- Counter-Currents - https://counter-currents.com -

Noble Truths for Modern Mad Men

[1]4,562 words

Andrew Lynn
Classic Philosophy for the Modern Man [2]
Classic Spirituality for the Modern Man [3]
Howgill House Books, 2017

“In a time of universal triviality, seeking answers to the great questions of existence is . . . a revolutionary course of action. Those who have the humility to ask the question ‘Could it be us who have gone astray?’ are the true radicals.”–Andrew Lynn

Constant Readers know that I love little books of “essential” excerpts from too-long-to-read texts. I recently noticed this one – Classic Philosophy for the Modern Man – with a cover riffing on the iconic Mad Men design. Well, as the author of a whole (short) book on the series,[1] [4] I had to get it! Hopefully, after reading this, you too will want a copy.

But don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “Philosophy and [TV show or movie the kids like]” textbooks designed to keep today’s collegiate knuckleheads awake in their seats.

That great philosophy instructor, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, tells us this: “Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?”[2] [5] So, how does this anthology differ from others? Let’s look at the Table of Contents (these are excerpts, of course):[3] [6]

Well, we start off with the Big Two of the Greeks, then something from the Romans. Then we switch over to China (one might even suspect a diversity fetish, but as we’ll see nothing could be further from the case), then back to Europe, leaping over both the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, not landing until we get three from the Renaissance, more or less (Lynn has a Ph.D. from Cambridge in Renaissance Studies, so maybe he’s playing to his strengths). The Englishman Hazlitt (not the American libertarian writer) from the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries is a big surprise (I admit I had never heard of him), and then we finish up with a couple of nineteenth-century Euro-Americans (not such an odd couple, as Emerson did have an influence on Nietzsche, but then why invert them this way?).

What is the principle of this selection? It’s right there in the title: for modern men. But this only becomes clear (for me at least) with the Conclusion, where Lynn sounds some themes with which Counter-Currents readers will be familiar; indeed, he suddenly sounds like One of Us:

What we are experiencing in the Western world is the collapse of the post-World War II consensus. For around 70 years, and especially since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the victors of that conflict have had almost complete free rein to remold the world in their own image. The result has been a world that those who fought and died could never have expected and would probably have found alien and unattractive. It has been a world increasingly dominated by a narrow technocratic elite, totalized media, intrusive global surveillance, active censorship, and criminalization of thought and speech. It has been a world that appears to be marching progressively onwards towards the future predicted in Orwell’s 1984. That this is not acknowledged by the primary beneficiaries of the current arrangements is neither here nor there.

The wild card here is the interwebs and their countering of fake news and propaganda:

For the first time in human history, ordinary people have been able to find out for themselves the truth or falsity of virtually any alleged fact, whether contemporary or historical. This has been a bracing experience for the guardians and gatekeepers of the old regime: governments and international organizations, the professions, mainstream media, and the universities are no longer treated with the deference they once enjoyed. There have been, and will continue to be, attempts to turn back the clock. But the cat is out of the bag.

We now have two choices:

The first option is to double down.[4] [7] We can attempt to entrench the worldview that we have inherited.

The second option is to accept the inevitability of change. It is to undergo a degree of disruption as certain of our beliefs and values are recognized to be no longer convincing or sustainable. But it is also to take part in the process of building a new and hopefully better world.

And here is where the great works of philosophy come in:

They provide thoughtful reflection as a corrective and counterbalance to the more extreme belief systems that surround us. They are also a source of inspiration for renewal. As the ideologies of the twentieth century fail and pass, there will come a time to create new ways of thinking. . . . [They] will be built in some way on the materials passed down to us from our forebears. George Orwell once said that he who controls the past controls the future. It is now time to take control of that past and make it our own again.

For Lynn (moving back now to the Introduction), philosophy is “the boldest attempt to establish generally applicable principles for living well.” And “while the unexamined life is not worth living,” we don’t want to wind up like Socrates. “This book, accordingly, charts a middle path between the life of the mind and life in this world. We are at all times interested in practical wisdom. . . . There will be no need for drinking of hemlock here.”

For example, while acknowledging Plato’s own, metaphysical interpretation of the Parable of the Cave, “Plato’s allegory is just as much concerned with what can be called ‘the experience of awakening’.” Here again, the Counter-Currents reader may well recognize himself:

It tells of how easy it is to become trapped in a false world without knowing it: all that is required for us to go along with the fiction is for the components of the false world to appear consistent with each other. It tells of the process of awakening, which is impeded and interrupted by bouts of pain and denial. And it tells of the alienation and isolation of the awakened one from his fellow men. Far from conferring glory or honour, the returning truth-bearer is perceived as defective and inadequate. The rewards of awakening are not easily shared. And yet those rewards are real – the power to act rationally both in public and in private life.

Over the course of these selections, a theme emerges: we are, or can be, noble. Aristotle makes excellence the centerpiece of his Ethics:

Excellence is what makes us the best versions of ourselves; it is open to all as a product of such actions as are freely chosen; and it is a quality we can build up over time into what will come to constitute our basic character. It is a supremely optimistic as well as an ennobling philosophy for the modern man.

Naturally, we expect nobility from the thoughts of the Emperor Marcus, but it arises from a quality all of us can develop; as Lynn explicates it, developing Aristotle’s notion of building up our character through habitual action:

Retreat inside yourself. From there you will find that which disturbs you now disturbs you as a result of your own judgment about it – and it is in your power to wipe out this judgement now. Such as a man’s habitual thoughts are, such is the character of his mind. This is a noble philosophy not because it comes from an emperor but because it reflects a nobility of spirit. Here is nothing servile: the whole basis of the philosophy is the rediscovery of our native freedom.[5] [8]

Nobility is perhaps unexpected from that supreme anarchist of the spirit, Chuang-Tzu, but it hides within the idea of the Dao, which “changes spontaneously according to its own inner nature,” and the man who imitates it finds “a better way of living” in Wu Wei, “actionless action,” action without the “busy-ness” of those who strive or merely react; like an idle aristo, the noble man often finds that “doing nothing is the best choice.”

Lynn finds nobility in Machiavelli’s Prince not as advice for a ruler of others, but for future rulers, “the ordinary man as he steps ever forward towards reclaiming his sovereignty.”[6] [9] Castiglione points us to a “return to the idea of a man as a balanced and cultivated whole rather than an attenuated technical labour unit,” by “the incorporation of his skills into the core of his being so that they can be carried out with civility and grace” – Wu Wei.

Baltasar Gracián needs no justification for being here, as he was praised by both Schopenhauer – who even translated the work excerpted here – and Nietzsche.[7] [10] He teaches us that “the essential quality needed in order to negotiate this complex and dangerous world is self-possession”; for Gracián, “there is no higher rule than that over oneself and over one’s impulses.” But when so established, one must also accommodate oneself to the world, if one would make one’s way in it – just as the man who escapes Plato’s cave must also return. Lynn formulates Gracián’s advice in a way that the Dissident Right might take to heart; man is “fundamentally a social creature,” not a basement dweller:

Think with the few and speak with the many.[8] [11] Adopt the fashions of the present rather than those of the past.[9] [12] Don’t on your own condemn what all others approve. And don’t hold your views too firmly: you may be wrong, and – even if you are not wrong – your willingness to consider alternative views will be taken by others as a courtesy, and will serve you well.

Hazlitt then gives us even grittier advice. Sounding like an eighteenth-century Jack Donovan or Jef Costello, he lauds:

. . . ‘constitutional talent’ – the vigour given to a man’s ideas and pursuits by his bodily stamina and physical condition. The man in robust physical condition “shall strut and swagger and vapour and jostle his way through life, and have the upper-and of those who are his betters in everything but health and strength.” The physically weak man, on the other hand, can never cast aside his uneasy sense of personal insignificance and weakness.

Along with this is an inner component, well known to our enemies:

The world pays dividends to those who thrust themselves forward with aplomb: what wins out is not merely confidence but actual active impudence[10] [13] – the assumption of merit that is taken by observers to indicate its actual possession. Others take on trust the opinion we have of ourselves. The important thing is not to doubt your own pretensions, because providing you don’t doubt yourself, no one else is likely to doubt you either.

Here we find an early adumbration of Neville Goddard’s basic teaching, as he presents it here in a Biblical allegory:

To experience the Passover or passage from the old to the new concept of self, you must release Barabbas, your present concept of self, which robs you of being that which you could be, and you must assume the new concept which you desire to express.

The best way to do this is to concentrate your attention upon the idea of identifying yourself with your ideal. Assume you are already that which you seek and your assumption, though false, if sustained, will harden into fact.[11] [14]

We shall soon see the relevance of this move into something like Positive Thinking. But first, let’s explore those final two mountain peaks, Nietzsche and Emerson.

Nietzsche, Lynn announces, “was one of the first great radical traditionalists . . . what he has to say about the decline of man and the rise of the cult of mediocrity provides a valuable check and counterpoise to the excesses of progressivism.”

And just as Lynn reconfigures Plato’s Cave as a lesson in psychology for modern man, he does the same for Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals:

[Insofar] as master morality and slave morality exist today, they do so not by way of literal ‘masters’ and ‘slaves’ but rather in tendencies and orientations of the human soul.

What is in issue, then, is no longer the morality of the nobility as a caste, but rather the predominance of the nobler tendencies within the individual soul.

There is no ascertainable objective basis for your values, he insists. Everyone is alone in a universe of exploitation and predation. Respond, then, as a man noble in soul would do. That means no more abjection and no more ‘self-dwarfing’. It means looking forward to building your own future rather than upwards for approval. And, above all, it means becoming a determiner of your own values and serving the universe not out of pity, but from a feeling of abundance, strength, and healthy self-love.

The sickly Nietzsche seems an unlikely exponent of “abundance, strength, and healthy self-love”; as a more recent “radical Traditionalist,” Julius Evola, diagnosed the problem, Nietzsche lacked access to any kind of real “transcendent dimension,” which would prevent his project from petering out in mere nihilism or existentialism (or, we might add, postmodernism).[12] [15] Emerson provides the needed antidote, according to Lynn:

What if, despite all the cynicism and hypocrisy we see around us, there were still a reason to be confident that we can tap into a source of universal power – simply by living life as one’s own man?

How can this be? Because, as Scott Adams points out, we have what amounts to “a minor super-power”:[13] [16]

Emerson understands that the universe is experienced differently according to a man’s fundamental nature. Our genius or nature determines for us the character of the universe because the universe responds and becomes meaningful in answer to it. We attract experiences that are significant to us in the same way that a magnet attracts iron filings. The right thing for us is that which corresponds to our own inner constitution, rather than that which we choose, since choice is only ‘a partial act of hands, eyes, and appetites rather than the whole being’. Our character is constantly making itself known and is impossible to hide: it reveals itself in our smallest acts and displays itself in our very demeanour.

It is for ourselves to attribute our own value to our work and deeds.

Emerson understands that everything stems from the inner man. It is not in activity or making external changes that we recreate ourselves.[14] [17]

Emerson reminds us of our dignity, our expansiveness, and our power to begin the process of regenerating the universe from within.

Our nobility, then, is rooted in our divine inner nature. And so the second book is a companion to the first,[15] [18] bringing the same approach, this time introducing “the general reader selections from the most profound and inspirational of spiritual classics from around the world.” Here’s the lineup:

The publisher says:

These works speak to us of the fundamental principles of spiritual wisdom, the mysterious primordial force of the ‘Tao’, the Buddhist art of maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium, and the essential features of Hindu and Sufi self-cultivation, as well as modern approaches to self-realization. There is no better primer in the art of awakened living.

But don’t get put off by the woo-woo factor. As an Amazon reviewer says, “The book is different from typical spiritual books that constantly preach concepts such as mindfulness and minimalism.”

The clue is in the outliers, which literally lie on the extremes, first and last. The Kybalion comes first because Lynn – perhaps with faux-naïveté – accepts the idea that it is “the distillation of ancient wisdom from as far back as Egypt of the pharaohs”; at least, “the work claims to be” and “so we are told.” It is “said to have been written by ‘three Initiates’ who have chosen to remain anonymous. We have no way of knowing for certain from where its contents have come.” Therefore, it’s placed first in chronology.

Actually, we know a lot about “from where its contents have come.”[16] [19] Like so many “spiritual” works – including the Hermetic writings it espouses – it was written around the time it was supposedly “discovered,”[17] [20] and the author has chosen for one reason or another to hide his identity; in this case, William Walker Atkinson, one of the most prolific promoters of New Thought – under a variety of pseudonyms, such as Yogi Ramacharaka and Theron Q. Dumont [18] [21] – around the turn of the previous century. But, “for the purposes of this book, however, that doesn’t matter.”

Indeed, late and fictionally-attributed though it is, it accurately presents “the seven principles of Hermetic wisdom”:

Mentalism comes first, as it is this that underpins the whole philosophy. The Kybalion says that ‘All is mind’. The ‘All’ here refers to the substantial reality underlying all its manifestations. If the All is mind, all things arising out of that All are, to some degree, aspects of that universal mind.

As aspects or manifestations of that universal mind, we are able to act within and upon it accordingly; we are not, as some of the philosophers might have it, isolated minds confronting an alien and unresponsive physical world.

These seven Hermetic laws are “the West’s particular contribution to the spiritual traditions of the world[19] [22] . . . Where mainstream or orthodox religion tends to demand self-abnegation, this is a path that offers knowledge, insight, and self-development.” In short, nobility.

And so the final selection shows this continuity of the Western Tradition: James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh, a classic of New Thought with a title from the Bible,[20] [23] which also echoes the Emperor Marcus: “such as a man’s habitual thoughts are so he is.”

Lynn’s intervening excerpts are intended to suggest that the principle that all is Mind – all we see around us is our human imagination “out-pictured,” as Neville would say – is common to them all:

We’ve seen this principle in the inner spiritual tradition of Western Hermeticism as represented in The Kybalion. We’ve seen it in the Buddhist teachings contained in the Dhammapada: ‘All that we are,’ says the Buddha, ‘is a result of what we have thought.’ We’ve seen it in the Taoist doctrine that the ‘Tao’ is the universal source of being that transcends the dichotomy of subjective and objective. Even the modern iterations leading to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche credit the mind with a unique role in ‘self-overcoming’.

Is Lynn one of us? There certainly are similar memes, as one might say, as I’ve pointed out. Another is his presentation of Buddhism as “a philosophy and a faith marked indelibly by its origin in the elite warrior-caste . . . Buddhism, accordingly, doesn’t demand your submission; it recalls you to the intrinsic nobility of your basic nature.”[21] [24]

Even Rumi and al-Ghazali, despite operating within Islam, don’t ask us to “submit.” Indeed, another point of interest is that Rumi and al-Ghazali are identified, first and foremost, as Persians – Aryans – before anything else; and Lynn also emphasizes the relations between the historical Zoroaster and Nietzsche’s prophet. In fact, in another work,[22] [25] Lynn forthrightly says that “the Zoroastrians were right” about the need for change to start from within rather than outside. All this should please Jason Reza Jorjani, but more to the point, Lynn’s anthologies are congruent with Jorjani’s Nietzschean/Hermetic approach to the future.[23] [26]

[Nietzsche’s Zarathustra] points to a form of transcendence that is premised upon releasing the hitherto unrecognized potentials of our nature – but it does so by urging us to look upon ourselves with contempt as transitional beings falling somewhere between monkey and god.

From where we stand, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, that contemporary society has rejected the Übermensch. Like Nietzsche’s ‘last men’, we have turned away from the heroic individual and seek safety in the herd. We take pride in our equalism and view sameness as a virtue. We have embraced our littleness and finally put the doctrine of ‘self-overcoming’ to rest. Or have we?

In my review [27] of Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas, I suggested that it could serve as a complete course in philosophy, obviating the time, money, and PC hassles of attending some college.[24] [28] These anthologies might serve as the intro course thereto, or as summertime prerequisite reading, and moreover should be added to the shelves, virtual or otherwise, of those interested in the issues discussed on Counter-Currents and elsewhere among the Dissident Right.[25] [29]


[1] [30] The End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility [31] (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

[2] [32] The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991); or, in the book: “The Emperor counsels simplicity: First principles of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its causal nature?” Apparently, a reference to Meditations VII.11: “What is this thing in itself, in its own constitution? What are its elements of substance and material, and of cause? What is its function in the world? What is its duration?” The relevance of the Emperor’s book will soon become clear.

[3] [33] As one might expect from a self-published book, or one from a small publisher, I assume licensing fees have dictated the choice of translations. However, it’s not much of a problem as most seem to be respectable (Giles for Chuang-Tzu, Jowett for Plato) while others are still considered standard (Jacobs for Gracián, Long for Marcus Aurelius).

[4] [34] Another dog-whistle? See Vox Day, SJWs Always Double Down: Anticipating the Thought Police (Castalia House, 2017); reviewed by C. B. Robertson here [35]. Interestingly, it’s characteristic of neocons as well: “These are typical Neocon-style tactics: double-down, then double-down again, then issue statements which make it impossible for you to back down, then repeat it all as many times as needed. This strategy is useless against a powerful and principled enemy, but it works miracles with a weak and spineless foe like Trump. This is particularly true of US politicians and journalists who have long become the accomplices of the deep state (especially after the 9/11 false flag and its cover-up) and who now cannot back down under any circumstances or treat President Trump as a normal, regular, President. The anti-Trump rhetoric has gone way too far and the US has now reached what I believe is a point of no return.”–The Saker, “The Putin-Trump Helsinki Summit: The action is in the reaction [36]”; Unz Review, July 26, 2018.

[5] [37] Thus the two icons of Stoicism are the Emperor Marcus and the freed slave, Epictetus.

[6] [38] In another Dissident Right touch, Lynn bases his interpretation on that of Gramsci.

[7] [39] Schopenhauer: “To read it once through is obviously not enough; it is a book made for constant use as occasion serves – in short, to be a companion for life.” Nietzsche: “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety.”

[8] [40] Stay undercover, lest you be doxxed.

[9] [41] Stop LARPing!

[10] [42] Chutzpah!

[11] [43] Neville Goddard, “Assumptions Harden Into Facts,” which is Lesson Two of his foundational course of lectures, Five Lessons: A Master Class (1948); reissued with a bonus chapter by Mitch Horowitz (New York: Tarcher/Perigree, 2018) and reviewed here. [44]

[12] [45] See Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul, trans. Joscelyn Godwin and Constance Fontana (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2003), especially “Part Two: In the World Where God is Dead.”

[13] [46] “If you could control your attitude directly, as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel on any given day, it would be like a minor superpower.” How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014).

[14] [47] “Frank Costello: I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. . . . Twenty years after an Irishman couldn’t get a fucking job, we had the presidency. May he rest in peace. That’s what the niggers don’t realize. If I got one thing against the black chappies, it’s this – no one gives it to you. You have to take it. Non serviam!” The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006).

[15] [48] The cover, however, features a generic “person meditating” silhouette. Why not continue the Mad Men theme with a meditating Don Draper? After all, that’s exactly how the series ended. See “Duper’s Delight or Draper’s Diddle [49],” or “Don Draper’s Last Diddle [50]” in The End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility, op. cit.

[16] [51] See Maja D’Aoust and Adam Parfrey, The Secret Source: The Law of Attraction and its Hermetic Influence Throughout the Ages (Port Townshend, Wash.: Process Media, 2012). See also Mitch Horowitz, Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (New York: Bantam, 2009), and of course The Kybalion: The Definitive Edition; ed. by Philip Deslippe (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008). Extensive resources are found here [52].

[17] [53] “I take Marcion as the author [of Galatians], partly because of the striking comment of Tertullian . . . that ‘Marcion, discovering the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians’. . . . If we take ‘discover’ in its strongest sense, this comment would imply no one had seen this epistle before, and that, like Hilkiah the priest who ‘discovered’ Deuteronomy and Joseph Smith who ‘discovered’ the Book of Mormon, Marcion actually wrote the Epistle to the Galatians.” Introduction to The Epistle to the Galatians in The Human Bible New Testament; translated and introduced by Robert M. Price (Cranford, N.J.: American Atheist Press, 2015), reviewed here [54].

[18] [55] Wikipedia says [56]: “Throughout his subsequent career, Atkinson was thought to have written under many pseudonyms. It is not known whether he ever confirmed or denied authorship of these pseudonymous works, but all of the supposedly independent authors whose writings are now credited to Atkinson were linked to one another by virtue of the fact that their works were released by a series of publishing houses with shared addresses and they also wrote for a series of magazines with a shared roster of authors. Atkinson was the editor of all of those magazines and his pseudonymous authors acted first as contributors to the periodicals, and were then spun off into their own book-writing careers – with most of their books being released by Atkinson’s own publishing houses.”

[19] [57] See “The (Not so) New Thought of Neville Goddard,” reprinted in Magick for Housewives: Essays on Alt-Gurus [58] (Melbourne, Victoria: Manticore, 2018), and the literature cited therein.

[20] [59] Book of Proverbs [60], Chapter 23, verse 7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

[21] [61] See Julius Evola, The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995). “His interpretation of Buddhism is that it was intended to be anti-democratic. He believed that Buddhism revealed the essence of an ‘Aryan’ tradition that had become corrupted and lost in the West. He believed it could be interpreted to reveal the superiority of a warrior caste.” – Wikipedia [62].

[22] [63] Generativity: The Art and Science of Exceptional Achievement (Howgill House Books, 2017).

[23] [64] One difference: Jorjani condemns the “perennialist” approach (see “Against Perennial Philosophy” in Lovers of Sophia [65] [Melbourne, Victoria: Manticore, 2017]); Lynn has agreed with a reviewer who says he “draws upon and reflects the ‘Perennial Philosophy’.” Based on what Lynn says about it [66], I’d say the differences are only superficial and terminological.

[24] [67] Jorjani now claims to be the only living person deserving to be called a “philosopher”; see the Introduction to Lovers of Sophia, op. cit.

[25] [68] You can try out free chapters by e-mail here [69].