faustian pessimism

So far in my happiness work I’ve been digging at the roots of the happiness culture – connecting that culture with the apparent freeing up of the positional economy as the industrial and market system established itself – looking for the routes of dissemination that connected a new vocabulary and a conceptual structure with the vocabulary and conceptual structures of ordinary language and ordinary practices – etc. But I have intentionally not, up until now, looked at another vocabulary and conceptual structure which emerged after the French Revolution and flowed into twentieth century fascism. This was the reactionary attack on happiness. When, in Thomas Mann’s Observations of a Non-Political Man – the famous essay that made him seem to be one of the conservatives in the Weimar period – he attacks happiness, he is signaling a taking of sides, a polemical position, with a conventional reference. When, hearing of the murder of Luxemberg and Liebknecht, Mann, in his diary, called them stupid Berserkers and “Beglückern”(quoted in Lehnert and Vessell, 30) – he is pointing to the same complex of things that served as the object of De Maistre’s attack on democracy and the rights of man in the 1790s.

When Mann writes: “I hate politics and the belief in politics. I don’t believe in a formula for the antheap of humanity, the human beehive. I don’t believe in the democratic, social and universal republic. I don’t believe humanity is made for happiness, I don’t even believe that it wants happiness…” - there 's a certain merging of intelligence and extreme dumbness there. Dangerous currents were obviously in play. Spengler, whose Decline of the West was published soon after The Observations (and was carefully read by Mann), wrote:

"Socialism – in its highest sense, not in that of the street – is like everything Faustian an exclusive ideal, that owes its populism only to a complete misunderstanding, even under the masters of words, that is is, namely, quintessentially a thing of rights, and not duties, that it is a casting aside, rather than a sharpening, of the kantian imperative, a neglect of, rather than a tightening of the directing energy. This trivial superficial tendency to well being, “freedom”, humanity, the happiness of the greatest number contains only the negative of the faustian ethic, very much in opposition to classical Epicureanism, for which the blessed circumstance was really the center and sum of all ethics. (I 500)

We can look back and see where that line of thought, that socialism, led to. But perhaps this ‘looking back” is a bit of a delusion itself, as though we understood the inner line of fate of a culture due to the accident of being born after the historical chaser to the metaphysical cocktail – a chaser composed of concentration camps, bombs, mass graves and Autobahns. Julien Benda, in the Betrayal of the Clerks, written in 1927, and revised in 1946, understood how central the attack on happiness was to the ideology of order, and how much the ideology of order was parasitic upon the order of war:

« More generally, the scarecrow of the men of order is the modern claim of the people to happiness, the hope of the disappearacne of war being only one aspect of this. In which they [the men of order] find a strong support in the catholic church insofar as it, for theological reasons, condemns man’s hope to be happy in the world below. It is nevertheless curious to see that the church has vividly accentuated this condemnation since the coming of the democracies (against whom it throws the reproach, in particular, of forgetting original sin). On could cite in this sense catholic texts which, before this time, one would have difficulty finding the equivalents. One can’t deny, for instance, that the attitude of Joseph de Maistre, proclaiming that war is the will of god, and that in consequence the search for peace is impious, had never been taken by Bossuet or Fenelon, but that it is intimately tied to the apparition of democracy, that is to say, the claim of the people to be happy. A claim which, according to de Maistre, leads to insubordination. Napoléon said : Misery is the school of the good soldier. Certain social parties freely say that it is the school of the good citizen. »

Given this intellectual lineage, it is time for LI to confront this aspect of ‘faustian’ culture – especially after Frankenstein. So we will do some posts about pessimism in the next week or so.


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