Nature is a temple, where the living
Columns sometimes breathe of confusing speech;
Man walks within these groves of symbols, each
Of which regards him as a kindred thing.
— Charles Baudelaire, “Correspondence”
Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer. “If God did not exist, then it would be necessary to invent him” is, perhaps, one of Voltaire’s most famous bon mots, a “breath of confusing speech.”
What to make of it? In its bare, logical form, Voltaire offers us a conditional proposition: If “p,” then “q.”
Let’s say now, just for the sake of argument, we execute modus ponens on this conditional proposition. (Modus ponens is the rule of logic stating that if a conditional statement (“if p then q”) is accepted, and the antecedent (p) holds, then the consequent (q) may be inferred.)
So, here we go and affirm the antecedent: “God does not exist.” It’s an ironic, winning move against those pesky atheists. It lets us validly conclude that we still have ourselves a “God,” albeit an invented Supreme Being. But we’re better off than with no God at all — maybe. And at least with a He logically assured, we now have a supernatural Mr. Big that helps us explain why us folk down here in the natural world have such a problem being nice to each other — to put it technically, why there is so much evil in the world. Along with God, then, comes “the problem of Evil” and thus, theodicy — the theologically-inflicted headache of trying to figure out how these two (God and Evil) manage to coexist and the extent of human responsibility for their own evil doings.
With God in place, as we have invented him, the problem of evil gets more complicated, more interesting . . . and, now, well, flat-out desperate. The desperation stems from the fact that we want our God to be a good guy. And, if he is good, then why all the evil stuff we humans have to put with — pestilence, murders, wars, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and the irredeemable Hillary Clinton? We have ourselves a God, but with respect to evil, he is either impotent (can’t defeat it), indifferent (doesn’t care), or (worst case) himself evil. What to make of this dilemma?
Well, our invention of God — a good one, anyway — means that to keep him good we must resort to another “invention” — the devil (Satan), a supernatural third party to the God-human relationship who bears some (?) responsibility for the evil forces that human beings struggle with and against. God, Satan, Man and the tangled relationship around which evil hovers: job security for the theodicy professionals.
But on to more recent history, post-Voltaire. These two inventions — God and Satan — just haven’t worked out all that well for us humans. Our Voltaire-inspired invention has over time unfortunately turned out to be just some patriarchal, judgmental old-guy, a Fascist deity who makes Satan appear to be, perhaps, superfluous.
For these reasons, God has been on the outs for several generations now, thanks in part to the efforts of a group that has turned out to be an evil force in philosophical drag — the Frankfurt School, the original Antifa Gang. Its founding members were forced to skedaddle when the Austrian Corporal started running the show over in Deutschland. The safe America they came to and treated them very kindly, it turned out, was not much to their liking. Theodor Adorno’s notorious F-scale (Measured by the “Do you think you might be a Fascist” personality test) in his hugely influential The Authoritarian Personality is a sophisticated, social-sciency hit-job on patriarchy, Christian white guys, and all the trappings of the traditional American family. A church-going, working-class dad with his stay-at-home-wife and kids would score very high on the F-scale. Turns out he was just an SS-Obersturmführer in burgeoning form. The F-scale personality test is called “the California F-scale” for the place where, you might say, it was ordained to come into being.
Another Antifa gang leader with a dodgy past was the philosopher Herbert Marcuse. He was recruited during WWII by OSS (CIA precursor) head Bill Donovan to help design the denazification (Entnazifizierung) program for the occupying US Army of defeated Germany. Cult-Marxist Marcuse ended up — where else — in California, and went on to teach a generation of American university students (including black radical Angela Davis) that American society was a fertile womb preparing to give birth to another Hitler. America as the most powerful country in the world with its deep Christian heritage would be the place where the most virulent of Hitlers would someday reappear. Christian Germans gave us Hitler: Christian Americans are on track to give us. . . Well, you can see where Adorno was going with his F-scale. Today’s Antifa are the progeny of these imported Volksverhetzern.
In the twenty-first century, with the defenestration of God from the firmament of divine power, a malevolent God would ascend. Voltaire’s original conditional would undergo a gruesome transmogrification: “If Hitler ceased to exist, then we would have to (re)invent him.”
On April 30, 1945, in his Fuhrer bunker, Hitler — well, the original Hitler — ceased to exist. Der Fuhrer, accompanied by his bride, Eva Braun, swallowed a cyanide capsule and finished the job with his Luger. The Soviets took possession of the ashes of his hastily cremated corpse. Hitler’s jaw bone became a prized possession, a relic, you might say, of his nemesis, Joseph Stalin.
Herr Hitler was dead, but we now understand: there was no way he would remain in that final state to which all mortals succumb. Like Jason with his superhuman regenerative powers in the Friday the 13th series, Hitler keeps coming back to life, though with the assistance of self-interested parties. Like Jason, who in each of his cinematic reappearances gets finished off in the end, only to return in another adventure and resume his homicidal hobby, Hitler continues to pop up somewhere on the world stage, kill nice people, and eventually get himself dispatched.
Why he keeps reappearing when it always turns out so bad for him is a topic that never seems to get much attention.
Why the relentless drive for reinvention? A being of supreme evil must be in place in order for the self-affirmed righteous to assert their unparalleled goodness and all of its privileges. This is why Hitler continues to live. He’s useful in many ways to different parties. For the neoconservatives who love to send American soldiers to die in hell holes across the world for the sake of “democracy,” “Hitler” makes it happen. Atrocities + new “Hitler” + Indifference = Holocaust redux, thus requiring a massive military intervention — American goodness for all the world to see — and to fear. (That formula should be corrected to “holocaust” with a lower case “h” so as not to imperil the sacred uniqueness of the original and the risk of prosecution.) With a mighty, righteous intervention, America saved the world from the original Hitler seventy-six years ago. So, whenever and wherever he happens to appear, dispatching the latest Hitler is something that America is just supposed to do, with the taxpayers picking up the tab.
One notable example of this. In 1999, then-Vice President Al Gore discovered that the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević, was “one of these junior league Hitler types.” The MSM flew into high gear with “the formula” noted above. This gave the green light for NATO and American bombers to reduce portions of the Balkans into rubble and corpses. American war policymakers were now working with a sophisticated taxonomy of Hitler gradations used to calculate how much destruction to unleash on civilian populations in countries that posed no threat to Americans as to depose the latest manifestation of His Evilness.
While the Clinton-Gore administration was pleased to fiddle with a bush league Nazi, the Bush-Cheney boys would step up to the major leagues to put the stoppers to the real deal, a genocidal wannabe and the direct spawn of Satan himself. His elimination would justify the launching of yet another full-scale military adventure in a faraway part of the world with “democracy” as the guaranteed outcome. By 2002 was the Bedouin Hitler, who even had a mustache. This one disguised himself as an ambitious Ba’athist named Saddam Hussein who, we were told, possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Bush Senior, some years before, had thundered that Saddam “was even worse than Hitler.” That, as you might guess, didn’t go over so well with the folks at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. No matter. Worse or not, we pulled a hiding Saddam out of a hole in the ground and put him at the end of a rope. And now we know “the rest of the story.” Iraq, with the rest of the Middle East, is now a broad, stable plateau of democracy.
During the reign of Obama, no new Hitlers were to be summoned for duty. Then with seemingly no warning in 2016, Hitler was elected the President of the United States with the help of another Hitler, a Russian one, so it was alleged. This may have been a historical first where two Hitlers were secretly collaborating. The President-elect was previously a serial adulterer playboy and blustering impresario who had never before aspired to or held public office. “Grab ’em by the p***y” was not the kind of male bonding encouragement one could ever imagine coming from Hitler the First. Nevertheless, fear and panic moved like wildfire through the ranks of the illuminati. Former Governor of New Jersey Christie Whitman joined the throngs of Democrats, MSM, Academia, and the entertainment world in a typical feverish cry of foreboding on the Hitlerness of Donald Trump, suggesting an even more aggressive style than the original: “Hitler took a long time to get where he was and he had to do a lot of other things. Trump is going much faster. We are going down a dark hole and I really worry for the country.”
Yes, everyone from Madonna to Madeline Albright was very worried.
Four years of Donald Hitler Trump Nazi-style tyranny unfolded during which he proved himself incapable of doing much of anything beyond hiring and firing a dizzying procession of subordinates, pandering to constituencies that continued resolutely to despise him, and affirming his greatness on a daily basis. He came, he saw, he tweeted. In 2020, this Golem blustered helplessly while Democrats scurried about and collected enough mail-in ballots to make sure that the voices of the dead, the braindead, and the phantom voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would finally be heard.
American Hitler’s four-year reign of terror came suddenly to a burlesque ending. As a homicidal, Jew-hating, totalitarian monster, his performance was less than impressive. Unlike Dicky Cheney or Henry Kissinger, no one could even say he was a “war criminal.” His instrument of power collapsed when Jack Dorsey canceled his Twitter account. From that “dark hole” of Fascism that the country was going down, we were rescued by an even older, less coherent braggart topped off with hair plugs instead of an orange comb-over mullet. Like his immediate predecessor, he never met a sentence he couldn’t mangle. The Trump-Hitler’s Nuremberg-style Senate impeachment trial was an anticlimactic bust. He escaped the gallows, shattering the hopes of Anderson Cooper and the whole crew over at CNN.
Back to Voltaire.
Our wise and benevolent God was slain by the secularizers. Now we have only an evil deity, Adolf Hitler, who periodically incarnates himself in the world. But it turns out that he is the only God we need in this Oprah-age of aggressive self-affirmation. You see, Hitler-reinvention has become a religious ritual that operates as the following: Hitler appears somewhere. That new incarnation triggers, first, recognition — “Oh, my God, it’s Hitler” — from which follows the predictable expressions of fear and loathing and impending doom. All of this provides the setting for those heated, ritualized proclamations of virtue — and for the action-oriented, an opportunity to assert their virtue in a punishing fashion. “Hitler” functions as the ontological source of evil from which we derive and affirm our goodness and righteousness. We need him. His continuing existence proves that “we” are . . . well, okay, and that some of you other folks out there are not.
Trump Hitler has departed, but there can be no doubt that a new Hitler will soon ascend. That craving for virtuous self-esteem cannot be denied. Joe Biden, in an interview with George Stephanopolous, has signaled whom he has in mind for the honor: Vladimir Putin, a man, Biden affirmed, without a soul. Stephanopolous on this occasion missed a grand opportunity for an unforgettable riposte — “It takes one to know one.” But this detritus from the Clinton years is now just a blow-dried lackey who serves his latest seigneur who himself doubles as a court jester.
As Jim Goad said some time ago, “only the jokes will get better.”
* * *
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