The darkness of this world (4) 2

Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the fourth essay under the title The Darkness of This World. (For the first three put Our Gnostic Age in the search slot.)

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The Darkness of This World

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Our Gnostic Age

4

In its defiance of religious and cultural norms, most New Age doctrine and practice (briefly described in the last essay) is comparatively mild. Far more savage messages have come from thousands of pop songs and rap “flows” since the 1960s. Cruelty and religious images are a large if not predominant part of their stock-in-trade. Themes of rape, murder, massacre, torture, Satan, devils, demons, sado-masochism, ultimate doom, universal destruction by nuclear bombs or climate apocalypse, terrorism, suicide, death, are common, hugely popular – and therefore enormously lucrative. Here are words from a rock song called Demons. It was sung by a group named Rigor Mortis – typically connoting something dreaded, in this case death: “We come bursting through your bodies, rape your helpless soul …we force you to kill your brother, eat his blood and brain, shredding flesh and sucking bone till everyone’s insane, we are pestilent and contaminate, the world Demonic legions prevail.”

Such songs could be, and sometimes are, interpreted as instructions to do evil. But then, almost any song could be – and was. Charles Manson, mass murderer and cult-leader of a mass-murdering group, declared himself profoundly stirred by a Beatles song called Helter-Skelter, into whose quite innocuous words about sliding down a fairground slide, he read a coded message about the coming of a final conflict between the black and white races. [1]

But songs, however gruesome, and even if sometimes inspiring real cruelty and murder, are not the source of the moral rot in twenty-first century Western culture.  Nor are the video games that require the killing off of humanoids in such profusion that they’re often blown away as copiously as brown leaves in a gale. Such popular indulgence in Halloween-like fantasy are analogous not to the old Gnostic cults themselves, but to imitations of their rites as pictured and misunderstood by less educated outsiders. The deliberate “sinning” of the Gnostics, with orgies and drugs, was performed for several reasons or excuses: to “use up sin” – ie. commit as much sin as possible in order to hasten the end of the world, on the assumption that there was a fixed amount of sin pre-ordained by the evil Creator, and when all of it had been committed his creation would be done for; or on the grounds that it wasn’t sin at all, only named so by the evil creator, and by defying him they were acting for the good; or on the grounds that true Gnostics – the “Spirituals”, or “Masters”,  or “Perfects” – were incapable of sinning and so were free to do anything they liked. Those who were fascinated by the cults but excluded from them – being despised by the Gnostics as “hylics”, “animal men”, creatures irredeemably belonging to the earth – caught rumor of the rites and misunderstood them to be ways of worshiping the Devil. [2]  The performance of “Satanic” rituals such as the Black Mass may very well have begun in imitation of Gnostic rites as imagined by “hylics” who hoped they would summon up the Devil to grant them occult powers. The Devil was supposed to be able and willing to sell such powers to any buyer willing to pay the price of his or her “immortal soul”. Sometimes the drug-intoxicated, orgiastic rites included human sacrifice. To the Christian churches such beliefs and rituals were not only heresy, they were blasphemy; and through the Middle Ages, when such blaspheming heretics were sniffed out by the moralists of almost any Christian denomination, they were punished with torture and fire; burnt at the stake as witches and “black” magicians. It’s certain, however, that they did far less harm, hurt and killed far fewer victims, than did the churches themselves.

No. The power to effect evil on a vast scale lies not with the many but with the few; not with the uneducated but with the educated; not with adolescent entertainers but with intellectual elites. Evil as, or for, a “higher good” becomes a force that deforms civilization only when it issues from the top of the tower. They affect the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments govern. They are professors, philosophers, priests, psychologists, writers, critics, film-makers, rogue scientists, politicians. They are the revolutionaries with a long reach. They could be called the legislative branch of the new orthodoxy. They write the laws of “political correctness”.

The executive branch whose members are responsible for disseminating the toxic ideas, are the powers that appoint the teachers at the universities; publish books and newspapers; choose the plays and the works of art that are to be presented to the public. They are the givers of grants and awards, the producers of films, the social-engineering bureaucrats.

A counter-culture with a mood of sustained rebellion has become dominant in the early twenty-first century in the West not as an imp daring to do mischievous things to provoke an old-fogey establishment, but as a loud, bullying, relentless thug. It rules in the academies and the press; it permits and cheers on the jolly viciousness of popular culture. And it has come to political power throughout the Western world. It is no longer an amusing adversarial movement confined to a demi-monde of the young, the envious and the frustrated; it is now the culture itself. It camps on the public square, wallowing in its own detritus. It stinks. It threatens. It crows triumphantly on its own dung-heap. It gloats over its crimes. It riots in the streets of the cities, smashing the windows of stores, setting fire to banks regardless of whether there are people in them. It burns cars. It shrilly demands much in exchange for nothing. And it legislates, and it taxes, and it makes war on small nations for no better reason than sentiment.[3]

It prevails. And it seems to have come upon the prosperous, brilliant, powerful West quite recently. It has called itself the Red Army of this or that; or Anarchists against Capitalism; or a movement for Hope and Change; or the Occupy Wall Street Movement… It entered the Parliaments of Europe late in the last century, and now it is in the White House of America. But actually it grew slowly through the last three centuries.

It began in Europe, it spread from Europe, and in Europe it became malignant. It began as a reaction to the Enlightenment, that marvelous long morning when the sun of Reason rose to its zenith in the eighteenth century, and the Age of Science gathered pace. Technology, the daughter of Science, gave birth – first in England – to contraptions, contrivances, devices and engines that spun wheels and let off steam and smoke, appalling those blessed or cursed with sensitive souls. Religion blanched. The power of the Churches drained away. Christianity itself declined, but with its fading came a nostalgia for its mystery, for its visions of dim glories, and even for its guilt and its terror.

 

Jillian Becker    October 31, 2013

NOTES

1. In August 1969, Charles Manson sent Susan Atkins with two other women and  Charles “Tex” Watson to a house in Beverly Hills to kill the actress Sharon Tate and anyone else they found there. Atkins states in her  autobiography Child of Satan, Child of God, that as they approached the house, “I was deeply aware of Evil. I was Evil.” She and her companions brutally murdered Sharon Tate and four other people with knives and a gun. “Tex” Watson said to one of the victims (according to Atkins), “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” Atkins wrote: “I was to learn later that this was the home of the beautiful Miss Tate and [her husband Roman] Polanski, who was out of the country at the time. … Polanksi had produced the controversial Rosemary’s Baby, a film about a woman who bore a child by Satan.”  Shortly before meeting Manson, she records, she had refused to participate in a ritual of Satan-worship conducted by Anton LaVey – occultist and musician, founder of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible, father of a son named Satan LaVey – because she believed in God. When she joined the Manson “family”, she thought that Manson “might be God himself; if not, he was close to him.” Her life with the Manson “family” was full off drugs and orgies which made her feel that she was “one with everyone”. “What Charlie taught us,” she said, “was love”. She bore a child which she insisted was not Manson’s, and named him  Ze Zo Ze Cee Zadfrack “for no other reason than that at the torn and twisted time it seemed like a good name”. (So it must be a coincidence, though an intriguing one, that the magic formula for gaining direct access to the highest heaven of the Gnostics, according toThe Book of Ieû is: aaa ooo zezophazazzzaieozaza eee iii zaieozoakoe ooo uuu thoezaozaez eee zzeeezaozakozakeude tuxuaalethukh. – Gnosticism: An Anthology by Robert M. Grant, Collins, London, 1961.)

2. A misinterpretation of Gnostic ritual as devil-worship probably accounts for some of the testimony given at the trial in France, in 1310, of the Knights Templar, a military branch of the Cistercian order specially founded “to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land”. King Philip IV, known as Philip the Beautiful, feared their power and coveted their wealth. They were the international bankers of the age, as well as a considerable military force and an efficiently organized intelligence network. They owned vast estates in France. Their reputation as heroes of the Crusades, as warriors and carers of the sick and wounded, made them glorious in the eyes of the common people. Philip was determined to bring them down, to confiscate their lands and treasure, to extirpate them from his own realms and destroy the order wherever his power or influence could reach. The means he chose was to accuse them of heresy. On the night of October 12, 1307, every Templar in France, along with his servants and dependants, was arrested and imprisoned by order of the King. Two and half years later the trial began. Witnesses told of secret meetings behind locked doors, through whose keyholes they had seen and heard abominable rites. Almost all said that the Knights had denied Christ,  spat upon the Cross, and declared that it was right only to believe in “the Highest God”. Some reported that they had seen them pay reverence to idols and the devil. Some Knights, being broken by torture and unable to face the terrible punishment that awaited heretics, themselves “confessed” to performing such rituals. Though their legal defense was cleverly devised and persuasively presented, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The last officers of the order  were burnt at the stake on March 19, 1314. Some historians maintain that all the accusations were false and the order was free of any taint of heresy, and no direct evidence has ever been found to prove the case one way or the other. But the more credible testimony of the witnesses strongly suggests that what they glimpsed and heard through keyholes was a Gnostic rite as had been practiced by the Cathars in the Languedoc region of southern France, of whom the  last few were then being hunted down and burnt to death by the Inquisition. But beside the possibly true witness accounts, tales were told of devil-worship, including the ritual kissing of the Devil’s behind, which were probably the stock-in-trade of common gossip in those heresy-obsessed ages of Catholic tyranny.

3. One example of sentiment at work in international affairs to brutal result arose out of the United Nation resolution known as “R2P” –  The Responsibility to Protect. It requires the strong and wealthy nations of the West to be guardians of vulnerable populations in any foreign state. It was invoked as a reason for French, British and American intervention in Libya in 2011, to overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, to the time of this writing, there has been no effective government in Libya. Rival Muslim terrorist groups control their fiefdoms, ruling arbitrarily and ferociously by a mixture of sharia law and vicious whim. The population is a lot worse off than it was under Gaddafi. An earlier example was the interference in the 1990s by the West – chiefly America – in the Balkans. The socialist governments of Western Europe and the Democratic government of the United States believed it was right according to leftist principles to make war only where the interests of their own countries were in no way served by it. The American and NATO soldiers who died saving Kosovar and Bosnian Muslims from alleged Catholic or Orthodox Christian oppression (so positively assisting Muslim terrorist groups in Kosovo), gave their lives not for their country, or freedom, but for the need of their leaders to feel good about themselves. The idea that it is the height of morality to sacrifice oneself (or one’s country’s soldiers) for others, particularly if the others are perceived as underdogs, derives directly and exclusively from Christianity.

 

Posted under Art, Articles, Gnosticism, History, Literature, Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Thursday, October 31, 2013

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The cultivation of evil, the sickness of Europe 12

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is widely known as the inventor of the phrase ‘the banality of evil’. Apparently the idea was intended to be the main point of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, as its subtitle is A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Adolf Eichmann was tried and sentenced to death in Jerusalem forty-eight years ago. He was the arch administrator during the Second World War of Hitler’s ‘final solution of the Jewish problem’ by systematic murder. When Hitler’s Reich was defeated in 1945, Eichmann sought refuge from justice under another name in South America. In 1948 part of Palestine became the Jewish state of Israel, and some twelve years later the Israeli secret service traced Eichmann, captured him, smuggled him out of Argentina, and delivered him to Israel. There he was humanely imprisoned, politely interrogated, brought before a legally constituted tribunal, judged, and condemned. The proceedings were conducted with scrupulous regard to law and all the safeguards it provides: due process, evidence, cross examination of witnesses, argument for the defense. He was found guilty of multiple crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity; of persecution, plunder, and war crimes (and was acquitted on certain parts of the indictment where proof was considered inadequate). He was sentenced to death, permitted to appeal, and had his sentence confirmed. The appeal judges declared: ‘In deciding to confirm both the verdict and the sentence passed on Adolf Eichmann, we know only too well how utterly inadequate is the death sentence when we consider the millions of deaths for which he was responsible. Even as there is no word in human speech to describe his deeds, so there is no punishment in human law to match his guilt.’ He was hanged on 31 May 1962.

Hannah Arendt considered the proceedings to be flawed. She questioned whether the Israeli court had jurisdiction to try the crimes of which Eichmann stood accused. She argued that the Nazi policy of discrimination against the Jews was a ‘national issue’, so persons accused of implementing it should be tried in a German court. Deportations, however, (she said) affect other countries, so those accused of organizing them should be brought before an international court; and so should those accused of genocide, because it is ‘a crime against humanity’. The particular human genus marked down for extermination in this case was the Jewish people, but it was nevertheless, in her view, a crime against all humankind: therefore, she argued, the world, not the Jewish state, should call its perpetrators to account. The fact that the world had shown little interest in tracking down Nazi fugitives was no discouragement to her optimism that it would see justice done.

She was not alone in having doubts on the question of jurisdiction. Legal opinion had been divided over the legitimacy of the court which had tried Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Argument over type of tribunal, applicable law, and definition of the crimes was necessary, and the Jerusalem court itself examined such questions and gave reasoned answers to them.

But Arendt’s criticism was not limited to those debated issues. She also objected to the terms of the judgment. She accepted that the ‘guilty’ verdict was just, and even agreed that Eichmann deserved the death sentence (unlike some other liberal critics, such as the British publisher Victor Gollancz, who recommended that he be acquitted with the words, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ (1)) What she cavilled at was the judges’ reasons for their verdict. They should, she thought, have ‘dared to address their defendant’ in these terms:

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune [Eichmann’s defence being chiefly that he too was a victim of the Nazi regime, forced to obey immoral orders] that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations – as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world – we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

In other words, what Arendt thought Eichmann most guilty of, what she identified as his chief and most appalling offense, what she thought his judges should be hardest on, what alone would justify his being put to death, was – hubris.

This peculiar, not to say eccentric view is, however, not the point to which she most urgently directs her readers’ attention. Her most important conclusion she encapsulated in the famous generalization on the nature of evil. She leads up to it in the last two paragraphs (before the Epilogue and a Postscript), and to keep it in context I shall quote them almost in full:

Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the Protestant minister — who offered to read the Bible with him — He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect, with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees, he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. “I don’t need that,” he said when the black hood was offered him. He was in complete command of himself, nay, he was more: he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubiger [believer in God], to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. [Yet] he then proceeded: “After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them.” In the face of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was “elated” and he forgot that this was his own funeral. It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us – the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil. [Her italics]

So in Arendt’s opinion, the story required a fascinating demon, not a bespectacled clerk. Even when he stood under the noose, when history needed him to speak pathetic or terrifying words of pride or remorse, the best he could come out with were embarrassingly trivial ‘funeral clichés’. He was simply not big enough for the evil he had committed. He was a dull man; not exactly stupid, she says, but thoughtless.

Having the mind of a philosopher, she did not leave it at that. She considered further the idea of thoughtlessness as a root of evil. It is close to a proposition by Socrates that men do evil out of ignorance of the good. She went on to write and deliver a series of lectures on how philosophers from ancient Greece to modern Germany have dealt with the subjects of thinking, willing, and the nature of evil. They were collected and published after her death in two volumes under the title The Life of the Mind. In an introduction, she refers to what she has said about Eichmann and his crimes, and makes it clear at last that the evil-doer was banal, not the evil he had done. ‘I was struck by a manifest shallowness [in him] — The deeds were monstrous, but the doer — was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.

So it was the man, not his evil, which was banal, and when she had spoken of ‘the banality of evil’ she had not said quite what she had meant. She offers a kind of excuse: ‘Behind that phrase [‘the banality of evil’], I held no thesis or doctrine —- although I was dimly aware of the fact that it went counter to our tradition of thought – literary, theological, or philosophic – about the phenomenon of evil.

Dimly aware’? Was she being forgetful or disingenuous? Neither, I think – just using the wrong adverb. She was perfectly aware that ‘it went counter to our tradition of thought’. German-born, of Jewish descent, she had studied philosophy at Marburg under Martin Heidegger – with whom she had a love-affair – and at Heidelberg under Karl Jaspers. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, she had left Germany for France, and in 1941 escaped to America. Living in New York, she had worked hard at learning English, and in 1944 started writing for The Partisan Review which was then a Trotskyite organ. In the following years she wrote a number of books, one on totalitarianism in which she equated Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia under Stalin – showing a readiness to allow facts to overrule ideology to a degree unusual in Marxists, even a critical Marxist, which she increasingly became.

That she knew well the European tradition of regarding evil as a sublime power, she goes on to show in her introduction to The Life of the Mind: ‘Evil, we have learned, is something demonic; its incarnation is — the fallen angel —that superbia of which only the best are capable.’ And only in that context could her revelation that evil was ‘banal’ have any meaning. Yet that is as far as she went in dealing with the aggrandisement of evil in ‘our tradition of thought’. She does not touch on it again in the chapters that follow, though some of the philosophers she writes about notably contributed to it, such as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger(2). Her turning away from the issue is to be regretted. She had come so close to a salutary diagnosis. Evil as an intoxicating passion; evil as a means of transcending the quotidian; evil as a high destiny; evil as power; evil as surpassing beauty; evil as a higher good – these notions have been corrupting the European mind for centuries, at least since the start of the Romantic Movement(3). Europe is sick with a dark passion, ‘a passion for the night’, as Karl Jaspers called it. It is a morbid sickness for which the shortest sufficient name is perhaps Richard Wagner’s: ‘Der Liebestod’ [‘the love-death’].

Richard Wagner, who so inspired Hitler, was one of the most infected, as Thomas Mann illustrates in a story called Tristan. Here is a slide of it: In a Swiss alpine clinic for the treatment of tuberculosis – which Thomas Mann often used as a symbol of the disease of the spirit – two patients, a pretty married woman and a young man of refined aesthetic sensibility, are singing together at the piano:

Their voices rose in mystic unison, rapt in the wordless hope of that death-in-love, of endless oneness in the wonder-kingdom of the night. Sweet night! Eternal night of love! An all-encompassing land of rapture! Once envisioned or divined, what eye could bear to open again on desolate dawn? Forfend such fears, most gentle death! Release these lovers quite from need of waking. Oh, tumultuous storm of rhythms! Oh, glad chromatic upward surge of metaphysical perception! How find, how bind this bliss so far remote from parting’s torturing pangs? Ah, gentle glow of longing, soothing and kind, ah, yielding sweet- sublime, ah, raptured sinking into the twilight of eternity! Thou Isolde, Tristan I, yet no more Tristan, no more Isolde — (4)

Their duet is Der Liebestod. Thomas Mann’s story is about sickness versus health, death versus life, healthy love versus sick love, healthy art versus sick art. These are constant themes of his. No other writer has diagnosed the European – in his view the particularly, if not peculiarly, German – sickness as surely, investigated it as thoroughly, or described it as exactly as he has done. He offers various terms and phrases for it, among them ‘sympathy with death’, ‘the fascination of decay’, the temptation of the abyss’. It inclines those infected with it to negate the value of life and whatever is life-sustaining; to turn away from light towards darkness. He shows us what results from that choice, to those who make it and through them to their world, their age, their nation, their civilization. In general, those who have the sickness revel in it, holding it to be a treasure of incomparable worth, a distinction, a glory. Not only would they not choose to be cured of it, they pity and despise the uninfected. It is understood to bring with it a superior capacity to feel and understand. It makes artists of them even if they make no art; martyrs even though they serve no cause but their own discontent. And in fact these associations are so widely accepted in Europe, so little questioned, so deeply revered, that to their own intense gratification some of the sickest – of whom I name a few in this essay – are adored by millions (if not necessarily the same millions), to whom they are heroes and saints: heroes of darkness, that is to say, or ‘demonic saints’. Dead, they are revered as ‘tragic’ figures. There are many of them, but a few examples will do.

Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt’s lover, is one . He declared emphatically that he was not concerned with ethics, and taught that ‘sin is living inauthentically’. What he was greatly concerned with was the German nation, which must, he said, ‘preserve at the deepest level those forces that are rooted in the earth and its own blood.’ It was embodied in Adolf Hitler. ‘The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law.’ Hitler, he believed, would ‘heal’ the nation.(5) Only when, contrary to this prediction, the Führer led Germany to defeat and shame, Heidegger at last discerned in its ruins something he could bring himself to call an evil. He wrote, two years after the ending of the Second World War: ‘Perhaps the distinguishing feature of the present age lies in the fact that wholeness as a dimension of experience is closed to us. Perhaps this is the only evil.’ (6) His recondite and perverse teachings continue in the twenty-first century to direct European trends in philosophy, literary criticism, historical research and even legal theory.

Very much concerned with ethics was George Lukács. The notion that the evil-doer is himself the tragic victim of his own evil deed, since in choosing to commit it he makes the ultimate spiritual self-sacrifice ‘of his purity, his morals, his very soul’, excited Lukács to the point of rapture. He was a literary critic and aesthete who became Minister of Culture in the short-lived Communist government of Hungary after the 1919 revolutionary uprising. He considered himself, as Marxists generally do, a great humanitarian. And like many of his intellectual comrades – Lenin, Trotsky, for instance (7) – he could hardly conceive of a more elevated moral deed than an act of terrorism: ‘Only he who acknowledges unflinchingly and without any reservations that murder is under no circumstances to be sanctioned can commit the murderous deed that is truly – and tragically – moral.’ (8) Such a one is the terrorist. He is a heroic martyr because when he murders ‘his brethren’ he does so with awesome courage, knowing full well that he himself must thereby suffer intense agony. So the man who kills in the full knowledge that it is ‘an absolute and unpardonable sin’ is thus sacrificing himself. There is no greater love than to lay down the life of a fellow man.

The French writer Georges Bataille, also a Marxist revolutionary, wrote that he desired human beings, as a species, to move towards ‘an ever more shameless awareness of the erotic bond that links them to death, to cadavers, and to horrible physical pain. — One of a man’s attributes is the derivation of pleasure from the suffering of others, and that erotic pleasure is not only the negation of an agony that takes place at the same instant, but also a lubricious participation in that agony.’ And: ‘The movement,’ he held, ‘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.’ He looked forward to a ‘post-revolutionary phase [of human history] when an antireligious and asocial organization [has] as its goal orgiastic participation in different forms of destruction’. He acknowledged that ‘such an organization, can have no other conception of morality than the one scandalously affirmed for the first time by the Marquis de Sade’. (9) The Marquis de Sade (from whose name the word ‘sadism’ is derived) had notoriously defended and advocated the committing of incest, rape, pedophilia, torture, infanticide, necrophilia, and committed whichever of them he could whenever he could. He wrote of murder that it was ‘often necessary and never criminal’. (10)

Michel Foucault, another comrade and ‘tragic hero’ of the European political left, vastly admired Bataille’s vision and lauded his aims. He endorsed Bataille’s ‘erotic transgression’, rhapsodised over ‘the joy of torture’, and longed to carry out, with his hero, a ‘human sacrifice’; murder performed as a holy act, a spiritual thrill and a work of art. The two of them dreamt of establishing ‘a theatre of cruelty’. But even that would not be enough. Foucault went much further. Cruelty should not be only an occasional act performed for the catharsis of one’s own soul, but a constant part of everyday life; a custom for all to follow. ‘We can and must,’ he wrote, ‘make of man a negative experience, lived in the form of hate and aggression.’ (11) And he did his personal best to make life short and miserable. He contracted AIDS in the bathhouses of San Francisco, and when he knew he had it, returned to infect other men. Experiences of pain, madness, fatal illness were what he called ‘edge situations’, much to be desired because they redeemed existence from its unbearable banality. Evil, in other words, far from being banal itself, was to him a means of redemption from banality.

Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the most adulated of all the twentieth-century philosophers in the French pandemonium, followed Heidegger in the belief that the supreme and most necessary task for a human being was to ‘live authentically’. He tells us what we should do to avoid ‘the sin of living inauthentically’: do what is forbidden because it is forbidden; transgress, for transgression is a way to ‘transcendence’. In other words, do evil to achieve the higher good. All Sartre’s heroes were on the side of the demonic. He proclaimed that the poet Charles Baudelaire’s soul was ‘an exquisite blossom’ because he ‘desired Evil for Evil’s sake’; and because he ‘saw in Satan the perfect type of suffering beauty. Satan, who was vanquished, fallen, guilty — crushed beneath the memory of an unforgivable sin, devoured by insatiable ambition, transfixed by the eye of God — nevertheless prevailed against God, his master and conqueror, by his suffering, by that flame of non-satisfaction which — shone like an unquenchable reproach.’ (12)

One of Baudelaire’s poems in Flowers of Evil lyrically celebrates the ravishment of a putrefying corpse. (An image highly suitable as a logo for the Europe of the ‘love-death’.) Elsewhere he declared: ‘In politics, the true saint is the man who uses his whip and kills the people for their own good.

This rottenness was what Thomas Mann showed Europe in the mirrors he held up, among them the long novel The Magic Mountain, set like Tristan in a Swiss clinic for the treatment of tuberculosis. One of its chief characters, Naphta, a religious voluptuary with a passion for terrorism, is partly modelled on Georg Lukács. There is also his novel Dr Faustus in which the Faust figure is a spiritually corrupt genius, a composer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for musical genius. In mundane terms he intentionally contracts syphilis – as did Baudelaire – and again the physical sickness symbolizes the spiritual one. (Incidentally, syphilis was the disease that killed Hannah Arendt’s father.)

Is Europe redeemable? Goethe’s Faust, who personifies European Romanticism with his longing ‘to explore the heights and the depths’, is redeemed; snatched back from the brink of eternal doom when he has a last minute change of heart and renounces evil (though this of course makes nonsense of the myth, as decisively as Oedipus would make nonsense of his if he failed to kill his father and marry his mother). But Europe – no: Auschwitz doomed Europe beyond any hope of recovery.

NOTES

1. Victor Gollancz, the British publisher, in his own book on the trial.

2. For Hegel’s’ ‘ethics of domination and submission’, and what the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called his ‘brilliant spirit of putridity’ and ‘infamous splendour of corruption’ see Karl Popper The Open Society and its Enemies Volume 1 Hegel & Marx esp. pp 275, 276. For Marx on terrorism, see ref. in note 6 below, and for Marx’s and Engels’s view that certain nations – Poles, Czechs, Slavs – were fit only to be used as canon-fodder or enslaved, see Leopold Schwarzschild The Red Prussian, Pickwick Books, London 1986 p 81, and Nathaniel Weyl Karl Marx, Racist, Arlington House 1980. Nietzsche famously praised evil and the infliction of pain, and recommended the annihilation of millions of ‘botched’ human beings in order to expedite the spiritual strengthening of the emerging Superman. For Heidegger see later in the text and notes 4 & 5 below.

3. The inversion of moral values, orgiastic ritual sinning, and defiance of the law as means to a higher good, characterized Gnostic religious cults in the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages.

4. Trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter

5. Hugo Ott Martin Heidegger: A Political Life trans. Allan Blunden, HarperCollins, 1993 p 167, quoting Heidegger’s rectorial address at the University of Freiburg, May 27, 1933.

6. Letter on Humanism by Martin Heidegger, 1946.

7. For a succinct account of the views of Marx, Trotsky and Lenin on the virtue of terrorism, see Roberta Goren The Soviet Union and Terrorism, ed. Jillian Becker, George Allen & Unwin, London and Boston, 1984.

8. Georg Lukács Tactics and Ethics. He wrote this as an approving summary of an idea expressed by Boris V. Savinkov (who wrote under the name of Ropshin) in his novel The Pale Horse. Lukács admired this novelist for his ‘new manifestation of an old conflict’ between ‘duties towards social structure’ and ‘imperatives of the soul’ – the conflict with which Bataille, de Sade, Foucault, Heidegger, and Sartre were also centrally concerned.

9. Georges Bataille Visions of Excess: Selected Writing 1927-1934 ed. & trans. Allan Stoeckl, Manchester University Press, 1985 p 69

10. The Marquis de Sade Philosophy in the Boudoir.

11. James Miller The Passion of Michel Foucault, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993 pp 204, 206.

12. Jean-Paul Sartre Baudelaire Trans. Martin Turnell

Jillian Becker July 20, 2010