Much has been said regarding diagnoses of the cultural and political malaise afflicting the West. Astute observers of this disease typically single out a few general themes, thereby identifying the ways in which this sickness nurtures and digs itself ever deeper into our social and institutional psyche. Often, the problems afflicting the modern European are described along the lines of (i) a lacking of, and outright denial of the need for, legitimate metaphysics; (ii) an unwavering belief in radical individualism; (iii) a restless pursuit of material distractions as a way to avoid the question of being; and (iv) the staunch belief in equality across all conceptual boundaries. Indeed, this last facet of the malaise embeds a dynamic psychosis into the social and cultural currents of modernity. But the elephant in the room is what is to be done to fix this problem?
This article will attempt to give some preliminary proposals addressing this question. For there seems to be a considerable paucity of content concerning this matter and any group which seeks to move beyond mere reaction and diagnosis must be ready to state what it wants and how it aims to attain its ends. All spectra of the Right are still too feeble and too afraid to make clear what they want and how they aim to get it. By stepping over modernity we shall also step over that fear, conquering it as we do.
Modernity Sans Metaphysica
This word – ‘modernity’ – will be used, at least initially, without any specific appeal to a definition. This is done intentionally. One will walk through modernity, and along the way, acquire a feel for what it is before its conceptual definition is clearly stated.
What does it mean to be ‘without’ a metaphysics? At a primal level this is to be without consciousness. Metaphysics, or rather the study of metaphysics, pertains to the structure of reality and the investigation of the structure of reality. Where its sister ‘school’ of ontology is the ‘science’ – or study – of the characteristics of essence (being), metaphysics is the study of those things which structure being. In other words, where ontology investigates what being is metaphysics investigates how being is. It thus becomes clear that to diagnose an age as lacking a fundamental metaphysics reveals that one is diagnosing the inhabitants of such an age with a kind of blindness. That is, those who lack a metaphysics lack the words and symbols to represent to themselves both how the world is and how they are with respects to this ‘is-ness’ of the world. In common parlance, this is to say that modern man as man lacks both an understanding of the structure reality, as well as an understanding of his place within this structure. The question as to why it is the case that man exists in such a state of blindness is a complicated one. In order to understand how one exists without a metaphysics, we must first understand how modernity has created its own ‘pseudo-metaphysics’ as a way to destroy genuine metaphysics.
Monika Hamilton has written an excellent two-part article discussing in great and colorful detail this subject.1 The focus of her analysis addresses the core reasons of why, and how, those hostile to modern dogma have thus far been ill-equipped in the pursuit of their critique. She writes,
modernity’s main revolutionary act – that of reconceptualizing metaphysics – remains hidden, for the explanatory language necessary to describe it [exists] entirely in a theoretical no-man’s-land.
What Hamilton denotes as ‘spiritual exhaustion’ is both the thing which modern re-conceptualized metaphysics lacks the language to address as well as that thing which modernity induces in those who’ve fallen victim to it.
Of primary importance here is the consequence that the lack of linguistic tools, and that the existence of this relative spiritual exhaustion, has for inquiries into the effects of modernity on consciousness; this is not discussed in Hamilton’s article. This ‘lack of linguistic tools’ and ‘spiritual exhaustion’ may be termed ‘the consequences of the logic of modernity’. Why this consequence of the logic of modernity is important will be addressed shortly. As such, given that non-material criticisms lie outside the boundaries of the modern academic purview, the only institutionally accepted perspective from which one may criticize modernity is, by design, a modern one. All criticism of modernity follows the logic of modernity in its material and mechanistic nature. The consequence of this logic is thus that any criticism of modernity will necessarily not be critical of modernity in itself as a paradigm and worldview, but will rather be critical of the degree to which the paradigm fails to successfully address problems which exist within the paradigm. Often, too, these problems manifest as a result of the paradigm, not having exist before, and are used as examples in a sleight of hand where critics of these problems point to them as latent pre-paradigm forces failing or actively resisting the new paradigm, rather than recognizing them as the result of the paradigm itself. The solution then becomes, paradoxically, more modern fixes to modern problems, which merely perpetuate the disease while simultaneously providing further life support to it in the form of implicit reinforcement via invocation of modern terminology and techniques as criticisms and solutions to modern problems.
This is akin to throwing gasoline on a fire because one’s understanding of reality, molded by a modernistic ‘metaphysics’, has convinced one that since water and gasoline look and feel somewhat similar they both have equivalent capacity to do the task at hand; worse yet, after one has thrown the gasoline, it is akin to completely ignoring the fact that one’s act has actually and predictably made things worse. This isn’t because one is physically and perceptually incapable of seeing the effects of pouring gasoline on a fire (i.e. one is not physically blind), but because one has been conditioned to think that there’s something wrong with the fire which makes it incapable of being extinguished by gasoline (i.e. one is metaphysically blind). So, now one must investigate from within the paradigm’s perspective how to make fire capable of being put out by gasoline, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the thing one thought was sufficient for putting out the fire wasn’t in the slightest, and placing the fault for this not on the gasoline, but on the fire, for being such that it is. It is simultaneously an attack on, and blindness to, the inner nature of things both animate and inanimate. This contradictory nature is not ironic, nor is it an accident.
Modernity’s effect on consciousness has essentially been to convince people that the only solutions to modern problems can come from within the boundaries of a modern point of view, a view which is material and mechanistic. This is essentially the hubris of modern thought. Instead of modern theory offering a new way forward, which recognizes at once the need for a spiritual essence whose ontology exists prior to existence and that the model of modernity is strangely skillful at producing extreme technical proficiency, modern theory takes a reactionary, and starkly dichotomous position: it forces one to choose a robust transcendent understanding of being or a technically and scientifically excellent existential material framework. Modernity is thus reactionary, and, at its core essentially destructive.
Consciousness and spiritual exhaustion, then, are inextricably linked, as is the effect modernity has on them. Though Hamilton’s investigation into metaphysics (or lack thereof) in modernity deals specifically with the relative absence of effective criticisms against modernity (and why there should be such an absence), it provides a good resource for understanding what a robust notion of metaphysics might generally be, by describing what an individual’s being in modernity is not. It also offers a discussion of what the essence might ‘feel’ like of an individual who had a robust notion of a coherent metaphysics. This is important because if we want to move into the future and reconstruct ourselves such that we might attain something approaching a neo-classical metaphysics, one which ‘[encapsulates] the value of human character by its inner disposition to lead a virtuous and proper life’, then we need to know what is being sought in order to pursue the question of how to rebuild it.2
The three-fold process Hamilton describes as to how metaphysics was shattered by modernity provides a good template for reconstructing a more robust system of understanding one’s place in life with respect to existence and death:
[M]etaphysical fragmentation follows a three-fold process: in the tradition of radical empiricism and the hegemony of materialistic thought, metaphysical qualities are first exteriorized and fragmented into kaleidoscopic disciplines of matter. Once the fragmentation occurs, they are ‘disenchanted’, i.e. divested of their original meaning and purpose in order to be subsequently formed into mechanistic counterparts likened to a technological metaphor. Any metaphysical gradation, e.g. in the form of one discipline’s superiority over another, has either been inverted, as in the example of ethics and technology, or entirely equalized.
In other words, (i) metaphysical qualities are brought to the outside and dissected into distinct fields of study, thereby disconnecting a unified theory from its constituent parts in the same way that modern medicine has disconnected holistic chemical behaviors in medicinal plants by isolating one chemical component and replicating it en masse for medical consumption; (ii) any description which has supra-material definitions is reducted and turned material; to take linguistic inspiration from Quine – little Zeus’ creating light within light bulbs becomes the movement of electrons along a conductive material; (iii) all notions of vertically oriented degrees of worth with regards to values have been overturned either through their inversion or through their equalization.3 In keeping with the belief that there are no hierarchies, values have been aligned horizontally instead of vertically, wherever there is nothing to invert. If there is something to invert, it is inverted. Hamilton mentions ‘ethics and technology’ as an example of this inversion process. By this she means that technology is given primacy as that which is to be pursued above all else while the ethical implications and consequences of such a primacy are relegated to ‘interesting’ discussions in academic settings but the content (and conclusions) of which has no bearing on the overall status of technology qua technology. Modernity becomes a ‘pseudo-metaphysics’ by creating the rose-tinted glasses through which one is taught to view existence, essence, and structure. These rose-tinted glasses encourage – indeed, sometimes demand – that students of modernity ‘see’ the metaphysics of existence, essence, and structure as discursive, disjointed, and disconnected. It is a metaphysics which manifests itself fundamentally as anti-metaphysics.
Tempting as it may be to look at the fragmentation process of modernity and conclude that our solution is simply to walk it backwards, putting the pieces back together simply isn’t possible. At least not from the outset. Something else must be done first. It is at this point where an understanding of the ‘unity of transcendental universal. described by Heidegger in Being and Time seems to break down.4 The triumph of modernity with regards to metaphysics and the unity which being possessed, as Heidegger believed it did, would appear to have been overturned by the destruction wrought by modernity on metaphysics. What we have witnessed amounts to none other than the metaphysical splitting of the atom of being.
However, Heidegger and the influential 20th century German theologian Rudolf Otto present us with a glimpse at what a unified transcendental would, much more than look like, but feel like.5 These, paired with Hamilton’s notion of what metaphysics isn’t, and how it was broken up, ignite the spark of a reconstructive hope. We know that whatever our metaphysics will look and feel like in the future, at the very least, its constitutive parts must be interlocked and unified. Contemplation will occur, not out of a desire to be distracted, but out of a desire to not be distracted – contra the Nietzschean denizens of the Hinterworld. One will feel one’s being because one necessarily feels invigorated and lacks the quality of weariness so typical of modernity. Central to this is what Junger described as ‘access to those time-transcending powers that can never be reduced to pure movement.’6 This time-transcendent power is the axle around which all else revolves. It gives stability and strength, creating a centripetal inward gravitational pull of all one’s collective essence, both the material and immaterial.
A problem underlies all this, however. The very nature of modernity attempts to anticipate this reconstruction of being and crush it – what Jonathan Bowden referred to in his discussion on Heidegger and Death’s Ontology regarding a very specific kind of existentialism.7 It is a kind of existentialism which places existence first and stipulates there can be no questions asked whose answers appeal to that which lies outside of existence; that which lies outside of, and prior to, material existence and examination. Of course, those who set such boundaries – those who would rig the game before the very idea of the game could be conjured forth – also tend to hold a view of the origins and evolution of man which, upon further pressure, reveals an inner dissonance between their emphasis on analytical linguistic boundaries as effective instruments for attaining truth and their upholding the primacy of Darwinian existence over and above Socratic essence. The men who hold these views, which after further examination produce in them a terrible feeling upon hearing an uncomfortable question have been forced to open their eyes where before they would otherwise
shut their eyes to that which is quite unique in the religious experience, even in its most primitive manifestations. But it is rather a matter for astonishment than for admiration! For if there be any single domain of human experience that presents us with something unmistakably specific and unique, peculiar to itself, assuredly it is that of the religious life.8
Religion, and the aspect of life with which it deals, confounds the man who looks at life from a wholly irreligious standpoint. If it is the case that the area of life which exists as the subject and focus of religion does not exist, then how does the irreligious man make sense of the fact that all of humanity has been fundamentally in error since the beginning of his existence as a conscious being? How does the irreligious man explain the function, utility, or virtue of an evolutionary adaptation which – supposing its subject area does not actually exist – can only be described as an evolutionary adaption providing a true advantage based on a false belief? The discomfort arises from the choice these clever constructors of illegitimate boundaries must make. Either they must acquiesce their affinity for a life devoted to truth or they must accept that which they seek to make invisible through their dubious and clever boundaries in fact does exist! Those who choose the former are to be run out of the room with a hot fire poker while those who choose the latter are to be congratulated for their integrity and the high degree of their character.9 In asking these questions one deconstructs and destabilizes the deconstructors while preparing the foundations of a new reconstruction.
This problem of the special kind of existentialism which has married itself to modern theory so as to preempt thinking hostile and neutralizing of modern theory merely needs be stated for what it is. It is a ‘paper tiger’ – a ‘glass cannon’ – deconstructionist view of existence; powerful until it itself is deconstructed. Such is why it takes the form and has the effect it does; it is an existentialist view which seeks to preempt certain kinds of thinking because it understands its absolute powerlessness in the face of such kinds of thinking.
In attempting to reconstruct some basic foundational notion for what a neoclassical revival of metaphysics would ‘feel’ like we can appeal to the concept of the ‘noumenal’ given in Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige. He says,
‘Nouminous’ feeling is, then, just this unique apprehension of a Something, whose character may at first seem to have little connection with our ordinary moral terms, but which later ‘becomes charged’ with the highest and deepest moral significance. …[The] ‘Nouminous’ and ‘Numen’ will, then, be words which bear no moral import, but which stand for the specific non-rational religious apprehension and its object, at all its levels, from the first dim stirrings where religion can hardly yet be said to exist to the most exalted forms of spiritual experience.10
Thus, from a modern perspective we can understand faith as blind obedience. And from the ultra-rational modern standpoint for which it has been criticized by hostile skeptics, communists, and atheists this would be an accurate indictment. But from a religious anti-modern perspective, faith is understood as knowledge which comes from the noumenal, or what we would call noumenal ‘knowledge’. Such is the state in which consciousness feels ‘that Something’ that transcends the mere physical and tangible into the extra-physical and the supra-tangible. A realm of existence only accessible through consciousness: through spirit. A metaphysics of the future would hearken to this understanding of a religious anti-modern faith. For those who seek respite from the ‘spiritual exhaustion’ endemic to modernity this hearkening would be the bed with which they make first for themselves, and then, for others too.
What modern theory did in its fragmentation of metaphysics was to strip modern man of this feeling because this feeling drives men towards transcendent ways of living antithetical to, and uncontrollable by, modern theory. However, like those living graves of Christianity which Nietzsche remarked, even though the feeling is gone the hole it leaves is still there, waiting to be filled with something else. A man born into an existence dominated by modern theory is given a multitude of substitutes with which to fill this hole. It is through the primal urge he feels to make full this void that he is turned into a slave. Barely cognizant of his situation, or that he is a living thing, his servitude is used for others’ benefit; an other who allows him enough consciousness to know when something comes along and confronts him with his enslavement; the discomfort this causes precipitates a savage reaction further catalyzing similar responses among nearby being-less husks, inducing into them a mass psychosis of mob violence. The enslaved protect the system and those who keep them in metaphysical chains by becoming half-dead cattle stampeding across any who would induce discomfort.
The first measure, then, towards a path of stepping over modernity is to understand the artificial boundaries which have been constructed in order to preempt the kind of thinking which breaks modern man from his metaphysical chains. These boundaries are ones which say there is nothing but the material, the mechanical, and that which can be tested empirically. But what could one point to as a sufficient example of that which balks at all three of these categories? The answer is simple enough: the state and feeling of consciousness. One cannot grab a hold of consciousness the way one grabs a handful of soil. One cannot simply construct consciousness. One cannot empirically test consciousness. That is, one may test whether someone has the quality of ‘being conscious’ but consciousness itself is elusive in the face of empirical measurements. This transgression against modern theory, then, facilitates a move back towards a state of being where the language necessary to engage with the kind of metaphysics that existed prior to the modern fragmentation of metaphysics is once again accessible. This is not enough, however. A further move must be made in the embrace of an understanding of the feeling of metaphysics which is synonymous with an understanding of the feeling of Rudolf Otto’s noumenal. For those who possess these two things this prescription would seem at the same time obvious and trivial. For those whose epistemic horizon extends only so far as that which their eyes may see, their nose may smell, and their fingers may touch this is a wholly radical and revolutionary instruction. Indeed, many will feel it stirring within themselves, just as those who witnessed the revolution in Europe in the 18th century – and they will fight it, not realizing they fight against their own freedom and future.
The metaphysical state of nature has not changed since the point in human history when Europeans view the world in ways which included not just themselves, but the Gods too. That we must grant this belief in Gods and in transcendent planes of existence from a physically evolutionary point of view did provide an evolutionary advantage over those without it, or those who possessed it to a lesser degree, is undeniable. So we must ask if anything has changed, and, if so, what? Unsurprisingly, the answer is ‘Yes’. It has not been nature which has changed to any significant degree in the laws within which it operates, nor have our physical bodies been radically altered since we could have been said to become conscious. What has changed, however, has been our understanding of nature, reality, and our understanding of our place within them both. We may ask further whether this change has been for our boon or our misery? From modern theory’s perspective, one would answer this with a resounding ‘Yes!’ Yes, this change has been for our boon. But this would be a lie. It has been a boon for modern theory, certainly, but not for us. This is one of the tricks modern theory plays on us; to conceive of that which is a boon for her as really a boon for us, all the while suppressing our ability to ask whether this has really been a boon for us. But from a perspective which accounts for the health of our spirit – of our consciousness – the answer has been a resounding ‘No!’ Now, why is this? Consciousness is that thing to which we can give a general name to but which, upon poking and pushing, pokes and pushes back, refusing to yield her secret structure. It is that ‘Something’ which Otto termed ‘noumenal’. But modern theory rejects these things – these feelings – which manifest themselves in such a way as atavistic superstition. Thus modern theory, much to her own benefit, banishes consciousness itself to that ‘theoretical no-man’s land’ that Hamilton describes in her own article. It should surprise no one suspicious of modern theory then to look upon the state of the common man and behold, not a wondrous thinking creature with a robust sense of self and purpose, but a machine in man’s clothing.
The substitutes modernity provides for the machine-man are shallow and short-lived. This is partly by design, for such a design nurtures the production in the imbiber of a psychotic frenzy, after repeated consumption further deteriorating the consumer’s control over his own appetitive desires – mainly so as to fill this void left by modernity’s destruction of genuine metaphysics. But even the most debased man of modernity, upon looking on one who has moved beyond modernity and created a new metaphysics of being, will recognize the objective superiority of this man and will hearken to him. It is these men which modernity seeks out above all others, either to corrupt or destroy them. These are men who have stepped over modernity and who exist as a new kind of explorer, venturing into the murky waters of the future, forging new paths of existence and new histories. They make technology and material existence the handmaiden of man, and not man the handmaiden of technology and material existence.
3W.V.O. Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, The Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20–43.
‘Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.’
4Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: HarperPerennial/Modern Thought, 2008.
5Otto’s ‘noumenal’ is discussed shortly.
6Jünger, Ernst. The Forest Passage (Waldgang). Candor: Telos Press, 2013.
8Otto, Rudolf. Das Heilige. Pantianos Classics, 1923.
9Edmonds, David, and John Eidinow. Wittgensteins Poker: The Story of a Ten-minute Argument between Two Great Philosophers. New York: Ecco, 2002.
10Ibid., Das Heilige.