The Darkness of This World (Part 1) 2

The Darkness of This World

essays on

The Pursuit of Evil in

Our Gnostic Age

PART ONE

1

The Ancient Gnostic Cults

French philosophers in the last century advocated the deliberate doing of evil. Why? Maybe they were helpless instruments of the Zeitgeist. Maybe they were insane.

There was a time long ago when dozens of philosophers, or mystics, or religious teachers, did the same: they taught that this world is evil, and the moral thing to do in an evil world is disobey its moral laws.

Their cults arose and flourished in the 1st and (mostly) the 2nd century C.E., and their doctrine came to be called “Gnosticism” by post-Renaissance historians.[1]  It is derived from their belief that some human beings are capable of escaping this evil world and entering an eternal sphere of pure goodness by being blessed with an inner knowledge of the otherwise unknowable Godhead who dwells there. This intuitive knowledge they called, in Greek, the Gnosis.

The reversing of conventional values so characterized the old Gnostics that they might also be called “reversalists”. It was their reversal of values, not their doctrine of intuitive knowledge, that made them dangerous in the ancient world. And as certain recent thinkers propound just such a reversal of values, the word Gnostic is applied to them. Modern Gnostics (or “post-modern” as many of them prefer to call themselves) have had a significant and baneful influence on our age.

In this series of essays we will be looking with a hard and critical – not to say merciless – eye at a selection of influential Gnostics, including French philosophers, Russian revolutionaries, Austrian actionist artists, Teutonic terrorists, English entertainers, and American academics.

 

Jillian Becker    June 23, 2013

NOTES

1. See our posts on some of these Gnostic cults:

The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus, and Menander)

How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion)

Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes)

Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010

Valentinus, February 14, 2011

The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars)

Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites)

The sinning Jesus, the laughing Christ, and the Big Bang of Basilides, April 6, 2013

Also see:

Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013

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2

Rejection of This World

The Gnostic in ancient, medieval, and modern times, rejects “this world”.

To the Gnostic of the early centuries C.E., “this world” was the physical earth and everything on it, all created by an inferior god. He knew that somewhere, elsewhere, there was something immeasurably better, purely good, because he had a minute spark within him – gifted to him by a higher source of existence who was Goodness itself – which informed him through his intuition that it was so. This inner spark was his Gnosis (Knowledge). Having it, he was on to the scam that nature and the ignorant mass of mankind tried to put over on him. So he fought against the world, a saintly warrior for the Good. He fought against nature by defying it – refusing to beget children; and against civilization by reversing its values – declaring everything commonly believed good to be evil, and everything commonly believed evil to be good. His reward lay beyond and above this world. [1]

To the Gnostic of the Middle Ages, “this world” was not only this earth but also the Catholic (Universal) Church. Informed by that same Gnosis which guided the Gnostic of antiquity from within, he fought against Catholic doctrine and practice with the same refusals and reversals. To him everything the Church believed and did was evil; its priests were the servants of Hell. The Church would sniff him out, hunt him down, destroy his body with fire, but he would rise after death to the realm of the Good. [2]

To the Gnostic of our era, “this world” is the political-economic system of the Western nation-state. As a warrior for a never-yet-realized reign of the Good on this earth, he fights against the established order in theory and practice. He holds the values honored by custom and defended by law to be evil; the values they abhor to be good. He does not want to reform or improve the system; he wants it wholly overthrown. He is a revolutionary. He feels passionately that “this world” needs to be transformed.

Recently commentators have been writing about traditional Western values being inverted.

We live in a backwards world in which the decent are regarded as indecent, defenders of western institutions are considered as terrorists, correct naming is derogated and often prosecuted as slander and “hate speech”, violence is justified if committed by our enemies, unseasonable cold weather is interpreted as an infallible sign of global warming … It is a world in which Iran[3] chairs the UN Conference on Disarmament; and Syria [4] was recently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. … We have, for the most part, colluded in an agreement that upside-down down is right-side-up, backwards is forwards, and madness is sanity … [5]

In the essay quoted, David Solway cites a book by Melanie Phillips (whom I much admire for her courageous and percipient defense of many a just cause). It is titled The World Turned Upside Down. [6] She believes that the topsy-turviness – which she deplores – results from a loss of faith in “God” and detachment from the West’s “Judeo-Christian roots”. I have no doubt that Europe is becoming less religious. But I do not think Christianity (which is what is generally meant by “Judeo-Christian roots”) was good for the West, or its values ideal. Nor are they the values that are being inverted. The values that the Gnostic revolutionary scorns are those of the Enlightenment.

Enlightenment thinking was rational, skeptical, and humane. Gnostic ideology is emotional, dogmatic, and cruel.

Daniel Greenfield – the editor and writer chiefly responsible for the sustained excellence of Front Page Magazine – comments on a Time Magazine article typical of topsy-turvy thinking among media pundits:

News coverage has nothing to do with reality. Instead it is a deliberate inversion of reality in which the murderers are the heroes and the greatest threat comes from their victims. The bad guys are the good guys. The good guys are the bad guys. The slavery of Islam is freedom. The freedom of America and Israel is slavery because it has to be defended against the slavery of Islam. [7]

Such defiance of civilized values arose as a significant historical factor with the Romantic movement around the middle of the 18th century. The Romantics hated the Industrial Revolution, its “dark satanic mills”, its noise and ugliness. They did not care if it made life better for most people – which it did, however ugly and squalid living conditions were at first for the workers in the industrial cities. The Romantic movement was a backlash against the Enlightenment, against scientific and technological advance, against capitalism, against reality. Romantics dreamt of utopias: beautiful societies consisting of ideal human beings who would live for the happiness of their fellow creatures and share all material goods. And all they had to do to win such a world was, they believed, to destroy the world they lived in. Merciless brutality to living people would be justified by the creation of a heaven on earth inhabited by imaginary angelic beings.

Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Alinskyism, Environmentalism … all revolutionary ideologies spawned by the Romantic rebellion against the Enlightenment.

How do the revolutionaries know that after vast destruction their beautiful new world will be born? They know it. They are the Gnostics of the modern age.

They made revolutions in the twentieth century, whether by constitutional process or by violence. They took the reins of power and set about creating their new worlds, which lasted for years here and decades there; and wherever their utopias were, and in the name of whichever ideology they were governed, they stand out as exceptionally marked by terror, pain, cruelty, despair and death.

But the idealists learnt no lesson from the failure of their terrible experiments. The dreamers did not lose their faith. Instead of fading away, withered by disgust and contempt, the faith spread, and is becoming so prevalent that some observers – I among them – see it now as characterizing the West.

The Gnostics who dream on of destroying our civilization should not be ignored. What have they said and done? What are they saying now? We must pay attention. They mean it.

 

Jillian Becker July 14, 2013

NOTES

1.These are the essays on ancient Gnostic sects in the The Atheist Conservative: How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus and Menander); Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Valentinus, February 14, 2011; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites); The sinning Jesus, the laughing Christ, and the Big Bang of Basilides, April 6, 2013. See also Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013.

2. These are the essays on Gnosticism in the Middle Ages: Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars). In the Bugomils’ case, their resistance was maintained against both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

3. Iran is working to become a nuclear-armed power, and has threatened Israel with total destruction.

4. The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, like his father before him, is notorious for the oppression, torture, and mass killing of tens of thousands of his own people.

5. David Solway, Living in a Backwards World, frontpagemag.com, July 2, 2013.

6. The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth and Power, by Melanie Phillips, Encounter Books, New York, 2010.

7. Daniel Greenfield, Time Mag: Muslim Terror No, Buddhist Terror Yes, in The Point, frontpagemag.com, July 11, 2013.

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3

New Age

New Age religion is – according to taste and judgment – a rich diversity of “spiritualities”, or a junk-heap of irrationalities.

It arose in the West as an unplanned rejection movement against reason, science, capitalism, Western political institutions and cultural norms, often to the point of antinomianism. It started as a counter-culture, but many of its beliefs and practices have come to be accepted as normal. Most obviously it impacts the lives of almost everyone in developed countries through Environmentalism, one of the most successful of its superstitions.

New Age includes mythical, mystical, and simply fantastical cult ingredients. Its theorists draw on the occult and witchcraft; on religions of the Far East [1]; on the modern mystic faith of psycho-analysis (in particular the theories of C. G. Jung); on Richard Wagner’s mythology and mysticism [2]; on UFO legends; on “alternative” Western religious cults and systems – Scientology, Mormonism, Hare Krishna, Shamanism, pop-Kabala, Environmentalism. Among its assorted mysticisms and occultisms are: astrology [3]; fortune telling by tarot cards, I Ching, Ouija boards; spirit guides; processes of faith healing or imaginary empowerment through the use of crystals and pyramids; chanting, dancing, meditation, Yoga exercises. It was partly inspired by the hundred-plus years old, Orient-derived, Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky, and its offshoots, including the Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner with their theories of education, art, agriculture, and health.

As a religion rather than a life-style movement – which it has primarily become – New Age is loosely likened to the Gnostic sects of the 2nd century and the Middle Ages because it is mystical, esoteric, and challenging to the “revealed” religions. There are also specific similarities.

First, like the Gnostics of old, New Age acolytes revile the “God of the bible” (whatever they conceive him to be – Jehovah, “God the Father”, or the Trinity), and they “know” the “true God” by innate knowledge.

Second, as in the Gnostic cults, there is a hierarchy of classes in New Age doctrine. The divisions are according to “spiritual” ability. The highest class is that of the adepts, the Masters, who have attained “cosmic consciousness”. They know they possess the innate knowledge (gnosis) of the real God. Below them are Disciples, whose minds are open to New Age teaching but have yet to master it. At the bottom are the rest, “animal men”, unenlightened by the faith.

Third, those who have the gift – the Masters – can release, or bring to consciousness, or make effective, or bring into being (all of those effects are stated or implied at different times), the “divinity” they “know” is within them by achieving a state of ecstasy. And like the Gnostics of old, they do this by taking drugs and indulging in sexual libertinism. Each New Age participant’s “divine blood” asserts itself as the right guide to human thought and action. In a New Age orgy, “group-consciousness” reveals itself and exerts its will.

Fourth, in New Age as in old Gnosticism, believers rebel against ethical norms by reversing conventional values: what is generally accepted as good is held to be bad, and vice versa.

But in one important respect there is a difference between old Gnosticism and New Age. To almost all the old Gnostics, this earth and everything on it (except their inner spark of Knowledge) was evil, the creation of an evil God, so they were defying evil by doing what the ignorant masses called sinning; defiling their bodies to express scorn for the dirt they were made of [4]. But New Age holds the earth sacred, and sensual experience is a sacrament in itself, often the supreme sacrament.

The old Gnostics, to defy the Creator God, would destroy his earth to save man – or at least themselves. The new Gnostics claim to be God, at least potentially, and would destroy man – or at least a lot of other people – to save the earth [5].

Being a hotch-potch of beliefs – belief in almost anything that reason rejects – New Age religion inevitably contains contradictions. For instance, while some of its authoritative theorists hold that the divine dwells within the human species (even in the “animal men”, the general theory implies) [6], the earth is an external and separate goddess, “Mother Earth”, identical to her whom the ancient Greeks called Gaia. She has suffered “ecological wounds” through human industrial activity (thus the specie-sin of “anthropogenic global warming”), and she needs to be “healed”.

These different attitudes to nature between the ancient and the new cults entail different attitudes to sex. To the ancient Gnostics, everything material, including the human body, was evil, so they indulged in sacramental orgies of conventionally forbidden sex in order to defy the Creator God of this world and his commandments. But New Age orgies – similarly considered to be sacraments – are performed as acts of Earth worship. They celebrate the physical, not scorn it. [7] Sensual pleasure is a good in itself. The performance of communal rituals – chanting, dancing, sado-masochistic sex, all-gender-inclusive sex (with male homosexuality particularly stressed by Matthew Fox [8]) – advances the coming into being of a new synthesized God: “I” become God; “we” become God; Man, God, and Nature become One, and the one is the universal God, the “Cosmic Christ”.

New Age writing is full of vapid declarations expressed with stirring passion rather than semantic sense. It is verbal impressionism. Matthew Fox, for instance – one of the most widely read New Age writers –  blends “the Cosmic Christ” with “Mother Earth”. The Cosmic Christ is an eternal Being who became incarnate in Jesus – so far in tune with at least some long-established Christianities – but is also (if not exactly “incarnate” by the actual meaning of the word, “made flesh”), one with Mother Earth. She is crucified like Jesus; and as such she is a symbol of the incarnated Cosmic Christ, or of the Cosmic Christ as Jesus crucified; or Jesus crucified is a symbol of Mother Earth crucified:

The appropriate symbol of the Cosmic Christ who became incarnate in Jesus is that of Jesus as Mother Earth crucified yet rising daily … like Jesus, she rises from her tomb every day [so not quite like Jesus] … wounded, yet rising, Mother Earth blesses us each day. [9]

New Age has had an effect on conventional religious institutions. Some of the established churches, Catholic and Protestant, have picked out bits from New Age to add flavor to their own offerings [10] – which may indicate how weary, stale, flat and washed out they must feel their own faiths to be. As for social and political effects, New Age cults contribute cumulatively to the character of the times, but most of them have had little or no effect on major events.

There are two exceptions. One is Liberation Theology (an emulsion of two opiates of the people, Marxism and Catholicism), which has had an historical effect in South America as an ideological cause of the rise of terrorist organizations.

Marxism comes into our purview. New Age harmonizes with Marxism easily, both being collectivist ideologies. In almost all its manifestations, New Age requires group practice. Its ultimate vision is of a single shared human consciousness (rather like the imaginary alien species called the Borg in Star Trek, whose every individual is one with the “hive mind”). The Catholic writer Teilhard de Chardin had a strong influence on New Age theory. In his book The Future of Man, he foresees “the end of a ‘thinking species’; not disintegration and death, but a new breakthrough and a rebirth, this time outside Time and Space. Man would at some future time ‘form a single consciousness’.” [11] ). New Age goes further yet: humanity will share its communal consciousness with the Earth. [12]

Marxism and magic (and pacifism and feminism), came together in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), starting in Britain in 1958 and continuing through the next three decades. Most of the CND protestors did not know that their leaders received funding from the USSR; they were simply the “useful idiots” of Lenin’s famous phrase. In the early 1980s a Women’s Peace Camp was set up on Greenham Common in Berkshire to protest against NATO cruise missiles being deployed at the RAF base situated there. The women would hold up mirrors to “reflect the evil” of the weapons back over the fence.

The other exception is Environmentalism, which has entranced half the population of the First World and pesters the whole human race.

Other than these, New Age cults, though numerous, are for the most part comparatively harmless and few will be mentioned in these essays. Most New Age leaders and followers don’t think of themselves as doing evil, only redefining what good is. Homosexuality was bad until the 1960s; so to New Age devotees it was super-good. Alternative medical practices were bad; so to New Age devotees they were super-good. One of the most egregious examples of New Age success, of how it has penetrated even some institutions that by their nature should be impregnable to cults of unreason, is that practitioners of “alternative medicine” are working alongside physicians and surgeons in Western hospitals. They may do harm, but they probably do not intend to.

What these essays are concerned with is the deliberate choosing of evil. They are not about common crime, nor the immoral things everybody does from time to time. They are about evil intended as such, and the intended evil is the willful harming of human beings. The doing of it is advocated by a self-elected elite – intellectuals who claim to have a vision beyond the understanding of the rest of us – with verbal violence to scandalize the conventional. They often rationalize it with sophisticated philosophical excuses, arguing for instance that it is necessary for the attainment of a “higher good” for the whole human race, including the uncomprehending masses. The “higher good” is different now, the excuses more sophisticated, more subtle and complicated than they were for the Gnostics of old. The sins are less ingenuous, the evil more profound and more extensive. In sum, the new Gnostics are far more dangerous and destructive than the old.

Not only is evil preached, simulated in theatre or performance art, solemnly celebrated in religious or quasi-religious ceremonies, it is also done in reality. While most of its priests and shamans confine themselves to gestures and make-believe, others do it.

 

Jillian Becker    September 5, 2013

NOTES

1. The re-interpreted oriental religions are chiefly Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and Hinduism, and in particular the doctrine of reincarnation. The re-interpretations were brought to the West by Indian gurus (such the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, popularized by The Beatles). Some Westerners took themselves to the East to garner its wisdoms and returned home with a new name and guru status (such as Richard Alpert, a Bostonian psychologist who journeyed to India and returned as Guru Ram Dass – see Understanding the New Age by Russell Chandler, Word Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1988, p 63).

2. Wagner’s myths – Lohengrin, Siegfried, Parsifal – were superficially Christian and his heroes Christ-like redeemers. But he dilates at length in his massive prose writings on what is wrong with Christianity and Judaism, especially Judaism and even more especially Jews. He was of the opinion that Jews could only be redeemed by annihilating themselves. The Germans, he declared, needed to be “emancipated from the Jews”; “redeemed” from them by a real-life Parsifal. He praised pre-Christian polytheism. He praised the ancient Greeks for being “intuitive” – which means he loved the savage rites of their Dionysus worship, but ignored their fertile use of reason, their invention of logic and science. Reason, he opined, was a Jewish thing. He drew mostly on Nordic legends, which he considered quintessentially German. Among the ideas he passionately promoted were these: German heroes act out of feeling, not reason, being moved by “the god within”; the only god dwells within us and within nature; there is a “world spirit”, the quintessence of Being, which is within both Man (Germans, that is) and nature; “We are God” and “to become God we need only instinctive Knowledge of the Self” – the indwelling divinity; the taking of hashish releases the feeling of being divine. As poet-priest and prophet, he looked to the coming of a German leader – a Führer – who would mount a “destructive revolution to destroy our civilization”, a civilization which he despised as weak, unheroic, built by Jews. He died before his prophesied Führer was born, but Hitler was intensely inspired by Wagner’s operas from the age of twelve, when he saw one for the first time. It was Lohengrin. And there is a portrait of Hitler as Lohengrin, not (disappointingly) mounted ludicrously on a swan as the knight is in the opera, but on a black horse, in white Medieval armor, carrying the Nazi flag, his head in profile, scowling, unmistakable with his little brushy mustache. The echoes of Wagner’s ideas in New Age are loud and clear. To hear a full discussion of them, go to a YouTube video titled: Wagner’s Musical Religion: Art, Politics, Genocide, in which two authorities on Wagner, Margaret Brearley and Robert Wistrich, lecture on his life and works and quote his words.

3. Astrology and the signs of the zodiac feature large among New Age superstitions. The New Age is also called “The Age of Aquarius”.

4. One exception among the old Gnostics was Epiphanes. He contradicted the usual Gnostic belief that this world is evil. All creation, he taught, belongs to all mankind. In his rituals, sexual intercourse was performed publicly as a sacred rite and called a love-feast. Drugs, especially aphrodisiacs, were routinely used. When he died at the age of 17, the islanders of Cephalonia, where his mother came from, built a temple to him and proclaimed him a god. His memory was also honored there with a museum which housed the many books he had found time to write in his short life. We have been protected from them by the Christian Church; but the Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, who was allowed to read them before they were destroyed, has left us brief summaries of their contents. Clement’s account shows Epiphanes to have been full of “back to nature” idealism; a lover of animals; an aesthete moved by the beauty of the earth and the starry skies, rather than one who condemned this world as a place of darkness. God lets the light of the sun and the stars, Epiphanes said, fall equally on all human beings. Even the beasts are blessed by the light. Each man and beast takes his enjoyment of it without depleting it for any other. The sun causes the earth to be fruitful and the fruits of the earth are for all. Beasts are exemplars of communitarian life, and being so they are righteous. Together they graze, equal, harmonious, and innocent. And so would we be had not the Law made transgression possible. The Law “nibbled away” the fellowship of nature. Righteousness lies in fellowship and equality, in sharing and caring, which is to say in mutual and general love. Into every male God put vigorous and impetuous desire for the sake of the continuance of the human race. No law can take that away. It is right and good for a man to enjoy sexually every woman he desires. That a law should say ‘Thou shalt not covet’ is laughable. And the very idea of marriage is absurd since all women naturally belong to all men. (For more see Erotic religion, The Atheist Conservative, January 24 2010.)

5. The anti-human campaign among Environmentalists will be the subject of a later essay.

6. In some texts it is “within everything”.

7. “All worship leaders need to be instructed … in body awareness and awakening’.” The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance by Matthew Fox, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988, pp 216f – quoted in Matthew Fox and the Cosmic Christ, an essay by Margaret Brearley in Anvil, Vol. 9, No 1, 1992, p 44. I have relied on Dr Brearley’s meticulous scholarship, and with her permission taken my examples from her papers on New Age – and Matthew Fox in particular – so avoiding the punitive labor of reading more than a very few New Age texts myself. Most of the words and phrases marked as quotations come from this source.

8. “In practice Fox demands: worship in circles, ‘preferably on the soil of Mother Earth’ (Fox p 217); the centrality of Eros; and the breaking of divisions between body and mind using ‘rituals of the native peoples’. These would include sweat lodges in every church and synagogue, Sun dances with drumming, moon rituals, drinking the ‘blood of the cosmos’ and radically replacing the existing liturgical calendar. Fox seriously suggests, for example, that each Sunday could be devoted to celebrating a different organ of the body.” (Brearley, p 46]. “Fox cites the Hindu god Shiva, the creator and destroyer [as saying]: ‘The phallos is identical with me …. The phallos is … the symbol of the god’, and adds: ‘This is Cosmic Christ language …. There alone will men recover active respect and reverence for their own amazing powers’ (p 176). Fox teaches that one must ‘recover the sense of sacred phallos … by way of drumming, dancing and entering into the irrational processes … puberty rites … celebrating one’s chthonic wholeness in the company of male adults’ (p 177). ‘Love beds are altars’ (p 177) and the sense of lust should be recovered as power and therefore as virtue: ‘it takes courage to be lustful.’ (p 178) Mystical sexuality is an ‘important base for cultural renewal and personal spiritual grounding’ (p 179). … ‘[G]ay people need to lead straight people.’” (Brearley p 45)

9. Fox p 145 (Brearley p 44)

10. Although Matthew Fox writes such predictions as this: “Christianity as we know it now will not survive …. The issue is the survival … of Mother Earth” (Fox p 149) [Brearley 54], New Age doctrine has made “inroads into the Protestant and Catholic Church worldwide” and “creation liturgies inspired by creation spirituality are increasingly being used in cathedrals and churches”. (Brearley p 53)

11. Teilhard de Chardin, trs. N. Denny, The Future of Man, Collins, London 1969 p 302 (Brearley p 46).

12. Another leading New Age writer and spirit medium, David Spangler, also visualizes a “planetary spirituality” which “will be holistic, affirming interconnectedness and Gaia; it will be androgynous, mystical, global – with ‘world communion’ -, and will seek synthesis of person and planet. Above all, the New Age is a spirit, a ‘presence made up of the collective spirit of humanity, and the spirit of our world, of Gaia’.” [D. Spangler, Reflections on the Christ, Findhorn Publications, Findhorn 1981, p.84. [Brearley p 52]

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4

The Counter-Culture

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.[1] 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. [2]

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. [3] 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.[4]

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. Punk was working-class. Punk rockers did not perform their sado-masochistic acts in the name of Holy Art. They did it against art. “Our only god is money,” some down-to-earth punk rockers said. I mention them because many became famous and popular, so are a distinct part of our age’s widespread fascination with evil. In the unintellectual world of pop-culture in the 1970s, pop musicians gave themselves names like Rotten and Vomit. They appeared on stage in London and New York and Los Angeles bleeding and bruised, with shaved heads, some as thin as victims of prolonged famine. But they were not, like most of the advocates of evil discussed in these essays, middle-class Leftist intellectual revolutionaries. (A few were neo-Nazi.) In an article in the magazine New York on October 15, 1970, titled No Such Thing As Punk, the writer, Cynthia Heimel, reported that Eric Hoffert, the lead guitarist of The Speedies, said: “None of us just sit around and smoke pot and stuff. We’re totally capitalists. In fact, we are pro-nuke.”

2. 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 to The 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.)

3. 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.

4. 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.

*

5

Reason versus Romanticism

Sensitive souls recoiled from the products of reason; from the iron mills of new industries with their grating noise, the vulgar crowds swarming into the cities and decking themselves out in the cheap finery they helped to mass-produce. Sensitive souls hated the cheerful optimism of the growing urban middle class, the healthy economy, and fat Britannia setting her imperial boundaries wider and wider across the world. Their reaction was to look inward; to seek emotional solace, become preoccupied with feeling; and often to find a perverted form of satisfaction in melancholy and illness. Such was the despondent though also rapturous mood, the sad sick spirit of nostalgia and unfocussed longing that spread over Europe like a miasma and came to be called the Romantic Movement. It is conveyed beautifully by the best of the Romantic poets, John Keats in a poem he composed not long before he died of pulmonary tuberculosis. “My heart aches … at times I have been half in love with easeful death …. leave the world … fade away into the forest dim … dissolve, and quite forget … the weariness, the fever, and the fret … where men sit and hear each other groan … palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs … youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies … but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs … beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, or new love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”[1]

To the Romantic the truth was what he felt. His senses and his emotions told him all he needed to know. He knew instinctively that the only real sin was not to act on one’s desires. “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires”, wrote another Romantic poet, William Blake.[2] Lord Byron thought that “the great object of life is sensation”; and Jean Jacques Rousseau that “to feel is to exist”. And to act on your desires was to distance yourself from the iron mills of industry, from the “madding crowds”, from trade and filthy lucre, and be natural. The Natural Man was conjured up as an ideal: the ideal of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wrote inspiringly on how children should be educated, yet acting on his feelings, abandoned all his own five children to die of neglect in foundling homes; and the ideal of the Marquis de Sade, who acting on his feelings, practiced sexual torture so notoriously appalling that his name became a synonym for cruelty; and the ideal of many another powdered gentleman of the salons, many a lady in her taffetas and silks (woven in those iron mills.)

The more deeply you felt, or the more insistently you claimed to feel, the more special you were – and the more moral. You might be cruel or criminal, but if you acted out of passion, love, idealism, you were morally excusable. Passion being nature-driven, could not be wrong.

Romantic people sought continual stimulation of the emotions and the senses. Opium was “eaten” by who-knew-how-many to enhance the feelings. They worshipped Art as ardently as they worshipped Nature. Beauty was their highest value. “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty”, John Keats wrote, and added “That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”[3] It is a veritable motto of Romanticism. (But “truth” can only apply to statements, and that statement is untrue.)

They worshipped beauty, but their senses and emotions were not satisfied with it. They hungered for more piquant fare; for the outré, the abnormal, the bizarre, the grotesque, the frightening; for freaks, monsters and vampires; in sum, for the conventionally forbidden, which meant … for evil. Edgar Allen Poe supplied what was wanted. The Marquis de Sade’s Juliette and Justine fed the appetites of sensitive rape-fantasists. Frankenstein built his pathetic monster in Mary Shelley’s tale, illustrating a fear she felt, and giving warning that experimental science was a dangerous enterprise. And at the end of the same century, Bram Stoker published his Gothic horror novel Dracula which continues to inspire romantic dreams of blood-sucking to this day.

But for the most sensitive, such spiritual sustenance was too farfetched, or too coarse and common. They wanted their spine-tingling to come from subtler art; just a taste, a soupçon of evil. So rose the “demon lover” to gratify the more refined literary taste. He was wild as Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the natural amoral lover whose passion burnt so fiercely it would gruesomely defy death and rise from the grave to haunt the living. But he could also be well-bred, like Mr Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a Regency gentleman yet a dark master with a dark secret. Lord Byron, a literary construct in himself, was perceived as just such a dashing menace; a poetic genius, contemptuous of the boring morals of civilized society.

A favored word of the age was “sensibility”, meaning much the same as “sensitivity”. In literature it was a debilitating thing at its gentlest, wearying to the heart, and at its fiercest, a tempest in the soul. But the two great English literary geniuses of the nineteenth century, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, were not captivated by it.

Jane Austen weighed it up against the quality she admired most, “sense”, and found “sensibility” inferior. Good sense (along with good humor and good will) distinguish her heroes and heroines, even if some of them have to come to it through hard experience.

And Dickens, though he occasionally – since he hoped to please a wide variety of tastes – took a stab at romantic melodrama, and though he always delighted in eccentricity, saw passion as a menacing form of madness, as in the schoolmaster Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. From Bradley Headstone’s marriage proposal to Lizzie Hexam: “’You draw me to you. If I were shut up in a strong prison, you would draw me out. I should break through the wall to come to you. If I were lying on a sick-bed, you would draw me up – to stagger to your feet and fall there.’ The wild energy of the man, now quite let loose, was absolutely terrible. … ‘You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men mean when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is, that I am under the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resisted in vain and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of my thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being the ruin of me…’” (Frightened and repelled by him, Lizzie refuses his offer kindly but firmly.) “’Then,’ said he, suddenly, changing his tone and turning to her, and bringing his clenched hand down upon the stone with a force that laid his knuckles raw and bleeding; ‘then I hope that I may never kill him’ (alluding to a man he believes is his rival for her affections)”.[4]

Fire, blood, gallows, murder, sick-bed, prison, death … Dickens’s verdict on it all is unqualified revulsion: “the wild energy of the man was absolutely terrible”. Such a man would never be the hero of a Dickens novel. Someone far more civilized, sane, at ease with himself, full of cheer – the one Headstone hopes he will never kill – wins Lizzie’s hand in marriage. In any case, Dickens was never more than a side-glance away from laughter, and he – like Jane Austen – located lasting happiness in prosperous, mundane, conventional, domestic contentment. For him too, sense outweighed sensibility.

Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were true children or grandchildren of the Enlightenment, true heirs to the Age of Reason. They laughed more than they lamented. They were of the middle-class and comfy in it.[5]

The Romantic vision was validated by a powerful sense of inner conviction, needing no proof other than its own strength. Romantics saw themselves as belonging to an elite, more sensitive to beauty than the common run of mankind, and with a truer vision or understanding of what life should be. They sought redemption not from sin but by sin (or by what the conventional bourgeois called “sin”). It was Gnosticism without a church, but with many lay priests at many altars making their offerings of art and passion, and their sacrifices of health – and life itself.

For some Romantics, it wasn’t enough to express themselves in the making or adoring of poetry, novels, painting, music, drama to compensate for what they saw as the squalor of industrial civilization. They wanted life to be more beautiful – more aesthetic – not only for themselves, but for the nations. They would refashion civilization itself, change the way people lived, the social order; even if the bringing in of a new order necessarily also brought death and destruction on an immense scale.[6]

So arose Romantic politics, the terrible man-eating monster of modernity.

 

Jillian Becker     December 1, 2013

NOTES

1. From Ode to a Nightingale, by John Keats.

2. From Proverbs of Hell in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake.

3. From Ode on a Grecian Urn, by John Keats.

4. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, Book the Second, Chapter XV.

5. “The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel,” wrote Horace Walpole, an aristocrat, the son of Britain’s first prime minister Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford. His “Gothic” romance, The Castle of Otranto, was the very model of the genre, but is not without humor.

6. “Destruction is a creative act”, declared the Russian revolutionary, Mihail Bakunin, who preached an ideal world which was to be simultaneously free and unfree, ordered and disordered. He called his ideology “libertarian socialism” or “collectivist anarchism”.

*

6

Two Revolutions

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.

Not only because of his ideas but also because of his character, Rousseau might fairly be called Romanticism personified. In him one sees its virtue and its vices. He could write beautifully – that’s the virtue. The vices? He favored faith over reason and rejected philosophical skepticism. He was an introvert, a sociopath, a hypocrite. He was physically and mentally sick. He was passionate, and incapable of logical thinking. He was a Calvinist, then a Catholic, then a Calvinist again, and then offended all Christians with a defense of religion. What sort of religion? One in which God could only be found and understood by intuition – the old argument of the Gnostics. His defense of it not only offended the Churches but also the state, from the anger of which he fled France and sought asylum for a time in England. There he was hospitably received and generously assisted by David Hume. In return, Rousseau heaped crazy accusations and insults on the great philosopher’s head, so proving to be also a spiteful ingrate.

A few of Rousseau’s political ideas, set out in his treatise “Du Contrat Social” (“Of the Social Contract”) were congenial to the American founding fathers: sovereignty of the people, the rule of law, separation of legislature and government. But others they did not like: his ardent opposition to private property, and his advocacy for economic equality – essential doctrines of an ideology that would later be called Communism – were fortunately not appreciated by the framers of the American Constitution.

The central idea of the Social Contract was “consensual collectivism” brought about by the “collective will” of the people – a romantic idea if ever there was one, since such a thing did not exist.[1] It absurdly required human nature to change and become unselfish, just as Christianity had done. Human nature was no more likely to obey Rousseau than Paul of Tarsus. In both cases, however, once the notion was seeded in the minds of idealists, it rooted and grew like a tenacious weed, ineradicably.

Strangely perhaps in our hindsight, Rousseau himself did not propose revolution in France. But his most ardent disciple, Maximilien de Robespierre, did. In his own eyes Robespierre was spokesman of the “popular” – or collective – will. The citizens, he said, were virtuous – in particular the class of the urban worker (a class that later collectivists were to call “the proletariat”); and he, being morally pure, was the man to express its will. He was called “the Incorruptible”.

As interpreter of the will of the people, Robespierre the Incorruptible and his fellow leaders of the revolution – Danton, Marat, Saint-Just, Mirabeau, Desmoulins – set up what Robespierre called a “despotism of liberty against tyranny”. And against the tyranny of the monarchical regime, those lovers of liberty soon initiated a despotism more oppressive than anything that had gone before it in recent reigns of the kings of France. It is known as “la Terreur”, or the Reign of Terror.(2]

“Terror,” Robespierre announced, “is justice, prompt, severe and inflexible. It is an emanation of virtue.” Without it, he solemnly asserted, virtue would be impotent. It was a way of saying that evil could be done in the name of a higher good.

The blade of the guillotine was kept busy and thickly stained with blood as, to the roar of approving crowds, it sliced through the necks of those whom the “despots of liberty” called tyrants or “enemies of the Revolution”: the King, Louis XVI in January, 1793 – before “la Terreur” had even begun; the Queen, Marie Antoinette later that year in October; aristocrats; workers and peasants. In all, some 40,000 persons were not virtuous enough in the eyes of Robespierre and his fellow high-minded revolutionaries to be allowed to live. [3]

One of the aristocrats who were spared was the Marquis de Sade. He was appointed as a judge, but sent to prison on the charge of being too moderate in that capacity! It confirms how extreme the terror was that this man, whose very name has become a synonym for cruelty, was considered by his virtuous peers to be insufficiently cruel.

In time the revolution “devoured its own children”. Madame la Guillotine eventually sliced through the necks of Robespierre and Saint-Just, Danton and Desmoulins. Mirabeau died mysteriously. And Marat, a doctor and veterinarian, was stabbed to death by a passionate lady full of romantic ideas a little different from his own, as he cooled his burning, itching, diseased skin in a bathtub.

Unlike the American revolution, which was an entirely reasonable revolt against tyranny and resulted in the establishment of a new nation with a Constitution designed to ensure liberty[4], the French revolution was a romantic enterprise from its inception, and although carried out in the name of liberty, in actuality it surpassed the royal regime in tyranny and cruelty.

Although the American and the French revolutions were so different – the one an achievement of reason and the other begun and ended in the madness of romantic idealism – ideas from France influenced the revolutionaries of America, and the American revolution itself encouraged the French revolution, inspired by the essential concept of republicanism: that the people should be sovereign. In addition to Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Montesquieu were thinkers taken seriously in both America and France. Thomas Paine also took an active part in both revolutions. Montesquieu – inspired by the thought of John Locke[5] – saw the need for limiting the powers of governments. Even those bound by the rule of law, he argued, could become despotic. To prevent that happening, he worked out a system in which power is divided between legislative, executive, and judicial branches, each branch exercising a check on the power of the others – an idea put into practice by the framers of the American Constitution.

 

Jillian Becker     December 8, 2013

NOTES

1. Rousseau, unlike later collectivist idealists such as Stalin, did allow individuals to drop out if they couldn’t stand being part of the collective – at least in theory. More in sorrow than in anger, he saw such people as freaks of nature.

2. The Reign of Terror is precisely dated: 5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794.

3. Of those executed, about 8 percent were aristocrats; 6 percent clergy; 14 percent middle class; and 72 percent urban workers or peasants, many of whom were punished for rebellion against the revolutionary regime. It must be remembered of course that there were far more workers and peasants than there were aristocrats and churchmen. Wikipedia gives these figures: 16,594 executed by guillotine (2,639 in Paris), and another 25,000 in summary executions across France. Many were sent to their execution without a trial.

4. The Constitution of the USA was framed to ensure the personal liberty of the individual, but at the time of this writing there is a government that does not like that idea. The president manifestly prefers collectivism, and he is managing to evade the checks and balances of the Constitution, extend the power of the executive, and step by step restrict individual freedom.

5. Locke – inter alia – urged every man to think for himself, even in matters of religious belief. And as he believed in freedom of conscience, he argued for freedom of religion, and so also for the separation of Church and State.

*

7

The Fiddler and His Proof

On May 5, 1818, there was born, in the Prussian city of Trier, one of those rare persons who change the course of history.[1] 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.[2] 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! ” [3]

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.” “ [4]

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.

Next best to science and technology, Heinrich Marx considered, was law. And so, by the wish of his father – who was to pay ruinously for it in anxiety and money – Karl became a law student at the University of Bonn. He departed from it after one year, under a cloud (an affair involving a duel), and moved to the University of Berlin. He became interested in philosophy. He joined the Young Hegelians – a loose association of professors and students who met and argued in coffee-houses – and worked to achieve a doctorate, but failed. He finally got the coveted degree from the University of Jena, which, to raise revenue, offered Ph.D.s by correspondence. Karl had only to send the fee along with an essay (one in which he praised Prometheus for defying all the gods), and his doctorate came to him by post.

His character did not change as he grew older, only his medium of expression. And what a very unpleasant character it was: scornful, petty, spiteful, malicious, hypocritical, covetous, boastful, dishonest, grudging and intensely envious, wildly ambitious, arrogant and overbearing. He scorned peasants – they were barbarous “troglodytes”.[5] He despised “the masses”, “the rabble”.[6] Against his fellow European refugees who like him fled to London after the uprisings of 1848 to evade the crackdown of governments on the politically discontented (coffee-house democrats and socialists as well as downright insurrectionists), Marx railed and sneered; they were “emigrant scum”, “boors”, “toads”.[7] He considered certain “races” to be inferior: the Poles and Czechs were worthy only to be subjugated by their betters, such as “the Austrian Germans”, or even to pass into oblivion.[8] Above all he yearned, schemed and strove, with burning hatred and contempt, for the utter destruction of the bourgeoisie – even while, as an exile, he longed to live again in the bourgeois style of his childhood, and finally did, to his complacent satisfaction.

“Never,” wrote a witness to Marx’s manner, “have I met a man of such offensive, insupportable arrogance. No opinion which differed essentially from his own was accorded the honor of even a half-way respectful consideration. Everyone who disagreed with him was treated with scarcely veiled contempt. He answered all arguments which displeased him with a biting scorn for the pitiable ignorance of those who advanced them, or with a libelous questioning of their motives. I still remember the cutting, scornful tone with which he uttered – I might almost say ‘spat’ – the word ‘bourgeois’; and he denounced as ‘bourgeois’ – that is to say as an unmistakable example of the lowest moral and spiritual stagnation – everyone who dared to oppose his opinion.”[9]

More to his credit, his love for Jenny also did not change. He married her in 1843, and she bore him seven children. [10] He enjoyed his family life. But he was not at all a good provider. To put it bluntly, he was a shameless parasite. He squandered large sums from his father in his early years, then fell into abysmal poverty. Four of his children died, three as babies and one at the age of nine, primarily because their father could not afford to feed them properly or medicate them when they fell sick – though he managed never to go without his cigars. He took money from the rich and the poor. “Last week,” he wrote in a letter dated September 8, 1852, “I borrowed a few shillings from some workers. For me that was the worst of all, but I had to do it if I was not to starve.” [11]

From his mother, left with barely enough to keep herself and her still dependent children when her husband died, Dr. Marx demanded – and received a large part of – his “share” to which he had no legal entitlement until her death.[12] He went time and again for handouts from his mother’s relations in Holland, the Philips family (who later, in 1891, founded the famous electro-technical company named after them). He made false representations to wealthy donors to induce them to fund the newsletters and periodicals he launched or edited from time to time. But the main source of his income was his close collaborator in his efforts to smash the world: the anti-industrialist industrialist, the anti-capitalist capitalist, the anti-exploitation factory owner, Friedrich Engels. The firm of Erman and Engels manufactured cotton in Manchester, which made Friedrich Engels one of the “Knights of Cotton and Heroes of Iron”, as Marx sarcastically dubbed such successful manufacturers,[13] they being the enemy who must be overthrown by revolution. But Engels was an exception in Marx’s eyes because he agreed with everything Marx said. “Engels is the little Pomeranian, always busy, always yapping,” was the impression he made on an observer of the two of them together.[14]

Marx mocked and insulted other men in the socialist movement who were more acclaimed or had a more significant following than he did. He strove to destroy anyone whom he regarded as a rival, with invective, insinuation, defamation, sly maneuvers, and even outright lies. He repaid generosity with vicious slander, as he did (for instance) in the case of the famous and highly esteemed writer, scholar, and socialist leader Ferdinand Lassalle, who was particularly helpful and encouraging to Marx.[15] Marx denounced him, jeered at his actions and scoffed at his opinions. In their private communications he and Engels – who was a fierce anti-Semite – abused Lasalle particularly for being a Jew, and – even more despicable in their eyes – a Jew of “nigger” ancestry. In their private communications they called him such names as “Baron Izzy” and “the Jewish nigger”.[16] They poured vitriol on Wilhem Weitling for “not writing his books alone”. Athough Engels at one time called him “the founder of German Communism”, he and Marx sneered at him as a “utopian communist”, an “emotional communist”, and systematically destroyed his reputation.[17] It was habitual with Marx and Engels to condemn others for what they themselves did, and what they themselves were.

Of the two, at least at first, Engels was the more fluent writer – and possessed the quicker mind. But Engels needed to follow a leader. “I am meant to play second fiddle,” he said.[18] In their collaborations he readily adapted his ideas to Marx’s, even when the thought started in his own head and was elaborated upon too far and too ponderously by his leader. Taking his cue from an outburst of malice from Marx, he wrote twenty pages lightly ridiculing the rationalist philosopher Bruno Bauer and his short-lived Literary Gazette.[19] Bauer was not a threat to Marx or Engels , but Marx seized upon Engels’s mildly amusing essay and turned it into a three hundred and fifty page demolition job of Bauer and his small paper. The result was a heavy tome, infused with Marx’s venom, published under the title The Holy Family. Engels drafted a manifesto that Marx took over and, with Engels’s collaboration, turned it into The Communist Manifesto. It set out Marx’s theory of historical inevitability and predicted the rise of the proletariat. It described with passion how capitalism had replaced feudalism thus bringing in the bourgeois era, which was already, inevitably by the “iron laws” of economics, coming to its end, soon to be replaced by proletarian communism. It besought the workers to throw off their chains and win the world. It contains famous phrases which, though attributed to Marx, were actually borrowed from others (and slightly altered); notably, “Workers of all countries , unite” (from Karl Schapper, another socialist leader and associate of Weitling); and “The workers have nothing to lose but their chains” (from Jean-Paul Marat, the French revolutionary terrorist).[20]

Engels came to think and express himself so much like Marx, that scholars have found it hard to determine which of them, Marx or Engels, wrote which passages in The Communist Manifesto, or in later writings that were published under Marx’s name alone.[21] Of the many articles that appeared under his name in The New York Daily Tribune, some are known to have been actually written by Engels, and Engels might have been the author of many more of them.[22]

So great was Engels’s devotion to Marx, he let himself be persuaded to claim the paternity of Marx’s illegitimate child, Frederick. Marx begat him upon the subjugated body (one could fairly enough say slave body since she went unpaid) of his servant Lenchen Demuth. He had the baby boy taken away from her to be fostered, and forbade any meeting between them until he was grown up. [23]

Engels gave money to Marx; as much as he could whenever he could, but they were not large amounts until 1868, when he sold his share in Erman and Engels to his partner for so handsome a sum that he was able to keep himself in luxury and Marx in comfort. From that time to the end of his life, Marx was respectably housed in nice bourgeois Hampstead, to his his natural contentment. Still, he was not carefree. He was afflicted with suppurating boils. And his failure to destroy the world and raise a new one in his own authoritarian image hung a pall of gloom over him and his family. So it was that though Jenny and Karl Marx loved each other, and though they had no more money troubles in their last years, happiness was not their lot. Jenny died in December 188I. Karl Marx outlived her by some thirteen months. He died in March 1883, a deeply disappointed man.

And yet … Mirabile dictu, Karl Marx did succeed in doing what he had yearned to do throughout his life: he commanded the attention of Europe – more, of the whole world. He did change the course of history through the power of his words – not in the form of poetry but political-economic theory. His prophecy and his “proofs” captured the imagination of twentieth-century romantics – the vision itself being romantic, though he emphatically denied it. He professed to despise romanticism.[24] Yet romantic he was to a high degree, predicting that after the revolution, human beings would not only be organized in a different kind of society, they would actually be different themselves. In his promised land beyond the sunset of the oppressive bourgeois order and the red dawn of the benign proletarian dictatorship, no one would be exploited by anyone else; all would have whatever material goods they needed, and ample leisure to enjoy the finer things of life; every man and woman would work for the common good and willingly contribute whatever he and she could, no more and no less. It was inevitable. Inevitably it would be the end of the selfishness of human nature (just as Christianity had ordained). Come the revolution, human beings would become worthy (not of eternal life, but) of the fair distribution of goods. Furthermore, in Marx’s revolution, not only would the downtrodden be raised, they would also have the gratification of seeing those who had trodden them down being brought smartly under the boot.

He offered no proof that the “inevitable” communist phase of history would be a happy one, nor even an explanatory description of how it would work. But he knew by the “iron laws of economics” that the capitalist order would “burst asunder”, and there would be violent revolution – for although the end of the bourgeois era was inevitable, nevertheless its destruction must be brought about by force.

He insisted that his proofs were “scientific” (thus paying tribute to reason even as he defied it). But in truth his utopian vision came out of his ferociously rebellious hatred of the civilized world, his contempt for almost everyone who dwelt in it. The revolution had to happen, with blood and tears and massive ruination, because nothing less would satisfy his hatred. Marxism bears forever the stamp of its inventor. It has proved itself a creed of hatred, venomous spite, aggression, scorn, cruelty and intolerance, directed especially at its most devoted adherents by its ruthless tyrants.

In 1844 Marx had boasted to Engels that he would give the world his proofs in a book.[25] His admirers – chiefly Engels – could hardly bear to wait for it. If anyone could prove the inevitability of communism and the need for revolution, Dr. Marx could. They waited eagerly … and they waited. Dr. Marx took money in advance for the book from an interested publisher. Years passed and it was not even begun. Still the faithful awaited the great book of proofs.

Eventually, in 1867, twenty-three years after it was first proposed, it was done. There it was at last, a large book called Das Kapital. At enormous length it explained why an inevitable development had to be forced to happen.

Only it did not explain it. [25] That failure – to reconcile the irreconcilable – really was inevitable.

The large book’s appearance did not immediately create the sensation Marx and Engels expected, though it was rapturously received by Engels himself and a few others. The author “sank into the void” (to repeat a phrase of his own), first of obscurity and then of death.

Decades passed. Then “Marxism” became the name of a new dogma, a sweet dream. It wasn’t the large “scientific” book that did it. What posthumously won the idolization of Marx by multitudes was the mystic vision he had touched on of the new human nature operating in smooth harmony; of hypothetical people all being perfectly equal members of one guiltless working class; of their giving what they could and getting what they needed in blissful contentment (very like Christianity’s vision of all being equal in humility and a warm current of mutual love); of an end to the struggle for survival as all things necessary to each life came to it by an objective process called “the administration of things”.

Eager intellectuals read the writings of Marx – and found much to dispute over. Soon there were many Marxisms (as there had soon developed many Christianities); bitter disagreements, anathematizing, raging battles over interpretations of doctrine, bloodshed and assassinations.

Because of the sweet dream, and because there were the scriptures, “Marxist” revolutions erupted, and “Marxist” regimes were imposed – some for days or weeks or months, and some for decades. Vast territories fell under Communism. After the Second World War, Communist Russia brought all of East Europe under its control. Terrorist “Marxist” armies arose on every inhabited continent. The world was changed for the worse.

The Marxist regimes can be counted among history’s most oppressive tyrannies. They ruled by terror, reduced the people to misery, and caused the agonizing deaths of scores of millions by starvation, torture, slave labor, and executions. And still, now, in the twenty-first century, after the experiment of “Marxism” failed abysmally in Russia and the lands it oppressed, countless idealists continue to be enthralled by it. The universities of the Western world, especially in America, favor it. Latin American priests and teachers plead for it. Terrorist groups kill for it.

Karl Marx is deemed a towering genius. And indeed he “smashed a world”; his “envenomed eye flashed forth destruction”; he “played the death march fast and free”, and millions of his followers, generation after generation, dance to his fiddle, to a death in life, to hell on earth.

 

Jillian Becker   January 26, 2014

NOTES

In these notes TRP refers to The Red Prussian by Leopold Schwarzschild, by far the best book on Karl Marx that I have read. Page references are to a second edition published by Pickwick Books in London in 1986, in the original 1948 English translation by Margaret Wing, but with a new introduction by the atheist philosopher, Antony Flew. Schwarzschild was meticulous in providing his sources, each scrupulously footnoted on the page where the information occurs that requires attribution.

1. Karl Marx’s tremendous effect on history can most closely be compared to that of St. Paul. Both launched a new dogma that after their deaths came to be accepted by multitudes as truth, required a transformation of human nature, propounded a doctrine of pre-determined stages of history, incited many deeply contumacious disputes that often led to bloodshed, had tyrannical powers and authorities established in its name, and embittered and destroyed the lives of uncountable millions. (Marx and Engels themselves point out similarities between Christianity and Socialism in The Communist Manifesto.) It yet remains to be seen, of course, whether Marx’s legacy will last as long as St. Paul’s.

2. That Prussia mattered to Heinrich Marx far more than the Church is confirmed by a monograph he wrote in 1838, when he was ill and dying. It was titled: A Defense of the King of Prussia in the Affairs of the Ecclesiastical Controversy in Cologne.

3. The poems can be found on the net. They are no better in the original German than they are in the reasonably faithful English translations by Clemens Dutt.

4. The sinister lyric (translator not named) of which this is part, is better than most of Karl Marx’s poems.

5. “Troglodytes” TRP 194.

6. “The rabble” TRP 297.

7. “Emigrant scum” TRP 228.

8. Inferior nations TRP 181.

9. Carl Schurz on Marx’s hatred of the bourgeoisie and his arrogance TRP 187-188.

10. Marx was proud to be married to an aristocrat. He respected aristocrats, TRP 212. He made sure her maiden name, von Westphalen, appeared on their visiting cards. It cannot be known if she ever regretted marrying Marx. They had seven children, four daughters and two sons, and a baby who died soon after birth whose sex I don’t know. All the daughters were named Jenny, though only the first one was called by her first name. The others were called Laura, Eleanor and Franziska. The boys’ names were Edgar and Guy. Edgar died when he was nine, Guy and Franziska in the year following their birth. The daughter Jenny died at the age of thirty-eight. Laura and Eleanor both committed suicide in middle-age. The only son of Marx who survived into adulthood – at a distance from the Marx family – was Frederick, whom he fathered on his servant Helene “Lenchen” Demuth. (See also Note 23 below.)

11. A letter to Engels September 8, 1852 TRP 221.

12. Marx demands money from his mother TRP 144-145; receives it TRP 154.

13. “Knights of Cotton” TRP 83.

14. Engels as Marx’s “Pomeranian” TRP 211-212.

15. Lassalle helpful to Marx 251.

16. Lassalle called a “Jewish nigger” by Marx and Engels TRP 256.

17. Weitling an “emotional communist” TRP 138.

18. Engels wanted a leader TRP 103.

19. Bruno Bauer TRP 102, 106-107. Bauer was one of a number of nineteenth century German biblical scholars who postulated (plausibly) that Christianity was a second century invention, which, while depending on Jewish tradition and scripture to an extent, owed far more to Greek philosophy.

20. Many ideas and slogans famously attributed to Marx had in fact sprung from the brains of other men. He blithely appropriated them without acknowledgment. More examples: “Dictatorship of the proletariat” (Blanqui); “Scientific socialism” (Proudhon); “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau); “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Saint-Simon).

21. Marx’s and Engels’s writing became indistinguishable, each from the other’s TRP 103.

22. Introduction to Marx on China, 1853-1860: Articles from the New York Daily Tribune by Dona Toor, Lawrence and Wishart, London.

23. The name Demuth is pronounced Demut, which means humility. There is a temptation to allegorize when writing about this circumstance: that Karl Marx, the arrogant boastful bully who has an unearned reputation for being a great humanitarian, kept a poor handmaiden whom he shamelessly exploited, and whose name was Humility.

24. Marx claimed to despise romanticism TRP 84, 137.

25. Marx promises a book that would prove his theories TRP 102.

26. Summary and exegesis of Das Kapital TRP 293-317. In this one excellent chapter titled Intermezzo, Schwarzschild summarizes Marx’s arguments with brilliant clarity, and demonstrates their logical failure. He also exposes. as many others have done, the fallacies of “the labor theory of value” which Marx declared to be fundamental to his reasoning, TRP 243-244, 305-306.

*

8

Faust (One)

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.

What I mean by “Romantic” is: irrational, over-emotional, idealistic; valuing experience of the senses more than the discoveries of the mind; mystical, other-worldly, religious in the broadest sense; unrealistic, escapist, in rebellion against the commonplace and conventional; sustaining a longing for the exotic, the dramatic, the bizarre; humorless intensity; obsessive aestheticism, a cultivation of Art to compensate for life’s deficiencies; believing oneself locked in a struggle with an insensitive material world; reaching for an elusive higher meaning or purpose; an illness of mind; a sickness of civilization.

What I mean by its perversion is its preference for evil.

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,(1) and about two hundred years before the Enlightenment seriously weakened the power of the Churches. The legend challenged the Protestant (Lutheran and Calvinist) doctrine of pre-destination – that everyone is bound for either heaven or hell from the moment he begins his existence or even before, regardless of whether he does good or evil in the course of his life. Salvation is by God’s grace alone. If God does not choose you, you are damned. You have no choice in the matter.

The legendary Faust, however, is a man who chooses. He chooses evil; chooses to sell his soul to the Devil (bearing the name Mephistopheles in almost all the Faust narratives) 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 because of his choice. So it could not be an ideal cautionary tale for most Protestants. Nevertheless it became lastingly popular in all forms – books, stage plays, a puppet play, and operas – in the Protestant countries of northern Europe, and most of all in Germany; though the best and most famous of the plays was written by the English writer Christopher Marlowe (first performed in 1593).

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”.[2]

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.[3] 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 “Schwager”, his brother-in-law. A demon spirit who takes the form of Helen of Troy occurs in almost all the versions of the  story.[4] (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. [5] 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.[6] The Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, using the instrument of the Inquisition.[7]

When the centuries of Church power were brought to an end by the Enlightenment and Christianity 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.

Goethe’s Dr. Faust is an archetype of the Romantic Age. Fed up with the dry cerebral occupation of academic study, he makes his diabolical bargain so that he can explore “the heights and the depths” of human experience. He wants to live to the full by indulging his emotions and his appetites. The conflict between good and evil rages within him: he has, he says, two souls in his breast, each longing to be free of the other. Unlike the pre-Enlightenment Fausts, such as Christopher Marlowe’s, who merely plays lewd and silly tricks on the Pope and his retinue, Goethe’s Faust does a truly evil thing: he gratifies his lust by seducing an innocent girl and so drives her to despair, crime and execution. But his story, though intended to arouse revulsion, pity and terror, fails to condemn the choice he makes when he signs his pact with the Devil. In fact, Goethe destroys the message of the legend, which is that a bargain made with the Devil condemns you to hell. That is what the story of Faust is about just as the story of Oedipus is about a man who kills his father, marries his mother, and blinds himself in remorse. If any of those events don’t happen, the story falls apart and the point is lost. Goethe’s Faust does not go to hell. He repents, and so is saved by God, snatched from the jaws of damnation at the last moment. It is not, after all, the Faust myth but a story of divine mercy – more Catholic than Protestant since it allows Faust to save himself by repentance and good works.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe was raised a Lutheran, but distanced himself from the Lutheran Church and would not call himself a Christian. He was, he said, a Hypsistarian, a believer in a divine being, the “Most High”. The God in his play, however, is the Old Testament God, and the story of Faust is conflated with the biblical story of Job. Satan can try to gain the soul of Faust only with God’s permission; which means that God retains the ultimate power over Faust’s destiny, whatever the Devil does, and even if Faust succumbs to evil temptation. At the end of Part II of Goethe’s play – published after the writer’s death – God sees fit to save the sinner from hell.

The message to nineteenth century industrial Europe was not a warning as the old Faust stories had been. Europe enjoyed the awe-inspiring drama, laughed, wept, applauded – and went home from the theater, or closed the book, without feeling a call back to the Christian God, and with no new moral message to make a difference to its understanding of itself.

But Goethe’s was not the last word on Faust and the Devil. The pair lived on in the mind of Christianity-haunted Europe, and in the twentieth century another great German writer told the story again, in which the demonic pact was made by a man and by his nation.

 

Jillian Becker   April 20, 2014

NOTES

1. The Reformation is dated from October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther defied the power of the Pope by nailing his 95 theses against the sale of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

2. See our post The father of all heresies, February 21, 2010

3.  From the year 1513, documents record anecdotes of “Georg Faust”, “Georgius Faust”, and “Dr. Faust”. A church canon in Gotha refers to him as “the demigod of Heidelberg”.  In 1520 a bishop wrote that he had his horoscope cast by “Dr. Faust”. In 1528 a Bavarian prior wrote that a  “Georgius Faust” claimed to be “Commander and Preceptor of the Knights of St. John”. A Dr. Georg Faust was banished in the same year from Ingolstadt in Bavaria, for “posing as a soothsayer”. The city if Nürnberg  (Nuremberg), also in Bavaria, refused a safe conduct to “Dr. Faust the great sodomite and necromancer” in 1532. According to the Waldeck Chronicle, “Dr. Faust the  famous necromancer” prophesied that the city of Münster, where the Anabaptists led by John of Leyden were under siege by the forces of the Bishop of Bavaria, would fall on June 25, 1535 – which it did.

4. The first book of Faust chronicles was printed in Germany by Johann Spies in the late sixteenth century, some decades after the real Faust’s death in 1540. Titled Historia von D. Johann Fausten, it was a best seller, soon translated into English and other European languages.

5. Most Gnostic religions held that the Creator God – a demiurge named Jehovah or Ialdabaoth – was evil and the world he made was evil; so whatever his worshippers  – Catholic Christians and Jews – forbade, Gnostics must ritually perform. Some Gnostic sects accepted the Catholic designation of sin and compulsorily indulged in sinful acts in order to “consume evil”, use it up, and so help to cleanse the wicked world. And some held that their illuminati could not sin whatever they did, so these superior beings reveled in naughty deeds forbidden to others.

6. The Christian saint, Augustine (354-430) was a convert from Gnosticism. He was snatched by Christian ladies from the clutches of Gnostic women who had drawn him into their alternative church of abominable heresy. Thereafter he taught that Gnosticism was the Cult of the Devil.

7. See our post The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011.

8. In various books of the Apocrypha – Acts of Peter, Acts of Peter and Paul, and the “Pseudo-Clementine” literature – there are tales of how Simon Magus’s “miracles” were shown up to be mere tricks by real miracle-workers Peter and Paul. What was the difference between “miracles” done by a “saint” and a “magic trick” done by a “magus”? The deeds themselves? Not necessarily. When the disciples of Jesus Christ healed the sick and raised the dead, it was because they had “holy powers”; when Simon Magus wanted to do the same he was laughed to scorn.  It was only a question of who possessed the monopoly of truth and was thus the arbiter of orthodoxy. To the Pauline Christians, the Gnostics were heretics. Simon Magus, the first Gnostic known to them, put it about that he was a holy redeemer, so setting himself up as a rival to their candidate, Jesus Christ. They had to declare that their doctrine was the truth and his was fakery. And, obviously, as they were good, he was evil. In the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles, the story is related that Simon tried to buy the miraculous powers that Philip, Peter, and John displayed (hence the word “simony”). The author of Acts urgently needed to discredit Simon, who, he wrote, had ““bewitched” the entire population of Samaria, “from the least to the greatest”, into believing that he was “the great power of God”. (Acts 8: 9-24). His own nominee for that distinction – his friend Paul’s “Jesus Christ” – convinced far fewer people than the entire population of Samaria at the time, but won in the long run.

 *

9

Faust (Two)

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.[1]

In his novel Doctor Faustus, first published in 1947, the Faust figure is a German musician named Adrian Leverkühn.[2] 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.[3] 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” [4]; 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”.[5] 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.[6] 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.

Adrian Leverkühn does achieve greatness. His works will be “immortal”. They are magnificent, and they are “frightful”. They are magnificent in their frightfulness.  As the story progresses through the decades, it becomes clear that they reflect, express and finally lament the hellish events that are the history of twentieth century Germany. The Germans were seduced by the demonic. The nation struck the Faustian bargain, sold its soul to the Devil.

Leverkühn himself is not a symbol or personification of Germany, though his story is an allegory of Germany’s sickness and descent into hell.[7] He is a romantic, but he lacks the sadism of Germany’s political romanticism. In his person he does no evil. It is his music that succumbs to hellishness as Germany did. Germany, according to the Devil, was always intrinsically hellish. He tells the composer that “German is the Devil’s favorite language” and “I am in fact German to the core.”

One of the ideas that Hitler took from Richard Wagner, was that the pure Aryan lived by instinct, by the “dictates of the blood”,[8] and that reason, law, freedom, science, civilization, were contemptible bourgeois things. And the Devil states plainly to Leverkühn that the instinctive and the demonic are synonymous: “The demonic – the German word for that is the instincts”, he says; and he speaks of “instinct – in short, the demonic”.

German philosophers and poets – in reality as in the novel – embraced the “deliberate re-barbarization” of their civilization. But it is deplored by Leverkühn’s fictional biographer, Serenus Zeitblom, a schoolmaster and classicist. As Leverkühn’s close friend from their childhood on, he knows the composer intimately and is deeply attached to him. Though no musician himself, he has a profound understanding of music. The reader believes him that Leverkühn’s compositions are marvelous, and at the same time “hellish” and “frightful”.

Zeitblom is a patriot. He serves his country in the First World War. But he is no enthusiast for war. He welcomes democracy when the Weimar republic is established. As Nazism rises in popularity, he deplores “the undermining of the bourgeois order”. He dares to speak up for truth and science, freedom, law and reason, to challenge the enthusiasts of apocalyptic chaos. But they, “the champions of the dynamic” – those feeble, ailing, aesthetes who adore brutality – “merely smiled a superior smile”. Science to them was impotent and comic. And as for justice and truth, they were what “the community” required them to be.

“They [the “champions of the dynamic”, the ideological Nazis] could scarcely contain their mirth at the desperate campaign waged by reason and criticism against wholly untouchable, wholly invulnerable belief,” the narrator tells the reader with exasperation [my emphasis].  “Popular myths, or rather those proper for the masses would become the vehicle of political action; fables, insane visions, chimeras, which need have nothing to do with truth or reason or science in order to be creative, [would] determine the course of life and history,  and … prove themselves dynamic realities.” Thus spake the professors, the philosophers, the poets, to Zeitblom’s distress.

Violence to them was “the triumphant antithesis of truth”. And “The values bound up with the idea of the individual – shall we say truth, freedom, law, reason – were entirely rejected and shorn of power …. They were referred to the higher court of violence, authority, the dictatorship of belief” so that it was “a most novel setting back of humanity into medievally theocratic conditions and situations.” [9]

He sees that “aestheticism and barbarism are very close to each other”; and the events he chronicles, the story of individuals and their nation committing moral suicide, bear him out. As does Leverkühn’s music. [10]

“I am wedded to Satan,” the composer says shortly before he lapses into total insanity – or is deprived of his soul. He dies in 1939, when, Zeitblom writes, “Germany, the hectic on her cheek [as a consumptive typically has], was reeling at the height of her dissolute triumphs, about to gain the whole world by virtue of the one pact she was minded to keep, which she had signed with her blood.”

Six years later the Second World War ended in Germany’s utter defeat and devastation, and only then Zeitblom brings his biography to a close. An end it was, a hellish end, an Apocalypse of a sort, as Leverkühn had foreseen when he composed a work with that name expressing the horror of it in great and terrible music. Zeitblom writes: “The monstrous national perversion which held the Continent, and more than the Continent, in its grip, has celebrated its orgies down to the bitter end. … My tale is hastening to its end – like all else today. Everything rushes and presses on, the world stands within sight of its end – at least it does for us Germans. Our ‘thousand-year’ history refuted, reduced ad absurdum, weighed in the balance and found unblest, turns out to be a road leading nowhere, or rather into despair, an unexampled bankruptcy, a descensus Averno lighted by the dance of roaring flames.”

It was the end of the Third Reich, but not of the sickness of Europe; not the end of Romanticism, or Socialism, or collectivism, or of Art as a religion and a disease. It did not prove finally, as it should have done to the human race, or at least to the educated elite of the enlightened West, that the choice of evil is an intellectual mistake with ineluctably abominable consequences.

 

Jillian Becker   April 27,  2014

NOTES

1. In particular, Thomas Mann’s story Tristan and his novel The Magic Mountain show the sick spirit of a decaying Europe recoiling from and wasting the vigor of its civilization.

2.  The film Death in Venice has a composer as its protagonist (and background music by Mahler). But in Thomas Mann’s  story on which it is based, the protagonist, Gustave Aschenbach is a writer. The film touches on ideas and events in his Dr. Faustus, and blends them with consistent ideas and events in his Death in Venice, making a composite figure of Aschenbach and Leverkühn . In the story, Aschenbach “taught a whole grateful generation that a man can still be capable of moral resolution even after he has plumbed the depths of knowledge”; but he goes to his death, in splendid, decaying, diseased Venice, self-abased by a despairing love for a beautiful boy. “Mind and heart were drunk with passion, his footsteps guided by the demonic power whose pastime it is to trample on human reason and dignity.”

3. All quotations are from the English translations by H.T. Lowe-Porter.

4. Friedrich Nietzsche – he who announced the death of God – expounded the idea, arising from Greek mythology and long held by European thinkers, that a work of art could be either Dionysian (from the name of the Greek god of wine Dionysos) or Apollonian (from Apollo, god of the sun). The Dionysian connotes intoxication, enthusiasm, ecstasy, mystery, darkness, passion, intuition, instinct, wildness, chaos, savagery, communion and derangement (all features of both Romanticism and Gnosticism). The Apollonian connotes sobriety, thought, reason, rationality, logic, light, order, civilization, individuality and sanity. Nietzsche preferred the Dionysian to the Apollonian (see The Birth of Tragedy).

5. Enthusiasm, derived from the Greek, means that a god gets inside you, takes you over, drives your emotions with superhuman strength. Ecstasy, also from the Greek, means that you get taken out of yourself, transcend your limitations, feel more than you normally can.

6. National Socialism is never mentioned by name in the book, nor does the word Nazism appear anywhere. Hitler is never named, nor any of his henchmen. The Holocaust is never referred to by any name. The fictional narrator, Zeitblom, mourns for Germany, for its self-abasement and its ruin, not for its victims. That it acted evilly is the drift of the whole book, but the evil it did is “described” only in the music of its suffering hero. Now and then, towards the end of his story, as his struggle with his art and his mental anguish wear him down, Zeitblom compares Adrian Leverkühn in his appearance to images of a suffering Christ. And the biographer also associates his subject briefly with Wagner’s Parsifal, the “pure” savior among the heroic Knights of the Grail. Wagner claimed to King Ludwig of Bavaria that this opera of his was the “most Christian of works”, and Christians often identify Parsifal with Christ, as Wagner intended they should, though in fact he despised Christianity – not for its irrationality of course, but for what he considered its “Jewish weakness”. Astute critics saw through the pretence of a Christian message to a darker one. Nietzsche – an erstwhile admirer of Wagner – was disgusted by Parsifal. It was not its sustained melodramatic emotionalism (its “Dionysian” quality) that he objected to, but its immorality. He wrote of it: “Parsifal is a work of perfidy, of vindictiveness, of a secret attempt to poison the presuppositions of life – a bad work. … I despise everyone who does not experience Parsifal as an attempted assassination of basic ethics.”

7. Leverkühn is modeled on no actual composer, though a number are mentioned.  Among them is Schoenberg, as he makes use of the twelve-tone chromatic scale. Some parts of his compositions are compared to some parts of Stravinsky’s. And his  last work, The Lamentation of Dr. Faustus, though recalling in “spirit and inflexions”  Monteverdi’s Lamento, is described as an “Ode to Sorrow”, a deliberate opposite to Beethoven’s ninth symphony “Ode to Joy”.  Thomas Mann would surely have expected Wagner to be in everyone’s mind when the music is described as heaving with hellish emotion, but Leverkühn is very different from Wagner. His works express, reflect, and lament the demonic nature of Nazism, but it is never suggested that he inspires it as Wagner did.

8. Wagner admired those “impelled by their strong drives”. He “longed for a more profound revolution through art   … true art … oneness with Nature and with his own instincts”. “Only the entire Artistic Man, the Poet, the Knower of the Unconscious”, could begin to restore man “by creating the … artwork of the future”.   “Art and Socialism  … have a common goal … the strong fair Man, in whom Revolution shall give his Strength and Art his Beauty.” (See Note 2 to part 3, New Age for the source of these quotations.) It is very important to understand that Hitler saw his creation of the Third Reich as a Gesamtkunstwerk  – a total art work – in the manner of Wagner; and as a realization of Wagner’s vision of an  “Aryan” Germany “redeemed” by a Parsifal-like figure, an “Aryan” Christ – himself.

9. All this is discussed among the intellectuals with reference to a work by the French political philosopher of socialism and syndicalism, George Sorel (1847-1922), titled Réflexions sur la violence. Sorel’s argument that violence, anarchy, and force  are necessary and desirable, because human beings are fundamentally bad and need to be coerced into right behavior by revolution and powerful authority, earned him credit for inspiring the collectivist ideologies of both Nazism and Communism. His idea that the masses should be driven in the right direction are echoed in a softer form by those of our own time who believe that most people don’t know what is good for them and need to “nudged” into doing the right thing.

10. “The antithesis between aesthetics and ethics … largely dominated the cultural dialectics of the time,” Zeitblom the narrator explains, as two of the characters wrangle with each other over which was the more valuable. Instinctive “Dionysian” Art (see note 4 above) was praised by its Nazi-minded advocates as being best when least ethical – a case that is still made for it in the twenty-first century. But it did not have the field all to itself even in the Third Reich. Thomas Mann’s novel Dr. Faustus is, triumphantly, an “Apollonian” work of art.

*

END OF PART ONE

CONTINUED IN PART TWO

Posted under by Jillian Becker on Sunday, December 1, 2013

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  • Roger

    What an impressive collection of essays! Well done and thank you. As a former New Age’r, I appreciate the analysis. As for this quotation, “New Age religion is – according to taste and judgment – a rich diversity of “spiritualities”, or a junk-heap of irrationalities.”, I once believed in the former, and now wholeheartedly (and rationally) embrace the latter.
    As for evil, I think this is one of the most difficult concepts for an atheist to discuss with theists and new age’rs. They just can’t seem to grasp morality without supernatural authority. Their reasoning is circular, but they refuse to view it that way. The history of philosophy is largely this argument chasing its tail. Starting with the supernatural assumption is the error. Starting with experience is the solution. IMHO.

    • Jillian Becker

      Thank you for the encouragement, Roger. More essays to come in this series.