EBL and Radix join forces to pile the pressure on culture distorters. Tune in!
Two weeks ago, on the “Chimerica” stream, audience member Diem Golightly asked to “apply Nick Land to current Chi-Virus situation.” Let’s give it a short try and talk Accelerationism.
Now that even our YouTube live streams get shadowbanned like a controversial Twitter account, you will want to use that (not-so-sweet) quarantine leisure to keep up with the latest RADIX discussions!
Now that even our YouTube live streams get shadowbanned like any truly controversial Twitter account, you will want to make sure to use that (not-so-sweet) quarantine leisure to keep up with the latest RADIX discussions!
I’ve always instinctively disliked St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was inured to the multicultural calendar of ethnic holidays I didn’t resonate with or understand….
I’ve always instinctively disliked St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was inured to the multicultural calendar of ethnic holidays I didn’t resonate with or understand. But no one ever expected me to actually celebrate Rosh Hashanah—or wear T-shirts that read “I’ve got a little Jewish in me” or pinch anyone not donning a yarmulke. At one point, I started wearing Orange on March 17 . . . though the message was seemingly lost on most everyone I encountered.
As Corona-chan continues her world tour, more and more nations are drastically reducing their domestic everyday life. Some of them have even resorted to drastic measures.
As Corona-chan continues her world tour, more and more nations are drastically reducing their domestic everyday life. Some of them have even resorted to drastic measures.
Christmas developed in part from the Saturnalia which was held in Rome on roughly corresponding dates. The Saturnalia was, as it sounds, a celebration in honor of Saturn. One of…
Christmas developed in part from the Saturnalia which was held in Rome on roughly corresponding dates. The Saturnalia was, as it sounds, a celebration in honor of Saturn. One of the most remarkable aspects of the festival manifested itself in the tradition of allowing slaves to rule over masters, at least symbolic.
Presumably this tradition was related to Saturn’s position vis-à-vis a usurping Jupiter. To wit, during the Saturnalia, symbolically, Saturn, the Semitic slave, ruled Jupiter, the Aryan master. The festival was developed, in part, to honor a passed “Golden Age” when Saturn or, clearly, Jews or proto-Jews ruled.
That Christmas would develop in part from this tradition is wholly appropriate as both Christ and Saturn are manifestations of the Jewish God or Jewry embodied. But further, the winter in general was understood in the Greco-Roman world as belonging to Bacchus or Dionysus. To wit, it was a time of decadence, degeneracy, darkness and death. Bacchus, likewise, is an important manifestation of the Jewish God as this study explicates.
Here though, in the nadir of winter, the Winter solstice was also celebrated, signifying the beginning of a return to the spring and summer months. I argue that we, identifying with the solar, are obliged to be above seasons, directing them. Hence, in my view, it is a symbolism of limited or dubious value, passive in its tone. For the moment, however, let’s focus on this figure of Saturn.
In Histories 5.2, Tacitus writes “The Jews are said to have been refugees from the island of Crete who settled in the remotest corner of Libya in the days when, according to the story, Saturn was driven from his throne by the aggression of Jupiter.”
Here, it should be clear to the modern reader, Saturn is being suggested as a personification of the Jewish people in much the way Judah or Yahweh may be understood as a personification of the Jewish people. Likewise, it should be our confident assertion that the expulsion comes at the hands of an Aryan faction personified in Jupiter. Jupiter represents the Aryan force that overthrows the Jewish power to establish a eugenic direction personified in his son Apollo. Hence, technically, it is we, who are Jupiter, while our secured, ameliorating descendants Apollo.
Regarding their Sabbath Tacitus writes: “We are told that the seventh day was set aside for rest because this marked the end of their toils…Others say that this is a mark of respect to Saturn, either because they owe the basic principles of their religion to the Idaei, who, we are told, were expelled in the company of Saturn and became the founders of the Jewish race, or because, among the seven stars that rule mankind, the one that describes the highest orbit and exerts the greatest influence is Saturn. A further argument is that most of the heavenly bodies complete their path and revolutions in multiples of seven.”
The name Idaei is derived from the name of Mount Ida, the highest mountain in Crete, around which the Idaei dwelt. This was a mountain sacred to the Titaness Rhea or Magna Mater, the sister and wife of Cronus or Saturn. Tacitus likewise relates the speculation that the name Judaei, from which Jew is derived, is “the barbarous lengthening of Idaei.”
Likewise both the ancient Hellenes and the Hebrews would identify Saturn or Cronus with the Semitic El, one of the names used to describe the Jewish God in the Hebrew Bible. Hence, narratively, in the Greco-Roman cosmology, again, the usurpation of this earth god, Saturn, by a sky god, Jupiter, represents the restoration of an Aryan hegemony. To be clear, this does not mean that all of the Titans should be considered racially Semitic, only (to the extent they opposed Jupiter) Jewish dominated and controlled.
Thus when we understand the chief god of Carthage was Moloch or Saturn, we understand this was an empire under Jewish control, yet perhaps not in all its parts Semitic. After all, for a long period, even if employing vast mercenary forces, it waged war effectively against Rome. Thus, doubtlessly, it retained some meaningful vestigial Aryan element capable of making war against a primarily Aryan Rome, practicing an essentially Aryan Religion.
Celestial Titans like the Sun Titian Helios, for example, a near Apollo equivalent, may be understood as descriptions of an undiluted or relatively undiluted Aryan remnant within a Judaized regime. Hence figures in the Olympian reign descended from these beings may likewise be understood as descending from undiluted or relatively undiluted Aryan blood. This is true so long as they are not usurping Gods.
 Tacitus, Histories 5.4
 Mythologist and archeologists speculate that Moloch, who the ancients identified with Saturn, was an early form of Yahweh. I will have the opportunity to argue that it is better to understand him as another aspect or “emanation” of the Jewish God persisting to this day.
“Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold my heart in his hand, and held in his arms my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping. Then he woke her, and that…
“Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently.”
Dante, La Vita Nuova
Rivalling mainstream media attention to the putative racism of the Alt-Right, commentary on the movement’s allegedly misogynistic attitudes to women, love, and sex, has increased dramatically since late 2017. Capping a series of articles on these themes appearing in Vanity Fair, Media Matters, Newsweek, and Harper’s Magazine, as well as academic coverage in such journals as Communication, Culture and Critique, and Journal of Extreme Anthropology, in June 2018 the New York Times published a piece on “The Housewives of White Supremacy,” followed one month later by the Anti-Defamation League’s publication of a study of dubious merit claiming that “Misogyny is a key element of White supremacy.” The ADL study then went viral, carrying this conclusion to a host of mainstream news outlets, as well as such distinguished, robust, and austere publications as Teen Vogue. The explosion of interest in this aspect of supposed Alt-Right ‘hate’ is, in some sense, both understandable and predictable. Endlessly bewailing the racism of the Alt-Right in the context of ongoing White decline, mass immigration, and White cultural marginalisation has obvious rhetorical and evidential limits. To put it simply, non-Whites have never had it so good. Whether this fact will gradually bleed ‘racism’ of energy as a galvanizing force for Leftism in the same way that an increase in material wealth among the working classes led to their abandonment by the Left by the 1960s, remains to be seen. Certainly, most Marxists today appear to have abandoned the proletariat as the “privileged emancipatory subject”, and have engaged in constructing new hegemonic “chains of equivalences.” This has involved championing “the feminist struggle,” “the struggle for freedom,” and the “struggle for the rights of immigrants,” all of which, they imagine, will one day coalesce in one big Struggle.
There can be little question, however, that ‘racism’ has lost at least some of its shine. Blacks, in particular, appear to be somewhat marginalized by the focus of rhetoric on migrant caravans and amnesties. The Left, always seeking to find or create new victims, also seems particularly energized in recent years by sexual politics, or rather, the politicization of the sexual. Abortion, homosexual marriage, the ‘right’ to AIDS medication, sexual harassment, real or image college rapes, and apparently unending issues of gender identity and orientation are unquestionably ubiquitous in contemporary politics and media. It therefore makes a great deal of tactical sense for the opponents of Alt-Right thought to attempt to drag the movement into this sphere, even if some of the core matters at issue are more or less peripheral to the central tenets of White identitarian politics.
One of the main flaws in these recent character assassinations targeting the movement is the blunt and facile method of attempting to interpret what is in fact a complex, varied, and nuanced understanding of relations between the sexes through historical time. This simplistic methodology begins with generalisations about the average male with Alt-Right political opinions. For example, neglecting the fact that grappling with the “Woman Question” has been a feature of Western civilisation from time immemorial (Pagans and Christians may choose Homer’s Helen or the Biblical Eve as they see fit), at least one apparently legitimate PhD has argued that the origins of modern ‘misogyny’ rest in Gamergate and the antics of 4chan. The only mitigating factor in this instance is probably that the PhD in question, an ethnic Sri Lankan named Udith Dematagoda, is unlikely to possess the requisite tools to appreciate and understand the trajectory of the female in Western history, art, culture, and politics. Less forgivable, perhaps, is Dematagoda’s gleeful but ignorant description of Alt-Right males as “maladjusted malcontents,” “peevishly dull obsessives who are prone to tantrums,” and “nihilistically perverse basement dwelling jokers.”
“You’re all nihilistically perverse basement dwelling jokers.”
The reality, of course, is that Alt-Right thought attracts attention and support from a broad cross-section of society, including men from varying professions, countries, socio-economic positions, and educational backgrounds. But dealing comprehensively with the political and cultural opinions of such a group requires significantly more effort than would be the case with a “nihilistically perverse basement dwelling joker,” and so the latter makes for a better straw man to beat with Leftist catchphrases. We are, of course, looking at much more than the reaction of bitter, single, young men to the dynamics of postmodern sexuality, and it’s therefore worthwhile more deeply considering the complexity of the issue of women, sex, and the Alt-Right. Since these issues did not, in fact, begin with 4chan, we should turn first to history.
The quasi-cannibalistic portion of Dante Alighieri’s opening sonetto from La Vita Nuova (composed around 1294), chosen to open this essay, set the tone for the entirety of the text and, also, in some respects for the trajectory of sexual relations in the West for centuries after. Regarded as a classic of literary chivalry or “courtly love,” (from whence we still derive the mocking term ‘White Knight’) the poem narrates the love of Dante (in his youth) for Beatrice, a woman he loves, admires, and obsesses over from afar. This love is characterised in quite pronounced fashion as painful, hence the vision of the personification of love, Amor, literally feeding Dante’s beating and still warm heart to Beatrice. The conventions of literary courtly love typically follow the pattern of: Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance; Worship of the lady from afar; Declaration of passionate devotion; Virtuous rejection by the lady; Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty; Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness); Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart; Consummation of the secret love; Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection.
La Vita Nuova fulfils only some of these, but is still regarded as the pre-eminent example of the genre. Dante first sees Beatrice when they are both nine years old, and then a further nine years passes before he sees her again. In both instances he is utterly captivated by the sight of her. For most of the poem he is consumed with the worship of her from afar, but can never muster the composure to approach her directly. He finds himself enduring a number of manifestations of extreme lovesickness, including fainting and fevers. His nervous appearance is mocked by the friends of Beatrice, and then, at the height of Dante’s infatuation, Beatrice dies suddenly, sending him into a spiral of grief and, finally, slow recovery. In this recovery, he resurrects Beatrice as a spiritual ideal, and of course she features prominently in his next work, The Divine Comedy, where she quite literally guides him to Heaven. The intensity with which this relatively short and simple tale is recounted, along with novel stylistic devices, is one of the major reasons for its enduring position in high culture. In modern times, the tale was the subject of a number of magnificent late 19th century paintings by notorious womaniser Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as a short but remarkable operatic piece ‘Vide Cor Meum’ (‘See my Heart’) by the Irish composer Patrick Cassidy that was subsequently in the score for the Ridley Scott films Hannibal and Kingdom of Heaven.
Dante’s La Vita Nuova marked, simultaneously, both a new departure from contemporary sexual conventions, and a return to older, primal attitudes regarding the female. Courtly love, according to most historians and literary scholars, was always rooted more in fiction than reality. It was a development fostered by poet-aristocrats who sought to imbue certain chaste women, and relationships with them, with a metaphysical aura – often with religious or spiritual overtones. In doing so, the poet-aristocrats in some sense returned to the old Roman pagan notion of pudicitia (restraint or chastity) as contributing to the spiritual elevation of the female. A woman with a high degree of pudicitia typically sought to appear modest at all times and to limit her social interactions with men other than her husband and male relatives. Psychologist Neel Burton remarks that “Pudicitia stood for reason and control, whereas impudicitia—that is, shamelessness and sexual vice (struprum, ‘sex crime’)—stood for chaos and disaster. A univira (one-man woman) was held in high esteem and even idealized, with the emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) going so far as to enact a programme of legislation to promote the notion and its observance.” Sex, women, order, and the divine were inextricable:
The Romans sought to control female sexuality to protect the family and, by extension, social order, prosperity, and the state. They crystallized these notions in the cult of Venus, the mother of Aeneas, founder of Rome; and in the Vestal Virgins, the priestesses of the hearth goddess Vesta, who would be buried alive if convicted of fornication. To violate a Vestal Virgin’s vow of chastity was to commit an act of religious impurity (incestum), and thereby to undermine Rome’s compact with the gods, the pax deorum (‘peace of the gods’). Roman religion very much reflected and regulated sexual mores.
The Roman ideal of the female, of course, co-existed with a tendency among some to debauchery. It also co-existed with a stoic, ultra-rational view of sex and relationships bluntly exemplified in Marcus Aurelius’s observation that sex was nothing more than “the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus.” Further, it drew upon the perennial, primordial, and quasi-metaphysical position of the female body in the male mind. As Jonathan Bowden once remarked in his classic chastisement of movement homosexualists:
A primal sexuality always embodies Heterosexuality. It alone relates to blood, genetics, racial causation and gender’s polarity. All culture springs from a child’s birth – it’s in accordance with Nature. A factor which necessitates the weakness of all alternatives: whether these are same-sex, infantilistic or paedophile, bi-polar, necrophile, coprophiliac, trans-gender or hermaphroditic, et cetera … All sexual beauty has to be female given the divinity of the woman’s body. Without it there’s nothing – in terms of Erotica’s stream of consciousness … When one considers three-dimensional art – Rodin’s The Muse, Cybele or Aristide Malliol’s study for Action in Chains – one recognises the Anima at work. For representation of the female corpus is cardinal to mental creativity in many fields. In Hellenistic art, the Aphrodite of Melos – more commonly known as the Venus of Milo – glistens in its marble splendour in the Louvre. But even this doesn’t do justice to the subliminal eroticism given off by this work.
Schopenhauer, of course, famously attempted a rebuttal to such assertions in his essay On Women, where he argued
Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged sex the fair sex: for it is with this drive that all its beauty is bound up. More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling or receptivity.
The problems with Schopenhauer’s account include his criticism that concepts of beauty should be linked to the sexual drive (why shouldn’t it?), which is of course primed to seek markers of fertility and genetic health. Schopenhauer’s implied markers of a concept of beauty “unclouded” by the sexual drive (long-limbed, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped) are at best asexual and genetically counter-propositional. That such an injunction should arise from an essentially anti-life philosopher who promoted suicide is probably not coincidental. His conflation of female physicality as muse and the female intellect as incapable of producing art is simply ridiculous – a sunset cannot paint on canvas, but it can inspire countless canvasses, and we do not fear to call it beautiful. But perhaps the worst condemnation of Schopenhauer’s deconstructive approach to female beauty and the sexual drive was the blatant hypocrisy behind it. In his youth, the German philosopher was infatuated, in the style of Dante, with Karoline Jagemann, even writing her love poetry. He had a number of sexual affairs with “women of lower social status, such as servants, actresses, and sometimes even paid prostitutes,” admitted to two children born out-of-wedlock, and confessed to at least one friend that he was often frustrated by a lack of sexual success with as great a number of women as he’d prefer. We might say that Schopenhauer, while correct in some of his assertions elsewhere in his essay, was personally caught in the tension between ideals and debauchery, between Dante and Tinder, and the result was a curious anti-female embitterment that in the end went beyond the rational and the reasonable.
Returning to La Vita Nuova, the advent of courtly, and later romantic, love revisited existing tensions and contradictions regarding the female in the West, and also embellished the notion of the holy, chaste, yet erotic and captivating female. Crucially, however, the courtly love ideal also undermined the need for order that had been present in pagan Rome. The rise of Christianity led to the concept of order being taken to an absolute extreme, and to a medieval culture in which marital sex was viewed as a concession, not as a right or even a gift from God. Sex and relationships were therefore scheduled to ensure the most possible procreation and the least possible pleasure. Even children conceived during a period where the couple should have abstained — mainly based on the liturgical calendar and the wife’s reproductive cycle — were considered bastards. Ironically, Dante and the courtly poets overcame this mechanistic approach to love and sex in order to elevate sexuality itself to an ideal – but in doing so paved the very path for its decline and degradation. Schultz observes:
In the history of European thinking on these matters, the gradual shift from an ideology of sex for procreation to an ideology of sex for pleasure is one of the most important long-term developments. Courtly love represents an important milestone in that shift: a secular ruling class advances an ideal of amorous relations in which making love requires no justification other than the joy and high spirits it brings the persons involved. The desire for children is not required to excuse the lovers’ pleasures. Indeed, they never think of procreation and no one expects them to do so. The institution of marriage – whether sacred or secular – is not necessary to legitimize their embraces. The joy and high spirits that lovers feel when they make love are all the justification needed.
[James A. Schultz, Courtly Love, the love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 157]
The notion of a culture that promotes and idealizes the female while simultaneously paving the path for her decline and degradation should sound very familiar, and the reason for this is that the ‘Woman Question,’ such as it exists, has been unresolved and is likely to remain so. What really marks the difference between our own era and prior ages is the abandonment of any need of a rationale for a metaphysical elevation of the female, and the wholesale expansion and embracing of the “courtly” literary fiction of “love for love’s sake” which has led to a proliferation of promiscuity and, in turn, the commonplace acceptance of homosexuality. Expressed in simple terms, today there are no criteria for a woman to be considered special (modesty or pudicitia) – all women are assumed to be metaphysically important and fundamentally special, regardless of background or how many previous “loves” they have cycled through.
Much of contemporary sexual politics has two lives – the lived reality and the reported fiction. Mainstream media accounts of modern sex and sexuality perpetuate the relatively unsophisticated doxa of a “crisis in masculinity.” This phrasing is deceptive because it implies that the increasingly degraded state of Western sexuality is really only bad for men, and that if men would just accept the fall of patriarchy we’d all be much happier. We can, of course, concede that certain significant aspects of the postmodern socio-cultural context are extremely bad for men. The divorce system is bad for men. The child custody system is bad for men. The sexual habits of women in postmodernity are bad for a lot of men (though it must be conceded they benefit a minority of men seeking short-term sexual gratification). We can see the results in the shocking suicide statistics among males, and the increasingly poor performance of young males at school. There is undoubtedly a crisis among males. But whether the degraded state of Western sexuality, in a broader sense, affects males so exclusively that the terminology of a “crisis in masculinity” is appropriate as an overarching explanation of modern sexual politics is less clear. The crisis may in fact be said to embrace men and women equally, and modern sexuality as a whole, because the disease is essentially systemic in the feministic foundations of postmodern liberalism, even if the mass media is simultaneously convincing women (often barely) that they are liberated, free, successful, satisfied, and fulfilling a greater destiny than motherhood and the domestic setting might offer them.
All factual indicators prove that women have ‘liberated’ themselves into despair. Eating disorders among women are rising around the world as ‘Westernisation’ (essentially the export of Cultural Marxism) embraces nations outside North American, Europe, and Australia. Women’s suicide rates are now rising faster than men’s. Abortion rates are increasing year on year, which is proven to increase rates of mental illness among women. Women have higher numbers of sexual partners than in previous eras, yet are also psychologically burdened by trading their virginity, and with it their pudicitia, for a short-term relationship, as well as regretting the accumulation of a plurality of prior sex partners. The economic impact of feminism and the export of manufacturing jobs to the Third World has also shrunk the pool of perceived marriageable men. One study found that “when towns and counties lose manufacturing jobs, fertility and marriage rates among young adults go down, too. Unmarried births and the share of children living in single-parent homes go up. Meanwhile, places with higher manufacturing employment have a bigger wage gap between men and women, and a higher marriage rate.” A problem arises when feminism convinces women they should seek high-wage employment while their instincts convince them to always “marry up” for resources – even if this scenario radically reduces their pool of potential mates. Because these women are refusing to “marry down,” they are more or less condemned to being the short-term sexual entertainment of a small number of very wealthy men and, ultimately, to die childless. Women are attempting to liberate themselves from this liberation via alcohol-induced oblivion, a fact indicated by widespread increases in alcohol consumption among women. A number of studies (e.g. see here, here, and here) have confirmed that this heightened alcohol consumption, in turn, leads into a further vicious cycle of promiscuity, sexual assault, abortion, depression, further alcohol consumption and even suicide. This is the liberated female of postmodernity, stripped of pudicitia.
Postmodernity has also stripped the female of the erotic mystery of metaphysical quality that has featured so heavily in her historical trajectory. We have moved, as it were, from Dante to Tinder. As Roger Scruton has observed, the saturation of culture with the sexual has bleached it of metaphysical speculation and genuinely erotic potential. The same enthralling female form that inspired Rodin’s The Muse or Aristide Malliol’s study for Action in Chains has been demystified and crudely embarrassed by the rutting baseness of ubiquitous pornography, the primary object of which is not to raise the female bodily form to spiritual heights but rather to subjugate and debase it. The Irish comedian Dara O’Brien once remarked that he couldn’t watch pornography primarily because it seemed “full of angry people,” a telling commentary on a cultural product that is probably as much about venting frustrations on women, and seeing them punished after a fashion, as personal sexual titillation.
Since, as Roger Scruton argues in Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (1986), sexual mystery is an important component of normal heterosexual relations, the stripping of sexuality of this component (along with cultural negation of differences in the sexes) lends it qualities normally associated with the homosexual – promiscuity, indifference to the other, narcissism, and predation.
Scruton, who deemed homosexuality a perversion from a moral philosophical standpoint, remarks on the necessary inherent tension and complementarity of heterosexual relations: “Male desire evokes the loyalty which neutralises its vagrant impulse; female desire evokes the conquering urge which overcomes its hesitations.” Damage to the heterosexual features of loyalty and hesitation, most notably in the case of culturally sanctioned or promoted promiscuity, eventually lead to a collapse of cultural tension and eroticism in the sphere of the sexual. Scruton calls this the “decline in the sentiment of sex.”
One of the fundamental problems in postmodern sexuality is that women lay claim to all the privileges, respect, and admiration associated in earlier eras with pudicitia without fulfilling its requirements or contributing to social order (and often in fact undermining it). We witness a proliferation of scenarios in which a Stormy Daniels lays claim to being treated as a Beatrice. But the days of forlornly admiring a demure beauty from afar are surely gone, cheaply replaced by gazing at the pouting, photoshopped visage of a common trollop advertising her wares on a dating app; no longer soliciting love poems and feverish protestations of undying love, but now a succession of repetitive chat-up lines and “dick pics.” Women, or I suppose lovers of both sexes in general, are no longer experienced by each other, but consumed, with all the attending eventual and inevitable obsolescence the latter term implies. This begs the question as to the role of women in an increasingly barren, infertile culture saturated with intercourse (“the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus”) but devoid of the sentiment of sex.
The Alt-Right’s grappling with this question has provoked the aforementioned accusations of misogyny, based on the erroneous, and often duplicitous, assumption that the crisis in modern sexuality is merely the problem of a handful of frustrated basement-dwellers unable to secure a girlfriend; “a crisis in masculinity” experienced only by the “sexually unsuccessful.” But, as has been discussed, the postmodern West as a whole is sexually unsuccessful, being more neurotic than erotic, and inducing the sexes to hate each other while producing STDs faster than it produces children. The grappling of the Alt-Right, the manosphere, and similar tributaries of thought have resulted variously in support for MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), the bitter repudiations of the Incels, semi-ironic calls for “White Sharia,” and, at the more moderate end, a call for the return to more traditional gender roles and the (for lack of a better term) “re-domestication” of the Western woman. These strands of thought have all been denounced as expressions of hatred of women when, in fact, they are the expression (with greater or lesser success) of the desire to make women loveable, admirable, cherishable, even metaphysical again. It is a desire, if not to move from Tinder back to Dante, then to at least return to a period in which an almost spiritual respect for pudicitia lifted the female beyond the bitter descriptions of Schopenhauer.
This desire is often the case even despite the most superficially anti-woman phrasing of these various movements because, at heart, their stated goals involve restoring Woman to a state in which she was in fact admired in such a fashion. MGTOW is not so much a statement of hatred of the female as an admission that the man going his own way finds it impossible to love and commit to Woman in her present state and in the current culture. Pick-up artistry is merely the nihilistic response to Woman in her present state and in the current culture, in which the male concedes that the sentiment of sex is gone, and with it the prospect of meaningful marriage and family, but seeks to reap as much intercourse as can be obtained from the debauched and demystified females of postmodernity. The Incels acknowledge bitterly the fact they are the prime casualties of Woman in her present state and in the current culture, enduring sexual disenfranchisement as a consequence of the decline of monogamy and the economic impact of feminism. The advocates for “White Sharia,” and increased control over the behavior of women, are disillusioned by Woman in her present state and in the current culture, and are merely seeking the most radical form of reversal. Those seeking the “re-domestication” of the female are similarly disappointed with the position of Woman in her present state and in the current culture, and believe in the promotion of family values and wifely attributes as a corrective. Whether through gentle inducement or strict control, all groups are essentially unanimous in seeking the reinstatement of pudicitia in the life of Western women.
The actual feasibility of such schemes, even in the most extreme case, evades clarity. The demystification of Woman, such as has been witnessed over the last century, is unprecedented in the history of our culture. It may in fact be the case that feminism has brought the Western female to her lowest level of esteem among her male peers than at any time in history. Reversing this process, going from Tinder to Dante, seems nigh impossible. What has been seen, as they say, cannot be unseen. Any process of “remystification” in order to revive the sentiment of sex would almost certainly take generations to achieve, and would at the very least require the reintroduction of social controls concerning promiscuity, the elevation of pudicitia and marriage to a place of high socio-cultural esteem, the strict regulation or abolition of pornography as an industry, the remarginalization of homosexuality and the banning of homosexual marriages of all kinds, an end to abortion on demand, and, finally, the cultural celebration of essential gender differences.
Nietzsche, the Judeo-Christian Legacy, and European Unification Note I first wrote this essay in the winter of 2007, as part of my graduate study at Duke University. The course was…
Nietzsche, the Judeo-Christian Legacy, and European Unification
I first wrote this essay in the winter of 2007, as part of my graduate study at Duke University. The course was “Nietzsche’s Politics,” taught by Michael Gillespie in the Political Science Department. I have maintained the essay substantially as it was when I handed it in. Much honing has taken place, for clarity, flow, and depth, but the structure is unchanged.
I had first encountered Nietzsche’s writings in the year 2000 in my extracurricular readings while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Reading him marked a turning point in my life; indeed, I find it hard to imagine what my approach to thinking about society, politics, and religion would be without Nietzsche as educator. Writing isn’t just a form of communication, but a process of discovery for the author. Composing this essay some 10 years ago, I was moving beyond a raw, youthful understanding of Nietzsche’s critiques of Christian morality, democracy, and the modern age, and towards his deeper, in many ways, hidden vision for the transformation of the world. Everybody knows that Nietzsche said “God is dead”; few recognize why and how this catastrophe occurred; what the consequences will be; and how European man can overcome this event.
This essay is about politics. Nietzsche, of course, never put forth any straight-forward “political program,” though his works are littered with sharp opinions on the passing scene. He does, however, develop a meta-politics. This is not “political science” in the sense that it is used today, but politics understood from the standpoint of the transcendent. It is the European crisis—the end game of the Judeo-Christian legacy, the death of God—that births the “good Europeans” and “artist tyrants” who, Nietzsche expects, will rule the continent
Revisiting this essay now, it strikes me as unfinished. There are many tantalizing threads that should be followed further and more flesh put on the bone. I’m in the process of expanding it as part of a book, which will result in its doubling in size. I thought it would be appropriate, however, to publish the original essay as is, so as to give readers an understanding of my thought-process and development.
The Ethno-State has just now entered the popular lexicon, sparking predictable outrage, some productive debate, and no small amount of confusion. The term itself, along with many of its components, I borrowed from the American writer Wilmot Robertson. The deeper character of the Ethno-State, as I view it, is Nietzschean at its core. I hope this essay makes that clear.
Today the Christian can feel anti-Jewish without realizing that he himself is the ultimate Jewish consequence
As a Saxon, [my mother] was a great admirer of Napoleon; it could be that I still am, too.
1. From Athens to Rome
The imperium Romanum . . . this most admirable work of art in the grand style was a beginning; its construction was designed to prove itself through thousands of years: until today nobody has built again like this, nobody has dreamed of building in such proportions sub specie aeterni. This organization was firm enough to withstand bad emperors: the accident of persons may not have anything to do with such matters—first principle of all grand architecture. But it was not firm enough against the most corrupt kind of corruption, against the Christians (AC §58).1
In this selection from one of the concluding aphorisms of The Antichrist (1888), Nietzsche’s most familiar tropes are fully mobilized: here we find his grandiose, shocking admiration of the powerful master-class . . . his aristocratic distain for Christians as rabble . . . his inhuman perspective in which the cultural achievement in Rome is worth a few “bad emperors” (and countless deaths) . . .
But while the passage might be characteristically “Nietzschean,” there is also much about it that is surprising. The Antichrist was conceived by Nietzsche as the first book of his planned three-volume Revaluation of All Values, what was to be the definitive statement of his philosophy. The fact that Nietzsche chose to image Rome—and specifically not Athens—in what is ultimately a kind of “political testament” goes against much that is taken for granted in Nietzsche scholarship.2 There is, of course, good reason for this. In Nietzsche first book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), he posited the tragic age of Aeschylus and Sophocles as the unreachable standard of cultural achievement. Even if he later came to view many of his claims in this volume as “embarrassing” (BT P (1886)), it seems reasonable to assume that Athens remained for him a political icon.
Nietzsche’s most important writings on Greek culture came at a point in his life when he was most overtly politically engaged, and his attitude towards 5th-century Athens should be understood within that context. The Birth of Tragedy was written in the wake of German national unification, which occurred months before its publication. And at this time, Nietzsche was, effectively, a German nationalist; he distanced himself from militarism and was critical of the state, but he was a nationalist nonetheless. Nietzsche imaged Germany’s rise to greatness not only through military victory over the French but through a revived cultural spirit. He (in)famously claimed, “[F]or it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified”(BT §5); and for him, the political achievements of both 5th-century Athens and 19th-century Germany would be measured though their cultural output. In this line, it was Kant and Schopenhauer who were, in Nietzsche’s eyes, courageous enough to “critique reason,” to adumbrated aspects of existence outside Socratean rationality. They thereby introduced “an infinitely profounder and more serious view of ethical problems and art which we may designate as Dionysian wisdom comprised in concepts” (BT §19). They were, in this way, able to approach the tragic wisdom of Aeschylus. This new Weltanschauung would find expression in Wagner’s music-dramas—the combination of the Apollonian heroic outlook with Dionysian “infinite melody”—to be performed publicly at the annual Bayreuth festival.
On all levels, Nietzsche understood this new cultural project to be ethno-nationalist in character:
[W]e have the feeling that the birth of a tragic age simply means a return to itself of the German spirit, a blessed rediscovery after powerful intrusive influences had for a long time compelled it . . . being attached to the lead strings of a Romanic civilization (BT §19 [emphasis added]).
Anticipating the deification of German Kultur at the expense of Western, French Zivilization in the 1920s and ‘30s, Nietzsche here imagines the triumph of the German spirit as specifically anti-imperial in character; it would be a great throwing off of the legacy of Rome, Christianity, and the supra-ethnic, supra-national institutions that had defined “Europe” for two millennia.
By Nietzsche’s middle and late periods, much had changed. Far from being an ethno-nationalist, Nietzsche filled these writings with numerous barbs and insults against all things German. In terms of philosophy and culture, Nietzsche claims that the “origin of the German Spirit” is not Kant and Schopenhauer but beer-guzzling and “distressed intestines” (EH II: §1). Wagner and Bayreuth become an expression of decadence—an opera festival for philistines and the nouveau riche, not a rebirth of tragedy. Politically, he came to reject unequivocally Bismarck, Wilhelm I, and the Reich. In turn, Nietzsche’s stance towards the Greeks also changed. Although a deep admiration never waned, Athenian culture no longer served as a touchstone and cultural model in these writings. By his final productive years, Nietzsche had become almost disenchanted: with the exception of Thucydides, Nietzsche reports to have lost interest in the literature of ancient Athens. Historical models were dramatically redefined: “[The Greeks] cannot mean as much to us as the Romans” (TI X: §2). On one level, Nietzsche’s turn from Athens (and Bayreuth) to Rome is indicative of an interest in moving beyond the polis and ethnos (the two most fundamental concepts of Greek politics and cultural identity) in favor of imperial hegemony and a synthesis of European ethnicities. In a way, Nietzsche’s imperialism can be seen as an outgrowth of his earlier cultural nationalism: dreams of German unification were morphing into dreams of a German empire.3
On another level, Nietzsche’s transformation marks a move from art to politics—or rather a view that politics was the grandest genre of art of them all. A culture cannot be justified solely by culture, whether Attic Tragedy or Wagnerian music-drama; instead, Nietzsche begins to view culture as arising in the shadow of the state. The state itself becomes the centerpiece of all cultural, social, and intellectual development. Nietzsche remarks that “the grand style”—that is, the imperial political structure—is “no longer mere art but [has] become reality, truth, life” (AC § 59). Not Athens . . . not Bayreuth . . . but Rome.
2. Nietzsche and the Unpolitical
It is not difficult to cull sundry political opinions from out Nietzsche’s texts and discover what he thought about public intellectuals like David Strauss and Heinrich von Treitschke, not to mention Bismarck and the Kaiser. But then Nietzsche famously called himself the “last anti-political German” (EH I: §3), and he did not formulate anything resembling a political program or “pragmatic” agenda. Reconstructing such things risks wishful thinking or forgery. Where Nietzsche does sustain a discussion of politics, his “political philosophy” is often grandiose bordering on the fantastical. Unconcerned with the vagaries of parliamentary majorities or policy-analysis, Nietzsche instead focused on “Cesare Borgia as Pope” and the creation of a new aristocracy. At other times, when Nietzsche discusses politics, he seems to actually be concerned with something else. As Tracy Strong observes, “The one attempt Nietzsche makes at providing a unified perspective explicitly on politics . . . to our confusion, is essentially a discussion of music” 4. Still, as the above discussion of Athens and Rome reveals, politics are extremely important to Nietzsche and inform, if always subtly, his wider philosophy.
Throughout the 20th century, interpretations of Nietzsche’s political thought have, generally speaking, shifted between two poles—1933 and 1968. First, there is the Nietzsche of “will to power,” “the overman,” “the blond beast,” “the anti-Christ,” a thinker who is an opponent of democracy, the herd, and modernity itself.5 But on the other hand, there is the Nietzsche of immoralism, self-creation, “life as a work of art,” a thinker who becomes the forefather of Foucault, Derrida, and much of the postmodern Left.6 Both of these political interpretations seem equally right and wrong. The main problem is that associating Nietzsche with political movements with which he was never involved blocks consideration of his political philosophy on its own terms. Not coincidentally, these kinds of interpretations have also blocked serious consideration of what Nietzsche explicitly—though always elliptically—claims to be the “politics of the future”—Europeanism.
By 1887, Nietzsche was already speaking of himself and his equals as “good Europeans, Europe’s heirs, the rich superabundant, but also abundantly obligated heirs of two millennia of the European spirit” (GS V: §377).7 A year earlier, his disenchantment with nationalism was explicit and he had already formulated the basis of a supra-national project:
Owing to the pathological estrangement which the insanity of nationality has induced, and still induces, among the peoples of Europe; owing also to the shortsightedness and quick-handed politicians who are at the top today with the help of this insanity, without any inkling that their separatist policies can of necessity only be entr’acte policies; owing to all this and much else that today simply cannot be said, the most unequivocal portents are now being overlooked, or arbitrarily and mendaciously reinterpreted—that Europe wants to become one. (BGE VIII: §256)
German ethno-nationalism was expunged from Nietzsche’s consciousness. While in The Birth of Tragedy, he speaks of German particularism breaking out from under the “servitude” of “Romanic Civilization,” by his mature period, he stresses the need for a new supra-national order. Nietzsche discounts ethnicity and goes as far as to imagine the possibilities (and dangers) of a “new synthesis”—the mixing of the European races. During the writing of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche was a prominent member of the ideologically anti-Semitic “Bayreuth Circle” surrounding Richard Wagner (though it is not clear that Nietzsche ever shared all of their views). After his break, Nietzsche began to praise the Jews a ripe for the “mastery over Europe” and as powerful precisely through their “nomadic,” international culture (BGE VIII: §244, §251).
But even if it is uncontroversial that in Nietzsche’s mature thought he embraced a kind of Europeanism, the question remains of exactly why. Without doubt, Nietzsche did not support “Europe”—and reject ethno-nationalism and anti-Semitism—out of a sense of “liberalism,” “tolerance,” or “multiculturalism.” To the contrary, Nietzsche wanted the opposite of these things and even described the potential leaders of Europe as “tyrants” (BGE VIII: §242). Nietzsche was first and foremost a philosopher, and he adopted a political philosophy out of philosophic necessity. “Politics in the grand style” did not emerge from an ideology (at least in the simplistic sense of the term) nor from blind pragmatism. Instead, as I hope to demonstrate, Nietzsche forges his politics in the realm of the transcendental, as a response to a cultural and spiritual crisis on the continent—a crisis that affects not only politics but theology, epistemology, and aesthetics.
3. Politics of Crisis
In Ecce Homo (1888), Nietzsche mentions that his mother, Franziska Oehler, married his father in Eilenburg in 1813, the “great war year” in which Napoleon entered the city. Nietzsche relates that, “As a Saxon, she was a great admirer of Napoleon; it could be that I still am, too” (EH I: §3). It is certainly not a stretch to say that the empereur and his attempted unification of Europe represent for Nietzsche a manifestation of the imperial politics he most admired; and, in many ways, Nietzsche’s view of Napoleon encapsulates the way “great politics” functions within his philosophy. It is important to note that Nietzsche’s esteem for Napoleon should not be viewed as mere “hero worship” or as an example of “Great Man history.” Nietzsche never admired Napoleon for his skill in getting to the top, that is, for his “will to power” in the most individualistic and simplistic of meanings. Napoleon instead represents for Nietzsche a culmination of cultural energies: “The history of Napoleon’s reception is almost the history of the highest happiness attained by the whole century in its most valuable human beings and moments (BGE V: §199). As the French Revolution inaugurated the zenith of democratic leveling (and popular ressentiment), Nietzsche viewed Napoleon as a kind of “signpost to the other path,” that of the great and terrible aristocracy of antiquity and the Italian Renaissance. Napoleon was not important for Nietzsche as a “French patriot” and less so as a great individual; he held meaning as a realization of the spirit: Napoleon was “the problem of the noble ideal as such made flesh . . . the synthesis of the inhuman and the superhuman (GM I: §16).
Just as Napoleon embodied a cultural problem, Nietzsche formulates his definition of “great politics” around what he perceives as a European-wide spiritual and cultural crisis. In describing “why I am a destiny,” Nietzsche imagines “politics in the grand style” as encompassing both the terrible truth that Nietzsche’s philosophy announces to the world and the “war of spirits” that must follow:
For when truth enters into a fight with the lies of millennia, we shall have upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and valleys, the like of which has never been dreamed of. The concept of politics will have merged entirely with a war of spirits; all power structures of the old society will have been exploded—all of them are based on lies: there will be wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth. It is only beginning with me that the earth knows great politics. (EC IV: §1)
This is a particularly pregnant passage, and it is related to a number of concerns of this essay. For now, it is important to recognize that Nietzsche views “great politics” as emerging directly from a crisis of his age. In announcing the demise of the basic structures of European society, Nietzsche sees himself as unleashing “great politics,” a kind of combination of actual war and a contestation of value.
What Nietzsche views as comprising his “truth” against “the lies of millennia” is, at its core, his announcement that “God is dead.”
Those who only know one thing about Nietzsche usually know the half-truth that he loathed Christianity and was a militant atheist. While it is true that Nietzsche did present himself as “the Antichrist,” to say that Nietzsche was writing polemically against Christianity—like some proto-Christopher Hitchens—is to misconstrue him entirely. Nietzsche hardly thought that the Europeans of the future—perhaps led by a few “overmen” who had read Thus Spoke Zarathustra—could recognize the faults of Christianity and then simply “get rid of it.” To think so is to vastly underestimate the complexity—and, indeed, the ambivalence—of Nietzsche’s critique. Nietzsche did not view Judeo-Christianity8 and its legacy as mere “lies”—as the “opium of the masses” in Marx’s language or the “God Delusion,” to borrow a phrase from the self-styled “New Atheists.” He viewed Christianity much like a traditional conservative—as the most basic grounding of what has come to be called “The West.” To actually oppose Judeo-Christianity—as Nietzsche imagines himself as doing in the passage from Ecce Homo—is not only to risk catastrophe but also all assurance of a future. As I will demonstrate below, Nietzsche questioned the very ability of Europeans to think outside the confines of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Simply exiting Christianity, or transcendent thinking in general, was not an option.
Europeans had not simply “lost faith.” God is dead because the “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable” (GS V: §343). Put into other words, the Human and Natural Sciences (“Enlightenment” in the broadest sense) pursued its “will to know” to the point that it shattered the religious basis of European societies. What remains most important about this conception is that Nietzsche specifically does not view Enlightenment and the “will to know” as emerging from a system of knowledge and values outside or alien to Judeo-Christianity. Nietzsche would never deny that the Sciences were often set opposed to the Church (and vice-versa); however, for him, the “will to know” lies at the center of the Judeo-Christian tradition.9 Moreover, as I will discuss below, “truth” functions within Judeo-Christianity in a way that differs in prominence and quality from other historical religions.
In this line, Nietzsche’s supra-nationalism—his Europeanism—is directly linked to his expansive view of the influence of Judeo-Christianity. It is specifically Europe’s struggle with its Christian legacy that generates “great politics” and the need for a radical transformation. Nietzsche claims that the Judeo-Christian tradition has “created in Europe a magnificent tension of the spirit the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals” (BGE P). It is this “tension”—Europe’s turning against itself—that can launch it into greater heights.
But even if Judeo-Christianity’s tension with the Enlightenment generates the European crisis, Nietzsche does not believe in the least that Enlightened politics—specifically nationalism, democracy, and liberalism—are well suited to address the problem. For Nietzsche, when a culture is in crisis, it must turn to “the grand style” in order to “unbend the bow.” Nietzsche seeks to construct a new kind of aristocratic politics that would not simply be “anti-Christian” but mark a transformation of the tradition. The “good Europeans”—the new masters and tyrants of the continent—will rise to power, not in polemical opposition to Judeo-Christianity, but by embodying the productive contradictions and antagonisms of its legacy.
I. Falling Apart / Coming Together
1. Shadows over Europe
Few thinkers have been as self-consciously hostile towards their age and milieu as Nietzsche. Fewer still have felt themselves to be so out of place, to have been literally born at the wrong time. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche presents himself as an epigone, as the (presumably last) “disciple of the god Dionysius.” This contrasts sharply with the forward-orientation in many of his other writings in which he claims to be a John the Baptist of “the philosophy of the future.” Perhaps Nietzsche is most honest when he critically admits that he is a product of his own age: “I am a decadent” (EH I: §2).
Without doubt, Nietzsche’s profound alienation from late 19th-century European culture had many personal causes: his various health problems, rejection by his peers, and the absence of adequate companionship being but a few. But far more importantly, Nietzsche’s particular animus towards European society resulted from the fact that he felt he knew his age all too well. More specifically, he believed himself to be fully aware of a cultural crisis beyond comparison, the consequences and implications of which would change utterly all facets of Europe. Being born both too early and too late, Nietzsche saw himself “stretched in the contradiction between today and tomorrow” (GS V: §343). As Cassandra, he foresees the coming catastrophe; as John the Baptist, he glimpse a new dawn.
An exact and concise description of the European crisis is difficult to put into words simply because Nietzsche develops this theme in a wide variety of manifestations. For the purpose of this essay, it is useful to look at a particularly poignant image of the crisis from the middle of Nietzsche’s career—his announcement of the “death of God” and the formation of “shadows over Europe” (GS V: §343).
It is of great importance to understand that Nietzsche’s famous announcement that God is dead is actually far more anthropological and phenomenological than it is theological. In Werner Dannhauser’s words, Nietzsche practices “historical atheism”: “The saying that God is dead implies that God once existed. God existed while one could believe in God; God is dead because belief in God has become impossible.”10 The vital questions thus become: Why did God die? and Who killed him? Nietzsche’s full formulation is that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him [emphasis added]” (GS, §125). We killed him not simply through our loss of faith, for fervency comes and goes and can be lost and regained. Saying “scientists” or “atheists” killed God is equally unsatisfactory; for science as mere technical mastery does not touch the soul. God died over the course of the series of tumults that cut off European man from the transcendent. Copernicus removed him from the center of the cosmos . . . Galileo discovered that natural laws hold in the celestial spheres just as much as they do on Earth . . . Darwin demonstrated that man emerged from out of brutality and death . . . Individuals and specific discoveries are not important, as no single person killed God. And Nietzsche does not posit an aggressive “atheism” as a motivating factor; to the contrary, the scientists mentioned above were inspired by Christian faith. But to go on believing in the Christian God in the face of the modern experience was, for Nietzsche, a sign of childishness, denial, and cowardice. Nietzsche does not view natural “Enlightenment” as the highest form of wisdom, but he never underestimated its immense, catastrophic power.
Though the bad news has not yet been heeded by all, Nietzsche (and a select few) grasp that the death of the Christian God will be followed by the collapse of “the whole of our European morality.” Furthermore, the end of faith will instigate a “sequences of breakdown,” culminating in the destruction of the institutions and values based upon the Judeo-Christian moral system. The 20th century will witness nothing less than the eclipse of the sun.
In making such claims, Nietzsche might seem to have much in common with the pessimism of many conservatives of the late 19th century (and today), who viewed the end of faith as equally disastrous, and sometimes in equally grandiose terms. Yet Nietzsche’s perspective on the death of God is wholly different than that of such figures. Firstly, Nietzsche viewed the coming catastrophe as necessary; even if all of Europe does not yet recognize it, there is no hope for a Christian revival, for such a thing would inherently ring hollow. Nietzsche would not have been surprised by the decent of mainstream Christianity into self-esteem doctrines or community organizing.
Secondly, while the death of God is a disaster, Nietzsche sees it as containing great potential benefit. As stressed by Michael Allen Gillespie, what Nietzsche most opposed in Christianity is that it leads Europeans into believing that, after the collapse of Christian morality, life in general would have no meaning. But Nietzsche instead envisioned other types of men who, although disturbed by the death of God, accept the dilemma and learn to view it as an opportunity for a cultural transformation.11 In this line, Nietzsche’s tone in this aphorism moves from despairing to rhapsodic. The “shadows over Europe” lift to reveal a “new dawn,” and Nietzsche shifts to a new set of metaphors, imaging the “death of God” as a starting point for great new voyages of the spirit. Writing as one of the “free spirits” who understands the positive aspect of the collapse, Nietzsche ironically entitles Aphorism §343 “The Meaning of our Cheerfulness.”
Such passages deserve serious criticism on many levels.12 First and foremost, as pointed out by Gillespie, one might counter that Nietzsche vastly overrated the degree to which the European world would sink into suicidal, nihilistic despair. Although the years 1914-1945 might seem a fulfillment of Nietzsche’s prophecy, “If the intervening years have proven anything, it is that bourgeois society can weather the death of God without collapsing into either passive or active nihilism.”13 But for the purpose of this essay, it is of greatest importance to stress that Aphorism §343 only represents one aspect of Nietzsche’s conception of the European crisis, and by no means does it express the great complexities and ironies surrounding the death of God. Indeed, as Nietzsche begins Book V of The Gay Science with an apocalyptic vision, he follows it immediately with Aphorism §344 in which he stresses the long-term continuity of Judeo-Christian culture. While “The Meaning of our Cheerfulness” images a “new dawn,” Nietzsche juxtaposes it with an aphorism that reminds one of the presence of the past. Nietzsche approaches this recognition of the long duré of culture through a discourse on epistemology.
2. Piety and the Will to Truth
In Aphorism §344, “How we, too, are still Pious,” Nietzsche first observes that the “scientific spirit” of rational inquiry is one of testing and scrutinizing established convictions: for example, “does a heavier body actually fall faster than a lighter one?” Science is ultimately a process in which “convictions” are destroyed; those that crumble under scrutiny are discarded, and those that hold are no longer mere convictions but “knowledge” and “truth.” In describing this spirit, Nietzsche, no doubt, has in mind Descartes objective in his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641/47) to bring into question every single idea, perception, and premise in order to arrive at a firm ground for knowledge. This is certainly not anything that Nietzsche takes lightly; far from being an “irrationalist,” Nietzsche views the breaking down of conviction as the heart of any great philosophy:
[G]reat spirits are skeptics. Zarathustra is a skeptic. Strength, freedom which is born of the strength and overstrength of the spirit, proves itself by skepticism. Men of convictions are not worthy of the least consideration in fundamental questions of value and disvalue. Convictions are prisons” (AC §54).
But if science strives to knock down convictions, Nietzsche discerns a deeper, unspoken conviction undergirding the entire enterprise; it is one that is so pervasive and indispensable to science as a system that it can never be confronted directly: “We see that science also rests on a faith” (GS V: §344).14 This conviction is that “truth has value.”
The “value” of truth might seem self-evident; however, being that it is often the great liars and manipulators who come out on top, one should ask seriously: Why not deceive? Moreover, Why not allow oneself to be deceived? This is hardly facetious. Throughout his oeuvre, Nietzsche connects the acquisition of greater knowledge with pain.15 Some knowledge might have pragmatic value, and certainly Nietzsche would see “wonder” and “curiosity” underlying the “will to truth”; however, he views knowledge of the highest quality to be that which destroys the foundations of a culture and paralyzes an individual’s will to action. In his major treatise on historiography, Nietzsche associates knowledge with “the historical sense,” that is, scholarly historicism and boldly concludes that ignorance, forgetfulness, and the denial history is of great value to a people or culture:
No artist would ever paint a picture, no general would win a victory, no people would gain its freedom without first having longed for and struggled towards that end in such an nhistorical condition. Just as the man of action, in Goethe phrase, is always unscrupulous, so he is always ignorant too” (HSDL §1).
The man of profound knowledge might achieve a kind of power, but he is also prone to becoming a “Hamlet,” a man nauseated by knowing and thinking too much (see BT §7).
In Nietzsche’s mind, ”the value of truth” has a distinct origin, which I will discuss in the next section. Before this, it is useful to make some preliminary conclusions. Among these is the recognition that Nietzsche might not be as “postmodern” as is often thought. The idea that Nietzsche’s perspective on science is a refutation of truth and thus an assertion of “relativism” is doubtful. Zarathustra does not bring “relativism” to the world down from the mountaintop, but the terrible truth that God is dead. Any kind of defined system—whether it be Science, Christianity, or Buddhism—is based upon, in Walter Kaufmann’s words, “a number of primary assumptions from which [one] draws a net of inferences and thus deduces [the] system; but [one] cannot from within [the] system, establish the truth of his premises.”16 Nietzsche attempts a bold new experiment in which he turns the “will to truth” against those most fundamental assumptions—even against itself—and tests whether the whole system might hold, or not.
In that the search for truth is only rarely practical and usually proves deleterious, it can only acquire meaning through a system of value outside itself. It is Nietzsche’s radical conclusion in Aphorism §344 that it is the Judeo-Christian tradition that gave birth to the “will to truth—at all costs.” In a characteristic dialectical flip, it is Judeo-Christianity that birthed the sciences. It is in this way that Nietzsche ironically derives the title, “How we, too, are still Pious”:
[E]ven we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith . . . that God is the truth, that truth is divine. (GS V: §344)
It is thus exactly that which is most harmed by the will to truth that brought it into the world.
How religion would become so audacious as to value truth is a complicated story, and one that emerges from Nietzsche’s view of history and the place of the Jews, Christians, and national politics in the ancient world.
II. Peoples, Nobles, Slaves
1. Nations and their Gods
Whatever Nietzsche eventually thought of the German nation-state, all of his texts evince a certain esteem, even nostalgia, for ancient “peoples,” that is, historical races with their own culture and religion. As mentioned above, the Athenian ethnos was of central importance, but Nietzsche has similar reverence for other peoples of the ancient Mediterranean world and many across Europe and Asia. Nietzsche’s exact concept of a “people” is difficult to pin down. Obviously, the term is defined ethnically, and Nietzsche often uses “race” interchangeably with “people.”17 However, for Nietzsche, a “people is far more than a mere biological entity. Although never made explicit, Nietzsche’s anthropology was greatly informed by a kind of “theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” In the words of Menahem Brinker, “A race is for him primarily a group of people united by their common life-experience which is interiorized and passed on from one generation to the next as cultural heritage and as inherited traits of character” 18. “National character” was forged over time.
Nietzsche’s concept of a people also had a prominent theological component: “A people which still believes in itself retains its own god. In him it reveres the conditions which let it prevail, its virtues—it projects its pleasure in itself, its feeling of power onto a being to whom one may offer thanks” (AC §16). Under a national god, a people would construct a formal morality and system of values that was informed by the conditions for their well-being and position in the world. As Zarathuatra exclaims in his speech “Of Self Overcoming,” “What [a] people believe to be good and evil betrays to me an ancient will to power” (Z II: 12). In the figure of the Hindu law-giver Manu—his thought expressed in his law book, Manu Smriti (circa 200 B.C.)—Nietzsche offers a concrete example of the legislator-cum-chief-cum-priest who forges a great people. Manu, who became revered in Hinduism as the forefather of the entire human race, succeeded in Nietzsche’s mind by raising his people to kind of cultural and religious perfection. After a long era of fragmentation and chaos, Manu took the best that was achieved in this period of “experimentation” and codified a single, timeless religion and system of values. Nietzsche describes Manu’s culture as reaching an “automatism of instinct” in which values had become unconscious. He created a “second nature.”
2. National Epistemology
Just as “peoples” are at the center of Nietzsche’s concept of theology and value, so are they of great importance to his major discourses on epistemology. More specifically, “a people” is directly connected in Nietzsche’s mind with his concept of the “will to truth” and the ways that this has manifested itself. Nietzsche’s most basic conclusion in this line is set down in Zarathustra in the aphorism “On the Famous Wise Men” (Z II: §8). Here, it is the “famous philosophers”—beloved by their communities—who, in claiming to have reached “truth,” have actually transformed the prejudices and superstitions of a people into dogma or philosophy. As he does throughout Zarathustra, Nietzsche encapsulates this idea in a striking image, and in this case, it is one that is highly satirical: the “famous wise man” is an ass pulling a cart. The “cart,” of course, represents “the people,” who are grateful to their ass-philosopher for his tireless efforts.
The sentiment that philosophers (or at least “famous” ones) are basically sophists and demagogues who “tell the people what they want to hear” is hardly new. However, this notion functions idiosyncratically within Nietzsche’s thought as a whole. Despite the obvious satire of the image, Nietzsche is not wholly opposed to “famous wise men.” As discussed above, Nietzsche has an irrepressible nostalgia for peoples who could write their “tables of good and evil” and were confident in themselves. For this, “famous wise men” and their “truths” were indispensable. In many ways, Nietzsche views the decadence and cultural barrenness of Europe as expressed by their inability to invent a new theology. In reference to the “strong races of Northern Europe,” Nietzsche laments that they never rejected the Christian God foisted upon them in the late Roman Empire, but instead allowed themselves to be defined by Judeo-Christianity: “[a]lmost two thousand years—and not a single new god!” (AC: §19).
National philosophers might have served their purpose; however, Nietzsche’s nostalgia has its limits, and he unequivocally rejects “national philosophy” as a worldview for Europe’s future. Nietzsche makes no effort to tell his age a quaint bedtime story or become Europe’s latest (or last) “famous wise man.”
Nietzsche’s sense that “national religions” (at least within the confines of Europe) are both impossible and undesirable has much to do with his understanding of the Judeo-Christian legacy. On one level, Christianity is for Nietzsche “just another religion,” and it shares much in common with the national religions. In this case, it is an expression of the will to power of the down-trodden within the imperium Romanum, and one can criticize it as such (as Nietzsche does at length in the Genealogy). But Nietzsche views this sociological insight as only of partial importance in assessing Judeo-Christianity and its impact on Europe.
From the beginning, Nietzsche claims that Christianity was, at heart, never a national religion, and its dynamic was always expansive and supranational in character. In Nietzsche’s words, Christianity was “not a function of a race—it turned to every kind of man who was disinherited by life, it had its allies everywhere” (AC §51). From this broad base of support in the ancient world, the Judeo-Christian legacy surfaced, in a variety of manifestations, and came to inform all peoples and classes of Europe (and beyond). Christianity thus lacked completely other religions’ basis in the sustenance of a distinct group, with its good and evil, high and low, sentiments and attachments.
But beyond this matter of scale, Nietzsche viewed Christianity as different in character from national religions. Much of this is expressed in the fact that Nietzsche views Christianity as possessing an epistemology radically different from the “national epistemologies” described above. More specifically, Judeo-Christianity has a “will to truth” like no other. In Nietzsche’s mind, much of this results from Judaism’s place in the ancient world. In order to properly understand Judeo-Christian epistemology, one must turn to the story of the Jews.
3. Judaism and the Jews
It is well known that Nietzsche was a fierce anti-anti-Semite. It was not particularly difficult for Nietzsche to take this position in the latter part of his career. Anti-Semitism was indelibly linked in his mind with Wagner and the Bayreuth circle, his sister’s poor choice in husbands, and pompous German nationalism—that is to say, everything which Nietzsche found most distasteful and felt that he had to overcome in himself. Nietzsche’s hatred of anti-Semitism culminated in his letter sent to Franz Overbeck, at the onset of madness in January of 1889, announcing that he was “having all anti-Semites shot.”19 But then, being an anti-anti-Semite doesn’t quite mean that he was a philo-Semite, nor does it quite tell us what Nietzsche thought of the Jews. Examined closely, Nietzsche’s depictions of Judaism and the Jews reveals that he was intensely ambivalent about both—a certain anti-Semitism and penchant for double-edged compliments are combined with an enduring admiration. In his view, the Jews are, at the same time, a strong heroic people, a slave-race most responsible for the decline of aristocratic values, and potential “good Europeans.”20
Nietzsche unequivocally admires the Biblical Jewish people, and uses rapturous language to describe the “Homeric” world of the Pentateuch: “great human beings, a heroic landscape, and something of the very rarest quality in the world, the incomparable naïveté of the strong heart; what is more I find a people” (GM III: §22). At this point in time, Judaism was a healthy and powerful national religion. Being that Jews and their political order were “in the right, that is, natural relationship to all things,” they were able to create their own table of good and evil and invent a God that expressed their strength: Yahweh in his original form “was the expression of a consciousness of power, of joy in oneself, of hope for oneself: through him victory and welfare were expected” (AC: §25).
But as the Jews began to experience defeat and subservience—recast in historical terminology, in the period following the destruction of the First Temple (6th Century B.C.)—Yahweh began to lose his luster. In a striking admonishment, Nietzsche claims, “they should have let him go” (AC §25). That is, once Yahweh ceased to be a god of power and victory, the Jews should have been creative enough to make a new one. This was, of course, common practice throughout the Roman Empire, as gods were ordered, created, and destroyed within the federalist Pantheon.
Instead, Jewish political life began to be dominated by a priestly class, and Yahweh was re-imagined. If the Jews could not experience power in the real world, they claimed that “the good” was not found there but only in a new “higher” realm of morality. The god of the Jews became, in turn, an abstract demand, an “evil-eye,” a “morality.” The situation was made worse by the fact that the priestly class transformed the Jewish historical consciousness, empowering themselves and devaluing the Biblical age of heroes which Nietzsche so admired:
[I]n the hands of the Jewish priests, the great age in the history of Israel became an age of decay; the Exile, the long misfortune, was transformed in to an eternal punishment for the great age—an age in which the priest was still a nobody” (AC §26).
Judaism was further affected by the Jews’ conflicts with the Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple (1st Century, B.C.). It is, indeed, this confrontation through which Nietzsche generates one of his most characteristic opposition, “Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome: Rome felt the Jews to be something like anti-nature itself, its antipodal monstrosity as it were: in Rome the Jew stood convicted of hatred for the whole human race” (GM I: §16). “Judea against Rome” is the depiction not of too rival nations and national religions but of two completely opposed Weltanschauungen and moral systems: on one side, there is the aristocratic master-class, conscious of its own power, and able to subordinate and integrate rival nations into a stable, productive hierarchy; on other, there is a small, wretched tribe of people claiming no national power (as they had none), but then making a grasp for universal dominion.
4. Morality in the Grand Style
In Nietzsche’s reading, the Jews are “the most catastrophic people in world history” (AC §24), but not merely because they created a religion of ressentiment directed against the aristocratic Romans. For as a religion of a weak people, Judaism would hardly be unusual in this respect and would never have gained world-historical significance. The Jews were truly catastrophic in that they transformed the nature of religion itself.
In order to understand the new metaphysics created in Judaism, it is useful to turn to Nietzsche’s description of the formation of the conscience and the sense of guilt. Drawing on the fact that the German word “Schuld” refers to both “debt” (in the monetary sense) and “guilt” (in the moral sense), Nietzsche claims that, in the prehistory of mankind, the moral conscience emerged as an internalization of the punishment one received for failing to repay loans. The feeling of guilt is a means for man to punish himself by reproducing the fear and loathing of indebtedness in other contexts. Obviously, this had a class-dimension, for it is primarily the lower orders and weaker nations who experienced chronic indebtedness, and thus were more likely to develop the internalization. The Jews underwent an intensification of this process in that not only were they constantly in a position of subservience vis-à-vis “master” nations, but their culture became dominated by a priestly class that eagerly transformed “guilt/debt” into a exaltation of their weak and downtrodden state, the “ascetic ideal.”
Nietzsche relates that, as this process ensued, this painful internalization of guilt became simply too great for the slave to bear, and he and his society sought a means of discharging it. This could take many forms; Nietzsche views the primary one as entailing a grand reversal, a projection back of the feeling of debt onto the “creditor,” that is, the master. The Jews thus formed an entire metaphysics based upon ressentiment. The “transvaluation of all values”—that is, the valuing of the weak, shameful slaves as “good”—and the powerful, conscienceless rulers as “evil”—operated through this process in the latter days of the ancient world.
This great “reversal of guilt,” so to speak, is directly related to the Jews’ development of monotheism and a universal religion. In Nietzsche’ reading of history, it is the Jews and the original Christian slave-classes throughout the Empire that achieved the “maximum feeling of guilty indebtedness [des Schuldgefühl] on earth.” Nietzsche views this as expressed by a universalist theory and “the maximum god attained thus far” (GM II: §20), the one, true god—Yahweh. Not only did the Jews and Christians divorce their god from the attainment of worldly power, but in imagining a higher realm, they grasped at a kind of grand coup d’état. The refashioned Yahweh was above the gods of Rome and all other deities, indeed, he superseded them. The Jews were the inventors of what Nietzsche calls “the grand style in morality” (BGE VIII: §250). In this way, Nietzsche imagines a great clash of universal religions: on the one hand, Judeo-Christian monotheism, and on the other, the Imperium Romanum and its Pantheon.
In the struggle of “Rome against Judea,” Judea won. Nietzsche views this as happening mostly on a psychological level; put simply, the all-encompassing Judaic (and later Judeo-Christian) system entrapped the nobles and made them feel guilty about themselves, about their power, beauty, and dominance. Beyond the Roman aristocrats, Nietzsche sees the pre-Judeo-Christian world as replete with a host of figures who, “imbued with faith in their own perfection, went about with the dignity of a great matador”; these were the great masters who had confidence in their ability to achieve power and, it should be mentioned, were unafraid to be cruel. “Moral Skepticism”—that is, the “evil eye” and the unflagging criticism of the Judeo-Christian system—succeeded in drawing into question all of the noble man’s great strengths—pride, ruthlessness, ambition—and in “accusing and embittering him” to the point that he lost faith in himself (GS III: §122).
Nietzsche views this great “loss of nerve” as lamentable, for there is little doubt that he felt the great, cruel master-class to be the foundation of high culture in the ancient world. This being said, Nietzsche recognizes that the “transvaluation of all values” is at the heart of the sciences and the modern systems of knowledge. Indeed, Nietzsche views Judaism and Christianity as the first religions to fully systematize the potential of doubt and skepticism. The ancient Jew and Christian might originally pursue “truth” out of ressentiment, in the sense of “bringing the great down to size” or “looking up the skirt” of the Queen. But this is transformed into a call for knowledge for its own sake. As Nietzsche points out, it is no coincidence that the great philosophers have been social outcasts—Heraclitus, Socrates, Epicurius, Nietzsche (BGE I: §6). Ressentiment is the secret, guilty origin of philosophy. Moreover, with the expansion to universalism, the acquisition of knowledge becomes a duty, a painful binding of the self to achieve knowledge “for its own sake” and “at all costs.”
Furthermore, it is with man’s “turning against himself” that it becomes possible to enact a great transformation of values. In this line, it is the dynamic of Judeo-Christian ressentiment that gives substance to Nietzsche’s metaphor (quoted above) of the “taut bow.” “Turned against himself,” Judeo-Christian man is a strange, seemingly “unnatural,” being, but as such he begins to view himself no longer as an end but as a stage in a grand transformation:
[T]he existence on earth of an animal soul turned against itself . . . was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and pregnant with a future that the aspect of the earth was essentially altered. . . .[M]an . . . gives rise to an interest, a tension, a hope, almost a certainty, as if with him something were announcing and preparing itself, as if man were not a goal but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise.—(GM II: §16)
In describing the development of the systems of knowledge, Nietzsche returns to the image of the “taut bow” and “great politics.” Judaism gave birth not only to the universalism and value of truth that characterize European societies, but also to the capacity to transfigure radically these values.
As explored in the following section, this aspect of Judeo-Christian legacy is of particular importance in informing Nietzsche’s discussions of 19th-century European politics and his hope for supra-national integration.
1. The New Idol
Publishing in the latter third of the 19th century, Nietzsche couldn’t help but comment on the most important political development of his time—nationalism. In his mature period, Nietzsche’s stance towards the nation-state was almost uniformly hostile. (This might come as a surprise to those who associate him with German National Socialism.) In these discussions, Nietzsche is not interested in sovereignty or the state in themselves so much as their modern “republican” and “national-democratic” variations. In this line, the central political problem for Nietzsche is one of representation. Nietzsche (or Zarathustra to be exact) claims that the state exists through a central lie: “I, the state, am the people.” It is this equation and promise of representation that, after the collapse of “divine right” and absolutism, became the fundamental source of legitimacy.
Whereas healthy peoples are able to write their own tablets of good and evil, Zarathustra calls the modern state “the death of peoples” and, in an ironic reference to Hobbes “Leviathan,” “the coldest of all cold monsters” (Z I: §11). While a great legislator like Manu was a “creator”—he brought order to his culture—the modern state is an “annihilator.” It simply “takes,” its managers exist by taxing those below them. And it is a cold monster in that it “bask[s] in the sunshine” of the allegiance and men of actual achievement. And, to Zarathustra’s dismay, it has seduced the “great souls” of every nation. Here, Nietzsche certainly has in mind a figure like Wagner: after the events of 1848-49 he was a nomadic artist who radically rethought the operatic form; by 1876 and the establishment of the Bayreuth festival, he was “nationalized” and thus became “respectable” and “palatable.”
Keeping in mind Nietzsche’s esteem and nostalgia for the age of peoples, it is important to note that his critique of the modern state functions around a nation/state opposition. As mentioned above, Nietzsche’s mature work is filled with barbs against all things German; however, the moments in which he criticizes the German state are exactly those in which he allows himself to recognize the cultural achievement of the German people—even if he does this in the form of his signature double-edged complements.21 While in other works Nietzsche depicts Germans as lugubrious beer-guzzlers, vis-à-vis their state, they are a people of ponderous depths, fixated—perhaps to a fault—on a vision of the future (BGE VIII: §240). Germans famously have an identity crisis—“It is characteristic of the Germans that the question, ‘what is German?’ never dies out amongst them” (BGE VIII: §244)—but then this makes them philosophical. In light of Nietzsche’s political ideal of the good European, it is certainly significant here that he depicts the German soul as disposed to “cosmopolitanism” (BGE VIII: §241). In 1888—18 years after the founding of the Reich—he exclaimed: “‘German spirit’: for the past eighteen years a contradiction in terms” (TI I: §23). In a clear reference to the leader of the new Germany, Otto von Bismarck, Nietzsche speaks of “a statesman” who convinced the Germans to sacrifice their great virtues for the sake of a “novel and dubious mediocrity” (BGE VIII: §241). Bismarck was able to seduce the Germans through, in Nietzsche’s exact words, “Great Politics.” Far from being the merger of politics and the war of spirits that Nietzsche foresaw in Ecce Homo (EC IV: §1), Bismarck’s “great politics” is little more than pomp and circumstance, a parody of actual greatness. The great chancellor “piles up for [the Germans] another tower of Babel, a monster of empire and power,” and willing citizens “grovel on their bellies before anything massive” (BGE VIII: §241). Nietzsche holds his nose at this spectacle and refers to the process as the “spiritual flattening” of a people. In becoming citizens of the Reich, Germans forgo their spiritual boundlessness and learn “politicking.”
2. The Herd and the Tyrants
Like most critics of nationalism, Nietzsche is quick to place national formation within a particular historical context and deconstruct any claims the nation-state might have of being an organic outgrowth out of an ancient community. Far from representing an eternal Deutsch, Nietzsche views the Reich as a part of a European-wide spirit of secular republicanism. And despite Kaiser Wilhelm’s claims of divine sovereignty, he views the Reich as part of “Europe’s democratic movement” (BGE VIII: §242). In this line, Nietzsche generally criticizes the nation-state in much the same way that he criticizes the Enlightenment’s political offspring, democracy and liberalism. Democratic and republican politics seek to oppress the great individual exemplars of the human species and mark the lowering of tastes to suit the herd. Nietzsche takes this point very far, even speculating that democratization was actually a “physiological process” in which Europeans were quite literally getting flatter and flatter and more and more boring. Europeans are no longer a collection of peoples, but a homogenous mass.
This being said, Nietzsche is not merely an aristocratic conservative, lamenting the dumbing-down of tastes (though he certainly did lament the dumbing-down of tastes). Just as with the discussion of “shadows over Europe,” Nietzsche views this “mass-ification” of peoples as inevitable and irreversible; indeed, he attempts to glimpse a potential transformation taking place through (not against) the “democratic movement.” Indeed, Nietzsche provocatively imagines that the great leveling will eventuate in a “result which would seem to be least expected by those who naively praise [the process of democratization], the apostles of ‘modern ideas.’” For the new “democratic man”—in the form of either the “last man” described in Zarathustra (Z I: P: §5) or the “garrulous worker” in Beyond Good and Evil (BGE VIII: §242)—shall be, in status if not name, a slave. Slaves, of course, need Masters, much like cattle need cowboys. And this means that “in exceptional cases the strong human being will have to turn out stronger and richer than perhaps ever before.” The democratization of Europeans will be the opportunity for the “cultivation of tyrants.”
3. Who Leads Europe?
In the wake of 20th-century totalitarianisms, Nietzsche’s call for the cultivation of tyrants is undoubtedly unwelcome. As Jacob Golomb and Robert Wistrich observe, Nietzsche is not a proto-Fascist or -Nazi, but he is most definitely a kind of “godfather” of these movements. In their words, he was a “prophet of the spiritual vacuum that gave birth to the totalitarian abysses of the twentieth century. As such he remains profoundly relevant to our time.”22 But then, perhaps one could push Nietzsche’s “totalitarian” connection much further than Golomb and Wistrich would like. Both Hitler and Stalin might even seem to be an excellent candidate for the “artist tyrant” in that both sustained their dictatorship by replacing politics with the spectacle of power. Nietzsche, of course, never discusses things like a “one-party-state” or the “Führer principle”; however, in his unpublished writings, which were collected as The Will to Power (1901), he did specifically speak of “international racial unions whose task will be to rear a master race” (WP §504). Furthermore, in stressing the need for fearless new conquerors, he rhetorically asks, “Where are the barbarians of the twentieth century?” (WP §465).23
Nietzsche never published any statements like this in his lifetime, and it is irresponsible to treat them uncritically as definitive components of his philosophy. Nevertheless, the questions that such a statement evoke are serious and invariably color any reading of Nietzsche’s political philosophy. Without doubt there is a certain racial, eugenicist component to Nietzsche’s vision of the new Europe; however, it is of vital importance to look very closely at exactly how Nietzsche depicts his projected tyrants and masters of Europe. Nietzsche might be notorious for writing positively about the “blond beast” and the “noble races” (GM I: §11),24 but ultimately both of these figures are part of Nietzsche’s vision of “pre-history,” of the half-forgotten memory of man. They are not the Masters of Europe, who will arise after the death of God.
Nietzsche ultimately never details who the Overman (Übermensch) is, much as Marx remained poetic and elliptical when he described communism. That said, he offers glimpses . . .
It is useful to begin this discussion with the figure of the “good European.” Nietzsche is most explicit about what he means by this term when he discuses the role of the Jews in modern European society. Nietzsche’s portrait of the Jewish people is, in many ways, familiar: he writes of them as wandering without a home, still alienated from the European national communities even after the wide-spread liberal reforms improving their treatment. Their alien status has certain benefits, however, for in being excluded from national life, the Ashkenazim maintain their own distinct cultural traditions and remain, in Nietzsche’s words, a people “aere perennius,” more enduring than bronze.
With this in mind, Daniel Conway has suggested that the European Jews stand for Nietzsche as a kind of political alternative, a living critique of his grand vision of a renewed Roman Empire: “Despite his bold, Europhilic swagger, he feared that they [the Jews] may have succeeded in formulating the optimal strategy for promoting cultural advancement in late modernity.”25 This claim is highly useful in that it is, in my view, a misreading of Nietzsche’s position towards the Ashkenazim, but then it brings to the fore an important point. It is certainly true that Nietzsche saw the value in being the outsider; all great philosophers are outsiders, including Nietzsche himself. Furthermore, Zarathustra speaks directly to the lonely and disposed in his call for the creation of a new spiritual order: “You that are lonely today, you that are withdrawing, you shall one day be the people: out of you, who have chosen yourselves, there shall grow a chosen people—and out of them the overman” (Z I: §22). It might seem that here Nietzsche is calling for a kind of “Jewish” good European, the Good European as a wandering nomad. Those who have “chosen themselves” will form an ironic “chosen people.”
Nietzsche undoubtedly desires to empower those who stand against the modern world; however, in this scheme, they are not to remain “free spirits” for long. In the above quotation, Nietzsche does not imagine the alienated as forever standing apart, but as ultimately triumphing, as giving birth to a higher stage of humanity, and thus laying the foundations for rule. Similarly, what Nietzsche admires in the Jews’ “optimal strategy” is not their apartness in itself, but their potential to achieve “mastery over Europe” (BGE VIII: §251). Indeed, Nietzsche scolds the Jews for trying to assimilate into national cultures. Were these indestructible, nomadic people not capable of much more, for better and for worse? In making such claims, Nietzsche does not reveal himself to be a kind of “Jewish supremacist,” so to speak. The Jew, who has survived persecution and attempted annihilation—survived even national assimilation and who has built international networks—are an image, at least in part, of what a “Good European” might be.26 But the Ashkenazim’s international culture and “morality in the grand style,” which has been developed into a variety of ethical philosophies, make them particularly well suited for the governance of the continent.
In no better way does Nietzsche express that his political project amounts to a “transvaluation of all values,” for it is the wanderers and nomads who were, as physical types, those to whom Christianity would most likely appeal in the ancient world, and furthermore, those who would most likely succeed in crafting a religion of ressentiment against the nobility. The lonely and dispossessed are poised to become a new master class.
Immediately following his paean to the imperium Romanum quoted at the beginning of this essay, Nietzsche offers a glimpse of his ideal of the man who might sit on the throne. His language here is grandiose and deserves to be quoted at length:
I envisage a possibility of a perfect supraterrestrial magic and fascination of color: it seems to me that it glistens in all the tremors of subtle beauty, that an art is at work in it, so divine, so devilishly divine that one searches millennia in vain for a second such possibility […] Cesare Borgia as pope. Am I understood? (AC §61)
The imagery is meant to shock, and Nietzsche’s effusiveness expresses his glee in blasphemy. But then Nietzsche intends “Cesare Borgia as pope” to be taken seriously, and such an image connects to many components of his wider political thought. In installing Borgia in Rome, Nietzsche means to attack the Judeo-Christian tradition “in the decisive place, in the very seat of Christianity, placing the noble values on the throne”; going further, he seeks to bring these values “right into the instincts, into the lowest needs and desires of those who sat there” (AC §61). A polemical or merely blasphemous opposition to Christianity—in which case he would image a “sultan in Babylon” or the like—is nowhere to be seen. To the contrary, Nietzsche seeks to re-constitute the entire Judeo-Christian legacy. The “instincts” and “lowest needs and desires” of the Jew or Christian are transformed into the foundation for a new aristocratic order. Just as the “good European” marks a kind of reversal of the tradition of Jewish ressentiment, so Nietzsche imagines the coming tyrants as an upside down version of the greatest of all priestly classes.
Bergman, Peter. 1987. Nietzsche, “the Last Antipolitical German.” Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Brinker, Menahem. 2002. “Nietzsche and the Jews.” In Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Conway, Daniel W. . 2002. “Ecce Caesar: Nietzsche’s Imperial Aspirations.” In Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Coudenhove-Kalergi, Richard Nikolaus, Graf von. 1925 . Adel, Praktischer Idealismus. Wien and Leipzig: Pan-Europa Verlag.
Dannhauser, Werner J. 1987 . Friedrich Nietzsche. In History of Political Philosophy, edited by L. Strauss and J. Cropsey. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Gillespie, Michael Allen. 1999. “Nietzsche and the Anthropology of Nihilism.” Nietzsche-Studien (28):141-155.
Golomb, Jacob, and Robert S. Wistrich. 2002. Introduction. In Nietzsche: Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Kaufmann, Walter. 1974 . Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. 4th ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Middleton, Christopher (ed.). 1996 . Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967 . The Will to Power. Translated by W. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books.
———. 1974 [1882/87]. The Gay Science. Translated by W. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books.
———. 1982 . Daybreak. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 1982 [1883-84]. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin Books.
———. 1982 . The Antichrist. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin Books.
———. 1982 . The Twilight of the Idols. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin Books.
———. 1990 . “History in Service and Disservice of Life”. In Unmodern Observations, edited by A. William. New Haven: Yale University Press.
———. 1992 . The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, The Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: Modern February.
———. 1992 . On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library.
———. 1992 . Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann, Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library.
Salaquarda, Jörg. 1996. “Nietzsche and the Judeo-Christian Tradition”. In The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, edited by B. Marnus and K. M. Higgins. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schrift, Alan. 1995. Nietzsche’s French Legacy. London and New York: Routledge.
Strong, Tracy B. 1988 . Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration. Expanded ed. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.
Wolin, Richard. 2004. The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism, from Nietzsche to Postmodernism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Yovel, Yirmiyahu. 2002. “Nietzsche Contra Wagner on the Jews.” In Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
- Throughout this essay, I use standard parenthetical documentation for all of Nietzsche’s works. An abbreviation of the title is followed by the section and paragraph number (when available). A Preface to a volume and the Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra are both signified by “P.” Nietzsche is a writer fond of the italicized stress, and, unless otherwise noted, all emphasis in selected quotations is identical to that in the original.The works referenced are as follows: The Antichrist, AC (Nietzsche 1982 ); The Birth of Tragedy, BT (Nietzsche 1992 ); Daybreak, D (Nietzsche 1982 ); Ecce Homo, EH (Nietzsche 1992 ); The Gay Science, GS (Nietzsche 1974 [1882/87]); On the Genealogy of Morals, GM (Nietzsche 1992 ); “History in Service and Disservice of Life,” HSDL (Nietzsche 1990 ); Twilight of the Idols, TI (Nietzsche 1982 ); The Will to Power, WP (Nietzsche 1967 ); and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Z (Nietzsche 1982 [1883-84]). ↩
- In the critical literature, there are countless volumes detailing Nietzsche’s relationship towards the Greeks of the 5th century; there is no single monograph dedicated to Nietzsche’s view of Rome and the Imperium. ↩
- Peter Bergman. Nietzsche, “the Last Antipolitical German” (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), 90. ↩
- Tracy B. Strong, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration, expanded edition (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1988 ), 202. ↩
- Much of this can be directly linked to the fact that Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Nietzsche beloved sister, was in charge of Friedrich’s literary estate after his death and was the moving force in establishing the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar. To Friedrich’s dismay, Elizabeth had married a one Bernard Förster, an anti-Semite equal parts German Nationalist and proto-Hippie. (He actually took Elizabeth to South America to found a utopian Commune, “Germania,” beyond the reach of Jewish greed.) During the 1930s, Elizabeth assiduously tried to gain the favor of the Nazi regime and rather brazenly misrepresented Nietzsche’s views on Jews, Germans, and German nationalism.Still, this is far from the whole story. That Mussolini read and admired Nietzsche and generally thought of his politics—even in his Socialist days—as “Nietzschean” is indisputable. There is no evidence that Hitler ever read Nietzsche even though he publicly praised him. Other Nazi theorists, most notably Alfred Rosenberg, were clearly well versed in Nietzsche’s writings. ↩
- Alan Schrift offers an overview in Nietzsche’s French Legacy (London and New York: Routledge, 1995. ↩
- The Gay Science was first published in 1882; however, Nietzsche added Book V, in which this quotation appears, in the 1887 expanded edition. ↩
- Throughout this essay, I use the term “Judeo-Christian” to signify that, far from viewing Christianity and Judaism as divergent or even opposed, Nietzsche perceived Christianity specifically as the consequence of Judaism and the means by which Judaism expanded globally. Nietzsche specifically referred to Christ as the “seduction and bypath to precisely those Jewish values and new ideal” (GM I: §8); he saw Judaism as having influenced Christianity and the Churches so deeply that it had become imperceptible: “today the Christian can feel anti-Jewish without realizing that he himself is the ultimate Jewish consequence (AC §24).It is worth noting that here I specifically disagree with Walter Kaufmann’s views on “Judeo-Christianity” in his Nietzsche. Kaufmann sought to distance Nietzsche from Nazi and proto-Nazi thinkers, specifically Alfred Rosenberg and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who denounced Christianity on account of its Jewish origins. In attempting this, Kaufmann misreads Nietzsche in claiming that he viewed a great separation between the religions in the sense that “Christianity is envisaged as the dross of Judaism” (Kaufmann 1974 , p. 299). ↩
- In claiming that Nietzsche viewed that Enlightenment and Science as emerging from the Judeo-Christian tradition, I have relied on Jörg Salaquarda’s “Nietzsche and the Judeo-Christian Tradition” (Salaquarda 1996). ↩
- Werner J. Dannhauser, “Friedrich Nietzsche” in History of Political Philosophy, edited by L. Strauss and J. Cropsey (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987 ). ↩
- Michael Allen Gillespie, “Nietzsche and the Anthropology of Nihilism,” Nietzsche-Studien (28) 1999, 141-155. ↩
- At least in The Gay Science, Nietzsche’s “new dawn” seems to lack all semblance of content. While Nietzsche might hope for a life after God to be ruled by “overmen,” a society ruled by philistine “last men” seems just as (if not more) likely. Although such a comparison is intrinsically unfair, Nietzsche’s “new dawn” seems similar to Lenin’s belief that, after the fall of the bourgeois-Christian world, a radical elite could construct a new “socialist man.” Millenarian dreams of a Tabula rasa seem always to crash on the rocks of durable institutions and a persistent human nature.
- Gillespie, op cit. ↩
- In his discussion “On the Prejudices of Philosophers,” Nietzsche reiterates the point: “What in us really wants ‘truth’? […] Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?” (BGE I: §1). ↩
- Nietzsche associates not just knowledge but the even more basic concept of memory with pain. For “learning,” pain is indispensable: “[T]here is nothing more fearful and uncanny in the whole of prehistory of man than his mnemotechnics. ‘If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory”—this is a main clause of the oldest (unhappily the most enduring) psychology on earth” (GM II: §3). ↩
- Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 4th edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974 ), 79. ↩
- It is important to remember that Nietzsche does not use “race” in its modern supra-ethnic meaning, e.g. “the white race.” As correctly pointed out by Brinker, Nietzsche’s “race” clearly indicates an ethnic-cultural population: e.g. the Jews are “the purest of the European races.” (BGE VIII: 251) (Brinker 2002). ↩
- Menahem Brinker, “Nietzsche and the Jews,” Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, Edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1999). ↩
- Christopher Middleton (ed.), Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996 ). ↩
- Yirmiyahu Yovel: “When Nietzsche attacks the anti-Semites or defends the Jews, he was aiming at real people—the actual community of the Jews, and anti-Semitism as a contemporary movement. By contrast when dealing with ancient priestly Judaism, Nietzsche treated it as a psycho-cultural category latent in the Protestant Christian Church of his day, which Nietzsche, as a “genealogist” of this culture, wished to expose. Contrary to many anti-Semites—and also to the trend of Jewish apologetics—Nietzsche did not project his critique of ancient Judaism into a political attitude against the Jews of his day. This break allowed him to be at the same time—and with intense passion—both an anti-anti-Semite and a critic of ancient priestly Judaism, the fountain of Christianity (Yovel 2002).” ↩
- Nietzsche’s reconciliation is expressed by the fact he even allows himself to once again wax poetic about the majesty of Wagnerian music (§240), something surprising in light of the vitriolic attack in The Case of Wagner (1888) just two years later. In the following aphorism (§241), he actually calls this a “sample” of the good European’s “relapse” into “some hearty fatherlandishness,” “old loves and narrowness.” ↩
- Introduction, Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002). ↩
- Both of these selections from The Will to Power are quoted and discussed at length by Richard Wolin in The Seduction of Unreason (55-56), in which he generally argues that Nietzsche was far more than a “godfather of Fascism” and that he anticipates the obsessions with race and power-politics of Fascist and Nazi ideology. Postmodernists who were inspired by Nietzsche are, in Wolin’s mind, guilty by association (Wolin 2004). ↩
- Walter Kaufmann discusses these terms and their misreading and misuse in his translation of On the Genealogy of Morals (pp. 476-77, footnote 3). ↩
- Daniel W. Conway, “Ecce Caesar: Nietzsche’s Imperial Aspirations,” Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy, edited by J. Golomb and R. S. Wistrich (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002). ↩
- Count Richard Nikolaus Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the “Pan-European League,” who sought to unite Europe and was inspired by Nietzsche, described Jews as a “core around which a new spiritual nobility would group itself” (Coudenhove-Kalergi 1925 , 51, my translation). ↩
Western academics and media-types write a lot of drivel about Islam. Part of the problem is there is a dearth of good information, and a bounty of superficial, politically self-serving…
Western academics and media-types write a lot of drivel about Islam. Part of the problem is there is a dearth of good information, and a bounty of superficial, politically self-serving garbage. But the real problem is misplaced emphasis. Western experts and commenters are used to thinking of history in Hegelian terms–as the story of human progress. The model might be a good fit for Euro-American history, it is at least workable. But the progressive model falls apart when applied to the history of Islam. Islam’s heights seem to correspond to the West’s depths, and vice-versa. The “Progress” model causes Westerners to ask the wrong questions about Islamic history. “What went wrong?” “Why has the Middle East been so beset by violence?” “When will Islam adopt modern political and ethical principles?”
This misguided criticism has two faces–liberal and reactionary. Both sides share the Hegelian view of history–that millennia-long, world-wide advance of the human spirit. But each side approaches its subject with different motives. Liberals, who dominate public discourse on the subject (surprise), assume the intrinsic goodness of all people. “Islam is peace” (eye roll). They feel good when they can cite examples of seemingly precocious modernism, such as early Muslim rulers’ tolerance (in the strictest sense) for religious minorities. It makes them feel good to contrast these anecdotes with the supposedly unrelenting fanaticism of Euro-Americans throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, the 19th and 20th centuries, up to and including last week. This rosy, Islamophilic picture is not really about Islam. It is just another stick with which to beat guilt into the Euro-American historical conscience.
The liberal position, while dominant, does not go unchallenged. On the other side are the reactionaries. They are “reactionaries” because they have no real position on Islam, they only know that the liberals are wrong, and reflexively counterattack. Theirs is a form of hypercriticism, given to denying long-established facts and trends of Islamic history with little or no justification other than to refute the Islamophiles. Given the current situation in the West, their excesses are understandable. But the reactionaries’ zeal leads them to stake out indefensible positions. Many of them are have ulterior motives–some are pro-Jewish fanatics or apologists for imperialism, others are democratic ideologues. But they share a defect. They lack a healthy, Faustian drive to pursue universal Truth–whether we like its conclusions or not.
Both approaches fail for two reasons. First, neither affords its subject the proper attitude of “sympathetic criticism.” The student must devote himself to understanding a culture on its own terms–learning its languages, reading its history and literature–all the while imagining things from its perspective. Once he has done this, he can render judgement on its ethics, its cultural attainments, and its overall importance to history. This was the approach of the great orientalists of the late 19th and early 20th century. They devoted tremendous intellectual effort to comprehending Islamic civilization, yet they were unafraid to pass judgement on its shortcomings. The liberals have no aptitude for criticism, the reactionaries have none for sympathy.
Second, the liberals and reactionaries neglect the questions of philosophical history. It is from this oversight that they fall into their assumption of perpetual historical progress. But there is a better way. One hundred years ago, Oswald Spengler reframed the discussion of history by tearing down idea of progress (at least as it is commonly understood). His “Copernican revolution” in historical thought worked wonders for the study of Classical civilization and Europe, but it would prove even more effective for understanding the meaning of Middle Eastern history. Spengler shifted the emphasis away from time and toward Cultures. Following Spengler, we can understand how meaningless most of the questions posed by conventional commenters are, and begin to see Islam for what it really is.
The Magian Reformation
Spengler rejected the conventional historical focus on religions and polities. He saw these as merely superficial expressions of something deeper–the Culture. Cultures, in Spengler’s scheme, are a complex of peoples who share a world-outlook. This outlook–the spirit of a Culture–drives it to produce or adapt a religion. “Religion” is the outward expression of the world-outlook and includes such things as prayer rituals, religious architecture, calligraphy and sculpture. For example, while Euro-Americans and Korean evangelicals may both be “Christians,” they do not belong to the same Culture, because their world-outlooks differ so drastically, despite their notionally common religion. A present-day American protestant has more in common, spiritually, with a 9th-century Norse pagan than with a modern-day Korean convert, despite professing the same doctrines. Cultures are the basic unit by which to analyze history.
Islam is part of the “Magian” Culture. In his Decline of the West, Spengler defines the Magian Culture as comprising the Muslim Arabs, but also many pre-Islamic Middle Eastern groups such as the Babylonian Jews, the Zoroastrians, the Coptic and Syriac Christians, as well as syncretic/heretical gnostic groups like the Manichaeans. It arose around the time of Christ and lasted till the 12th century, when the anti-rationalist thinker Al-Ghazali dealt the deathblow to Magian philosophical speculation. All of subsequent Magian history was, in Spengler’s view, “civilization”–grandiose, bombastic, imperial, but sterile. No new philosophical or religious ideas could arise from the Magian world outlook. It had run its course.
So the birth of Islam does not represent the foundation of a new religion. It was, rather, a revolution in Magian religious thought. As such, it is analogous to the Reformation in Western history. Like Luther, Muhammad preached a puritanical systematization of earlier currents in the spiritual thought of his Culture. Muhammad and Luther were both anti-clerical, iconoclastic reformers who exhorted their adherents to build a more personal relationship with God. They both made the scripture accessible to the masses–Luther by translating the bible into the vernacular, Muhammad by “receiving revelations” in easily memorized rhymed prose. After their deaths, their Cultures were unified the culture by marginalizing the earlier creeds and, at the same time, quickly spawning an array of heresies. The puritanical movements unleashed a storm, driving the post-reformation Europeans and post-Islam Magians to conquer half the world in a fanatical outburst of religious fervor–compare that to the religious and colonial wars of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Both movements, to a large degree, cleansed their cultures of foreign influence. Hellenistic influence on the Middle East, while not wiped out, was severely reduced in the first centuries of Islam. The Greek language, long the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean, died out in Egypt and Syria, and later in Anatolia. To use Spengler’s term, Islam ended the hellenistic pseudomorphosis (false-development) of early Magian Culture, allowing it to come into its own. Likewise Luther and his successors purged Northern Europe of the ill-fitting Greco-Roman influence imposed by the Catholic Church. More and more, the European cultural initiative drifted northward. The centers of art migrated from Florence and Rome to Nuremberg, Rotterdam and Weimar. The Italian composers of the baroque were, by degrees, superseded by the likes of Bach and Handel. Thus Muhammad is not an Islamic Jesus, but a Luther. His movement, Islam, is a puritanical systematization of earlier currents in the Magian spirit.
Islam needs a Reformation
All this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom. Lacking any deeper insight into the place of Islam in history, the Mass-Media has been promoting a meme, “Islam needs a Reformation” eg (WSJ., HuffPo.). It makes sense superficially. Based on the conventional historical assumptions, one would compare Muhammad to Jesus as founders of world-religions. It follows then that Islam, having gotten a late start, is due for a reformation. After all, it’s been 14 centuries since Muhammad fled to Medina, and about the same duration separates Jesus from Martin Luther. The pre-Reformation Church superficially resembles current-day Islam.
But with a deeper understanding of history, comparing Jesus to Muhammad is preposterous. In contrasting the current state of the West and the Middle East, it would be ridiculous to set the two up as analogues. Jesus no longer matters to Faustian man. When the decadent West looks for myths and heroes, it looks for world-denying saints of Tolerance and Progress. New heros must spring up or be manufactured–MLK and Gandhi, Anne Frank and Mother Theresa. Jesus would seem to fit the mold, but he is too bound-up in the popular imagination with the distant past. And in the popular imagination, History is Progress, therefore the farther back you go, the more evil everything is. But the West has absolutely no need for heroic men-of-the-world like Luther, so his place in our history is undervalued.
Unlike the West, the Middle East is not in an age of decadence. It seems to be waking from its long hibernation. The reborn Islamic fury, much pondered in the West, is neither merely another episode in the Middle East’s supposedly non-stop violence, nor is it the necessary outcome of Islam’s doctrines. That its people are still “Muslims” is of less consequence than its stage of historical development. Islam has not been perennially aggressive, and the Middle East has not been a “region of conflict beset by ancient hatreds.” For centuries following the Crusades the Arabs and Persians no longer mattered. Islam’s last great conquests were not carried out by these “core-Magians,” but by the Berbers, Turks and Mughals. And these imperial peoples could only prolong the agony of Magian decline. From the 17th century to the 20th, Islam was dormant, because the Magian Culture was dead.
What Islamic History can teach us
Thus the Magians ahead of the West. Not only have they undergone a Reformation, but they have also gone through a Golden Age and the inevitable Age of Decadence. A few centuries after Muhammad, around the 1100s, Islam began to lose its vigour. It briefly lost some of its core territories–Syria and Palestine–to the new, energetic “Faustian” Culture. It mustered the strength to repulse the intruders, but continued losing ground on its peripheries. The Mongols almost dealt the coup de grace by sacking Baghdad in 1258. Here we find the best analogy.
The weakened Islam of the 1200s is where The West finds itself now–beset by external enemies, barely able to rally the strength to defend itself. In its last centuries, Islam still endured wars and changes of dynasty, but no revolutions of thought or spirit. From the end of the Crusades till WWI, not much happened. Classic histories of the Arabs recognized this–in over 750 pages of The History of the Arabs, the Lebanese Christian scholar Philip Hitti devoted less than 100 to anything after the 13th century.
Herein lies their value to our understanding of the West’s place in history. By examining the trajectory of their Culture, we can see the outlines of our own future. Neither the liberal nor the reactionary approach has any value as history, only as polemic.
What can we look forward to? If the post-Mongol Islamic history is any guide, it’s going to be a bit mixed. Islam seemingly regained the initiative in the 14th century–ejecting the Crusaders and launching counteroffensives on its Eastern and Western frontiers. But this revival only came about because Islam received infusions of fresh Turkish and Mongol blood. This barbarian people adapted the outward forms of Magian Culture–Islam–and revved up the Jihad, but the core-Magians wallowed in decrepitude.
Holland, Tom. In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire. New York: Doubleday, 2012.
Spengler, Oswald, and Charles Francis Atkinson. The Decline of the West: Perspectives of World-history. Vol. 2. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.
In the imagination of previous generations of Americans, football was as wholesome as apple pie and church on Sundays. The fact that National Football League games followed (or replaced) Christian…
In the imagination of previous generations of Americans, football was as wholesome as apple pie and church on Sundays. The fact that National Football League games followed (or replaced) Christian services lent them a certain religious quality. To oppose football would have been, for millions of Americans, the equivalent of denouncing dear old mom. For me, growing up in Texas in the 1980s and ‘90s, playing varsity football was nothing less than a rite of passage into manhood.
But over the past decade, football’s “untouchable” status has withered. Much of this has to do with high-profile cases of domestic violence. But more than anything, awareness of the impact of concussions and CTE is driving a silent boycott of the sport. Football is collapsing from the bottom up, as suburban parents pull their sons out of peewee leagues and encourage them to take up water polo or cross-country. As scientists continue to learn more about the impact of repeated trauma to the brain, especially in early life, an ever greater number of people will find the sport taboo and unwatchable on a professional level. (The NFL has already reached a $750 million dollar settlement with former players over concussion-related injuries and illnesses. No doubt, trial lawyers are salivating over the chance to plunder the industry for all its worth.)
But ultimately, the concussion phenomenon is not a good reason to stop watching football. They’re grown men, after all, and the impulse to risk one’s health for fame and glory is admirable. Yes, football is dangerous, but the real reason we must stop watching football is that the sport is making us less dangerous, less vital in critically important ways. Football fandom is domesticating White people. It’s turning us into meatsacks without agency. We are passive spectators, not just of sports but of history. There is a pressing need for us to unplug ourselves from the football machine…to become atheists of the pigskin religion…and dispel the mesmerizing quality it has over us minds.
A common refrain from many “conservative” football fans and commentators is that we should focus on “what happens on the field,” and put race and politics aside. To the contrary. We must look at the impact this industry has off the field, on politics, culture, society, sex, and race—on our morality, values, and hopes and dreams. We must look at how football makes us act and think.
In my lifetime, football has gone from being an cultural idol to yet one more American institution suffering from legitimacy crisis—and with no obvious path to redemption. There is no better time to sound it out: to discover what’s hallow and what is resonate, what’s salvagble and what must be discarded.
On September 23, 2017, Donald Trump launched a new front in the culture war. More accurately, he revealed a racial and political animus that was simmering under the surface of professional sports for decades. At a rally in Alabama (one of the most football mad places in America) Trump went off-script:
Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired! . . . You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, “That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.” And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.
Trump was, of course, referring to the phenomenon of kneeling during the singing of the national anthem, which had been sparked by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 pre-season. Trump was quick to claim that his opposition was “not about race” and only about “disrespecting the flag.” But for everyone participating in the protest, it was all about race (and not just about police violence). In the words of Kaepernick,
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.
By 2017, Kaepernick was no longer in the League. His performance had noticeably declined, and his theatrics apparently rendered him un-signable. But his absence only intensified the controversy, making him a kind of martyr of the racist system he protested.
Sportswriters, who tend to be soft liberals, have long cheered on the politicization of sports. It lends a “seriousness” to an otherwise of juvenile profession composed of nerds writing about jocks. It’s also a way of addressing the troubling dynamics of an overwhelmingly White audience cheering on overwhelmingly Black athletes (which I’ll discuss further below).
The Anthem protest—and the reaction to it—was yet another instance in the long saga once known as “The Negro Question”—the political and social status of Africans living in a White country: slave or citizen, American or something else. To be fair, African-Americans have to honestly ask themselves: Can we take part in the pageantry of a country that has never really been ours, and which, until very recently, maintained our social and political inferiority? Is assimilation possible? If so, is it desirable? And if not, then what?
Kaepernick himself was particularly ambivalent about this question. He is of mixed race, with an absent Black father and a White mother who put him up for adoption. He was raised in Wisconsin by an apparently loving and non-racist White family. But assimilation and the warm embrace create anxiety, and Kaepernick is clearly in search of the authenticity, the “creed” of really being Black. In 2016, he also sported an Afro.
On the other side, White fans perceive race (correctly) as a weapon used against them in all aspects of life: affirmative action, the “diversity” racket, White Guilt, White Privilege, etc. They thus seek (always unsuccessfully) to neutralize the subject with the promise of multi-racial American patriotism or silly euphemisms like “We don’t see race.” The teamwork and esprit de corps offers the promise to Whites of one institutions where race really won’t matter. Trump’s demand that those spoiled athletes just shut up and be patriotic was a kind of last stand of this implicit White identity.
Trump certainly didn’t seek to destroy the NFL when he yelled “You’re fired!” in Alabama. To the contrary, he sought to save football from itself. But the effect was something altogether different. White fans were already deeply, unconsciously troubled by the racial dynamic of the NFL. In fighting back, Trump revealed what was at stake. Fans saw the game with new eyes and found it unwatchable.
According to polling, NFL’s favorability rating dropped from 57 percent to 44 percent, from 68 to 45 percent among males. More males between the ages of 34 and 54 dissappove of the Legue than approve. A dire situation, to be sure. In 2017, ticket sales did not decline technically speaking, but that was illusionary. Some 75 percent of sales are seasons tickets, meaning that most revenue is baked in the cake. The real collapse in enthusiasm is expressed by scenes of sad, half-empty stadiums.
— Michael Peredo (@MichaelPeredo) September 21, 2017
— Colin Resch (@colinresch) September 22, 2017
Yes, the NFL might be hope to salvage the situation with the kind of obligatory patriotism Trump gestured towards. But I suspect it’s far too late. The problems with the NFL are structural, racial, and spiritual, and no amount of flag-waving can overcome that.
What does it mean for a White man to paint his face, remove his shirt—perhaps spend hours boozing and gorging in parking lot before games—and cheer on Black athletes? What does it mean for the nerd element of fandom to spend late nights in front of glowing screens revising their “fantasy teams,” obsessing over the stats, injuries, and match-up potentials of various heavily tattooed men with criminal records?
At least an urban liberal squealing about his vintage comic-book collection is living in a world of pure imagination. American Whites, or those from the declining middle class, spend the majority of their lives working jobs they don’t like simply to earn enough money to move away from dangerous, non-White neighborhoods where it is impossible to raise a family. They live their lives in recognition of racial reality … and then spend their luxury time retreating into racial fantasy. The stereotypical overweight and drunken fan is essentially outsourcing his identity and his fantasy life to Black athletes. (The film Big Fan, starring Patton Oswalt, was probably the most compelling and terrifying portrayal of this phenomenon.).
And the fan does this, paradoxically, from a position of superiority. After all, he’s the one paying money for athletes to entertain him. And while a select few players garner fame, wealth, and women, the vast majority will be left with broken bodies and the indifference of the masses. It’s a pattern as old as the Roman Coliseum, but the racial disparity between fan and player—enveloped in a national ideology of racial egalitarianism—gives it a new dynamic.
The more thoughtful sportswriters have often suggested something inherently exploitative about the fan-player relationship—and, to a great extent, they’re right. Robert E. Lee observed that slavery degrades both master and slave; in turn, fandom degrades both player and fan. The Black player sees himself as a kind of performing monkey, a high-paid slave who puts his body and ego on the line for overweight White fans who will call him abusive names if he drops a pass or blows a coverage (that is, if he makes the kinds of mistakes everyone makes everyday).
The fan simultaneously dehumanizes and idealizes the Black athlete. On the one hand, the athlete is a beast of burden, a commodity to be traded, wagered on, feted or laughed at depending on the situation. (By the time they’re sophomores in high-school, Black athletes have been scrutinized and quantified down to their 40-yard-dash time and hand size on recruiting Websites like Rivals.com.) On the other hand, the fan views the athlete as a hero and unreachable pinnacle of masculinity, as something more than a man.
This kind of ambivalence is volatile. And as seen by some ugly confrontations on the field, just beneath the mutual admiration between players and fans is an intense contempt. The White fans who pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the tickets or merchandise to honor their favorite players would lock their doors if they saw them walking on the street. They would never allow a corn-rowed Black athlete into their homes, except in the form of a commemorative oil painting.
Even fans call it the National Felons League, for good reason. While the country has become obsessed with male CEOs being too creepy or forward in asking subordinates out on dates, the NFL quietly employs players with multiple domestic violence arrests. Shortly before the 2018 Super Bowl, Malik McDowell of the Seattle Seahawks was caught on video taunting a female police officer after his arrest: “Bitch, I got lawyer money.”
A database from the eminently normie USA Today tracks football arrests; the result is an endless chronicle of DUI’s, gun charges, domestic violence, prostitutes, and drunken assaults. And the off-the-field lives of many major stars are disturbing to say the least. Michael Vick is probably the NFL’s most notorious ex-player, having been convicted of running a brutal dogfighting ring. Fans seem oddly more willing to overlook the fact that, following the 1999 Super Bowl, blood of a murder victim was found in the limousine of Baltimore Ravens legend Ray Lewis, who was only able to avoid a trial by testifying against his two companions. More recently, Lawrence Taylor, widely considered the greatest linebacker (if not the greatest defender) of all time, was accused of raping a 16-year-old runaway. He was released on probation, and registered as a sex offender, by claiming to have had consensual sex with an underage prostitute. Not surprisingly, Vince McMahon’s declaration that the XFL—an upstart, WWE-styled competition to the NFL—won’t hire felons is already being called, accurately, “racist.” ESPN announcers are unironically condemning it because it will make it difficult for the league to hire enough Blacks.
To be overly fair, part of the problem may be the effects of the game itself: convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez’s brain was already destroyed before he killed himself in prison at age 27. But mostly, it is simply the predictable effects of hiring ghetto thugs and handing them huge sums of money. It’s the same reason that most NFL players go broke only a few years after leaving the league, despite their lucrative salaries. It’s the result (again, highly predictable) of a high-time preference population given media adulation, money, power, resources, and the assurance of a largely consequence-free environment. Too many of them can’t keep from shooting themselves, let alone other people.
In criticizing the League in September, Trump effectively sided with the mostly White and Jewish owners over the players. It’s important to remember that the owners are the ones facilitating and excusing the players’ behavior. Jerry Jones, the colorful owner of the Dallas Cowboys—a kind of Trump of the NFL—is paradigmatic. The Cowboys don’t have the most criminal team by a long shot, but Jones is notorious for giving “second chances” to Black athletes who excel on the field. This began in the ’90s as a Michael Irwin-led team descended into criminal debauchery at the curiously named “White House” located in Valley Ranch, near the Cowboys practice facility. According to Jeff Pearlman, who wrote a book on the Cowboys’s 1990s excess,
The house … was rented under the name of receiver Alvin Harper and the new neighbors in an exclusively white, low-key community were 6-foot-5 inch, 300 pound African American men escorting an endless conveyor belt of large-breasted blondes. Nate Newton insists the White House was a haven for neither prostitution (“What did we need a prostitute for? Women laid down for us”) nor drugs (Never saw ’em), yet his take is disputed by myriad teammates and people in the know.
Other “pet projects” of Jerry Jones range from “Pacman” Jones, who has the endless rap sheet of the “gansta life,” to Greg Hardy, who was found guilty of assaulting his White girlfriend before getting off when she suspiciously failed to appear in court to testify, to various other Blacks connected to assault, gun charges, and drug use.
Jones was also one of the most vocal opponents of Colin Kaepernick’s protest … until he wasn’t. As late as August of 2017, Jones refused to sign Kaepernick and publicly announced,
I just feel so strongly that the act of recognizing the flag is a salute to our country and all of the people that have sacrificed so that we can have the liberties we have.
Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett echoed his boss, talking about the “sacred” flag.
But when the pressure was on, the owner of “America’s Team” placated his money-makers. Days after Trump publicly encouraged owners to discipline their players, the Cowboys collectively took a knee before the game—eliciting a chorus of boos from fans. They then locked arms during the anthem itself. Jerry might hope that such a “compromise” will make the issue go away. But he ultimately legitimized the narrative of Black oppression, and might have even cemented “righteous kneeling” as a new pre-game tradition.
At his core, “Jerrah” expresses the quintessential mentality of the aging, conservative “cuck.” The hyper-patriotism is a mask worn by a billionaire who seeks to delicately navigate a collapsing society and industry. And at some level, he must recognize the absurd and untenable position he’s put himself in. For he isn’t just selling football game; he’s selling “America’s Team.” It’s a civic icon based on a nation of players who are criminally out of control and utterly alienated from sentiments like “God and Country.”
Just win, Jerry, while it lasts…
With few exceptions, all the truly great NFL quarterbacks have been White, and not just White, but Anglo and Germanic: Joe Montana, John Elway, Otto Graham, Roger Staubach, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and more. And Whites are still overrepresented at the position. But the “golden boys” often obscure two important facts. First, Whites are tremendously underrepresented in the NFL and major colleges: Whites make up 65 percent of the U.S. population but only 30 percent of NFL players. Secondly, White athletes are often pigeon-holed into certain positions: Whites can be tight-ends, but only rarely wide-receivers; they can maybe play safety but never corner-back; a White running back can be a “good blocker” or “role player,” but not a starting tailback.
Over the last 15 years, the website “Caste Football” has put forth the provocative thesis that American football—from the NFL down to junior varsity—is captured by “group think.” There is an assumption of Black superiority, in terms of speed, agility, flexibility, and White athletes are never given the opportunity to excel. This thesis, no doubt, carries a kernel of truth, as “group think” infects every industry. And although it is politically incorrect, it is by no means as radically taboo as the alternative explanation: that Africans are genetically predisposed to excel at football. Deron Snyder of the Black webzine The Root gave the “caste thesis” a sympathetic hearing, precisely for this reason.
Blacks are not physically superior. If you believe that they are, you’ve only set yourself up for the devastating counterpunch that whites are mentally superior. Those blows of superiority and inferiority continue to hammer both sides of the racial divide. They must be fought ardently at all times. On and off the field.
Questions of “superiority” and “inferiority” ultimately miss the point. The issue is difference. And yes, Virginia, race is real. Gene pools are plastic to their environments, and over the millennia, races (that is, breeds or extended families) emerged, having adapted to their surroundings through natural selection. That races exist—and that some races might, by chance, be better adapted to the artificial environment of a football field—is simply an implication of Darwinian evolution.
In 1977, O.J. Simpson (then the star running back for the Buffalo Bills) remarked,
We are built a little differently, built for speed—skinny calves, long legs, high asses are all characteristics of blacks.
O.J. was right, at least about that. Vis-à-vis Whites and Asians, West Africans have
- longer legs
- narrower hips,
- lower centers of gravity,
- lower body fat,
- higher quantities of fast-twitch muscle tissue (useful for short bursts of speed),
- higher testosterone levels.
It is beyond naive to believe that such factors would not give Africans major advantages in football. Added to this, Blacks develop faster than Whites (who, in turn, mature faster than Asians). Black mothers have shorter gestation periods (39 weeks); Blacks babies tend to hold their heads up and sit up sooner in the crib; and Blacks experience puberty at a younger age. Developmental disparity has a major impact in determining which players get recruited for major colleges, and which go on to the next level.
No surprisingly, the paradigmatic PC scandal—in which a mainstream figure was denounced and personally destroyed for expressing an opinion—involved the anthropology of football.
In 1988, beloved commentator Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder observed, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, no less,
I’m telling you that the black is the better athlete . . . And he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes all the way to the Civil WAR when, during the slave trading, the owner, the slave owner, would breed his big woman so that he would have a big black kid, see.
The huge uproar that resulted occurred precisely because everyone knew that “the Greek” was getting at the truth. And as nutrition, training, and technology reach their limits in allowing athletes to realize their potential, genetic factors are likely to become even more important going forward.
Among the bestselling NFL jerseys, White quarterbacks and tight ends (Carson Wentz, Rob Gronkowski, and Tom Brady, et al.) predominate—to a degree, no doubt, that embarrasses the league. Tim Tebow and Peyton Hillis, the rare White running quarterback and tailback who could actually compete, became the most popular players in the league almost overnight, before each of their careers crashed and burned. Such things demonstrate the yearning White fans have to root on White players—a yearning that will never be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. Put simply, the NFL is a Black league. It was not always a Black league, but it will be for the duration. So why should we even care?
An amusing and revealing trivia question: Who won the first Heisman Trophy? The answer is Jay Berwanger in 1935. He is almost completely unknown today. He didn’t attend Notre Dame or Michigan but the University of Chicago, whose athletic fields are most famous for being the sites for the development of the atomic bomb. Berwanger was also the first player ever taken in the NFL draft, but he elected not to go pro.
Only four years later, in 1939, UChicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins banned football outright, for utterly reactionary reasons: “In many colleges, it is possible for a boy to win 12 letters without learning how to write one.” The team returned in the ’60s, but in Division III, with athletes who could at least approximate the student body. President Hutchins was a curmudgeon, and a prophet of sorts. But even he could not envision what was to take place at universities over the next half-century—their transformation into entertainment industry.
The modern university system is a tremendous burden on society: behemoth institutions in which administrators outnumber instructors and students get saddled with lifelong debt in hopes of earning a golden ticket to the middle class. College football isn’t solely to blame for this trend, but it hasn’t helped either. And it makes a mockery of supposed “research institutions” and “colleges of the liberal arts” that act as government-subsidized minor leagues for the NFL.
Beginning in 2010, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came under scrutiny after a football player tweeted about partying with a famous sports agent at a lavish Miami nightclub. The investigations uncovered the reality, both sad and hilarious, of life at a “big time” university: classes were effectively day-care sessions for 20-year-old illiterates; random payouts and favors were ubiquitous; so-called “tutors” literally did the reading and writing on behalf of players; and all of it operated through the African-American Studies Department.
The Carolina scandal can ultimately be laughed off. It is shocking only to the most naïve, and no one got hurt. The same cannot be said of the case involving the “Baylor Bruins,” an all-female “hostess” program for prized recruits at Baylor University. One young woman who joined this program in 2012, Elizabeth Doe, claims at least 52 rapes were committed by some 31 Baylor players over the course of four years. A telling quote from these allegations comes from Kendal Briles, an assistant football coach and son of former head coach Art Brile:
Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players.
Some of the alleged victims were female athletes in other sports, including a volleyball player who claims she was gang raped.
Baylor first attempted to get the case dismissed. When that failed, it reached a settlement with Elizabeth Doe. Two of the accused players await criminal trials. The head coach, along with his staff, was fired. Chancellor Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) resigned under pressure. Needless to say, the football goes on.
How could anyone really expect such an appalling fiasco not happen somewhere? College athletes are in a legitimately unfair position of being pros who don’t get paid (at least not officially and regularly). And colleges compete with fringe benefits. And those benefits will include women.
But again, the deeper question is how football makes people act and think. For those fanatics at Baylor and Carolina, at stake was not just wins and loses and not just school pride. At stake was the myth of the “student athlete,” that of racial equality, and the necessity of presenting Southern schools as progressive and morally redeemed. Who wouldn’t fudge some numbers, pass money under the table, and look the other way as a few women get abused for such a righteous cause?
Throughout Middle America and the South, a football coach is a man upheld as a Patton of the gridiron: part field general, part strategic mastermind, part father figure, occasional pep-talker and bear-hugger. He must be serious and stern, only cracking a smile when carried off the field by his players or doused with Gatorade. The coach is an avatar of an old-school authoritarian with a warm heart, a figure millions of Whites instinctively admire. The fact that “Coach” is used as a kind of formal appellation (much like “Herr Professor Schmidt” or “President Reagan”) speaks to the reverence the profession commands.
In reality, coaches are closer to being babysitters or, yes, I’ll say it, plantation managers. And most are high-functioning morons: smart enough to understand a wish-bone offense and the intricacies of “Cover 2,” but dumb enough to be blissfully unaware of the absurdity of their profession and the terrible impact it has on society. In this regard, listening to Rex Ryan’s self-righteous burbling about Donald Trump offers a certain delight.
The “great” coaches—not the Rex Ryans but the legends and icons—possess the personality types of the modern politician: they balance the desire to win at all cost with the need to go with the PC flow; they nod to the values and mores of their White fans, while kowtowing to ownership or their schools’ “booster” societies. They are never leaders in the true sense of word.
Paul “Bear” Bryant—whose coaching career (1958-82) spanned Alabama’s transition from all-White to “integrated” to majority Black teams—is a classic example in this regard. Shortly before his death, Bryant claimed that he wanted to be remembered as the “Branch Rickey of football” (a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager who brought Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball). Such a statement can only be read as revisionist delusions of an dying man. Bryant never openly opposed segregation—never went against Governor George Wallace or Alabama’s White fans—despite the fact that he was the most popular man in the state at the time, and despite the fact that he actively wanted to recruit Black players. Alabama was late to integrate even for the Southeastern Athletic Conference, and Bryant is most remembered for his three National Titles in the 1960s won with all-White Teams.
On September 12, 1970, Bryant scheduled, at his own discretion, a game against the University of Southern California Trojans, an integrated team with a Black quarterback. Alabama was overmatched physically, and lost by three touchdowns (42-21). There are competing narratives about the event. The first is that a kind of culture clash—or race war—took place, in which the bright, integrated future traveled to the benighted Deep South, and won. The other narrative is more complicated. Bryant had already tried to recruit Black athletes and failed, due to the players’ own discomforts and pressure from the University. The USC game was thus an opportunity to prove to his fans the necessity of integration. In other words, it was football blackmail: Do you want to stay White? Or do you want to win? USC players reported that when Bryant went to shake hands with his USC counterpart, John McCay, he came with a beaming smile on his face: “John, I can’t thank you enough.” An apocryphal legend has it that Bryant brought USC running back Sam Cunningham into the Alabama locker room and presented him to his players: “Gentlemen, this is a football player.” Whatever the case, the game proved to be a symbolic turning point, for Alabama and all of college football. Dennis Royal’s 1969 University of Texas squad was the last White team to win a National Title. By 1971, Alabama would be integrated, followed by LSU and Ole Miss a year later.
It is precisely Bryant’s ambiguity that continue to make him a compelling and magisterial figure for millions of football fans. He became a “progressive” without actually risking anything. In turn, his demeanor and air—his grey and plaid suits and checkered and houndstooth fedoras—grant Bryant a proudly conservative presence, even more so than the flamboyant and déclassé figures associated with the battles against de-segregation. But such a persona ultimately rings hallow when tested. At least genuine leftists openly strove to transform society, institutions, marriage and the family. Bear Bryant wanted Black players in order to beat USC. In turn, fans’ adoration of the Great White Coach—a Bryant or Bowden or Saban—commanding an all-Black team represents the last gasp of a defeated people: At least we have our football!
Football was once a midwestern oddity and favorite sport of the Ivy League. Today, it lays claim to being “America’s Game” even more than the onetime “National Pastime,” baseball. Baseball is baseball everywhere (from Los Angeles to Mexico City to Tokyo), but “Canadian football” or “Australian football” are different games entirely. Thus, American football has emerged as a civic nationalism, indeed, one of the few things citizens of a multiracial and multicultural republic can claim to hold in common.
It is thus not surprising that the American military is now a prominent part of the NFL. The NFL has, in fact, dedicated the entire month of November to the U.S. military (“Salute To Service”), in which players and coaches add camouflage “flair” to the uniforms. (This comes after NFL Pink, formerly known as October, in which the NFL requires players to be decked out in girly gloves, towels, and cleats, ostensibly in support of breast cancer awareness.)
None of this is altruistic. Between 2012 and 2015, the Department of Defense spent more than $10 million on “marketing and advertising contracts with professional sports teams.” Among that, some $5.5 million of tax-payer funding went to 14 NFL teams. These contracts gave the military the right to present aircraft flyovers, unfurl enormous flags, and hold color-guard ceremonies and even enlistment campaigns at NFL games. (The DoD payouts to the NFL ended in 2016, after much criticism. The month-long “Salute to Service” continues.)
The military capitalizes on the goodwill generated by football as a communitarian public spectacle. In turn, the NFL has been able to maintain a perpetual “9/11” atmosphere, in which attending sports is synonymous with “supporting the troops.” Perhaps the NFL’s symbolic propaganda message is that it is, in fact, another branch of the military.
There are certainly traditionalist aspects to this connection between the American people, the military, and violent spectacle: in the conservative’s imagination, the military represents a culture of honor and discipline, just as the NFL is a space in which strength and manliness still mean something. But all of this is botched and turned into parody. The military wouldn’t embrace football if it didn’t see it as an opportunity for generating uncritical support for its overseas wars and sprawling industrial complex. And football, in turn, embraces war and the troops in a desperate attempt to cover over its own immense failings. In taking up the anthem controversy—and even suggesting the prospect of obligatory patriotism—Donald Trump was hardly questioning any of this. He sought, in fact, to reinforce the martial quality of football—and, you could say, this football quality of the military. The ultimate outcome will be quite the opposite, as both industries are experiencing collapse in their public legitimacy.
We must ask now how these impulses towards manliness, power, and danger might head might be expressed in football’s absense? Football lays claim to being the most badass of sports: crushing hits, terrifying injuries, bodies being laid out on the ground—all of this set out for your amusement. And unlike boxing or mixed martial arts, football is a war game, with trenches, helmets, field generals, battles for territory, long bombs, and Hail Marys. Liberals traditionally dislike football for these reasons—it offends their desire to be both individualistic and cooperative.
Football fandom also appeals to traditionally “male” activities such as eating greasy food, hanging out with “the boys,” and drinking beer. The purpose of the “man cave,” after all, is to watch sports. And unlike playing video games or watching art films, it doesn’t carry any effeminate connotations. But the manliness of football is precisely why watching it is so insidious. Football offers a substitute manliness, quite literally.
The right side of the brain possesses “mirror neurons,” which help us vicariously experience the actions of others. As one researcher described it,
This phenomenon allows a feeling of connection, and community without verbal communication or the need to directly talk to the pro athlete who just won the World Series with a grand slam.
“Mirroring” is, no question, an essential part of life. Empathy and vicarious experiences allow us to learn from others and enjoy story-telling by projecting ourselves onto the protagonist. But intently watching a game is an experience of the hyper-real, similar to having sex by watching Internet porn. On a basic level, the mind doesn’t grasp the difference. High-Definition images become a virtual reality, and you get off just the same.
The benefits of a “tough” sport—strength, courage, comradeship with a team—come from playing it. Simply watching it, and engaging in activities which make you weaker, makes you a consumer of toughness. I hesitate to extend the metaphor too far … But it would be like saying seducing women is the peak of masculinity, and then spending all day watching pornography with a group of your friends.
The System doesn’t want us to do; it wants us to watch. It doesn’t want us to create but consume; to watch porn, not make love or produce familes. All experience is to be moderated; all value, monetized and commodified; and all community, reduced to brands. Fandom itself is an expression of the loss at the heart of the modern world. Men want to fight and win, be part of a gang, sacrifice for glory, and be rewarded with fame and women. (Even nerds want this, as they gravitate to videogames of war, conquest, chivalry, and violence.) “Fandom” is the collective identity the system is willing to offer us.
Our real task is to create a new culture. And the only way to do that is to just do it (to borrow corporate slogan from sports world). This means spending time with friends and family, playing (not just watching) sports, getting strong, participating in meet-ups and activism, and building institutions.
Fandom transforms manly impulses—the desire for community, the attraction to strength and accomplishment, the wish for spectacle—into weaknesses. And in so doing, transforms White men into sources of revenue for people who despise them.
So be a man. Stop being a fan.