Dostoevsky and Nietzsche

Lecture 3, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, of UGS 303, Ideas of the Twentieth Century, at the University of Texas at Austin, Fall 2013
00:01
today we’re going to be talking about
00:04
relativism and in two particular
00:07
incarnations one person who is a
00:10
proponent of relativism the other an
00:12
ardent folk relativism these are two of
00:14
the most important thinkers of the
00:16
latter part of the 19th century stay in
00:18
some way set up the problematic of the
00:20
20th century their ideas have a huge
00:23
impact on thinkers throughout the 20th
00:25
century and so looking at the contrast
00:27
between them I think can help us to
00:28
understand the kinds of issues that
00:30
people are wrestling with as the 20th
00:32
century dawned before we get to those
00:34
thinkers themselves let’s think about
00:36
relativism all by itself I’ve been
00:38
talking about these two level theories
00:39
where there’s a manifest image of the
00:42
world more or less as we find it and of
00:44
ourselves as we find ourselves it’s one
00:46
that’s characterized by a conception of
00:48
ourselves as rational beings governed by
00:50
some kind of moral law taking
00:52
responsibility for actions because we
00:54
see ourselves as causally responsible
00:56
for those actions we see ourselves as
00:58
doing things we are so we see ourselves
01:00
as acting freely we think of ourselves
01:03
as using practical reason figuring out
01:05
what means to take in order to attain
01:07
our goals however according to the
01:09
scientific image we’re really just
01:11
beings governed by causal laws that
01:13
seems to be a completely value-free
01:15
image it doesn’t make any sense to ask
01:17
whether it’s basic laws or conditions
01:19
are right or wrong and it looks as if
01:20
things are either purely determined or
01:22
at best determined to some degree and
01:25
then affected with some degree of
01:26
randomness well it’s easy for theories
01:30
like that to lead to relevance where one
01:32
looks at the manifest image the values
01:34
that are expressed there the conceptions
01:35
of rationality and you say look really
01:38
that might be right only given a certain
01:41
way in which things are working at the
01:43
base level and so in content one to
01:45
think that truth itself is relative to
01:48
something or other now there are a lot
01:50
of different forms of relativism you
01:51
might think that what is true is
01:53
relative to an individual person that
01:55
certain things could be true for you but
01:57
not true for me you might think things
01:59
are relative to a society so what is
02:01
true depends on a certain particular
02:03
society and its concepts you might think
02:06
it’s dependent on a culture or what some
02:09
authors have referred to as
02:10
interpretive community a community may
02:12
be much smaller than a given society may
02:15
be much larger than it that adopts a
02:17
certain conceptual framework and so you
02:19
can think of things as relative to a set
02:21
of concepts that we use for
02:22
understanding the world finally you
02:24
might think of things as relative to a
02:26
certain historical period a certain
02:29
certain historical epic or era and that
02:31
particular version as we’ll see you is
02:33
called historicism but in any case the
02:35
idea here is that things aren’t really
02:37
universally and absolutely true they’re
02:40
only true relative to something or other
02:42
now certain things people often think
02:45
are relative to individual people and
02:48
it’s relatively uncontroversial that
02:50
they are for example if I say mushrooms
02:52
are yummy I think that’s true but you
02:56
might disagree right you might hate
02:57
mushrooms and so in fact when I was in
03:01
elementary school I used to trade kids
03:03
for mushrooms and for peas they would
03:05
often serve peas and was like I love
03:07
peas peas are awesome and so I have
03:10
trade people deserts and rolls and other
03:12
things like that to get pee so I do peas
03:13
and then people say why don’t we use pee
03:15
so I just get lots of free peas so I
03:17
just have a big mound of peas I thought
03:19
that was fantastic
03:20
okay now I spill my guts about testing I
03:23
love you but in any event up you know so
03:27
peas are yummy mushrooms are yummy those
03:29
things are true for be on the other end
03:30
they might not be true for you or it
03:32
might be that you love other kinds of
03:34
things that I despise like what um those
03:37
rubbery horrible things that calamari
03:42
what yeah I don’t see a long eating like
03:44
calamari to meet calamari are disgusting
03:47
you might as well just eat rubber bands
03:49
and so in any event things like that we
03:52
certainly yeah all right this is yummy
03:54
that’s not me that’s relative to an
03:56
individual person we ordinarily think
03:58
but there are lots of things we don’t
04:00
think are relative to a given person or
04:02
to a given society what are some things
04:04
that are candidates for real absolute
04:05
truth not dependent on you or me not
04:08
dependent on a historical era not
04:11
dependent on a particular set of
04:13
concepts or a certain culture or its
04:15
framework one of the things that might
04:17
be absolute truth yeah good the law of
04:21
gravitation you might think that’s
04:22
something that’s really true at all
04:23
times that
04:24
places it’s not like what gravity is
04:26
true for you but it’s not true for me I
04:27
just find myself rising into the air I
04:29
put glue on my shoes right it’s not like
04:32
that no it applies across the board or
04:34
at least we ordinarily think so yeah
04:36
mathematics good two plus two is four
04:39
that’s something it seems to be true no
04:41
matter who you are it’s not like well
04:42
two plus two is four in Austin but the
04:44
closer you get to Waco the more it
04:46
starts shading on no it’s not like that
04:49
right it’s true all over the place other
04:51
cabinets yeah good the laws of physics
04:55
in general it’s not just gravitation
04:57
force is mass times acceleration for
04:59
example that seems to be true across the
05:01
board right we don’t say well you know
05:03
forces now mass times acceleration but
05:05
if you go back to the 19th century it
05:06
was something else
05:07
no we tend to think that’s something
05:09
that applies at all times and places in
05:11
all cultures in all historical epochs
05:13
are there other things yeah you saw oh
05:16
you sucks we’ve talked about that one
05:18
that might be although already kept
05:23
thing a counterexample oh yeah okay I
05:30
think therefore I am that’s when we
05:31
talked about earlier too and that’s
05:33
something you might take to be universal
05:35
as we mentioned it’s really not
05:36
necessarily true at all times in all
05:38
places but every time I can say it right
05:41
every time it’s thought or uttered it’s
05:42
true
05:43
so the relativist has a tough row to hoe
05:45
the relatives has to say look I’m not
05:47
just talking about things like peas or
05:49
yummy I’m talking about all of that
05:51
everything truth itself is relative and
05:54
that’s something that at least doesn’t
05:56
seem to be true in our common sense
05:58
appreciation of the world so what kinds
06:00
of arguments to relativists give what
06:02
can they say ultimately this position
06:04
goes back to the thought of Derek Hale
06:07
who wrote at the beginning of the 19th
06:09
century he’s very influential and we
06:11
would read him if his writing was
06:13
intelligible but it’s very very
06:16
difficult in any case he lays out a
06:19
series of arguments that increasingly
06:21
tempered evil toward relativism
06:23
throughout the later part of the 19th
06:24
century and then the 20th century now
06:26
what are some of these arguments the
06:29
first is that he rejects what he refers
06:31
to and later authors like Sellars
06:33
referred to as the myth of the Gibbon he
06:35
calls it in medias
06:36
he says there is no such thing as
06:38
immediacy there is no such thing that is
06:40
simply given to us an experience now
06:43
what does he mean by that
06:44
well cut earlier had drawn a sharp line
06:47
between sensibility and understanding
06:49
between what we perceive and then the
06:51
concepts we use to analyze what we
06:53
perceive you might say what am i
06:54
proceeding right now well a classroom
06:57
full of people and so you could
06:58
characterize that maybe in terms of
07:01
things that have concepts in them like a
07:03
classroom full of people right I’m using
07:05
concepts classroom people but I might
07:07
think look I could characterize this in
07:10
a way that has nothing to do with that I
07:11
might just for example take a photograph
07:13
and then I could say here’s what I’m
07:15
looking at here’s what I’m perceiving
07:16
and that would be something that seems
07:18
to be free of concepts however Hegel
07:21
says there isn’t such a sharp line to be
07:24
drawn when I perceive all of you I don’t
07:26
just see this swirling mass I don’t just
07:28
see a bunch of pixels or something like
07:30
that it’s not just a bunch of rods and
07:32
cones on the retina being activated my
07:34
mind immediately sorts things into
07:36
objects I see people I see desks and
07:39
tables I see a camera I see a variety of
07:41
things in front of me and I immediately
07:43
categorize those in terms of concepts I
07:45
have so this claim is there really isn’t
07:48
a sharp line between sensation and
07:50
cognition in sensing the world in
07:53
perceiving the world
07:54
I am already categorizing it he says
07:56
I’ve already classifying things using
07:58
concepts so there’s a sense in which
07:59
people who have totally different sense
08:01
of concepts actually perceive things
08:04
differently they see things differently
08:06
because one is seen let’s say just
08:08
shapes another is seeing people and
08:10
that’s a fundamental difference so he
08:12
argues that our perception of the world
08:14
is concept Laden even the most basic
08:16
levels there is no level he thinks we’re
08:19
we’re just perceiving things before we
08:20
get to conceptually analyzing it or
08:22
before we think wait what am I seeing
08:24
now there’s an obvious argument on the
08:27
other side wait sometimes I do right
08:29
sometimes I perceive something and I
08:30
don’t know what to think about it so I
08:32
looked at a scene I say what is that or
08:34
I look at a Jackson Pollock painting and
08:36
I say what is that my father for years
08:40
had what a lot of people thought was a
08:42
print of a Jackson Pollock painting
08:43
behind his desk in his office at work in
08:47
fact the painter in the bill
08:49
had just had this table and he had
08:51
spilled paint on it over the years and
08:53
finally decided to get a new table
08:55
my father said kind of that tabletop
08:56
hung on the wall people thought it was a
08:58
Jackson Pollock never Oh
09:01
and so you might say yeah you know what
09:03
is that well it might just be drips of
09:04
paint maybe it’s something else in any
09:06
case you might think I can look at it
09:08
and analyze it pet it in terms of well
09:10
yeah I don’t want to see analyze it even
09:13
I can just tell you what I is I’m seeing
09:14
before I have any idea of how to
09:18
categorize what I’m seeing but Hegel
09:20
says no even the most basic levels my
09:22
concepts are already involved so he says
09:25
the concepts we have shaped the way we
09:27
perceive the world but of course what we
09:30
perceived is the world so it follows
09:32
that our concepts shape what the world
09:35
is there is no way to really separate
09:37
the world as it is from the world as it
09:40
seems to us there’s no sharp separation
09:42
between two terms the comp use
09:44
appearances and things in themselves
09:46
yeah to go from the way we perceive the
09:51
world to that is the way the world is
09:54
because you may not receive there as
09:56
being any gravity but there still is
09:58
gravity I feel that he makes a couple
10:00
jumps oh that don’t have any sort of
10:02
logic to just what he wants me to be
10:05
okay good yes how good is this as an
10:08
argument actually Hegel is advancing it
10:10
kind of as an argument
10:12
um I say kind of as an argument because
10:14
sometimes I think he’s giving you
10:16
arguments sometimes I think he’s really
10:17
trying to get you to undergo a Gestalt
10:20
shift he’s trying to say you’ve been
10:21
seeing the world this way I want you to
10:23
see it this world way think about it
10:24
this way instead and the arguments don’t
10:27
actually leave much of anywhere if we go
10:29
carefully here we can say well all right
10:31
there’s the first sort of argument that
10:33
really we can’t perceive things in a
10:35
family of concepts the concepts do shape
10:37
what we proceed and we can ask whether
10:39
that’s true or false right is that true
10:41
or is it false that’s a complicated sort
10:44
of question um you might think it’s sort
10:48
of obviously false because we can after
10:50
all take photographs and say there
10:51
that’s what I’m seeing um on the other
10:54
hand you might think well if you analyze
10:56
what the brain is doing maybe there
10:58
really isn’t a very
10:59
it may be the moment information is
11:02
transferred from the retina for example
11:04
my conceptual apparatus and parts of the
11:06
brain that involved that are already
11:08
operating on and so from that point of
11:10
view it seems like a complicated neuro
11:12
physiological problem whether these are
11:14
different components in the brain or
11:15
whether they get all mixed up and it’s
11:18
not obvious which way it goes one would
11:19
really have to know a lot about the
11:21
brain and how it works to be able to
11:23
tell that there is some evidence that
11:25
actually these things are at certain
11:27
levels intertwined a good example is a
11:29
kind of case where people show words
11:35
that denote colors like the word orange
11:38
but it’s in blue and they ask you to
11:41
read it aloud okay and they keep doing
11:44
this there’s the word read re D but it’s
11:46
in green and so on and it freaks people
11:48
out they find it hard to do that’s some
11:51
evidence that perception and cognition
11:52
are kind of mixed up together at some
11:54
level but in the end you’re right as an
11:56
argument that’s not much of an argument
11:58
would really have to get into the
12:00
neurophysiology I understand how this
12:01
works but now let’s look at this step
12:03
suppose it’s true that the concepts we
12:05
have shaped the way we perceive the
12:07
world does it follow that there’s no
12:10
difference between the world as it is in
12:12
the world as we perceive it well it
12:15
doesn’t seem to pong right that is to
12:18
say I might say and in fact here’s the
12:21
skeptical argument that I think
12:22
underlies this position the skeptical
12:24
argument is this I can’t really tell to
12:27
what extent the way I’m perceiving the
12:28
world reflects the way the world really
12:29
is and to what extent it reflects the
12:32
contributions of my own cognitive
12:34
apparatus how much is what I’m seeing
12:37
really a matter of the way the world is
12:39
and how much of it is really being
12:41
contributed by my mind by my brain in
12:44
reconstructing data and then projecting
12:46
something that may or may not actually
12:48
reflect the way reality is well the
12:51
skeptics worried I can’t tell I can’t
12:53
tell what is really my own contribution
12:55
and what is really there in the world
12:57
and so they said the best thing to do is
12:59
to spend judgment who knows what the
13:01
world is really like Hegel is trying to
13:03
respond to that but he’s saying hey the
13:05
world is as I perceive it
13:06
he’s what is known as an idealist he
13:09
thinks everything in the world is mine
13:11
dependent the whole world it’s just a
13:12
projection of the mind so that’s the
13:14
underlying view that we’re going to be
13:16
getting to and that in a nutshell is his
13:18
argument for it he thinks that’s the
13:19
only way to avoid that skeptical
13:21
argument now most philosophers have
13:23
thought that can’t be righted but a
13:26
consistent theme in the course as we go
13:28
along will be precisely that question
13:30
the question of realism versus idealism
13:33
the realist says the world really is a
13:36
certain way we’ll talk about this much
13:37
more next week but the realist says the
13:40
world is a way a certain way
13:41
independently of how the mind goes
13:43
things are as they are independently of
13:45
what we think about and so there are at
13:48
least some mind independent facts the
13:50
idealist says no actually everything
13:53
depends on the mind and so there’s no
13:54
such thing as a mind-independent world a
13:56
mind independent fact Hegel is an
13:59
idealist so he’s trying to say actually
14:01
the only way I can beat the skeptic it
14:03
is to think appearances and things in
14:05
themselves are just the same forget
14:07
about the worlds it might be
14:08
independently of our ways of perceiving
14:09
it because actually there’s no such
14:11
thing the world is just what we can
14:13
struck through our minds now most people
14:16
think look there’s something deeply
14:18
wrong with that and so we’re going to be
14:20
considering the battle between the
14:21
realists an idealist throughout the 20th
14:23
century but it does become a major focus
14:26
and not just in philosophy but also in
14:28
literature in the arts to what extent is
14:31
the job of the artist for example to
14:32
reflect the way the world is and to what
14:34
extent is it just to project some idea
14:36
out of the world and it can become
14:37
reality just by being thought up by
14:39
being projected we’ll see all sorts of
14:41
people taking different attitudes about
14:43
that fight but I think your various oops
14:45
I’ve gone on too long the iPad says
14:48
bored now um but no I think it’s a very
14:51
insightful point to say look there is a
14:52
kind of argument here for this but
14:54
there’s also a huge jump and it’s not at
14:57
all to your how we’re supposed to get
14:58
from babby but if it’s true to that
15:00
so we’ll be fighting throughout the term
15:03
I mean not you and I but the various
15:05
thinkers we read about will be fighting
15:07
about whether that kind of job makes
15:08
sense or whether it doesn’t
15:11
now Hegel has a supplementary argument
15:14
which is this idea about the social
15:17
character of thought he thinks human
15:19
thought is
15:19
essentially social why go because I
15:22
learn my concepts from the people around
15:26
me I learned it by learning my language
15:28
and I get that set of concepts in other
15:30
words by learning a certain language
15:32
that is taught to me by other people so
15:34
how did I learn English well I just grew
15:37
up in a household that spoke English
15:39
really some rough approximations there
15:41
too I grew up in Pittsburgh so it was
15:44
only a rough approximation we said all
15:45
sorts of weird things but anyway that’s
15:48
something that is crucial we’ve learned
15:50
our concepts from other people that’s
15:52
not to say we can’t then start doing
15:54
things ourselves to some extent but we
15:56
do it with the raw material thought
15:57
that’s given to us in a certain social
15:59
context he says so in learning our
16:02
language we learn basic categories of
16:04
thought and we learn them from other
16:06
people at a particular time in the
16:08
context of a particular society so what
16:11
call it an earlier philosophers
16:13
generally from as stemming from our very
16:15
nature as knowers and in that respect as
16:17
being universal as applying across the
16:19
board to all of us as beings who were
16:21
rational beings capable of knowledge
16:22
heygo sees as reflecting a specific
16:25
social background and again we’ve got a
16:27
contrast here between people who say
16:29
look there are certain things that are
16:30
just true about human nature no matter
16:32
what true about human perception true
16:35
about human cognition no matter what and
16:38
others say well it depends maybe people
16:40
in ancient China really perceive things
16:41
differently maybe they really thought
16:43
about things differently maybe they
16:45
reason differently and so on and so one
16:47
group is going to say look all of these
16:49
things stem from human nature that’s
16:51
pretty much constant over time at least
16:53
within local time maybe in geologic
16:55
evolutionary time it’s different
16:57
but others are going to say no no it can
17:00
change from place to place from decade
17:02
to decade and so what one group is going
17:05
to see is Universal another group will
17:07
see is variable and relative well one
17:11
last point then he calls his own view
17:12
historicism
17:13
he says philosophy is its own time
17:15
raised to the level of thought what any
17:17
thinker is doing is really just giving
17:19
you a picture of how things look at that
17:21
particular time from the point of view
17:23
of that particular society or culture
17:25
so he says philosophy combines the
17:27
fiight in the infant the relative and
17:29
the absolute he does think actually at
17:32
some level you can
17:33
absolute truth but it’s not at the level
17:35
of describing what the world is like
17:37
it’s describing the way these historical
17:39
progressions of thought go and so he
17:41
thinks he could actually give you laws
17:43
that are universal and absolute but one
17:46
level up they sort of meta laws but
17:48
we’ll get to that more in a moment well
17:52
the ancient relativist was protagonist
17:56
he was the person who introduced this
17:58
into Western philosophy and he said very
18:00
famously man is the measure of all
18:01
things of things we talk about they are
18:03
the things which are not that they are
18:05
not he meant by the way each individual
18:08
person not mankind although many
18:10
relatives have taken it that way but he
18:12
really meant no each individual person
18:14
is the measure of what is and what is
18:17
not so is it warm or cool in this room
18:22
depends right some of you might say
18:24
actually I’m kind of warm others might
18:25
say I know I think it’s cool well he
18:27
says yeah you’re the measure of that so
18:29
it might be warm for you and cool for
18:31
that person and that’s just the way it
18:33
is there’s no such thing as the way
18:34
things truly are so for tigris argue
18:37
well oh yes I repeat that I said we’re
18:41
going to concentrate on the thought of
18:42
two figures of the later 19th century
18:45
the first of them is Fyodor Dostoevsky
18:47
pictured there he is one of the greatest
18:50
Russian novelists indeed one of the
18:51
greatest novelists in any place in time
18:55
Friedrich Nietzsche who will be our
18:57
second thinker rated reading Gustav C
18:59
among the most beautiful strikes of
19:01
fortune in his life and so does this he
19:03
actually had a significant impact on
19:05
Nietzsche and we’ll see some specific
19:07
ways in which that’s true they do
19:09
however come to completely opposite
19:11
conclusions Dostoyevsky’s works were
19:15
banned in Russia after the communist
19:17
revolution they are great works are in
19:21
some ways the pride of Russian
19:22
literature in Russian culture but in
19:24
another way they were taken to be highly
19:26
subversive to Lenin and Stalin x’
19:28
paradigm why well does TF ski is a
19:31
concern what do I mean by a conservative
19:33
I mean somebody who believes in order
19:36
delivery what does that mean well they
19:38
believe in Liberty they believe in
19:40
freedom that is a fundamental pull it
19:41
in human value and so there should be
19:44
liberty for people to follow their own
19:46
conceptions of the good however that has
19:49
to take place within a framework of
19:51
order within a framework of the rule of
19:53
law for example in terms of formal
19:55
institutional structures but also in
19:58
terms of an informal structure of social
20:00
institutions and Ben Burke unknown in
20:03
conservative called these little
20:04
platoons so things like families
20:06
churches clubs other voluntary
20:09
organizations as well as more formal
20:11
institutions like universities companies
20:13
and so forth all create a kind of social
20:16
structure that is important to the
20:18
maintenance of social order so the idea
20:20
is roughly that liberty freedom is a
20:22
fundamental human value but not really a
20:25
sort of license in fact john locke
20:26
expresses this very nicely he says the
20:28
state of nature is a state liberty but
20:30
not a state of license and what he means
20:32
is liberty but I don’t just mean do
20:35
whatever you want I mean do whatever you
20:37
want within a certain structure that
20:39
keeps people from colliding with other
20:41
people and harming so that’s roughly
20:44
what will mean in this course anyway by
20:46
being a conservative and thus vfc
20:48
clearly is what he is not conservative
20:51
in another sense sometimes people use
20:53
that term just to mean don’t make any
20:54
changes where I keep things as they are
20:56
and that wasn’t his view at all in fact
20:58
he was a social reformer young when he
21:00
was young he was a socialist and a sort
21:02
of liberal utopian he was arrested by
21:04
the Tsar and sentenced to death he was
21:06
in front of a firing squad when suddenly
21:08
a note came from that is bizarre
21:10
commuting his sentence to four years
21:11
hard labor in Siberia that destroyed his
21:14
health and really for the rest of his
21:15
life he was sick most of the time as a
21:17
result of his experiences there suffered
21:20
greatly from malnutrition and other
21:22
kinds of problems he was chained the
21:23
entire four years when he wasn’t
21:25
actually physically working the only
21:27
thing he was permitted to read was the
21:28
New Testament which ended up having a
21:30
huge impact on his fall in any case he
21:33
did attack feudalism
21:34
he attacked Russian society at the time
21:36
he tried to break down barriers between
21:38
social classes and that sense was viewed
21:41
as an enemy of the Czar well what’s the
21:45
positive side he argues that
21:47
Christianity actually is essential to
21:49
ordered liberty and so what we get here
21:50
is an argue
21:51
in favor of religious values his version
21:55
is really Orthodox Christianity that is
21:57
to say the Russian Orthodox Church but I
21:59
think a lot of what he says applies just
22:01
a religion per se he thinks it is vital
22:03
that you have some basis for thinking
22:06
that people have dignity that people are
22:08
valued and in fact they are equally
22:10
valuable as children of God he thinks if
22:12
you don’t have that you’re in big
22:14
trouble
22:14
now as well see when we get to Nietzsche
22:16
he says no no you’re better off without
22:18
it
22:18
however the CFC is going to say that is
22:22
the foundation for you might say
22:25
enlightenment conceptions of humanity
22:28
and of human dignity and human liberty
22:30
and human equality all of that depends
22:32
on a certain kind of foundation and if
22:34
it’s not there then he sees that there
22:37
will be a major source of social trouble
22:39
in fact he saw Christianity at this time
22:41
as in decline and he thought that
22:43
presented a serious danger
22:44
precisely because without it there isn’t
22:47
any foundation for a belief in human
22:48
dignity or equality so we’re going to
22:52
look at one chapter of one of his
22:54
greatest novels The Brothers Karamazov
22:57
there’s a page of it if you want to read
22:59
it in the original ok this chapter is
23:06
known as the Grand Inquisitor chapter
23:08
and here’s the basic set Jesus comes
23:10
back to earth during the most intense
23:12
period of the Spanish Inquisition the
23:14
crowd recognizes and he starts
23:16
performing miracles he cures a blind man
23:18
he raises a girl from the dead
23:20
here’s a famous painting of Jesus
23:22
healing the blind man it’s the Spanish
23:26
Inquisition he’s going to meet the Grand
23:28
Inquisitor who burned a hundred people
23:29
at the stake that day is going to burn
23:31
100 more the next day um that’s pretty
23:33
depressing and in general this is fairly
23:35
depressing so I thought maybe you would
23:37
like to be cheered up about that here’s
23:39
a famous view of the Spanish Inquisition
23:49
okay
24:22
Spanish Inquisition a surprise oh yeah
24:56
okay well in any case Jesus comes back
25:01
okay so we have the second cup Jesus
25:03
comes and starts healing people and so
25:05
on to the Grand Inquisitor who is the
25:07
head of the church here in the head of
25:08
the Inquisition sees this and he arrests
25:12
him he takes him to prison and tells him
25:14
that he’s going to be burned at the
25:16
stake the next day and then the very
25:17
people clamored to see him today will
25:19
throw logs on the fire tomorrow so this
25:23
is a pretty bleak situation now why does
25:26
he do this
25:26
there’s by the way an artistic rendering
25:28
of and being questioned by the Grand
25:30
Inquisitor well the Grand Inquisitor
25:34
says look you’re nothing but trouble and
25:37
here’s why you gave the people freedom
25:39
freedom to believe or not to believe
25:41
have faith or reject it but that has
25:45
brought the people nothing but torment
25:46
that was nothing but trouble because it
25:49
put responsibility in people’s hands so
25:52
the Inquisitor says what the church has
25:55
done much better the church is taken
25:57
freedom away assigning to the Pope all
25:59
authority to determine the Word of God
26:00
and not even Jesus himself now has the
26:03
right to change everything so he said
26:05
look the church is taken away freedom
26:07
but for the sake of happiness
26:08
people are happier we tell them what to
26:10
do they do it they’re like happy sheep
26:12
and so the contrast throughout this is
26:14
really freedom versus happiness to what
26:16
extent should you interfere with
26:18
people’s freedom for the sake of
26:19
happiness and the structure of this
26:21
really has to do it mirrors the
26:23
structure of the three temptations in
26:26
the best pictured here or here and so
26:29
there are three parts of the story as it
26:31
evolves Jesus is there in the wilderness
26:33
and Satan comes up to him and offers him
26:37
three temptations the first temptation
26:39
is if you’re the Son of God tell these
26:40
stones to become bread well in dusty s
26:43
keys rendering this Ivan is the
26:45
character who’s telling the story and
26:47
Ivan thinks that this is an offer to
26:48
look here’s a way of making people have
26:50
feed people okay you have the power to
26:52
actually turn stones into bread and give
26:54
the people all the food they want and
26:56
all the food baby jesus answered it is
26:59
written man shall not live on bread
27:01
alone but on every word that comes from
27:02
the mouth of God
27:04
now the inquisitor says look hey you
27:08
gave people too much credit in the end
27:10
people are going to lay their freedom in
27:12
our feet and say to us make us your
27:14
slaves but feed us now in Ivan’s view
27:17
he’s the one telling the story that’s
27:18
what people want they want to be fed
27:20
they want to be taken care of they are
27:22
what freedom they don’t want choices
27:24
they don’t want responsibility they just
27:26
want to be like children a child comes
27:29
into the room it says I’m hungry give me
27:31
food if you say well you want food go
27:34
get a job we don’t say that to children
27:36
right but we might say that to adults
27:39
and so his thought is what most people
27:41
want to be my children they just want to
27:43
be fed they just want to be taken care
27:44
of them Cara
27:45
they don’t want freedom they don’t want
27:46
responsibility here’s an ancient
27:50
Egyptian text that actually makes this
27:51
point rather nicely called the
27:53
instruction of any a father is giving
27:55
his son advice about how to live goes on
27:57
and on giving his son all this advice
27:58
the son says well all your sayings are
28:00
excellent but doing them requires
28:01
virtues like your makeup I’d have to be
28:04
a good person I’d have to actually work
28:05
at this this would be a pain in the butt
28:07
and the father goes on and says look son
28:10
here’s what you’re supposed to do do
28:12
this do that and someone gives all the
28:13
sensible advice and finally the son says
28:16
look you my father you were wise and
28:17
strong of hand the infinite is what
28:20
his wishes for what nurses him looks at
28:23
you when he finds his speech he says
28:25
give me bread and Ivan is basically
28:28
saying that’s what people are like
28:29
they’re like the son in the story and by
28:31
the way it just ends there you can
28:33
imagine the father thing oh but that’s
28:36
how it is give me bread so I’m it as in
28:39
effect saying look people are like the
28:40
son in this story they’re not like the
28:42
father they want to be taken care of
28:44
there’s a saint give me bread oh there
28:48
is an Egyptian thing or people
28:51
harvesting wheat why is that there
28:54
because actually it’s not a trivial
28:56
point what’s the first thing people do
28:58
when they become friends what’s the
29:00
first thing when a romantic relationship
29:01
starts what do people do they feed the
29:05
other person right you go out to dinner
29:06
or something like that no that’s not
29:09
what so what you said I’m going to
29:10
really good um and so you know feeding
29:14
someone is an important way of taking
29:15
care of them of establishing a certain
29:17
kind of relationship well in any case I
29:20
even think people are like the Sun they
29:21
just want to be taken care of they want
29:23
to be sheep they want to be children
29:25
they don’t want to grow up and as you
29:27
can see I found many wonderful paintings
29:29
of sheep well here’s the second
29:33
temptation pick yourself Satan takes
29:36
Jesus up to the roof of the temple and
29:37
says throw yourself off the angels will
29:39
save you if you’re the son of God throw
29:43
yourself down from the top of the temple
29:45
it’s written the Angels will save you
29:46
Jesus says it’s also written don’t put
29:47
the Lord your God to the test well
29:50
here’s how the Grand Inquisitor takes
29:52
that he says look you did expect too
29:54
much it’s not just that people want to
29:55
be fed they want to be led you had a
29:58
chance to become a great religious
29:59
leader instead of being crucified you
30:01
could actually shown people that perform
30:03
these miracles right in front of the
30:05
Pharisees for example you could have
30:07
done this in such a way you’d been
30:08
acclaimed universally as a great leader
30:10
but you wanted love given freely you
30:13
didn’t want adoration from slaves who
30:15
were just impressed by miracles you
30:17
wanted people to make a free choice
30:18
you wanted too much it was too much to
30:20
ask and so he says look people are
30:23
really slaves they want to be told what
30:25
to do they don’t – please you’ll be
30:27
kinder to them if you have less respect
30:29
for them the third temptation Satan
30:33
offers all
30:34
kingdoms of the world in their splendor
30:35
in other words you could be a great
30:37
political leader you can establish
30:39
utopia on earth and Jesus says away from
30:41
me Satan
30:42
now the Inquisitor says that’s a good
30:45
painting away vermin
30:48
well by the way I want to decided I
30:51
would grow a beard and I did I looked
30:54
like Satan I imagined that I would look
30:57
like a fluffy teddy bear and I did my
30:59
awful it was very very me Oh afraid
31:02
myself and changed it off
31:04
well anyway – yeah the quiz that are
31:08
saying look you could have done this you
31:09
could have established a utopia on earth
31:11
why didn’t you do it because that’s what
31:13
the church is for me to do now we’re
31:15
trying to make people happy we’ve taken
31:17
over your role the church tells people
31:19
what to do it makes them happy it
31:21
doesn’t respect and it treats them like
31:22
children but that’s what they want and
31:24
so everything works out very well the
31:26
church even lets its children sin it
31:29
tells them it’s okay we’ll all be
31:30
forgiven in the end and so people were
31:32
happy to give up the freedom to be fed
31:35
they oh they’re even allowed to sin what
31:37
more could you want they’re happy
31:38
children no well yeah that makes
31:42
everyone happy the Grand Inquisitor says
31:44
well almost everyone
31:45
there are those who actually have to
31:47
leave the Sheep there the Shepherd’s
31:49
they are the ones who have to act freely
31:51
they’re the ones who take responsibility
31:52
they are the ones who suffer so that the
31:55
rest don’t have to so they’re going to
31:57
be thousands of millions of happy babes
31:59
notice children again and 100,000
32:01
sufferers who have taken upon themselves
32:03
the curse what curse the curse of the
32:05
knowledge of good and evil so here we
32:08
see dust yes keep recognizing what I
32:09
called last time the vision will be
32:11
anointed this idea that there are a few
32:13
people who are actually capable of
32:15
exercising leadership of taking
32:17
responsibility of making decisions for
32:19
everyone else and that we’ll all be
32:20
better off if just a few people lead all
32:22
the rest well with all that is good and
32:25
evil you might recognize that that’s
32:27
what constitutes the fall of man no
32:31
vision of Illinois here’s the idea some
32:34
people are going to fall they’re going
32:35
to have this knowledge they’re going to
32:36
have the responsibility leave the rest
32:38
it’s gotta be tough for them but then
32:40
the others can remain in the garden only
32:41
a few people to leave the garden the
32:43
rest can be happy sheep back there in
32:45
the garden will follow the rules up
32:46
there do what belted with that old
32:48
though remain a flock of sheep and so he
32:50
says really that would be for the best
32:52
well as we mentioned last time there is
32:55
a kind of problem here I called the
32:57
paradox of the other the vision cuts the
33:00
anointed ones the leaders those who
33:01
actually fall from the knowledge they
33:03
need to take responsibility and make
33:05
people happy what’s going to guide their
33:07
decisions actually the Sheep it turns
33:09
out are going to be the only ones who
33:10
have the norms well the values are
33:12
capable of evaluating what’s good and
33:14
bad they’re the only ones with the norms
33:16
that could help to guide them so we’ve
33:18
got kind of paradox and the way
33:20
Dostoyevsky understands this is that
33:22
those who pride themselves on having the
33:24
knowledge of good and evil actually are
33:26
in the least position good to understand
33:28
what they really are they’re the least
33:30
equipped to make decisions they’re the
33:31
least equipped to guide others so the
33:33
people who think hey I could be a
33:35
shepherd I know what’s going on I
33:36
understand the world says they’re the
33:38
last ones you should trust they are in
33:40
fact in the worst position right yeah
33:42
good why because they’ve cut themselves
33:44
off from these values the idea is that
33:47
the values are part of the manifest
33:48
image they said forget the manifest
33:51
image that’s the realm of the sheep
33:52
that’s illusion look at the underlying
33:55
reality but in that underlying reality
33:57
there aren’t any valleys and so all of a
33:59
sudden how do you make choices you want
34:01
to lead the Sheep where do you lead them
34:03
well gosh actually that’s a matter
34:05
that’s only defined in terms of that
34:08
manifest image and the signs ever given
34:09
to there’s no you know go to the physics
34:12
class and say but where where should the
34:14
rocket go now in practical terms we can
34:17
say we’re for shooting this at bars so
34:18
it should go to Mars but that’s a matter
34:20
of this the manifest image our Bulls our
34:23
purposes if you look just at the science
34:25
you say to a physicist well where should
34:28
Rockets go I mean in general just tell
34:31
me about rockets like what should Roger
34:32
Tribby and where should go we can ask
34:35
where what human beings are right it
34:37
ought to be and what we shall we should
34:38
live our lives but if we just say where
34:40
should Rockets go that doesn’t make any
34:42
sense there’s no way of an answer
34:43
in terms of the scientific image so his
34:46
point is that really well as CS Lewis
34:49
puts it later the leaders those
34:51
self-styled leaders becomes men without
34:53
chess they cut themselves off from
34:55
everything that might have given them
34:56
some ability to tell good from evil so
34:59
the very people who want to lead are
35:01
those least equipped to lead now he
35:03
thinks it’s vital to hold yourself
35:05
accountable to something outside
35:06
yourself to find an anchor outside
35:07
yourself and again that means you either
35:10
have to take yourself as defining values
35:11
or think that something else defines
35:13
values there’s no other way so in the
35:16
entity are you yourself or it’s
35:17
something outside you whether it’s God
35:19
or something else there’s going to be
35:21
something outside you to which you’re
35:23
accountable the Socialists he says
35:26
thinks it could be mankind Ted thinks
35:28
you could set up heaven on earth but he
35:30
says that doesn’t ultimately work why
35:33
well he thinks really in the end either
35:37
it’s yourself or God you might think the
35:39
universe is about you or you might think
35:41
it’s about something else
35:42
higher than you why isn’t mankind that
35:46
sort of intermediate thing well he says
35:49
here’s the problem today if you think
35:51
most people are sheep what respect do
35:53
you have for man you could think this if
35:55
you really thought mankind had dignity
35:57
and was worthy of respect but if you cut
35:59
yourself off from God he thinks you have
36:01
no grounds for thinking that and so he
36:03
sees this as collapsing basically you
36:05
say I care about mankind but wait a
36:08
minute why should I care about bad guys
36:10
if mankind isn’t important because of
36:12
something else then he thinks in the end
36:14
that slips back into just valuing
36:17
yourself because you’re very vision is
36:19
one that disrespects mankind the things
36:22
of people is nothing generally so it’s
36:24
built on disrespect and therefore he
36:26
thinks it will in the end crumble so
36:28
that’s his argument for this sort of
36:29
conclusion so in the end he says all of
36:32
this collapses into narcissism in the
36:35
end your values can be rooted only in
36:37
yourself you’ll have nothing to guide
36:39
your decisions by your own impulses and
36:41
your own desires and so that’s the
36:45
position Network
36:47
now yeah well there’s lots of images of
36:50
that oh well one more thing I better not
36:53
skip over there is a place in the novel
36:55
earlier where Ivan is saying if God is
36:58
dead then everything is permitted he
37:01
does think God is dead so he concludes
37:03
that everything is permitted in other
37:05
words that there are no rules there’s no
37:06
such thing as morality there’s no such
37:08
thing as now that he can do anything he
37:10
likes that really exemplifies this
37:13
collapse into narcissism if there isn’t
37:15
any external anchor Dostoevsky thinks
37:17
then we just become the centres of our
37:19
own universes and there is no value
37:21
outside of ourselves our own impulses
37:23
our own desires so in the end he says
37:25
we’re in the sacrificing part of
37:28
humanity for the sake of the rest
37:29
so the Inquisition he thinks is actually
37:32
the natural result of that line of
37:34
thinking that says we’re doing it for
37:35
the sake of mankind for the sake of
37:37
happiness he says look that ends in the
37:39
Inquisition that ends in the gulag 100
37:43
years well not quite 50 years before the
37:45
gulag actually came into existence he
37:47
sees that’s where that line of thinking
37:48
goes so anyway I’ll skip the rest and
37:51
let’s talk about Nietzsche Nietzsche is
37:54
inspired by this and inspired by this
37:55
idea of the death of God but instead of
37:58
being deeply disturbed by it he’s
37:59
excited by he thinks this is both
38:01
dangerous but also thrilling and that we
38:03
are in a position like it or not of
38:05
having to reconstruct our own values
38:07
from the resources of ourselves
38:11
Nietzsche is explicitly a historian he
38:14
thinks that truth is relative to a
38:16
historical period and he goes much
38:18
beyond Hegel in thinking that even at
38:21
some higher level this is true there’s
38:23
no such thing as some higher level where
38:24
we can see the march of history and
38:26
understand it in anything like absolute
38:28
terms so here is a way of getting the
38:32
contrast Hegel as we’ve seen advocates a
38:34
historical relativism he thinks the
38:36
truth of the world relative to a time
38:38
and a place but who does claim to
38:40
uncover these absolute general and
38:42
dynamic meta-level laws he says look
38:45
thought does develop in certain ways the
38:47
way the Greeks for example precede the
38:49
world is different from the way that we
38:50
proceeded on the other hand I can tell
38:53
you a story about how thought progresses
38:55
and changes so he thinks that although
38:57
the truth of the world are relative to a
38:59
tie
38:59
place the truths of up thought he thinks
39:02
he can see from his Olympian height I
39:04
had described so we might describe it
39:07
this way there are all these theories we
39:08
have about the world they keep changing
39:10
and truth about the world is relative to
39:13
those on the other hand we can construct
39:15
theories about theories themselves ask
39:17
what is the nature of human knowledge
39:19
what is the nature of human history and
39:21
he thinks there we can actually come up
39:23
with some absolute theory some absolute
39:25
truths not about the world but about the
39:27
way we think about the world nietzsche
39:30
goes further oh yes there is this head
39:34
this idea of how is the logic progresses
39:36
we have a thesis then we realize it
39:39
doesn’t quite fit the facts we formulate
39:40
an antithesis and in the end it doesn’t
39:42
fit the facts either so if we synthesize
39:45
them into something new and then that
39:46
becomes a new thesis and it keeps
39:47
happening again and again on tables
39:50
picture of thought so that’s a very
39:52
quick picture of sort of what that
39:53
Universal progression looks like but
39:57
wait a minute what if thought doesn’t
39:59
change in rational law governed ways
40:01
what if there isn’t Absalom any absolute
40:03
way to characterize this progression of
40:05
thought that’s what Nietzsche thinks we
40:08
have theories about the world they keep
40:09
changing and truth about the world is
40:11
relative to those but actually our
40:13
theories of a theories keep changing too
40:15
and so even our thinking about thinking
40:17
even our thoughts about knowledge about
40:19
history those keep changing too was the
40:21
Greek conception of history the same as
40:23
the medieval conception was that the
40:25
same as our conception of history was
40:27
the Greek conception of the human mind
40:29
the same as a medieval conception or the
40:31
same as our consumption nature says no
40:33
in fact he starts out as a professor of
40:35
classics and so he’s concerned with that
40:37
contrast between his conception in the
40:39
19th century and ancient Greek
40:41
conceptions he says look it’s different
40:43
all the way down or all the way up if
40:45
you want to think of it that way it’s
40:46
not just that we had different physics
40:47
different theories of the world we had
40:49
different conceptions of humanity
40:50
different conceptions of knowledge
40:52
different conceptions of history so he
40:55
says we’re really forced to become a
40:58
relativist all the way through and in
41:01
fact he thinks that if we try to
41:03
understand how thought progresses will
41:05
not only be relevant we’ll recognize the
41:07
pattern is basically irrational he says
41:10
we don’t move from one conception
41:12
from one theory to another theory on the
41:14
basis of evidence reason we usually do
41:16
it on the basis of power and so history
41:20
is driven on his view by the will to
41:21
power but that’s an irrational force it
41:24
is not a rational one it’s not that we
41:26
formulate a hypothesis look at the
41:27
evidence say well that doesn’t quite
41:28
work out let’s think of the opposite
41:30
that’s Hegel’s picture Nietzsche says no
41:32
what happens is people in a theory and
41:35
eventually their students overthrow them
41:37
and say that’s nonsense
41:38
but that’s a power struggle that has
41:40
nothing to do with the reason so
41:44
Nietzsche starts from a kind of two
41:46
level theory he does say nearly all
41:48
philosophical problems once again raised
41:50
the same for its own form of question
41:52
they did 2,000 years ago how can
41:54
something develop from autonomy for
41:56
example reason from the unreasonable
41:58
feeling from the dead logic from the
42:00
illogical disinterested gaze from covens
42:03
wanting altruism premio is some truth
42:05
from error what does he mean she’s
42:08
speaking at the manifest image at that
42:10
level we talk about truth we talk about
42:13
reason we talk about feeling we talk
42:15
about beauty we think about helping
42:18
others however at that base level none
42:20
of that is really there there are just
42:22
particles moving around according to
42:23
laws there’s no reason there’s no
42:25
evidence there’s nothing like that
42:27
there’s no appreciation for beauty all
42:28
there is at that level is just particles
42:30
bouncing off one another how does all of
42:32
that arise from that sort of foundation
42:36
he says well it doesn’t happen
42:38
rationally it doesn’t happen according
42:40
to any discernible laws it’s ultimately
42:42
irrational and what we view as
42:45
remarkable glorious colors of the
42:47
intellect really arise from despised
42:49
materials in other words just purely the
42:51
interaction of these material particles
42:54
so in the end he says we have to be a
42:56
historian but philosophers automatically
42:59
think of man as an eternal being as if
43:02
Humanity is always the same this is it’s
43:04
not true actually everything that
43:07
philosophers say is true only of a
43:08
limited period of time so he ends up
43:12
being a relativist says there are no
43:14
eternal facts there are no absolute
43:16
truths well the world as we perceive it
43:22
he says after all it’s nothing like this
43:24
right we think of it as containing
43:25
value is containing people who were free
43:27
agents but even apart from that we see
43:29
it as consisting of objects but actually
43:31
says according to our really scientific
43:33
picture in the world it’s not consisting
43:34
of objects there are these fields they
43:37
interact in complicated ways somehow we
43:39
see continuous objects out of all of
43:41
that but it’s not clear that the worlds
43:43
anything like what we perceive the world
43:45
we know it he says is really nothing but
43:47
a bunch of errors and fantasies so what
43:52
does this mean about science well he
43:53
says it has to become plain it has to
43:55
develop new ways of seeing and interpret
43:57
in the world but doesn’t really progress
43:59
rationally the best thing that an
44:01
intellectual of any sort scientist a
44:02
humanist can do is think of new ways of
44:05
seeing the world the world after all he
44:08
says is just a projection that goes back
44:10
to that point I made earlier about
44:11
idealism but now something he’s picking
44:14
up from Dostoyevsky directly he says God
44:17
is dead okay this is his most famous
44:20
pronouncement really after Buddha was
44:23
dead his shadow was still shown for
44:25
centuries in a cave a tremendous shiver
44:27
inducing shadow God is dead but given
44:30
humans that they are there may be caves
44:31
for thousands of years in which a shadow
44:33
is show and we we still have to defeat
44:35
his shadow now what does he mean by this
44:38
claim God is dead
44:42
by the way this high magazine finally in
44:48
the 60s picked up of us it only took
44:50
them about 80 years to read philosophy
44:53
but anyway he tells a story he says if
44:57
you not heard the madman a little
44:58
lantern the bright morning random
45:00
article cried incessantly I’m looking
45:01
for God I’m looking for gone this is
45:03
just like the story where Diogenes runs
45:05
looking for an honest man okay so this
45:08
madman runs into the square of looking
45:10
for God there’s a painting of him doing
45:12
that so try this Scott to the west wall
45:16
run out there
45:16
lunchtime chop I’m looking for God
45:18
actually there are people saying I found
45:19
a beauty
45:21
but okay what happens in this story well
45:25
there are many who stood together they
45:26
start making fun of the guys he lost did
45:28
he wander off like a child or does he
45:29
keep himself hidden is he afraid of us
45:31
did he go to see that he emigrate well
45:33
they laughed and yelling disorder
45:34
Nietzsche who was by the way the son of
45:37
a Lutheran
45:37
master is here echoing Elijah taunting
45:40
the priests of Baal first Kings Elijah
45:43
says much of the same thing before even
45:46
has the pillar of fire start on Mount
45:49
Carmel and then drives them off and
45:51
kills them but anyway the madman jumps
45:54
into their midst and Pierceton with his
45:56
gaze where is God he cried I will tell
45:58
you we killed him you and I we are all
46:01
his murderers now at this point they
46:04
come back and the madman goes on god is
46:07
dead god remains dead and we killed him
46:10
how can we comfort ourselves the murders
46:12
of all murderers is it the size of the
46:16
to large for us don’t we have to become
46:17
gods just to appear worthy of it now
46:21
notice what he’s saying does this idea
46:24
of God dying make any sense
46:25
well I’m a classical conception No right
46:27
God is an eternal being this idea that
46:29
God cannot doesn’t really make any
46:31
classical sense but what he’s saying
46:33
really is look religion is dying God as
46:36
a force in human life as a force in
46:38
human culture is dying he sees a belief
46:40
in God in Europe as fading out and so
46:43
he’s looking forward to a few days
46:45
without religion actually it’s in that
46:47
respect much like Dostoyevsky’s vision
46:50
of a future without religion dusty fcc’s
46:52
christianity and decline in russia and
46:54
says that’s big trouble
46:55
Nietzsche says I see Germany God also
46:59
done religion as a diminishing force in
47:02
culture and now what does it mean don’t
47:04
we have to become gods just to be worthy
47:07
and that’s a classical idea of sin
47:09
actually we try to become God but he
47:11
says we may have no other choice so is
47:13
God dead well Nietzsche’s saying yes
47:16
here’s a poster I like God is dead
47:19
the titanium proves he is dead God in
47:23
any case Nietzsche says so what do I
47:26
believe in the final analysis that the
47:28
weights of all things have to be
47:29
determined afresh in other thing we have
47:31
to start over again figuring out what is
47:33
valuable what is right what is wrong
47:34
what is just what is unjust all of that
47:37
has to be rethought from the very
47:38
foundation tough and how do we do it
47:41
what does my conscience say he says you
47:43
are to become the person you are here’s
47:45
how you are to reconstruct it not on the
47:47
basis of a God
47:48
religion upside you from yourself and so
47:51
the chief virtue of people who follow in
47:53
each in the 20th century is authenticity
47:55
but first us DFT would answer that’s
47:58
back to that head back to narcissus next
48:01
week we look at a variety of other
48:03
things and on Wednesday your first paper
48:04
when we do

American Paganism

It’s not what the Religious Right thinks it is.

Claims of moral decline are a perennial feature of conservative rhetoric. But in recent years, pro-Trump Christians have emphasized a new reason to be afraid. The United States, they say, is devolving into such wanton “paganism” that the country may not survive. The true America awaits rescue by the Christian faithful, and in such an existential struggle, nearly any means are justified—even reelecting a morally abhorrent president.

Examples of this rhetoric are not in short supply, among pundits and even in more scholarly work. In an essay praising Donald Trump’s “animal instinct” for “order” and “social cohesion,” Sohrab Ahmari opposed an America of “traditional Christianity” to one of “libertine ways and paganized ideology.” These are our only choices, he insisted. Between such incompatible enemies, there can be only “war and enmity,” so true believers should be ready to sacrifice civility in the battles ahead to reconquer the public squareRod Dreher has speculated that Trump, while unpalatable, could be a divine emissary holding back the horrors of Christian persecution, like the biblical figure of He Who Delays the Antichrist, an implicit nod to old pagan enemies. “If Christians like me vote for Trump in 2020,” Dreher warns, “it is only because of his role as katechon in restraining what is far worse.” Though in a calmer tone, Ross Douthat entertained similar ideas in his column “The Return of Paganism,” wondering if the pantheist tendencies in American civil religion could morph into a neo-paganism hostile to Christian faith.

Douthat cites a recent book by law professor Steven D. Smith, Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac. According to Smith, what we know as “secularismis actually ancient paganism in modern guise. Since paganism is inherently anti-Christian, this means Christians should oppose both secular politics and secular universities at any cost. They are not fighting against a neutral arbiter, but against the wiles of pagan Rome redivivus, a strain of this-worldly sexualized spirituality nearly eradicated by Christianity, but now mutated and all the more lethal.

Smith is only the most recent Christian author to invoke the specter of paganism. R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, wrote Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society on the eve of the 2016 election, apparently anticipating a Clinton victory. The book’s title alludes to T. S. Eliot’s 1938 essay on “The Idea of a Christian Society,” in which Eliot condemns the rise of “modern paganism.” Reno told his readers to view 2016 in light of 1938. “Would the West seek a Christian future or a pagan one?” he asked. “We face a similar decision today. Will we seek to live in accord with the idea of a Christian society, or will we accept the tutelage of a pagan society?” Yuval Levin called Reno’s book a “call to arms against a postmodern paganism.”

This charge of looming paganism exerts a twofold political function. First, it

  1. rationalizes Trumpism, casting our situation as a state of emergency that threatens the survival of U.S. Christians.
  2. Second, the sacrilege of pagan religion prevents Trump’s supporters from indulging in political moderation by making that seem like a form of apostasy. It’s probably not a coincidence that “paganism” is on the rise just as Christian conservatives decide whether to support the current administration in an election year. It is challenging to explain how Trump’s policies are Christian. It is far easier to label his opponents as pagans, and thus align the president with Christianity by default. But there are fundamental problems with the conservative narrative of a resurgent paganism.

In the first place, the term “paganism” only works in this maneuver because it is vague and perspectival. It always has been, ever since Christians invented it. Ancient Christians stuck the name on those who continued the traditional rites of Greco-Roman religion rather than adopt the true faith. Indeed the largely urban Christians meant it as a mild pejorative for the rural country bumpkins, the pagani, who lived far from imperial centers and persisted in their benighted worship of the old gods. In our terms, the first “pagans” lived in flyover country and clung to their traditional religion. 

Since “pagan” has come to mean “un-Christian,” every invocation of “pagan” brings with it an implicit understanding of “Christian.” The meaning of the former is parasitic on the latter. Misunderstanding the essence of paganism, therefore, also means misunderstanding the demands of Christianity, and vice versa.

More left-leaning Christians might well agree with Smith and Reno in one sense: there is indeed an ascendant paganism afoot in our country today. It threatens the social and moral fabric of American public life and contends directly against the voice of Christian truth. One can brook no compromise in resisting it. The difference comes in how that paganism is defined. The debate is not whether paganism is real, but where it lives, how it appears, and what it does. If conservatives have mistaken its location, they might be training their weapons in the wrong direction.

Much hangs, then, on accurately discerning the meaning of “modern paganism.” Let us consider three proposals: Steven Smith’s recent version, T. S. Eliot’s original version, and another timely version from First Things.

Christians were the most conspicuous defenders of divine immanence in the ancient world. It was pagans who derided Christians for violating the self-evident truths of divine transcendence.

Steven Smith suggests that secularism is not a neutral space, but conceals its own religious identity, which is essentially pagan. It venerates the sacred within the natural world, knows only the cycle of birth and death, and thus celebrates a libertine sexuality. As opposed to Abrahamic religions that affirm the “transcendent sacred,” paganisms old and new prefer the “immanent sacred.” Smith delves into the emergence of Christians in the Roman Empire and vividly evokes the oddity of Christianity in the ancient world, heeding the scholarship of Peter Brown, Jan Assmann, and Kyle Harper (but Edward Gibbon most of all). Smith then applies his ancient model to American constitutional law and finds it confirms conservative positions on religious freedom, public symbols, and sexual norms.

But there are serious problems with Smith’s argument. Since the 1970s, scholars of religion have largely retired the vague categories formerly used to organize speculation about comparative religions—sacred and secular, immanent and transcendent, holy and profane, this-worldly and other-worldly. Major religious traditions are massive and multifarious in the ways they sustain rituals, ethics, and beliefs. Their communities cut across languages, continents, empires, and epochs, teeming with exceptions and discontinuities. The blunt tools applied by Smith are simply not up to the task of uncovering the essence of one religion, let alone two or three, and they are certainly not able to trace the notoriously complicated history of the “secular.”

For the sake of argument, though, let us grant Smith his chosen terms, and even focus on his central claim, that Christianity can lead the way in challenging modern secularity, since it insists on the “transcendent sacred” in a way that secular paganism does not. Smith’s proposal rests upon a fundamental analogy: paganism is to Christianity as immanence is to transcendence. Christians pray to the God beyond the world; pagans encounter divinity inside the weft of nature.

Even a cursory knowledge of Christianity is enough to refute this analogy. It is true that Judaism teaches the absolute transcendence of the one God, as do Islamic theologians today, and as did Neoplatonist pagan philosophers in antiquity who sought a divine One beyond every thought, word, and image. By contrast, orthodox Christians claim that God arrived and now eternally resides within the fabric of nature, as the Creator enters into creation in the body of Jesus Christ. To cite Smith’s definition of “paganism,” it is Christianity, in fact, that “refers to a religious orientation that locates the sacred within this world.” The Christian belief in the Incarnation is nothing if not a belief in the “immanent sacred.”

The new Christian movement distinguished itself from Greek philosophy, Roman cults, and Jewish faith alike by affirming an extensive and peculiar list of divine incursions into immanence: the Incarnation of God in the body of Jesus; Anne’s immaculate conception of Mary; Mary’s virginal conception and vaginal birth of the Son of God, making her Theotokos; the real flesh of Jesus suffering on the cross, against the Gnostics (Tertullian); the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread and wine, also against the Gnostics; the Resurrection of the body after death; the bodily assumption of Mary; the martyrdom of the body as bloody birth into heaven (Perpetua) or as the grinding of flesh into bread (Ignatius of Antioch); the church birthed through the bleeding side wound of a dying Jesus; the church as maternal breast suckling the Christian with milk; the union of Christ and Christians as the exemplar of which sexual union is the image (Ephesians 5, Origen of Alexandria). Above all, the scandalous immanence that might have sounded pagan to Jesus’s disciples: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6). The enemy of these traditional Christian teachings is not sacred immanence, but rather a gnosticism that dematerializes and disembodies the real presence of God within creation.

The radically immanent sacred of Christians scandalized the Romans. As Ramsay MacMullen observes, Christians worshipping a new transcendent deity would have passed unremarked. But the Christian belief that Jesus was neither prophet nor sage but a fleshly God would have been mocked by pagan intellectuals as a risible error. The late New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado writes: “In the philosophical traditions, an ultimate and radically transcendent deity was often postulated, but you did not typically engage that transcendent deity directly.… But there was a still more unusual and, in the eyes of pagan sophisticates, outlandish Christian notion: the one, true, august God who transcended all things and had no need of anything, nevertheless, had deigned to create this world and, a still more remarkable notion, also now actively sought the redemption and reconciliation of individuals.” For pagan intellectuals, Hurtado concludes, “all this was, quite simply, preposterous.”

For instance, in his work On the True Doctrine (178 CE), the pagan philosopher Celsus is ready to accept that God exists, creates all things, and transcends nature. But in shades of Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, Celsus laughs away the claim that God was incarnated in Jesus, or that the body could be resurrected. “I mean, what sort of body is it that could return to its original nature or become the same as it was before it rotted away?” he mocks. “And of course they have no reply for this one, and as in most cases where there is no reply they take cover by saying ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ A brilliant answer indeed! But the fact is, God cannot do what is contrary to nature.”

Christian philosophers saw the divide similarly. Tertullian admits that pagan philosophers might even discern that God exists by their own lights. But they always miss that God descended into a virgin and was made flesh in her womb. Augustine reports that he learned from the pagan philosopher Plotinus that the Logos was transcendent—but only Christians taught him how the Logos embraced the human body in all of its weakness and vulnerability, and its awful exposure to the whims of imperial violence.

To put it bluntly: paganism cannot simply mean divine immanence. On the contrary, Christians were the most conspicuous defenders of that principle in the ancient world. It was pagans who derided Christians for violating the self-evident truths of divine transcendence.

The resemblances between the modern paganism feared by T.S. Eliot in 1938 and conservative politics in 2020 are uncanny.

A better starting point for defining “paganism” is T. S. Eliot’s essay “The Idea of a Christian Society,” written in the dark days of 1938, where he proposes that the greatest enemy of modern Christianity is “modern paganism.” Reno and Smith alike summon Eliot as a sober authority in perilous times, but neither presents Eliot’s own account of the term in question. So how did Eliot define paganism? It’s important to stay as close as possible to his own words.

First, Eliot says paganism embraces an authoritarian politics that confuses religion and nationhood. The “distinguishing mark” of a Christian society, Eliot writes, is its productive “tension” between church and state, but pagan society seeks to “fuse” them. Pagan culture “de-Christianises” individuals gradually and unwittingly, as authoritarianism creeps in. Soon, he warns, one’s hymns are no longer to God alone, but also to the dear leader.

Second, Eliot says that modern paganism incites ecological destruction. The Christian lives in harmony with nature; the pagan destroys public resources for private profit. “Unregulated industrialism” and “the exhaustion of natural resources,” writes Eliot, lead to “the exploitation of the earth, on a vast scale.” In a formulation that strikingly anticipates Laudato si’, he puts it succinctly: “A wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God.

Third, modern paganism imposes a puritanical public morality. It promotes, in Eliot’s words, “regimentation and conformity, without respect for the needs of the individual soul” and “the puritanism of a hygienic morality in the interest of efficiency.” According to Eliot, in fact, modern paganism will even attempt to elevate the status of Christian identity in society. But paganism embraces Christianity not because it’s true, but because it consolidates the nation and discourages dissent. He notes that authoritarians have always celebrated public morality. They want, in a way, more morality, even if their priorities are haphazardly formulated. Eliot warns that such a moralistic Christianity is not only a perversion of the faith: “It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.” Such versions of Christianity might even “engender nothing better than a disguised and peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism, accelerating our progress toward the paganism which we say we abhor.”

The resemblances between the modern paganism feared by Eliot in 1938 and conservative politics in 2020 are uncanny. The “paganism” that future Christians will need to identify and resist, he warned, will appear as

  • unrestrained capitalist greed; as
  • authoritarianism seeking to weaken democratic norms; as
  • callous environmental degradation; as a
  • superficial Christian moralism seeking to fuse church and state; and as a
  • petty “sanctimonious nationalism.” 

In the poignant final paragraph of his essay, Eliot confesses that the churning political surprises of the 1930s had left him shaken, not only because of the events themselves, but in the revelation of his own country’s moral poverty. In the face of Britain’s failure to mount an adequate response to modern pagan violence, Eliot felt a justified “humiliation” that demanded of him “personal contrition” along with “repentance, and amendment.” He felt “deeply implicated and responsible” and began to question his country’s frequent claims to moral authority. When Eliot enjoins his readers to fight against modern paganism, it is specifically because its brew of authoritarianism and capitalism were already beginning to charm Christian intellectuals who should know better. Eliot’s final sentences prick the conscience today:

We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us. Was our society, which had always been so assured of its superiority and rectitude, so confident of its unexamined premises, assembled round anything more permanent than a congeries of banks, insurance companies and industries, and had it any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends? Such thoughts as these formed the starting point, and must remain the excuse, for saying what I have to say.

The paganism we should fear is not secularism, sacred immanence, or pantheist naturalism. It is power celebrating its violence, perceiving the world empty of everything save the contest of will.

But there was at least one other account of paganism in the pages of First Things as Trump campaigned for the presidency—this time from Matthew Schmitz, an editor at the magazine. Over the summer of 2016, Schmitz displayed an admirable prescience while Christian conservatives were still hesitating to endorse the eventual Republican nominee. The “faith taught by Christ,” he wrote, “is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord.… In Trump, it [Christian faith] has curdled into pagan disdain.”

Schmitz’s analyses from April and August of 2016 really must be considered at length, given where they were published. Take this representative passage:

At a campaign event in Iowa, Trump shocked the audience by saying that he had never asked God for forgiveness. All his other disturbing statements—his attacks on every vulnerable group—are made intelligible by this one…. Human frailty, dependency, and sinfulness cannot be acknowledged; they must be overcome. This opens up the possibility of great cruelty toward those who cannot wish themselves into being winners. A man who need not ask forgiveness need never forgive others. He does not realize his own weakness, and so he mocks and reviles every sign of weakness in his ­fellow men.

And here’s another:

In his contempt for losers, he [Trump] embodies one of the most unchristian ideals ever advanced in American politics. With a unique consistency and vehemence, he expresses his hatred of weakness. He ridicules the disabled, attacks women, and defends abortionists. This is the opposite of Christianity, which puts the weak first and exalts every loser…. Liberalism, much as I hate it, has preserved this Christian inheritance. The GOP before Trump, despite all its contempt for the 47 percent, was leavened by the influence of sincere Christians and so was never so sneering. Trump is an altogether more pagan figure.

By 2019, however, in the wake of the midterm battles over immigration and the mythic “caravan” of refugees at the southern border, Schmitz joined others to cheer on the “new nationalism” that Trump promoted at his rallies. Within a few months, Schmitz had decided that Christianity and liberalism could never be reconciled, since modern society—wait for it—had become paganized. “The Church,” he now saw, “is at odds with an increasingly pagan culture.”

If there was an ancient paganism of sacred immanence, it was soon outstripped by the more radical immanence of Christians in their claims of an Incarnation, a Resurrection, and above all the enduring food of the Eucharist. In every Mass the priest washes his hands in imitation of the pagan Pilate, but now as an act of humility and celebration. The  Catholic repeats as her own the words of the pagan centurion—Lord, I am not worthy—but now as an intimate prayer on the threshold of Communion. That version of paganism was overtaken and dissolved from within by the Christian sacralization of the body.

But there is another paganism that has survived into the present, and has emerged so vividly in contemporary politics that even First Things in 2016 could not miss it. This is not the paganism of immanence, but the paganism of cruelty and violence. It mocks the vulnerable, reviles the weak, and gains strength through hatred. We don’t have to look too far to discover the “postmodern paganism” threatening American Christianity today. 

Last summer the Trump administration argued in court that more than two thousand migrant and refugee children should be separated from their parents, concentrated in crude detention camps with minimal supervision, and locked in chilled rooms with the lights left on all night. The administration has yet to condemn the petty cruelty of some camp guards and instead has mused that such violence might be politically useful. Hundreds of children as young as two are deliberately denied diapers, soap, and toothbrushes for months at a time to punish their parents. Community donations of the same are turned away. Young women are denied tampons. Young children are denied inexpensive flu vaccines, and if they contract a terminal cancer, they are deported without medical care. Chickenpox and shingles are common. Federal contractors win upwards of $700 per day for each imprisoned child. Seven children have died in custody to date, and many more have been hospitalized. Doctors worry they cannot serve in the camps without violating the Hippocratic oath. The camps themselves were continued from the Obama administration, but the withdrawal of basic necessities is Trump’s innovation. What is this if not the very paganism conservatives decry?

This modern paganism ultimately means the nihilistic exercise of power for its own sake, especially power over weak and vulnerable bodies. In its purest form, it is expressed as conspicuous cruelty, both to render one’s power maximally visible and to increase that power by engendering fear. The cruelty is the point. This is the joyful paganism that Nietzsche sought to revive as the Wille zur Macht, retrieving from ancient Rome the glorious pleasure in cruelty that rewards the strong who exercise their strength. This is the reason Italian fascist Julius Evola hated Christianity for its compassion for the poor and weak.

We find this paganism exposed in the ancient world as well, in the Athenian mockery and massacre of the Melians in Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, in Thrasymachus’s authoritarian attacks on Socrates in Plato’s Republic, or in Augustine’s shrewd deconstruction of imperial power in The City of God against the Pagans. John Milbank calls this Nietzschean worldview an ontology of eternal violence opposed to an Augustinian counter-ontology of eternal peace. As Schmitz himself suggests, the perfect example of pagan disdain for vulnerability and conspicuous cruelty is the Roman practice of public crucifixion. Pagan is to Christian not as immanent is to transcendent, but as Rome is to the Crucified—a cruel empire to its tortured victims.

But modern paganism can also assume subtler forms, whenever the common good is reduced to ruthless economic competition, confirming Eliot’s fears that we have no values more essential than our “belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends.” The paganism we should fear is not secularism, sacred immanence, or pantheist naturalism. It is power celebrating its violence, perceiving the world empty of everything save the contest of wills, a nihilism ruled by the libido dominandi.

This paganism views moral responsibility as a fool’s errand for the weak, since all that matters is to dominate or be dominated. It sacralizes the emperor as an agent of God, scorns truth, despises the weak, and tortures the vulnerable. And it cloaks its nihilism, to cite Eliot once again, in “a disguised and peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism, accelerating our progress toward the paganism which we say we abhor.”

Trump’s White House Is a Black Hole

The Republican Party is learning what should have been obvious from the outset: Mr. Trump’s chaotic personality can’t be contained.

.. combining it with the awesome power of the presidency virtually guaranteed he would become more volatile and transgressive.

His presidency is infecting the entire party.

.. The Republican Party once championed the principles of liberty and limited government, yet Mr. Trump is indifferent to them.

Republicans once sought to strengthen relations with Mexico; today they delight in antagonizing our neighbor. Not long ago, Republicans made outreach to Hispanics a top priority; today the signals that the president and his party send are that Hispanics are alien, unwelcome, nothing but trouble.

In 2012, Republicans defended Mitt Romney when he said Russia was our biggest geopolitical threat; today they are wholly untroubled by its effort to subvert the 2016 presidential election.

.. Republicans have long argued that human rights should play a central role in American foreign policy, from the presidency of Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush’s. Today human rights are viewed at most as an afterthought.

.. At the national level the Republican Party has become a destructive and anarchic political force in American life.

.. Rather than nourishing a sense of gratitude, he stokes grievances.

.. One White House aide, asked by The Washington Post whether John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, could have been more truthful or transparent about the dismissal of the staff secretary Rob Porter, answered honestly: “In this White House, it’s simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don’t even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate.

.. All of this is antithetical to conservatism. On balance, Republicans are seeking to conserve very little

.. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

.. The Republican Party once prided itself as a defender of objective truth against postmodernism. Today, it has become the party of perspectivism — the view, articulated by Nietzsche, that all truth claims are contingent on a person’s perspective rather than on fundamental reality. “It is our needs that interpret the world,” Nietzsche wrote in “The Will to Power.”

.. the institutional expression of Donald Trump’s distorted and impulsive personality.

.. Party leaders who were once willing to challenge Mr. Trump, to call him out now and then, are now far more compliant and therefore far more complicit.

.. Mr. Trump was and remains the people’s choice — evidence that, while the president has accelerated the worst tendencies of the Republican Party, he is not solely responsible for them. He did not appear out of thin air.

.. Americans are longing for a more ennobling, less exhausting political leader.

.. people are tiring of the incessant conflict created by politics these days.

.. But as long as Mr. Trump is president, they will feel this way. He won’t change, and neither will the Republican Party. That’s how institutional corruption happens, from the top down.

What is a Catholic to make of Jordan Peterson?

Peterson’s idiosyncratic but sympathetic views on Christianity appear to be outgrowths of his ultimately incoherent views about human societies, blending brash political incorrectness with a love of tradition and an enthusiasm for individualism. For modern Christians frustrated by their loss of standing in liberal societies, this makes Peterson, like a stiff cocktail, potent, delicious, and, if enjoyed carelessly or in the wrong context, dangerous.

.. He speaks with a breezy self-assurance, but at the same time he takes serpentine routes to his conclusions – so much so that it’s not always clear even he knows where he’s going until, with a splash, he arrives and all seems to have been made clear.

.. This sense of being on a journey with an unknown destination is heightened by the idiosyncratic nature of his arguments. It’s just weird to get to principled conservatism and appreciation of Scripture from Nietzsche and Jung

.. some – and perhaps a great deal – of what is attracting millions of largely young male viewers to him is not laudable and should not be thoughtlessly applauded by Catholics.

.. Strident denunciations of feminism and anti-racism are not what is missing from our apologetics

.. Jesus Christ is neither politically correct nor incorrect

.. Peterson is at his best and most magnetic when he is almost stammering in awe of the human condition

.. When I hear Peterson speak about God, I think of the late French-American philosopher René Girard.

.. Peterson’s strategy to bring meaning and success to the lives of deracinated young men is an essentially amoral training in interpersonal dominance founded in an uncritical acceptance of the radical individualism that has dominated Western civilisation for the past few centuries.

.. For instance, he argues that the credible threat of violence is essential for earning respect in conversations with men; in one lecture he asserts with his distinctive fatherliness: “If you are not capable of cruelty you are absolutely a victim to anyone who is.”

.. It is true that our present crisis of meaning is related to the inability of many young men to compete effectively in the marketplace, which is for us the primary giver of significance

.. the role of the Church is not to prop up a secular civilisation that has reduced meaning and identity to paychecks and sports teams, but to offer a more beautiful and comprehensive alternative.

.. If the Church is to baptise “Jordan Peterson the internet sensation”, it must be for his reputation as an authentic and awe-filled truth-seeker, not as a politically incorrect provocateur. His sincere reverence for the awesome reality of the human person is a potent antidote for a civilisation whose spirit has been oppressed by secularism and nihilism.

.. striving not for the greatness of alpha status in a world of brutes but for the greatness of communion with the God who is love.

The Anti-Christian Alt-Right

The Perverse Thought of Right-Wing Identity Politics

.. “The Church has become the number one enemy of Western Civilization. Soon the only people left in Christianity will be third-world immigrants and a handful of self-hating whites.”

..Hillary Clinton devoted a speech in Nevada to deploring its influence on the election. “These are race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘alt-right,’” she charged.

.. Clinton could not name a single member of a movement that, she warned, imperiled American democracy

.. The movement exists almost entirely among anonymous users of the Internet. It has no institutions, no money, no political representation, and no traditional media.

.. It enjoys the close attention of the liberal establishment it seeks to discredit and the conservative movement it intends to displace.

.. “Everything we have seen over the past year suggests that the alt-right will be around for the foreseeable future.”

.. The alt-right purports to defend the identity and interests of white people, who it believes are the compliant victims of a century-long swindle by liberal morality. Its goals are not conventionally conservative.

It does not so much question as mock standard conservative positions on free trade, abortion, and foreign policy, regarding them as principles that currently abet white dispossession.

.. Its creed, in the words of Richard Spencer, is “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.”

.. the alt-right represents something more nefarious, and frankly more interesting, than white identity politics.

.. The alt-right is anti-Christian.

.. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it.

.. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.”

.. it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West.

.. Its intellectual birth is marked by the 1918 publication of the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West.

.. While the movement is often accused of advocating racial supremacy, its appeal is more often to cultural difference. A generation tired of multicultural pieties

.. A cultural relativist, Spengler rejects as a “ridiculous distortion” any view that privileges European thought or history.

.. “Each culture possesses its own standards, the validity of which begins and ends with it.

.. Spengler therefore sees the world as divided into fundamentally different cultures, whose identities he interprets in morphological terms. Cultures are like plants

.. They live through a determined cycle of birth, growth, maturity, and death. During its lifespan, a culture gives expression to the animating “form”

.. Spengler had no scholarly expertise in non-Western cultures (his advanced studies were in mathematics), and Decline of the West is frequently nonsense as both history and sociology. But its interpretations of cultural artifacts and their hidden symbolic meanings are often brilliant and have enchanted readers for a century.

.. All cultures are unique, but some are more unique than others. “We men of the Western culture are an exception,” Spengler claims. At the heart of his book is an interpretation of the culture he namedFaustian,” a term widely used in the intellectual circles of the alt-right.

.. a single idea permeates the arts and sciences of the West. Its distinctive mark is an intense striving for “infinity.”

.. our culture has uniquely sought to see all things in relation to the highest or most distant horizons, which, in turn, it seeks to surpass and extend.

  • The vaults of medieval cathedrals, the
  • discovery of perspective in painting, the
  • exploration of the New World, the
  • development of orchestral music, the
  • invention of the telescope and
  • calculus

—in Spengler’s story, all express the Faustian drive toward transcendence.

.. He argues that there is no Christianity without Western civilization. He arrives at this conclusion by claiming the West begins not with ancient Greece or Rome, but with the high Middle Ages and the birth of scholasticism, Gothic architecture, and polyphony.

.. Its cultural achievements are not testimonies to faith in God. They are the monuments of Faustian man’s attempt—in speculation, stone, glass, and sound—to propel himself into infinity. Of this aspiration, Spengler maintains, “the Gospels know nothing.”

..  In the minds and hands of Europeans, Christianity became a religion that affirmed the unceasing expansion of human freedom, power, and knowledge.

.. There is no biblical god for Faustian man, but there is high Christian culture, which is a tribute to his identity.

.. To a young man lacking a strong identity he says, “This heroic culture is your inheritance, and yours alone. You stand in a line of men who have attained the highest excellences and freely endured the hardest challenges.

.. Albert the Great, Cortés, Newton, Goethe, the Wright brothers all carry this daring spirit, and so do you.”

.. in his 1933 book Hour of Decision, he foresaw the rise of democratic “Caesars” and growing racial animosity. Who will give birth to the next great culture? Not Europeans

.. Spengler predicted the future would belong to the race that had preserved its “strength” in face of the rising “colored menace.”

  • If Spengler is the alt-right’s cultural critic,
  • Julius Evola is its political mystic.
    • Umberto Eco mockingly called him “the magician,” and the
    • future Pope Paul VI condemned his writings in a Vatican newspaper
    • Evola is the most right-wing thinker possible in the modern world. There is nobody to his right, nor can there be. His influence on the alt-right is detectable in one of its most controversial features: its rejection of human equality.
    • “We don’t belong to the liberal family,” writes popular blogger Hunter Wallace. “Nothing is less self-evident to us than the notion that all men are created equal.” Here is the movement’s clearest dispute with conventional conservatism
    • The alt-right denies that constitutional democracy is worthy of principled veneration. For Evola, its popular acceptance is a sign we are living in a spiritual dark age.

The basic problem with modernity is “desacralization,” the collapse of spiritual meaning in daily life. Work, family, and citizenship are no longer saturated with spiritual importance, but are understood in functionally secular terms.

.. materialism “kills every possibility

.. Spengler’s fundamental flaw was that he “lacked any understanding of metaphysics and transcendence,” which led him to conclude that human cultures are irreducibly different.

.. Evola believed more or less the exact opposite, arguing that there are timeless and universal principles that have provided the foundation for every true civilization. He referred to these perennial truths as “Tradition,” and he traced the disorders of modernity to our loss of contact with it.

.. No, the world had been slouching into spiritual poverty ever since the eighth century b.c., when the world of Tradition began to disappear.

.. Revolt Against the Modern Worldclaimed that these primordial societies—whose existence can be accessed only by way of myth and legend, not critical scholarship—all operated on the same principles.

.. In a traditional culture, every aspect of human life, every social activity, role, and caste, was dedicated to the service of an otherworldly order; indeed, they were ritual pathways into it. “According to Tradition,” Evola imagines, “every authority is fraudulent, every law unjust and barbarous, every institution is vain and ephemeral unless . . . they are derived from above.”

.. His key claim is that traditional societies were hierarchically ordered under an absolute ruler, who embodied the sacral order itself.

..  Men Among the Ruins, he argued that political conservatism is intrinsically impossible in a democratic age. True political order can never come from below; it must always be imposed from above.

.. only a transformative leader could elevate humanity out of its degraded state. Such a leader could not appeal to the masses—this was the mistake of the vulgar fascisms of Mussolini and Hitler—but must inspire submission through lofty contempt for democratic norms and popular tastes.

“The presence of superior individuals bestows on a multitude . . . a meaning and a justification they previously lacked,” Evola wrote. “It is the inferior who needs the superior, and not the other way around.”

Evola was less clear about what this sacred authority looked like than what stood in the way of its realization.

.. The problem is that Catholicism forbids the sacred state. And a state without absolute spiritual unity is no state at all.

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. however, no return is necessary if we simply move beyond Christianity altogether. Evola did not believe in a personal deity, but his criticisms of Christianity were political rather than theological. With Benoist, the alt-right becomes explicitly and confessionally anti-Christian.

.. took its inspiration from the failed “conservative revolution” of Weimar Germany.

Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Spengler were its chief figures

.. Most of its members, including Spengler, took sides against the Nazi regime, but they also sought a path for the West beyond the twin evils of American democracy and Soviet communism. Benoist comes from this anti-liberal tradition

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. attempt to envision a post-Christian future for people of European descent.

.. his 1981 work On Being a Pagan

.. Paganism’s central claim is simple: that the world is holy and eternal. “Far from desacralizing the world,” Benoist tells us, paganism “sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word, since it regards the world as sacred.”

Paganism is also a humanism. It recognizes man, the highest expression of nature, as the sole measure of the divine.

.. God does not therefore create men; men make gods, which “exist” as ideal models that their creators strive to equal.

.. Benoist’s case against Christianity is that it forbids the expression of this “Faustian” vitality.

.. It does so by placing the ultimate source of truth outside of humanity, in an otherworldly realm to which we must be subservient.

.. He accuses Christianity of crippling our most noble impulses. Christianity makes us strangers in our own skin, conning us into distrusting our strongest intuitions. We naturally respect beauty, health, and power, Benoist observes, but Christianity teaches us to revere the deformed, sick, and weak instead.

.. Benoist’s theology is in the service of a political warning, and it is this, more than his Nietzschean posturing, that attracts the alt-right.

.. Christianity is unable to protect European peoples and their cultures.

.. Christianity is not our religion.

..  Benoist means that Christianity renders Western culture morally lethargic and culturally defenseless.

.. its universalism poisons our attachments to particular loyalties and ties.

.. “If all men are brothers,” Benoist claims, “then no one can truly be a brother.”

.. Politics depends on the recognition of both outsiders and enemies, yet the Christian Church sees all people as potential members, indeed potential saints.

.. Christianity imparted to our culture an ethics that has mutated into what the alt-right calls “pathological altruism.”

.. Its self-distrust, concern for victims, and fear of excluding outsiders—such values swindle Western peoples out of a preferential love for their own.

.. Christianity today is the enemy of the West and the race that created it

.. we ought to see ourselves through the eyes of our pagan critics

.. They distort many truths, through both malice and ignorance, and lead young men into espousing views and defending authors they scarcely understand.

.. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains.

.. invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds.

.. identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging.

.. we lack a compelling civic theology for the twenty-first century—a theology of the nation

.. In its absence the alt-right will continue to grow.

.. A nation will become an idol, however, if its cultural inheritance is not oriented toward, and inwardly transformed by, a divine inheritance.

.. “The inheritance we receive from Christ,” the late pope argued, “orients the patrimony of human native lands and cultures toward an eternal home land.”

.. It speaks of tradition, while transmitting no traditions. It guards a false patrimony, while destroying real ones

..  Race offers no inheritance, and its mere preservation reflects no human achievement.

.. Our stories, art, music, institutions, and religious traditions—unlike race—are transmitted only through special efforts of human intelligence and love. They are a bequest of the spirit, not blood.

.. The alt-right speaks a seductive language. Where liberalism offers security and comfort, the alt-right promises sacrifice and conflict.

.. . For Christians, the problem with Faustian man is not the vaunting heroism of his aims. It is the pitiable smallness of his goals.

We are not meant to merely aspire to the infinite. We are called to participate in it—to be, in a word, deified.

Faust could not overcome death. Through Christ, Christians already have.

The Bannon Fallacy

First of all, people who create mottos about how they don’t care what people think tend to be precisely the sort of people who care what other people think.

Another dead giveaway: When you repeatedly invite reporters from places such as Vanity Fair to follow you around and record your Stakhanovite disregard for the opinions of others.

Similarly, people who famously call back every reporter seeking a quote are the kind of people who love being buttered up by journalists.

.. Likewise, people who hungrily cooperate with authors looking to turn them into political celebrities are really into the idea of being political celebrities.

Staffers who take credit for their bosses’ political victories, on the record, tend not to be aloof islands of self-confidence either. People desperate to let you know that their philosophical lodestars are obscure mystics and cranks — he studied Evola and Guénon! — tend to be compensating for something.

.. If Bannon truly didn’t care about the “Opposition Party,” his term for the mainstream media, he wouldn’t have lost his job in the White House, the favor of the Mercers, and what was left of his reputation. But he just couldn’t resist talking to reporters and claiming credit for the accomplishments of others.

.. Bannon is a common character in Washington: a megalomaniac who made the mistake of believing his own bullshit.

Bannon believed he was the intellectual leader of a real grassroots movement, and all that was needed to midwife it into reality was to Astroturf as much rage and unthinking paranoia as the Mercer family’s money could buy.

.. Bannon’s self-proclaimed Leninism was mostly the kind of b.s. one spouts to rally the twentysomethings in their cubicles to churn out more ethically bankrupt clickbait fodder.

.. Lenin was a real radical who wanted to tear everything down. But his motto wasn’t “Honey badger don’t give a sh*t” — it was “The worse the better.” Both men share a theory that by exacerbating social tensions — heightening the contradictions in Marxobabble — they would emerge victorious. The biggest difference between the two men is that Lenin knew what he was doing.

.. There is a Nietzschean quality to both Bannon and the host organism he fed off. Rhetorically, Trump extols strength and power and denigrates rules and norms. But Trump’s Nietzscheanism is almost entirely in service to his own glory. He simply wants praise for its own sake. Bannon’s fetishization of strength and power and his denigration of rules and norms stems from a potted theory about how to burn it all down so he can rule the ashes.

.. He marveled at the performance art of Milo not because of any intellectual merit, but because it was transgressive, which is its own reward to the radical mind.

.. People spend too much time trying to figure out if Bannon is a bigot. Who cares? Isn’t it even more damning that he was perfectly comfortable to enlist bigots to his cause simply to leach off their passion and intensity?

.. Because Bannon consistently confuses means and ends, he was fine with forming an alliance of convenience with the alt-right when he thought it could help him.

.. Bannon likes to talk a big game about the importance of ideas, but his idea of how politics works is entirely anti-intellectual, and that’s what spelled his doom.

.. He talks a lot about the Trump agenda, and yet he’s made it his project to destroy any politician Trump actually needs if they dare stray from public sycophancy to Trump or fealty to Bannon’s dog’s-breakfast ideology.

.. He goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism, boasting incessantly of his courage and loyalty to Trump as evidenced by his willingness to stick with Trump during “Billy Bush Weekend.”

.. There’s just one problem: Bannon can’t stick to it. He just can’t help but boast to liberal reporters about how great and brilliant he is. He can’t resist talking smack about his rivals and denigrating the reality-show nationalist that plucked him out of relative obscurity, because despite all the impressive verbiage, Bannon can’t help but make himself the story.