Interview with Jean Thiriart, Part 6Jean Thiriart
Questions by Gene H. Hogberg
Translated by Dr. David Wainwright
Part 6 of 6. (For the rest of the interview, click here.)
Question 13: The English-speaking culture, especially that of the United States, seems so appealing to others, especially, to young people, with its pop music, food, fashions, and other forms of consumerism. Some even use the term “cultural imperialism.” Do you agree, and if so, how can Europe regain control over its own cultural development?
Jean Thiriart: The term “American cultural imperialism” is purely polemical, having no conscious existence of or by itself. However, there exists a degenerate form of American society that is spreading around the world in the wake of American business concerns and the military. Nor can we say that European culture can be exclusively limited to Europe. It is simply the culture of civilized people everywhere, whether it be Tokyo, Moscow, Singapore, or Pasadena. I am not one of those who dreams of a European culture that is set apart, introverted, cut off from others, or denied to others.
The type of “European” culture that has spread around the world and been adopted by it for more or less the last four centuries is that of the Renaissance, that of the ancient Greco-Roman world. To be sure, here in Europe differences of opinion exist as to the emphasis or orientation given to this worldwide European culture. Some would have it be more Judeo-Christian. Forgive me for having to tell you that I am strongly opposed to this tendency. Others, like myself, would like to see it turned more toward a type of neo-stoicism, that is toward self-discipline and self-control. For when one succeeds in mastering oneself, it is easy to master others. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a whole lifetime to learn how to master oneself. And, when one finally achieves this goal, or comes close to achieving it, no one in the younger generations wants to accept the legacy or the message.
My system of values is inspired by Stoicism as far as personal discipline is concerned, and by Prometheanism for the “Homo novus” that is to say when it comes to man’s interaction within the context of society. To cite a classical author, Epictetus, who takes up this subject:
As bad performers cannot sing alone but in a chorus, so some people cannot stand on their own two feet. Man, if you are someone, walk alone, converse with yourself, and do not skulk in the chorus. Learn how to occasionally take the scoffing of others, look about you, stir yourself that you may know who you are.
In this passage Epictetus puts himself in the category of self-determined individuals, so well described by David Riesman, professor of social sciences at Harvard, around 1955. If my memory serves me, the American title was: The Lonely Crowd.
About the same time, Vance Packard was becoming known in Europe for his La Persuasion Clandestine [The Hidden Persuaders]. Works dealing with psychology and psychiatry have always interested me. Between 1950–60, I read just about everything new published in social psychology. This has influenced my son, Philippe, who did his studies in this discipline in North America, and who is currently there directing a laboratory in experimental psychology. He writes and publishes frequently.
As for Prometheanism, the easiest thing is for me to give you the explanation of the French professor Jean Baechler who is in charge of research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Here is what he writes about Prometheanism in Qu’est ce que l’ldeologie? [What Is Ideology?]:
Some expressions of the will-to-power ideology are obvious. Prometheanism is the technological ideology par excellence. It proposes to mankind a program of both material and human perfection. Prometheanism seeks to exploit all resources, transform the continents, seas and climate, go ever faster, higher and farther, seeks to improve vegetable and animal species and, why not, the human species, with a view to developing new species while working on man’s latent psychic possibilities, etc. But if technology has positive aspects in increasing man’s powers, it also has its negative side. On the one hand, it enslaves man, since technology makes its own demands which must be satisfied to be efficient: the machine provides abundant energy but enslaves its advocates. In addition, technology has its unforeseen consequences in the form of potentially devastating repercussions. In view of current fears in this direction, there is no need to dwell on the subject. Finally, technology, as the ultimate, is but one of other possible choices. An understanding of these negative factors leads to an anti-technological ideology which can be called Epimetheanism, in the sense that Epimetheus is the antithesis of his brother Prometheus. Epimetheanism tirelessly denounces the dangers and limits of technology. It is the first example of a reactionary ideology in the true sense of the word, that is to say it is an ideology not based solely on its own merits but drawing its strength from reacting to an ideology it rejects. Scientism is also an ideology of power accompanied by its own specific reaction which is spiritualism. Other expressions of the will to power are less clearly drawn.
A little later, the author again mentions Prometheanism in its relationship to voluntarism:
Collectivism is reached painfully through the coexistence of radically differing populations. Statism implies in its very logic a continuing growth until the whole of humanity is absorbed. Finally, voluntarism has its Promethean side, which necessarily rejects all limitations on technological and economic expansion. Socialism, by its very principles, cannot be autarchic since it aims at abundance.
In a previous passage, Jean Baechler writes, in connection with what he called the “technological illusion”:
The technological illusion which began to take root from at least the time of the Renaissance has triumphed in the West since the 18th century. It can be defined as a conviction in the artificial nature of human societies and human existence. Human matter is therefore a primary matter with which we can do as we see fit. We can improve it and usher in a state of perfection and happiness. This basic conviction stems from an obsession with progress and with the instrumental nature of discoveries and has two major facets. One of these implies that all research and discovery must lead to practical consequences ensuring collective happiness. The other presupposes that all problems can be resolved rationally — and therefore perfectly — provided that they are clearly stated. Social problems just like scientific and technical problems have only one correct solution. All the others are wrong and result from ignorance, stupidity, or malice. The technological delusion of the Enlightenment hasn’t disappeared but rather has been applied to ever wider fields. When public opinion becomes aware of the negative consequences of certain criminal acts, of drugs, or of pollution, specialists invariably come forward to isolate the problem, enumerate the causes, to propose radical solutions and then regularly fail to solve the problem. Serious scholars are convinced that violence in international relations can be eliminated by science and good will.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to convince men used to conquering ignorance and error in their specific activities that evil is neither a result of ignorance or error, but that it is a constant factor of human existence. War is not born of ignorance, stupidity, or maliciousness, it is an inherent possibility in relations between sovereign political entities. There is no rational solution to the sharing of power, wealth or prestige any more than there is a rational solution to the problem of institutions and values. These areas are at the mercy of whim and passion, and are not subject to technical and scientific rationality. This is a cruel truth that scientists and technologists will always find hard to accept. It is probable that human understanding is the victim of a natural propensity to exceed its own capacity and aim for totality. Psychologically speaking, rational understanding has the same goal as mythology, religion or ethics. It wishes to give man an interpretation of his existence that would enable him to overcome his innate sense of insecurity. We have seen that, by its very nature, reason could not provide such certainties. It is only in ideology that science can give the illusion of absolute knowledge.
Although Baechler and I belong to different schools and different temperaments, Baechler’s ideas are nonetheless valuable. This long digression from Epictetus to Baechler was essential for an appreciation of my answers. Knowing my choices you will be better able to understand me personally.
The present crisis in American society is assuming alarming proportions: drugs, delinquency, continual violence. Your society is a spectacular failure. I know that you are struggling valiantly against this pathogenic society. I greatly appreciate the position you are taking against drugs, alcoholism, smoking, and against the way in which homosexuality (a sickness) is being made a political issue.
Like you, Hitler set himself against smoking and alcoholism. In the National Socialist regime drug addicts were not given treatment, they were disposed of. That’s the right way to deal with such a situation. As for homosexuals, if they were discovered in the SS, they were shot. In the SS Walloon division two were shot. Cases of homosexuality were very rare, extremely so. Under Stalin, drug addicts also ended up with a bullet in the back of the neck.
I know at the same time that there is a wholesome America. I have visited your country many times. As you may well imagine, I moved in middle class and university circles — peaceful America, so to speak. But even there certain cracks were beginning to appear — for instance the absence of the father’s authority in most of the best-intentioned families. Popular American society with its pathological nature is the normal and inevitable consequence of the frenzied pursuit of success defined in terms of financial gain.
Pornography is a huge commercial market. If you want proof, visit the red-light district of Hamburg. There was a great deal of money to be made in the “liberation” of woman and in the “liberation” of the homosexual. The values of American society are embedded in a “Get More” mentality. It began with livestock, wheat, steel, the railroads, oil. Then, later on, came the exploiting of sexual deviation and an addiction to play. There is constant “partying” and “pleasure-seeking.”
On the one hand is a society that refuses to forego any type of available “pleasure”; that must taste all forms of “pleasure,” from weekly adultery to cocaine. On the other hand is a society that in its pursuit of financial gain, the “Get More” mentality, commercially exploits this proclivity for pleasure-seeking.
Contrasting with the “Get More” mentality is the “Be More” approach. One rarely encounters in the common man a burning desire to “Be More.” In fact, what many men practice is the pursuit of “appearing to be more” than what they are. A pretentious appearance of virtue is commonplace, yet true self mastery is rarely to be found.
The American possess at least one virtue — that of having men who are capable of analysing their own society. At this juncture, I think it may help to quote Vance Packard. At the beginning of his book The Naked Society the author writes:
Today, as we shall see, the Bill of Rights is under assault from many directions. Thomas Jefferson’s vow swearing eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man has a quaint ring to many people in 1964. Aldous Huxley commented that the classic cry of Patrick Henry that he wanted either liberty or death now sounds melodramatic. Instead today, Huxley contended, we are more apt to demand, “Give me television and hamburgers but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty.”
It is worth noting that Mr. Huxley’s prophetic book, Brave New World, written way back in the 1930s about a technological society living in doped-up bliss under a watchful tyrant six centuries from now, has been banned from several schools in the United States. Also among the banned is George Orwell’s 1984, depicting life under the ever-present electronic eye and ear of a tyrannical Big Brother, a bare two decades from now. When the U.S. Commissioner of Education was asked about the banning of these two classics from a Miami high school, he declined to comment because he said he had never heard of either of the books.
The pathological society can easily be corrected. It depends purely on the political power and its will. The Berlin of 1932 looked like a cesspool of drug-addicts and homosexuals. But the Berlin of 1934 was clean and wholesome. Tomorrow, Europe, currently sick as a result of “American consumerism” and the “pathogenic American society,” will use the same recipe — that of 1933 Berlin. It should be added that in tandem with the repression of vice, the young National Socialist regime also took upon itself the training of youth. In the Hitler Youth there were no drug addicts, homosexuals, thieves, or rapists.
Childhood and adolescence must be supervised. Your family system of “letting children do their own thing” is a huge psycho-pedagogical error. The time for free examination and free choice must come much later in the life of the individual. Society needs new rules of conduct. It won’t be in the past that it finds them. Scientific works on the functioning of the human brain during the last 30 years are rich with potential for establishing a new stoic morality. I imagine you are familiar with the remarkable works of the American P. D. MacLean on the functioning of our three superimposed brains. A functioning that is far from perfect. In fact, physiologically there is insufficient coordination between the arche-cortex and the neo-cortex, the former producing (or influencing) emotional behaviour and the second directing intellectual, rational behavior.
Before reading MacLean, whose work is written for specialists, read what Arthur Koestler says about MacLean and the three brains in The Ghost In The Machine. It is an excellent work of scientific popularization. By reading MacLean and Konrad Lorenz — and many others — one can construct a morality for society through the education of the young.
Between the ages of 12 and 18, youth must be shown all the mechanisms of human behavior: food drives, sex drives, aggressive drives, parental drives (to use the terminology of Pavlov and Tchakotine). Within us there is an animal to be tamed. Our neo-cortex is able to understand and admit the need for this. It is ridiculous to wish to deny the sex drive — yet that has been the attitude of traditional religions for 3,000 years. This drive must not be denied, rather it is important to describe it, and to explain the need for a society not to turn sexual over-consumption into a rule, a basic need or, in fact, into a “right” (cf. those who are homosexually ill). Nor must the aggressive drive be denied, but it must be disciplined, channeled, and sublimated.
In my future work (1988 or 1989) — of which a synopsis already exists — I am going to describe a neo-cortical morality, intended for Homo novus, in the context of an enlightened totalitarianism.
In conclusion to question 13, I want to say that we must all pursue together cultural and moral values that can be made use of by the whole planet. Let us have Epictetus take courses from MacLean, and Marcus Aurelius take courses from Konrad Lorenz (after having shaved off his beard).
A final word on the problems of delinquency and crime in American society. Let me mention a good, fairly recent source: The American Way Of Crime by Franck Browning and John Gerassi.
Question 14: A final, personal question. You trace your family roots down through the 150 years of the independent Belgian state. Is the family name “Thiriart” a typical Walloon name? Or was it originally German since one of your grandfathers was German? I believe you also mentioned that your family history goes further back to Danish Viking stock. Am I correct on that?
Jean Thiriart: Thiriart is not a “Walloon” name. To my mind this Walloon label is derogatory, offensive in fact. The Walloons and the Flemish speak two different languages but are racially identical. Moreover, Thiriart has a Germanic, Gothic, root. We’re called Theurwald in Denmark, Thiriart in Germany and Belgium, and Thierry in France. But all this has no historical significance. It’s interesting table talk, nothing more.
My father had blue eyes. So do I, as does also my son Philippe. All three of us are very much Nordic types. When I travel in Arab or Mediterranean countries, even before I’ve opened my mouth and said a single syllable, I’m taken for a German or an American. Because of my build and type. And also my short hair. Even so, the story of the “three Viking cousins” is fun to tell. There is the American cousin, the Viking who moved from Gotland in the south of Sweden to Normandy, then across from Hastings to London, and finally over to America. Then there is the cousin who didn’t move at all but stayed put between Stockholm and Liege. These would include the Thiriart for instance. Thiriart is the Western Continental Viking. An SS division bore his name. The SS Viking division. The tall blue-eyed blonds, like the Russian soldiers in Afghanistan today. A lesser known, yet just as important, branch is the eastern part of the European continent: the Varangians.
About 840 A.D. they simply went and set up the Norman state of the East. Their migration was as follows: Sweden, the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Riga, the Western Diyya, the Dnieper, and the Black Sea. They even went as far as Byzantium. The Principality of Novgorod was founded by the Varangian chief Rurik in 862. Here is what General von Lohausen wrote about my eastern cousins (and yours too). You will notice that Von Lohausen, like me, considered the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact as something very positive:
About 400 A.D. the outposts of the Germanic migration in the Southwest occupied, in England and Spain, the outlets to the ocean. A thousand years later their descendants went to open up America. Around 900 A.D. the Varangians formed the same vanguard in the East. In the center, the Germans occupied the trunk of the European peninsula and consequently had a springboard in two directions: to the sea and to the steppe. This central position was to determine their whole history. They would look for support in both directions, but only their connection with the East is the natural one. Now, as then, the decisive relationship was to be between the Germans and the Russians. Germany can either give Russia control of Europe or deny it such domination. Germany can block Russia’s path as it did before and after 1914, but it can also open the way for Russia by preserving its own interests as in Tauroggen (1812), or in the Holy Alliance, or later at Rapallo (1922) or at the time of the nonaggression pact of 1939. Or Germany can also help Russia by giving up these same interests as in 1970 and 1972. An alliance always consists of lending rather than transferring power. Germany, can scarcely be said to have yielded any power to the Czars. By contrast she surrendered, a great deal of power to the United States. Both America and Russia are suitable for immigration. Their power consisted of attracting others into their own areas for strategic as well as political reasons. This power resided far more in providing aspirations for unlimited opportunities than in the external pressure they exercised. If she had wanted to, Russia could have allowed the strongest and best Europeans to cross her territory to the Yenisey and Amur rivers. In America, hadn’t they pressed on as far as the Rockies and California? This is the only way Russia could have caught up with the progress of the West and overtaken the European peninsula — with the help of Europe’s own sons and grandsons! All she had to do was open wide her gates — as America had done on the other side of the ocean.
In my Euro-Soviet Empire (the book that will come out in June, 1987) we will see the reunion of the Eastern-European Vikings with the Western-European Vikings. As for you, my Viking cousins of America, see that you rejoin your original family. There must be a lot of my blue-eyed Viking cousins in the United States Navy. A final word, just for amusement: in Istanbul I am taken for a German, in Damascus for an American. If tomorrow I strolled through the streets of Kabul, I would certainly be taken for a Russian. All this is said in a joking vein and nothing more. Don’t derive any theories from it. My genotypic ancestors are accidental. I had no choice in who they were, even though they please me aesthetically. But what is important is my phonotypic ancestors, the ones I have freely chosen at the end of a richly eventful life. On the one hand stand my biological ancestors; on the other hand my intellectual ancestors, chosen with the help of my own neocortex. The latter are materialists, Ionian rationalists. It’s only at the end of my life that I have made this choice, or more exactly, have confirmed it and fixed it.
My position in the “search for my ancestors” is in favor of theI onians and resolutely against the Eleatics. What is one to say about the gibberish of purely verbal German philosophy: philosophy of confusion! Aristotle has also had a great deal to do in misdirecting the development of intelligence. Plato and Aristotle bear the responsibility for having paralyzed the development of scientific thought for so long. If Stoic logic had won the day, Western thought would have taken a completely different tack. This logic is that of implied premises adapted to the study of the way in which causes and effects are linked together in determining one’s destiny; to the conditions pertaining to self-consistent behavior which to them was the way of the wise man. The stoics had formalized this logic and were clearly aware of its originality compared to that of Aristotle.
So my intellectual ancestors are the Greek materialists of the Ionian school. And I have adopted the words of Roger Bacon of the 13th century: “Nullus sermo in his potest certificare, totum enim dependet ab experimentia.” Which means in English: “Here reasoning proves nothing, all depends on experience.” So my intellectual ancestors stem from Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. An unbroken thread connects them to our own times: After the Ionian Physiologists, the strain continues in antiquity with the atomists, sophists and skeptics, and in the Middle Ages it is further perpetuated by the nominalists and the tenninists. Then closer to our own times, empiricists, idealists, positivists, and finally, the logicians of modern times.
Today Anaximander, Thales, and Anaximenes make use of the data of basic physics and of directed and controlled biology. He who holds knowledge possesses power. To what purpose will this power serve? That is for me to tell you at a later time.
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