Tag Archives: Biography

New Biography of Wagner – Svensson

Book News: Richard Wagner – A Portrait by Lennart Svensson (2015)

 

Manticore Books has published yet another book by me. Last year it was my book about Ernst Jünger. Now it’s a biography on Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the German composer.

Richard Wagner – A Portrait is a book about a genius composer. A book like this, about Richard Wagner, is sorely needed. Today Wagner is performed everywhere, all around the world. Reportedly, the mere purpose of building opera houses is to stage Wagner’s Ring, the greatest opera ever composed, this 15 hours long, captivating and complex opus.

So you can say: Richard Wagner has triumphed. In the 2010’s West-world, indeed over the whole world, Wagner operas are played and admired by all and sundry. Today Wagner is mainstream, you could say. And yet, he will always be considered controversial.

More than any other composer before and after, Wagner wrote pamphlets and engaged himself in politics. For instance, he took part in the 1848-49 populist rebellion in Germany. Then, at long last, he became a conservative. This is mirrored in the current book – Richard Wagner – A Portrait – along with other aspects of the man and his works. The main Wagner operas are surveyed in some detail, a bio of Wagner’s life is given and different aspects of his oeuvre are discussed, such as Wagner and popular culture, Wagner and literature, the scenography of the operas and, of course, the specificity of Wagner’s music.

The book is on 198 pages. You can see the design and layout in the pictures of this post. It’s a softcover with perfect binding. According to the publishing house the book gives a fully-rounded picture of Wagner, the man and his music.

 

Sample Chapter: Wagner and Popular Culture

 

Author’s Note: I have written a biography on Richard Wagner. He was a classical composer living in the 19th century. He composed operas about heroes and villains, traditional music dramas showcasing the wonders of the western cultural heritage. Today, Wagner’s music is loved by both opera fans and movie-goers. Below are some lines from my Wagner bio, an excerpt of chapter 17: “Wagner and Popular Culture”. It’s about the Wagner Leitmotif technique used in film scores, and the Wagner music employed in “Excalibur”. And about a certain CD having helicopters on the cover.

Helicopters on the Cover

Sometimes record companies compilate ”best of”-collections with Wagner ouvertures and orchestral pieces. For example, today on the internet you can buy a compilation of Wagner orchestral pieces and ouvertures on CD, called Twilight of the Gods: The Essential Wagner Collection. The subtitle is: ”Music of Terrifying Power and Transcending Beauty”. It was originally issued in 1998 by Deutsche Grammophon, a venerable label for classic music. Here we get standards such as ”The Ride of the Valkyries”, ”Siegfried’s Funeral March”, ”Siegfried’s Rhine Journey”, overtures to The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and The Master-Singers, ”Good Friday Music from Parsifal” and many more.

This all is very fine and proper. But the cover image might seem strange, sporting as it does American Bell UH-1 ”Hueys” coming at you, the combat transport helicopter employed by US Army in Vietnam. However, the connection is apt; Francis Coppola’s movie about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now (1979), in a scene uses ”The Ride of the Valkyries” as a soundtrack. Technically this is not incidental, atmosphere-creating music but so called source, music actually played in the cinematic action itself, since the major in charge of the cavalry battalion in question has equipped his helicopters with loudspeakers that play the actual melody during assaults. This in order to scare the enemy.

When seeing the actual film I didn’t quite like that scene, it gets a little over the top, something of an overstatement: ”Look at the militarist Wagner’s music being used in the most awful of all wars, how fitting…!” That said, now the connection is done – Vietnam War and ”The Ride of the Valkyries” – so I have to admit that the CD in question having that film image of the helis, silhouetted against the sun, is very efficient. It’s got edge, being a smart way of selling classical music to youngsters of today: ”Wagner, terryfying power, awesome man…” I might cater to ulterior needs in saying this. But Wagner’s music is rich and deep and it can withstand a lot, from stagings with modern props to CD covers with the war machines of the NWO.

Excalibur

Richard Wagner’s opus lived on, even in the 20th century, even beyond the opera stage. As for Wagner music used in soundtracks my best example is John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981). True, this film also employs music from another classical composer, Carl Orff and his ”O Fortunata” from Carmina Burana, since then a staple in circumstances like these. But the mainstay of the soundtrack is from Wagner. In scenes with Lancelot and Guinevere we hear the Tristan ouverture, and in sir Perceval’s search for the Grail we hear, what else, the prelude to Parsifal.

Then there is the main theme, with parts of ”Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Twilight of the Gods. This music is heard at the beginning, with a text plate saying ”The Dark Ages… The Land was divided and without a king”, followed by rhapsodic scenes of fighting, of Merlin etc. The soundtrack to all this is Wagner and it’s congenial. The same Wagner piece – the funeral march – is there at the end of the film, during the battle in which Arthur is killed by Mordred. Just before he dies Arthur tells Perceval to take Excalibur and throw it into the lake – the lake from which it once was given by the hand of the Lady of the Lake.

Eventually Perceval finds the lake and gets ready to throw the sword. At the same time, in anticipation, the hand of the Lady rises from the surface – and then we hear Wagner’s ”sword” leitmotif, flashing forth simultaneously as a light is reflected in the shiny blade during the throwing. It’s almost better than a Wagner opera. Anyhow, Boorman succeeded in taking old music and having it fit like a glove to this scene, the sword leitmotif sounding out exacly when the hand of the Lady catches the hilt of the sword and then sinks with it, never to be seen again.

All this is very much in the spirit of Wagner. The music isn’t ironically employed as in Apocalypse Now. This is the Wagnerian spirit, translated onto the screen, in a story that coheres. Then there is the employment of the leimotif itself, Excalibur being a sword showcased with Wagner’s sword theme: there is a chance of it getting too clever-clever, too contrived, but no, this just nails it, if I may say so. The use of classical music in Excalibur is on par with what Kubrick did in 2001.

Boorman’s Excalibur, by being produced in the pallid era of the early 1980’s, with cold war, recession and unemployment, could have been a dour, anti-heroic, anti-romantic tale. But true artistry was about in writing the script, in producing and filming it so if you want to ”get that Wagner feeling” on screen, in a non-operatic, modern, cinematographic way, go see Excalibur.

Film Music

Leitmotif, in case you didn’t know already, is a musical phrase that symbolizes a person, a thing, a place or a feeling. Wagner didn’t use the term itself but ever since the premiere of The Ring it’s been widely used to characterize this Wagnerian effect. Musical phrases such as leitmotifs led an embryonic existence before Wagner but he made it into a modus operandi, slightly overemploying it, like in The Ring.

However, after Wagner the leitmotif technique found its way into other musical areas than opera, preferably film music. To have a musical phrase repeating itself in the theme song (the, if you will, ”overture”) as well as here and there in the film score proper, became common practice after sound film came of age. For example the composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), with film scores such as Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958), knew the Wagner way of making music. For instance, in the latter film there’s echoes of ”The Love-Death of Isolde” from Tristan and Isolde.

Wikipedia [entry: Leitmotif] says that leitmotifs, in one sense or the other, have occured since the advent of sound film:

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1938 score for The Adventures of Robin Hood, for example, can be heard to attach particular themes and harmonies to individual characters: Robin, Will, Much, and Gisbourne are all accompanied by distinctive musical material. A more modern example is the Star Wars series, in which composer John Williams uses a large number of themes specifically associated with people and concepts (for example, a particular motif attaches to the presence of Darth Vader and another to the idea of the Force). In the film trilogy Lord of the Rings the dramatic orchestral score has hundreds of Leitmotifs recurring throughout.

 

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Svensson, Lennart. “Book News: Richard Wagner — A Portrait (Lennart Svensson 2015).” Svenssongalaxen, 24 June 2015. <http://lennart-svensson.blogspot.se/2015/06/book-news-richard-wagner-portrait.html >.

Svensson, Lennart. “A Chapter From my Wagner Bio: Wagner and Popular Culture.” Svenssongalaxen, 24 June 2015. <http://lennart-svensson.blogspot.se/2015/06/a-chapter-from-my-wagner-bio-wagner-and.html >.

 

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Intro to Ludwig Klages – Baer

“The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought” by Lydia Baer (PDF – 4.43 MB):

The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages

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Baer, Lydia. “The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 40, No. 1 (January, 1941), pp. 91-138.

See also: “On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages” by Joe Pryce: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/intro-to-ludwig-klages-pryce/ >.

 

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Mishima: Paleocon as Samurai – Raimondo

Yukio Mishima: Paleocon as Samurai

By Justin Raimondo

 

In Runaway Horses, Yukio Mishima’s portrait of a young right-winger and would-be assassin, the main character, Isao, is inspired by a pamphlet, The League of the Divine Wind, by Tsunanori Yamao—a work of pure imagination, albeit based on historical reality, which takes up all or most of Chapter 9. This is the story of the Shinpuren Incident of 1876, in which a band of rebellious samurai rose up against the “reforms” of the Meiji Restoration. These were radical traditionalists of a uniquely consistent sort: they disdained such Western inventions as guns and cannon, and wielded spears and swords to attack the local garrison.

It was a highly stylized gesture of defiance against the onset of modernity, just the sort of thing that would interest Mishima, whose aesthetics as well as his politics made him sympathetic to the motivations of the rebels, who chafed at the failure of the authorities to resist “foreign influence” and “expel the barbarians.” Mishima lists the outrages that inflame them, starting off with “In Meiji 3, permission was granted to an imperial prince to study in Germany.”

The traditions of the samurai class were being systematically dismantled: not only were their subsidies and subventions, which came out of the Imperial Treasury, dramatically reduced and eventually cut off, to add insult to injury they were told to cut off their top-knots and turn in their swords. It became a crime to carry a sword in public. For the followers of Oen Hayashi—who held white fans over their heads as they walked under electric wires for fear of contamination by Western emanations–that was the last straw.

Oen was a Shinto priest and scholarly defender of the old gods, whose zeal on their behalf inspires a group of young samurai. His views, propagated after his death by the League of the Divine Wind, are clearly Mishima’s, who sums up Oen’s politics thusly:

Cherishing as he did the ideal of glorifying the Imperial Tradition within the land and upholding the national honor in the face of foreign incursion, he was appalled by the vacillation of the Shogunate officials at the time of Perry’s arrival and also by the tactics of those who turned away from the policy of ‘Expel the Barbrians’ but tried to use it to overthrow the Shogunate. He became a recluse and gave himself over to the contemplation of occult wisdom.

Against the arrival of Commodore Perry and modernity, the leaders of the League approach the elder gods with a petition to act. The opening line of Tsunanori’s story sets the stage: “One day in the summer of 1873–the Sixth Year of the Meiji era–four stalwart men of high ideals gathered at the Imperial Shrine in Shingai Village.” They are there to consult the will of the gods in the ritual known as Ukei: in Mishima’s version, a fresh-cut peach branch festooned with paper pendants inscribed with questions for the gods is waved over the Sacred Mirror, and the answers drop from the branch like rain, or tears:

The first of these was in accordance with the wishes of Harukata Kaya and read as follows: ‘To bring an end to misgovernment by admonishing authority even to the forfeiture of life.’

Kaya was bent upon the use of argument, of subduing their enemy without shedding any blood but his own. He wished to insure that his admonition achieved its goal by emulating Ysautake Yokoyama, the samurai of the Satsuma Clan who, in Meiji 3, set the seal upon his heroic remonstrance by slaying himself with his sword as soon as he had delivered his petition. Kaya’s comrades, however, had misgivings about the efficacy of such a course.

The second appeal laid out before the judgement of the gods was “to cut down the unworthy ministers by striking in darkness with the sword,” i.e. a terrorist campaign targeted at the sell-outs and traitors who were delivering Old Nippon over to the foreigners. A poem written on the headband of the 16-year-old Tadao Saruwatari, sums up the feelings of the rebels:

Our land divided, sold to barbarians,
The Sacred Throne in peril.
May the gods of heaven and earth
Behold our loyal devotion.

The leaders of the League twice implored the gods, and twice the answer was the same: the time for action was not propitious. On the third try, however, the gods were apparently in a good mood–or, perhaps, a bad one–because they not only gave the go ahead, but deemed the League a divine army that was to spark a general rising. Their destiny sealed, the League set about making preparations. Nothing was done, of course, without consulting the Divine Will: the battle plan, the division of the forces and their various tasks, the timing–all were calculated according to the sanctions of tradition and the will of the war god Hachiman.

Numbering less than two hundred, they would take on the garrison of the castle of Kumamoto, defended by two thousand government troops. Perhaps some hi-tech firepower might have given them some advantage – say, a cannon or two – but, as Mishima notes, they hotly disdained using the weapons of the foreigners, and rode into battle with swords, spears, and halberds – although they also made several hundreds primitive Molotov cocktails using two bowls packed with gunpowder and gravel.

With the advantage of surprise – and surprise certainly describes the reaction of the garrison, as these oddly-garbed figures, bearing swords and spears, swarmed through the barracks – the League achieved a victory as sweet as it was short: all two thousand defenders fled “like frightened women.” Yet they soon regrouped, and, heartened by reinforcements, went on the counterattack.

The League fought valiantly, but, in the end, they were overwhelmed by superior numbers, not to mention the modern weaponry of their opponents. The defeated army of the gods, gathered together in the sanctuary of a nearby Shinto shrine, determined to fight on, and yet it soon became all too clear that resistance was futile. Government troops swarmed over the countryside like ants in search of sugar. Driven to the ground, the survivors took the only honorable course: they committed seppuku, ritual suicide, one-by-one and in groups. Young and old, priests and samurai, commoners and nobility–yes, and even one woman!–they all went into the next life without hesitation or regret, slitting their throats, falling on their swords, and disemboweling themselves in the gruesome ritual known in the West as hari-kiri.

This, for them–and for the author—was the supreme duty, the proof of their purity, and any other course would have been unthinkable, under the circumstances, and they did it as simply, as easily, as naturally as a Westerner would close his eyes and go to sleep. Their fate prefigured that of the author, and, as he wrote Runaway Horses, Mishima was no doubt already planning his dramatic denouement, an act that would shock the world–but not yet.

Mishima was a writer of extraordinary talent, and so prolific that I cannot even get a handle on how many novels he actually wrote: the number we usually encounter is 40, but that’s not counting the serialized “popular” novels, some of which were never published between book covers, and not thought of as serious by the author. In addition, he produced such a quantity of short stories, essays, plays, screenplays, poems, and polemics that it seemed as if, behind his byline, lurked a literary team rather than a single author.

In his personal life, too, the same energy was evident: at the height of his fame, Mishima was everywhere, socializing with the high and the low, appearing on television, religiously going to the gym where he devoted himself to body-building and kendo, at one point starring in a gangster movie, and traveling the world from Bangkok to Manhattan, reveling in life even as he dreamt endless dreams of death.

Born Kimitake Hiroaka, a small, spindly Mama’s boy, he grew up in wartime Japan a bookish odd-man-out, burdened with a morbid imagination and a predilection for perversions that included but were not limited to homosexuality. Much of his best known earlier work is largely an attempt to work through and come to terms with his childhood demons. Taken from his mother after a mere week or so of life, and forced to attend to his witch of a grandmother in her sickbed, he was not allowed to play with other children, especially boys, and was forced to stay inside playing with origami and reading. He soon devoured all the books in his well-read grandmother’s library: the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, as well as Oscar Wilde, and the poems of Rilke and the Decadents.

His first novel, Hanazakari no Mori (“The Forest in Full Bloom”), was steeped in the spirit and history of Ancient Japan: it consists of profiles of aristocratic figures from widely disparate historical eras. The Japan Mishima evoked was a memory of a time when the grasping egotism and “modern” crudity of contemporary Japanese militarists was unthinkable: When it was a “forest in full bloom,” Japan was a courtly society, where ancient forms were followed to the letter as a matter of course. Mishima’s language, studded with rare words like polished jewels, was elegant, archaic, and yet precise. As one of his translators put it: “He knew the exact word for everything.”

Mishima’s literary debut was overshadowed, however, by the start of the war–an event that transformed everything for the seventeen year old author. As Japan’s fortunes took a turn for the worse, Mishima and his school-fellows lived with the prospect of conscription—and certain death—hanging over them like a tsunami about to crash onto their once-peaceful beach. For the first time since a fortunate wind blew the approaching Mongol fleet off course–that, by the way, is where the League of the Divine Wind got its name–Japan faced the prospect of foreign invasion. The idea that they would die young, and gloriously, was part of the air they breathed.

Mishima became associated with a group of nationalist writers, the Bungei Bunka, for whom the war was a holy task. Known as the Roman-ha (Japanese Romanticists), their goal, in literary-emotional terms, was “purity of sentiment,” as Henry Scott-Stokes puts it in The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, while their politics consisted of an eclectic mix of Emperor-worship and Marxism: like Mishima, they pined for the Old Japan, which they idealized. They hated the zaibatsu (huge industrial combines that dominated wartime Japan) and Westernized politicians, valorized the samurai, and reveled in the “irony” that defeat, too, could be sweet if it was experienced as the denouement of a heroic gesture.

Mishima’s father, Azusa, was a demanding, unsympathetic character who had squandered the family’s money in an unsuccessful bid to become an entrepreneur: he regularly invaded the boy’s room and tore up his manuscripts, rationalizing his brutality with the view that writing was unproductive and could only divert his young son away from the straight and narrow. In spite of the boy’s literary prowess–he was already being praised by the Bungei Bunka as a genius–Azusa finally prevailed upon him to study law at Tokyo University. That in itself was a feat of some magnitude, since Mishima had always ignored his father’s hectoring as much as possible.

The reason for this unusual concession was no doubt because Mishima found the law intellectually challenging: but there was not much studying done that year. The war was moving rapidly toward its end, and air raids were constant. Students were yanked out of the classroom and mobilized to support the war effort: Mishima and his fellow future lawyers of Japan were put to work in a factory making kamikaze planes:

This great factory worked on a mysterious system of production costs: taking no account of the dictum that capital investment should produce a return, it was dedicated to a monstrous nothingness. No wonder then that each morning the workers had to recite a mystic oath. I have never seen such a strange factory. In it all the techniques of modern science and management, together with the exact and rational thinking of many superior brains, were dedicated to a single end: Death. Producing the Zero-model combat plane used by the suicide squadrons, this great factory resembled a secret cult that operated thunderously–groaning, shrieking, roaring.

This description of the factory appeared in Confessions of a Mask–the book that catapulted him to fame. Fame, however, was in the future: for now, he was just a lonely aesthete amid the unfolding disaster of wartime Japan. As he ran to the air raid shelter, he clutched the pages of what he thought of as his “last” novel, The Middle Ages, an historical tale based on the life and death of Prince Yoshihisa, the son of a Shogun who lived in the 15th century. Yoshihisa attempted a coup, but was killed in battle: what followed was a long period of chaos and fighting, known as the era of the Onin wars, that nearly destroyed Japanese society. Kyoto, the capital, was burned to the ground–a condition that was about to be replicated in contemporary Japan. The feeling of impending disaster was everywhere, and it was just like Mishima to translate this foreboding into a tale out of the fifteenth century.

Japan was slowly but surely being defeated, and as the Americans inched closer to the Japanese homeland, Mishima received the call to report for duty: he was being drafted. As it turned out, however, he was so sickly and thin that they rejected him, much to his relief: the military doctor mistakenly diagnosed him with incipient tuberculosis. Later, in Confessions, he would remark that he had been “forsaken even by Death.” He had escaped, and yet Death still haunted him: or, rather, the desire to embrace it haunted him. He had been denied a glorious death by the army doctor, but he believed he would meet his end in a final cataclysm, as enemy bombers dropped fire from the skies and Tokyo was aflame. “It was in death,” he wrote, “that I had discovered my real ‘life’s aim.’”

As the Japanese government prepared for surrender, Mishima was immersed in his books, writing his first published stories, and making contacts with older authors who would prove instrumental to his career. Hiroshima was devastated, and then Nagasaki: the Americans dropped leaflets over Tokyo laying out the terms of surrender. The Japanese government capitulated.

Mishima was in shock: the Emperor went on the radio to declare that he wasn’t a god, after all. Of this time, he wrote:

The war ended. All I was thinking about, as I listened to the Imperial Rescript announcing the surrender, was the Golden Temple. The bond between the temple and myself had been severed. I thought, now I shall return … to a state in which I exist on one side and beauty on the other. A state which will never improve so long as the world endures.

The death of his sister, Mitsuko, underscored the end of the world he had known: she succumbed to typhoid in October, 1945. The old Japan was crashing down all around him, but to this larger catastrophe Mishima was numbed and oblivious: he simply withdrew into his own private world. He was determined to become a writer, and not only that, but a literary star: one senior literary figure, to whom he brought his work, criticized him for his extravagant Romanticism, and asked him if he wanted to be an original or a popular author: Mishima unhesitatingly chose the latter.

The “reforms” of the MacArthur Regency, the economic and social tumult that surrounded him, did not, at the time, concern him: his family home had escaped any damage, and he hid himself away in what he called his “castle.” Amidst the physical destruction of Tokyo, and the disintegration of all the old values, including the aristocratic “courtly” literary traditions he and his fellows of the Roman-ha upheld, he wasn’t merely indifferent to it all, including the momentous political developments–he was determinedly oblivious. His focus was exclusively on the development of his unique literary imagination, and his efforts to break into the Bundan, the exclusive and inbred club of the Japanese literary establishment.

If Mishima was indifferent to such worldly concerns as politics, then politics weren’t indifferent to him. Postwar Japan was dominated by the Left, and the political trials and purges carried out under the occupation, with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of the Japanese Communist Party, extended into the literary realm. In the winter of 1945, as Mishima was gathering a book of stories for publication, a committee of leftist writers and critics issued an indictment of “literary war criminals,” among whom Mishima’s former mentors and sponsors figured prominently. This was followed by an official purge executed by the American occupation authorities.

Mishima’s effort to storm the castle of the Bundan met with intractable resistance: his association with the Roman-ha as well as his extravagant subjectivism, his stylistic archaicism, and his decidedly un-“progressive” subject matter all kept him out of print, albeit only temporarily.

Mishima was inwardly beset by all sorts of demons, which he mercilessly dissected in his famous Confessions, the book that made him as a writer. Yet he had a will of steel, and this was reflected not only in his ambition, but in his highly disciplined sensibility, which approached every task with a relentless concentration. Still a law student, he studied diligently and prepared for his entrance examination to the civil service with the same fierce concentration that produced reams of stories and a first novel, The Thieves, the story of a young couple that enter into a suicide pact, albeit not out of love for each other.

His career as a civil servant—he was accepted as a minor functionary into the Ministry of Finance—didn’t last very long, and Azusa bitterly opposed his decision to leave his job and become a full-time writer. But when it became apparent that Mishima would persist, his father turned to him and said: “Well then, go ahead, but make sure you are the best writer in the land.” Father and son, so unlike each other in every other way, shared a belief in this possibility. Mishima, for his part, was certain of his destiny: indeed, this certitude seemed almost fully formed from early youth.

Not long before his spectacular death, Mishima was asked by the Tobu department store, one of the biggest such establishments in Japan, to help put together a photographic exhibition of his life and work: it was displayed from November 12 – 19, in 1970. During that time, one-hundred thousand visited the display with it’s black-draped photographs arranged around an antique samurai sword that was to be the instrument of Mishima’s death a few days later. The catalogue, bound in black, contained an introduction by Mishima, in which he said of the exhibition:

I made only one suggestion: that was to divide my forty-five years of life–a life so full of contradictions–into Four Rivers, ‘Writing,,’ ‘Theater,’ ‘Body,” and ‘Action,’ all finally flowing into The Sea of Fertility.

This last was the title of his tetralogy, consisting of Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel, which covers the period from 1912 to 1975, and can be considered his literary and philosophical testament.

The rivers of writing and action flowed together in the evolution of his political views, from the non-committal anti-political stance of his early works, which are steeped in the personal and the subjective, to his fulsome embrace of Japanese nationalism, albeit of a unique sort.

John Nathan, in his introduction to the new edition of his 1974 biography of Mishima, regrets that his analysis of the writer’s political ideology was overshadowed by Mishima’s personal pathology–the obsession with death revealed in Confessions, and in much of his fiction, rooted in sado-masochistic eroticism. In re-reading the work he hadn’t opened in many years, Nathan confides he was “troubled by the skepticism my argument required me to sustain. In declining to accept Mishima’s words or actions at face value, I failed to recognize the courage and unflinching honesty that are there to be observed.”

In a piece published on New Year’s Day, 1967, Mishima explained that his Westernized lifestyle–he lived in a Western-style house, wore Western clothes, etc.–did not really contradict his nationalist sentiments because “My true life as a writer is in the pure Japan of the Japanese language I use every night in my study. Compared to this, “he averred, “nothing else is of any importance.” Nathan writes:

In the biography, my commitment to reveal Mishima’s nationalism as specious, and as a device for achieving death, prompted me to dismiss this claim as ‘a lame and silly argument’…. Today, I am persuaded, indeed moved, by the same logic I once ridiculed.

Mishima’s fate, Nathan continues, “now appears as one of two historical moments” that seem to have underscored the predicament of modern Japan. Not that Nathan gives up entirely his tiresomely predictable way of looking at Mishima through the lens of amateur psychology: after all, Mishima’s work is the very exemplar of “psychological” fiction, in that the real action is taking place inside the characters’ skulls. So that all the physical action – and there is a lot of that, too–proceeds logically from a clear albeit unique motivation. Yet there was a growing political consciousness, a current that flowed from the merging rivers of writing and action, that represented Mishima’s mature thought.

As he outgrew his exoticism, and shed the skin of a sensitive youth, Mishima underwent a remarkable transformation. One of his critics once remarked that what scared him about Mishima is that he seemed to have sprouted up so fast as a writer that he was all flower and no leaves. And there was something distinctly unhealthy about his extreme aestheticism, with its overtones of Wilde and Raymond Radiguet.

All that began to change, however, as he approached the pinnacle of his success: his novels were being made into films, and there was talk that he was up for a Nobel. For much of his youth, he had swum exclusively in the rivers of writing and theater: as for the body, the thin and sickly Kimitake Hiroaka, with his thin shoulders and pallid complexion, was banished, finally, like a ghost that has lingered too long on this earth, replaced by the chiseled physique of a dedicated bodybuilder. This led directly to the rising of the river of theater, especially when he posed semi-naked in a notorious series of photographs, one of which has him in the classic pose of St. Sebastian, tied to a post and stuck full of arrows. It was a most un-Japanese way of calling attention to himself, and this was made worse when he ventured onto the stage as an actor, appearing in a couple of cheap gangster movies. It was an embarrassment, but Mishima was clearly enjoying himself, and, for all his avowed traditionalism, his innate exhibitionism overrode the Japanese sense of propriety.

The last of the four rivers to swell from a stream into a rushing torrent was that of action, and it propelled him toward his fate. This was really, however, the river of ideology, which for Mishima was his own unique brand of Japanese nationalism: it might be called Japan’s version of paleoconservatism. He didn’t think of himself standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” Instead, he demanded that history must reverse course, and go back to that juncture where a wrong turn was taken.

For Japan, as far as Mishima was concerned, that juncture was located precisely. On February 26, 1936, when he was 11 years old, the young army officers of the Imperial Way faction, at the head of 1,400 troops, seized the Tokyo center and assassinated a number of government officials. They were rising against the power of the “Control” faction, led by Hideki Tojo and a group of old-line bureaucrats who would later come to be charged as war criminals and executed.

At the time, there was great division in military circles and the emperor’s court as to which direction Japanese expansionism ought to take: should they go eastward, and occupy China, or go north and take on the Soviet Union? The Imperial Way faction, being staunchly anti-Communist, wanted to make war on the Kremlin and build a Nipponese empire in the north. The Control group wanted to conquer the Chinese coastline and make its way inward to the Han heartland: this meant also taking on the colonial powers of the West–including the United States—whose interests in China and Southeast Asia were at stake.

The Imperial Way group believed that the Emperor had lost control to a cabal of bureaucratic technocrats, exemplified by Tojo, who had betrayed the traditions of old Japan in their rush to modernize. The Imperial Way solution was to appeal to the Emperor Hirohito to take direct control of the government, and dispense with his scheming ministers and other Westernizers: thus their name Koda-ha, or Imperial Way. They particularly resented to power of the zaibatsu, the great industrial combines that monopolized industry and extended their talons into the government and the Imperial Court. The Emperor, they believed, had been misled: their rebellion was a direct appeal to Hirohito – who firmly rejected their entreaties. Indeed, the Emperor directed the army to put down the rebellion, even as some councilors urged him to compromise: the uprising was crushed, its leaders committed seppuku, and the February Incident went down in the history of Japan was yet another eruption of Nipponese irrationality and “extremism,” like the Shimpuren Incident.

Mishima, however, was sympathetic to the rebels, and it is easy to see why. If the Imperial Way had won, and Tojo and his group cast aside, Japan would never have gone to war with the West, and the devastation of Japan, the occupation, and the radical process of Westernization would all have been avoided. Japan would not have been relegated to the role of an international castrati, forbidden to have a real army, and locked into a mandatory pacifism in which the specter of death had been banished, and, along with it, any sense of meaning, or so Mishima came to believe. “Surely some great God died when the Ni Ni Roku Incident failed,” he wrote. It figured prominently in his later works: the short story “Patriotism,” the prose poem “Voices of the Heroic Dead,” a play, Toka no Kiku, and also in Runaway Horses, where the hero, Isao, invokes it as the inspiration for his own plans for an uprising.

In “Patriotism,” the hero, Lieutenant Takeyama, is the commander of a unit that receives the order to move against the February rebels. As a friend and sympathizer of the rebel leaders, this puts him in a predicament: he will not take up arms against his comrades, yet is unwilling to disobey the direct order of the Emperor. He is shamed that he has been left out of the rebellion: The only way out is to commit seppuku. What follows is the longest, most detailed description of ritual suicide in Japanese literature, bloody and gory and yet strangely idealized. As Lieutenant Takeyama’s intestines are spilling out onto the floor, Mishima remarks: “It would be difficult to imagine a more heroic sight than that of the lieutenant at this moment, as he mustered his strength and flung back his head.”

“Voices of the Heroic Dead” was controversial with both the Left and the Right: the former because it valorized the kamikazee fighters as well as the rebel officers of Ni Ni Roku, and the latter because it criticized Emperor Hirohito for repudiating his own godhood and failing to support the Imperial Way. Here we are taken into a séance, in which the voices of the perished kamikazee pilots and the coup leaders of the Imperial Way group reproach the Emperor Hirohito: “Why did the emperor have to become a human being?” The ghosts of these departed patriots echo this refrain throughout the text. Mishima disdains the second half of the Showa era – Hirohito’s reign – as a time of national listlessness and a “smiling full-bellied peace,” that led to boredom and nihilism. Lassitude had set in:

Strength is decried, the body disdained
Pleasure has lost its substance
Joy and grief alike vanish in an instant
Purity is marketed, dissipation enfeebled
Feeling is dulled, sharpness blunted
Virulent and manly spirits have fled the earth….

This anomie is what he had succumbed to in his youth, and now was learning to conquer. The sickly Kimitake Hiroaka, who cowered in his room and watched the destruction of Tokyo from a distance, as if it were a play, longed for action, for commitment, for belief–and this desire was manifested in his emerging nationalist politics.

The emergence of Mishima as an ideologue of the Emperor system is widely misunderstood: he was not an authoritarian, but rather a critic of Westernized Japanese democracy, which was merely the old bureaucratic zaibatsu-dominated system wearing a “democratic” mask. He saw the Emperor and the Shinto system of Emperor-worship as the essence of the Japanese spirit. The postwar order emasculated Japanese culture, which had previously been represented by both the Chrysanthemum and the Sword: after the Defeat, however, only the Chrysanthemum remained. The Sword was permanently sheathed, the American-imposed “constitution” forbade any form of military activity, and Japanese culture was represented by such pacifistic activities as ikebana (flower arranging), while the darker side was entirely missing.

This dark side, however, was about to reassert itself, Mishima was sure of it, and he did his own part to help it along with the creation of his Tatenokai group, or Shield Society, a group of young patriots he gathered around him in reaction to the tumult of the 1960s, when the Left made giant inroads in Japan (and around the world). This tumult reached a crescendo in Japan with the riots, in the spring of 1960, that greeted the ratification of the US-Japan Security Treaty, which was opposed by both the radical Left and the nationalist Right, albeit for antipathetic reasons.

The student leftists, who took to the streets and battled the police, fascinated Mishima, who admired them for their style if not the substance of their pro-Communist politics. He went out into the streets and reported on the riots for the Mainichi Shimbun. “Patriotism” was written about this time, and his political sensibility began to be more fully developed. The Tatenokai – which he called “the world’s smallest and most spiritual army”—was the culmination of this trend in his thinking: together with these hundred or so patriotic young recruits, in their spiffy designer uniforms, he jumped head-first into the river of action.

Through his connections with influential Liberal Democratic Party mandarins, Mishima managed to get permission for the Tatenokai to participate in training sessions with the Japanese Defense Force. They spend weeks in the JDF training camps, and Mishima is in his element: the world of action. Yet that is just the beginning of his journey down this particular river ….

Mishima’s death is the most well-known aspect of his life, which seems somehow appropriate, given his life-long morbid focus on the subject. It is, however, unfortunate, because the irony is that he was such a creative force: his collected works fill some thirty-plus thick volumes. In his day to day life, too, he was a veritable tornado of activity: he did everything with high energy and intensive focus, whether it was his writing, his body-building, his extensive socializing with a wide network of friends and fellow writers. In the final months and weeks of his life, the pace of his normally hectic activity picked up: he rushed to finish the final volume of “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy, which was published as The Decay of the Angel.

He had been planning his final gesture of defiance for years, and finally the day approached: he put all his affairs in order, and proceeded with his usual thoroughness and alacrity. Mishima’s initial plan was to somehow enlist the aid of the Japanese Defense Force, which, together with the Tatenokai, would occupy Parliament and demand the revision of the constitution. This fell through, however, when Mishima’s inquiries met with a total lack of interest on the part of JDF officers. The plan was revised: they would take a senior JDF commander hostage, force the authorities to gather the soldiers in a place where Mishima would address them, and then, together, the Tatenokai and the rebel soldiers would carry out a coup, place the Emperor in command of the nation, and reassert Japan’s signal cultural, political, and military identity.

It was a ridiculous scheme, sure to fail, and Mishima–who was no fool–must have known that. Yet he went ahead with it. We can only assume that he knew how it would have to end, and that he wanted it to end precisely as it did.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima was awake and up early with the songbirds. Yoko, his wife, was out of the house, having taken the children to school. He dressed carefully, donning a fundoshi and his Tatenokai uniform. He assembled the items he was taking with him: a brown attache case, which contained a number of daggers, some papers, and a long samurai sword. He placed the final manuscript of The Decay of the Angel on a table in the hallway, in an envelope addressed to the publisher: they were scheduled to come pick it up later in the day. He then made a few phone calls to friendly reporters, hinting that something big was in the works—without saying precisely what was going to happen—and told them to show up at the Ichigaya base of the Japanese defense force in the center of Tokyo. As the morning wore on, a young man in the uniform of the Tatenokai walked through the garden to the front door: Mishima greeted him, and handed him three envelopes, with instructions that these should be taken out to the waiting car and read by the four members of the Tatenokai who had been chosen to accompany him on his final dip in the rive of action. Then he gathered up his briefcase, and left the house.

General Mashita, commander of the Eastern Army, was waiting for his visitors when they arrived at the base, and they were led into his office. After a few preliminary pleasantries, Mishima took off his sword, hanging in its scabbard on his belt, and placed it against the chair as he sat down.

“Tell me,” said General Mashita, “what is this sword you have with you? Did anyone ask you about it on the way in? I am not very clear about the rules on swords, as we don’t carry them anymore ourselves.”

Mishima assured him it was okay, and began to talk about the sword: an antique, made in the seventeenth century by the famous classical smith Seki no Magoroku. “Would you like to see it?”

Mashita indicated that he would, and as he held it, one of the Tatenokai inched forward, according to the plan. Mishima said to the young man: “A handkerchief?” This was the cue, and Mishima’s young follower moved toward the General, who, oblivious to the hidden meaning of the scene playing out before him, returned to his desk to get a tissue with which to wipe the sword. There was more small talk as Mashita examined the blade after wiping it, remarking that he had never seen such a superb weapon in private hands. Mishima looked at his flustered acolyte, who took the hint and moved toward the General, stepped behind him and reached for the General’s neck ….

Mishima and his followers moved quickly: after binding and gagging Mashita, they barricaded the door with heavy furniture. What they didn’t realize, however, was that they were being observed through a peephole in the office door, which allowed anyone outside in the anteroom to look in and see what was happening. The gig was soon up.

Twice unarmed officers tried to break into the room and free the General, and twice they were repulsed by Mishima, who slashed at them with his sword, wounding several. At this point, the Japanese officers–who were confirming by the minute Mishima’s contemptuous dismissal of contemporary Japanese men as all chrysanthemum and no sword–asked what Mishima’s demands were. He readily complied with a written statement slipped under the door: the soldiers of the garrison must assemble in front of the headquarters no later than the hour of noon. Mishima would then be allowed to address them from the balcony outside Mashita’s office window. A ninety-minute truce would be declared, during which time Mishima and his men would not face attack from the JDF. If the officers would not agree, Mishima said he would kill the General and commit suicide. After some urging from Mashita, the officers radioed their commanders, who told them to handle the situation as they saw fit. They agreed to Mishima’s demands.

The soldiers gathered in response to an announcement over the loudspeaker system–and a siren wailed, as if in terror at what was to follow. The news media–already alerted by Mishima–was there in droves, and Mishima crowed: “What a lot of people for the party!”

The four Tatenokai appeared on the balcony, bearing banners that spelled out the conditions under which Mashita’s safety was assured. Mishima’s manifesto, printed as a leaflet, was dropped, and carried by the wind to its intended recipients, who glanced at it with curiosity but hardly any understanding: in it, Mishima appealed to the armed forces to stop being a “toy,” as mandated by the pacifistic Constitution, demanded the restoration of the Emperor to his rightful place as ruler, and complained “we have waited in vain for the Jieitai [JDF] to rebel. If no action is taken, the Western powers will control Japan for the next century!”

The manifesto ended with these stirring words (yes, stirring even to a foreigner):

Let us restore Nippon to its true state and let us die. Will you value only life and let the spirit die? … We will show you a value which is greater than respect for life. Not liberty, not democracy. It is Nippon! Nippon, the land of history and tradition. The Japan we love.

The toy soldiers of the Jieitai read this with incomprehension. Their bafflement only grew as Mishima himself appeared on the balcony. By this time the noise level, already high with the helicopters whirling overhead and the soldiers shouting to each other, reached a crescendo of abuse rising up from the ranks of the men Mishima had hoped to inspire. His plan was to speak for 30 minutes: seven minutes into his speech, however, he gave up. The Jieitai were rebelling, alright–against him. There was nothing to be done but carry out the final act of the drama that had been so long in rehearsals.

Mishima had jumped atop the parapet to be seen by the troops, and now he dropped down back onto the balcony. Inside Mashita’s office, the General’s gag had been loosened, and, as it became apparent what Mishima was about to do, Mashita yelled: “Stop!”

But there was no stopping him. Mishima stripped down to his loincloth, and knelt on the floor, expelling the air from his stomach and shouting a last salute to the Emperor. Then he forced a dagger into his stomach, and cut crosswise, in the prescribed manner. Seppuku is not butchery: it requires precision. As his entrails spilled out, he bent his neck to receive the death blow from Morita, his chief acolyte, who brought down the sword with much force–but missed his mark. Twice more Morita tried, and failed, to decapitate Mishima, instead wounding him grievously. One of the others came forward, who had experience in fencing and kendo, took the sword, and divided Mishima’s head from his body with a single clean stroke.

Today Mishima is looked upon as a fanatic, a crazy person, at best a talented yet flawed writer whose personal demons devoured him in the end: his politics are considered a diversion away from what he was really about, a mere façade for the darkness in his soul. Yet his view of Japan has been vindicated by the gradual rearmament of the Japanese military, and the rise of a new nationalism in Japan, which–while it has hardly inspired a new Shimpuren Incident, or a replay of the February rising of 1936–is reasserting itself. He wanted to live in a nation that had regained a sense of its self, its true self–not the consumerist imitative ikebana-Hello Kitty caricature, but the real, historical Japan, whose origins are lost in the mist of Mount Fuji, the dwelling place of the gods.

 

————–

Raimondo, Justin. “Mishima—Paleocon as Samurai.” Taki’s Magazine, 12 May 2008. <http://takimag.com/article/mishimapaleocon_as_samurai/print#axzz3PfJypKJo >.

 

Notes: For further reading about Mishima and his works, see Riki Rei’s Review of Naoki Inose’s Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima, and also the Yukio Mishima Webpage. For an introduction to Natsume Soseki, a famous Japanese novelist who was an influence on Mishima, see Hoang Nguyen’s discussion of Soseki’s Kokoro and Japan’s modernisation.

For further reading and a list of useful resources about modern Japan and its culture, see the page of Alexander Dugin’s “In the Country of the Rising ‘Do’.”

For those interested in researching Japanese literature in general (which is also useful for the study of Japan’s culture, history, and religious attitudes), we recommend the following two anthologies which were edited by Donald Keene: Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New York: Grove Press, 1955), and Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to the Present Day (New York: Grove Press, 1956). Concerning important modern classic Japanese authors (other than Yukio Mishima) whose works have been translated, we can note the following for readers who are interested: Natsume Soseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kyoka Izumi, Osamu Dazai, Junichiro Tanizaki, Eiji Yoshikawa, Edogawa Rampo, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Enchi, Yasushi Inoue, Shuhei Fujisawa, and Hisashi Inoue.

 

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Review of Inose’s Biography of Mishima – Rei

Review of Naoki Inose’s Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima

By Riki Rei

 

Naoki Inose
Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima
Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is a review of the Japanese edition of Persona, which is available now in English translation. I have read the translation, which appears to be much longer (864 pages) than the Japanese original. It is a treasure trove of information on Mishima. As an aside, the book’s unselfconscious frankness about sex and meticulous cataloging of genealogy and rank give one a sense of the consciousness of pre-Christian European society. – Greg Johnson

***

The Japanese version of Persona was originally published in November 1995 by Bungei Shunshu (literally meaning “the Literary Spring and Autumn”), an established and prestigious publishing house in Japan. The author, Mr. Naoki Inose, is a maverick and contentious figure who served as the vice governor of Tokyo municipality for a long time while also being a highly prolific and popular writer, having penned no less than 30 books so far, mostly on political, historical, and cultural themes. He was lately in hot water, being forced to step down from his official post due to alleged involvement in a murky financial scandal. His political and administrative stance, by post-war Japanese standards, is mainstream conservatism (center-Right).

The main body of the book has about 390 pages, including a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue. There is also a brief postscript and an extensive bibliography which together occupy another nine pages. Considering the length of the book, it is surprising that there are only four chapters. The 17-page Prologue is a novel-like start, the main character of which is a former schoolmate of Yukio Mishima, and whose father also happened to be an old acquaintance and old schoolmate of Mishima’s father Azusa Hiraoka (Hiraoka is the real family name of Mishima), both pursuing the careers of elite imperial government officials, but with quite different fates. The author’s intention in starting the book in this way was to highlight Mishima’s family background so as to shed light on the factors, both familial and historical, that shaped and molded the early development of Mishima’s quite unorthodox and eccentric personality.

Indeed, the author goes far further than most would expect, expatiating on the overall political and social picture of Japan in the late Meiji and early Taisho periods at the very beginning of the 20th century, which, in the author’s presumed reckoning, might better disclose and clarify the political, socio-cultural, and family backdrops of Mishima’s childhood, which was characterized by a mixture of docile and rebellious elements. The first chapter, called “The Mystery of the Assassination of Takashi Hara,” lasts almost 80 pages. Here the author talks about the historical background of the time in which Mishima’s grandfather Sadataro Hiraoka saw his career blossom then wither due to larger and uncontrollable political struggles.

Sadataro was a capable functionary favored and appointed by then the Internal Minister and later the Prime Minister of Japan Takashi Hara, nicknamed the “Commoner Prime Minister,” to be the governor of Karabuto (the Southern half of the Sakhalin Island, ceded to Japan by treaty after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and forcibly annexed by Soviet Union at the end of WWII). However, due to some suspicious financial dealing and mishaps which were seized by political foes to attack him, and political sectarian conflicts during the Hara administration and after his assassination, Sadataro was relieved of his governorship, and from then on, Mishima’s family’s fortune started to take an abrupt and sharp downturn.

The second chapter, “The Insulated Childhood,” shifts attention from the rise and fall of the Hiraokas to Mishima himself. Mr. Inose spends 90 pages on Mishima’s complex and seeming contradictory childhood, using narration interspersed by flashbacks, and talks about the family life of the Hiraokas, the inter-relationship of family members, religion, Mishima’s grandparents and parents, especially his fastidious and arbitrary grandmother and his bemused father, against the background of decline of the family’s fortunes as a result of political failures of his grandfather. The author devotes large passages to explaining such matters as Mishima’s poor physical health, his tender, timid, and self-isolating personality as a child molded by the uncannily tense family ambience, and his father’s desperate last-ditch effort that brought about his narrow escape from the military draft in his late teen years near the end of the Second World War.

In this chapter, the author also starts to introduce Mishima’s passion for literature, which developed quite early, and his first attempts at writing, as well as his friendship and literary exchanges with several likeminded youths who gave him encouragement and inspiration. One point meriting emphasis is the influence of Zenmei Hasuda, a young imperial army officer, a steadfast traditionalist and nationalist, and a talented writer who killed a senior officer for cursing the Emperor and then committed suicide near the end of the war.

In the third chapter, that lasts almost 100 pages, the author continues to elaborate on the young Mishima’s literary and private life, culminating in his crowning literary achievement, the novel Kinkakuji translated as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which the author rightfully perceives as a landmark of the first phase of Mishima’s literary life, which is characterized by richly colored, minutely detailed, and often unsettling depictions of the inner lives of men among the ruins of post-war Japan — a formerly proud nation wallowing in nihilism.

It is noteworthy that Mishima’s works at this stage are rather different from the second stage of his literary activities, in which his works display a clearly nationalist and Rightist perspective. While Mishima’s exquisite writing reached its peak (or near peak) quite early in his life, his understanding of and awakening to the Japanese identity and nationalism centered on the monarchist tradition underwent a gradual process of maturation and was still immature and inchoate at his first literary stage, i.e. the time around his writing of Kinkakuji and other non-nationalist works, in contrast to his second literary phase of more virile, robust, and nationalistic works from Sun and Steel to The Sea of Fertility. In addition, Mishima’s dandyesque personal life of drinking, socializing, and mingling with fashion-conscious rich girls as described in this chapter was also indicative of his less than mature literature and personality at his stage of his life.

Chapter four, being the longest of the four chapters at about 110 pages, stands out as a relatively independent account of Mishima’s later years, dealing with both literature and political/ideological developments, leading to his failed coup, featuring his impassioned exhortation to the military servicemen and his ritual suicide by seppuku. This part covers the Mishima most familiar and interesting to Western readers. The chapter covers his body-building practices, his continued literary endeavors, consummated by the masterpiece The Sea of Fertility,his nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his increasingly active socio-political undertakings, including organizing his private militia troop, the Tatenokai (Shield Society), his serious and strenuous military training in Jieitai (Self-Defense Force), the post-war Japanese military — with the rather naïve aim of safeguarding the Emperor in concerted effort with the military in case of domestic unrest or even sedition at the hands of the leftist or communist radicals — and the events of this final day, November 25, 1970.

Although Persona has an overly long and detailed discussion of Mishima’s family history, the book still flows and proves an engaging read on the whole. The last chapter, though a bit overshadowed by the three preceding chapters, is definitely the most pertinent and fascinating of the whole, filled with interesting facts with insightful and trenchant observations.

Mishima’s veneration of the Emperor (Tenno) and ultimately the Imperial bloodline (Kotoh) of Japan, his candid criticism of Emperor Hirohito, and his final urge toward the coup and the subsequent suicide were already implied in his Kinkakuji, albeit symbolically as the impregnable top floor of the Kinkakuji pavilion itself. These themes became explicit in Voice of the Spirits of Martyrs published in 1966, which especially demonstrates Mishima’s mixed feelings if not overtly bitter resentment of Hirohito for his ignoble role in the failed Ni-Ni-Roku (Feb. 26) Coup of 1936[1] and his abject “I-am-a-human-not-a-god” announcement in 1945.[2] In the book, Mishima speaks through the mouth of a 23-year-old blind man, giving voice to the spirits of the Ni-Ni-Roku rebels and the Kamikaze pilots, i.e., the spirits of martyrs, speaking of the post-war economic boom coupled with the moral decay of Japanese society:

Under the benevolent imperial reign, the society brims with peace and stability. People smile albeit not without conflicts of interest and confusion of friends and foes. Foreign money drives and goads people, and pseudo-humanism becomes a necessity for making a living. The world is shrouded in hypocrisy while physical force and manual labor are despised. Youthful generations feel suffocated by torpor, sloth, drugs, and meaningless fights, yet they all move along the prearranged path of mundanity like meek sheep. People think about making money, even small amounts, for which they degrade their own value. Private cars multiply, whose stupid high speed renders people soulless. Tall buildings mushroom while the righteous cause and moral principles collapse, and the glittering glass windows of those buildings are just like fluorescent lights of implacable desires. Eagles flying high in the sky and break their wings, and the immortal glories are sneered at and derided by termites. In such a time, the Emperor has become a human.[3]

According to Mishima, the daily routines under the rapid economic growth of 1960s is but an ugly and hollow sign of happiness, all attributable to the fact that the Emperor Hirohito has proclaimed himself no longer a divine figure, a sacrosanct “Arahitogami”[4] but a mere human being devoid of sanctity. Mishima expressed this view via the collective voice of the spirits of the martyrs, that the Emperor has assumed a duality of image, one being the last sacred embodiment of the national myth, and the other being one kind smiling grandfather presiding over the economic rationalism of the current age, and it is the latter, the protector of the daily routines of the post-war Japan, that Mishima found intolerable, as the voice of the martyr spirits makes quite clear:

The reign of His Majesty has been dyed in two different colors. The period of the bloody red color ends with the last day of the war, and the period of the ash grey color begins from that day. The period of the authentic red color soaked with blood starts with the day when the utmost sincerity of the brotherly spirits was thrown away, and the period of that pallid grey color starts from the day of the ‘I-am-a-human’ announcement of His Majesty. The immortality of our deaths is thus desecrated.[5]

The “brotherly spirits” here refer to the soldiers of the failed 2.26 coup of 1936, failed by the Emperor Hirohito, by his headstrong refusal to understand and sympathize with their righteous patriotism and pure sincerity. Mishima also believed that the “I-am-a-Human” announcement of Hirohito in the wake of WWII rendered the heroic sacrifices of the lives of the Kamikaze Tokkottai (Special Attack Units) utterly futile and pointless.

According to the author, Mishima’s mother Shizue revealed a little secret about the writing of Voices of the Spirits of Martyrs on the occasion of the commemoration of the seventh anniversary of Mishima’s death, namely, the work was actually written one night. She recollected that Mishima handed the manuscript to her as he had always done and uttered “I wrote this in one stroke last night, and it’s now completed.” She read through it quickly, felt her “blood curdled,” and asked Mishima how he wrote this piece. Mishima answered: “I felt my hand moving naturally and the pen sliding on the paper freely. I simply couldn’t help it even if I wanted to stop my hand. Low voices as if murmuring could be heard across my room in the midnight. The voices seemed to be from a group of men. When I held my breath to listen carefully, I found they were the voices of the dead soldiers who had participated in the 2.26 Incident.” Shizue continued to remark that “I had known the saying about haunting spirits before but didn’t paid attention until that moment when I came to realize that Kimitake (Mishima’s real first name) was perhaps haunted by something, and I felt chills down my spine.”[6]

In the summer of the same year Voices of the Spirits of Martyrs was published, Mishima went to Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu Island, South Japan, and this trip would prove to have a decisively catalyzing effect on the consolidation of the nationalist and traditionalist ideology that guided his later literary and political actions, provided the urge for the writing of his final work The Sea of Fertility, and eventually paved the way for his suicide. The pivot of Mishima’s interest was the local Samurai warrior group Shinpuren (The League of Divine Wind) which was violently opposed to the various policies of westernizing reform enacted by the Meiji regime in the 1870s.

The original driving force of the Meiji Restoration was the idea of “Revering the Emperor and Repelling the Foreign Barbarians” (Sonnojoi), which stipulated that legitimacy came not from the Shogun but from the Emperor and that Western forces, epitomized by the dreaded “Black Ships,” must be decisively expelled.[7] Yet after abolishing the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate by uniting around the rallying call of “Sonnojoi,” the newly-established Meiji regime immediately and drastically changed its course and started to purse a policy of reform: opening Japan to the outside world, imitating Western ways, and curbing or eliminating the traditional customs of Japanese society deemed by the new regime as un-Western and uncivilized. New laws were promulgated by the Meiji government: the former Shizoku (Samurai aristocrats) were prohibited from carrying swords in public places, a sacred and unalienable right in their eyes, marking their distinguished status from the masses. They were also forced to change their hairstyles (cutting off the buns at the back of their heads). These were the direct causes to the Insurrection of Shinpuren in 1876 (the ninth year of the Meiji period).

The members of Shinpuren were so thoroughly alienated and infuriated by the Meiji government that they went to comical lengths to reject modernity. For example, when banknotes replaced traditional metal coins, they refused to touch them with their hands, picking them up with chopsticks instead. They made long detours to avoid walking under electrical wires. If no detour was possible, they would cover their heads with a white paper fan and pass hurriedly under the wires. They cast salt on the ground after meeting anyone dressed in western garb. When they decided to revolt against the Meiji government, they insisted on using only traditional bladed weapons like the sword (Katana), spear (Yari), and cane knife (Naginata), instead of the “dirty weapons of the western barbarians.”

This group, consisting of about 170 men, launched a night-time attack on the Kumamoto garrison. The garrison troops were caught off guard and initially panicked. But they regrouped and started to fire volleys of bullets into the armor-wearing, sword-wielding Shinpuren warriors storming at them. The samurai fell one after another, and altogether 123 warriors died in the battle or committed seppuku after sustaining serious wounds, including a dozen 16- or 17-year-old teenagers.

It was indeed a sad and heart-wrenching story. Why were they willing to die to protect their right to carry samurai swords? It is hard to comprehend it by the commonsense of our de-spiritualized modern age. The rebellion was mocked by newspapers in Tokyo as an anachronism even at the time, let alone in post-War Japan. Nevertheless, the Shinpuren samurai believed they were serving the cause of righteousness and justice, and it was their spotless sincerity and combination of faith and action that deeply impressed Mishima. The following passage his comment on Shinpuren in a dialogue with Fusao Hayashi[8]:

Talk about the thoroughness of thinking, when thinking expresses itself in an action, there are bound to be impurities entering it, tactics entering it, and human betrayals entering it. This is the case with the concept of ideology in which ends always seem to justify means. Yet the Shinpuren was an exception to the mode of ends justifying means, for which ends equal means and means equal ends, both following the will of gods, thus being exempt from the contradiction and deviation of means and ends in all political movements. This is equivalent to the relation between content and style in arts. I believe there also lies the most essential, and in a sense the most fanatical sheer experimentation of the Japanese spirit (Yamatodamashii).[9]

As hinted previously, the trip to Kumamoto and the examination of the historical record of Shinpuren gave Mishima a model and meaning for his future suicide. In fact, three years before his suicide he published a piece in the Yomiuri Shinbun, in which he stated rather wistfully the following words: “I think forty-two is an age that is barely in time for being a hero. I went to Kumamoto recently to investigate the Shinpuren and was moved by many facts pertaining to it. Among those I discovered, one that struck me particularly was that one of the leaders of theirs named Harukata Kaya died a heroic death at the same age as I am now. It seems I am now at the ceiling age of being a hero.”[10] From such clues, which are actually numerous, the author argues that Mishima started at about forty to reflect on his own death and probably settled on terminating his own life upon the completion of his four-volume lifework The Sea of Fertility.

The heavy influence of Shinpuren is manifest in the second volume of The Sea of Fertility, namely Runaway Horses, in which the protagonist Isao Iinuma, a Right-wing youth, holds a pamphlet titled The Historical Story of Shinpuren and was depicted as possessing an burning aspiration of “raising a Shinpuren of the Showa age.” And the full content of the aforementioned book was inserted into Runaway Horses in the form of a minor drama within a major drama. The historical background of the novel was set in early 1930s. The 19-year-old Isao attempts to assassinate a man called Kurahara, known as the king fixer of backdoor financial dealing, who was in Mishima’s eyes the representation of Japanese bureaucrats who considered the “stability of currency” as the ultimate happiness of the people and preached a cool-headedly mechanical if not callous way of crafting economic policies. Kurahara was quoted saying, “Economics is not a philanthropy; you’ve got to treat 10% of the population as expendable, whereby the rest 90% will be saved, or the entire 100% will die” — the self-justifying words of a typical ultra-realist and even a nihilist — a stark contrast to the pre-War ideal of the Emperor as an absolute patriarch, a profoundly benevolent feudal ruler who guarded the identity, history, and destiny of the Japanese people — a metaphysical figure that Mishima embraced, held dear, and vowed to defend and revive regardless of cost.

In sum, Mishima’s spiritual and historical encounter with Shinpuren and his military training can be viewed as elements in the design of his own death, as steps ascending to the grand stage. Shortly after concluding his military training, Mishima wrote a short book, A Guide to Hagakure, on Jocho Yamamoto’ famous summation of Bushido doctrine, Hagakure. Mishima’s Guide also illuminates his final action:

One needs to learn the value of the martial arts to be pure and noble. If one wants to both live and die with a sense of beauty, one must first strive to fulfill necessary conditions. If one prepares longer, one will decide and act swifter. And though one can choose to perform a decisive action oneself, one cannot always choose the timing of such an action. The timing is made by external factors, is beyond a person’s powers, and falls upon him like a sudden assault. And to live is to prepare for such a fateful moment of being chosen by destiny, isn’t it?! Hagakure means to place stress on a prior awareness and a regulation of the actions for such preparations and for such moments that fate chooses you.[11]

It is exactly in such a fashion that Mishima prepared for and embraced his self-conceived and fate-ordained final moment, to serve a noble, beautiful, and righteous cause.

Notes

  1. Emperor Hirohito was angry at the assassinations of his trusted imperial ministers at the hands of the rebel soldiers. He vehemently refused to lend an ear to the sincere patriotic views of the rebels, refused to side with them, and immediately ordered the suppression of the coup and had the leaders tried and executed quickly.
  2. Emperor Hirohito made this announcement partly due to the pressure of the US occupation forces, i.e. the GHQ, and partly willingly, as a cooperative gesture if not an overtly eager attempt to ingratiate himself with the conqueror.
  3. Naoki Inose, Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima (Tokyo: Bungei Shunshu Press, 1995), p. 323.
  4. Meaning literally “a god appearing in human form,” a highly reverential reference to the Japanese Emperor until the end of WWII.
  5. Persona, pp. 323, 324.
  6. Persona, p. 324.
  7. American naval fleets commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry to force Japan to open itself to the world, which first arrived in 1853 and once again in 1854.
  8. A famous and highly accomplished literary figure of contemporary Japan who is known for being flamboyant and highly contentious writer and literary critic. As a young man, he was a Leftist, he turned toward the Right-wing nationalism in the 1930s and remained a staunch and steadfast nationalist during the war and throughout the post-war years until his death.
  9. Persona, pp. 327, 328.
  10. Persona, p. 333.
  11. Persona, p. 341.

 

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Rei, Riki. “Naoki Inose’s Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima.” Counter-Currents Publishing, 15 September 2014. <http://www.counter-currents.com/2014/09/naoko-inoses-persona-a-biography-of-yukio-mishima/ >.

 

Notes: For further reading about Mishima and his works, see Justin Raimondo’s biographical sketch “Mishima: Paleocon as Samurai”, and also the Yukio Mishima Webpage. For an introduction to Natsume Soseki, a famous Japanese novelist who was an influence on Mishima, see Hoang Nguyen’s discussion of Soseki’s Kokoro and Japan’s modernisation.

For further reading and a list of useful resources about modern Japan and its culture, see the page of Alexander Dugin’s “In the Country of the Rising ‘Do’.”

For those interested in researching Japanese literature in general (which is also useful for the study of Japan’s culture, history, and religious attitudes), we recommend the following two anthologies which were edited by Donald Keene: Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New York: Grove Press, 1955), and Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to the Present Day (New York: Grove Press, 1956). Concerning important modern classic Japanese authors (other than Yukio Mishima) whose works have been translated, we can note the following for readers who are interested: Natsume Soseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kyoka Izumi, Osamu Dazai, Junichiro Tanizaki, Eiji Yoshikawa, Edogawa Rampo, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Enchi, Yasushi Inoue, Shuhei Fujisawa, and Hisashi Inoue.

 

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Study of Sombart – Varsanyi

A Study of Werner Sombart’s Writings by Nicholas A. Varsanyi (PDF – 8.4 MB):

A Study of Werner Sombart’s Writings

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Varsanyi, Nicholas A. A Study of Werner Sombart’s Writings. Ph.D. Thesis, Montreal, McGill University, 1963. File originally retrieved from: <http://digitool.library.mcgill.ca/R/?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=115298&local_base=GEN01-MCG02 >.

 

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Intro to Ludwig Klages – Pryce

On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages

by Joe Pryce

 

Without a doubt, “The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul” by Klages is a great work of philosophy. — Walter Benjamin

Out of Phlegethon!
Out of Phlegethon,
Gerhart
Art thou come forth out of Phlegethon?
with Buxtehude and Klages in your satchel… — From Canto LXXV by Ezra Pound

Oliveira said, “Let’s keep on looking for the Yonder, there are plenty of Yonders that keep opening up one after the other. I’d start by saying that this technological reality that men of science and the readers of France-Soir accept today, this world of cortisone, gamma rays, and plutonium, has as little to do with reality as the world of the Roman de la Rose. If I mentioned it a while back to our friend Perico, it was in order to make him take note that his æsthetic criteria and his scale of values are pretty well liquidated and that man, after having expected everything from intelligence and from the spirit, feels that he’s been betrayed, is vaguely aware that his weapons have been turned against him, that culture and civiltà, have misled him into this blind alley where scientific barbarism is nothing but a very understandable reaction. Please excuse my vocabulary.”
“Klages has already said all of that,” said Gregorovius. —
From Chapter 99 of “Hopscotch” by Julio Cortázar

Ludwig Klages is primarily responsible for providing the philosophical foundations for the pan-Romantic conception of man that we now find among many thinkers in different scientific disciplines, for example, Edgar Dacqué, Leo Frobenius, C. G. Jung, Hans Prinzhorn, Theodor Lessing, and, to a certain extent, Oswald Spengler. — From “Man’s Place in Nature” by Max Scheler

In the field of scientific psychology, Klages towers over all of his contemporaries, including even the academic world’s most renowned authorities. — Oswald Spengler

“The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul” by Ludwig Klages ranks with Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and Hartmann’s “The Foundation of Ontology” as one of the three greatest philosophical achievements of the modern epoch. — Erich Rothacker

Klages is a fascinating phenomenon, a scientist of the highest rank, whom I regard as the most important psychologist of our time. — Alfred Kubin

Ludwig Klages is renowned as the brilliant creator of profound systems of expression-research and graphology, and his new book, entitled “Concerning the Cosmogonic Eros,” possesses such depth of psychological insight and so rich and fructifying an atmosphere, that it moved me far more deeply than I have ever been moved by the writings of men like Spengler and Keyserling. In the pages of this book on the “Cosmogonic Eros,” Klages almost seems to have found the very words with which to speak that which has hitherto been considered to be beyond the powers of speech. — Hermann Hesse

When we survey the philosophical critiques of Nietzsche’s thought that have been published thus far, we conclude that the monograph written by Ludwig Klages, “The Psychological Achievements of Nietzsche,” can only be described as the towering achievement. — Karl Löwith

 

Prelude: The Intellectual Environment

DURING THE CLOSING YEARS of the 19th century, the limitations and inadequacies of the superficial positivism that had dominated European thought for so many decades were becoming increasingly apparent to critical observers. The wholesale repudiation of metaphysics that Tyndall, Haeckel and Büchner had proclaimed as a liberation from the superstitions and false doctrines that had misled benighted investigators of earlier times, was now seen as having contributed significantly to the bankruptcy of positivism itself. Ironically, a critical examination of the unacknowledged epistemological assumptions of the positivists clearly revealed that not only had Haeckel and his ilk been unsuccessful in their attempt to free themselves from metaphysical presuppositions, but they had, in effect, merely switched their allegiance from the grand systems of speculative metaphysics that had been constructed in previous eras by the Platonists, medieval scholastics, and post-Kantian idealists whom they abominated, in order to adhere to a ludicrous, ersatz metaphysics of whose existence they were completely unaware.

The alienation of younger thinkers from what they saw as the discredited dogmas of positivism and materialism found expression in the proliferation of a wide range of philosophical schools, whose adherents had little in common other than the will to revolt against outmoded dogma. “Back to Kant!” became the battle-cry of the neo-Kantians at Marburg. “Back to the things themselves!” proclaimed the “phenomenologist” Edmund Husserl; there were “neo-positivists,” “empirio-critical” thinkers, and even the invertebrate American ochlocracy lent its cacaphonous warblings to the philosophical choir when William James proclaimed his soothing doctrine of “Pragmatism,” with which salesmen, journalists, and other uncritical blockheads have stupefied themselves ever since.

A more substantial and significant revolt, however, emerged from another quarter altogether when several independent scholars began to re-examine the speculative metaphysical systems of the “philosophers of nature” who had flourished during the Romantic Period. Although the astonishing creativity of these men of genius had been forgotten whilst positivism and materialism ruled the roost, of course, men like Nietzsche, Burckhardt, and Bachofen had preserved elements of the Romantic heritage and had thereby, as it were, already prepared the soil in which younger men would sow the precious seed of a Romantic Revival. By the turn of the 20th century the blossoms had emerged in the form of the philosophers of the “vitalist” school. In France, Henri Bergson became the leading proponent of philosophical vitalism, and his slogan of élan vital as well as his doctrine of évolution créatrice thrilled audiences in the salons as well as in the university lecture halls. In Hungary, the astonishingly gifted philosopher and physicist, Melchior Palágyi—a thinker of an altogether higher order than the superficial Bergson—conducted profound research into celestial mechanics, which clearly anticipated the theory of relativity; he developed the theory of “virtual” movement; and his critical powers enabled him to craft a definitive and withering refutation of Husserl’s pseudo-phenomenology, and his insights retain their validity even now in spite of the oblivion to which the disciples of Husserl have consigned them.

In the German-speaking world the doctrines of Lebensphilosophie, or “philosophy of life,” achieved academic respectability when Wilhelm Dilthey became their spokesman. Sadly, candor demands that we draw the reader’s attention to the troubling fact that it was Dilthey who inaugurated a disastrous trend that was to be maintained at German universities for the next hundred years by such able obfuscators and logomachs as Heidegger and his spawn, for, to put it as charitably as possible, Dilthey was the first significant German philosopher to achieve wide renown in spite of having nothing significant to say (that is why, perhaps, Dilthey and Heidegger furnish such mountains of grist for the philosophical proles who edit and annotate and comment and publish and—prosper).

Among these “philosophers of life,” there were “amalgamists,” among whom we find Hans Driesch, who sabotaged his own project by indulging in futile attempts to combine the irreconcilable doctrines of Kantian idealism and vitalism in his theory of the “entelechy,” which, although he proclaimed it to be a uniquely vitalistic notion, is always analyzed mechanistically and atomistically in his expositions. The profound speculative metaphysics of Houston Stewart Chamberlain also succumbed to the Kantian infection, for even Chamberlain seems to have been blind to the ineluctable abyss that divides vitalism and Kantianism.

Finally, and most significantly, we encounter the undisputed master-spirit of the “vitalist” school in the German world, the philosopher and polymath Ludwig Klages, whose system of “biocentric” metaphysics displays a speculative profundity and a logical rigor that no other vitalist on the planet could hope to equal.

The Early Years

Ludwig Klages was born on December 10, 1872, in the northern German city of Hannover. He seems to have been a solitary child, but he developed one intense friendship with a class-mate named Theodor Lessing, who would himself go on to achieve fame as the theorist of “Jewish Self-Hatred,” a concept whose origins Lessing would later trace back to passionate discussions that he had had with Klages during their boyhood rambles on the windswept moors and beaches of their Lower Saxon home.

In 1891 he received his “Abitur,” and immediately journeyed to Leipzig to begin his university studies in Chemistry and Physics. In 1893, he moved to Munich, where he would live and work until the Great War forced him into Swiss exile in 1915.

Klages continued his undergraduate studies in Chemistry and Physics during the day, but at night he could usually be found in the cafés of Schwabing, then as now the Bohemian district of Munich. It was in Schwabing that he encountered the poet Stefan George and his “circle.” George immediately recognized the young man’s brilliance, and the poet eagerly solicited contributions from Klages, both in prose and in verse, to his journal, the Blätter für die Kunst.

Klages also encountered Alfred Schuler (1865-1923), the profoundly learned Classicist and authority on ancient Roman history, at this time. Schuler was also loosely associated with the George-circle, although he was already becoming impatient with the rigidly masculine, “patriarchalist” spirit that seemed to rule the poet and his minions. Klages eventually joined forces with Schuler and Karl Wolfskehl, an authority on Germanistics who taught at the University of Munich, to form the Kosmische Runde, or “Cosmic Circle,” and the three young men, who had already come under the influence of the “matriarchalist” anthropology of the late Johann Jakob Bachofen, soon expressed their mounting discontent with George and his “patriarchal” spirit. Finally, in 1904, Klages and Schuler broke with the poet, and the aftermath was of bitterness and recrimination “all compact.” Klages would in later years repudiate his association with George, but he would revere Schuler, both as a man and as a scholar, to the end of his life.

The other crucial experience that Klages had during this last decade of the old century was his overwhelming love affair with Countess Franziska zu Reventlow, the novelist and Bohemian, whose “Notebooks of Mr. Lady” provides what is, perhaps, the most revealing—and comical—rendition of the turbulent events that culminated in the break between the “Cosmic Circle” and the George-Kreis; Wolfskehl, who was himself an eyewitness to the fracas, held that, although Franziska had called the book a novel, it was, in fact, a work of historical fact. Likewise, the diaries of the Countess preserve records of her conversations with Klages (who is referred to as “Hallwig,” the name of the Klages-surrogate in her “Mr. Lady”: she records Klages telling her that “There is no ‘God’; there are many gods!” At times “Hallwig” even frightens her with oracular allusions to “my mystical side, the rotating Swastika” and with his prophecies of inevitable doom). When the Countess terminated the liaison, Klages, who suffered from serious bouts with major depression throughout his long life, experienced such distress that he briefly contemplated suicide. Fate, of course, would hardly have countenanced such a quietus, for, as Spengler said, there are certain destinies that are utterly inconceivable—Nietzsche won’t make a fortune at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo, and Goethe won’t break his back falling out of his coach, he remarks drily.

And, we need hardly add, Klages will not die for love…

On the contrary: he will live for Eros.

Works of Maturity

After the epoch-making experiences of the Schwabing years, the philosopher’s life seems almost to assume a prosaic, even an anticlimactic, quality. The significant events would henceforth occur primarily in the thinker’s inner world and in the publications that communicated the discoveries that he had made therein. There were also continuing commitments on his part to particular institutions and learned societies. In 1903 Klages founded his “Psychodiagnostic Seminars” at the University of Munich, which swiftly became Europe’s main center for biocentric psychology. In 1908, he delivered a series of addresses on the application of “Expression Theory” (Ausdruckskunde) to graphological analysis at one such seminar.

In 1910, in addition to the book on expression-theory, Klages published the first version of his treatise on psychology, entitled Prinzipien der Charakterologie. This treatise was based upon lectures that Klages had delivered during the previous decade, and in its pages he announced his discovery of the “Id,” which has popularly, and hence erroneously, for so long been attributed to Freud. He came in personal contact with several members of rival psychological schools during this period, and he was even invited—in his capacity as Europe’s leading exponent of graphology—to deliver a lecture on the “Psychology of Handwriting” to the Wednesday Night Meeting of the Freudian “Vienna Society” on the 25th of October in 1911.

The philosopher also encountered the novelist Robert Musil, in whose masterpiece, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Klages appears—in caricatured form, of course—as the eerie and portentous prophet Meingast, that “messenger from Zarathustra’s mountain.” The novelist seems to have been most impressed by the philosopher’s speculations in Vom kosmogonischen Eros concerning the ecstatic nature of the “erotic rapture” and the Klagesian “other condition” (andere Zustand). Paradoxically, however, Musil’s novel presents Meingast [Klages] as a manic and domineering worshiper of power, which is quite strange when one considers that Klages consistently portrays the Nietzschean “Will to Power” as nothing but a modality of hysteria perfectly appropriate to our murderous age of militarism and capitalism. Anyone familiar with the withering onslaught against the will and its works which constitutes the section entitled Die Lehre der Wille in Klages’s Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele must, in addition, feel a certain amazement at Meingast’s ravings concerning the necessity for a “determined will”! Another familiar (and depressing) insight into the resistance mounted by even sympathetic writers to the biocentric philosophy can be derived from a perusal of Musil’s Tagebücher, with its dreary and philistine insistence that the Klagesian rapture must at all costs be constrained by Geist, by its pallid praise for a “daylight mysticism,” and so on. Admittedly, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften will remain an astonishing and beautifully-crafted masterpiece of 20th Century belles lettres, in spite of its author’s jejune “philosophical” preachments.

During this same period, Klages rediscovered the late-Romantic philosopher Carl Gustav Carus, author of the pioneering Psyche: Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele (“Psyche: Towards a Developmental History of the Soul”) in which the unconscious is moved to center-stage (sadly, the Jung-racket falsely credits their master with this discovery). The very first sentence of this work indicates the primacy attributed by Carus to the unconscious: “The key to the understanding of the conscious life of the soul lies in the realm of the unconscious.” During the Romantic Revival that took place in the Germany of th 1920s, Klages would edit a new, abridged version of Psyche, in which Carus is purged of his logocentric and Christian errors. Klages, however, fully accepts Carus’s definition of the soul as synonymous with life, a formulation that he rates as epochally significant. He finds Carus’s statement to be as profound as the aphorism of Novalis in which he locates the soul at the point of contact between the inner and outer worlds.

In 1913, Klages presented his Zur Theorie und Symptomatologie des Willens to the Vienna Congress of International Societies for Medical Psychology and Psychotherapy. In that same year, Klages delivered an address entitled Mensch und Erde to a gathering of members of the German Youth Movement. This seminal work has recently received its due as the “foundational” document of the “deep ecology” movement when a new edition was published in 1980 in coordination with the establishment of the German “Green” political party.

In his Heidnische Feuerzeichen, which was completed in 1913, although it would not be published in book form until 1944, Klages has some very perceptive remarks on consciousness, which he regards as always effect and never cause. He cautions us to realize that, because our feelings are almost always conscious, we tend to attribute far too much importance to them. Reality is composed of images [Bilder] and not feelings, and the most important idea that Klages ever developed is his conception of the “actuality of the images” [Wirklichkeit der Bilder]. He also savages the insane asceticism of Christianity, arguing that a satisfied sexuality is essential for all genuine cosmic radiance. Christ is to be detested as the herald of the annihilation of earth and the mechanization of man.

The pioneering treatise on “expression theory,” the Ausdruckskunde und Gestaltungskraft, also appeared in 1913. The first part of his treatise on the interpretation of dreams (Vom Traumbewusstsein) appeared in 1914, but war soon erupted in Europe, swiftly interrupting all talk of dreams. Sickened by the militaristic insanity of the “Great War,” Klages moved to neutral Switzerland. In 1920 he made his last move to Kilchberg, near Zurich, Switzerland, where he would spend the rest of his life.

The first substantial excerpt from the treatise that would eventually become his Hauptwerk (Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele) was published as Geist und Seele in a 1916 number of the journal Deutsche Psychologie. He soon turned his attention to the more mundane matter of the contemporary world situation, and in 1918, concerned by the spread of “One World”-humanitarianism and other pernicious forms of “humanism,” Klages published the classic Brief über Ethik, in which he re-emphasized his opposition to all ethical and individualistic attempts to improve the world. The modern world’s increasing miscegenation has hatched out a horde of mongrels, slaves, and criminals. The world is falling under the dominion of the enemies of life, and it matters not a bit whether the ethical fanatic dubs his hobbyhorse Wille, Tat, Logos, Nous, Idee, Gott, the “Supreme Being,” reines Subjekt, or absolutes Ich: these phrases are merely fronts behind which spirit, the eternal adversary of life, conducts her nefarious operations. Only infra-human nature, wherein dwells a principle of hierarchical order in true accord with the laws of life, is able to furnish man with genuine values. The preachers of morality can only murder life with their prohibitive commands so stifling to the soul’s vitality. As Klages’s disciple Hans Prinzhorn cautions us, the vital order “must not be falsified, according to the Judæo-Christian outlook, into a principle of purposefulness, morality, or sentimentality.” The “Letter on Ethics” urges us to avoid all such life-hostile values, and to prize instead those moments when we allow our souls to find warmth in the love which manifests itself as adoration, reverence, and admiration. The soul’s true symbol is the mother with her beloved child, and the soul’s true examples are the lives of poets, heroes, and gods. Klages concludes his sardonic “Letter” by informing the reader, in contemptuous and ironical tones, that if he refuses to respond to these exemplary heroes, he may then find it more congenial to sit himself down and listen, unharmed, to a lecture on ethics!

In 1921, Klages published his Vom Wesen des Bewusstseins, an investigation into the nature of consciousness, in which the ego-concept is shown to be neither a phenomenon of pure spirit nor of pure life, but rather a mere epiphenomenal precipitate of the warfare between life and spirit. In this area, Klages’s presentation invites comparion with the Kantian exposition of “pure subjectivity,” although, as one might expect, Klages assails the subjectivity of the ego as a hollow sham. The drive to maximize the realm of ego, regardless of whether this impulse clothes itself in such august titles as “The Will to Power” (Nietzsche), the “Will to Live” (Schopenhauer), or the naked obsession with the “Ego and its Own” (Stirner), is merely a manifestation of malevolent Geist. Klages also ridicules the superficiality of William James’s famous theory of “stream of consciousness,” which is subjected to a withering critical onslaught. After James’s “stream” is conclusively demolished, Klages demonstrates that Melchior Palágyi’s theory more profoundly analyzes the processes whereby we receive the data of consciousness. Klages endorses Palágyi’s account of consciousness in order to establish the purely illusory status of the “stream” by proving conclusively that man receives the “images” as discrete, rhythmically pulsating “intermittencies.”

We should say a few words about the philosopher whose exposition of the doctrine of consciousness so impressed Klages. Melchior Palágyi [1859-1924] was the Hungarian-Jewish Naturphilosoph who was regarded as something of a mentor by the younger man, ever since 1908, when they first met at a learned conference. Like Klages, Palágyi was completely devoted to the thought-world of German Romantic Naturphilosophie. Klages relied heavily on this thinker’s expert advice, especially with regard to questions involving mechanics and physics, upon which the older man had published outstanding technical treatises. The two men had spent many blissful days together in endless metaphysical dialogue when Palagyi visited Klages at his Swiss home shortly before Palágyi’s death. They were delighted with each other’s company, and reveled even in the cut and thrust of intense exchanges upon matters about which they were in sharp disagreement. Although this great thinker is hardly recalled today even by compilers of “comprehensive” encyclopedias, Palagyi’s definitive and irrefutable demolition of Edmund Husserl’s spurious system of “phenomenology” remains one of the most lethal examples of philosophical adversaria to be found in the literature. Palágyi, who was a Jew, had such a high opinion of his anti-semitic colleague, that when Palágyi died in 1925, one of the provisions of his will stipulated that Ludwig Klages was to be appointed as executor and editor of Palágyi’s posthumous works, a task that Klages undertook scrupulously and reverently, in spite of the fact that the amount of labor that would be required of him before the manuscripts of his deceased colleague could be readied for publication would severely disrupt his own work upon several texts, most especially the final push to complete the three-volume Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele. One gets the impression that Klages felt the task that had been imposed upon him was also one of the highest honors, and Klages’s high regard for Palágyi’s thought can best be appreciated when we realize that among the numerous thinkers and scholars whose works are cited in his collected works, the contemporary philosopher who is cited most frequently, and at the greatest length, is none other than Melchior Palágyi.

Klages published his influential anthropological-historical study, Vom kosmogonischen Eros, in 1922, and in the Selbstbericht which serves as an introduction to this work he details the points of agreement and the points of disagreement between his views and those of Friedrich Nietzsche.

In 1923 Klages published his Vom Wesen des Rhythmus (a revised edition of which would be issued in 1934). Then in 1925, two fervent admirers of Klagesian biocentrism—one was Niels Kampmann who would go on to publish some of Klages’s works in book form—brought out the first issue of a scholarly journal, the brilliant Zeitschrift für Menschenkunde, which would continue to publish regularly until the rigors of war eventually forced the editors to suspend publication in 1943 (eight years after the end of the war, the journal began a new career in 1953.)

A revised and enlarged edition of the treatise on characterology appeared in 1926 with the new title Die Grundlagen der Charakterkunde. Klages also published Die psychologischen Errungenschaften Nietzsches in this same year, a work which, more than a quarter of a century after its initial appearance, the Princeton-based Nietzsche-scholar Walter Kaufmann—surely no friend to Klages!—would nevertheless admire greatly, even feeling compelled to describe Klages’s exegesis of Nietzsche’s psychology as “the best monograph” ever written on its subject.

A collection of brief essays entitled Zur Ausdruckslehre und Charakterkunde, was brought out by Kampmann in 1927; many of them date from the early days of the century and their sheer profundity and variety reinforce our conviction that Klages was a mature thinker even in his twenties.

The first two volumes of his magnum opus, the long-awaited and even-longer pondered, Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele, finally appeared in 1929. One year later the Graphologisches Lesebuch appeared, and the third and final volume of Der Geist hit the book-shops in 1932, a year that seems to have been a very busy one indeed for our polymathic philosopher, since he also found time to revamp his slender monograph entitled Goethe als Naturforscher, a short work that can only be compared to the Goethe-books of H. S. Chamberlain and Friedrich Gundolf for breadth of scholarship and insight into the creativity of a great seer and scientist (this study was a revised edition of a lecture that had originally been published in the Jahrbuch des Freien Deutschen Hochstifts in 1928).

Hans Prinzhorn, the psychologist, translator of D. H. Lawrence and compiler of the landmark treatise on the artistry of the mentally-disturbed, had long been a friend and admirer of Klages, and in 1932 he organized the celebration for the sixtieth birthday of the philosopher. The tributes composed the various scholars who participated in this event were collected and edited by Prinzhorn for publication in book-form, with the title Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag.

National Socialist Germany, World War II, and their Aftermath

Shortly after the NSDAP seized power at the beginning of 1933, one of Klages’s disciples established the Arbeitskreises für biozentrisches Forschung. At first the German disciples of Klages were tolerated as harmless philosophical eccentrics, but soon the Gestapo began keeping a close eye on members and contributors to the biocentric circle’s house organ Janus. By 1936 the authorities forcibly shut down the journal and from that time until the fall of the regime, the Gestapo would periodically arrest and question those who had been prominent members of the now-defunct “circle.” From 1938 onwards, when Reichsleiter Dr. Alfred Rosenberg delivered a bitter attack on Klages and his school in his inaugural address to the summer semester at the University of Halle, the official party spokesmen explicitly and repeatedly condemned Klages and his friends as enemies of the National Socialist Weltanschauung.

Klages traveled widely during the 1930s, and he especially enjoyed his journeys to Greece and Scandinavia. In 1940 he published Alfred Schuler: Fragmente und Vorträge. Aus dem Nachlass, his edition of Alfred Schuler’s literary remains. The “Introduction” to the anthology is a voluminous critical memoir in which Klages rendered profound tribute to his late mentor. However, in the pages of that introduction, Klages introduced several statements critical of World-Jewry that were to dog his steps for the rest of his life, just as they have compromised his reputation after his death. Unlike so many ci-devant “anti-semites” who prudently saw the philo-semitic light in the aftermath of the war, however, Klages scorned to repudiate anything that he had said on this or any other topic. He even poured petrol on the fires by voicing his conviction that the only significant difference between the species of master-race nonsense that was espoused by the National Socialists and the variety adopted by their Jewish enemies was in the matter of results: Klages blandly proclaims that the Jews, after a two-thousand year long assault on the world for which they felt nothing but hatred, had actually won the definitive victory. There would be no re-match. He sneered at all the kow-towing to Jewry that had already become part of the game in the immediate post-war era, because, he reasoned, even as a tactical ploy such sycophantic behavior has always doomed itself to complete and abject failure.

In December of 1942, the official daily newspaper of the NSDAP, the Völkischer Beobachter, published a vicious and ungracious attack on Klages in the edition that appeared on the philosopher’s 70th birthday. During the war years, Klages began compiling notes for a projected full-dress autobiography that was, sadly, never completed. Still, the notes are fascinating in their own right, and are well worth consulting by the student of his life and thought.

In 1944, Barth of Leipzig published the Rhythmen und Runen, a self-edited anthology of Klages’s prose and verse writings stemming from the turn of the century (unfortunately, however, when Bouvier finally brought out their edition of his “Collected Works,” which began to appear in the mid-1960s, Rhythmen und Runen, along with the Stefan George-monograph and such provocative pieces as the “Introduction” to Schuler’s writings, were omitted from the set, in spite of the fact that the original prospectus issued to subscribers announced that these works would, in fact, be included. The reasons for this behavior are—need we say?—quite obvious).

When the war ended, Klages began to face true financial hardship, for his market, as well as his publishers, had been devastated by the horrific saturation bombing campaign with which the democratic allies had turned Germany into a shattered and burnt-out wasteland. Klages also suffered dreadfully when he learned that his beloved sister, Helene, as well as her daughter Heidi, the philosopher’s niece, had perished in the agony of post-war Germany, that nightmare world wherein genocidal bestiality and sadistic cruelty were dealt out by occupying forces with a liberal hand in order most expeditiously to “re-educate” the survivors of the vanquished Reich. Although Klages had sought permission from the occupying authorities to visit his sister as she lay dying, his request was ignored (in fact, he was told that the only civilians who would be permitted to travel to Germany were the professional looters who were officially authorized to rob Germany of industrial patents and those valiant exiles who had spent the war years as literary traitors, who made a living writing scurrilous and mendacious anti-German pamphlets). This refusal, followed shortly by his receipt of the news of her miserable death, aroused an almost unendurable grief in his soul.

His spirits were raised somewhat by the Festschrift that was organized for his 75th birthday, and his creative drive certainly seemed to be have remained undiminished by the ravages of advancing years. He was deeply immersed in the philological studies that prepared him to undertake his last great literary work, the Die Sprache als Quell der Seelenkunde, which was published in 1948. In this dazzling monument of 20th century scholarship, Klages conducted a comprehensive investigation of the relationship between psychology and linguistics. During that same year he also directed a devastating broadside in which he refuted the fallacious doctrines of Jamesian “pragmatism” as well as the infantile sophistries of Watson’s “behaviorism.” This brief but pregnant essay was entitled Wie Finden Wir die Seele des Nebenmenschen?

During the early 1950s, Klages’s health finally began to deteriorate, but he was at least heartened by the news that there were serious plans afoot among his admirers and disciples to get his classic treatises back into print as soon as possible. Death came at last to Ludwig Klages on July 29, 1956. The cause of death was determined to have been a heart attack. He is buried in the Kilchberg cemetery, which overlooks Lake Zurich.

Understanding Klagesian Terms

A brief discussion of the philosopher’s technical terminology may provide the best preparation for an examination of his metaphysics. Strangely enough, the relationship between two familiar substantives, “spirit” [Geist] and “soul” [Seele], constitutes the main source of our terminological difficulties. Confusion regarding the meaning and function of these words, especially when they are employed as technical terms in philosophical discourse, is perhaps unavoidable at the outset. We must first recognize the major problems involved before we can hope to achieve the necessary measure of clarity. Now Klages regards the study of semantics, especially in its historical dimension, as our richest source of knowledge regarding the nature of the world (metaphysics, or philosophy) and an unrivalled tool with which to probe the mysteries of the human soul (psychology, or characterology [Charakterkunde]). We would be well advised, therefore, to adopt an extraordinary stringency in lexical affairs. We have seen that the first, and in many ways the greatest, difficulty that can impede our understanding of biocentric thought confronts us in our dealings with the German word Geist. Geist has often been translated as “spirit” or “mind,” and, less often, as “intellect.” As it happens, the translation of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes that most American students utilized in their course-work during the 1960s and 1970s was entitled “The Phenomenology of Mind” (which edition was translated with an Introduction and Notes by J. B. Bailey, and published by Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1967).

Lest it be thought that we are perversely attributing to the word Geist an exaggeratedly polysemic status, we would draw the reader’s attention to the startling fact that Rudolf Hildebrandt’s entry on this word in the Grimm Wörterbuch comprises more than one hundred closely printed columns. Hildebrandt’s article has even been published separately as a book. Now in everyday English usage, spirit (along with its cognates) and soul (along with its cognates) are employed as synonyms. As a result of the lexical habits to which we have grown accustomed, our initial exposure to a philosopher who employs soul and spirit as antonyms can be a somewhat perplexing experience. It is important for us to realize that we are not entering any quixotic protest here against familiar lexical custom. We merely wish to advise the reader that whilst we are involved in the interpretation of Klagesian thought, soul and spirit are to be treated consistently as technical philosophical terms bearing the specific meanings that Klages has assigned to them.

Our philosopher is not being needlessly obscure or perversely recherché in this matter, for although there are no unambiguous distinctions drawn between soul and spirit in English usage, the German language recognizes some very clear differences between the terms Seele and Geist, and Hildebrandt’s article amply documents the widely ramified implications of the distinctions in question. In fact, literary discourse in the German-speaking world is often characterized by a lively awareness of these very distinctions. Rudolf Kassner, for instance, tells us that his friend, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, inhabited a world of soul [Seele], not one of spirit [Geist]. In speaking of Rilke’s world as that the soul, Kassner is proclaiming the indisputable truth that Rilke’s imagination inhabits an innocent, or pagan, world, a realm that is utterly devoid of such “spiritual” baggage as “sin” and “guilt.” Likewise, for Kassner, as for Rilke, the world of spirit is the realm of labor and duty, which is ruled by abstractions and “ideals.” I can hardly exaggerate the significance of the spirit-soul dichotomy upon which Kassner has shed so much light in these remarks on Rilke as the man of “soul.” If the reader bears their substance in mind, he will find that the path to understanding shall have been appreciably cleared of irksome obstacles.

Therefore, these indispensable lexical distinctions are henceforth to function as our established linguistic protocol. Bearing that in mind, when the reader encounters the Klagesian thesis which holds that man is the battlefield on which soul and spirit wage a war to the death, even the novice will grasp some portion of the truth that is being enunciated. And the initiate who has immersed his whole being in the biocentric doctrine will swiftly discover that he is very well prepared indeed to perpend, for instance, the characterological claim that one can situate any individual at a particular point on an extensive typological continuum at one extreme of which we situate such enemies of sexuality and sensuous joy as the early Christian hermits or the technocrats and militarists of our own day, all of whom represent the complete dominance of spirit; and at the opposite extreme of which we locate the Dionysian maenads of antiquity and those rare modern individuals whose delight in the joys of the senses enables them to attain the loftiest imaginable pinnacle of ecstatic vitality: the members of this second group, of course, comprise the party of life, whose ultimate allegiance is rendered to soul.

Before we conclude this brief digression into terminological affairs, we would advise those readers whose insuperable hostility to every form of metaphysical “idealism” compels them to resist all attempts to “place” spirit and soul as “transcendental” entities, that they may nevertheless employ our terms as heuristic expedients, much as Ampére employed the metaphor of the “swimmer” in the electric “current.”

Biocentric Metaphysics in its Historical Context

Perhaps a brief summary will convey at least some notion of the sheer originality and the vast scope of the biocentric metaphysics. Let us begin by placing some aspects of this philosophical system in historical context. For thousands of years, western philosophers have been deeply influenced by the doctrine, first formulated by the Eleatic school and Plato, which holds that the images that fall upon our sensorium are merely deceitful phantoms. Even those philosophers who have rebelled against the schemes devised by Plato and his successors, and who consider themselves to be “materialists,” “monists,” “logical atomists,” etc., reveal that have been infected by the disease even as they resist its onslaught, for in many of their expositions the properties of matter are presented as if they were independent entities floating in a void that suspiciously resembles the transcendent Platonic realm of the “forms.”

Ludwig Klages, on the other hand, demonstrates that it is precisely the images and their ceaseless transformations that constitute the only realities. In the unique phenomenology of Ludwig Klages, images constitute the souls of such phenomena as plants, animals, human beings, and even the cosmos itself. These images do not deceive: they express; these living images are not to be “grasped,” not to be rigidified into concepts: they are to be experienced. The world of things, on the other hand, forms the proper subject of scientific explanatory schemes that seek to “fix” things in the “grasp” of concepts. Things are appropriated by men who owe their allegiance to the will and its projects. The agents of the will appropriate the substance of the living world in order to convert it into the dead world of things, which are reduced to the status of the material components required for purposeful activities such as the industrial production of high-tech weapons systems. This purposeful activity manifests the outward operations of an occult and dæmonic principle of destruction.

Klages calls this destructive principle “spirit” (Geist), and he draws upon the teaching of Aristotle in attempting to account for its provenance, for it was Aristotle who first asserted that spirit (nous) invaded the substance of man from “outside.” Klages’s interpretation of this Aristotelian doctrine leads him to conclude that spirit invaded the realm of life from outside the spatio-temporal world. Likewise, Klages draws on the thought of Duns Scotus, Occam and other late mediæval English thinkers when he situates the characteristic activity of spirit in the will rather than in the intellect. Completely original, however, is the Klagesian doctrine of the mortal hostility that exists between spirit and life (=soul). The very title of the philosopher’s major metaphysical treatise proclaims its subject to be “The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul” (Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele).

The indivisible body-soul unity that had constituted the living substance of man during the “primordial,” or prehistoric, phase of his existence, in time becomes the focus of spirit’s war against life. Spirit severs the vital connection by thrusting itself, like the thin end of an invasive wedge, between the poles of body and soul. History is the tragic chronicle that recounts the ceaseless war that is waged by spirit against life and soul. When the ever-expanding breach between body and soul finally becomes an unbridgeable abyss, the living substance is no more, although no man can predict how long man may endure as a hollow shell or simulacrum. The ceaseless accumulation of destructive power by spirit is accompanied by the reduction of a now devitalized man to the status of a mere machine, or “robot,” who soullessly regurgitates the hollow slogans about “progress,” “democracy,” and the delights of “the consumer society” that are the only values recognized in this world of death. The natural world itself becomes mere raw material to be converted into “goods” for the happy consumer.

A Unified System of Thought: Graphology

Let us now turn to a more detailed survey of the elements that comprise the biocentric system of metaphysics. The thought of Ludwig Klages comprises several structural components, which form a series of interdependent and increasingly comprehensive fields of research. Although each component may be profitably examined as a discrete entity, we can only grasp the full grandeur of Klagesian thought when we study the various components in the context of their interrelationships within the comprehensive system that the philosopher has constructed, for it is only when we view his thought as a unified system that we can comprehend its truly unsurpassed metaphysical profundity. Thus, graphology constitutes one element of expression-research, which, in its turn, constitutes one element of characterology. Characterology, finally, is the indispensable element that enables us to formulate a coherent interpretation of the nature of the universe, viz. philosophy in the strict sense.

Although graphology didn’t initially interest the “natural science” psychologists, the investigations that were conducted by Klages eventually evoked the interest of psychiatrists and applied psychologists, who would eventually incorporate some of his teachings in the curriculum of German universities. Graphology was also utilized in such fields as child-guidance and clinical psychology.

Klages was preceded in this field of research by a host of investigators, most of whom relied on intuitive guesses and inspired leaps of deduction in developing their own, occasionally quite profound, theories. Klages, in fact, pays explicit tribute to these pathfinders in numerous of his graphological publications. (Americans might be startled to learn that Edgar Allan Poe himself has an honorable place in the illustrious line of graphological prophets!) Nevertheless, it was only at the end of the 19th century that the interpretation of written script was erected upon an enduring scientific foundation by the Frenchman J.-H. Michon and the German Wilhelm Preyer.

The most renowned of Klages’s contributions to graphology is his idea of the Formniwo, or “style-value.” With the aid of this tool, the researcher can discriminate between various exemplars (handwritten samples) under examination, and can apply a general overall evaluation (negative, positive, or, even, ambiguous), without the guess-work and shoddy formulations of earlier students, who relied on “isolated signs” to guide them. Klages employs this concept of “style-value” to examine organic, or “holistic” entities, and his evaluation proceeds from a global perception of the personal expression through to a more detailed scrutiny. The procedure begins with an analytical inspection carried out on three levels: 1. the person’s driving-forces or motivations (“interests”); 2. the person’s creative impulses and level of intelligence; and 3. the person’s civic or political virtues. Klages tells us frankly that if we are aware of a person’s emotional makeup, the degree to which he or she is a productive and community-minded member of the polis, and how creative the person is, we know pretty much how that person will react to a life-situation.

We can best understand a person’s emotional life and the level of his intelligence through an analysis of the characteristic rhythm that his handwriting displays. Rhythm is manifested in the harmony of spaces and forms, as evidenced in the margins, the spaces between the lines, and between the letters and words. Here we find the most accurate indications as to the nature of the inner life of the person, and how rich or poor is his thought. The creative elements are best observed in the simplification and improvement that we find in the person’s handwriting. Just as mankind is dependent upon the creative genius for improvements in the cultural and technological fields, and upon the simplifications in technique that are brought about by the inventor, so too will these characteristics be evident in an individual’s handwriting. The creative person is always interested in improving his “tools,” as it were. The degree to which the person will be a coöperative and responsible member of the community is reflected in the legibility and fluency of his handwriting. The legibility of a man’s exemplars is obviously going to indicate his ability to communicate successfully. The fluency will demonstrate the person’s level-headedness and sincerity.

The five keys to the evaluation of style are: 1) Rhythm. Klages tells us that there are inherent rhythmic patterns that govern the universe. We are able to recognize and gauge these rhythms in the spatial patterns of a person’s handwriting by examining whether the margins are contextually harmonious, viz., we must scrutinize a particular exemplar with an eye to determining the natural configurations (structural harmonies) formed by the gaps that intervene between the lines, between the words, and also between the individual letters. Because disharmonies are arresting—they “leap to the eye,” as it were—we have no difficulty in establishing the grade of spatial rhythm in an exemplar. The rating of handwriting’s rhythm is more a matter of insight and intuition than of expert reasoning. 2) Symmetry. In a harmonious exemplar we find that the person does not overdevelop one zone at the expense of another zone; i.e., we do not find the bottom loop of a q to be exaggerated as against the upper zone stroke. In short, where we find such a deviation, or loss of proportion, we must assign the exemplar a low grade. An examination of the individual character’s height (as from the bottom of the q to its summit) cannot furnish us with a sufficient basis upon which to evaluate the overall symmetry of a person’s handwriting. Where we find excessive width, pressure, slant, loops, bars, dots, flourishes, or any other such deviation, we must recognize a disturbance of symmetry. The letters, whether they are capitals or minimum letters, must be well developed in a gradual fashion, avoiding a deflated narrowness as well as an inflated width. In short a character is to be judged both on its height as well as on the amount of space that it covers. Wide lower zone loops in an overall narrow handwriting or conjoined with deflated small letters, indicate a lack of symmetry; and unevenness of pressure or slant belong as well to the category of disproportions. 3) Creativeness. Although very few people exhibit a high degree of symmetry in their handwriting, it is a fact that even fewer display creativeness. Most people will not be grieved by this fact, as most people would rather belong to the bovine throng than to the creative elite—even in their handwriting! Only perhaps one in a thousand are willing to become heretics, to break away from the sweaty masses, to display the slightest signs of independence and boldness, to write an individual hand. In fact, only a genius is capable of inventing new and finer characters and connections, even though such creations might make for easier writing without impaired or compromised legibility. However, we must realize that an original hand and a creative hand can be two different things, for an original scribe is not always creative, but a creative person always will compose an original script. An original script must merely avoid the existing patterns; but an original script must add something to the already existing fund of patterns. A creative script must facilitate writing, and only he who writes a great deal, one who must confront and develop his ideas on the wing, as they come and go, will desire more easily written characters, and will experience the urge to create them. Such a person is ordinarily well educated, and will continue to improve his script throughout his life because he is demanding and discriminating. Klages emphatically asserts that eccentricity alone cannot indicate the creative scribe. All innovations in script will be simpler and easier to write—purpose is the rule for the creative scribe, and not merely unnaturalness. 4) Legibility. A letter is written in order to be read, obviously, and any letter that cannot be deciphered by the addressee has clearly failed of its purpose. We do not normally read from letter to letter, or from word to word. Instead, we read from cluster to cluster of words and only stumble when we come across an unfamiliar expression, or an illegible one. In consequence, the only method that we have to establish objectively the legibility of an exemplar is to remove words at random from their context and scrutinize them. Very often, the most intelligent writers will not pass this test. 5) Speed. The elementary law of creativeness is violated if the sample has not been written spontaneously, if it has required an inordinate amount of time in which to be produced. What is needed here is time saving simplicity. In fact, slowly produced writings often give evidence of criminal tendencies in the scribe. Although such scribes will attempt to furnish a genteel, legible, and conforming script, they often attempt to patch up their initially unworthy efforts by closings open letters, by straightening out faulty strokes, and by re-crossing their t-bars. The overall impression such exemplars give is one of uncleanness. A fluently produced sample, on the other hand, will show a right-slanted writing, with irregularly placed i-dots, with most dots placed ahead of the letter itself, with other letters and letter connections with garland shapes rather than angles or arcades, with the left margins tending to widen as the scribe reaches the bottom of the page, with smooth, light, and unbroken strokes.

Klages definitively refuted the doctrine of “fixed signs,” which had so misled his predecessors, who erroneously ascribed “atomistic” character traits to discrete signs without perceiving the contextual matrix from which the signs are born. The biocentric investigator does not concern himself with expressive fragments: for life can only be found in organic wholes. To summarize: idiosyncratic traits are revealed in such formal elements as evenness, regularity, tempo, distribution, pressure, breadth, consistency, variety, connectedness, “angle of incidence,” and initial stress of the handwritten sample, which is a permanent record of expressive gesture, a residue of living being, an examination of which can eventually enable us to embark upon ever more profound investigations of the inner life of man. (The major graphological texts published by Klages are: Die Probleme der Graphologie [“The Problems of Graphology”], published in 1910; the Handschrift und Charakter [“Handwriting and Character”], of 1912, which has gone through 26 editions; and the Einführung in die Psychologie der Handschrift [“Introduction to the Psychology of Handwriting”], which appeared in 1928.)

A Unified System of Thought: Expression Analysis

From this brief glance at the narrow field of biocentric graphology, we now proceed to a more comprehensive division of the Klagesian system of thought, viz. the “analysis of expression” (Ausdruckskunde). According to Klages, the larger part of our knowledge of the inner life of those around us stems from our ability to comprehend the meanings inherent in each person’s gestures and facial expressions. This knowledge is not mediated by consciousness, for we must grasp the inner life of another directly, if we would grasp it at all. Every expressive movement is the precipitate of a lived impulse, and, unlike the viewpoint advanced by certain “behaviorists,” these impulses are not reducible to the simple antithetic pair: pleasure or pain. Every expressive movement can be interpreted so as to reveal the form, duration, and sequence of the inner impulses. Klages subtly differentiates between several types of movements: the expressive movement, the mechanical movement, and the volitional movement. The expressive movement is regarded as one aspect of the impulse movement; the reflex movement is regarded as an element of the expressive movement; the mechanical movements earlier existed as impulse movements and are to be grouped under this head; volitional-movement is an impulse-movement controlled by the will. The types of movements are differentiated by their relationship to their aims. Volition movements are shaped by expectations of successful outcomes. Expressive movements are symbolic enactments; thus, the facial expression that embodies terror is the symbolic performance of the motions that represent the actions of one who would escape from a situation that evokes terror.

Klages rejects the Darwinian theory of expression, which interprets all expressive movements as the rudimentary remains of actions that once were purposive. This view reflects Darwin’s insistence on rationalizing the “mechanisms” of nature, in spite of the obvious fact that expressive gestures have their origins in the subjectivity of the organism in which they arise. Pace Darwin, Klages insists that the living being never responds to the same stimulus with the same response: it responds to similar impressions with similar reactions. Instincts are similar only in species that are similar, and the process of individuation can only be consummated after the development of judgment and will. The will is not rooted in the affects, for its task is to bind, or repress, the affective life. The power of the will can be expressed as a quantum of driving force that is non-qualitative. It harnesses life in order to direct it to a goal, and the regulation of volition-movement is completely different from expressive movement. The expressive movement has no aim other than itself; the impulse-movement derives its aims from its environment; and for the volitional-movement, the conscious willing of the aim is of the essence. Actions (in contrast to pathic, dream-like states) are volitional movements (handwriting belongs under this head). Since the personality comprises a constellation of dynamic relationships, every movement expresses personality in its essential nature, for the character of an individual is revealed in every action. However, one must study aspects of expression that are outside the realm of volition, not subject to the control of consciousness, and beyond the governance of intention and learned skills. Volitional movement expresses the personality of the willing person; it does not originate in vitality, for it is chained to the causal nexus originating in the conscious mind. By itself, the volition is not expressive; the important thing is the individual course of the movement. There is present in all of an individual’s expressive movements a unity of character, and any movement on the part of a person will assume that type or manner of movement which is characteristic of that individual. Klages asserts that the writing movement, for instance, is the manifestation of the will to express oneself with the aid of a certain writing system, the volition, which is the current state of some personality. Therefore, handwriting is a volitional movement and carries the idiosyncratic stamp of any personality.

Volitional movements cannot exist without impulse movements, but the impulse movement can exist without the volitional one. Every state of the body expresses an impulse system, and every attitude finds its appropriate expression. Every movement of the body is a vital movement that has two constituent parts, the impulse and the expressive. Therefore, an expressive movement is the visible manifestation of the impulses and affects that are symbolically represented in the vital movement of which it is a component part. The expression manifests the pattern of a psychic movement as to its strength, duration, and direction.

Now how is it possible for human beings to perceive, and to interpret, the expression of the soul? Klages answers this by explaining that the capacity for expression is coördinated with the human being’s capacity for impression. Impression is split into two functions: a passive (“pathic”) one, which receives the impression; and an active one, which makes it possible for one to become aware of one’s own nature as well as that of others—only through this objectification can expression have meaning. It is the very foundation of all genuine research into the study of expressive gestures.

Klages cautions the student to avoid all vain quests after qualitative states of expressive movement; instead, we must examine vital “essences,” because, in the end, isolated segments of expression must not be divorced from their organic matrix. This point of view recapitulates Klages’s criticisms of the graphological theory of “isolated signs,” which can never reveal the global structure that embodies the elements of personality.

The study of expressive movement does not derive its findings from the analysis of purely “objective” states, for the entities examined by the biocentric researcher are experienced as living beings. Klages’s affirmation of the value of expression is in perfect harmony with his high evaluation of the pathic or ecstatic abandonment of the ego in a surrender to the actuality of the living images. We can locate an individual’s capacity for such self-abandonment on a continuum that is graduated according to the living content. According to the entity in which it occurs, each rhythmic pulsation gives birth to another and yet another vital content, whether it is manifested as a faint arousal of the soul or as pathic frenzy. Paradoxically, one person’s rage may be shallower and feebler than the mere breathing of another person. The man who able to observe this, and who is thereby enabled to understand the implications of his observations, so that he can distinguish authentic personality from the mere precipitate of its psychic activity, such as a handwritten exemplar, has perceived the agency through which each formal, or functional, element alternately expresses a ‘minus’ character or a ‘plus’ character. He is able to determine, as between one instance of expressive movement and another, whether he is witnessing the strength of a vital impulse or the weakness of an antagonistic inhibition, and can then correctly evaluate the character’s true traits.

The power of creativity, or formative ability [Gestaltungskraft], which is the measure of one’s capacity for enhanced intensity of expressive force, has its only source in nature. However, every vital impulse is impeded by certain binding forces, or inhibitions. This duality is referred to by Klages as the “dual significance of expression.” Thus, if we witness an individual’s performance of a violent act, this act may be the result of the attractive force of the goal towards which he is aiming; or it may, on the other hand, indicate merely a lack of inhibition on the part of the person in question. The will to domination may indicate strength of will, of course; but it may also indicate an embittered affective life. Likewise, sensitivity may arise from emotional delicacy; but it may also be the result of emotional irritability. Such judgments can only be validated on the basis of a global examination of the individual under review.

As we shall see shortly, Klages’s philosophy holds that the historical evolution of culture can only be interpreted as murderous record, a chronicle of ever-mounting horror in the course of which the vital power of expressive forces recedes before the soulless world ruled by the will, most perfectly embodied in the all-powerful state. But the enlightened biocentrist will turn from this dead Dingwelt (thing-world) to seek refreshment in the en-souled Ausdruckswelt (expression-world).

A Unified System of Thought: Characterology

From the study of expressive movement we proceed to characterology (Charakterkunde). Just as graphology led to the more comprehensive science of expression, the science of expression, in turn, provides the fund of empirical observations that supports the biocentric characterology. Klagesian characterology, in fact, constitutes the most comprehensive study of the human being that has ever been formulated. (Characterology, in its turn, constitutes the indispensible structural component of the biocentric scheme of metaphysics).

The Grundlagen der Charakterkunde presents Klages’s system of psychology in great detail, and because his psychological exposition in that treatise is so intimately interrelated with the philosophical exposition contained in Der Geist and in his other philosophical publications, we will treat the characterology and the metaphysics as indivisible aspects of one vast symphony of thought. However, we will say a few words at this point about the most original feature of biocentric characterology, viz., the presentation of character as a dynamic structural system, comprising such elements as the material (Stoff), the structure (Gefüge), the specific type or idiosyncratic quality (Artung), the architectonics (Aufbau), and the constitutional disposition (Haltungsanlagen).

The material comprises such innate capacities as recollection, cognition as it is embodied in conceptual thought, critical “penetration” (or acumen), intensity, sensibility, and many other capacities, all of which are innate, i.e., conditioned by the genetic endowment of the particular character. From the outset, Klages rejects with some contempt the inadequate “tabula rasa” tradition of British empiricism, which he correctly traces back to its source in Locke and his school. This innate material occurs in various combinations that vary from person to person, and although Klages ordinarily voices opposition to methodologies that are based upon quantitative “formalism,” he agrees that the material is measurable in at least a metaphorical sense, for it constitutes our personal possession, the “capital,” as it were, with which we are equipped.

The structure comprises such differentiations as: temperamental or reserved, wandering or fixed, emotionally stable or unstable. Within each personality there is a unique tempo of affective excitability that can be analogized to an emotional wave, whose quantum of reactivity is functionally related to an individual’s internal organic processes. Unlike the purely innate capacities, the characteristics can be adequately expressed as a correlation between the magnitude of an impulse and the force of resistance to that impulse (we had occasion earlier to refer briefly to this relationship as it pertains to the analysis of expressive gestures).

The quality relates to the formal aspects of volition and the tendencies of the affects, which unite to form the system of drving-forces or “interests.” Specific driving-forces are by their nature directional, as we can see by examining the different goals toward which a greedy person or domineering person seem to be impelled. Architectonics constitutes the correlated interrelationships that weave all the other elements of the character together.

Finally, the dispositions (or attitudes) comprise those traits that are obvious even to the cursory glance of an external observer, and among these traits we find courage, talkativeness, diffidence, and obnoxiousness.

However, the most important of all the elements that make up the character is the qualitative estimation of an individual’s capacities of feeling and volition. Volition is a limited instantiation of the will, and the will is of the very essence of spirit; in fact the will is the darkest and most destructive of spirit’s manifestations, the demon of negation, the very essence of the void.

The constellation of the driving-forces constitutes the personality, and these driving forces are as diverse and multiform as life. The drive is manifest as an urge that issues in a movement, and that movement is generated under the influence of the non-conceptual, vital experience of a power to which Klages has given the name symbol. The driving-forces are polarized, for a drive that has its source in an excess of energy (thus entailing an impulse to discharge energy) must be contrasted with the drive that arises out of a lack of energy (which will give rise to the attempt to recoup energy). There are drives that can be stirred without regard to time, as well as drives that manifest periodicity

The instincts are opposed to the will. The will devises conscious, purposive projects that are in conflict with the immediate desire for gratification of the instincts. In opposition to the world as it is felt, the will erects conscious purposiveness and the life-hostile, moralistic codes of ethics. The authentic content of the personality is drawn from the living world, but the will ruthlessly imposes form upon that content by constricting, inhibiting, directing, or suppressing the instincts and affects. The will possesses no original, creative power of its own. The will is incarnated in man as the ego, which can be expressed metaphorically as the rudder on a vessel whose only function is controlling the vessel’s course. The will-as-ego is characterized by self-awareness and insistent activity. The instinctual drives, on the other hand, give birth to an unconscious, “pathic” surrender to the living cosmos. The instincts and affects are revealed in the love for knowledge, Eros, the quest for truth, and the admiration of beauty. The will reveals its nature in duty, conscience, ambition, greed, and egomania. The will seeks to repress or extirpate the vital impulses, and the destructive effects of the will in action can even be fatal to the organism, as we can see in the case of the political revolutionary who embarks on a fatal hunger-strike. The shattered health and twisted mind resulting from the obsessive asceticism of the religious zealot is too familiar to require further elaboration.

Philosophical Works

The strictly philosophical writings of Ludwig Klages comprise a wide range of materials. In length they range from pithy articles contributed to various lexicons and encyclopedias, through extended essays and revamped lectures, and culminate in his full-dress, formal treatises, the most comprehensive of which is the epochal Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele [3 volumes, 1929-32]. Der Geist contains an astonishing 1500 pages of text as well as an elaborate scholarly apparatus devoted to source notes and ancillary material, the closely-printed text of which would make a fair-sized book on its own!

One of his shorter essays, the Brief Über Ethik, which was published shortly after the German defeat in 1918, is of exceptional interest to the student of race. Unlike many of his optimistic contemporaries, Klages viewed the catastrophic mongelization that was poisoning the Aryan race as an ineluctable doom, the fatal and irremediable dissolution of life under the savage assault of triumphant spirit. In the Brief, his intense study of the psychological aspects of man’s disastrous evolution, enabled him to trace the 20th century’s accursed proliferation of “slave”-types and men without character to a single poisonous source, for the production of such wretched types, he proclaims, “has arisen, arises now, and will arise, always and everywhere, as the direct result of racial bastardization and pollution of the blood!” On similar grounds, he excoriates the modern world’s monstrous plague of moralistic fanaticism in the Brief, asserting that the rapidly increasing legions of ethical preachers constitute one more manifestation of the dysgenic breeding that is destroying our culture. The moral maniac’s twisted psyche within as well as his distorted physiognomy without clearly demonstrate that such a creature “is merely the spiritual expression of tainted blood!” Because the modern world regards the man of ethics, will, and reason as the sole proper vehicle of ego and spirit, no one should be surprised that traditional and healthy value must go to the wall. Race, breeding, nobility, depth of soul, beauty, courage, and blood, are one and all devoid of substance to the moralist and the egalitarian crusader. To them, man is his mind, his morals, and his ego, and the man who has given his sole allegiance to ego and spirit, has simultaneously surrendered all interest in the particular man. Henceforth he compulsively devotes his attentions to man as generality. Klages ridicules all respect for “humanity,” that ghost of an abstraction, as a willful repudiation of every vital power of discrimination, and he who stubbornly refuses to immerse himself in the undiffentiated ochlocratic mob will always be assailed as an enemy of “mankind.” This humanitarian insanity is, paradoxically, also the root of the murderous career of Christian and post-Christian civilization, for those who preach so incessantly of “love” and who babble so cretinously of “compassion,” have but one response to those who do not endorse their “spiritual” values: that response is murder. The egalitarian can never face the obvious fact that wherever and whenever you order a man to love, you have guaranteed that he will respond with hate.

The racialist theoreticians whom Klages most admired and cited most pertinently in his collected works were Gobineau, Ludwig Woltmann, and L. F. Clauss. Klages’s analysis of the racial dimension of the science of expression is indebted to the analytical studies of race and expression published by Clauss, especially in the formulation by Klages of what we will call the racial continuum of expression and excitability. No objective observer would wish to deny the obvious fact that the Mediterranean division of the Aryan race is typically characterized by a greater ease of expression than is found in the Nordic Aryan. Klages enforces the validity of this truth quite vividly through the ingenious use of national stereotypes as illustrative heuristic expedients; thus, his typological extremes extend from the Italian, in whom we find the maximum ease of expressive gesture as well as the greatest degree of temperamental excitability, passes through the various intermediary increments, and arrives at the opposite extreme of the racial continuum of expression, where Klages situates the only possible candidate for title of least expressive and most temperamentally reserved of European Aryans, viz., the Englishman.

In his critical exposition of the doctrine of the “temperaments,”Klages extends his investigation of individual differences to encompass an analysis of the capacity for stimulation of the will that is peculiar to the different races. Several qualities that are falsely considered by many researchers to be permanently and deeply rooted in man, e.g., the tendency to seek for perfection and the adoption of an “idealistic” point of view, vanish almost completely in the course of a lifetime. On the other hand, the least variable property of a character is this “capacity for stimulation of the will,” which Klages calls the “constant of temperament.” The magnitude, or degree, of the capacity for such stimulation varies significantly between the races as well, and because it constitutes a temperamental “constant,” it provides a permanent index of racial differences. The Oriental race, for instance, is characterized by a will that is far less excitable than the will of the Aryan, and Klages draws upon the great Count Gobineau for an illustration: “Consider…buying and selling as they are practiced in an Oriental bazaar. An Oriental will bargain for the same article with perfect equanimity for days on end, whereas the European loses patience after an hour, and often much sooner. Joseph Arthur de Gobineau makes a fine artistic use of these differences of character in his Nouvelles Asiatiques.”

Like Gobineau, Woltmann, and Clauss, Klages was a universal scholar who possessed the same wide-ranging vision and the treasures of living wisdom that all of these men shared. And we can be apodictically certain that every one of these scholars would have rejected with utter scorn the narrow-minded theory, endorsed even by many modern writers who consider themselves to be the true heirs of the great racialists of yore, which holds that the quality of a man can be reduced to a mathematical expression. Without a doubt, Klages would have felt that the egalitarian lunacy that now rules the world is only slightly more ludicrous than the attempts that are made by modern anti-egalitarians to reduce man to his IQ. And when certain writers attempt to place characterology on a “scientific” basis through the use of factor-analysis—in other words, by pouring even more formalistic mathematics into the sauce!—we can imagine his ironic smile as he whispers: sancta simplicitas!

Klages traces the origins of the modern, mongrelized world’s moralistic fanaticism and criminality back to its source in another devastatingly ironic essay, Das Problem des SOKRATES, in which he dismantles the beloved figure of Socrates as if he were a defective toaster-oven. Because Socrates is regarded by Klages as the very antithesis of the true philosopher, we will examine in some detail this unconventional and irreverent analysis of Socrates and his thought. Without qualification or proviso, Klages launches his attack. He sees Socrates as an utter fraud, a dissembling hypocrite, a complete ignoramus in scientific matters whose arrogance and lack of curiosity are truly astonishing. Why did Socrates ignore the truly epochal cosmological discoveries that were being made by the Hylozoists? A true philosopher would have been enthralled by the discoveries of these great scholars, but Socrates could care less. Heraclitus, Protagoras, and the Hylozoists were the true philosophers, not this rachitic ghoul, this professional sponger and house-guest, this most sophistical of sophists who habitually sought to diminish the genuine achievements of his hated contemporaries, not by surpassing them, but by dismissing them instead as contemptible—sophists!

No figure in the intellectual history of Greece had a more skilful touch when it came to lodging dust in his spectators’ eyes. We witness the Socratic gambit par excellence when this logomach employs the most childish word-games conceivable in order to transform his blatant lack of creative talent into that which he has successfully persuaded all subsequent generations was, in reality, the most dazzling array of talents ever united within one mortal frame. Socrates obviously couldn’t master science: therefore science is an unworthy avocation! A prominent Sophist has arrived in town, and the word is out that he has prepared his lectures with a scrupulous care for formal elegance and a proper observance of the canons of logic: therefore, says Socrates, he’s nothing but logic-chopping hustler with a fancy prose style and a yen for a fast buck! From the dawn of time this has been, is now, and ever will remain, the bitter complaint leveled by the work-shy parasite against the gainfully employed citizen.

In addition to his other dubious gifts, Socrates is also an unparalleled expert at forestalling criticism, for his hidden motivation seems almost childishly transparent when we find him assuring his audience, with all the candor and guilelessness of a Uriah Heep, that the only thing that he knows is that he knows nothing! And this pish posh and flummery is still luring philosophical yokels to the Socratic side-show 2,400 years later!

In fact, the whole repertoire of Socratic methods is exactly what Hegel and Klages say that it is: a bare-faced and unworthy swindle. Furthermore, although hardly any commentator has drawn attention to the fact, Socrates was completely successful in one of his more sinister ploys, for his most subtle dialectical maneuvers can even be said to have ominous political implications in addition to their philosophical ones. We are alluding to the sly manipulation whereby Socrates assures his auditors that the truths that they seek are already within them, for his seemingly innocent claim conceals the fact that by this very means Socrates is engineering a monstrous and underhanded tyranny over naïve youths who can scarcely realize that, invariably, everything that they will “discover” within them has already been planted there by an autocratic and mendacious charlatan!

But what of the great martyr to “free thought,” the plaster bust whom endless generations have been taught to revere as a saint and genius? Nonsense, says Klages. Not for the first, and certainly not for the last time, Klages confounds our expectations by explicitly endorsing his predecessor Hegel’s view, for Hegel effortlessly proved that Socrates got just what what coming to him. Hegel found that the conduct of the court during the trial of Socrates was legally unimpeachable and he wholeheartedly endorsed the verdict of the court. Klages also draws on Hegel’s account when he directs our attention to this charlatan’s truly mortal offenses against Athens, for who among this sophist’s accusers could forget for one moment the brutal crimes that were committed against the citizenry of Athens by Kritias, who in addition to being one of the the dearest pupils of Socrates, was also the bloodiest of all the Thirty Tyrants? And was not another cherished apostle—and, perhaps, a bit more—of Socrates, i.e., the slimy Alcibiades, known by both court and citizenry as the conscienceless traitor who bore the ultimate responsibility for the defeat and downfall of Athens in the Peloponnesian War? This obvious truth was disputed by no sane Athenian.

No Greek thinker known to history, in fact, has a flimsier claim to the august title of true philosopher than this mongrelized gargoyle whose moral mania and theatrically grandiose death anticipate both the ethical idiocy and the shabby demise of the founder of the Christian cult, and Klages explicitly speaks of Socrates as the ancient world’s first Christian martyr. In the end, the only genuine achievements that can be credited to Socrates, Klages insists, were in the fields of epistemology and philosophical linguistics. And in all candor, who would seek to challenge the view that Socrates had about as much capacity for meaningful metaphysical speculation as your average floor-polisher? The rest is smoke and mirrors, a petty swindler’s sleight of hand.

Another brief philosophical text by Klages has become his best-known and most controversial work. In 1913, publisher Eugen Diederichs and the organizers of the anniversary celebration of the “Battle of the Nations” (which had taken place at Leipzig during the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon) invited the philosopher to address the representatives of the German Youth Movement. He delivered his Mensch und Erde, a stunning and prophetic attack on the enemies of Mother Earth, which was later published in a commemorative volume featuring a striking piece of cover-art by the neo-pagan painter Fidus. This seminal work has only recently received its due as the first statement of the philosophy of “deep ecology” when a new edition was published in 1980 in coordination with the establishment of the German “Green” political party. In this “roll-call of the dead,” Klages laments the destruction of wildlife and landscape by encroaching “civilization,” and, in attacking the very idea of “Progess,” Klages praises the chthonic gods who have been driven into the underworld. He deplores the extinction of animal species and their wild habitats, the loss of ancient forests, and the annihilation of aboriginal peoples. He condemns Capitalism, Christianity, and utilitarianism as weapons aimed at the destruction of the ecology. Even tourism is excoriated as just another agent of environmental destruction, and Klages laments the murder of the whales long before such a concern was widespread .

“Without a doubt,” Klages says, “we are living in the age of the waning of the Soul,” and he insists that when Spirit has finally silenced the “primal song of the landscape,” the earth will be converted into “one gigantic Chicago interspersed with agriculture.” Our machines are attended by machine-men, whose noisy and glittering amusements are unable to conceal the fact that the world has been stripped of all life-enhancing symbols and ritual observances. Our hearts are barren, and “their inner rivulets can no longer water the blossoms of song and holy feasts; there remains only this bleak and grey workaday world,” in this age of soul-destruction.

“Progress” is simply an “unfettered lust for murder,” and all of nature must perish “before its poisonous breath.” Our age has lost all “knowledge of the world-creating, world-weaving force of all-unifying Eros.” “Originating with Socrates and coming through Kant all the way down to the present age, the hoarse demand of the Will resonates in every one of the refractions, disguises, and transformations assumed by our ethical systems, that it is the duty of man to control himself, to subject his desires to the rule of reason, to moderate his feelings when he can’t manage to exterminate them entirely.” Moralistic preachers, devoted to the “improvement” of man, are nothing but criminals against life, whose immunity to the lessons of experience is reflected in their oblivion to the data of our historical experience. The “inborn” conscience, as a matter of fact, is not at all an original fact of existence, for it cannot be found anywhere else in the animal kingdom; conscience is merely spirit’s poison at its work of destroying the soul of man. Under this influence, the soul can no longer dwell amid the pulsating flux of images, for a despotic rationality, in tandem with this moral mania, finally substitutes for the endless “becoming” of the actuality of the world of nature, the disconnected, dead world of “being.” “Whatever falls under the ray of intellect is immediately turned into a mere thing, a numbered object of thought connected only mechanically with other objects. The paradox enunciated by the modern sage, ‘we perceive but what is dead’, is a lapidary formulation of a profound truth.” Klages tells us that Life must soon perish, “for the hour of returning has been missed.”

The philosopher’s meditations on the myths and mysteries of the ancient Mediterranean world form the substance of the treatise entitled Vom kosmogonischen Eros, which appeared in 1922. Paradoxically, perhaps, in view of the anti-Socratism that we’ve been discussing, Klages follows the classic Platonic exposition in the “Symposium” regarding the nature of Eros, which is held to be compounded of antitheses such as wealth and poverty, fullness and emptiness, possession and want. This insight accounts for the dual nature of all striving, for every impulse and every desire arises from a lack of something that we yearn to possess and perishes at the moment when that which we have yearned to possess falls into our hands.

The duality that constitutes the substance of man is also clarified in the Eros-book. In primordial ages, man’s nature comprised the connected poles of body and soul, whose vital bonds it is spirit’s mission to sever from the moment that man enters into the realm of recorded history. Klages also clarifies the unique status of the image in his course of his exposition of biocentric phenomenology: “Wherever we find a living body, there we also find a soul; wherever we find a soul, there also we find a living body. The soul is the meaning of the body, and the image of the body is the manifestation of the soul. Whatever appears has a meaning, and every meaning reveals itself as it is made manifest. Meaning is experienced inwardly, the manifestation outwardly. The first must become image if it is to communicate itself, and the image must be re-internalized so that it may take effect. Those are, in the most literal sense, the twin poles of actuality.” (Klages’s exposition had, for once, been anticipated by Friedrich Paulsen, in whose textbook, “An Introduction to Philosophy,” we find the following remark: “Either we must regard the entire body, including the nervous system, as a system of means external to the soul, or we must regard the entire body as the visible expression, or physical equivalent, of life” [emphasis added]).

Life is not governed by spirit, for “the law of spirit” demands that spirit divorce itself utterly from the “rhythms of cosmic life.” Only the living image possesses a truly vital autonomy, for the image alone is independent of spirit. The image remains totally unaffected by whether or not the receiver of the sensuous image recollects its visitation afterwards. The thing, on the other hand, is thought into the world of consciousness. It exists as a dimension of a person’s inwardness. Life is not directed towards the future, for the future is not a property of actual time. The great error of Promethean man was in his elevating that which was to come to the same stage of actuality as the past. The “man of ‘world-history’” is a man dedicated to voids. He has annihilated and is annihilating the actuality of what has been in order to devote himself more completely to the projects of a hallucination called the future. He insists on shattering the fruitful connection of the near and the far in order to erect in its place the present’s Wandering Jew-like fascination “with a distant phantasm of futurity.” Actual time is a “stream coursing from the future into the past.”

This “cosmogonic Eros” of which Klages speaks is the life-creating son of the Mother Goddess of the prehistoric Ægean world, and must not be confused with the vapid cupids that can still be found on ancient Roman frescoes, whose pale plaster descendants so gaudily adorn the walls and ceilings of the palaces of rococo Europe. A more authentic incarnation is found in the Theogony of Hesiod, in which the poet calls Eros one of the first beings, born without father or mother. Likewise, in the Orphic hymns, Kronos is his father; Sappho calls him the offspring of Earth and Heaven; and Simonides traces the descent of Eros to the union of Aphrodite and Ares. Hesiod’s treatment, by far the most profound, portrays Eros as the force of attraction upon which the very existence of the material world depends. When Hesiod makes Eros the offspring of the rainbow and the westwind, he is indicating, by the use of metaphor, that spring, the season in which they prevail, is the time of love. For Hesiod, Eros is “the most beautiful of all the deathless gods.” The historical aspect of Klages’s text is largely an apologia for the Weltanschauung of Bachofen, with its forthright celebration of the “world of woman” and the life of “primitive” peoples (his most elaborate presentation of the Magna Mater and her world will appear in the crucial chapter on the “Great Mother” in Der Geist, which bears the telling subtitle “Marginal Observations on Bachofen’s Discoveries”).

Eros is to be distinguished from “love” and “sex,” both of which are tied to that obnoxious entity the “self” (Selbst), which tends to become the center of gravity in the life of man as history progressively tears his soul from the earth, turning the richly-endowed individual into a hollow mask and robot, divorced from Eros and earth. All Eros is Eros of distance (Eros der Ferne), and a moment’s reflection will suffice to demonstrate that nothing is more characteristic of our modern planetary technology than its tendency toward the annihilation of distance. Likewise, the will-to-possesion, the impulse for domination, and the thoughtless addiction to “information” that characterizes modern man are all condemned by Klages as attempts to lift the veil of Isis, which he sees as the ultimate “offense against life.” “The intellectual will to power is the crime against life itself, causing man to meet life’s vindictive retaliation.” For behind the veil, there is “nothingness,” which is to say spirit and the will to desubstantialize the cosmos. This “modern man” has traveled very far indeed from the Naturvölker, who prefer life to cogitation, and who experience the erotic bond without commingling their precious egos, whose desire is impersonal and not focused upon an insane idealization and apotheosis of the loved one. For Klages, the most vital manifestation of Eros is not the “love unto death” of sentimental “tragedy,” but is, instead, a surrender of the will to the impersonal forces of the cosmos. There is an Eros of the home as well as of the homeland, an Eros of the implement that we have fashioned with our own hands as well as an Eros of the art work that we have created with the implement’s aid. Eros inhabits, in fact, any object of perception to which we feel intimately connected, and all such objects and events become living symbols of our joys or of our sorrows. The ego has nothing to do with these erotic bonds, anymore than it has anything to do with maternal love.

Soul and Spirit

The very title of Klages’s metaphysical treatise, Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele, “The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul,” refers to the ceaseless and savage battle waged by spirit against the soul. The mounting onslaught of spirit against the living soul has constituted the innermost essence of the life of man. Whereas spirit once existed in a temporary and uneasy symbiosis with the soul, in the course of human history spirit’s destructive power waxes ever stronger, until spirit eventually abandons the symbiotic compromise that endured whilst the powers of life were still exalted, and erupts into the waning empire of the living soul as a savage and unyielding dæmon whose malevolent career reaches its grisly climax in our apocalyptic age of “virtual” reality, compassion-babble, hydrogen bombs, and racial chaos.

But just what is this “soul”? In the first place, the soul is not something exclusively human, for all phenomena possess soul, viz., the sea, animals, mountains, the wind, and the stars. In fact, all phenomena are “en-souled.” Now the soul possesses two poles, the archetypal soul and the substantial soul, or, to look upon these matters from a slightly different angle, a passive receptor pole and an active effector pole. The passive receptor pole is, in the thought of Klages, the truly characteristic aspect for the soul’s life. From its birth, the soul leads a pathic, or passive, dream-existence, in which its life is filled with visionary images. The soul only becomes released for activity in the phenomenal world when the bearer of that soul is confronted by the polarity of another soul, which forces each soul to reveal its nature to the other. The original characteristics of the soul are night, dreaming, rhythmic pulsation, infinite distance, and the realm of the unconscious.

The “elementary” substances that constitute the earth originated under the complex influence of telluric and cosmic forces, and the symbiotic interaction of all telluric phenomena was required in order to bring the animate world into being. According to the doctrine of the “actuality of the images,” the plant represents the transitional stage between the element and the living creature. (The botanist Jagadis Bose performed experiments that he felt conclusively demonstrated the capacity of plants to experience pain). The plant experiences life in the form of growth and maturation, as well as in the creation of offspring through the processes familiar to natural science. Spontaneous movements of various kinds are characteristic of plant-life, viz., the turning of the leaves and buds to the light, the sending of the root-system into the soil in order to extract nourishment from the earth, the fixing of supportive tendrils to fixed surfaces, etc. Klages draws our attention to the fact that there are several varieties of plant that are indubitably capable of self-motility. There are, at this threshold of another realm of being, organisms such as sea squirts, mussels, oysters, sponges, and zoophytes, which become fixed in their habitat only after the early stages of the lives. (When Verworrn published his experiments on the psychical life of the protista in 1899, he attributed sensation to these organisms, a position that certainly has much to recommend it. But when he attempted to demonstrate that even the will is in evidence at this stage of life, one can only shake one’s head in disbelief, for that which this author adduces as evidence of volition in the protista is the simple phenomenon of reaction to stimuli! Thus, Verworrn equates the reactive responses in the protista to the action of the will in man, in whom the “volitional” processes are more highly developed. This is certainly a case of blindness to a difference of essence.)

In the next developmental stage, i.e., that of the animal, the soul is now captured in a living body. The drives and instincts make their first appearance during this phase. The characteristic functions of the creature comprise physical sensation (as represented by the body-pole) and contemplation (the psychical pole). The living body is the phenomenon of the soul, and the soul is the meaning of the living body. However, in opposition to the realm of the lower animals, wherein sensation dominates contemplation, we find that in the higher animals, contemplation is strengthened at the expense of the physical sensations, as the result of spirit’s invasion of the life-cell, which occurs at this time. Now if one were to consider “the waking state” to be synonymous with consciousness itself, than one must consclude that consciousness is present in animal and man alike. According to Klages, however, it is only the capacity for conceptual thought that characterizes consciousness, so that we must attribute consciousness proper only to man. In the animal, the image cannot be divorced from the sensory impression. In man, on the other hand, the content of the visual image can be separated from the act of perception that receives that content throught the sensorium. Therefore, although the animal undoubtedly possesses instincts, only man is truly conscious.

The biological processes that constitute plant life and animal life are also operative in man, but with the intervention of spirit (at least during the initial phase of development, during which spirit and life maintain some kind of balance), he is capable of creating symbolic systems of communication and expression, viz., art and poetry, as well as myth and cult. The processes of life establish the polar connection between the actual images of the world (or, the “macrocosm”) and the pathic soul that receives them (or, the “microcosm”).

The human soul comprises the totality of the immediate experiences of man. It is the soul that receives its impressions of actuality in the shape of images. “The image that falls upon the senses: that, and nothing besides, is the meaning of the world,” Klages insists, and one such immediate act of reception can be seen in the manner in which one comprehends the imagery employed by a great poet or the skillfully drawn portrait executed by a gifted artist. The actualities received by the “pathic” soul are experienced in the dimensions of space and time, but they have their coming-to-be and their passing-away solely within the temporal order. In sharp contrast to the traditional Christian insistence that virtue constitutes a valorization of the “spirit” at the expense of a denigrated body, Klages sees man’s highest potential in the state of ecstasy, i.e., the privileged state of rapture in which the connected poles of body and soul are liberated from the intrusive “spirit.” What the Christian understands by the word soul is, in fact, actually spirit, and spirit—to simplify our scheme somewhat for the sake of expediency—is the mortal adversary of the soul. Another way to express this insight would be the formula: spirit is death, and soul is life.

Spirit manifests its characteristic essence in formalistic cognition and technological processes and in the hyper-rationalism that has pre-occupied western thought since the Renaissance. Both mathematical formalism and “high” technology have reared their conceptual skyscrapers upon a foundation formed by the accumulation of empirical data. Spirit directs its acolytes to the appropriation and rigidification of the world of things, especially those things that are exploitable by utilitarian technocrats. Spirit fulfils its project in the act, or event, that occurs within the spatio-temporal continuum, although spirit itself has its origin outside that continuum. Spirit is manifest in man’s compulsive need to seize and control the materials at hand, for only “things” will behave consistently enough for the spirit-driven utilitarian to be able to “utilize” them by means of the familiar processes of quantification and classification, which enable “science” to fix, or “grasp,” the thing in its lethal conceptual stranglehold.

We must draw a sharp distinction between the thing and its properties on one side, and the “essence” (Wesen) and its characteristics on the other. Only an essence, or nature, can be immediately experienced. One cannot describe, or “grasp,” an essence by means of the conceptual analysis that is appropriate only when a scientist or technician analyzes a thing in order to reduce it to an “objective” fact that will submit to the grasp of the concept. The souls of all phenomena unite to comprise a world of sensuous images, and it is only as unmediated images that the essences appear to the pathic soul who receives their meaning-content. The world of essences (phenomena) is experienced by the pathic soul, which is the receptor of the fleeting images that constitute actuality [Wirklichkeit der Bilder]. These images wander eternally in the restless cosmic dance that is the Heraclitean flux. The image lives in intimate connection with the poles of space and time.

The world of things, on the other hand, is rationally comprehended as a causally connected system of objects (noumena). In the course of historical time man’s ability to perceive the living images and their attendant qualities is progressively impoverished until finally spirit replaces the living world of expressive images with the dead world of mere things, whose only connections are adequately expressed in the causal nexus, or, to use the language of science, the “laws of nature.”

In the final act of the historical tragedy, when there is no longer any vital substance upon which the vampire spirit may feed, the parasitic invader from beyond time will be forced to devour itself.

Paradise Lost

We see that the philosophy of Klages has both a metaphysical dimension as well as a historical one, for he sees the history of the world as the tragic aftermath to the disasters that ensued when man was expelled from the lost primordial paradise in which he once enjoyed the bliss of a “Golden Age.” When man found himself expelled from the eternal flux of coming-to-be and passing-away of the lost pagan paradise, he received in exchange the poor substitute known as consciousness. Paradise was lost, in effect, when man allowed his temporally-incarnated life-cell to be invaded by the a-temporal force that we call spirit.

Klages is quite specific in putting forward a candidate for this “Golden Age” which prospered long before spirit had acquired its present, murderous potency, for it is within the pre-historic Ægean culture-sphere, which has often been referred to by scholars as the “Pelasgian” world, that Klages locates his vision of a peaceful, pagan paradise that was as yet resistant to the invasive wiles of spirit.

Now who are these “Pelasgians,” and why does the Pelasgian “state of mind” loom so largely in Klages’s thought? According to the philosopher, the development of human consciousness, from life, to thought, to will, reveals itself in the three-stage evolution from pre-historic man (the Pelasgian), through the Promethean (down to the Renaissance), to the Heracleic man (the stage which we now occupy). For Klages, the Pelasgian is the human being as he existed in the pre-historic “Golden Age” of Minoan Crete, Mycenean Hellas, and the related cultures of the Aegean world. He is a passive, “pathic” dreamer, whose predominant mode of being is contemplation. He consorts directly with the living Cosmos and its symbols, but he is doomed.

The “Pelasgians” occupy a strategic place in the mythos of Ludwig Klages, and this “Pelasgian Realm” of Klages closely resembles the mythic Golden Age of Atlantis that looms so large in the Weltanschauung of E. T. A. Hoffmann. But who, in fact, were these Pelasgians? According to the pre-historians and mythologists, the Pelasgians were an ancient people who inhabited the islands and seacoasts of the eastern Mediterranean during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. Homer, in a well-known passage in the Odyssey (XIX, 175 ff), places them on Crete, but another writer, Dionysius Halicarnassus, could only tell us that the Pelasgians were autokhthonoi, or “indigenous” throughout Hellas. Homer also refers to “Lord Zeus of Dodona, Pelasgian,” in the Iliad (II, 750). Plutarch says of them that “they were like the oak among trees: the first of men at least in Akhaia,” while Pliny believes that Peloponnesian Arkadia was originally called Pelasgis; that Pelasgos was an aristocratic title; and that the Pelasgians were descended from the daughters of Danaos.

The most famous Pelasgian settlement was at Dodona, and Thucydides (we discover with relief) informs us that all Greece was Pelasgian before the Trojan war (approximately 1200 B. C.): “Before the Trojan War no united effort appears to be made by Hellas; and to my belief that name itself had not yet been extended to the entire Hellenic world. In fact, before the time of Hellen, son of Deucalion, the appelation was probably unknown, and the names of the different nationalities prevailed locally, the widest in range being ‘Pelasgians.’” (Book One of the “History of the Peloponnesian War,” Oxford text, edited by H. Stuart-Jones; translated by Arnold J. Toynbee). Homer mentions them in the Iliad (ii, 840), and, in the Odyssey (xix, 172-7), the poet describes them as “divine.” Racially, there seems to be no doubt that the Pelasgians were an Aryan people, and physical anthropologists inform us that the twenty skulls discovered at the Minoan sites of Palakaistro, Zakro, and Gournia turn out to be predominantly dolicocephalic, with the cranial indices averaging 73.5 for the males, and 74.9 for the women (Prehistoric Crete, by R. W. Hutchinson, London, 1962). The historian Herodotus, like Thucydides, groups all of the pre-classical peoples of the Hellenic world under the name Pelasgian: “Croesus made inquiries as to which were the greatest powers in Hellas, with a view to securing their friendly support, and, as a result of these inquiries, he found that the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians stood out among the people of the Dorian and Ionian race respectively. Of these people that had thus made their mark, the latter was originally a Pelasgian and the former a Hellenic nationality….As regards the language spoken by the Pelasgians, I have no exact information; but it is possible to argue by inference from the still-existing Pelasgians who occupy the city of Creston in the hinterland of the Tyrrhennians; from the other Pelasgians who have settled in Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont; and from the various other communities of Pelasgian race which have changed their national name. If inferences may be legitimately drawn from this evidence, then the original Pelasgians were speakers of a non-Greek language, and the Athenian nation must have learned a new language at the time when they changed from Pelasgians into Hellenes. At all events, the inhabitants of Creston and of Placia, who in neither case speak the same language as their present respective neighbors, do speak the same language as one another…In contrast to this, the Hellenic race has employed an identical language continuously, ever since it came into existence. After splitting off from the Pelasgian race, it found itself weak, but from these small beginnings it has increased until it now includes a number of nationalities, its principal recruits being Pelasgians It is my further opinion that the non-Hellenic origin of the Pelasgians accounts for the complete failure of even this nationality to grow to any considerable dimensions” (Herodotus, Book I, chapters 56 to 58; translated by Arnold J. Toynbee). The rest, as they say, is silence (at least in the Classical sources), and we can see why this obscure people should appeal to the mythologizing “Golden Age” bent of Klages. Modern authorities regard the Pelasgians as inhabitants of a purely Neolithic culture pertaining only to the area of Thessaly bounded by Sesklo in the east and the Peneios valley in the west (the area which is now known as Thessaliotis).

Although the philosopher’s alluring portrait of the Pelasgians was formulated before modern archaeology had completed our image of Ægean prehistory, the picture which Klages paints, in the Eros-book and in the “Magna Mater” chapter of Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele, of a vibrant, healthy, and physically beautiful people, in touch with the gods and with Nature, requires little—if any—correction in the wake of the new researches. The figures who move so gracefully through the enchanted atmosphere of the Palace frescoes at Knossos, as they carry their brightly-colored gifts of vase, flowers, and pyxis, to the Goddess, are straight out of a poet’s dream. The young women walk barefoot, and wear hip-hugging, flared skirts to which flounces are attached at knee and hem; their long raven-tresses are worn in a chignon, adorned with red and white ribbons, and their jackets are brightly colored, usually pink or sky-blue. The gifts that they bring to the Mother Goddess are also brilliantly colored: a porphyry pyxis; poppies of red and white, and a bottle striped with silver, gold, and copper bands. They wear bracelets and necklaces dressed with strands of beads. They appear graceful and serene with their white breasts in profile in the tholos tombs as well.

This Minoan, or “Pelasgian,” world was characterized by a dialectical fusion of two strains of religiosity: on the one hand, we meet with the Ægean worship of the Mother Goddess, with all that that entails with regard to ritual and style of living; and, on the other, we confront the Indo-European sky-god, or Father God, and the two strains seem to co-exist in an uneasy, unstable—but certainly fruitful—truce. Mythologists tell us that this heritage is reflected in the tales that indicate the marriages between the Indo-European sky-god Zeus with various incarnations of the Ægean Mother-Goddess (in some of the myths, Zeus is, himself, born on Crete!). In time, of course, the Father God will achieve dominance in the Hellenic world, but Klages is more interested in traces of the religion of the Goddess as it survives from the Stone Age into the world of the second millennium B.C. Our philosopher, in effect, merges the misty Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of the ancient Aegean into a single magical world-space, wherein an innocent race lives at one with Nature and the Goddess. Klages treats the Pelasgians as the primeval Hellenes, who worshiped the Goddess, as she was embodied in female idols in the form of figurines of the famous steatopygous Fertility-Goddess type, with huge belly and swollen buttocks (even though this iconographic image, represented most clearly in the “Venus of Willendorf,” proceeds from a much-earlier cultural stratum, the Palaeolithic. The later Greeks celebrated Demeter, the Life-Mother, in the Eleusinian mysteries). The Palace Culture of Minoan Crete would exemplify the matriarchalist style of the (late) Pelasgian world, especially as prehistoric Knossos had a far more sophisticated attitude toward women than did, say, the later Periclean Athens. For instance, in the legend of Ariadne, the fact that her presence is indicated at the funeral games shows us that women were free to mingle with men at their will, and the version of the myth which shows Ariadne as in charge of the palace in her father’s absence shows the great value which the Cretans placed on women. This centrality of woman is indicated in all of Minoan art, which depicts her as beautifully-animated; in fact, one of the most elegant of the ebon-tressed, slim-waisted, and crimson-lipped women depicted on the frescoes on the Palace of Knossos, was nicknamed La Parisienne by a French visitor at the turn of the century! Klages is drawn more toward the “pacifist,” thalassocratic (sea-ruling) aspect of the Minoans of the second millennium B.C., than toward the covetous Bronze Age Greeks of the mainland with their heavily-fortified cities and unending wars (the Bronze Age mainlanders seem to have loved war for its own sake; another troubling element in their civilization is their reliance on slavery, especially of women). These are the Mycenaeans, who would eventually sack, and destroy, the Minoan Culture. It is a notable fact that most of our evidence about the “Pelasgian” religious beliefs and practices stems from Minoan Crete: very little material survives from Mycenae and the other mainland sites. On Crete, however, we find the dove-goddess image and the snake-goddess image, the stepped altars and shrine models, in religious sanctuaries overflowing with such sacred items. Clearly, the Goddess ruled on Minoan Crete, and, in fact, the Goddess Potnia, whose name crops up repeatedly in the Linear B tablets, might indeed be the “Lady of the Labyrinth,” which is to say, the Lady of the Place of the labrys, or the double ax—the Palace of Knossos itself. Another Knossos cult-figure was the anemo ijereja, of “Priestess of the Winds”; there is also qerasija, which could well mean “the Huntress.” According to some historians, offerings to the Goddess were entirely bloodless, and were usually gifts of honey, oil, wine, and spices like coriander and fennel; sheep and their shepherds were associated with Potnia, but certainly not in the aspect of blood-sacrifices. On the mainland, however, we find the Mycenaeans slaughtering rams, horses, and other animals in their vaulted tombs. We also find the cult of the Goddess on the Cycladic islands (to which “Greek islands” American “millionaires” and other arch-vulgarians habitually cart their flatulent girths on “vacations”). The famous Cycladic figurines represent the Mother Goddess as well, under the aspects of “the divine nurse” or the “Goddess of Blessing.” In these figurines the Goddess is almost invariably represented with the pubic delta and the stomach emphasized. I will have more to say about this religion of the “Mother Goddess” later on, in the section devoted to the ideas of Bachofen, but for now I’d like to note that in the early phase of Minoan religion, the relationship of ruler and deity was not that of father-and-son, but of mother-and-son. For Minoan Crete, the Mother Goddess was represented on earth by the priest-king. Some lovely manifestations of this reverence for the Goddess can be found in the faience statuettes of the bare-breasted Mother Goddess which were found by Sir Arthur Evans in the Palace of Knossos: one of them shows the Goddess holding up a serpent in each of her hands; the other statuette shows the snakes entwining themselves around her arms. These figures appear in both “peak sanctuaries” and in household shrines, and have been designated by pre-historians as the “Snake Goddess” or the “Household Goddess.” The “Household Goddess” is often associated with the motif of the double-axe, the emblem of the Palace at Knossos, and also with the horns-of-consecration, which associate her with the sacred bull of the Palace of King Minos.

One inhabitant of the Palace of King Minos was the princess Ariadne, to whom we alluded briefly above. After the loss of Theseus, the fate of Ariadne would be intimately intertwined with that of Dionysus, the problematical Greek divinity whose cult excited so much controversy and such fierce opposition among the Greeks of the Classical Age. Dionysus was the orgiastic god in whom Klages, following Nietzsche, locates the site of an untrammeled sensuous abandon. This Thraco-Grecian deity, whose nature was so brilliantly interpreted by Nietzsche in the latter half of the 19th century, and by his worthy successor Walter F. Otto in the first half of the 20th century, becomes in the Klagesian view the ultimate symbol of heathen life, the epiphany of that frenzied ecstasy that the god’s followers achieved by means of the drunkenness and wild dancing of the maenads, those female adherents of the god of the vine, who experienced genuine enthusiasm, i.e., “the god within,’ as they followed the progress of their far-wandering god, who gave to man the inestimable gift of wine. These maenads celebrated their secret Dionysian cultic rituals far from the accustomed haunts of man, and any man was slaughtered on the spot if he should be apprehended whilst illicitly witnessing the ceremonies reserved for the gods’ female followers. These maenads were alleged to be in the possession of magical powers that enabled the god’s worshipers to bring about magical effects at great distances. And “all Eros is Eros of distance!”

Philosophical Roots and Biological Consequences

Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele contains a comprehensive survey of the philosophical literature that relates to “biocentric” concerns, and in these pages Klages closely scrutinizes the troubled seas and fog-shrouded moorlands of philosophy, both ancient and modern, over which we, unfortunately, have only sufficient time to cast a superficial and fleeting glance. We will, however, spend a profitable moment or two on several issues that Klages examined in some detail, for various pivotal disputes that have preoccupied the minds of gifted thinkers from the pre-Socratics down to Nietzsche were also of pre-eminent significance for Klages.

One of the pre-Socratic thinkers in particular, Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 536-470 B.C.E.), the “dark one,” was looked upon by Ludwig Klages as the founding father of “biocentric,” or life-centered, philosophy. Klages and Heraclitus share the conviction that life is ceaseless change, chaos, “eternal flux” [panta rhei]. Both thinkers held that it is not matter that endures through the ceaseless patterns of world-transformation: it is this ceaseless transformation itself that is the enduring process, which alone constitutes this ever-shifting vibrancy, this soaring and fading of appearances, this becoming and passing away of phenomenal images upon which Klages bestowed the name life. Likewise, Klages and Heraclitus were in complete accord in their conviction that natural events transpire in a succession of rhythmical pulsations. For both thinkers, nothing abides without change in the human world, and in the cosmos at large, everything flows and changes in the rhythmical and kaleidoscopic dance that is the cosmic process. We cannot say of a thing: “it is”; we can only say that a thing “comes to be” and that it “passes away.” The only element, in fact, in the metaphysics of Heraclitus that will be repudiated by Klages is the great pre-Socratic master’s positing of a “Logos,” or indwelling principle of order, and this slight disagreement is ultimately a trivial matter, for the Logos is an item which, in any case, plays a role so exiguous in the Heraclitean scheme as to render the notion, for all practical and theoretical purposes, nugatory as far as the basic thrust of the philosophy of the eternal flux.

Another great Greek philosopher, Protagoras of Abdera (c. 480-410 B.C.E.), is fulsomely acclaimed by Klages as the “father of European psychology and history’s pioneer epistemologist.” When Protagoras asserted that the content of perception from moment to moment is the result of the fusion of an external event (the world) with an inner event (the experiencing soul), he was, in effect, introducing the Heraclitean flux into the sphere of the soul. No subsequent psychologist has achieved a greater theoretical triumph. The key text upon which Klages bases this endorsement is Sext. Emp., Pyrrh. I (217): “…matter is in flux, and as it flows additions are made continuously in the place of the effluxions, and the senses are transformed and altered according to the times of life and to all the other conditions of the bodies.” (218) “Men apprehend different things at different times owing to their differing dispositions; for he who is in a natural state apprehends those things subsisting in matter which are able to appear to those in a natural state, and those who are in a non-natural state the things which can appear to those in a non-natural state.” Thus, the entire sphere of psychical life is a matter of perception, which comprises the act of perception (in the soul) and the content of perception (in the object). This Protagorean insight forms the basis for the distinction between noumenon and phenomenon that will exert such a fructifying influence on Western thought, especially during the period of German Romanticism.

Greek thought has a significant bearing on crucial discoveries that were made by Klages. We have learned that there are two forces that are primordially opposed to each other, spirit and life; in addition, we have seen these forces cannot be reduced to each other, nor can they be reduced to any third term; body and soul constitute the poles of unified life, and it is the mission of spirit to invade that unity, to function as a divisive wedge in order to tear the soul from the body and the body from the soul. Thus, spirit begins its career as the disrupter of life; only at the end of history will it become the destroyer of life. We find a piquant irony in the oft-expressed view that accuses Klages of inventing this “spirit” out of whole cloth, for those who have sneered at his account of the provenance of spirit as a force that enters life from outside the sphere of life, dismissing the very idea from serious consideration by reducing the concept to a caricature (“Klagesian devil,” “Klages with his spirit-as-‘space-invader’,” and so on), offer quite an irresistible opening for a controversialist’s unbuttoned foil, because such statements reveal, at one and the same time, an ignorance of the history of philosophy in our professors and commentators that should curdle the blood of the most trusting students, as well as an almost incomprehensible inability, or unwillingness, to understand a scrupulously exact and closely-argued text. This intellectual disability possesses, one must confess, a certain undeniable pathos. As it happens, the question as to the provenance of spirit has always enjoyed a prominent position in the history of philosophical speculation (especially in the narrow field of epistemology, i.e., the “theory of cognition”), and the Klagesian viewpoint that has been so ignorantly and persistently excoriated is explicitly drawn from the philosophy of—Aristotle! It was Aristotle, “the master of those who know,” who, in discussing the divided substance of man, discovered that he could only account for the origin of one of the components, viz., spirit [Gk. nous], by concluding that spirit had entered man “from outside”! Likewise, the idea of a “tripartite” structure of man, which seems so bizarre to novice students of biocentrism, has quite a respectable pedigree, for, once again, it was Aristotle who viewed man as having three aspects, viz., Psyche-Soma-Nous (Soul-Body-Spirit).

The speculations of the Greek philosophers who belonged to the Eleatic School provided the crucial insights that inspired Klages’s masterful formulation of the doctrine of the “actuality of the images.” The specific problem that so exercised the Eleatics was the paradox of motion. The Eleatics insisted that motion was inconceivable, and they proceeded from that paradoxical belief to the conclusion that all change is impossible. One of the Eleatics, Zeno, is familiar to students of the history of philosophy as the designer of the renowned “Zeno’s Paradoxes,” the most famous of which is the problem of Achilles and the Tortoise. Zeno provided four proofs against the possibility of motion: 1) a body must traverse in finite time an infinite number of spaces and, therefore, it can never ever begin its journey; 2) here we have Zeno’s application of his motion-theory to the “Achilles” problem that we’ve just mentioned—if Achilles grants a lead or “head start” (analogous to a “handicap”) to the tortoise against whom he is competing in a foot-race, he will never be able to overtake the tortoise, because by the time Achilles has reached point A (the starting-point for the tortoise), his opponent has already reached point B. In fact, Achilles will never even reach point A, because before he can traverse the entire distance between his starting-point and point A, he must necessarily cover one-half of that distance, and then one-half of the remaining distance, and so on and so on ad infinitum, as it were! 3) the arrow that has just been launched by the archer is always resting, since it always occupies the same space; and 4) equivalent distances must, at equivalent velocity, be covered in the identical time. But a moving body will pass another body that is moving in the opposite direction (at the identical velocity) twice as quickly as when this body is resting, and this demonstrates that the observed facts contradict the laws of motion. Betraying a certain nervousness, historians of philosophy usually dismiss the Eleatics as superficial skeptics or confused souls, but they never condescend to provide a convincing refutation of their “obvious” or “superficial” errors.

Klages, on the other hand, finds both truth and error in the Eleatics’ position. From the standpoint of an analysis of things, the Eleatics’ are on firm ground in their insistence on the impossibility of change, but from the standpoint of an analysis of appearances, their position is utterly false. Their error arose from the fact that the Greeks of this period had already succumbed to the doctrine that the world of appearances is a world of deception, a reservoir of illusory images. This notion has governed almost every metaphysical system that has been devised by western philosophers down to our own time, and with every passing age, the emphasis upon the world of the things (Noumena) has increased at the expense of the world of appearances (Phenomena). Klages, on the other hand, will solve the “Problem of the Eleatics” by an emphatic demonstration that the phenomenal images are, in fact, the only realities.

During the Renaissance, in fact, when ominous temblors were heralding the dawn of our “philosophy of the mechanistic apocalypse,” there were independent scholars (among whom we find Giordano Bruno and Paracelsus) who speculated at length on the relationship that exists between the macrocosm and the microcosm, as well as on the three-fold nature of man and on the proto-characterological doctrine of the “Temperaments.”

But the key figure in the overturning of the triadic world-view is undoubtedly the French thinker and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650), who is chiefly responsible for devising the influential schematic dualism of thinking substance and extended substance, which has dominated, in its various incarnations and permutations, the thinking of the vast majority of European thinkers ever since. Descartes explicitly insists that all of our perceptions as well as every “thing” that we encounter must be reduced to the status of a machine; in fact, he even suggests that the whole universe is merely a vast mechanism (terram totumque hunc mundum instar machinæ descripsi). It is no accident, then, that Cartesian thought is devoid of genuine psychology, for, as he says in the Discours de la méthode, man is a mere machine, and his every thought and every movement can be accounted for by means of a purely mechanical explanation.

Nevertheless, there have been several revolts against Cartesian dualism. As recently as two centuries ago, the extraordinarily gifted group of “Nature Philosophers” who were active during the glory days of German Romanticism, pondered the question of the “three-fold” in publications that can be consulted with some profit even today.

We have seen that the specifically Klagesian “triad” comprises body-soul-spirit, and the biocentric theory holds that life, which comprises the poles of body and soul, occurs as processes and events. Spirit is an intruder into the sphere of life, an invader seeking always to sever the poles, a dæmonic willfulness that is characterized by manic activity and purposeful deeds. “The body is the manifestation of the soul, and the soul is the meaning of the living body.” We have seen that Klages was able to trace proleptic glimpses of this biocentric theory of the soul back to Greek antiquity, and he endeavored for many years to examine the residues of psychical life that survive in the language, poetry, and mythology of the ancient world, in order to interpret the true meanings of life as it had been expressed in the word, cult, and social life of the ancients. He brilliantly clarifies the symbolic language of myth, especially with reference to the cosmogonic Eros and the Orphic Mysteries. He also explores the sensual-imagistic thought of the ancients as the foundation upon which objective cognition is first erected, for it is among the Greeks, and only among the Greeks, that philosophy proper was discovered. During the peak years of the philosophical activity of the Greek thinkers, spirit still serves the interests of life, existing in an authentic relationship with an actuality that is sensuously and inwardly “en-souled” [beseelt]. The cosmological speculation of antiquity reveals a profound depth of feeling for the living cosmos, and likewise demonstrates the presence of the intimate bonds that connect man to the natural world; contemplation is still intimately bound-up with the primordial, elemental powers. Klages calls this “archaic” Greek view of the world, along with its later reincarnations in the history of western thought, the “biocentric” philosophy, and he situates this mode of contemplation as the enemy of the “logocentric” variety, i.e., the philosophy that is centered upon the Logos, or “mind,” for mind is the manifestation of spirit as it enters western thought with the appearance of Socrates. From Plato himself, through his “neo-Platonic” disciples of the Hellenistic and Roman phases of antiquity, and down to the impoverished Socratic epigones among the shallow “rationalists” of 17th and 18th century Europe, all philosophers who attempt to restore or renew the project of a philosophical “enlightenment,” are the heirs of Socrates, for it was Socrates who first made human reason the measure of all things. Socratic rationalism also gave rise to life-alien ethical schemes based upon a de-natured creature, viz., man-as-such. This pure spirit, this distilled ego, seeks to sever all natural and racial bonds, and as a result, “man” prides himself upon being utterly devoid of nobility, beauty, blood, and honor. In the course of time, he will attach his fortunes to the even more lethal spiritual plague known as Christianity, which hides its destructive force behind the hypocritical demand that we “love one’s neighbors.” From 1789 onwards, a particularly noxious residue of this Christian injunction, the undifferentiating respect for the ghost known as “humanity,” will be considered the hallmark of every moral being.

The heirs of the Socratic tradition have experienced numerous instances of factional strife and re-groupings in the course of time, although the allegiance to spirit has always remained unquestioned by all of the disputants. One faction may call itself “idealistic” because it considers concepts, ideas, and categories to be the only true realities; another faction may call itself “materialistic” because it views “things” as the ultimate constituents of reality; nevertheless, both philosophical factions give their allegiance, nolentes volentes, to the spirit and its demands. Logocentric thought, in fact, is the engine driving the development of the applied science that now rules the world. And by their gifts shall ye know them!

The bitterly antagonistic attitude of Klages towards one of the most illustrious heirs of Socrates, viz., Immanuel Kant, has disturbed many students of German thought who see something perverse and disingenuous in this opposition to the man whom they regard uncritically as the unsurpassed master of German thought. Alfred Rosenberg and the other offical spokesmen of the National Socialist movement were especially enraged by the ceaseless attacks on Kant by Klages and his disciple Werner Deubel. Nevertheless, Kant’s pre-eminence as an epistemologist was disputed as long ago as 1811, when Gottlob Ernst Schulze published his “Critique of Theoretical Philosophy,” which was then, and remains today, the definitive savaging of Kant’s system. Klages endorses Schulze’s demonstration that Kant’s equation: actuality = being = concept = thing = appearance (or phenomenon) is utterly false, and is the main source of Kant’s inability to distinguish between perception and representation. Klages adds that he finds it astonishing that Kant should have been able to convince himself that he had found the ultimate ground of the faculty of cognition in—cognition! Klages cites with approval Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil,” in which Kant is ridiculed for attempting to ground his epistemology in the “faculty of a faculty”! Klages shows that the foundation of the faculty of cognition lies not in cognition itself, but in experience, and that the actuality of space and time cannot have its origins in conceptual thought, but solely in the vital event. There can be no experienced colors or sounds without concomitant spatio-temporal characteristics, for there can be no divorce between actual space and actual time. We can have no experience of actual space without sensory input, just as we have no access to actual time without thereby participating in the ceaseless transformation of the phenomenal images.

Formalistic science and its offspring, advanced technology, can gain access to only a small segment of the living world and its processes. Only the symbol has the power to penetrate all the levels of actuality, and of paramount importance to Klages in his elaborate expositions of the biocentric metaphysics is the distinction between conceptual and symbolic thought. We have previously drawn attention to the fact that drive-impulses are manifest in expressive movements that are, in turn, impelled by the influence of a non-conceptual power that Klages calls the symbol. Likewise, symbolic thinking is a tool that may profitably be utilized in the search for truth, and Klages contrasts symbolic contemplation with the logical, or “formalistic,” cognition, but he is at pains to draw our attention to the errors into which an unwarranted, one-sided allegiance to either type of thought can plunge us. Although Klages has been repeatedly and bitterly accused by Marxists and other “progressives” as being a vitriolic enemy of reason, whose “irrationalism” provided the “fascists” with their heaviest ideological artillery, nothing could be further from the truth. On occasions too numerous to inventory, he ridicules people like Bergson and Keyserling who believe that “intuition” lights the royal road to truth. His demolition of the Bergsonian notion of the élan vital is definitive and shattering, and his insistence that such an entity is a mere pseudo-explanation is irrefutable and might have been published in a British philosophical journal. In the end, Klages says, “irrationalism” is the spawn of—spirit!

Our ability to formulate and utilize concepts as well as our capacity to recognize conceptual identities is sharply opposed to the procedure involved in the symbolic recognition of identities. The recognition of such conceptual identities has, of course, a crucial bearing on the life of the mind, since it is this very ability that functions as the most important methodological tool employed by every researcher involved in the hard sciences. Symbolic identification, on the other hand, differs widely from its conceptual counterpart in that the symbolic type derives its meaning-content from the “elemental similarity of images.” Thus, the process of substantive, or conceptual, identification confronts its opposite number in the “identity of essence” of symbolic thought. It is this “identity of essence,” as it happens, which has given birth to language and its capacity to embody authentic meaning-content in words. Jean Paul was quite right, Klages tells us, in describing language as a “dictionary of faded metaphors,” for every abstraction that is capable of verbal representation arose from the essentiality of the meaning-content of words.

He draws a sharp distinction between the true symbol (Gk. symbolon, i.e., token) and the mere sign whose significance is purely referential. The true meaning of an object resides in its presence, which Klages refers to as an aura, and this aura is directly communicated to a sensory apparatus that resists all purely linguistic attempts to establish formulas of equivalence or “correspondence.” The sensual imagination participates in an unmediated actuality, and intuitive insight (Schauung) allows us to gain access to a realm of symbols, which rush into our souls as divine epiphanies.

Life resists rules, for life is eternal flux. Life is not rigid being, and therefore life will always evade the man-traps of mind, the chains of the concept. Life, comprising the poles of body and soul, is the physical event as phenomenal expression of the soul. There can be no soul-less phenomena and there can be no souls without (phenomenal) appearances, just as there can be no word-less concepts and no words without meaning-content. The physical world is the image-laden appearance (phenomenon) that manifests a psychical substance. When the dæmonic object encounters the receptive, or “pathic,” soul, the object becomes a symbol and acquires a “nimbus,” which is a pulsating radiance surrounding the moment of becoming. This nimbus is referred to as an “aura” when applied to persons, and both nimbus and aura represent the contribution of the object to the act of perception.

Non-symbolic, formalistic thought, on the other hand is irreverent, non- contemplative, and can best be characterized as an act that is enacted in the service of spirit, which imperiously and reductively ordains that the act of perception must also be an act of the will. Thus the will attains primacy even over the de-substantialized intellect, and Klages—who has persistently been dismissed as an obscurantist and irrationalist—never misses an opportunity to re-iterate his deep conviction that the essence of spirit is to be located in the will and not in the intellect.

As we’ve seen, Klages holds that the living soul is the antithesis of the spirit. The spirit seeks to rigidify the eternal flux of becoming, just as the soul, in yielding passively to the eternal flux, resists the raging Heracleic spirit and its murderous projects. Body and soul reach the peak of creative vitality when their poles are in equipoise or perfect balance, and the high point of life is reached in the experience of sensuous joy. Spirit’s assault upon the body is launched against this joy, and in waging war against the joy of the body, spirit also wages war against the soul, in order to expel the soul, to make it homeless, in order to annihilate all ecstasy and creativity. Every attempt that has been made by monistic thinkers to derive the assault on life from the sphere of life itself has misfired. Such troublesome anomalies as the supernatural visions and cases of dæmonic possession that transpired during the Middle Ages, as well the crippling cases of hysteria so familiar to psychologists in our own time, can never be satisfactorily explained unless we realize that the souls of these unfortunates were sundered by the acosmic force of spirit, whose very essence is the will, that enemy and murderer of life. The conceptual “Tower of Babylon” reared by monists in their ludicrous efforts to derive the force that wages war against life from life itself is no less absurd than would be the foredoomed attempt of a firefighter to extinguish a blaze by converting a portion of the fire into the water that will extinguish the fire!

There is, however, one privileged example of a manifestation of the will in the service of life, and this occurs when the will is enlisted for the purposes of artistic creation. The will, Klages insists, is incapable of creative force, but when the artist’s intuition has received an image of a god, the will functions “affirmatively” in the destructive assaults of the artist’s chisel upon the marble that is to embody the image of the divinity.

Actuality (the home of the soul) is experienced; being (the home of spirit) is thought. The soul is a passive surrender to the actuality of the appearances. Actuality is an ever-changing process of coming to be and passing away that is experienced as images. Spirit attempts to fix, to make rigid, the web of images that constitutes actuality by means of conceptual thought, whose concrete form is the apparatus of the scientist. Cognition represents identical, unfaltering, timeless being; life is the actuality of experience in time. When one says of time that it “is,” as if it were something rigid and identical behind the eternal flux, then time is implicitly stripped of its very essence as that which is “temporal”; it is this temporal essence which is synonymous with becoming and transformation. When one speaks of a thing or a realm that is beyond, i.e., that “transcends,” the unmediated, experienced actuality of the living world, one is merely misusing thought in order to introduce a conceptual, existential world in the place of the actual one, which has the inalienable character of transitoriness and temporality.

It is within the “pathic” soul that the categories of space and time originate. Acosmic spirit, on the other hand, invaded the sphere of life from outside the spatio-temporal cosmos. Klages scorns the schemes of philosophical “idealists” who attempt to ground the structures of space and time in some transcendental world. He also distinguishes a biocentric non-rational temporality from “objective” time. Biocentric thought, true to its immanentist (“this-worldly”) status, recognizes that the images that pulsate in immanentist time are excluded by their very nature from any participation in objective time, for the images can only live within the instantaneous illumination of privileged moments. Klages savages the platitudes and errors of logocentric thinkers who adhere, with almost manic rigidity, to the conventional scheme of dual-axis temporality. In ordinary logic, time is viewed as radiating from the present (that extension-less hypostasis) backward into time-past and forward into time-to-come: but the whole scheme collapses in a heap as soon as we realize that the future, the “time-to-come,” is nothing but a delirious void, a grotesque phantom, a piece of philosophical fiction. Only the past possesses true actuality; only the past is real. The future is merely a pale hallucination flitting about in deluded minds. True time is the relationship that binds the poles of past and present. This union occurs as a rhythmical pulsation that bears the moment’s content into the past, as a new moment is generated, as it were, out of the womb of eternity, that authentic depository of actual time. Time is an unending cycle of metamorphoses utterly unrelated to the processes of “objective” time. True time, cyclical time, is clocked by the moments that intervene between a segment of elapsed time and the time that is undergoing the process of elapsing. Time is the soul of space, just as space is the embodiment of time. Only within actual time can we apprehend the primordial images in their sensuous immediacy. Logic, on the other hand, can only falsify the exchange between living image and receptive soul.

Let us examine the biological—or, more properly, ethological—implications of the doctrine of “primordial images” [Urbilder]. Bear in mind, of course, the crucial distinction that is drawn by Klages between the science of fact (Tatsachenwissenschaft) and the science of appearances (Erscheinungswissenschaft): factual science establishes laws of causality in order to explain, e.g., physiological processes or the laws of gravitation; thus, we say that factual science examines the causes of things. The science of appearances, on the other hand, investigates the actuality of the images, for images are the only enduring realities.

The enduring nature of the image can be seen in the example of the generation of a beech-tree. Suppose a beech-tree sheds its seed upon the forest floor, in which it germinates. Can we say of the mother-tree that it lives within the child? Certainly not! We can chop down the mother tree and burn it to ashes, whilst the offspring continues to prosper. Can we say that the matter of which the old tree was composed survives intact within the younger tree? Again, no: for not an atom of the matter that made up the seed from which the young beech grew exists within it. Likewise, not an atom of the matter of which a man’s body is composed at the age of thirty survives from that same man’s body as it was on his tenth birthday. Now, if it is not the matter of which the organism is composed which endures through the ages, what then is it that so endures? “The one possible answer is: an image.” Life and its processes occur outside the world of things. On the contrary: life comprises the events in the world of the images.

Thus, we see that the doctrine of the “actuality of the images” [Wirklichkeit der Bilder] holds that it is not things, but images, that are “en-souled” [beseelt], and this proposition, Klages tells us, forms the “key to his whole doctrine of life [Lebenslehre].” Things stand in a closed chain of causality, and there is no reciprocal action between the image and the thing, no parallelism, and no connection, and the attempts that have been undertaken by various philosophers to equate the thing and the image merely serve to rupture the chain of causality in its relevant sphere, i.e., the quantitative scientific method. The receptive soul is turned towards the actuality of the image, and when we say on one occasion that an object is “red,” and on another that this same object is “warm,” in the first case the reference is to the reality of things, whereas in the second case the reference is to the actuality of images. By using the name of a color, we indicate that we are differentiating between the superficial qualities, or surface attributes, of things; when we say that a colored object is “warm” or “cold,” on the other hand, we are pointing to the phenomenal “presence” that has been received by the pathic soul. In fact, there are a whole host of common expressions in which this attribution of subjective, psychical states to visible phenomena occurs. We say, for instance, that red is “hot” and that blue is “cold.” In the Vom Wesen des Bewusstseins (1921), a treatise on the nature of consciousness, Klages adduces an astonishingly vast inventory of words that are routinely utilized in descriptions of subjective as well as perceptual phenomena. Someone will speak of his a “bitter” feeling of resentment at some slight or injury. The expression that love is “sweet” occurs in almost every language. Likewise, joy is often described as “bright,” just as grief or sorrow are often referred to as “dark.” We also have “hot” anger (or the familiar variant, the “‘heat’ of the moment”).

Images are the charged powers, or natures, that constitute the basis of all phenomena of cosmic and elemental life as well as of cellular, organic life. All that exists participates in the life of the images. Air, fire, earth, and water; rocks, clouds, planets and suns; plant, animal and man: all of these entities are alive and have souls that share in the life of the cosmos. It isn’t matter that constitutes the stuff of reality, for matter perishes; but the image, which remains alive as it wanders through the rhythmically pulsating cosmos, never dies. It changes through the processes of maturation and growth in the organism, and it transforms itself through the millennia in the species. The images alone have life; the images alone have meaning. The souls of those who now live are images that are temporarily wedded to matter, just as the souls of the dead are images that have been released from matter. The souls of the dead revisit us in their actual form in dreams (Wirklichkeitsform der Traumerscheinung), unconstrained by the limitations of material substance. The souls of the dead are not expelled from the world to live on as immortal “spirits” housed in some transcendent “beyond”; they are, instead, dæmonically vital presences, images that come to be, transform themselves, and vanish into the distance within the phenomenal world that is the only truly existing world.

The human soul recalls the material palpability of the archaic images by means of the faculty that Klages calls “recollection,” and his view in this regard invites comparison with the Platonic process of “anamnesis.” The recollection of which Klages speaks takes place, of course, without the intervention of the will or the projects of the conscious mind. Klages’s examination of “vital recollection” was greatly influenced by the thought of Wilhelm Jordan, a nineteenth century poet and pioneer Darwinist, whose works were first encountered by the young philosopher at the end of that century. In Jordan’s massive didactic poem Andachten, which was published in 1877, the poet espouses a doctrine of the “memory of corporeal matter.” This work had such a fructifying influence on the thought of Klages, that we here give some excerpts:

It is recollection of her own cradle, when the red stinging fly glues grains of sand into a pointed arch as soon as she feels that her eggs have ripened to maturity. It is recollection of her own food during the maggot-state when the anxious mother straddles the caterpillar and drags it for long distances, lays her eggs in it, and locks it in that prison. The larva of the male stag-beetle feels and knows by recollection the length of his antlers, and in the old oak carves out in doubled dimensions the space in which he will undergo metamorphosis. What teaches the father of the air to weave the exact angles of her net by delicate law, and to suspend it from branch to branch with strings, as firm as they are light, according to her seat? Does she instruct her young in this art? No! She takes her motherly duties more lightly. The young are expelled uncared-for from the sac in which the eggs have been laid. But three or four days later the young spider spreads its little nest with equal skill on the fronds of a fern, although it never saw the net in which its mother caught flies. The caterpillar has no eye with which to see how others knit the silken coffins from which they shall rise again. From whence have they acquired all the skill with which they spin so? Wholly from inherited recollection. In man, what he learned during his life puts into the shade the harvest of his ancestors’ labors: this alone blinds him, stupefied by a learner’s pride, to his own wealth of inherited recollections. The recollection of that which has been done a thousand times before by all of his ancestors teaches a new-born child to suck aptly, though still blind. Recollection it is which allows man in his mother’s womb to fly, within the course of a few months, through all the phases of existence through which his ancestors rose long ago. Inherited recollection, and no brute compulsion, leads the habitual path to the goal that has many times been attained; it makes profoundest secrets plain and open, and worthy of admiration what was merely a miracle. Nature makes no free gifts. Her commandment is to gain strength to struggle, and the conqueror’s right is to pass this strength on to his descendants: her means by which the skill is handed down is the memory of corporeal matter.

The primordial images embody the memory of actual objects, which may re-emerge at any moment from the pole of the past to rise up in a rush of immediacy at the pole of the present. This living world of image-laden actuality is the “eternal flux” [panta rhei] of Heraclitus, and its cyclical transformations relate the present moment to the moments that have elapsed, and which will come around again, per sæcula sæculorum.

Thus we see that the cosmos communicates through the magical powers of the symbol, and when we incorporate symbolic imagery into our inmost being, a state of ecstasy supervenes, and the soul’s substance is magically revitalized (as we have already seen, genuine ecstasy reaches its peak when the poet’s “polar touch of a pathic soul” communicates his images in words that bear the meaning of the actual world within them).

When prehistoric man arrives on the stage, he is already experiencing the incipient stages of the fatal shift from sensation to contemplation. Spirit initiates the campaign of destruction: the receptor-activity is fractured into “impression” and “apperception,” and it is at this very point that we witness, retrospectively, as it were, the creation of historical man. Before the dawn of historical man, in addition to the motor-processes that man possessed in common with the animal, his soul was turned towards wish-images. With the shift of the poles, i.e., when the sensory “receptor” processes yield power to the motor “effector” processes, we witness the hypertrophic development of the human ego. Klages is scornful of all egoism, and he repeatedly expressed bitter scorn towards all forms of “humanism,” for he regards the humanist’s apotheosis of the precious “individual” as a debased kowtowing before a mere conceptual abstraction. The ego is not a man; it is merely a mask.) In the place of psychical wishes, we now have aims. In the ultimate stages of historical development man is exclusively devoted to the achievement of pre-conceived goals, and the vital impulses and wish-images are replaced by the driving forces, or interests.

Man is now almost completely a creature of the will, and we recall that it is the will, and not the intellect, that is the characteristic function of spirit in the Klagesian system. However, we must emphasize that the will is not a creative, originating force. Its sole task is to act upon the bearer of spirit, if we may employ an analogy, in the manner of a rudder that purposively steers a craft in the direction desired by the navigator. In order to perform this regulative function, i.e., in order to transform a vital impulse into purposeful activity, the drive impulse must be inhibited and then directed towards the goal in view.

Now spirit in man is dependent upon the sphere of life as long as it collaborates as an equal partner in the act of perception; but when the will achieves mastery in man, this is merely another expression for the triumph of spirit over the sphere of life. In the fatal shift from life to spirit, contemplative, unconscious feeling is diminished, and rational judgment and the projects of the regulative volition take command. The body’s ultimate divorce from the soul corresponds to the soullessness of modern man whose emotional life has diminished in creative power, just as the gigantic political state-systems have seized total control of the destiny of earth. Spirit is hostile to the demands of life. When consciousness, intellect, and the will to power achieve hegemony over the dæmonic forces of the cosmos, all psychical creativity and all vital expression must perish.

When man is exiled from the realm of passive contemplation, his world is transformed into the empire of will and its projects. Man now abandons the feminine unconscious mode of living and adheres to the masculine conscious mode, just as his affective life turns from bionomic rhythm to rationalized measure, from freedom to servitude, and from an ecstatic life in dreams to the harsh and pitiless glare of daylight wakefulness. No longer will he permit his soul to be absorbed into the elements, where the ego is dissolved and the soul merges itself with immensity in a world wherein the winds of the infinite cosmos rage and roar. He can no longer participate in that Selbsttödung, or self-dissolution, which Novalis once spoke of as the “truly philosophical act and the real beginning of all philosophy.” Life, which had been soul and sleep, metamorphoses into the sick world of the fully conscious mind. To borrow another phrase from Novalis (who was one of Klages’s acknowledged masters), man now becomes “a disciple of the Philistine-religion that functions merely as an opiate.” (That lapidary phrase, by the way, was crafted long before the birth of the “philosopher” Karl Marx, that minor player on the left-wing of the “Young Hegelians” of the 1840s; many reactionaries in our university philosophy departments still seem to be permanently bogged down in that stagnant morass—yet these old fogies of the spirit insist on accusing Fascists of being the political reactionaries!)

Man finally yields himself utterly to the blandishments of spirit in becoming a fully conscious being. Klages draws attention to the fact that there are in popular parlance two divergent conceptions of the nature of consciousness: the first refers to the inner experience itself; whilst the second refers to the observation of the experience. Klages only concerns himself with consciousness in the second sense of the word. Experiences are by their very nature unconscious and non-purposive. Spiritual activity takes place in a non-temporal moment, as does the act of conscious thought, which is an act of spirit. Experience must never be mistaken for the cognitive awareness of an experience, for as we have said, consciousness is not experience itself, but merely thought about experience. The “receptor” pole of experience is sharply opposed to the “effector” pole, in that the receptive soul receives sensory perceptions: the sense of touch receives the perception of “bodiliness”; the sense of sight receives the images, which are to be understood as pictures that are assimilated to the inner life. Sensation mediates the experience of (physical) closeness, whilst intuition receives the experience of distance. Sensation and intuition comprehend the images of the world. The senses of touch and vision collaborate in sensual experience. One or the other sense may predominate, i.e., an individual’s sense of sight may have a larger share than that of touch in one’s reception of the images (or vice versa), and one receptive process may be in the ascendant at certain times, whilst the other may come to the fore at other times. (In dreams the bodily component of the vital processes, i.e., sensation, sleeps, whilst the intuitive side remains wholly functional. These facts clearly indicate the incorporeality of dream-images as well as the nature of their actuality. Wakefulness is the condition of sensual processes, whilst the dream state is one of pure intuition.)

Pace William James, consciousness and its processes have nothing to do with any putative “stream of consciousness.” That viewpoint ignores the fact that the processes that transpire in the conscious mind occur solely as interruptions of vital processes. The activities of consciousness can best be comprehended as momentary, abrupt assaults that are deeply disturbing in their effects on the vital substrata of the body-soul unity.These assaults of consciousness transpire as discrete, rhythmically pulsating “intermittencies” (the destructive nature of spirit’s operations can be readily demonstrated; recall, if you will, how conscious volition can interfere with various bodily states: an intensification of attention may, for instance, induce disturbances in the heart and the circulatory system; painful or onerous thought can easily disrupt the rhythm of one’s breathing; in fact, any number of automatic and semi-automatic somatic functions are vulnerable to spirit’s operations, but the most serious disturbances can be seen to take place, perhaps, when the activity of the will cancels out an ordinary, and necessary, human appetite in the interests of the will. Such “purposes” of the will are invariably hostile to the organism and, in the most extreme cases, an over-attention to the dictates of spirit can indeed eventuate in tragic fatalities such as occur in terminal sufferers from anorexia nervosa).

Whereas the unmolested soul could at one time “live” herself into the elements and images, experiencing their plenitudinous wealth of content in the simultaneous impressions that constitute the immediacy of the image, insurgent spirit now disrupts that immediacy by disabling the soul’s capacity to incorporate the images. In place of that ardent and erotic surrender to the living cosmos that is now lost to the soul, spirit places a satanic empire of willfulness and purposeful striving, a world of those who regard the world’s substance as nothing more than raw material to be devoured and destroyed.

The image cannot be spoken, it must be lived. This is in sharp contradistinction to the status of the thing, which is, in fact, “speakable,” as a result of its having been processed by the ministrations of spirit. All of our senses collaborate in the communication of the living images to the soul, and there are specific somatic sites, such as the eyes, mouth, and genitalia, that function as the gates, the “sacred” portals, as it were, through which the vital content of the images is transmitted to the inner life (these somatic sites, especially the genitalia, figure prominently in the cultic rituals that have been enacted by pagan worshipers in every historical period known to us).

An Age of Chaos

In the biocentric phenomenology of Ludwig Klages, the triadic historical development of human consciousness, from the reign of life, through that of thought, to the ultimate empire of the raging will, is reflected in the mythic-symbolic physiognomy which finds expression in the three-stage, “triadic,” evolution from “Pelasgian” man—of the upper Neolithic and Bronze Ages of pre-history; through the Promethean—down to the Renaissance; to the Heracleic man—the terminal phase that we now occupy, the age to which two brilliant 20th century philosophers of history, Julius Evola and Savitri Devi, have given the name “Kali Yuga,” which in Hinduism is the dark age of chaos and violence that precedes the inauguration of a new “Golden Age,” when a fresh cycle of cosmic events dawns in bliss and beauty.

And it is at this perilous juncture that courageous souls must stiffen their sinews and summon up their blood in order to endure the doom that is closing before us like a mailed fist. Readers may find some consolation, however, in our philosopher’s expressions of agnosticism regarding the ultimate destiny of man and earth. Those who confidently predict the end of all life and the ultimate doom of the cosmos are mere swindlers, Klages assures us. Those who cannot successfully predict such mundane trivialities as next season’s fashions in hemlines or the trends in popular music five years down the road can hardly expect to be taken seriously as prophets who can foretell the ultimate fate of the entire universe!

In the end, Ludwig Klages insists that we must never underestimate the resilience of life, for we have no yardstick with which to measure the magnitude of life’s recuperative powers. “All things are in flux.” That is all.

 

—————-

Pryce, Joseph. “On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages.” Revilo-Oliver.com, 2001. <http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/Ludwig_Klages.html >. (See this essay in PDF format here: On the Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages).

Note: This essay has been republished in print as an introduction to the Ludwig Klages anthology The Biocentric Worldview (London: Arktos, 2013).

Another good overview of Klages’s thought in English was made in Lydia Baer, “The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 91–138.

In the conclusion of her essay, Lydia Baer summarises her studies of Klages’s theories thus (quoted from pages 137-138):

Biocentric criticism in literature rests on the philosophic and psychological background established by Ludwig Klages. It is proud to call itself romantic and it disdains every humanistic premise. It enlists under its standards, however, poets and writers who have stood preponderantly for the humanistic tradition, determining, much in the fashion of the classic romantic controversy, the biocentric and the logocentric traits. Very roughly speaking, the alleged antithesis biocentric-logo centric corresponds to the claim of romantic-classic polarity; however, Klages has exercised extreme selective care in formulating his definitions of romanticism, and all the values lie on that side. The enthusiasm of his followers, which he himself deprecates as at times “over-zealous” in drawing hasty conclusions, carries biocentric criticism to the point of excess and sometimes misinterpretation of the founder.

In its essence biocentric criticism is vitalistic. It glorifies Life, as carefully distinguished from mere Existence,158 but it is not necessarily optimistic in its outlook.159 It is non-moral and non-ethical, its religion is paganism, its mysticism is thorough-going. Its standard of perfection is the completeness of soul content (meaning) of the work of art, its birth in fire, flame, and intoxication, thus constituting its own reason for being. In judging it, the biocentric critic demands that neither the author nor the work be a product of reasoned reflection; neither must have been dominated by volition or activism, nor manifest a high degree of consciousness or personality. “Live dangerously” and “surrender yourself to the cosmos” are keynotes of biocentric criticism. The proof of value lies in successful symbolic thinking, that is, wealth of imagery. The great standards of Wonder, Love and Example are unceasingly symbolized in the infinite variety of the Cosmos, in the constantly recurring pattern of the Mother and the Child, and finally in the continued re-appearance of poets, gods, and heroes.

The biocentric quest leads to “Kulturpessimismus,” to a longing for a Golden Age, primitive forms of life, and unconscious modes of living.

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Arthur Moeller van den Bruck – Tudor

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought

By Lucian Tudor

 

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was one of the most important, perhaps even the single most important, figure of what is known as the “Conservative Revolution” in early 20th century Germany. His influence on conservative German thought, despite its limitations, is deep and lasting, carrying on even into the present day. Indeed there may be some truth to the mystical declaration made by his wife: “In trying to account for the question who was Moeller van den Bruck, you are really addressing a question to Germany’s destiny.”[1] An examination of his life and philosophical thought is an examination of one of those great forces in the realm of ideas that moves nations. And it is for the value to any nationalist or conservative inherent in such an examination that we aim to accomplish that here concisely.

Early Life and Development

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was born on April 23, 1876 in Solingen in the Rhineland area of Germany. At the age of sixteen, Moeller van den Bruck (we will hereafter shorten his last name to Moeller) was expelled from the Gymnasium which he was attending at Dusseldorf due to the fact that he was indifferent in his classes, which was a result of his preoccupation with German literature and philosophy. This expulsion did not stop him from continuing his literary studies and he even attended lectures at several intellectual centers, despite not being able to enter a university.[2]

Friedrich Nietzsche’s (and to some extent also Paul de Lagarde’s and Julius Langbehn’s) philosophy had a powerful influence on Moeller’s thought in his youth, and shaped his views of Bismarck’s Second Reich, a state which he found disagreeable because of its “forced patriotism.” At this time, Moeller was extremely “un-political” and decided to leave Germany in 1902 for some time to avoid military service.[3] The first location to which he traveled was Paris, where he began the writing of an eight-volume work titled Die Deutschen: unsere Menschengeschichte (“The Germans: Our People’s History”), published from the years 1904 to 1910, which was a cultural history that classified significant Germans according to characteristic psychological types.[4]

Supplementing Die Deutschen, Moeller published in 1905 Die Zeitgenossen (“The Contemporaries”), which presented his concept of “old peoples” and “young peoples,” an idea which he would reassert in later notable works.[5] During this time he also acquired a fascination with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work and also an admiration for the “Eastern[Russian] spirit,” which motivated him to produce a German translation of Dostoevsky’s works with the help of Dmitry Merezhkovsky.[6]

From the years 1912 to 1914, Moeller had traveled throughout various nations, particularly through Italy, England, Russia, and Scandinavia, having originally planned to write books describing the prime characteristics of certain nations, but he ultimately only finished a book on Italian art titled Die Italienische Schönheit (“The Italian Beauty”) in 1913.[7]

World War I, Young Peoples, and Racial Theory

When the First World War began, Moeller returned to Germany due to a feeling of attachment for Germany and enlisted in military service. In 1916, after having been discharged from the army due to suffering from nervous disorders, he produced a key work known as Der preussische Stil (“The Prussian Style”). This book, although its primary focus was on Prussian architecture, presented Moeller’s view on the nature of the Prussian character, which he now praised, writing that “Prussianism is the will to the state, and the interpretation of historical life as political life in which we must act as political men.”[8]

In 1919, Moeller produced another of his famous works known as Das Recht der Jungen Völker (“The Right of Young Peoples”), which reasserted his idea of “young peoples” and “old peoples” in a new form. In this theory, peoples or nations (Völker, which is the plural form of Volk) differed in “age,” which means not age in years or actual time but rather in their character and behavior. “Young peoples,” which included Germany, Russia, and America, possessed a high amount of vitality, hard work, will-to-power, strength, and energy. “Old peoples,” which included Italy, England, and France, were saturated, highly developed, valued “happiness” over work, and generally had a lower amount of energy and vitality.[9]

According to Moeller, the destiny of peoples would be determined by the “law of rise and decline of nations,” which held that “all aging states relentlessly sink down from their hegemonial positions.”[10] However, “young peoples” could be defeated in war by a coalition of “old peoples,” as Germany had been in World War I, although this would not crush a “young people” if the resulting conditions would still leave that nation with the ability to exist and grow. Consequently, Moeller advocated an alliance between Germany, America, and Russia, hoping that with this effort Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” could be implemented and Germany would live under reasonable conditions. However, the resulting peace treaty was the Versailles Treaty and not the Fourteen Points.[11]

In Das Recht der Jungen Völker Moeller also included some earlier writing he had done on the subject of race. Moeller believed that humans could not be divided into races solely by anthropology because Man is “more than nature.” He had a peculiar idea of race which presented a dichotomy between Rasse des Blutes (“Race of the Blood”), which refers to the common biological concept of race, and Rasse des Geistes (“Race of the Spirit”), which refers to psychological or “spiritual” character which is not hereditarily determined.[12]

Moeller argued that because peoples of the same biological race could have significant differences between each other, the English and the Germans being an example of this, “race of the blood” was not as powerful or important as a “race of the spirit.” Conversely, it was also proven by the fact that a people could be made of up of a mixture of races, such as the Prussians (who were the result of an ancient Slavic-Germanic mix), yet still have a positive and unified form; although, of course, it should be noted that despite this commentary, Moeller would certainly have not approved of any European group mixing with non-European (i.e. non-white) races.[13]

The June Club and the Spengler Debate

In 1919, Moeller founded, along with Heinrich von Gleichen-Russwurm and Eduard Stadtler, the “neoconservative” (an alternative term for “revolutionary conservative”) group known as the Juniklub (“June Club”), an organization of which Moeller would soon become the key ideological leader.[14] In early 1920, the June Club invited Oswald Spengler to discuss his book The Decline of the West with Moeller van den Bruck. Moeller and Spengler agreed on some basic issues, including the basic division between Kultur (“Culture”) and Zivilisation (“Civilization”), but had some significant disagreements as well.[15]

Moeller asserted that Spengler’s “morphological” theory of culture cycles had certain key inaccuracies. Firstly, he disagreed with Spengler’s rigidly deterministic and fatalistic view of history, in which the rise and decline of High Cultures were “destined” and could even be predicted, because for Moeller history was essentially unpredictable; it is “the story of the incalculable.”[16]

Secondly, the nations which Spengler claimed constituted the “West” had powerful differences between each other, especially in terms of being “young” and “old,” which affected whether they would rise or decline, as well as cultural differences. Moeller wrote that due to these significant differences there was clearly no “homogeneous Occident” and “for that reason alone there can be no homogeneous decline.”[17]

Not only that, but history resembled a “spiral” rather than a “circle,” and a nation in decline could actually reverse its decline if certain psychological changes and events could take place within it. In fact, Moeller felt that a nation like Germany could not even be classified as “Western” and even had more in common, in terms of spirit, with Russia than it did with France and England.[18]

The Third Empire

In 1922, Moeller, along with his two friends Heinrich von Gleichen and Max Hildebert Boehm, published a collection of their articles in the form of a book titled Die Neue Front (“The New Front”), which was intended to be a manifesto for young conservatives.[19] One year later, however, Moeller would publish his own manifesto, Das Dritte Reich (“The Third Empire,” translated into English as Germany’s Third Empire), which contained the most comprehensive exposition of his worldview.[20]

He began the book with a declaration of the ideal of the Third Empire which Germany had the potential to establish while simultaneously giving a warning that Germany must become “politically-minded.” In the first chapter he discussed the German Revolution of 1918 which established the Weimar Republic, declaring that this revolution introduced un-German political ideas which were imposed by the foreign powers of France and England, and that it must be overcome by a new, conservative and nationalist revolution.

Here Moeller also repeated his concept of “young peoples” and “old peoples,” emphasizing that the English and French nations were “old” but shrewd and politically experienced, while Germany was “young” and vigorous but had behaved in an inexperienced and impetuous manner. If Germany could rise above the defeated situation in which it was placed into, its leaders would need caution and political experience. Moeller warned that if German leaders would not handle the political situation “with the utmost care and skill” and with wisdom, “her[Germany’s] attempt will plunge us once more into impotence, into disintegration, into a non-existence which will last this time not for decades but for centuries.”[21]

The succeeding parts of Germany’s Third Empire would examine the four typical ideological types – Revolutionary, Liberal, Reactionary, and Conservative – in Germany and their essential attitudes and ideas.

Revolutionaries, Socialism, and the Proletariat

The political type known as the “Revolutionary” or the “Radical,” which was represented primarily by the Marxists, held the mistaken view that a nation and its society could be entirely transformed through a revolution, rapidly creating a new world. Moeller believed that this was a naive view of the life of nations, because the past customs, traditions, and values of a nation cannot ever simply be totally brushed aside. “We may be the victims of catastrophes which overtake us, of revolutions which we cannot prevent, but tradition always re-emerges.”[22]

Moeller spent much time critiquing the materialist and rationalist ideological foundations of Marxism. He critiqued rationalism for failing to understand that “reason” had limits and was entirely separate from “understanding.” “Reason should be one with perception. This reason ceased to perceive; she merely reckoned. Understanding is spiritual instinct; reason became mere intellectual calculation.”[23] Materialism (which shared a link with rationalism) and rationalism “embraces everything except what is vital.” Like rationalism, materialism could not understand either history or the nature of man:

The materialist conception of history, which gives economics greater weight than man, is a denial of history; it denies all spiritual values. . . . Man revolts against the merely animal in himself; he is filled with the determination not to live for bread alone – or, at a later stage, not alone for economics – he achieves consciousness of his human dignity. The materialist conception of history has never taken cognizance of these things. It has concentrated on half man’s history: and the less creditable half. [24]

Thus Marxism, because it was founded upon such ideas, made the error of conceiving of man as a soulless animal guided merely by economic motives, while in reality higher spiritual forces and ideas guided his actions. Furthermore, Marx failed to understand that there could be no international proletariat because people, whether they were proletariats or not, were differentiated by belonging to different Völker (this is often translated as “nations,” but may also be understood as “ethnicities”).

Moeller believed that this failing was partly a product of Marx’s rationalistic thought as well as his Jewish background, which made him “a stranger in Europe” who yet “dared to meddle in the affairs of European peoples.” Moeller struck out: “Jew that he was, national feeling was incomprehensible to him; rationalist that he was, national feeling was for him out of date.”[25]

However, socialism itself was not limited to Marxism and in fact, “international socialism does not exist . . . socialism begins where Marxism ends.”[26] Moeller called for the recognition of the fact that “every people has its own socialism” and that a conservative “national socialism” of German origin existed which should be the foundation of the Third Empire.

This German socialism was essentially a form of socialistic corporatism, a “corporative conception of state and economics,” which had its foundations in the ideas of thinkers such as Friedrich List, Frieherr von Stein, and Constantin Frantz, as well as in the medieval guild system.[27] Other notable intellectuals who were contemporaries of Moeller, most prominently Oswald Spengler and Werner Sombart, advocated similar conceptions of “German socialism.”[28]

Moeller also defied Marx’s concept of the proletariat as well as his concept of class warfare, asserting that “the proletarian is a proletarian by his own desire.” Thus the proletariat in the Marxian sense was not a product of his position in capitalist society, but merely of “the proletarian consciousness.” Socialism is a “population problem,” which is the “the most urgently socialist question conceivable” and which Marx was incapable of giving proper recognition to.[29]

The problem of the proletariat was essentially the problem of a nation having too much surplus population due to a lack of “living space,” which meant that its people began to live in bad conditions. Because Germany was being prevented by foreign powers from solving its population problem, “the proletariat is learning that if oppressed classes suffer in body, oppressed nations suffer in soul.” German proletarians and non-proletarians were both German and would have to unite in order to free themselves from oppression, for “only the nation as a whole can set itself free.”[30]

Liberalism and Democracy

Liberalism was attacked by Moeller as a negative force which must be absolutely eliminated and which was the prime enemy of both the conservative Right and revolutionary Left. Liberalism, Moeller taught, is at its essence based upon individualism, meaning not simply the idea that the individual has value but a kind of egotism which refuses to recognize anything above the individual and which even puts total value upon self-interest. “The liberal professes to do all he does for the sake of the people; but he destroys the sense of community that should bind outstanding men to the people from which they spring.”[31]

Thus, liberalism is a degenerating force which weakens nations and atomizes society; it is an ideology tolerated only by nations which no longer have a sense of unity or “state-instinct.” Liberals consequently have no sense of responsibility towards their nation, being indifferent to both its past and its future and seeking only personal advantage. The disintegrating power of this ideology is obvious: “Their[liberals’] dream is the great International, in which the differences of peoples and languages, races and cultures will be obliterated.”[32]

Moeller concluded that liberalism had created a form of state – the republic – in which the old aristocracy was replaced by a “dangerous, irresponsible, ruthless, intermediate stratum” of corrupt politicians who were guided solely by self-interest. Moeller even maintained that liberals did not even have proper idea of freedom: “Freedom means for him[the liberal] simply scope for his own egotism, and this he secures by means of the political devices which he has elaborated for the purpose: parliamentism and so-called democracy.”[33]

In place of the liberal-republican concept of democracy, Moeller offered a new idea: “The question of democracy is not the question of the Republic” but is rather something that comes into being when the people “take a share in determining their own Fate.”[34] Germans had originally been a democratic people in ancient times, which had nothing to do with theoretic rights or even voting, but rather with the bond of peoplehood and with the monarch executing the people’s will.

Thus, even a strong monarchy could be a democracy. However, Moeller believed that the old monarchy of the Second Reich had lost touch with the people and a new kind of monarchical state should come into being, a “democracy with a leader – not parliamentism.”[35] This Leader would abolish the rule of the parties and institute a system in which leaders would “feel at one with the nation” and “identify the nation’s fate with their own.”[36]

Reactionaries and Conservatives

Reactionaries and Conservatives are often seen as interchangeable, but Moeller emphasized that there are important differences between the two groups. A reactionary is essentially someone who believes in a total reinstitution of a past form. That is, he seeks to reverse history and bring back into being all old practices, regardless of whether they are actually good or bad, because he believes that everything of the past was good. Moeller thus distinguished the reactionary from the conservative:

The reactionary’s reading of history is as superficial as the conservative’s is profound. The reactionary sees the world as he has known it; the conservative sees it as it has been and will always be. He distinguishes the transitory from the eternal. Exactly what has been, can never be again. But what the world has once brought forth she can bring forth again. [37]

What is meant here is that while a reactionary seeks to completely revive past forms, the conservative understands how the world actually functions. Societies evolve and therefore some values and traditions change, but at the same time certain values and traditions do not change or should not change. The conservative tries to preserve the values and customs which are good for the nation or are eternal in nature while simultaneously being accepting of new values and practices when they are helpful for the nation or when they replace older ones which were negative in effect. Therefore,

He [the conservative] has no ambition to see the world as a museum; he prefers it as a workshop, where he can create things which will serve as new foundations. His thought differs from the revolutionary’s in that it does not trust things which were hastily begotten in the chaos of upheaval; things have a value for him only when they possess certain stability. Stable values spring from tradition. [38]

What, then, is a “Revolutionary Conservative” or “Conservative Revolutionary”? In many ways, Moeller’s definition of conservative is basically equivalent to revolutionary conservative; one who values what is eternal or good while leaving behind what is no longer tenable or is bad. However, strictly speaking, for Moeller the revolutionary conservative is a conservative who merges conservative and revolutionary ideas for the benefit of the nation. Moeller wrote that “conservative-revolutionary thought” is the “only one which in a time of upheaval guarantees the continuity of history and preserves it alike from reaction and from chaos.”[39] It is thus a necessary development which recognizes and reconciles “all the antitheses which are historically alive amongst us.”[40]

Conservative Nationalism and the Third Empire

According to Moeller, conservatism and nationalism are linked, meaning that a conservative is now a nationalist. But how does he define “nationalism,” a term which often has contradictory definitions? Nationality (or alternatively, ethnicity) is not based simply on being born in a specific country and speaking its language, as has often been assumed in the past; a nation is in fact defined by “its own peculiar character from the manner in which the men of its blood value life.”[41] Thus Moeller wrote:

Consciousness of nationhood means consciousness of a nation’s living values. Not only those are Germans who speak German, or were born in Germany, or possess her citizen rights. Conservatism seeks to preserve a nation’s values, both by conserving traditional values, as far as these still possess the power of growth, and by assimilating all new values which increase a nation’s vitality. A nation is a community of values; and nationalism is a consciousness of values. [42]

It is of interest to note here that liberal-egalitarian intellectuals oftentimes claim that nationalists believe that a nation is a totally unchanging entity in terms of character, while Moeller’s concept of conservatism and nationalism, as explained above, entirely defies these anti-nationalist prejudices. Similarly, Moeller’s associate, the influential volkisch (“Folkish”) thinker Max Hildebert Boehm, held the view that a Volk was not an unchanging organism but always in a state of flux.[43]

Finally, Moeller declared that “The crumbling state threatened to bury the nation in its ruins. But there has arisen a hope of salvation: a conservative-revolutionary movement of nationalism.”[44] It will establish a “Third Empire, a new and final Empire” which would unite the German people as a whole, would be founded upon conservative values and the love of country, and would resolve Germany’s economic and population problems. However, Moeller emphasized that the aim was not to fight only for Germany’s sake, but in fact “at the same time he[the German nationalist] is fighting for the cause of Europe, for every European influence that radiates from Germany as the centre of Europe.”[45] Thus, the fulfillment of German destiny would mean the salvation of Europe.

Influence and Death

Moeller’s grand vision for the future of German nationalism and conservatism had much influence among right-wing groups in Germany and was critical in the development of “revolutionary conservatism.” However, his most prominent influence was on Hitler’s National Socialist movement, even to the extent that Moeller is oftentimes said to be a precursor of National Socialism.

Although the term “Third Reich” did not originate with him, it was he who popularized it during the Weimar Republic and was the source from which the National Socialists adopted it.[46] Furthermore, Moeller’s concept of a Leader who identifies with the nation, the concept of a “national socialism,” his anti-liberalism, and his belief in the importance of nationality all bear an obvious relationship to Hitler’s National Socialism.

However, on the other hand, these ideas are certainly not unique to either Moeller or Hitler, and in fact predate both of them. There are also conspicuous differences between Moeller’s worldview and Hitler’s. Moeller did not share Hitler’s anti-Slavism or his particular racial views, nor were his anti-Jewish attitudes as strong as Hitler’s, even though he recognized Jews as a problem.

When Hitler visited the June Club in 1922 and had a discussion with Moeller, Moeller believed that while Hitler clearly was fighting for German interests, he did not have the right personal qualities or tendencies: “Hitler was wrecked by his proletarian primitivism. He did not understand how to give his national socialism any intellectual basis. He was passion incarnate, but entirely without measure or sense of proportion.”[47]

According to Otto Strasser, another associate of Moeller, Hitler also did not understand Moeller’s phrase “We were Teutons, we are Germans, we shall be Europeans,” which meant that Germany should become “a member of the great European family”[48] Yet in spite of all this, Hitler still admired Moeller and a signed copy of his Das Dritte Reich was found in Hitler’s bunker in 1945.[49]

By the year 1925, Moeller began to despair over the political situation in Germany and various negative developments. He did not have any confidence in the right-wing political forces which emerged, and it has also been suggested that he had feared that the National Socialists abused or distorted his ideas. As he began to withdraw from political activism, Moeller became lonelier and more depressed, and was finally struck by a nervous breakdown, after which he committed suicide on May 30, 1925.[50] But as Arthur Moeller van den Bruck passed from this world he left behind his imposing vision:

German nationalism fights for the possible Empire . . . . We are not thinking of the Europe of Today which is too contemptible to have any value. We are thinking of the Europe of Yesterday and whatever thereof may be salvaged for Tomorrow. We are thinking of the Germany of All Time, the Germany of a two-thousand-year past, the Germany of an eternal present which dwells in the spirit, but must be secured in reality and can only so be politically secured . . . . The ape and tiger in man are threatening. The shadow of Africa falls across Europe. It is our task to be guardians on the threshold of values. [51]

 

Notes

[1] Lucy Moeller van den Bruck as quoted in Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), p. 184.

[2] Gerhard Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck: Inventor of the ‘Third Reich,’” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 35, No. 6 (Dec., 1941), pp. 1085–86.

[3] Klemens von Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism; Its History And Dilemma In The Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), pp. 154–55.

[4] Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Die Deutschen, 8 vols. (Minden, Westphalia: J. C. C. Bruns, 1910).

[5] Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1093.

[6] Kemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 155–56.

[7] Ibid., p. 156.

[8] Moeller, Der preussische Stil (Munich, 1916), p. 202. Quoted in Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 156.

[9] Moeller, Das Recht der Jungen Völker (Munich: R. Piper & Co., 1919).

[10] Moeller as quoted in Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1093.

[11] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 158–59.

[12] On Moeller’s racial views, see Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, pp. 142–43, 187, and Alain de Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: Une ‘Question a la Destinee Allemande,’” Nouvelle Ecole, Paris, 35, January 1980, http://www.alaindebenoist.com/pdf/arthur_moeller_van_den_bruck.pdf, pp. 13 & 35.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 103.

[15] Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” p. 28.

[16] Moeller, Das Recht der Jungen Völker, pp. 11–39. Quoted in Zoltan Michael Szaz, “The Ideological Precursors of National Socialism,” The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), p. 942.

[17] Moeller as quoted in Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 239.

[18] Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” pp. 13, 27–30.

[19] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 232 and Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1087.

[20] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire (Howard Fertig, New York, 1971). Note that a new edition of this work in English has recently been published by Arktos Media (London, 2012).

[21] Ibid., p. 24.

[22] Ibid., p. 223.

[23] Ibid., p. 212.

[24] Ibid., p. 55.

[25] Ibid., p. 43.

[26] Ibid., p. 76.

[27] Ibid., pp. 60, 74, 160.

[28] See Oswald Spengler, Selected Essays (Chicago: Gateway/Henry Regnery, 1967) and Werner Sombart, Economic Life in the Modern Age (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Transaction Publishers, 2001).

[29] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, pp. 160–62.

[30] Ibid., p. 161.

[31] Ibid., p. 90.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., p. 110.

[34] Ibid., p. 132.

[35] Ibid., p. 133.

[36] Ibid., p. 227.

[37] Ibid., p. 181.

[38] Ibid., p. 223.

[39] Ibid., p. 192.

[40] Ibid., p. 254.

[41] Ibid., p. 245.

[42] Ibid., p. 245.

[43] Max Hildebert Boehm, Das eigenständige Volk (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1932).

[44] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, p. 248.

[45] Ibid., p. 264.

[46] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 153, 161–62.

[47] Moeller as quoted in Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 238.

[48] Otto Strasser, Hitler and I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940), pp. 39 & 217.

[49] Cyprian Blamires, World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO, 2006), p. 431.

[50] Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 266 and Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” p. 49.

[51] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, p. 264.

 

—————-

Tudor, Lucian. “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought.” Counter-Currents Publishing, 17 August 2012. <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/08/arthur-moeller-van-den-bruck-the-man-and-his-thought/ >.

Note: For a discussion related to Revolutionary Conservative thought, see also the Interview with Robert Steuckers on our site.

Additional Note: This essay was also republished in updated form in Lucian Tudor’s From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right: A Collection of Essays on Identitarian Philosophy (Santiago, Chile: Círculo de Investigaciones PanCriollistas, 2015).

 

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Benoist’s Vivid Memory – Devlin

Alain de Benoist’s Vivid Memory

By F. Roger Devlin

Alain de Benoist
Mémoire vive: entretiens avec François Bousquet
Paris: Éditions de Fallois, 2012.

Part 1: A Full Childhood

The title of Alain de Benoist’s volume of reminiscences is a play on words: literally signifying “vivid memory,” it is also the French equivalent for RAM, or Rapid Access Memory. In the form of interviews, the author traces his personal and intellectual development and that of the French nouvelle droite.

Alain de Benoist is descended, on his father’s side, from an ancient Belgian lineage traceable ultimately to a ninth-century Italian captain who defended Apulia from Saracen pirates. His father, also named Alain de Benoist, worked for a perfumery, eventually becoming the firm’s general sales manager for a large swath of France. Benoist remembers being strongly and lastingly influenced by his paternal grandmother. She owned a dilapidated 16th-century castle, without running water or electricity, where Benoist spend many summers. She was

passionate, hyperemotional, but also capricious. I believe she always had a rather turbulent emotional life, which in the end crystallized as religious devotion. Besides, she had a literary and artistic culture which my parents lacked. She introduced me to all the parks and gardens of Paris and took me to all the museums.

It was she who first taught me the meaning of noblesse oblige: viz., that belonging to the aristocracy does not consist in benefiting from more privileges than others or in having additional rights, but in imposing greater burdens upon one oneself, having a higher notion of one’s duties, feeling more responsible than others. Behaving in a noble manner, whatever class one comes from, means never being satisfied with oneself, never reasoning in terms of utility. It means the beauty of gratuitousness, of “useless” expenditure, the beau geste, the conviction that one could always have done better, that it is odious to boast of what one has done, that a man’s quality is tested by his ability to act contrary to his own interests whenever it becomes necessary.

All these things were inculcated in me in an almost passionate fashion. My grandmother lived in a sort of permanent state of exaltation.

His mother, born Germaine Langouët, was working at a post office in St. Malo, Brittany, when she met Benoist’s father. She was descended entirely from Norman and Breton peasants and fishermen.

My maternal grandparents were simple people. Thanks to their surroundings, I was also able to live in contact with the popular classes. But it was also thanks to them that I quickly understood the reality of class relations. It was not social inequalities as such which shocked me so much as the contemptuous fashion in which I too often saw people of the lower classes treated.

Born 1943 at Tours, an only child, Benoist’s family moved to Paris when he was six, and he has remained there ever since. He was enrolled at the Lycée Montaigne:

I was an excellent student in the subjects which interested me: French, literature, history, geography, Latin, Greek; and very bad in those I did not like: math, geometry, physics. I think I reached the end of my studies without ever having understood the difference between a division and a fraction. I feel ill at ease as soon as I see numbers instead of letters.

From the age of eight I began to read in a compulsive, bulimic fashion. I read all the time and everywhere. My mother had the weakness to allow me to read at the table; I would pick at my plate without even looking at what I was eating, so as not to interrupt my reading. I would read during class. I would even read in the street, walking to school, holding my book up in front of me, casting only the most cursory glances at the traffic.

I read an astronomical number of comic books, which I got my mother to buy or traded with my school fellows. But it was particularly fairy tales and legends which enchanted me: the tales of Andersen, of Perrault and the Grimms. The Greek myths and the Homeric universe particularly fascinated me.

I quickly went on to literature. My paternal grandmother had in her library a first edition of the works of Hugo in sixty volumes. I read them from the first to the last line, after which I devoured all the volumes of Balzac’s Human Comedy. Then I went on to Zola’s Rougon-Macquart, then Flaubert, Stendhal, Maupassant, Mérimée, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol. . . . Whatever pocket-money my mother gave me was immediately converted into books. At about age ten or eleven, she gave me bus tickets for my trip to school. I went on foot and resold the tickets half price to other pupils. Anything in order to read!

I read above all in order to escape from a daily routine which I found humdrum, drowned in philistinism and bourgeois convention. In adventure stories it was the change of scene more than the action that I sought.

But I should also admit that I stole books, and with a perfectly easy conscience: it was all for a good cause! I stole quite a few from Gilbert, boulevard Saint-Michel, right up to the day I got caught. The bookstore personnel called up my mother, who arrived immediately, livid in the face. She imagined I would perish on the scaffold one day. She paid for the books but, upon leaving the store, threw them into an open gutter. I was so angry, I went the very next day and stole exactly the same books from another bookstore.

Next to reading, the visual arts were his greatest passion: “Van Gogh and Salvador Dalí were my heroes.” For a time, he imposed on himself a duty to visit at least one exhibition of paintings every day.

The cinema was another interest. His local church published notices concerning which of the new films were wholesome for young viewers and which were to be avoided. The young Benoist consulted these notices and then went to see every film condemned as unsuitable, on the assumption that these would be the most interesting.

He was a difficult catechumen:

I asked all sorts of questions, such as: ‘if God is all-powerful, can he make 2 + 2 = 5? Did Neanderthal man have a soul? If there are extraterrestrial beings, how would they know about the incarnation? If the sun danced in the sky before the little visionaries of Fatima, how is it that no astronomical observatory registered this movement?’

The curés thought my questions preposterous, though perhaps they were only disturbing.

Benoist’s generation was the last to glimpse an era now vanished forever:

The 1950s were a continuous prolongation of the ’30s and ’40s. Despite the war, little had really changed in the realm of social and family structures or in daily life. The automobile and the television spread only slowly. Frenchmen’s ways of speaking and behaving were not yet determined by what they saw on television. They spoke like their parents, with regional accents, not like the host of the latest TV program. Educated people had more learning, the popular classes more spontaneity. People did not systematically mock everything. And among the young, no one would have thought of taking an interest in the brand of clothing you wore.

It is only at the end of the ’50s and the very beginning of the ’60s that the great caesura occurs. There was the revolution in the household, with refrigerators and washing machines. The contraceptive pill came on the market in 1960. Supermarkets appeared in 1962.

Above all, rural life began to decline, a real silent revolution whose full scope hardly anyone understood at the time. Today, the peasants—become farmers, if not “agricultural operators”—represent less than one percent of the French population, whereas they constituted the majority in the 19th century, and still numbered ten million in 1945. The end of the rural world brought about the end of a way of life expressing a mentality which has now disappeared. It involved the end of popular traditions which until recently structured collective existence, the end of a world where men and women often sang as they worked. No one does that anymore; at most, they listen to the radio.

Benoist sums up his childhood by saying “there was nothing exceptional about it—only, it was very full.”

Part 2: An Agitated Youth

When Benoist was a teenager, his father purchased a small country house to the west of Paris. Here he began to spend part of his summer vacations and most of his weekends in the company of a group of boys and girls his own age. One of the girls in the band had a father who was a journalist and author. This fascinated the young Benoist, and he determined to make the man’s acquaintance.

The man was Henry Coston, a longtime anti-Jewish polemicist and, under the occupation, an enthusiastic collaborator. The young Benoist knew none of this, being mainly interested to meet a man who lived by his pen. Coston described himself as an author of books on “big money,” and gave Benoist one of his works, entitled The Financiers Who Run the World.

In the summer of 1960, when Benoist was sixteen years old, Coston invited him to contribute to a large reference work he was compiling on French political parties and movements. Benoist wrote several articles, including the one on Action Française, signing them “Cédric de Gentissard.” By Christmas, he was a published author.

“The youth at that time was incredibly politicized,” Benoist recalls. “At the lycée Louis-le-Grand, half my fellow pupils belonged to a political party (not so today for even one percent of high school and university students). Most were socialists or communists.”

Perceiving that Benoist was still searching politically, Coston recommended he get in touch with the Jeune Nation movement and its student branch, the Fédération des étudiants nationalistes (FEN). When he arrived at Jeune Nation’s headquarters, a young woman said to him “you want to be a militant, my friend? Start by sweeping this floor!” Benoist conscientiously fulfilled the task; she took his information and said “you will be contacted.”

From 1961 to the end of 1966, [recalls Benoist,] I passed a total of six years on the extreme right. It was a short time, really, but undeniably marked me for life, both because of the political situation—the end of a world—and because of my age: there is always a part of our adolescence we do not survive.

The FEN maintained at least forty chapters in all the important university towns of France. They held semiannual meetings for chapter leaders in Paris, as well as summer camps for the general membership, which were a mixture of sporting activities and political training. Benoist was employed mainly in writing and editing various newsletters: “I often slept on an inflatable mattress I kept under my desk, in order to resume work the more quickly the next day.”

The FEN’s official goal was to fight against the ”marxification” of the university, and it also supported French Algeria. Members distributed tracts, put up posters, staged public meetings and demonstrations, and (not least) got into fistfights with political opponents of their own age.

I loved the electric atmosphere of the demonstrations, the movements of the crowd, the way in which slogans and cries spread, the confrontations with the police, the smell of teargas. In February 1961, during a demonstration in place de l’Etoile, I was arrested and remanded in custody. My mother, who had come to take me home, was picked up too!

We used to tour all the local chapters of FEN, criss-crossing France in a little car stuffed with tracts and propaganda material. We usually slept in the woods, in sleeping bags, or simply in ditches beside the road, under the open sky.

[Once] we went to brush slogans in tar on various buildings in Chartes—including the cathedral. Each group was assigned a driver with a getaway car. When my group went to our car, we found it had disappeared: the driver had chickened out. We were arrested by the police. Although covered in tar, we energetically denied the evidence; we ended up paying a heavy fine.

Meanwhile, Benoist continued his studies.

Philosophy class had a capital importance for me, for I had a feeling of finally being at home. Although up to that time I had had a purely literary and artistic education, the discovery of the great systems of philosophical thought found in me a prepared heart. It seemed to me that I already had an essentially philosophical spirit without knowing it. I learned the history of philosophy at a great pace, discovering Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Bergson, Sartre. . . .

This brought me not so much a way of understanding the world, nor of changing it, but of interpreting it. The world ceased to be a pure given, neutral, something à propos of which agreement could immediately be reached. Henceforth it existed as something which could gain access to the human understanding only through a meaning attributed to it—which, of course, posed the problem of the criteria of such appreciation. At least, that is how I understood philosophy, as an interpretive key.

It was thanks to philosophy that I realized the need to have a Weltanschauung, a global conception of the world. Without such a conception, things had no meaning. [I don’t mean] an a priori conception, which seeks willy-nilly to fit the real to some sort of Procrustean bed, but one formed on the basis of observation of the world and a systematic interpretation of what is observed.

Benoist matriculated at the Sorbonne in the department of law, following a curriculum in general philosophy, history of religion, ethics and sociology. Yet he refused to sit his exams; obtaining degrees was looked upon as “collaboration with the regime” in his circle of political militants! As a result, Benoist was ineligible for advanced studies later; to this day, he holds no academic degree.

In 1963 Benoist began writing for Dominique Venner’s new monthly, Europe-Action. The magazine had little in common with traditional throne-and-altar traditionalism; it promoted “first, the idea of European nationalism; second, an explicit anti-Christianity; third, a biologizing interpretation of society, implying both ‘biological materialism’ and racism (delicately renamed ‘biological realism’).” Benoist estimates that Europe-Action attained a circulation of approximately 15,000.

He began to travel a lot, becoming a sort of foreign correspondent for the publications with which he was involved.

In each country, I scoured the bookstores and went to see the most diverse political parties and movements. In London, I visited both the Anglo-Rhodesian Society and the African National Congress. In New York, I met Thomas Molnar and Ralph de Toledano. The next day, I went to Harlem to make purchases at the Black Muslim bookstore. In Washington I went to visit the Democrats as well as the Republicans, and then the Nazi party, based in Arlington, VA. In Mississippi, I attended a grotesque nocturnal ceremony of the Ku Klux Klan, where even the grandmothers and babies were decked out in white hoods.

Meanwhile, the movement was changing character. Many of the militants began to devote their efforts to electoral politics. They formed a National Movement of Progress in 1966, but its electoral performance was dismal. Another faction, with which Benoist identified, preferred to move in the direction of what in America would be called a “think tank”: “I proposed to dissolve the FEN and replace it with an Institute of Doctrinal Studies, which was rejected. If one is determined to seek the origins of the ‘New Right,’ then this is the turning point to which one must refer.”

Asked by the interviewer whether in retrospect he sees his years of militancy as a waste of time, Benoist strongly denies it:

Militancy is a school, one of the best there is. It is a school of discipline and deportment, of exaltation and enthusiasm, a school of self-sacrifice. It’s also a crucible of friendship like few others: being militants together creates a bond which endures across time and, sometimes, triumphs over anything else. You have many illusions, believing your impact will be increased in the same proportion as you mobilize yourself completely, but you [also] get the feeling of giving a meaning to your existence.

All this being said, it is a school one must know how to leave. Nothing is more ridiculous than those old militants who keep trotting out the same slogans for decades. The militant is not only someone who gives of himself completely; he is also a partisan in the worst sense of the term. He repeats a catechism; he refers to a collective “we” which relieves him of all personal thought. The “good militant” is a true believer who prefers answers to questions, because he requires certainties. And like all believers, he puts aside all critical spirit and glories in his sectarianism.

Part 3: The Beginnings of the Nouvelle Droite

During the years 1966–’67, the movement in which Benoist had been a militant went into its death throes. Europe-Action ceased publication following its November 1966 issue; the FEN held its last summer training camp in 1967. Concurrently, Benoist was undergoing a personal evolution which might be summed up as the victory of the philosophy student over the militant.

I felt a strong desire to start again from scratch. At twenty-three, I had just passed several years in a milieu where I had the feeling of having “seen it all.” I had learned a lot, but also experienced its limits. I was aware of having said a lot of stupid things, of having repeated slogans only because they corresponded to what “we” were supposed to think. I wanted to submit all that to a critical examination, perform a sort of triage between the correct ideas that could be kept and the false ideas that had to be abandoned.

I had definitely concluded that I was not a man of power but a man of knowledge. The life of reflection, not to say the vita contemplativa, was more important to me than the vita activa. After having forced my own nature for a time, I had found myself. I aspired to reconstruct a general view of the world on a new basis.

In the fall of 1967, I went to stay in Denmark for a week or so, on the coast of the Baltic, in order to reflect calmly upon what I wanted to do: viz., to lead a “theoretical” life, as Aristotle said—but how? I did not want to set forth any catechism of ready-made ideas, but to set in motion a train of thought. I could imagine the starting point, but did not wish to prejudge where it would lead. It was a matter of taking clear positions, engaging oneself completely, but never forgetting the primacy of questioning.

A few weeks later I arranged a working seminar in an old barn in the Vendée where a FEN summer training camp [presumably the last] had just been held. It was during this meeting that I announced my intention of launching a review entitled Nouvelle Ecole.

The inaugural meeting of the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE) took place at Lyons, May 4–5, 1968. But the idea had been in the air for some time. At the beginning, I conceived GRECE quite unrealistically as a kind of synthesis between the Frankfurt School, Action Française, and the Centre nationale de recherche scientific!

From the chronology, we can see that the Nouvelle Droite was not, as is so often asserted, a “response” to the events of May 1968. Benoist, however, did take an interest in the events of that “revolutionary” month, and witnessed many of them close up.

It was only afterwards that I understood that there were in fact two different “May ’68s.” On the one hand, there was the initiation of a radical critique of consumer society, the society of the spectacle and mercantile values, with which I could only sympathize. On the other hand, it was a pseudo-revolution of “desire” (“untrammeled enjoyment,” “it is forbidden to forbid,” “the beach on the pavement”) which betrayed a spoilt-child individualism beneath its revolutionary appearances. Unfortunately, it was the second tendency which won out.

By 1970, GRECE was expanding rapidly, with “circles” forming in most of the major university towns: the Vilfredo Pareto Circle in Paris, the Henry de Montherlant Circle in Bordeaux . . . even a Leconte de Lisle Circle on the island of Réunion!

By the fall of 1968 it acquired a modest internal newsletter, Eléments, which expanded over the years until it became autonomous, the magazine for the general public it is today. Beginning [also] in 1968, GRECE has organized a national colloquium every year, as well as a summer university which is held in a big provençal building at the foot of the Roquefavour Aqueduct near Aix-en-Provence.

It was a matter of creating a working community, even if the first term was forgotten by some. But it is true that we attached great importance to the idea of community. We appropriated the classic distinction made by Ferdinand Tönnies between community, inherited or acquired, but always founded upon organic bonds, and society, of a contractual nature, and thus more artificial and “mechanical.”

Most of the members of GRECE were then between twenty and thirty years old. Some were still students. It was the time of first marriages and the arrival of first children. Since we were not Christians, there were no baptisms or church marriages. Some members wanted us to work out substitute rites.

I myself got married June 21, 1972—the day of the summer solstice—to a young German from Schleswig-Holstein, Doris Christians, who all her life has always remained a wonderful wife. We would have two sons: Frédérik (1978) and Adrien (1981).

Benoist describes the 1970s for GRECE as a period of “systematic exploration of the ideological landscape, with inevitable ambiguities, some theoretical wavering or mistakes.”

I wrote a number of articles on the nexus between culture and politics. I was struggling to define the idea of “cultural power.” I insisted on the role of culture as an element in political change. A political transformation [merely] sanctions a revolution which has already occurred in minds and mores. Intellectual and cultural work contributes to this mental change by popularizing values, images and themes which break with the order in place or with the values of the dominant class.

The first polemics against GRECE came at the end of 1972 from a far-right royalist organization which accused them of “racism.” Some members even attacked a GRECE seminar, pick-handles in hand. This had no lasting effect, and GRECE “established itself definitively in the intellectual landscape during the next five years.” In 1976, members established the publishing house Copernic, which published some fifty titles over the next few years.

In 1977 a series of events began which would turn Benoist’s little “working community” into an international media sensation. A close associate, the author and journalist Louis Pauwels, began to produce a Sunday supplement for the newspaper Le Figaro in which Benoist published interviews and book reviews. This venture proving successful, in October 1978 it was upgraded to a weekly magazine, Le Figaro-Magazine. Benoist worked closely with Pauwels on the project, and induced many of his associates to write for the magazine. “Nearly all [Pauwels’] editorials were a fairly faithful reflection of the ideas and work of the Nouvelle Droite,” remembers Benoist. After ten weeks of publication, the magazine had boosted Le Figaro’s circulation to 400,000, and it eventually shot up to 850,000.

By the summer of 1979, the ideological mainstream was worried. On the 22nd of June, Le Monde launched an attack under the title Le Nouvelle Droite s’installe (“The New Right Settles In”). This was the first appearance of the term “nouvelle droite,” which had never been used by Benoist or his associates to describe themselves. On July 2nd, the Nouvelle Observateur followed up with a cover story about GRECE. “From that point on,” remembers Benoist, “a snowball effect took hold.”

Within the space of a few weeks, several hundred articles were devoted to the Nouvelle Droite. After the articles there were books, then radio and television programs. I was giving swarms of interviews. One of the most memorable was two full pages in France-Soir of 20th July on the theme “What to Think of the New Right?” Playboy devoted their interview of the month to me. I was also pressed with questions by the television networks of France, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Denmark, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Lebanon, etc. They asked whether I was considering running in the presidential elections. It was surreal.

We may note that not a single English speaking country appears in Benoist’s long list of international media which took an interest in the Nouvelle Droite.

On October 3, 1980 a bomb went off in a Paris synagogue, a crime later shown to have been the work of Middle-Eastern terrorists. The head of Licra (French acronym for International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism) declared that the attack was the consequence of a certain intellectual “climate” to which Figaro-Magazine had contributed. Hysterical reactions followed, and the police told Pauwels and Benoist that they could not guarantee their safety, and recommended that they “beat a retreat.”

I had to leave my house and spend several days undercover in Paris. Pauwels and I arranged a few discreet meetings. He wore dark sunglasses and looked over his shoulder as he spoke. It was like being in a John Le Carré novel. Two months later, a national colloquium organized by GRECE was forcibly attacked by a band of zealots. One of our friends lost an eye in the course of the brawl.

 

———————

Devlin, F. Roger. “Alain de Benoist’s Vivid Memory.” Counter-Currents Publishing. “Part 1: A Full Childhood,” 10 July 2012, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/07/alain-de-benoists-vivid-memory-part-1-a-full-childhood/ >. “Part 2: An Agitated Youth,” 17 July 2012, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/07/alain-de-benoists-vivid-memory-part-2/ >. “Part 3: The Beginnings of the Nouvelle Droite,” 25 July 2012, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/07/alain-de-benoists-vivid-memory-part-3/ >.

Notes: This review of Alain de Benoist’s Mémoire vive does indeed end as presented here (with the quotation), a manner which many readers would consider somewhat abrupt.

Also of note is the fact that Mémoire vive has been recently translated into German as Mein Leben: Wege eines Denken (Berlin: Junge Freiheit, 2014).

For a listing of other major works by Alain de Benoist and their translations, see the section on further reading on the page for the “Manifesto of the New Right”: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/manifesto-of-the-new-right-benoist-champetier/ >.

 

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