Nikolai Berdyaev: the Primacy of Freedom

Nikolai Berdyaev: the Primacy of Freedom

For the Russian philosopher Berdyaev, freedom is absolutely fundamental. And freedom is connected with subjectivity and Spirit, rather than the objective (measurable) external world.

All attempts to locate meaning and value in things outside the human soul are doomed to fail. Thinking of the universe as an organism, for instance, seems like an improvement over thinking of it as a dead mechanism. It turns the cosmos into a living entity with a purpose, but it also means thinking of people as mere cells in this organism to be subordinated to the larger whole. Nationalism turns the nation into a false idol to be worshipped. Neither “history,” nor “progress,” nor “the human race,” nor Platonic Forms are particularly significant or even real. They are hypostatizations and abstractions. For Berdyaev, the concrete individual personality is the full locus of reality and value. Anything else renders the personality a meaningless nothing to be used as a means to some other end.

Kant, who also saw human beings as ends in themselves, pointed out that freedom must be a fundamental aspect of human subjectivity because love exists.[1] This is known directly from experience. Each one of us has loved and been the recipient of love. Love cannot exist without freedom. We should let the datum of love determine our theories and speculations about ultimate existence. If love is possible, and we know it is, then freedom exists.

Continue reading

The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction

Whitehead famously picked out the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, also called the Fallacy of Reification, of Hypostatization, or of Concretism. It is committed “when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity.” Popular discourse is rife with such fallacies: as, e.g., treating terrorism, racism, hate, anthropogenic global warming, patriarchy, and so forth as if they were concrete reals.

I’ve always cordially disliked those terms for the phenomenon. I like better the Fallacy of Inapt Concretion. That’s just me. But this is my essay, so I’m going to use it hereinafter.

Continue reading

Form Follows Function?

Louis Sullivan is credited with coming up with the phrase “form follows function.” It is useful to know that someone in the recent past invented this notion in order to raise the possibility of uninventing it.

Some quote “form follows function” as though it were an axiom of geometry that all remotely mature thinkers acknowledge as a foundational truth; even as a God-given dictum.

The phrase could even be rendered innocuous if “function” were suitably defined. What, for instance, is the function of houses and work places? They are there to serve human beings with all their intricacies. They are not there to shelter robots and automatons.

What do people want from houses? They want a house to be a home. They want it to be structurally sound, reasonably affordable, easy to maintain and they want it to be beautiful. Human beings feel at home with beauty. They are instinctively drawn to beautiful things and feel alienated by the ugly. This is why we carefully choose furniture, paintings, decorations, paint colors for walls, curtains and carpets. We attempt, with various levels of success, bearing in mind limitations of budget, to turn the house into a home. Many of us like to include house plants and pets as other living things to share our homes with. Continue reading

Some Muddy Sloughs of Trouble

“Some in their passage through this elementary world find their way strewed with roses, and their paths spread with butter, others . . . stick fast in the muddy sloughs of trouble . . .”

Robert Baron, An Apology for Paris (1649)

You may suppose that footing would be uncertain on a path spread with butter, but this old idiom denoted a life of luxury, and was no doubt adapted from the verse in which Job remembered those happier days, “when I washed my steps with butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil” (29:6).  As Job and many others have discovered, the buttery path is not a long path (1).  Or, as an old nursery rhyme said of Billy Pringle’s pig:

When alive it lived in clover,
Now it’s dead, and that’s all over. Continue reading

Heterodoxy ipso facto Disenchants the World

When there is more than one cult competing for the credence and loyalty of the people, their chthonic cult is by that contest relevated to their conscious attention as an item for consideration that is disparate from their immediate confrontation with the world of their concrete experience. The abstraction of religion from mundane life that necessarily results has the effect of profaning that life; for, on that abstraction, it is not at all any more essentially and prerationally bound by the metaphysics, the ontology, and the deontology of the chthonic cult – or therefore by the normal and customary constraints of its praxis, mores, customs, and ukases – as from time immemorial it had been. It is on the contrary rather something quite other than and independent of what the cult supposes it to be, and about which the cult might be quite wrong. The deliverances of empirical experience are not then called into question; but their traditional cultic interpretations and settlements certainly are. So mundane life is then radically liberated from the cult that had theretofore informed it. It is cut loose; it is adrift; it is in danger. So then likewise are the men who have been set free of any masterful supervision, to make their own way in the world, each to devise his own cult as he sees fit, unconstrained by tradition or mastery or hard won knowledge.

At the first sign of heterodoxy in a culture, then, things have already begun to fall apart radically (for, the cult is the root of the culture). Heterodoxy is the outward schismatic manifestation of the fact that men are already thinking about religion abstractly. They would not be doing so if they apprehended no problems with the orthodox cult. But religion considered consciously as disparate from mere life is by nature vitiated, merely intellectual, sound and fury signifying almost nothing. Its abstraction in thought renders it then malleable; alternatives occur to the questing mind, and by virtue only of that occurrence take on life and probity. The alternatives multiply, and soon their own variations are discovered.

Continue reading

The Pagan Ordeal of Dominique Venner

Venner 01

[Note: This essay appeared some few years ago in the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, shortly after the death by suicide of its subject. The work of Venner remaining relevant, I re-post the essay here, with a few small changes.]

Dominique Venner (born 16 April 1935) ended his life publicly and dramatically by shooting himself in the mouth before the altar of Our Lady of Notre Dame in Paris six years ago on 21 May 2013. The bullet passed through Venner’s brain and exited the back of his head. In the opening paragraph of a suicide note that he sent to his publisher, Venner sought to justify his action:

I am healthy in body and mind, and I am filled with love for my wife and children.  I love life and expect nothing beyond, if not the perpetuation of my race and my mind.   However, in the evening of my life, facing immense dangers to my French and European homeland, I feel the duty to act as long as I still have strength.  I believe it necessary to sacrifice myself to break the lethargy that plagues us. I give up what life remains to me in order to protest and to found.  I chose a highly symbolic place, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, which I respect and admire: She was built by the genius of my ancestors on the site of cults still more ancient, recalling our immemorial origins.

A reader cannot avoid remarking the contradictions in Venner’s testament.  A professed love of life comports itself awkwardly with a gesture of self-annihilation.  One could argue that Venner meant by “life,” not his own, but the collective, trans-personal vitality of his children and their descendants; he refers after all to “the perpetuation of [his] race and [his] mind.”  Seen in that way, his suicide might rise to being a Stoical demonstration, like those of Petronius and Seneca in the time of Nero.  Even so, no few problems remain; not least the dis-relation between Venner’s professed respect and admiration for the “highly symbolic place” of the Lady Church and his having blemished its consecrated precincts with his effluvia.  How moreover would such an act “break the lethargy that plagues us”?  More likely – even patently, looking back on the event – it would merely add to the pernicious confusion of the times.  The explanation of these contradictions is undoubtedly linked to the fact that while Venner acknowledged his belonging to a specifically Christian civilization in its late phase, he never himself identified as an adherent of that faith.  Like his countrymen-contemporaries Guillaume Faye (b. 1949) and Alain de Benoist (b. 1943), Venner espoused Friedrich Nietzsche’s Neo-Pagan view of Christianity as “slave morality,” a religion of defeat and death, and the cause of rather than the antidote to the malaise of modernity unleashed.  Like Nietzsche, whom Venner admired, and who signed his last letters as “The Crucified One,” the suicide might well have been experiencing a revilement of Christ which was, at the same time, a desire to rival and replace Him.  That would account for Venner’s characterization of his act as an instance of “self-sacrifice” and for his references to “cults still more ancient” than the Cult of the Virgin on the Ile de la Cité, with whose pre-Christian religiosity he would have identified in opposition to Christianity.

Continue reading

Corporations: Fake, Real, Bad, Good, & Even Holy

In what follows, take “corporation” loosely and in the most general terms, as denoting any body collected of humans and exerting agency apart from those of its collected members. So, your family is a corporation, and so is your book club, and your parish, and so forth.

Real corporations (not the fake or specious sort) can be bad or good – or even holy.

Continue reading

That Fellaheen Feeling

“This fellaheen feeling about life, that timeless gaiety of people not involved in great cultural and civilizational issues.” 

Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler (1960).

In Arabic, fallaha means to plow, and fellaheen is therefore a collective name for the plowing peasants of Egypt and the Levant.  The fellah is a patient, plodding son of the soil, quite unlike the dashing Bedouin that rove the rough wastes of Arabia.  There is no reason to suppose that the fellahin are especially given to anything that Kerouac would have recognized as “gaiety,” for most are by habit pious and austere, but the old dharma bum said they were gay because they were “timeless,” and he said they were timeless because he believed they had laid the burden of civilization down. Continue reading

The Gridding Sword and the Wandering Wood

“Go, Michael, of celestial armies prince
. . . lead forth to battle these my sons
Invincible . . .
Equal in number to that godless crew
Rebellious; them with fire and hostile arms
Fearless assault, and, to the brow of Heaven
Pursuing, drive them out . . .

John Milton, Paradise Lost, book vi

If the Orthosphere has a patron saint, it is surely the archangel Michael, for his image has always graced our banner and his sword has always inspired our words.  It was by Saint Michael’s “gridding sword” that “Satan first knew pain,” and although our adversaries have been the merest flunkies of Hell, we hope our words have made them likewise smart. Continue reading