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Narcissism: The Spirit Of Our Age
Long time readers will be aware that I have regularly maintained that the Western crisis can ultimately be traced back to Platonic roots, as mediated to the West through the Augustinian tradition of Christian philosophy. The Platonic roots lie in the conundrum of the One and the Many—insoluble and dissolvently skeptical in its implications on Platonic grounds. The Augustinian tradition attempted to salvage human contact with reality with a theological patch—the idea of “divine illumination” of the mind on the occasion of contact with the real world. But a theological patch to a philosophical problem is ultimately unworkable (see MiH references here).
It’s impossible to come to a correct appraisal of the Western crisis without recognizing the dominance of the Augustinian tradition. The dissolution of Augustinian thought led directly to the multifarious expressions of the Western crisis, beginning with the Protestant Revolution (characterized by Eric Voegelin as the inbreaking of Gnosticism into the social institutions of the West). The various efforts to overcome the crisis of Augustinian thought’s skeptical implications—beginning with late medieval Nominalism and proceeding from Descartes to the English thinkers to, above all, Kant—lead in one direction: the claim that Man imposes order, and ultimately therefore, in Platonic fashion, being on all that is not identifiable with Man. Man becomes God, having murdered God by the power of Man’s mental constructs. Modern ideologies of Right and Left, Libertarian and Progressive, Marxist and “Capitalist”, share the same origin. The bankruptcy of Western thought proceeded in the usual fashion, slowly and then suddenly. Ideas take on a life of their own, and always tend to work out over time to their most extreme implications.
This morning Larry Johnson republished an essay by “Gaius Baltar”, which I will link to in its original substack form. The essay,
analyzes the phenomenon of narcissism in the Western political class. This immediately reminded me of some of Eric Voegelin’s earlier writings, which I intend to extract. I believe it will take very little imagination to connect what Voegelin saw coming back in the 1950s with what we are seeing, to our dismay, today. The disconnect of human action from reality, the ban on questioning of the progressive agenda to subject reality to the human will to power—Voegelin saw it coming, even if even he could not foresee the excesses that are now part of our public life.
Here is Voegelin—I’ve provided page numbers. Voegelin uses Marx for most of his examples, but he certainly had other moderns in mind, as well:
Today, under the pressure of totalitarian terror, we are perhaps inclined to think primarily of the physical forms of terror. But they are not the most successful. The opposition becomes truly radical and dangerous only when philosophical questioning is itself called into question, when doxa [opinion, as opposed to real knowledge, but here perhaps ‘ideology’] takes on the appearance of philosophy, ...
The Platonic-Aristotelian paradigm of the best polis cannot provide an answer for the great questions of our time--either for the organizational problems of industrial society or for the spiritual problems of the struggle between Christianity and ideology.
... there has emerged a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning.
... we are confronted here with persons who know that, and why, their opinions cannot stand up under critical analysis and who therefore make the prohibition of the examination of their premises part of their dogma.
We shall now try to present the phenomenon of the prohibition of questions ...
No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is  obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order.
Marx is a speculative gnostic. He construes the order of being as a process of nature complete in itself. Nature is in a state of becoming, and in the course of its development it has brought forth man ... Now, in the development of nature a special role has devolved upon man ... In the process of creating nature, man at the same time also creates  himself to the fullness of his being; therefore, "all of so-called world history is nothing but the production of man by human labor." The purpose of [Marx's] speculation is to shut off the process of being from transcendent being [i.e., God] and have man create himself. This is accomplished by ... equivocal wordplay [using the word "nature"] ...
In connection with this speculation Marx himself now brings up the question of what objection the "particular individual" would probably have to [Marx's ideas]. [The "particular individual" will bring up the problem of infinite regress, of origins, etc.] ... To such questions ... Marx chooses to reply that they are "a product of abstraction."
And how does Marx get out of the predicament? He instructs his questioner, "Give up your abstraction and you will give up your question along with it." ... "Do not think, do not question me." ... he breaks off the debate by declaring that "for socialist man"--that is, for the man who has accepted Marxs construct of the process of being and history--such a question "becomes a practical impossibility." The questions of the "individual man" are cut off by the  ukase of the speculator who will not permit his construct to be disturbed. When "socialist man" speaks, man has to be silent.
The New Science of Politics (1951)
But what should in this order of things become of men who would rather follow God than the new Augustus Comte? Such miscreants who were not inclined to make their social contribution according to Comtean standards would simply be committed to the hell of social oblivion. The idea deserves attention. Here is a Gnostic paraclete setting himself up as the world-immenent Last Judgment of mankind, deciding on immortality or annihilation for every human being.
The death of the spirit is the price of progress. ... And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline.
A civilization can, indeed, advance and decline at the same time--but not forever. ... Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of Gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization.
In classic and Christian ethics the first of the moral virtues is sophia or prudentia, because without adequate understanding of the structure of reality, including the conditio humana, moral action with rational co-ordination of means and ends is hardly possible. In the Gnostic dreamworld, on the other hand, nonrecognition of reality is the first principle. As a consequence, types of action which in the real world would be considered as morally insane because the real effects which they have will be considered moral in the dream world because they intended an entirely different effect. The gap between intended and real effect will be imputed not to the Gnostic immorality of ignoring the structure of reality but to the immorality of some other person or society that does not behave as it should behave according to the dream conception of cause and effect.
Gaius Baltar discusses this phenomenon of the disconnect between intended effect and actual effect under the now familiar concept of “incompetence.” But, as Voegelin points out, this is the perfectly foreseeable result of the nonrecognition of reality as the first principle.
The identification of dream and reality as a matter of principle has practical results which may appear strange but can hardly be considered surprising. ... The intellectual and moral corruption which expresses itself in the aggregate of such magic operations [policy in the Gnostic dreamworld] may pervade a society with the weird, ghostly atmosphere of a lunatic asylum, as we experience it in our time in the Western crisis.
In other words, the insistence of Progressives that Man can shape his own nature, that any of repeated disastrous failures of their undertakings are to be imputed, not to their own delusional project, but to sabotage by recalcitrant questioners, can ultimately traced back to the breakdown of Western thought in the late Middle Ages. Now, it may be Progs who are most insistent in that regard, but a sure sign of intellectual bankruptcy on a societal scale is the inability of even many—most?—”conservatives” find themselves functionally mute before the radical assault.
With the above in mind, consider how it all connects with the modern phenomenon of societal narcissism, permeating our Ruling Class. Gaius Baltar deals in psychology, but it is a psychological phenomenon that flows from the philosophical breakdown of the West and the concommitant rise of ideology in its place. What follows are, as usual, brief excerpts:
A breakdown of diplomacy doesn’t quite describe how bad things have become. The behavior of US and European leaders has become increasingly unhinged and any semblance of rationality has been abandoned. It is impossible to listen to western leaders without coming to the conclusion that something is very wrong. Firstly, they seem to have created an upside-down fantasy world where Freudian projection rules and opponents are demonized. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are both Satan himself, Russia is still losing, and the West is still almighty – as well as the pinnacle of justice, freedom, democracy and culture.
The right persons for the job
You can’t just hire anyone for a cultural and literal genocide and there aren’t really many options. You could seek out psychopaths but you might have loyalty problems with them, and strangely, some of them actually have principles. What you need is a person who likes, or even needs to force his will upon others and interfere with their lives. You need a person who has unwavering zeal for the cause and is incapable of backing down. You need a person who can rationalize any actions while not being affected by them. You need a person who can be brainwashed and controlled like a trained monkey. You need a person who can destroy his own home without realizing what he is doing. You need a narcissist.
Considering what the task is, there is no other option. No one else can be trusted to carry out the necessary work. This explains why so many of our political elites are so similar. They not only have similar personalities, but they also employ similar rationalizations and behaviors. Narcissists are very standardized people. But what are narcissists and why are they ideal for the demolition work on western societies?
A narcissist is a person with self-awareness so low that he can’t develop a self-identity without the help of others – and who has been told that he is better and/or smarter than others. On top of that, he has high emotional neediness and dependence on others. He develops a model of self which is inflated, unrealistic, and in constant conflict with reality. He needs to control the environment, including others, to keep that model intact. Successful control brings an emotional rush while a challenge can result in an emotional crash.
The narcissist can and must be able to rationalize any behavior, because otherwise he would be a bad person because of the things he does to others. The constant rationalizations breed contempt for others while challenges breed hatred.
Because the narcissist’s self is based on a lie to begin with, any system of belief can be fed to him, as long as it feeds the lie. Any belief which will tell the narcissist that he is better and smarter than others will be accepted. All “current things” in western society, including climate change, social justice, affirmative action, LGBT rights, Ukraine, and clean energy, are carefully constructed belief systems developed to brainwash narcissists into doing certain things. These certain things always involve the destruction of something. ...
When the narcissist has been brainwashed with these belief systems, these systems will have become internalized. They have become a part of the self and must be advanced and defended. For this any action and lie can be justified. Any challenge will be personal and must be crushed. Abandonment of the beliefs cannot be allowed because it would damage the self, resulting in emotional turmoil and anxiety. The narcissist therefore cannot back down once committed. He has no reverse gear.
All this is an argument that Voegelin is right—resistance is the only and necessary path forward. But resistence must be informed by virtue, which in turn must be formed by true insight into reality. The individual has largely been abandoned by established social institutions. That suggests that we must begin the process of rebuilding even as we resist.
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