Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weil, Belloc and tradition

Simone Weil
Two twentieth century intellectuals found themselves surprised by similar experiences that were to profoundly mark the direction of their lives. They were Simone Weil and Hilaire Belloc. Central to their spiritual lives were epiphanies, borne of a contact with the living past, something soon to be lost, something they themselves had never experienced. This was the experience of faith, unquestioning acceptance, contentment, that freedom to be found in familiarity with people, customs and environment. It was the experience of a synthesis of daily life, and all its joys and sufferings, with Christian faith. This synthesis still held sway in the peasant societies that touched and, indeed, changed their lives. It held a truth about the human condition lost to the modern desacralised world that profoundly affected them.

Simone Weil entered a small Portuguese fishing village on the day of the festival of its patron saint. “I was alone. It was the evening and there was a full moon over the sea. The wives of the fishermen were, in procession, making a tour of all the ships, carrying candles and singing what must certainly be very ancient hymns of a heart-rending sadness. Nothing can give any idea of it. I have never heard anything so poignant unless it were the song of the boatmen on the Volga. There the conviction was suddenly borne in upon me that Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.” (From letter 4 in Waiting for God.) Such a conviction supported her belief that the simple faith of the lowly - in this case the peasants of this Portuguese village - imparted a wisdom that is born from their experiential contact with suffering, a wisdom inaccessible to many privileged individuals. The outcasts and the poor are bearers of truths about God, the human condition, and even nature - truths that, in the words of St Paul, shame the powerful and wise of the world (1 Cor. 26ff).


Hilaire Belloc

 Hilaire Belloc rested by a stream in a French village on his path to Rome. “As I was watching that stream against those old stones, my cigar being now half smoked, a bell began tolling, and it seemed as if the whole village were pouring into the church. At this I was very much surprised, not having been used at any time of my life to the unanimous devotion of an entire population, but having always thought of the Faith as something fighting odds, and having seen unanimity only in places where some sham religion or other glossed over our tragedies and excused our sins. Certainly to see all the men, women, and children of a place taking Catholicism for granted was a new sight, and so I put my cigar carefully down under a stone on the top of the wall and went in with them. I then saw that what they were at was vespers.” (The Path to Rome.)

He was transfixed by this whole village, taking religion for granted, transfigured by this collective act. It made him rethink the course of history. The peasant mind moved happily within a tradition and here was a depth of meaning that went down to the earliest moments of western history, and it was still alive. These people were still living out ritual activities that were hundreds and thousands of year old. He discovered that these certainties could be relived, if only one could shed those qualities of modernity that desire to gnaw away and criticise everything. If only one could shed the suspicion of tradition and embrace it. This would have nothing to do with the anodyne comforts of studious learning. From now self-knowledge would begin with faith, an openness to reality, an openness to the past.

“There was to be no more of that studious content, that security in historic analysis, and that constant satisfaction of an appetite which never cloyed. A wisdom more imperative and more profound was to put a term to the comfortable wisdom of learning.
"

Weil and Belloc had, until these moments of epiphany, experienced relationships to faith that were common to the modern age; one of secular indifference, the other of struggle and doubt. Their experiences of peasant life in Portugal and France represented a turning of their souls that was to profoundly mark the direction of their lives, connecting them both to tradition.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our wills become one single will

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
Through which our wills become one single will.
(Dante - Paradiso Canto iii ll 73 - 81)
An appreciation of the way in which the medieval mind strove for perfection undermines the modern demagogical condemnation of a herd-like mentality amongst individuals who lived in traditional societies.

To suggest there was none of the sense of dignity and freedom of every individual, that only modern, “evolved” mankind is supposed to have achieved, would be a gross distortion of the truth, resulting from a shallow analysis.

Feudal peasants were rooted in the soil of their village communities generation after generation. This immobility, this enduring attachment to the soil, established a relationship between people and space. Being fixed in space led people to live in solitude and isolation. But the unit of isolation was not the individual, it was the group.
The majority of peasants lived grouped together in small villages. The division of labour required for agriculture was very simple, so it was unnecessary for many people to live together in the same place. Villages remained small and evenly distributed, the density being dictated by the productivity of the land. The isolated farm, a feature of the modern landscape, did not exist. Peasants lived grouped together for the following reasons. 1)The piece of land that each family cultivated was invariably small, typically divided into three strips of rotating crops, which were located with other family strips in an allocated field system. People lived together in the same place so that they could be close to the their fields. 2) Where shared ownership and effort was required, such as ploughing and the use of oxen teams, people had to work together as a group, so living together was convenient. 3) Living together as a group also greatly contributed to everyone’s security.
No matter what the reasons, and there are probably many more than those noted, the rural solitude was that of the group, not the individual. Because villagers did not move around much, the communities did not interact much. Life in a medieval village was very parochial as a result. Villagers restricted the scope of their daily activities; they did not travel far; they seldom made contact with the outside world; they led solitary lives; they maintained their own isolated social circle. The people they saw every day were the people they had known since childhood, just as they knew the people in their own families. They did not have to select the kind of society they would live in; they were born into it; choice was not a factor.

In a society characterised by this level of familiarity, people achieved a level of freedom whereby they could do whatever they pleased without fear of violating the norms of the society. This type of freedom was different from the those freedoms in modern society, which are defined and protected by laws. The social norms in a familiar society rested not upon laws but, rather, upon rituals and customs that were defined through practice; hence, to follow those norms was to follow one’s own heart and mind. In other words, society and individual were one, a single social organism, a people of God, which aptly reflected St Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ.

We come back to the point that there was no division between the inner and personal life of religion, and the practical interests of the external order. Each individual was part of an order of faith that stretched from the parish church and manor, to kingship, the Holy Roman Empire and Christendom. The First Crusade, notable for not being merely a military operation, included vast numbers of ordinary men and women within a tide of humanity, known as the People’s Crusade, that swept across Europe towards the Holy Land, probably representing the high water mark of medieval social cohesion from emperor to vassal. Such a coalition of souls could never have been imposed by the political or economic despotism of a centralised power. It grew from an acceptance that to comply perfectly with one’s own specific function there was a need for an identical participation in the spirituality of the whole, conceived as a living organism. This kind of social order, with the sovereign at the centre, was the form within which the subjects demonstrated their faithfulness to God through faithfulness to their ruler. This faithfulness was a cornerstone of traditional society, in addition to work as rite and an elite that embodied transcendence. This was the force which as a magnet held together the social structure, establishing an unsaid coordination and gravitation between the individual and the centre, between the individual and the whole. It was a force acknowledged by Dante:
The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
Through which our wills become one single will.
(Paradiso Canto iii ll 73 - 81)

By contrast, modern society is composed of strangers. We fear that oral arrangements are not binding; therefore we draw up written contracts to which we sign our names. Laws arise in this fashion. But there was no way for laws like this to develop in feudal society, where trust was derived from familiarity.

Looked at this way, the decline of feudal society marked the decline of the personal freedom of familiarity and a separation of the inner and the outer selves. Few, save the king and officials, saw the need for a distinguishing signature or mark. Each signed with a cross just like everyone else, personal identity was not important or even understood. Perhaps it is not surprising that some of the early contractual agreements in the Middle Ages were those drawn up with outsiders, in the form of money lending agreements. Notably, a Jew would sign with a personal name.

There may not have been an absolute division in the medieval mind between the inner and personal life, which is the sphere of religion, and the practical interests of the external order, but there was a division of quality. The world of social organisation, originating in physical necessities, passed by insensible gradations into that of the spirit.

There was a gradation between nature and grace, between human appetites and interests and religion. And what was true of the individual was true also of society. In the words of the famous Bull of Pope Boniface VIII: ‘The way of religion is to lead the things which are lower to the things which are higher through the things which are intermediate. According to the law of the universe all things are not reduced to order equally and immediately; but the lowest through the intermediate, the intermediate through the higher.’ Thus social institutions assumed a character which may almost be called sacramental, for they were the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality. Ideally conceived, society was an organism of different grades, and human activities formed a hierarchy of functions, which differed in kind and in significance, but each of which was of value on its own plane, provided that it was governed, however remotely, by the end which is common to all. Like the celestial order, of which it was the dim reflection, society was stable, because it was straining upwards across a Jacob’s ladder connecting heaven and earth, in a cosmic harmony.

Thomas More’s Utopia, written on the cusp of of the medieval and modern worlds, was a self-conscious presentation of a rationally ordered state in which minds in harmony with Christ’s teachings might exist. The money-free communal order was an echo of what had been lost. Utopia, governed by its ascetic spiritual discipline, was an image of man’s soul aspiring to a state of redemption. The humanist More’s scholarly positing of this ideal from the outside was an act complicit in its final demise.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Defence against the encroachment of barbarism

Council of Vienne
The very idea of engagement in economic activity for its own ends, completely divorced from moral ends, simply did not exist in medieval society. The idea that individuals might have an inborn appetite for personal economic gain, and might therefore be thought of as rational players in a system of economics founded upon individual economic choices, would have been thought of as irrational, let alone immoral, if it could have been countenanced at all. To found a social philosophy upon individual economic motives would have been considered as base and brutish as as we might think a system of human organisation based upon sexual instincts, only more so.

The non-productive ways in which an individual might seek to acquire or increase his holding of wealth, whether by buying and selling or lending and borrowing, were lumped together by the Church as avarice, or greed, one of the seven deadly sins. This was especially so amongst the merchants, grocers and victualers who conspired to create local monopolies and cartels, or money-lenders who ground the poor. For this reason, in what was essentially a pre-money society, with currency a small, but stable adjunct to to an agrarian economy, any price rises would be looked upon with huge suspicion. Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale contains a sermon against avarice, and traders caught using false scales or adulterating food were excommunicated, pilloried, put in the stocks or banished from towns.

Indeed, when wrong-doing was suspected, it was a sacramental act to stand the culprit in the pillory. A taverner might be forced to drink huge quantities of his own adulterated wine. A baker selling adulterated or short-weight bread, might have a token loaf hung around his neck, and then be dragged down the street. Whilst all this was going on, the parish priest might deliver a sermon on the sixth commandment, choosing as his text the words of the Book of Proverbs, "Give me neither riches nor poverty, but enough for my sustenance".

There was an abhorrence of avarice because the social ethics consisted in realising one’s being and achieveing one’s perfection within the parameters of that part of the social organism to which one belonged. Economic activity was justified only to the extent that it was necessary for sustenance and to ensure the dignity of an existence which conformed to one’s own estate, without the base instinct of self-interest or material gain coming first.

In Middle Ages, it was the ascetic temper which predominated in Christian sentiments, contributing to the concept of society as a spiritual organism, not an economic machine. Material appetites and the desire for economic gain were rooted in the doctrine of original sin and were, as a consequence, sinful. Necessary economic activity, like the sexual instinct, was one subordinate part of a complex whole and, like all other activities in the ascetic life of man lived as rite, had to be kept to its moral ends through a strict repression of its worldly tendency to grow and become all-consuming of lives and minds. To think otherwise would have been to give in to barbarism.

Lanfranc, for example, saw nothing in economic life but the struggle of wolves over carrion, and thought that men of business can hardly be saved, for they live by cheating and profiteering. It was monasticism, with its repudiation of the prizes and temptations of the secular world, which was par excellence the life of religion.  By contrast, the doctrine of original sin, the depravity of man, never had a foothold within the theology of the synagogue. It never held sway over the mind and the religious imagination of the Jews. In consequence of this the body and the flesh were never regarded by them as contaminated, and the appetites and passions were not suspected of being rooted in evil.

The degree to which the ascetic temper of Christendom began to feel under threat from economic barbarism can be assessed in terms of the severity of the measures aimed at protecting society from the usurious activity associated with the Jews. The fear of contagion from the purely contingent and temporal activity engaged in by this minority led to a strategy of exposing and isolating the threat.
As early as 1179, the third Lateran Council banned usury and the legal status of Jews was made inferior to that of Christians in a number of areas including the possession of property. By 1215, not only did the the Fourth Lateran Council, reiterate that Jews must not extract immoderate usury from Christians, but Jews were also to be distinguished as external to the body of believers by being compelled to dress differently from Christians, and wear a Jewish badge.

That the fear of the threat to the social organism never relaxed is demonstrated by the robustly defensive measures taken against usury in the Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Vienne (1312). At Lyons the strictures laid down by the third Lateran Council (1175) were not only reiterated, but strengthened by additional rules which made the money-lender an outlaw. The risks of infection were considered so great that anyone even so much as letting a house to a usurer would be excommunicated, foregoing their right to confession, absolution and Christian burial, and having their wills invalidated.

The further intensification of the defensive measures taken at the Council of Vienne is illustrative of the persistence of usury in Christian communities. A growing number of towns and regions sanctioned usury and compelled debtors to observe usurious contracts, in utter disregard for divine law. The threat of excommunication was used yet again against any rulers and magistrates knowingly maintaining such laws. The insidiousness of usury’s growing grip on the body of Christendom also led the Council to order the opening of all money-lenders’ accounts to ecclesiastical examination. Anyone who insisted that usury was not a sin would be dealt with by inquisitors as a heretic.

Even these stringencies were insufficient for Edward I of England who in 1290, at the height of the ecclesiastical measures against usury, took action to expel the Jews from his land. Many of them moved to France, only to face expulsion again in 1306 by King Philip IV, before settling in the future commercial centres of the Low Countries, especially Antwerp.

It is true that the loosening of the leash on the economic dogs of modern-day materialism has not resulted in an unalloyed benefit to society. That which was once the servant, rather the master of civilisation, is now running wild to devastating effect. Regimented lives led nihilistically to the rule of economic expediency, so easily interpreted in terms of quantity, have overwhelmed any lingering folk memory of a rule of life superior to individual desires and temporary exigencies, which was what the medieval theorists meant by “natural law.” It is hard to imagine the terror felt by medievals attempting to hold the economic wolves at bay, which only heightened their efforts to secure the integrity of the social organism as a whole. Their attempted defence against the encroachment of barbarism had in it something of the heroic, and to ignore the nobility of the war against usury is no less absurd than to idealise its practical results. The strength of the ascetic conviction, that was so viscerally opposed to the subordination of religion to economic interests, was demonstrated by the need for a similar persistence amongst the forces which would eventually overturn priorities and descralise society.


John Dunn.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Life as rite, not flight

In contrast to modernity, the lives of tradition were led as rite, not flight, and social institutions assumed a sacramental character, for they were the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality.

Society was conceived as a single social organism, a people of God, which reflected St Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. ‘As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ’ (1 Cor 12:12). With these words St Paul explained the unity and multiplicity which is proper to the Church.  ‘For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another’ (Rom 12:4-5). It may be said that, although the concept of People of God highlighted the multiplicity, that of body of Christ emphasised the unity within this multiplicity, pointing out especially the principle and source of this unity: Christ. ‘You are Christ's body, and individually parts of it’ (1 Cor 12:27).  ‘We, though many, are one body in Christ’ (Rom 12:5).  The metaphor highlighted the unity of Christ and the Church, and the unity of the Church's many members among themselves, in virtue of the unity of the entire body with Christ.

The medieval society of western society was structured as a single organism, expressing the need for co-operation among the individual organs and parts in the unity of the whole.   It was a living acknowledgement of St. Paul’s admonishment ‘that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25).  ‘Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary’ (1 Cor 12:22).  We are, St Paul adds, ‘individually parts of one another’ (Rom 12:5) in the body of Christ, the Church.  The multiplicity of the members and the variety of their functions could never damage this unity, just as, on the other hand, this unity could not cancel or destroy the multiplicity and variety of the members and their functions.

The need for biological harmony in the human organism was applied analogously in theological language to indicate the necessity of solidarity among all the members of the Church community.  The Apostle wrote: "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26).

Each member of the social organism had its own function: prayer, or defence, or merchandise, or tilling soil.   Each received the means suited to its station, and claimed no more.  Within classes there was equality; if one took into his hand the living of two, his neighbours would go short. Between classes there had to be inequality; for otherwise a class could perform its function, or - a strange thought to us - enjoy its rights.  Peasants were not to encroach on those above them. Lords had not to despoil peasants.  Craftsmen and merchants had to receive what would maintain them in their calling, and no more.

Regardless of its place in the hierarchy of functions, each activity was of value on its own plane, provided that it was governed, however remotely, by the end which was common to all; and that end was salvation. Like the celestial order of which it was but a dim reflection, society was stable because there was a common cause in the straining upwards.

Taking the caste system of Hindu India as his prime example of a traditional society, Evola explained how ‘every type of function and activity appeared equally as a point of departure for an elevation in a different and vertical rather than horizontal sense’.1  Emphasising the unity of the social organism, Evola described how ‘everybody perfomed their function within the overall social order, and through their own peculiar bhakti even partook of the supernatural principle of this same order’.2

There was no place either in Christian medieval life for any economic activity which was not related to a sacred end.  It is important to understand the holistic nature of this worldview, for it was the totality of traditional society that distinguished it from the modern world, which would eventually fragment tradition’s authority.  The material was ordained for the sake of the spiritual; economic goods were instrumental - sicut quaedam adminicula, quibus adjuvamur ad tendendum in beatitudinem.   ‘It is lawful to desire temporal blessings’, said St Thomas Aquinas, ‘not putting them in the first place, as though setting up our rest in them, but regarding them as aids to blessedness, inasmuch as they support our corporal life and serve as instruments for acts of virtue.’3  ‘Riches, as St Antonino commented, exist for man, not man for riches.’4

All activities fell within an all-embracing system, because the members of society, regardless of hierarchy, were united by the goal of salvation and derived their authenticity from it.   The Church as the body of Christ offered the doctrine through which that goal was realised.  As head of the Church, Christ was the principle and source of cohesion among the members of his body (cf. Col 2:19).  He was the principle and source of growth in the Spirit: from him the entire body grew and built ‘itself up in love’ (Eph 4:16).  This was the reason for the Apostle's exhortation to live the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15).  The spiritual growth of the Church's body and its individual members was a growth ‘from Christ’ (the principle) and also ‘into Christ’ (the goal).  The Church embraced the whole of life and its authority was final.  This meant that there was no division between the inner and personal life, which is the sphere of religion, and the practical interests, the external order, the impersonal mechanism, to which, as modern secularists would have us believe, religion is irrelevant.’5

The absence of a division between the inner and personal life and the external order was characteristic of traditional Hindu society, ‘in the notion of dharma, or one’s peculiar nature to which one is supposed to be faithful”.6  Evola explained that dharma came from the root dr (“to sustain,” “to uphold”) and it expressed the element of order, form, or cosmos that Tradition embodied and implemented over and against chaos and becoming.  Through dharma the traditional world, just like every living thing and every being, was upheld; the dams holding back the sea of pure contingency and temporality stood firm; living beings partook of stability’.7

Given the importance of dharma to social cohesiveness and hence to spiritual elevation, it is clear why not being faithful to oneself, by departing from the functions and obligations of caste, ‘was considered a sacrilege that destroys the efficacy of every rite and leads those who are guilty of it to “hell”.... The people guilty of crossing the “caste line” were considered the only impure beings in the entire hierarchy; they were pariahs, or “untouchables” because they represented centres of psychic infection in the sense of an inner dissolution’.8  Such was the opprobrium in which practical interests to the exclusion of religion were held, that the people who practised these activities were held to be social outcasts.  They were isolated out of the fear that infection, in the form of purely contingent and temporal activity, entering one part of the social organism threatened deathly disease to the rest.

Any economic activity which was not related to a moral end was considered as a degrading form of escapism. It forced a wedge between the inner life and the external order, splitting the totalising social system through which men derived their authenticity and putting at threat the ultimate goal of salvation.  ‘The outcast was just the vanquished - in the Aryan East he was called a fallen one, patitas.’9

Members of the social organism attempted to spiritualise the material by incorporating it in a divine universe, which should absorb and transform it.   To that process of transmutation, the life of mere money-making was recalcitrant, hence the stigma attached to it.  This found practical expression in Medieval Europe in the forbidding of the business of usury to Christians. For usury was considered to be a sin, on a par with adultery and fornication in its threat to social cohesiveness.

In the Christian mind, there was an opposition between the world, understood as the human sphere, the totality of man on the one hand, and the sphere of God on the other.   It was conceived as under the domination of ‘the prince of the world’ or ‘the god of this world’, who was the enemy of God (John 12.31; II Cor. 4.4).  The world threatened to dominate and rule over the individuals who constituted it. ‘The spirit of the world’ lay over men ( I Cor. 2.12).  The relation of the Christian to the world was that while he had overcome the world and been freed from its tyranny, he remained in the world so long as he existed on earth, continually exposed to its threat (I Cor. 3.21-22: John 17.11).   The usurers would typically be non-participants in the body of the Church, namely Jews. As outcasts and threats to society and the salvation of its members, they would be feared as associates of the prince of the world.10


1 J. Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, 1995, p.95

2 Evola p.95


3 Quoted in R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, Harmondsworth, 1961, p.44

4 Tawney p.44

5 Tawney p.33

6 Evola p.95

7 Evola p.95

8 Evola p.96

9 Evola p.96

10  See J. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, foreword by Marc Saperstein, The Jewish Publication Society, 1995

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Meritocracy and the loss of being, authenticity and truth

Such is modern man’s depth of despair, that relating to the thought of individuals who led lives in the pre-Enlightenment is almost impossible.

Unlike the modern individual, traditional man felt no compulsion to flee to the crowd, to Das Man, but rather underwent submersion in the deeper vein of his will, which related to the very mystery of his own existential being. This was a self-understanding of being that emerged against a foil of socio-political and religious certainties, caste certainties. Being was revealed as truth to the individual who remained open and alert to the emergence of being. Open, because not distracted. Not distracted, because the certainties and environment of the individual’s caste provided the milieu in which the individual could be true to being. The inherited social function was of secondary importance. No object or function could be considered superior or inferior to another. No-one was led by a sense of injustice or ambition to better themselves, or seek to be distinguished through recognition or social approval. ‘True difference’, wrote Evola, ‘was rather given by the way in which the object or function was lived out. The earthly way, inspired by utilitarianism or greed (sakama-Kama), was contrasted with the heavenly way of the one who acts without concern for the consequences and for the sake of the action itself (niskama-kama), and who transforms every action into a rite and into an “offering”’ (94).

Life lived as a rite and offering was life led for another world, not this world. Traditional man’s freedom from this world is to be contrasted with modern meritocracies, where the striving of the individual to be materially different, whether for honour, reward or survival, has led to a world of increasing sameness, uniformity and conformity. The individualism of modernity has led to moral relativism, in which all judgements are from the perspective of the individual. Where there is no reality other than the individual’s, society loses contact with being and, by default, with truth.

So blinkered down a path of worldly achievement is modern man that it is often not until the very point of death that all the distractions, ambitions, aspirations and flight to Das Man cease to have there analgesic effect and man wakes to the truth of being. Martin Heidegger wrote of this very moment in his History and the Concept of Time, the dread of death - the point of death when the individual, Dasein, is exposed as what it really is. Heidegger writes, ‘there is thus the possibility, in the very moment of departing from the world, so to speak, when the world has nothing more to say to us and every other has nothing more to say, that the world and our being-in-it show themselves purely and simply.’ The flight of Dasein from itself has to end. At the point of death Dasein has no choice but to confront itself. Dasein sees itself in all its nakedness. In this we are reminded of the words from Job 1:21, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." At the point of death, flight is no longer an option. The difference between modern and traditional man is that the latter never thought it was in the first place.

At the end of the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger moved into an exploration of death. With regard to death, Dasein achieves a type of wholeness. When a tool is finished, it becomes available for use. When a Dasein is finished, it ceases to be in the world. Heidegger believed that each individual Dasein had to come to terms with this fact of the annihilation of being by itself.

Das Man, the crowd, tries, during the lifetime of Dasein, to steal authenticity away by covering up death with platitudes such as, ‘well everyone dies’. ‘Everyone dies’, in this context, is about offering the delusion that no one dies. In giving in to that way of thinking, das Man covers up the authenticity of death.

The idea of not being in the world, Heidegger argues, is something that Dasein has to wrestle with before arriving at the realisation that death is always an imminent possibility, always there before Dasein, the ever-present fact that never goes away. It constitutes the totality of Dasein right from the start. It shows to Dasein its being-in-the-world purely and simply. Out of the struggle with this realisation can come the the drive for the creation of an authentic life that will truly differentiate Dasein from das Man, the one from the everyone.

So death is the single most important thing that motivates Dasein, just as it has been the underlying motivating factor of all the higher cultures throughout history and pre-history. Most of the archaeological remains of the earliest cultures are associated with death. Be it the Egyptians with their cult of mummification, or the Hindus with their ceremonial burning of the dead, each civilisation centres on an agreed ceremonial mode of the disposal of the dead. Looking back to the Paleolithic era, it is the burial site that is associated with the very beginnings of human culture. One is tempted to say in the light of Heidegger’s work that the life led by Stone Age man was a much more authentic one than the life led by das Man.

Despite the utter futility of striving to be materially different in a world that ruthlessly imposes commiditisation, uniformity and conformity, a self-perception of individuality often survives to the end of life. I am reminded of a most hideous manifestation of this in crematoria up and down the land, where families and friends celebrate the defiant departed’s individualism by playing a trashy pop song favourite of the loved one as the curtain closes on the coffin. This is the pitiful defiance of a Don Giovani, foisted upon the dead by the ignorant and fearful survivors. It is the continued flight to Das Man of those who remain, and Das Man’s pursuit of the dead beyond the grave to an eternal inauthenticity, analogous with Hell.

Any celebration of meritocratic achievement in reality masks a terror born of the shifting sands of moral relativism, in which all judgements are from the individual’s perspective. The individual is alone in the immensity of the cosmos without a moral compass. Being is literally crowded out of consciousness and the very being in human is lost as a result. Authenticity is lost; truth is lost.


John Dunn.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Totalitarian humanism

Modern man has reached the point of totalitarian humanism in which, as Julius Evola described it, ‘the only “self” modern man knows and is willing to acknowledge is the empirical self that begins at birth and is more or less extinguished at death.  Everything is reduced by him to the mere human individual since in him all prior recollections have disappeared’.*

Julius Evola

The break with tradition began with the emergence of wage labour and the shift from an agrarian to an urban economy.  Now governed by the “principles” of the banker in the debt financed economy, familial continuity has been broken by the near total mobilisation of both the male and female labour forces and the nationalisation of parenthood.  Children not aborted out of inconvenience are torn from their mothers’ arms and conscripted by law into care from birth.  After an extended period of being “educated” into liberal rationality, young adults are released into the workforce to be motivated by, at best, economic survival and, at worse, a nihilistic desire to make money and achieve success.

(Tradition and faith will have to be rediscovered and relearnt - something that will have to happen outside of academia, which is now a functionary of liberalism e.g. business and so-called vocational education supporting the wage economy.)

All contact with previous eras of faith is lost in such conditions; the distance between the traditional and egoistic mind being vast.  ‘In this context’, wrote Evola, ‘“culture” is no longer the context in which it is possible to actualise one’s being through serious commitment and faithfulness; it is rather the locus for “self-actualisation”’.*

The demand for equality has arisen in such a manner that ‘no other difference is acknowledged to be more right and truer than that which is “achieved” through one’s efforts and “merit” according to the terms of various vain, intellectual, moral or social beliefs typical of these recent times.’*

From a higher point of view (from a point of view that knows that the progressive decay of the organism will eventually push one into nothingness), meritocracy and the chasing after wealth or self-fulfilment or peer-recognition or celebrity are all chimeras.

The vanity of wealth and honour was recognised in Ecclesiastes 5
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a labourer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.


Yet in the levelling chaos of modern “freedom”, men and women are cowed into joining the mass ranks of the collective, Das Man, out of economic necessity if not, as is near universally the case, ignorance.  The result is the doom of an inauthentic life, the despair Kierkegaard recognised, whether in lives that were failures or successes in worldly terms.

John Dunn.

*Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, (Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 1995), p93.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Roger Garaudy and Freedom

Once the philosophical leap is made from materialism to idealism, the vista of liberty opens up.

For the idealist philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, philosophical logic should be presuppostionless. He wrote, ‘life in all its fullness is neither art, nor religion, nor science. It is morality’. Morality is meant here in the context of man’s freedom of choice, for good or ill.

Self-realisation was the fundamental moral imperative for Gentile. He considered philosophy to be ‘continual vigilance and reflection over what we are, and what we make of ourselves… The dialectic of self-consciousness…is the root of philosophy’.

This philosophy counters the predominant cultural Marxism of our day that permeates politics on both the Left and Right. Roger Garaudy captured exactly the essence of the freedom made possible when he wrote, ‘the future is not a scenario written, which we only have to act out; it is a work which we have to create’.

John Dunn.

The Oxford Debate

I attended the debate in the Sheldonian theatre on Sunday 25th March between A.C. Grayling and Roger Scruton on the subject of – ‘Do we need God in our society to prevent self-destruction of us and our culture?’

All the usual warm woolly arguments were trotted out both for humanism and religion, to the point where it was hard to recognise a difference between the two debaters. Scruton made the case for religion and belief in God giving life a moral underpinning of certainty and morality, as well as an awareness of the eternal that makes life worth living.

Graying responded, arguing that humanism had morals and ethics too and what’s more, these could exist without resort to God for an explanation. (Yawn.)

What a bind these people are in, both the believer and the atheist.

What Grayling omitted to say was that humanism, in its political guise as liberal democracy, masks the most exploitatively ruthless economic system that has ever existed upon this earth. As for tolerance and diversity, well, just look at the way liberal democracy is being brutally imposed upon all the peoples of the earth by economic sanctions and military force.

No Grayling – humanism has no morality. By its very nature it is amoral. Some would call it evil and the Enlightenment marked the beginning of the end for diversity.

Of course Scruton, as a conservative, could not make this case against Grayling, arch defender of the bourgeois capitalist system as he is.
So we had a debate in which two apparent opponents were trying to out-moralise each other – and isn’t that always the way in our liberal so-called democracy. The reality is that both were contributing in their own small way to the relentless march of bland, exploitative uniformity across the earth, to which the rigid acceptance of all is ultimately enforced – squashing out diversity – all in the name of morality.

The very fact that both remain in positions of some intellectual influence suggests they pose no threat to the relentless march…

By the way, neither debater actually answered the question that was central to the debate. I would say that we do need God in our society, but it is not the god of either of the speakers’ ‘religions’.

John Dunn.