Thelema Redux: Conversations with Friends




A: So, I just finished reading Kaczynski’s Perdurabo.

JT: What do you think?

A: I’d recommend it. On the whole he presents a far more coherent and balanced view of Crowley than the Symonds bio. I think for the last few years I have been struggling through the “vision of the demon Crowley” where his most difficult aspects take on monstrous proportion, and that’s literally all you can see anymore. He complained about having this effect on people. I feel much better about my investment in his work now, but I am more thoroughly convinced that the dominant interpretation found in the community simply will not work. Most of our problems, as a movement, are not new but have been with us from the beginning.

JT: Heh. I was just talking with a friend about the weird critical thinking problem we find in the community, like among people who otherwise seem able to navigate life and career just fine.

A: Well, I don’t think they see contradiction as an inherent problem. While Crowley tried to gain a rational understanding of his work – and he frequently encouraged his students to learn logic, he also indulged in self-justification through rejection of philosophical rigor. He wasn’t a philosopher and while he often found philosophers useful, suggestive, inspiring…

JT : He was an artist and a poet, and when he was told something he didn’t want to hear…

A: Exactly, and this problem still plagues us today. We point out “Hey guys, this can’t be A and B at the same time. That’s logically inconsistent.” And it’s like we’re speaking Mandarin to housecats. They just look at us like… “So?”

JT : And they can cite where Crowley avoided the same issue, or double-talked around it.

A: Right. Even if they’re smart enough to follow the point, they don’t really grasp why we think it’s so important. They are totally willing to criticize Crowley as a person, but they never trace back his errors and problems to fundamental mistakes in reasoning. Instead they trace it back to the aristocratic values of Liber AL, which they reject.

JT: Hmm… so how might a more philosophically rigorous approach help us?

A: Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between art, theurgy, philosophy, and meditation.

JT : ok

A: What do they have in common? What about each is different? What distinguishes prayer from theurgy (if anything ) and art from ordinary productive activity?

JT : Big questions.

A: Indeed.

JT: To play devil’s advocate, and taking just the last question, I would argue in both cases that there is no essential difference, it’s just about the skill of the practitioner.

A: In so much as art is the highest form of external activity, and theurgy the highest form of prayer, I agree; but each is also distinguished by their character of transcending the rest of the category. Theurgy is prayer that becomes something more than prayer. Art is productivity that is more than regular productivity; not just more quantitatively, but qualitatively.

JT: Qualitatively in that they exist in a state of greater… connection, I want to say?

A: That’s one way to put it. I think what all these have in common is an orientation to being’s transcendent aspect, rather than its merely contingent aspect. Art, for example, is the concrete materialization of the artist’s metaphysics. Philosophy – classic philosophy anyway, is the discipline and organization of thought around the transcendent dimension of being. Prayer is the orientation of the person to the transcendent through direct symbolic communication. Theurgy, pace Iamblichus, is participation in the creative demiurgy through symbol.

JT : Direct participation as opposed to supplication?

A: In a sense, although I think theurgy should always be preceded by prayer. In prayer we orient ourselves toward the highest symbol of being. In theurgy we participate in that current. Crowley in Book 4 says that all magical work should be preceded by the confession, which is part of the consecration. If one reads his description of that act, it’s pretty much prayer – rather typical Christian prayer, actually

JT: So there is no “ascent on the planes”, you’re not identifying with the Gods.

A: Right, but if you pardon the analogy, you get your compass pointed in the right direction. Okay… I’m here…. North is… that way… now I’m moving North… now I’m AT North. I am North.

JT: So how is classic philosophy different from modern?

A: Well, to further belabor this metaphor: Classic philosophy is like map making. To be worthwhile, philosophy has to be logical organization AROUND something, and that something is supposed to be the transcendent aspect of being. Philosophy is ideally the practice of organizing thought, removing contradictions, and proceeding in a rigorous manner, in order to apprehend this transcendent. Modern philosophy is more like cataloging and describing the map making process. The early and late Platonists, the Stoics, the Peripatetics, and the Cynics are all, more or less, in agreement about the purpose of philosophy – even though they disagree about various aspects and approaches. For example, Platonists and Stoics disagree about the nature of the soul and the nature of universals, but they both agree that the soul is real and that universals are important.

JT: So what happens with the philosophical project? Why does it fall apart?

A: I think Epicureanism and Academic skepticism are the first breaks with the orthodox tradition. They retain the emotional emphasis, but they’re chipping away at the project itself. Ultimately though, I think Iamblichus again points us to the answer, and it is metaphysical. Man IS spirit, but FULLY descends into the body. This is necessary for the universe to remain whole, but it also places us in a very precarious position. Without reference to the transcendent view of the whole, we can lose our way. Through theurgy we can regain that reference point. The ancient Greek philosophers, some 800 years before Iamblichus, simply assumed a traditional pagan metaphysics. Many of them were initiates of the Mysteries or at the very least, were familiar with personal worship. It’s the same problem we run into in all Traditional societies. They already know that the Gods exist. It’s a very different point of view.

JT: Right. The problems of us moderns are… well… modern.

A: But as the social order, which they saw as inherently metaphysical in origin, starts to fall apart this confidence in being’s meaning and significance also breaks down. Maybe the Gods don’t really care about us? Maybe the Gods don’t exist at all? Now what? Christianity offers a solution of sorts. It claims that reason itself must be made subservient to faith. It stops at a barrier. Below the barrier, reason is fine, so long as it does not rise above its station. Beyond this you can only have faith in a revelation that is totally outside your experience and understanding. This is subtly different from what Iamblichus and the Pagan neo-Platonists suggest.

JT: I’m not sure how subtle that is.

A: No, I suppose not. Anyway, this arrangement between reason and faith works for a while, but then things start getting funky. Gaps appear in the world-view presented by a literal reading of the Abrahamic faith. In an effort to deal with these gaps, some people start applying the philosophic method to faith. Initially the hope is to improve the faith, but the end result is that it just reveals how contradictory and ridiculous much of it is. Philosophy, however, still lacks that transcendent connection. It’s been gutted of its original context to make it compatible with Christian faith. So while philosophy has revealed the problems with the Christian synthesis, it can’t really offer a replacement. Today we either hold onto the transcendent as a personal and private “belief” or we have faith that science and technology will resolve the problem – although we really aren’t sure how.

JT: Sounds about right.

A: Crowley inherits this condition, goes looking for the experience of transcendence, finds it…and then spends the rest of his life struggling with the implications. Rather than simply admitting that the transcendent dimension of existence is real, he tries to justify the experience of transcendence within the modern worldview.

JT: hmm… but also retain his own claim to transcendent authority and “mission”.

A: Right. As a result, he often identifies that which is above consciousness as that which is below it, namely sexual desire. This is an understandable mistake if you assume that discursive reasoning is insufficient, but you are also uncertain about whether or not the transcendent experience is actual, or just a manifestation of the powers of the brain or something. You have to locate that power somewhere, so he struggles with this and ends up in weird places.

JT: Such as?

A: Well, as an example, he and Rose are in China and Crowley isn’t sure what to do with himself. He contemplates getting away from Rose and the baby to go on a “magical retirement”. They do some theurgic work and Crowley is told NOT to go on a magical retirement, but rather to leave immediately with his wife and child, return to Egypt. He blows it off and does exactly what he’s told not to do. His first daughter dies shortly afterwards. Later in his life Crowley claims that the gods killed his kid for his ignoring them. He doesn’t think ,“ I shouldn’t have abandoned my newborn and wife in China. “, or “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken a newborn on a walking tour of the 3rd world”, but “the Gods – real external beings – reshaped the world to kill off my kid because they were mad at me.” He doesn’t seem to consider that they were trying to warn him of a natural consequence, or even that it was just impersonal fate, but he assumes that, because of his “chosen” station, it HAS to be personal.

JT : There’s a pretty strong historical backing for that attitude.

A: Sure, but at the same time it’s not compatible with the fundamentals of his own purported philosophy: “There is no god but Man”. It’s this weird back and forth with him.  He believes both simultaneously “I can do whatever I want, because we make our own magic, these entities are just ways of me reaching my highest creative potential”, and at the same time –

JT : “They kill my kids when I disobey”

A: Right. At the same time, “They are real, and I have a special mission chosen by them, and since my authority is divinely sanctioned, if you don’t do what I want you to do, you are in error, because you’re contradicting the will of the gods…which is also your own highest will, of course, and you’d know that if only you did what I told you to do.”

JT: Sounds like most biblically inspired would-be rulers.

A: Naturally. On the other hand, I think his identification of the value of theurgy and meditation is correct, and his visions are beautiful and real, and more often than not he gets things right. He values liberty and genuinely wanted the best for people around him, even if his own bullshit got in the way. He shows a way out of the modern mess – that you can still have the transcendent experience without “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, like refusing modern science and technology.

JT: That’s rather a big deal. Not just “these techniques may be psychologically useful” but rather “this stuff is important for mankind”.

A: Exactly. I also think he was right about the erotic dimension of our existence as a key, but I think he’s wrong about the how and why of it, and that error made his life far more difficult than it needed to be.

JT: How so?

A: Once again he’s locating the transcendent in the physical symbol; not as a correspondence and reference, but as a literal container. It’s not just the highest embodied symbol of the whole – that would be fine. Rather it’s “God” as intellectual superstructure on the physical apparatus of your nuts. If he was philosophically rigorous, he would have realized this doesn’t hold together. It’s just nihilism with some spooky stuff, which may or may not be personally meaningful.

JT: Being raised as a “Born Again” who needed to break through so much guilt about my sexuality, and then just guilt in general, I’m hard pressed to find too much fault with what Crowley linked onto. Embracing sexuality is part of embracing and acknowledging the whole self.

A: Yes, but it also returns us to this idea of fully descending into embodiment. Eros is the infinite force into which we descend. It’s our physical connection to eternity. We have to work with this, but simply indulging in it, letting it lead us around by the dick, which Crowley not only does but explicitly TRIES to do, just leads us into mess after mess after mess.

JT: So enough about these purely modern problems, right?

A: Glad to hear I haven’t drifted too far from the topic at hand.

The New Rules

One of the chief difficulties for aspiring artists of all kinds, is that we often misunderstand the relationship between what our art could be and what it presently is.  When we encounter great art it appears like the transformative power of the magician’s staff.  Great art opens a gateway to the realm of the gods. It reveals things hidden to our normal senses. It changes our view of the world and ourselves. Great artists seem to pursue their art as a sacred calling, as if it were the grail itself: a chalice of solace and renewal to which they return again and again throughout all of life’s vicissitudes. Even among those artists who are merely technically excellent, and not necessarily endowed with greatness of insight and expression, we wonder at the power their art has to move the world. We see it bring to some riches and renown. We see it used to shield the weak, humble the wicked, build communities of friendship and tear down prison walls. Our own work of course does none of these things.  It seems rote, mechanical, and immature.  Our enthusiasm for what art represents rubs against our experience of actually doing it. We stop. We balk. We falter.  Why?
There is a pernicious lie we believe.  It is the lie of the “inner genius”. The substance of this lie is that somewhere within us resides an homunculus – a tiny person. This “inner artist” possesses all the wondrous creative power we seek, complete and fully developed. In order for us to achieve the artist’s life, it is only necessary to contact this mischievous imp, who will then spin thread into gold, make the sun still in the sky, and open the doorway to Narnia. This is assuming of course that we are “real” artists.  Non-artists don’t have an inner Shakespeare, a miniature Gauguin, or a tiny Beethoven. Perhaps they have a pet genius for spreadsheets, or an innermost sacred accountant.  Having this model of the creative process, we are disturbed when we sit down to work and find our minuscule demon missing from his station.  Perhaps we have done something to drive him away, and should seek out some kind of artist’s penance?  There is a whole industry of books, support groups, and retreats providing this service.  Perhaps we are not sensitive enough and must “develop” our “creative intuition”?  Most occult and spiritual practices are substitutes for nothing else.  Perhaps we are – horror of horrors – not a “real” artist at all, and should resign ourselves to corporate mediocrity and mindless entertainments?  Whatever it is, we must do something. Clearly something is wrong with us, for the magic gate is closed.


The simple truth is: the “little artist inside” does not exist.  There is no “inner you”.  There is only you as you find yourself: as you presently are right now.  The art you are drawn to is not a magical wand, or the holy grail of your life, or even a potent weapon for YOU.  It may become ALL of those things in time.  For now though, for YOU, it is but a possibility.  One of the many things which you may become.  It is an interest, for which you have some natural inclination.  It is material to be worked.  No different from learning to shape wood, or metal, or repair machines, or developing your body, you must approach it as a CRAFT.  For that is the possibility the art opens to you right now.  It is how the Muse first approaches anyone – not in her wedding finery, and even less in her bedclothes, but in a humble workman’s smock, bearing tools of labor. This prospect should cheer you and bring you courage, for while the sword is fearful, and the road to the grail unknown, and the wand a mystery – the potter’s wheel, the blacksmith’s anvil, the dressmaker’s shop, these things are all known and open to you.  Craft is not hard to develop.  Anyone can do it.  It only requires a little patience and a small amount of discipline.  Sadly, in our modern world of mass produced goods and “service” jobs, fewer and fewer people have any experience in craft.  Think about it.  Most working adults today have mastered little other than a very specific rote process with little or no significance outside the bureaucracy in which they work.  Because of this, a little instruction may be helpful.

In my personal experience, the development of craft is a process of three interlocking and self-perpetuating activities.  The first is practice.  You should practice your craft every day.  Even if you can only manage half an hour, or five minutes, it still counts.  Practice grows organically in time.  Some say that it takes around twenty hours of practice for a new skill to become anything other than a difficult and confusing task.  I like to think of this as a day – twenty four hours of time.  When you have spent twenty four hours doing something –  actually doing it, and not worrying about it, agonizing over it, or avoiding it,  then you have a basic understanding of what the activity actually feels like.  Of course, this is just the beginning and, even after you have been at it for some time, your work may feel mechanical, crude, and unimpressive. But practice is not fundamentally about what you produce.  Practice is the work you do on yourself, for your soul has a shape, and through practice you are molding it.  To produce great art you must first become someone who is capable of great art.  Therefore, the more you practice, the more rewarding it will become as your soul takes on the artist’s form.  Periodically however, even in the best of circumstances, you will “get stuck” and practice will seem indescribably tedious.  This brings us to the second activity: experimentation.

You must give yourself permission to try new things, things that will not work, things that will appear – to your critical mind, to lead nowhere.  Think of them as little gambles, for you are embarking on a journey of discovery, no different from a Galileo or a Magellan.  There has never been, in this turning of the cosmos, a being precisely and exactly like you: with your constitution, history, aspirations and perspective.  Thus, no one can tell you exactly how your art will be, or should be, what medium you should work in, or how you should structure your practice.  You must discover this road as you travel.  Do not abandon critical thought, but merely put it aside for a moment, and only analyze your experiment after it has run its course.  The problems of art cannot be solved merely by thinking them through.  You must think, but you also must act even – dare I say especially, without perfect knowledge.  To demand that you succeed before you have experienced failure, to know of what you are capable before you have tested your abilities, is to doom yourself to paralysis and bitter stagnation.  Art is invention.  Without uncertain and untested innovation, it becomes merely industry.  Somewhat paradoxically art must posses a recognizable form, despite what some in the “post-modern” school claim ( a nonsense phrase by the way, as art is eternal ).  Random emotional ejaculation cannot be art, because it can never first be craft.  All learning, all thought, all self-improvement, occurs within a tradition, and this brings us to the third activity to which you must apply yourself: study.

Like any other craftsman, you must study – not just your discipline, but the world.  Along with the lie of the homunculus – the “inner artist”, there is the lie of the ORIGINAL artist.  This is the lie that the content of our art is something we produce from “within” like a gall-bladder produces bile.  In fact, these are two aspects of the same lie: that the artist is some kind of isolated autodidact, and this comes from a faulty view of the world.  Do not misunderstand me.  Self-directed learning is fine, in fact it is necessary, but self-learning is not the same as self-teaching.  You cannot by definition teach yourself something you don’t already know.  The universe is not fundamentally made of isolated bits of stuff.  It is a whole – a continuum – a living body.  An artist is not a world unto himself.  Rather an artist is like a nerve – a particularly sensitive and intelligent ganglia within the cosmic body.  To improve your function as an artist you must reach out to that larger neighborhood of beings who make up “your kind”, and plug in.  To be sure, you will need periods of isolation, for reflection, digestion, and germination, but understanding comes from context.    You must know what has been done in your craft before you came: what works, what doesn’t work, what has already been tried, and what has no one ever attempted.  You must also know what is happening in the world.  To not know your craft is to be ignorant.  To only know your craft, is to be an idiot – in the technical definition of the term, doomed to repeat the same inanities over and over and over again.   For, like a nerve, you cannot decide to feel something that is not present – that does not lie within your field of experience.  To create something great, you must know what greatness looks like.  To create something new, you must experience something new.  This requires no great effort.  Newness is everywhere. Even the most ordinary experiences become profound when viewed with attention.   Cultivate attention, and you will find teachers everywhere.

These three activities: practice, experimentation, and study will develop your craft.  All you have to do is act, and not give up.  There is a fourth… thing, you must develop.  It is not an activity as such, but rather a quality. That is patience.  Be patient with yourself – and, if you do not know how, learn to be patient.  If you study your craft with diligence you will develop this quality.  Patience is not putting up with suffering.  Patience is a knack for finding contentment and happiness within all of life’s situations.  It is the art of learning how to enjoy this journey, on this planet Earth.  For in the end, we never arrive anywhere.  Every ending is the beginning of some new adventure.  No effort if wasted.  No opportunity comes too early, or too late.  There is no experience that cannot be used in the service of the universal harmony, if you come to view it in the right way.  What else did you expect, from art?


Full Circle


“Whenever you experience mental vacillation, cast your mind back to the Greco-Roman mentality as it was before the second century.”

– Montherlant

“In the first place, paganism is not a ‘return to the past.’  It does not consist of what could be called ‘one past versus another’… It is not a manifestation of a desire to return to some kind of ‘lost paradise’ (this is rather a Judeo-Christian theme), and even less… to a ‘pure origin’.

Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin.  Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended.  In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.

Far from being confused with atheism or agnosticism, it poses a fundamentally religious relationship between man and world – and a spirituality that appears to us much more intense, much more serious, and stronger than what Judeo-Christianity claims for itself.  Far from desacralizing the world, it sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word; it regards the world as sacred – and this is precisely, as we shall see, the core of paganism.”

– Alain de Benoist


Contra Hume


David Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, presents a refutation of the argument from design, sometimes called the teleological argument.  This argument suggests that a transcendent creator exists based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the world.  It is perhaps better known today as the “watchmaker argument”, the idea that if one comes across a watch on the beach, with its intricate and obviously purposeful construction, it argues that somewhere there must exist a watchmaker: a being or beings capable of applying intentionality to blind extended matter.   Hume’s refutation of this argument is upheld as definitive, and a principle herald of the modern view of nature, as the desacralized and random interactions of blind and non-perceiving substances.  Does, however, this argument hold up under scrutiny?
Hume’s refutation has the following structure:

If a creator exists, he is like the builder of a house.
If a house is not perfect, it is the builder’s fault (he is imperfect).
Therefore if the world is not perfect, it is creator’s fault (as he is also imperfect).

The world is, in fact, not perfect, therefore the god, the creator, is not perfect.
The idea of an imperfect god is absurd.
Therefore, the world does not have a creator.

There are several places where this argument could be attacked. Most obviously, we can wonder what Hume means by “perfect”. It is true that many things which happen in the world are not to our liking, but this does not necessarily point to the imperfection of the world. It could be read exactly the other way around. It may be that our wants and likings, which run counter to the world, are in error. If we were to bring our desires in line with the world, our grounds for complaint would disappear. Perhaps it is not the world that is at fault for our condemnation, but rather our judgements? If our opinions about the world depend on our judgements, and our judgements are entirely up to us, does it not follow that whether we see the world as perfect, or imperfect, is within our control?

This raises the larger question of just where we get out ideas of perfect and imperfect. A house may be judged faulty by comparing it to another house, but by what standard can we judge the world? As this world is the only one of which we presently have direct experience, (since we are in fact part of it) we have no standard against which to measure, aside from our own imaginings. Hume’s argument depends on a suppressed premise running something like, “Perfection of the world means fully meeting all of my wants and expectations. But clearly if anything is absurd in Hume’s argument, it is this unstated assumption. The world cannot admit to all the wants and expectations of every single person, as these wants and expectations are often contradictory.

Hume could counter that our very ideas of imperfection are themselves an example of a flaw, for why would a perfect creator form unhappy (or potentially unhappy) creatures? But this also rests on assumptions about what the ultimate purpose of our existence, which are going unstated. An athlete’s training, for example, is not judged good by how little it taxes him, but rather on how much it challenges him while still remaining in his power to accomplish. If the world exists as a kind of test or proving ground, its perfection would in fact require some degree of challenge and unpleasantness. In short, perfection only has meaning in reference to some standard of the perfect, and Hume is not revealing his – quite possibly because he has not examined it and is simply importing it from a secularized version of Christian morality.

Another place this argument could be attacked is in its initial analogy comparing the creator god to a human architect or builder. A human creating a house stands entirely outside the creation, and while this is similar to the role of the Abrahamic god, it is entirely different from the Stoic God which is both within and, at some level, synonymous with creation. The analogy here would be much more like comparing God to the intelligence of a living body, rather than an abstract being entirely outside an inert material entity. An argument based on the lack of perfection in the universe could still be constructed using this cosmology, but it would be far less convincing. We understand that embodied intelligences are not entirely free to shift the material of their bodies around to meet every contingency. This is yet another place that Hume’s metaphysical assumptions are revealed. The Greek mythic and philosophic tradition does not necessarily assume that the Gods must be omnipotent in order to exist. As parts of the whole, they are also constrained by the universal order.

A pagan reader might suggest therefore that only Abrahamic monotheism is disproved by Hume, and Greek philosophy is more than adequate to respond to any challenges he raised. While this is entirely reasonable, an astute Christian or Jew could counter that not even biblical monotheism is called into question by Hume, but only a very particular and largely secularized reading of it. All the major Abrahamic faiths admit to some degree in the fallen state of mankind and the world, and have lengthy and sophisticated mythologies which explain how this is possible even with a perfect creator. This concept of a “fall” from a perfect deity to an imperfect world would also not be unfamiliar to Gnostics and neo-Platonists. Even absent the appeal to a fallen world, human agency and freewill could explain our unhappiness. Hume’s argument is therefore peculiar. He wants to take the Abrahamic model for the divine and subject it to critical analysis, but outside the rest of the monotheistic ideology from which it is derived. In this he is following larger trends in western culture which lie outside the scope of this essay. What is certain however, even after this very cursory analysis, is that while Hume’s argument does reveal a very particular form of metaphysics to be logically inconsistent, it does not rule out the idea of intelligent design as such, nor the existence of god or gods which are not designers per-se, but powerful determinative forces and beings.


Thinking Aristocracy: Phase 1


What is aristocracy? How can a modern person defend aristocracy as a viable system of government, let alone pretend that an aristocratic regime could be fair and just to all under its control? Do we not all know that, as Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”?

To begin with it is essential that we frame the question adequately. This can be difficult to do, as every modern Western regime has presented itself as “a Democracy”, even the most autocratic and totalitarian; and we have been raised and educated by the state to regard democracy as the only possible just system of government – regardless of outcomes.

The following four short texts, each around 100 pages and three of the four available via Kindle, move from an examination of the origin of the democratic ideal, to the nature of politics itself, to the moral hazards inherent in democracy, and finally to the metaphysical underpinnings of the modern world.

All of this is just scratching the surface. This list is meant as a starting point, not as a full study course. Depending on what kind of feedback I get – if any, I will be happy to recommend more to interested parties.

The Problem of Democracy

by Alain De Benoist

The Concept of the Political

by Carl Schmitt

From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy

by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

The Crisis of the Modern World

by Rene Guenon

The Philosopher with an Hammer

hammer & tongs 1

We require history for life and action, not for the smug avoiding of life and action, or even to whitewash a selfish life and cowardly, bad acts. Only so far as history serves life will we serve it.

Whoever cannot settle on the threshold of the moment forgetful of the whole past, whoever is incapable of standing on a point like a goddess of victory without vertigo or fear, will never know what happiness is, and worse yet, will never do anything to make others happy.

All acting requires forgetting, as not only light but also darkness is required for life by all organisms.

The stronger the roots of the inmost nature of a man are, the more of the past will he appropriate or master; and were one to conceive the most powerful and colossal nature, it would be known by this, that for it there would be no limit at which the historical sense could overgrow and harm it; such a nature would draw its own as well as every alien past wholly into itself and transform it into blood, as it were.

And this is a general law; every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon;

Everyone will have made the following observation: a man’s historical knowledge and perception may be very limited, his horizon as restricted as that of a resident of an alpine valley, into every judgement he may introduce an injustice, into every experience the error of being the first to have that experience – and despite all injustice and error he stands firmly in indefatigable health and vigour, a pleasure to behold; while right beside him the man of greater justice and learning deteriorates and crumbles because the lines of his horizon restlesly shift again and again, because he cannot extricate himself from the much more delicate network of his justice and truths in order to engage in rude willing and desiring.

Only through the power to use the past for life and to refashion what has happened into history, does man become man.

Think of a man tossed and torn by a powerful passion for a woman or great thought… it is the most unjust condition in the world, narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to dangers, deaf to warnings, a little living whirlpool in a dead sea of night and forgetting: and yet this condition – unhistorical, contra-historical through and through – is the cradle not only of an unjust, but rather of every just deed; and no artist will paint his picture, no general acheive victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition.

Superhistorical men have never agreed whether the significance of the teaching is happiness or resignation, virtue or penance; but, opposed to all historical ways of viewing the past, they are quite unanimous in accepting the following proposition: the past and the present is one and the same, that is, typical alike in all manifold variety and, as omnipresence of imperishable types, a static structure of unchanged value and eternally the same meaning.

History belongs above all to the active and powerful man, to him who fights a great fight, who requires models, teachers and comforters and can not find them among his associates and contemporaries.

For his commandment reads: “What once was capable of magnifying the concept ‘man’ and of giving it a more beautiful content must be present eternally in order eternally to have this capacity.” That the great moments in the struggle of individuals form a chain, that in the high points of humanity are linked throughout the millennia, that what is highest in such a moment of the distant past be for me still alive, strong and great – this is the fundamental thought of the faith in humanity which is expressed in the demand for monumental historty. Precisely this demand however, that the great be eternal, occasions the most terrible conflict.

What is the advantage to the present individual, then, of the monumental view of the past, the concern with the classical and the rare of earlier times? It is the knowledge that the great which once existed was at least possible once and may well again be possible sometime; he goes his way more courageously, for now the doubt which assails him in moments of weakness, that he may perhaps want the impossible, has been conquered.

The creator has always been at a disadvantage to him who only looked on without even trying his hand; as at all times the armchair politician has been wiser, more just and judicious than the governing statesman.

This is how the connoisseurs are because they wish to eliminate art altogether; they give the appearance of physicians while their real intention is to dispense poisons; so they cultivate their tongue and their taste in order to explain fastidiously why they so insistently decline whatever nourishing artistic fare is offered them. For they do not want something great to be produced: their expedient is to say “see, the great already exists!” In truth they care as little about existing greatness as about greatness in the making: to which their life bears witness.

In the second place, then, history belongs to the preserving and revering soul – to him who with loyalty and love looks back on his own origins; through this reverence he, as it were, gives thanks for his existence. By tending with loving hands what has long survived he intends to preserve the conditions in which he grew up for those who will come after him – and so he serves life.

The small and limited, the decayed and obsolete receives its dignity and involability in that the preserving and revering soul of the antiquarian moves into these things and makes itself at home in the nest it builds there.

Here one could live, he says to himself, for here one can live and will be able to live, for we are tough and not to be uprooted over night. And so with this ‘We’, he looks beyond the ephemeral, curious, indivdiual life and feels like the spirit of the house, the generation, and the city.

But this antiquarian historical sense of reverence is of the highest value where it imbues modest, coarse, even wretched conditions in which a man or a people live with a simple touching feeling of pleasure and contentment;

How could history serve life bettern than by tying even less favoured generations and populations to their homeland and its customs, by making them sedentary and preventing their searching and contentiously fighting for something better in foreign lands?

The happiness of knowing oneself not to be wholly arbitrary and accidental, but rather as growing out of the past as its heir, flower and fruit and so to be exculpated, even justified, in one’s existence – this is what one now especially likes to call the proper historical sense.

Here there is always one danger very near: the time will finally come when everything old and past which has not totally been lost sight of will simply be taken as equally venerable, while whatever does not approach the old with veneration, that is new and growing, will be rejected and treated with hostility.

When the sense of a people hardens in this way, when history serves past life so as to undermine further and especially higher life, when the historical sense no longer preserves life but mummifies it: then the tree dies unnaturally, beginning at the top and slowly dying towards the roots – and in the end the root itself grenerally decays.

Now piety withers away, scholorly habit endures without it and, egoistically complacent, revolves around its own centre. Then you may well witness the repugnant spectacle of blind lust for collecting, of a restless raking together of all that once has been.

The fact that something old now gives rise to the demand that it must be immortal.

Here it becomes clear how badly man needs, often enough, in addition to the monumental and antiquarian ways of seeing the past, a third kind, the critical: and this again in service of life as well. He must have the strength, and use it from time to time, to shatter and dissolve something to enable him to live: this he achieves by dragging it to the bar of judgement, interrogating it meticulously and finally condemning it;

It is an attempt, as it were a posteriori to give oneself a past from which one would like to be descended: – always a dangerous attempt because second natures are mostly feebler than first.

Yet here and there a victory is acheived nevertheless, and for the fighters who use critical history for life there is even a remarkable consolation: namely, to know that this first nature also was, at some time or other, a second nature and that every victorious second nature becomes a first.

Each man and each people requires according to their goals, strengths and needs, a certain knowledge of the past, sometimes as monumental, sometimes as antiquarian, sometimes as critical history… but always only for the purpose of life and therefore also always under the rule and highest direction of that purpose.

Knowledge of the past is at all times desired only in the service of the future and the present.

Knowledge, taken in excess withough hunger, even contrary to need, no longer acts as a transforming motive impelling to action and remains hidden in a certain chaotic inner world which that modern man, with curious pride, calls his unique “inwardness”. He may then say that he has the content and that only the form is lacking; but in all living things this is quite an unseemly opposition. Our modern culture is nothing living just because it cannot be understood at all without that opposition, that is: it is no real culture at all but only a kind of knowledge about culture.

In the inner being sentiment may well sleep like a snake which, having swallowed whole rabbits, calmly lies in the sun and avoids all movement except the most necessary.

Everyone who passes by wishes only one thing, that such a culture not perish of indigestibility.

For from ourselves we moderns have nothing at all; only by filling and overfilling ourselve with alien ages, customs, arts, philosophies, religions and knowledge do we become something worthy of notice, namely walking encyclopedias.

The people that can be called cultured must in reality be a living unity and not fall apart so miserably into an inside and an outside, a content and form. If you want to strive for and promote the culture of a people, then strive for and promote this higher unity and work to annihilate modern pseudo-culture in favor of a true culture; dare to devote some thought to the problem of restoring the health of a people which has been impaired by history, to how it may recover its instincts and therewith its integrity.

What means shall he use? What is now left him but his deep knowledge: in expressing it, disseminating it, distributing it generously he hopes to plant a need: and from this strong need a strong deed will one day arise.

In this truth-in-need, however, our first generation must be raised; certainly it will suffer the most from this truth, for through it it must raise itself, and even itself against itself, into a new habit and nature out of an old and first nature and habit:

First give me life and I will make you a culture from it!

This same youth also guesses with the curative instinct of that same nature how that paradise is to be regained; it knows the ointments and medicines for the historical malady, for the excess of the historical: and what are they called?

Do not be surprised, they bear the names of poisons: the antidotes to the historical are called – the unhistorical and the superhistorical. With these names we return to the beginnings of our essay and to their calm.

By the word “unhistorical” I denote the art and the strength of being able to forget and to enclose oneself in a limited horizon: “superhistorical” I call the powers which guide the eye away from becoming and towards that which gives existence an eternal and stable character, towards art and religion.

It is possible that we, the historically sick, will also have to suffer from the antidotes. But that we suffer from them is no proof that the treatment is incorrect.

But at that final point in their cure they have become human again, and have ceased to be humanoid aggregates – that is something!

And how do we arrive at that goal? you will ask. Already at the beginning of a journey to that goal the Delphic god calls his motto to you: KNOW THYSELF. It is a hard motto: for the god “does not conceal and does not reveal, but only indicates” as Heraclitus has said. What does he point out to you?

The Greeks learned gradually to organize chaos by reflecting on themselves in accordance with the Delphic teaching, that is, by reflecting on their genuine needs, and letting their sham needs die out. Thus they took possession of themselves again; they did not long remain the overloaded heirs and epigoni of the whole orient; after a difficult struggle with themselves and through the practical interpretation of that motto they even became the happiest enrichers and increasers of the inherited treasure and the firstcomers and models of all coming cultured peoples.

This is the parable for each one of us: he must organize the chaos within himself by reflecting on his genuine needs.

Thus the Greek concept of culture – will be unveiled to him, the concept of culture as a new and improved nature, without inside and outside, without dissimulation and convention, of culture as the accord of life, thought, appearing and willing.

– All selections above by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Peter Preuss, and published by Hacket Publishing as “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life” in 1980. All selections and edits by yours truly, for my personal use and not meant for commercial distribution in any way.


( Perusing my hard drive this morning I happened upon a paper I wrote several years ago on the subject of belief.  While perhaps less complete than it could be, I think it dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post on materialism.  It was not originally written for online publication, and I think this shows in its length and style, but rather to satisfy the needs of a college philosophy course.  Still, it sheds some light on what may follow as a logical followup question from yesterday for some of my readers, namely, “What then, is knowable?”  Properly speaking this is the subject of epistemology and this essay is insufficient to address that question in any depth.  I hope it may be enough to point the reader towards my source material, particularly the work of William James and Martin Heidegger, who cover this subject in a far more insightful and enlightening manner. ) 


Why do we believe what we believe? By belief I do not mean what we profess to believe or what we want to believe, but what we actually assume to be true about ourselves and the world. The term “belief” seems a little old fashioned in our post-modern society. We are accustomed to thinking of beliefs as little more than private fantasies – harmless if kept within the confines of our own heads, and of no proper bearing on external reality. Those who seek to impose their beliefs on others we regard as suspect, or outright criminal. Our educational system, designed to produce technicians of a highly skilled nature, reinforces this paradigm of arriving at justified belief only after a vigorous investigation of phenomenon, based on certain concrete and ‘proven” rules of discovery and analysis; OR from authority figures that follow these same rules. In this way, the cosmologist has replaced the theologian, and the psychologist, the priest.

W.K. Clifford, in his essay The Ethics of Belief sums up this modern perspective when he says, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” (Clifford, 79) By evidence he means empirical evidence, or something very much like it. For Clifford, and I contend for many of us, evidence is only really evidence when it is publicly demonstrable. “Belief, that sacred faculty which prompts the decisions of our will, and knits into harmonious working all the compacted energies of our being, is ours not for ourselves but for humanity. It is rightly used on truths which have been established by long experience and waiting toil, and which have stood in the fierce light of free and fearless questioning.” (Clifford, 78) Clifford is less concerned with truth per se, as with methodology. “The question of right or wrong has to do with the origin of his belief, not the matter of it; not what it was, but how he got it; not whether it turned out to be true or false, but whether he had a right to believe on such evidence as was before him.” (Clifford, 77)

Let us keep this perspective of Clifford’s in mind as we entertain a possible problem of belief, specifically a moral belief. Fatima is a Muslim woman living in America, a working mother and a college student. Andrea was raised “non-denominational” Christian, and has no fixed religious beliefs. Andrea is a long time friend, an anthropology student and an agnostic. Fatima has a young daughter named Isabella, who is preparing for her first day of kinder-garden. The problem is that Fatima insists her daughter wear the hijab: a head scarf and face wrap, combined with a concealing dress, worn by orthodox Muslim women when in public. Andrea protests. Her argument is that the hijab is not legally required in America, is an unnecessary repression, will lower Isabella’s self esteem and is a morally reprehensible practice forced on women by a patriarchal ruling caste. She points to the repressive regimes of the Middle East, regimes Fatima and her husband moved to America to escape, as “proof” of the immoral nature of this practice. Fatima responds that the hijab preserves a woman’s special and protected place in society. She claims that it will allow an adult Isabella to fully express her femininity by not marketing her as “a good to be bought, sold and gawked at” on the public streets. She points out that she, herself, wears the hijab in public, and does so without any pressure from her husband. She also points to the high rate of divorce, medication and general unhappiness of western women as “proof” of the beneficial nature of this practice. Now, how would Clifford judge the situation? Whose belief is right? Neither Fatima nor Andrea can offer any empirical evidence in favor of her position. Clifford would probably recommend that both with-hold judgment until such evidence appears. But what would count as evidence? Must young Isabella be denied an education until a consensus is reached? Moreover, a consensus among whom? Child physiologists? Does the religion of the psychologist matter? What methodology should they use in reaching their conclusions? Is the field of psychology even the final answer on this question? If it is revealed that regular doses of cocaine improve psychological states of depression, should we hand out cocaine to all teenagers?

William James puts his finger on the issue when he says, “Moral questions immediately present themselves as questions whose solution cannot wait for sensible proof. A moral question is a question not of what sensibly exists, but of what is good, or would be good if it did exist. Science can tell us what exists; but to compare the worths, both of what exists and of what does not [yet] exist, we must consult not science but what Pascal calls our hearts….” (James, 95) When James references our “hearts” he is talking about, as he calls it, our “passional nature”, our desire to seize at the truth, even where empirical evidence is lacking. James remarks that there are actually two epistemological rules which govern justified belief. One is, indeed, to avoid error. The other is to hold to truth. But, he emphasizes, these two rules are wholly separate. “We must know the truth; and we must avoid error – these are our first and great commandments as would-be knowers; but they are not two ways of stating an identical commandment, they are two separable laws. Although it may indeed happen that when we believe the truth A, we escape as an incidental consequence from believing the falsehood B, it hardly ever happens that by merely disbelieving B we necessarily believe A. We may in escaping B fall into believing other falsehoods, C or D, just as bad as B; or we may escape B by not believing anything at all, not even A!” (James, 94) Therefore, we can only hold out for empirical evidence when there is no particular demand that we seize the truth (or as close as we can reach towards it) right now. James does not hold that empirical reasoning is invalid; only that it is limited. When we look at questions that are proper to empirical reasoning, they are generally questions that are not, as James puts it, forced or momentous. “Wherever the option between losing truth and gaining it is not momentous, we can throw the chance of gaining truth away, and at any rate save ourselves from any chance of believing falsehood, by not making up our minds at all till objective evidence has come.” (James, 94) So when are we justified in allowing our passional nature to dictate our beliefs? “Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, ‘Do not decide, but leave the question open,’ is itself a passional decision – just like deciding yes or no – and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth…” (James, 93-94)

Returning to the case of young Isabella, we cannot hold out for objective evidence. She must go to school tomorrow and she must wear something. The question is, as James puts it, forced. If we decide to let her wear whatever she wants, we have not made a neutral choice, but rather asserted that a five year old child is capable of knowing how to properly dress herself, a highly questionable and not at all objectively based assertion. Moreover the question is certainly a “live” one, as James puts it, for Fatima and Andrea. They both have stakes in the outcome of the situation. Admittedly, Fatima has a larger stake, as Isabella’s mother. Lastly, the choice is momentous. Our patterns for proper behavior are imprinted at a young age. What she learns as a child will affect Isabella, positively or negatively, for the rest of her life. In this situation, a choice not only can be made by “passional nature”, it MUST be made.

So, what choice will Fatima make? James has an answer for that as well. She will choose based on “prestige” – which is just a fancy way of saying she’ll try to make the best choice. If she holds Andrea’s opinion in high esteem, she may relax her insistence on Isabella wearing the hijab. If she holds her cultural background in higher esteem, things will be different. Perhaps she will consult with an older relation or local religious leader. The point is that human beings must occasionally strike out towards the truth, even if it means risking error. Clifford’s injunction, “It is never lawful to stifle a doubt;” (Clifford. 80) is not only unrealistic, it is inhuman.

The deeper question in play here is not merely whether or not we should have some kind of thought behind our actions, but rather a debate about what kinds of thoughts should be allowed to determine or justify human action. This is really the essence of the question of “belief”. By seeking to define “beliefs” as those thoughts which are not empirically justified, we are actually seeking to uphold one style of belief over another. By denying that the empirical process itself is based on certain a priori assumptions, we seek to elevate it above the status of “belief” and into the status of “truth”. What we actually accomplish by this is not the elevation of science, but the degradation of thought. Heidegger points out, in his Letter on Humanism “The characterization of thinking as ‘theorizing’ and the determination of cognition as a way of behaving is one already in accord with the ‘technical‘ explanation of thinking. It is more a reactive move to preserve a sort of independence for thinking in contrast with action and doing. Since then ‘philosophy’ has had to justify its kind of life before ‘science’. It thinks that this will most certainly happen by elevating itself to the level of science. Yet these efforts mount to the relinquishment of the essence of thinking. Philosophy is pursued by the fear of losing respect and value if it is not science. This is regarded as a shortcoming which is equated with being ‘unscientific’.” (Heidegger, 2)

What Heidegger is getting at is really the same point that James tries to make at the conclusion of his essay The Will to Believe: “In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap in the dark.” (James, 97) Our existence is not, in all cases, perfectly rational. It is not only that we have yet to attain reason, but rather that being has never, and probably will never, present itself in a fully rationally and comprehensible manner. Therefore, thinking is properly an embrace of being according to different rules at different times. James and Heidegger recognize this fact, which is why we can apply James to the complex field of human interaction and arrive at clarity. Clifford, on the other hand, wishes to cut off an entire field of human activity, and thought, and label it “irrational” whether or not it arrives at the truth of any given situation. “…the question is not whether their belief was true or false, but whether they entertained it on wrong grounds.”( Clifford, 77) This amounts to labeling certain types of thought as “witchcraft” or prohibited thought. Wrong, even where it is effective. Whether or not human life is even possible in a world run by Clifford’s rules I do not know, but I believe that I would not want to live there.

Works Cited: 

Clifford, W.K., “The Ethics of Belief,”

James, William, “The Will to Believe”,

Heidegger, Martin, “Letter on Humanism”