Edited by Kerry Bolton
With the 1953 notes on “Culture,” Yockey develops a theme that repudiates rationalism, positivism, and other such 19th-century materialistic philosophies, presenting the post-rationalist era of History as the unfolding of a great drama that is beyond rational or scientific interpretation, because Life and hence History, shaped by the “higher man,” is itself part of a mysterium.
Here Yockey incorporates his previous themes of the “higher man,” or what has been termed “heroic vitalism” as a foundation of History, and his doctrine of polarity as a post-Hegelian dialectic. The foundations of Life and History are shaped by irrational forces, and the actors, the great men of History, follow a script according to Historical laws, rather than writing their own. They must act within the theme of the drama according to how their epoch the Zeitgeist—has scripted it as if by Divine or Unseen Hand.
Here we might also recall the concept of the “Myth” as the motive-force of History, explicated by Georges Sorel; although Yockey has recourse not to Sorel, but to German scholar Hans Vaihanger and the great Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón.
We might also be reminded not only of Shakespeare’s often quoted opening lines “all the world’s a stage,” but the entirety of the bard’s lines, which poetically antedate the morphology of History of Spengler and Yockey:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Culture as play—the thought is not precisely new, but it is immensely important, and has not been see in its fundamental significance. The “let’s pretend” of the child is the proto-human asserting itself: similarly with savages—they too “pretend” that this action is sacred, will bring favourable consequences, while the other action is evil, will bring disaster. But children growing up in a culture-atmosphere are already vastly above savages, for they KNOW they are playing, while the savages—except for the witchdoctors, the medicine men, the proto-priests—actually believe in the collection of totems and tabus which make up their primitive culture.
The drama is the pretense that the artificially arranged events on the boards are real. All of us accept this pretense, most obviously during the performance, and—literature and conversation show—even to a great extent thereafter.
Music presupposes the attitude: “Let’s pretend the world of sound is orderly, pleasing, and beautiful—like this: . . .” The inner-world of symbols is then projected into sounds.
Religion is the pretense: “We can understand the totality of things, so completely that we can even assign with perfect security that which we cannot understand to an orderly place, under the heading: “Mystery.” Every religion can make everything come out without remainder, because the will-to-play (here, the will-to-believe) is stronger than any mere intellectual weapons—logic, contradiction, etc. —that can be brought against it. Philosophy is religion—except that the compartment for “mystery” is smaller, and progressively less respected. Science is mere fact-ordering until the will-to-play abates to the point were it becomes world-outlook, and then it is the pretense that the sum total of things is nothing but the things themselves.
Ethics is the pretense: “We can be as perfect as our play-ideas of perfection if we just observe the right rules.” Thus describes both types of ethic, that aiming at goodness, and that aiming at beauty.
Painting is the expression of the play-feeling: “Let’s pretend that landscapes, people and things, really look like this.”
Vaihinger’s Philosophy of As If was an early form of the idea of Culture as play.
The dying out of culture is the dying out of the will-to-play, and its attenuation ever-cruder games. The 19th century society said to itself: “Let’s pretend that we are clockwork figures, and create our codes our buildings, our dances, our inner lives accordingly.” The 20th century says: Let’s pretend we are gangsters”—but what is the gangster—a crude individualist, a savage desocialized, without the tabus of the savage. That is to say, for mere man to pretend to be a savage is no pretense, the game is thin. Almost the only play-element left in the gangsters’ code is the insistence on courage to be observed in the ideal gangster.
The 20th century finds the Baroque and the Gothic orientation in architecture silly. It stresses instead the “Principle” that “function must govern form.” This is the ideal also the aborigines of Australia and the Congo. This is the aggressive and deliberate declaration of war on culture. In this architecture is not isolated. In the realm of morale a doctor-quack like Freud, or a prurient statistician like Kinsey can find a hearing as an ethician in the 20th century. Instead of Kant’s magnificent Categorical Imperative, which tells us how we should act, quite regardless of how anyone else does act—again, the will-to-play—we want to know how most people do act, with the latent idea already there: if this is the way people act, then I too can act this way.
In warfare, the 19th century—to say nothing of the 18th—still treated war as a game with strictly permitted and forbidden measures, of which the fundamental principle was: civilians are excluded form warfare, both actively an passively: they must not fight, nor may they, as such, be made the object of warfare. This was still culture-warfare. Its last appearance was in the German conduct of the Second World War, and in that same war, it was brought to an end by American primitivity. American fliers, en masse and individually, made war solely against civilians as such, and individual fliers were instructed to murder even isolated civilians. In pursuance of these orders, American fliers murdered civilians fleeing form railroad trains, running in the streets, in parks, working in the fields. From this, there is now way back to culture-warfare.
Magic is identical with impossible. What is magic to you is routine to me. Hence the highly developed type. And yet—all large-scale warfare is culture per se, since culture is the totality of human thinking and activity above the plane of economics and reproduction, for in all large-scale warfare power is the stake, and the will-to-power on this scale is thus culture. What we are witnessing, in this cultural interregnum, this Concert of Bolshevism, the domination of the world by the American-Russian coalition, is the transition from culture-warfare to warfare once-more- primitive. In the future, even European warfare will be steadily increasingly primitive.
Rousseau is the break with the will-to-play which is synonymous with Culture. With his idealization of the savage, the peasant, the shepherd, the milk-maid, he expresses, on the cultural plane, Culture’s fatigue with itself, Society’s fatigue with the demanding and exhausting game, the ever-intellectualization of the game, and, on the individual plane, the outburst of the jealous and inferior individual with moral indignation and moral hatred directed against that to which he is not equal. In a previous century Rousseau would not have burst out, nor he have been heard. There are always Rousseaus—there is one in every class-room.
It must never be forgotten that the chief revolutionary in 18th century France was Louis XVI. It was he who at every decisive turn who frustrated the men and measures who would have put it down. This cipher-personality, with his pathetic rationalistic belief in “the goodness of the people” was a fate for France and the West, by his very rationalistic creed. Historians who treat this Revolution neglect the didactic value of his role.
Rousseau says, “Let us play no longer let us merely be what we are, namely what we are at bottom, simple creatures with merely basic needs.” It was an expression of the strength of Culture, and also of the principle of polarity, that this revolt against the will-to-play was immediately adopted by the Culture-bearing stratum and was mad into a lovely game, a play: Marie Antoinette as shepherdess, the triumph of the English garden style over the French.
Play makes life magic. It polarizes life, makes it tense, conscious, aware, demanding. One relaxed moment—and ruin supervenes. The Prince of Homburg falls asleep—what is more natural? Yes, but according to the rules of the culture-game (the military regulations) he may not sleep at this moment of his life, and for this all-too-human moment he finds himself condemned to death. His pardon by the King was a concession by Kleist to the revolutionary spirit: already people found it too cruel to bring such sacrifices to Culture.
We today can no longer feel the immensely strong play—urges of Gothic men, the culture-bearers of their time. These knights errant were ready at any time for a significant trifle, to risk their lives. Granted, no actual Parsifal ever lived. Yet the Parsifal ideal was present in generations of knights, rulers and warriors, and worked there formatively, just in our day literary-gangster ideals work formatively. Some respond more than others to ideals, to the Zeitgeist—all respond to some degree.
All of these thoughts have been wrong—for Culture-man does not play—he is played with. Culture-man is the creature of the Culture-organism, one of its cells, its units of structure and fulfilment. He does not play, for the simple reason that he does not know or feel that it is a game—to him it is dead earnest. Only the refined intellectuals, the Calderóns, the Shakespeares, the Goethes—these know that it is a game. Among men of action, the two Frederick II’s had their moments of insight in which they knew that Culture is a game, but Napoleon was the first who was so clear about it, for already he extended into the time when the game had passed it highest development.
Children play, but know that they play. Culture-man plays, and does not know it. Civilized man consciously revolts against play, but here is still a great deal of historical necessity, i.e., unconscious play, still latent in him, and this he will play out, whether he wants to or not, whether he knows it or not.
Play not only makes magic—it is magic. The theatre always works magically: every successful theatrical piece contains the polarization between that which the players instinctively would like to do, and that which for any reason, they feel they should, or should not do.
Magic is the one pole of a polarized entity. The entity is polarized: possible-impossible. Magic is identical with impossible. What is magic to you is routine to me. Hence the magic of culture: all culture working within an individual is an expression of the polarity between the natural wish or tendency and his feeling of a higher imperative. We are all lazy, for proto-man is lazy, and all culture requires effort. Already this generates a tension, a polarity. Successful effort makes a man capable of that which others, unequal to the effort, find impossible. Hence he possesses magic.
All great men, all higher men, affect us magically. Polarization attracts us, but so does diffusion. We are drawn to the polarized man by our own higher desires, our own wish to do something with our lives above the plane of the proto-human; but so also does the kindly, gently, diffuse man attract—he is soporific, and is as pleasant as the green, sunlit meadow. But the higher man is like the snow-covered mountain peak.
Napoleon owed his victories on the battlefield to the fact that he departed from the game of warfare as hitherto played. So did Frederick, a generation before him, but Napoleon’s break with the game was more fundamental. Napoleon represents Rousseau applied to warfare—away with the rules, if victory is the aim, let us pursue it regardless of any form in which it is supposed to be attained. On St. Helena, with his remark “Nowadays, war is all rose-water . . . ,” he showed that he could envisage an even more total departure from the rules than he had been able to effect on a European battlefield. No man can compel the Zeitgeist. It does not let itself be accelerated.
The German armies that went into Russia in 1941 had gained easy victories over the Belgians, English, and French. Because all were within the same culture and played the game according to the same rules. German superiority in the game was so manifest that the others promptly surrendered, with their forces largely intact. In the case of the English, the Hero, playing too subtle a political game, allowed a withdrawal, allowed the feeling of a sort of negative victory, because he was looking a long step ahead, a political step. On the battlefield itself he was thinking about the pee-conference. Even 50 years before, this would have been quite in order. In 1940 it was too subtle for the Zeitgeist. There was no England in 1940—there was only America, and America did not know or play this game.
In Russia it was otherwise. The Russian armies, even when defeated according to the Western rules of the game, did not surrender. They had to be destroyed piecemeal. Their primitive ignorance of the rules of the Western game of warfare conferred on them thus a superiority, just as Napoleon’s breaking of the rules had conferred on him a superiority vis-à-vis his more cultured opponents. Napoleon’s advantage lasted until—“Do not fight,” says Sun Tzu, “too often with one enemy, lest you teach him all of your art of war”—his opponent caught up with him. Archduke Charles was the first, then Scharnhorst, Blücher, Clausewitz, and yes, him too, Wellington. Russia’s advantage will last only so long. Perhaps already, 1953, it is gone. Are we are now primitive enough in warfare to lay aside our rules and fight like the Russians? Or are we too weak, too pacifistic? Can we fight to kill, and not merely to defeat an opponent? Have we understood the significance of Roosevelt’s bloody lust, which he displayed openly, for “killing Germans”?
In the 18th century it was tactically inferior to fight to kill. It was a waste of precious time. In the 20th, it is tactically necessary to fight to kill, not merely to defeat. As far as numbers of the dead go, the difference is not as vast as one would think. One may fight to kill, but this does not mean that one is able to kill the entire enemy force—this is impossible, when large numbers are present. The difference in one of tactic, of the approach to the battle, of one’s intention as it governs his battle-conduct—and not one of casualties.
Inner tension in a man, polarity, magic, attract, but, in the usual case, repel in the end. Distance is decisive here—the mountain peak in the distance is imposing and attractive, but after it is scaled, the winds and snows and ice tell . . .
In this age, we can only apprehend the world historically. Since history is like a play, it therefore works esthetically, and thus our world-outlook can only be an aesthetic one, rather than a moral one. This is the answer—although of course they will not understand it—to the small minds who wail, “If Western Culture will die in any event, why should we try to accomplish anything whatever in it, or with it?” In the vast drama called history we play the role assigned us, even though we know it to be only a role, a part of an agreed game. It is also permitted us to leave the stage if we are not assigned the role that we feel rightfully, aesthetically, belongs to us.
Once more: the highest formula of affirmation: the world-as-drama.
1. William Shakespeare, As You Like It—Ed.
2. Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933) a scholar of Kant, considered in his primary work Philosophy of As If the vital role of “fictions” —what he called “fictionalism” —in both individual and collective life. Hence the world was not governed by “truth” but by the impact of an idea. For example, we might say that the “value” of Darwin’s evolutionary theory is not that it has been “proven” but that it served the Zeitgeist of 19th-century materialism and English economic theory.
Yockey’s reference to Vaihinger was written in by hand in what seems to have been an after-thought. One might conjecture that he read Vaihinger’s work after having typed the MS, and that it was closely in accord with the idea of life-as-drama that Yockey was propounding.—Ed.
3. The 18th-century play by Heinrich von Kleist—Ed.
4. Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681), one of the greatest of the Spanish playwrights, whose leading play Life is a Dream, considers the conflict between free will and predestination, while other plays were themed on honor, including blood-honor. The example by Yockey is apt for his concept of Culture and History as unfolding, predestined drama.—Ed.