Tuesday 23 March 2021



But we do not yet have to do with the ultimate future, with the end of the Revolution; between the Revolution of Destruction and the earthly paradise there lies a stage of transition, known in Marxist doctrine as "the dictatorship of the proletariat." In this stage we may see a second, "constructive" function of violence. The Nihilist Soviet power has been the most ruthless and systematic in developing this stage, but precisely the same work is being accomplished by the Realists of the free world, who have been quite successful in transforming and "simplifying" the Christian tradition into a system for the promotion of worldly "progress." The ideal of Soviet and Western Realists is an identical one, pursued by the former with single-minded fervor, by the latter more spontaneously and sporadically, not always directly by governments but with their encouragement, relying more upon individual initiative and ambition. Realists everywhere envisage a totally "new order," built entirely by men "liberated" from the yoke of God and upon the ruins of an Old Order whose foundation was divine. The Revolution of Nihilism, willed or unwilled, is accepted; and through the labor of workers in all realms, on both sides of the "Iron Curtain," a new, purely human Kingdom is arising, in which its apologists see a "new earth" undreamed of by past ages, an earth totally exploited, controlled, and organized for the sake of man and against the true God.

No place is secure from the encroaching empire of this Nihilism; everywhere men feverishly pursue the work of "progress"--for what reason they do not know, or only very dimly sense. In the free world it is perhaps ahorror vacui that chiefly impels men into feverish activity that promises forgetfulness of the spiritual emptiness that attends all worldliness; in the Communist world a large role is still played by hatred against real and imagined enemies, but primarily against the God their Revolution has dethroned, a hatred that inspires them to remake the world against Him. In either case it is a cold, inhuman world that men without God are fashioning, a world where there are everywhere organization and efficiency, and nowhere love or reverence. The sterile "purity" and "functionalism" of contemporary architecture are a typical expression of such a world; the same spirit is present in the disease of total planning, for example in "birth control," in experiments that look to the control of heredity and of the mind, in the "welfare state." Some of the apologies for such schemes approach perilously near a strange kind of lucid insanity, wherein precision of detail and technique are united to an appalling insensitivity to the inhuman end these schemes serve.

Nihilist "organization"--the total transformation of the earth and society by machines, modern architecture and design, and the inhuman philosophy of "human engineering" that accompanies them--is a consequence of the unqualified acceptance of the industrialism and technology which we saw in the last chapter as bearers of a worldliness that, if unchecked, must end in tyranny. In it we may see a practical translation of the philosophical development we touched upon in Section I above: the transformation of truth into power. What may seem "harmless" in philosophical pragmatism and skepticism becomes something else again in the "planners" of our own day. For if there is no truth, power knows no limit save that imposed by the medium in which it functions, or by a stronger power opposed to it. The power of contemporary "planners" will find its natural limit, if unopposed, only in a regime of total organization.

Such, indeed, was the dream of Lenin; for before the "dictatorship of the proletariat" comes to an end, "the whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal work and equal pay." [47] In the Nihilist "new earth" all human energy is to be devoted to worldly concerns; the whole human environment and every object in it are to serve the cause of "production" and to remind men that their only happiness lies in this world; there is to be established, in fact, the absolute despotism of worldliness. The artificial world erected by men who will to remove the last vestige of divine influence in the world, and the last trace of faith in men, promises to be so all-encompassing and so omnipresent that it will be all but impossible for men to see, to imagine, or even to hope for anything beyond it. This world, from the Nihilist point of view, will be one of perfect "realism" and total "liberation"; in actual fact it will be the vastest and most efficient prison men have ever known, for--in the precise words of Lenin-- "there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be 'nowhere to go'." [48]

The power of the world, which Nihilists trust as Christians trust their God, can never liberate, it can only enslave; in Christ alone, Who has "overcome the world", [49] is there deliverance from that power, even when it shall have become all but absolute.



The first and most obvious item in the program of Nihilism is the destruction of the Old Order. The Old Order was the soil, nourished by Christian Truth, in which men had their roots. Its laws and institutions, and even its customs, were founded in that Truth and dedicated to teaching it; its buildings were erected to the glory of God and were a visible sign of His Order upon earth; even the generally "primitive" (but natural) living conditions served (unintentionally, of course) as a reminder of man's humble place here, of his dependence upon God for even the few earthly blessings he possessed, and of his true home which lies beyond this "vale of tears," in the Kingdom of Heaven. Effective war against God and His Truth requires the destruction of every element of this Old I Order; it is here that the peculiarly Nihilist "virtue" of violence comes into play.

Violence is no merely incidental aspect of the Nihilist Revolution, but a part of its essence. According to Marxist "dogma," "force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one"; [41] appeals to violence, and even a kind of ecstasy at the prospect of its use, abound in revolutionary literature. Bakunin invoked the "evil passions" and called for the unchaining of "popular anarchy" [42] in the cause of "universal destruction," and his "Revolutionary Catechism" is the primer of ruthless violence; Marx was fervent in his advocacy of "revolutionary terror" as the one means of hastening the advent of Communism; [43] Lenin defined the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (the stage in which the Soviet Union still finds itself) as "a domination that is untrammeled by law and based on violence." [44] Demagogic incitement of the masses and the arousing of the basest passions for revolutionary purposes have long been standard Nihilist practice.

The spirit of violence has been most thoroughly incarnated, in our century, by the Nihilist regimes of Bolshevism and National Socialism; it is to these that there have been assigned the principal roles in the Nihilist task of the destruction of the Old Order. The two, whatever their psychological dissimilarities and the historical "accidents" which placed them in opposing camps, have been partners in their frenzied accomplishment of this task. Bolshevism, to be sure, has had the more " positive" role of the two, since it has been able to justify its monstrous crimes by an appeal to a pseudo-Christian, messianic idealism which Hitler scorned; Hitler's role in the Nihilist program was more specialized and provincial, but nonetheless essential.

Even in failure--in fact, precisely in the failure of its ostensible aims--Naziism served the cause of this program. Quite apart from the political and ideological benefits which the Nazi interlude in European history gave to the Communist powers (Communism, it is now widely and erroneously believed, if evil in itself, still cannot be as evil as Naziism), Naziism had another, more obvious and direct, function. Goebbels explained this function in his radio broadcasts in the last days of the War.

The bomb-terror spares the dwellings of neither rich nor poor; before the labor offices of total war the last class barriers have had to go down.... Together with the monuments of culture there crumble also the last obstacles to the fulfillment of our revolutionary task. Now that everything is in ruins, we are forced to rebuild Europe. In the past, private possessions tied us to a bourgeois restraint. Now the bombs, instead of killing all Europeans, have only smashed the prison walls which kept them captive.... In trying to destroy Europe's future, the enemy has only succeeded in smashing its past; and with that, everything old and outworn has gone. [45]

Naziism thus, and its war, have done for Central Europe (and less thoroughly, for Western Europe) what Bolshevism did in its Revolution for Russia: destroyed the Old Order, and thus cleared the way for the building of the "new." Bolshevism then had no difficulty in taking over where Naziism had left off, within a few years the whole of Central Europe had passed under the "dictatorship of the proletariat"--i.e., Bolshevist tyranny--for which Naziism had effectively prepared the way.

The Nihilism of Hitler was too pure, too unbalanced, to have more than a negative, preliminary role to play in the whole Nihilist program. Its role, like the role of the purely negative first phase of Bolshevism, is now finished, and the next stage belongs to a power possessing a more complete view of the whole Revolution, the Soviet power upon which Hitler bestowed, in effect, his inheritance in the words, "the future belongs solely to the stronger Eastern nation."  [46]

IV. The Nihilist Program

 IV. The Nihilist Program

War against God, issuing in the proclamation of the reign of nothingness, which means the triumph of incoherence and absurdity, the whole plan presided over by Satan: this, in brief, is the theology and the meaning of Nihilism. But man cannot live by such blatant negation; unlike Satan, he cannot even desire it for its own sake, but only by mistaking it for something positive and good. And in fact no Nihilist--apart from a few moments of frenzy and enthusiasm, or perhaps despair--has ever seen his negation as anything but the means to a higher goal: Nihilism furthers its Satanic ends by means of a positive program. The most violent revolutionaries--a Nechayev or Bakunin, a Lenin or Hitler, and even the demented practitioners of the "propaganda of the deed"--dreamed of the "new order" their violent destructions of the Old Order would make possible; Dada and "anti-literature" seek not the total destruction of art, but the path to a "new" art; the passive Nihilist, in his " existential" apathy and despair, sustains life only by the vague hope that he may yet find some kind of ultimate satisfaction in a world that seems to deny it.

The content of the Nihilist dream is, then, a "Positive" one. But truth requires that we view it in proper perspective: not through the rose-colored spectacles of the Nihilist himself, but in the realistic manner our century's intimate acquaintance with Nihilism permits. Armed with the knowledge this acquaintance affords, and with the Christian Truth which enables us to interpret it aright, we shall attempt to look behind the Nihilist phrases to see the realities they conceal. Seen in this perspective, the very phrases which to the Nihilist seem entirely "positive" appear to the Orthodox Christian in another light, as items in a program quite different from that of Nihilist apologetics.

Stages of Nihilism - 2. THE WORSHIP OF NOTHINGNESS


Nothingness," in the sense in which modern Nihilism understands it, is a concept unique to the Christian tradition. The "nonbeing" of various Eastern traditions is an entirely different, a positive, conception; the nearest they approach to the idea of nihil is their obscure notion of primal "chaos." God has spoken only obscurely and indirectly to other peoples; to His chosen people alone has He revealed the fullness of truth concerning the beginning and the end of things.

To other peoples, indeed, and to the unaided reason, one of the most difficult of Christian doctrines to understand is that, of creatio ex nihilo: God's creation of the world not out of Himself, not out of some pre-existent matter or primal chaos, but out of nothing; in no other doctrine is the omnipotence of God so plainly stated. The never-dimmed marvelousness of God's creation has its foundation precisely in this fact, that it was called into existence from absolute non-existence.

But what relation, it may be asked, has Nihilism to such a doctrine? It has the relation of denial. "What," says Nietzsche in a statement whose last sentence we have already cited in a different context "does Nihilism mean?--That the highest values are losing their value, There is no goal. There is no answer to the question: 'why?'"  [34] Nihilism, in a word, owes its whole existence to a negation of Christian Truth; it finds the world "absurd," not as a result of dispassionate "research" into the question, but through inability or unwillingness to believe its Christian meaning. Only men who once thought they knew the answer to the question "why?" could be so disillusioned to "discover" that there was no answer after all.

Yet, if Christianity were merely one religion or philosophy among many, its denial would not be a matter of such great import. Joseph de Maistre--who was astute in his criticism of the French Revolution, even if his more positive ideas are not to be trusted--saw the point precisely, and at a time when the effects of Nihilism were far less obvious than they are today.

There have always been some forms of religion in the world and wicked men who opposed them. Impiety was always a crime, too.... But only in the bosom of the true religion can there be real impiety.... Impiety has never produced in times past the evils which it has brought forth in our day, for its guilt is always directly proportional to the enlightenment which surrounds it.... Although impious men have always existed, there never was before the eighteenth century, and in the heart of Christendom, an insurrection against God. [35]

No other religion has affirmed so much and so strongly as Christianity, because its voice is the Voice of God, and its Truth is absolute; and no other religion has had so radical and uncompromising an enemy as Nihilism, for no one can oppose Christianity without doing battle with God Himself.

To fight the very God Who has created him out of nothingness requires, of course, a certain blindness as well as the illusion of strength; but no Nihilist is so blind that he fails to sense, however dimly, the ultimate consequences of his action. The nameless "anxiety" of so many men today testifies to their passive participation in the program of antitheism; the more articulate speak of an "abyss" that seems to have opened up within the heart of man. This "anxiety" and this "abyss" are precisely the nothingness out of which God has called each man into being, and back to which man seems to fall when he denies God, and in consequence, denies his own creation and his own being.

This fear of "falling out of being," as it were, is the most pervasive kind of Nihilism today. It is the constant theme of the arts, and the prevailing note of "absurdist" philosophy. But it is a more conscious Nihilism, the Nihilism of the explicit antitheist, that has been more directly responsible for the calamities of our century. To the man afflicted with such Nihilism, the sense of falling into the abyss, far from ending in passive anxiety and despair, is transformed into a frenzy of Satanic energy that impels him to strike out at the whole of creation and bring it, if he can, plummeting into the abyss with him. Yet in the end a Proudhon, a Bakunin, a Lenin, a Hitler, however great their temporary influence and success, must fail; they must even testify, against their will, to the Truth they would destroy. For their endeavor to Nihilize creation, and so annul God's act of creation by returning the world to the very nothingness from which it came, is but an inverted parody of God's creation; [36] and they, like their father the Devil, are but feeble apes of God who, in their attempt, "prove" the existence of the God they deny, and in their failure testify to His power and glory.

No man, we have said often enough, lives without a god; who then--or what--is the god of the Nihilist? It is nihil, nothingness itself-not the nothingness of absence or non-existence, but of apostasy and denial; it is the "corpse" of the "dead God" which so weighs upon the Nihilist. The God hitherto so real and so present to Christian men cannot be disposed of overnight; so absolute a monarch can have no immediate successor. So it is that, at the present moment of man's spiritual history--a moment, admittedly, of crisis and transition--a dead God, a great void, stands at the center of man's faith. The Nihilist wills the world, which once revolved about God, to revolve now about--nothing.

Can this be?--an order founded upon nothing? Of course it cannot; it is self-contradiction, it is suicide. But let us not expect coherence from modern thinkers; this is in fact the point modern thought and its Revolution have reached in our time. If it is a point that can be held only for a moment, if it has been reached only to be very quickly superseded, its reality cannot for all that be denied. There are many signs, which we shall examine in their place, that the world has begun to move out of the "age of Nihilism" since the end of the last great war, and towards some kind of "new age"; but in any case this "new age," if it come, will not see the overcoming of Nihilism, but its perfection. The Revolution reveals its truest face in Nihilism; without repentance--and there has been none--what comes after can only be a mask hiding that same face. Whether overtly in the explicit antitheism of Bolshevism, Fascism, Naziism, or passively in the cult of indifference and despair, "absurdism" and "existentialism," modern man has clearly revealed his resolve to live henceforth without God--that is to say, in a void, in nothingness. Before our century, the well-meaning could still delude themselves that "Liberalism" and "humanism," "science" and "progress," the Revolution itself and the whole path of modern thought were something "positive" and even, in some vague sense, had "God" on their side. It is quite clear now that the Revolution and God can have nothing to do with each other; there is no room in a consistent modern philosophy for God at all. All further modern thought, whatever disguises it may assume, must presuppose this, must be built upon the void left by the "death of God." The Revolution, in fact, cannot be completed until the last vestige of faith in the true God is uprooted from the hearts of men and everyone has learned to live in this void.

From faith comes coherence. The world of faith, which was once the normal world, is a supremely coherent world because in it everything is oriented to God as to its beginning and end, and obtains its meaning in that orientation. Nihilist rebellion, in destroying that world, has inspired a new world: the world of the "absurd." This word, very much in fashion at the present time to describe the plight of contemporary man, has actually, if property understood, a profound meaning. For if nothingness be the center of the world, then the world, both in its essence and in every detail, is incoherent, it fails to hold together, it is absurd. No one has more clearly and succinctly described this world than Nietzsche, its "prophet," and in the very passage where he first proclaimed its first principle, the "death of God."

We have killed him (God), you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it move now? Wither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? [37]

Such is the Nihilist universe, in which there is neither up nor down, right nor wrong, true nor false, because there is no longer any point of orientation. Where there was once God, there is now nothing; where there were once authority, order, certainty, faith, there are now anarchy, confusion, arbitrary and unprincipled action, doubt and despair. This is the universe so vividly described by the Swiss Catholic Max Picard, as the world of "the flight from God" and, alternatively, as the world of "discontinuity" and "disjointedness." [38]

Nothingness, incoherence, antitheism, hatred of truth: what we have been discussing in these pages is more than mere philosophy, more even than a rebellion of man against a God he will no longer serve. A subtle intelligence lies behind these phenomena, and on an intricate plan which philosopher and revolutionary alike merely serve and do not command; we have to do with the work of Satan.

Many Nihilists, indeed, far from disputing this fact, glory in it. Bakunin found himself on the side of "Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and emancipator of worlds." [39] Nietzsche proclaimed himself "Antichrist." Poets, decadents, and the avant-garde in general since the Romantic era have been greatly fascinated by Satanism, and some have tried to make it into a religion. Proudhon in so many words actually invoked Satan:

Come to me, Lucifer, Satan, whoever you may be! Devil whom the faith of my fathers contrasted with God and the Church. I will act as spokesman for you and will demand nothing of you. [40]

What is the Orthodox Christian to think of such words? Apologists and scholars of Nihilist thought, when they regard such passages as worthy of comment at all, usually dismiss them as imaginative exaggerations, as bold metaphors to express a perhaps childish "rebellion." To be sure, it must be admitted that there is a juvenile quality in the expression of most of modern "Satanism"; those who so easily invoke Satan and proclaim Antichrist can have very little awareness of the full import of their words, and few intend them to be taken with entire seriousness. This naive bravado reveals, nonetheless, a deeper truth. The Nihilist Revolution stands against authority and order, against Truth, against God; and to do this is, clearly, to stand with Satan. The Nihilist, since he usually believes in neither God nor Satan, may think it mere cleverness to defend, in his fight against God, the age-old enemy of God; but while he may think he is doing no more than playing with words, he is actually speaking the truth.

De Maistre, and later Donoso Cortes, writing in a day when the Church of Rome was more aware of the meaning of the Revolution than it is now, and was still capable of taking a strong stand against it, called the Revolution a Satanic manifestation; and historians smile at them. Fewer, perhaps, smile today when the same phrase is applied--though rarely with full seriousness even now--to National Socialism or Bolshevism; and some may even begin to suspect that there exist forces and causes that have somehow escaped the attention of their enlightened gaze.

III. The Theology and the Spirit of Nihilism


Our inquiry thus far has concentrated upon definition and description; if it has been successful, it has identified the Nihilist mentality and furnished some idea of its origins and extent. All this, however, has been but necessary groundwork for the task to which we must now turn: an exploration of the deeper meaning of Nihilism. Our earlier examination has been historical, psychological, philosophical; but the Revolution, as we saw in the last chapter, [23] has a theological and spiritual foundation, even if its "theology" is an inverted one and its "spirituality" Satanic. The Orthodox Christian finds in the Revolution a formidable antagonist, and one that must be fought, fairly and thoroughly, with the best weapons at his disposal. It is time, then, to attack the Nihilist doctrine at its root; to inquire into its theological sources, its spiritual roots, its ultimate program, and its role in the Christian theology of history.

Nihilist doctrine is not, of course, explicit in most Nihilists; and if our analysis to this point has had to draw out implications that were not always obvious to, and often not intended by, Nihilists themselves, our attempt here to extract a coherent doctrine from the literature and phenomena of Nihilism will seem, to many, to carry us to yet more tenuous conclusions. In this task we are, however, greatly aided by systematic Nihilists like Nietzsche, who express unequivocally what others only suggest or attempt to disguise, and by acute observers of the Nihilist mentality like Dostoyevsky, whose insights strike to the very heart of Nihilism and strip aside its masks.

In no one has the Nihilist "revelation" been more clearly expressed than in Nietzsche. We have already seen this "revelation" in its philosophical form, in the phrase "there is no truth." Its alternative, more explicitly theological expression in Nietzsche is the constant theme, significantly, of the inspired "prophet," Zarathustra; and in its earliest occurrence in Nietzsche's writings it is the "ecstatic" utterance of a madman: "God is dead."[24] The words express a certain truth: not, to be sure, a truth of the nature of things, but a truth concerning the state of modern man; they are an imaginative attempt to describe. a fact no Christian, surely, will deny.

God is dead in the hearts of modern man: this is what the "death of God" means, and it is as true of the atheists and Satanists who rejoice in the fact, as it is of the unsophisticated multitudes in whom the sense of the spiritual reality has simply disappeared. Man has lost faith in God and in the Divine Truth that once sustained him; the apostasy to worldliness that has characterized the modern age since its beginning becomes, in Nietzsche, conscious of itself and finds words to express itself. "God is dead": that is to say, "we have lost our faith in God"; "there is no truth": that is to say, "we have become uncertain of everything divine and absolute."

Deeper, however, than the subjective fact the Nihilist "revelation" expresses, lie a will and a plan that go far beyond any mere acceptance of "fact." Zarathustra is a "prophet"; his words are clearly intended as a counter-revolution directed against the Christian Revelation. For those, indeed, who accept the new "revelation"--i.e., for those who feel it to be their own self-confession, or who live as though it were--an entirely new spiritual universe opens up, in which God exists no longer, in which, more significantly, men do not wish God to exist. Nietzsche's "madman" knows that men have "murdered" God, have killed their own faith.

It is decidedly wrong, then, to regard the modern Nihilist, in whatever guise he may appear, as "agnostic." The "death of God" has not simply happened to him as a kind of cosmic catastrophe, rather he has actively willed it--not directly, to be sure, but equally effectively by preferring something else to the true God. Nor is the Nihilist, let us note, really atheistic. It may be doubted, indeed, if there exists such a thing as "atheism," for no one denies the true God except to devote himself to the service of a false god; the atheism that is possible to the philosopher (though it is, of course, bad philosophy) is not possible to the whole man. The Anarchist Proudhon (whose doctrine we shall examine more closely in the next chapter) saw this clearly enough, and declared himself, not an atheist, but an "antitheist";[25] "the Revolution is not atheistic, in the strict sense of the word ... it does not deny the absolute, it eliminates it...."[26]  "The first duty of man, on becoming intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is essentially hostile to our nature.... Every step we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity." [27] Humanity must be made to see that "God, if there is a God, is its enemy."[28] Albert Camus, in effect, teaches the same doctrine when he raises "rebellion" (and not "unbelief") to the rank of first principle. Bakunin, too, was not content to " refute" the existence of God; "If God really existed," he believed, "it would be necessary to abolish him."[29] More effectively, the Bolshevist "atheism" of our century has been quite obviously a war to the death against God and all His works.

Revolutionary Nihilism stands irrevocably and explicitly against God; but philosophical and existentialist Nihilism--a fact not always so clear--is equally "antitheistic" in its assumption that modern life must henceforth continue without God. The army of the enemies of God is recruited as much from the many who passively accept their position in the rear guard as from the few active enthusiasts who occupy the front ranks. More important to observe, however, is the fact that the ranks of antitheism are swelled not only by active and passive "atheists," but by many who think themselves "religious" and worship some "god." Robespierre established a cult of the "Supreme Being," Hitler recognized the existence of a "supreme force," a "god within men," and all forms of Nihilist Vitalism have a "god" something like Hitler's. The war against God is capable of a variety of stratagems, among them the use of the name of God, and even of Christ. But whether it is explicitly "atheist," or "agnostic," or takes the form of a worship of some "new god," Nihilism has for its foundation the declaration of war against the true God.

Formal atheism is the philosophy of a fool (if we may so paraphrase the Psalmist);[30]  but antitheism is a profounder malady. The literature of antitheism, to be sure, is as full of inconsistencies and contradictions as is formally atheist literature; but where the latter errs through childishness (and the most sophisticated man in one discipline can easily be a child in theology and the spiritual life) and through plain insensitivity to spiritual realities, the former owes its distortions to a deep-seated passion that, recognizing these realities, wills to destroy them. The petty arguments of Bertrand Russell (though even his atheism is, of course, ultimately a kind of antitheism) are easily explained and refuted, and they are no danger to a secure faith; but the profound and determined attack of Proudhon is a different matter, for it is born not of bloodless sophistry but of great fervor.

Here we must face squarely a fact at which we have hinted before now, but which we have not yet fully examined: Nihilism is animated by a faith as strong, in its own way, and as spiritual in its root, as the Christian faith it attempts to destroy and supplant; its success, and its exaggerations, are explicable in no other way.

We have seen Christian faith to be the spiritual context wherein the questions of God, Truth, and Authority become meaningful and inspire consent. Nihilist faith is similarly a context, a distinctive spirit which underlies and gives meaning and power to Nihilist doctrine. The success of Nihilism in our time has been dependent upon, and may be measured by, the spread of this spirit; its arguments seem persuasive not to the degree that they are true, but to the degree that this spirit has prepared men to accept them.

What, then, is the nature of the Nihilist faith? It is the precise opposite of Christian faith, and so not properly called "faith" at all. Where Christian faith is joyous, certain, serene, loving, humble, patient, submitting in all things to the Will of God, its Nihilist counterpart is full of doubt, suspicion, disgust, envy, jealousy, pride, impatience, rebelliousness, blasphemy--one or more of these qualities predominating in any given personality. It is an attitude of dissatisfaction with self, with the world, with society, with God; it knows but one thing: that it will not accept things as they are, but must devote its energies either to changing them or fleeing from them. It was well described by Bakunin as "the sentiment of rebellion, this Satanic pride, which spurns subjection to any master whatever, whether of divine or human origin."[31]

Nihilist rebellion, like Christian faith, is an ultimate and irreducible spiritual attitude, having its source and its strength in itself--and, of course, in the supernatural author of rebellion. We shall be unprepared to understand the nature or the success of Nihilism, or the existence of systematic representatives of it like Lenin and Hide, if we seek its source anywhere but in the primal Satanic will to negation and rebellion. Most Nihilists, of course, understand this will as something positive, as the source of "independence" and "freedom"; but the very language in which men like Bakunin find it necessary to express themselves, betrays the deeper import of their words to anyone prepared to take them seriously.

The Nihilist rejection of Christian faith and institutions, then, is the result, not so much of a loss of faith in them and in their divine origin (though, no Nihilism being pure, this skepticism is present also), as of rebellion against the authority they represent and the obedience they command. The literature of 19th-century Humanism, Socialism, and Anarchism has as its constant theme the non serviam: God the Father, together with all His institutions and ministers, is to be over thrown and crushed, and triumphant Man is to ascend His throne to rule in his own right. This literature, intellectually mediocre, owes its power and its continuing influence to its "righteous" indignation against the "injustices" and "tyranny" of the Father and His earthly representatives; to its passion, that is, and not to its truth.

This rebellion, this messianic fervor that animates the greatest revolutionaries, being an inverse faith, is less concerned to demolish the philosophical and theological foundation of the Old Order (that task can be left to less fervent souls) than to destroy the rival faith which gave it life. Doctrines and institutions may be "reinterpreted," emptied of their Christian content and filled with a new, Nihilist content; but Christian faith, the soul of these doctrines and institutions and alone capable of discerning this "reinterpretation" and effectively opposing it, must be completely destroyed before it can itself be "reinterpreted." This is a practical necessity if Nihilism is to triumph; more, it is a psychological and even a spiritual. necessity, for Nihilist rebellion dimly senses that the Truth resides in Christian faith, and its jealousy and its uneasy conscience will not be appeased until the total abolition of faith has Justified its position and "proved" its truth. On a minor scale, this is the psychology of the Christian apostate; on a major scale, it is the psychology of Bolshevism.

The systematic Bolshevik campaign to uproot Christian faith, even when it has clearly ceased to be a danger to the stability of the atheist state, has no rational explanation; it is rather part of a ruthless war to the death against the only force capable of standing against Bolshevism and of "disproving" it. Nihilism has failed as long as true Christian faith remains in a single person; for that person will be a living example of Truth that will prove vain all the impressive worldly accomplishments of which Nihilism is capable and will refute in his person all the arguments against God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Man's mind is supple, and it can be made to believe anything to which his will inclines. In an atmosphere permeated with Nihilistic fervor, such as still exists in the Soviet Union, the soundest argument can do nothing to induce belief in God, in immortality, in faith; but a man of faith, even in this atmosphere, can speak to the heart of man and show, by his example, that what is impossible to the world and to the best of human intentions, is still possible to God and to faith.

Nihilist rebellion is a war against God and against Truth; but few Nihilists are fully aware of this. Explicit theological and philosophical Nihilism is the preserve of a few rare souls; for most, Nihilist rebellion takes the more immediate form of a war against authority. Many whose attitudes toward God and Truth may seem ambiguous reveal their Nihilism most clearly in their attitude toward--in Bakunin's words--the "cursed and fatal principle of authority."[32]

The Nihilist "revelation" thus declares, most immediately, the annihilation of authority. Some apologists are fond of citing "corruptions," "abuses," and "injustices" in the Old Order as justification for rebellion against it; but such things--the existence of which no one will deny--have been often the pretext, but never the cause, of Nihilist outbursts. It is authority itself that the Nihilist attacks. In the political and social order, Nihilism manifests itself as a Revolution that intends, not a mere change of government or a more or less widespread reform of the existing order, but the establishment of an entirely new conception of the end and means of government. In the religious order Nihilism seeks, not a mere reform of the Church and not even the foundation of a new "church" or "religion," but a complete refashioning of the idea of religion and of spiritual experience. In art and literature the Nihilist is not concerned with the modification of old aesthetic canons regarding subject-matter or style, nor with the development of new genres or traditions, but with a whole new approach to the question of artistic "creation" and a new definition of "art."

It is the very first principles of these disciplines, and no mere remote or faulty applications of them, that Nihilism attacks. The disorder so apparent in contemporary politics, religion, art, and other realms as well, is a result of the deliberate and systematic annihilation of the foundations of authority in them. Unprincipled politics and morality, undisciplined artistic expression, indiscriminate "religious experience"--all are the direct consequence of the application to once stable sciences and disciplines of the attitude of rebellion.

Nihilist rebellion has entered so deeply into the fibre of our age that resistance to it is feeble and ineffective; popular philosophy and most "serious thought" devote their energies to apology for it. Camus, in fact, sees in rebellion the only self-evident truth left to the men of today, the only belief remaining to men who can no longer believe in God. His philosophy of rebellion is a skillful articulation of the "spirit of the age," but it is hardly to be taken seriously as anything more than that. Thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were as anxious as Camus is today to do without theology, to base A their knowledge on "nature." But if "rebellion" is all the "natural man" may know today, why is it that the "natural man" of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment seemed to know much more, and thought himself to be a much nobler being. "They took too much for granted," is the usual answer, and lived on Christian capital without knowing it; today we are bankrupt, and know it." Contemporary man, in a word, is "disillusioned." But, strictly speaking, one must be "disillusioned" of an illusion: if men have fallen way, not from illusion, but from truth--and this is indeed the case--then profounder reasoning is required to explain their present "plight." That Camus can accept the "rebel" as the "natural man," that he can find everything "absurd" except "rebellion," means only one thing: he has been well-trained in the school of Nihilism, he has learned to accept the fight against God as the "natural" state of man.

To such a state has Nihilism reduced men. Before the modern age the life of man was largely conditioned by the virtues of obedience, submission, and respect: to God, to the Church, to the lawful earthly authorities. To the modern man whom Nihilism has "enlightened," this Old Order is but a horrible memory of some dark past from which man has been "liberated"; modern history has been the chronicle of the fall of every authority. The Old Order has been overthrown, and if a precarious stability is maintained in what is unmistakably an age of "transition,)) a "new order" is clearly in the making; the age of the "rebel" is at hand.

Of this age the Nihilist regimes of this century have given a foretaste, and the widespread rebelliousness of the present day is a further portent; where there is no truth, the rebellious will reigns. But "the will," said Dostoyevsky, with his customary insight into the Nihilist mentality, "is closest to nothing; the most assertive are closest to the most nihilistic." [33] He who has abandoned truth and every authority founded upon that truth has only blind will between himself and the Abyss; and this will, whatever its spectacular achievements in its brief moment of power (those of Hitler and of Bolshevism have so far been the most spectacular), is irresistibly drawn to that Abyss as to some immense magnet that has searched out the answering abyss within itself. In this abyss, this nothingness of the man who lives without truth, we come to the very heart of Nihilism.



Here at last we find an almost "pure" Nihilism, a rage against creation and against civilization that will not be appeased until it has reduced them to absolute nothingness. The Nihilism of Destruction, if no other form of Nihilism, is unique to the modern age. There has been destruction on a wide scale before, and there have been men who have gloried in destruction; but never until our own time have there been a doctrine and a plan of destruction, never before has the mind of man so contorted itself as to find an apology for this most obvious work of Satan, and to set up a program for its accomplishment.

Even among more restrained Nihilists, to be sure, there have been strong intimations of the gospel of destruction. The Realist Bazarov could state that "there is not a single institution of our society that should not be destroyed." [17] "Who wishes to be creative," said Nietzsche, "Must first destroy and smash accepted values." The Manifesto of the Futurists--who were perhaps as near to pure Nihilism as to Vitalism--glorified war and "the destroying arm of the anarchist." The destruction of the Old Order and the abolition of absolute truth were the admitted aims of most Realists and Vitalists.

In the pure Nihilists, however, what to others was prologue becomes an end in itself. Nietzsche proclaimed the basic principle of all Nihilism, and the special apology of the Nihilism of Destruction, in the phrase, "There is no truth, all is permitted"; [18] but the extreme consequences of this axiom had already been realized before him. Max Stirner (whom we shall encounter again in the next chapter)[19] declared war upon every standard and every principle, proclaiming his ego against the world and laughing triumphantly over the "tomb of humanity"--all, as yet, in theory. Sergei Nechayev translated this theory into practice so perfectly that to this day he seems a creation of myth, if not a demon from the depths of Hell itself, leading a life of unprincipled ruthlessness and amorality, under the pretext of total expediency in the name of the Revolution. He was the inspiration for the character of Pyotr Verkhovensky in The Possessed of Dostoyevsky, a novel so brilliant in its characterization of the extreme Nihilist mentality (the book in fact is full of representatives of this mentality) as to be absolutely incredible to anyone who has not, like Dostoyevsky, himself known the fascination and temptation of Nihilism.

Michael Bakunin, who fell under the spell of Nechayev for a while, only to discover that the consistent practice of Nihilism was a quite different thing from its theoretical exposition, wrote under this spell a "Revolutionary Catechism" that provided a chilling apology for Nechayevism. while proclaiming, "our task is terrible, total, inexorable, and universal destruction." The sentiment is too typical of Bakunin to be explained away by his momentary fascination. He ended his Reaction in Germany, written before Nechayev was born, with the famous appeal, "Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life. The passion for destruction is also a creative passion!" Here Vitalism mingles with the will to destroy: but it is destruction that triumphs in the end. Asked what he would do if the new order of his dreams should come into existence, he frankly replied, "Then I should at once begin to pull down again everything I had made."[20]

It was in the spirit of Nechayev and the "Revolutionary Catechism" that Nihilist assassins (they were called at the time "anarchist," but we have adopted the more positive meaning of that word in this book), with their "propaganda of the deed," terrorized the ruling classes--and not only the ruling classes--in Europe and especially in Russia throughout the last quarter of the 19th century. It was in the same spirit that Lenin (who greatly admired Nechayev) assumed ruthless power and began Europe's first successful experiment in totally unprincipled politics. The passion for violence, divorced from the Revolution which rationalized it, helped lead Europe into the first of its Nihilist wars in 1914, and at the same time, in another realm, announced in Dadaist art, "let everything be swept away," "no more of anything, nothing, nothing, nothing. "It remained, however, for Hitler to reveal with absolute explicitness the nature and ends of a pure "Revolution of Nihilism," a revolution committed to the equally Nihilist alternatives of Weltmacht oder Niedergang: world-conquest or total ruin; a Revolution whose Leader could exult (even before he had come to power), even as Stirner would have exulted, that "we may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us--a world in flames." [21]

Such phenomena, of course, are extreme, and they must be viewed in proper perspective. Only a few have been capable of such pure Nihilism, and it could easily be argued that they do not belong to the main stream of modern history, but to a side current; and less extreme Nihilists condemn them. Their example has been, nonetheless, a most instructive one, and it would be a mistake to dismiss this example as mere exaggeration or parody. We shall see that destruction is an indispensable item in the program of Nihilism, and further that it is the most unequivocal expression of the worship of Nothingness that lies at the center of the Nihilist "theology." The Nihilism of Destruction is not an exaggeration, it is rather a fulfillment of the deepest aim of all Nihilism. In it Nihilism has assumed its most terrible, but its truest form; in it the face of Nothingness discards its masks and stands revealed in all its nakedness.

Father John of Kronstadt, that holy man of God, has likened the soul of man to an eye, diseased through sin and thus incapable of seeing the spiritual sun.[22] The same likeness may serve to trace the progress of the disease of Nihilism, which is no more than an elaborate mask of sin.

The spiritual eye in fallen human nature is not sound, as every Orthodox Christian knows; we see in this life only dimly and require faith and the Grace of God to effect a healing that will enable us, in the future life, to see clearly once more. The first stage of Nihilism, which is Liberalism, is born of the errors of taking our diseased eye for a sound one, of mistaking its impaired vision for a view of the true world, and thus of discharging the physician of the soul, the Church, whose ministrations are not needed by a "healthy" man. In the second stage, Realism, the disease, no longer attended by the necessary physician, begins to grow; vision is narrowed; distant objects, already obscure enough in the "natural" state of impaired vision, become invisible; only the nearest objects are seen distinctly, and the patient becomes convinced no others exist. In the third stage, Vitalism, infection leads to inflammation; even the nearest objects become dim and distorted and there are hallucinations. In the fourth stage, the Nihilism of Destruction, blindness ensues and the disease spreads to the rest of the body, effecting agony, convulsions, and death.

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.