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From Frans Francken the Younger, Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice
John Bruce Leonard

The Secular State

The secular state leads men to moral and metaphysical decline.

Let us cease our mincing of words: for the present moment, with its crisis and its hazard, is not a time for muttering. The secular state, that famed secular state in which modernity takes such inordinate pride, as if by its invention alone we had all at a blow resolved the age-old theologico-political problem – this secular state is in truth nothing other than the atheistic state, and the only conceivable motive for preferring the one term to the other, is the purely rhetorical, not to say propagandic, concern with avoiding harsh and alienating language. For really, ‘secular’ has so much more a soothing and even encouraging ring to it than ‘atheistic’, and is so much less likely to bring a man to put up his arms. But it is the practice of the lax, the sophistical and the base, to flatter what is low with hollow but nice-sounding language.

Secular democracy – the atheistic state – sucks from the core of society all its highest yearning and meaning, its highest purpose, and replaces these at best with purely mechanical and animalistic goals and ambitions.

The secular state is revolutionary in a deep sense; it is representative indeed of the fundamental revolution at the bottom of all modernity. It would divide the law of man from the law of the gods; it would posit the first as the law governing public life, and the second as that governing, at most and according to individual preference, private life. Now, all religious faiths, taking this word in its widest sense as the vital belief in an independent deity, culminate in a-political or super-political forms – either in the life of the anchorite, utterly detached from the political aspect of social life, or else in the ‘god-emperor’ who is at once the political apex of that life and the sling to launch one beyond it – the pontifex, builder of bridges. Christianity, from whose ground the idea of the secular state first arose, would seem to present an exception to this rule; with those famous words of the Christ – ‘give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’ – it would seem to have transcended the old religio-political relations. Yet Ancient Rome itself, which can hardly be accused of lacking in politico-social instincts, interpreted this very Christian attitude as anarchism, and persecuted the Christians as it would have any law-breaking criminals. And verily, the serious forms of Christianity, as embodied by men of real faith, have never failed to culminate precisely in the forms which we have mentioned, albeit in specifically Christian flavour: either the Saint, or the Church.

All religious faiths arrive sooner or later at the same conclusion: any faith which is not permitted to put its imprimatur on social and political forms, either must extricate itself wholesale from extant forms, or else it demonstrates that it is not a faith, but at most only a hobby, a whim, or a prayer. The idea of private faith as distinguished from public life is simply chimerical; for it asserts of necessity the primacy of man’s law over that of the gods, and thus denies the latter in its transcendent essence.

Nor does the famed dictum of the Christ hereabove mentioned really indicate any reconciling possibility. For as every Christian knows, while the taxes might truly belong to Caesar, very little else does; and in any conflict between the law of the state and the law of God, one is more than duty-bound to become a criminal by all worldly standards. In key cases, nothing less than one’s soul depends on one’s defiance of the law. The secular state, if it wished to abide by Christ’s words, should have to pass no law whatever counter to Biblical teaching. That is to say – it should cease to be a sovereign state. It should have to become either a ‘secular state conforming to Christian principle’, which is of course a contradiction in terms, or else a ‘secular anarchy’, which permits the Christian to live according to his conscience. Yet, while anarchy and Christianity may well be deeply spiritually compatible, to call anarchy itself ‘secular’ is simply meaningless; for anarchy is characterized precisely by the absence of all forms of rule, precisely by the absence of all law, be it the law of the gods or that of men. Thus the idea of a ‘secular state’ compatible with authentic Christian belief is an absurdity; such a state would either cease to be secular, or would cease to be a state.

The secular state can therefore only mean the favouring of the law of man to the exclusion of that of the gods – and no matter what one might say on behalf such a scheme, it is certain that its basic presupposition can only be that the law of the gods is false or indemonstrable. But that means, and must mean – atheism. Nor should one become embroiled here with specious concept splitting to the effect that ‘agnosticism’ is really the fitter term, insofar as the ‘secular state’ (e.g., in its manifestation as the ‘open society’) makes no pronouncement on the existence of the gods. Agnosticism is meaningful only as an epistemological, never as a moral or political, position; for the agnostic, if he takes his ignorance in the matter of divine things seriously, is forced to live and act as an atheist. The true agnostic is he who says: ‘There are gods, but I know not who or what they be’. He who says instead, ‘I know not if there are gods at all’ needs must live precisely as the man who denies the gods entirely. The agnostic and atheist both live by virtue of lights which are not divine; they both of them act without regard for the will of the gods, though their motives for this might differ; they both live and act, that is to say, without the influence of the divine, without the divinities. They are both of them a-theistic in the proper sense, and they live by man’s law – if they live by any law at all.

The Law of Man

The law of the gods takes its legitimacy from its divine origin; it is the law handed down by the gods or the sons of gods or the students of gods. The laws of men take their legitimacy from their ‘utility’ alone.

Here it might be interjected that the law of man ideally takes its legitimacy, not from its utility, but from its justice. But immediately arises the perennial problem of democracy. Justice means giving to each human being what is fit to him: suum eius is the principle of justice, and this toward the end of virtue, of perfecting human excellence in those human beings who are capable of such perfection. But very few human beings are capable even of determining or recognizing human virtue, much less attaining it. The law of justice, or the just law of man, is that law which works toward the fulfilment of each according to his potential. And, as the many can only be fulfilled partially, the just law aims at the total fulfilment of the few alone.

To see that this is justice requires exceptional vision – sight which is not endowed to the many, and particularly in democratic times. The many, insofar as they live in a society given over to the sway of the many, hold that fulfilment can be attained by any and all. The potential for fulfilment, in other words, does not imply virtue, but is the birthright of Everyman. To the many, true justice therefore takes precisely the appearance of rank injustice.

Because this tendency is born from the ignorance innate to the many, it cannot be supplemented by knowledge. For the ignorance in question is not due to lacunae in education, nor to a want of proper ‘information’; it is due to restrictions congenital to most human beings which lead them to esteem and indeed reify that which is most like them – i.e., the common – and to take this as the norm and the standard, as indeed is natural for any living being to do. ‘Enlightenment’, in this respect, is impossible, because one treats here not of quantity (knowledge, information, data, facts, etc.) but of quality (rank, capacity, inner level of being). This most natural human limitation can be manipulated, but never corrected, for precisely the same reason that the intellectuals in any epoch are few, the philosophers rare, and the sages nigh unique. Not ‘education’, but dogma, religion, myth, rite, ritual, are the sole means for properly aligning the common heart toward something approximating reverence for, or at least awe and fear for, human perfection, the humanly attainable heights. Human law, to be just, has need of divine support; this alone can bring the masses to see in justice anything other than injustice.

What then does secular justice become when it is pulled exclusively by that gravity which the many, as all things massy, necessarily exert? But it is clear that it must transform into ‘justice’ as embodied in those laws which favour the concerns and the interests of Everyman as Everyman – that is to say, those purely material interests which form for most human beings the very substance and ‘prima materia’ of life, whenever no higher law is present to educate these interests. And the material interests of most human beings means, practically speaking, that which benefits them ‘economically’ – food, money, goods, houses, properties, jobs, toys, trinkets, luxuries, etc. The secular law, the law of man, is the law which treats man most thoroughly as an undifferentiated animal, and therefore which most slavishly obeys that which is bestial in him. It is fundamentally utilitarian.

More – the secular law, even should it begin otherwise, always tends toward, indeed always culminates in, ‘democracy’. This because the many, without the influence of the divine law, necessarily cede to what is base in them, which is the preponderant part and potency of their souls. Then their force as many – the κράτος δήμου – comes to the fore and takes its gross prerogatives on the social and political scene. The weight of such a society inevitably shifts downward, until it settles at that point where the main interests of the many have their being: in base and carnal pleasures, in thoroughly materialistic aims and desires, in pig-like wallowing in the appetites. Sic semper popolo. This becomes, and remains, the centre of gravity for the whole of society, until the unbalanced force of everything which revolves around it finally breaks its orbit, spinning free and dislodging the whole. And at that point a rapid disintegration follows, as the many fragmented pieces of the demos reassemble and crystallize around or beneath any number of emergent powers. Then and then alone is it possible to overcome the brute material force of the secular state – but only at great and evident peril to the whole.

The secular law is utilitarian law, but this means it is weak as law. All democracies, and indeed all secular orders, depend decisively on the reverence for law which proceeds from such epochs as do not discriminate between law and divine law; and all democracies last only so long as this accumulated quantum of non-secular reverence is artificially preserved or cultivated. As it declines, it is replaced by natural calculation on the part of those to whom the law seems but one of several means for serving their material interest and individual ‘well-being’. Insofar as the law fails to secure or improve this interest, this ‘well-being’, it is therefore held to be a broken tool; it is not law at all. There is no reason to obey it then, no reason not to seek out more effective means, though these be illicit or immoral.

In such times, one might attempt to defend the law with higher-order pragmatic arguments, claiming for instance that if the law is not generally obeyed, the end result is corruption and social decay. But this kind of plebeian Kantianism already presupposes a strong capacity for disinterested intellectation which the materialistic secular society tends strongly to debilitate. Most human beings, while they are capable of perceiving the logic in such reasoning, are yet more capable of perceiving the countless instances in which this logic represents but a sophisticated attempt on the part of extant powers to defend their own interest. And upon arriving at such a realization, it would be the fool who did not accordingly look after his own welfare, even if that should mean infringing some putative morality or legality whose sanctions he risks only if he is found out. As for the rest – if the law is merely utilitarian, then there is nothing wrong with merely disregarding such laws as fail to promote, in utilitarian manner, material improvement.

The secular state is thus a grand education for sly and shifty citizens, and encourages them to be ready to abandon their ‘social duty’ at the first sign of its failure to recompense them properly for their mercenary loyalty.

The secular state is thus a grand education for sly and shifty citizens, and encourages them to be ready to abandon their ‘social duty’ at the first sign of its failure to recompense them properly for their mercenary loyalty; and the old Enlightenment dictum that no democratic society can exist without a corresponding level of universal education reveals itself for the vain and farcical pipedream it is.

For here in truth is the innermost quality of law as law: every law is but so many words scribed on so much paper, or chiselled into so much stone. The famed ‘spirit of the laws’ is a figment, at best the residual ghost of deceased non-secular civilizations, at worst an utterly hollow pretence. The spirit of the law, if that spirit is to be real and effective, is granted by something beyond the law itself: it is blood, or the spirit of ethnos, or soil, which births the spirit of the law. Ultimately, either a tyrant or a god or the both united in one is the true father of the law. Either fear or awe is at the core of the spirit of the law – spirit, that is to say, by which the law is obeyed, not by the best members of any society, who are capable of nobility and a non-venal loyalty, faith, and duty, but rather by Everyman.

It is one of the most offensive pretences of the secular democratic state that its own system should be somehow exempt from this universal human condition. In truth, democratic society, too, is ruled by a ‘tyrant or a god’: or better say, by the corresponding corruption of these figures. Thus, the decadent tyrant in democracy is the scientistic bureaucratic ‘deep state’, and its decayed and monstrous deities are technology and wealth. The god of the ‘secular state’ is in all cases the god of materialism.

The God of Materialism

The god of materialism is a nether god, truly, it is the ‘netherest’. All its gravity draws down, and nor blood nor ichour runs through its veins. Its reign is nothing its own, but all its various features are but the borrowed perversions and inversions of higher and truer forms; precisely by ‘annihilating’ them, it is damned to become their shadow, and thus in its very existence it tacitly reifies that which it would deny. Much as is meant by the famous protest of Goethe’s Devil: ‘I am the spirit which ever desires Evil, but ever works Good’. The same can be said for the atheistic society: it is that society which wishes to negate all past forms, and thereby – affirms them. Everything about it is a sham, merely the vulgar or vacuous or vicious echo of what has come before. For it lacks utterly soul its own – and therefore cannot create, but can only mimic without even wishing to.

Any higher civilization aims at what is divine in man, which is, if not identical to, certainly reflected by, human virtue. The atheistic society knows no virtue, but only interest; not quality but Mammon is its standard and compass. He who has money is the ‘blessed’; he has been deemed ‘elevated’, ‘chosen’. One speaks indeed of ‘upward social mobility’ and ‘social climbing’ and whatnot – all of which means nothing other in the end than getting richer. It is all movement, of course, which is somehow obscurely supposed to favour ‘merit’ – quite as if money were both sign and effect of one’s quality. These same wealthy, by law or else by natural fact, are afforded proportionate influence; money becomes thereby the rod of rule and power, precisely as caliber should be in any just society. One even calls such men the ‘elites’, in utter caricature of an honorable word. These businessmen, capitalists, ‘entrepreneurs’ – call them what you will, their substance changes nothing for it – are naught but pale shadows of the statesman, generals, rulers of old, who once were determined in respect to their quality, and now in function of their pocketbooks.

The old priestly caste, meanwhile, is co-opted today by none other than the scientists, who dedicate themselves to plumbing the mysteries of their god, who never once question their own faith that theirs is the single true method, and whose assessments of the world are taken as ex cathedra pronouncements by the masses, though the upper echelons of the scientific ranks, at least, know of course the limits of their knowledge, its strictly provisional character. It is they whose discoveries produce the new ‘miracles’, they who work their awe-inspiring manipulations of matter and the wondrous resolution of disease, they in whom one places one’s hope in a petty immortality (longevity) or even perhaps in a real one, guaranteed by none other than the ‘technological’ and ‘genetic’ revolutions even now at our doorstep. These priests, like the priests of old, have their rank and file, their sages and initiates. They have their saints, whose names are scribed into statues and regarded with right mixture of awe and incomprehension by the lay masses. They have their scripture – the mathematical analysis of the universe – the fundamental axioms of which are invisible to their eyes, so deeply do they suppose them. They have their creation myth (the ‘Big Bang’, man from monkey) and their teleology (the Heat Death of the Universe). And just as with any religious dogma, he who doubts is cast out – at least, out of all serious consideration.

Nothing therefore changes in the structure of this society, save that it becomes ‘secular’ – that is to say, soulless, devoid of spirit, disanimate. No redemption nor any virtue is any longer possible, nor even regarded as necessary or desirable; all men rest content with the fallen and wretched state, perceiving this quite simply as ‘human nature’, by which they mean, not at all the inherently perfectible, enigmatically bestial-divine quality once ascribed to this ‘featherless biped’, but rather the confused muddle of instincts and appetites, that botched product of a mechanical evolution, whose chaotic and accidental mixture in the form of ‘chemicals’ in the ‘nervous system’ is thought to produce the machine called man, in a process strictly analogous to that by which a robot is fabricated. No bonds are lashed onto the vilest of human excesses – so long as these do not disturb one’s sleep or social standing – nor any gravity set in the heavens to counteract this downward pull. One no longer has one’s god-emperor, nor Pope, no shaman nor priest confessor; one now has one’s psychoanalyst, who, far from attempting to purify one’s soul or cast out the demons from it or render one’s heart stronger, purer, more moral, more godly, has the comparatively modest task of ‘adjusting’ the human being to his ‘environment’, and smoothing out the rougher parts of his less convenient ‘neuroses’.

Where before one strove to become like a god, today the gods have ‘become like men’ – that is, like the basest and most commonplace men, whose highest heights are reached when they grow sentimental and feel pity. God as the wretched pitier of man: god as that force which desires the material welfare of man above all other things; god as this material welfare itself – that is the ‘evolution of god’ in the secular state. Where men once boldly perished for the sake of the gods or the crown, for the good of their honour or their blood, for Cross or credence, they now cravenly live for physical pleasure and creature comforts and, at most, for the limelight and fame. Truly, we have the strangest idea of ‘progress’.

The very idea of ‘rule by the people’ means to substitute matter for form, to produce a formless society.

And just as in elder ages the aristocracy and the clergy lived in tension with one another and pulled toward different goals and ideals, sometimes threatening the stability of society itself, so today scientists (‘technocrats’) and businessmen (‘globalists’, the ‘wealthy elite’) vie secretly for ‘control’. Yet what they seek is no longer the rulership of the souls and the moral destinies of human empires, nations, and peoples, but only the command of the masses’ wallets. All struggles for economic command are struggles over the most externalistic of things; all our public men are almost without exception the pathetic creatures of their own vanity. Their god, being all matter, is no soul; they form themselves in its image, or it in theirs, it makes no difference. For the atheistic state is in truth the hollow state.

The Hollow State

Every society is producer and product of that people which composes it. In all healthy societies, there is a reciprocal action between city and citizen, by which the city improves its members in their innermost fiber, and enjoys in turn those city-wide benefits and betterments which flow naturally from that improvement, in terms, for instance, of military and economic strength, but also in terms of the caliber of rulers, the prosperity and peace of the whole in the prosperity and peace of the parts, social cohesion, pride in excellence, and the artistic and cultural flights which become possible to a people duly cultivated for them. Because the core is sound, the plant grows hale and vigorous. To use an Aristotelian distinction, the people are like to the matter and the city to the form. And thus, the very idea of ‘rule by the people’ means – to substitute matter for form, to produce a formless society.

Now, life is not life in function of mass and matter. Mass and matter in and of themselves, unmitigated by any higher principle, are precisely dead, inert, amorphous – are precisely non-life. It is value which makes life life, the searching, ceaselessly striving aim for something higher, greater, more beautiful. (This is why science, which is essentially value-retarded, will never comprehend life, no matter how rich it be in funds, nor how diligent in its efforts.) And it is the height of the value toward which a given form of life legitimately aims which determines and indeed constitutes its quality and its calibre. But when it ceases altogether to aim, when its ‘aims’ become neutral, when the direction of these aims is given to be decided by the drifting masses, when these aims become dispersive, disparate, confused, arbitrary – that makes for dissolution and finally for demise. Life without an aim, a goal, a love, has already given itself over to that liquidation of forces which is called death: it is already essentially moribund.

This is the root meaning of nihilism, and it is the fundamental reason as well that nihilism is associated with valueless materialism.

Secular democracy – the atheistic state – sucks from the core of society all its highest yearning and meaning, its highest purpose, and replaces these at best with purely mechanical and animalistic goals and ambitions. The result is and cannot help but be a disanimate, dispirited, devalued society, a society which is essentially void, and which stands somewhere between a vigorous but bestial barbarism and an empty and utterly devitalized grave.

The atheistic state is therefore the hollow state. It has no raison d’être, no guiding principle or purpose, save the basest or meanest or most negative. It is but an empty shell, destined either to collapse or to be filled with new meaning. It is flesh awaiting new spirit; it is husk awaiting new seed.

Supposing that divinity is linked to creation, to inspiration, to breathing life into death – and there is surely no dearth of precedents for such a supposition – and supposing therefore that man is at his most divine when he exercises this prerogative of the gods, in the full ownership of his ambiguous state as ‘spirit made flesh’, in full awareness of his enigmatic position between beast and god, between soil and star – supposing all of this, it likewise appears that the atheistic state is paradoxically the best occasion for the highest deeds of humanity. The atheistic state, paradoxically, is the welcome and ready ground for the ‘divine madness’ of which Plato wrote.

Yet it is also and by an almost tragic coincidence the least able to produce men of such heights as might profit from that golden occasion. Its movement is ever in the downward spiral, its force and pull are telluric. It is the enemy of form, of art; it is atomistic and individualistic – therefore relativistic – therefore unphilosophical. It opposes all greatness of soul and body, all nobility, all higher love, and vaunts this opposition as its ‘progress’ and its superiority over all other possible forms and all past ages. As if by a secret law, it tends to make man into precisely what it believes he is: the chance assemblage of as many bits of spiritless matter, no greater than the sum of his parts, entirely comprehensible and manipulable through his pieces alone, like a machine, a computer, or a robot.

That farmer who cultivates the same crop year after year in his property will perforce exhaust the earth, and his crops will grow wan and grim. He must let his field lay fallow atimes, that the wild growth of weeds and the thickening life of insects and little beasts might rejuvenate the slackened soil and inject new vigour into the fruits of his yet hypothetic harvest. No different are the generations of human beings, who are in need atimes of a degree of laxity, repose, decline, even chaos, even decadence and degeneration, to quicken their spirits and their blood, to act as fertilizer to the next generation. The fallow society is democracy, in which the most marvellous assortment of forms and the most jarring and garish combination of colors and qualities is assembled and thrown together into a stew, a veritable ‘melting pot’, within which however many substances are combined which reject and repulse one another and which cannot be joined together. Chance and fortuitous unions arise here and there in this madness of friend and foe, of like and unlike, and some new and unheard of combination might produce a stray spark of greatness. Democracy is a system of government which is consigned most surely to the goddess Fortuna: from her reign, new kings may rise, and the Great Cycle of human civilization might tend upward.

But modern democracy, with its scientism and its secularism, is that system of government designed to overthrow Fortuna. Its notion of progress has no place for cycle; it does not conceive of the growth of humanity and society as, for instance, the growth of a tree, with its wax and its wane, but rather as a linear movement ahead, which is unnatural and therefore must be made artificial. It does not know the art of working the cycle, guiding the decline and the rise, toward a grand economy of energy and an overall favouring of the highest growth; it seeks rather to obviate this art altogether. But just as the attempt to eliminate recession in our ‘economies’ leads sooner or later to an ‘economic crisis’ of national or global proportions, capable of shaking everything to its very foundations, so the attempt to instate a non-faltering and non-cyclical human progress leads of a course to a moment of breakage and violent rupture which might bring the destruction of governments and the upheaval of all extant orders. One might cap the geysers as one finds them; but one thereby adds that much more power to the volcano, whose eruption cannot be suppressed by any human art.

The achievement of the atheistic state in our day, upon which we spend so much pride, as if we had happened upon the only reasonable form of society, is in fact the achievement of a people which is promised to the rifest squandering. Once that road has been chosen, there can be no turning back, for it is an ensorcelled way which appears ever to rise even as it sets one upon an unstoppable downward slide. All voyagers here, whose eyes are blinded by the spell, believe their speed is but their eagerness to climb, together with the fantastic new means they have invented to aid them in the ascent. In truth they are already in free-fall.

The field is tended by the farmer, and its course is guided and nurtured by him; but the atheistic state is a field without a farmer. It is a field given over therefore to an unwholesome wildness and to an ever more monstrous or mediocre decay. No hand to till it, no will to govern it, no unified and ordered end to give it scope and purpose, the atheistic state is masterless and unmastered, and for that reason its end will be determined by nothing other than chance. The state which wishes more than any other to eliminate accident, the society which is nothing other than the attempt to conquer Fortuna by denying her existence, is the only state, the only society, whose very destiny is acquiesced exclusively unto Fortuna’s hands. The atheistic state is naught but a grand alter in reverence to goddess it most fervently negates and reviles, and we its citizens are naught but the sacrifices brought to garnish the offering. Well would we be counselled, then, to resurrect the worship of that God which our state so fervently and foolishly negates.

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