These times — our times — are very reactionary, full of cynicism, hypocrisy (which is self-contradiction), phoniness and fakery, and violence. These are the symptoms of nihilism and of a civilisation or era in the throes of decadence and decline — the end of the Modern Era. It has been called “the revolution of nihilism”. “All higher values devalue themselves”, as Nietzsche put it in his succinct definition of nihilism.
But this is not necessarily cause for despair or grief, even though the stakes and the perils today are very high, if not life or death for the race, perhaps even the planet. War, climate change, environmental degradation, the Sixth Extinction Event…. the list of our seemingly intractable maladies, now global in scope, is rather long and troublesome.
Nietzsche remained cheerful (or tried to anyway) despite his anticipation of “two centuries of nihilism” which he connected with the death of God. He observed, befitting our recognition of the paradoxical in the coincidentia oppositorum and enantiodromia, that nihilism had both active and passive aspects, or both creative and destructive aspects. In some ways, nihilism can be considered a necessary clearing of the decks to enable new growth, much like a forest fire that devastates an old growth forest nonetheless prepares the ground for the new generation of trees that had suffered the tyranny of the old. Some species can only reproduce and regenerate themselves in this way — by fire.
Nietzsche’s term for that is “revaluation of values” (or “transvaluation of values” — Umwertung aller Werten. The “Um-” prefix in German implies “all around”, “altogether”, or “thorough”. The German word for “environment” is Umwelt, for example). In effect, the revaluation or transvaluation of values is Nietzsche’s definition of, and term for, revolution. Nihilism, therefore, has these two aspects: there is a “passive” form of nihilism we call “decadence”. And there is an “active” form of nihilism we call “revolution”. Revolution is the antidote to decadence because they are two “diseases” of time, as Rosenstock-Huessy also recognised. Revolution destroys the past. Decadence devours the future. This is the key difference between “active” and “passive” nihilism.
Those who insist on lumping Nietzsche in with “conservative” philosophers really do Nietzsche an injustice. He was that, to be sure, but he was also a revolutionary. That’s what I admire about Nietzsche, I suppose. He was himself a dynamic coincidentia oppositorum, which he called “living beyond good and evil”. He was an alchemist, in effect. He also knew himself as a “nihilist” in both positive and negative aspects, of “having one foot in life and another in the grave”, as he put it; or his boasting of his “unique” ability to “switch background and foreground perspectives”, which fluidity of perception and consciousness is the principle of aperspectivity and is quite holistic or integralist. Nietzsche understood integrity because he was also thoroughly familiar with its contrary — disintegration, decadence, and self-contradiction. “The will to a system is a lack of integrity” he wrote. That’s very meaningful given that the Modern Era itself has been described as “will to a system” or as “the invention of a system for creating systems”.
Nietzsche has been described as the first “post-modernist”, but I think that, in many respects, that honour belongs to William Blake, who prophesied the end of the Modern system two centuries ago, also in a bout of nihilism. Some critics complain that Nietzsche, for example, is full of contradictions. Actually, he lived the paradox of life, and was himself a principle of enantiodromia in action — ie, reversal at the extremity. In that regard, he was both a conservative but also a revolutionist. Revolution in a “transvaluation of values” was his antidote to conservative decadence or reactionary attitudes.
You might recognise this from Rosenstock-Huessy’s model, previously discussed. Nietzsche was both “trajective” type (oriented towards the past and Origin) and also “prejective” type (oriented towards the future and Destiny), or what we call “conservative” and “revolutionary” or “progressive”. In that respect, he was “Janus-faced”.
The revaluation of values implies a double-movement. First, an emptying. Old, traditional values are emptied (vanus) of content or meaning. They decay and die. The second movement, which may be coincident with the first, is their resurrection with new content and new meaning. It’s a transfiguration. These values are those often called “eternal”, or those things which Aldous Huxley describes in The Perennial Philosophy. We might call those the “Lazarus values”. Nietzsche’s “revaluation of values” is death and resurrection of those values.
The revolutions of the Modern Era (the Lutheran, the English Civil War, the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution) did not, in fact, create new values. They did not create new values out of nothing. They redefined the decaying legacy values inherited from the past and restored them with new content, new meanings, and attempted to “sanitise” them of any whiff of theological reference or influence. As discussed earlier, the main secular political schisms of our day — liberalism, conservatism, socialism, environmentalism — have their origins in theological controversies and religious sects of the German (Lutheran or Protestant) Revolution. Over time, the theological or religious content of these sects has been suppressed or stripped away to become secular “ideologies” rather than religious theologies, but they can’t deny or suppress their pedigree and geneaology however much they have tried to appear “scientific” or “rational” or the “common sense”. Their theological or even mythical origins and influences are still evident in their rhetoric and symbols.
The perennial values recur again and again, but re-emerge in historical epochs wearing different masks. It is in these terms that Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” are also to be interpreted. The perennial values arise continuously from the “ever-present origin” (or the Heraclitean “Logos”) striving for actualisation, but these same values appear differently according to the structure of consciousness (the civilisational type) in which they arise — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational or the prospective “integral”.
This is another way to understand “integral consciousness”. It is also a revaluation of values. The key difference here is that the value is now perceived in all its aspects — as a holon — rather than just one biased aspect. This is that principle of perception Jean Gebser calls “aperspectivity“. Any value (or ideal) in order to become fully “real” or actualised, must have and be recognised in four aspects because our reality is a fourfold structure of two times and two spaces — past and future, inner and outer. To become “real”, therefore, a value (or ideal) must acquire these same characteristics — subjective, objective, prejective, and trajective aspects.
All the revolutions of the past attempted to restore the perennial values by exaggerating only one neglected aspect of the value or idea. Each had its bias and became lopsided. This is what we call “extremist” or “radical” without really understanding what that truly means. Only one aspect of the value is recognised and regarded as “true” or “real”, whereas to actually become real and actual at all it must acquire all four characteristics of what we call “reality”. It must take time to take place, as it were.
Our ideals and highest values can be actualised, in effect, once we understand their implicit structure as “holons”. They have a fourfold logic as much as our reality and ourselves. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” or the Buddhist mandala or the Sioux Sacred Hoop or the Christian Cross are actually maps for actualising values and for effecting a “revaluation of values”. The essence of the integral consciousness is the recognition of this implicit fourfoldness.
Jean Gebser refers to this process of actualisation as “concretion” or “presentiation”. Unfortunately, the process of realisation or manifestation of the ideal or value isn’t very clear in Gebser. He lacked a generative method or model. This generative method or model is in Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality”, which is why I think Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy belong together in order for the integral consciousness structure to be interpreted correctly. A new consciousness — a metanoia — requires a new logic. And this I think Rosenstock-Huessy successfully provides us.
A holon is represented in a mandala. It wouldn’t be a holon at all unless it were recognised in its multiform or pluriform aspects and as a multidimensional entity. That deficiency of recognition is the problem of what Blake called “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”, which he contrasted with his own “fourfold vision”. Thanks to Rosenstock-Huessy, we can interpret the structure of the holon (value). It has multiple facets, like a gem (to which a value is often compared in the Wisdom Tradition).
We are in position today to master the powers of time and space, including evolution and revolution. Gebser insisted against popular prejudice that evolution was the unfolding of a “pre-existent pattern”, and not random or accidental, as long as we understood the processes of evolution and revolution as value realisation. This is typically omitted, however, in every explanation or description of evolutionary or revolutionary change. It is the bias of the mental-rational or logico-mathematical consciousness structure to exaggerate only the objective or evident aspects of a value, and that too belongs to nihilism. But to become “real”, a value or ideal must pass through the crucible, as it were, through the four stages of realisation because our cosmos is a harmonious fourfold structure like a mandala, as is the human form. Past and future, inner and outer, or trajective, prejective, subjective and objective aspects are required for something to become truly “real”. In fact, it is evidence of our neglect of our full reality (and time) that Rosenstock-Huessy had to invent new terms for past-orientation and future-orientation, in terms of “trajective” and “prejective” to complete the usual subjective-objective polarities.
So this is the promise of the integral consciousness and The Holistic Philosophy — the conscious articulation of the ideal or value as “holon” complete or unified in its fourfold aspects. And this is, in the main, why Gebser speaks of the integral consciousness as featuring “time-freedom”. Consciousness will come to truly master the powers of time in the form of evolution and revolution, or what Nietzsche called “revaluation of values”.