Between the Death Wish and the Great Nausea

Bonald has a new post on what he calls particularism, or the beliefs that “it is right for a person to be attached to the particular cultural group into which he is born,” that such a group should “control and inform some public space,” and that such a group should “seek its own perpetuation.”  He admits that particularism can take illicit forms and make use of illicit means, but denies that particularism itself is wrong.

He’s in good company.  Here’s Plato, writing in the Laws (book v)

“He who honors his kindred, and reveres those who share the same gods and are of the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the gods who preside over generation will be propitious to him, and will quicken his seed.”

Plato did not defend this proposition with an argument, which I suppose was because he though its truth would be self-evident.  And we see that it is self-evident when we tweak the language.

“He who is impartial to his kindred, and indifferent to those who share the same gods and are of the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the gods who preside over generation will be impartial to him, and indifferent to his seed.”

The self-evident truth of the original proposition becomes even clearer when we tweak the language even more.

“He who reviles his kindred, and scorns those who share the same Gods and are of the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the Gods who preside over generation will revile him, and will scorn his seed.”

Well, obviously!

Here’s the matter in a nutshell: existence requires what Schopenhauer called the will-to-exist.  It requires a settled disposition to behave in ways conducive to survival, and to refrain from behavior conducive to extinction.  And among the behaviors conducive to survival, loyalty to one’s group, defense of one’s territory, and propagation of one’s breed are very far from being the least.

This is why, as Mencken put it:

“As everyone who has given a moment’s thought to the subject well knows, a man’s first concern in the world is to provide food and shelter for himself and his family, while a woman’s foremost duty is to bear and rear children” (Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche [1913]).

 

* * * * *

This is, to be sure, “man’s first concern,” but it is not his last, so far as Schopenhauer was concerned.  As that Teutonic ray of sunshine put it near the end of The World as Will and Idea (1883-1886):

“Nothing can, in fact, be given as the end of our existence but the knowledge that we had better not be.”

The will-to-exist ultimately turns back on itself and becomes, so Schopenhauer tells us, the will-to-nothingness.  This is because the will-to-exist gives rise to consciousness, consciousness to reflection, reflection to despair, and despair to suicide.

This was Schopenhauer’s theory, at least.  As a practical matter, the sour old grouch lived well, if querulously, and died in bed from complications of old age.

Nietzsche’s philosophy was an attempt to drive a stake through the heart of this morbid nihilism.  Nietzsche aimed to vindicate the will-to-exist, and to impugn all of the “unnatural proclivities” that were conducive to extinction.  He called the culture that was shaped by a “will-to-nothingness” the “Great Nausea,” and since Nietzsche’s philosophy failed, the Great Nausea is the culture in which you and I live (Genealogy of Morals 2.24).

 

* * * * *

As Bonald observes, Whites today are expected have a will-to-nothingness, and to look upon their natural proclivities to solidarity, territory, and progeny with what Nietzsche called “an evil eye.”  To do otherwise is “White Supremacy” of the sort that the old cracker Plato spouted in his Jim Crow Laws.

“He who honors his kindred, and reveres those who share the same gods and are of the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the gods who preside over generation will be propitious to him, and will quicken his seed.”

Edited with an “evil eye,” these lines read thus:

“He who hates his kindred, and repudiates those who share the same gods and are of the same blood and family, may fairly expect that the gods who preside over extinction will be propitious to him, and give him just what he asked for.”

 

* * * * *

To the best of my knowledge, the phrase “Death Wish” entered our vocabulary in the works of Freud.  In that place, it did not mean what it has come to mean—an unconscious desire for extinction, preferably in concert with all those “who share the same Gods and are of the same blood and family.”  It meant, rather, the natural hankering to take a tomahawk to those who have other gods, other blood, other family.

That this meaning has been lost—indeed reversed—shows how very deep into the Great Nausea we have gone.

 

* * * * *

There is, as it happens, a third way between Freud’s murderous Death Wish and Nietzsche’s Great Nausea.   And to find it, we have only to read a little farther in Plato’s Jim Crow Laws.

For Plato, the particularist’s love of his own was kept from swelling into the murderous ferocity of the Death Wish by the particularist’s fear of the gods.  Zeus was, you see, the “god of strangers,” and therefore impatient with men who took up their tomahawks and let their Death Wish off the leash.  Thus, on the very same page where we read Plato’s howl of hate, we find this curious line:

“He who has a spark of caution in him, will do his best to go through life without sinning against the stranger.”

It seems that Plato did not see any necessary connection between “honoring one’s kindred” and “sinning against the stranger,” which just goes to show what a shifty old cracker he was.

15 thoughts on “Between the Death Wish and the Great Nausea

  1. Pingback: Between the Death Wish and the Great Nausea | @the_arv

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  3. In the Homeric world, which stands organically antecedent to the Platonic world, the Law of Hospitality, overseen by Zeus, serves as the very emblem of law and order. Readers instantly recognize who is a white hat and who a black hat, the white hats being those who know and act on the guest-host obligation and the black hats being those who flout that obligation. Telemachus is a white hat: When Athene appears at the door of Odysseus’ house in the guise of an old friend of the family, Telemachus is first to notice her and swift to admit her. Nestor is swift to invite Telemachus to the feast and Nausicaa does her best to extend hospitality to the bearded, naked man who has washed up on the beach where she and her handmaids are doing the laundry.

    On the other hand, when Odysseus rashly enters the cave of Polyphemus without an invitation, bad things happen — and the blame falls to him, as he should have known better. Polyphemus is a black hat, however, in that he, even more grossly than Odysseus, flouts hospitality. He eats several men of Odysseus’ scouting party before they can make their escape.

    The law is slightly ambiguous in some of its phases. The guest may not enter the house until the host invites him in, but it is incumbent on the host to invite the guest in. (We observe the law voluntarily even though the law is mandatory.) The guest is supposed to leave after a decent interval, which he and the host negotiate. Most reprobate of all are those who cross the threshold without an invitation. In the Odyssey, these are the Suitors, rent-seeking bachelors who enter the household uninvited, squat there, ceaselessly tax the larder, and threaten the householders with murder and rape. Odysseus only does what he must when he returns home at last and reconnoiters the situation: With the help of Athene and Telemachus, he slaughters the Suitors mercilessly to a man. After which he directs the disloyal maids to clean up the mess, after which he hangs them by their necks. Family is all.

    • I recently read an abridged (but not bowdlerized) edition of the Odyssey to my two youngest children. They were a little shocked by Odysseus’s handling of the suitors, so I had to explain that “its all good” is not a sentiment the ancient Greeks would have understood. In an honor culture, a great many things are not at all good. To a person, or a people, with a will-to-exist, “it” cannot possibly be “all good,” since a good deal of “it” is trying to eat you!

      You’re right to point out hospitality as part of that middle ground between the murderous Death Wish and the Great Nausea. Hospitality is the mark of a man who is neither a savage nor a sap.

  4. I thought this was a site for devoted Christians, which makes citing Nietzsche approvingly odd, to say the least. According to him, Christianity was the source of the great nausea, and the very passage you cite is him fervently hoping for the antichrist to liberate man from its pernicious influence:

    This man of the future will redeem us, not just from the ideal held up till now, but also from those things which had to arise from it, from the great nausea, the will to nothingness, from nihilism, that stroke of midday and of great decision that makes the will free again, which gives earth its purpose and man his hope again, this Antichrist and anti-nihilist, this conqueror of God and of nothingness – he must come one day …

    You also get Freud’s Todestrieb completely wrong, btw.

    • Aware that Nietzsche wasn’t really down with Christianity, but this doesn’t mean he was wrong about everything. His diagnosis of cultural malaise was empirically correct, but theoretically wrong. Obviously Christianity couldn’t be the cause of the malaise since Christianity had been in decline for a century when the malaise set in. His Nihilism or Great Nausea was a malaise of modernism.

      Also aware that Freud’s Death Wish was, shall we say, a little more into “domestic violence” my post suggests. But when Freud contradicts Darwin, in my book Darwin wins. As my last paragraph indicates, even Darwin is not my final authority, but the inquisitive man can always learn something, even from his enemies.

      Which is why I have always supposed you hang around this seedy website!

      • Nietzsche was exemplarily modern in that his rivalry with Christ (see The Anti-Christ — one of the most narcissistic books ever written) drove him insane; but Nietzsche’s insanity was not without lucidity, for having become, himself, the victim of his campaign of implacable hatred, he suddenly began self-identifying as “The Crucified One.”

      • I don’t think Nietzsche was wrong, or right, about everything. However, he was very clear about a few things, and one of them is that for him, the flaws of modernism are rooted in its nature as a form of secularized christianity, and he despised them both. He may have been right or wrong to do so, but if you are going to invoke his name it would be good to be accurate about what he said.

      • It is inaccurate to describe Nietzsche’s philosophy as a reaction to Schopenhauer? Nonsense! Nietzsche’s philosophy aimed to overcome existential pessimism, of which Christianity was an historic, and Schopenhauer a modern, expression. If he could have removed all traces of Christianity with a wave of his magic wand, Nietzsche would still have been left with the human predicament that Schopenhauer described. That is to say a world of struggle and pain, with no prospect of redemption, in which existence, taken on the whole, was not worth it.

        And that predicament is the one we live in. People are not signing up for assisted suicide because they are suffering some sort of hangover from the slave morality of Christianity. The widespread anti-natalism of the West is not a result of secular Christianity.

  5. And among the behaviors conducive to survival, loyalty to one’s group, defense of one’s territory, and propagation of one’s breed are very far from being the least.

    But what constitute’s one’s group? The entire class known as white American seems to be of a relatively recent vintage. Does being a white American mean loyalty to America’s founding documents or to early 19th century American political ideals? This is a thin basis for forming a coherent identity. What does loyalty to locality mean when increasing numbers of Americans live in different parts of the country from where they were born? Outside of Texas perhaps very few Americans have an affection for their home state in the way that say Robert E Lee had.

    I as a Catholic traditionalist lament the corrosive influence American nationalism has worked on the various European ethnic traditions that once existed in this country. The very American nationalism we all have to rally to now denied my ancestors the right to propagate their culture.

    The fear mongering about some kind of American Yugoslavia is way over played. In liquid post modernity Americans are just too atomized and hedonistic to even bother.

    • You are certainly correct to say that atomization is well advanced, and that group loyalties are thin and uncertain. The recent uptick in White identity is a result of a growing consciousness of anti-white sentiments and policies. As I am sure you know, hostility is bonding, whichever side of the hostility one is on. But the basic point of the quote you draw out is that universalism must be universal to work. Since it isn’t, anyone who lives as a universalist (or as an egotist [funny how similar they are]) will be eaten up by particularist gangs.

    • “The fear mongering about some kind of American Yugoslavia is way over played. In liquid post modernity Americans are just too atomized and hedonistic to even bother.”

      Are you sure that in this sentiment, by ‘American’ you don’t mean ‘White American’? You may have noticed, I’m sure, but this is no longer (never was) the only category living within these shores.

      Anyhow, I very much agree with your misgivings about the nature of American nationalism and civic identity. It’s a violent reduction of true nations. But that’s not to say that through some accident of history or Providence this identity cannot transform into an alliance of separate identities once again. How? I’m sure I don’t know. Would that even be a good thing? Don’t know that either. But I do know that, artificial as it is, White identity does currently exist.

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