Will and Intent
I have been away on business over the past week. Despite that distraction, my thoughts remained absorbed with the issues raised over the last few posts on the meaning of fascism, and particularly as it manifested in the psychology and the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler — full of so much self-devouring and self-annihilating self-contradiction. In the evenings in my hotel room, I mused and mulled over it all, and all over it again.
I remain intrigued by Seth’s comments in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events that Hitler was driven by a deeper impulse of self-loathing towards total self-destruction than was expressed by his personal willfulness and his glorification of “will”. In retrospect, given Hitler’s career, it seems quite self-evidently so, and that the psychology of Mussolini and Hitler — and of the fascist mentality more generally — was already prefigured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which came to Stevenson complete in a dream.
And what a strange dream that must have been, for Jekyll and Hyde are the symbolic forms exemplifying the dynamic of self-contradiction in which two contrary powers or values in one psyche meet and become mutually annihilate.
There are many instances in the historical record in which Hitler’s conduct and rhetoric manifested evidence of this same tendency to self-annihilation and of his apparent desire to (as they say) go out in a blaze of glory like the Wagnerian heroes he so admired and identified with — and even obsessed about — in Wagner’s operas. One particularly insightful book on the question of Hitler’s obsession with Wagner’s operatic tragic heroes is Peter Viereck’s Meta-politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind.
Therefore, the nature of this self-contradiction is fundamentally a conflict between intent and will. We have the tendency to treat the meanings of “intent” and “will” as being synonyms, but they are not. If you have watched, for example, the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will you will be led to believe something different — the Nazis’ will to world domination — than the essential undercurrent, which is the completely unconscious intent to fulfill the impulse towards total self-destruction in a kind of “Twilight of the Gods”.
Therein lies the subtle difference between a covert intent and an overt will which is the essence of self-contradiction — perhaps of all self-contradiction. Hitler’s self-annihilating intent overruled, finally, his merely personal will. His intent and his will were in contradiction, and his personal will became the unwitting slave of his innermost intent.
Therein lies, I believe, the root of what we have been calling “perverse outcome,” “unintended consequence,” “blowback,” “reversal of fortune,” or “ironic reversal” more generally. Where the personal will is not in harmony with intent, but is in conflict with that intent, then you have that “inner division of modern man” which was Jean Gebser’s insight into the disintegrate situation of the Late Modern psyche. The relation of will and intent is somewhat parallel to what, say, Carl Jung described as the relation of Ego to Self.
I think it is important to pursue this much further, not least because the discrepancy between personal willfulness and what is called “intent” figures so prominently in the works of Carlos Castaneda (and also in most world religions) and parallels some issues Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of consciousness in which the shaping or making power of consciousness is expressed by its “intentionality” or as intending the objects of consciousness. And, if you have been with The Chrysalis for any time, you may recognise in this potency of “intentionality” (or intensity) of consciousness also the gist of Seth’s repeated statement that “you create the reality you know”.
Yet, how do you do that without really knowing it or how you go about that process? The answer lies in the distinction that must be made between intent and will. You have probably heard Robert Burns’ oft-quoted lines from his very great ode “To a Mouse” that “the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
The answer to that is the discrepancy that exists between intent and will (or what is called “volition”). Ironically, there is a case to be made that there is indeed no “free will” — (at least, until there is). But that conclusion that there is “no free will” is based on an error that confuses intent and will.
And with these preliminary comments, I’ll attempt in further posts to make that distinction more explicit. For I do feel that we are at the root of many false dilemmas and controversies right here in the failure to understand the inter-play of intent and will and the distinction that must be made between the two. In fact, the Socratic (and Delphic) maxim “Know Thyself!” has absolutely no meaning unless we come to understand that there is, indeed, a difference between my intent and my will.