Nihilism. What’s Your Flavour?
Forget about finding salvation in formal politics. Whether it’s reactionary non-conserving conservatism or illiberal liberalism, the practice of formal politics presently has become part of the self-negation of the Modern Era. Contemporary politics also traffics in nihilism. Even despite itself.
Nihilism. We are all now caught up in its compulsive current and are being swept along in its thanatic imperative. It is the dominant trend of our “end of times” and it is the intuition of this that fuels all manner of doomsday cults and prophesies, not unlike the millenarian cults of the Late Middle Ages. As then, so now. They are not causes so much as symptoms and effects.
The moods of nihilism are four, and that number is not accidental. As diagnosed by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, war, revolution, decadence (or reaction), and anarchy are the four moods of nihilism. All are presently, and to an ever intensifying degree of pressure, actively working to dissolve the bindings of civilised life. It is no longer a premonition, as it was with Nietzsche, that we are fated to undergo “two centuries of nihilism”. We are already in the thick of it, and “undergo” is the proper term for this.
As Rosenstock-Huessy observed, these four moods of nihilism are “speech diseases”. In some form or another they arise through some impediment or impairment in the currency of vital speech. In other posts, I have named our own “four riders of the apocalypse” as Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind, these being the reflections of this nihilism within speech and action; or, more correctly, as the divorce of speech and action, word and deed, the talk and the walk. This is the dia-bolic situation.
The political pornography of lip-service is the disease of decadence, and decadence today is the degenerative disease of the social nervous system. The human predicament is painful to observe, everyone crying “peace, peace, where there is no peace”, as it were. Speech pays lip-service to esteemed and honoured values and ideals even as these values and ideals are defaced, debased, and dishonoured in practice. A diabolic situation exists where there is no integrity of speech and action. Loss of integrity is disintegration. Disintegration is nihilism.
“All higher values devalue themselves” was Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism. How can values effectually devalue themselves? Lip-service is the millstone through which values become pulverised. Where speech and act do not correspond, you have a dualism of mind and body, spirit and matter, subject and object. It is between these perceived dichotomies and antinomies that values come to be ground down. The pernicious effect of lip-service is to induce cynicism towards all values.
A good analogy for how “all higher values devalue themselves” is J.R.R. Tolkien’s orcs, for they were once elves who become debased and deformed through the seductions of the ring of power.
Against the nihilism and decadence of lip-service there is really only one effective remedy, and that is revolution. That is why you hear so much of this word today, although most things that are called “revolutionary” are not. They are reactionary and therefore mere lip-service also. The essence of the revolutionary is what Nietzsche called “transvaluation of values” or “revaluation of values”. Revolutions seldom create new values. They revive old ones but on a new basis. “Resurrection” from the dead or “redemption from sin” could even be said to be the meaning of “revaluation of values”; a least, a different way of expressing the same process by which “all that is old is made new again” after the old has fallen into decay and degeneracy.
A revolution can be nihilistic, to be sure, if it is born of resentment alone and directs its energies only towards destroying the past. It can be creative only where it effects to create a new future through a revaluation of values. Most revolutions fail because hatred of the past, born of resentment, comes to overrule love of an as yet unrealised future. Revolutions are never arbitrary. They are responses to a society no longer functioning satisfactorily and from which the spirit has already flown — the condition already being called “malaise of modernity” and for which the archetypal image of the “zombie” has become symbolic of its spiritual condition.
I’ll have occasion, in future posts, to show why a real revolution is in process of formation presently, one which will be truly planetary in scope, but which has little to do with economic “globalisation”. It is as yet still not completely articulate about itself — still not yet fully conscious of itself as such — but the signs of its incipience are clear and unmistakable.