Sunday, August 29, 2021

Friedrich Nietzche: A European Buddhism

“I could be the Buddha of Europe: though admittedly an antipode to the Indian Buddha”

(Friedrich Nietzsche)

I've got to admit that I've never read much of Nietzsche simply because he hasn't really interested me that much.  But perhaps I've been wrong. While rummaging through some journal articles I became aware of the fact that he had a reasonably solid understanding of Buddhism and apparently even spent two years learning Sanskrit. Interestingly, a lot of the "Will to power" and "Ubermesch" stuff was a consequence of his understanding of Buddhism and its application to European culture.

What I also found astounding is that there is a fair amount of literature out there looking at the relationship between Nietzsche's thought and Buddhism, the executive summary being that they are more alike than different. What I find interesting is how he also recognised that the decline of European culture will come with it becoming more Buddhist, particularly Christianity, something this blog has mentioned before.

This is form an excellent journal article which summaries his thoughts on the subject which I would highly recommend:

Nietzsche opened his Genealogy of Morals with a revaluation of Schopenhauer, considered as a cultural event in the history of Europe. Thus, at the moment when Schopenhauer's philosophy was a cause celebre, creating spectacular enthusiasm among intellectual and artistic circles, Nietzsche felt compelled to abandon his most influential mentor in order to dramatize the danger that he believed Schopenhauer's Weltanschauung represented when conceived as a European destiny.

It was precisely here that I saw the great danger to mankind, its sublimest enticement and seduction—but to what? to nothingness?—it was precisely here that I saw the beginning of the end ... the will turning against life . . . I understood the ever spreading morality of pity . . . as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had become sinister, perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to Nihilism?

In this manner, Nietzsche raised the specter of European culture passing into a nihilistic phase, one characterized by a will to nothingness—a will to the absolute relativity of all values and, hence, to the frank realization that life was without any given meaning or goal. Such a cultural destiny, Nietzsche called a new or "European" Buddhism. We should note immediately that Nietzsche took special care to emphasize that a Buddhistic phase in the cultural life of Europe would constitute a new form of Buddhism and, thus, would exhibit qualities both consistent with and profoundly different from classical Buddhism. Some of those differences we have already encountered in Nietzsche's judgment that classical Buddhism arose out of the death throes of an exhausted civilization and marked, therefore, a final cultural form of excessively spiritual men[ED].

Nietzsche saw that the loss of the transcendental values which came about with encroaching atheism would  produce a state of affairs which was similar to what went on in Asia before. Neitzsche's critique of Schopenhauer was about how he approached the "death of God". Nietzsche may have ranted about his pity but what really irked him was his passive acceptance of the fact which he saw as a type of Nihlism.   But its also important to note that excessive spirituality paved the way for the transformation of Christianity.

The Christian era is succeeded by its opposite, a new Buddhism. Such a movement occurs within Christianity as a result of its revaluation of itself. Nietzsche postulated that the "will to truth" was the agency by which Christianity overcomes itself and necessarily eventuates in an honest atheism and a radical cultural nihilism. After almost two thousand years of training in the "will to truth," which eventually got sublimated into cleanliness of intellectual conscience (science), European man is finally ripe for the truth of a new Buddhism and the total revaluation of his most precious venerations. The new Buddhism, therefore, will be the terminal phase of the Christian era.

But how could Christianity give birth to a European form of Buddhism? In Nietzsche's judgment, European Christianity's moral world-view and its in-junctions produced a man already trained in the ways of practical nihilism. In fact, Christians have always been practicing nihilists, and it was this hidden scandal that Nietzsche believed he had uncovered about Christianity. Such a practical nihilism was rooted in the Christian's disposition to invest all of the significance of life in a kingdom beyond this world—indeed, to devalue the earth—including human reason, instincts, and passions. Such a tendency brought about a radical depreciation of the richness of earthly life and the concomitant investment of nothing, and the beyond, with ultimate meaning. By these means, Christianity educated European man toward a yearning for nothingness and created a Buddhistic tendency in man. Viewed in this manner, European Buddhism, whatever specific form it might finally take, would have to be seen as the culmination of a moralistic development within Christian culture itself. Its appearance would symbolize the final collapse of the Christian movement and the onset of a post-Christian era.
There are several really important points here. That excessive spirituality conditions men to a Buddhist worldview. Secondly a detachment from "the world" negates the importance of worldly affairs. Thirdly, an excessively keanotic interpretation of Christianity produces an atmosphere akin to nihlism. What Nietzsche is saying is that traditional asceticism and modern theological developments i.e. Kumbayah Kenotic Christianity will transform Christianity into a Buddhist version of itself.
Strangely, Nietzsche greeted the prospect of a Western form of Buddhism with considerable ambivalence. In Beyond Good and Evil, he spoke of Europe being threatened by a new Buddhism, while in an unpublished note, he characterized the possibility as a "nihilistic catastrophe." Yet in another unpublished note, Nietzsche welcomed a European form of Buddhism as both "the most extreme form of nihilism" and "the most scientific of all possible hypotheses." Such an ambivalence on Nietzsche's part reflected his genuine uncertainty regarding what kind of pessimism (or nihilism) would eventually come to dominate European culture. Nietzsche never doubted that Europe had already entered a nihilistic phase of cultural existence. What he did have serious misgivings about was the specific interpretation that Western man would give to his emerging awareness of a culture-wide crisis of meaning—that the old values which had supported and shaped his life had collapsed and, therefore, could no longer insure a future for him. In other words, how European man would appropriate the new conditions of his life mattered greatly! The issue turned, for Nietzsche, on whether Europe would succumb to a pessimism of weakness, symbolized by Schopenhauer's metaphysics and an opiate Christianity, or whether it would will the courage of a "pessimism of strength" symbolized by Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the Dionysian man. Only under the latter banner would it be possible to create a future beyond the desert of nihilism. Moreover, it was in the latter sense alone that Christianity could become the proper basis for a new European civilization. Should this occur, then the emergence of a European Buddhism could be viewed as the signal for the beginning of a more spiritual age.

If found this last bit quite interesting as Nietszche still saw some possible hope for Christianity, but it had to reverse some of its tendencies. You've got to take Nietzsche with a grain of salt but what I find interesting is his notion that Christianity could successfully tackle society if it could "deascetisise" to a degree and recognise the legitimacy of the the created world, not just in theory but in practice.

*Bonus: Another good blog post on the subject.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

As the debacle of Afghanistan flashes across our TV screens it's important to reflect why a bunch of goat herders were able to successfully defeat the most technologically advanced and copiously equipped military on earth. This all segues well with my current posts on de Gaulle so it's worth a few comments.

If victory is defined as the ability to impose your will on the battlefield, then the fall of Afghanistan--and its rapidity--is a catastrophic defeat for the U.S.  Sure, the US is still capable of affecting much destruction but a desert is not a client state and what's been fascinating to see is that when faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It's not like the U.S. didn't try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women's rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance--most of the time with hardly any fighting at all--showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

No while I reckon he's still a bit of a Buddhist Christian, Rod Dreher appears to be getting red pilled quite rapidly and his post on the subject was quite insightful.  As he points out, America's political a military eggheads discounted the role of religion:

This is on the elites. This is on elites like Carter Malkasian, senior adviser to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015-2019. In this piece from last month in Politico, he admits that it never really occurred to these American geniuses that the Taliban were really motivated by their religion. Excerpt:

The Taliban had an advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. Their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonated with Afghan identity. For Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as “resistance” or “struggle” than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defense against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. Even though Islam preaches unity, justice and peace, the Taliban were able to tie themselves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. It prodded men and women to defend their honor, their religion and their home. It dared young men to fight. It sapped the will of Afghan soldiers and police. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

This explanation has been underappreciated by American leaders and experts, myself included. We believed things were possible in Afghanistan — defeat of the Taliban or enabling the Afghan government to stand on its own — that probably were not.

Gosh, you think? What the hell did these eggheads think that the Taliban were?! It’s like a senior American expert in 1945 writing that it was surprising to discover that the Nazis really cared a lot about race. This is what happens when you have an elite that is wholly secular, and incapable of thinking outside that narrow box. Why did they tap Ghani as president? Because he was the most secularized, technocratic Afghan politician — somebody American experts could understand, but also someone incapable of inspiring loyalty among Afghanis.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what's also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity.  America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America.  There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

Christianity, once, also reinforced identity. De Gaulle's opposition to the U.S. and E.U. hedgemony was rooted in his Christian sense of the identity of France. It wasn't xenophobia as much as his Christianity that pushed him hard in rejecting anything the compromised his sense of French identity. De Gaulle and the Taliban may come from different religious faiths, but both understand the teaching, "what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?

The secular man has no such understanding.

*The mosque in the background of the image is a nice touch.

Friday, August 06, 2021

The Strange Case of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

One of the things that struck me in reading about de Gaulle's life is how Catholic support for the Free French could be predicted by theological position, with "traditionalists" supporting the Vichy regime.

The common perception people have of the Vichy regime is that it was a puppet regime imposed by the Nazis. The thing is that this is not exactly true. It would be more correct to say that it was regime enabled by the French defeat and though it shared a disadvantageous position with respect to Germany, there was much synchronicity between the ideals of it and Nazi Germany. People forget just how respectable Fascism was prior to the Second World. Contemporary history tends to paint the French as "victims" of Nazi conquest yet the reality was that there were many Frenchmen who were supportive of the German conquest of Europe.

People forget that prior to the Second World War, France was deeply divided society, much like the modern U.S., with both Left and Right factions who saw no agreement virtually on anything.  The biggest movement on the Right  was the Action Francaise movement, which advocated a return to French Monarchy, a repudiation of the French revolution, a restoration of the preeminent position of the Catholic Church in French society and a return to "traditional values".  It was anti-Semitic, anti-Protestant, Xenophobic  and collaborated, in some instances, quite enthusiastically with some of the more odious Nazi policies.

What was strange about the movement is that it was led by an avowed atheist who was contemptuous of religion, Charles Maurras. He supported the Catholic Faith because it formed part of the "identity" of France but as said before, he thought the faith a bunch of tosh. He did, however, like Vichy.

Now men of quite of quite rudimentary and simple faith would probably feel that there is something intuitively wrong with a position which supports a religion while at the same time regarding it with contempt.  But I suppose this incompatibility can be overcome with a rigorous philosophical training and deep spirituality. Enter  Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. (RGL)

RGL, who is currently being rehabilitated by certain trad sections in the U.S., was not your ordinary member of clergy.  A brilliant Dominican theologian, author of many theological books, who held high ecclesiastical office, ghost writer--and "influencer"-- of several papal documents, he was doctrinal supervisor to John Paul II. As said, he was an exceptional guy, but in many ways he encapsulates the problem of Right Catholicism in the 20th Century. As Etienne Gilson explains:

Posterity will have more leisure than we have, and the future will see things from a distance that is lacking to us. Those who are curious about doctrinal teratology will enjoy unraveling the intricacies of such an alliance. On the political level no explanation is needed. The French people are born fanatics; rightists or leftists, they are always willing to persecute one another in the name of some sacred principle. ....The really interesting question was to know why a Master in Theology belonging to the Order of Saint Dominic, as well as a highly qualified interpreter of Thomism who enjoyed in the Church an unchallenged doctrinal authority, should then have felt duty bound to teach that Charles Maurras and Saint Thomas Aquinas agreed on the notion of "the best political regime."

It is enough to open the Summa Theologiae at the right place to know that this is not true. Yet this theologian was very far from being alone in his error. Laymen of great intelligence and talent did not hesitate to side quite openly with the "party of order". The heart of the problem would be to know how, by what secret channels, Thomism could seem to them to offer a theological justification of the political theory of Charles Maurras. What the royalists hoped to gain from such an alliance is obvious. Saint Thomas is the Common Doctor of the Church. To establish that his political doctrine was the same as that of Charles Maurras amounted to proving that the Political doctrine of Charles Maurras was that of the Church. With this proved, all French Catholics without exception would have been held in conscience to accept the monarchist politics of the Action Francaise. What a haul! Let us resist the temptation to as what peculiar brand of "Thomism" this must have been to feel akin to the positivism of Maurras which, like that of Comte, was deeply interested in Rome but not in Jerusalem.

The Philosopher and Theology

Now RGL wasn't just a supporter of Vichy, he was an enthusiastic one. He was so enthusiastic that he used his doctrinal authority to assert that anyone who supported the Free French was committing a mortal sin. And there is credible evidence that he saw no problem with Vichy's anti-Semitic policies. Now it's one thing when the local village priest comes to a conclusion which is stupid, but when your "best and brightest" is out cheer-leading for an evil government you've got a serious problem.  What's even worse is that RGL enjoyed considerable support and esteem in the Vatican well after the evils of the Nazis' and their collaborators were born to light. Remember this is all before Vatican II and its "corruption" by "liberalism".

Apologists for RGL have stated that his religion clouded his theology.

I doubt that.

RGL primarily saw himself as a religious man and his "faith" was sincere. There is no chance in hell that he didn't measure his political actions by the yardstick of his faith. And this is where the problem really lays: How is it that a man, who is gifted in intelligence, a profound ascetic, devoted to religion and who's had the best education that  Western Civilisation could have thrown at him come to the conclusion that there was no moral problem with his faith and the persecution of an innocent people and the support of a morally vile regime.

After the war, de Gaulle "leaned on" the Vatican and a quarter of the French clerical hierarchy were forced to retire. RGL kept his position.

There is something profoundly wrong here, and I think it is here where we must look to understand one of the reasons why religion collapsed in the 20th C.