More on Nietzsche and the Jews

Continuing our discussion of Nietzsche and the Jews, I just came upon this quote in a long article on Nietzsche and European unification (I haven’t read the article yet, but it seems the author is pro-European unification and sees Nietzsche as an ally):

Every nation, every man has disagreeable, even dangerous characteristics; it is cruel to demand that the Jew should be an exception… I would like to know how much one must excuse in the overall accounting of a people which, not without guilt on all our parts, has had the most sorrowful history of all peoples, and to whom we owe the noblest of all human beings (Christ), the purest philosopher (Spinoza), the mightiest book, and the most effective moral code in the world. [Nietzsche. Human, All Too Human, ‘The European man and the destruction of nations’]

As I’ve said before, and as anyone who has read his works knows, Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite. Nor was he a German nationalist. At the same time, we must acknowledge that through his nihilistic philosophy, his increasingly shrill and ignorant attacks on Christianity, and his exaltation of force and will, he bears a major share of responsibility for helping create the intellectual environment in which Nazism and anti-Semitism flourished, a theme we may expand on at a later point.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 14, 2003 03:28 PM | Send

For more information on what Nietzsche thought about Jews and anti-Semitism, the book to read is his “The Anti-Christ,” part one of “Revaluation.” While Nietzsche deeply loves the Old Testament, he thinks that the New Testament is about “the people at the bottom, the outcasts and ‘sinners,’ the chandalas within Judaism.” He attacks Christian anti-Semites by saying that it is not Moses and the prophets who represent the worst type of Jew, but rather Jesus and Paul. It is the early Jewish-Christians of the New Testament who possess all the qualities which Jews are hated for. While Nietzche’s hatred of anti-Semitism is to be commended, its foundation on a hatred of Christianity is equally to be condemned.

I have reproduced the entire section from which the paper quotes above. I think that Mr. Auster will find it interesting, especially since it touches on nations and nation-states. It is section 475 of Human, all-to-Human. The most famous section. Walter Kaufmann’s translation is used – probably the best translation of Nietzsche available, in my opinion.

Anyway, here is Human, all-to-Human:

The European man and the abolition of nations.

Trade and industry, books and letters, the way in which all higher culture is shared, the rapid change of house and scenery, the present nomadic life of everyone who is not a landowner—these circumstances necessarily produce a weakening, and finally the abolition, of nations, at least in Europe; and as a consequence of continual intermarriage there must develop a mixed race, that of the European man… . It is not the interest of the many (of peoples), as is often claimed, but above all the interest of certain royal dynasties and also of certain classes in commerce and society, that drives to nationalism. Once one has recognized this, one should declare oneself without embarrassment as a good European and work actively for the amalgamation of the nations. In this process the Germans could be helpful by virtue of their long proven skill as interpreters and mediators among peoples.

Incidentally, the whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred. In almost all contemporary nations, therefore—in direct proportion to the degree to which they act up nationalistically—the literary obscenity is spreading of leading the Jews to slaughter as scapegoats of every conceivable public and internal misfortune. As soon as it is no longer a matter of preserving nations, but of producing the strongest possible European mixed race, the Jew is just as useful and desirable an ingredient as any other national remnant. Unpleasant, even dangerous, qualities can be found in every nation and every individual: it is cruel to demand that the Jew be an exception. In him, these qualities may even be dangerous and revolting to an unusual degree; and perhaps the young stock-exchange Jew is altogether the most disgusting invention of mankind. In spite of that I should like to know how much one must forgive a people in a total accounting when they have had the most painful history of all peoples, not without the fault of all of us, and when one owes to them the noblest man (Christ), the purest sage (Spinoza), the most powerful book, and the most effective moral law in the world. Moreover, in the darkest times of the Middle Ages, when the Asiatic cloud masses had gathered heavily over Europe, it was Jewish free-thinkers, scholars, and physicians who clung to the banner of enlightenment and spiritual independence in the face of the harshest personal pressures and defended Europe against Asia. We owe it to their exertions, not least of all, that a more natural, more rational, and certainly unmythical explanation of the world was eventually able to triumph again, and that the bond of culture which now links us with the enlightenment of Greco-Roman antiquity remained unbroken. If Christianity has done everything to orientalize the Occident, Judaism has helped significantly to occidentalize it again and again: in a certain sense this means as much as making Europe’s task and history a continuation of the Greek.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on November 14, 2003 5:32 PM

A truly fascinating passage, filled with one mind-blowing insight after another (leaving aside the question of whether they are all true). By the way, Human, All-Too-Human is one of the very few of Nietzsche’s books I haven’t read; I’ve read everything except his earlier works written between The Birth of Tragedy and The Gay Science.

Here I want to make two points. The Anti-Christ is virtually an insane book, written shortly before Nietzsche’s breakdown, and is not to be seen as representative of his thought as a whole, though it does in a sense show the horrible end toward which his thought tended. As one example, note his early praise of Jesus as the noblest man who ever lived, and his ravings against Jesus in The Anti-Christ. The same would go for his remarks about the Jews.

Second, I want to comment on this passage:

“… [T]he whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred.”

Now this is amazing as a very early, remarkably incisive expression of the Jewish problem. Think of it—this was written in the 1870s, 20 years before Theodore Hertzl’s blinding revelation that the Jews could never be safe as a minority in Europe and needed their own country. (In the early 1990s I and a friend shared the thought that in whatever society they entered Jews would automatically rise to the top and so create majority-minority tensions. This was a new and disturbing idea to me at the time. Little did I know that Nietzsche had said exactly the same thing 120 years earlier.)

But the passage is also amazing in the context of the Jack Wheeler article I posted yesterday. Wheeler argues that liberal guilt is aimed at neutralizing the envy being directed at the liberal from those at the bottom. Now, according to Nietzsche, which is the most envied and hated of all groups? The Jews. And, as we know, which group is also the most liberal—and famous for its liberal guilt—of all groups? The Jews. The Jews are the most liberal because they are the objects of the most envy.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2003 5:55 PM

On the subject of Nietzsche’s madness, Dr. Richard Schain has an interesting essay online.

Dr. Schain wrote “The Legend of Nietzsche’s Syphilis,” challenging various claims about Nietzsche’s mental disorder.

I point out the essay because I agree with you about The Anti-Christ being an at least stylistically “insane” book that does not represent Nietzsche’s thought as a whole. On the other hand, especially viewed in the light of Ecce Homo written just afterwards, I do not think that it can be discounted as the work of someone who had lost his faculty for clear thought. It is very much Nietzschian.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on November 14, 2003 8:15 PM

If Nietzsche was not insane when he wrote The Anti-Christ, then he is fully responsible for what he said in it, to his great discredit. To the extent that The Anti-Christ is a culmination of Nietzsche’s intellectual journey, and not an aberation, the book places a dark cloud over his entire oeuvre.

This was the theme of a big undergraduate paper I wrote on Nietzsche in the 1970s. My argument was as follows. Nietzsche denied the existence of God. But let’s assume that God in fact exists. What, then, is the meaning of Nietzsche’s philosophy? What would Nietzsche’s rejection of God look like, from _God’s_ point of view? I then proceeded to show how Nietzsche, in his total denial of any objective or divine truth in existence, moved increasingly into a horrible void.

The nobility of Nietzsche was that he was so honest. With great integrity and purity, he followed his path to the end, and thus demonstrated for all time the ultimate consequences of rejecting God and truth.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2003 8:44 PM

Nietzsche writes extensively about nihilism, especially in Will to Power and Genealogy of Morals. He is no nihilist. In fact, he has major insights as to the essence of nihilism. One of his major philosophical insights is that Christianity, during its early ascending stage closed the door on nihilism. He predicted that the decline of the credibility of Judeo-Christian belief (which has been gradually occuring over the years) would bring about a nihilistic age. This would result in suffering and pain. All throughout his works are goals and aspirations to develop an alternative philosophy because he believed that Judeo-Christianity was not adequate anymore. Whatever you may think of his critique of Christianity, he was no nihilist. I would be happy to provide you with numerous citations of this in his body of work.

Posted by: susie on November 14, 2003 10:21 PM

I respectfully disagree with Susie on this. It is not a complete absence of goals and beliefs and preferences that makes one a nihilist. It is the denial of transcendence and objective moral truth that makes one a nihilist.

This is a common misconception that is addressed in Fr. Seraphim Rose’s brilliant (and very short) book “Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age.” Fr. Rose explains how most people think of nihilism only in terms of the most extreme form of nihilism—a denial of all value, an urge to destroy everything. Thus Hitler in his willingness to let all Germany be destroyed in a final Götterdammerung was a nihilist as most people understand the word. But in fact nihilism has stages of increasing severity, which do not seek total destruction. The first three stages are liberalism, realism, and vitalism. Liberalism, for example, denies the higher truth of things, but keeps their external forms for the sake of social order; vitalism involves a life in endless quest for thrills and “experience.” Last comes the nihilism of destruction, which for most people is the only nihilism. But they all have in common the lack of belief in truth.

Nietzsche was a nihilist of the vitalist type (of which there are a variety of subtypes). For him meaning came not from any inherent truth of existence, but from the will to power. Each people and culture has its own will to power, its own goals and gods. Each of these belief systems has value in that it enhances life. But none of them is really true, and in fact the will to life of each culture requires the _suppression_ of the will to truth. But now we’ve entered the modern, scientific age, in which the will to truth has emerged as a force in its own right. And this will to truth expresses itself in a new type of man, the superman. The superman sees (as the people of the past cultures did not) that there is no truth. Furthermore, he sees that this cosmos that lacks any essence _repeats itself eternally_. So not only is there the pain and meaninglessness of existence, but man must keep living through the same cycle of pain and meaninglessness forever. However, if he says YES to this Eternal Return, if he embraces all existence, despite its eternal cycle of meaninglessness and suffering, then he rises above the suffering to joy, and becomes a superman.

It is a perfect inversion of Christianity. Instead of fulfilling himself by finding his true self in God, the superman fulfills himself by saying Yes to eternal meaninglessness and horror in a world without God. It is the supreme nihilistic vision.

Here is a revealing quote from Fr. Rose on the vitalist type of nihilism, showing that nihilism is compatible with lots of activity, goals, and fun:

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2003 11:02 PM

Harold Bloom made the case for the idea that Nietzsche was personally a moral relativist who saw that society needs absolute values, and since Christianity was no longer persuasive to the modern world, there needed to be a new lawgiver in the style of Moses.

Being a Straussian, Bloom might have agreed with the proposition that that Nietzsche was carrying on the philosophic tradition through his understanding that the moral values of his time were not absolute, and that what made him especially unique was his timing – coming as he did at the tail end of the Christian dominance of the West.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on November 14, 2003 11:35 PM

Now Thrasymachus is writing in the spirit of his sophistical namesake, claiming that nihilism (in this instance, the mild, liberal stage of nihilism) is carrying on the philosophical tradition rather than living parasitically on its remains.

A moral relativist who denies absolute values but says that society needs them for their practical benefit, fits exactly the category of the liberal type of nihilist, that is, he denies truth but still wants to maintain the outward forms of truth and the social benefits of believing in truth. Because such a liberal nihilist does not believe in truth, he cannot defend even the forms of truth when they are attacked (consider the university administrators of the late Sixties), and society then slides from the liberal stage of nihilism to the realist, vitalist, and finally the destructive stage of nihilism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 12:33 AM

Lawrence Auster essentially claims that, since Nietzsche did not believe in absolute or eternal truth, he therefore did not believe at all in truth. This is simply not true. Throughout Nietzsche’s writings he clearly states that the more noble among us are able to accept and bear more and higher forms of truth.

Life without a false God at first appears meaningless. Those able to accept this painful truth and then rise above it by still affirming life are the ideal Supermen. These noble and healthy souls create their own values and find their own meaning.

What a freedom! To be liberated from the myths and superstitions of Judeo-Christianity. To be able to live your life out from under false pretenses. To know in your heart that life is ultimately devoid of meaning (in the Christian sense) and yet continue in joy is the ultimate rejection of Nihilism.

Posted by: DG on November 15, 2003 12:06 PM

DG enthuses,

“What a freedom! To be liberated from the myths and superstitions of Judeo-Christianity. To be able to live your life out from under false pretenses. To know in your heart that life is ultimately devoid of meaning (in the Christian sense) and yet continue in joy is the ultimate rejection of Nihilism.”

What DG waxes so enthusiastic about is, of course, nothing other than the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, with a little of Bertrand Russell’s logical-positivist agnosticism thrown in. I grew up “liberated from the myths and superstitions of Judæo-Christianity” (after an early childhood education as a Catholic until around the end of the fourth grade) and can say that for me, life’s real joy turned out to lie in the opposite direction from where DG seeks it: it turned out to lie in what he calls the myths and superstitions of Judæo-Christianity. There is a void in the other place. It is the void of ultimate meaninglessness that Dostoievski told us terrified even the strongtest of men. If anyone wants to know fright, let them try to stare at that void, that void of meaninglessness, full in the face (assuming it can even be done — probably can’t, any more than staring at the sun or at the reality of death can be done). I devoted a lot of thought in college to the search for a formal ethics, in connection wherewith I read lots of logic, mathematical logic, and logical positivism (Rudolph Carnap, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gottlob Frege, and others) and I am convinced it cannot be done. Ethics come only from faith. After college I discovered Christianity again (didn’t shed my socialist com-symp notions ‘til much later however). I remind DG of what I’m sure he already knows: Søren Kierkegaard, said to be the first modern existentialist, defended Christianity (though he in some ways was a forerunner of a few of Nietzsche’s ideas — like the one about exceptional “supermen” being above moral laws). Look where existentialism got Sartre: “The fact that I exist nauseates me.” That’s not where Judæo-Christianity gets people — it gets them to a much better place than that.

Posted by: Unadorned on November 15, 2003 2:54 PM

DG finds the freedom wholly positive because he’s not doing what Nietzsche himself did—consistently follow the atheist, anti-essentialist position to its true conclusion, which is absolute sollipsism in an empty universe. As an example, read “The Night Song” in part II of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

People who profess to find in Nietzche’s philosophy nothing more than a happy release from the burdens of Judeo-Christian morality can only do so because, just as liberals do with regard to consistent liberalism (i.e. leftism), they practice lots of unprincipled exceptions from their own philosophy so as to keep life viable and endurable. Nietzsche was different. He pursued his anti-God vision to the end, and thus revealed its true meaning.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 3:18 PM

I understand Unadorned’s hesitancy to face dark truths. It is easy to fall prey to Judeo-Christian seductions “so as to keep life viable and endurable”. Nietzsche knew this and had an alternative vision rooted in the harsh reality of human nature.

In order to shield ourselves from the pain of reality Europeans today believe all sorts of destructive ideas. Judeo-Christianity was merely a segue to even more dishonesty. The worst offenders of Marxism, Feminism, and other forms of Radical Leftism think they are the most noble people.

We should not be afraid to understand deeply the truths about ourselves. Imagine, for example, a world where people understood and accepted the truths about inequality. Europeans would no longer feel required to be ashamed of themselves. Blacks would no longer be taught to hate higher peoples. Acceptance of a few more insights could lead to the separation of peoples who were never meant to live together. The Earth will still be here. It would be, as I’ve said before, a liberating experience.

Now imagaine a world where God did not exist. The Earth will still be here afterwards.

By the way, thanks for the reference. “The Night Song” is truly beautiful.

Posted by: DG on November 15, 2003 4:52 PM

May I suggest that DG is not facing the implications of what he’s saying. On one hand, he dismisses my concern about keeping life “viable,” as if that were something that only weak people unable to face hard reality would care about. On the other hand, he says that after God has been murdered or erased, the “earth would still be here,” and it would be a “liberating” and “beautiful” experience. So evidently DG still counts on the fact that life, human life on this earth, will continue to be viable. The upshot is that both DG and I require that life be viable, we only differ on the conditions that make that possible.

And here is what I think is really going on. In order to keep life viable, DG— like all liberals, leftists, libertarians, and atheists—must depend on the actual continuation of a functioning social and moral order that is NOT wholly liberal, leftist, libertarian, or atheist. Liberals, leftists, libertarians, and atheists are parasitical upon the social order that they want to destroy or transform. This is the dirty secret of all forms of leftism, liberationism, and nihilism. The adherents of these projects cover up their true destructive nature by embedding them within the existing social and divine order, even as they deny that that order has any existence or truth. In order to keep their project (and life itelf) viable, they must continually make unprincipled exceptions to their own destructive principles.

This atheist or liberal game can only continue as long as the adherents of traditional order fail to call the atheists and liberals on it. As soon as they are forced to give an account of themselves, their project collapses. (As an experiment, the next time you hear some deconstructionist college professor say that there is no truth, only different “narratives,” ask him what he would do if a female student falsely accused him of sexually harrassing her.) That is why, as Leo Strauss said (and I am not at all a Straussian, I just happen to like this quote), “The inescapable practical consequence of nihilism is a fanatical obscurantism.”

By the way, I’m not saying that DG has been obscurantist. I’m discussing the larger phenomenon of nihilism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 5:24 PM

I recently attended a conference at Berry College (northwest of Atlanta), organized by Peter Augustine Lawler, entitled “Democracy and Its Friendly Critics.” Professor Werner Dannhauser of Michigan State delivered a paper on Nietzsche in which he said some very amusing things. I’m afraid, he said, that Nietzsche was not friendly critic of democracy at all, but rather a bitter enemy. He thought democracy was a response to the death of God “of unusual stupidity.”

Nietzsche, according to Dannhauser, was the last great thinker to forthrightly advocate the institution of slavery. His attitude toward war can be summed up by George C. Scott’s protrayal of Patton in the great film of the same name: “God help me, I love it!” Also: you have been told that a good cause justifies any war; I tell you a good war justifies any cause.

That sort of candor is bracing, no matter what its content.

Posted by: Paul Cella on November 15, 2003 7:10 PM

I should add that my own ignorance of Nietzsche is considerable. I merely repeat what I heard from Dannhauser.

Posted by: Paul Cella on November 15, 2003 7:19 PM

“His attitude toward war can be summed up by George C. Scott’s protrayal of Patton in the great film of the same name: ‘God help me, I love it!’ Also: ‘you have been told that a good cause justifies any war; I tell you a good war justifies any cause.’”

Yes, and it was precisely that worship of the will and of military force, combined with a nationalist afflatus, that led the nations of Europe to the catastrophe of the Great War and the ruin of our civilization.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 7:23 PM

While I always enjoy reading Nietzsche, and always feel that there is something to be learned from him, I do not agree with his moral relativism.

At the very least, the Socratic modesty should be recalled. The conviction of absolute values is a very basic human trait, and the consequences of going against one’s own nature and giving that up are enormous for both oneself and society. Even if a person dismisses God and religious values through his own reason, he should consider the depth of his own ignorance before he dismisses absolute value. If anything, materialistic atheism should give one more reason to be aware of the fallibility of thought which led a person to it in the first place. The universe is vast beyond anyone’s comprehension — both in size and in complexity — and the simple organic computers that we are should have at least a little hesitancy before making sweeping statements about existence.

I disagree with holding Nietzsche responsible for the Zeitgeist which produced the World Wars. It is much easier to trace root causes to economic problems and to the march of events. Philosophers generally do not have the power to mould history. It is a far more profitable study to look into the cases of where Nietzsche was expressing the German consciousness of the time, and to try to understand how that consciousness shaped future events.

That should not be taken as a reason to look down on Nietzsche’s importance. Like other great philosophers, he was beyond his time and place. There is much to disagree with, but Nietzsche’s critique of the modern man is unmatched anywhere else. Some of his criticisms of Christianity should be dismissed, but others should be taken seriously, even by people of faith. And, of course, some of his prognostications were accurate enough that everyone who reads him uses the term ‘prophecy.’

Posted by: Thrasymachus on November 15, 2003 9:07 PM

In regard to Nietzsche’s criticisms of Christianity, I’ve gone through three phases. In the first phase, I didn’t know anything about Christianity, and so either ignored or failed to question what he was saying. It didn’t mean much to me. In the second phase, years later, when I knew something about Christianity and was a Christian believer, I was struck by the utter ignorance and bigotry of his characterizations. It was as if he knew nothing about Christianity at all, and was just seeing it through the prism of the most pathetic types of Christians, weak souls who see the world as a big sick room and Christianity as a crutch or a consolation. In the third phase, I realized in how many cases Nietzsche’s caricature of Christianity was in fact correct. I began picking up on how many Protestant pastors were excessively “nice,” or how many Catholic priests were not very vital men who discussed their religion in terms of its being a “comfort” and a “consolation” rather than about God, Christ, and salvation. (I remember particularly the parish priest of Jacqueline Onassis at the time of her death saying something like this and it struck me that the man seemed to have no Christian message at all.) This focus on suffering and sadness and on Christianity as the mere _consolation_ for the suffering and sadness (rather than as a rising above suffering to true life in God) was, of course, exactly Nietzsche’s critique.

However, it must be emphasized that Nietzsche’s critique only pertains to weak and negative forms of Christianity. To present THAT as Christianity per se is bigoted and prejudicial. And Nietzsche, whatever else he may have been, was certainly a bigot against Christianity, not a fair, balanced, comprehensive student of it.

At the same time, shorn of their bigotry, Nietzsche’s insights into Christian degeneracy cannot be dismissed. In our time, so much of organized Christianity has become a form of spiritual weakness and even decay and corruption. (Just think of the face of Cardinal Law of Boston.) This seems to be especially the case when we consider the assimilation of organized Christianity into modern liberalism. The grim reality is that, in its present form, as a virtual creature of liberalism, much of organized Christianity is an enemy of Western man and Western civilization. This fact tragically justifies the hatred of many people on the right toward Christianity.

There is no easy solution in sight. The Church must rediscover a more true Christianity, one which emphasizes that Christianity is about life in God, not about social justice and reaching out to the “disenfranchised,” and which respects the constitution of divine-human existence, including the value of the concrete and particular. Contemporary organized Christianity lacks a true sense of the transcendent and of the particular and of the proper relation between them. For the Church—and thus the West—to save itself, there must be a restoration of these things.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 9:30 PM

Thrasy’s comment was very well stated throughout.

About the World Wars, it’s clear to me that Nietzsche would have been completely indifferent to the First, and would have abhorred Hitler. Nietzsche couldn’t stand anti-Semites. He adored Bonaparte, but needless to say Hitler was no Bonaparte. Case closed, in my opinion.

Thrasy is spot on in saying Nietzsche made valid criticisms of Christianity. For some years I’ve been concerned about what I view as a Christianity-liberalism nexus. I love Christianity and don’t know where I’d turn next if I began to see something rotten in its innermost core, along the lines of what Nietzsche saw. This web-site in fact has helped me glimpse a possible light at the end of that tunnel: it’s not that we must condemn Christianity and men like St. Paul as putting society on a road that leads to liberalism. Christianity and St. Paul aren’t at fault any more than Western Civilization itself is. Liberalism is the enemy all by itself, and the battle must be joined against it and not in any way against the things it is corrupting through no fault of theirs. What Nietzsche helped us to see, then, were not so much inherent defects in Christianity, as the mid-1800s version, or “roots,” of what we have come to call modern liberalism starting in the mid-1900s.

Posted by: Unadorned on November 15, 2003 10:04 PM

Well said, Unadorned!

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 10:09 PM

I composed and posted my comment of 10:04 without having seen Mr. Auster’s just above it. I agree one hundred and ten percent with Mr. Auster’s discussion of Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and the extent to which it was a valid one.

Posted by: Unadorned on November 15, 2003 10:11 PM

DG writes: “By the way, thanks for the reference. ‘The Night Song’ is truly beautiful.”

I too found it beautiful when I first read it, at about age 21. It was not until several years later, reading all of Nietzsche more carefully, that I grasped the spiritual lostness that this passage conveys.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 15, 2003 10:23 PM

Has it not always been this way, to one degree or another? Most of the body of Christ is decaying and demoralized, or strong only in momentary flashes — but the Faith endures because of its great saints and champions; men and women who, either by intellect or by example (the greatest are latter), set the world aflame, and thus rekindle the glory of the Lord for men.

They called St. Thomas Aquinas “the Dumb Ox”; and Albert the Great perceived him right: “I tell you that the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud that his bellowing will fill the earth.”

St. Augustine, who poured out his incomparable mind (a new set of his complete works already includes twenty-five volumes) while leading a bishopic in chaos as a civilization began its decay into ruin; poured out a mind so potent that even now, 1600 years later, our civilization’s discontents are in wild-eyed revolt against it.

St. Benedict, who began the great purging of decadent paganism from the emerging body of Christendom — a purging borne of discipline and fruitfulness: Laborare est orare, “to labor is to pray.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Ignatius Loyola, John of the Cross, Cardinal Newman, Bonhoeffer: the Church is sustained and renewed by its heroes and saints and martyrs, by its men of excellence. I believe that is a fact even Nietzsche could appreciate.

(By the way, no VFR reader should be unfamiliar with Whittaker Chambers’ obscure but tremendous essay on St. Benedict. Wonder why American conservatism has faded? Look no further than Chambers’ relative obscurity:

Posted by: Paul Cella on November 15, 2003 11:55 PM

“Has it not always been this way, to one degree or another?”

Good point, but I don’t think it’s literally true. The Church that, say, built the Ely Cathedral and Westminister Abbey is not the Church that gave permission for a huge Moslem mosque to be built in Rome.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 16, 2003 12:07 AM

I wish I’d had more time to follow this thread (and to read more Nietszche, for that matter; _Zarathustra_ was my first Nietzsche and no doubt made the strongest impression). I always have to smile when the Christianity-as-security-blanket chestnut is trotted out. The great thing about Nietzsche is that, having rejected truth as such, he was more honest - sometimes breathtakingly so - than other modern thinkers. That honesty comes _after_ the initial move of rejecting truth-qua-truth though. The notion that those who reject Christianity are braver than those who accept it always literally makes me chuckle; as if the Void and the eternal return were oh so much more terrifying than Hell.

I am Catholic because I know the claims of the Catholic faith to be true; as true as particle physics and arithmetic (and in some ways _more_ true that those things). When you compare the implications of acknowledging _that_ truth to the implications of asserting that there is no truth but the will to power, it is beyond obvious that the lowliest Christian is braver and more free than the bravest and most free self-obsessed Nietszchean vitalist/nihilist.

I ask the honest Nietzschean vitalist: in all honesty, which possibility terrifies you more: that the claims of Christianity are true, or that they are false?

Posted by: Matt on November 16, 2003 9:41 AM

It is an open and very important question whether man can navigate through life without God. The belief in God is enormously fulfilling and life-serving. A society based upon the “liberation” of belief in God can deteriorate rapidly, as demonstrated by Communist Russia. In Communist Russia the suppression of religion was devasting to the spirit of the Russian people. As soon as they had the opportunity, religion began to flourish. So I disagree with DG that there is not a major open question as to whether a society in which most people do not believe in religion can flourish and function.

Saying that, there are a large number of people who value “truth” enough that they do not find the existence of God to be credible. Nietzsche’s insight in Ecce Homo is important here: “how much truth does a spirit endure? How much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value.”

Society is behaving just as N. predicted. I do not think that this decay has anything to do with non-believers but with people who secularize religious principles, but are actually non-believers. I do think it would be more constructive to face the truth or likelihood of no God than to do what the majority of Christians and Jews are doing by portraying their secular superstitions as religious belief.

As I said, it is an open question whether society can survive without religion. But with the advent of modern science, which has helped to destroy religious belief, the fact is that there will be more and more people who don’t believe. I would only wish that I could believe in the certainty of God and I have great admiration for Mr. Auster and those others who share these beliefs. We can’t go back to the days when all of Western mankind believed in God. If you believe that that is the condition for our survival, then I have no hope. Therefore, we have no choice but to create an adequate philosophy, apart from religion, that meets the needs of higher man.

Posted by: susie on November 16, 2003 7:57 PM

The world has created any number of philosophies that serve people as religion once served. Communism is one. Liberalism has spewed off a number of others of the radical social justice and equalitarian kind. I am sure that there are others. Most of them are no doubt related to various political philosophies, but I doubt that all of them are so. What they share is that all try to meet the spiritual (or maybe it would be called psychological) needs of people in various ways.

Besides, traditional religion is still in the game. Compare Utah (and its Mormons) with a birth rate of 2.73 to Vermont (and its liberals) with a birth rate of 1.84. That sort of thing matters in the long run.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on November 16, 2003 8:27 PM

It is interesting how different my perspective is from Susie’s. I think that belief in God is in fact necessary for a tolerable society, as well as being a belief in something that is objectively true; but I have no concern whatsoever that modern science implies an inexorable decrease in belief over the long haul. Quite the opposite. Ninteenth-century Laplacian scientific triumphalism is dead, dead, dead; even the atheist Nobel-prize winning co-discoverer of DNA thinks that abiogenesis and neo-Darwinian evolution are crap. Galileo was wrong to teach heliocentrism as fact rather than theory; it turns out to be an arbitrary coordinate transformation in a universe with no privileged frames of reference. My grade-school education in the 1970’s still had vestiges of Laplace: the atom as little solar system, etc. But I honestly have a hard time regarding disbelief in God as anything other than sheer ignorance, or a willful see-no-God religiously fundamentalist self-parody in the case of guys like Richard Dawkins. It isn’t as if I’m some literary freak with no knowledge of science either.

Nietzsche proclaimed that modern man had killed God and just hadn’t gotten the news yet. I proclaim that postmodern man has killed Laplacian scientism and just hasn’t gotten the news yet; I proclaim the Resurrection.

So I’m not really concerned about the long run. The truth can be denied and run around for a good long time, and hundreds of millions have been massacred in the name of secular ideologies so I don’t discount the potential of atheist secularism to do harm in the interim; but ultimately the truth is irresistable. Nietzsche is dead.

Posted by: Matt on November 16, 2003 9:57 PM

I agree there’s no inherent necessity that science must lead to loss of belief in God. I think that when that does happen it’s a result of crudely mistaken thinking, for example, finding out that the Bibical story of creation is not literally true, and deciding on that basis that God doesn’t exist! But the one has nothing to do with the other. I can’t think of any scientific discovery of any material cause and effect process that I know of that has any effect on the truth of the existence of God. (Darwinian evolution _is_ incompatible with the existence of God, but Darwinian evolution is false.)

One of the wrong beliefs that has made this possible is the notion that people believe in God because that helps EXPLAIN things, so, when better explanations are found, God is made irrelevant. But God is not primarily about explaining natural phenomena. And God is not an idea. God is a being, the source of all being, who speaks to us. God is not about explaining why earthquakes happen or why the rain falls (though there are times when one can see a non-material level of causation of earthly events). God is the truth that is the source of all existence, and who calls us to our true existence in him. The discoveries of modern chemisty or physics don’t affect that truth one iota. It’s a pure misconception to think that they do.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 16, 2003 10:34 PM

Mr. Auster writes:
“I agree there’s no inherent necessity that science must lead to loss of belief in God. I think that when that does happen it’s a result of crudely mistaken thinking, for example, finding out that the Bibical story of creation is not literally true, and deciding on that basis that God doesn’t exist!”

By the same token the Genesis story is more literally true than we biblical allegorists/antiliteralists often appreciate, just as Galileo’s claims were less literally true than scientific triumphalists would (still) like us to believe: once again I take the opportunity to recommend _The Science of God_ by Gerald Schroeder.

Posted by: Matt on November 17, 2003 7:52 AM

Matt, to me Genesis chapter one is a revelation of God, and the truth. I was just making the concession that it’s not literally true, e.g., vegetable life on the earth did not come into existence before the sun and moon!

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 17, 2003 8:12 AM

I agree! Schroeder takes Genesis line by line and shows how it is _closer_ to literal truth than I myself thought before reading him though — it was just a point of interest rather than a point of debate.

Posted by: Matt on November 17, 2003 9:22 AM

I’ve read N. cover to cover but am not an ‘expert’ I suppose, but the best thought to have in mind when reading N. seems to me to be this one.

N. is the only philosopher to really take materialism seriously, the point being that very few if any materialists really take their ‘theory of everything’ seriously. If all I am is an arrangement of matter that responds to physical stimuli in a mechanistic fashion, what does that mean for morality, and especially for ‘truth’. Can things like belief’s thoughts and ideas exist, given if I look at someone’s brain I won’t find anything like that in there, I’ll only find a bunch of neurons which are connected up in a certain way so they will respond to certain stimuli with certain responses, I won’t see any thinking, believing or suffering going on, I’ll only see rhythmic neuronal firing patterns.

I think N.’s “thought”, N.’s scare quotes not mine, ultimately fails, but the truly interesting thing is that his partisans generally understand him even less that materialists really understand materialism, but they wouldn’t now would they ? An interesting madman, as they say.

Posted by: jimbo on November 17, 2003 12:28 PM

I’m not clear on what Jimbo is trying to say in his last paragraph. Could he elucidate?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 17, 2003 12:39 PM

In case I haven’t been clear enough on this point, I want to emphasize the two-sided aspect of Nietzsche, particularly in my own experience of him. To put it crudely, there is the joy, and there is the nihilism. The mistake is to see only one side of Nietzsche and not the other. In my earlier reading of Nietzsche, he was associated with experiences of a joy in life. One aspect of this (which I wrote about at the time and may post here at some point) was connected with a moment-to-moment experiencing of what is, of what phenomenally arises from moment to moment in one’s consciousness, of the free play of energy, feeling, and thought, a non-contradictory, flowing state of consciousness (almost in the sense of Tibetan Buddhist meditation), free from any structure or expectation or judgment. At this point, I did not understand what Nietzsche meant in his attacks on morality and religion and I basically ignored that side of his writings. I was taking him in a psychological or experiential sense, not a moral sense. But when I read him more thoroughly in my late twenties, the meaning of his attacks on objective truth, morality, and Christianity became clear to me and I realized that his work as a whole had to be rejected, even though there was much in it that, taken selectively, was still great, and of course, that the false parts were also great in giving an unparalleled expression of nihilism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 17, 2003 1:25 PM

Can I interpret? There is no such thing as a “true Nietzschean” because for a radical materialist like N. there is no “thought”, just firing neurons. People who claim to be Nietzschean haven’t properly understood him; they haven’t taken materialism as seriously as N. himself did.

There is an interesting general theme in modern philosophies in the Jimbo-schema (now I am extrapolating). A Nietzschean, because of the nature of N.’s thought, cannot both understand N. clearly and be a Nietzschean at the same time. I would assert the same thing about liberals/liberalism: it is not possible to be one without at the same time being shielded from the full reality of what it is to be one. As Mr. Auster has observed, that is what makes room for the Unprincipled Exception.

Posted by: Matt on November 17, 2003 1:29 PM

To elucidate, N. is a big topic so I’ll put in some particular examples. First what does it mean if I say that Mr. Auster did not actually read my post, find some of it obscure in that I did not make what I thought clear, and responded asking for clarification, but instead a photon pattern hit his sense receptors, causing a neuronal firing pattern up his optic nerve, that caused a pattern of neuronal firing patterns in his brain that resulted in a slight rearrangement of the neurons in his brain that will slightly alter his future responses to stimuli, and in addition caused neuron pulses to go down to his fingers and caused the fingers to push some buttons on his keyboard, and that is a complete explanation of what just occurred. Basically what does it mean if man really is the same sort of thing as a vending machine, a thing that makes patterned responses to certain stimuli, and ‘thought’, ‘reason’, ‘love’… don’t play any role in what he does, like a vending machine, it’s just that his blueprint is a different than a vending machine?

Can such a thing have beliefs ? Will I find any beliefs in your brain if I looked at it ? No. They’re not there, they’re not real. In high falutin’ terms there is no ‘truth’ since truth is ‘mentalistic’ and that cannot exist. Note too, it is not that truth is relativistic, it is that there is no truth. N.’s favorite line from the NT is Pilate saying ‘What is truth ?’ and I suppose N. imagines Pilate saying it with a sneer.

Who’s the philosopher that N. hates the most ? Socrates, or actually Plato, the ‘ideas are real things’ philosopher.

In a slight accomodation to ‘mind’ N. does allow for it sort of be a spectator, the being Lawrence Auster thinks of as Lawrence Auster, his mind, cannot have any affect on what Lawrence Auster’s body does, or even on what thoughts are present in his mind, and comes up with his ‘Eternal Recurrence’, where a man is really a spectator on his own existence. His ‘new man’ is someone who realizes this, and indeed embraces it.

One can go on and on, but I’ll stop with one more thing. ‘Responding’ to stimuli in man’s case generally means altering the world around you in some way. The ‘healthiest’ of men is the one who can alter his environment the most effectively, i.e. the healthiest of men is the most ‘powerful’ one. A master is thus more powerful, can alter his environment more, than slaves, i.e. a healthier, better man. Since there is no truth, and only responses to stimuli, power is all that there is, the only way to ‘judge’ men. N. repeatedly refers to Christianity as if it were a disease, at one point he compares it to lower caste Indians who made themselves physically ill from living on dirty water, and viewed in this way it makes sense. N. obviously had far more thoughts about Christianity than this, and fully understood the very large difference between thinking it a ‘good’ thing versus thinking it as a ‘true’ thing, but I think most of N.’s thought on it becomes far clearer should one look at through the ‘materialist’s glasses’.

Obviously, this is not a complete description of N.’s thought, but I think I could go on in the same vein for quite a long time. I also don’t think it’s true either, please don’t ask me to defend N. Hopefully, I didn’t muddy the waters worse.

Posted by: jimbo on November 17, 2003 2:04 PM

I haven’t read N. at length in some time, and did not remember that he spoke in terms of pure materialism, as Jimbo is describing. (Perhaps N. struck those notes in some of his earlier, skeptical writings prior to Zarathustra?) My memory was that he was contemptuous of 19th century materialistic modes of thought such as utilitarianism and positivism. How could a man who is constantly talking about the “spirit,” and about the “soul” of this people or that people, be a positivist?

Yes, N. speak of the illusory nature of the self, i.e., that there is no self, there is only one thought or impulse saying “I, me” and imagining that to be a self. But that is not the same as materialist positivism per se.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 17, 2003 2:22 PM

Although he may have toyed with the idea at times, Nietzsche was certainly no materialist. He did not believe that physics and neurophysiology - or some hypothetical future version of those sciences - offer a complete and uniquely accurate representation of everything. On the contrary, even in ‘The Gay Science’, a work from his ‘positivist’ phase, Nietzsche was contemptuous of this line of thought:

“A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, as you [materialist scientists] understand it, might … be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays pass as philosophers is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as a ground floor.

But an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ explanation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!”

However, even if N. were a materialist, it would not follow merely from that commitment that he must deny that there are beliefs, thoughts, truths, etc., “just firing neurons”. A materialist might hold that a certain physical event is identical with a certain mental event. If so, there are thoughts - and other mental entities and events - but they are material. My present thought that Nietzsche was a philosopher is identical with a certain pattern of neuronal firings, or whatever. In other words, certain physical events might be held to be instances of mental kinds.

Posted by: julien on November 17, 2003 3:07 PM

Sorry. In that quote from N., the last sentence in the first paragraph should read “…pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws…”

Posted by: julien on November 17, 2003 3:10 PM


Agreed that N. was not a ‘strong’ materialist, see my little blurb on the ‘Eternal Recurrence’ above, in the sense that he held that there is no mind, but he was a materialist, whether he thought so or no, in that thoughts and ideas qua thoughts and ideas cannot play any role in the cause of human behavior, which is of course true if an assemblage of matter behaving according the the mathematical descriptions known as the laws of physics will completely describe what human beings do. Thus, what we do is completely explainable by firing neurons, and ideas are effects that can’t be causes of behavior in the Aristotelian sense, there is no truth. N. is right about this, since it cannot effect the world in any way. That’s still a materialist if you ask me, whether N. thinks so or no.

To illustrate, I am looking a your brain with some machine, and am seeing a bunch of neuron’s firing. How can I know what you’re thinking ? I must ask you. You say that you’re thinking about the deliciousness of ice cream. Did your thought of ice cream cause your response or was it the nerve pulse I saw go up your auric nerve after I asked you my question … If thought cannot break into the world, and indeed cannot cause anything to happen, including other thoughts, truth cannot exist.

N. cannot be trusted either to ‘get his premises’ right either. I said above that the ‘taking materialism seriously’ is the best way to read him, because he does actuallly do that, I did not say that N. would have said that was the best way to read him. When I first read N. in college, I thought his views on Christian morality were quite insightful until I actually learned or mastered some actual Christian thought on morality and realized that the whole topic flew completely over N.’s head, his critique, to which he devoted whole books, is a great big non sequitor. N. could be and was fantastically muddle headed quite a bit of the time, though his muddle headedness was always expressed eloquently.

As for ‘what a materialist might hold’ stuff, no, thoughts are not identical to firing neurons, period. That’s what I mean by ‘taking materialism seriously’, someone who does hold that isn’t doing so.

Responding to Mr. Auster, N. detested Utilitarianism and the like mostly because he thought it hadn’t completely wiped the dust of Christianity from its boots as it were, see my little blurb about N.s thoughts about power and see think what a Utilitarian would say about it. N. thought ‘sick’ men, slaves, were required for the existence of ‘healthy’ men, masters, and would thought Utilitarianism results in a race of sickly men as it were, greatest good for the greatest number, pshaw. About positivism, I don’t know.

Posted by: jimbo on November 18, 2003 10:44 AM

Are you saying that Nietzsche thinks that “the laws of physics will completely describe what human beings do”? In the passage I cited above Nietzsche flatly rejects this idea. It is “stupid”; it would not give us any real understanding. And this was a passage from his ‘positivist’ book! So I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. In what sense is Nietzsche a materialist?

As far as materialism per se, maybe I can build on your vending machine example a bit. Something goes on in the machine when it takes my coins and delivers me a can of soda. The event falls under a few different descriptions: as a purely mechanical/physical event, but also as a financial transaction between me and the soda company.

Now it’s almost certainly not possible to construct an account of the financial transaction from a purely mechanical/physical description of the event. The purely mechanical/physical vocabulary has no terms to refer to me, or to soda companies, bank accounts, etc.

But does this mean that in addition to whatever is physically going on in the vending machine there is *another*, non-physical, event in virtue of which some sentence like, say, “Julien pays $1 to Acme Soda Company” is true? It’s possible, I guess, but I don’t see that it follows. Not unless it is *impossible* that a single event can be described in various different ways.

Notice also that there is no particular sequence of physical events which must occur in order for me to pay $1 to the soda company. All sorts of physically dissimilar events would do the trick. So we aren’t saying that a certain physical *type* of event = a certain financial *type* of event. Maybe the same is true of the mental and the physical. It’s not that a certain physical event type = a certain mental event type. Rather, certain physical event ‘tokens’ are also tokens of a mental event type. Just as many bills in different currencies can all have the same dollar value.

So I’m not sure what you mean by “taking materialism seriously”. Do you mean that in order to believe in materialism we have to first acknowledge that the mental is *not* and *couldn’t be* something material? It’s not as if we have any very good understanding of what thoughts, beliefs, and other mental states are made of. Nor, for that matter, do we have much idea what exactly it means to say that something is “material”. It’s true that you can’t see thoughts when you look at someone’s brain. But likewise, you can’t tell which financial event is going on by looking at the moving parts in the soda machine. Still, it seems *coherent*, at least, to say that those physical goings on constitute a certain financial event - and maybe various other events, too, if we enrich the story further.

Posted by: Julien on November 18, 2003 2:24 PM

Didn’t Nietzsche believe that the ultimate reality is the will? How then can he be a materialist?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 18, 2003 2:52 PM
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