For the past several years thinkers from all sides of America's Liberal consensus media have attempted to make sense of the phenomenon known as the "Alt-Right." The descriptions and diagnoses provided by these attempted analyses have varied almost as widely as the political spectrum from which the authors themselves hail. For the Dirtbag Left, the Alt-Right is merely a pathetic collection of White, Middle American "Failsons." For Neoliberal journalist Rosie Gray, who has walked the Alt-Right beat since almost the beginning, it's little more than a "white supremacy perfectly tailored for our times." The American Conservative's resident church lady, Rod Dreher, insists that it is comprised of anti-christian, tribalistic pagans whose appearance is yet another sign of the coming collapse of American Civilization. A collapse all good Christians must prepare themselves for by buying copies of his book and having more folksy dinner parties with their church friends. While more prescient and intelligent observers, such as the Left-Wing Angela Nagle, have seen it as the inevitable, nihilistic outgrowth of 21st-century online meme culture.
Along with these diagnoses of the social origins of the Alt-Right, others scribblers have taken it upon themselves to attempt to uncover its intellectual ones as well. Here too, we find the field crowded with divergent theories. Dana Kennedy of the Daily Beast points the finger at Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye of the infamous Nouvelle Droite. A pair of Frenchmen who, no doubt, laid the intellectual foundations for a return of international white supremacy while twirling their paper thin mustaches in some Parisian Salon of ill repute. Tablet Magazine traced the intellectual poison of contemporary online Nazism back to Paul Gottfried, an elderly secular Jew, history professor and veteran of the Paleoconservative movement. A veritable inquisition was launched when Steve Bannon, the former head of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign and Breitbart news, passingly mentioned the ominously monocled Italian fascist Julius Evola in a speech to a Catholic group. While Blaze founder and noted conservative lunatic Glenn Beck shifted his conspiratorial gaze to "Putin's Brain", Alexandr Dugin, the eccentric Russian thinker who is supposedly the mastermind behind the Vladimir Putin's campaign of asymmetrical warfare against the West and its sacred, universal values of liberty and freedom (pronounced: "Free-Dumb" in Beck's distinctive Mormon accent.)
Alain de Benoist: Dastardly French architect of international white supremacy and noted cat enthusiast.
Pictured: respected Fox News intellectual Glenn Beck, eagerly explaining the complex machinations of the evil Russian Mastermind Alexandr Dugin to his audience of well informed, liberty-loving American citizens.
We can now add to this ever expanding project of Alt-Right intellectual taxonomy the work of Matthew Rose (not be confused with Matthew Schmitz of "Christianity is for Cucks" fame) in a piece entitled: "The Anti-Christian Alt-Right: The Perverse Thought of Right Wing Identity Politics" which recently appeared at First Things.
Pictured: President and founder of the greater D.C. metro area's only Evelyn Waugh cosplayer's association, Matthew Walter. Who is also not the author of the piece in question.
Rose, does, to his credit (though he makes some serious mistakes along the way), genuinely try to engage and grapple with the ideas put forward by the Alt-Right. Which he defines, it should be noted, as primarily the ideas emerging from the personalities of Richard B. Spencer and Greg Johnson and their respective publications Altright.com, Radix Journal and Counter-Currents. This, of course, is a much reduced and impoverished understanding of the term Alt-Right especially if one compares his definition to the one used by Milo Yiannopoulos in his now (in)famous Breitbart explainer on the Alt-Right, published in early 2016. A guide in which everyone from the neo-reactionary blogger Curtis Yarvin to Steve Sailer to the Classically Liberal Jonathan Haidt (among others) are all grouped under the generous category of "Alt-Right." While Rose's essay would have certainly been a great deal more interesting (as well as impossibly longer) if he had attempted to engage with these other, diverse set of thinkers, his decision to limit his analysis of the Alt-Right as he did was a reasonable one. As for all intensive purposes the term Alt-Right, unlike during the simpler days of 2015 and early 2016, has now been completely colonized, for better or worse, by the two contemporary personalities he chooses to focus on in his essay.
At the outset of his piece Rose makes two key claims which are mostly true (and which we will return to in more depth later on). The first is that the idea of "Race," understood as an immutable and deterministic fact of human nature from which there is no escape, is absolutely foundational to the Alt-Right's worldview. This is undeniably true. The second, which is a bit more debatable, is that the Alt-Right is explicitly an Anti-Christian movement. Although the Alt-Right's various mouthpieces have gone to great pains to deny this charge, and there are plenty of individuals who self-identify as both "Christian" and "Alt-Right." The fact remains, that when one looks critically at the intellectual content produced by the movement, as opposed to its propaganda, Rose's assessment is, ultimately, the only honest one that can be made.
-"To call obsolete what has merely ceased to be intelligible is a vulgar error"
After these introductory and mostly accurate remarks, however, Rose quickly loses his footing and bumbles into making some genuinely ridiculous statements. Statements that make him appear to be, at best, unserious. Beginning with his absurd contention that the Alt-Right's ideology is formed, almost entirely, by the thought of Oswald Spengler:
The alt-right turns one hundred this year. Its intellectual birth is marked by the 1918 publication of the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. Although his latter-day students would horrify him, Spengler is their teacher. His cultural outlook, philosophical categories, and racial spirituality shape virtually every thinker in the contemporary movement.
The only true aspect of this entire statement is the observation that Spengler would genuinely be horrified by the individuals who, according to Rose, are supposedly his students. Thankfully for Spengler, this is not the case at all. As most of these purported students, while they may have heard his name thrown around on a message board or, at best, skimmed his Wikipedia page have surely not read any of his actual works. While the Alt-Right figures who have, such as Richard Spencer and Greg Johnson, have also actively rejected his most important insights.
Rose goes on to assert that the Alt-Right has adopted Spengler's categorical conception of "Race:"
More important, however, is Spengler’s view of cultural identities, and the West’s unique place in the world. It is essential to understanding the alt-right’s recent success. While the movement is often accused of advocating racial supremacy, its appeal is more often to cultural difference...A cultural relativist, Spengler rejects as a “ridiculous distortion” any view that privileges European thought or history. In an opening chapter he states a principle that would find agreement in any ethnic studies department: “Each culture possesses its own standards, the validity of which begins and ends with it.”
But is this truly the case? Acknowledging the profound differences which separate cultures or civilizations from one other is not an insight that is exclusive to Spengler. In fact, it also happens to be foundational to the thought of Samuel Huntington, one of the most important and influential geopolitical theorists of the past 40 years. A man whose theories, while frequently scoffed at during the 1990's in favor of the smug optimism of his student Francis Fukuyama's "End of History", have proven themselves to be far more right than they were wrong. The fact remains that Cultures, formed by the dynamic influences of particular religions, languages, geographies, and traditions, are deeply felt by those who inhabit them. So much so that it is no exaggeration to assert, as Spengler does, that they frequently result in worldviews which are radically divergent from one another. So much so that each culture ends up inhabiting, what Spengler would refer to as, completely different "life worlds" or "world feelings." Which for Spengler are essentially a kind of collective unconscious that all individuals within a particular culture or civilization somehow participate in. A shared narrative lens which alters how each individual who shares a particular civilizational "world feeling" perceives and interprets reality.
These claims obviously make Rose uncomfortable on some level as he ends up resorting to cheap rhetorical ploys in an attempt to discredit their source, he writes: "Spengler had no scholarly expertise in non-Western cultures (his advanced studies were in mathematics), and Decline of the West is frequently nonsense as both history and sociology." A charge which is, of course, complete nonsense. Expecting a brilliant autodidact writing in 1919 to have tediously credentialed himself in the same way as a modern-day academic, angling for tenure and a bland career regurgitating conventional wisdom to disinterested college sophomores would, is absurd. Furthermore, what precisely does Rose mean when he says that Decline of the West is "frequently nonsense as both history and sociology?" That Spengler makes objectively false historical claims, such as asserting that Julius Ceasar was born in 1831 and founded the town of Altoona Pennsylvania? Or rather that Spengler's approaches to both history and sociology are simply not those that are presently fashionable within contemporary academic circles? One somehow suspects that the latter hypothesis is far more likely than the former. In which case, given the state of the liberal arts within the modern academy, Rose's criticisms instantly transform into implicit endorsements.
These kind of lazy and glib dismissals are Rose at his worst and remind one of nothing if not the panicked and shrill insults hurled at Spengler by the likes of Adam Gopnik, that notorious Queen of the literary Harpy's Nest sometimes referred to as "The New Yorker." In an essay which, it is hard not to assume, must have played more than an insignificant role in informing Rose's views on Spengler.
But returning to the real issue at hand, the charge that Spengler's conception of race and that of the Alt-Right's are more or less interchangeable is objectively false. A fact which should be obvious to anyone familiar with the thought of the parties in question.
Spengler's views have long been distorted and misunderstood (sometimes purposefully) by many of his supposed admirers. Even the title of his most famous work, which helped to catapult him from penniless dilletante to something of an intellectual celebrity during Germany's interwar years, "The Decline of the West" was really a kind of mistranslation. Spengler himself later stated that the book should have been titled something more like "The Completion of the West." As Spengler viewed civilizations more as organisms, whose cultures had their own life cycles, the decline or death of which is but a natural and unavoidable feature. Thus the West's (and in his context, Germany's) "decline" was not something that could be arrested or reversed in any meaningful way. This, of course, put him at odds with the sunny optimism of Germany's new fuhrer who proceeded to ban his books, both for their critiques of National Socialism's racialist ideology, as well as for their unquenchable pessimism. Both of which would have no place in the sunny wheat fields of the coming "Thousand Year Reich."
Spengler: prophet of decay
Spengler's Conception Of "Race"
-"Those who talk too much about race no longer have it in them."
Spengler's thoughts on race are relatively well known, and completely reject the biological conception of race which, contra Rose's assertion, is so foundationally important to the ideological framework, such that it is, of the Alt-Right. Thoughts which he expounds upon in detail in the second volume of "The Decline of the West"1:
But think of one of those mass-graves of the War in northern France, in which we know that men of all races, white and coloured, peasants and townsmen, youths and men lie together. If the future had no collateral evidence as to their nature, it would certainly not be enlightened by anthropological research...It is the living body that carries nine-tenths of the expression—not the articulation of the parts, but their articulate motions; not the bone of the face, but it's mien...
The science of the Darwinian age met this question with an easy assurance. How superficial, how glib, how mechanistic the conception with which it worked!... Science has completely failed to note that race is not the same for rooted plants as it is for mobile animals, that with the microcosmic side of life a fresh group of characters appears, and that for the animal world it is decisive. Nor again has it perceived that a completely different significance must be attached to "races" when the word denotes subdivisions within the integral race "Man." With its talk of adaptation and of inheritance it sets up a soulless causal concatenation of superficial characters, and blots out the fact that here the blood and there the power of the land over the blood are expressing themselves—secrets that cannot be inspected and measured, but only livingly experienced and felt from eye to eye...
Is there such a thing as an Aryan or a Semitic skull? Can we distinguish Celtic and Frankish skulls, or even Boer and Kaffir?...How unimportant these are for that which we call race in higher mankind can be shown by a drastic experiment. Take a set of men with every conceivable race-difference, and, while mentally picturing "race" observe them in an X-Ray apparatus. The result is simply comic. As soon as light is let through it, "race" vanishes suddenly and completely...
Once more, it is the mysterious power of the soil, demonstrable at once in every living being as soon as we discover a criterion independent of the heavy hand of the Darwinian age...Noble races of men are differentiated in just the same intellectual way as noble wines. There is a like element, only sensible to the finest perceptions, a faint aroma in every form, that underneath all higher Culture connects the Etruscans and the Renaissance in Tuscany, and the Sumerians, the Persians of 500 B.C., and the Persians of Islam on the Tigris.
None of this is accessible to a science that measures and weighs. It exists for the feelings—with a plain certainty and at the first glance—but not for the savant's treatment. And the Conclusion to which I come to is that Race, like Time and Destiny, is a decisive element in every question of life, something which everyone knows clearly and definitely so long as he does not try to set himself to comprehend it by way of rational—i.e., soulless—dissection and ordering.
A strict classification of races—the ambition of all enthnology—is impossible. The attempt is foredoomed from the start, as it contradicts this very essence of the racial, and every systematic lay-out always has been and will be, inevitably, a falsification and misapprehension of the nature of its subject... in the last resort every individual man and every individual moment of his existence have their own race.
We can see the same sentiments echoed again in Hour Of Decision, which was published in the 1930's right after the Nazis had taken power in Germany:
But in speaking of race, it is not intended in the sense in which it is the fashion among anti-Semites in Europe and America to use it today: Darwinistically, materially. Race purity is a grotesque world in view of the fact that for centuries all stocks and species have been mixed, and that warlike—that is, healthy—generations with a future before them have from time immemorial always welcomed a stranger into the family if he had “race,” to whatever race it was he belonged.
Thus, as we can see, Spengler's conception of "race" is really better understood as a term for a kind of "cultural consciousness," an identity which is created in the dynamic interplay between a particular landscape and the dramatic historical events which happen within them (wars, migrations, plagues and revolutions etc) which together conspire to give birth to a new "race" or "collective consciousness." This is a far cry from the crude, mechanical and zoological understandings of race which developed in Spengler's own country during the interwar period and which still informs the views of the contemporary Alt-Right.
Rose, in his infinite wisdom, insists this is not the case and claims, spuriously, that the Alt-Right understands race primarily as a cultural expression of Spengler's Faustian soul. The only problem with this claim, of course, is that it is, almost entirely, a fictional one.
Perhaps the best primer on the Alt-Right's obsession (which is certainly not too strong a word) with biological racism was written by none other than Thermidor's very own N.T. Carlsbad, in a piece entitled "Sociobiology As The Freudianism Of The Right." As Carlsbad observes:
it is nevertheless quite astonishing how thoroughly the race question (a specific take on it, too) has been made the ultimate theory of society and of history of the modern far-right, subordinating all other concerns as being a mere "superstructure" to the "base" of genetics. Today's alt-right essentially consists of a synthesis of revolutionary ethnonationalism with sociobiological materialism. True, these were the animating ideas of an older white nationalism, also. But today's right is seeing a determinist racialism incrementally growing into a consensus position. Around this racialism, a sort of clownish archetype of what "European civilization" is supposed to be has formed around it, an archetype I have difficulty describing except as a Greco-Roman-Nietzschean composite.
Take for example, the common aphorism one encounters: "Race determines culture." This appears to be a powerful statement. If race is the material substance that builds who we are genetically and neurologically, it would appear as though these characteristics embodied in race must shape our customs in specific ways. But note that this is a one-way determination. It does not specify any progression or development from race to culture, only that one (biology of man) must lead to the other (society of man). Hence, the statement is reduced to being little more than a truism of the type "A is A." Or, rather that G+E=P.
This approach to history becomes almost panglossian in a way. European man, endowed with good genes, will inevitably tower above others. As such, the cultivation of European tradition boils down simply to a eugenic question: secure a homeland for white European man and segregate him from others, and being European man, he will inevitably be in health. We live in the best of all possible worlds, for if we didn't, white European man would not have good genes enabling him to build master cultures. But since he does and he will always adapt to whatever environmental conditions are given (since his high cognitive capacity represented in Spearman's g will guarantee this), any specific cultural facet of Europeans is irrelevant in and of itself because it will automatically be replenished thanks to good genetic stock, provided he doesn't mix with other races.
This is, of course, the complete opposite conception of race of that found in Spengler. But we need not take Carlsbad's word on the matter, true as it is, on faith. Let us rather go straight to the horse's—or in this particular case, the sodomite's—mouth and see for ourselves:
Race realism is one of the intellectual foundations of White Nationalism. Race realism is the thesis that racial differences are objective facts of nature, which pre-exist human consciousness, human society, and even the human race itself—since there were different species and subspecies before mankind emerged.
Nature must be understood in contrast to conventions—like human languages and laws—which do not exist independent of human consciousness and society.
Johnson's claim is one that can be observed being parrotted again and again, across the Alt-Right's various online blogs and social media accounts. So Rose's claim that Spengler's mystical sense of race as the manifestation of the collective consciousness of a particular people is the one held by the Alt-Right, as opposed to the biologically reductionist understanding advocated continually by Greg Johnson and his ilk, is almost entirely without support. The key distinction, as Spengler outlines in a forgotten footnote in Hour Of Decision is: "race that one has, not a race to which one belongs. The one is ethos, the other-zoology." The Alt-Right's understanding of race is a manifestation of the latter, not the former. For as Gregory Hood, a notable Alt-Right author who Rose quotes himself, states: "identity is biological...culture is an expression of biology."
While it is true that a few in the Alt-Right, particularly those orbiting around Richard Spencer, will occasionally refer to a "Faustian Spirit" and adhere to a definition of race which is, ever so slightly, more vague than Johnson's phenotype fetishism, they remain just as alienated from the concepts we find in Spengler as Johnson is. We can see this in one of Spencer's recent speeches:
A race is genetically coherent, a race is something you can study, a race is about genes and DNA, but it’s not just about genes and DNA. The most important thing about it is the people and the spirit. That’s what a race is about...
So that is the foundation of identity. You can go up, you can look at elective identities — I’m into weightlifting, I’m into Star Trek — and you can keep going down, and you go down, and down, and down, and you get to the root of identity. You get to that base, where you can’t go any further. And that is race...
While Spencer's conception of race and some of his bombastic rhetoric may seem to echo Spengler in some ways, and no doubt are at least partially influenced by him, ultimately he is far more of a latter-day Nietzschean than anything else (as he would almost assuredly admit himself). Spencer advocates for a new Pan-European White identity which would include ethnicities formerly considered outside the traditional National Socialist definition of the "Aryan race": Russians, Poles, Southern Italians etc. This conception flies directly in the face of the received "wisdom" (such that it is) regarding what constitutes "Whiteness." Especially from the vein of historical Nazi thought which is so foundational to the Alt-Right's understanding of Race. The Nazis (who, one would think, would be considered something of an authority on the subject) were so thoroughly convinced of the racial sub-humanity of their Polish and Russian foes that they went so far as to draw up and enact detailed plans for their extermination. This is to say nothing of their more well-known opinions on Jews or Blacks.
While Spencer frequently appeals to the concept of a "Faustian" spirit, his peculiar concept of a Pan-European "Whiteness" that transcends traditional European national identities simply does not, as of yet, actually exist. In the same way that Pan-Asian or Pan-African or Pan-Hispanic identities also do not exist. At present, the term "White" denotes little more than the general values and behaviors of the middle class in The United States (the only place where it is a meaningful term) which has historically been dominated by individuals of European descent. But this banal middle-class, bourgeois identity does not possess the deep sense of racial feeling Spencer and others on the Alt-Right desire it to have, cut off as it is from the living traditions of their ancestors by the advent of intense atomization brought about by Modernity, and in particular, American Modernity. Hence without a real, living "race" to truly call their own the Alt-Right (or at least the small minority who would advocate a non-reductionist view of race) would seem to find itself at something of a dead end.
For Spencer, however, the "White Race" isn't so much something that already exists, but something that must be willed into being. After all, as the slogan of Spencer's group goes, we must "Become who we are," the insinuation being that we aren't already what we should be. This is a far cry from both the traditional Nazi racial reductionism espoused by Greg Johnson and the dynamic, subtle and mystical one put forward by Spengler. Instead being a crude expression of a Nietzschean will to power, a "will to race" if you will. In which an entirely new racial identity will be called into being, out of the ether, sheerly by the force of will of a new, 21-century group of Overmensch.
-"To be able to will freely is, at the very bottom, the one gift that the Faustian soul asks of heaven."
If Rose's analysis of Spengler's understanding of Race was bad and slipshod his analysis of Spengler's understanding of Christianity borders on the criminal. As he appears to transition from being merely lazy about chronicling Spengler's stated beliefs to propagating transparent falsehoods about them within the distance of a few paragraphs. As he we can observe in the following passage:
Spengler does not argue that there is no Western civilization without Christianity. He argues that there is no Christianity without Western civilization. He arrives at this conclusion by claiming the West begins not with ancient Greece or Rome, but with the high Middle Ages and the birth of scholasticism, Gothic architecture, and polyphony. Here we have the springtime of a “new man and a new world”—and a new religion. Its cultural achievements are not testimonies to faith in God. They are the monuments of Faustian man’s attempt—in speculation, stone, glass, and sound—to propel himself into infinity. Of this aspiration, Spengler maintains, “the Gospels know nothing.”
“It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man,” he writes in the book’s most important sentence, “but Faustian man who transformed Christianity.”
It should be noted, for those readers who may be unaware, that Spengler was not, in fact, a Christian. Thus anyone expecting an orthodox Christian view of history or philosophy, it should go without saying, may want to look elsewhere. However, Spengler was certainly not anti-Christian and Rose's wild assertion that Spengler believed that there was "no Christianity without Faustian man" is objectively false, as we can see in the following passages from Decline of the West:
The Russian of the deeps to-day is bringing into being a third kind of Christianity, still priestless, and built on the John Gospel—A Christianity that stands much nearer to the Magian than to the Faustian and consequently, rests upon a new symbolism of baptism, and looks neither at Rome nor at Wittenberg, but past Byzantium towards Jerusalem, with premonitions of coming crusades. This is the only thing that this new Russia really cares about. And it will no doubt let itself fall once again under the economy of the West...but inwardly it has no part nor log therein.
The real Russian is a disciple of Dostoyevski...For what this townless people yearns for is its own life-form, its own religion, its own history. Tolstoi's Christianity was a misunderstanding. He spoke of Christ and he meant Marx. But to Dostoyevski's Christianity, the next thousand years will belong.
Not exactly what you would expect from someone who believed that "there is no Christianity without Western civilization" as Spengler, again and again, takes pains to emphasize the extreme otherness of the Russian world feeling in comparison to the Faustian one. Going so far as to list them as being among the "coloured" races of the world that would inevitably oppose and ultimately destroy the civilization Faustian man had created. "Coloured" a term Rose cites with glee in his piece, as though Spengler's use of it somehow proves he was in secret league with 1950's era Alabama segregationists, was a term he used to denote contemporary cultures (including Russians) who were not part of Faustian culture, not merely as some tedious descriptor of skin pigmentation.
Spengler didn't believe that there was "no Christianity without Western Civilization," a sentiment which, ironically, one is much more likely to find being advanced by members of Rose's own confession, The Roman Catholic Church, than by morbid early 20th century philosophers of decay. After all, it was Hilaire Belloc, the famous Roman Catholic propagandist, and not Oswald Spengler, who wrote the famous dictum that "The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith." An oddly parochial sentiment coming from an apologist of a self-styled "universal church."
Regardless, leaving aside Rose's spurious claims regarding Spengler's association of Christianity exclusively with the West (which, as we have documented, are objectively false) perhaps we should further examine just how strong Spengler's case for a peculiar Faustian Christianity is, instead of glibly dismissing it as Rose insists we must.
Spengler identifies Faustian man's (and thus, "the West's") genesis, not in the common and naive historical narrative which traces a continuous lineage extending from Greco-Roman antiquity down to the present day, but in the figure of Charlemagne and the Gothic period which he heralded.
It is at this moment that the Faustian Soul truly begins to coalesce in Spengler's telling, and begins to mix itself with Christianity, making what, to Spengler's eye, is an entirely new religion. Whether or not Spengler is correct in this assessment that Faustian man transformed Christianity into an entirely new religion, it is impossible to deny that the faith, in the West, underwent radical and profound changes during this period. Indeed, from the time of the Pope's crowning of Charlemagne in 800 to the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic Church (and by extension Western Civilization itself) is transfigured into something almost unrecognizable from what it had previously been. Clerical celibacy becomes mandated at the First Lateran Council. The massive Cathedrals of the high middle ages, reaching greedily skyward, are constructed. Scholasticism is perfected by Aquinas, who, using the tools of Aristotle, cleaves apart the old mysteries of the faith like a coconut, letting their essences leak out to be categorized and fastidiously labeled under the all-seeing eye of "reason." The mystical supper of the Lamb is transmuted into a "substance" to be known. Nature is declared as a separate revelation, through which the Father's laws and existence can not only be known but known with certainty without the need of recourse to the self-disclosure of his own Revelation. The Creed itself is altered, not by an Ecumenical council of co-equal bishops, but by the unilateral will of Benedict VIII alone. Whose power, as Pope, reigned supreme not only over his "brother" bishops and earthly princes but over the very nature of the Trinity itself. That is power. That is violence. That is audacity! So much so that one is almost tempted to proclaim, in unison with Spengler, that indeed "Here is the Faustian Life Feeling!"
Now certainly the Roman Catholic apologist is compelled to insist that all of this "doctrinal development" was completely the work of the Holy Spirit and surely had nothing to do with the, very peculiar and parochial, civilization in which his church developed. Afterall, one is indeed hard-pressed to find even Cirque du Soleil performers with more flexibility than the Catholic intellectual when he is in full flight, earnestly contorting him in an attempt to maintain his coveted "hermeneutic of continuity." Alas, such are the demands of his faith.
However, for those who simply don't possess the olympian dexterity required to keep up with the intellectual acrobatics of the Catholic apologists, it is hard to completely dismiss Spengler's assessment of the interplay between the Faustian life feeling (the drive upwards towards the infinite, the rejection of all limits, the insatiable will to power) and the development of Christianity in the West. As he describes it in Decline Of The West:
In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant. Here Luther is completely at one with Nietzsche, Popes with Darwinians, Socialists with Jesuits; for one and all, the beginning of morale is a claim to general and
permanent validity. It is a necessity of the Faustian soul that this should be so. He who thinks or teaches otherwise is sinful, a backslider, a foe, and he is fought down without mercy... Even our monasticism, with its Templars, Franciscans, Dominicans and the rest, takes shape as an order-movement, in sharp contrast to the "askesis" of the Early-Christian hermit.
It is quite wrong to bind up Christianity with the moral imperative. It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity - and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction. The "it" became "I," the passion-charged centre of the world, the foundation of the great Sacrament of personal contrition. Will-to-power even in ethics, the passionate striving to set up a proper morale as a universal truth, and to enforce it upon humanity, to reinterpret or overcome or destroy everything otherwise constituted - nothing is more characteristically our own than this is.
He elaborates on this point in a largely forgotten passage in "Man and Technics," locating many of the early characteristics of a unique Faustian Christianity in the works of the early medieval scholastics:
With a like boldness and a like hunger for power and booty, in this case intellectual, Northern monks in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries forced their way deep into the world of technical-physical problems. Here there was nothing of the idle and impractical curiosity of the Chinese, Indian, Classical, and Arabian savants, no mere teleological speculation, no contemplative search for a picture of that which man cannot know. True, every scientific theory is a myth of the understanding about Nature’s forces, and everyone is dependent, through and through, upon the religion with which it belongs. But in the Faustian, and the Faustian alone, every theory is also from the outset a working hypothesis. A working hypothesis need not be “correct,” it is only required to be practical.
Hence the advance in mathematical methods, due to the Englishmen Grosseteste (born 1175) and Roger Bacon (born ca. 1210), and the Germans Albertus Magnus (born 1193) and Witelo (born 1220). Hence, too, experiment, Bacon’s “Scientia experimentalis,” which is the interrogation of Nature under torture with the rack, lever, and screw; “experimentum enim solum certificat,” as Albertus Magnus put it...
It is the stratagem of intellectual beasts of prey. They imagined that their desire was to “know God,” and yet it was the forces of inorganic Nature — the invisible energy manifested in all that happens — that they strove to isolate, to seize, and to turn to account. This Faustian science, and it alone, is Dynamics, in contrast to the Statics of the Greeks and the Alchemy of the Arabs. It is concerned, not with stuffs, but with forces... This monstrous and unparalleled idea is as old as the Faustian Culture itself. Already in the tenth century we meet with technical constructions of a wholly new sort. Already the steam engine, the steamship, and the air machine are in the thoughts of Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus. And many a monk busied himself in his cell with the idea of Perpetual Motion.
Is Spengler so wrong here? Was not Aquinas's grafting of Aristotelian reason onto the body of Christian thought, not only a theological revolution but also, perhaps, a manifestation of the Faustian drive for power? After all, was not this supposedly neutral "reason" the primary tool with which Faustian man has bent the entire world to his will? Thomas and his many scholastic disciples contended that God's existence, attributes, and natural law could all be easily uncovered by reason alone via empirical sense data, without recourse to the old revelations of the faith. Though he carves a place in his scheme for the higher truths of grace and revelation, they are optional supplements unnecessary for man's flourishing in the natural world. Gone is the glory of the burning bush and of the terrible, voice emanating from the whirlwind. The universe henceforth is no longer to be interpreted under the light of Tabor but under the fastidious eye of Faustian man's reason, and thus of his will. For as that old enemy of the Christan faith, David Hume, dryly noted: "Reason is the slave of the passions." And Faustian's man's will, like that of his god, precedes not only his nature but his reason as well.
With Christ, the former Lord of the World now reduced to merely a postulate (and an optional one at that) of Faustian man's reason, the world is now his to do with as he pleases. Only a few centuries separate the Schoolmen's apotheosis and the appearance of Descartes (himself a product of scholastic education), Kant, Locke and the Deist philosopher revolutionaries of 1776 and 1789. At each step along the way, Faustian man's will finds itself ever freer from the old limits imposed upon it while simultaneously becoming ever more capable of imposing its own will upon the world at large. The ancient empires of the Americas, Far East, and the Subcontinent quickly crumble before the onslaught of Faustian man's mastery of the applied reason which he calls "science." His railways cut their way through entire mountains in their haste to span the continents. With his factories, he conquered material scarcity and banished famine. With the Microscope, he penetrated the secrets of an invisible world and mastered his old nemesis, disease. With his machines, he defied gravity, split the atom and even transcended the bounds of the earth itself. Even more audacious were his forays into speculative philosophy, where he
willed into being "discovered" universal categorical imperatives, natural rights, and, his greatest conquest of all, the secret of history itself: the absolute ideal. New universal manifestations of his own will which must now be imposed upon all of humanity, whom he will now remake in his own image. A sentiment and mindset Benedict VIII would have immediately recognized as not so dissimilar from his own.
However snugly the Faustian slipper may fit on the Roman Catholic Church's holy toes, however, no doubt vehement objections will be raised, especially from Conservatives like Rose. The truth, after all, is hard to bear. Invested as they are, not only, in the innocence and universal validity of the Roman Church herself but also in the all-important Scholastic theories of Natural law which they have invoked, again and again, in defense of our Liberal system and its many misadventures and perversities.
Rose, as well as the many conservatives who share his temperament and outlook, are undoubtedly just as dismayed at the course Western Civilization has taken as Spengler was, even if they don't share his same morbid admiration for the tragic, yet noble fate of Faustian man himself. As a good, modern Catholic conservative, Rose would assuredly beseech us to reject Faustian man's self-destructive drive towards infinity and instruct us to instead turn our gaze homeward, to our neighbors, friends, and communities, to the earth and its natural law. A law which would have placed natural limits on Faustian man's destructive drive towards infinity. Limits which would not have been usurped had it not been for the intellectual tragedy of the early modern nominalists who chose to construct a God whose will preceded his goodness. At least, that's how the story is told.
The real question Rose and his fellow travelers should ask themselves, however, is not just whether this return and reconciliation of the West with natural limits is possible, but whether it is even desirable at all.
Blood From A Stone
-"I nothing had, and yet enough for youth--Joy in Illusion, ardent thirst for Truth. Give unrestrained, the old emotion, The bliss that touched the verge of pain, The strength of Hate, Love's deep devotion,--O, give me back my youth again!"
One of the great ironies of the Alt-Right's rejection of Christianity is how very much this rejection mirrors that of their liberal opponents. As both, ultimately, embody a desire to return to a particular state of nature. To cast off the life-denying tenets of a foreign, archaic desert religion in exchange for the life-affirming virility of the religion of nature. Though each differs in what "natural" aspects they wish to emphasize, each of their fountains spring, in the final analysis, from the same well.
The liberal rejects the rigid hierarchical structure and puritanical sexual mores he finds in the Christian faith in exchange for the social equality and free love which, he is told, were once possessed by happy tribes of Rousseauian noble savages who enjoyed them at their leisure in pre-agricultural Edens of tropical communism. While the Alt-Rightist rejects the contemptible egalitarian slave morality preached at the house of the Christian God in exchange for the natural, brutally patriarchal hierarchies and powerful, masculine heroes he finds in the Sagas of the ancient Norse or The Annals of Tacitus. This apparent disagreement is really more one of degree than of kind, however. The Liberal has chosen to worship Gaia, the Alt-Rightist, Odin, yet both are equally pagan. The Liberal desires to imitate the Bonobo, the Alt-Rightist, the Chimp, yet both aspire to nothing more than the destiny of an ape.
Both desires, however, are little more than peculiar kinds of latter-day romanticism. A response to living in a world that has now been stripped of the mysteries and glories which formerly inspired such awe and devotion from men and imbued their lives with meaning and purpose. Mysteries and glories which have now been, as Max Weber famously put it, "disenchanted."
Our Modern Industrial Society, as a particular late 20th-century philosopher described it, has "made life unfulfilling," and has led to "widespread psychological suffering." Spengler made a similar observation about the effects the late Faustian machine culture was having upon its inhabitants in his own time, nearly a hundred years ago:
All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. Civilization has itself become a machine that does or tries to do, everything in mechanical fashion. We think only in horsepower now; we cannot look at a waterfall without mentally turning it into electric power; we cannot survey a countryside full of pasturing cattle without thinking of its exploitation as a source of meat supply; we cannot look at the beautiful old handwork of a lively and primitive people without wishing to replace it by a modern technical process...
But all this is changing ever more noticeably in the last decades, in all the countries where large-scale industry is of old standing. The Faustian thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism in the battle with Nature. Men are returning to forms of life simpler and nearer to Nature...They would fain get away from the pressure of soulless facts, from enslavement to the Machine...Occultism and Spiritualism, Indian philosophies, metaphysical inquisitiveness under Christian or pagan colouring, all of which were despised in the Darwinian period, are coming up again...Out of satiety of life, men take refuge from civilization in the more primitive parts of the earth, in vagabondage, in suicide.
These attempted flights from modern society are the epitome of Romanticism and infect the thought of so many of the critics of contemporary liberalism, including, ironically enough, Rose himself.
Rose is a Catholic conservative working off of the classical liberal/natural law paradigm. He has written eloquently about the supposed dangers of revolutionary ideologies like communism and fascism. His general critique seems to be an echo of the Voeglinian maxim that one should never seek to "immanentize the eschaton." And that this destructive human impulse to realize the kingdom of heaven on earth is the source of so much of the destructive energy which has animated our age.
The answer, which Rose attempts to suggest to us throughout his essays, is that we return to the world of "classical theism" (which for Rose, of course, means returning to the scholastic model of the natural world, itself a product of the high middle ages.) Only by embracing the harmonious gospel of nature which we find therein, a gospel which focuses on natural reason and teleological ends through which human beings can come to a perfect knowledge of the good without need of recourse to divine revelation, can we resist the dangerous gnostic drive to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, by whatever means necessary. As Rose explains in a piece for First Things:
For its part, classical theism maintained that Christian belief both presupposes and propels philosophical inquiry. It acknowledged, even celebrated, that Christian belief is committed to philosophical positions concerning the intelligibility of the natural world, the power of the human intellect to understand that world, and our capacity to communicate truth. (Hence the First Vatican Council’s condemnation of those who denied that God can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason)...we are living through the unraveling of the Christian metaphysic, which began with a rejection of classical theism, proceeded to abolish purpose from the material world, and is now eliminating the rational and moral nature of man...We will be immeasurably better served by recognizing, as John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio, that our “crisis of meaning” stems from failing to defend the ability of reason to know “the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.”
Leaving aside some of the more obvious problems with Rose's assertion (the transparent link between Scholastic doctrines of natural law and the rise of Enlightenment Deism, the theological and philosophical problems inherent in the scholastic model itself, the countless times such arguments have been used to justify the crimes of liberal regimes etc.) The primary problem is precisely the same as the one experienced by the aforementioned hippy or Altrightist i.e. they all are attempting to restore a lost dispensation.
Trying to bring back the conceptual model of the world invented by the medieval scholastics, which allowed the natural law theory Rose prizes so much to at least be coherent (if not entirely convincing), is no less an expression of the Romantic sensibility than seeking a return to the Pagan heroism of the Ancient Norse or the primitive egalitarianism of Amazonian tribesmen. In all cases, one is attempting to reanimate the corpse of a dispensation which ended long ago and whose essence one is irrevocably cut off from.
These attempts, like all Romantic endeavors, are doomed to end in failure. The same failure experienced by Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome and unofficial Patron Saint of all true Romantics, who in his earnestness to restore the old cults sought the counsel of the Oracle at Delphi. The answer he received was not the one he had hoped for, however:
"Tell the emperor, the splendid hall fell to the ground. Apollo no longer has his house, nor the prophesying laurel, nor the speaking well. The speaking water has also gone out."
Put another way: there is no going back.
Christ and Nothing
Nature, like the pagan gods before it, has been stripped of both its authority and mystery, and thus the very things which had made it a compelling mistress for so long. Just as the Christian saints smashed the idols which had for so long ruled over the ancient Pagan world, so too has Faustian man smashed the natural world itself with his hammer of "reason." After which he proceeded to categorize its parts and then reconstruct it in accordance with the ever-changing whims of his own will.
After all, even if one could, in fact, restore the model of nature which presumed teleological ends, used by the scholastics, one is still left with the issue of obligation. To be more precise: even if the natural ends of man are knowable through right reason, what compels Faustian man to adhere to them? It certainly can't be based on an appeal to consequentialism, as natural limits are only limiting if one does not possess the technical prowess to overcome them i.e. sexual promiscuity is hazardous for individuals living in technologically primitive societies as it brings with it the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and disease, but in our own technological culture all of these dangers have now been alleviated due to the employment of Faustian man's superior technics. For millennial gravity spelled an ignoble end of any primitive dreamer who had convinced himself, perhaps as a result of some shamanistic mania, that he could join the birds of prey in flight. But for Faustian man this old limit becomes meaningless as his mechanical apparatuses propel him, not only past the clouds but into the stars as well. More importantly, pointing out a new limit to Faustian's man's desires does not inherently imply that such limits are in themselves good and should not be usurped instead of rather being merely shackles that must be overcome by the application of some new technique. What allegiance, after all, does Faustian man owe to nature? Or for that matter, what allegiance does he owe to any distant deity, any unmoved mover, any divine watchmaker who long ago abandoned the world he supposedly created?
Stripped of its ancient mystery and authority, Nature simply no longer suffices. The fact that nihilism may result from this state of affairs is no argument against its validity. After all, as Spengler said, albeit in a different context: "It is pathetic to delude oneself. Time cannot be stopped; there is absolutely no way back, no wise renunciation to be made. Only dreamers believe in ways out." Man will become a god, the only question that remains now is how.
Rose, with the acidity of a jilted lover, chides Karl Barth for proclaiming that Christianity itself spelled the abolition of natural religion. The subtext being that it is precisely this perceived abolition which lays at the heart of so much of the Alt-Right's antichristian bile. Rose quotes Alain de Benoist, who, like Nietzsche before him, accuses Christianity of being a life-denying creed of slaves which birthed nihilism into the world. Deny it as Rose may though, Benoist's accusation, in particular, his latter one, is much more accurate than Rose wishes to admit.
The Christian era did, in fact, usher nihilism into the world, as perhaps the greatest essayist and thinker of our time David Bently Hart described in his landmark essay "Christ and Nothing" even if individuals like De Benoist consistently misunderstand why:
Christianity is the midwife of nihilism, not because it is itself nihilistic, but because it is too powerful in its embrace of the world and all of the world’s mystery and beauty; and so to reject Christianity now is, of necessity, to reject everything except the barren anonymity of spontaneous subjectivity...
I should admit that I, for one, feel considerable sympathy for Nietzsche’s plaint, “Nearly two-thousand years and no new god”—and for Heidegger intoning his mournful oracle: “Only a god can save us.” But of course none will come. The Christian God has taken up everything into Himself; all the treasures of ancient wisdom, all the splendor of creation, every good thing has been assumed into the story of the incarnate God, and every stirring towards transcendence is soon recognized by the modern mind—weary of God—as leading back towards faith. Antique pieties cannot be restored, for we moderns know that the hungers they excite can be sated only by the gospel of Christ and him crucified. To be a Stoic today, for instance, is simply to be a soul in via to the Church; a Platonist, most of us understand, is only a Christian manqué; and a polytheist is merely a truant from the one God he hates and loves.
This last observation returns me at last to my earlier contention: that Christianity assisted in bringing the nihilism of modernity to pass. The command to have no other god but Him whom Christ revealed was never for Christians simply an invitation to forsake an old cult for a new, but was an announcement that the shape of the world had changed, from the depths of hell to the heaven of heavens, and all nations were called to submit to Jesus as Lord. In the great “transvaluation” that followed, there was no sphere of social, religious, or intellectual life that the Church did not claim for itself...
If we turn from Christ today, we turn only towards the god of absolute will, and embrace him under either his most monstrous or his most vapid aspect. A somewhat more ennobling retreat to the old gods is not possible for us; we can find no shelter there, nor can we sink away gently into those old illusions and tragic consolations that Christ has exposed as falsehoods. To love or be nourished by the gods, we would have to fear them; but the ruin of their glory is so complete that they have been reduced—like everything else—to commodities.
Thus modern man now finds himself trapped between the monstrous and all-consuming will of Faustian man which destroys all it touches and The Supreme Lordship of Christ which transfigures all it touches. Thus whichever path he chooses, there absolutely is no going back. Whether to the sunny fields of some lost Elysium field as the Alt-Rightist dreams, nor to the neutral public square of "natural reason" imagined by liberals like Rose. A man whose unquenchable bourgeois desire for respectability mandates he manufacture an entire worldview premised solely upon the principle of not impeding the commerce nor obstructing the blasphemy and perversion that his fellow citizens seem to constantly be busying themselves with. His religion is a categorical misunderstanding, he speaks of Christ but means Popper.
In the final analysis, whichever path he chooses, Faustian man is destined to become a god. Whether it is through the divine grace which leads to true deification or the through the violence of his own will with which he pursues omniscience. It is this choice and this choice alone which will determine his destiny. There is no going back.
"Years fly past in the space of minutes. The mad Lear between fool and reckless outcast on the heath, in the night and the storm, the unutterably lonely ego lost in space--here is the Faustian Life feeling!"