What to Read, Part 3: Hero and Heretic vs. the System — from Literature to Politics

The article below is based on the speech given at the “London Forum,” London UK, May 16, 2015).

The nouns ‘hero’ and ‘heretic’ are used as frequent figures of speech in daily communication. Every day, almost every minute of our time, either consciously or subconsciously, we refer to the notion of hero and heretic, albeit by using often different words and expressions. The highly generic nouns ‘hero’ and ‘heretic’ lack a precise common denominator. What may be considered a heretical behavior today may be viewed as heroic behavior tomorrow. The meaning of the noun ‘hero’ is further complicated by its semantic shifts and its awkward equivalents in other languages and cultures. Thus the German word for hero is ‘Held’, although this word conveys a wider meaning in Germanic languages than the English word ‘hero’ or the French ‘héros’, deriving from the ancient Greek, and largely associated with political and military prowess only.

One must also refer to some well-known authors who dealt with the study of heros, such as Joseph Campbell and his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book still serving as a primer in religious science courses at universities in the USA, but also a book which influenced many Hollywood moguls.  Although Campbell never addressed the notion of the hero from a racial perspective, the fact that he sat on the editorial board of the Mankind Quarterly  and that he had once upon a distant time allegedly cracked a small joke in front of his colleagues about the Jews earned him the title of “anti-Semite,” , a label not usually associated with heroism.

Also worth mentioning is the book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History by the 19th-century Scottish author Thomas Carlyle in which he sorts out heroes according to their religious, poetic and military endowments. Carlyle’s rejection of liberal democracy and his good knowledge of German culture predictably earned him a century later, in the aftermath of World War II, the label of “an early fascist thinker.”  Moreover, one must emphasize that historically, the notion of the hero has been differently internalized by thinkers and masses in continental Europe and differently in Great Britain or in the USA.  According to the German sociologist Werner Sombart, who was often quoted in anti-liberal and later on in nationalist academic circles in Germany prior to World War II, the Germans are the “people of heroes”, as opposed to the English being the “people of merchants,” displaying “shopkeepers’ mentality”: “What is of interest here for us is not the swindling of crooked merchants who have always been popular in England, but the swindling of the merchant as such. What we really want to know is how to grasp the birth of entire England from this from this mercantile mindset.(p.38).

The word “Held” was very much in usage in Germany prior and during World War II. Sombart summarizes the notion of the classical Held — hero, as embodied in the German man, vs. his counterpart, the modern anti-hero, as represented by the capitalist Englishman:  “Merchants and hero: they both make the two great opposites; two poles of all human directions on Earth. The merchant, as we saw it, approaches his day to day life with a question: what kind of a life can you offer to me? The hero enters life with a question: what can I offer to life?” (p. 64). 

Death Wish

The sense of sacrifice, the readiness to place the interests of his community above his own private and family interests, the sense of  complete autonomy in carrying out his heroic deeds, have historically been the three main hallmarks of the hero. The hero may have his sidekicks, although his heroic deeds always need to rest solely within his own private and solitary domain. In the German medieval Niebelungensagas we encounter the hero Siegfried and his challenger the hero Hagen, both acting alone with no outside help, yet both willing at a short notice to lay down their life for the benefit of their community.

The same heroic and individualistic pattern of death-wish for the benefit of common good can be observed in Homer’s death challenger, the Greek hero Achilles who besieges the town of Troy and in the equally well death-driven hero Hector who defends his home town Troy.

Hector:  “For me it would be a great deal better to meet Achilles man to man, kill him, and go home, or get killed before the city, dying in glory.” (Iliad, Book XXII, lines 108-110).

The future founder of Rome, Vergil’s mythical Aeneas during his interminable trials in the underworld, acted in a similar communal and death-braving fashion. So did his other mythical counterpart, the seafaring Homer’s Odysseus, always enwrapped in solitary musings, always having his life hovering on the brink of death.

“His eyes were perpetually wet with tears now / His life draining away in homesickness.” (Odysseus, Book V, lines 156–158)

Thousands of similar heroic characters have become household names all over the West. Those mythical heroes stood as symbols for the survival of their tribal, racial or political community, yet strangely enough, all of them always attempted to stay above the fray, always shunning gregarious, communal and folkish behavior of their noisy kinsmen.  Such a freewheeling and autonomous behavior may also help explain today the proverbial failure of modern White nationalist heroes who remain hopeful in search of a functional political or cultural movement. On the one hand all of them passionately speak about the importance of their community; yet on the other, their hyper-individualistic stance can hardly bridge the gap amidst scores of other dissenting would-be White heroes within their community.

This peculiar individualistic trait among Whites is largely inherited from the primeval ego-archetypes, as observed in the figures of the mythical Titan Prometheus and later in the young truth-seeker Faust, respectively. If one briefly observes the character of the hero Prometheus, whom Zeus had punished for heresy by chaining him to the rock for the next 30,000 years, one can spot a creature constantly complaining, perpetually carping at other mainstream gods, loudly cursing Zeus, and refusing to make any compromise even with his fellow Titans who had come to his rescue.

Prometheus: “I know that Zeus is harsh and keeps justice in his own hands; but nevertheless one day his judgment will soften, when he has been crushed in the way that I know.” ( Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 189–192).

The Titan hero Prometheus knows that the gods’ days, like the days of the mortals, are also numbered and that some eon again the immortal Titans will again rule the universe. Such a titanic-heroic and promethean-inflated ego is also visible in  the would-be heroic young scholar Faust, who is constantly searching for diverse identities, always craving for the transformation of his self into a myriad of other selves:

Alas! Two souls within my breast abide / And each from the other strives to separate. (J. W. Goethe, Faust, lines 1112–1113).

Conversely, we have all been witness, especially over the last two hundred years, to the well-organized and highly communal political activity of the leftists and their offshoot, the modern antifa movements in Europe and America. Their sense of discipline is awesome; their commitment to their communal goals has helped them achieve astounding political and cultural breakthrough over the last decades. Witness for instance the well-organized Bolshevik revolution in early 20th-century Russia spearheaded by a handful of well-disciplined activists who had flocked to Russia from all parts of Europe and the USA—and who subsequently changed the face of the earth. One must also emphasize the astonishing organizational skills of the modern “antifas” on US campuses and their skill in lining up at a short notice a violent crowd in any European city center.

One can tentatively substitute the word ‘heretic’ with the word ‘rebel’ or ‘dissident’. To be sure, the word ‘rebel’ is not a synonym of the word ‘dissident’. There are many dissidents and many self-proclaimed rebels in the contemporary West, such as the bare-chested “Femen” women parading on the streets of Europe, or the Antifas, or  the Anonymous, or even some prominent intellectuals critical of the regime, such as Noam Chomsky. These groups of people and individuals can be labeled as self-serving dissidents within, but not without the System. None of them wants to challenge the supporting egalitarian dogma upholding the System.  A dissident usually aims at modifying the System by relying on the support of other System-affiliated countries; he never tries to remove the root causes of the System. A rebel, by contrast, rejects all modifications of the System. Writers and thinkers, such as the American Ezra Pound and the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, can be tentatively described with the triple label: heroes-rebels-heretics. They both fought the System, whether in its liberal or its communistic form. Solzhenitsyn, after having denounced Soviet communism — an act which earned him briefly a calculated praise from the US ruling class — did not hesitate to denounce in turn the so-called freedom-loving USA. He returned from America to his post-communist Russia. Similarly, Pound, after having been sequestered for several years in an American lunatic asylum for his earlier rebel Fascist stance, when returning in 1958 to Italy declared upon his arrival that he had left America because “all America is an insane asylum.

Go to Part 4.

Dr. Tom Sunic is the author of Homo americanus; Child of the Postmodern Age (2007).

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