The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the historical dynamics of liberalism and its impact on contemporary Western polities. This essay will argue a) that liberalism today provides a comfortable ideological “retreat” for members of the intellectual élite and decision makers tired of the theological and ideological disputes that rocked Western politics for centuries; b) that liberalism can make compromises with various brands of socialism on practically all issues except the freedom of the market place; c) that liberalism thrives by expanding the economic arena into all aspects of life and all corners of the world, thereby gradually erasing the sense of national and historical community which had formerly provided the individual with a basic sense of identity and psychological security. Continue reading “Historical Dynamics of Liberalism: From Total Market to Total State”
While a massive amount of both critical and laudatory literature on America is circulating in western Europe, only a few critical books on America and the American way of life can be found in today’s postcommunist eastern Europe. This essay is my attempt to add to that literature.
Tomislav (Tom) Sunić, a former professor of political science at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and a former Croatian diplomat, is the author of several books and numerous essays. He currently resides in Europe. Continue reading “America in the Eyes of Eastern Europe”
Growing imprecision in the language of political discourse has turned virtually everyone into a democrat or, at least, an aspiring democrat. East,West, North, South, in all corners of the world, politicians and intellectuals profess the democratic ideal, as if their rhetorical homage to democracy could substitute for the frequently poor showing of their democratic institutions Does liberal democracy—and this is what we take as our criterion for the “best of all democracies”—mean more political participation or less, and how does one explain that in liberal democracy electoral interests have been declining for years? Judging by voter turnout, almost everywhere in the West the functioning of liberal democracy has been accompanied by political demobilization and a retreat from political participation. Might it be, that consciously or unconsciously, the citizens of liberal democracies realize that their ballot choices can in no substantial manner affect the way their societies are governed, or worse, that the rites of liberal democracy are an elegant smoke screen for the absence of self-government?
Liberal Parenthesis and the End of the Muscled State
This paper will argue both that democracy is not necessarily an accompanying feature of liberalism and that liberal democracy may often be the very opposite of what democracy is supposed to mean. Through the arguments of Carl Schmitt, I shall demonstrate that: 1) democracy can have a different meaning in liberal society than in non-liberal society, 2) the depoliticization of liberal democracy is the direct result of voter mistrust in the liberal political class, and 3) liberal democracy in multi-ethnic countries is likely to face serious challenges in the future.
Over the period of the last fifty years, Western societies have witnessed a rapid eclipse of “hard” politics. Theological fanaticism, ideological ferocity, and politics of power, all of which have until recently rocked European states, have become things of the past. The influence of radical left-wing or right-wing parties and ideologies has waned. “High” politics, as a traditional action and interaction process between the rulers and the ruled, and as a guide for purported national destiny, seems to have become obsolete. With the collapse of communism in the East, modern liberal democracies in the West appear today as the only alternative forms of government on the barren political and ideological landscape. Moreover, in view of the recent collapse of totalitarian ideologies, liberal democracy seems to have gained even more legitimacy, all the more so as it successfully accommodates differing political views. Western liberal democracy, people believe, can satisfy diverse and disparate opinions, and can continue to function even when these are non-democratic and anti-liberal.
For Schmitt, liberal tolerance towards opposing political views is deceiving. In all of his works, and particularly in Verfassungslehre and Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, he points to differences between liberalism and democracy, asserting that liberalism, by its nature, is hostile to all political projects. In liberal democracy, writes Schmitt, “politics far from being the concern of an elite, has become the despised business of a rather dubious class of persons.” One may add that liberal democracy does not appear to be in need of political projects: With its vast technological infrastructure and the free market network, argues Schmitt, liberal democracy has no difficulty in rendering all contending beliefs and opposing ideologies inoffensive, or, at worst, ridiculous.
In liberal democracy, in which most collective projects have already been delegitimatized by belief in individualism and in the private pursuit of economic well-being, “it cannot be required, from any thinkable point of view, that anyone lays down his life, in the interest of the undisturbed functioning [of this society.]” Little by little, liberal democracy makes all political projects unattractive and unpopular, unless they appeal to economic interests. Liberal democracy, writes Schmitt, seems to be fitted for a rational, secularized environment in which the state is reduced to a “night-watchman” supervising economic transactions. The state becomes a sort of inoffensive “mini-state” [“Minimalstaat”] or stato neutrale. One could almost argue that the strength of liberal democracy lies not in its aggressive posturing of its liberal ideal, but rather in its renunciation of all political ideals, including its own.
To some extent, this apolitical inertia appears today stronger than ever before, since no valid challenger to liberal democracy appears on the horizon. What a stark contrast to the time prior to World War II, when radical left- and rightwing ideologies managed to draw substantial support from political and intellectual elites! Might it be that the “Entzauberung” of politics has gone so far as to contribute to the strengthening of apolitical liberal democracy? Very revealing, indeed, appears the change in the behavior of modern elites in liberal democracies; left, right, and center barely differ in their public statements or in their political vocabulary. Their styles may differ, but their messages remain virtually the same. The “soft” and apolitical discourse of modern liberal princes, as one French observer recently wrote, prompts the “liberal-socialist” to exclaim: “I will die from loving your beautiful eyes Marquise.” And to this the “socialist-liberal”responds: “Marquise, from loving your beautiful eyes, I will die.” Leftwing agendas are so often tainted with rightwing rhetoric that they appear to incorporate conservative principles. Conversely, rightwing politicians often sound like disillusioned leftists on many issues of domestic and foreign policy. In liberal democracy, all parties across the political spectrum, regardless of their declaratory differences, seem to be in agreement on one thing: democracy functions best when the political arena is reduced to its minimum and the economic and juridical spheres are expanded to their maximum.
Part of the problem may result from the very nature of liberalism. Schmitt suggests that the notions of liberalism and democracy “have to be distinguished from one another so that the patchwork picture that makes up modern mass democracy can be recognized.” As Schmitt notes, democracy is the antithesis of liberalism, because “democracy … attempts to realize an identity of the governed and the governors, and thus it confronts the parliament as an inconceivable and outmoded institution.”
Organic Democracy vs. Apolitical Democracy
True democracy, for Schmitt, means popular sovereignty, whereas liberal democracy and liberal parliament aim at curbing popular power. For Schmitt, if democratic identity is taken seriously, only the people should decide on their political destiny, and not liberal representatives, because “no other constitutional institution can withstand the sole criterion of the people’s will, however it is expressed.” Liberal democracy, argues Schmitt, is nothing else but a euphemism for a system consecrating the demise of politics and thus destroying true democracy. But a question arises: why, given liberalism’s history of tolerance and its propensity to accommodate diverse groups, does Schmitt adamantly reject liberal democracy? Has not liberalism, particularly in the light of recent experiences with “muscled ideologies,” proven its superior and humane nature?
The crux of Schmitt’s stance lies in his conviction that the concept of “liberal democracy” is semantic nonsense. In its place, Schmitt seems to suggest both a new definition of democracy and a new notion of the political. According to Schmitt, “democracy requires, first homogeneity and second-if the need arises-elimination or eradication of heterogeneity.” Homogeneity and the concomitant elimination of heterogeneity are the two pillars of Schmitt’s democracy, something which stands in sharp contrast to liberal party systems and the fragmentation of the body politic. Democratic homogeneity, according to Schmitt, presupposes a common historical memory, common roots, and a common vision of the future, all of which can subsist only in a polity where the people speak with one voice. “As long as a people has the will to political existence,” writes Schmitt,” it must remain above all formulations and normative beliefs. . . . The most natural way of the direct expression of the people’s will is by approvals or disapprovals of the gathered crowd, i.e., the acclamation.” To be sure, with his definition of homogeneous democracy that results from the popular will, Schmitt appears to be holding the value of the traditional community above that of civil society which, for the last century, has been the hallmark of liberal democracy. One may therefore wonder to what extent can Schmitt’s “organic” democracy be applicable to the highly fractured societies of the West, let alone to an ethnically fragmented America.
Schmitt insists that “the central concept of democracy is the people (Volk), not mankind [Menscheit]. . . . There can be-if democracy takes a political form-only popular democracy, but not a democracy of mankind [Es gibt eine Volksdemokratie und keine Menscheitsdemokratie].” Naturally, this vision of “ethnic” democracy collides with modern liberal democracy, one of the purposes of which, its proponents claim, is to transcend ethnic differences in pluralistic societies. Schmitt’s “ethnic” democracy must be seen as the reflection of the uniqueness of a given people who oppose imitations of their democracy by other peoples or races. Since Schmitt’s democracy bears a resemblance to ancient Greek democracy, critics must wonder how feasible this democracy can be today. Transplanted into the twentieth century, this democratic anachronism will appear disturbing, not least because it will remind some of both fascist corporate and Third World states with their strict laws on ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Schmitt confirms these misgivings when he states that “a democracy demonstrates its political power by knowing how to refuse or keep at bay something foreign and unequal that threatens its homogeneity [das Fremde und Ungleiche . . . zu beseitigen oder fernzuhalten].” Any advocate of liberal democracy in modern multicultural societies could complain that Schmitt’s democracy excludes those whose birth, race, or simply religious or ideological affiliation is found incompatible with a restricted democracy. Foreign may be a foreign idea that is seen to threaten democracy, and a foreigner may be somebody who is viewed as unfit to participate in the body politic because of his race or creed. In other words, one could easily suspect Schmitt of endorsing the kind of democracy that approximates the “total state.”
Nor does Schmitt treat the liberal principles of legality with much sympathy. In his essay “Legalitat und Legitimitat,” Schmitt argues that the kind of liberal democracy creates the illusion of freedom by according to each political group and opposing opinion a fair amount of freedom of expression as well as a guaranteed legal path to accomplish its goal in a peaceful manner. Such an attitude to legal rights is contrary to the notion of democracy, and eventually leads to anarchy, argues Schmitt, because legality in a true democracy must always be the expression of the popular will and not the expression of factional interests. “Law is the expression of the will of the people (lex est quod populus jubet),” writes Schmitt,  and in no way can law be a manifestation of an anonymous representative or a parliamentarian who solely looks after interests of his narrow constituency. Indeed, continues Schmitt, an ethnically homogeneous and historical people has all the prerequisites to uphold justice and remain democratic, provided it always asserts its will. Of course, one may argue that Schmitt had in mind a form of populist democracy reminiscent of the 1930s’ plebiscitary dictatorships which scorned both parliamentary parties and organized elections. In his Verfassungslehre, Schmitt attacks free parliamentary elections for creating, through secret balloting, a mechanism which. “transforms the citizen (citoyen), that is, a specifically democratic and political figure, into a private person who only expresses his private opinion and gives his vote.” Here Schmitt seems to be consistent with his earlier remarks about ethnic homogeneity. For Schmitt, the much-vaunted “public opinion,” which liberals equate with the notion of political tolerance, is actually a contradiction in terms, because a system which is obsessed with privacy inevitably shies away from political openness. True and organic democracy, according to Schmitt, is threatened by liberal secret balloting, and “the result is the sum of private opinions.” Schmitt goes on to say that “the methods of today’s popular elections [Volkswahl] and referendums [Volksentscheid] in modern democracy, in no way contain the procedure for genuine popular elections; instead, they organize a procedure for the elections of the individuals based on the total sum of independent ballot papers.”
Predictably, Schmitt’s view of democratic equality is dependent upon his belief that democracy entails social homogeneity, an idea Schmitt develops more fully in Verfassungslehre and The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Although liberal democracy upholds the legal equality of individuals, it ignores the equality of rooted citizens. Liberal democracy merely provides for the equality of atomized individuals whose ethnic, cultural, or racial bonds are so weakened or diluted that they can no longer be viewed as equal inheritors of a common cultural memory and a common vision of the future. Undoubtedly, equality and democracy, for Schmitt, are inseparable. Equality in a genuine organic democracy always takes place among “equals of the same kind (Gleichartigen).” This corresponds to Schmitt’s earlier assertions that “equal rights make good sense where homogeneity exists.” Could one infer from these brief descriptions of democratic equality that in an ethnically or ideologically fragmented society equality can never be attained? One might argue that by transferring the political discourse of equality to the juridical sphere, liberal democracy has elegantly masked glaring inequality in another sphere-that of economics. One could agree with Schmitt that liberal democracy, as much as it heralds “human rights” and legal equality and proudly boasts of “equality of (economic) opportunity,” encourages material disparities. Indeed, inequality in liberal democracy has not disappeared, and, in accordance with the Schmitt’s ‘observations regarding the shifts in the political sphere, “another sphere in which substantial inequality prevails (today, for example the economic sphere), will dominate politics. Small wonder that, in view of its contradictory approach to equality, liberal democracy has been under constant fire from the left and the right.
To sum up, Schmitt rejects liberal democracy on several counts: 1) liberal democracy is not “demo-krasia,” because it does not foster the identity of the governed and the governors, 2) liberal democracy reduces the political arena, and thus creates an apolitical society, and 3) in upholding legal equality, and pursuant to its constant search for the wealth that will win it support, liberal democracy results in glaring economic inequality.
The Rule of the People or the Rule of Atomized Individuals?
From the etymological and historical points of view, Schmitt’s criticism of liberal democracy merits attention. Democracy signifies the rule of the people, a specific people with a common ethnic background, and not the people construed, after the manner of some liberal democracies, as the atomized agglomeration flowing from a cultural “melting pot.” But if one assumes that a new type of homogeneity can develop, e.g., homogeneity caused by technological progress, then one cannot dispute the functionality of a liberal democracy in which the homogenized citizens remain thoroughly apolitical: Hypothetically speaking, political issues in the decades to come may no longer be ethnicity, religions, nation-states, economics, or even technology, but other issues that could “homogenize” citizens. Whether democracy in the twenty-first century will be based on apolitical consensus remains to be seen. Schmitt sincerely feared that the apoliticism of “global liberal democracy” under the aegis of the United States could become a dangerous predicament for all, leading not to global peace but to global servitude. As of today, however, liberal democracy still serves as a normative concept for many countries, but whether this will remain so is an open question.
In view of the increased ethnic fragmentation and continued economic disparities in the world, it seems that Schmitt’s analysis may contain a grain of truth. The American experience with liberal democracy has so far been tolerable: that is, the U.S. has shown that it can function as a heterogeneous multi-ethnic society even when, contrary to Schmitt’s fears, the level of political and historical consciousness remains very low. Yet, the liberal democratic experiment elsewhere has been less successful. Recent attempts to introduce liberal democracy into the multi-ethnic states of Eastern Europe have paradoxically speeded up their dissolution or, at best, weakened their legitimacy. The cases of the multi-ethnic Soviet Union and the now-defunct Yugoslavia-countries in endless struggles to find lasting legitimacy-are very revealing and confirm Schmitt’s predictions that democracy functions best, at least in some places, in ethnically homogeneous societies. In light of the collapse of communism and fascism, one is tempted to argue that liberal democracy is the wave of the future. Yet, exported American political ideals will vary according to the countries and the peoples among whom they take root. Even the highly Americanized European countries practice a different brand of liberal democracy from what one encounters in America.
Schmitt observes that liberalism, while focusing on the private rights of individuals, contributes to the weakening of the sense of community. Liberal democracy typifies, for Schmitt, a polity which cripples the sense of responsibility and renders society vulnerable to enemies both from within and without. By contrast, his idea of organic democracy is not designed for individuals who yearn to reduce political activity to the private pursuit of happiness; rather, organic, classical democracy means “the identity of the governors and the governed, of the rulers and the ruled, of those who receive orders and of those who abide by them.” In such a polity, laws and even the constitution itself can be changed on a short notice because the people, acting as their own legislators, do not employ parliamentary representatives.
Schmitt’s democracy could easily pass for what liberal theorists would identify as a disagreeable dictatorship. Would Schmitt object to that? Hardly. In fact, he does not discount the compatibility of democracy with communism or even fascism. “Bolshevism and Fascism,” writes Schmitt, “by contrast, are like all dictatorships certainly antiliberal, but not necessarily antidemocratic.” Both communism and fascism strive towards homogeneity (even if they attempt to be homogeneous by force) by banning all opposition. Communism, for which the resolute anti-Bolshevik Schmitt had no sympathy, can surely be democratic, at least in its normative and utopian stage. The “educational dictatorship” of communism, remarks Schmitt, may suspend democracy in the name of democracy, “because it shows that dictatorship is not antithetical to democracy.” In a true democracy, legitimacy derives not from parliamentary maneuvers, but from acclamation and popular referenda. “There is no democracy and no state without public opinion, and no state without acclamation,” writes Schmitt  By contrast, liberal democracy with its main pillars, viz., individual liberty and the separation of powers, opposes public opinion and, thus, must stand forth as the enemy of true democracy. Or, are we dealing here with words that have become equivocal? According to Schmitt, “democratic principles mean that the people as a whole decides and governs as a sovereign.” One could argue that democracy must be a form of kratos, an exercise, not a limiting, of power. Julien Freund, a French Schmittian, concurs that “democracy is a ‘kratos.’ As such it presupposes, just like any other regime, the presence and the validity of an authority.”  With its separation of powers, the atomization of the body politic, and the neutralization of politics, liberal democracy deviates from this model.
Conclusion: The Liberal ‘Dictatorship of Well-Being’
If one assumes that Schmitt’s “total democracy” excludes those with different views and different ethnic origins, could not one also argue that liberal democracy excludes by virtue of applying an “apolitical” central field? Through apolitical economics and social censure, liberal democracy paradoxically generates a homogeneous consumer culture. Is this not a form of “soft” punishment imposed on those who behave incorrectly? Long ago, in his observations about democracy in America, Tocqueville pointed out the dangers of apolitical “democratic despotism.” “If despotism were to be established among the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.” Perhaps this “democratic despotism” is already at work in liberal democracies. A person nowadays can be effectively silenced by being attacked as socially insensitive.
Contemporary liberal democracy amply demonstrates the degree to which the economic and spiritual needs of citizens have become homogenized. Citizens act more and more indistinguishably in a new form of “dictatorship of well-being.” Certainly, this homogeneity in liberal democracy does not spring from coercion or physical exclusion, but rather from the voter’s sense of futility. Official censorship is no longer needed as the ostracism resulting from political incorrectness becomes daily more obvious. Citizens appear more and more apathetic, knowing in all likelihood that, regardless of their participation, the current power structure will remain intact. Moreover, liberal democrats, as much as they complain about the intolerance of others, often appear themselves scornful of those who doubt liberal doctrines, particularly the beliefs in rationalism and economic progress. The French thinker Georges Sorel, who influenced Schmitt, remarked long ago that to protest against the illusion of liberal rationalism means to be immediately branded as the enemy of democracy. One must agree that, irrespective of its relative tolerance in the past, liberal democracy appears to have its own sets of values and normative claims. Its adherents, for example, are supposed to believe that liberal democracy operates entirely by law. Julien Freund detects in liberal legalism “an irenic concept” of law, “a juridical utopia . . . which ignores the real effects of political, economic and other relations.” No wonder that Schmitt and his followers have difficulty in accepting the liberal vision of the rule of law, or in believing that such a vision can “suspend decisive [ideological] battle through endless discussion.” In its quest for a perfect and apolitical society, liberal democracy develops in such a manner that “public discussion [becomes] an empty formality,” reduced to shallow discourse in which different opinions are no longer debated. A modern liberal politician increasingly resembles an “entertainer” whose goal is not to persuade the opponent about the validity of his political programs, but primarily to obtain electoral majorities.
In hindsight, it should not appear strange that liberal democracy, which claims to be open to all kinds of technological, economic and sexual “revolutions,” remains opposed to anything that would question its apolitical status quo. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that even the word “politics” is increasingly being supplanted by the more anodyne word “policy,” just as prime ministers in liberal democracies are increasingly recruited from economists and businessmen.
Schmitt correctly predicted that even the defeat of fascism and the recent collapse of communism would not forestall a political crisis in liberal democracy. For Schmitt, this crisis is inherent in the very nature of liberalism, and will keep recurring even if all anti-liberal ideologies disappeared. The crisis in liberal parliamentary democracy is the result of the contradiction between liberalism and democracy; it is, in Schmittian language, the crisis of a society that attempts to be both liberal and democratic, universal and legalistic, but at the same time committed to the self-government of peoples.
One does not need to go far in search of fields that may politicize and then polarize modern liberal democracy. Recent events in Eastern Europe, the explosion of nationalisms all around the world, racial clashes in the liberal democratic West – these and other “disruptive” developments demonstrate that the liberal faith may have a stormy future. Liberal democracy may fall prey to its own sense of infallibility if it concludes that nobody is willing to challenge it. This would be a mistake. For neither the demise of fascism nor the recent collapse of communism has ushered in a more peaceful epoch. Although Western Europe and America are now enjoying a comfortable respite from power politics, new conflicts have erupted in their societies, over multiculturalism and human rights. The end of liberal apolitical democracy and the return of “hard” politics may be taking place within liberal democratic societies.
1. See Giovanni Sartori, Democratic Theory (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962), 3. “In a somewhat paradoxical vein, democracy could be defined as a high-flown name for something which does not exist.” See, for instance, the book by French “Schmittian” Alain de Benoist, Democratie: Le probleme (Paris: Le Labyrinthe, 1985), 8. “Democracy is neither more ‘modern’ nor more ‘evolved’ than other forms of governance: Governments with democratic tendencies have appeared throughout history. We can observe how the linear perspective used in this type of analysis can be particularly deceiving.” Against the communist theory of democracy, see Julien Freund, considered today as a foremost expert on Schmitt, in Politique et impolitique (Paris: Sirey, 1987), 203. “It is precisely in the name of democracy, designed as genuine and ideal and always put off for tomorrow that non-democrats conduct their campaign of propaganda against real and existing democracies.” For an interesting critique of democratic theory, see Louis Rougier, La Mystique democratique (Paris: Albatros,1983). Rougier was inspired by Vilfredo Pareto and his elitist anti-democratic theory of the state. [Back]
2. See, for instance, an analysis of U.S. “post-electoral politics,” which seems to be characterized by the governmental incapacity to put a stop to increasing appeals to the judiciary, in Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter, Politics by other Means: The Declining Importance of Election in America (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1990). [Back]
3. Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge: MIT,1985), 4. [Back]
4. The views held by some leftist scholars concerning liberalism closely parallel those of Schmitt, particularly the charge of “soft” repression. See, for instance, Jurgen Habermas, Technik und Wissenschaft als Ideologie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). See also Regis Debray , Le Scribe: Genese du politique (Paris: Grasset, 1980). [Back]
5. Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen (Munchen und Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1932), 36. Recently, Schmitt’s major works have become available in English. These include: The Concept of the Political, trans. G. Schwab (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Prress, 1976); Political Romanticism, trans. G. Oakes (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986); and Political Theology, trans. G. Schwab (Cambridge: MIT Press; 1985). There may be some differences between my translations and the translations in the English version. [Back]
6.Schmitt, Der Begriff, 76. [Back]
7.Francois-Bernard Huyghe, La soft-ideologie (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1987), 43 [Back]
8.Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 8. [Back]
9.Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 15. [Back]
10. Schmitt, The Crisis ojParliamentary Democrary, 15. [Back]
11. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 9. [Back]
12. Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre (Munchen und Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1928), 83. [Back]
13. See Ferdinand Tonnies, Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), trans. and ed. Charles P. Loomis (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). Tonnies distinguishes between hierarchy in modern and traditional society. His views are similar to those of Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus, the Caste System and its Implications, trans. Mark Sainsbury and L. Dumont (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Dumont draws attention to “vertical” vs. “horizontal” inequality among social groups. [Back]
14. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 234. [Back]
15. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 9. [Back]
16. Carl Schmitt, Du Politique, trans. William Gueydan (Puiseaux: Pardes, 1990), 46. Legalitat und Legitimitat appears in French translation, with a preface by Alain de Benoist, as “L’egalite et legitimite” [Back]
17. Schmitt, Du Politique, 57. [Back]
18. Schmitt, Du Politique, 58. See also Schmitt’s Verfassungslehre, 87-91: [Back]
19. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 245. [Back]
20. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 246. [Back]
21. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 245. [Back]
22. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 10. [Back]
23. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 13. [Back]
24. See, for instance, the conservative revolutionary, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Das Dritte Reich (1923) whose criticism of liberal democracy often parallels Carl Schmitt’s, and echoes Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Program, (New York: International Publishers, 1938), 9. “Hence equal rights here (in liberalism) means in principle bourgeois rights. The equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor.” See also Schmitt’s contemporary Othmar Spann with a similar analysis, Der wahre Staat (Leipzig: Verlag von Qnelle und Meyer,1921). [Back]
25. See Carl Schmitt, “L’unite du monde,” trans. Philippe Baillet in Du Politique, 237-49. [Back]
26. In some multi-ethnic states, liberal democracy has difficulty taking root. For instance, the liberalisation of Yugoslavia has led to its collapse into its ethnic parts. This could bring some comfort to Schmitt’s thesis that democracy requires a homogeneous “Volk” within its ethnographic borders and state. See Tomislav Sunic, “Yugoslavia, the End of Communism the Return of Nationalism,” America (20 April 1991), 438–440. [Back]
27. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 234. See for a detailed treatment of this subject the concluding chapter of Paul Gottfried, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory (Westport and New York: Greenwood Press, 1990). [Back]
28. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 16, [Back]
29. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 28. [Back]
30. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 247. [Back]
31. Carl Schmitt; “L’etat de droit bourgeois,” in Du Politique, 35. [Back]
32. Freund, Politique et impolitique, 204. [Back]
33. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1966), vol. 2, book fourth, Ch. 6. [Back]
34. There is a flurry of books criticizing the “surreal” and “vicarious” nature of modern liberal society. See Jean Baudrillard, Les strategies fatales (“Figures du transpolitique”) (Paris: Grasset, 1983). Also, Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Warner Books, 1979). [Back]
35. Georges Sorel, Les illusions du progres (Paris: M. Riviere, 1947), 50. [Back]
37. Freund, Politique et impolitique, 305. [Back]
38. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie (Munchen und Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1934), 80. [Back]
39. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 6. [Back]
40. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 7. [Back]
Pagan Notion of the Sacred
To the critics who argue that polytheism is a thing of the prehistoric and primitive mind incompatible with modern societies, one could respond that paganism is not necessarily a return to “paradise lost” or a nostalgia for the restoration of the Greco-Roman order. For pagan conservatives, to pledge allegiance to “paganism” means to rekindle Europe’s historical origins, as well as to revive some sacred aspects of life that existed in Europe prior to the rise of Christianity. One could also add that, as far as the alleged supremacy or modernity of Judeo-Christianity over the backwardness of Indo-European polytheism is concerned, Judeo-Christian religions, in terms of their modernity, are no less backward than pagan religions. To emphasize this point de Benoist writes:
Just as it was yesterday a grotesque spectacle to see the “pagan idols” denounced by Christian missionaries, who were themselves enamored of their own bric-a bracs, so it is somewhat ridiculous to see the (European) “past” denounced by those who never tire of praising Judeo-Christian continuity, and who refer us to the example of “always modern” Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and other proto-historic Beduins. (22)
According to some pagan thinkers, Judeo-Christian rationalization of historical time has precluded the projection of one’s own national past and, in so doing, it has significantly contributed to the “desertification” of the world. In the last century, Ernest Renan observed that Judaism is oblivious of the notion of the sacred, because the “desert itself is monotheistic.”(23) In a similar tone, Alain de Benoist in L’éclipse, while quoting Harvey Cox’s The Secular City, writes that the loss of the sacred, which is causing today the “disenchantment” of the modern polity, resulted as the legitimate consequence of the Biblical renunciation of history. First, the disenchantment of nature had started with the Creation; the desacralization of politics with the Exodus; and the deconsecration of values with the Alliance of Sinai, especially after the interdiction of idols (129). Continuing with similar analyses, Mircea Eliade, an author himself influenced by pagan world, adds that Judaic resentment of pagan idolatry stems from the ultra-rational character of Mosaic laws that rationalize all aspects of life by means of a myriad of prescriptions, laws, and interdictions:
Desacralization of the Nature, devaluation of cultural activity, in short, the violent and total rejection of cosmic religion, and above all the decisive importance conferred upon spiritual regeneration by the definite return of Yahveh, was the prophets’ response to historical crises menacing the two Jewish kingdoms.(24)
Some might object that Catholicism has its own form of the sacred and that, unlike some other forms of Judeo-Christian beliefs, it displays its own spiritual transcendence. But there are reasons to believe that the Catholic concept of the sacred does not emerge sui generis, but rather as a substratum of the Christian amalgam with paganism. As de Benoist notes, Christianity owes its manifestation of the sacred (holy sites, pilgrimages, Christmas festivities, and the pantheon of saints) to the indomitable undercurrent of pagan and polytheistic sensibility. Therefore, it seems that the pagan revival today represents less a normative religion, in the Christian sense of the word, than a certain spiritual equipment that stands in contrast to the religion of Jews and Christians. Consequently, as some pagan thinkers suggest, the possible replacement of the monotheistic vision of the world by the polytheistic vision of the world could mean not just the “return of gods” but the return of the plurality of social values as well.
Courage, personal honor, and spiritual and physical self-surpass-ment are often cited as the most important virtues of paganism. In contrast to Christian and Marxian utopian optimism, paganism emphasizes the profound sense of the tragic, the tragi0c-as seen in Greek tragedies-that sustains man in his Promethean plight and that makes his life worth living. (25) It is the pagan sense of the tragic that can explain man’s destiny-destiny, which for old Indo-Europeans “triggered action, endeavor, and self-surpassment. (26) Hans Günther summarizes this point in the following words:
[I]ndo-European religiosity is not rooted in any kind of fear, neither in fear of deity nor in fear of death. The words of the Latter-day Roman poet, that fear first created the Gods (Statius, Thebais, 3:661: primus in orbe fecit deos timor), cannot be applied to the true forms of Indo-European religiosity, for wherever it has unfolded freely, the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs, Solomon 9, 10; Psalm 11, 30) has proved neither the beginning of belief nor of wisdom.(27)
Some have suggested that the greatest civilizations are those that have shown a strong sense of the tragic and that have had no fear of death .(28) In the pagan concept of the tragic, man is encouraged to take responsibility before history because man is the only one who gives history a meaning. Commenting on Nietzsche, Giorgio Locchi writes that, in pagan cosmogony, man alone is considered a forger of his own destiny (faber suae fortunea), exempt from biblical or historical determinism, “divine grace,” or economic and material constraints.(29) Paganism stresses a heroic attitude toward life as opposed to the Christian attitude of culpability and fear toward life. Sigrid Hunke writes of the [e/ssentialization of life, since both life and death have the same essence and are always contained in both. The life, which at any moment is face-to-death and with-death, renders the future per-manent in each instant, and life becomes eternal by acquiring an inscrutable profundity, and by assuming the value of eternity. For Hunke, along with other authors of pagan sensibility, in order to restore these pagan virtues in the secular city, man must first abandon the dualistic logic of religious and social exclusion, “a logic which has been responsible for extremism not only among individuals, but also among parties and peoples, and which, starting out from Europe, has disseminated into the world this dualistic split that has acquired planetary proportions.”(30) To achieve this ambitious goal, Western man must first rethink the meaning of history.
The Terror of History
Modern pagans remind us that Judeo-Christian monotheism has substantially altered man’s attitude toward history. By assigning history a specific goal, Judeo-Christianity has devalued all past events, except those that display the sign of Yahveh’s theophany. Undoubtedly, Yahveh does admit that man may have a history, but only insofar as history is bestowed with an assigned goal, a certain goal, and a specific goal. Should man, however, continue to cling to the concept of history that evokes collective memory of his tribe or people, he runs the risk of provoking Yahveh’s anger. For Jews, Christians, as well as Marxists, historicity is not the real essence of man; the real essence of man is beyond history. One could observe that the Judeo-Christian concept of the end of history correlates well with modern egalitarian and pacifist doctrines that inspire themselves, often unknowingly, with the Biblical proverb: “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isa. 11:6). De Benoist notes in L’éclipse that, unlike the pagan concept of history that involves organic solidarity and communal ties, the monotheistic concept of history creates divisions. Accordingly, Yahveh must forbid “mixtures” between the present and the past, between people and the divine, between Israel and the goyim (132). Christians, of course, will reject Jewish exclusiveness-as their century-long religious proselytism amply demonstrates-but they will, nonetheless, retain their own brand of exclusiveness against “infidel” Moslems, pagans, and other “false believers.”
Contrary to the Judeo-Christian dogma that asserts that historical time starts from one unique father, in European paganism there are no traces of the beginning of the time; instead, historical time is seen as a perpetual recommencement, the “eternal return” emanating from multiple and different fathers. In pagan cosmogony, as de Benoist writes, time is the reflection of the non-linear or spheric conception of history, a conception in which the past, the present, and the future are not perceived as stretches of cosmic time irrevocably cut off from each other, or following each other on the single line. Instead, present, past, and future are perceived as dimensions of actuality (L’éclipse 131). In pagan cosmogony, it is incumbent to each people to assign itself a role in history, which in practice means that there cannot be self-appointed peoples occupying the central stage in history. Similarly, just as it is erroneous to speak about one truth, it is equally wrong to maintain that entire humanity must pursue the same and unique historical direction, as proposed by Judeo-Christian universalism and its secular fall-out “global democracy.”
The Judeo-Christian concept of history suggests that the flow of’ historical time is monolinear and, therefore, limited by its significance and meaning. Henceforth, for Jews and Christians, history can be apprehended only as a totality governed by a sense of ultimate end and historical fulfillment. History for both Jews and Christians appears at best parenthetical, at worst an ugly episode or a “vale of tears,” which one of these days must be erased from earth and transcended by paradise.
Furthermore, Judeo-Christian monotheism excludes the possibility of historical return or “recommencement”; history has to unfold in a predetermined way by making its way toward a final goal. In the modern secular city, the idea of Christian finality will be transposed into a myth of a finite “classless” society, or the apolitical and ahistorical liberal consumer society. Here is how de Benoist sees it in L’éclipse:
Legitimization by the future that replaces legitimization of the immemorial times authorizes all uprootedness, all emancipations” regarding the adherence in its original form. This utopian future that replaces a mythic past is incidentally always the generator of deceptions, because the best that it announces must constantly be put off to a later date. Temporality is no longer a founding element of the deployment of the being who tries to grasp the game of the world temporality is pursued from one goal, reached from one end; expectation and no longer communion.
To submit globally the historical becoming to an obligatory meaning means in fact to shut history in the reign of objectivity, which reduces choices, orientations and projects. (155-56)
Only the future can enable Jews and Christians to “rectify” the past. Only the future assumes the value of redemption. Henceforth, historical time for Jews and Christians is no longer reversible; from now on each historical occurrence acquires the meaning of divine providence, of “God’s” finger, or theophany. In the secular city, this line of monolinear thinking will give birth to the “religion” of progress and the belief in boundless economic growth. Did not Moses receive the Laws at a certain place and during a certain time, and did not Jesus later preach, perform miracles, and was he not crucified at a specifically recorded time and place? Did not the end of history begin for Communists with the Bolshevik Revolution, and for liberals with the American century? These “divine” interventions in human history are never again to be repeated. Eliade summarizes this point in the following words:
“Under the “pressure of history” and supported by the prophetic and Messianic experience, a new interpretation of historical events dawns among the children of Israel. Without finally renouncing the traditional concept of archetypes and repetitions, Israel attempts to “save” historical events by regarding them as active presences of Yahveh. . . . Messianism gives them a new value, especially by abolishing their [historical events] possibility of repetition ad infinitum. When the Messiah comes, the world will be saved once and for all and history will cease to exist.”(31)
Directly commanded by the will of Yahweh, history henceforth functions as a series of events, with each event becoming irrevocable and irreversible. History is not only discarded, but also fought against. Pierre Chaunu, a contemporary French historian, observes that “the rejection of history is a temptation of those civilizations that have emerged out of Judeo-Christianity. “(32) In a similar tone, Michel Maffesoli writes that totalitarianism occurs in those countries that are hostile to history, and he adds: “We enter now into the reign of finality propitious to political eschatology whose outcome is Christianity and its profane forms, liberalism and Marxism.”(33)
The foregoing observations might need some comments. If one accepts the idea of the end of history, as proposed by monotheists, Marxists, and liberals, to what extent, then, can the entire historical suffering be explained? How is it possible, from liberal and Marxist points of view, to “redeem” past oppressions, collective sufferings, deportations, and humiliations that have filled up history? Suffice it to say that this enigma only underscores the difficulty regarding the concept of distributive justice in the egalitarian secular city. If a truly egalitarian society miraculously emerges, it will be, inevitably, a society of the elect-of those who, as Eliade noted, managed to escape the pressure of history by simply being born at a right time, at a right place, and in a right country. Paul Tillich noted, some time ago, that such equality would result in immense historical inequality, since it would exclude those who, during their life time, lived in unequal society, or-if one can borrow Arthur Koestler’s words-who perished with a  shrug of eternity.” (34) These quotes from Koestler and Eliade illustrate the difficulties of modern salutary ideologies that try to “arrest” time and create a secular paradise. Would it not be better in times of great crisis to borrow the pagan notion of cyclical history? This seems to be the case with some East European peoples who, in times of crisis or catastrophes, frequently resort to popular folklore and myths that help them, in an almost cathartic manner, better to cope with their predicament. Locchi writes:
“The new beginning of history is feasible. There is no such thing as historical truth. If historical truth truly existed then there would be no history. Historical truth must time and again be obtained; it must always be translated into action. And this is exactly-for us-the meaning of history.”(35)
We might conclude that for Christians it is Christ who defines the value of a human being, for a Jew it is Judaism that gauges someone’s “choseness,” and for Marx it is not the quality of man that defines the class, but rather the quality of the class that defines man. One thus becomes “elect” by virtue of his affiliation to his class or his religious belief.
Pagans or Monotheists: Who is More Tolerant?
As observed, Yahveh, similar to his future secular successors, in the capacity of the single truth-maker, is opposed to the presence of other gods and other values. As a reductionist, whatever exists beyond his fold must be either punished or destroyed. One can observe that, throughout history, the monotheistic true believers have been encouraged, in the name of “higher” historic truths, to punish those who strayed away from Yahveh’s assigned direction. Walter Scott writes:
“In many instances the Mosaic law of retaliation, an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” was invoked by the Israelites to justify the atrocities which they visited upon their fallen enemies … The history of the Israelite campaigns shows that the Hebrews were most often the aggressors.” (36)
Thus, in the name of historical truth, the ancient Hebrews could justify the slaughtering of Canaanite pagans, and in the name of Christian revelation, Christian states legitimized wars against infidel heretics, Jews, and pagans. It would be imprecise, however, in this context to downplay the pagan violence. The Greek destruction of the city of Troy, the Roman destruction of Carthage, clearly point to the frequently total and bloody nature of wars conducted by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet, it is also important to stress that seldom do we find among the ancients the self-righteous attitude toward their victories that accompanied Christian and Jewish military victories. Seldom, if ever, did the Romans or the Greeks attempt, after the military destruction of their opponents, to convert them to their own deities. By contrast, both the Gospel and the Old Testament are interspersed with acts of self-congratulatory justice that will, in turn, justify “redeeming” violence against opponents. Similarly, in the modern secular city, to wage war for democracy has become a particularly nefarious means for erasing all different polities that refuse the “theology” of global progress and that shun the credo of “global democracy.” To underscore this point, Pierre Gripari writes that Judaism, Christianity, and their secular offshoots Naziism, socialism, and liberalism, are barbarian doctrines that cannot have their place in the modern world (60).
By contrast, notes de Benoist, a system that recognizes an unlimited number of gods acknowledges also the plurality of cults offered in their honor, and above all, the plurality of customs, political and social systems, and conceptions of the world of which these gods are sublime expressions.(37) It follows from this that pagans, or believers in polytheism, are considerably less inclined to intolerance. Their relative tolerance is primarily attributed to the acceptance of the notion of the “excluded third” (“der ausgeschlossene Dritte”), as well as the rejection of Judeo-Christian dualism.
To underscore pagan relative tolerance, it is worth mentioning the attitude of Indo-European pagans toward their opponents during military confrontation. Jean Haudry remarks that war for pagans was conducted according to strict regulations; war was declared according to the rituals that beseeched first the help of gods and asked for their anger against the adversary. The conduct of war was subject to well-defined rules and consequently, “the victory consisted of breaking the resistance, and not necessarily of destroying the adversary” (161). In view of the fact that Judeo-Christianity does not permit relative truths, or different and contradictory truths, it will frequently adopt the policy of total war toward its opponents. Eliade writes that the “intolerance and fanaticism characteristic of the prophets and missionaries of the three monotheistic religions, have their model and justification in the example of Yahveh.”(38)
How does the monotheist intolerance transpire in the purportedly tolerant secular city? What are the secular consequences of Judeo-Christian monotheism in our epoch? In contemporary systems, it is the opposite, the undecided-i.e., those who have not taken sides, and those who refuse modern political eschatologies-that become the targets of ostracism or persecution: those who today question the utility of the ideology of “human rights,” globalism, or equality. Those, in short, who reject the liberal and communist credo.
In conclusion, one could say that, in the very beginning of its development, Judeo-Christian monotheism set out to demystify and desacralize the pagan world by slowly supplanting ancient pagan beliefs with the reign of the Judaic Law. During this century-long process, Christianity gradually removed all pagan vestiges that co-existed with it. The ongoing process of desacralization and the “Entzauberung” of life and politics appear to have resulted not from Europeans’ chance departure from Christianity, but rather from the gradual disappearance of the pagan notion of the sacred that coexisted for a long time with Christianity. The paradox of our century is that the Western world is saturated with Judeo-Christian mentality at the moment when churches and synagogues are virtually empty.
A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History
vol 24 No 2 winter 1995
(Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne)
22. Comment peut-on être païen?, 170, 26. De Benoist has been at odds with the so-called neo-conservative “nouveaux philosophes,” who attacked his paganism on the grounds that it was a tool of intellectual anti-Semitism, racism, and totalitarianism. In his response, de Benoist levels the same criticism against the “nouveaux philo-sophes.” See “Monothéisme-polythéisme: le grand debat,” Le Figaro Magazine, 28 April 1979, 83: “Like Horkheimer, like Ernest Bloch, like Levinas, like René Girard, what B. H. Lévy desires is less `audacity,’ less ideal, less politics, less power, less of the State, less of history. What he expects is the accomplishment of history, the end of all adversity (the adversity to which corresponds the Hegelian Gegenständlichkeit), disincarnate justice, the universal peace, the disappearance of frontiers, the birth of a homogenous society . . .“
23. Ernest Renan, Histoire générale des langues sémitiques (Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1853), 6.
24. Mircae Eliade, Histoire des croyances et des idées religieuses (Paris: Payot, 1976), 1:369, passim.
25. Jean-Marie Domenach, Le retour du tragique (Paris: édition du Seuil, 1967), 44-45.
26. Jean Haudry, Les Indo-Européens (Paris: PUF, 1981), 68.
27. Hans. K. Günther, The Religious Attitude of Indo-Europeans, trans. Vivian Bird and Roger Pearson (London: Clair Press, 1966), 21.
28. Alain de Benoist and Pierre Vial, La Mort (Paris: ed. Le Labyrinthe, 1983), 15.
29. Giorgio Locchi, “L’histoire,” Nouvelle Ecole 27/28 (1975):183-90.
30. Sigrid Hunke, La vraie religion de l’Europe, trans. Claudine Glot and Jean-Louis Pesteil (Paris: Le Labyrinthe, 1985), 253, 274. The book was first published under the title Europas eigene Religion: Der Glaube der Ketzer (Bergisch Gladbach: Gustav Lubbe, 1980).
31. Mircae Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1965), 106-7.
32. Pierre Chaunu, Histoire et foi (Paris: Edition France-Empire, 1980), quoted by de Benoist, Comment peut-on être païen? 109.
33. Michel Maffesoli, La violence totalitaire (Paris: PUF, 1979), 228-29.
34. See Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), 41, passim. “Shrug of eternity” are the last words Arthur Koestler uses in his novel Darkness at Noon (New York: Modern Library, 1941), 267.
35. Georgio Locchi, et al., “Über den Sinn der Geschichte,” Das unvergängliche Erbe (Tübingen: Grabert Verlag, 1981), 223.
36. Walter Scott, A New Look at Biblical Crime (New York: Dorset Press, 1979), 59.
37. Comment peut-on être païen? 157-58.
38. Mircea Eliade, Histoire des croyances, 1:194.
Modern Pagan Conservatives
There is ample evidence that pagan sensibility can flourish in the social sciences, literature, and arts, not just as a form of exotic narrative but also as a mental framework and a tool of conceptual analysis. Numerous names come to mind when we discuss the revival of Indo-European polytheism. In the first half of the twentieth century, pagan thinkers usually appeared under the mask of those who styled themselves as “revolutionary conservatives,” “aristocratic nihilist,” “elitists”-in short all those who did not wish to substitute Marx for Jesus, but who rejected both Marx and Jesus.(9) Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger in philosophy, Carl Gustav Jung in psychology, Georges Dumézil and Mircea Eliade in anthropology, Vilfredo Pareto and Oswald Spengler in political science, let alone dozens of poets such as Ezra Pound or Charles Baudelaire-these are just some of the names that can be associated with the legacy of pagan conservatism. All these individuals had in common the will to surpass the legacy of Christian Europe, and all of them yearned to include in their spiritual baggage the world of pre-Christian Celts, Slavs, and Germans.
In the age that is heavily laced with the Biblical message, many modern pagan thinkers, for their criticism of Biblical monotheism, have been attacked and stigmatized either as unrepentant atheists or as spiritual standard-bearers of fascism. Particularly Nietzsche, Heidegger, and more recently Alain de Benoist came under attack for allegedly espousing the philosophy which, for their contemporary detractors, recalled the earlier national socialist attempts to “de-christianize” and “repaganize” Germany. (10) These appear as unwarranted attacks. Jean Markale observes that “Naziism and Stalinism were, in a sense, also religions because of the acts that they triggered. They were also religions insofar as they implied a certain Gospel, in an etymological sense of the word . . . Real paganism, by contrast, is always oriented towards the realm of sublimation. Paganism cannot be in the service of temporal power.”(11) Paganism appears more a form of sensibility than a given political credo, and with the exhaustion of Christianity, one should not rule out its renewed flourishing in Europe.
Paganism Against the Monotheist Desert
Two thousand years of Judeo-Christian monotheism has left its mark on the Western civilization. In view of this, it should not come as a surprise that glorification of paganism, as well as the criticism of the Bible and Judeo-Christian ethics-especially when they come from the right wing spectrum of society-are unlikely to gain popularity in the secular city. It suffices to look at American society where attacks against Judeo-Christian principles are
frequently looked at with suspicion, and where the Bible and the Biblical myth of god’s “chosen people” still play a significant role in the American constitutional dogma. (12) Although the secular city has by now become indifferent to the Judeo-Christian theology, principles that derive from Judeo-Christian ethics, such as “peace,” “love,” and “universal brotherhood,” are still showing healthy signs of life. In the secular city many liberal and socialist thinkers, while abandoning the belief in Judeo-Christian theology, have not deemed it wise to abandon the ethics taught by the Bible.
Whatever one may think about the seemingly obsolete, dangerous, or even derogatory connotation of the term “European paganism,” it is important to note that this connotation is largely due to the historical and political influence of Christianity. Etymologically, paganism is related to the beliefs and rituals that were in usage in European villages and countryside. But paganism, in its modern version, may connote also a certain sensibility and a “way of life” that remains irreconcilable with Judeo-Christian monotheism. To some extent European peoples continue to be “pagans” because their national memory, their geographic roots, and, above all, their ethnic allegiances-which often contain allusions to ancient myths, fairy tales, and forms of folklore bear peculiar marks of pre-Christian themes. Even the modern resurgence of separatism and regionalism in Europe appears as an offshoot of pagan residues. As Markale observes, “the dictatorship of Christian ideology has not silenced those ancient customs; it has only suppressed them into the shadow of the unconscious” (16). The fact that all of Europe is today swept by growing nationalism bears witness to the permanency of the pagan sense of tribal historical memory.
In European culture, polytheistic beliefs began to dwindle with the consolidation of Christianity. In the centuries to come, the European system of explanation, whether in theology or, later on, in sociology, politics, or history gradually came under the sway of Judeo-Christian outlook of the world. David Miller observes that Judeo-Christian monotheism considerably altered the Europeans’ approach to the social sciences as well as to the overall perception of the world. In view of these changes, who can reassure us about our own objectivity, especially when we try to understand the pagan world with the goggles of the postmodern Judeo-Christian man? It is no wonder that when paganism was removed from Europe the perceptual and epistemological disruptions in sciences also followed suit. Consequently, with the consolidation of the Judeo-Christian belief, the world and the world phenomena came under the sway of the fixed concepts and categories governed by the logic of “either-or,” “true or false,” and “good or evil,” with seldom any shadings in between. The question, however, arises whether in the secular city-a city replete with intricate choices and complex social differences that stubbornly refuse all categorizations-this approach remains desirable.(13) It is doubtful that Judeo-Christian monotheism can continue to offer a valid solution for the understanding of the increasingly complex social reality that modern man faces in the secular city. Moreover, the subsequent export of Judeo-Christian values to the antipodes of the world caused similar disruptions, yielding results opposite from those originally espoused by the Westerners, and triggering virulent hatred among non-Western populations. Some authors have quite persuasively written that Christian ecumenism, often championed as the “white man’s Christian burden,” has been one of the main purveyors of imperialism, colonialism, and racism in the Third World.(14)
In the modern secular city, the century-long and pervasive influence of Christianity has significantly contributed to the view that each glorification of paganism, or, for that matter, the nostalgia of the Greco-Roman order, is outright strange or at best irreconcilable with contemporary society. Recently, however, Thomas Molnar, a Catholic philosopher who seems to be sympathetic to the cultural revival of paganism, noted that modern adherents of neo-paganism are more ambitious than their predecessors. Molnar writes that the aim of pagan revival does not have to mean the return to the worship of ancient European deities; rather, it expresses a need to forge another civilization or, better yet, a modernized version of the “scientific and cultural Hellenism” that was once a common reference for all European peoples. And with visible sympathy for the polytheistic endeavors of some modern pagan conservatives, Molnar adds:
The issue is not how to conquer the planet but rather how to promote an oikumena of the peoples and civilizations that have rediscovered their origins. The assumption goes that the domination of stateless ideologies, notably the ideology of American liberalism and Soviet socialism, would come to an end. One believes in rehabilitated paganism in order to restore to peoples their genuine identity that existed before monotheist corruption. (15)
Such a candid view by a Catholic may also shed some light on the extent of disillusionment among Christians in their secular cities. The secularized world full of affluence and richness does not seem to have stifled the spiritual needs of man. How else to explain that throngs of European and American youngsters prefer to trek to pagan Indian ashrams rather than to their own sacred sites obscured by Judeo-Christian monotheism? Anxious to dispel the myth of pagan “backwardness,” and in an effort to redefine European paganism in the spirit of modern times, the contemporary protagonists of paganism have gone to great lengths to present its meaning in a more attractive and scholarly fashion. One of their most outspoken figures, Alain de Benoist, summarizes the modern meaning of paganism in the following words:
Neo-paganism, if there is such a thing as neo-paganism, is not a phenomenon of a sect, as some of its adversaries, but also some of the groups and chapels, sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes awkward, frequently funny and completely marginal, imagine … [What worries us today, at least according to the idea which we have about it, is less the disappearance of paganism but rather its resurgence under primitive and puerile form, affiliated to that “second religion,” which Spengler justifiably depicted as characteristic of cultures in decline, and of which Julius Evola writes that they “correspond generally to a phenomenon of evasion, alienation, confused compensation, without any serious repercussion on reality. (16)
Paganism, as a profusion of bizarre cults and sects, is not something modern pagan thinkers have in mind. A century ago, pagan philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had already observed in Der Antichrist that, when a nation becomes too degenerate or too uprooted, it must place its energy into various forms of Oriental cults, and simultaneously “it must change its own God” (979). Today, Nietzsche’s words sound more prophetic than ever. Gripped by decadence and rampant hedonism, the masses from the secular city are looking for the vicarious evasion in the presence of Indian gurus or amidst a host of Oriental prophets. But beyond this Western semblance of transcendence, and behind the Westerners’ self-hatred accompanied by puerile infatuation with Oriental mascots, there is more than just a transitory weariness with Christian monotheism. When modern cults indulge in the discovery of perverted paganism, they also may be in search of the sacred that was driven underground by the dominating Judeo-Christian discourse.
From Monotheist Desert to Communist Anthropology
Has monotheism introduced into Europe an alien “anthropology” responsible for the spread of egalitarian mass society and the rise of totalitarianism, as some pagan thinkers seem to suggest? Some authors appear to support this thesis, arguing that the roots of tyranny do not lie in Athens or Sparta, but are traceable, instead, to Jerusalem. In a dialogue with Molnar, de Benoist suggests that monotheism upholds the idea of only one absolute truth; it is a system where the notion of the enemy is associated with the evil, and where the enemy must be physically exterminated (cf. Deut. 13). In short, observes de Benoist, Judeo-Christian universalism, two thousand years ago, set the stage for the rise of modern egalitarian aberrations and their modern secular offshoots, including communism.
That there are totalitarian regimes “without God,” is quite obvious, the Soviet Union for example. These regimes, nonetheless, are the “inheritors” of the Christian thought in the sense as Carl Schmitt demonstrated that the majority of modern political principles are secularized theological principles. They bring down to earth a structure of exclusion; the police of the soul yield its place to the police of the state; the ideological wars follow up to the religious wars. (17)
Similar observations were echoed earlier by the philosopher Louis Rougier as well as by the political scientist Vilfredo Pareto, both of whom represented the “old guard” of pagan thinkers and whose philosophical researches were directed toward the rehabilitation of European political polytheism. Both Rougier and Pareto are in agreement that Judaism and its perverted form, Christianity, introduced into the European conceptual framework an alien type of reasoning that leads to wishful thinking, utopianism, and the ravings about the static future.(18) Similar to Latter-day Marxists, early Christian belief in egalitarianism must have had a tremendous impact on the deprived masses of northern Africa and Rome, insofar as it promised equality for the “wretched of the earth,” for odium generis humani, and all the proles of the world. Commenting on Christian proto-communists, Rougier recalls that Christianity came very early under the influence of both the Iranian dualism and the eschatological visions of the Jewish apocalypses. Accordingly, Jews and, later on, Christians adopted the belief that the good who presently suffer would be rewarded in the future. In the secular city, the same theme was later interwoven into modern socialist doctrines that promised secular paradise. “There are two empires juxtaposed in the space,” writes Rougier, “one governed by God and his angels, the other by Satan and Belial.” The consequences of this largely dualistic vision of the world resulted, over a period of time, in Christian-Marxist projection of their political enemies as always wrong, as opposed to Christian-Marxist attitude considered right. For Rougier, the Greco-Roman intolerance could never assume such total and absolute proportions of religious exclusion; the intolerance towards Christians, Jews, and other sects was sporadic, aiming at certain religious customs deemed contrary to Roman customary law (such as circumcision, human sacrifices, sexual and religious orgies). (19)
By cutting themselves from European polytheistic roots, and by accepting Christianity, Europeans gradually began to adhere to the vision of the world that emphasized the equality of souls, and the importance of spreading God’s gospel to all peoples, regardless of creed, race, or language (Paul, Galatians 3:28). In the centuries to come, these egalitarian cycles, in secularized forms, entered first the consciousness of Western man and, after that, entire humankind. Alain de Benoist writes:
According to the classical process of the development and degra-dation of cycles, the egalitarian theme has entered our culture from the stage of the myth (equality before God), to the stage of ideology (equality before people); after that, it has passed to the stage of “scientific pretension” (affirmation of the egalitarian fact). In short, from Christianity to democracy, and after that to socialism and Marxism. The most serious reproach which one can formulate against Christianity is that it has inaugurated this egalitarian cycle by introducing into European thought a revolutionary anthropology, with universalist and totalitarian character.(20) One could probably argue that Judeo-Christian monotheism, as much as it implies universalism and egalitarianism, also suggests religious exclusiveness that directly emanates from the belief in one undisputed truth. The consequence of the Christian belief in theological oneness-e.g., that there is only one God, and therefore only one truth-has naturally led, over the centuries, to Christian temptation to obliterate or downplay all other truths and values. One can argue that when one sect proclaims its religion as the key to the riddle of the universe and if, in addition, this sect claims to have universal aspirations, the belief in equality and the suppression of all human differences will follow suit. Accordingly, Christian intolerance toward “infidels” could always be justified as a legitimate response against those who departed from the belief in Yahveh’s truth. Hence, the concept of Christian “false humility” toward other confessions, a concept that is particularly obvious in regard to Christian attitude toward Jews. Although almost identical in their worship of one god, Christians could never quite reconcile themselves to the fact that they also had to worship the deity of those whom they abhorred in the first place as a deicide people. Moreover, whereas Christianity always has been a universalist religion, accessible to everybody in all corners of the world, Judaism has remained an ethnic religion of only the Jewish people. (21) As de Benoist writes, Judaism sanctions its own nationalism, as opposed to nationalism of the Christians which is constantly belied by the Christian universalist principles. In view of this, “Christian anti-Semitism,” writes de Benoist, “can justifiably be described as a neurosis.” Might it be that the definite disappearance of anti-Semitism, as well as virulent inter-ethnic hatred, presupposes first the recantation of the Christian belief in universalism?
9. About European revolutionary conservatives, see the seminal work by Armin Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland, 1919-1933 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1972). See also Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (New York: Peter Lang, 1990).
10. See notably the works by Alfred Rosenberg, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (München: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1933). Also worth noting is the name of Wilhelm Hauer, Deutscher Gottschau (Stuttgart: Karl Gutbrod, 1934), who significantly popularized Indo-European mythology among national socialists; on pages 240-54 Hauer discusses the difference between Judeo-Christian Semitic beliefs and European paganism.
11. Jean Markale, “Aujourd’hui, l’esprit païen?” in L’Europe paienne (Paris: Seghers, 1980), 15. The book contains pieces on Slavic, Celtic, Latin, and Greco-Roman paganism.
12. Milton Konvitz, Judaism and the American Idea (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978), 71. Jerol S. Auerbach, “Liberalism and the Hebrew Prophets,” in Commentary 84:2 (1987):58. Compare with Ben Zion Bokser in “Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism,” in Judaism and Human Rights, ed. Milton
Konvitz (New York: Norton, 1972): “The Talmud ordained with great emphasis that every person charged with the violation of some law be given a fair trial and before the law all were to be scrupulously equal, whether a king or a pauper” (146). Ernst Troeltsch, Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen and Gruppen (1922; Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1965), 768; also the
passage “Naturrechtlicher and liberaler Character des freikirchlichen Neucalvinismus,” (762-72). Compare with Georg Jellinek, Die Erklärung der Menschen-und Bürgerrechte (Leipzig: Duncker and Humblot, 1904): “(t)he idea to establish legally the unalienable, inherent and sacred rights of individuals, is not of political, but religious origins” (46). Also Werner Sombart, Die Juden and das Wirtschaftsleben (Leipzig: Verlag Duncker and Humblot, 1911): “Americanism is to a great extent distilled Judaism (“geronnene Judentum”)” (44).
13. David Miller, The New Polytheism (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 7, passim.
14. Serge Latouche, L’occidentalisation du monde (Paris: La
15. Thomas Molnar, “La tentation paienne,” Contrepoint 38 (1981):53.
16. Alain de Benoist, Comment peut-on etre païen? (Paris: Albin Michel, 1981), 25.
17. Alain de Benoist, L’éclipse du sacré (Paris: La Table ronde, 1986), 233; see also the chapter, “De la sécularisation,” 198-207. Also Carl Schmitt, Die politische Theologie (München and Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1922), 35-46: “(a)ll salient concepts in modern political science are secularized theological concepts” (36).
18. Gerard Walter, Les origines du communisme (Paris: Payot, 1931): “Les sources judaiques de la doctrine communiste chrétienne” (13-65). Compare with Vilfredo Pareto, Les systèmes socialistes (Paris: Marcel Girard, 1926): “Les systèmes métaphy-siques-communistes” (2:2-45). Louis Rougier, La mystique démocratique, ses origines ses illusions (Paris: éd. Albatros, 1983), 184. See in its entirety the passage, “Le judaisme et la révolution sociale,” 184-187.
19. Louis Rougier, Celse contre les chrétiens (Paris: Copernic, 1977), 67, 89. Also, Sanford Lakoff, “Christianity and Equality,” in Equality, ed. J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapaman (New York: Atherton, 1967), 128-30.
20. Alain de Benoist, “L’Eglise, L’Europe et le Sacré,” in Pour une renaissance culturelle (Paris: Copernic, 1979), 202.
21. Louis Rougier, Celse, 88.
With the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity, the period of pagan Europe began to approach its end. During the next millennium the entire European continent came under the sway of the Gospel-sometimes by peaceful persuasion, frequently by forceful conversion. Those who were yesterday the persecuted of the ancient Rome became, in turn, the persecutors of the Christian Rome. Those who were previously bemoaning their fate at the hands of Nero, Diocletian, or Caligula did not hesitate to apply “creative” violence against infidel pagans. Although violence was nominally prohibited by the Christian texts, it was fully used against those who did not fit into the category of God’s “chosen children.” During the reign of Constantine, the persecution against the pagans took the proportions “in a fashion analogous to that whereby the old faiths had formerly persecuted the new, but in an even fiercer spirit.” By the edict of A.D. 346, followed ten years later by the edict of Milan, pagan temples and the worship of pagan deities came to be stigmatized as magnum crimen. The death penalty was inflicted upon all those found guilty of participating in ancient sacrifices or worshipping pagan idols. “With Theodosius, the administration embarked upon a systematic effort to abolish the various surviving forms of paganism through the disestablishment, disen-dowment, and proscription of surviving cults.”(1) The period of the dark ages began.
Christian and inter-Christian violence, ad majorem dei gloriam, did not let up until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Along with Gothic spires of breathtaking beauty, the Christian authorities built pyres that swallowed nameless thousands. Seen in hindsight, Christian intolerance against heretics, Jews, and pagans may be compared to the twentieth-century Bolshevik intolerance against class opponents in Russia and Eastern Europe-with one exception: it lasted longer. During the twilight of imperial Rome, Christian fanaticism prompted the pagan philosopher Celsus to write: “They [Christians] will not argue about what they believe-they always bring in their, `Do not examine, but believe’. . .” Obedience, prayer, and the avoidance of critical thinking were held by Christians as the most expedient tools to eternal bliss. Celsus described Christians as individuals prone to factionalism and a primitive way of thinking, who, in addition, demonstrate a remarkable disdain for life.(2) A similar tone against Christians was used in the nineteenth century by Friedrich Nietzsche who, in his virulent style, depicted Christians as individuals capable of displaying both self-hatred and hatred towards others, i.e., “hatred against those who think differently, and the will to persecute.”(3) Undoubtedly, early Christians must have genuinely believed that the end of history loomed large on the horizon and, with their historical optimism, as well as their violence against the “infidels,” they probably deserved the name of the Bolsheviks of antiquity. As suggested by many authors, the break-up of the Roman Empire did not result only from the onslaught of barbarians, but because Rome was already “ruined from within by Christian sects, conscientious objectors, enemies of the official cult, the persecuted, persecutors, criminal elements of all sorts, and total chaos.” Paradoxically, even the Jewish God Yahveh was to experience a sinister fate: “he would be converted, he would become Roman, cosmopolitan, ecumenical, gentile, goyim, globalist, and finally anti-Semite. “(!)(4) It is no wonder that, in the following centuries, Christian churches in Europe had difficulties in trying to reconcile their universalist vocation with the rise of nationalist extremism.
Pagan Residues in the Secular City
Although Christianity gradually removed the last vestiges of Roman polytheism, it also substituted itself as the legitimate heir of Rome. Indeed, Christianity did not cancel out paganism in its entirety; it inherited from Rome many features that it had previously scorned as anti-Christian. The official pagan cults were dead but pagan spirit remained indomitable, and for centuries it kept resurfacing in astounding forms and in multiple fashions: during the period of Renaissance, during Romanticism, before the Second World War, and today, when Christian Churches increasingly recognize that their secular sheep are straying away from their lone shepherds. Finally, ethnic folklore seems to be a prime example of the survival of paganism, although in the secular city folklore has been largely reduced to a perishable commodity of culinary or tourist attraction. (5) Over the centuries, ethnic folklore has been subject to transformations, adaptations, and the demands and constraint of its own epoch; yet it has continued to carry its original archetype of a tribal founding myth. Just as paganism has always remained stronger in the villages, so has folklore traditionally been best protected among the peasant classes in Europe. In the early nineteenth century, folklore began to play a decisive role in shaping national consciousness of European peoples, i.e., “in a community anxious to have its own origins and based on a history that is more often reconstructed than real. “(6)
The pagan content was removed, but the pagan structure remained pretty much the same. Under the mantle and aura of Christian saints, Christianity soon created its own pantheon of deities. Moreover, even the message of Christ adopted its special meaning according to place, historical epoch, and genius loci of each European people. In Portugal, Catholicism manifests itself differently than in Mozambique; and rural Poles continue to worship many of the same ancient Slavic deities that are carefully interwoven into the Roman Catholic liturgy. All over contemporary Europe, the erasable imprint of polytheist beliefs continues to surface. The Yule celebration represents one of the most glaring examples of the tenacity of pagan residues. (7) Furthermore, many former pagan temples and sites of worship have been turned into sacred places of the Catholic Church. Lourdes in France, Medjugorje in Croatia, sacred rivers, or mountains, do they not all point to the imprint of pre-Christian pagan Europe? The cult of mother goddess, once upon a time intensely practiced by Celts, particularly near rivers, can be still observed today in France where many small chapels are built near fountains and sources of water. (8) And finally, who could dispute the fact that we are all brain children of pagan Greeks and Latins? Thinkers, such as Virgil, Tacitus, Heraclitus are as modern today as they were during the dawn of European civilization.
1. Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (New York: Oxford UP, 1957), 254-55, 329.
2. T. R. Glover, The Conflict of Religion in the Early Roman Empire (1909; Boston: Beacon, 1960), 242, 254, passim.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Antichrist, in Nietzsches Werke
(Salzburg/Stuttgart: Verlag “Das Berlgand-Buch,” 1952), 983, para. 21.
4. Pierre Gripari, L’histoire du méchant dieu (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1987), 101-2.
5. Michel Marmin, “Les Piegès du folklore’,” in La Cause des peuples (Paris: édition Le Labyrinthe, 1982), 39-44.
6. Nicole Belmont, Paroles paiennes (Paris: édition Imago, 1986), 160-61.
7. Alain de Benoist, Noël, Les Cahiers européens (Paris: Institut de documentations et d’études européens, 1988).
8. Jean Markale, et al., “Mythes et lieux christianisés,” L’Europe paienne (Paris: Seghers, 1980), 133.
Peaceful modern societies which respect the individual evolved from age-old family ties. The transition from band-type societies, through clan and tribal organizations, into nation-states was peaceful only when accomplished without disruption of the basic ties which link the individual to the larger society by a sense of a common history, culture and kinship. The sense of “belonging” to a nation by virtue of such shared ties promotes cooperation, altruism and respect for other members. In modern times, traditional ties have been weakened by the rise of mass societies and rapid global communication, factors which bring with them rapid social change and new philosophies which deny the significance of the sense of nationhood, and emphasize individualism and individualistic goals. The cohesion of societies has consequently been threatened, and replaced by multicultural and multi-ethnic societies and the overwhelming sense of lost identity in the mass global society in which Western man, at least, has come to conceive himself as belonging.
Sociologically, the first theorist to identify this change was the Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who emphasized the tendency for mass urban societies to break down when the social solidarity characteristic of tribal and national societies disappeared. Ibn Khaldun saw dramatically the contrast between the morality of the nationalistic and ethnically unified Berbers of North Africa and the motley collation of peoples who called themselves Arabs under Arabic leadership, but did not possess the unity and sense of identity that had made the relatively small population of true Arabs who had built a widespread and Arabic-speaking Empire. Later it was Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936) who introduced this thought to modern sociology. He did so in his theory of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, 1887). This theory revealed how early tribal or national (gemeinschaft) societies achieved harmonious collaboration and cooperation, more or less automatically, due to the common culture and sense of common genetic and cultural identity in which all members were raised. This avoided major conflicts concerning basic values since all shared a common set of mores and a common sense of destiny. However, as history progressed, larger multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies began to develop, and these Tönnies described as being united by gesellschaft ties. These were not united by any common set of values or historical identity, and collaboration was only maintained due to the need to exchange goods and services. In short, their existence came to depend on economic relations, and as a result of the diversity of cultural values, the lack of any “family feeling,” and the emphasis on economic exchange and economic wealth, conflict over wealth and basic values was likely to disrupt the harmony of such societies at any time. In political terms, liberalism developed to eulogize the freedom of individuals from claims to national loyalty and support for national destiny, while Marxism grew out of the dissatisfaction felt by those who were less successful in achieving wealth and power, which now came to represent the primary goals of the individuals who were left at the mercy of the modern mass gesellschaft society. Nationalism and any sense of loyalty to the nation as a distinct ethnic kinship unit, came to be anathematized by both liberals and Marxists.
* * *
“A specter is haunting Europe-a specter of communism,” wrote Marx in the preface of The Manifesto. A century later this specter became a mere phantom, with liberalism the dominant force. Over the last several decades, liberalism used communism as a scarecrow to legitimize itself. Today, however, with the bankruptcy of communism, this mode of “negative legitimization” is no longer convincing. At last, liberalism, in the sense of the emphasis on the individual above and even against that of the nation, actually endangers the individual by undermining the stability of the society which gives him identity, values, purpose and meaning, the social, cultural and biological nexus to which he owes his very being.
Fundamentally, classical liberalism was a doctrine which, out of an abstract individual, created the pivot of its survival. In its mildest form it merely emphasized individual freedom of action, and condemned excessive bureaucratic involvement by government. But praiseworthy though its defense of individual freedom was, its claim that the ideal system is that in which there is the least possible emphasis on nationhood, leads to situations which in fact endanger the freedom of the individual. In its extreme form, classical liberalism has developed into universal libertarianism, and at this point it comes close to advocating anarchy.From the sociological standpoint, in its extreme form, modern internationalist liberalism defines itself totally in terms of the gesellschaft society of Tönnies. It denies the historical concept of the nation state by rejecting the notion of any common interest between individuals who traditionally shared a common heritage. In the place of nationhood it proposes to generate a new international social pattern centered on the individual’s quest for optimal personal and economic interest. Within the context of extreme liberalism, only the interplay of individual interests creates a functional society-a society in which the whole is viewed only as a chance aggregate of anonymous particles. The essence of modern liberal thought is that order is believed to be able to consolidate itself by means of all-out economic competition, that is, through the battle of all against all, requiring governments to do no more than set certain essential ground rules and provide certain services which the individual alone cannot adequately provide. Indeed, modern liberalism has gone so far along this path that it is today directly opposed to the goals of classical liberalism and libertarianism in that it denies the individual any inalienable right to property, but still shares with modern liberalism and with libertarianism an antagonism toward the idea of nationhood. Shorn of the protection of a society which identifies with its members because of a shared national history and destiny, the individual is left to grasp struggle for his own survival, without the protective sense of community which his forebears enjoyed since the earliest of human history.
Decadence in modern mass multicultural societies begins at a moment when there is no longer any discernable meaning within society. Meaning is destroyed by raising individualism above all other values, because rampant individualism encourages the anarchical proliferation of egotism at the expense of the values that were once part of the national heritage, values that give form to the concept of nationhood and the nation state, to a state which is more than just a political entity, and which corresponds to a particular people who are conscious of sharing a common heritage for the survival of which they are prepared to make personal sacrifices.Man evolved in cooperating groups united by common cultural and genetic ties, and it is only in such a setting that the individual can feel truly free, and truly protected. Men cannot live happily alone and without values or any sense of identity: such a situation leads to nihilism, drug abuse, criminality and worse. With the spread of purely egotistic goals at the expense of the altruistic regard for family and nation, the individual begins to talk of his rights rather than his duties, for he no longer feels any sense of destiny, of belonging to and being a part of a greater and more enduring entity. He no longer rejoices in the secure belief that he shares in a heritage which it is part of his common duty to protect-he no longer feels that he has anything in common with those around him. In short, he feels lonely and oppressed. Since all values have become strictly personal, everything is now equal to everything; e.g., nothing equals nothing.
“A society without strong beliefs,” declared Régis Debray in his interview with J.P. Enthoven in Le Nouvel Observateur, (October 10, 1981), “is a society about to die.” Modern liberalism is particularly critical of nationalism. Hence, the question needs to be raised: Can modern liberal society provide strong unifying communal beliefs in view of the fact that on the one hand it views communal life as nonessential, while on the other, it remains impotent to envision any belief-unless this belief is reducible to economic conduct? Moreover, there seems to be an obvious relationship between the negation and the eclipse of the meaning and the destruction of the historical dimension of the social corpus. Modern liberals encourage “narcissism”; they live in the perpetual now. In liberal society, the individual is unable to put himself in perspective, because putting himself in perspective requires a clear and a collectively perceived consciousness of common heritage and common adherence. As Régis Debray remarks, “In the capacity of isolated subjects men can never become the subjects of action and acquire the capability of making history” (Critique de la raison politique, op. cit. p. 207). In liberal societies, the suppression of the sense of meaning and identity embedded in national values, leads to the dissolution of social cohesion as well as to the dissolution of group consciousness. This dissolution, in turn, culminates in the end of history. Being the most typical representative of the ideology of egalitarianism, modern liberalism, in both its libertarian and socialist variants, appears to be the main factor in this dissolution of the ideal of nationhood. When the concept of society, from the sociological standpoint, suggests a system of simple ‘horizontal interactions,’ then this notion inevitably excludes social form. As a manifestation of solidarity, society can only be conceived in terms of shared identity-that is, in terms of historical values and cultural traditions (cf. Edgar Morin: “The communal myth gives society its national cohesion.”) By contrast, liberalism undoes nations and systematically destroys their sense of history, tradition, loyalty and value. Instead of helping man to elevate himself to the sphere of the superhuman, it divorces him from all ‘grand projects’ by declaring these projects ‘dangerous’ from the point of view of equality. No wonder, therefore, that the management of man’s individual well-being becomes his sole preoccupation. In the attempt to free man from all constraints, liberalism brings man under the yoke of other constraints which now downgrade him to the lowest level. Liberalism does not defend liberty; it destroys the independence of the individual. By eroding historical memories, liberalism extricates man from history. It proposes to ensure his means of existence, but robs him of his reason to live and deprives him of the possibility of having a destiny.
There are two ways of conceiving of man and society. The fundamental value may be placed on the individual, and when this is done the whole of mankind is conceived as the sum total of all individuals-a vast faceless proletariat-instead of as a rich fabric of diverse nations, cultures and races. It is this conception that is inherent in liberal and socialist thought. The other view, which appears to be more compatible with man’s evolutionary and socio-biological character, is when the individual is seen as enjoying a specific biological and cultural legacy-a notion which recognizes the importance of kinship and nationhood. In the first instance, mankind, as a sum total of individuals, appears to be “contained” in each individual human being; that is, one becomes first a “human being,” and only then, as by accident, a member of a specific culture or a people. In the second instance, mankind comprises a complex phylogenetic and historic network, whereby the freedom of the individual is guaranteed by the protection of family by his nation, which provide him with a sense of identity and with a meaningful orientation to the entire world population. It is by virtue of their organic adherence to the society of which they are a part that men build their humanity. As exponents of the first concept we encounter Descartes, the Encyclopaedists, and the emphasis on “rights”; nationality and society emanate from the individual, by elective choice, and are revokable at any time. As proponents of the second concept we find J.G. Herder and G.W. Leibniz, who stress the reality of cultures and ethnicity. Nationality and society are rooted in biological, cultural and historical heritage. The difference between these two concepts becomes particularly obvious when one compares how they visualize history and the structure of the real. Nationalists are proponents of holism. Nationalists see the individual as a kinsman, sustained by the people and community, which nurtures and protects him, and with which he is proud to identify. The individual’s actions represent an act of participation in the life of his people, and freedom of action is very real because, sharing in
the values of his associates, the individual will seldom seek to threaten the basic values of the community with which he identifies. Societies which lack this basic sense of national unity are inherently prone to suffer from repeated situations wherein the opposing values of its egotistical members conflict with each other. Furthermore, proponents of nationhood contend that a society or a people can survive only when: a) they remain aware of their cultural and historical origins; b) when they can assemble around a mediator, be it individual, or symbolic, who is capable of reassembling their energies and catalyzing their will to have a destiny; c) when they can retain the courage to designate their enemy. None of these conditions have been realized in societies that put economic gain above all other values, and which consequently:
a) dissolve historical memories;
b) extinguish the sublime and eliminate subliminal ideals;
c) assume that it is possible not to have enemies.
The results of the rapid change from national or tribal-oriented societies to the modern, anti-national individualism prevalent in contemporary “advanced” societies have been very well described by Cornelius Castoriadis: “Western societies are in absolute decomposition. There is no longer a vision of the whole that could permit them to determine and apply any political action …Western societies have practically ceased to be [nation] states … Simply put, they have become agglomerations of lobbies which, in a myopic manner, tear the society apart; where nobody can propose a coherent policy, and where everybody is capable of blocking an action deemed hostile to his own interests.” (Libération, 16 and 21 December, 1981).
Modern liberalism has suppressed patriotic nationhood into a situation in which politics has been reduced to a “delivery service” decision-making process resembling the economic “command post,” statesmen have been reduced to serving as tools for special interest groups, and nations have become little more than markets. The heads of modern liberal states have no options but to watch their citizenry being somatized by civilizational ills such as violence, delinquency, and drugs. Ernst Jünger once remarked that the act of veiled violence is more terrible than open violence. (Journal IV, September 6, 1945). And he also noted: “Slavery can be substantially aggravated when it assumes the appearance of liberty.” The tyranny of modern liberalism creates the illusion inherent in its own principles. It proclaims itself for liberty and cries out to defend “human rights” at the moment when it oppresses the most. The dictatorship of the media and the “spiral of silence” appear to be almost as effective in depriving the citizenry of its freedom by imprisonment. In the West, there is no need to kill: suffice it to cut someone’s microphone. To kill somebody by silence is a very elegant kind of murder, which in practice yields the same dividends as a real assassination-an assassination which, in addition, leaves the assassin with good conscience. Moreover, one should not forget the importance of such a type of assassination. Rare are those who silence their opponents for fun.
Patriotic nationhood does not target the notion of “formal liberties,” as some rigorous Marxists do. Rather, its purpose is to demonstrate that “collective
liberty,” i.e., the liberty of peoples to be themselves and to continue to enjoy the privilege of having a destiny, does not result from the simple addition of individual liberties. Proponents of nationhood instead contend that the “liberties” granted to individuals by liberal societies are frequently nonexistent; they represent simulacra of what real liberties should be. It does not suffice to be free to do something. Rather, what is needed is one’s ability to participate in determining the course of historical events. Societies dominated by modern liberal traditions are “permissive” only insofar as their general macrostability strips the populace of any real participation in the actual decision-making process. As the sphere in which the citizenry is permitted to “do everything” becomes larger, the sense of nationhood becomes paralyzed and loses its direction.
Liberty cannot be reduced to the sentiment that one has about it. For that matter, both the slave and the robot could equally well perceive themselves as free. The meaning of liberty is inseparable from the founding anthropology of man, an individual sharing a common history and common culture in a common community. Decadence vaporizes peoples, frequently in the gentlest of manners. This is the reason why individuals acting as individuals can only hope to flee tyranny, but cooperating actively as a nation they can often defeat tyranny.
Vol. 34, No. 3 (1994).
The text is based on an original
essay by Alain de Benoist
Translated and interpreted by Dr.Tomislav Sunic
(then working at the Juniata College)
Morphine is said to be good for people subject to severe depressions, or even pessimism. Although the drug first surfaced in a laboratory at the end of the last century, its basis, opium, had been used earlier by many aristocratic and reactionary thinkers. A young and secretive German romantic, Novalis, enjoyed eating and smoking opium juice, probably because he had always yearned to alleviate his nostalgia for death. Probably in order to write his poem Sehnsucht nach dem Tode. Early poets of Romanticism rejected the philosophy of rationalism and historical optimism. They turned inward to their irrational feelings, shrouding themselves in the pensive loneliness which opiates endlessly offer.
Once upon a distant time we met Homer’s Odysseus, who was frequently nagged by the childish behavior of his pesky sailors. Somewhere along the shores of northern Africa, Odysseus and his sailors had strayed away into the mythical land of the lotus flower. As soon as his sailors began to eat the lotus plant, they sank into forgetfulness, and immediately forgot their history and their homeland. It was with great pain that Odysseus succeeded in extracting them from artificial paradises. What can be worse for a nation than to erase its past and lose its collective memory?
Unlike many modern wannabe conservatives and televangelists, Greeks and Romans were not hypocrites. They frankly acknowledged the pleasures of wine and women. Sine Cerere et Bacco friget Venus – without food and wine sexual life withers away, too. The escape from industrial reality and the maddening crowd was one of the main motives for drug use among some reactionary poets and thinkers, who could not face the onset of mass society. The advent of early liberalism and socialism was accompanied not only by factory chimneys, but also by loneliness, decay, and decadence. If one could, therefore, not escape to the sunny Mediterranean, then one had to craft one’s own artificial paradise in rainy and foggy London. The young English Tory Thomas De Quincey, in his essay Confessions of an English Opium Eater, relates his Soho escapades with a poor prostitute Anna, as well as his spiritual journeys in the aftertaste of opium. De Quincey has a feeling that one life-minute lasts a century, finally putting an end to the reckless flow of time. The mystique of opium was also grasped by the mid-19th century French symbolist and poet Charles Baudelaire. He continued the aristo-nihilistic-revolutionary-conservative tradition of dope indulgence via the water pipe, i.e., the Pakistan huka. Similar to the lonely albatross, Baudelaire observes thedecaying France in which the steamroller of coming liberalism and democratism mercilessly crushes all esthetics and all poetics.
When studying the escapism of postmodernity, it is impossible to circumvent the leftist subculture and its pseudo-intellectual sycophants of 1968. The so-called sixty-eighters hollered out not only for liberty from all political authority, but also for free sex and drugs. Are these leftist claims not part of the modern religion of human rights? At the beginning of the 60’s, the musical alter egos of the Western left, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, called out to millions of young people throughout America and Europe, telling intruders to “get off of my cloud” and concluding that “everybody must get stoned.” Predictably, the right-wing answer to the decadence of liberal democracy was nihilistic counterdecadence. The main difference, however, between these two is that reactionary and rightist addicts do drugs for elitist and esoteric purposes. By their temperament and literary style they reject all democracy- whether it is of a socialist or liberal brand. When in the 20th century the flow of history switched from first gear into fifth gear, many rightist poets and thinkers posed a question: What to do after the orgy? The French right-leaning author Jean Cocteau answered the question this way: “Everything that we do in our life, even when we love, we perform in a rapid train running to its death. Smoking opium means getting off the train.”
Hashish and marijuana change the body language and enhance social philanthropy. Smoking joints triggers abnormal laughter. Therefore hashish may be described as a collectivistic drug custom-designed for individuals who by their lifestyle loathe solitude and who, like Dickens’ proverbial Ms. Jellyby, indulge in vicarious humanism and unrepentant globalism. In today’s age of promiscuous democracy, small wonder that marijuana is inhaled by countless young people all over liberalized Europe and America. In the permissive society of today, one is allowed to do everything-provided one does not rock the boat, i.e., “bogart” political correctness. Just as wine, over the last 2,000 years, has completely changed the political profile of the West, so has marijuana, over the last 30 years, completely ruined the future of Western youth. If Stalin had been a bit more intelligent he would have solemnly opened marijuana fields in his native Transcaucasia. Instead, communist tyrants resorted to the killing fields of the Gulag. The advantage of liberalism and social democracy is that via sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, by means of consumerism and hedonism, they function perfectly well; what communism was not able to achieve by means of the solid truncheon, liberalism has achieved by means of the solid joint. Indisputably, Western youth can be politically and correctly controlled when herded in techno-rap concerts and when welcomed in cafes in Holland, where one can freely buy marijuana as well as under-the-table “crack,” “speedball,” and “horse.” Are these items not logical ingredients of the liberal theology of human rights?
Cocaine reportedly induces eroticism and enhances the sex act. The late French fascist dandy and novelist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle liked coke, desiring all possible drugs and all impossible women. The problem, however, is that the coke intaker often feels invisible bugs creeping from his ankles up to his knees, so that he may imagine himself sleeping not with a beautiful woman but with scary reptiles. In his autobiographical novels Le feu follet and L’homme couvert de femmes, La Rochelle’s hero is constantly covered by women and veiled by opium and heroin sit-ins. In his long intellectual monologues, La Rochelle’s hero says: “A Frenchwoman, be she a whore or not, likes to be held and taken care of; an American woman, unless she hunts for a husband, prefers a passing relationship… Drug users are mystics in a materialistic age. Given that they can no longer animate and embellish this world, they do it in a reverse manner on themselves.” Indeed, La Rochelle’s hero ends up in suicide-with heroin and revolver. In 1945, with the approaching victory of the Allies, and in the capacity of the intellectual leader of the defunct Eurofascist international, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle also opted for suicide. The English conservative and aristocrat Aldous Huxley is unavoidable in studying communist pathology (Brave New World Revisited) and Marxist subintellectual schizophrenia (Grey Eminence). As a novelist and essayist his lifelong wish had been to break loose from the flow of time. Mexican mescaline and the artificial drug LSD enabled him new intellectual horizons for observing the end of his world and the beginning of a new, decadent one. Apparently mescaline is ideal for sensing the colors of late impressionist and pointillist painters. Every drop on Seurat’s silent water, every touch on Dufy’s leaf, or every stone on the still nature of old Vermeer, pours away into thousands of billions of new colors. In the essay The Doors of Perception, Huxley notes that “mescaline raises all colors to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind.” His intellectual experiments with hallucinogenic drugs continued for years, and even on his deathbed in California in 1963, he asked for and was given LSD. Probably to depart more picturesquely into timeless infinity. And what to say about the German centenarian, enigmatic essayist and novelist Ernst Jünger, whom the young Adolf Hitler in Weimar Germany also liked to read, and whom Dr. Joseph Goebbels wanted to lure into pro-Nazi collaboration? Yet Jünger, the aristocratic loner, refused all deals with the Nazis, preferring instead his martial travelogues. In his essay Annäherungen: Drogen and Rausch, Jünger describes his close encounters with drugs. He was also able to cut through the merciless wall of time and sneak into floating eternity. “Time slows down. . . . The river of life flows more gently… The banks are disappearing.” While both the French president François Mitterrand and the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, in the interest of Franco-German reconciliation, liked meeting and reading the old Jünger, they shied away from his contacts with drugs.
Ernst Jünger’s compatriot, the essayist, early expressionist, and medical doctor Gottfried Benn, also took drugs. His medical observations, which found their transfigurations in his poems “Kokain” and “Das Verlorene Ich,” were collected by Benn as a doctor-mortician in Berlin of the liberal-Weimarian Germany in decay. He records in his poetry nameless human destinies stretched out dead on the tables of his mortuary. He describes the dead meat of prostitutes out of whose bellies crawl squeaking mice. A connoisseur of French culture and genetics, Benn was subsequently offered awards and political baits by the Nazis, which he refused to swallow. After the end of the war, like thousands of European artists, Benn sank into oblivion. Probably also because he once remarked that “mighty brains are strengthened not on milk but on alkaloids.” Modern psychiatrists, doctors, and sociologists are wrong in their diagnosis of drug addiction among large segments of Western youth. They fail to realize that to combat drug abuse one must prevent its social and political causes before attempting to cure its deadly consequences. Given that the crux of the modern liberal system is the dictatorship of well-being and the dogma of boundless economic growth, many disabused young people are led to believe that everybody is entitled to eternal fun. In a make-believe world of media signals, many take for granted instant gratification by projecting their faces on the characters of the prime-time soaps. Before they turn into drug addicts, they become dependent on the videospheric surreality of television, which in a refined manner tells them that everybody must be handsome, rich, and popular. In an age of TV-mimicry, headless young masses become, so to speak, the impresarios of their own narcissism. Such delusions can lead to severe depressions, which in turn can lead to drugs and suicide. Small wonder that in the most liberal countries of the West, notably California, Holland, and Denmark, there is also the highest correlation between drug addiction and suicide. If drug abuse among some reactionary and conservative thinkers has always been an isolated and Promethean death wish to escape time, the same joint in leftist hands does more than burn the fingers of the individual: it poisons the entire society.
Chronicles of American Culture