October 20, 2004

1. Politics and Philosophy

A. Atheism and Genocide: Nietzsche, Shaw, and Wells

In an earlier issue of Phlit, I argued that our time was going “beyond atheism,” that we were outgrowing the atheism of a century ago, outgrowing the atheism of Nietzsche & Company. What are the political implications of atheism, and what are the political implications of going “beyond atheism”?

The political implication of atheism is genocide. As a result of atheism, people don’t believe that every life is sacred, every life has value. As a result of atheism, people don’t believe that God will steer the world in the right direction; on the contrary, they believe that man must steer the world, man must undertake ambitious schemes of reform. Of course, not all atheists practice genocide; as a logician would say, atheism is a necessary condition of genocide, but not a sufficient condition.

The genocidal policies of Hitler, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, etc. result from the death of God, from the collapse of faith. Some people dispute this, some people say that the Spanish conquistadors and the Mongol hordes engaged in massacres long before Nietzsche said “God is dead.” But these earlier massacres were an extension of war, not the result of domestic policy decisions; these earlier massacres were not as large-scale, not as systematic, as modern genocide. As Orwell put it,

Old Hitlerís something different. Soís Joe Stalin. They arenít like these chaps in the old days who crucified people and chopped their heads off and so forth, just for the fun of it... Theyíre something quite new — something thatís never been heard of before.

The difference between modern genocide and earlier massacres is a difference of kind, not just a difference of degree. Modern genocide is the product of modern philosophy, modern atheism. “It’s all Nietzsche’s fault.” No, Nietzsche just perceived the contemporary situation, he didn’t create it. Atheism and genocide occurred fifty years before Nietzsche was born, during the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, God was dethroned, and Reason was enthroned; ambitious schemes of reform were undertaken, and human life was regarded as expendable.

Atheism and genocide are found not only in France, but in England, too. In England, however, genocide remained largely theoretical; though it was advocated, it was rarely (if ever) practiced. One English thinker who seems to have advocated genocide was Darwin:

[Darwin] wrote unfeelingly of the massacre of the aborigines of Tasmania and, in a burst of genocidal enthusiasm, prophesied that “At some future period... the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”1

Another English thinker, H. G. Wells, also advocated genocide; in 1904, Wells wrote thus:

And for the rest — those swarms of black and brown and yellow people who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. The whole tenor and meaning of the world, as I see it, is that they have to go. So far as they fail to develop sane, vigorous, and distinctive personalities for the great world of the future, it is their portion to die out and disappear.2

According to Wells, “Death [is] the merciful obliteration of weak and silly and pointless things.” Killing the unfit is “a current sentiment even today, but the men of the New Republic will have the courage of their opinions.”3 Some might describe these as Right-wing theories, but actually they can be found on both the far Left and the far Right. Both Left and Right were feeling the impact of atheism, both Left and Right had decided that God hadn’t created man in his own image, God hadn’t endowed every individual with an immortal soul, every life did not have infinite value. Both Left and Right had decided that human life per se had no value, and that the individual should be treated as merely a means to loftier ends. When Wells advocated genocide, his writings were applauded by socialists like Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw makes the same arguments as Wells. “[There is] a growing perception,” Shaw wrote, “that if we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who don’t fit into it.” Shaw believed that criminals should be executed; he argued that in every society there are some who must be “expensively restrained or cheaply exterminated.” Execution should not be reserved only for criminals, Shaw argued, it should be applied more broadly; the question isn’t “did you commit a specific crime?” but rather “are you pulling your weight in the social boat? have you earned the privilege of living in a civilized community?” In the future, Shaw says, extermination will be practiced “more openly, and intelligently and scientifically than at present.”4

Wells and Shaw were influenced by atheism and also by Darwin’s theories. They wanted to reform the world, improve the world, and they believed that modifying institutions couldn’t improve the world. The only way to improve the world, they thought, was to improve man himself, and the only way to improve man was by Darwinian means — natural selection and artificial selection. Shaw lamented the fact that people were averse to using Darwinian methods: “Being cowards, we defeat natural selection under cover of philanthropy; being sluggards, we neglect artificial selection under cover of delicacy and morality.”5

Wells and Shaw argued that human beings should be bred, as farm animals are bred. The goal of this breeding process is to raise everyone to the level that only a few have reached hitherto — in other words, to raise everyone to the level of the hero, the genius. Shaw wrote thus:

Until there is an England in which every man is a Cromwell, a France in which every man is a Napoleon, a Rome in which every man is a Caesar, a Germany in which every man is a Luther plus a Goethe, the world will be no more improved by its heroes than a Brixton villa is improved by the pyramid of Cheops. The production of such nations is the only real change possible to us.6

Shaw and Wells were among the most popular and respected writers of their day. Shaw won a Nobel Prize, and my encyclopedia calls him “the most significant British dramatist since Shakespeare [and] the most readable music critic and best theater critic of his generation.”7 Wells was a popular novelist; he was a pioneer in the science-fiction genre, and Jung often praises his novels for their psychological penetration.

Nietzsche’s views were similar to those of Shaw and Wells. Nietzsche blamed soft-heartedness for blocking evolution: “Pity... thwarts the law of evolution, which is the law of selection. It preserves what is ripe for destruction; it defends life’s disinherited and condemned.”8 Nietzsche also blamed Christianity for blocking evolution: “The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so. What is more harmful than any vice? Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak — Christianity.”9 In his autobiography, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche said that “the greatest of all tasks [was] the attempt to raise humanity higher, including the relentless destruction of everything that was degenerating and parasitical.”10 The idea of breeding human beings (eugenics), which we found in Shaw and Wells, can also be found in Nietzsche: “The problem I raise here,” Nietzsche wrote, “[is] what type of human being one ought to breed, ought to will, as more valuable, more worthy of life, more certain of the future.”11

Thus, many leading thinkers in the late 1800s and early 1900s advocated genocide or selective execution or eugenics as a way to improve mankind. This view isn’t unique to certain individuals or nations, it’s found wherever Western philosophy was influential; it’s a consequence of atheism, a consequence of the collapse of the traditional religious worldview. Since the idea of genocide was widespread in 1900, is it surprising that the history of the 20th century is a history of genocide? That which looms large in philosophy in one generation will loom large in reality in the next generation. As Hegel put it, “once the realm of notion is revolutionized, actuality does not hold out.”12 Heine expressed the same thought when he said, “thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”13 If our generation is moving beyond Nietzsche, beyond atheism, if our generation is moving toward the mystical worldview of Eastern philosophy and of Jung, what does this portend for the political sphere?

B. Beyond Atheism: The Political Implications of Zen and Jung

When we go beyond atheism, politics becomes less important. Atheism tried to build a heaven on earth, a secular heaven, to replace the religious heaven that had been lost. When we go beyond atheism, we lose the political enthusiasm, the determination to build a heaven on earth, that was characteristic of atheists on both Left and Right, and that had such disastrous consequences in the 20th century. When we go beyond atheism, politics occupies a less important position in our life and in our worldview. Both Zen and Jung direct our attention inwards, direct our attention onto our own soul.

The atheists of the 20th century, especially those on the Left, put their faith in Reason. They tried to make society conform to a rational scheme, to a Five Year Plan. They despised religion, they scoffed at the occult. When we go beyond atheism, we become more respectful of feelings, hunches, dreams, occult forces, and we have less respect for Reason. When we go beyond atheism, we lose the desire to remake the world according to a rational plan. When we go beyond atheism, our worldview becomes more mystical, and less rational.

The atheists of the 20th century regarded certain individuals, and certain races, as more valuable than others. They wanted to increase the number of valuable people, and decrease the number of worthless people. The mystical worldview of Zen and Jung is less apt to distinguish between individuals and races. Zen teaches that everyone can achieve inner peace, and an awareness of the present moment. Zen doesn’t revere genius, or despise the un-talented. Likewise, Jung argues that every individual carries deep wisdom in his unconscious, and every individual is capable of listening to this wisdom, learning from it, and adjusting his life in response to it. Jungians find deep wisdom in fairy tales from all races and nations. (It should be noted, however, that Jung was not an extreme egalitarian; he once said, “Nature is aristocratic, and one person of value outweighs ten lesser ones.”14)

Zen and Jung don’t prescribe a specific approach to politics, and all disciples of Zen and Jung won’t hold the same political views; some will be conservative, others liberal. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the philosophy of our time will have no impact in the political sphere. Just as the philosophy of atheism had an impact in the political sphere, and led to the genocide of the 20th century, so too the new philosophy that is going beyond atheism will have an impact in the political sphere. There’s reason for optimism, there’s reason to believe that the philosophy of our time will have a positive impact in the life of the individual, and in the political sphere.

2. Bush vs. Kerry

Unfortunately for Bush, no one in the White House reads Phlit, and none of Bush’s advisers read the section called “Silent Superiority” in the September 17 issue. In that section, I said how a politician can improve his image by being stoical under a barrage of criticism, “like a jackass in a hailstorm.” In Bush’s first debate with Kerry, he wasn’t stoical, he was scowling and “making faces”; he was irritated by Kerry’s barrage of criticism, and he let his irritation show.

In the first debate, Bush seemed poorly prepared and over-confident, perhaps because the Republican convention had gone well for him, and he seemed headed for a landslide victory, perhaps because he did quite well in his debates with Gore in 2000. Bush should have known that Kerry was a good debater, as he proved in his ’96 Senate race against Bill Weld.

But Kerry has some flaws as a debater, and these may cost him the election:

  1. On a purely personal level, Kerry doesn’t make a good impression. He isn’t charismatic or charming or warm or humorous or handsome.
  2. At the end of the third debate, when the issue of religious faith came up, Kerry was uneasy. He has no religious faith, and he knows that this is a political liability, especially when he’s facing an opponent who has a deep and genuine faith. Kerry’s bible is the New York Times, and his ruling passion is personal ambition.
  3. Kerry’s campaign has been largely negative; he hasn’t offered a positive vision, he hasn’t “taken the high road.” This was clear throughout the debates, but especially in the third debate when he mentioned that Cheney’s daughter is a “lesbian.” This was obviously a premeditated comment, a crude and clumsy attempt to garner a few votes, and advance Kerry’s personal ambitions. Kerry himself seemed to hesitate before striking this low blow, and he seemed to speak rapidly, in the belief that “if you’re going to do something shameful, do it fast.”

3. Bush’s Defeats

In order to understand Bush and his policies, I think it helps to look at his four most painful defeats, and the lessons he drew from them:

  1. Bush’s first defeat was personal, not political. As a young man, Bush went through a period of too many drinks and too many parties. He lost face with his parents, his wife, himself. He hit bottom. Then he became a Christian, he was born again, he turned his life around. Now he had a moral code, a sense of purpose, self-discipline, and the determination to follow virtue. This may explain why he sometimes appears arrogant or cocky or self-assured. The pursuit of virtue makes one proud.
  2. Clinton’s victory in ’92 was a painful defeat for Bush and for his father. The lesson that Bush drew from this was, “Don’t be a moderate [as Bush Sr. was], don’t steer a middle course. If you do, you’ll alienate your base [as Bush Sr. did]. Meanwhile, you won’t make any friends among Democrats, they’ll take advantage of your compromising spirit, they’ll use your moderation against you [as they did to Bush Sr.]. Have a bold, dynamic, conservative agenda, like Reagan did.”
  3. Bush Sr. expected Saddam to be ousted by his own people after the Gulf War, in ’91. But Saddam survived, re-asserted his power, and massacred hundreds of thousands of Shiites, Kurds, etc. This was a painful defeat for the Bushes. Bush may have concluded from this, “A dictator like Saddam can strangle a nation, and get away with it. Since the U.S. has the power to overthrow him, it should use that power for the good of the Shiites and Kurds, for the good of Iraq as a whole, for the good of the world. The U.S. has not only a right to overthrow Saddam, it has an obligation to do so. If Saddam remains in power, he’ll use his time and money to acquire more dangerous weapons, and someday we may regret that we didn’t strike sooner, just as we regret that we didn’t strike bin Laden sooner. Better to strike Saddam too soon than too late.”
  4. The September 11 attacks occurred while Bush was President, and they were a painful defeat for Bush and for the U.S. as a whole. The lesson that Bush drew from them was, “Take the fight to the enemy, don’t wait for him to take the fight to you. Don’t make a list of 100 reasons not to act. Be bold and decisive. Better to be too bold than too cautious.” People who don’t live in the U.S. don’t seem to understand what it’s like to be a target of terrorists; they say that the U.S. is aggressive, bellicose, when in fact the U.S. is acting defensively.

4. Making Ends Meet

Now for another chapter in the ongoing melodrama, “How A Writer Makes A Living.”

I recently applied for a position in the National Guard, but I was rejected as too old. If any young writers are listening, permit me to suggest that you consider this line of work. The pay isn’t high, but it’s steady, and after 20 years, you receive a pension. (Why didn’t I think of this 20 years ago?) Best of all, it’s a part-time job, so you’ll have plenty of time for literary pursuits.

An intellectual shouldn’t hunger and thirst for material goods, he should be content with a small income, and the National Guard provides this. Furthermore, an intellectual should be willing to take risks; as Nietzsche said, “live dangerously.” When you join the National Guard, you have to be prepared to go to Iraq, and if you’re sent to Iraq, it isn’t a part-time job. But imagine how much material you’ll have to write about! And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re fighting for a good cause, you’re fighting to promote freedom and democracy, to overthrow dictatorship and brutality, and to close torture chambers.

Since my application to the National Guard was rejected, I’ve come up with another plan for making a living: I’m going to commit a crime, and be sent to prison. In prison, I’ll receive free lodgings, food, and medical care, and I’ll have an abundance of free time. I’m going to commit a crime so heinous that I’ll be sent to solitary confinement, but not so heinous that I’ll lose library privileges.

In fact, I may not need to commit a crime; I’ll just do some research, find an unsolved crime, and confess to being the perpetrator. Thus, I can avoid the inconvenience of actually committing a crime.

It should be noted that prison has provided material for many great literary works: Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, etc. So my advice to aspiring writers is, “if you can’t get into the National Guard, find a way to get into prison.”

© L. James Hammond 2004
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1. Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, Ch. 9. The Orwell quote is from Coming Up For Air, Part III, Ch. 1 back
2. Anticipations, p. 274 back
3. Anticipations, ch. 9 back
4. On the Rocks, preface back
5. Man and Superman, preface back
6. Man and Superman, “The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion” back
7. Encarta back
8. The Antichrist, ch. 7 back
9. ibid, ch. 2 back
10. Ecce Homo, “The Birth of Tragedy,” #4 back
11. The Antichrist, ch. 3 back
12. quoted in Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath, 1/19 back
13. Emerson said, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”(“Spiritual Laws”) The genocide that is found in the 20th century existed first as a thought, and we find that thought in many writings of the late 1800s and early 1900s. back
14. “The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious” (in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Collected Works vol. 7). Perhaps Jung would agree with Joseph Campbell’s view that fairy tales, and folk literature in general, aren’t the creation of the masses, but rather of the elite. Campbell said, “There’s an old romantic idea in German, das Volk dichtet, which says that the ideas and poetry of the traditional cultures come out of the folk. They do not. They come out of an elite experience, the experience of people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song of the universe.” (The Power of Myth, ch. 3, p. 107) back