Intellectual Dry Rot and Spiritual Wet Rot
World-historical. Think about it. How on earth do the problems of a single man become everyone's problem? This is not the same as asking how a single person can become a problem, which any assoul can do. As they say, any idiot can make history, but it takes real genius to write it. Rather, we need to get beneath Hitler's "problem," to the deeper problem of a people blinded to the fact that, hey, this guy has a problem.
And when we say "German culture," there were, of course, exceptions -- people who saw through Hitler from the moment they laid eyes on him. Everyone would like to believe they were one of those clear-sighted volks, and in 1945 there were many more of them than there were in 1933, for the same reason that every Frenchman was a retrospective member of the tiny French resistance, or so many Americans now claim to have been "fooled" by Obama.
People don't want to believe they were party to a lethal failure of judgment, but even in 1946 "a majority of Germans held the opinion that National Socialism was a good idea but badly implemented," and it was equally widely believed into the 1950s "that without the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen in German history."
Among other things, Voegelin wanted to debunk the self-serving idea that Germans were simply seduced by a charismatic demagogue, because not everyone responded to Hitler's so-called charisma, and many people were repelled by him. Voegelin, for example, escaped Germany in 1938.
To cite some examples closer to home, we are routinely told by the MSM that a Bill Clinton is "charismatic," or that Jimmy Carter is a conspicuously "good and decent man," or that Barack Obama is unusually bright. All of these are not just lies, but gross distortions for anyone with spiritual and intellectual discernment. Each of them makes a normal person slightly ill, in different ways.
I say this because no normal person appreciates being crudely manipulated in the manner of a Clinton, or scolded in the manner of a hateful, petty, and sanctimonious Carter, or talked down to by a half-educated affirmative action hire with a few fixed ideas he picked up in college.
Voegelin traces the rot in Germany to a distinct spiritual decline which he attempts to describe both empirically and theoretically. To back up a bit, recall what I was saying a couple posts back about psychopathology (mental illness). In order to define mental pathology, we must begin with an implicit or explicit notion of psychic health. What exactly is a healthy psyche? What was it designed to do?
I know my answer: to know truth, to love beauty, to will the good, and to create in such a way that the eternal pierces the temporal.
Right away you see the problem for any consistent materialist, since for them the psyche can have no purpose. Rather, it is just a meaningless side effect of the struggle to pass one's genes along to the next generation. From a purely biological standpoint, anything that gets the job done is "healthy," which is to say, adaptive: deception, rape, misogyny, polygamy. In fact, this is precisely why rape has survived, because it is indeed one effective way for losers to propagate their genetic material.
Hitler was just such a consistent materialist, but unlike most materialists, he actually drew out the ultimate implications of materialism, so give him credit for that. He was no hypocrite or waffler, that's for sure. He did not pretend to be elevated above his nature, because nature is all there is. Again: the utter rejection of transcendence.
Voegelin quotes one writer who observed that "no one before Hitler had actually made the consequences deduced from Darwin the basis of state policy, and no one before Hitler so consistently and ruthlessly carried those biological premises to their ultimate conclusions and put them into practice."
For as Darwin wrote, nature is "immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts," the difference being that Darwin was too constrained by Christian civilization to take this idea seriously and start killing his biological inferiors.
To say that Hitler was influenced by Darwin is, of course, to give the former way too much credit, since, like our troll, he was an anti-intellectual who never read a serious book in his life.
And besides, Darwin himself borrowed the phrase "survival of the fittest" from Herbert Spencer, the father of "social Darwinism." Thus, ironically, survival of the fittest is actually "biological Spencerism," which shows us how ideology -- i.e., second reality -- contaminates first reality, and is then taken as a simple "fact" of nature. But the most rigid and unambiguous facts are often, as is this one, just projections.
His ignorance of Darwin notwithstanding, Hitler was nevertheless a true metaphysical Darwinian and evolutionist, proclaiming that "the entire universe" is "ruled by just this one idea, that an eternal selection takes place in which the stronger in the end maintains the right to live, and the weaker falls. One will say that nature is therefore cruel and merciless, but the other will grasp that nature is thus only obeying an iron law of logic." Selfish genes, and all that.
And note how natural selection is now indeed being applied to the cosmos, in order to get around the problem of the big bang, which implies a creative intelligence. If we are just the beneficiary of natural selection applied to multiple universes, the problem is solved. (Not really, of course, but it is kicked a little further down the ontological road.)
When the intellectual barbarian collapses the world to a single level, the distinction between Is and Ought is obliterated, for the Ought is quintessentially and irreducibly transcendent. And once you've accomplished that, then anything goes, for nothing is impermissible.
This raises an interesting point about the nature of spiritual rot. It occurs to me that there are two main types, what we might call "dry rot," and its seeming opposite, "wet rot." But the two actually go together, and in many ways define one another.
For example, the rationalist or scientistic atheist, who suffers from spiritual and intellectual dry rot, is always doing battle with people who are characterized by a kind of religious wet rot. In yesterday's thread, for example, you will see someone suffering from dry rot using this blog as a vehicle to lash out at some neighbors who have religious wet rot. We, of course, do not advocate either form of rot.
Modern liberalism is a loose affiliation of people who have either wet or dry rot, both intellectually and spiritually, or noetically and pneumatically. Deepak Chopra, for example, is a quintessential case of wet rot, but the entire liberal media also falls into that category. Most of liberal academia suffers from wet rot -- we are speaking of the humanities, of course. Conversely, a scientistic academic such as Richard Dawkins might as well be the poster child for dry rot.
Man is situated in a hierarchically organized universe of meaning. That being the case, of course science is one vehicle for disclosing universal meaning on a particular level. But to suggest that science is in any way capable of disclosing the meaning of higher levels is the essence of postmodern barbarism: it is dry rot.
Conversely, a creationist yahoo who insists that the world is 6,000 years old is a case of wet rot. But both wet and dry rot come down to severe anti-intellectualism, since neither understands the book they pretend to criticize or embrace.
Now, just as there is psychopathology -- obviously -- there is, and must be, what we shall call "logopathology," i.e., the failure of intellect in the original sense of the term (nous), and "pneumopathology," which is the failure of spirit. For Voegelin, the essence of cultural pathology -- of the kind of pathology that made a Hitler possible -- is in these two areas.
In short -- and this is the key -- there is Reason (i.e., logos) and Spirit (pneuma), and our task is to maintain an open system in both realms. Conversely, to be intellectually or spiritually closed -- or closed off from logos and pneuma -- is a bad, bad, thing, as we will further discuss tomorrow.