There’s a famous story about Goethe, one that he himself relates, regarding his conduct during the siege of Mainz in 1793. As minister of war for the duchy of Weimar, Goethe had a professional obligation to accompany his Duke, Karl August, on two campaigns of the early French Revolutionary war in 1792 and 1793. During the first campaign, the disastrously indecisive German coalition invasion of France, Goethe had suffered under miserable conditions. He had been particularly haunted by the dead horses, drowned in mud, whose bodies had to be heaved from the road as the German army slowly retreated chased by heavy autumn rains.
Mainz had seceded from the Holy Roman Empire, they had declared themselves a Republic and Jacobins had seized power. After the successful German siege, as the revolutionary instigators attempted to flee the city, and Goethe at one point intervened with an angry crowd attempting to execute a party of the escaping Jacobins in front of his Duke’s headquarters. He walked out onto the street, reprimanded the crowd and returned to sit with his friend. When asked why he risked his safety with the mob to save the Jacobins they had been sent to expel, he responded “It is a peculiarity of my nature to prefer injustice than to tolerate disorder.” Such was his character.
A concept often thrown around by the would-be Right is Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch, the OverMan, the superior human, the man of action. It was likely stories like the above that Nietzsche had in mind though, rather than a vision of Stalin or Hitler. Like Nietzsche, Thomas Mann too admired Goethe to the point of almost obsessional resentment of his superiority, and this became the basis for his excellent novel, Lotte in Weimar. A historical fiction, the novel reconstructs a possible second meeting between Goethe and the subject of his Sorrows of Young Werther, a now aged widow, Charlotte Buff. While in Weimar for a few days she meets with many of Goethe’s associates from his later period, his secretary, his son, even Schopenhauer’s sister Adele shows up. Throughout it all the characters speak, often bitterly, of Goethe’s superiority, his indifference, ‘tolerance’:
“In Tolerance, I must admit, the master is great, even though his tolerance does sometimes make one uneasy.”
“Uneasy?” she queried, taken aback.
“Did I say uneasy?” he asked … As for his Tolerance,” he began again, “or, better expressed, his laissez-faire attitude, it would be well here to distinguish between two kinds: one comes from gentleness, from a Christian — in the broadest sense Christian — sense of one’s own fallibility and need for indulgence … But then there is another tolerance, whose source is indifference and disdain. It is harsher, and its effect is harsher, than any severity of blame. It would be intolerable and destructive, even if it came from God — though in that case, according to all our belief, love could not be wholly lacking. And probably is not; it may in fact be so that this tolerance is a mixture of love and condescension, which gives it something of the divine, and that is how it comes that one not only bears with it but submits oneself in lifelong servitude.”
In another place Madame de Staël summarized, a bit more eloquently perhaps, “if it weren’t for his estimable character we should fear his species of superiority.” This is the true essence of the Overman of Nietzsche, and it was a character as much reviled and resented by him as it was admired, for its core is not love and tolerance, but indifference and disdain. Renunciation became a secret code word for Goethe in his later writings, a central concept in his continued maturation, an indifference towards the world across every dimension one is powerless to act in order to focus on governing the domain of true freedom: ones own thoughts and character.
A battle intensely rages now, across the United States, one that all of its participants will likely come to regret warring one day soon should their true intentions ever fully blossom into consequences. So close, the fruit of revolution hangs above the demonstrator’s head, he leaps to grab it, and finds soon enough nothing there to support him when he comes crashing back down on his ass. The world is not the same place anymore. The instant he clutches the apple of discord in his hand, he realizes the future in his imagination, and discovers there isn’t a basis for it in the material conditions he left behind in his fancy’s flight. Everything must be upturned to find a firm foundation for tomorrow, every cornerstone of order, until there isn’t a world left.
At the present moment, it’s currently statues causing all the problems; whether or not to put up statues to rebels and commemorate their struggle to preserve values which are, with good reason, considered abhorrent to the vast majority of American citizens today. But this is only a front in a larger conflict.
The question revolves around what monuments ‘represent,’ what determines their ‘meaning,’ and how that meaning affects the world in which these monuments are situated. For those on both sides of the issue the statues can be interpreted in many ways. As having or not having historical value. As having or not having artistic value. As, despite being monuments to a side whose cause we don’t support, still, maybe or maybe not, commemorating nonetheless values of heroism, sacrifice and nobility in a time of war and inhumanity. These are all valid questions to consider when deciding to raise or keep a monument of any kind. But there is a shared undercurrent of thought which unites many proponents of either position in a tacit shared agreement as to the nature and operational rules of their struggle. And it is only within these mutually agreed parameters of conflict that the issue becomes so central, and is seen to be of such far reaching consequence to the future of civilization.
For those who wish to see the statues taken down, the belief is that they are artifacts of a past society which possessed oppressive elements. True enough, perhaps, but they go on to conclude that because of this, their continued existence recreates and manufactures that society within our own, on a literal level, thereby perpetuating it not just materially, but also spiritually on the level of its values. These values are magnetic, pulling human activity and thought along with them inexorably, so that the people caught in the wake unconsciously go about living as if they were in that past society, so as to make its reemergence fully actual.
This is a dubious model of humanity, and many defenders of the statues also reinforce this basic conceptual framework of evaluating the meaning these monuments have. To take them down is to extinguish the society that erected them, to completely eradicate it for all time and enslave its decedents to the capricious hand of a genocidal foreign conqueror. They too understand these statues as generating a physical force which organizes society and conditions the behaviors of its members. Only the values they wish to materially perpetuate differ between the two camps, who otherwise agree on this far more central point: that everything is ideological, and that there’s no escape for any of us from this truth.
Goethe, at one point to Eckermann, expresses a somewhat surprising view of human freedom. During a discussion on his late friend Schiller he expounds his position on the subject at some length:
“"Through all Schiller’s works,” continued Goethe, “goes the idea of freedom; though this idea assumed a new shape as Schiller advanced in his culture and became another man. In his youth, physical freedom occupied him and influenced his poems; in his later life, ideal freedom.
Freedom is an odd thing, and every man has enough of it if he only knew how to be satisfied and settled. What avails a superfluity of freedom which we cannot use? Look at this chamber, and the next — in which, though the open door, you see my bed. Neither of them is large,; and they are rendered still narrower by furniture, books, manuscripts and works of art; but they are enough for me. I have lived in them all the winder, scarcelt entering my front rooms. What have I had out of my spacious house and the liberty of going from one room to another, when I have not needed to use them?
If a man freedom enough to live healthily, and to work at his craft, he has enough; and so much all can easily obtain. Then all of us are only free under certain conditions, which we must fulfill. The citizen is as free as the nobleman, when he restrains himself within the limits God appointed by placing him that rank. The nobleman is as free as the prince; for, if he will but observe a few ceremonies at court, he may feel himself his equal. Freedom consists not in refusing to recognize anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us; for, by respecting it, we raise ourselves to it, and, by our very acknowledgment, prove that we bear within ourselves what is higher, and are worthy to be on a level with it.”
I quote to such an extent only to better frame this belief I here seek to expose and drive out from the Promethean heart once and for all; the belief in the Bugman of Ideology, the unfree man, who depends upon a world around himself to manufacture freedom for him to consume. He is the protester, the torch-bearer, the antifa, the dupe, the fool, the patsy, the idiot, the pawn of the self-styled wannabe grandmasters of a delusive ideological glass bead game.
Freedom is treated as a vulgar good to be expropriated and redistributed. As if the public sphere were a vault to be seized by force, and freedom a zero-sum game where only those who somehow physically possess it can enjoy it. This dim conception of man is one of bestial conditioning, where the mobs really are only that, a force to be programmed by means of symbols, flags, monuments, pamphlets, blog posts, and cardboard signs with shitty slogans.
The basic error both camps have fallen into is to believe that freedom was ever to be found in this civic-public-material realm in the first place, that someone else must currently be holding it and keeping it from them. But no one is satisfied, as much as every party now engaged believes their every opponent to hold the prize they wish to claim, there never seems to be enough freedom to go around. The Bugman of Ideology counts ideas up on his fingers, calculating how much he stands to gain with his every move, and above him, the organizers and propagandists seek only to appeal to his self-interest in order to advance their own abstract ideological strategies to seize total control of the public sphere.
To return to Goethe on Freedom, as much as we are conditioned by the world around us, there is a coextensive realm of ‘ideal’ freedom where we remain the undisputed masters. This freedom is everything and nothing. It’s not a freedom to change the world, to speak, to protest, to vote. It’s a freedom to exist, as a soul and spirit and mind; a freedom which is not dependent on exterior factors, but only on an inner will to develop it by means not of outer conquest, but of inner self-limitation and renunciation. Understand what is truly yours, it’s only that you have the freedom to control. What is beyond that realm is worthy of indifference to the extent it pretends to no imposition on our inner right, and disdain to the extent that it does. But this right is always inviolable as soon as we recognize it as such.
The Bugmen of ideology crawl around the monuments of Western Civilization, fighting over the scraps, believing they can put them back together, or simply assemble them anew into any form they design freely within themselves, so as to materially instantiate what they misunderstand as an actual, rather than a purely spiritual and intellectual harmony. Or at least this is what the leaders and organizers and spooks believe, as they fire up the swarming ideological cockroaches they seek to reduce man into. The battle of freedom is not a battle over statues, or flags, or cutesy cardboard signs. It’s a battle of indifference and disdain; of Tolerance not of diversity or opinion, but of error and stupidity which are at all times the prevailing doctrine of the crowds that fester in the gaping wounds of social order.