750/1830 as the point during which the “great divergence” occurred. It matters little how far back in time they trace this Revolution, or how much weight they assign to preceding developments such as the Scientific Revolution or the gains from the colonization of the Americas, their emphasis is on the “divergence” generated by the arrival of the steam engine.

Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment:Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950, informs us that ninety-seven percent of accomplishment in the sciences occurred in Europe and North America from 800 BC to 1950. It also informs us that, in the arts, Europe alone produced a far higher number of “significant figures” than the rest of the world combined. In music, “the lack of a tradition of named composers in non-Western civilization means that the Western total of 522 significant figures has no real competition at all” (Human Accomplishment, 259).

But Murray’s statistical analysis can only take us so far. He pays no attention to accomplishments in warfare, exploration, and heroic leadership. His definition of accomplishment includes only peaceful individuals carrying scientific experiments and creating artistic works. I think Europeans were exceptional also in their expansionist and exploratory behaviors. Both their “civilized” and “uncivilized” were inseparably connected to their peculiarly agonistic ethos of aristocratic individualism. The great men of Europe were all artists driven by an intensively felt desire for unmatched deeds. The “great ideas” – Archimedes’ “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world,” – Hume’s “love of literary fame, my ruling passion” – were associated with aristocratic traits, disputatiousness and defiant temperaments – no less than Cortez’s immense ambition for honour and glory, “to die worthily than to live dishonoured.”

Spengler has provided us with the best word to overcome the current naïve separation between a cultured/peaceable West and an uncivilized/antagonistic West with his image of a strikingly vibrant culture driven by a type of Faustian personality overflowing with expansive, disruptive, and imaginative impulses manifested in all the spheres of life.

Spengler believed that the “prime-symbol” of the Faustian soul was its “tendency towards the infinite,” and that this tendency found its “purest expression” in modern mathematics. The “infinite continuum,” the exponential logarithm and “its dissociation from all connexion with magnitude” and transference to a “transcendent relational world” were some of the words he used to describe Western mathematics. But Spengler also wrote of the “bodiless music” of the Western composer, “in which harmony and polyphony bring him to images of utter ‘beyondness’ that transcend all possibilities of visual definition”, and, before the modern era, of the Gothic “form-feeling” of “pure, imperceptible, unlimited space” (Decline of the West, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson, vol.1, Form and Actuality [Alfred Knopf, [1923] 1988: 53-90, 183-216).

Mathematicians no less than musicians were “artist-men” and these artists were exemplars of the “emancipation” of the Western soul from magnitude, from “servitude” to measureable lines and planes, from the “near and corporeal.” Spengler believed that this soul-type was first visible in medieval Europe, starting with Romanesque art, but particularly in the “spaciousness of Gothic cathedrals,” “the heroes of the Grail and Arthurian and Siegfried sagas, ever roaming in the infinite, and the Crusades,” including “the Hohenstaufen in Sicily, the Hansa in the Baltic, the Teutonic Knights in the Slavonic East, [and later] the Spaniards in America, [and] the Portuguese in the East Indies (Decline of the West, 183-216).

I will leave aside my disagreements with Spengler’s image of classical Greece and Rome as cultures that conceived things in terms of proportion and balance in recurring patterns, except to agree with Nietzsche that classical Greeks were singularly agonal, driven by a Promethean aristocratic ethos.

This soul was palpable in all the Western spheres of life – painting, politics, architecture, science, literature, poetry, exploration, warfare, and philosophy. There was something Faustian about all the great men of Europe, in real life or fiction: Hamlet, Richard III, Gauss, Newton, Nicolas Cusanus, Don Quixote, Goethe’s Werther, Gregory VII, Michelangelo, Paracelsus, Dante, Descartes, Don Juan, Bach, Wagner’s Parsifal, Haydn, Leibniz’s Monads, Giordano Bruno, Frederick the Great, Rembrandt, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. “The Faustian soul – whose being consists in the overcoming of presence, whose feeling is loneliness and whose yearning is infinity – puts its need of solitude, distance, and abstraction into all its actualities, into its public life, its spiritual and its artistic form-worlds alike” (Decline of the West, 386).

Christianity, too, became a thoroughly Faustian moral ethic. “It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity — and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction”: will-to-power in ethics (Decline of the West, 344). This “Faustian-Christian morale” produced “Christians of the great style — Innocent III, Loyola and Savonarola, Pascal and St. Theresa […] the great Saxon, Franconian and Hohenstaufen emperors . . . giant-men like Henry the Lion and Gregory VII . . . the men of the Renaissance, of the struggle of the two Roses, of the Huguenot Wars, the Spanish Conquistadores, the Prussian electors and kings, Napoleon, Bismarck, Rhodes” (Decline of the West, 348-49).

Spengler captured better than anyone else (though Hegel was a great anticipator) the West’s main protagonist: not a calmed, disinterested, rationalistic personality, but a highly energetic, restless, fateful being, unwilling to be limited by boundaries, determined to break through the unknown, supersede the norm and achieve mastery. Some other words and phrases Spengler used to describe the traits and aims of this soul were: “unrestrained,” “strong-willed,” “far-ranging,” “active, fighting, progressing,” “overcoming of resistances,” “against what is near, tangible and easy,” “the fierceness and joy of tension” (Decline of the West, 308-337).

The seemingly amorphous, immeasurable, and infinite concept of a Faustian soul is far better to explain Western uniqueness than the measurable but rather confined IQ concept. There is clearly a general link between IQ and cultural achievement. But IQ experts, J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn, have yet to offer a sound explanation why Europeans achieved far more culturally than the East Asians with their higher average IQ. Rushton highlights Chinese priority in a number of technologies before the modern era. He points to the Chinese use of printing by the 9th century, “600 years before Europe saw Gutenberg’s first Bible.” He says the Chinese were using “flame throwers, guns, and cannons” by the 13th century, “about 100 years before Europe.” They were using the magnetic compass in the 1st century, “not found in European records until 1190.” “In 1422, seventy years before Columbus’s three small ships crossed the Atlantic, the Chinese reached the east coast of Africa,” with a fleet of 65 ships superior in size and technique.

Sounding like a multicultural revisionist, Rushton adds: “With their gunpowder weapons, navigation, accurate maps and magnetic compasses, the Chinese could easily have gone around the tip of Africa and ‘discovered’ Europe!” (Race, Evolution, and Behavior, 2nd Abridged Version, Charles Darwin Research Institute, 2000).

Even more, Rushton views the last five centuries of European superiority as a temporary deviation that is now being superseded by not only Japan but China, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. Lynn has the same opinion. But they have not offered an answer as to why Europeans were responsible for almost every single advance and invention in modern times. East Asian creativity, they say, was kept under a lid by cultural norms and institutions that are now breaking down. But there are multiple problems with Rushton’s claims, staring with his very one-sided association of creativity with science and technology, and his exaggerations about Chinese technology prior to 1500. After the Sung era (960-1279), the Chinese ceased to be inventive, whereas it was the medieval Europeans who went on to make continuous improvements on the Chinese inventions Rushton mentions, and then added their own: spectacles, mechanical clocks, navigational techniques, gauges, micrometres, water mills, fine wheel cutters, and more. The Chinese possessed large junks but did not discover a single new nautical mile. The ancient Greeks were far more advanced in the theoretical sciences, geometry, deductive reasoning, not to mention their arts and humanities. The Romans were just as inventive technologically, progenitors of great military strategists and conquerors, and true innovators in jurisprudence. Chinese education is still backward, dogmatic, and this is why they send their students to the West. Europeans invented each and every discipline taught in our universities. Virtually every great philosopher, poet, painter, novelist, explorer in history is European.

880970887.jpgWe need an explanation for this incredible discrepancy. But what exactly is the Faustian soul? How do we connect it to Europe’s creativity? To what original source or starting place did Spengler attribute this yearning for infinity? He directed attention to the barbarian peoples of northern Europe. In Man and Technics, he wrote of how the Nordic climate forged a character filled with vitality, “an intellect sharpened to the most extreme degree, with the cold fervour of an irrepressible passion for struggling, daring, driving forward.” The Nordic character was a human biological being to be sure, but one animated with the spirit of a “proud beast of prey,” like that of an “eagle, lion, [or] tiger.” For this Nordic individual, “the concerns of life, the deed, became more important than mere physical existence.” He wants to climb high, soar upward and reach ever higher levels of existential intensity. Adaptation and reproduction are not enough (Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, Greenwood Press, 1976: 19-41).

But why a Faustian soul is attributed only to Europeans? Are their “primary emotions” really different from that of ordinary humans? A good way to start answering this question is to compare the idea of a Faustian soul with Immanuel Kant’s observations on the “unsocial sociability” of human beings. In his essay, “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View,” Kant seemed somewhat puzzled but nevertheless attuned to the way progress in history had been driven by the fiercer, self-centred side of human nature. Looking at the wide span of history, he concluded that without the vain desire for honour, property, and status humans would have never developed beyond a primitive Arcadian existence of self-sufficiency and mutual love: “all human talents would remain hidden forever in a dormant state, and men, as good-natured as the sheep they tended, would scarcely render their existence more valuable than that of their animals. . . . [T]he end for which they were created, their rational nature, would be an unfulfilled void.”

There can no development of the human faculties, no high culture, without conflict, antagonism, and pride. It is these asocial traits, “vainglory,” “lust for power,” “avarice,” which awaken the dormant talents of humans and “drive them to new exertions of their forces and thus to the manifold development of their capacities.” Nature in her wisdom, “not the hand of an evil spirit,” created “the unsocial sociability of humans.”

But Kant never asked, in this context, why Europeans were responsible, in his own estimation, for most of the moral and rational progression in history. In another publication, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798), Kant did observe major differences in the psychological and moral character of races as exhibited in different places on earth. He ranked races accordingly, with Europeans at the top in “natural traits.” Still, Kant never connected his anthropology with his principle of asocial qualities.

Did “Nature” foster these asocial qualities evenly among the cultures of the world? While these “vices” – as we have learned today from evolutionary psychology — are genetically-based traits that evolved in response to long periods of adaptive selective pressures associated with the maximization of human survival, there is no reason to assume that the form and degree of these traits evolved evenly or equally among all the human races and cultures. It is my view that the asocial qualities of Europeans were different, more intense, acuter, strident, individuated.

I believe that this variation should be traced back to the aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans. Indo-Europeans were a pastoral people from the Pontic-Caspian steppes who initiated the most mobile way of life in prehistoric times starting with the riding of horses and the invention of wheeled vehicles in the fourth millennium BC, together with the efficient exploitation of the “secondary products” of domestic animals (dairy products, textiles, harnessing of animals), large-scale herding, and the invention of chariots in the second millennium. By the end of the second millennium, even though Indo-Europeans invaded both Eastern and Western lands, only the Occident had been “Indo-Europeanized.”

Indo-Europeans were uniquely ruled by a class of free aristocrats grouped into war-bands. These bands were constituted associations of men operating independently from tribal or kinship ties, initiated by any powerful individual on the merits of his martial abilities. The relation between the chief and his followers was personal and contractual: the followers would volunteer to be bound to the leader by oaths of loyalty wherein they would promise to assist him while the leader would promise to reward them from successful raids. The most important value of Indo-European aristocrats was the pursuit of individual glory as members of their warbands and as judged by their peers. The Iliad, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, including such Irish, Icelandic and Germanic sagas as Lebor na hUidre, Njals Saga, Gisla Saga Sursonnar, The Nibelungenlied recount the heroic deeds and fame of aristocrats — these are the earliest voices from the dawn of Western civilization. Within this heroic ‘life-world’ the unsocial traits of humans took on a sharper, keener, individuated expression.

What about other central Asian peoples from the steppes such as the Mongols and Turks who produced a similar heroic literature? There are a number of substantial differences. First, the Indo-European epic and heroic tradition precedes any other tradition by some thousands of years, not just the Homeric and the Sanskrit epics but, as we now know with some certainty from such major books as M. L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth, and Calvert Watkins’s How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of IE Poetics (1995), going back to a prehistoric oral tradition. Second, IE poetry exhibits a keener grasp and rendition of the fundamentally tragic character of life, an aristocratic confidence in the face of destiny, the inevitability of human hardship and hubris, without bitterness, but with a deep joy. Third, IE epics show both collective and individual inspiration, unlike non-IE epics which show characters functioning only as collective representations of their communities. This is why in some IE sagas there is a clear author’s stance, unlike the anonymous non-IE sages; the individuality, the rights of authorship, the poet’s awareness of himself as creator, is acknowledged in many ancient and medieval European sagas.

But how do we connect the barbaric asocial traits of prehistoric Indo-European warriors to the superlative cultural achievements of Greeks and later civilized Europeans? Another German thinker, Nietzsche, provides us with the best insights to explain how the untamed agonistic ethos of Indo-Europeans was translated into civilized creativity. I am thinking of the fascinating idea, expressed in his early essay “Homer on Competition,” that civilized culture or convention (nomos) was not imposed on nature but was a sublimated continuation of the strife that was already inherent to nature (physis).The nature of existence is based on conflict and this conflict unfolded itself in human institutions and governments. Humans are not naturally harmonious and rational as Socrates had insisted; the nature of humanity is strife. Nietzsche argued against the separation of man/culture from nature: the cultural creations of humanity are expressions or aspects of nature itself.

But nature and culture are not identical; the artistic creations of humans, their norms and institutions, constitute a rechanneling of the destructive striving of nature into creative acts, which give form and aesthetic beauty to the otherwise barbaric character of natural strife. While culture is an extension of nature, it is also a form by which human beings conceal their cruel reality, and the absurdity and the destructiveness of their nature. This is what Nietzsche meant by the “dual character” of nature; humans restrain or sublimate their drives to create cultural artefacts as a way of coping with the meaningless destruction associated with striving.


Nietzsche, in another early publication, The Birth of Tragedy, referred to this duality of human existence, nomos and physis, as the “Apollonian and Dionysian duality.” The Dionysian symbolized the excessive and intoxicating strife which characterized human life in early tribal societies, whereas the Apollonian symbolized the restraint and rechanneling of conflict possible in state-organized societies. In the case of Greek society, during pre-Homeric times, Nietzsche envisioned a world in which there were no or few limits to the Dionysian impulses, a time of “lust, deception, age and death.” The Homeric and classical (Apollonian) inhabitants of city-states brought these primordial drives under “measure” and self-control. The emblematic meaning of the god Apollo was “nothing in excess.” Apollo was a provider of soundness of mind, a guardian against a complete descent into a state of chaos and wantonness. He was a redirector of the willful and hubristic yearnings of individuals into organized forms of warfare and higher levels of art and philosophy.

For Nietzsche, Greek civilization was not produced by a naturally harmonious character, or a fully moderated and pacified city-state. One of the major mix-ups all interpreters of the rise of the West fall into is to assume that Western achievements were about the overcoming and suppression of our Dionysian impulses. But Nietzsche is right: Greeks achieved their “civility” by rechanneling the destructive feuding and blood lust of their Dionysian past and placing their strife under certain rules, norms and laws. The limitless and chaotic character of strife as it existed in the state of nature was “civilized” when Greeks came together within a larger political horizon, but it was not repressed. Their warfare took on the character of an organized contest within certain limits and conventions. The civilized aristocrat was the one who, in exercising sovereignty over his powerful longings (for sex, booze, revenge, and any other kind of intoxicant) learned self-command and, thereby, the capacity to use his reason to build up his political power and rule those “barbarians” who lacked this self-discipline. The Greeks created their admirable culture while remaining at ease with their superlative will to strife.

To complete Nietzsche’s insights we need to add the historically based argument that the Greeks viewed the nature of existence as strife because of their background in an Indo-European state of nature where strife was the overriding ethos. There are strong reasons to believe that Nietzsche’s concept of strife is an expression of his own Western background and his study of the Western agonistic mode of thinking that began with the Greeks. One may agree that strife is in the “nature of being” as such, but it is worth noting that, for Nietzsche, not all cultures have handled nature’s strife in the same way and not all cultures have been equally proficient in the sublimated production of creative individuals or geniuses. Nietzsche thus wrote of two basic human responses to the horror of endless strife: the un-Hellenic tendency to renounce life in this world as “not worth living,” leading to a religious call to seek a life in the beyond or the after-world, or the Greek tragic tendency, which acknowledged this strife, “terrible as it was, and regarded it as justified.” The cultures that came to terms with this strife, he believed, were more proficient in the completion of nature’s ends and in the production of creative individuals willing to act in this world. He saw Heraclitus’ celebration of war as the father and king of the whole universe as a uniquely Greek affirmation of nature as strife. It was this affirmation which led him to say that “only a Greek was capable of finding such an idea to be the fundament of a cosmology.”

The Greek-speaking aristocrats had to learn to come together within a political community that would allow them to find some common ground and thus move away from the state of nature with its endless feuding and battling for individual glory. There would emerge in the 8th century BC a new type of political organization, the city-state. The greatness of Homeric and Classical Greece involved putting Apollonian limits around the indispensable but excessive and brutal Dionysian impulses of barbaric pre-Homeric Greeks. Ionian literature was far from the berserkers of the pre-Homeric world, but it was just as intensively competitive. The search for the truth was a free-for-all with each philosopher competing for intellectual prestige in a polemical tone that sought to discredit the theories of others while promoting one’s own. There were no Possessors of the Way in aristocratic Greece; no Chinese Sages decorously deferential to their superiors and expecting appropriate deference from their inferiors.

This agonistic ethos was ingrained in the Olympic Games, in the perpetual warring of the city-states, in the pursuit of a political career and in the competition among orators for the admiration of the citizens, and in the Athenian theatre festivals where a great many poets would take part in Dionysian competitions. It was evident in the sophistic-Socratic ethos of dialogic argument and the pursuit of knowledge by comparing and criticizing individual speeches, evaluating contradictory claims, competitive persuasion and refutation. In Descartes’s rejection of all prior knowledge and assertion of his autonomous intellect, “I think, therefore I am”, the transcendent mind, the self-determining ego, separated from any unity with nature and tradition. Spengler saw this ego expressing itself everywhere: in “the Viking infinity wistfulness” and their colonizing activities through the North Sea, the Atlantic, and the Black Sea; in the Portuguese and Spaniards who “were possessed by the adventured-craving for uncharted distances and for everything unknown and dangerous; in “the emigration to America,” “the Californian gold-rush,” “the passion of our Civilization for swift transit, the conquest of the air, the exploration of the Polar regions and the climbing of almost impossible mountain peaks” — “dramas of uncontrollable longings for freedom, solitude, immense independence, and of giantlike contempt for all limitations.”

“These dramas are Faustian and only Faustian. No other culture, not even the Chinese, knows them” (Decline of the West, 335-37).




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