December 24, 2006
John Ruskin was born in 1819, and raised in a pious Protestant household. His mother read the Bible with him, and when they got all the way to the end, they would turn back to page 1, and start again. As Ruskin grew older, his faith dwindled, partly because of advances in science, partly because of Biblical criticism.1 Geologists undermined Ruskin’s faith by showing that the earth was far older than had been thought, far older than the Bible said it was. “If only the geologists would let me alone,” Ruskin wrote, “I could do very well, but those dreadful hammers! I hear the chink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verse.”2 It was difficult to reconcile the vast age of the earth with the idea of divine providence, divine planning. If God had made the earth for man, why had man’s appearance been delayed for so long? And if God hadn’t made the earth for man, then what had He made it for?
The Philosophy of Today has nothing to fear from advances in science, or from a close analysis of Biblical texts. The Philosophy of Today doesn’t try to make the world fit into the Procrustean bed of an established religion, or a holy text. The Philosophy of Today accepts the world as it is, and adopts a religious attitude toward the world; one might describe it as a religion of the world.
In the last issue, I mentioned that I was revising my book of aphorisms. As part of this revision, I expanded the preface, making it into a detailed map of the book, and a description of the main themes of the book. The new preface gives greater unity to a book that might otherwise seem to be isolated fragments. Here’s the new preface:
Most people today never become truly educated — even if they graduate from college. Colleges today emphasize vocational training instead of education in the humanities. Even students who focus on the humanities usually acquire only specialized knowledge, not broad education.
This book brings together the various branches of the humanities — literature, history, philosophy, psychology, religion, etc. — and combines them into a unified whole. It introduces you to the classics of many different fields, and it also introduces you to the people who created those classics. Thus, you’ll become acquainted with the classics in an intimate, personal way; you’ll feel that you can reach out and shake hands with writers from previous centuries. Reading this book is like traveling to a foreign country — the country of literature and ideas and the classics.
Chapter 1, “Philosophy,” describes the Philosophy of Today, a philosophy that relies on intuition rather than reason, feelings rather than logic, and dreams rather than syllogisms. The Philosophy of Today takes a non-rational approach, and also believes that reality itself is non-rational, hence it’s receptive to the occult. The Philosophy of Today is influenced not by the rational philosophers of ancient Greece, but by Eastern philosophy, by Jungian psychology, and by sages from all cultures. The Philosophy of Today is spiritual as well as intellectual. While the Philosophy of Today is first discussed in Chapter 1, later chapters explore the subject further; for example, Chapter 12, “Physics,” shows that the Philosophy of Today is consistent with modern physics. Besides discussing the Philosophy of Today, Chapter 1 discusses the analytic approach to philosophy that is popular in academia, and contrasts this approach with the approach of Montaigne, Thoreau, and others. Chapter 1 describes the origin of philosophy, the aim of philosophy, and the history of philosophy, paying special attention to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Jung.
Chapter 2, “Literature,” attempts to describe the essential features of numerous major writers — Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Kafka, etc. Chapter 2 also discusses the major philosophical questions surrounding literature, such as the purpose of literature, why people enjoy tragedy, and whether literature is subjective or objective. Chapter 2 returns to the subject of the Philosophy of Today, arguing that the Philosophy of Today resembles the so-called Hermetic worldview, and sketching the history of the Hermetic worldview. Chapter 2 also argues that Shakespeare’s worldview closely resembles the Philosophy of Today. Chapter 2 looks at Eastern philosophy (as do chapters 1 and 4), discussing Zen thinking in Whitman and Forster.
Chapter 3, “Education,” looks at academia, looks at the controversy surrounding the identity of Shakespeare, and looks at how academia handles this controversy. Chapter 3 also discusses the life-enhancing function of culture — that is, how culture can stimulate us, and arouse in us an appetite for living. Chapter 3 argues that academia often overlooks the life-enhancing function of culture, and it discusses two writers who emphasized this life-enhancing function, Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark.
Chapter 4, “Ethics,” discusses meditation, Zen, and the influence of Zen on Japanese culture; it also discusses the Zennish thinking of Thoreau. Chapter 4 sketches the history of moral thinking, from Socrates to Jung, and describes the attempt to set up universal standards of right and wrong. Chapter 4 discusses the impact of culture on people’s values and people’s lives, it discusses the interplay of culture and ethics. It also discusses the old ideal of self-culture, self-development, Bildung, an ideal that was mentioned earlier, when we discussed Forster and Berenson.
Chapter 5, “Religion,” begins by reviewing atheist arguments, and ends by going “beyond atheism” — looking at new approaches to religion, new definitions of God.
Chapter 6, “Psychology,” begins by discussing occult phenomena, and later discusses birth order, social class, national character, the psychology of adolescence, and other subjects. Chapter 6 ends by discussing the importance of psychology in modern thought — the importance of the Psychology Revolution that Freud started, and Jung continued.
Chapter 7, “Genius,” enables you to see the classics from the inside, to meet the people behind the books. But it does more than introduce you to writers and artists. Genius is a subset of human nature, just as neurotics are a subset of human nature. Freud focused on neurotics, but his conclusions were relevant to mankind as a whole. Likewise, when we explore the psychology of genius, our conclusions throw light on man in general. Chapter 7 gives you an introduction to psychology, to Freud’s work, and to the whole modern movement toward exploring the unconscious. One well-known Chinese scholar, Dong Leshan, said that the chapter on genius is the best piece he has seen on the subject of genius.
Chapter 8, “Language,” discusses how the migration of Asian peoples into Europe (the so-called “Aryan migrations”) shaped the development of European languages. Chapter 8 also discusses the origin of language, the origin of surnames, and the differences between Chinese and European languages.
Chapter 9, “Sundry Thoughts,” discusses a variety of subjects, including Chinese painting, the sadistic side of human nature, and the cult of leadership.
Chapters 10 and 11 (“Modern Times” and “Politics”) describe modern, democratic society, and contrast this society with earlier, non-democratic societies. Chapters 10 and 11 describe the dangers that threaten culture in our time. These chapters also discuss the dangers to our political system, and compare our democracy to ancient Greek democracy.
Chapter 10 discusses modern art, viewing it as a symptom of the West’s spiritual crisis. Chapter 11 discusses Islamic fanaticism, and the spiritual crisis in the Islamic world.
Chapter 12, “Physics,” discusses the connections between modern physics and the Philosophy of Today, and argues that we’re now able to create a grand synthesis of the sciences and the humanities, Western thought and Eastern thought.
Chapter 13, “Life- and Death-Instincts,” discusses the biological side of philosophy. It discusses Schopenhauer’s idea of a will to life, Nietzsche’s idea of a will to power, and Shaw’s idea of a life force. It discusses Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts, and argues that this theory resembles Nietzsche’s theory of decadence. Chapter 13 introduces the reader to the theory of history that is set forth in Chapter 14, and shows how this theory of history differs from earlier theories of history, such as those of Spengler and Toynbee. Like other chapters, Chapter 13 discusses the history of ideas. Chapter 13 describes how my theory of history was influenced by earlier thinkers, how it synthesizes earlier thinkers.
Chapter 14, “Decadence and Renaissance,” sets forth a new theory of history. This theory predicts that there will be a renaissance in our time, the first renaissance in four hundred years. A prominent 19th-century philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, predicted a renaissance in our time.3 It is our destiny to be alive during a renaissance epoch. This renaissance is beginning now, when people least expect it, when people see only decadence and sterility. Chapter 14 argues that a renaissance is bound to occur when decadence has reached an extreme.
This book is dead serious, but fun to read. It makes philosophy as readable as a newspaper article, but it also has the scholarship and the depth of genuine philosophy. It’s free from the technical terms that weigh down many philosophical works; it’s written in plain English. A reader of this book quickly becomes familiar with the major categories of culture; he becomes familiar with Russian novelists, with German philosophers, with the history of the English language, with the psychology of genius, etc. A reader of this book also becomes familiar with the Philosophy of Today, which is an important new worldview, and a popular new approach to religion and spiritual life.
Fictional characters often come in pairs. The author seems to represent his bright side and his dark side in two separate characters. Combine these two characters, and you have a whole person. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, for example, seem to be a pair — one idealistic, one earthy. The same is true of Faust and Mephistopheles, Othello and Iago, Adonis and the boar (in Venus and Adonis). If one views religion as literature, one can add another pair to this list: God and the devil. Since Hamlet represents both sides, bright and dark, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most lifelike character.
According to Jung, each of us has a bright side and a dark side; he calls this dark side “the shadow.” In light of Jung’s idea, it isn’t surprising that positive characters are often matched with a negative double, an evil twin.
Conrad creates paired characters, and explicitly refers to one member of the pair as a “shadow”. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow refers to the savage Kurtz as a “shadow”; Conrad sometimes draws attention to the term “shadow” by capitalizing the S. Conrad uses the word “shadow” just as Jung uses it. This is a striking example of two great thinkers reaching the same insight independently. Perhaps the shadow is an archetype that both Conrad and Jung perceived.
In Conrad’s Secret Sharer, there is a “character pair.” As in Heart of Darkness, one member of the pair is a criminal, and is explicitly referred to as a “shadow.” In Conrad’s work, the encounter with the shadow helps one to grow and mature. Likewise, Jung says that encountering one’s shadow, acknowledging one’s dark side, is an important step in personal growth. One of Jung’s disciples wrote:
I never heard of a connection between Hitler and Ibsen, and I wouldn’t have expected it. But I found an essay online that makes a strong case for such a connection. The essay is by Steven Sage, author of Ibsen and Hitler. (Click here to see Sage lecture about his theory.) Sage writes thus:
Ibsen regarded Emperor and Galilean as his magnum opus; he spent years working on it, and it’s his longest play. The public, however, has generally been cool toward the work, hence it’s surprising to read, in Sage’s essay, that “some of these cultists would eventually promote one play, in particular, as prophetic scripture: Ibsen’s epic about the life of Julian the Apostate.” Perhaps Ibsen’s epic is his most prophetic work, if not his best play. Perhaps Ibsen glimpsed the future, perhaps he had a prophetic gift, perhaps he foresaw Hitler.
If there are parallels between Ibsen’s play and Hitler’s career, as Sage argues, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Hitler followed Ibsen’s script, perhaps Ibsen anticipated Hitler, perhaps Ibsen “followed” Hitler just as much as Hitler followed Ibsen. Perhaps the relationship between Ibsen and Hitler is analogous to the relationship between the witches and Macbeth: the witches anticipate Macbeth’s career, and Macbeth follows the witches’ script. Mutual “influence,” mutual “arising,” rather than cause-and-effect.
Sage says that we find
Sage talks about Hitler following Ibsen, but he doesn’t talk about Ibsen following Hitler; he avoids the idea that Ibsen had a prophetic gift. Like most academics, he seems to be a rational thinker who is skeptical of the occult, uncomfortable with the occult. He calls his work “empirical,” knowing that even a faint whiff of the occult can destroy an academic career. O academia! If only you knew how your barriers and boundaries keep you away from reality, away from truth!
According to Sage, the following events in Hitler’s life correspond to Ibsen’s play:
The parallel between Hitler and Julian was noticed early in Hitler’s career, “with at least one German literary critic writing, in 1924, that Hitler was anointed to fulfill the Ibsen script.”
Hitler was familiar with other Ibsen works, besides Emperor and Galilean. “Part of Mein Kampf chapter 3 is demonstrably based on Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, Act IV. And at key junctures, incidents in the career of Hitler’s top construction official follow the plot of The Master Builder.”
It’s easy to see why Hitler would have been attracted to An Enemy of the People. The protagonist, Dr. Stockmann, compares people with animals, and says, “Isn’t there an enormous difference between a well-bred and an ill-bred strain of animals?.... There is a tremendous difference between poodle-men and cur-men.”5 Stockmann thinks that the talented, well-bred “poodle-men” should rule the mass of “cur-men”. Stockmann repeatedly says that he would like to see certain sections of society exterminated.
I suppose Ibsen was drawn to Julian because Julian represented pagan revival, and Ibsen could see a pagan revival in modern Germany. Did Ibsen have any sympathy for Julian — for Julian’s worldview, or Julian’s personality? In an earlier issue, I discussed Frances Yates’ work on Hermetism, and said,
Julian’s “religion of the world” strikes me as a modern, relevant, attractive worldview — close to Zen, and close to what I call the Philosophy of Today. Did Ibsen have any sympathy for Julian’s worldview?
As for Julian’s character, someone responded to Sage’s online essay by saying that, in Julian’s empire, “everyone would be free to worship as he pleased. In fact, as Roman emperors go, Julian was a remarkably tolerant and humane ruler.” When I discussed the Hermetic worldview, I argued that it goes hand-in-hand with a tolerant, broad-minded approach to religion, and that seems to be true in Julian’s case. Was Ibsen attracted to Julian? Or did he view Julian as a tyrant, bent on exterminating Christians?
In an online forum, Sage wrote
Perhaps Ibsen didn’t admire Julian’s worldview or his personality, perhaps Ibsen just used Julian as a container for his analysis of contemporary Germany, and his prophetic insights into Germany’s future. As for Hitler, he seems to resemble Ibsen’s Julian in several respects, but he doesn’t seem to resemble the real Julian, the tolerant, broad-minded, Hermetic Julian. As someone wrote online, the personality of the real Julian is “about 180 degrees different from Hitler’s.”
It’s easy to see why Hitler was fascinated by Ibsen’s Julian. Ibsen’s Julian anticipates Hitler himself, so by studying Ibsen’s Julian, Hitler could hope to see into his own future. And which of us isn’t curious about his own future?
A. You may receive an e-mail from Yahoo, asking you to approve a change in Phlit’s format. I’m trying to change all Phlit subscribers to “Traditional Format,” which has no advertising; I suggest that you approve the change.
B. Zen means not caring whether the light is red or green, being equally willing to stop or go, to stay still or move forward.
C. We often become obsessed by a train of thought, obsessed by another person, obsessed by someone we hate or someone we love; one might describe such obsessions as positive and negative transferences. To cope with such obsessions, Jungians recommend “active imagination,”6 while Zen recommends meditation. Both active imagination and meditation allow one’s emotion to express itself, but detach one from one’s emotion, observe it “at arm’s length,” perhaps even address it. There is a certain kinship between active imagination and meditation, a kinship that is part of the larger kinship between Jungian psychology and Eastern religion.
D. A person who doesn’t have the will to live may die of an illness that another person would survive. The will to live often determines whether one lives or not. Does this apply only to individuals, or to groups as well? If a group has a strong death-instinct (see my theory of the life- and death-instincts of societies), will they be more apt to succumb to epidemics such as the plague? Many years ago, I consulted a book called Plagues and Peoples, hoping to find a connection between plagues and the death-instinct of society. I didn’t find such a connection, but perhaps others will succeed where I failed.
E. Some have argued that the novel, as a literary genre, is exhausted, dying. One reason to be optimistic about the novel is that the Philosophy of Today, by being receptive and open-minded toward the occult, encourages novelists to explore the vast, mysterious realm of the occult, a realm that is fertile ground for imaginative literature.
|1.|| For more on Biblical criticism, click here. back|
|2.|| Ruskin’s letter of May 24, 1851 back|
|3.|| See Chapter 14, #237 back|
|4.|| “The Shadow,” by Esther M. Harding, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, 1945 back|
|4B.|| Niall Ferguson says, “[Hitler] might have listened to the experts (Halder and Guderian among them), who advised him to concentrate German efforts on capturing Moscow rather than diverting [Rundstedt’s] Army Group southwards towards Kiev.” (The War of the World, ch. 15, p. 514) back|
|5.|| Act IV back|
|6.||For more on active imagination, click here and here. back|