Terrorism is a method.
It is not an ideology, or a movement, or a conspiracy, or a policy, or an aim.
Its users might be an organized movement that conspires to adopt the tactic; and a state might use it against its own people as a matter of policy. But terrorism itself is simply a method. A tactic.
Terrorism is not hard to define:
Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to create public fear.
As a method of intimidation it is as old as mankind and will surely continue to be used as long as our species continues to exist.
It has been used for various types of causes, such as religious (eg. the Catholic Church with its Inquisition; Protestant powers such as Calvin in Geneva, the Puritans at Salem); commercial and criminal (eg. the Mafia); and political, by rebels, and revolutionaries, and adherents of diverse ideologies.
Whether terrorism is used by a small group like the Weather Underground or the Baader-Meinhof gang; a large group like the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland and England, or Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru; or a state like the Third Reich or the USSR, it is a method of instilling fear into many more people than it can directly attack so they or their rulers will do or not do what the terrorists want done or not done. That is why the attacks need to be random. Though you have done nothing personally to affront the terrorist organization doing its evil deeds in your corner of the world, you must be made to understand that their bomb could be in the bus you take to work or your child takes to school, and so could as easily kill or maim you or your child as anyone else.
The mentality behind terrorism is similar to the mentality of the racist. The users of the method target individuals indiscriminately because they “belong” to a group or class that the terrorists designate their enemy. You are a member of a political party that they oppose. You have a nationality they don’t like. You are a capitalist. You work for the “military-industrial complex”. Or you are one person in a national collective under a despotism that would keep you obedient.
Terrorism punishes the innocent. If a tyrant is killed, it is not terrorism; if his infant children are killed as “collateral damage”, it is.
Can the use of terrorism ever be justified? It is the moral question every terrorist needs to answer for himself. He alone makes the decision to do the deed. It is no excuse that he is obeying others. He – or she – is still responsible even under threat. The exception of course is when – for instance – a person is forcibly strapped into a suicide vest, deposited in a public place, and is detonated without taking any action himself. Islamic terrorists use children in this way.
An argument is sometimes put forward by persons – usually academics – who want, for various and usually disgraceful reasons, to discourage action against this or that terrorist organization, that the number of people who are hurt or killed in a specified period by terrorist action is smaller than the number killed by (eg) car accidents in the same time span. But an accident is by definition nobody’s fault. Because terrorism is a moral question, depending on people making decisions and implementing them, such comparisons are not only invalid but invidious.
What of war? Does that not harm and kill many innocents? Of course. But when war happens, all normal constraints are abandoned and the moral questions are changed. Was Churchill right to have Dresden bombed flat? Was America right to drop nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima? If more people were saved by these acts which brought war to an end than were hurt and killed by the actions themselves, were they good or were they evil?
The morality of war is open to argument. But clear acts of terrorism can be carried out within wars, and need to be unequivocally condemned. For instance, in World War Two, the Germans massacred all the inhabitants (642), men women and children, of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944, in reprisal for one of their officers being captured and held there. It was plainly a “war crime”, and plainly an act of terrorism.
What – it is sometimes asked – of random violence used against a conqueror occupying your country in war? Is that terrorism? And even if it is, is it not justified? Not an easy question to answer. The best one can do to decide the morality of (eg) blowing up a train that is bringing enemy reinforcements into your country but also bearing some of your fellow countrymen, is to ask whether the action would make most of your fellow countrymen feel more safe or more threatened. If the answer is “more safe”, it could be argued that the act was therefore justified. But much depends on what an action is, whom it kills and in what way; on the circumstances of the occupation, and on whether it is oppressive or comparatively benign. In each case, judgment is needed.
Communism and Islam are inherently terrorist ideologies.
Jillian Becker March 18, 2015
(Jillian Becker was director of the London-based Institute for the Study of Terrorism 1985-1990)
This article in praise of Capitalism was first posted in 2011. We reproduce it now because our recent post Communism is secular Christianity (January 14, 2015) reminded us of it.
It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.
We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.
Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.
Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.
Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.
In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.
Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small;
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all. …
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them high and lowly,
He ordered their estate.
The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.
But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.
The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.
Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.
The idea that compassion is the essence of morality, entered history – to become in time a significant ethical philosophy – with the teachings of St Paul.
St. Paul, the author of Christianity, preached to his converts that they must “love all”. How to do this was explained by the writers of the gospels. Forgive them if they harm you. Turn the other cheek. Love the sinner though you hate the sin. It was an ethos that preferred love to justice (in contradiction to Judaism which held justice to be the highest value).
St. Paul went to extreme lengths in explaining how a follower of “Christ Jesus” must conduct himself in relation to other people.
He must humble himself until he was no more in his own eyes than “the filth of the world, the scum, the muck that is scoured from things.” He must live for others, sacrifice himself for others, the only use of his life being for others. Not only every other individual, but the collective of mankind was of more value than the Christian’s own life. The plight of others is what matters, never your own predicament. Your only legitimate happiness must be a product of your giving and yielding to others.
So fanatically against self-consideration was St. Paul that his ideal Christian society was one in which there was no private property. Share all you have, he told his followers. And the reason he gave for this is particularly pertinent: So that you’ll all be equal in worldly possessions.
Disdain for private property, and the idealizing of equality also entered history with Christianity.
St. Paul went even further. You must be prepared to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” You must not be privileged above others. As a Christian you must renounce your individual wants, talents, aspirations to serve the collective. That way, you are buying the approval of “Christ Jesus”, by whose grace – and only by whose grace – you may be “saved” to live eternally with him. Yet all your efforts to be good according to Pauline precepts might not after all, however painstakingly pursued, buy you that ticket to heaven. And since God is all-knowing, your fate is pre-determined.
To the Christian, this life was only a time of preparation for eternity. What mattered for the Christian was what happened to his “soul” after his bodily death. Naturally, it became a cult of martyrdom. Christians took up their crosses to follow their Lord; joyfully sought crucifixion for themselves, or death in the lion’s mouth in the Roman arena. Some wore hairshirts. Some sat on the top of tall pillars for years. Some died for “Christ Jesus” in battle with followers of other faiths, or with rival claimants to the certain knowledge of Christian “truth”.
And while human life continues, the Church will be the only power on earth. Both the Catholic and Protestant churches became totalitarian tyrannies whose spies tirelessly sniffed out heretics to be tried, imprisoned, tortured and killed.
When would the eternal life of bliss – or agonizing punishment – begin? Immediately upon your own death, or at the end of time when “Christ Jesus” will judge the quick and the dead? The answer remains unsettled. But there will be an Apocalypse, a cataclysmic event which will change everything, marking the end of days, and then – if not before – the chosen will live happily ever after in the perfect state of heaven, ruled over by the all-powerful government of the Triune God; while the rejected burn in hell.
What other ideology claims the moral high ground by justifying its every deed by claiming it to be in the service of the weak, the exploited, the injured, the underdog? Or to put it another way, Justification by Compassion?
What other dogma has it that the plight of the collective matters above all? What other teaches that it is it the duty of the individual to sacrifice himself, his personal wants, talents, aspirations to the greater good of the collective?
In what other ideal society is private property abolished – “so that all will be equal in worldly possessions”? Who decries “privilege”? Who holds equality as the highest ideal?
In the name of what political orthodoxy were totalitarian tyrannies established whose spies ceaselessly sniffed out heretics to be tried, imprisoned, tortured and killed?
Where do we find revered texts predicting a cataclysmic event that will change everything, after which the chosen will live happily ever after in a perfect state, under the rule of an all-powerful government, while the rejected will be excluded, condemned, punished, and destroyed?
The answer is Communism, learnt from the unquestionable authority of Karl Marx.
Marxist Communism insists that the only power must be the Communist Party.
It predicts an inevitable Revolution as its all-transforming Apocalypse. After the Revolution the faithful – those whom the Communist Party spares – will live happily ever after in a perfect Communist state.
While Communism posits no divinities, it declares that something superior to man’s will determines what must inevitably happen – an hypostasis named History.
It rejects the notions of a supernatural authority and a non-material existence. But the rest of Marxist Communism’s essential doctrine is derived from only one source – Christianity. Though neither Marx nor any of his apostles seem to have been aware of it.
The current head of the Pauline Christian Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has tackled this subject.
AP reports (January 11, 2015):
Pope Francis is insisting that his concern for the poor and critique of the global economic system isn’t some novel, communist-inspired ideology but rather the original and core “touchstone” of the Christian faith.
He is right about that. Communism is inspired by Christianity, not Christianity by Communism.
Some U.S. conservatives have branded the first Latin American pope a Marxist for his frequent critiques of consumerism and focus on a church “that is poor and for the poor”. But in an interview contained in a new book, Francis explains that his message is rooted in the Gospel and has been echoed by church fathers since Christianity’s first centuries.
Again, he is right.
“The Gospel does not condemn the wealthy, but the idolatry of wealth, the idolatry that makes people indifferent to the call of the poor,” Francis says in This Economy Kills, a study of the pope’s economic and social teachings. …
Wrong. Early Christianity did condemn the wealthy. The Gospel of Luke, for instance, tells a story to make that very point.
Specifically, Francis summarized a verse from the Gospel of Matthew which is the essential mission statement of his papacy: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me, clothed me, visited me, took care of me.”
And overlooked the question why “I” was in prison.
“Caring for our neighbor, for those who are poor, who suffer in body and soul, for those who are in need: this is the touchstone. Is it pauperism? No. It is the Gospel.”
He cites church fathers dating to St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom as expressing the same concerns, and noted somewhat wryly that if he had said the same “some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily”.
Well recognized! Though I cannot resist mentioning in passing that the two saints, Ambrose and John Chrysostom, whom he cites as being especially zealous about caring for the suffering, did not extend their compassion to everyone, they being among the most vicious preachers against the Jews in all history.
How interesting it is that the Pope felt moved to say, not that Marxism and Christianity are different, but merely that of the two similar ideologies, Christianity came first.
To be compassionate is not of course morally wrong. But as a cause so high that in its name human lives may be sacrificed, moral superiority hypocritically claimed, a monopoly of power be instituted, and the unique possession of Truth asserted, it is hideous.
And hideous is the history of both Christianity and its daughter Communism.
Afterword on Charity:
The “first” letter of St. Paul “to the Corinthians”, chapter 13, is a rather good poem declaring love, or charity, to be the highest virtue. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. … And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Whether the poet meant “love” or “charity” has been a bone of contention in Christendom. William Tyndale was sentenced to be burnt at the stake by the Church of Infinite Compassion for translating it with the one word rather than the other.
As an aside, I don’t believe that St Paul was the author of the chapter. It is far too well written to be from the pen of such a clumsy writer as he was. For an example of his poor writing, see his authenticated letter to the Romans.
But what of charity – regarded by Christians as love in practice? Though I am not against it, I do not see it as a great virtue. It is no solution for poverty – just prolongs it.
I do think charity is preferable to Communism/Socialism as a means of redistributing money from those who have earned it to those who have not, private enterprise always being preferable to government control.
But still it is unjust.
To give it is very satisfying to the ego. And contrary to Christian dogma, there’s nothing wrong with self-indulgence.
But as self-advertisement it is repulsive.
Ideally, charity would be practiced only by consenting adults in private.
Jillian Becker January 14, 2015
1. Love one another, love all. 1 Thess.4:9 , Rom.13:8, 1 Cor 13. All quotation is from the King James Version of the New Testament.
2. 1 Cor.4:13
3. 2 Cor 8:14
5. Become the lowest of the low. Phili.2:3; Let us abase ourselves; be fools; 1 Cor.4:10; Be humble, and associate with the lowly. Rom.12:16; Do only the most menial work for a living. 1 Thess.4:11,1 Cor.4:12; Bear affliction – persecution, injustice – with patience. Rom.12:12-14, even with joy. 1 Thess.5:16,18
6. It is well documented that numerous loyal members of the the Communist Party, in the USSR and its satellite states, were persuaded by the Party to let it kill them for the sake of the Party. An interesting account in English of how the Communist Party thus devoured its own is Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovály, whose husband Rudolf Margolius was a martyr to the greater, humaner, compassionate cause in Communist Czechoslovakia.
7. Luke 16:19-31
8. 379 A.D. Vicious writing by St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose in Milan who said: “The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a sickness. The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them.” He was called the Bishop with the Golden Tongue. St. Ambrose, Bishop of the Church offered to burn the synagogue himself. St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies against the Jews may be found here.
9. eg. of St. Paul’s confused thinking and poor writing, Rom. 5:12-18: “12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15 But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification. 17 For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 12 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.
It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.
The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Two). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Georges Bataille, and – to a lesser extent – André Breton.
Here is part of the essay:
Of all the cultivators of Evil in twentieth century France, none was so devout, so persistent, or plunged so deep into moral and material muck as Georges Bataille. He hungered and lusted for Evil. He was a coprophiliac, and a necrophiliac – committing, by his own confession or boast, an incestuous sexual act, in a state of “arousal to the limit”, upon his mother’s corpse in the moments after her death.
Bataille wrote that human beings, as a species, should move towards “an ever more shameless awareness of the erotic bond that links them to death, to cadavers, and to horrible physical pain.”
He was fascinated by the filthy, the stinking; by secretions, excretions, exudations; by things discarded, damaged, abandoned. “Bataille,” wrote one of his appreciators, “displayed a quasi-religious veneration toward objects and acts that, according to the mores of bourgeois convention, were targets of opprobrium … During the ‘30s, Bataille’s ‘literary’ activities centered on developing a theory of ‘base matter’, items and effluvia that remained impervious to assimilation by the all-consuming maw of bourgeois cultural respectability: feces, menstrual blood, cadavers, the baboon’s brightly colored anus, and so forth.”
But Bataille’s veneration of the disgusting was not just “quasi-religious” – it was intensely religious. It was Gnostic . This the admiring writer goes on to demonstrate, though without referring to the Gnostic precedent. He writes: “Herein lie the affinities between Bataille’s world view and the discourse of ‘negative theology’ or redemption through sin. … The duality between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ obsessed him, but the habitual signs were reversed. He elevated acts of profanation or desecration to epiphanies: singular mystical moments of Oneness with the All. … For Bataille … the act of willfully violating taboos offered privileged access to the holy.”
Raised in a non-believing family, young Georges converted to Catholicism when he was seventeen, and even spent a year in a seminary studying to be a priest. When he became a priest of blasphemy, or holy sinner, he retained all the self-flagellating passion, all the pious devotion and aura of sanctity of the Catholic ecclesiastic. He remained throughout his adult life shut mentally in the box of religion with its atmosphere of incense and sulfur, its fixation on blood, pain, death and sin.
He contended that what was missing in ordinary modern life, what society lacked for full satisfaction, was the “expression of savage needs” that “subsist only at the limits of horror”. And what were the “limits of horror” in Bataille’s dream? Nothing less than ritual human sacrifice. The combination of agony, death, and religious rite was very much to his taste. He wrote: “Human sacrifice is loftier than any other – not in the sense that it is crueler than any other, but because it is close to the only sacrifice without trickery, which can only be the ecstatic loss of oneself.”
His best of all horrors was “ecstatic loss of the self” by choice: voluntary human sacrifice. He wrote: “The movement that pushes a man to give himself (in other words, to destroy himself) completely, so that a bloody death ensues, can only be compared, in its irresistible and hideous nature, to the blinding flashes of lightning that transform the most withering storm into transports of joy.” Oh, the intense joy of dying in excruciating pain! He and others in his circle formed a secret society which was to launch itself with a beheading. Every member was willing to be the sacrificial victim and have his head sawn off – but none would consent to be the executioner.
The external movement that he would have push him to transports of joy was Communism. …
You can find all of it here.
We continue the series of short essays by Jillian Becker posted on our Pages section under the general title of The Darkness of This World.
Here, in full, is the tenth essay, starting Part Two of the series.
It focuses on Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the nihilistic mood that prevailed there among discontented intellectuals; the decadence of the monarchy and the Orthodox Church; and it outlines the astonishing story of the mesmerizing, disgusting, scandalous mystic and lecher Rasputin, a peasant who rose to wield imperial power – the enormous autocratic power that history had reposed in the weak hands of the last Tsar, Nicholas II.
Romanticism – which grew in opposition to Reason from the very beginning of the Enlightenment, their common parent – is a kind of religion.
In certain essential ways it most closely resembles the Gnostic creeds of early and medieval Christianity. Both Romantics and Gnostics depend on feeling and intuition for their “truth”, which stands in both cases in opposition to their culture’s norms. To rebel against conventional morality, they choose evil. Both rationalize their perversity as the means to a higher good. For the Gnostics good lies in the heavens after life on earth is over; for the Romantics it lies in this life on this earth, just over the horizon, beyond the next revolution. Whether up there, or over there, both promise paradise.
In actuality, Romanticism led the way not to an earthly paradise but to earthly hells.
If Romanticism could be said to have a deity, it was “the Devil”. The Romantic imagination clung to him long after “God” had faded away. Germany “sold its soul” to him. Entranced by a Wagnerian fantasy of brutality, violence, war, conquest, “blood and beauty”, Nazi Germany chose evil, rode the storm triumphantly for a time, fulfilled its romantic dream in atrocity, and ended in flames and irreparable moral degradation.
Karl Marx prayed in romantic poetry to be empowered by the Devil, and metaphorically speaking his prayer was granted when Marxists took power after his death and tormented and destroyed millions of hapless victims. The Russian Bolsheviks were the first tyrants to govern in the name of the creed that bears his name. But they were not the first (or last) tyrants to govern Russia, nor the first Russians to choose evil.
The Enlightenment did not penetrate far into Russia. Even by the late nineteenth century, the Russian people were still deeply religious and the church was still immensely powerful. But a weariness with the old order, a romantic pessimism was spreading through the vast anachronism that was Tsarist Russia.
Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed (or The Devils or Demons), was published in 1872, eleven years before Karl Marx’s died. It has a cast of intellectual nihilist terrorists who typify the Romantic rebel in late nineteenth century Russia. They are against everything. Patronized, courted, and encouraged for the thrill of their scandalous philosophy of existential despair and malicious criminality by a stupid Governor’s wife – another type of civilization’s decline – they transgress all moral and conventional boundaries and eventually murder for the sake of murdering, and literally set the town on fire. One of them commits suicide and allows the others to blame him for their crimes, leaving an untrue note that he is the culprit. Why? Because nothing matters. Nothing. The man they look to as their leader, Nicolai Stavrogin, is the son of a wealthy landowner, an eccentric widow. She enjoys a protracted and chaste love affair of the mind with a once-daring but now perfectly tame intellectual rebel who has long since outlived his small fame. Young Stavrogin – handsome, rich, and privileged – is the rebel du jour, reckless and unpredictable. At his mildest, we learn when we meet him, he has publicly indulged his evil impulses by making defiant gestures against polite custom, saying and doing irrational things – such as biting a distinguished gentleman’s ear – deliberately to outrage society. In secret he has done far worse. He has committed a terrible crime that we learn about eventually: he raped a child, and the girl killed herself. Then, secretly again, he married a poor despised ill-used madwoman. Why? In penance? Out of compassion? Is he a saint as well as a sinner? Or is it a bizarre joke? Dostoyevsky perfectly describes what Stavrogin is doing: he is “living sarcastically”.
Dostoyevsky believed Russia was sick with nihilism and despair, and could be saved only by a return to Orthodox Christianity. But the sun was going down on “Holy Russia”. The Orthodox Church was no longer capable – if ever it had been – of distinguishing between its saints and its sinners.
In Orthodox eyes, which of the two – saint or sinner – was Grigori Rasputin, the man who more than any other single individual hastened Tsarist Russia into extinction?
Rasputin was a peasant monk who the royal family of Russia needed to believe was a mystic healer. They put all their hopes in him to cure the Tsarevich of hemophilia, the bleeding disease that threatened the life of the young heir to the throne, the only son of the Tsar. The peasant monk might also have been (it was both alleged and denied) a member of the Khlysty, a Gnostic sect that had arisen in the 17th century and lasted into the 20th century, to be ended along with everything else by the Communist revolution. The Khlysty believed in direct (“intuitive”) knowledge of the divine and redemption through sin.
Whether or not as a member of the Khlysty, Rasputin convinced numerous highborn ladies that they could be redeemed through sin. Their lust being sanctioned by so exciting a promise, they stripped naked for him, begged for his sexual attentions, and – according to some colorful accounts – would even lick his greasy fingers clean after he had been eating with his hands at the table of the Tsar. What is well attested is that the occult was in vogue in high society, and some of its luminaries seriously expected – because they deeply longed for – miracles. Rasputin was their master; to them he was the Devil himself, laughing among them.
His own motive in performing his part may only have been the simple one of enjoying himself. By many accounts he fed gluttonously, drank copiously, and copulated promiscuously.
The Tsarina could not live without him. She did as he told her. And as she depended too much on her “holy healer”, the Tsar depended too much on her. By her insistence, the Tsar took into his own hands the direction of his country’s forces in the Great War, and he did not do it well. Persons in high places became concerned that Russia was being governed and misgoverned by the “mad monk” – and it was not too much of an exaggeration. He apparently had power even over the Holy Synod, though he had never been ordained a priest. It seemed that a lascivious peasant was working his will over church and state. The Tsar refused to send him away. Nothing could dislodge him.
Plots were hatched to kill him. And finally four would-be assassins – the Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov and Prince Felix Yusupov, along with a member of the Duma and an army officer – set about murdering him in the basement of the Yusupov palace on December 17, 1916; first with poison – but he stayed alive; then with a gun, shooting him many times – but still he did not die; then stabbing him and beating him on the head with a truncheon. Finally they dropped him, probably dead but by some accounts still alive, over a bridge and down through the ice of the River Niva. So ended his real-life performance as a “holy sinner”, or magus.
It had been a magnificent mockery – of religion, power, aristocracy, and morals – born of a brilliant, if instinctive, perception that the stupidity of the great laid them open to exploitation by bold native cunning. Had the Romanovs, in particular the Tsarina, and her noble ladies avid for sin, not been mystics themselves, not believed in miracles, they would not have fallen under Rasputin’s spell. The Orthodox Church itself – or part of it – romanticized mystic charlatans of his kind. Both the institutions of monarchy and church had become rotten stumps ready to be kicked over.
And kicked over they soon were. The downfall of Tsarist Russia began on April 16, 1917, just four months after Rasputin’s death, when Lenin returned from exile and began the process that brought the Russians under Marxian Communism.
Jillian Becker September 20, 2014
We are all irrational in our likes and dislikes. We are put off by a face, a feature, a mannerism, something said, something done, a name, an accent. Some tell themselves not to act unjustly towards a person they instinctively dislike. Some do not curb themselves and do act unjustly. That is morally abhorrent, but there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it happening. People are unjust. People insult other people. So it always has been and always will be.
To express indignation over what someone says (as so many public figures are now doing over what a repulsive old geezer named Donald Sterling said in private against blacks to his black girl friend) is fine, whether you really feel indignant or only want to show what a good person you are. Freedom allows you public display of emotion. Freedom allows you hypocrisy.
Freedom allows the girl-friend to accept a house, a fleet of expensive cars, and her living from this man, and then to tape a private conversation he has with her and make it public. Freedom allows her to be spiteful, ungrateful, and viciously treacherous, just as it allows him to hate and despise people for no better reason than that they are of another race.
It should not be the business of the law to monitor and censure personal opinion.
Voltaire declared, “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And he meant it: meant that he would die to uphold the principle of liberty.
It was an idea typical of the age of reason; of the Enlightenment. To contradict it is to fall back into the dark age of dogma.
It is precisely when someone says something you don’t agree with – something you consider stupid, abominable, ugly, offensive, wrong – that you must uphold his right to say it. Argue with him, call him a cretin and a villain; despise him, hate him, defame him if you will (though the law might stop you spreading lies about him). But do not call for him to be gagged.
When Britain was a free country (ah, yes, I remember it well!), you could insult anyone as much as you pleased short of slander (such as accusing him of a crime). It was called “common abuse”, and there was no law against it. Nor should there have been. Now, in Britain, it’s okay for you to insult white males as much as you like. And Jews. If you insult them loudly and often enough you may get a grant to do it professionally. But if you insult Muslims you will be arrested and charged with a “hate crime”. (See our post, Bye-bye freedom, immediately below.)
Allowing people to say what you don’t like and don’t agree with is the whole point of constitutionally guaranteeing free speech.
The idea of “hate crime” is at the root of this nonsense. Nobody can know what another person feels. If a person commits a crime, punish him for the crime, not for the supposed emotion behind it. Such an arrogantly puritanical concept as “hate crime” was bound to distort the law and threaten liberty. As it does.
Crime is bad because it hurts individuals. Racism is bad because it hurts individuals. Racism, though it may be the cause of a crime, is not criminal in itself, and should not be criminalized.
People must be free to be petty, to be prejudiced, to be malicious, to be insulting. They cannot be stopped by the law. To make a law against bad behavior won’t change it, and can only make a mockery of the rule of law itself.
It is foolish and politically authoritarian to try and criminalize natural behavior, however unpleasant it may be.
Another word for politically authoritarian is fascist. Yes – if a human being or a bureaucrat tries to make people conform to his idea of good behavior, he is a fascist.
Tolerance must extend to the hard-to-tolerate. (But not to the intolerant.)
It’s better to be free to hate than to be free of hatred.
Jillian Becker April 30, 2014
Today we have posted essay number 9, Faust (Two), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
Here is part of it. We hope you won’t neglect the footnotes (not added here). They are laden with information – colored by the authors’ personal judgments and prejudices.
To understand what happened in Europe in the twentieth century, the wars, the barbaric cruelty, the murder of tens of millions in cold blood; to diagnose the sickness that beset every country on the mainland of the continent, Germany most severely; to know why European man is dying a long slow death on his own heath, it is helpful to read the great German writer Thomas Mann.
In his novel Doctor Faustus, first published in 1947, the Faust figure is a German musician named Adrian Leverkühn. On leaving school in the early 20th century, young Adrian enrolls at the University of Halle as a theology student, but soon abandons his studies to devote himself to composing music.
Fearing that he is not gifted enough to fulfill his ambition, he conceives a terrible plan. He deliberately catches syphilis by insisting on having intercourse with a prostitute who has the disease, in the hope and faith that he will catch it and so become insane – because he believes madness is necessary to genius. This is his conscious bargain with evil, the selling of his soul to the Devil, in exchange for power to compose great music. When in due course the disease does reach his brain, he imagines he has a conversation with the Devil by which the contract is confirmed. The Devil will grant him twenty-four years from the day of their dialogue, years of “great time, mad time”, to create the astonishing works he can produce now that his faculty of reason has become deranged. He will know “the heights and the depths” of life, and so be filled with knowledge of the truth – the “truth” of subjective experience.
Thought and reason, the Devil explains, are impediments to the creation of great Art. Leverkühn’s art will be intuitive, “Dionysian”; springing from the instincts, from feeling, from the heart, not from the rational mind. The Devil assures him that all genius is demonic. “There is no ingenium that has nothing to do with hell,” he says. What makes Art great is “enthusiasm unparalysed by thought or reason”. Art is “made genuine by disease”, and “creative, genius-giving disease [is] a thousand times dearer to life than plodding healthiness”. Art, instinctive art – so the Devil instructs the mind he is corrupting – is anti-bourgeois, anti-civilization. It is a religion – a demonic religion. (What used to be religion, the Prince of Darkness says, “is over except for the Devil. The bourgeoisie dispenses with it.” And elsewhere the fictional narrator of the story – a Catholic – observes: ‘Theology, confronted with that spirit of the philosophy of life which is irrationalism, is in danger, by its very nature, of becoming demonology.”)
So art is a disease of the artist, and of civilization. As both it is highly valuable, this dark force many times declares or insinuates, speaking either as himself when he chats with the brain-sick Leverkühn, or through the mouths of certain persons among the composer’s teachers, friends and acquaintances. These persons, more devilish than Adrian Leverkühn himself ever becomes, are weak men, erudite sensitive aesthetes, sickly or deformed, one of them “slightly” consumptive. They consciously “elevate culture as a substitute for religion”. Most of them are admirers of Leverkühn’s works – and also of National Socialism, with which they soon become passionately enamored. What they call “the blood and beauty” of brutal mass murder excites them intensely. A poet among them praises “obedience, violence, blood, and world-plunder”. To listen to them is to understand how Hitler’s Reich was made possible and why it quite easily became a reality. …
Today we have posted essay number 8, Faust (One), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
Here are some extracts from it:
Post-Enlightenment Romanticism was an escape from the reality of “this world”, and a belief that there could be a better world realized in Art, or in a future brought about by political action. …
The Romantic Movement was seeded in France with the revolutionary idealism of Rousseau, and flowered first in England as resistance to the iron reality of the Industrial Revolution, but found its natural home in Germany. There God died, but the Devil lived on.
The death of God was announced by the German philosopher Nietzsche in 1882, but when had it occurred? God was still alive, tussling with the Devil for the souls of men when the first part of Goethe’s play Faust was published in 1808, so the event must have come about, quietly, sometime in the intervening seventy-four years.
The legend of Faust and his pact with the Devil had arisen in Germany soon after the Reformation began there [in 1517], and about two hundred years before the Enlightenment seriously weakened the power of the Churches. …
The legendary Faust is a man who chooses to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, honor, wealth, fame; delight of the senses and satisfaction of the appetites, especially lust; and knowledge (of both the scientific and the intuitive sorts), for the duration of his life on earth, usually twenty-four years from the day of the compact. As his splendid life goes on, he wonders at moments if he could repent and be saved. He is exhorted by well-wishers to turn to God for mercy. But he chooses to renew his fatal pact. When he dies he goes to hell …
There was a real historical Dr Faust, “magician, necromancer, sodomist, astrologer and palm reader”, living in Germany in the early sixteenth century, and it was on his character, skills and escapades that the legend was based.
His birth name was Georgius Sabellicus. In 1505 he was helped by a certain Franz von Sickengen – who interested himself in mysticism and the magic arts – to obtain the post of schoolmaster in the Rhineland-Palatinate town of Kreuznach. Exposed as having forced boys of his classroom to perform “acts of lewdness”, Sabellicus disappeared from the school and the town. Two years later, as “Johannes Faust”, he was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Theology by the University of Heidelberg. He came top of his class of fifteen, so either he was a brainy fellow, or he had already sold his soul to the Devil.
The graduate called himself “the Second Magus”, signaling that he was the successor to Simon Magus, the 1st century Gnostic teacher of St Paul’s day, written about scornfully in the New Testament and condemned by the Catholic Church as “the father of all heresies”. (See our post, The father of all heresies, February 21, 2010.)
He stayed in Heidelberg for some years and acquired a dubious reputation as a man of extraordinary powers.
While most commentary on him both in his lifetime and for a few years after his death (which was probably in or about 1540) portrayed him as no more than a braggart, a fraud, and a petty thief, some took him more seriously. An agreement made between himself and the Devil soon became an essential ingredient of his legend. It was related in tones of thrilled horror that he had referred to Satan as his “Schwäger”, his brother-in-law. A demon spirit who takes the form of Helen of Troy occurs in almost all the versions of the story. (She had been Simon Magus’s consort. Though he had found her in a brothel in Tyre, he taught that she had been incarnated in one of her lives as Helen, “the most beautiful woman in the world”, and had descended again from the highest heaven to help him with his mission of redeeming mankind.)
The idea that supernatural powers could be bestowed on a man by the Devil, but had to be paid for with the man’s soul, probably arose from the anathematizing accounts by the Catholic church fathers of the Gnostic cults. Because the Gnostics did not worship the Creator God of the bible but another god whom they “knew” by the gift of intuitive knowledge (the Gnosis); because many of them declared the Creator God to be evil; and because the worship of their god took the form of drugged orgies, perverted sex (anal and oral in order to avoid conception), and the deliberate flouting of biblical commandments, they were considered by Catholics to be devil-worshippers, and their rites Satanic. Their doctrines and practices were deplored in the pulpits of Christendom, embellished with fearful details and scary myths, not only to condemn them and warn the awestruck laity against them, but because the clergy was genuinely full of superstitious terror of the Devil. For centuries Gnostic ritual was considered by Christian theologians to be devil-worship. The Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, using the instrument of the Inquisition. (See our post The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011.)
When the centuries of Church power were brought to an end by the Enlightenment, and Christianity itself took a beating, Faust and the Devil not only survived but flourished.
The Industrial Revolution made it possible as never before for individuals not born to riches and power to acquire them. To those who understood economics it was not an inexplicable phenomenon. But to those who wanted as little to do with the racket and dirt of industry as possible, who were nostalgic for the past, and who continued to believe in the supernatural though the priests had been shouted down by Reason, it was uncanny, magical; and ever-present envy had no trouble diagnosing the cause as demonic. So with the Devil living on in the psyche of Christian Europe long after God had died, Dr. Faust had a new lease of life. …
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
On May 5, 1818, there was born, in the Prussian city of Trier, one of those rare persons who change the course of history. He did not live to see his prophecies warp the world. He died in 1883, and the first earth-shattering event of which he was an effective cause came thirty-four years after his death: the Russian Communist revolution of 1917.
Karl Marx was the second child and eldest son of a prosperous lawyer. Two years before his birth, his father, Herschel Marx, had taken a step that must have amazed, even outraged, a good many of his Jewish co-religionists in his (overwhelmingly Catholic) home city, which for generations had had its rabbis from the Marx family: he was baptized by the Lutheran church, becoming Heinrich Marx. Protestant Christianity itself did not attract him irresistibly, but he wanted to play a full part as a citizen of (largely Protestant) Prussia. He was a man of reason who admired the products of reason: machines, engines, modernity in general. In 1824, overcoming his wife’s opposition to the move, he had his seven children (an eighth was yet to come) baptized into the recently established Evangelical Church of Prussia, Lutheran and Calvinist.
In his late teens, Karl fell in love with an aristocrat, Jenny von Westphalen, the friend of his older sister, and at about the same time decided to become a great poet. He wrote love poems to Jenny, and hate poems to the world.
The poems are bombastic, full of religio-romantic imagery. Little meaning can be found in them. But they do reveal the character and mentality of their composer. They are emotional, defiant, rebellious, destructive, swaggering, and express above all a hunger for power. Typical is this monologue from a verse drama titled Oulanem, the eponymous hero speaking: “Ha, I must entwine me on the wheel of flame,/ And in Eternity’s ring I’ll dance my frenzy! If aught besides that frenzy could devour,/ I’d leap therein though I must smash a world/ That towered high between myself and it!/ It would be shattered by my long drawn curse,/ and I would fling my arms around cruel Being,/ Embracing me, ‘twould silent pass away,/ Then silent would I sink into the void./ Wholly to sink, not be … oh, this were Life,/ But swept along high on Eternity’s current /To roar out threnodies for the Creator,/ Scorn on the brow! Can Sun burn it away?/ Bound in compulsion’s sway, curse in defiance!/ Let the envenomed eye flash forth destruction –/ Does it hurl off the ponderous worlds that bind?/ …… And we, we Apes of a cold God, still cherish/…… The viper so voluptuously warm,/ That it as Universal Form rears up/ And from its place on high grins down on us! And in our ear, till loathing’s all consumed,/ The weary wave roars onward, ever onward! ”
The young poet cast off the Christian God he had been lightly brought up to believe in, but he clung on to the concept of Satan and the powers of evil. He wrote, in a lyric titled The Fiddler: “Why do I fiddle? Or the wild waves roar?/ That they might pound the rocky shore, / That eye be blinded, that bosom swell, / That Soul’s cry carry down to Hell./ … I plunge, plunge without fail/ My blood-black sabre into your soul. / That art God neither wants nor wists,/ It leaps to the brain from Hell’s black mists/ … Till heart’s bewitched, till senses reel:/ With Satan I have struck my deal./ He chalks the signs, beats time for me,/ I play the death march fast and free.” “
With lines such as these young Karl expected to be recognized as a towering genius who would be listened to by a dumbstruck Europe. He intended through the power of his words to have an effect on history – a dire and destructive effect, apparently, while waves rolled onwards and pounded rocky shores. But his poems were received less favorably than he had confidently anticipated. The editors of periodicals to whom Karl sent a selection for publication returned them without comment. Indeed it seems that only Jenny von Westphalen was moved by them, especially by those dedicated to her. “Jenny! Do I dare avow/That in love we have exchanged our souls,/That as one they throb and glow,/And through their waves one current rolls?”
His father would have liked Karl to take up some useful and lucrative career, in engineering perhaps, or science; something that would have involved him in the amazing developments of the age. Reason was pouring out inventions for the improvement of everyday life: gaslight on the streets, steam powered trains and ships, factories with machines that mass-produced goods. But such mundane things were of no interest to the young man of passionate poetic vision. He would never even visit a factory. Heinrich Marx and his son Karl stood on opposite sides of the post-Enlightenment divide between Reason, which fertilized civilization, and Romanticism, which poisoned it. …
The whole of this essay may be found on our Pages, added to the earlier essays under the same title. Access it by clicking on The Darkness of This World under the Pages heading at the top of our margin, and scroll down to 7, The Fiddler and His Proof.
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
The Enlightenment dethroned faith and crowned reason. And reason launched two of the most important advances of our civilization: Science, and the United States of America.
Science was enormously advanced by the philosophers of Reason. Locke, Hume, Spinoza, and Voltaire not only challenged religious certainties and so weakened the suppressive power of the Churches, but with their radical rationalism they positively impelled free enquiry into the laws of nature.
But at the same time, from the very heart of the Enlightenment, came the rot that would corrupt the new culture. Reason, which had struggled against the ignorant arrogance of the Catholic Church, was now, from the moment its golden age began, assailed by a new adversary, a new form of irrationalism that imitated the religious tyrannies it had overcome: Romanticism.
The rot is easy for us to spot because we know what it led to. It was in the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Voltaire saw it at the time, immediately. With typically wry and stinging humor he wrote to Rousseau: “I have received your new book against the human race, and thank you for it. Never was such cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid. One longs, in reading your book, to walk on all fours.”
Rousseau was holding up the pre-civilized, or “natural” man as superior to the civilized. He did not actually use the phrase “noble savage” but it sums up his idea. …
The whole of this essay may be found on our Pages, added to the earlier essays under the same title. Access it by clicking on The Darkness of This World under the Pages heading at the top of our margin, and scroll down to Our Gnostic Age 6.