Are we entering the final stage of nihilism?

In his short and seminal book, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose delineated four stages of Nihilism, defined by their ever-increasing indifference or hostility to truth. The first and mildest stage of Nihilism is Liberalism. The Liberal does not believe in truth, higher truth, absolute truth, or Christian truth. Yet he retains “the name of truth, and the names of those truths men once regarded as absolute.” The next stage of Nihilism is Realism (though I think a better name would be Materialism). The Realist aggressively denies all higher truth, he says that only the material, the physical, the lower, the purely deterministic, is true. The Vitalist in turn reacts against the unbearably meaningless and sterile world that has been created by the Liberal and the Realist. He seeks a revived meaning and vitality in life, but without challenging the Liberal’s and Realist’s assumptions about truth or seeking a restoration of the truths they have destroyed. On the contrary, since the truth offered by Liberalism is so weak and vague, and the truth offered by Realism is so deadening and depressing, the Vitalist rejects the very idea of truth:

“The falseness of an opinion,” said Nietzsche, “is not for us any objection to it…. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving … ” When such pragmatism begins, Nihilism passes into the Vitalist stage, which may be defined as the elimination of truth as the criterion of human action, and the substitution of a new standard: the “life-giving,” the “vital”; it is the final divorce of life from truth. [Nihilism, p. 50].

In the Vitalist stage of society, people deliver themselves over to an unending search for sensation and excitement, for the exotic and the experimental, for ever-greater freedom and satisfaction of desires, for the “riches of diversity,” for the transforming “energy” that is produced by a society in constant change and motion—and with all these things being seen as, even explicitly promoted as, a substitute for any inherent truth and goodness in existence.

As Vitalism reaches its peak, the final stage of Nihilism starts to appear. This is the Nihilism of Destruction, “a rage against creation and against civilization that will not be appeased until it has reduced them to absolute nothingness.”

It strikes me that with the Massachusetts decision legalizing homosexual marriage, our society may be passing from the Vitalist stage of Nihilism to the full-blown Nihilism of Destruction.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 20, 2003 09:46 AM | Send


Mr. Auster’s suspicion that we may be at the threshold of the destruction phase of nihilism dovetails with my comment on the Derrida post elsewhere, about the links between deconstructionism and homosexualism. There I alluded to the way deconstructionism and homosexualism had fused in the life of Michel Foucault, the deconstructionist whose quest for meaninglessness led him to death of AIDS via the bathhouses of San Francisco.

Foucault is one convenient example, because he was both deconstructionist penseur and AIDS death. The trend is wider, though. Our whole society seems to be pursuing its own destruction, consciously or otherwise. We have thrown off the restraints of our traditional religion - indeed are driving the very mention of it from public life. One result is that we are killing our young before they are born, and miseducating those we suffer to live. We are pursuing the cultural and ethnic destruction of our society through mass immigration. We foment racial division through racial preference schemes. We erode everyone’s moral fiber through corrosive popular entertainments. Now we are allowing liberalism’s attack on society to target its most basic unit, the family, through a perverse expansion of the meaning of marriage.

I do not know much about the psychology of homosexuality, but there seems to be a recklessly self-destructive strain at work. It is hard for me to think of another group of people that has raised having a lethal venereal disease, contracted through a particularly disgusting variant of sodomy, to a badge of heroism, indeed has made it almost sacramental. There is a magazine, “Poz,” devoted exclusively to those living with HIV/AIDS. I suspect that it does not just contain medical advice. I remember reading an article some years ago (New York Times Magazine?) about homosexuals who actively seek infection in order to be more “authentic.” They described their approach to buggery as “barebacking.” When samurai killed themselves, they at least thought they were doing it for honor or duty. When a Moslem terrorist kills himself, in his Islam-addled mind he believes his evil serves some higher purpose. What earthly purpose can anyone imagine exists in deliberately courting infection with a lethal venereal disease?

The normalization of homosexuality, perhaps the most unnatural of all of liberalism’s many unnatural infatuations, is the homosexualists’ goal. What I have seen of places where homosexuality is a norm (New York City, San Francisco, Washington) makes me believe that to normalize homosexuality would be defining deviancy down to depths more disastrous even than those we have already plumbed. Look at the havoc tacit, not even overt, acceptance of homosexuality has wrought in the Roman Catholic Church.

Americans should take a stand against normalizing homosexuality, not out of any hatred of homosexuals, but because failing to do so makes it very difficult to uphold any social norm that makes some group of people unhappy or uncomfortable. Once homosexual “marriage” is endorsed by the state, what is the principled differentiation that allows us to forbid polygamous marriage, or even bigamous marriage? The definition of marriage as the permanent (at least in intention at the wedding) union of one man and one woman is one we cannot afford to lose.

Still, I echo my fears from earlier posts: I am no longer sure there is any milestone of decadence at which a majority of Americans will insist on no more decay. For them to do it about homosexual “marriage” would require brave leadership at least equal in intensity and conviction to the homosexualists’. On this issue, opponents are unlikely to match the homosexualists’ impassioned interest. They are also unlikely to match their funding. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on November 20, 2003 12:16 PM

I tell people how immigration, homosexuality, racial preferences, etc, are destroying our country. How do they answer?

“It’s not that bad.” “I don’t think that will happen.” “I don’t think we should say that.” “Reparations will never happen.” Sometimes, it’s, “I’ll be dead when that happens.” They think (or hope) sanity will eventually prevail, or that someone besides themselves will say No.

Posted by: David on November 20, 2003 2:27 PM

Fr. Seraphim Rose, an American who became an Eastern Orthodox monk, has been proven correct time and time again.

In his book “Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age”, he delineates the four stages of the West’s descent. The first is Liberalism, which is now the stage that most Americans embrace. That is why the vast majority of Americans do not strongly or effectively oppose the deeper and more radical stages of Nihilism, as David complained about in his post above.

Americans and their country have already abandoned belief in a higher truth, especially a Christian truth. Since the uglier stages of Nihilism are logical outcomes of that abandonment of truth, Americans have NO philosophical basis with which to counteract radical expressions of Nihilism, which they still instinctively may have a distaste for.

It should be noted that, in spite of Fr. Seraphim’s visionary abilities, he was never pessimistic, but was always at peace, because not only did he know the antidote to Nihilism, he lived it. Interestingly, although he was an American who lived his life in the U.S., he is the most-read spiritual/philosophical writer in Russia today.

To answer Mr. Auster’s rhetorical question, if we are seeing in our society a shift from the Vitalist stage of Nihilism—also called Post-Modernism— to the final stage of pure Destruction, the answer in a word is yes.

Posted by: Arie Raymond on November 20, 2003 4:05 PM

A correspondent wrote:

“Some of us conservatives are not Christian or any alternative, despite the roar from the religious Republicans.”

To which I answered:

Yes, but modern liberalism, which is reaching its culmination today in nihilism, had its beginnings in the rejection of Christianity in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The West was Christian for 1000 or 1500 years. In fact, what we now call the West was born in the act of becoming Christian (i.e. the Christianization of the Germanic peoples of Europe following the fall of the Western Roman empire), and was called Christendom. The present movement for homosexual marriage is just about the final knife in the body of whatever remains of Christian society.

One doesn’t need to be a Christian, but if one does not at least have a _sympathic understanding_ of Christianity and Christendom, then one’s whole civilizational perspective begins with modernity and liberalism, and one has no other ground to stand upon, no alternative standards to appeal to, besides some variant on liberalism itself, such as modern conservatism.

The dilemma of modern conservatism is that it attempts to oppose the excesses of liberalism but doesn’t have any territory of its own separate from liberalism. All it can say to liberalism is, “THIS time you’re going to far.” But then liberalism goes there anyway, and the conservatives accept THAT defeat, and when the liberals do their NEXT move, the conservatives say again “THIS time you’re going too far,” forgetting that they had already said that before. And the conservatives are pushed back, back, back to the brink.

I’m not saying people must be Christian. But unless people have some frame of reference based in the transcendent or some non-liberal tradition, their conservatism will always be superficial, and their opposition to liberalism will always be, in the long run, ineffective.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 20, 2003 8:10 PM

David’s observations are accurate. I hear similar meaningless dodges such as, “there are different kinds of truth,” “well that’s your opinion,” “what are you afraid of,” “I don’t have anything against…,” “its been going on for a long time” or “its been going on for a long time, therefore, it is not his (politician) fault,” “a lot of wars have happened because of religion,” and “well look what they do.” Possibly the most destructive and chilling dodge is, “It’ll never change.”

Posted by: P Murgos on November 20, 2003 9:13 PM
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