Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dreary Traditionalism

An acquaintance of mine recently declared himself ready for something other than melancholy traditionalists (in the "perennial" sense - think Catholic counter-revolutionaries, here). Yet I do not believe that this sense of impending chaos and doom is unique to traditionalism. It is unique to people who think, and by thinking people, I don't mean intellectuals or anyone who lives inside their brain. I mean people who deal with the substance and sinews of history, with their own substance and sinews. In addition, it is my settled conviction that (along with the truth that enlightened reason is less reliable than the prejudice of real intelligence) people cannot arrive at jouissance (or whatever you wish to call it) without experiencing a darkening of the vision. This is analogous to what we see in real life - our eyes can't adjust to the dark until...well, until the lights go out. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Benda:

from Trahison des Clercs

"Vico says that history is a series of alternations between periods of progress and periods of retrogression; and he gives two examples. Saint Simon says history is a series of oscillations between organic epochs and critical epochs; and he gives two examples. Marx says history is a series of economic systems, each of which casts out its predecessor by means of violence; and he gives one example."

"It seems to me so little such a thing that I observe large portions of the species (the Asiatic world in antiquity, the Germanic world in the modern times) who showed themselves incapalbe of it and quite likely to remain so. And this means that if humanity loses this jewel (Benda is talking about a Super-Sensate Good enshrined in classical civilization), there is not much chance of finding it again. On the contrary there is every chance that humanity will not find it again, just as a man who should find a precious stone in the sea and then drop it back in the water would have little chance of ever seeing it again. Nothing seems to me more doubtful than Aristotle's remark that it is probable the arts and philosophy have several times been discovered and several times lost...."

"I have said abouve that the logical end of the 'integral realism' professed by humanity today is the organized slaughter of nations or classes. It is possible to conceive of a third, which would be their reconciliation. The thing to possess would be the whole earth, and they would finally come to realize that the only way to exploit it properly is by union, while the desire to set themselves up as distincet from ohters would be transferred from the nation to the species, arrogantly drawn up against everything which is not itself. Such a movement does exist. Above classes and nations there does exist a desire of the species to become the master of things, and, when a human being flies from one end of the world to the ohter in a few hours, the whole human race quivers with pride and dadores itself as distinct from all the rest of Creaiton. At bottom, this imperialism of the species is preached by all the great directors of the modern conscience. It is Man, and not the nation or the class, whom Nietzsche, Sorel, Bergson extol in his genius for making himself master of the world. It is humanity, and not any once scetion of it, whom A. Comte exhorts to plunge into consciousness of itself and to make itself the object of its own adoration. Sometime one may feel that such an impulse will grow ever stronger, and that in this way inter-human wars will come to an end. In this way humanity would attain 'universal fraternity'. But, far from being the abolition of the national spirit with its appetites and its arrogance, this would simply be its supreme form, the nation being called Man and the enemy God. Thereafter, humanity would be unified in one immense army, one immense factory, woudl be aware only of heroisms, disciplines, inventions, would enounce all free and idstinterested activiety would long cease to situate the good outside the real world, would have no God but itself and its desires, and would achieve great things; by which I mean that it would attain to a really grandiose control over the matter surrounding it, to a really joyous consciousness of its power and its grandeur. And History will smile to think that this is the species for which Socrates and Jesus Christ died."

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