Tuesday 23 March 2021

Stages of Nihilism - 3. VITALISM


Liberalism and Realism have been leading men, for a century and more, down a false path whose end, if the path had not been deflected, would have been something like one of those "reverse utopias" of which we have now heard so much,--a more terrible "brave new world," perhaps, an inhuman technological system wherein all worldly problems would be solved at the cost of the enslavement of men's souls. Against this utopia of rationalist planning many protests have been raised in the name of the concrete and personal, of the unplanned and unsystematic needs of human nature that are at least as essential, even for a purely worldly "happiness," as the more obvious material needs; a protest, above all, in the name of "life," which, whatever it may mean, would clearly be stifled in the Realist paradise.

The chief intellectual impetus of the Vitalist movement has been a reaction against the eclipse of higher realities in the Realist "simplification" of the world. This granted, we must on the other hand acknowledge the absolute failure of Vitalism on this level. Lacking sufficient foundation in or even awareness of Christian Truth, those who have applied themselves to the correction of the radical defects of Realism have generally invented remedies for them which have not been merely powerless, but positively harmful, remedies which are actually symptoms of a more advanced stage of the disease they were intended to heal.

For just as Realism, while reacting against the vagueness of Liberalism, condemned itself to sterility by accepting the Liberalist obscuration of higher truths, so too did Vitalism undermine its own hopes by accepting as an essential presupposition the critique of absolute truth made by the Realism it was attempting to combat. However much the Vitalist may yearn for the "spiritual" and "mystical," he will never look to Christian Truth for them, for that has been "outmoded" for him as surely as for the blindest Realist. Typical of the Vitalist attitude in this regard is the lament of W. B. Yeats in his autobiography over "being deprived by Huxley and Tyndall, whom I detested, of the simpleminded religion of my childhood...." Whatever psychological justification such an attitude may have, it has nothing whatever to do with the truth of things; and the consequences have been nothing but harmful. There is no form of Vitalism that is not naturalistic, none whose entire program does not begin and end in this world, none whose approach to any other world is anything but a parody. The path of Nihilism, let us note again, has been "progressive"; the errors of one of its stages are repeated and multiplied in its next stage.

There is no question, then, of finding in Vitalism a return to Christian--or any other--truths. There is, however, inevitably some pretense among Vitalists to do so. Many critics have noted the "pseudoreligious" character even of Marxism, though that epithet is applicable only to the misplaced fervor of its more enthusiastic devotees, and not to its doctrine, which is too clearly anti-religious in character. In Vitalism the question of "pseudo-religion" becomes much more serious. Here a quite understandable lament over the loss of spiritual values becomes father, on the one hand to subjective fantasies and (sometimes) to actual Satanism, which the undiscriminating take as revelations of the "spiritual" world, and on the other hand to a rootless eclecticism that draws ideas from every civilization and every age and finds a totally arbitrary connection between these misunderstood fragments and its own debased conceptions. Pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-traditionalism, one or both, are integral elements of many Vitalist systems. We must be cautious, then, in examining the claims of those who would restore a "spiritual" meaning to life, and especially of those who fancy themselves allies or adherents of "Christianity." "Spiritualist" errors are far more dangerous than any mere materialism; and we shall in fact find, in Part Three of this work, that most of what passes for "spirituality" today is in fact a "new spirituality," a cancer born of Nihilism that attaches itself to healthy organisms to destroy them from within. This tactic is the precise opposite of the bold Realist attack upon truth and the spiritual life; but it is no less a Nihilist tactic, and a more advanced one.

Intellectually, then, Vitalism presupposes a rejection of Christian Truth together with a certain pseudo-spiritual pretension. Realizing this, however, we shall still be unprepared to understand the Vitalist movement if we are unaware of the spiritual state of the men who have becomes its bearers. In Liberalism and Realism the Nihilist disease is still relatively superficial; it is still mainly a matter of philosophy and restricted to an intellectual elite. In Vitalism, however,--as already in Marxism, the most extreme manifestation of the Realist mentality-the disease not only develops qualitatively, it also extends itself quantitatively; for the first time the common people too begin to show signs of the Nihilism that was formerly restricted to the few.

This fact is, of course, in perfect accord with the internal logic of Nihilism, which aspires, like the Christianity it was called into existence to destroy, to universality. By the middle of the 19th century perceptive thinkers were expressing apprehension at the prospect of the "awakened" multitudes, those who were to be exploited by the "terrible simplifiers"; and by the time of Nietzsche, the most powerful of Vitalist "prophets," the apprehension had deepened and become a certainty. Nietzsche could see that the "death of God" had begun "to cast its first shadows over Europe"; and though "the event itself is far too great, too remote, too much beyond most people's power of apprehension, for one to suppose that so much as the report of it could have reached them," still its advent was certain, and it was men like Nietzsche who were "the firstlings and premature children of the coming century"  [14] --the century, let us remember, of the "triumph of Nihilism."

The Christian Truth which Liberalism has undermined. and Realism attacked is no mere philosophical Truth, but the Truth of life and salvation; and once there begins to gain ground, among the multitudes Who have been nourished by that Truth, the conviction that it is no longer credible, the result will be no mere urbane skepticism like that with which a few Liberals console themselves, but a spiritual catastrophe of enormous dimensions, one whose effect will make itself felt in every area of human life and thought. Thinkers like Nietzsche felt the presence of the first shadows of this catastrophe, and so were able to describe it in some detail and deduce certain of its consequences; but not until these shadows had begun to steal into the hearts of the multitudes could these consequences manifest themselves on a large scale. Toward the end of the nineteenth century increasing numbers of quite ordinary men had begun that restless search--so much a part of our own contemporary scenes--to find a substitute for the God Who was dead in their hearts. This restlessness has been the chief psychological impetus of Vitalism; it is raw material, as it were, ready to be shaped after the pattern of the intellectual presuppositions we have just examined, by craftsmen inspired by the latest current of the "spirit of the age." We tend, perhaps, to think of this restlessness mainly in terms of its exploitation by Nihilist demagogues, but it has been an important stimulant of Vitalist art and religion also. And the presence of this component in most Vitalist phenomena is the reason why they--as opposed to the seeming "sanity" of Liberalism and Realism--present symptoms, not merely of intellectual deviation, but of spiritual and psychological disorientation as well.

It will be well, before passing on to a consideration of the more formal manifestations of Vitalism in philosophy and art, to take a closer look at some of the common manifestations of this inarticulate restlessness that underlies them A Is it as certain as we have implied that it is, after all, a Nihilist characteristic? Many will object that its significance has often been exaggerated, that it is simply a new form of something that has always existed, and that it is a ridiculous pretention to dignify something so common by the exalted name of Nihilism. There is, of course, some basis for such a judgment; nonetheless, it can hardly be denied that the modern phenomenon differs in several important respects from any of its predecessors. It exists today, for the first time in history, on a scale so vast as to be almost universal; It normal" remedies, the remedies of common sense, seem to have no effect whatever upon it, and if anything they seem to encourage it; and its course has exactly parallelled that of the extension of modern unbelief, so that if the one is not the cause of the other they are both at least parallel manifestations of one and the same process. These three points are so closely bound together that we shall not separate them in the following discussion, but examine them together.

The Fascist and National Socialist regimes were the most skillful in exploiting popular restlessness and utilizing it for their own purposes. But it is the "strange" fact--"strange" to anyone who does not understand the character of the age--that this restlessness has not been quieted by the defeat of its principal exploiters but has rather increased in intensity since then and--"strangest" of all--especially in the countries most advanced in the democratic and Liberal ideologies and most blessed with worldly prosperity, and in "backward" countries in direct proportion to their own progress toward these goals. Neither war nor Liberal idealism nor prosperity can pacify it--nor Marxist idealism either, for Soviet prosperity has produced the same phenomenon; these remedies are ineffective, for the disease lies deeper than they can reach.

Perhaps the most striking manifestation of the popular unrest has been in crime, and particularly in juvenile crime. Crime in most previous ages had been a localized phenomenon and had apparent and comprehensible causes in the human passions of greed, lust, envy, jealousy, and the like; never has there been anything more than a faint prefiguration of the crime that has become typical of our own century, crime for which the only name is one the avant-garde today is fond of using in another Nihilist context: "absurd."

A parent is murdered by a child, or a child by a parent; a total stranger is beaten or murdered--but not robbed--by an individual or a "gang"; such "gangs" terrorize whole neighborhoods by their prowling or their senseless wars with each other: and to what purpose? It is a time of "peace" and "prosperity," the criminals are as likely to be from the "best" as from the "worst" elements of society, there is no "practical" reason for their conduct and there is often complete disregard for precautions or consequences. When questioned, those apprehended for such crimes explain their behavior in the same way: it was an "impulse" or an "urge" that drove them, or there was a sadistic pleasure in committing the crime, or there was some totally irrelevant pretext, such as boredom, confusion, or resentment. In a word, they cannot explain their behavior at all, there is no readily comprehensible motive for it, and in consequence--and this is perhaps the most consistent and striking feature of such crimes--there is no remorse.

There are, of course, other less violent forms of the popular unrest. There is the passion for movement and speed, expressed especially in the veritable cult of the automobile (we have already noted this passion in Hitter); the universal appeal of television and cinema, whose most frequent function is to provide a few hours of escape from reality, both by their eclectic and "exciting" subject-matter and by the hypnotic effect of the media themselves; the increasingly primitive and savage character of popular music and of the perhaps more authentic expression of the contemporary soul, "jazz", the cult of physical prowess in sport, and the morbid worship of "youth" of which it is a part; the prevalence of and general permissiveness towards sexual promiscuity, condoned by many supposedly responsible elders as indicative of the "frankness" of contemporary youth and as being merely another form of the "open," "experimental" attitude so much encouraged in the arts and sciences; the disrespect for authority fostered by a popular attitude that sees no values but the "immediate" and "dynamic" and leads the most "idealistic" of youth into demonstrations against "repressive" laws and institutions.

In such phenomena "activity" is clearly an escape--an escape from boredom, from meaninglessness, and most profoundly from the emptiness that takes possession of the heart that has abandoned God) Revealed Truth, and the morality and conscience dependent upon that Truth. In the more complex manifestations of the Vitalist impulse, to which we now turn, the same psychology is at work. We shall do no more than suggest the wealth of these manifestations, for we shall examine most of them in some detail later in their role as forms of the it new spirituality."

In politics, the most successful forms of Vitalism have been Mussolini's cult of activism and violence, and Hitler's darker cult of "blood and soil"; the nature of these is too familiar to the present generation to need further comment in this context. It is perhaps not so obvious today, however, when the political barometer so clearly points to the "left," just how profound was the appeal of these movements when they appeared some forty years ago. Quite apart from the uprooted masses, who were the principle object of their exploitation, a not inconsiderable section of the intellectual and cultural avant-garde also became enthusiastic sympathizers of the Nihilist demagogues, at least for a while. If few among the sophisticated took either Naziism or Fascism as a "new religion," some at least welcomed one or the other of them as a salutary antidote to the "democracy," "science," and "progress" (that is, the Liberalism and Realism) that seemed to promise a future no sensitive man could envision without apprehension; their "dynamism," "vitality," and pseudo- traditionalism seemed deceptively "refreshing" to many who were breathing the stifling intellectual atmosphere of the time.

Modern art has had a similar appeal, and its similar reaction against lifeless academic "realism" has likewise led into strange fields. New and exotic sources and influences have been found in the art of Africa, the Orient, the South Seas, of prehistoric man, children, and madmen, in spiritism and occultism. Continual "experimentation" has been the rule, a constant search for "new" forms and techniques; inspiration has been found above all in the "savage," the "primitive," and the "spontaneous." Like the Futurists in their manifesto (though Futurism itself can hardly be taken seriously as art), the most typical modern artists have exalted in their works "every kind of originality, boldness, extreme violence," and they have likewise believed that "our hands are free and pure, to start everything afresh."

The artist, according to the Vitalist myth, is a "creator," a "genius," he is "inspired." In his art Realism is transformed by "vision"; it is a sign and a prophecy of a "spiritual awakening." The artist, in short, is a "magician" in his own realm in precisely the same way Hitler was in politics; and in both it is not truth, but subjective feeling, that reigns.

In religion--or, to speak more precisely, pseudo-religion--the restless experimentation characteristic of Vitalism has manifested itself in even more varied forms than it has in the schools of modern art. There are, for example, the sects whose deity is a vague, immanent "force"; these are the varieties of "new thought" and "positive thinking," whose concern is to harness and utilize this "force," as if it were a kind of electricity. Closely related to these are occultism and spiritism, as well as certain spurious forms of "Eastern wisdom," which abandon all pretense of concern with "God" explicitly to invoke more immediate "powers" and "presences."

Religious Vitalism appears also in the widespread cult of "awareness" and "realization." In a fairly restrained form this is present in the devotees of modern art and the "creative act" and "vision" that inspire this art. The indiscriminate quest for "enlightenment," as in those under the influence of Zen Buddhism, is a more extreme form of this cult; and the supposed "religious experience" stimulated by various drugs is, perhaps, its reductio ad absurdum.

Again, there is the attempt to fabricate a pseudo-pagan cult of nature," and especially of its most "primary" and "basic" elements: the earth, the body, sex. Nietzsche's "Zarathustra" is a powerful "prophet" of this cult, and it is the central theme of D. H. Lawrence and other novelists and poets of this century.

And there is the attempt, in most kinds of "existentialism" and personalism," to turn religion into no more than a personal "encounter" with other men and--sometimes--with a vaguely-conceived "God"; or, in pathological, atheistic "existentialism," to make a religion of "rebellion" and frenzied self-worship.

All of these Vitalist manifestations of the "religious impulse" share in common a hostility to any stable or unchanging doctrine or institution and a paramount concern with and pursuit of the "immediate" values of "life," "vitality," "experience," "awareness," or "ecstasy."

We have delineated the most striking features of Vitalism and given some suggestion of its extent; but we have yet to define the term itself and expose its Nihilist character. Liberalism, as we have seen, undermined truth by indifference to it, retaining however the prestige of its name; and Realism attacked it in the name of a lesser, partial truth. Vitalism, as opposed to both of these, has no relation to truth whatever; it simply devotes its whole concern to something of an entirely different order.

"The falseness of an opinion," said Nietzsche, "is not for us any objection to it.... The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving...."  [15] When such pragmatism begins, Nihilism passes into the Vitalist stage, which may be defined as the elimination of truth as the criterion of human action, and the substitution of a new standard: the "life-giving," the "vital"; it is the final divorce of life from truth.

Vitalism is a more advanced kind of Realism; sharing the latter's narrow view of reality and its concern to reduce everything higher to the lowest possible terms, Vitalism carries the Realist intention one step further. Where Realism tries to reestablish an absolute truth from below, Vitalism expresses the failure of this project in the face of the more "realistic" awareness that there is no absolute here below, that the only unchanging principle in this world is change itself Realism reduces the supernatural to the natural, the Revealed to the rational, truth to objectivity; Vitalism goes further and reduces everything to subjective experience and sensation. The world that seemed so solid, the truth that seemed so secure to the Realist, dissolve in the Vitalist view of things; the mind has no more place to rest, everything is swallowed up in movement and action.

The logic of unbelief leads inexorably to the Abyss; he who will not return to the truth must follow error to its end. So does humanism, too, after having contracted the Realist infection, succumb to the Vitalist germ. Of this fact there is no better indication than the "dynamic" standards that have come to occupy an increasingly large place in formal criticism of art and literature, and even in discussions of religion, philosophy, and science. There are no qualities more prized in any of these fields today than those of being "original," "experimental," or "exciting"; the question of truth, if it is raised at all, is more and more forced into the background and replaced by subjective criteria: "integrity," "authenticity," "individuality."

Such an approach is an open invitation to obscurantism, not to mention charlatanry; and if the latter may be dismissed as a temptation for the Vitalist that has not become the rule, it is by no means possible to ignore the increasingly blatant obscurantism which the Vitalist temperament tolerates and even encourages. It becomes ever more difficult in the contemporary intellectual climate to engage in rational discussion with Vitalist apologists. If one, for example, inquires into the meaning of a contemporary work of art, he will be told that it has no " meaning," that it is "pure art" and can only be "felt," and that if the critic does not "feel" it properly he has no right to comment on it. The attempt to introduce any standard of criticism, even of the most elementary and technical sort, is countered by the claim that old standards cannot be applied to the new art, that they are "static," "dogmatic," or simply "out-of-date," and that art today can be judged only in terms of its success in fulfilling its own unique intentions. If the critic sees a morbid or inhuman intent behind a work of art, the apology is that it is an accurate reflection of the "spirit of the age," and it is implied that a man is naive if he believes that art should be more than that. The latter argument is, of course, the favorite one of every avant-garde today, whether literary, philosophical, or "religious." For men weary of truth it is enough that a thing "is," and that it is "new" and "exciting."

These are, perhaps, understandable reactions to the overly literary and utilitarian approach of Liberalism and Realism to realms like art and religion which use a language quite unlike the prosaic language of science and business; to criticize them effectively, surely, one must understand their language and know what it is they are trying to say. But what is equally clear is that they are trying to say something: everything man does has a meaning, and every serious artist and thinker is trying to communicate something in his work. If it be proclaimed there is no meaning, or that there is only the desire to express the "spirit of the age," or that there is no desire to communicate at all--why, these too are meanings, and very ominous ones, which the competent critic will surely notice. Unfortunately, but very significantly, the task of criticism today has been virtually identified with that of apology; the role of the critic is generally seen to be no more than that of explaining, for the uninstructed multitudes, the latest "inspiration" of the "creative genius."  [16] Thus passive "receptivity" takes the place of active intelligence, and "success"--the success of the "genius" in expressing his intention, no matter what the nature of that intention--replaces excellence. By the new standards Hitler too was "successful," until the "spirit of the age" proved him " wrong"; and the avant-garde and its humanist "fellow-travellers" have no argument whatever against Bolshevism today, unless it be that, unlike National Socialism, which was "expressionistic" and "exciting," it is completely prosaic and Realistic.

But perhaps most revealing of the infection of humanism by Vitalism is the strange axiom, romantic and skeptical at the same time, that the "love of truth" is never-ending because it can never be fulfilled, that the whole of life is a constant search for something there is no hope of finding, a constant movement that never can--nor should--know a place of rest. The sophisticated humanist can be very eloquent in describing this, the new first principle of scholarly and scientific research, as an acknowledgement of the "provisional" nature of all knowledge, as a reflection of the never-satisfied, ever-curious human mind, or as part of the mysterious process of "evolution" or "progress"; but the significance of the attitude is dear. It is the last attempt of the unbeliever to hide his abandonment of truth behind a cloud of noble rhetoric, and, more positively, it is at the same time the exaltation of petty curiosity to the place once occupied by the genuine love of truth. Now it is quite true to say that curiosity, exactly like its analogue, lust, never ends and is never satisfied; but man was made for something more than this. He was made to rise, above curiosity and lust, to love, and through love to the attainment of truth. This is an elementary truth of human nature, and it requires, perhaps, a certain simplicity to grasp it. The intellectual trifling of contemporary humanism is as far from such simplicity as it is from truth.

The appeal of Vitalism is, as we have already suggested, quite understandable psychologically. Only the dullest and least perceptive of men can remain satisfied for long with the dead faith of Liberalism and Realism. Extreme elements first-artists, revolutionaries, the uprooted multitudes--and then, one by one, the humanist guardians of "civilization," and eventually even the most respectable and conservative elements of society, become possessed of an inner disquiet that leads them into the pursuit of something "new" and "exciting," no one knows exactly what. Nihilist prophets, at first generally scorned, come into fashion as men come to share their unrest and forebodings; they are gradually incorporated into the humanist pantheon and are looked to for insights and revelations that will take men out of the barren desert into which Realism has led them. Beneath the trivial sensationalism and eclecticism that characterize the contemporary trend to "mysticism" and "spiritual values," lies a deep hunger for something more substantial than Liberalism and Realism have provided or can provide, a hunger that the varieties of Vitalism can only tease, but never satisfy. Men have rejected the Son of God Who, even now, desires to dwell in men and bring them salvation; and finding intolerable the vacuum this rejection has left in their hearts, they run to madmen and magicians, to false prophets and religious sophists, for a word of life. But this word, so readily given, itself turns to dust in their mouths when they try to repeat it.

Realism, in its rage for truth, destroys the truth; in the same way Vitalism, in its very quest for life, smells of death. The Vitalism of the last hundred years has been an unmistakable symptom of world-weariness, and its prophets--even more clearly than any of the philosophers of the dead Liberalism and Realism they attacked--have been a manifestation of the end of Christian Europe. Vitalism is the product, not of the "freshness" and "life" and "immediacy" its followers so desperately seek (precisely because they lack them), but of the corruption and unbelief that are but the last phase of the dying civilization they hate. One need be no partisan of the Liberalism and Realism against which Vitalism reacted to see that it has "over-reacted," that its antidote to an undeniable disease is itself a more potent injection of the same Nihilist germ that caused the disease. Beyond Vitalism there can be only one more, definitive, stage through which Nihilism may pass: the Nihilism of Destruction.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Stages of Nihilism - Realism


The Realism of which we speak--a generic term which we understand as inclusive of the various forms of "naturalism" and "positivism"--is in its simplest form, the doctrine that was popularized precisely under the name of "Nihilism" by Turgenev in Fathers and Sons. The figure of Bazarov in that novel is the type of the "new man" of the C sixties' in Russia, simple-minded materialists and determinists, who seriously thought (like D. Pisarev) to find the salvation of mankind in the dissection of the frog, or thought they had proved the non-existence of the human soul by failing to find it in the course of an autopsy. (One is reminded of the Soviet Nihilists, the "new men" of our own 'sixties,' who fail to find God in outer space.) This "Nihilist" is the man who respects nothing, bows before no authority, accepts (so he thinks) nothing on faith, judges all in the light of a science taken as absolute and exclusive truth, rejects all idealism and abstraction in favor of the concrete and factual. He is the believer, in a word, in the "nothing-but, in the reduction of everything men have considered "higher," the things of the mind and spirit, to the lower or "basic": matter, sensation, the physical.

As opposed to Liberal vagueness, the Realist world-view seems perfectly clear and straightforward. In place of agnosticism or an evasive deism, there is open atheism; in place of vague "higher values," naked materialism and self-interest. All is clarity in the Realist universe--except what is most important and most requires clarity: its beginning and end. Where the Liberal is vague about ultimate things, the Realist is childishly naive: they simply do not exist for him; nothing exists but what is most obvious.

Such Realism, of course, is a self-contradiction, whether it takes the form of a "naturalism" that tries to establish an absolute materialism and determinism, or a "positivism" that purports to deny the absolute altogether, or the doctrinaire "agnosticism" that so readily discourses on the "unknowability" of ultimate reality; we have already discussed this problem in Section I of this chapter. But argument, of course, is purely academic in view of the fact that Realism, a logical self-contradiction, is not properly treated as a philosophy at all. It is the naive, undisciplined thought of the unreflective, practical man who, in our age of oversimplification, thinks to impose his simple-minded standards and ideas upon the entire world; or, on a slightly different level, the equally naive thought of the scientist, bound to the obvious by the requirements of his specialty, when he illegitimately attempts to extend scientific criteria beyond their proper bounds. In the latter sense it is, to adopt a useful distinction, [9] "scientism" as opposed to legitimate science; for it must be understood that our remarks here are not directed against science itself, but against the improper exploitation of its standards and methods that is so common today.

Is it correct to call such a philosophy Nihilism? More precisely, is it Nihilism in the sense in which we have defined that term? If truth is, in the highest sense, knowledge of the beginning and end of things, of the dimension of the absolute; and if Nihilism is the doctrine that there is no such truth; then it is clear that those who take scientific knowledge for the only truth, and deny what ties above it, are Nihilists in the exact sense of that term. Worship of the fact is by no means the love of truth; it is, as we have already suggested, its parody. It is the presumption of the fragment to replace the whole; it is the proud attempt to build a Tower of Babel, a collection of facts, to reach to the heights of truth and wisdom from below. But truth is only attained by bowing down and accepting what is received from above. All the pretended "humility" of Realist scholars and scientists, these men of little faith, cannot conceal the pride of their collective usurpation of the throne of God; they, in their smallness, think their painstaking "research" of more weight than Divine Revelation. For such men, too, "there is no truth"; and of them we may say what St. Basil the Great said of pagan Greek scientists, "Their terrible condemnation will be the greater for all this worldly wisdom, since, seeing so clearly into vain sciences, they have willfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth." [10]

Up to this point, however, we have failed properly to distinguish the second stage of Nihilism from its first. Most Liberals, too, accept science as exclusive truth; wherein does the Realist differ from them? The difference is not so much one of doctrine--Realism is in a sense merely disillusioned and systematized Liberalism--as one of emphasis and motivation. The Liberal is indifferent to absolute truth, an attitude resulting from excessive attachment to this world; with the Realist, on the other hand, indifference to truth becomes hostility, and mere attachment to the world becomes fanatical devotion to it. Those extreme consequences must have a more acute cause.

The Realist himself would say that this cause is the love of truth itself, which forbids belief in a "higher truth" that is no more than fantasy. Nietzsche, in fact, while believing this, saw in it a Christian quality that had turned against Christianity. "The sense of truth, highly developed through Christianity, ultimately revolts against the falsehood and fictitiousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and its history." [11]  Understood in proper context, there is an insight--though partial and distorted--in these words. Nietzsche, most immediately, was rebelling against a Christianity that had been considerably diluted by Liberal humanism, a Christianity in which uncompromising love of and loyalty to absolute truth were rare if not entirely absent, a Christianity which had become no more than a moral idealism tinged with aesthetic sentiment. The Russian "Nihilists," similarly, were in revolt .against the romantic idealism of "superfluous men" who dwelled in a nebulous realm of fantasy and escape divorced from any kind of reality, spiritual or worldly. Christian Truth is as remote from such pseudo-spirituality as is Nihilist realism. Both Christian and Realist are possessed of a love of truth, a will not to be deceived, a passion for getting to the root of things and finding their ultimate cause; both reject as unsatisfying any argument that does not refer to some absolute that itself needs no justification; both are the passionate enemies of the frivolity of a Liberalism that refuses to take ultimate things seriously and will not see human life as the solemn undertaking that it is. It is precisely this love of truth that will frustrate the attempt of Liberals to preserve ideas and institutions in which they do not fully believe, and which have no foundation in absolute truth. What is truth?--to the person for whom this is a vital, burning question, the compromise of Liberalism and humanism becomes impossible; he who once and with his whole being has asked this question can never again be satisfied with what the world is content to take in place of truth.

But it is not enough to ask this question; one must find the answer, or the last state of the seeker will be worse than the first. The Christian has found the only answer in God and His Son; the Realist, out of contact with Christian life and the Truth that animates it, asks the question in a spiritual vacuum and is content to accept the first answer he finds. Mistaking Christianity for another form of idealism, he rejects it and becomes a fanatical devotee of the only reality that is obvious to the spiritually blind: this world. Now, much as it is possible to admire the earnestness of the devoted materialist and atheist, not even the greatest charity can induce us to recognize in him any longer the love of truth which, perhaps, first inspired him; he is the victim, rather, of a love of truth that has gone astray, become a disease, and ended in its own negation. The motives of the Realist are, in fact, not pure: he claims to know what, by his own theory of knowledge, cannot be known (we have seen that the denial of absolute truth is itself an " absolute"); and if he does so it is because he has an ulterior motive, because he places some other worldly value above truth. The ruthless Realist and "truth-seeker" Nietzsche, seduced by a vision of the "Superman," ends in the evocation of the will to untruth and the will to power; Marxist Realism, for the sake of a revolutionary millennium, issues in a reign of lies and deceptions such as the world has never seen. The love of truth, frustrated of its proper object, is prostituted to an irrational "cause" and becomes a principle of subversion and destruction; it becomes the enemy of the truth it has failed to attain, of every kind of order founded wholly or partially upon the truth, and--in the end--of itself.

It becomes, in fact, a perfect parody of the Christian love of truth. Where the Christian asks the ultimate meaning of everything and is not content until he sees that it is founded on God and His Will, the Realist likewise questions everything, but only to be able to abolish all suggestion of or aspiration to anything higher, and to reduce and simplify it into the terms of the most obvious and "basic" explanation. Where the Christian sees God in everything, the Realist sees only "race" or "sex" or the "mode of production."

If the Realist, therefore, shares in common with the Christian a single-mindedness and earnestness that is totally foreign to the Liberal mentality, it is only the better to join in the Liberal's attack on Christian Truth, and to carry out that attack to its conclusion: the total abolition of Christian Truth. What began half-heartedly in Liberalism has gathered momentum in Realism and now presses to its catastrophic end. Nietzsche foresaw in our century "the triumph of Nihilism"; Jacob Burkhardt, that disillusioned Liberal, saw in it the advent of an age of dictators who would be "terribles simplificateurs." In Lenin and Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, with their radically "simple" solutions for the most complex of problems, the fulfillment of this prediction in the political realm has been well begun. More profoundly, Nihilist "simplification" may be seen in the universal prestige today accorded the lowest order of knowledge, the scientific, as well as the simplistic ideas of men like Marx, Freud, and Darwin, which underlie virtually the whole of contemporary thought and life.

We say "life," for it is important to see that the Nihilist history of our century has not been something imposed from without or above, or at least has not been predominantly this; it has rather presupposed, and drawn its nourishment from, a Nihilist soil that has long been preparing in the hearts of the people. It is precisely from the Nihilism of the commonplace, from the everyday Nihilism revealed in the life and thought and aspiration of the people, that all the terrible events of our century have sprung. The world-view of Hitler is very instructive in this regard, for in him the most extreme and monstrous Nihilism rested upon the foundation of a quite unexceptional and even typical Realism. He shared the common faith in "science," "progress," and "enlightenment" (though not, of course, in "democracy"), together with a practical materialism that scorned all theology, metaphysics, and any thought or action concerned with any other world than the "here and now," priding himself on the fact that he had "the gift of reducing all problems to their simplest foundations."  [12]  He had a crude worship of efficiency and utility that freely tolerated "birth control," laughed at the institution of marriage as a mere legalization of a sexual impulse that should be "free," welcomed sterilization of the unfit, despised "unproductive elements" such as monks, saw nothing in the cremation of the dead but a "practical" question and did not even hesitate to put the ashes, or the skin and fat, of the dead to "productive use." He possessed the quasi-anarchist distrust of sacred and venerable institutions, in particular the Church with its "superstitions" and all its "outmoded" laws and ceremonies. (We have already had occasion to note his abhorrence of the institution of Monarchy, a determining factor in his refusal to assume the Imperial tide.) He had a naive trust in the "natural mom, the "healthy animal" who scorns the Christian virtues--virginity in particular--that impede the "natural functioning" of the body. He took a simple-minded delight in modern conveniences and machines, and especially in the automobile and the sense of speed and "freedom" it affords.

There is very little of this crude Weltanschauung that is not shared, to some degree, by the multitudes today, especially among the young, who feel themselves "enlightened" and "liberated," very little that is not typically "modern." And it is precisely upon the basis of a Realism such as this, in which there is no more room for the "complicated" Christian view of life and the supremely important realities of the spiritual world, that the grossest superstitions and the most blatant credulity can thrive. Well-meaning men think to forestall the appearance of another Hitler by an attack upon "irrationality" and a defense of "reason," "science," and "common sense"; but outside of the context of Christian Truth these values, constituting a Realism of their own, are a preparation for, and not a defense against, the advent of another "terrible simplifier." The most effective contemporary "simplifiers" are those who hold power in the Soviet Union, who have made a religion of "science" and " common sense"; and anyone who looks to those most superstitious men for the defense of any value worth defending, is sorely deceived.

Realism unquestionably belongs to the "spirit of the age," and all who feel themselves to be of that "spirit" have had to accommodate themselves to it. Thus humanism, which in a more leisurely age had a more "idealistic" and Liberal coloration, has itself found it necessary to . change with the times" and adopt a more Realistic tone. The more naive have founded a humanistic "religion" that identifies itself with the cause of "science" and "progress" and has made into dogmas precisely the self-contradictions we have already examined; [13]  it is men like this who are capable of seeing in Marxism too a kind of "humanism." But even in the most sophisticated of contemporary humanists, in the most urbane scholars and statesmen, the Realist tone is unmistakable. It is revealed, for example, in the invasion by scientific methods and attitudes of the last strongholds of the "humanities"; no contemporary scholar, in whatever field, feels secure unless his work is to the fullest possible degree "scientific" (which often means, of course, "scientistic"). Realism may be seen, again, in the stoical, worldly-wise, and often cynical tone of all but the most naive (or religious) of contemporary humanists; their imagined "freedom from illusion" has also been, in large measure, a disillusionment; they now "know better" than to believe in the "higher truths" that comforted their fathers.

Humanism, in short, has come to terms with Realism--and, so it thinks, with reality; in the passage from Liberalism to Realism the humanist sees not only a disillusionment, but a process of "maturing." The Orthodox Christian, of course, sees something quite different. If the function of Liberalism was to obscure, with the smoke of "tolerance" and agnosticism, the higher truths concerning God and the spiritual life, the task of the Realism we have been examining has been to annihilate those truths. In this second stage in the progress of the Nihilist dialectic, Heaven has been closed off from the gaze of men, and men have resolved never again to take their eyes off the earth, but to live henceforth in and for this world alone. This Realist resolve is as present in a seemingly innocent "logical positivism" and scientific humanism as it is in the obviously Satanic phenomena of Bolshevism and National Socialism. The consequences of this resolve are hidden from those who make it, for they involve the very reality to which Realism is blind: the reality both above and below the narrow Realist universe. We shall see how the closing off of Heaven looses unexpected forces from below that make a nightmare of the Nihilist dream of a "new earth," and how the " new man" of Realism will resemble less a mythological "fully-developed" perfect humanity than a veritable "subhumanity" such as has never before been encountered in human experience.

We must now explore the next step in the progress of the Nihilism that leads to these ends: Vitalism.

II. The Stages of the Nihilist Dialectic

 II. The Stages of the Nihilist Dialectic

The Nihilist mentality, in the unity of its underlying aim, is single; but this mentality manifests itself in phenomena as diverse as the natures of the men who share it. The single Nihilist cause is thus advanced on many fronts simultaneously, and its enemies are confused and deceived by this effective tactic. To the careful observer, however, Nihilist phenomena reduce themselves to three or four principal types, and these few types are, further, related to each other as stages in a process which may be called the Nihilist dialectic. One stage of Nihilism opposes itself to another, not to combat it effectively, but to incorporate its errors into its own program and carry mankind one step further on the road to the Abyss that lies at the end of all Nihilism. The arguments at each stage, to be sure, are often effective in pointing out certain obvious deficiencies of a preceding or succeeding stage; but no criticism is ever radical enough to touch on the common errors all stages share, and the partial truths which are admittedly present in all forms of Nihilism are in the end only tactics to seduce men to the great falsehood that underlies them all.

The stages to be described in the following pages are not to be understood as merely chronological, though in the narrowest sense they are in fact a kind of chronicle of the development of the Nihilist mentality from the time of the failure of the Nihilist experiment of the French Revolution to the rise and fall of the latest and most explicitly Nihilist manifestation of the Revolution, National Socialism. Thus the two decades before and the two after the middle of the 19th century may be seen as the summit of Liberal prestige and influence, and J.S. Mill as the typical Liberal; the age of Realism occupies perhaps the last half of the century and is exemplified on the one hand by socialist thinkers, on the other by the philosophers and popularizers (we should perhaps rather say "exploiters") of science; Vitalism, in the forms of Symbolism, occultism, artistic Expressionism, and various evolutionary and "mystical" philosophies, is the most significant intellectual undercurrent throughout the half century after about 1875; and the Nihilism of Destruction, though its intellectual roots lie deep in the preceding century, brings, to a grand conclusion, in the public order as well as in many private spheres, the whole century and a quarter of Nihilist development with the concentrated era of destruction of 1914-45.

It will be noticed that these periods overlap, for Nihilism matures at a different rate in different peoples and in different individuals; the overlapping in fact is more extreme than our simple scheme can suggest, so much so that representatives of every stage can be found in every period, and all of them exist contemporaneously even today. What is true of historical periods is true also of individuals; there is no such thing as a "pure" Nihilist at any stage, every predominantly Nihilist temperament being a combination of at least two of the stages.

Further, if the age since the French Revolution is the first one in which Nihilism has played the central role, each of its stages has been represented in earlier centuries. Liberalism, for example, is a direct derivative of Renaissance Humanism; Realism was an important aspect of the Protestant Reformation as well as of the French Enlightenment; a kind of Vitalism appeared in Renaissance and Enlightenment occultism and again in Romanticism; and the Nihilism of Destruction, while never so thorough as it has been for the past century, has existed as a temptation for certain extremist thinkers throughout the modern age.

With these reservations, however, our scheme may perhaps be accepted as at least an approximation to what has been an undeniable historical and psychological process. Let us, then, begin our investigation of the stages of this process, the Nihilist dialectic, attempting to judge them by the clear light of the Orthodox Christian Truth which if we are correct--they exist to obscure and deny. In this section we shall attempt no more than to describe these stages, and to point out, by reference to the definition of Nihilism we have adopted, in what respect they may be characterized as Nihilist.


The Liberalism we shall describe in the following pages is not--let us state at the outset--an overt Nihilism; it is rather a passive Nihilism, or, better yet, the neutral breeding-ground of the more advanced stages of Nihilism. Those who have followed our earlier discussion concerning the impossibility of spiritual or intellectual "neutrality" in this world will understand immediately why we have classified as Nihilist a point of view which, while not directly responsible for any striking Nihilist phenomena, has been an indispensable prerequisite for their appearance. The incompetent defence by Liberalism of a heritage in which it has never fully believed, has been one of the most potent causes of oven Nihilism.

The Liberal humanist civilization which, in Western Europe, was the last form of the Old Order that was effectively destroyed in that Great War and the Revolutions of the second decade of this century and which continues to exist--though in an even more attenuated "democratic" form--in the free world today, may be principally characterized by its attitude to truth. This is not an attitude of open hostility nor even of deliberate unconcern, for its sincere apologists undeniably have a genuine regard for what they consider to be truth; rather, it is an attitude in which truth, despite certain appearances, no longer occupied the center of attention. The truth in which it professes to believe (apart of course, from scientific fact) is, for it, no spiritual or intellectual coinof current circulation, but idle and unfruitful capital left over from a previous age. The Liberal still speaks, at least on formal occasions, of "eternal verities," of "faith," of "human dignity," of man's "high calling" or his "unquenchable spirit," even of "Christian civilization"; but it is quite clear that these words no longer mean what they once meant. No Liberal takes them with entire seriousness; they are in fact metaphors, ornaments of language that are meant to evoke an emotional, not an intellectual, response--a response largely conditioned by long usage, with the attendant memory of a time when such words actually had a positive and serious meaning.

No one today who prides himself on his "sophistication"--that is to say, very few in academic institutions, in government, in science, in humanist intellectual circles, no one who wishes or professes to be abreast of the "times"--does or can fully believe in absolute truth, or more particularly in Christian Truth. Yet the name of truth has been retained, as have been the names of those truths men once regarded as absolute, and few in any position of authority or influence would hesitate to use them, even when they are aware that their meanings have changed. Truth, in a word, has been "reinterpreted"; the old forms have been emptied and given a new, quasi-Nihilist content. This may easily be seen by a brief examination of several of the principal areas in which truth has been "reinterpreted."

In the theological order the first truth is, of course, God. Omnipotent and omnipresent Creator of all, revealed to faith and in the experience of the faithful (and not contradicted by the reason of those who do not deny faith), God is the supreme end of all creation and Himself, unlike His creation, finds His end in Himself, everything created stands in relation to and dependence upon Him, Who alone depends upon nothing outside Himself, He has created the world that it might live in enjoyment of Him, and everything in the world is oriented toward this end, which however men may miss by a misuse of their freedom.

The modern mentality cannot tolerate such a God. He is both too intimate--too "personal," even too "human"--and too absolute, too uncompromising in His demands of us; and He makes Himself known only to humble faith--a fact bound to alienate the proud modern intelligence. A "new god" is clearly required by modern man, a god more closely fashioned after the pattern of such central modern concerns as science and business; it has, in fact, been an important intention of modern thought to provide such a god. This intention is clear already in Descartes, it is brought to fruition in the Deism of the Enlightenment, developed to its end in German idealism: the new god is not a Being but an idea, not revealed to faith and humility but constructed by the proud mind that still feels the need for "explanation" when it has lost its desire for salvation. This is the dead god of philosophers who require only a "first cause" to complete their systems, as well as of "positive thinkers" and other religious sophists who invent a god because they "need" him, and then think to "use" him at will. Whether "deist," "idealist," pantheist," or "immanentist," all the modern gods are the same mental construct, fabricated by souls dead from the loss of faith in the true God.

The atheist arguments against such a god are as irrefutable as they are irrelevant; for such a god is, in fact, the same as no god at all. Uninterested in man, powerless to act in the world (except to inspire a worldly "optimism"), he is a god considerably weaker than the men who invented him. On such a foundation, needless to say, nothing secure can be built; and it is with good reason that Liberals, while usually professing belief in this deity, actually build their world-view upon the more obvious, though hardly more stable, foundation of Man. Nihilist atheism is the explicit formulation of what was already, not merely implicit, but actually present in a confused form, in Liberalism.

The ethical implications of belief in such a god are precisely the same as those of atheism; this inner agreement, however, is again disguised outwardly behind a cloud of metaphor. In the Christian order all activity in this life is viewed and judged in the light of the life of the future world, the life beyond death which will have no end. The unbeliever can have no idea of what this life means to the believing Christian; for most people today the future life has, like God, become a mere idea, and it therefore costs as little pain and effort to deny as to affirm it. For the believing Christian, the future life is joy inconceivable, joy surpassing the joy he knows in this life through communion with God in prayer, in the Liturgy, in the Sacrament; because then God will be all in all and there will be no falling away from this joy, which will indeed be infinitely enhanced. The true believer has the consolation of a foretaste of eternal life. The believer in the modern god, having no such foretaste and hence no notion of Christian joy, cannot believe in the future life in the same way; indeed, if he were honest with himself, he would have to admit that he cannot believe in it at all.

There are two primary forms of such disbelief which passes for Liberal belief: the Protestant and the humanist. The Liberal Protestant view of the future life--shared, regrettably, by increasing numbers who profess to be Catholic or even Orthodox--is, like its views on everything else pertaining to the spiritual world, a minimal profession of faith that masks an actual faith in nothing. The future life has become a shadowy underworld in the popular conception of it, a place to take one's "deserved rest" after a life of toil. Nobody has a very clear idea of this realm, for it corresponds to no reality; it is rather an emotional projection, a consolation for those who would rather not face the implications of their actual disbelief

Such a "heaven" is the fruit of a union of Christian terminology with ordinary worldliness, and it is convincing to no one who realizes that compromise in such ultimate matters is impossible; neither the true Orthodox Christian nor the consistent Nihilist is seduced by it. But the compromise of humanism is, if anything, even less convincing. Here there is scarcely even the pretense that the idea corresponds to reality; all becomes metaphor and rhetoric. The humanist no longer speaks of heaven at all, at least not seriously; but he does allow himself to speak of the "eternal," preferably in the form of a resounding figure of speech: "eternal verities," "eternal spirit of men." One may justly question whether the word has any meaning at all in such phrases. In humanist stoicism the "eternal" has been reduced to a content so thin and frail as to be virtually indistinguishable from the materialist and determinist Nihilism that attempts--with some justification, surely, to destroy it.

In either case, in that of the Liberal "Christian" or the even more Liberal humanist, the inability to believe in eternal life is rooted in the same fact: they believe only in this world, they have neither experience nor knowledge of, nor faith in the other world, and most of all, they believe in a "god" who is not powerful enough to raise men from the dead.

Behind their rhetoric, the sophisticated Protestant and the humanist are quite aware that there is no room for Heaven, nor for eternity, in their universe; their thoroughly Liberal sensibility, again, looks not to a transcendent, but to an immanent source for its ethical doctrine, and their agile intelligence is even capable of turning this faute de mieux into a positive apology. It is-in this view-both "realism" and "courage" to live without hope of eternal joy nor fear of eternal pain; to one endowed with the Liberal view of things, it is not necessary to believe in Heaven or Hell to lead a "good life" in this world. Such is the total blindness of the Liberal mentality to the meaning of death.

If there is no immortality, the Liberal believes, one can still lead a civilized life; "if there is no immortality"-is the far profounder logic of Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's novel-"all things are lawful." Humanist stoicism is possible for certain individuals for a certain time: until, that is, the full implications of the denial of immortality strike home. The Liberal lives in a fool's paradise which must collapse before the truth of things. If death is, as the Liberal and Nihilist both believe, the extinction of the individual, then this world and everything in it-love, goodness, sanctity, everything-are as nothing, nothing man may do is of any ultimate consequence and the full horror of life is hidden from man only by the strength of their will to deceive themselves; and "all things are lawful," no otherworldly hope or fear restrains men from monstrous experiments and suicidal dreams. Nietzsche's words are the truth-and prophecy-of the new world that results from this view:

Of all that which was formerly held to be true, not one word is to be credited. Everything which was formerly disdained as unholy, forbidden, contemptible, and fatal--all these flowers now bloom on the most charming paths of truth. [4]

The blindness of the Liberal is a direct antecedent of Nihilist, and more specifically of Bolshevist, morality; for the latter is only a consistent and systematic application of Liberal unbelief It is the supreme irony of the Liberal view that it is precisely when its deepest intent shall have been realized in the world, and all men shall have been "liberated" from the yoke of transcendent standards, when even the pretense of belief in the other world shall have vanished--it is precisely then that life as the Liberal knows or desires it shall have become impossible; for the "new man" that disbelief produces can only see in Liberalism itself the last of the "illusions" which Liberalism wished to dispel.

In the Christian order politics too was founded upon absolute truth. We have already seen, in the preceding chapter, that the principal providential form government took in union with Christian Truth was the Orthodox Christian Empire, wherein sovereignty was vested in a Monarch, and authority proceeded from him downwards through a hierarchical social structure. We shall see in the next chapter, on the other hand, how a politics that rejects Christian Truth must acknowledge "the people" as sovereign and understand authority as proceeding from below upwards, in a formally "egalitarian" society. It is clear that one is the perfect inversion of the other; for they are opposed in their conceptions both of the source and of the end of government. Orthodox Christian Monarchy is government divinely established, and directed, ultimately, to the other world, government with the teaching of Christian Truth and the salvation of souls as its profoundest purpose; Nihilist rule--whose most fitting name, as we shall see, is Anarchy---is government established by men, and directed solely to this world, government which has no higher aim than earthly happiness.

The Liberal view of government, as one might suspect, is an attempt at compromise between these two irreconcilable ideas. In the 19th century this compromise took the form of "constitutional monarchies," an attempt--again--to wed an old form to a new content; today the chief representatives of the Liberal idea are the "republics" and "democracies" of Western Europe and America, most of which preserve a rather precarious balance between the forces of authority and Revolution, while professing to believe in both.

It is of course impossible to believe in both with equal sincerity and fervor, and in fact no one has ever done so. Constitutional monarchs like Louis Philippe thought to do so by professing to rule "by the Grace of God and the will of the people"--a formula whose two terms annul each other, a fact as equally evident to the Anarchist [5] as to the Monarchist.

Now a government is secure insofar as it has God for its foundation and His Will for its guide; but this, surely, is not a description of Liberal government. It is, in the Liberal view, the people who rule, and not God; God Himself is a "constitutional monarch" Whose authority has been totally delegated to the people, and Whose function is entirely ceremonial. The Liberal believes in God with the same rhetorical fervor with which he believes in Heaven. The government erected upon such a faith is very little different, in principle, from a government erected upon total disbelief, and whatever its present residue of stability, it is clearly pointed in the direction of Anarchy.

A government must rule by the Grace of God or by the will of the people, it must believe in authority or in the Revolution; on these issues compromise is possible only in semblance, and only for a time. The Revolution, like the disbelief which has always accompanied it, cannot be stopped halfway; it is a force that, once awakened, will not rest until it ends in a totalitarian Kingdom of this world. The history of the last two centuries has proved nothing if not this. To appease the Revolution and offer it concessions, as Liberals have always done, thereby showing that they have no truth with which to oppose it, is perhaps to postpone, but not to prevent, the attainment of its end. And to oppose the radical Revolution with a Revolution of one's own, whether it be "conservative," " non-violent," or "spiritual," is not merely to reveal ignorance of the full scope and nature of the Revolution of our time, but to concede as well the first principle of that Revolution: that the old truth is no longer true, and a new truth must take its place. Our next chapter will develop this point by defining more closely the goal of the Revolution.

In the Liberal world-view, therefore--in its theology, its ethics, its politics, and in other areas we have not examined as well--truth has been weakened, softened, compromised; in all realms truth that was once absolute has become less certain, if not entirely "relative." Now it is possible-and this in fact amounts to a definition of the Liberal enterprise-to preserve for a time the fruits of a system and a truth of which one is uncertain or skeptical; but one can build nothing positive upon such uncertainty, nor upon the attempt to make it intellectually respectable in the various relativistic doctrines we have already examined. There is and can be no philosophical apology for Liberalism; its apologies, when not simply rhetorical, are emotional and pragmatic. But the most striking fact about the Liberal, to any relatively unbiased observer, is not so much the inadequacy of his doctrine as his own seeming oblivion to this inadequacy.

This fact, which is understandably irritating to well-meaning critics of Liberalism, has only one plausible explanation. The Liberal is undisturbed even by fundamental deficiencies and contradictions in his own philosophy because his primary interest is elsewhere. If he is not concerned to found the political and social order upon Divine Truth, if he is indifferent to the reality of Heaven and Hell, if he conceives of God as a mere idea of a vague impersonal power, it is because he is more immediately interested in worldly ends, and because everything else is vague or abstract to him. The Liberal may be interested in culture, in learning, in business, or merely in comfort; but in every one of his pursuits the dimension of the absolute is simply absent. He is unable, or unwilling, to think in terms of ends, of ultimate things. The thirst for absolute truth has vanished; it has been swallowed up in worldliness.

In the Liberal universe, of course, truth-which is to say, learning,--is quite compatible with worldliness; but there is more to truth than learning. "Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice." [6]  No one has rightly sought the truth who has not encountered at the end of this search-whether to accept or reject Him-our Lord, Jesus Christ, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," Truth that stands against the world and is a reproach to all worldliness. The Liberal, who thinks his universe secure against this Truth, is the "rich man" of the parable, overburdened by his worldly interests and ideas, unwilling to give them up for the humility, poverty, and lowliness that are the marks of the genuine seeker after truth.

Nietzsche has given a second definition of Nihilism, or rather a commentary on the definition "there is no truth"; and that is, "there is no answer to the question: 'why?' " [7]  Nihilism thus means that the ultimate questions have no answers, that is to say, no positive answers; and the Nihilist is he who accepts the implicit "no" the universe supposedly gives as its answer to these questions. But there are two ways of accepting this answer. There is the extreme path wherein it is made explicit and amplified in the programs of Revolution and destruction; this is Nihilism properly so-called, active Nihilism, for--in Nietzsche's words--"Nihilism is ... not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one's shoulder to the plough; one destroys."  [8] But there is also a "moderate" path, which is that of the passive or implicit Nihilism we have been examining here, the Nihilism of the Liberal, the humanist, the agnostic who, agreeing that "there is no truth," no longer ask the ultimate questions. Active Nihilism presupposes this Nihilism of skepticism and disbelief.

The totalitarian Nihilist regimes of this century have undertaken, as an integral part of their programs, the ruthless "reeducation" of their peoples. Few subjected to this process for any length of time have entirely escaped its influence; in a landscape where A is nightmare, one's sense of reality and truth inevitably suffers. A subtler "re-education," quite humane in its means but nonetheless Nihilist in its consequences, has been practiced for some time in the free world, and nowhere more persistently or effectively than in its intellectual center, the academic world. Here external coercion is replaced by internal persuasion; a deadly skepticism reigns, hidden behind the remains of a "Christian heritage" in which few believe, and even fewer with deep conviction. The profound responsibility the scholar once possessed, the communication of truth, has been reneged; and A the pretended "humility" that seeks to conceal this fact behind sophisticated chatter on "the limits of human knowledge," is but another mask of the Nihilism the Liberal academician shares with the extremists of our day. Youth that--until it is "re-educated" in the academic environment-- still thirsts for truth, is taught instead of truth the "history of ideas," or its interest is diverted into "comparative" studies, and the all-pervading relativism and skepticism inculcated in these studies is sufficient to kill in almost all the natural thirst for truth.

The academic world--and these words are neither lightly nor easily spoken--has become today, in large part, a source of corruption. It is corrupting to hear or read the words of men who do not believe in truth. It is yet more corrupting to receive, in place of truth, more learning and scholarship which, if they are presented as ends in themselves, are no more than parodies of the truth they were meant to serve, no more than a facade behind which there is no substance. It is, tragically, corrupting even to be, exposed to the primary virtue still left to the academic world, the integrity of the best of its representatives--if this integrity serves, not the truth, but skeptical scholarship, and so seduces men all the more effectively to the gospel of subjectivism and unbelief this scholarship conceals. It is corrupting, finally, simply to live and work in an atmosphere totally permeated by a false conception of truth, wherein Christian Truth is seen as irrelevant to the central academic concerns, wherein even those who still believe this Truth can only sporadically make their voices heard above the skepticism promoted by the academic system. The evil, of course, lies primarily in the system itself, which is founded upon untruth, and only incidentally in the many professors whom this system permits and encourages to preach it.

The Liberal, the worldly man, is the man who has lost his faith; and the loss of perfect faith is the beginning of the end of the order erected upon that faith. Those who seek to preserve the prestige of truth without believing in it offer the most potent weapon to all their enemies; a merely metaphorical faith is suicidal. The radical attacks the Liberal doctrine at every point, and the veil of rhetoric is no protection against the strong thrust of his sharp blade. The Liberal, under this persistent attack, gives way on point after point, forced to admit the truth of the charges against him without being able to counter this negative, critical truth with any positive truth of his own; until, after a long and usually gradual transition, of a sudden he awakens to discover that the Old Order, undefended and seemingly indefensible, has been overthrown, and that a new, more "realistic"--and more brutal-truth has taken the field.

Liberalism is the first stage of the Nihilist dialectic, both because its own faith is empty, and because this emptiness calls into being a yet more Nihilist reaction--a reaction that, ironically, proclaims even more loudly than Liberalism its "love of truth," while carrying mankind one step farther on the path of error. This reaction is the second stage of the Nihilist dialectic: Realism.


 I. INTRODUCTION: The Question of Truth

What is the Nihilism in which we have seen the root of the Revolution of the modern age? The answer, at first thought, does not seem difficult; several obvious examples of it spring immediately to mind. There is Hitler's fantastic program of destruction, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Dadaist attack on art; there is the background from which these movements sprang, most notably represented by several "possessed" individuals of the late nineteenth century--poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, revolutionaries like Bakunin and Nechayev, "prophets" like Nietzsche; there is, on a humbler level among our contemporaries, the vague unrest that leads some to flock to magicians like Hitler, and others to find escape in drugs or false religions, or to perpetrate those "senseless" crimes that become ever more characteristic of these times. But these represent no more than the spectacular surface of the problem of Nihilism. To account even for these, once one probes beneath the surface, is by no means an easy task; but the task we have set for ourselves in this chapter is broader: to understand the nature of the whole movement of which these phenomena are but extreme examples.

To do this it will be necessary to avoid two great pitfalls lying on either side of the path we have chosen, into one or the other of which most commentators on the Nihilist spirit of our age have fallen: apology, and diatribe.

Anyone aware of the too-obvious imperfections and evils of modern civilization that have been the more immediate occasion and cause of the Nihilist reaction--though we shall see that these too have been the fruit of an incipient Nihilism--cannot but feel a measure of sympathy with some, at least, of the men who have participated in that reaction. Such sympathy may take the form of pity for men who may, from one point of view, be seen as innocent "victims" of the conditions against which their effort has been directed; or again, it may be expressed in the common opinion that certain types of Nihilist phenomena have actually a "positive" significance and have a role to play in some "new development" of history or of man. The latter attitude, again, is itself one of the more obvious fruits of the very Nihilism in question here; but the former attitude, at least, is not entirely devoid of truth or justice. For that very reason, however, we must be all the more careful not to give it undue importance. It is all too easy, in the atmosphere of intellectual fog that pervades Liberal and Humanist circles today, to allow sympathy for an unfortunate person to pass over into receptivity to his ideas. The Nihilist, to be sure, is in some sense "sick," and his sickness is a testimony to the sickness of an age whose best--as well as worst--elements turn to Nihilism; but sickness is not cured, nor even properly diagnosed by "sympathy." In any case there is no such thing as an entirely "innocent victim." The Nihilist is all too obviously involved in the very sins and guilt of mankind that have produced the evils of our age; and in taking arms--as do all Nihilists not only against real or imagined "abuses" and "injustices" in the social and religious order, but also against order itself and the Truth that underlies that order, the Nihilist takes an active part in the work of Satan (for such it is) that can by no means be explained away by the mythology of the "innocent victim." No one, in the last analysis, serves Satan against his will.

But if "apology" is far from our intention in these pages, neither is our aim mere diatribe. It is not sufficient, for example, to condemn Nazism or Bolshevism for their "barbarism," "gangsterism," or "anti-intellectualism," and the artistic or literary avant-garde for their "pessimism" or "exhibitionism"; nor is it enough to defend the "democracies" in the name of "civilization," "progress," or "humanism," or for their advocacy of "private property" or "civil liberties." Such arguments, while some of them possess a certain justice, are really quite beside the point; the blows of Nihilism strike too deep, its program is far too radical, to be effectively countered by them. Nihilism has error for its root, and error can be conquered only by Truth. Most of the criticism of Nihilism is not directed to this root at all, and the reason for this--as we shall see--is that Nihilism has become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living today, that there is no longer any "front" on which it may be fought; and those who think they are fighting it are most often using its own weapons, which they in effect turn against themselves.

Some will perhaps object--once they have seen the scope of our project--that we have set our net too wide: that we have exaggerated the prevalence of Nihilism or, if not, then that the phenomenon is so universal as to defy handling at all. We must admit that our task is an ambitious one, all the more so because of the ambiguity of many Nihilist phenomena; and indeed, if we were to attempt a thorough examination of the question our work would never end.

It is possible, however, to set our net wide and still catch the fish we are after--because it is, after all, a single fish, and a large one. A complete documentation of Nihilist phenomena is out of the question; but an examination of the unique Nihilist mentality that underlies them, and of its indisputable effects and its role in contemporary history, is surely possible.

We shall attempt here, first, to describe this mentality-in several, at least, of its most important manifestations-and offer a sketch of its historical development; and then to probe more deeply into its meaning and historical program. But before this can be done, we must know more clearly of what we are speaking; we must begin, therefore, with a definition of Nihilism.

This task need not detain us long; Nihilism has been defined, and quite succinctly, by the fount of philosophical Nihilism, Nietzsche.
"That there is no truth; that there is no absolute state of affairs-no 'thing-in-itself.' This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind."[1]

"There is no truth": we have encountered this phrase already more than once in this book, and it will recur frequently hereafter. For the question of Nihilism is, most profoundly, a question of truth; it is, indeed, the question of truth.

But what is truth? The question is, first of all, one of logic: before we discuss the content of truth, we must examine its very possibility, and the conditions of its postulation. And by "truth" we mean, of course--as Nietzsche's denial of it makes explicit--absolute truth, which we have already defined as the dimension of the beginning and the end of things.

"Absolute truth": the phrase has, to a generation raised on skepticism and unaccustomed to serious thought, an antiquated ring. No one, surely--is the common idea--no one is naive enough to believe in "absolute truth" any more; all truth, to our enlightened age, is "relative." The latter expression, let us note-"all truth is relative"-is the popular translation of Nietzsche's phrase, "there is no (absolute) truth"; the one doctrine is the foundation of the Nihilism alike of the masses and of the elite.

"Relative truth" is primarily represented, for our age, by the knowledge of science, which begins in observation, proceeds by logic, and progresses in orderly fashion from the known to the unknown. It is always discursive, contingent, qualified, always expressed in "relation" to something else, never standing alone, never categorical, never -absolute."

The unreflective scientific specialist sees no need for any other kind of knowledge; occupied with the demands of his specialty, he has, perhaps, neither time nor inclination for "abstract" questions that inquire, for example, into the basic presuppositions of that specialty. If he is pressed, or if his mind spontaneously turns to such questions, the most obvious explanation is usually sufficient to satisfy his curiosity: all truth is empirical, all truth is relative.

Either statement, of course, is a self-contradiction. The first statement is itself not empirical at all, but metaphysical; the second is itself an absolute statement. The question of absolute truth is raised first of all, for the critical observer, by such self-contradictions; and the first logical conclusion to which he must be led is this:, if there is any truth at all, it cannot be merely "relative." The first principles of modern science, as of any system of knowledge, are themselves unchangeable and absolute; if they were not there would be no knowledge at all, not even the most "reflective" knowledge, for there would be no criteria by which to classify anything as knowledge or truth.

This axiom has a corollary: the absolute cannot be attained by means of the relative. That is to say, the first principles of any system of knowledge cannot be arrived at through the means of that knowledge itself, but must be given in advance; they are the object, not of scientific demonstration, but of faith.

We have discussed, in an earlier chapter, the universality of faith, seeing it as underlying all human activity and knowledge; and we have seen that faith, if it is not to fall prey to subjective delusions, must be rooted in truth. It is therefore a legitimate, and indeed unavoidable question whether the first principles of the scientific faith--for example, the coherence and uniformity of nature, the transsubjectivity of human knowledge, the adequacy of reason to draw conclusions from observation--are founded in absolute truth; if they are not, they can be no more than unverifiable probabilities. The "pragmatic" position taken by many scientists and humanists who cannot be troubled to think about ultimate things--the position that these principles are no more than experimental hypotheses which collective experience finds reliable--is surely unsatisfactory; it may offer a psychological explanation of the faith these principles inspire, but since it does not establish the foundation of that faith in truth, it leaves the whole scientific edifice on shifting sands and provides no sure defense against the irrational winds that periodically attack it.

In actual fact, however,--whether it be from simple naivete or from a deeper insight which they cannot justify by argument-most scientists and humanists undoubtedly believe that their faith has something to do with the truth of things. Whether this belief is justified or not is, of course, another question; it is a metaphysical question, and one thing that is certain is that it is not justified by the rather primitive metaphysics of most scientists.

Every man, as we have seen, lives by faith; likewise every man--something less obvious but no less certain--is a metaphysician. The claim to any knowledge whatever--and no living man can refrain from this claim--implies a theory and standard of knowledge, and a notion of what is ultimately knowable and true. This ultimate truth, whether it be conceived as the Christian God or simply as the ultimate coherence of things, is a metaphysical first principle, an absolute truth. But with the acknowledgement, logically unavoidable, of such a principle, the theory of the "relativity of truth" collapses, it itself being revealed as a self-contradictory absolute.

The proclamation of the "relativity of truth" is, thus, what might be called a "negative metaphysics"--but a metaphysics all the same. There are several principal forms of "negative metaphysics," and since each contradicts itself in a slightly different way, and appeals to a slightly different mentality, it would be wise to devote a paragraph here to the examination of each. We may divide them into the two general categories of "realism" and "agnosticism," each of which in turn may be subdivided into "naive" and "critical."

"Naive realism," or "naturalism," does not precisely deny absolute truth, but rather makes absolute claims of its own that cannot be defended. Rejecting any "ideal" or "spiritual" absolute, it claims the absolute truth of "materialism" and "determinism." This philosophy is still current in some circles--it is official Marxist doctrine and is expounded by some unsophisticated scientific thinkers in the West but the main current of contemporary thought has left it behind, and it seems today the quaint relic of a simpler, but bygone, day, the Victorian day when many transferred to "science" the allegiance and emotions they had once devoted to religion. It is the impossible formulation of a "scientific" metaphysics--impossible because science is, by its nature, knowledge of the particular, and metaphysics is knowledge of what underlies the particular and is presupposed by it. It is a suicidal philosophy in that the "materialism" and "determinism" it posits render all philosophy invalid; since it must insist that philosophy, like everything else, is "determined," its advocates can only claim that their philosophy, since it exists, is "inevitable," but not at all that it is "true.' This philosophy, in fact, if consistent, would do away with the category of truth altogether; but its adherents, innocent of thought that is either consistent or profound, seem unaware of this fatal contradiction. The contradiction may be seen, on a less abstract level, in the altruistic and idealistic practice of, for example, the Russian Nihilists of the last century, a practice in flagrant contradiction of their purely materialistic and egoistic theory; Vladimir Solovyov cleverly pointed out this discrepancy by ascribing to them the syllogism, "Man is descended from. monkey, consequently we shall love one another."

All philosophy presupposes, to some degree, the autonomy o ideas; philosophical "materialism" is, thus, a species of "idealism." It is one might say, the self-confession of those whose ideas do not rise above the obvious, whose thirst for truth is so easily assuaged by science that they make it into their absolute.

"Critical realism," or "positivism," is the straightforward denial of metaphysical truth. Proceeding from the same scientific predisposition as the more naive naturalism, it professes greater modesty in abandoning the absolute altogether and restricting itself to "empirical," "relative" truth. We have already noted the contradiction in this position: the denial of absolute truth is itself an "absolute truth"; again, as with naturalism, the very positing of the first principle of positivism is its own refutation.

"Agnosticism," like " realism," may be distinguished as "naive" and "critical." "Naive" or "doctrinaire agnosticism" posits the absolute unknowability of any absolute truth. While its claim seems more modest even than that of positivism, it still quite dearly claims too much: if it actually knows that the absolute is "unknowable," then this knowledge is itself "absolute." Such agnosticism is in fact but a variety of positivism, attempting, with no greater success, to cover up its contradictions.

Only in "critical" or "pure agnosticism" do we find, at last, what seems to be a successful renunciation of the absolute; unfortunately, such renunciation entails the renunciation of everything else and ends--if it is consistent--in total solipsism. Such agnosticism is the simple statement of fact: we do not know whether there exists an absolute truth, or what its nature could be if it did exist; let us, then--this is the corollary--content ourselves with the empirical, relative truth we can know. But what is truth? What is knowledge? If there is no absolute standard by which these are to be measured, they cannot even be defined. The agnostic, if he acknowledges this criticism, does not allow it to disturb him; his position is one of "pragmatism," " experimentalism," "instrumentalism": there is no truth, but man can survive, can get along in the world, without it. Such a position has been defended in high places--and in very low places as well--in our anti-intellectualist century; but the least one can say of it is that it is intellectually irresponsible. It is the definitive abandonment of truth, or rather the surrender of truth to power, whether that power be nation, race, class, comfort, or whatever other cause is able to absorb the energies men once devoted to the truth.

The "pragmatist" and the "agnostic" may be quite sincere and well-meaning; but they only deceive themselves--and others--if they continue to use the word "truth" to describe what they are seeking. Their existence, in fact, is testimony to the fact that the search for truth which has so long animated European man has come to an end. Four centuries and more of modern thought have been, from one point of view, an experiment in the possibilities of knowledge open to man, assuming that there is no Revealed Truth. The conclusion--which Hume already saw and from which he fled into the comfort of "common sense" and conventional life, and which the multitudes sense today without possessing any such secure refuge--the conclusion of this experiment is an absolute negation: if there is no Revealed Truth, there is no truth at all; the search for truth outside of Revelation has come to a dead end. The scientist admits this by restricting himself to the narrowest of specialties, content if he sees a certain coherence in a limited aggregate of facts, without troubling himself over the existence of any truth, large or small; the multitudes demonstrate it by looking to the scientist, not for truth, but for the technological applications of a knowledge which has no more than a practical value, and by looking to other, irrational sources for the ultimate values men once expected to find in truth. The despotism of science over practical life is contemporaneous with the advent of a whole series of pseudo-religious "revelations"; the two are correlative symptoms of the same malady: the abandonment of truth.

Logic, thus, can take us this far: denial or doubt of absolute truth leads (if one is consistent and honest) to the abyss of solipsism and irrationalism; the only position that involves no logical contradictions is the affirmation of an absolute truth which underlies and secures all lesser truths; and this absolute truth can be attained by no relative, human means. At this point logic fails us, and we must enter an entirely different universe of discourse if we are to proceed. It is one thing to state that there is no logical barrier to the affirmation of absolute truth; it is quite another actually to affirm it. Such an affirmation can be based upon only one source; the question of truth must come in the end to the question of Revelation.

The critical mind hesitates at this point. Must we seek from without what we cannot attain by our own unaided power? It is a blow to pride--most of all to that pride which passes today for scientific "humility" that "sits down before fact as a little child" and yet refuses to acknowledge any arbiter of fact save the proud human reason. It is, however, a particular revelation--Divine Revelation, the Christian Revelation--that so repels the rationalist; other revelations he does not gainsay.

Indeed, the man who does not accept, fully and consciously, a coherent doctrine of truth such as the Christian Revelation provides, is forced--if he has any pretensions to knowledge whatever--to seek such a doctrine elsewhere; this has been the path of modern philosophy, which has ended in obscurity and confusion because it would never squarely face the fact that it cannot supply for itself what can only be given from without. The blindness and confusion of modern philosophers with regard to first principles and the dimension of the absolute have been the direct consequence of their own primary assumption, the non-existence of Revelation; for this assumption in effect blinded men to the light of the sun and rendered obscure everything that had once been clear in its light. To one who gropes in this darkness there is but one path, if he will not be healed of his blindness; and that is to seek some light amidst the darkness here below. Many run to the flickering candle of "common sense" and conventional life and accept--because one must get along somehow--the current opinions of the social and intellectual circles to which they belong. But many others, finding this light too dim, flock to the magic lanterns that project beguiling, multicolored views that are, if nothing else, distracting, they become devotees of this or the other political or religious or artistic current that the "spirit of the age" has thrown into fashion. In fact no one lives but by the light of some revelation, be it a true or a false one, whether it serve to enlighten or obscure. He who will not live by the Christian Revelation must live by a false revelation; and all false revelations lead to the Abyss.

We began this investigation with the logical question, "what is truth?" That question may--and must--be framed from an entirely different point of view. The skeptic Pilate asked the question, though not in earnest; ironically for him, he asked it of the Truth Himself "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me." [2] "Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free." [3]  Truth in this sense, Truth that confers eternal life and freedom, cannot be attained by any human means; it can only be revealed from above by One Who has the power to do so.

The path to this Truth is a narrow one, and most men--because they travel the "broad" path--miss it. There is no man, however,--for so the God Who is Truth created him--who does not seek this Truth. We shall examine, in later chapters, many of the false absolutes, the false gods men have invented and worshipped in our idolatrous age; and we shall find that what is perhaps most striking about them is that every one of them, far from being any "new revelation," is a dilution, a distortion, a perversion, or a parody of the One Truth men cannot help but point to even in their error and blasphemy and pride. The notion of Divine Revelation has been thoroughly discredited for those who must obey the dictates of the "spirit of the age"; but it is impossible to extinguish the thirst for truth which God has implanted in man to lead them to Him, and which can only be satisfied in the acceptance of His Revelation. Even those who profess satisfaction with "relative" truths and consider themselves too "sophisticated" or "honest" or even "humble" to pursue the absolute--even they tire, eventually, of the fare of unsatisfying tidbits to which they have arbitrarily confined themselves, and long for more substantial fare.

The whole food of Christian Truth, however, is accessible only to faith; and the chief obstacle to such faith is not logic, as the facile modern view has it, but another and opposed faith. We have seen indeed, that logic cannot deny absolute truth without denying itself, the logic that sets itself up against the Christian Revelation is merely the servant of another "revelation," of a false "absolute truth": namely Nihilism.

In the following pages we shall characterize as "Nihilists" men of, as it seems, widely divergent views: humanists, skeptics, revolutionaries of all hues, artists and philosophers of various schools; but they are united in a common task. Whether in positivist "criticism" of Christian truths and institutions, revolutionary violence against the Old Order, apocalyptic visions of universal destruction and the advent of a paradise on earth, or objective scientific labors in the interests of a "better life" in this world--the tacit assumption being that there is no other world--their aim is the same: the annihilation of Divine Revelation and the preparation of a new order in which there shall be no trace of the "old" view of things, in which Man shall be the only god there is.

NIHILISM : The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age

NIHILISM : The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age
by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose

Editor's Preface

I.   Introduction: The Question of Truth

II.  The Stages of Nihilistic Dialectic

1.  Liberalism
2.  Realism
3.  Vitalism
4.  The Nihilism of Destruction

III. The Theology and the Spirit of Nihilism

1. Rebellion:  The War against God
2. The Worship of Nothingness

IV. The Nihilist Program

1. The Destruction of the Old Order
2.  The Making of the "New Earth"
3.  The Fashioning of the "New Man"

V.  "Beyond Nihilism"


Eugene's Proposed Outline for the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God


Editor's Preface

In a basement apartment near downtown San Francisco in the early1960's, Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, sat at his desk covered with stacks of books and piles of paper folders. The room was perpetually dark, for little light could come in from the window. Some years before Eugene had moved there, a murder had occurred in that room, and some said that an ominous spirit still lingered there. But Eugene, as if in defiance of this spirit and the ever-darkening spirit of the city around him, had one wall covered with icons, before which a­­ red icon-lamp always flickered.

In this room Eugene undertook to write a monumental chronicle of modern man's war against God: man's attempt to destroy the Old Order and raise up a new one without Christ, to deny the existence of the Kingdom of God and raise up his own earthly utopia in its stead. This projected work was entitled The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom, of God.

Only a few years before this, Eugene himself had been ensnared in the Kingdom of Man and had suffered in it; he too had been at war against God. Having rejected the Protestant Christianity of his formative years as being weak and ineffectual, he had taken part in the Bohemian counterculture of the 1950's, and had delved into Eastern religions and philosophies which taught that God is ultimately impersonal. Like the absurdist artists and writers of his day, he had experimented with insanity, breaking down logical thought processes as a way of "breaking on over to the other side." He read the words of the mad "prophet" of Nihilism, Friedrich Nietzsche, until those words resonated in his soul with an electric, infernal power. Through all these means, he was seeking to attain to Truth or Reality with his mind; but they all resulted in failure. He was reduced to such a state of despair that, when later asked to describe it, he could only say, "I was in Hell." He would get drunk, and would grapple with the God Whom he had claimed was dead, pounding on the floor and screaming at Him to leave him alone. Once while intoxicated, he wrote, "I am sick, as all men are sick who are absent from the love of God."

"Atheism," Eugene wrote in later years, "true 'existential' atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be found primarily in the great deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ...."

It was in such a condition of intense hunger that Eugene found himself in the late 1950's. And then, like a sudden gust of wind, there entered into his life a reality that he never could have foreseen. Towards the end of his life he recalled this moment: "For years in my studies I was satisfied with being 'above all traditions' but somehow faithful to them.... When I visited an Orthodox church, it was only in order to view another 'tradition.' However, when I entered an Orthodox church for the first time (a Russian church in San Francisco) something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was 'home,' that all my search was over. I didn't really know what this meant, because the service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language and customs.... With my exposure to Orthodoxy and to Orthodox people, a new idea began to enter my awareness: that Truth was not just an abstract idea, sought and known by the mind, but was something personal--even a Person--sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ."

While working on The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God in his basement apartment, Eugene was still coming to grips with what he had found. He had come upon the Truth in the Undistorted Image of Christ, as preserved in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but he yearned to enter into what he called the "heart of hearts" of that Church, its mystical dimension, not its boring, worldly, organizational aspect. He wanted God, and wanted Him passionately. His writings from this time were a kind of catharsis for him: a means of emerging out of untruth, out of the underground darkness and into the light. Although they are philosophical in tone, much more so than his later works, these early writings were born of an intense suffering that was still very fresh in his soul. It was only natural that he would write much more about the Kingdom of Man, in which he had suffered all his life, than about the Kingdom of God, of which he had as yet only caught a glimpse. It was still through the prism of the Kingdom of Man that he viewed the Kingdom of God.

Of all the fourteen chapters Eugene planned to write for his magnum opus (see the outline below), only the seventh was typed in completed form; the rest remain in handwritten notes. This seventh chapter, which we present here, was on the philosophy of Nihilism.

Nihilism--the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is relative--is, Eugene affirmed, the basic philosophy of the 20th century: "It has become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living today, that there is no longer any 'front' on which it may be fought." The heart of this philosophy, he said, was "expressed most clearly by Nietzsche and by a character of Dostoyevsky in the phrase: 'God is dead, therefore man becomes God and everything is possible."'

From his own experience, Eugene believed that modern man cannot come to Christ fully until he is first aware of how far he and his society have fallen away from Him, that is, until he has first faced the Nihilism in himself "The Nihilism of our age exists in all," he wrote, " and those who do not, with the aid of God, choose to combat it in the name of the fullness of Being of the living God, are swallowed up in it already. We have been brought to the edge of the abyss of nothingness and, whether we recognize its nature or not, we will, through affinity for the ever-present nothingness within us, be engulfed in it beyond all hope of redemption-unless we cling in full and certain faith (which doubting, does not doubt) to Christ, without Whom we are truly nothing."

As a writer, Eugene felt he must call his contemporaries back from the abyss. He wrote not only out of his own desire for God, but out of his concern for others who desired Him also--even those who, as he himself had once done, rejected God or warred against Him out of their very desire for Him.

Out of his pain of heart, out of the darkness of his former life, Eugene speaks to contemporary humanity which finds itself in the same pain and darkness. Now, three decades since he wrote this work, as the powers of Nihilism and anti-Christianity enter more deeply into the fiber of our society, his words are more needed than ever. Having faced and fought against the Nihilism in himself, he is able to help prevent us from being captured by its soul-destroying spirit, and to help us cling to Christ, the Eternal Truth become flesh.

--Monk Damascene Christensen