Unexamined Premises

A Long, Slow Ride to Hell -- Nunc Dimittis

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

I concluded my previous excerpt from my new book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace — the audio book version of which is out this week — like this:

“On the Unholy Left, there is no idea too stupid to try, no institution unworthy of attack, no theory not worth implementing without care for its results, no matter what the practical cost. Intentions are everything, results are nothing. Results are an illusion; theory is what counts, because theory can be debated endlessly within the safe harbors of academe. The key is to examine what those intentions really are.” Those intentions will be the subject of our third and final installment.

Herewith, some concluding thoughts:

Throughout literature, the Devil is frequently portrayed as sincere, earnest, reassuring and cajoling, slow to reveal his terrifying face. Deception is his stock-in-trade, and human beings who give him the slightest benefit of the doubt end up unhappily, and worse. To doubt the accuracy of these portrayals—no matter whence they originate, whether from folk tradition or (as I argue) some deep, Jungian wellspring of primal memory and collective unconscious—is to doubt nearly the entire course of human history (although Critical Theory presumes to do just that). It is to believe that only in the past century and a half or so have we been able to penetrate religion’s veil of illusion and see reality for what it is: nothing.

This is a philosophy of nihilism, which often poses as sophisticated “realism,” and I argues that it is just another form of satanism. Denial of the eternal becomes a way of temporal life; and, by extension, Death is embraced as a way of Life. En passant, it is amusing to note that the practitioners of nihilism are often the same people who denounce “denialism” in other aspects of everyday life (various psychological conditions, “climate change,” etc.), just as those who describe themselves as “pro-choice” with regard to abortion are anti-choice in just about every other facet of their political lives, including health care, school choice, and so forth.

In the movie Independence Day, the scientist played by Jeff Goldblum realizes shortly after alien ships appear over the world’s great cities that their intentions are far from benign—that, in fact, the aliens are coordinating a massive attack using earthling technology. “They’re using our own satellites against us,” he explains, making a hasty sketch to illustrate his point. So does Satan—or the satanic forces, or the iron laws of history, or la forza del Destino, call it what you will—use our own best qualities and noblest intentions against us, pervert them to his own ends in order to accomplish his singular mission, which is the moral destruction of humanity.

I realize these are strong words, as they are meant to be.

What saved the Frankfurt School was its transplantation under duress to America. The brutal efficiency of the Nazi regime opened their eyes to the consequences of what they had imagined would have no consequences. Had they proclaimed their destructive anti-American, anti-Western intentions openly—made them the salient feature of their teachings—they might rightly have been regarded as spies, sappers, and saboteurs, and hanged. But twinned with another Central European intellectual conceit, Freudian analysis (many of whose tenets synchronized happily with Institut theory), they appeared to be relatively harmless, nutty-professor refugees with funny foreign accents seeking shelter in America, pleading tolerance for lofty ideals. What went unnoticed was that the ideals for which they sought tolerance were themselves anything but tolerant. Indeed, they were fundamentally antithetical to the American ethos and experience. America would not have to descend into Hell; Hell had come to America—disguised, naturally, as Heaven, and now lying in wait for the unwary.

The Hell we imported along with the ideas of the Frankfurt School we can see all around us, in our diminished economic, physical and moral circumstances.

Lukács dreamed of creating a void in the soul of humanity, in a world that supposedly had been abandoned by God, a collectivist world in which there would be no room for the individual—which is to say an antfarm that would admit of no heroic Siegfrieds or supermen. He wrote of the necessity of an Aufhebung der Kultur—an abolition of culture, specifically Judeo-Christian Western culture, although the word “Aufhebung”might be better translated in this instance as the “uprooting.” 

Writing in 1962, in the preface to his Theory of the Novel, and reflecting on his experience of World War I, Lukács underlined his anti-Western sentiments:

My own deeply personal attitude was one of vehement, global and, especially at the beginning, scarcely articulate rejection of the war and especially of enthusiasm for the war. . . . There was also some probability that the West would defeat Germany; if this led to the downfall of the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs, I was once again in favour. But then the question arose: Who was to save us from Western civilisation?

A better question might well be: “What will save us from socialist nihilism?’

Lukacs: 'Who will save us from Western culture?'

Lukacs: ‘Who was to save us from Western civilization?’

Even more important, however, is the Frankfurt School’s literary role as antagonist to what we might characterize as heroic Judeo-Christian Western culture—which was formed from Greco-Roman civilization, the conservative impulse of the Thomistic Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (whose ultimate expression was the Constitution of the United States)—as well as Victorian and Edwardian high culture (perhaps the apogee of Western civilization). That civilization, in the classic literary fashion of the hero’s subconsciously pursuing his own destruction, gave birth to the resentful philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, the destructive First World War, the various socialist revolutions (some, such as Russia’s, successful and others, as in Bavaria’s, unsuccessful), the Cold War, and the short interregnum of “the End of History” before the long-dormant Muslim assault on the West resumed in earnest on September 11, 2001. Obviously, this list of world-historical events is not exhaustive, no more so than a plot synopsis can stand in for, say, James Joyce’s Ulysses or Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain).

It does, however, establish the framework for a discussion in which I seek to demonstrate that far from being a natural outgrowth of a strain of Western political philosophy that culminated in Marxism and, worse, in Marxism-Leninism, the cultural philosophy of the Frankfurt School was itself aberrational in that it was profoundly anti-religious as well as anti-human. While substituting its own rituals for religion and unleashing its murderous wrath on the notion of the individual, it masqueraded as a force both liberating and revolutionary, when in fact its genesis is as old as the Battle in Heaven.

In its purest form, which is to say its most malevolent form, Critical Theory is the very essence of satanism: rebellion for the sake of rebellion against an established order that has obtained for eons, and with no greater promise for the future than destruction.

The way back from this brink, I argue, is through the rediscovery of the things that have made Western civilization great: its heroic, individualistic culture. Its art, literature, music and classically liberal political philosophy, which had found a way to accommodate both God and man until relatively recently.

Nihilism, however, comes with its solution: the heroic impulse, action. Satan may be able to destroy, but he cannot create. Beyond a young man’s fashionable flirtation with death, his testing of the boundaries, his sheer delight to be living on the edge, lies the desire to win, not lose. This is why soldiers are drawn from among the young; not only are they at their peak of physical fitness, but to them death is merely theoretical, even fascinating, and they have not yet had their idealism completely beaten out of them. The question for civilization is how to harness this bravery (for so, in war, does it appear) and make it useful.

As tastes and times change, so do story endings. In the Chanson de Roland, Roland dies, but not in vain—his death rouses Charlemagne’s Christian Franks to victory against the invading Muslims. It would be easy to recast the victory as the triumph of nihilism, to conclude that Roland, led into a trap and too proud to call for reinforcements in a timely manner, ultimately dies for nothing. Looking at the quickening pace of the current Muslim Reconquista—this time of the entire Dar al-Harb (non-Islamic world of war) that must be brought to submission so that the peace of Allah might reign, via the infiltration disguised as “immigration” of the Crusader homelands (Islam has a long memory)—one could easily envision such an ending, depending on the outcome of the current struggle. Will that be the West’s fate? Or are there still enough Rolands to fight, both morally and physically, for what used to be considered a superior way of life?

So there’s the answer: we know how to do it. What we have to remember is why.