The fundamental principle underlying all justification of war, from the point of view of human personality, is heroism. War, it is said, offers man the opportunity to awaken the hero who sleeps within him. War breaks the routine of comfortable life; by means of its severe ordeals, it offers a transfiguring knowledge of life, life according to death. The moment the individual succeeds in living as a hero, even if it is the final moment of his earthly life, weighs infinitely more on the scale of values than a protracted existence spent consuming monotonously among the trivialities of cities.
– J. Evola, The Metaphysics of War
Joe Carnahan’s latest film, starring Liam Neeson, is generating a highly polarized response. Extrinsically, it follows the exploits of a group of men stranded in the wilderness, as they try to survive and reach civilization, while they are pursued by an aggressive pack of wolves. Existentially, the film is about finding a reason to live and struggle on, in a seemingly uncaring and meaningless universe. Hence the name: The Grey.
This struggle is, itself, nothing new. All thinking men doubt and wonder. The ancients, by their records, were no less thoughtful than modern man, although the manner in which they encountered the struggle for existence, and encapsulated its vicissitudes in art, poetry and music is foreign to us. Where they saw gods and titans, we see only matter and brute instinct. While it is still possible to rally one’s self in the struggle against these cthonic forces under the present zeitgeist, the character of that “rallying”, and the possibilities it opens up for the individual, are markedly different today than those known by our ancestors.
Given all this, it is obvious that the term ‘hero’ is a common denominator which embraces very different types and meanings. The readiness to die, to sacrifice one’s own life, may be the sole prerequisite, from the technical and collectivist point of view, but also from the point of view of what today, rather brutally, has come to be referred to as ‘cannon fodder’. However, it is also obvious that it is not from this point of view that war can claim any real spiritual value as regards the individual…
If we proceed with this train of thought it becomes rather clear from what has been said above that not all wars have the same possibilities…
These points correspond, basically, to three possible types of relation in which the warrior caste and its principle can find themselves with in respect to the other manifestations already considered. In the normal state, they are subordinate to the spiritual principle, and there breaks out a heroism which leads to supra-life, to supra-personhood.
-J. Evola, The Metaphysics of war
This form of heroism is only, in the West today, suggested by myth and legend. Where encountered directly it is only in its negative and adversarial, counter initiatory form, as “fanaticism”. The Islamic terrorist’s heaven of virgins is but a crude and childish echo of this promise. At one time this form of heroism was, if not the norm, at least the goal of the trained fighting man. This seems to have been universally the case among civilized people, regardless of “race” or land of origin.
The warrior principle may, however, construct its own form, refusing to recognize anything as superior to it, and then the heroic experience takes on a quality which is ‘tragic’: insolent, steel-tempered, but without light. Personality remains, and strengthens but, at the same time, so does the limit constituted by its naturalistic and simply human nature. Nevertheless, this type of ‘hero’ shows a certain greatness, and, naturally, for the types hierarchically inferior to the warrior, i.e. the bourgeois and the slave types, this war and this heroism already mean overcoming, elevation, accomplishment.
-J. Evola, Metaphysics of War
This is the heroic form displayed in The Grey. While Liam Neeson’s character, John Ottway, never achieves anything transcendent, there is a dignity in his struggle with life and death that, to some extent, elevates him above the herd and grants him an initiation of sorts. This possibility may remain open for some individuals today, but the door is fast closing. While the warrior may find meaning in struggle itself, the markers that allow him to orient himself in this action must come from somewhere outside and “above” the struggle. He must fight for something and, by necessity, against something else. In the film, these markers are the absent family and loved ones of the stranded men, primarily children and “sweethearts”, which appear to them, ghost like, in moments of hardship. While this is not, necessarily, a bad thing, these relationships depend on a metaphysical framework (romantic love, family, etc) which is quickly evaporating in the modern west. The “for the sake of the children/women/free people at home” rhetoric of the modern state-run intellectual apparatus is an attempt to call up this kind of possibility, although what it actually results in is the third type of heroism, which Evola goes on to articulate.
The third case involves a degraded warrior principle, which has passed into the service of hierarchically inferior elements (the castes beneath it). In such cases, heroic experience is united, almost fatally, to an evocation, and an eruption, of instinctual, sub-personal, collective, irrational forces, so that there occurs, basically, a lesion and a regression of the personality of the individual, who can only live life in a passive manner, driven either by necessity or by the suggestive power of myths and passionate impulses… they do not become base, nor deserters, but all that impels them forward throughout the most terrible tests are elemental forces, impulses, instincts and reactions, in which there is not much human remaining, and which do not know any moment of light.
-J. Evola, The Metaphysics of War
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the plight of the modern “soldier”. It is worth noting that the word literally means “mercenary”: one who receives pay for fighting, from the Latin word “solidus” signifying a coin ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidus_(coin) ). Fighting is not longer a sacred task, or the possibility of some grand adventure, but a “job”. It may, perhaps, be puffed up by mythological references (god, country, “freedom”, somewhat paradoxically “safety” from one’s enemies, etc) but these phantasmal motivators are not living presences within the struggle itself. At best they may motivate the soldier to throw himself into the struggle but, once inside, he can only hope to pull together the diverse, and often contradictory, telluric drives which threaten to tear his mind apart in their desperate struggle to preserve his physical existence and forge some kind of willed action out of the chaos. This is the last form of heroism available and it is almost entirely a heroism in name only. Here the personality is only the point of cohesion and, while it is better to be this sort of hero than none at all, the repercussions are significant. The tremendous psychic energy of violence must be dealt with and, with no positive transmutation possible, the force simply grounds out.
Estimates say that one U.S. soldier attempts suicide every 80 minutes, and that the total loss of soldiers due to successful suicide is higher than losses in combat. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2057061/One-U-S-veteran-attempts-suicide-80-minutes-Hidden-tragedy-Afghanistan-Iraq-wars.html).
It is a deep error to believe that it is only through military or police service to the modern state that heroic existence remains possible. The defining condition of heroism is not necessarily physical action with weaponry, but courageous action, of any kind, for the sake of one’s convictions, in the face of risk and danger. In this way, the conditions that make possible the higher forms of heroism are perhaps more present and accessible to every man, today, than at any time in history!
As the values of the herd become more and more firmly entrenched, thinking differently, speaking out, simply “going one’s own way” becomes increasingly more difficult. What calls for heroism, today, is not struggle on the battlefield, or in the wilderness, but in the spiritual wilderness of our daily lives. This type of “wilderness” is found everywhere the nihilism of the modern world touches: from the inner cities, to the suburbs, from the nation’s capital to the rough fields of Texas.
In the quiet and ordered periods of history this wisdom is accessible only to a few chosen ones, since there are too many occasions to surrender and to sink, to consider the ephemeral to be the important, to forget the instability and contingency of what is irremediably such by nature. It is on this basis that what can be called in the broader sense the mentality of the bourgeois life is organized: it is a life which does not know either hights or depths, and develops interests, affections, desires and passions which, however important they may be from the merely earthly point of view, become petty and relative from the supra-individual and spiritual poing of view, which must always be regarded as proper to any human existence worth of the name.
-J. Evola, The Metaphysics of War
This is the struggle that, today, calls out for heroism. It is not the threat of violence that we must fear, so much as the threat of meaninglessness and forgetfulness. It is impossible to wage this struggle as the third type of “hero”. It is a higher possibility that speaks to us in the struggle for individuation. Even to rise up to the second type of hero would be, for modern man, a vast improvement and, for those few who “have ears to hear” and “eyes to see”, the great heroes of the past still beckon, as a new and future possibility.
Each act of man is the twist and double of an hare.
Love and Death are the greyhounds that course him.
God bred the hounds and taketh His pleasure in the sport.
This is the Comedy of Pan, that man should think he huntheth, while those hounds hunt him.
This is the Tragedy of Man, when facing Love and Death he turns to bay. He is no more hare, but boar.
There are no other comedies or tragedies.
Cease then to be the mockery of God; in savagery of love and death live thou and die!
Thus shall His laughter be thrilled through with Ecstasy.
-A. Crowley, The Book of Lies, Ch. 34