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mercredi, 14 janvier 2015

Oswald Spengler & the Faustian Soul of the West


Oswald Spengler & the Faustian Soul of the West,

Part 1

By Ricardo Duchesne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com 

If I had to choose one word to identify the uniqueness of the West it would be “Faustian.” This is the word Oswald Spengler used to designate the “soul” of the West. He believed that Western civilization was driven by an unusually dynamic and expansive psyche. The “prime-symbol” of this Faustian soul was “pure and limitless space.” This soul had a “tendency towards the infinite,” a tendency most acutely expressed 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 Spengler used to describe Western mathematics. But he 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, Vol.1, Form and Actuality [Alfred Knopf, 1923] 1988: 53-90).

This soul type was first visible, according to Spengler, 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.” Spengler thus viewed the West as a strikingly vibrant culture driven by a type of personality overflowing with expansive impulses, “intellectual will to power.” “Fighting,” “progressing,” “overcoming of resistances,” battling “against what is near, tangible and easy” – these were some of the terms Spengler used to describe this soul (Decline of the West: 183-216).

A variety of words have been used to describe or identify the peculiar history of the West: “individualist,” “rationalist,” “imperialist,” “secularist,” “restless,” and “racist.” Spengler’s term “Faustian,” it seems to me, best captures the persistent, and far greater, originality of the West since ancient times in all the intellectual, artistic, and heroic spheres of life. But many today don’t read Spengler; there are no indications, in fact, that the foremost experts on the so-called “rise of the West” have even read any of his works.

The current academic consensus has reduced the uniqueness of the West to when this civilization “first” became industrial. This consensus believes that the West “diverged” from other agrarian civilizations only when it developed steam engines capable of using inorganic sources of energy. Prior to the industrial revolution, we are made to believe, there were “surprising similarities” between Europe and Asia. Both multiculturalist and Eurocentric historians tend to frame the “the rise of the West” or the “great divergence” in these economic/technological terms. 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 transformation which signaled a whole new pattern of evolution for the West (or England in the first instance). It matters little how far back in time these academics trace this Revolution, or how much weight they assign to preceding developments such as the Scientific Revolution or the slave trade, their emphasis is on the “divergence” generated by the arrival of mechanized industry and self-sustained increases in productivity sometime after 1750.

spenglervbbnjh.jpgBut I believe that the Industrial Revolution, including developments leading to this Revolution, barely capture what was unique about Western culture. I am obviously aware that other cultures were unique in having their own customs, languages, beliefs and historical experiences. My claim is that the West was uniquely exceptional in exhibiting in a continuous way the greatest degree of creativity, novelties, and expansionary dynamic. I trace the uniqueness of the West back to the aristocratic warlike culture of Indo-European speakers [2] as early as the fourth millennium. The aristocratic libertarian culture of Indo-European speakers was already unique and quite innovative in initiating the most mobile way of life in prehistoric times [3] starting with the domestication and riding of horses and the invention of chariot warfare. So were the ancient Greeks in their discovery of logos and its link with the order of the world, dialectical reason, the invention of prose, tragedy, citizen politics, and face-to-face infantry battle.

The Roman creation of a secular system of republican governance anchored on autonomous principles of judicial reasoning was in and of itself unique. The incessant wars and conquests of the Roman legions, together with their many war-making novelties and engineering skills, were one of the most vital illustrations of spatial expansionism [4] in history. The fusion of Christianity and the Greco-Roman intellectual and administrative heritage, coupled with the cultivation of the first rational theology in history [5], Catholicism, were a unique phenomenon. The medieval invention of universities [6] — in which a secular education could flourish and even articles of faith were open to criticism and rational analysis in an effort to arrive at the truth — was exceptional. The list of epoch making transformation in Europe is endless, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Scientific Revolution(s), the Military Revolution(s), the Cartographic Revolution, the Spanish Golden Age, the Printing Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Romantic Era, the German Philosophical Revolutions from Kant to Hegel to Nietzsche to Heidegger.

Limitations in Charles Murray’s Measurement of the Accomplishments of Western civilization

Some may wonder how can one make a comparative judgment about the accomplishments of civilizations without some objective criteria or standard of measurement. There is a book by Charles Murray published in 2003, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 [7], which systematically arranges “data that meet scientific standards of reliability and validity” for the purpose of evaluating the story of human accomplishments across cultures. It is the first effort to quantify “as facts” the accomplishments of individuals and countries across the world in the arts and sciences by calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference works, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. Charles Murray 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” (p. 252-259).

Murray avoids a Eurocentric bias by creating separate compilations for each of “the giants” in the arts of the Arab world, China, India, and Japan, as well as of the “giants” of Europe. In this respect, Murray recognizes that one cannot apply one uniform standard of excellence for the diverse artistic traditions of the world. But he produces combined (worldwide) inventories of “the giants” for each of the natural sciences. Combined lists for the natural sciences are possible since world scientists themselves have come to accept the same methods and categories. The most striking feature of his list of “the giants” in the sciences (the top 20 in Astronomy, Physics, Biology, Medicine, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Mathematics) is that they are all (excepting one Japanese) Western (p. 84, 122-29).

What explanation does Murray offer for this remarkable “divergence” in human accomplishments? He argues that human accomplishment is determined by the degree to which cultures promote or discourage individual autonomy and purpose. Accomplishments have been “more common and more extensive in cultures where doing new things and acting autonomously [were] encouraged than in cultures [where they were] disapprove[d].” Human beings have also been “most magnificently productive and reached their highest cultural peaks in the times and places where humans have thought most deeply about their place in the universe and been most convinced they have one” (p. 394-99). The West was different in affording individuals greater autonomy and purpose.

One major limitation in Murray is that he attributes to Christianity this sense of purpose and place in the universe, unable to account for the incredible accomplishment of the pagan Greeks and Romans. It is also the case that Murray’s Human Accomplishment is a statistical assessment, an inventory of names, not an attempt to capture the historically dynamic character of Western individualism. His book leaves out all the dramatic transformations historians have identified with the West: Why did the voyages of global discovery “take place” in early modern Europe and not in China? Why did Newtonian mechanics elude other civilizations? Actually, no current historical work addresses all these transformations together. Countless books have been published on one or two major European transformations, but no scholar has tried to explain, or pose as a general question, the persistent creativity of Europeans from ancient to modern times across all the fields of human endeavor. The norm has been for specialists in one period or transformation to write about (or insist upon) the “radical” or “revolutionary” significance of the period or theme they happen to be experts on.

Missing is an understanding of the unparalleled degree to which the entire history of the West was filled with individuals persistently seeking “to transcend every optical limitation” (Decline of the West: 198). In comparative contrast to the history of India, China, Japan, Egypt, and the Americas, where artistic styles, political institutions and philosophical outlooks lasted for centuries, stands the “dynamic fertility of the Faustian with its ceaseless creation of new types and domains of form” (Decline of the West: 205). I can think of only three individuals, two philosophers of history and one historical sociologist, who have written in a wide-ranging way of:

  1. the “infinite drive,” “the irresistible trust” of the Occident,
  2. the “energetic, imperativistic, and dynamic” soul of the West, and
  3. the “rational restlessness” of the West

— Hegel, Spengler, and Weber.

Spengler is the one who overcomes in a keener way another flaw in Murray: his account of European distinctiveness is limited to the intellectual and artistic spheres. 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. Achievements come only in the form of “great books” and “great ideas.” In this respect, Human Accomplishment is akin to certain older-style Western Civ textbooks where the production of “Great Works” by “Great Men” in conditions of “Liberty” were the central themes. David Gress dubbed this type of historiography the “Grand Narrative [8]” (1998). By teaching Western history in terms of the realization of great ideas and works in the arts and sciences these texts “placed a burden of justification on the West” to explain how the reality of Western colonialism across the world, the higher degree of warfare among Europeans, the invention of far more destructive military weapons, the slave trade, and the unprecedented destruction of the civilizations of the Americas, should be left out of the account of Western accomplishments. Gress called upon historians to move away from an idealized image of Western uniqueness. Norman Davies, too, has criticized the way early Western civilization courses tended to “filter out anything that might appear mundane or repulsive” (A History of Europe, 1997: 28).

The Faustian Personality

I believe that Oswald Spengler’s identification of the West as “Faustian” provides 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. For Spengler, the Faustian spirit was not restricted to the arts and sciences, but was present in the culture of the West at large. Spengler thus spoke of the “morphological relationship that inwardly binds together the expression-forms of all branches of Culture.” Rococo art, differential calculus, the Crusades, the Spanish conquest of the Americas were all expressions of the same restless soul. There is no incongruity between the “great ideas” of the West and the so-called “realities” of conquest and suffering. There is no need, from this standpoint, to concede to multicultural critics, as Norman Davies believes, “the sorry catalogue of wars, conflict, and persecutions that have dogged every stage of the [Western] tale” (p. 15-16). The expansionist dispositions of Europeans were not only indispensable but were themselves driven, as I argue in my book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, [9] and will briefly outline below, by an intensely felt desire to achieve great deeds and heroic immortality.

The great men of Europe were 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,” or Hume’s “love of literary fame, my ruling passion” – were associated with aristocratic traits, defiant dispositions – no less than Cortez’s immense ambition for honour and glory, “to die worthily than to live dishonoured.”


In contrast to Weber, for whom the West “exhibited an unrivaled aptitude for rationalization,” Spengler saw in this Faustian soul a primeval-irrational will to power. It was not a calmed, disinterested, rationalistic ethos that was at the heart of Western particularity; it was a highly energetic, goal-oriented desire to break through the unknown, supersede the norm, and achieve mastery. The West was governed by an intense urge to transcend the limits of existence, by a highly energetic, restless, fateful being, an “adamantine will to overcome and break all resistances of the visible” (Decline: pp. 185-86).

There was something Faustian about all the great men of Europe, both in reality and in fiction: in 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: 386).

For Spengler, 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 (344). This “Faustian-Christian morale” produced

Christians of the great style — Innocent III, Loyola and Savonarola, Pascal and St. Theresa [ . . . ] the great Saxon, Franconia 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 (348-49).

But what exactly is a Faustian soul? How do we connect it in a concrete way to Europe’s creativity? To what original source or starting place did Spengler attribute this yearning for infinity? To start answering this question we should first remind ourselves of Spengler’s other central idea, his cyclical view of history, according to which

  1. each culture contains a unique spirit of its own, and
  2. all cultures undergo an organic process of birth, growth, and decay.

In other words, for Spengler, all cultures exhibit a period of dynamic, youthful creativity; each culture experiences “its childhood, youth, manhood, and old age.” “Each culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression, which arise, ripen, decay and never return” (18-24, 106-07). Spengler thus drew a distinction between the earlier vital stages of a culture (Kultur) and the later stages when the life forces were on their last legs until all that remained was a superficial Zivilisation populated by individuals preoccupied with preserving the memories of past glories while drudging through the unexciting affairs of their everyday lives.

However, notwithstanding this emphasis on the youthful energies of all cultures, Spengler viewed the West as the most strikingly dynamic culture driven by a soul overflowing with expansive energies and “intellectual will to power.” By “youthful” he meant the actualization of the specific soul of each culture, “the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences.” Only in Europe he saw “directional energy,” march music, painters relishing in the use of blue and green, “transcendent, spiritual, non-sensuous colors,” “colours of the heavens, the seas, the fruitful plain, the shadow of the Southern noon, the evening, the remote mountains” (245-46). I think John Farrenkopf [10] has it right when he argues that Spengler’s appreciation for non-Western cultures as worthy subjects of comparative inquiry came together with an “exaltation” of the greater creative energy of the West (2001: 35).

But what about Spengler’s repetitive insistence that ancient Greece and Rome were not Faustian? Although I agree with Spengler that in certain respects the Greek-Roman “soul” was oriented toward the present rather than the future, and that its architecture, geometry, and finite mathematics were bounded spatially, restrained, and perceptible, he overstates his argument about the lack of an expansionist spirit, downplaying the incredible creative energies of Greeks and Romans, their individual heroism and urge for the unknown. Farrenkopf thinks that the later Spengler came to view the Greeks and Romans as more individualistic and dynamic. I agree with Burckhardt that the Classical Greeks were singularly agonal and individualistic, and with Nietzsche’s insight that all that was civilized and rational among the Greeks would have been impossible without this agonal culture. The ancient Greeks who established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, the Macedonians who marched to “the ends of the world,” and the Romans who created the greatest empire in history, were similarly driven, to use Spengler’s term, by an “irrepressible urge to distance” as the Germanic peoples who brought Rome down, the Vikings who crossed the Atlantic, the Crusaders who wrecked havoc on the Near East, and the Portuguese who pushed themselves with their gunned ships upon the previously tranquil world of the Indian Ocean. Spengler does not persuade in his efforts to downplay this Faustian side of the Greeks and Romans.

fausto.jpgWhat was the ultimate original ground of the West’s Faustian soul? There are statements in Spengler which make references to “a Nordic world stretching from England to Japan” and a “harder-struggling” people, and a more individualistic and heroic spirit “in the old, genuine parts of the Mahabharata . . .  in Homer, Pindar, and Aeschylus, in the Germanic epic poetry and in Shakespeare, in many songs of the Chinese Shuking, and in circles of the Japanese samurai” (as cited in Farrenkopf: 227). Spengler makes reference to the common location of these peoples in the “Nordic” steppes. He does not make any specific reference to the Caucasian steppes but he clearly has in mind the “Aryan Indian” peoples who came out of the steppes and conquered India and wrote the Mahabharata. He calls “half Nordic” the Graeco-Roman, Aryan Indian, and Chinese high cultures. In Man and Technics, he writes of how the Nordic climate forged a man filled with vitality

through the hardness of the conditions of life, the cold, the constant adversity, into a tough race, with an intellect sharpened to the most extreme degree, with the cold fervor of an irrepressible passion for struggling, daring, driving forward.

Principally, he mentions the barbarian peoples of northern Europe, whose world he contrasts to “the languid world-feeling of the South” (Farrenkopf: 222). Spengler does not deny the environment, but rather than focusing on economic resources and their “critical” role in the industrialization process, he draws attention to the profound impact environments had in the formation of distinctive psychological orientations amongst the cultures of the world. He thinks that the Faustian form of spirituality came out of the “harder struggling” climes of the North. The Nordic character was less passive, less languorous, more energetic, individualistic, and more preoccupied with status and heroic deeds than the characters of other climes. He was a human biological being to be sure, but one animated with the spirit of a “proud beast of prey [11],” like that of an “eagle, lion, [or] tiger.” Much like Hegel’s master who engages in a fight to the death for pure prestige, for this “Nordic” individual “the concerns of life, the deed, became more important than mere physical existence” (Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, Greenwood Press, 1976: 19-41).

This deed-oriented man is not satisfied with a Darwinian struggle for existence or a Marxist struggle for economic equality. He wants to climb high, soar upward and reach ever higher levels of existential intensity. He is not preoccupied with mere adaptation, reproduction, and conservation. He wants to storm into the heavens and shape the world. But who exactly is this character? Is he the Hegelian master who fights to the death for the sake of prestige? Spengler paraphrases Nietzsche when he writes that the primordial forces of Western culture reflect the “primary emotions of an energetic human existence, the cruelty, the joy in excitement, danger, the violent act, victory, crime, the thrill of a conqueror and destroyer.” Nietzsche too wrote of the “aristocratic” warrior who longed for the “proud, exalted states of the soul,” as experienced intimately through “combat, adventure, the chase, the dance, war games” (The Genealogy of Morals, 1956: 167). Who are these characters? Are their “primary emotions” any different from humans in other cultures?

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/01/oswald-spengler-and-the-faustian-soul-of-the-west-part-1/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Faust-im-Studierzimmer-Georg-Friedrich-Kersting.jpg

[2] Indo-European speakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpbjquTQT98

[3] most mobile way of life in prehistoric times: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8488.html

[4] vital illustrations of spatial expansionism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiIXC1U8HNo

[5] first rational theology in history: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/history-science-and-technology/god-and-reason-middle-ages

[6] invention of universities: http://www.cambridge.org/ca/academic/subjects/history/european-history-1000-1450/first-universities-studium-generale-and-origins-university-education-europe

[7] Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060929642/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0060929642&linkCode=as2&tag=countecurrenp-20&linkId=RSAI5XD63BIRHVZ5

[8] Grand Narrative: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/g/gress-plato.html

[9] The Uniqueness of Western Civilization,: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/.UdQ80Ds6Oxo#.VAhMZPldVOw

[10] John Farrenkopf: http://www.arktos.com/john-farrenkopf-prophet-of-decline.html

[11] beast of prey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLkeIACfi4Y&list=UUIfnKm98q78j2ZNcfSQhhCQ&index=3


Oswald Spengler & the Faustian Soul of the West,

Part 2

By Ricardo Duchesne 

Kant and the “Unsocial Sociability” of Humans

I ended Part 1 [2] asking who are these characters with proud aristocratic souls so different from the rather submissive, slavish souls of the Asiatic races. A good way to start answering this question is to compare Spengler’s Faustian man with what Immanuel Kant says about the “unsocial sociability” of humans generally. 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-centered side of human nature. Looking at the wide span of history, he concluded that without the vain desire for honor, 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.

Faust1r7yrluo1_400.gifThere can no development of the human faculties, no high culture, without conflict, aggression, and pride. It is these asocial traits, “vainglory,” “lust for power,” “avarice,” which awaken the otherwise 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. Separately, in another publication, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View [3] (1798), Kant did observe major differences in the psychological and moral character of humans as exhibited in different places on earth, ranking human 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, strident, individuated.

Indo-European Aristocratic Lifestyle

I believe that this variation should be traced back to the aristocratic lifestyle 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 [4].”

Indo-Europeans were also uniquely ruled by a class of free aristocrats. In very broad terms, I define as “aristocratic” a state in which the ruler, the king, or the commander-in-chief is not an autocrat who treats the upper classes as unequal servants but is a “peer” who exists in a spirit of equality as one more warrior of noble birth, primus inter pares [5]. This is not to say that leaders did not enjoy extra powers and advantages, or that leaders were not tempted to act in tyrannical ways. It is to say that in aristocratic cultures, for all the intense rivalries between families and individuals seeking their own renown, there was a strong ethos of aristocratic egalitarianism against despotic rule. A true aristocratic deserving respect from his peers could not be submissive; his dignity and honor as a man were intimately linked to his capacity for self-determination.

Different levels of social organization characterized Indo-European society. The lowest level, and the smallest unit of society, consisted of families residing in farmsteads and small hamlets, practicing mixed farming with livestock representing the predominant form of wealth. The next tier consisted of a clan of about five families with a common ancestor. The third level consisted of several clans — or a tribe — sharing the same. Those members of the tribe who owned livestock were considered to be free in the eyes of the tribe, with the right to bear arms and participate in the tribal assembly.

Although the scale of complexity of Indo-European societies changed considerably with the passage of time, and the Celtic tribal confederations that were in close contact with Caesar’s Rome during the 1st century BC, for example, were characterized by a high concentration of economic and political power, these confederations were still ruled by a class of free aristocrats. In classic Celtic society, real power within and outside the tribal assembly was wielded by the most powerful members of the nobility, as measured by the size of their clientage and their ability to bestow patronage. Patronage could be extended to members of other tribes and to free individuals who were lower in status and were thus tempted to surrender some of their independence in favor of protection and patronage.

Indo-European nobles were also grouped into war-bands. These bands were freely constituted associations of men operating independently from tribal or kinship ties. They could be 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 sovereignty of each member was thus recognized even though there was a recognized leader. These “groups of comrades,” to use Indo-European vocabulary, were singularly dedicated to predatory behavior and to “wolf-like” living by hunting and raiding, and to the performance of superior, even superhuman deeds. The members were generally young, unmarried men, thirsting for adventure. The followers were sworn not to survive a war-leader who was slain in battle, just as the leader was expected to show in all circumstances a personal example of courage and war-skills.

Young men born into noble families were not only driven by economic needs and the spirit of adventure, but also by a deep-seated psychological need for honor and recognition — a need nurtured not by nature as such but by a cultural setting in which one’s noble status was maintained in and through the risking of one’s life in a battle to the death for pure prestige. This competition for fame among war-band members (partially outside the ties of kinship) could not but have had an individualizing effect upon the warriors. Hence, although band members (“friend-companions” or “partners”) belonged to a cohesive and loyal group of like-minded individuals, they were not swallowed up anonymously within the group.

The Indo-European lifestyle included fierce competition for grazing rights, constant alertness in the defense of one’s portable wealth, and an expansionist disposition in a world in which competing herdsmen were motivated to seek new pastures as well as tempted to take the movable wealth (cattle) of their neighbors. This life required not just the skills of a butcher but a life span of horsemanship and arms (conflict, raids, violence) which brought to the fore certain mental dispositions including aggressiveness and individualism, in the sense that each individual, in this male-oriented atmosphere, needed to become as much a warrior as a herds-man.

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, 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 (see Hans Gunther, Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans [1963] 2001, and Aaron Gurevich, The Origins of European Individualism [6], 1995).

Nietzsche and Sublimation of the Agonistic Ethos of Indo-European Barbarians

nietzschefffggg.jpgBut how do we connect the barbaric asocial traits of prehistoric Indo-European warriors to the superlative cultural achievements of Greeks and later civilized Europeans? Nietzsche provides us some keen insights as to how the untamed agonistic ethos of Indo-Europeans was translated into civilized creativity. In his fascinating early essay, “Homer on Competition” (1872), Nietzsche observes 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. Without strife there is no cultural development. 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 re-channeling 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 artifacts as a way of coping with the meaningless destruction associated with striving.

Nietzsche, in another early publication, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), 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 re-channeling 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 attuning, not denying or emasculating, 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 made “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.

The problem with Nietzsche is lack of historical substantiation. The research now exists to add to Nietzsche 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 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.

Friedrich_Nietzsche_by_lieandletdie.jpgThis 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 theater 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, collecting out evidence, competitive persuasion and refutation. And in the Catholic scholastic method, according to which critics would engage major works, read them thoroughly, compare the book’s theories to other authorities, and through a series of dialogical exercises ascertain the respective merits and demerits.

In Spengler’s language, this Faustian soul was present 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 giant-like contempt for all limitations.” “These dramas are Faustian and only Faustian. No other culture, not even the Chinese, knows them” (335-37).

The West has clearly been facing a spiritual decline for many years now as Spengler observed despite its immense technological innovations, which Spengler acknowledged, observing how Europe, after 1800, came to be thoroughly dominated by a purely “mechanical” expression of this Faustian tendency in its remorseless expansion outward through industrial capitalism with its ever-growing markets and scientific breakthroughs. Spengler did not associate this mechanical (“Anglo-Saxon”) expansion with cultural creativity per se. Before 1800, the energy of Europe’s Faustian culture was still expressed in “organic” terms; that is, it was directed toward pushing the frontiers of inner knowledge through art, literature, and the development of the nation state. It was during the 1800s that the West, according to him, entered “the early Winter of full civilization” as its culture took on a purely capitalistic and mechanical character, extending itself across the globe, with no more “organic” ties to community or soil. It was at this point that this rootless rationalistic Zivilisation had come to exhaust its creative possibilities, and would have to confront “the cold, hard facts of a late life. . . . Of great paintings or great music there can no longer be, for Western people, any question” (Decline of the West, Vol. I: 20-21; Vol II: 46, 44, 40).

The decline of the organic Faustian soul is irreversible but there is reason to believe that decline is cyclical and not always permanent — as we have seen most significantly in the case of China many times throughout her history. European peoples need not lose their superlative drive for technological supremacy. The West can re-assert itself, unless the cultural Marxists are successful in their efforts to destroy this Faustian spirit permanently through mass immigration and miscegenation.

Source: http://www.eurocanadian.ca/2014/09/oswald-spengler-and-faustian-soul-of_8.html [7]

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/01/oswald-spengler-and-the-faustian-soul-of-the-west-part-2/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Apollos.jpg

[2] Part 1: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/01/oswald-spengler-and-the-faustian-soul-of-the-west-part-1/

[3] Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/philosophy/philosophy-texts/kant-anthropology-pragmatic-point-view

[4] Indo-Europeanized: http://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Kurgan_Culture_and_the_Indo_European.html?id=hCZmAAAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y

[5] primus inter pares: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primus_inter_pares

[6] The Origins of European Individualism: http://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Origins_of_European_Individualism.html?id=QrksZOjpURYC&redir_esc=y

[7] http://www.eurocanadian.ca/2014/09/oswald-spengler-and-faustian-soul-of_8.html: http://www.eurocanadian.ca/2014/09/oswald-spengler-and-faustian-soul-of_8.html


dimanche, 01 juin 2014

Contra Faustian Man


Contra Faustian Man

By Eugène Montsalvat

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

 “The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian are greater than all others, greater than anything Æschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the World is becoming the slave of the Machine, which is forcing him — forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not — to follow its course. The victor, crashed, is dragged to death by the team.”

— Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics 

060724_Faust_VL.widec.jpgThe unique characteristics of Faustian civilization, as Spengler described it, are now leading Europe to destruction. The Faustian is characterized by a drive towards the infinite, a will to break through the boundaries that limit man, whether they be intellectual or physical. Spengler calls the prime symbol of the Faustian soul “limitless space.”[1] Like Goethe’s Faust, Faustian civilization seeks infinite knowledge.

However, as this civilization declines, limitless space becomes an all-consuming maw that threatens the survival of all traditions, the all-encompassing extension of the Faustian soul ensnaring all the peoples of the world in its decline. Faustian man, detached from the earth, is on course to share the fate of Icarus. The fruits of the Faustian mind — rationalism, universalism, liberalism, industrialism, and globalization — threaten identity and heritage on a global scale.

While it is true that all civilizations, no matter what their particulars are, are bound to die as all living organisms are bound to die, the unique characteristics of the Faustian decline are uniquely disastrous. Whereas the ethnic Romans and Persians survived the collapse of the Roman and Persian empires, Western man’s dying civilization threatens to physically eliminate him, while also spreading the contagion of liberalism to non-Western cultures.

The Faustian tendency to break down barriers has transmogrified into the toxic global homogenization of cultures and peoples in the waning stages of Western civilization, that enables foreign and internal threats to multiply. The Faustian mindset must be discarded if Western Europeans and their descendants ever hope to create another great civilization in the ruins of this one.

One of the root causes of the current situation is universalism, which does not respect the particular qualities of an ethnos. The Faustian concept of space necessitates universalism. We may take the Faustian embrace monotheism as a starting point for this tendency. As Spengler wrote, “The plurality of separate bodies which represents Cosmos for the Classical soul, requires a similar pantheon — hence the antique polytheism. The single world-volume, be it conceived as cavern or as space, demands the single god of Magian or Western Christianity.”[2] Instead of separate moral universes, the Faustian worldview accepts only one.

While this monotheistic worldview is not unique to Faustian civilization, the Magian soul’s cavern infers a certain limit to its sovereignty, as we see in Islamic theology, where the world is divided separate houses, one of which is the house of Islam, Dar al-Islam. The unbounded space of the Faustian soul merges seamlessly into the Hebrew Bible’s conception of space. In On Being A Pagan, Alain de Benoist characterizes the latter, “The universe is thus conceived in the Bible as a world with no spatial boundaries.”[3]

National borders, borders between religions, between ethnic groups, are erased in the Faustian mind, indeed no group has embraced biblical universalism to the extent that Faustian civilization has. No other civilization has ranged so far and so wide in their efforts to impose their morality upon the entirety of the world. Even the most ferocious of the Islamic expansions, including the Salafist trends of our day, pale in comparison to the sustained attempt of the West to convert the rest of the globe. We see these efforts in the Crusades of the Teutonic Knights against the pagan Balts, the Swedes waging war on the Orthodox Slavs of Novgorod, the Spaniards’ attempts to convert the Indian populations of the Americas, the civilizing mission of the British Empire, and into this day and age with America’s global War on Terror.

While some men may look upon these events as great triumphs of Western Civilization, they are really milestones in a trend of globalization reaching its pinnacle now. Faustian civilization, in many ways like the most Salafist strains of Islam, sees the need to impose a single moral vision upon the world, whether it be a colonial nation’s particular strain of Christianity, or liberal democracy.

Under Roman rule, different customs and beliefs could coexist within certain moral boundaries, a cosmos of separate moral planets. In contrast, the Faustian man believes that his particular morality extends to the ends of the earth. Hence Kant’s dictum, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

Thus international organizations and courts trample upon the sovereignty of peoples. The particulars of a man himself are stripped away, he is no longer German, an English, or Chinese, he is “man,” in the abstract. Any attempts to resists this alleged universal morality common to mankind are deemed criminal. Those who do not fall into line are primitives, heretics, or, to use more modern parlance, rogue states.

On the opposite end, the Faustian civilization is rendered rootless. There is nothing that could stand in the way of limitless space for there is no law without a universal character according to him. There can no longer be different standards of morality for different classes, genders, or any other social division. No longer is there a way of action and a way of contemplation, a way of kings and a way of priests, a way of men and a way of women, there is simply a universal way. Faustian civilization turned towards egalitarianism.

Political liberalism can be seen as the extension of a certain Anglo-Saxon mindset that grew under Christianity. Alain de Benoist states in The Problem of Democracy, “liberal democracies are rooted not so much in the spirit of ancient democracy as in Christian individualism, the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the Anglo-Saxon Protestant spirit. In these democracies, the ‘citizen’ is not he who inhabits a history and a destiny through his belonging to a given people, but a rather an abstract, atemporal, and universal being, which regardless of any belonging, is the holder of ‘human rights’ decreed to be unalienable.”[4] Hence, politics ceased to be defined by the conditions of the polis itself. In the democracies of Ancient Greece, political freedoms were derived from being a member of a specific community, generally that which one was born into from autochthonous stock. In contrast to Classical civilization, Faustian civilization invented the universal rights of man, which appear to guarantee freedom from the bonds of community. Once again the theme of the replacement of the particular by the universal is evident. The rooted pillar of classical civilization is replaced by the infinite field of the Faustian.

The rootless political existence develops into rootless personal existence. The Faustian tendency towards uprooted modes of existence finds expression in postmodern philosophy. The boundless space of Faustian man is the home of the rhizome of Deleuze and Guattari, “It has neither beginning nor end.” The rhizome shares with Faustian physics a focus on motion and dynamics as opposed to discrete static objects, “It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion.” Compare this with the Faustian focus on force, “There is no Western statics — that is, no interpretation of mechanical facts that is natural to the Western spirit bases itself on the ideas of form and substance, or even, for that matter, on the ideas of space and mass otherwise than in connexion with those of time and force.”[5] In both cases, the focus on actual substance, being, is reduced.

The criticism of being in their seminal text A Thousand Plateaus, displays certain Faustian characteristics as well. Here the rhizome is contrasted with the tree. Once again the symbol of rootedness is attacked by Faustian thought, with its additive and expansive qualities. “The tree imposes the verb ‘to be’, but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and…and…and…’. This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be’.”


The contrast between the dynamic and the static becomes open conflict in the postmodernity of declining Faustian civilization where its expansiveness becomes full deterritorialization. What seems like abstract philosophy has a very real presence in the world. In the nomadic lifestyles imposed by many careers, where relocation across the face of the globe has become normal, in the fluid identities and fragmented subcultures of American youth, in global electronic networks, in globalization’s erosion of local economies, the rhizome dominates. Faustian dynamism and limitlessness has resulted in a world of scattered and broken spirits.

Due to the inherently limited nature of the physical world, the Faustian mind tends toward abstraction. Spengler’s discussion of the different conceptions of mathematics in instructive in this instance. “The beginning and end of the Classical mathematic is consideration of the properties of individual bodies and their boundary-surfaces; thus indirectly taking in conic sections and higher curves. We, on the other hand, at bottom know only the abstract space-element of the point, which can neither be seen, nor measured, nor yet named, but represents simply a centre of reference. The straight line, for the Greeks a measurable edge, is for us an infinite continuum of points.”[6] Classical mathematics is rooted in physical reality. It focuses on measurable quantities and physical shapes and surfaces. In contrast, Faustian mathematics is not constrained by what humans can touch, measure, or observe. We cannot count an infinite number of objects, nor have i (the square root of -1) of them, yet these concepts are integral to our mathematical system.

This retreat into the mind exacerbates the conflict between the physical and the intellectual. Instead of balance between mind and body, the Faustian mind gravitates towards logocentrism, a term most would associate with Derrida, but was coined by Conservative Revolutionary philosopher Ludwig Klages in his work The Intellect As Antagonist of the Soul.[7]

This movement towards the mental abstraction moves man away from the instinctive, the vital. Thus the Faustian tendency towards starry eyed idealism. Otto Reche speaks of “the powerfully rousing and simultaneously tragic song about the Nordic race and its idealism.”[8] At its worst it becomes a world denying tendency. Instead of experiencing the world in its mystery and majesty, we reduce it to what D. H. Lawrence termed a “thought form” a construct of abstract laws and facts existing only in our minds. As he says in “Introduction to the Dragon,”

. . . our sun and our moon are only thought-forms to us, balls of gas, dead globes of extinct volcanoes, things we know but never feel by experience. By experience, we should feel the sun as the savages feel him, we should ‘know’ him as the Chaldeans knew him, in a terrific embrace. But our experience of the sun is dead, we are cut off. All we have now is the thought -form of the sun. He is a blazing ball of gas, he has spots occasionally, from some sort of indigestion, and he makes you brown and healthy if you let him.[9]

Nietzsche correctly identified the retreat into the world of reason as a symptom of weakness. He states in the essay “Reason in Philosophy” from Twilight of the Idols, “To divide the world into a ‘real’ and ‘apparent’ world … is only a suggestion of decadence – symptom of declining life.” It is no great surprise that the West has wholeheartedly endorsed the Enlightenment program of rationalism, and its political emanation, liberalism. While rationalism is the mark of all declining civilizations throughout history, it aligns most intensely with the Faustian, whose affinity for abstraction was present at its birth. Indeed, we see in no other civilization an ideology like Enlightenment liberalism. Liberalism is a uniquely Western illness emerging from the Faustian decline.

oswald-spengler-l-homme-et-la-technique.jpgRelated to the Faustian tendency towards abstraction is the technical sophistication of Faustian civilization. Inventions spring from the unbounded Faustian mind. From the tools of abstract mathematics Faustian man has constructed the most precise and powerful theories of physical forces known to man. The combination of unlimited thought and dynamism enabled never before seen technological breakthroughs.

Indeed, not content with being in the world, Faustian man sought to create an artificial paradise. Spengler characterizes this attitude in Man and Technics “To build a world oneself, to be oneself God — that is the Faustian inventor’s dream, and from it has sprung all our designing and re-designing of machines to approximate as nearly as possible to the unattainable limit of perpetual motion.”

Spengler was keenly aware of the consequences of this mechanical world. In industrial societies the rise of alienation is seen, “And now, since the eighteenth century, innumerable ‘hands’ work at things of which the real role in life (even as affecting themselves) is entirely unknown to them and in the creation of which, therefore, they have inwardly no share. A spiritual barrenness sets in and spreads, a chilling uniformity without height or depth.”

No longer is the producer a traditional craftsman who handles the creation of goods from start to finish. He is merely performing one action of many required for the assembly of an object. The laborer’s dignity is diminished on the factory floor. This in turn breeds social conflict between the laborers and the managerial class. “The tension between work of leadership and work of execution has reached the level of a catastrophe. The importance of the former, the economic value of every real personality in it, has become so great that it is invisible and incomprehensible to the majority of the underlings. In the latter, the work of the hands, the individual is now entirely without significance.”

In addition to the social consequences, there are irreversible and wide-ranging ecological consequences. The depletion of natural resources, the elimination of species, the poisoning of our food, and water supplies, anthropogenic climate change. It is not alarmist to state that technology threatens life on earth. Spengler noted in 1931, “All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural.”

In addition to the existential threat posed by technology, it greatly enhances the foreign threats against Faustian civilization. The expansive nature of Faustian man to spread to all the corners of the map, is mimicked by his technology. In the quest for ever greater profits and power, industry has spread all over the world. We may think this to be a late 20th-century problem linked with globalization, but it was already in motion in Spengler’s time, with Japan emerging as an industrial power in Asia. It has only increased in our time, with the outsourcing of industry and the spread of advanced weaponry to peoples who could not have possibly invented them. Global industrialization simultaneously has strengthened the power of non-Western peoples, while sapping the strength of the native working class in the West. Faustian technology, operating hand-in-hand with the forces of capital, has enabled the mass movement of foreign peoples into formerly homogeneous nations. While mass immigration has no one single cause, it is effectively, to use Alain de Benoist’s notable turn of phrase, “the reserve army of capital.” In his essay of the same title, Benoist notes how the French construction and automobile industries deployed trucks in the Maghreb to recruit immigrant labor. While it is true that other civilizations have imported foreign labor, only the late Faustian civilization has done it on such a scale as to threaten the survival of their national ethnic integrity. The combination of borderless thought and high technology now threatens the survival of the very people who dreamed up such ideas, as the threat of Europeans becoming minorities in their own homelands grows.

Perhaps a stronger descriptor than Faustian for the civilization that is our subject would be Titanic. Titanic in the sense of the Italian Traditionalist philosopher Julius Evola, who uses the term Titanism to refer to a particular type of usurpation of divine power. It accentuates the Faustian revolt against the divine order. Evola characterizes the Titanic civilization as such:

The first type of civilization is the Titanic one, in a negative sense, and refers to the spirit of a materialistic and violent race that no longer recognized the authority of the spiritual principle corresponding to the priestly symbol or to the spiritually feminine “brother” (e.g., Cain vs. Abel); this race affirmed itself and attempted to take possession, by surprise and through an inferior type of employment, of a body of knowledge that granted control over certain invisible powers inherent to things and people. Therefore, this represented an upheaval and a counterfeit of what could have been the privilege of the previous “glorious men,” namely, of the virile spirituality connected to the function of order and of domination “from above.” It was Prometheus who usurped the heavenly fire in favor of the human races, and yet he did not know how to carry it; thus the fire became his source of torment and damnation.[10]

Faustian man, like Prometheus, has stolen fire from the gods, reordering nature to suit his purpose. The Faustian man revolted against nature, as Spengler notes, “The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man.”

The expansive Faustian mind seeks to eliminate the barriers imposed by nature itself. Hegel characterizes it as thus, “The principle of the European mind is self-conscious reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein.” What we see is the drive of Faustian science to “know the mind of God,” which English physicist Stephen Hawking equated with “the ultimate triumph of human reason.” And if it is uncovered perhaps it will do more harm than good. The Spenglerian horror writer H. P. Lovecraft states prophetically in his story “The Call of Cthulhu”:

We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

The ecological devastation and social chaos sown by the scientific advances of Western civilization seem to validate Lovecraft. However, the Promethean narrative offers a glimmer of hope, a way out. The hero Heracles, son of the Olympian Zeus, frees Prometheus from his torture. Evola states that Heroism, as represented by Heracles in the Titanic cycle, is “the restoration of the Olympian solar spirituality and overcoming of both the Mother and Titan figures.” Considered from the spiritual position of Tradition, the overcoming of Titanic Faustian civilization is possible. However, let us not forget the role of man in fulfilling destiny and let us recognize the need for a new spirit to transcend our declining civilization before it destroys us.

This restoration need not be a return to the “dark ages” of obscurantism. Indeed oriented in the proper direction, the traits we associate with Faustian civilization, such as constant self-overcoming, intrepidity, rising to challenges, are tools for spiritual growth that predate Faustian civilization. From a Traditional viewpoint, they predate humanity itself, they are transcendent, beyond space and time. Evola’s “esoteric reading” of Nietzsche makes this clear:

The cutting of all bonds, the intolerance of all limits, the pure and incoercible impulse to overcome without any determined goal, to always move on beyond any given state, experience, or idea, and naturally and even more beyond any human attachment to a given person, fearing neither contradictions nor destructions, thus pure movement, with all that that implies of dis- solution — “advancing with a devouring fire that leaves nothing behind itself,” to use an expression from an ancient wisdom tradition, though it applies to a very different context — these essential characteristics that some have already recognized in Nietzsche can be explained precisely as so many forms in which the transcendent acts and manifests.[11]

However, these tendencies need to be directed vertically, towards transcendence, not horizontally in the realm of sheer materialism, not manifesting in the need to dominate the world’s physical being. Evola attributes Nietzsche’s mental collapse to the fact that his energy remained on a non-transcendent level, burning him out like a circuit whose current is too strong. Continuing with the contrast between the horizontal plane of life, and the vertical axis of “more than life,” in the sense of George Simmel’s “more than living” (mehrs als leben), we can envision two symbols, the ocean, and the mountain. The divine order stands with the mountain, whereas Faustian Titanism is the realm of the ocean. Western man is faced with a choice. He can conquer himself and ascend the peaks of the spirit, or he conquer the world and disappear past the water’s horizon.


1. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, vol. 1, Form and Actuality, trans. Charles Francis Atkins (New York: Knopf, 1926), p. 337.

2. Ibid. p. 187.

3. Alain de Benoist, On Being a Pagan, trans. Jon Graham, ed. Greg Johnson (Atlanta: Ultra, 2004), p. 84.

4. Alain de Benoist, The Problem of Democracy (London: Arktos, 2011), p. 43

5. Spengler, The Decline of the West, vol. 1, p. 414.

6. Ibid. p. 82.

7. Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 155

8. See Kevin MacDonald’s Foreword to Vladimir Avdeyev’s Raciology, http://velesova-sloboda.vho.org/antrop/macdonald-foreword-to-raciology.html [2]

9. D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse and The Writings on Revelation (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 51.

10. Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, trans. Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995), p. 219.

11. Julius Evola, Ride the Tiger, trans. Joscelyn Godwin and Constance Fontana (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2003), p. 51.




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mercredi, 12 janvier 2011

Postmodern Challenges: Between Faust & Narcissus


Robert STEUCKERS (1987):

Postmodern Challenges:
Between Faust & Narcissus, Part 1

In Oswald Spengler’s terms, our European culture is the product of a “pseudomorphosis,” i.e., of the grafting of an alien mentality upon our indigenous, original, and innate mentality. Spengler calls the innate mentality “the Faustian.”

The Confrontation of the Innate and the Acquired

The alien mentality is the theocentric, “magical” outlook born in the Near East. For the magical mind, the ego bows respectfully before the divine substance like a slave before his master. Within the framework of this religiosity, the individual lets himself be guided by the divine force that he absorbs through baptism or initiation.

There is nothing comparable for the old-European Faustian spirit, says Spengler. Homo europeanus, in spite of the magic/Christian varnish covering our thinking, has a voluntarist and anthropocentric religiosity. For us, the good is not to allow oneself to be guided passively by God, but rather to affirm and carry out our own will. “To be able to choose,” this is the ultimate basis of the indigenous European religiosity. In medieval Christianity, this voluntarist religiosity shows through, piercing the crust of the imported “magism” of the Middle East.

Around the year 1000, this dynamic voluntarism appears gradually in art and literary epics, coupled with a sense of infinite space within which the Faustian self would, and can, expand. Thus to the concept of a closed space, in which the self finds itself locked, is opposed the concept of an infinite space, into which an adventurous self sallies forth.


From the “Closed” World to the Infinite Universe

According to the American philosopher Benjamin Nelson,[1] the old Hellenic sense of physis (nature), with all the dynamism this implies, triumphed at the end of the 13th century, thanks to Averroism, which transmitted the empirical wisdom of the Greeks (and of Aristotle in particular) to the West. Gradually, Europe passed from the “closed world” to the infinite universe. Empiricism and nominalism supplanted a Scholasticism that had been entirely discursive, self-referential, and self-enclosed. The Renaissance, following Copernicus and Bruno (the tragic martyr of Campo dei Fiori), renounced geocentrism, making it safe to proclaim that the universe is infinite, an essentially Faustian intuition according to Spengler’s criteria.

In the second volume of his History of Western Thought, Jean-François Revel, who formerly officiated at Point and unfortunately illustrated the Americanocentric occidentalist ideology, writes quite pertinently: It is easy to understand that the eternity and infinity of the universe announced by Bruno could have had, on the cultivated men of the time, the traumatizing effect of passing from life in the womb into the vast and cruel draft of an icy and unbounded vortex.”[2]

The “magic” fear, the anguish caused by the collapse of the comforting certitude of geocentrism, caused the cruel death of Bruno, that would become, all told, a terrifying apotheosis . . . Nothing could ever refute heliocentrism, or the theory of the infinitude of sidereal spaces. Pascal would say, in resignation, with the accent of regret: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”


From Theocratic Logos to Fixed Reason

To replace magical thought’s “theocratic logos,” the growing and triumphant bourgeois thought would elaborate a thought centered on reason, an abstract reason before which it is necessary to bow, like the Near Easterner bows before his god. The “bourgeois” student of this “petty little reason,” virtuous and calculating, anxious to suppress the impulses of his soul or his spirit, thus finds a comfortable finitude, a closed off and secured space. The rationalism of this virtuous human type is not the adventurous, audacious, ascetic, and creative rationalism described by Max Weber[3] which educates the inner man precisely to face the infinitude affirmed by Giordano Bruno.[4]


From the end of the Renaissance, Two Modernities are Juxtaposed

The petty rationalism denounced by Sombart[5] dominates the cities by rigidifying political thought, by restricting constructive activist impulses. The genuinely Faustian and conquering rationalism described by Max Weber would propel European humanity outside its initial territorial limits, giving the main impulse to all sciences of the concrete.

From the end of the Renaissance, we thus discover, on the one hand, a rigid and moralistic modernity, without vitality, and, on the other hand, an adventurous, conquering, creative modernity, just as we are today on the threshold of a soft post-modernity or of a vibrant post-modernity, self-assured and potentially innovative. By recognizing the ambiguity of the terms “rationalism,” “rationality,” “modernity,” and “post-modernity,” we enter one level of the domain of political ideologies, even militant Weltanschauungen.

The rationalization glutted with moral arrogance described by Sombart in his famous portrait of the “bourgeois” generates the soft and sentimental messianisms, the great tranquillizing narratives of contemporary ideologies. The conquering rationalization described by Max Weber causes the great scientific discoveries and the methodical spirit, the ingenious refinement of the conduct of life and increasing mastery of the external world.

This conquering rationalization also has its dark side: It disenchants the world, drains it, excessively schematizes it. While specializing in one or another domain of technology, science, or the spirit, while being totally invested there, the “Faustians” of Europe and North America often lead to a leveling of values, a relativism that tends to mediocrity because it makes us lose the feeling of the sublime, of the telluric mystique, and increasingly isolates individuals. In our century, the rationality lauded by Weber, if positive at the beginning, collapsed into quantitativist and mechanized Americanism that instinctively led by way of compensation, to the spiritual supplement of religious charlatanism combining the most delirious proselytism and sniveling religiosity.

Such is the fate of “Faustianism” when severed from its mythic foundations, of its memory of the most ancient, of its deepest and most fertile soil. This caesura is unquestionably the result of pseudomorphosis, the “magian” graft on the Faustian/European trunk, a graft that failed. “Magianism” could not immobilize the perpetual Faustian drive; it has—and this is more dangerous—cut it off from its myths and memory, condemned it to sterility and dessication, as noted by Valéry, Rilke, Duhamel, Céline, Drieu, Morand, Maurois, Heidegger, or Abellio.


Conquering Rationality, Moralizing Rationality, the Dialectic of Enlightenment, the “Grand Narratives” of Lyotard

Conquering rationality, if it is torn away from its founding myths, from its ethno-identitarian ground, its Indo-European matrix, falls—even after assaults that are impetuous, inert, emptied of substance—into the snares of calculating petty rationalism and into the callow ideology of the “Grand Narratives” of rationalism and the end of ideology. For Jean-François Lyotard, “modernity” in Europe is essentially the “Grand Narrative” of the Enlightenment, in which the heroes of knowledge work peacefully and morally toward an ethico-political happy ending: universal peace, where no antagonism will remain.[6] The “modernity” of Lyotard corresponds to the famous “Dialectic of the Enlightenment” of Horkheimer and Adorno, leaders of famous “Frankfurt School.”[7] In their optic, the work of the man of science or the action of the politician, must be submitted to a rational reason, an ethical corpus, a fixed and immutable moral authority, to a catechism that slows down their drive, that limits their Faustian ardor. For Lyotard, the end of modernity, thus the advent of “post-modernity,” is incredulity—progressive, cunning, fatalistic, ironic, mocking—with regard to this metanarrative.

Incredulity also means a possible return of the Dionysian, the irrational, the carnal, the turbid, and disconcerting areas of the human soul revealed by Bataille or Caillois, as envisaged and hoped by professor Maffesoli,[8] of the University of Strasbourg, and the German Bergfleth,[9] a young nonconformist philosopher; that is to say, it is equally possible that we will see a return of the Faustian spirit, a spirit comparable with that which bequeathed us the blazing Gothic, of a conquering rationality which has reconnected with its old European dynamic mythology, as Guillaume Faye explains in Europe and Modernity.[10]


1. Benjamin Nelson, Der Ursprung der Moderne, Vergleichende Studien zum Zivilisationsprozess [The Origin of Modernity: Comparative Studies of the Civilization Process] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986).

2. Jean-François Revel, Histoire de la pensée occidentale [History of Western Thought], vol. 2, La philosophie pendant la science (XVe, XVIe et XVIIe siècles) [Philosophy and Science (Fifteenth-, Sixteenth-, and Seventeenth-Centuries)] (Paris: Stock, 1970). Cf. also the masterwork of Alexandre Koyré, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957).

3. Cf. Julien Freund, Max Weber (Paris: P.U.F., 1969).

4. Paul-Henri Michel, La cosmologie de Giordano Bruno [The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno] (Paris: Hermann, 1962).

5. Cf. essentially: Werner Sombart, Le Bourgeois. Contribution à l’histoire morale et intellectuelle de l’homme économique moderne [The Bourgeois: Contribution to the Moral and Intellectual History of Modern Economic Man] (Paris: Payot, 1966).

6. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

7. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adomo, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). Cf. also Pierre Zima, L’École de Francfort. Dialectique de la particularité [The Frankfurt School: Dialectic of Particularity] (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1974). Michel Crozon, “Interroger Horkheimer” [“Interrogating Horkheimer”] and Arno Victor Nielsen, “Adorno, le travail artistique de la raison” [“Adorno: The Artistic Work of Reason”], Esprit, May 1978.

8. Cf. chiefly Michel Maffesoli, L’ombre de Dionysos: Contribution à une sociologie de l’orgie [The Shadow of Dionysus: Contribution to a Sociology of the Orgy] (Méridiens, 1982). Pierre Brader, “Michel Maffesoli: saluons le grand retour de Dionysos” [Michel Maffesoli: Let us Greet the Great return of Dionysos], Magazine-Hebdo no. 54 (September 21, 1984).

9. Cf. Gerd Bergfleth et al., Zur Kritik der Palavernden Aufklärung [Toward a Critique of Palavering Reason] (Munich: Matthes & Seitz, 1984). In this remarkable little anthology, Bergfleth published four texts deadly to the “moderno-Frankfurtist” routine: (1) “Zehn Thesen zur Vernunftkritik” [“Ten Theses on the Critique of Reason”]; (2) “Der geschundene Marsyas” [“The Abuse of Marsyas”]; (3) “Über linke Ironie” [“On Leftist Irony”]; (4) “Die zynische Aufklärung” [“The Cynical Enlightnement”]. Cf. also R. Steuckers, “G. Bergfleth: enfant terrible de la scène philosophique allemande” [“G. Bergfleth: enfant terrible of the German philosophical scene”], Vouloir no. 27 (March 1986). In the same issue, see also M. Kamp, “Bergfleth: critique de la raison palabrante” [“Bergfleth: Critique of Palavering Reason”] and “Une apologie de la révolte contre les programmes insipides de la révolution conformiste” [“An Apology for the Revolt against the Insipid Programs of the Conformist Revolution”]. See also M. Froissard, “Révolte, irrationnel, cosmicité et . . . pseudo-antisémitisme,” [“Revolt, irrationality, cosmicity and . . . pseudo-anti-semitism”], Vouloir nos. 40–42 (July–August 1987).

10. Guillaume Faye, Europe et Modernité [Europe and Modernity] (Méry/Liège: Eurograf, 1985).

Postmodern Challenges:
Between Faust & Narcissus, Part 2

Once the Enlightenment metanarrative was established—“encysted”—in the Western mind, the great secular ideologies progressively appeared: liberalism, with its idolatry of the “invisible hand,”[1] and Marxism, with its strong determinism and metaphysics of history, contested at the dawn of the 20th century by Georges Sorel, the most sublime figure of European militant socialism.[2] Following Giorgio Locchi[3]—who occasionally calls the metanarrative “ideology” or “science”—we think that this complex “metanarrative/ideology/science” no longer rules by consensus but by constraint, inasmuch as there is muted resistance (especially in art and music[4]) or a general disuse of the metanarrative as one of the tools of legitimation.

The liberal-Enlightenment metanarrative persists by dint of force and propaganda. But in the sphere of thought, poetry, music, art, or letters, this metanarrative says and inspires nothing. It has not moved a great mind for 100 or 150 years. Already at the end of the 19th century, literary modernism expressed a diversity of languages, a heterogeneity of elements, a kind of disordered chaos that the “physiologist” Nietzsche analyzed[5] and that Hugo von Hoffmannstahl called die Welt der Bezuge (the world of relations).

These omnipresent interrelations and overdeterminations show us that the world is not explained by a simple, neat and tidy story, nor does it submit itself to the rule of a disincarnated moral authority. Better: they show us that our cities, our people, cannot express all their vital potentialities within the framework of an ideology given and instituted once and for all for everyone, nor can we indefinitely preserve the resulting institutions (the doctrinal body derived from the “metanarrative of the Enlightenment”).

The anachronistic presence of the metanarrative constitutes a brake on the development of our continent in all fields: science (data-processing and biotechnology[6]), economics (the support of liberal dogmas within the EEC), military (the fetishism of a bipolar world and servility toward the United States, paradoxically an economic enemy), cultural (media bludgeoning in favor of a cosmopolitanism that eliminates Faustian specificity and aims at the advent of a large convivial global village, run on the principles of the “cold society” in the manner of the Bororos dear to Lévi-Strauss[7]).


The Rejection of Neo-Ruralism, Neo-Pastoralism . . .

The confused disorder of literary modernism at the end of the 19th century had a positive aspect: its role was to be the magma that, gradually, becomes the creator of a new Faustian assault.[8] It is Weimar—specifically, the Weimar-arena of the creative and fertile confrontation of expressionism,[9] neo-Marxism, and the “conservative revolution”[10]—that bequeathed us, with Ernst Jünger, an idea of “post-metanarrative” modernity (or post-modernity, if one calls “modernity” the Dialectic of the Enlightenment, subsequently theorized by the Frankfurt School). Modernism, with the confusion it inaugurates, due to the progressive abandonment the pseudo-science of the Enlightenment, corresponds somewhat to the nihilism observed by Nietzsche. Nihilism must be surmounted, exceeded, but not by a sentimental return, however denied, to a completed past. Nihilism is not surpassed by theatrical Wagnerism, Nietzsche fulminated, just as today the foundering of the Marxist “Grand Narrative” is not surpassed by a pseudo-rustic neoprimitivism.[11]

In Jünger—the Jünger of In Storms of Steel, The Worker, and Eumeswil—one finds no reference to the mysticism of the soil: only a sober admiration for the perennialness of the peasant, indifferent to historical upheavals. Jünger tells us of the need for balance: if there is a total refusal of the rural, of the soil, of the stabilizing dimension of Heimat, constructivist Faustian futurism will no longer have a base, a point of departure, a fallback option. On the other hand, if the accent is placed too much on the initial base, the launching point, on the ecological niche that gives rise to the Faustian people, then they are wrapped in a cocoon and deprived of universal influence, rendered blind to the call of the world, prevented from springing towards reality in all its plenitude, the “exotic” included. The timid return to the homeland robs Faustianism of its force of diffusion and relegates its “human vessels” to the level of the “eternal ahistoric peasants” described by Spengler and Eliade.[12] Balance consists in drawing in (from the depths of the original soil) and diffusing out (towards the outside world).

In spite of all nostalgia for the “organic,” rural, or pastoral—in spite of the serene, idyllic, aesthetic beauty that recommend Horace or Virgil—Technology and Work are from now on the essences of our post-nihilist world. Nothing escapes any longer from technology, technicality, mechanics, or the machine: neither the peasant who plows with his tractor nor the priest who plugs in a microphone to give more impact to his homily.


The era of “Technology”

Technology mobilizes totally (Total Mobilmachung) and thrusts the individual into an unsettling infinitude where we are nothing more than interchangeable cogs. The machine gun, notes the warrior Jünger, mows down the brave and the cowardly with perfect equality, as in the total material war inaugurated in 1917 in the tank battles of the French front. The Faustian “Ego” loses its intraversion and drowns in a ceaseless vortex of activity. This Ego, having fashioned the stone lacework and spires of the flamboyant Gothic, has fallen into American quantitativism or, confused and hesitant, has embraced the 20th century’s flood of information, its avalanche of concrete facts. It was our nihilism, our frozen indecision due to an exacerbated subjectivism, that mired us in the messy mud of facts.

By crossing the “line,” as Heidegger and Jünger say,[13] the Faustian monad (about which Leibniz[14] spoke) cancels its subjectivism and finds pure power, pure dynamism, in the universe of Technology. With the Jüngerian approach, the circle is closed again: as the closed universe of “magism” was replaced by the inauthentic little world of the bourgeois—sedentary, timid, embalmed in his utilitarian sphere—so the dynamic “Faustian” universe is replaced with a Technological arena, stripped this time of all subjectivism.

Jüngerian Technology sweeps away the false modernity of the Enlightenment metanarrative, the hesitation of late 19th century literary modernism, and the trompe-l’oeil of Wagnerism and neo-pastoralism. But this Jüngerian modernity, perpetually misunderstood since the publication of Der Arbeiter [The Worker] in 1932, remains a dead letter.


1. On the theological foundation of the doctrine of the “invisible hand” see Hans Albert, “Modell-Platonismus. Der neoklassische Stil des ökonomischen Denkens in kritischer Beleuchtung” [“Model Platonism: The Neoclassical Style of Economic Thought in Critical Elucidation”], in Ernst Topitsch, ed., Logik der Sozialwissenschaften [Logic of Social Science] (Köln/Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1971).

2. There is abundant French literature on Georges Sorel. Nevertheless, it is deplorable that a biography and analysis as valuable as Michael Freund’s has not been translated: Michael Freund, Georges Sorel, Der revolutionäre Konservatismus [Georges Sorel: Revolutionary Conservatism] (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1972).

3. Cf. G. Locchi, “Histoire et société: critique de Lévi-Strauss” [“History and Society: Critique of Lévi-Strauss”], Nouvelle Ecole, no. 17 (March 1972) and “L’histoire” [“History”], Nouvelle Ecole, nos. 2728 (January 1976).

4. Cf. G. Locchi, “L’idée de la musique’ et le temps de l’histoire” [“The ‘Idea of Music’ and the Times of History”], Nouvelle Ecole, no. 30 (November 1978) and Vincent Samson, “Musique, métaphysique et destin” [“Music, Metaphysics, and Destiny”], Orientations, no. 9 (September 1987).

5. Cf. Helmut Pfotenhauer, Die Kunst als Physiologie: Nietzsches äesthetische Theorie und literarische Produktion [Art as Physiology: Nietzsche’s Aesthetic Theory and Literary Production] (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1985). Cf. on Pfotenhauer’s book: Robert Steuckers, “Regards nouveaux sur Nietzsche” [“New Views of Nietzsche”], Orientations, no. 9.

6. Biotechnology and the most recent biocybernetic innovations, when applied to the operation of human society, fundamentally call into question the mechanistic theoretical foundations of the “Grand Narrative” of the Enlightenment. Less rigid, more flexible laws, because adapted to the deep drives of human psychology and physiology, would restore a dynamism to our societies and put them in tune with technological innovations. The Grand Narrative—which is always around, in spite of its anachronism—blocks the evolution of our societies; Habermas’ thought, which categorically refuses to fall in step with the epistemological discoveries of Konrad Lorenz, for example, illustrates perfectly the genuinely reactionary rigidity of the neo-Enlightenment in its Frankfurtist and current neo-liberal derivations. To understand the shift that is taking place regardless of the liberal-Frankfurtist reaction, see the work of the German bio-cybernetician Frederic Vester: (1) Unsere Welt—ein vernetztes System, dtv, no. l0,118, 2nd ed. (München, 1983) and (2) Neuland des Denkens. Vom technokratischen zum kybernetischen Zeitalter (Stuttgart: DVA, 1980). The restoration of holist (ganzheitlich) social thought by modern biology is discussed, most notably, in Gilbert Probst, Selbst-Organisation, Ordnungsprozesse in sozialen Systemen aus ganzheitlicher Sicht (Berlin: Paul Parey, 1987).

7. G. Locchi, “L’idée de la musique’ et le temps de l’histoire.”

8. To tackle the question of the literary modernism in the 19th century, see: M. Bradbury, J. McFarlane, eds., Modernism 1890–1930 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976).

9. Cf. Paul Raabe, ed., Expressionismus. Der Kampf um eine literarische Bewegung (Zürich: Arche, 1987)—A useful anthology of the principal expressionist manifestos.

10. Armin Mohler, La Révolution Conservatrice en Allemagne, 1918–1932 (Puiseaux: Pardès, 1993). See mainly text A3 entitled “Leitbilder” (“Guiding Ideas”).

11. Cf. Gérard Raulet, “Mantism and the Post-Modern Conditions” and Claude Karnoouh, “The Lost Paradise of Regionalism: The Crisis of Post-Modernity in France,” Telos, no. 67 (March 1986).

12. Cf. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 2 vols., trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Knopf, 1926) for the definition of the “ahistorical peasant” see vol. 2. Cf. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (San Diego: Harcourt, 1959). For the place of this vision of the “peasant” in the contemporary controversy regarding neo-paganism, see: Richard Faber, “Einleitung: ‘Pagan’ und Neo-Paganismus. Versuch einer Begriffsklärung,” in Richard Faber and Renate Schlesier, Die Restauration der Götter: Antike Religion und Neo-Paganismus [The Restoration of the Gods: Ancient Religion and Neo-Paganism] (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1986), 10–25. This text was reviewed in French by Robert Steuckers, “Le paganisme vu de Berlin” [“Paganism as Seen in Berlin”], Vouloir no. 28–29, April 1986, pp. 5–7.

13. On the question of the “line” in Jünger and Heidegger, cf. W. Kaempfer, Ernst Jünger, Sammlung Metzler, Band 20l (Stuttgart, Metzler, 1981), pp. 119–29. Cf also J. Evola, “Devant le ‘mur du temps’” [“Before the ‘Wall of Time’”] in Explorations: Hommes et problems [Explorations: Men and Problems], trans. Philippe Baillet (Puiseaux: Pardès, 1989), pp. 183–94. Let us take this opportunity to recall that, contrary to the generally accepted idea, Heidegger does not reject technology in a reactionary manner, nor does he regard it as dangerous in itself. The danger is due to the failure to think of the mystery of its essence, preventing man from returning to a more originary unconcealment and from hearing the call of a more primordial truth. If the age of technology seems to be the final form of the Oblivion of Being, where the anxiety suitable to thought appears as an absence of anxiety in the securing and the objectification of being, it is also from this extreme danger that the possibility of another beginning is thinkable once the metaphysics of subjectivity is completed.

14. To assess the importance of Leibniz in the development of German organic thought, cf. F. M. Barnard, Herder’s Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 10–12.

Postmodern Challenges:
Between Faust & Narcissus, Part 3

In 1945, the tone of ideological debate was set by the victorious ideologies. We could choose American liberalism (the ideology of Mr. Babbitt) or Marxism, an allegedly de-bourgeoisfied version of the metanarrative. The Grand Narrative took charge, hunted down any “irrationalist” philosophy or movement,[1] set up a thought police, and finally, by brandishing the bogeyman of rampant barbarism, inaugurated an utterly vacuous era.

Sartre and his fashionable Parisian existentialism must be analyzed in the light of this restoration. Sartre, faithful to his “atheism,” his refusal to privilege one value, did not believe in the foundations of liberalism or Marxism. Ultimately, he did not set up the metanarrative (in its most recent version, the vulgar Marxism of the Communist parties[2]) as a truth but as an “inescapable”categorical imperative for which one must militate if one does not want to be a “bastard,” i.e., one of these contemptible beings who venerate “petrified orders.”[3] It is the whole paradox of Sartreanism: on the one hand, it exhorts us not to adore “petrified orders,” which is properly Faustian, and, on another side, it orders us to “magically” adore a “petrified order” of vulgar Marxism, already unhorsed by Sombart or De Man. Thus in the Fifties, the golden age of Sartreanism, the consensus is indeed a moral constraint, an obligation dictated by increasingly mediatized thought. But a consensus achieved by constraint, by an obligation to believe without discussion, is not an eternal consensus. Hence the contemporary oblivion of Sartreanism, with its excesses and its exaggerations.

The Revolutionary Anti-Humanism of May 1968

With May ’68, the phenomenon of a generation, “humanism,” the current label of the metanarrative, was battered and broken by French interpretations of Nietzsche, Marx, and Heidegger.[4] In the wake of the student revolt, academics and popularizers alike proclaimed humanism a “petite-bourgeois” illusion. Against the West, the geopolitical vessel of the Enlightenment metanarrative, the rebels of ’68 played at mounting the barricades, taking sides, sometimes with a naive romanticism, in all the fights of the 1970s: Spartan Vietnam against American imperialism, Latin-American guerillas (“Ché”), the Basque separatists, the patriotic Irish, or the Palestinians.

Their Faustian feistiness, unable to be expressed though autochthonous models, was transposed toward the exotic: Asia, Arabia, Africa, or India. May ’68, in itself, by its resolute anchorage in Grand Politics, by its guerilla ethos, by its fighting option, in spite of everything took on a far more important dimension than the strained blockage of Sartreanism or the great regression of contemporary neo-liberalism.  On the right, Jean Cau, in writing his beautiful book on Che Guevara[5]  understood this issue perfectly, whereas the right, which is as fixated on its dogmas and memories as the left, had not wanted to see.

With the generation of ’68—combative and politicized, conscious of the planet’s great economic geopolitical issues—the last historical fires burned in the French public spirit before the great rise of post-history and post-politics represented by the narcissism of contemporary neoliberalism.

The Translation of the Writings of the “Frankfurt School” announces the Advent of Neo-Liberal Narcissism

The first phase of the neo-liberal attack against the political anti-humanism of May ’68 was the rediscovery of the writings of the Frankfurt School: born in Germany before the advent of National Socialism, matured during the California exile of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse, and set up as an object of veneration in post-war West Germany. In Dialektik der Aufklärung, a small and concise book that is fundamental to understanding the dynamics of our time, Horkheimer and Adorno claim that there are two “reasons” in Western thought that, in the wake of Spengler and Sombart, we are tempted to name “Faustian reason” and “magical reason.” The former, for the two old exiles in California, is the negative pole of the “reason complex” in Western civilization: this reason is purely “instrumental”; it is used to increase the personal power of those who use it. It is scientific reason, the reason that tames the forces of the universe and puts them in the service of a leader or a people, a party or state. Thus, according to Herbert Marcuse, it is Promethean, not Narcissistic/Orphic.[6] For Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse, this is the kind of rationality that Max Weber theorized.

On the other hand, “magical reason,” according to our Spenglerian genealogical terminology, is, broadly speaking, the reason of Lyotard’s metanarrative. It is a moral authority that dictates ethical conduct, allergic to any expression of power, and thus to any manifestation of the essence of politics.[7] In France, the rediscovery of the Horkheimer-Adorno theory of reason near the end of the 1970s inaugurated the era of depoliticization, which, by substituting generalized disconnection for concrete and tangible history, led to the “era of the vacuum” described so well by Grenoble Professor Gilles Lipovetsky.[8] Following the militant effervescence of May ’68 came a generation whose mental attitudes are characterized quite justly by Lipovetsky as apathy, indifference (also to the metanarrative in its crude form), desertion (of the political parties, especially of the Communist Party), desyndicalisation, narcissism, etc. For Lipovetsky, this generalized resignation and abdication constitutes a golden opportunity. It is the guarantee, he says, that violence will recede, and thus no “totalitarianism,” red, black, or brown, will be able to seize power. This psychological easy-goingness, together with a narcissistic indifference to others, constitutes the true “post-modern” age.


There are Various Possible Definitions of “Post-Modernity”

On the other hand, if we perceive—contrary to Lipovetsky’s usage—“modernity” or “modernism” as expressions of the metanarrative, thus as brakes on Faustian energy, post-modernity will necessarily be a return to the political, a rejection of para-magical creationism and anti-political suspicion that emerged after May 68, in the wake of speculations on “instrumental reason” and “objective reason” described by Horkheimer and Adorno.

The complexity of the “post-modern” situation makes it impossible to give one and only one definition of “post-modernity.” There is not one post-modernity that can lay claim to exclusivity. On the threshold of the 21st century, various post-modernities lie fallow, side by side, diverse potential post-modern social models, each based on fundamentally antagonistic values fundamentally antagonistic, primed to clash. These post-modernities differ—in their language or their “look”—from the ideologies that preceded them; they are nevertheless united with the eternal, immemorial, values that lie beneath them. As politics enters the historical sphere through binary confrontations, clashes of opposing clans and the exclusion of minorities, dare to evoke the possible dichotomy of the future: a neo-liberal, Western, American and American-like post-modernity versus a shining Faustian and Nietzschean post-modernity.


The “Moral Generation” & the “Era of the Vacuum”

This neo-liberal post-modernity was proclaimed triumphantly, with Messianic delirium, by Laurent Joffrin in his assessment of the student revolt of December 1986 (Un coup de jeune [A Coup of Youth], Arlea, 1987). For Joffrin, who predicted[9] the death of the hard left, of militant proletarianism, December ’86 is the harbinger of a “moral generation,” combining in one mentality soft leftism, lazy-minded collectivism, and neo-liberal, narcissistic, and post-political selfishness: the social model of this hedonistic society centered on commercial praxis, that Lipovetsky described as the era of the vacuum. A political vacuum, an intellectual vacuum, and a post-historical desert: these are the characteristics of the blocked space, the closed horizon characteristic of contemporary neo-liberalism. This post-modernity constitutes a troubling impediment to the greater Europe that must emerge so that we have a viable future and arrest the slow decay announced by massive unemployment and declining demographics spreading devastation under the wan light of consumerist illusions, the big lies of advertisers, and the neon signs praising the merits of a Japanese photocopier or an American airline.

On the other hand, the post-modernity that rejects the old anti-political metanarrative of the Enlightenment, with its metamorphoses and metastases; that affirms the insolence of a Nietzsche or the metallic ideal of a Jünger; that crosses the “line,” as Heidegger exhorts, leaving behind the sterile dandyism of nihilistic times; the post-modernity that rallies the adventurous to a daring political program concretely implying the rejection of the existing power blocs, the construction of an autarkic Eurocentric economy, while fighting savagely and without concessions against all old-fashioned religions and ideologies, by developing the main axis of a diplomacy independent of Washington; the post-modernity that will carry out this voluntary program and negate the negations of post-history—this post-modernity will have our full adherence.

In this brief essay, I wanted to prove that there is a continuity in the confrontation of the “Faustian” and “magian” mentalities, and that this antagonistic continuity is reflected in the current debate on post-modernities. The American-centered West is the realm of “magianisms,” with its cosmopolitanism and authoritarian sects.[10] Europe, the heiress of a Faustianism much abused by “magian” thought, will reassert herself with a post-modernity that will recapitulate the inexpressible themes, recurring but always new, of the Faustianness intrinsic to the European soul.


1. The classic among classics in the condemnation of “irrationalism” is the summa of György Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, 2 vols. (1954). This book aims to be a kind of Discourse on Method for the dialectic of Enlightenment-Counter-Enlightenment, rationalism-irrationalism. Through a technique of amalgamation that bears a passing resemblance to a Stalinist pamphlet, broad sectors of  German and European culture, from Schelling to neo-Thomism, are blamed for having prepared and supported the Nazi phenomenon. It is a paranoiac vision of culture.

2. To understand the fundamental irrationality of Sartre’s Communism, one should read Thomas Molnar, Sartre, philosophie de la contestation (Paris: La Table Ronde, 1969). In English: Sartre: Ideologue of Our Time (New York : Funk & Wagnalls, 1968).

3. Cf. R.-M. Alberes, Jean-Paul Sartre (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1964), 54–71.

4. In France, the polemic aiming at a final rejection of the anti-humanism of ’68 and its Nietzschean, Marxist, and Heideggerian philosophical foundations is found in Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Anti-Humanism, trans. Mary H. S. Cattani (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990) and its appendix ’68–’86. Itinéraires de l’individu [’68-’86: Routes of the Individual] (Paris: Gallimard, 1987). Contrary to the theses defended in first of these two works, Guy Hocquenghem in Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passés du col Mao au Rotary Club [Open Letter to those Went from Mao Jackets to the Rotary Club] (Paris: Albin Michel, 1986) deplored the assimilation of the hyper-politicism of the generation of 1968 into the contemporary neo-liberal wave. From a definitely polemical point of view and with the aim of restoring debate, such as it is, in the field of philosophical abstraction, one should read Eddy Borms, Humanisme—kritiek in het hedendaagse Franse denken [Humanism: Critique in Contemporary French Thought (Nijmegen: SUN, 1986).

5. Jean Cau, the former secretary of Jean-Paul Sartre, now classified as a polemist of the “right,” who delights in challenging the manias and obsessions of intellectual conformists, did not hesitate to pay homage to Che Guevara and to devote a book to him. The “radicals” of the bourgeois accused him of “body snatching”! Cau’s rigid right-wing admirers did not appreciate his message either. For them, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, who nevertheless admired Abel Bonnard and the American “fascist” Lawrence Dennis, are emanations of the Evil One.

6. Cf. A. Vergez, Marcuse (Paris: P.U.F., 1970).

7. Julien Freund, Qu’est-ce que la politique? [What is Politics?] (Paris: Seuil, 1967). Cf Guillaume Faye, “La problématique moderne de la raison ou la querelle de la rationalité” [“The Modern Problem of Reason or the Quarrel of Rationality”] Nouvelle Ecole no. 41, November 1984.

8. G. Lipovetsky, L’ère du vide: Essais sur l’individualisme contemporain [The Era of the Vacuum: Essays on contemporary individualism] (Paris: Gallimard, 1983). Shortly after this essay was written, Gilles Lipovetsky published a second book that reinforced its viewpoint: L’Empire de l’éphémère: La mode et son destin dans les sociétés modernes [Empire of the Ephemeral: Fashion and its Destiny in Modern Societies] (Paris: Gallimard, 1987). Almost simultaneously François-Bernard Huyghe and Pierre Barbès protested against this “narcissistic” option in La soft-idéologie [The Soft Ideology] (Paris: Laffont, 1987). Needless to say, my views are close to those of the last two writers.

9. Cf. Laurent Joffrin, La gauche en voie de disparition: Comment changer sans trahir? [The Left in the Process of Disappearance: How to Change without Betrayal?] (Paris: Seuil, 1984).

10. Cf. Furio Colombo, Il dio d’America: Religione, ribellione e nuova destra [The God of America: Religion, Rebellion, and the New Right] (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1983).