The “Great War” and Tyranny: E. E. Cummings and John Dos Passos on the Destruction of Order 1914-18

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American Troops at Ready, 1917

The reactionary-traditionalist historical view tends to correlate the ascendancy of the ideological dictatorships with the degrading tumult of World War II, making of the Nazi-Communist rivalry in the 1930s the tense build-up to that war while interpreting the conflict itself as a paroxysmatic re-ordering of world politics.  The regulation of the re-ordered world would be technocratic and autocratic – it would be ideological – whether the victorious global hegemon was the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  A type of elective étatisme hung in the air in 1945.  The British majority, for example, voted socialist immediately the conflict ended, contemptuously booting the architect of the victory, Winston Churchill, from office.  France and Italy contended with large, well-organized Communist Parties and likewise embarked on the nationalization of their economies and the provision of generous welfare guarantees to the citizenry.  The liberal colonization of institutions begins in this period, to become implacable and irreversible about the time that the Soviet Union dissolves in 1990.  Quite apart from historical discussion, many non-scholars who think of themselves as conservatives nourish the notion that the “soft” totalitarianism of the contemporary politically correct regime in the West has only a short pedigree and that, but a few decades ago, as in the 1950s, perhaps, tradition still reigned and things were in their proper proportion and arrangement.  Of course such a view ignores the “enlightened” managerialism of Woodrow Wilson and the socialist quasi-dictatorial style of Franklin D. Roosevelt, just as it ignores the mobilized character of such phenomena as Suffragism and Prohibitionism, early phases of the liberal project that confusingly coincided with the anti-immigration and anti-Communist movements.  Then again the anti-immigration and anti-Communist movements only became a reality because of immigration and Communism.

The most famous literary dystopia, George Orwell’s 1984, sees publication in 1948, but the most plausible literary dystopia, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, sees publication in 1932.  The 1920s and 30s see a flood in spate of critical anti-modern discourse, not least, and quite ironically, in the single most definitive, formally modernist, text of all, T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land (1922); but also in philosophical works by Oswald Spengler, Nicolas Berdyaev, Herman Keyserling, René Guénon, Paul Valéry, Christopher Dawson, and Jacques Maritain, and in novels and short stories by, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pär Lagerkvist, Thomas Mann, Huxley himself, and two American contemporaries of Fitzgerald, E. E. Cummings (1894 – 1962) and John Dos Passos (1896 – 1970).  Cummings and Dos Passos attended Harvard as undergraduates at the same time, studied there with George Santayana, and absorbed their teacher’s skepticism about modernity.  The two classmates decided, before Wilson took America to war, to see the front first-hand by joining the volunteer ambulance corps.  Cummings and Dos Passos served in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps as volunteers.  In The Enormous Room (1922), an experimental non-fiction novel, and in Three Soldiers (1923), a novelistic panorama of America at war, Cummings and Dos Passos respectively and decisively break ranks with what they have come by convergence to regard as the claptrap of war talk and the enlistment of whole societies in a project of total conflict.

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Globalism as Sacrificial Crisis: Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s Mark of the Sacred

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The Wicker Man of the Pagan Celts

Gregory Copley has argued in his study of Un-Civilization (2014) that the global human arrangement, a creeping improvisation of the last three or four centuries, nowadays has outlived its ad hoc semi-functionality so that it totters on the verge of a radical spontaneous reconstruction whose survivors will have experienced it as nothing less than a catastrophe.  Eric Cline, in his recent study of The Year Civilization Collapsed (2014), underscores the likelihood of such a calamity as the one that Copley predicts.  Cline marshals the details of an archaeologically attestable prototype of “systems collapse” that occurred around the date 1177 BC when a vast swath of the civilized Eastern Mediterranean literally went up in flames, inaugurating a “dark age” that in some places lasted four hundred years.  That it has happened increases the possibility that it might happen.  Jean-Pierre Dupuy, like Copley and Cline, is a student of crises, but unlike them he is primarily a religious thinker, one who takes seriously the insights of the man whom he calls the Albert Einstein of Twentieth-Century social science, René Girard.  Dupuy’s title, The Mark of the Sacred (2008; English, 2013), recalls the title of Girard’s seminal Violence and the Sacred (1966; English, 1972).  In that work, Girard discovered, in myth, ritual, and tragic poetry, the signs of a “sacrificial crisis” ubiquitously and regularly afflicting archaic societies.  In the sacrificial crisis, the social group suffers structural breakdown in rampant, violent mimesis or imitation that resolves itself through the production of an arbitrarily selected victim; the victim’s immolation then promotes him to godhead and generates the basic forms of culture.

One might think analogously of the basic architecture of the pyramid in relation to death-by-stoning: The former results from the latter, concealing the victim under an aesthetically pleasing form that dissimulates its own origin.

As Girard sees it, and as Dupuy reiterates, this “scapegoat mechanism” made humanity, but it also entrapped humanity in the closed epistemology, gory practice, and mendacious rhetoric, stomach-churning to inspect, of the sacred.  In Girard’s argument, which Dupuy again adopts, people could not begin to escape the delusion of the sacred until the decisive event of Christ’s Passion, as recorded in the four Gospels.  In The Mark of the Sacred, Dupuy explores the implications of this – to him – persuasive view.  Those implications entail, among other things, a reassessment of existing normative models of economics, political theory, cognitive science, and, indeed, modernity’s total view of itself.  The prideful, deforming error of modernity, as Dupuy demonstrates in a series of five topically various but logically closely-related chapters, is to believe fanatically in its own claim to be thoroughly and justifiably secular, thus licensing itself to reject everything that it categorizes as religious or irrational.  In itself, Dupuy’s case is hardly unprecedented.  Among others and as early as the beginning of the Nineteenth Century S. T. Coleridge and Joseph de Maistre identified the Revolution, that declaration of an absolute break with all tradition, as essentially religious, but as by no means an advance beyond the Christianity that it condemned.  Yet Dupuy, assimilating Girard, takes this argument in new directions.

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Reading Count Gobineau

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Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816 – 1882)

The name of Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816 – 1882) rarely appears nowadays except in a context of moral dudgeon.  The first sentence of the Wikipedia article devoted to Gobineau perhaps unsurprisingly informs the reader, in rather lazy prose, that “Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau… was a French aristocrat who was best known by his contemporaries as a novelist, diplomat, and travel writer but is today most remembered for developing the theory of the Aryan master race and helping to legitimise racism by scientific racist theory and racial demography.”  (Punctuation corrected.)  The term “scientific racist theory” especially courts self-condemnation through its editorial heavy-handedness and its retrojection of a contemporary item of ideological cant: Objectively, Gobineau sought only to articulate a scientific racial theory or a scientific theory of race.  The term “master-race” moreover is foreign to Gobineau’s text; and “Aryan,” as Gobineau properly uses it, is an ancient tribal self-designation.  Had someone accused Gobineau of racism, or of being a racist, the term would have baffled him entirely.  The reliably left-leaning Wikipedia is not alone, however, in treating Gobineau as thoroughly toxic.  The New World Encyclopedia, in its online version, asseverates that “although [Gobineau’s] racial theories did not receive immediate attention in Europe,” nevertheless “it was through the influence of the Bayreuth circle and Richard Wagner that his views became popular, and his anti-Semitic theories developed.”  The Encyclopedia’s rhetorical maneuver draws on the widely circulated notion that National Socialism began proleptically with Wagner, who therefore qualifies himself as morally pernicious, and it extends Wagner’s supposed vileness backwards to the one who planted the seed of wickedness in Wagner’s mind – namely Gobineau in his proper person.  That reading Gobineau’s prose inspired Wagner to be a rabid anti-Semite and led to the Holocaust seems to be the implication.

Leaving aside the imputation that Wagner was a Proto-Hitler, which while of considerable interest belongs in another discussion, these slick mischaracterizations of Gobineau’s treatise on The Inequality of the Human Races (1854) reveal themselves as being based on prejudicial and superficial readings of that book; or perhaps on a universal omission to read it.  What then would a careful and unprejudiced reading of The Inequality of the Human Races yield?  The present essay proposes to answer that question.  (Note: Inequality is a work in four extensive volumes that touch on a variety of topics and that in many ways establish the science of comparative ethnography; the first volume, however, functions as an extended introduction to the other three, summarizing their contents in advance.  For the sake of tractability, I confine my remarks to that first volume.)

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Moloch is But a Vassal of Our True Enemy

Back in 2010, I commented to a post at VFR:

Nominalism is satanic, I’m telling you. It’s a device to destroy man. Convicted nominalism has to end in suicide, whether cultural or personal. If there are no transcendent values, but rather only and merely our own personal, private preferences, then our personal private preferences are false to facts. This is a little tricky to see, until we draw the analogy to the schizophrenic. The schizophrenic’s impression that there are black helicopters pursuing him are peculiar to him. The black helicopters are not really there. So we understand that his impressions are illusions. But nominalism says that the values we apprehend in things and people and activities, like the black helicopters, are not objectively real. And this means that our feelings of value are—just like the schizophrenic’s black helicopters — hallucinations. They are false. Nominalism says that there is in reality no value out there to be had.

But to say that there is no value really to be found in the world is nihilism. And the consistent nihilist, who has the courage of his convictions, cannot believe that his own life, or anyone else’s life, or the life of his nation, are worth a hill of beans. So he cannot find any way to defend them—none at all. And this will result in death, one way or another, even if only through the sheer lassitude of utter ennui.

I thought at the time I sent that comment to Lawrence, God rest his soul, that in characterizing a school of epistemology as satanic I was perhaps engaging in a bit of rhetorical hyperbole. Firing for effect, as it were.

But then, the other night, I was reading An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: the Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels, by Father Gabriele Amorth, SSP. Father Amorth was for many years the exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. I read the following passage from his explanation of Satanism (beginning on page 30):

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To Make All Things New

You can’t make all things new until you get rid of all the old things. To make all things new is to remake them from the get go, and from the bottom up, totally, without a jot of remainder. New wine, new wineskins.

So, you’ve got to get rid of all the old wineskins.

This is what is meant by, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

This or that reform here and there is not good enough. You can’t expect to make progress against Moloch, the devourer of children, by means of marginal moves, tactical moves, polite moves. No. You must attack him directly, and totally, as Scipio Aemilianus did. Destroy him utterly, and salt the fields where his worshippers farmed, and pollute their wells.

Delete him from the Earth. Then, and only then, might Rome and her ways prevail again for a time.

Then only might there some day arise a mightily sagacious Bishop and Saint in Hippo, that suburb of Moloch’s Carthage.

Sensitivity and Survival

Yesterday around 10.15 in the morning, I entered the classroom where I teach to set up the audio-visual equipment so that I could screen a film for the students in my 10.20 class.  Normally I would have been in the classroom about five minutes earlier, but the previous instructor appeared to be in conference with a student, so I politely delayed my appropriation of the premises.  At 10.15, however, I judged that I ought to assert my presence.  As I walked through the classroom door, I noticed that the other instructor, a young adjunct, was indeed in conversation, as it seemed, with a tall, male, Caucasian person with long dark hair, whose manner struck me as heated and over-animated in a peculiar and immediately disturbing way.  That something odd was going on was instantly confirmed when the person, turning to face me, loudly and truculently demanded to know where I stood on school shootings and gun ownership.  When I made it evident that I had no interest in discussing the issue with him, he demanded that I give him my email address so that he could “send me a message.”

I looked at “Bob,” the young instructor, shrugging my shoulders in a silent appeal whether he could explain who this agitated party might be.  Bob replied in a quiet voice that he had no knowledge of the loudmouth’s identity.  That voluble person was now verbally harassing those of my students who were seating themselves in expectation of the film – insisting loudly and aggressively that they should answer his bizarre and random inquisitions.  Drawing me aside, Bob said to me swiftly and in a manner sotto voce that this person had inserted himself into the classroom uninvited early in the session, asking whether he could participate in a debate that Bob’s students were conducting and that he had overheard from outside.

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The Form of Forms is Itself Formless

That which has no form cannot be conceived – and vice versa. It’s easy to see that this is so when we try to think of what a square circle is like, or a four-sided triangle.

But, let’s talk about God.

To put the same thing another way: that than which no greater can be conceived by any mind cannot be conceived by any mind. If that than which no greater can be conceived could be conceived by any mind, then that mind would insofarforth understand how its conception of that thing could be surpassed, and would realize that in conceiving of it he had not yet quite conceived of that than which no greater can be conceived. He would realize that he had not been thinking of the unsurpassable. He would, i.e., realize that he had been thinking, not of God, but rather of something like Gaunilo’s Island, than which always some greater island might be conceived.

So, here’s the shocking consequence of these considerations: Not even God can conceive himself.

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Self-Hatred & Radical Autonomy: an Interpretation of Thordaddy

[Thordaddy is one of our most loyal and prolific commenters. Most of the comments he has submitted have not appeared here, on account of his customary horrific abuse of English syntax, diction, and prosody. Most of them are simply incomprehensible. They have not therefore passed the threshold set by the criteria of our comments policy. Nevertheless, Thordaddy has some terrific insights, which over the course of years of earnest effort to understand him, I have at length come to appreciate. Thus, this post. All thanks to Thordaddy for his honest persistence. Now, if only he could school himself to write like a Christian …][Thordaddy: for the love of Christ, don’t get cocky: write like a Christian, for God’s sake. Your comments to this post will not otherwise see the light of day.][And, also: God bless you for your earnest loyal persistence.]

Self-hatred comes along with the vicious radical autonomy of modernism (that Thordaddy has so emphatically noticed to us all) as a package deal. If you are radically autonomous, then you alone are capable of fixing your own life, and so you are alone responsible for so doing. There is then no one to help you. You alone are alone at fault. Your fault is intrinsic, given along with your radical ontological autonomy, and therefore incorrigible – at least by you. Your fault is your own decision.

Naturally then you hate yourself for it (every man knows in his heart that he is responsible for himself; there is no escape whatever from this knowledge). But one cannot hate oneself and live; so your self-hatred is directed instead upon some Other, a wicked and as suspiciously odd therefore ostensibly blameworthy scapegoat, who works well enough as a halfway credible field for the projection of your own most despised characteristics. The scapegoat allows you to feel for a few moments – those of his holocaust – that you yourself are blameless in your predicaments; that it is all his fault, and that with his death, his ostracism or bewilderment, your faults likewise die; so that you are then free of responsibility, ergo of guilt, or shame, or blame – ritually pure and unimpeachable.

I.e., free. Radically autonomous.

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The Scandalous Fascination of Latter Day Public Life in the West

Back in April of 2015 I whinged on about the stupefying boredom of latter day public life in the West. Thanks to the extraordinary depredations of the Obama years, things seemed then inexorably locked in. The Overton Window was doomed to move ever leftward, ever more rapidly. There was not even going to be a Hegelian Mambo anymore, but just a long smooth depressing slide into oblivion, as if a morphine drip were gradually dialed upward, and the body politic fell more and more deeply comatose.

Then, in June of that year – just two months later – Donald Trump declared his candidacy, and then a year later Britain voted to leave the EU.

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