Strangling the Last Nazi with the Entrails of the Last Hippie
One way of resolving the complementarity discussed in yesterday's post -- between Is and Ought -- is to collapse one into the other.
For example, one can transform Is to Ought, and be all superego (the conventional conscience) all the time: sanctimonious, judgmental, rigid, priggish; such individuals are easy to identify, because they are narrow-minded, conventional, fearful of experience (or of being), and dominated by the defense mechanism of projection (i.e., they see their own split-off and denied sexual and aggressive impulses in everyone else).
The other way -- which appears "cooler" but is every bit as pathetic -- is to collapse Ought into Is, which comes down to elevating appetite, instinct, and desire to a kind of moral imperative: if it feels good do it, free love, free hate, give peace a chance, give war a chance, etc.
Individuals who engage in this can radiate a kind of infectiousness or allure, as they seem to have solved the problem of limits, and appear to live in a world of instinctual plenty. They can also provoke envy, as if they have the secret of life, and we are somehow missing out on it.
As a brief and possibly banal aside, I spent twelve years working in a supermarket -- often the graveyard shift with no adult supervision -- so I would spend a lot of time idly flipping through magazines such as People or Us. (I was a frivolous fellow and it was a union job, so the man-hours always exceeded the amount of work that needed to be done; in other words, lots of slack.)
One lesson I internalized early on is that things aren't always as they appear to be with these quasi-animal, instinct-driven celebrities living in their infrahuman paradises. Especially over the long run -- we're talking twelve years -- I came upon example after example of bliss transforming to catastrophe. One issue he "has it all" -- money, fame, women, the respect of his peers, a golden future, the perfect relationship -- but a few years later, another issue is devoted to the same person's trainwreck of a life. This confirmed in me a kind of sacred hunch that there was nothing intrinsically enviable about these people. If there was a secret to life, they didn't have it. Or, if they did, it had nothing to do with all the outward trappings.
In Violence and Vision, Mendel has two chapters devoted to the second style of millennial fever, i.e., reducing Ought to Is. Typically we think of millennial thought in conjunction with religion or ideology, but in this case, we are dealing with nature.
Now, it is axiomatic that for man, being in a state of nature is unnatural. In other words, there is no mythical man prior to the cultural matrix that nurtures, preserves, contains, and allows expression of his humanness.
For one thing, man is uniquely trinitarian and intersubjective, and cannot be who or what he is in the absence of others, which automatically introduces a kind of constraint on any notion of "pure being" detached from concern for other persons. Indeed, man can only be himself in openness and intimacy with others (both vertically and horizontally).
Another way of saying it is that for man, the supernatural is natural. Man cannot be man in the absence of the good, true, and beautiful -- without courage, justice, freedom, nobility, reverence, love, and creativity, each of which is a luminous facet of the gemlike One.
Nazism, on the one hand, and the Sixties, on the other, resolved the problem of Is and Ought by creating a magical world of isness, of the celebration of instinct.
Let's begin with National Socialism. What was it, really? Historians have been debating this for decades, but it seems to me that, underneath it all, the key principle is the complete legitimization and institutionalization of violence toward the Other.
Think of war: in war, we are temporarily liberated from the dictates of our superego, and are free to engage in violence toward the other. We are permitted to do things we normally wouldn't dream of, like putting a bullet through someone's head. This is normal and necessary. It is a calling and a profession, i.e., the Warrior.
The same principle is sublimated through violent sports such as football and boxing. But even in non-violent sports such as baseball and basketball, there is still a sublimation of the primitive desire to conquer, dominate, and triumph. It is why boys need sports, whereas for girls it's totally optional. Girls don't generally need an outlet to sublimate their violent tendencies. Rather, girls need to sublimate their inborn ability to hypnotize and seduce, i.e., to dominate and triumph in a different way over the weak. Men and women have different "intrinsic struggles" with their lower selves.
Nazism essentially took the unusual psychological circumstance of war, and normalized it. Of course, the first step is to create a kind of all-powerful enemy, which then paves the way for a severely polarized mentality of "annihilate or be annihilated." In this view, the Holocaust was quite literally a simple case of self-defense. If one isn't the hammer then one is the anvil. There is nothing in between.
"In fascism, the Apocalypse found a philosophy that let it act forthrightly and stop pretending that violence and hatred were really peace and love." It "boldly glorified violence as a noble end in itself. As fascists, those who wanted to hurt and kill could do so openly. Might was Right, not because it served the cause of love... but simply because that was the way nature worked and the way Providence wanted it to work" (Mendel).
Someone else characterized fascism as the violent resistance to transcendence, and this too is a good definition. However, when transcendence is immanentized, the immanent -- nature -- becomes transcendent, as necessarily occurs in metaphysical Darwinism. Thus, it is no surprise that the Nazis rooted their ideas in a kind of twisted and yet literal interpretation of Darwinism, which necessarily regards any Ought as nothing but an Is in disguise, just a pretext for purely selfish genes.
"Since nature's primary, if not exclusive, concern was survival and growth, it was entirely appropriate that those strong enough to prevail in the endless struggle for the scarce prerequisites of life should dominate and guide the species into the future. Only unrestrained and unabated conflict could assure the dominance of the healthiest, the strongest, and, therefore, the best among the species, humans included" (Mendel).
Furthermore, "it was right that the weak die before they harmed the species as a whole by multiplying and thereby perpetuating and spreading their weakness. What could be more 'logical,' 'rational,' or 'scientific?'" (ibid).
Don't wait for a Darwinian rejoinder, because there isn't one. Indeed, the Nazis found abundant confirmation for their values in nature.
That being the case, who would be public enemy number one? That is correct: those bastards who made us all slaves to those fraudulent transcendent values, the Jews. Mendel quotes Himmler, who said that "we had the moral right, we had the obligation toward our people, to kill [the Jews].... you may call it cruel, but nature is cruel..."
And before him, Nietzsche wrote of how "the Jew, with frightening consistency, dared to invert" the aristocratic values reflecting the natural hierarchy of strong and weak, master and slave. Indeed, Jews "gave the world the God of thou-shalt-not," not to mention the value of free will, the preciousness of the individual, and concern for the weak.
That noted bio-ethicist, Hitler, wrote of how "the idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other things perish through struggle.... In this struggle, the stronger, the more able win, while the less able, the weak lose." And of all the animals, man alone imagines he can ignore and transgress this law written in nature and in our genes." Thus, "our motto should be -- If you will not be a German, I will bash your skull in." And you don't blame a German for doing this any more than you would blame a tiger for eating a gazelle.
In this upside-down cosmos, life -- raw life itself -- becomes a "Law unto itself." It is divorced from any real value that would imbue it with truth or meaning, and becomes a self-enclosed tautology: "Live intensely, never mind whether the aim or stimulation came came from the 'highest' or 'lowest.'" One might say that Nazism involved a masculine fascism, while in the case of the sixties, it was a feminized fascism.
But just as the vertical doesn't go away just because we collapse it into the horizontal, the masculine doesn't disappear just because it is conflated with the feminine.
Rather, we merely end up with perverse, unnatural, stunted, and inappropriate forms of masculinity and femininity. In the case of men, we end up with wimps or barbarians, while in the case of women we end up with something analogous, for which I haven't yet devised a snappy shorthand.
Note how so many intellectuals were seduced by fascism in the 1930s, just as they were -- and are - seduced by the fascism of the 1960s, right down to our current Dear Leader. Which we will discuss tomorrow.