The Drawn and the Driven

Between posts in The Chrysalis, I’ve been reading in the pagan historians — Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch — for no other reason, I suppose, than to discover a part of Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth of human history. Herodotus is interesting for being “the father of history”, meaning, of course, that he belongs to the early incipience of the mental-rational structure of consciousness otherwise known as “Greek rationalism” or what Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy called “the Greek Mind”, the rebirth of which is the entire theme and meaning of the Renaissance (appropriately, French for “rebirth” or resurrection) after the long European Dark Age.

For the more serious student of the history of consciousness and of the origins of the mental-rational structure, I very highly recommend the brilliant, and unjustly neglected, book by Bruno Snell entitled The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought.

Another reason for immersing myself in the so-called “pagan” historians, philosophers, and myths is an attempt to discover the meaning of paganism and of the pagan soul, since we presently also seem to be revisiting, recuperating, and reviving many of its traits, moods, and characteristics — often quite unaware that we are actually doing so. I am especially trying to understand why the “Good News” of Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel of salvation, redemption, or liberation became so attractive to the pagan temperament, so much so that the life and death of Jesus came to be considered the caesura, pivot, or turning point of history, in as far as those in the West, at least, now measure history in terms of “before” and “after” his life. Rosenstock-Huessy once remarked that the Christian cross represented an impenetrable barrier to any absolute or complete reversion to paganism. If true, it may behoove us to try to understand what he means by such a judgement, since it has been attempted many times in modern history since the Renaissance, and most especially in the last century. Fascism was just such an attempt to purge European history of Judeo-Christian influences in order to revive the pagan soul and effect a return to paganism.

More recently, this has been also the general tendency in contemporary political ideology, particularly in the neo-conservatism inspired by the political philosophy of Leo Strauss and the Straussians, and the “warrior politics” grounded in a renewed “pagan ethos” promoted by Robert D. Kaplan.

Much of this “nihilism” in relation to two millenia of Western, and even World, history seems to be attendant upon Nietzsche’s announcement of the death of God.

There is an old saying which states “be careful what you wish for. You just might get it”. In relation to “born again pagans” it is particularly sound advice, for the perverse judgements of a Robert D. Kaplan are as “pagan” as the most romantic Wiccan and born-again-pagan.  Few of sound mind (which excludes Mr. Kaplan and many others) would, I think, after reading The Histories of Herodotus, embrace a return to paganism. The times he describes were blood-thirsty, frightful, and manic — full of despair, fear, rage, brutality, cruelty, suffering, vengeance, mania, terror, pessimism and hopeless fatalism. Herodotus shares with Solon, and the legend of Midas and Silenus which Nietzsche found so meaningful, the belief that it is far better to die early than to live, or, even better, to have never been born at all.

Herodotus, for example, describes the custom of the Thracians to mourn birth and celebrate death as the only release from suffering. Solon, accounted in Herodotus as one of the seven Wise Men of antiquity, even insists that the happiest of men are those who come to an early end.

This mood of pessimism and fatalism, widely shared in the moods and myths of the pagan world, is reflected in the Greek notion that the ages of man have passed into a descending and therefore decadent order of time through four Ages of Man — from Golden, through Silver, through Bronze and presently into an Iron Age of universal depravity. This view is not about technology or metallurgy, but about the tenor and temper of the soul and spirit. It is, in effect, an echo of the Biblical myth of the Fall of Man from an originary pristine and pure spiritual state into a gross materialistic and egoistic state — the equivalent doctrine of original sin. The individual and mankind are fatefully chained to the precedents and the consequences of all past actions.

This mood is rendered by the poet Pindar, who Herodotus cites in relation to his observations of the behaviours of men in his time,

“Custom, the king of all
Of mortals and immortals,
Leads, justifying that which is most violent,
By its very powerful hand.”  

Custom, or tradition, is nomos — law or rule. It presently forms our word “economy” also, and the “laws” of economics are a contemporary rendering of the inexorable fatalism of nomos that compels men and gods, too. This mood of fatalism, so characteristic of paganism, is re-constituted now in economic “law”, and finds its equivalent (reactionary) political expression in Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no alternative”. By “nomos“, in other words, human beings are driven from behind like oxen by the whip of fear or guilt. It is the same image as Adam and Eve being forcibly driven out of Eden by a cherubim wielding a whip. And if one word might sum up the entire mood of the pagan world, it is the word “driven“.

The stark and brutal image of that theme of being “driven” was the literal practice of the Persian commanders of their subjected and conscripted soldiers from other nations to whip them into battle. Herodotus in The Histories comments that whips were applied by the Persian commanders against conscripted nations to urge them to fight — the recalcitrant nations, that is, who were draughted into the imperial army. The whip against the back is exactly the symbol or image of coercion, and of being driven from behind, by the past, in the form of nomos — custom or tradition.

Now, this fatalism and fear is exactly what the “Good News” or Gospel of Jesus overrules. It is the draw from ahead, not the drive from behind that makes Jesus the one who inverts the order of time. Unlike earlier prophets, Jesus does not teach at all a “return to the roots” or a fear of God, but a love of the future. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” has nothing to do with the past. God realisation is in the future, not the past, and this is waiting for mankind to faithfully keep its appointment with its destiny. This is what makes destiny and fate contraries and not synonyms. Destinies are chosen, while fates are compulsions. “Conversion” means to have one’s face turned in a new direction, and this is what Jesus attempts to bring about. Man should not driven by fear, but drawn by love, if he so chooses. Love is the drawing power or attracting force, not fear or coercion. Love and fear thus stand in opposed relation to one another as the drawing power and the driving power, respectively. “Be thou therefore perfect, even as thy Father in Heaven…” overrules all past or nomos as absolute or decisive power and as being “the king of all” in Pindar’s phrase, and makes time the process of liberation and redemption now become secular “progress”.

For Jesus, human beings have an appointment with a God who is waiting for us in the future, and the love of God is the power of attraction that draws us on to keep our appointment with that future and that destiny. The three powers that Jesus considered most important in the spiritual life — faith, hope, and love (caritas) — were all about realising as presence the “Kingdom”  as being at hand, but yet the unrealised or unmanifested future.

This is why Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” and Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” are profoundly pagan and, ultimately one might say, anti-Christ.

This is what distinguishes the “Christian” from the “pagan”, and it is a matter of our attitude towards time. Most Christians today are actually pagan in their attitudes because of they no longer have faith that all human beings have a common appointment with their destiny. “Fear of God” (or, what is now equivalent, the punishing “invisible hand” of the marketplace which resembles the whip-handed Cherubim) which is the pagan attitude of being driven by fear, has once again overruled love. In consequence, faith has been confused with mere belief, destiny merely with fate and determinism, and love confounded with fear.

Everything that Jesus taught was designed to overrule the tyranny of “custom” or “nomos” as Pindar described it. Those who are drawn by love are distinguished from those merely driven by fear, and this is what makes the difference between faith and belief, or, equivalently, destiny versus fate, and consequently freedom versus slavery, and therefore the drawn and the driven. In secular terms, this became the revolutionary mood against the reactionary mood towards time; also, the future and the past.

The drawn are those who act freely according to the powers of love; the driven are those who respond only to coercion and are slaves to fear.

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6 responses to “The Drawn and the Driven”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    I had just started to read from “The Complete Works of Tacitus.” This posting reminds me that I’ve got to get the one by Herodotus.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Herodotus is interesting to me for one especial reason — the controversial “Constitution Debate” that reputedly transpired after the death of the Persian king Cambyses and the assassination of the usurper called “the false Smerdis” — a Magus who impersonated Cambyses brother (who Cambyses had had murdered anyway) and so assumed the throne of the Persian Empire. The plotters in this case afterwards debated the best form of government for Persia. One (Orantes) reputedly argued in favour of isonomia (equality of all before the law) which was in effect democracy. Another argued rather in favour of oligarchy, while the third (Darius) argued for monarchy. These debates were carried out in a popular assembly, and Darius won and became imperator/emperor.

      There are a few other places in Herodotus where the contest between popular government, oligarchy, and despotism (tyrannos) are highlighted, and quite often the popular assembly choosing oligarchy or tyranny instead of democracy. In Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, we see the same contest played out in his history of Athens. The same controversies and political struggles which raged then, rage now. Reading in Herodotus and Plutarch (who was a bigot, as far as I’m concerned) does add some depth to Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay “Polybius, or The Reproduction of Government” which appears as Chapter XI in the book (online) I Am an Impure Thinker. These issues have never been thoroughly resolved in history — that’s the interesting thing.

      The other interesting (one might say “disturbing”, rather) is how easy it is to bring people around to thinking and acting against their own and the general public interest, which is more pronounced in Plutarch than in Herodotus. In many respects — perhaps the most surprising thing of all — is that there is not much difference, it seems, between the “pagan” world and our own in political terms. In other words, although this is supposedly the incipience of the “mental-rational structure of consciousness” from Herodotus to Plutarch, it does not seem to have been widely distributed amongst the populace, and between Herodotus and Plutarch are over four centuries.

      Something that makes me go, “hmmm”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Almost 27 years ago, I saw an outstanding TV series by the BBC which was an enactment of Herodotus’ life. I remember one of the actors in the series was Peter Ustinov. This was the first time I’d ever heard of Herodotus. If the BBC series was an accurate depiction of his life, then he was a really decent truthful fellow, which I think is pretty important for someone who’s writing about events in history. What’s also fascinating about his work, in my opinion, is that it is perhaps the only account of the ancient Persian history surviving to this day. Whatever Persians kept of themselves in their scrolls seems to have been lost over the centuries in the invasions by Alexander the Great, the Arabs, and the Mongolians.

        Your distinction of the focus of the works of Plutarch and Herodotus has gotten me interested in reading Plutarch, as well. Maybe Mazzini may have taken a few pages from the work of Plutarch in using the nationalistic emotions of the otherwise content middle-classes to act against their own interests and eventually bringing misery upon themselves with fascism.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Discovered Gebser on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/johndavidebert?feature=watch
    A series by John David Ebert, who has also apparently published a book on film that explores Gebser’s ideas in relation to the cinema Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons.

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