Nihilism (Book Review)

Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, Eugene (Father Seraphim) Rose.

This short book is a chapter in a greater work that Rose envisioned, an Augustinian The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. Presumably he was using Augustine’s framework in a version updated for the modern age. The book was never completed, but we do have an outline of the work-in-progress, and this completed chapter, part of the second half of the book, in the section “The Old Order and the ‘New Order’ ”

  • The advent of the ‘New Order’: the Revolution of the modern age
  • The root of the revolution:  Nihilism (the book under review)
  • The Goal of the Revolution:  the Anarchist Millennium

One wonders if he connected his “New Order” with the Novus Ordo Seclorum (New Order of the Ages) that features on the US dollar bill and is the true spirit of the American Founding.

This book/chapter assumes a context, and that context is explicitly Christian, and specifically Orthodox. Non-Christian readers may find the assumptions Rose uses “begging the question”, but the complete book would have set the context.  Christians won’t have a problem with the assumptions, but Rose’s reasoning for them would have been welcome.

Rose uses Friedrich Nietzsche, the master of Nihilism, to define Nihilism. It is not the belief in nothing, nor of a lack of belief in anything, which you might think based on the root nihil. Nietzsche offers:

That there is no truth; that there is no absolute state of affairs–no ‘thing in itself.’  This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind.  (From The Will to Power.)

Rose notes that his own definition of absolute truth is “the dimension of the beginning and end of things”; I would have liked to have seen his elaboration of that. “There is no truth” is a self-refuting argument, and I know Nietzsche wasn’t making only that point, but it was his foundation.

Ultimately Rose sets Nihilism as a kind of faith opposed to Christian faith:

The whole food of Christian Truth, however, is accessible only to faith; and the chief obstacle to such faith is not logic, as the facile modern view has it, but another and opposed faith. We have seen indeed, that logic cannot deny absolute truth without denying itself; the logic that sets itself up against the Christian Revelation is merely the servant of another “revelation,” of a false “absolute truth”: namely Nihilism.

The real value for me in this book is how Rose characterizes four manifestations of nihilism in the modern age, in the chapter “The Stages of the Nihilistic Dialectic”:

  • Liberalism.  There is no truth, but we maintain the forms from when people believed in and acted like there was truth. One thinks of various mainstream Protestant priests who don’t seem to believe in God anymore, but continue their functions as priests (I believe Kierkegaard noticed this in the state Lutheran church in Denmark). This is more of an introductory stage to the other forms.
  • Realism.  This is the kind of Nihilism the Russian Ivan Turgenev was describing in Fathers and Sons. Tough-minded, realistic, materialistic, self-interested; the atheism is out in the open. Nothing exists but what is most obvious. The Realist is openly hostile to the idea of absolute truth (the Liberal is just indifferent and vague about it all).
  • Vitalism.  Seeing the dead reductionism of realism, vitalism reacts. It does not critique the foundation of realism, only the expression. A more “life-affirming” approach is desired, where one can suck the marrow from the bone of life.   No sensitive man can stand the realist approach, he seeks something dynamic, vital, refreshing, even traditional (the Old Ways). Nietzsche was such a nihilist.
  • The Nihilism of Destruction. A pure rage against creation and civilization, unappeasable until they are reduced to total ruins. Such nihilists glory in destruction.  Bazarov in Fathers and Sons states that “there is not a single institution of our society that should not be destroyed.” The anarchist Michail Bakunin reveled in it: “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion!”

Our age sees all four stages in various institutions and movements, although it seems we are dominated by a kind of nihilism of destruction. I notice that some of the disaffected right do not reject nihilism but seek a roll back to a realist (“Red Pill”) or vitalist (Zarathustra) version; some glory in destructive nihilism (“burn it down, burn it all down”) believing something better will follow.

Rose goes on to talk about “The Theology and Spirit of Nihilism”. He asserts that Nihilism is not atheism, but a profounder malady: anti-theism. Nietzsche himself was haunted by Christ to the end of his life; the closing words of his last book, Ecce Homo, are, “Have you understood me? Dionysus against the Crucified.” He was engaged in a battle.  Thus, the theology is rebellion, or a war against God. The spirit is the worship of nothingness. Rose points out that nihilist “Nothingness” is a denial, a negation. Nietzsche says,

What does Nihilism mean?–that the highest values are losing their value. There is no goal. There is no answer to the question: ‘why?’

Next Rose addresses “The Nihilist Program”. It amounts to the destruction of the old order (violence is essential), the making of the new earth, and the fashioning of the new man. The Soviet Communist system is paradigmatic, but it is also at work today in the West. It is why Paul Gottfried can write a book, The Strange Death of Marxism where he finds it is not dead at all, but alive and well in the West.

Finally, Rose closes with “Beyond Nihilism” where Nihilism, having finished its work, can now be supplanted by the next thing: Anarchism, a new order of existence.  That was to be the next chapter of Rose’s greater work.   Again, Nietzsche:

Under certain circumstances, the appearance of the extremest form of Pessimism and actual Nihilism might be the sign of a process of incisive and most essential growth, and of mankind’s transit into completely new conditions of existence. This is what I have understood.

It is the fondest wish of our current ruling order to reach that state beyond nihilism, the goal of the revolution, a new age of a completely new condition of existence.  Novus Ordo Seclorum.

God save us.

 

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Fathers and Sons (Book Review)

Ivan Turgenev, Oxford World’s Classics (translated by Richard Freeborn).

 I first read this novel in high school English, of all places.  Being sophomores, my friends and I didn’t really get it, but in retrospect I think our teacher was trying to subvert us, in a good way.  I wanted to re-read it to see what Turgenev had to say about nihilists.

Turgenev introduced the literary world to the nihilists, a Russian movement of the 19th Century.  Published in 1862 right after Tsar Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs (is there a “legacy of serfdom” in Russia??), it deals with the two generations in action at the time:  the Fathers and the Sons.  He is not really anti-nihilist (go to Dostoyevsky for that), but is just telling a story of his time.  Turgenev apparently identified with the fathers.  He does not present them in a very good light and sympathizes with some of the charges of the nihilists against his own generation.

The fathers are represented by:

  • Nikolai Kirsanov. A soft-hearted, cowardly, romantic, having difficulty running his estate; he has, like a good liberal, liberated some of his serfs already.
  • Pavel Kirsanov. Nikolai’s brother, an embodiment of aristocracy but lacking any substance at all.  He is a hollow shell haunted by a failed love.

The sons by:

  • Arkady Kirsanov. Nikolai’s son, in a way the story turns around which way he is going to go.
  • Evgeny Bazarov. A friend of Arkady’s from university.  He is the engine of the story.

Arkady and Bazarov start the story by returning to the Kirsanov estate from university.  It transpires that the blunt and rude Bazarov is a nihilist and Arkady is his disciple:

‘What is Bazarov?’  Arkady grinned.  ‘Do you want me, uncle, to tell you precisely what he is?’

‘Please be good enough, nephew.’

‘He is a nihilist.’

‘What?’ asked Nikolai Petrovich, while Pavel Petrovich raised his knife in the air with a piece of butter on the end of the blade and remained motionless.

‘He is a nihilist,’ repeaded Arkady.

‘A nihilist,’ said Nikolai Petrovich.  ‘That’s from the Latin nihil, nothing, so far as I can judge.  Therefore, the denotes a man who … who doesn’t recognize anything?’

‘Say, rather, who doesn’t respect anything,’ added Pavel Petrovich and once more busied himself with the butter.

‘Who approaches everything from a critical point of view,’ remarked Arkady.

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’

‘No, it’s not the same thing.  A nihilist is a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much this principle may be surrounded by respect.’

‘And that’s a good thing, is it?’ interjected Pavel Petrovich.

‘It depends on who you are, uncle.  It’s a good thing for one man and a bad thing for another.’

‘Is that so!  Well, I can see it’s not for us…’

Later, Pavel and Bazarov lock horns; it’s quite clear Pavel hates Bazarov (later in the novel there is a duel):

‘I see,’ interrupted Pavel Petrovich, ‘I see.  Meaning you’re convinced of all this and have decided for yourselves not to do anything serious about anything.’

‘And we’ve decided not to do anything about anything,’ Bazarov repeated sombrely.

He had suddenly grown annoyed with himself for having talked so much in front of this lordly gentleman.

‘And just swear at everything?’

‘And swear at everything.’

‘And that’s called nihilism?’

‘And that’s called nihilism,’ Bazarov repeated, this time with particular cockiness.

Pavel Petrovich made a slight face.

‘So that’s it!’ he declared in a strangely calm voice.  ‘Nihilism’s got to come to the aid of all the wrongs in the world and you, you’re our saviours and heroes.  But why in that case do you abuse others, like those so-called social critics?  Don’t you chatter on just as much as the rest?’

‘We’re guilty of most things but not of that,’ Bazaraov spat out through his teeth.

‘Is that so?’  Are you taking action, then?  Are you preparing to act?’

Bazarov did not answer.  Pavel Petrovich literally shook with rage, but at once took control of himself.

‘Hmm!  To take action, to smash things…’ he went on.  ‘But how can you smash something without even knowing why you’re doing it?’

‘We smash things because we’re a force,’ remarked Arkady.

Pavel Petrovich looked at his nephew and smiled faintly.

‘Yes, a force literally doesn’t take account of anything,’ declared Arkady and sat up straight.

‘Oh, you wretch!’ yelled Pavel Petrovich.  He was positively in no condition to restrain himself any longer.  ‘If only you’d give a moment’s thought to what it is in Russia you’re supporting with your banal maxim!  No, this could try the patience of an angel!  Force!  There’s force in the wild Kalmuck and the Mongol–so what’s that to us?  Civilization is what’s dear to us–yes, indeed, my good sir.    Its fruits are dear to us.  And don’t you tell me that its fruits are worth nothing at all.  The meanest dauber, un barbouilleur, a chap playing a piano for five copecks an evening–they’re all more useful than you are, because they are representatives of civilization and not of brute Mongol force!  You imagine you are leaders of society, but all you want to do is live in Kalmuck huts!  Force!  Just you remember finally, you men of force, that there’re only four and a half of you but there are millions of others who won’t allow you to trample underfoot their most sacred convictions, who’ll stamp you out once and for all!’

Arkady and Bazarov eventually leave the estate and visit Anna Odintsova, a not very old widow over whom Bazarov falls in love.  She spurns him–he strikes fear in her heart when she realizes his serious intent.  This is the beginning of the end for Bazarov, for he has fallen from his anti-romantic state and has failed at love.  He sinks into despondency and anger with himself.

Arkady, on the other hand, meets Katya, Anna’s younger sister, and he begins growing fond of her.  Eventually they marry.  This sets him on a path directly away from Bazarov.  The trajectory of the two sons is interesting:  Arkady eventually rejects nihilism and embraces the ways of his father and has a happy end.  Barzarov returns home, and in helping his retired doctor father, is infected with typhus and dies.

As Arkady and Bazarov part ways, Bazarov tells him,

‘You’ve behaved sensibly.  You’re not made for the bitter, sour-tasting, rootless life of people like me.  You haven’t got the daring, you haven’t got the anger, all you’ve got is youthful courage and youthful fervour–and that’s not enough for what I’ve got to do.  Aristos [aristocrats] like you’ll never go beyond noble humility or noble indignation and that’s all nonsense.  You, for example, won’t fight–and yet you think you’re fine chaps–but people like us, we want to fight.  And we will!  The dust we kick up’ll eat out your eyes, our mud’ll get all over you, but you–you’re not as grown up as we are, you can’t help admiring yourselves, you think it’s pleasant to give yourselves a hard time.  But to us that’s all a yawn.  Give us other people! I say.  We’ve got others to destroy!’

And so they did!  But don’t think it was only Russia which suffered at the hands of the nihilists.  Look around you, we live among the ruins.

Blood in the Square (Book Review)

John Bean is a veteran of the nationalist movements in the United Kingdom in the 1960s.  Alternative Right published a lengthy interview with him by Colin Liddell which I found fascinating, even though I had not heard of most of the men mentioned, including Bean himself; it was enough to get me to buy the book and read it.

Blood in the Square: Life, Love and Political Conflict in Sixties Britain is Bean’s fictionalized account of those days.  The book is a quick read, and Bean’s talent is in distilling all the reasons for rightist failure into a simple, readable, fairly entertaining account.  From the preface:

Blood in the Square takes the reader inside the nationalist movements of the mid-sixties vying for support on the anti-immigration bandwagon.  Importantly, it tells you what these people were like, what they thought and how they lived.  Much of this is based on the author’s experiences.

The plot revolves around one Victor Blackwood, an activist in the Nationalist Action Movement (NAM) who travels about meeting with other activists and making speeches while his marriage crumbles.  Other prominent characters are Alan Laudersby, a young chemist drawn to the NAM but wary of anti-Semitism and violence; Charles Barnet, and old veteran activist happy to mix it up; David Pearman, a leftist journalist (but I repeat myself); Len Norris, one of  Blackwood’s guards; and Harris, a NAM follower but also a low-life.  Speeches and meetings are menaced by mobs of “Trots”.

The salient characteristics of the story are:

  • The difficulty of mobilizing a movement in the face of a culture dominated by leftism and all its works;
  • Social and employment pressures working against anyone joining the nationalist right;
  • Fractures in the right, with associated infighting;
  • A movement whose audience is described thusly:  “They ranged from the near criminally insane, via social misfits to ordinary people worried about the change that mass immigration was giving.”
  • The pervasiveness of violence, mostly initiated by the left, but almost always blamed on the right.

There is no happy ending; the efforts failed, just look at the United Kingdom today.  One wonders if Bean simply took today’s environment and anachronistically imposed it on his time in the ’60s, so much of it rings eerily familiar.  That was 50 years ago, the collapse still moves to the same beat.

Wherever you may fall in the disaffected right, you can see we face the same challenges today.  Blood in the Square describes failed efforts to build a following.  The problem with trying to build a following is that, while most people are followers, they have already been led somewhere by our hostile elites.  The chances of getting their attention and leading them somewhere else are low indeed.  I commend efforts to cultivate an alternative elite, because that is what will be needed as our nation unravels.

Casino Royale (Book Review)

Indulge me in a little pulp fiction. I have never read an Ian Fleming book, and I have only seen one James Bond movie. It was a Roger Moore version–I can’t remember which one–and I was not impressed; I want my spy stories to be serious. I loved Mission Impossible and hated Get Smart when I was young. So when Richard Spencer did yet another Radix podcast on James Bond, they mentioned that the books were very different from the movies, so I had to read one.

Figuring I would get necessary background in the first installment, I picked Casino Royale.  It’s a good, short book. Notice how so many books today are long and serialized?  Movies are similar.  It’s a relief to be able to zip through a complete story.  The plot was tight–nothing fantastical–and the writing good enough.  Bond was not the Movie Bond. there was nothing frivolous. Bond has a real human side.  The story lingers in my mind days after reading it.  I’ll probably read another eventually.

It made me think of the Cold War; Casino Royale was published in 1953, the end of the beginning of the Cold War. A few notes about the time:

  • The Berlin Airlift, 1948, touched off the Cold War;
  • Alger Hiss trial, 1948;
  • China goes Communist, 1949;
  • Senator McCarthy’s Wheeling speech on the infiltration of Communism in the State Department, 1950;
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg give away the nuclear secret, 1950;
  • The Korean War, 1950-53;
  • Whittaker Chamber’s Witness, 1952;
  • Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, 1953;
  • National Review founded, 1955

The Cold War must have been a huge shock after the struggle of World War II, and now a dark sinister cloud descended over the country, with the government honeycombed with a large Fifth Column. Right wing resistance was rising from a liberal-dominated society.

More on the home front:

  • Boring baseball, and the New York Yankees dominate, win five straight World Series, 1949-53
  • Levittown, NY:  the birth of suburbia, 1947-51
  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1955

I won’t try to comment on the significance of Ian Fleming’s Bond.  It’s good pulp.

The Collapse of Complex Societies (Book Review)

“The world is changed, I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air; much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”  So begins Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

Collapse is in the air, I can feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air.  It’s not a recent notion.  There has been a proliferation of works over the last century, and today we see a proliferation of post-apocalyptic writings and films.  Three great works of collapse appeared during and soon after World War I and its aftermath, the Great Depression:

  • Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, 1918
  • Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, four volumes, 1937-1941
  • Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 volumes (!), spanning 1934-61.

There are a number of takes on the matter, among which are James Burnham’s Suicide of the West, Julius Evola’s Men Among the Ruins,  René Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World, Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World.  Lord Kenneth Clark’s BBC television series Civilisation explores the history of the West through art and ends with a grim outlook.  I also will at another time look at John Carroll’s The Wreck of Western Culture, another art-based look at the West.  All say essentially the same thing:  collapse is in the air.

By collapse I, and all these authors, don’t mean where you look out the window and one day everything is in ruins, such as would be after an earthquake.  I believe World War I was the beginning of the end, a catastrophe which began a long decline, which we are now 100 years into.  It’s not a matter of “someday it’s going to collapse”, it’s “we are 100 years into collapse; how much more, what is next?”

This review deals with Joseph A. Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press; first published in 1988 but in its 24th printing as of 2013), an academic study which is a little bit different.  Tainter, an anthropologist and historian, defines collapse as “a sudden, pronounced loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.”  He reviews a number of civilizations which have collapsed and disappeared, and summarizes the reasons for collapse offered by so many:

  • Resource depletion
  • New resources
  • Catastrophes
  • Insufficient response to circumstances
  • Other complex societies
  • Intruders
  • Conflict/contradictions/mismanagement
  • Social dysfunction
  • Mystical factors
  • Chance concatenation of events
  • Economic explanations

His survey is useful in that most of us have embraced one as our favorite.  Tainter points out that each challenge has been successfully met by many societies, so each one by itself is not a “civilization killer.”

The difference in Tainter’s approach is that he offers a theory that accounts for any and all such challenges to a complex society.  He begins with the idea that, as a society faces a challenge (from the above list or something new), it meets that challenge or fails.  When it meets the challenge, the solution adds complexity to the society.  Complexity doesn’t just happen, it is a problem-solving strategy.  That complexity, however, yields benefits beyond the cost of that complexity.  There is a marginal return.

A complex society will start collapsing when, faced with challenges, the implemented solutions stop yielding benefits  beyond the cost of the solution; in sum, when a society’s solutions hit the point of diminishing returns.  It’s a basic economic concept applied to a society, not in terms of money, but in general terms of inputs and outputs.

A good example is the cost-benefit of a university education.  Once it was a great benefit to educate some people at the university level; can anyone truly say it’s a benefit today to send everyone to university so they can work at Starbuck’s?  It’s a staggering increase in cost for less and less return.  Thus we find ourselves in a situation where we are well past the point of diminishing returns.

A society does not have infinite resources to pour into infinite solutions; at some point the only solution is to unwind to a less complex state where the return is about the same, or just fall apart to due extreme pressure.  But a complex society usually won’t do that voluntarily, it is usually imposed by external circumstances.  Things will be unwound or brought to ruin, one way or another.

Tainter explores his theory in three case studies:  the Western Roman Empire, the Mayans, and the Chacoans.   The Dark Ages that followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire show a long, slow process of unwinding and ruin.

Tainter summarizes by saying:

“A complex society that has collapsed is suddenly smaller, simpler, less stratified, and less socially differentiated.  Specialization decreases and there is less centralized control.  The flow of information drops, people trade and interact less, and there is overall lower coordination among individuals and groups.  Economic activity drops to a commensurate level, while the arts and literature experience such a quantitative decline that a dark age often ensues.  Population levels tend to drop, and for those who are left the known world shrinks.”

and closes with,

“However much we like to think of ourselves as something special in world history, in fact industrial societies are subject to the same principles that caused earlier societies to collapse.  If civilization collapses again, it will be from failure to take advantage of the current reprieve [the power vacuum caused by the collapse of the USSR], a reprieve paradoxically both detrimental and essential to our anticipated future.”

I see us as locked into slow collapse.  We are beset by problems without clear solutions, and where there are clear solutions, there is no political will and ability to make them happen.  We are in a situation where natural constraints will force the unwinding or ruin.  It’s an opportunity, to be sure; there is much that is decadent and destructive that will be jettisoned.  Much about our current ways will be discredited as failure.  That is not all bad.  Much good will be lost.  Much good was preserved in the Dark Ages.

The thing I really liked about the book is that now I can see the evolution of complexity in all areas of life, and I wonder about the good it’s going to do.  Is it worth it?  Are we going to get anything out of this?  Are we going to maintain the complexity for its own sake (see:  bureaucracy)?  Is there a way to unwind and get equal output?  Remember:  complexity is a problem-solving strategy.  Apply complexity wisely.

While it’s an academic book, it’s not that long (200 pages), it’s readable, and the subject is fascinating.

 

The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

European

I am European, Christian, and Hard Right.  I believe in our people’s glorious past and in our future.

I’m not interested in intra-right squabbles.

I believe we are 100 years into collapse, and we are living in the ruins of the West, but there is much good to be recovered, our patrimony is so rich.  So even as things collapse, we still have the material of a rich life.

I have a James Burnham / Samuel Francis view of ruling elites.  Our ruling elite has created a regime of Anarcho-Tyranny.  Our ruling elite is trying to crush the European middle class in America; regrettably, it is too bourgeois to see what is happening.

I’ll name the Jew.  The Jews have been Christian Europe’s historic enemy, and the Jews suppress and destroy Europeans and their morality. Once you notice you can’t un-notice.

A nation that worships Mammon is easily Jewed.  See England post-Cromwell.  See America.

Christianity in the West has become Churchianity.  The Jewish-Christian fight in the New Testament is hidden from them in plain sight, right there in the New Testament.  They can’t see that, they can’t see many other things as well.

I hate the multicult and its pathologies.  I am racist for noticing the chronic misbehavior of blacks, but picking on them is like picking on the retarded kid in class.  I blame the ruling elite.

The Jews get a nation.  I want one, too.

As the anarchy from below and the tyranny from above increase, I see one thing ahead:  Blood will flow.

All is not lost.  Of all the plans I’ve seen so far, and I have see a lot, the one with the best odds is:  a miracle from God.  He’s a real wild card.