Western Culture

Authentic Heidegger vs. Inauthentic “Fake” News, Part 1

 

Martin Heidegger, 1889-1976

The trouble with Martin Heidegger, the widely acclaimed Western philosopher, is not just how to correctly interpret his texts, but also how to correctly interpret the works of his interpreters. Out of a multitude of books and articles by hundreds of Heidegger’s critics one can barely single out two critics who are on par with each other. Each critic, or rather each would-be expert on Heidegger, usually handpicks several Heidegger’s words, only to interpret those words according to his own readymade conclusions. In traditional German scholarship this obsessive compartmentalization of social science, which skips over a wider social, racial, literary, historical, etc. context, has been derisively labeled with a noun “Fachidiotismus,” that is, “expert idiocy.” Such a compartmentalized approach in social science today is pretty much widespread among liberal academics and self-proclaimed media experts.

One is, therefore, obliged to raise a simple question: Is it worthwhile reading Heidegger’s mutually exclusive critics in the first place? Part of the problem also resides in Heidegger’s own opaque prose, devoid of footnotes and bibliography, which never offers a reader a single illustration from the public realm and which remains closed off from any ethical judgments. For modern social justice warriors such abstract philosophizing is inadmissible. To make matters worse Heidegger’s toying with German compound nouns makes his texts read like a jigsaw puzzle reminiscent of the travails of Orpheus, the chores of Theseus, or the labors of Heracles during which these three mythical heroes embark on a dangerous voyage of a deadly guesswork in an attempt to decipher the puzzle of life (Being). Although these heroes had managed to divine all of life’s puzzles, at some point however, the inexorable destiny sets in. The uncontrollable individual fate, combined with the unavoidable destiny of their community befalls them all: first the violent death of the hero and then the downfall of the hero’s community[1].

It comes as no surprise then that Heidegger, just like all “nationalist-socialist-conservative-revolutionary-traditionalist-pagan-traditional-Christian, et. al” European thinkers, poets, and scholars, including sympathetic prewar political figures, was in deep love with the ancient Greek language and lore. “Yes to Athens, no way to Jerusalem!” was the underlying motto of all of them. However, Heidegger meticulously avoids any reference to the public realm, never ever venturing into the troubled waters of race studies, sociology or theology — quite unlike his nationalist or conservative contemporary colleagues, inspirers, or even imitators of the same or similar intellectual caliber, such as Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, or Ernst Jünger,[2] whose books still provide a very accessible and very readable historical, social and literary narrative about the abstract verbiage known as “Western democracy” or “humanism”(or one may paraphrase Heidegger with his own veiled words of “downward plunge” or “downfall” (i.e., Absturz) into liberalism). His sole and almost obsessive concern remains language and how language copes with immaterial and all powerful Being, and how in turn Being interrelates with physically visible “Being-there”, that is, man’s life or “Dasein.” Or, to put it simply, albeit more crudely, Heidegger theorizes on how indefinable Being affects man’s “thrownness”, or “falling” into this world without ever being asked whether he wanted to be thrown into this world in the first place. The late American rock singer Jim Morrison, who used to be an avid reader, is reported to have been influenced in his song by this Heidegger’s concept. Read more

Herodotus on the Challenge of Hellenic Unity

Greek hoplite citizen-soldiers in phalanx formation

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a longer article on Herodotus’s account of the Greek-Persian wars. The entire article will appear in the Summer issue of The Occidental Quarterly.

There was undeniably a strong feeling of shared national and cultural identity among the Greeks. However, if one looks at the sweep of ancient Greek history, one is struck by the disconnect between the pervasive rhetoric expressing pan-Hellenic sentiment and the political reality of division and often brutal wars among Greeks. The demand of the polis for total loyalty from its citizens meant that there were few qualms about annihilating fellow Greeks, if this was in the city’s immediate interests. Furthermore, it is often difficult to determine the degree to which patriotic sentiment actually underpinned the Greek states’ resistance, as opposed to merely being eloquent rationalizations for narrowly political interests, such as Athens and Sparta’s desire not to be dominated by any foreign power, Greek or not. Indeed, Herodotus says that one city, Phocia, opportunistically sided with the allies purely because its traditional enemy, Thessalia, sided with the Persians. (8.30) The collaboration of individual politicians[1] and cities with the Persians was common. Indeed the city of Delphi itself became Medized. In short, as so often in our history, broader ethnic and civilizational interests were ignored in the face of the selfish political interests.

In the Persian Wars, the Greek allies certainly achieved sufficient unity to ultimately repulse the invaders, but one is struck at how tenuous that unity was and how exceptional even that degree of unity was in the course of Greek history. The allies, who called themselves simply “the Greeks,” in the end only made up about one-in-ten continental Greek cities, the rest remaining neutral or collaborating.

Though far less discussed than the polis, the Greeks did have a quite venerable tradition of federalism—i.e., forming leagues of city-states. Such leagues, typically combining joint temples, a common council, arbitration, military alliance, and coinage, with greater or lesser degrees of central authority—were a common feature in Greek political history. Shared ethno-regional identity was a common basis for the formation of such leagues, as in Arcadia, Boeotia, Crete, and Ionia. Athens and Sparta would, in their history, each lead their own military alliances as hegemonic cities.

The league projected the basic features of the familial religion beyond the city to a regional commonwealth: shared blood and gods sealed the alliance of cities in a league, including notably a shared holy sanctuary, just as the family household and the polis were sacred spaces. However, the league was typically not a true federal state or sovereign federation, but a coalition of cities, each with its own army and jealous of its civic sovereignty. The confederal league therefore never had the solidity of the polis. The various leagues tended to fluctuate in their effectiveness as the necessity of unity (typically to acquire military scale) was in constant tension with the centrifugal tendency of each city’s desire for autonomy. In practice, a league tended to do well if it had a hegemonic city which could impose decisive leadership or, if led by two cities, if these leader-cities were in basic agreement. Rebellion and subjugation of cities was common. The Greek leagues failed to scale beyond the region and it is not surprising that they eventually fell to the far larger powers of Macedon and the Roman Empire. The ancient Greek leagues in their fragility were not unlike later fractious confederations of sovereigns, such as the Hanseatic League, the antebellum United States, the German Confederation, or the European Union.

Given the fragility of the league, moderns will be less surprised to learn that despite the Greeks’ strong sense of identity, it rarely occurred to them to seek to achieve political unity. This was not so much due to lack of imagination—Plato and Isocrates did make concrete proposals for Greek unity at the expense of barbarians—but due to the sheer impracticalities of federalism in an age before telecommunications. In the premodern world, as Montesquieu later remarked, scale was only possible for monarchies, not for republics.[2] Read more

Renewing Christendom

Dissident Dispatches: An Alt-Right Guide to Christian Theology
Andrew Fraser
London: Arktos, 2017

Andrew Fraser was for most of his career a professor of law at Macquarie University in Sydney. He was catapulted to prominence in July, 2005, by a letter to a local newspaper warning against the importation of Sudanese refugees into Australia: “Experience everywhere in the world shows us that an expanding black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and other social problems.” The controversy surrounding the letter resulted in his departure from Macquarie.

In 2011, he published The WASP Question, a book which examines the failure of Anglo-Saxons around the world—the “invisible race”—to maintain a conscious ethnic identity and defend their collective interests:

The defining characteristic of WASPs [he wrote] is that they are much less ethnocentric than other peoples; indeed, for all practical purposes Anglo-Saxon Protestants appear to be all but completely bereft of in-group solidarity. They are therefore open to exploitation by free-riders from other, more ethnocentric, groups.

In the course of studying Anglo-Saxon origins, he came to appreciate the role played by the Christian Church in transforming a bunch of squabbling Germanic tribes into the English nation. It would be impossible to guess from looking at contemporary Christianity that the church could ever have served such a function. The privatization of worship since the Enlightenment has been so successful a revolution that many Christians are unaware of it, imagining it simply the nature of their faith to be a private affair.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Medieval Christianity “was a way of life, a communion, and a faith practiced in public and private by all manner of men and women,” as Fraser points out. The Bible did not merely “serve individual believers as witness to the word and work of God,” but also “provided the sacred charter” of the church. But if the Christian Church presided over the formation of the English nation, might the retreat of Christianity into the private realm have contributed to the downfall of proud Anglo-Saxon nationhood within the last several decades?

With such questions in mind, Fraser, already of an age to retire, made the unusual decision to enroll as an undergraduate at a nearby divinity school. The school turned out to be a “hotbed of multiculturalist ideology,” and at one point he was suspended for an entire year due to complaints of his “intolerance” from students and faculty members. But he persisted, and in 2015 was awarded a Bachelor of Theology degree.

Dissident Dispatches is the record of his experiences as a student. The book includes papers written for course credit (with his lecturer’s comments), accounts of his skirmishes with the politically correct, and subsequent personal reflections on both. It is arranged chronologically rather than thematically, giving it the feel of a miscellany, but a consistent theological and political perspective underlies the whole. Weighing in at over 500 pages, the volume is best digested in short installments. What follows is merely a summary of a few of the main themes. Read more

Serena, Ingrid, and the Story of My Time

The August, 2017 issue of Vanity Fair magazine has the naked and very pregnant tennis star Serena Williams on the cover.   When I saw it, a thought flashed to my mind: “Ingrid Bergman wasn’t naked on the cover of Life in Dad’s shop.”   I’ll explain.

My dad was a barber in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota.   This was back around 1950; I was a little kid.   Dad’s shop—Walt’s Barber Shop—had magazines on a small table for his customers to read while they were waiting for their haircuts.  Among them was Life, a popular magazine like Vanity Fair is today, lots of photographs, news of the day, profiles.  The Paramount movie theater next door gave Dad free passes to its movies for having a sign in his shop advertising the current feature.  Mother, Dad, and I used to go to the movie that was showing at the Paramount just about every week.

One early evening when we went to the Paramount to go to the movie, there were eight or ten people with picket signs marching back and forth in front of the theater—don’t go to this movie.   I didn’t catch on to the details, but I knew it had to do with the actress Ingrid Bergman, who was starring in the movie and very big at the time—Casablanca, etc.—doing something really bad.   What it was, I later found out, was she had had an illegitimate child with the film director Roberto Rossellini; both of them were married to other people at the time.  The outrage over that had led people to picket her movies.   It was a major scandal.  She was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate no less—“moral turpitude” and so on (see Marlow Stern, “When Congress Slut-Shamed Ingrid Bergman”).

Flash forward from the beginning of my life to now, near its end, and there’s unmarried, unclothed, and sort of overwhelmingly pregnant Serena Williams—the father, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit—on the cover of Vanity Fair. No way, adultery a part of it or not, that Ingrid Bergman would have been naked and pregnant with Roberto Rossellini’s child on the cover of one of Dad’s Life magazines. 

The cover article in Vanity Fair by Buzz Bissinger doesn’t condemn Serena, just the opposite, and illegitimacy never comes up.   Its beginning gives a sense of the direction it takes:

This is a love story.

It wasn’t seamless, starry eyes at first light.  There was a discovery, unexpected and shocking.   There were moments of really getting pissed and the standard irritation that comes when one half of the whole kept leaving the suitcase in the hallway.  But there were also moments of unplanned intimacy that is the only true kind of intimacy in a love story, soft touches and laughter and absurdity, because you need absurdity in a love story, since love is slightly absurd anyway, a feeling that, like eternity, is indefinable.

I’ve checked into it, and that’s certainly not how they wrote about Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini (including using words like “pissed” and writing under names like “Buzz”),

Also, the author of a Life magazine article back then would have kept his sexual preferences to himself, unlike Buzz Bissinger, who has made known to all his cross dressing (“the right foundation and cheek blush and eyeliner and lipstick can do wonders for the pallid complexion”) and his encounters with a dominatrix (leather is “irresistible,” as are “extreme feelings of restraint and taking pain”).

And it should be noted that if there had been a racial element to the Ingrid Bergman affair (Williams is black, Ohanian white), it would have been front and center in the Life magazine article, with the word “miscegenation” in there somewhere.  Race is never mentioned in Vanity Fair.

What am I left with?  That a naked, pregnant Ingrid Bergman on the cover of Life magazine along with a fawning cover article about her wasn’t in my dad’s barber shop, and now would be, sums up the progress, regression, however you want to look at it, that’s taken place over the span of my life.  And that how that happened is the big story of my time on earth.

Culture and Nationhood in the World of Herodotus: An Evolutionary Analysis, Part 4

Maladaptive Culture: Herodotus on Luxury, Effeminacy, and Decadence

The ancients considered the maintaining of martial virtue and hardiness to be a supreme imperative—not surprising given that if any frailty led to defeat, one’s people could not only lose their self-government, but their very existence. Like Homer and Plato, Herodotus has much to say on the perils of luxury, effeminacy, and decadence. Herodotus is acutely aware of the fragility of nations and civilizations. He says at the beginning of the Histories:

I will cover minor and major human settlements equally, because most of those which were important in the past have diminished in significance by now, and those which were great in my own time were small in times past. I will mention both equally because I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place. (1.5)

Herodotus suggests a cycle of rise and fall of civilizations: as one becomes wealthy and powerful, one tends to lose over the generations the manly virtue which made this possible, becoming at once effeminate and arrogant. This cycle of decadence, which was later famously analyzed by the Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun, is a common feature of human history. Moderns are apt to forget that until quite recently primitive and nomadic virile barbarians periodically conquered more culturally advanced but decadent sedentary civilizations. One need only mention the ancient Germans, Huns, Vikings, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols.

Herodotus’ characters repeatedly comment on the debilitating effects of luxury and effeminacy, in a word, of being over-civilized. The Persians’ rise to power in the century prior to Herodotus’ writing is explained by their initial Spartan-like ruggedness and simplicity, while their decline is due to their indulgence in comfort and wealth since the passing of Cyrus the Great in 530 BC. Overly rich and arrogant empires seeking ever-more land repeatedly come to grief by attacking impoverished but still-manly free peoples.[1] Read more

Culture and Nationhood in the World of Herodotus: An Evolutionary Analysis, Part 3

Persian Virtue: A Persian Group Evolutionary Strategy?

The people described in most detail by Herodotus are in fact not the Greeks, but their enemies the Persians, a fellow Aryan people. Herodotus speaks a great deal about Persian culture, often very positively. (For instance: “the Persians are normally the last people in the world, to my knowledge, to treat men who fight bravely with disrespect” [7.238]). The historian is far more critical of individual arrogant Persian rulers, such as Cambyses and Xerxes, than he is of Persia as such.

Herodotus claims that the Persian Empire—which in his day stretched from Greek Asia Minor in the west to India in the east, and from Egypt in the south to the edges of Scythia in the north—had grown through “customs” of monarchic power and conquest. These led every Persian king to expand the empire, at least until this led to unnatural excess and to their downfall.

Persian culture, as described by Herodotus, is in many respects highly adaptive. He says that among the Persians:

After bravery in battle, manliness is proved above all by producing plenty of sons, and every year the king rewards the person producing the most; they think that quantity constitutes strength. . . . they study only three things: horsemanship, archery, and honesty. (1.136)

Read more

Culture and Nationhood in the World of Herodotus: An Evolutionary Analysis, Part 2

“King Nomos”: The Power of Culture and the Universality of Cultural Chauvinism

Herodotus had traveled far and wide across the Mediterranean, thus coming across nations with often radically different cultural assumptions and ways of life. Accounting for this astonishing diversity, he is much impressed by the social power of culture. As noted above, the historian remarks that “custom [nomos] is king of all” and that every people tends to think that its own customs are the best:

If one were to order all mankind to choose the best set of rules in the world, each group regards its own as being by far the best. . . . There is plenty of other evidence to support the idea that this opinion of one’s own customs is universal . . . Pindar was right to have said in his poem that custom is king of all. (3.38)

Herodotus writes this in the context of the Persian king Cambyses killing a sacred bull during his stay in Egypt, a bull which the Egyptians had considered to be their god Apis. The historian considers Cambyses’ sacrilegious contempt for local Egyptian custom as proof of his madness, an infamy on a par with his murder of his own brother and sister. (Cambyses dies shortly thereafter as a result of his actions.) Herodotus also takes the example of how Greeks and Indians treat corpses differently: Greeks burn their corpses, while Indians (allegedly) eat them, the practice of each being equally repulsive to the other. Hence, by giving societies radically different norms, taboos, and assumptions, cultural drift tends to polarize humanity into different, mutually-uncomprehending groups.[1]

The supremacy of “King Nomos,” or custom, in every society reflects the power of culture to shape that society’s behavior. If genes and physique are the hardware of humanity, culture and ideas are our software. The world-view, assumptions, values, and taboos of a society have a powerful effect on human behavior, even if this can never eliminate our in-born proclivities. Herodotus makes clear that the power of a society’s culture is necessarily paired with a sense of superiority over foreign customs. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? If the members a society thought foreign customs superior, would they not seek to make them their own? A corollary however is that if peoples with starkly different cultures and values must live in close proximity, they are liable to come into conflict. Among foreign cultures, the wise man will tread carefully.

All this does not mean that national cultures are completely closed-off and autarkic memetic units.  On the contrary, Herodotus is quite cognizant of cultural porosity and mutual influence between nations. He freely admits the barbarians’ superior achievements, such as the Egyptians’ calendar and their monumental pyramids, as well as their influence on Greek culture. The Greeks, he says, owe their alphabet to the Phoenicians and much of their religion and basic geometry to the Egyptians. It is furthermore striking that the first great philosophical flourishing of the Greek world, the so-called “Ionian Renaissance,” occurred in the Persian-occupied Greek cities of Asia Minor (today’s western Turkey). The Persians themselves were apparently the most culturally open-minded people in the world, for they “adopt more foreign customs than anyone else” (1.135). Read more