Monday, 3 March 2008

A Dose of Schopenhauer

So far as I can recall, I have never read a word by William Buckley, who died the other day, but if it is true that he believed — as he is accused of believing — that “the purpose of government was to keep the plebs in their place while civilisation and culture were guarded and developed by the elite”, [1] then all I can say is that he had at least some conception of the proper role of government and of its proper limitation.
.....Such “reactionary nonsense” has not been widely favoured in the West ever since it fell for the cant of the mystic-peddlers of optimism who in the cry of the spirit of the people — “I am nothing and I should be everything[2] — professed to hear the sound of liberty, when, in fact, as Arthur Schopenhauer was keen to point out, they were hearing the will-to-life and -domination that sets itself no limits.
It always strives, because striving is its sole nature, to which no attained goal can put an end. Such striving is therefore incapable of final satisfaction; it can be checked only by hindrance, but in itself goes on forever. [3]
That the cry also sounds uncannily like that of an empty and resentful bourgeois radical with an unquenchable thirst for power, we should reckon not as coincidental; nor should we pass over how the cry comes as a breath of encouragement to all those who would meddle in other people’s lives — or “show concern”, as they are wont to present it to their consciences — and to all those who would make of the State a monstrous wet-nurse of morality, even of a new humanity: a quite ludicrous expectation, not to say a dangerous one.
What has always made the State a hell is that one wanted to make it a heaven. [4]
Political wisdom has long recognised that the strict authority of a State towards the external matters of behaviour is necessary to protect everyone from the egotistical will of everyone else; but political wisdom also recognises that to make of the popular will the sole and free source of power in the State, in other words, to found the sovereignty of the State on an unlimiting will, liberated in the name of freedom, so as to have it as the wind in the sails or the water in the bucket-wheel of every concern, is to set no limits on the power of the State itself; for, of the mass alone, there is no “better consciousness” through which its own will could be abnegated.
[W]e see that the advance of the common people in the state is closely linked with that of the state in the nation. [5]
About that, we should not be surprised, yet optimism in this regard still reigns, against which we could all do with a large dose of Schopenhauer. “Ever more it seems to me that he had a special mission for our age.” [6]
[1] Ian Williams, “An Ivy League saint”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 28th February 2008.
[2] Karl Marx, “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, (1844), in Marx on Religion, ed., J. Raines (Philidelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), p.180. When, every fourteenth of July, Hegel raised a glass of red wine to the French Revolution, in which he professed to see the essence of liberty, he was in fact raising his glass to a new source of power, far greater than the old one.
[3] Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol.1, tr. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969), p.308.
[4] [“Immerhin hat das den Staat zur Hölle gemacht, daß ihn der Mensch zu seinem Himmel machen wollte.”] Friedrich Hölderlin, Hyperion, oder Der Eremit in Griechenland, Erstes Buch, online at Agerlibrorum.
[5] Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power: The Natural History of its Growth, tr, J.F. Huntington (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993), p.203.
[6] [“Mir kommt immer mehr vor, er habe für unsere Zeit eine wahre spezielle Sendung gehabt.”] Jacob Burckhardt, Brief an Friedrich von Preen, 19. September 1875, Briefe, (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1929), pp. 409-10.


Anonymous said...

“the purpose of government was to keep the plebs in their place while civilisation and culture were guarded and developed by the elite”: I think that would be better if "yahoos" replaced "plebs", since the distinction is between barbarians/juveniles/criminals and decent grown-ups, rather than being a matter of social origins. We're a' Jock Tamson's bairns.

Deogolwulf said...

True enough.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

What a coincidence! I was just about to quote Schopenhauer in your defense at another post.

Well, I will anyway.

J.K. Baltzersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.