Toward a New Era of Nation-States, Part IX: Reversing the Decline of European Nation-StatesAlgis Avižienis
A successful nationalist movement cannot be guided by free-market orthodoxy. For over two centuries the principles of free market economics played a crucial role in Western countries. Theoretically, laissez-faire capitalism was supposed to protect private economic actors from governmental intervention, thereby ensuring free competition. Unfortunately, this hands-off stance worked only for a time. It eventually opened the door to an unprecedented concentration of economic power in the hands of a restricted circle of oligarchs. This conglomerated economic power in private hands spilled over into and eventually swallowed up the political power of European nation-states and the United States.
The financial oligarchs – who manipulate their trillions in the financial centers of Wall Street, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Hong Kong, and Singapore – staunchly uphold freedom, i.e., their freedom to operate without government “interference” in economic matters. It would appear that in defending the idea of the free market, the financial elites are looking out for our interests, for in their narrative, free markets are often associated with the principle of individual liberty, without which, of course, there would be no democracy.
But appearances can be deceptive. The oligarchs, their paid media, and the professional economists are not at all fighting some kind of a rearguard action against the putative menace of state control. In reality, their voice is decisive when it comes to the most important aspects of policymaking. They are the powers that be. When the elites condemn government intervention, they are not thinking of protecting our freedom. Rather, they are demonstrating an increasing unwillingness to consider social and national interests in economic policymaking. The business and banking magnates are less and less inclined to share any meaningful power with the plebs.
The chief threat that European nations confront now is the globalization process, which is promoted by the Western oligarchs. It is true that in the future the Eurasian economic integration model pursued by China and Russia could pose a danger. But for the present, its impact on European societies is not as profound as that of Western globalization.
Thus, the most important task of European nationalists will be to wrest economic and political power from the super-rich empire builders and return it to the nation-states. This can only be accomplished by mobilizing mass support. Only the force of great numbers of politically conscious people can counterbalance the vast power of the globalists. Since the great majority of ordinary citizens are mainly concerned about their personal, material well-being and not the great political questions of our time, nationalist parties and movements should disseminate programs that to a very considerable extent embrace economic themes. Active state intervention in economic affairs should figure prominently in the rhetoric of genuinely nationalist parties. Economic policymaking cannot be abandoned to the continued domination of the oligarchs.
Nationalists must highlight the economic damage caused by globalization. What is the key to winning the hearts and minds of European voters? First of all, we should realize that the typical European is a product of our consumerist societies and therefore is mainly interested in bread-and-butter issues, personal security, and comfort. Consequently, a viable nationalist ideology must clearly explain to the citizens of European nation-states why they have experienced a half-century of stagnation and decline in their living standards. The voters should be informed that the systemic parties and national governments have been co-opted to serve the globalization project, and that the national elites no longer regard the material well-being of ordinary citizens to be priority concerns.
We have already discussed the globalist-engineered transfer of wealth from Europe and the US to China and other countries, which the globalists are trying to fully integrate into their one-world empire. The outsourced jobs must gradually be repatriated to Europe, and investments out of the European economic area must be steadily curtailed and redirected to restore European manufacturing capacity.
There is no reason why the great mass of consumer products purchased in European countries and the US should on a daily basis be shipped 7,000-10,000 kilometers from the People’s Republic of China to Western destinations. Shortening transportation links from producers to consumers would significantly reduce the consumption of transportation fuel, thereby significantly mitigating the environmental impact of economic activity.
This fundamental readjustment of manufacturing and trade relations can only be accomplished by national governments that are guided by national interests and not the imperative of building the New World Order. A modern nationalist ideology will demonstrate to the individual concerned about his personal welfare that a nation-state can protect his economic interests against the depredations of international finance.
The concept of individual freedom that the globalists are marketing abroad is fudging the boundary between social reality and fantasy. The global masters of the checkbook are trying to recruit new adherents by holding out the promise of a paradise of unlimited choices. As they integrate ever-larger masses of people into ever larger political and economic entities, the one-world hegemonists are urging young people to pursue their dreams in the world at large. This open-minded attitude, however, does not reflect noble intentions. In reality, the globalists are more interested in enlarging their freedom to choose, and not the freedom of choice of the broad working masses.
It is precisely the uncontrolled movement of labor and capital that permits the large banks and multinational corporations to act without restraint towards workers and the democratically-elected national governments. Liberal immigration and foreign investment policies give employers the opportunity to lower wages and also gradually dismantle social security systems, which were brought into this world by none other than the nation-states. If mobile capital determines that the level of labor market flexibility is not to its liking, it can move to another country, where workers’ interests are not respected. Sometimes it is enough to merely raise the threat of relocating, and the employers’ demands will be promptly satisfied.
International finance has taken advantage of the economic stagnation that is afflicting Spain, Italy, and Greece to demand wholesale cutbacks in social protection. Employers in the European Union are constantly looking for ways to keep more of the profits for themselves, while unloading the social costs of their activities onto society’s shoulders.
Before the onset of globalization, European nation-states reined in this kind of anti-social behavior by the wealthy. But now that multinationals and big banks have become stronger than nation-states, the lone individual finds it harder to defend himself against international capital without the help of a national government or a self-assertive national community. As the politically conscious individual weighs the options and chooses whether to become a citizen of the world or stay true to his country of birth, he should bear in mind the nature of the New World Order that is in process of creation and the long-term prospects for his personal interests.
The one-world enthusiasts are creating a global business climate which will be characterized by an extremely flexible labor market. The emphasis will be on extracting short-term financial benefits for the super-rich while evading long-term commitments to the workers or society. In the ideal world of the international oligarchs, national governments would be excluded from any influence on the bilateral relations between employers and employees.
A self-assertive national community should demand the right to form a strong, national state that would serve as an effective bulwark protecting the individual from the abuse of power by the globalist moneyed interests. A truly independent state, organized in accordance with the national idea, will enunciate clear criteria by which the people will be able to judge its performance. The national state will proclaim as its highest calling the strengthening of the national community. This will allow its citizens to judge independently whether their state will grow or decline in terms of population size, employment opportunities, and purchasing power.
The economy is an integral part of a national community. Economic life cannot be regarded as standing outside of common concerns, as a purely private field. Economic activity aims at ensuring the most basic, material needs of a people, without which physical existence is impossible. Without a national economy, or a regional European economic space built on autonomous national economies, there can be no viable nation-states.
One may be antagonistic to nationalism and claim to be a free and sovereign individual shaping his future without the need for a “paternalistic” state. One therefore proceeds to build a career, a house, and family life, which are held to be sufficiently ambitious areas of self-realization. But free market globalism, which claims for itself the prerogative of major economic decisions, has decreed that industrial enterprises need to be outsourced to China. Throughout North America and Europe, international capital has devastated countless communities by transferring well-paying productive employment to low wage countries.
Millions of individuals and families have thereby been uprooted and forced to look for alternative employment, sometimes in foreign countries. Families become separated as spouses or children are obliged to move out or face unemployment. Home values in such depressed communities lose much of their invested value.
This is the price of global economic integration, which disguises its excesses behind slogans of freedom of choice. In reality, the current economic crisis shows how little freedom or power the individual has without a strong intermediary between himself and international capital.
Living solely for one’s family is not enough. An individual’s investment in a family is open to risk if he does not defend the community in which this family must live. Globalism has amply demonstrated that it is capable of scattering families by undercutting the economic foundation of communities in Europe and North America.
Nor should one rely too much on trade unions and professional organizations. Globalism has shown that it can successfully neutralize the power of labor unions as well by threatening to move or actually moving productive activity away from countries with well-organized work forces to countries with weak trade unions. A focus on professional interests, to the exclusion of the international context in which economic associations must operate under the globalization regime, leaves the citizen vulnerable to many unforeseen threats.
The globalists will help us create the conditions for success. The victory of nationalism in Europe and America will depend on two factors: (a) the speed with which the global free market order will create intolerable material conditions for large masses of people, and (b) the forms which nationalist parties or movements will assume in response to the spreading crisis.
If what has been written in earlier chapters concerning the will to power is correct, then international financial interests will continue to consolidate their holdings of global wealth at the expense of the rest of unorganized humanity. It is impossible to gauge at what precise point this will bring a catastrophic crisis to the present political order in Europe and the US.
The current power relationships will remain basically intact so long as a critical mass of people remains dependent on the present international division of labor and so long as significant numbers of Europeans believe that international cooperation will eventually improve their economic prospects. Mass discontent will arise from objective conditions; political writing or public speaking will not decisively motivate masses of people who are not expecting any drastic decline in their material welfare.
But this does not mean that European patriots should sit back and wait for objective conditions to ripen. Significant opposition to globalization is already manifesting itself among those most affected by outsourcing and mass migration. It is therefore incumbent on politically conscious patriots to actively cultivate ties with the dispossessed and seize new opportunities as they present themselves.
But if nationalist parties will continue clinging to economic orthodoxy in the face of growing disorder, then their share of popular support will remain severely restricted. This conservative position could only strengthen the standing of the internationalist Marxists, who have not resigned themselves to ideological defeat. The great majority of people are chiefly concerned about their material position in life and rarely looks beyond personal, family, or professional affairs, except in moments of economic collapse, external dangers, or political crises.
Full employment must be the first priority in the economic programs of the new, nationalist opposition forces. Nationalization of major enterprises should be initiated, if that would be the only way to maintain this policy. A nationalist government ought to create an optimal business environment for small and mid-sized private enterprises, which under the globalization regime have often fallen victim to international corporations and retail chains.
The second priority must be maximum utilization of national material resources and local labor to satisfy national and European regional markets. Foreign trade should be allowed, but not to the extent of creating a dangerous dependence on foreign markets and imported resources. The third priority should be protection of the demographic base of the nation by encouraging a sufficiently high birth rate and by ensuring good employment opportunities for young people.
The national community stands above economic associations. The new patriotic elites must develop for the benefit of their followers a concept of a hierarchy of associations in which the contemporary individual can express himself and find continuity as well as meaning in his life. The new nationalists should propagate a worldview in which the national community will stand at the apex of the many associations that make up the life of a typical individual in modern industrialized societies. The individual should be urged to regard his daily work not just as a means for self-advancement, but as a service to the national community. Service to the nation must be considered as one of the highest aims of an individual’s life.
These assertions may strike some as an expression of outdated or narrow thinking. At present the stronger tendency is to regard economic interests as supreme. Economic activity and economic associations are commonly regarded as the most important spheres of life in the Western democracies. It is true that economic activity is concerned with the physical basis of an individual’s life, but the term economic interest, as it is commonly used in public discourse, obscures a narrow conception of individual welfare, namely individualism. The rise of purely economic interests to pre-eminence in our time generally comes at the expense of common interests. Reversing this trend in favor of strengthening one’s commitment to community concerns is the best way to ensure the dignity, freedom, and power of the individual.
Private economic associations cannot serve or account for the totality of human life, especially at the beginning and end of individual existence, for no economic enterprise will assume a substantial part of the burden of raising and educating young people, often for as long as the first 16 to 22 years of a person’s life. The education of a young person is not simply a matter of building a few schools and pouring money into them. Parents, close relatives, family friends, neighbors, educators, and indeed the entire community participate in socializing youth in an enterprise of patience, self-sacrifice, and love.
In recent decades, employers have also demonstrated a progressive tendency to largely evade responsibility for an employee’s welfare in the period of his life after retirement, which represents on average another ten to fifteen years. Thus the economic interests, which regularly claim a decisive voice in policymaking in most Western countries, insist that the public pay for the education of their employees and workers, and support the latter after they have ceased to be useful to their employers.
In addition, private, economic associations exploit a variety of positive qualities of their employees and of the societies in which they happen to be operating. Among these are discipline, respect for law and order, and traditions of hard work, honesty, and social solidarity. Such attributes are very unevenly distributed around the globe, and they are not created out of thin air.
The absence of these non-material qualities is a major reason why economic activity in many Third World countries is not making headway. An African country such as Mozambique may be rich in natural resources, but rampant corruption from the top of society to the bottom is severely retarding economic growth and opportunities for the mass of its impoverished inhabitants. At the same time, a tiny country with a poor natural resource base such as Switzerland has maintained one of the highest material standards of living for generations.
A favorable business climate does not arise overnight; it must be consciously, energetically, and unceasingly promoted by more than one generation of a national community living and equitably sharing the burdens of life in a circumscribed territory. Without social cohesion and a public spirit, a country’s infrastructure of roads, railways, electricity lines, schools, and public health facilities will not be well developed. Public safety will not be guaranteed. Official corruption might block entrepreneurship in countless ways.
That is why it should be entirely unacceptable that the owners of an economic enterprise, on which a community depends for its livelihood and which in the past nurtured the economic association in many ways, should feel they have the right to transfer production to a low-wage country, and thereby cause major damage to the community. At the same time, a trade union should not have the power to inflate working wages so much that an enterprise becomes unprofitable and faces bankruptcy.
Nor is it acceptable that a community, which has financed the education of a young physician, should be deprived of his services the moment he graduates and decides to work in another country for a higher salary. This kind of gross exploitation of the national community by the young doctor is only possible in a state which espouses individual freedom, or rather individualism, its twenty-first century incarnation, as the supreme governing principle. If the highest ideal of the state would be the strengthening of the national community and state, then no argument could arise in this case. The community would have a powerful ethical and legal basis challenging the young person’s right to leave without at least having provided some compensation to the community.
But the true purpose of the national community is not repression of young people and their aspirations for a better life. On the contrary, the elimination of youth unemployment should be one of the priority goals of European nationalism. Instead of repressing an individual’s drive for personal self-realization, the national community wishes to open a maximum of opportunities for self-expression, especially among the young.
Educating the individual in the spirit of national solidarity. In order to satisfy the individual’s needs, the national community must receive the full support of the individual. Indeed, service to the nation must be considered as a crucial dimension of the life of the individual member, if he expects the former to accomplish great things and satisfy his most important needs. The challenges and tasks are enormous. Not the least of them is the creation of a sustainable economy in place of the present house of cards based on speculative capital. The active opposition of the internationalists will only be overcome through a commensurate level of commitment by the widest possible strata of the national community.
Both tendencies – the increase of the power of the nation to overcome the greatest difficulties, and the strengthening of personal commitment to the national community – are interdependent and self-reinforcing. The greater the individual attachment to the national idea, the stronger will be the collective force. This virtuous circle can be set in motion only by a leadership which itself is committed to the national community and is guided by a nationalist ideology adequate to the challenges of our time.
The unsustainability of consumerism and individualism. Until the chronic stagnation following the 2008-2009 recession, consumerism had succeeded in distracting masses of people away from the potential inherent in their social nature. If the post-war festival of material plenty, economic security, variety, and growing leisure were to continue for another generation, it is likely that European nationalism would have never recovered as a viable political force.
The decline in living standards that commenced with the introduction of turbo-globalism in the 1970s was gradual, and hence barely perceptible at first. Over the following decades, however, it became increasingly difficult to mask the receding prospects for buoyant growth. At the dawn of the new millennium, the supranational authorities found themselves confronted by the first manifestations of organized nationalist opposition in a number of Western European countries.
In fact, we are now living at the tail end of the expansive post-war period of consumerism and individualism. Seen in the context of the entire history of man’s civilized life, this period is brief, perhaps only an isolated episode. The furious energy and restless mobility of our age were made possible by the relentless exploitation of non-renewable material resources such as oil and something outside the material realm: the remains of social cohesion inherited from traditional agrarian communities.
This material and spiritual capital has been squandered to a great extent. Before the economic crisis had gained momentum, the seductive power of Western consumerism and egoism seemed irresistible to a majority of the hundreds of millions of consumers that comprise the countries of Europe and the West in general. For a relatively short time, Western democracy and free market economics seemed to offer the individual previously unimagined levels of personal wealth and freedom.
But now that price inflation and the restrictions being implemented to contain climate change are biting, the range of choices is narrowing. The ruling classes are now increasingly resorting to undemocratic methods of control, signaling that the good times are drawing to a close. In the coming decades, the relevant question will be one of meeting basic, material needs. Exhortations to develop selfless devotion to the nation, which seemed unfashionable until recently, will sound more convincing when it becomes clear that there is no alternative to group solidarity and self-sacrifice. The arguments for nationalism will become more appealing as individualism and universalism convincingly demonstrate their bankruptcy.
A dynamic concept of the nation. Nationalists must clearly comprehend the object of their chief concern, namely the national community. One usually hears definitions of what constitutes a nation that rely heavily on outwardly visible or distinctive traits. In Lithuania the most widely used definition would have it that a nation is an association of people linked together by an assemblage of attributes such as a common language, shared history, folk art, and customs.
If we stop to think that we are trying to apprehend not a stationary object like a Baroque church, but phenomena imbued with extraordinary dynamism, namely people, we will see how little such a description can tell us about the national community. If someone were to describe Mozart, the composer of immortal operas, symphonies, and piano concertos, merely as a thin, short-statured musician, we would object that such a description would be entirely trivial since it ignored his prodigious creative force. Similarly, the habit of thinking of a nation as a static concept, as an eclectic collection of attributes, ignores its enormous potential.
The problem already surfaces in the very phrasing of the question. Instead of asking what the nation is, we should be thinking about what it does, or better still, what it could be capable of doing as an organized and motivated association of dynamic people.
Thus, a flawed understanding of the nation can obscure processes which can be fatal to the vitality of the national community. Vytautas Landsbergis, the veteran leader of the Lithuanian Conservatives, exploits his professional ties to Lithuanian music and national symbols to create the impression that he is a nationalist at heart. In reality, his actions have done more to strengthen internationalist tendencies in Lithuania than those of any other local politician.
Many intellectuals in Lithuania tend to equate the concept of nation with national culture and especially with the Lithuanian language. Lithuanians take pride in the conservative character of their language, which has changed the least among all the other living Indo-European languages. The fact that so many of Lithuania’s leaders of the Sajudis rebirth movement were intellectuals and cultural figures explains why the idea of the nation is so thoroughly permeated with a historical, cultural, linguistic, and folk art content. At the same time, many ordinary Lithuanians have difficulty grasping the connection between their inadequate material circumstances and the steady erosion of national sovereignty.
Having been conditioned to associate national independence with a national flag, separate government institutions, and the restoration of Lithuanian as the state language, many Lithuanians still believe that their state is independent. Therefore, if Lithuania is independent and mass unemployment has coincided with the attainment of formal independence, then they reason that poor economic performance must be a consequence of independence. Many ordinary Lithuanians do not understand that their independence is merely formal. It is precisely the relative absence of local control over the country’s economic policies that accounts for the poor standard of living of the majority of Lithuanians.
What is the nation or national community (in the sense of the German word Volk)? It is an association of people which cooperates in building up its collective strength vis-à-vis the external world. From the point of view of the individual, the national community is an extension and a magnification of his power. By serving his nation, the individual shares his vitality with many other members of the national community, some of whom will continue living, strengthened by his contribution, even after his physical death. Our conception of the nation and its inherent need to grow stronger provides the individual with the overall direction and discipline which are needed to enhance his personal power.
The inevitability of opposition in human affairs. To recapitulate, all living beings, including man, are a peculiar kind of matter continually generating force, which seeks out opposition in the external, from which it draws resources for growth. Since the appropriation and consolidation process, like life in general, is ceaseless, and since many kinds of resources are limited, it can be seen that sooner or later living organisms will bump into each other and be forced to compete for resources.
Human associations, which acquire tendencies inherent in their component parts, therefore will quite predictably run up against other groups pursuing the same or analogous resources. Not least among the sources of power that are continually being fought over by rival associations are people, or new members. What is history if not an unending chronicle of conflicts among various human formations? At all times and in every locality in which man has dwelled, viable human groups have manifested a consistent tendency to grow — opposing, absorbing, or eliminating other associations which pursue resources within the reach of one or more of their rivals.
If this is true, then it is also evident that the age-old dream of uniting mankind in peace, justice, and freedom is nothing but a mirage. And if opposition in human relations cannot be banished from the Earth through empire building, would it not be better to concentrate human energy on building up the strength of long-established nation-states by augmenting their potential in the arts, urban and rural beautification, the sciences, national economy, and social welfare?
“Easier said than done,” a skeptic might interject. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the enormous destructive power of nuclear and biological weapons is such that waging wars among highly industrialized state actors is becoming a nonviable option. Thus, objective technological factors will increasingly force policymakers to channel human aggression into non-lethal fields of competition.
History shows that empires are capable of absorbing small nations, with their collective identities and loyalties, thereby eliminating conflicts among the latter. But the problem of man’s drive for accumulating power never has been, and never can be solved by the imposition of imperial power. The cutting off of the channel of growth of a nation and its inhabitants is in itself a grave loss of the work, self-sacrifice, and aspirations of many generations.
Conquering and assimilating foreign populations will open the door to private accumulation of wealth within the expanding empire and the abuse of power in a domestic context. Human nature explains why men ruthlessly appropriated power, either through foreign military campaigns or through domestic exploitation of labor. And since most of the power within the reach of human beings resides in other people, it can be seen that individuals and groups lacking energy and organizational aptitude will always be at risk of becoming the instruments for the acquisition of power by the more ambitious. History shows this time and again. We do not need Marx’s ponderous Das Kapital to understand that the exploitation of the weaker by the stronger is a constant in human relations.
If domestic oppression is worse than the anticipated results of foreign conquest, the people will refuse to offer up their lives in defense of their prisons. Successful empires have shown that they can establish a Pax Romana, or similar such periods of extended peace, although the price of achieving eternal peace usually involves unending wars.
But it is precisely the relative absence of external threats which unshackles the drive for individual, family, and class aggrandizement, creating gross inequality and leading to subsequent exploitation of the mass of the people. As we have already seen, the global domination of finance and corporate capital in recent decades and the virtual absence of serious opposition to the super-wealthy has given rise to ever more avaricious forms of appropriating social wealth.
Nationalism and the intellectual. Nevertheless, a modern nationalist worldview cannot concern itself solely with the material needs of the politically passive majority of a nation. Although mass support is essential for defeating the globalists, sheer numbers will not suffice. There is an even more important factor leading to eventual success, namely a well-thought-out strategy and comprehensive worldview.
Masses of desperate people can be manipulated. Globalist agents regularly infiltrate mass movements and try to divert discontent into safe channels, or they undermine unity by promoting factions. Such distracting and divisive tactics will have fewer prospects for achieving their ends if patriots clearly mark out the way forward. A nationalist movement must therefore develop a comprehensible idea of who the enemy is, what his strengths and weaknesses are, what resources the patriots are capable of mobilizing, and what long-term goals should be pursued.
A successful struggle against the architects of globalization will be led by an organized minority of politically conscious patriots. The nationalist leaders will be highly motivated and effective if they elaborate and share an attractive, alternative model of human association that offers broader, social prospects for self-fulfillment than the global model. A contemporized European nationalism, a doctrine that will take into account the geopolitical and economic realities of our time, can provide the thinking individual with meaning in life in an increasingly chaotic world. The very word “nation,” which derives from the Latin word nation, or birth, evokes the ideas of natural harmony and continuity that are associated with the renewal of life.
In searching for a meaningful purpose in life, one inevitably runs into the concept of durability, for no great expenditure of time and effort ought to be directed at merely ephemeral objects. Most young people spend years of university study in the expectation that their investment will provide them with knowledge that will sustain them throughout their lives.
The situation is analogous with respect to durable institutions, i.e., those that have come into being thanks to the efforts of many successive generations. The plain fact that long-lived associations have received so much more from their members over time than improvised associations allows the former to provide more valuable benefits than hastily-constructed entities.
Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political theorist and statesman, was one of the first thinkers to perceive that long-established institutions and practices – which rest on the accumulated experience of many generations — would be stronger than newly-created associations. That is why Burke condemned the French Revolution of 1789 in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke was convinced that the age-old institutions of the monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church would have guaranteed a better future for the French than the program of radical changes championed by the revolutionaries.
Burke was probably wrong about insisting on the continuation of the Ancien Regime, but he was correct in a more fundamental sense. The British statesman understood that the uninterrupted life of institutions and nations ensures the gradual accumulation of experience, which is the best way to ensure progress.
By contrast, revolutionary interventions block the continuity of movement and the process of accumulation, diverting and dispersing energy into many new paths. The victors of a totalitarian revolution would in effect have to start from zero. If one assumes that great achievements in thought and culture rest on the foundation of accrued experience — the contributions of many earlier generations — then revolutionary improvisation will generally represent a waste of vital energy.
It will be recalled that the French Revolution led to very wasteful civil disturbances, a reign of terror, and ultimately the devastating Napoleonic Wars that dragged on until 1815. It would also be difficult to find any redeeming qualities justifying the carnage inflicted by the Bolshevik revolutionaries on the Russian people and other European nations.
Certainly, long-established civilizations, religions, and institutions can become dysfunctional over time, as was almost certainly the case with the institution of divine right monarchy in Europe. Growing prosperity and spreading literacy over the centuries had brought to the fore a wide strata of Europeans willing and able to make their influence felt in governing their states. Thus, the old order inevitably gave way to newly-emerging social forces. Had the French kings and aristocrats showed more flexibility towards the new rising classes, as their British counterparts did, then perhaps the human tragedies associated with the Revolution could have been averted.
The most valuable asset that living organisms possess is their vital energy. Optimal use of available strength should be counted among the greatest virtues; waste of energy should be considered among the worst offenses. And the waste of the labour and achievements of earlier generations for the benefit of transient purposes in the present is the worst sin of all.
We might compare the utility of past experience and accumulated knowledge with the usefulness of the bicycle, which man invented to increase his power of locomotion. The bicycle demonstrates how energy expended by a bicyclist (force spent in the past) can enhance the power which he needs to apply in the present. Its construction is such that physical force can be guided into a constricted pathway, which returns a significant part of the spent energy for renewed use. A few revolutions of the wheel are enough to build momentum and greatly strengthen the force of the bicyclist as he surges forward. At the same time, a person who follows a steady regimen of progressively longer running sessions will find that covering a ten-kilometer running course is much easier at the end of the training program than it was in the beginning.
Only frequent transmission of intense and related impressions to the mind over an extended time will facilitate the retention and accumulation of knowledge or skills. A young pianist will practice for as long as six to eight hours each day over a decade or more before he can consider himself a competent performer of classical music. Learning of any kind is achieved through the repetition of specific actions, which permits an accumulation of representations of these past actions in the brain. This builds momentum in the future and the power to overcome personal limitations.
The enduring attraction of European classical art. Artistic achievements, such as the glories of Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture, likewise rested on sustained interaction between a restricted sphere of masters, students, patrons, and their descendants over more than a century. The renowned Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, served as an apprentice in his adolescence to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. The latter in turn was a student of Andrea del Verrocchio, who also taught Leonardo da Vinci some of his artistic skills. Albrecht Dürer, the great German painter, made several extensive visits to Italy, where he established close contacts with many Italian Renaissance artists like Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Enriched by his experience in Italy, Dürer went back to his native Germany and helped propagate many of the Italian classical motifs he absorbed during his visits.
German classical music provides another good example of how artistic excellence depends on an unbroken transmission of influences and skills among a small circle of talented individuals. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart learned how to play musical instruments and compose musical pieces at a very early age thanks to the unceasing efforts of his father, Leopold Mozart, who served as the musical director at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. As an adult, Mozart associated closely with the composer Joseph Haydn, whom he considered a significant influence on his artistic development. Conversely, Mozart had a profound influence on Ludwig van Beethoven, who was fourteen years younger.
Haydn, for his part, regarded the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as a very important inspiration for his own compositions. C. P. E. Bach learned about music from his father, the more notable Johann Sebastian Bach. The latter, in turn, was the son of yet another musician, Johann Ambrosius Bach.
The flowering of Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture as well as classical German music extended the influence of Italian and German artists on standards of beauty into our time. By contrast, modernism essentially declared war on centuries of accumulated artistic skills, aesthetic sensibilities, and traditions. It embraced the momentary, the subjective, the improvised, and the functional — all of which reflect the fragmentary, sensual, and socially detached character of our age.
The struggle to restore sovereignty to the European nation-states can be regarded as an embrace of what is durable, an affirmation of continuity, for the individual nations contain within themselves vast stores of knowledge and experience that passed from one generation to the next over circumscribed channels. Much of what is valuable in European culture developed along restricted regional or national pathways. The distinctive characteristics of national cultures were caused and perpetuated by geographic factors, language diversity, historical experiences, and uneven levels of wealth and education, as well as national rivalry.
Cosmopolitan observers might regret the fact that regional and national art, knowledge, experience, traditions, and tastes have not yet completely merged into a common European or global amalgam. But we know that tension between rival centers of power can be beneficial. It can awaken a competitive spirit and innovation. Moreover, we have already discussed how focusing on what is the specific or the particular is often preferable to dissipating energy over indiscriminate fields.
The national community transcends the brief lifetime of the individual. At a deeper — or perhaps a poetic — level, the commitment to serve one’s nation can be considered as the intellect’s rejection of death. The will to power inherent in the less self-conscious living beings overcomes the death of the individual organism through instinctive reproduction. Analogously, man’s intellect, whose functions inherited the same power-acquiring trajectory of the primitive living beings, should therefore consciously search for channels that will project its unbroken vital energy towards a distant future. The nation-state, which was created to ensure the continuity of the national community, can serve as the contemplative individual’s bulwark against the finality of biological death.
Why should we spend our lives building something, accruing wealth or knowledge, when we know that death will ultimately deprive us of the enjoyment of our gains? Although our purpose is the attainment of a better understanding of life and what we want to achieve in our lifetimes, we will be obliged to pause here and deal with the subject of death. One way to evaluate the worthiness of life goals is by confronting them with their antithesis. How do we see the relationship between what we desire most intensely and its antithesis? In other words, what is it that we want the least, or fear the most?
This is a good approach because it embodies the very important concept of opposition, which unfortunately seems to stalk our will at every turn. If we could more accurately assess the forces that will most certainly attempt to frustrate our will, we will stand a better chance of formulating realistic, desirable, and achievable life goals. There is no greater obstacle to our will than death.
The apparent futility of life. A pessimist will say that there can be no happy outcome of life, for death will sweep away everything in its path. Therefore, nothing really matters. A mediocrity will argue that, since death is absolutely certain, there is no point to performing great exertions or of reaching for the stars. In the end, death will level us all. A devout Christian may see this physical world as merely a prelude to the all-important spiritual afterlife. Why, then, should we exhaust ourselves in an unseemly struggle for power, riches, and glory in a finite, doomed world?
It is true that death extinguishes our consciousness for all time. But this apparent finality is not as absolute as it may seem, for when we die, many of us will leave behind hundreds of people, or possibly thousands, who will have been in some way affected by us during our lives. The effects of our previous actions will take up residence in other persons, many of whom will continue living after we die. In a real sense, our actions will therefore reverberate well into the future.
Thus, the best way to challenge the apparent finality of biological death is found in the recognition that our lives are played out not just within the confines of an individual being and of our personal perceptions, but in a broader and more significant field of interactions with other people.
Probably the least desirable thing is death. It is what most of us fear above all else — yet nobody can actually say what it is like to be dead. We believe that death is oblivion, which is a state of being completely unaware. Thus, how can a totally unaware person explain the state of personal oblivion to his living associates? Obviously, this is impossible.
But we might try an analogy. Could it be that the oblivion which we will face after our death will be very similar to the unconsciousness that we experienced for decades and centuries before our birth? Does this comparison help us to better understand death?
Can we experience unconsciousness? If we can talk about it, as we are now doing, then experiencing unconsciousness must be possible. When we wake up in the morning, we can truthfully say that we have just experienced unconsciousness. On the other hand, we can discuss the wonderful properties of flying saucers and time machines, but these are imagined objects, not physical reality. We may wish to have a lengthy conversation with Alexander the Great. Similarly, we may fervently desire an afterlife, a blissful paradise of unending delights.
So we are left with the sober realization that the physical world containing millions of other conscious people existed without us for many thousands of years. This same world, modified somewhat by our actions, will probably continue its existence for many more thousands of years after we leave the scene. We knew nothing of the world before we were born, and we will know nothing about it after we die.
Thus, we observe a reality outside ourselves that is infinitely greater, and vastly more powerful, than we are. In terms of human history, we are but one of many millions of links between the past and the future. Should this realization of our insignificance dishearten us?
The best way to challenge the apparent finality of biological death is by recognizing that our lives are played out not just within the confines of individual being, of our personal perceptions, but in a broader and more significant field of interactions with other people.
It is within this interplay of forces between the active, conscious individual and his living and material surroundings that we will find an opening to a better understanding of the purpose of our lives. A dynamic concept of our conscious existence will give us sharper insights into the challenge that death poses to our psychological well-being.
If we were to contemplate our existence in the broadest possible context, we would see that we are a tiny part of the immense universe, which is a field in which the separate parts remain in perpetual interaction. Thus, the destruction of objects in the universe cannot occur in isolation. No element in the universe disintegrates without impacting on other elements, and this also applies to human mortality.
In effect, the deconstruction of an object is the transfer of its energy and contents to other objects. Nothing escapes from the universe. Everything remains in an unending process of transformation.
Our world is a part of the ever-churning universe and is unconditionally subject to the same physical laws that apply beyond the boundaries of the biosphere. We, as human beings, who eons ago evolved from simpler living beings, likewise obey the same natural laws that apply to everything else on this planet. The jurisdiction of natural laws on our planet is total, absolute, and pervasive. It may often be the case that the supernatural exists in the minds of those who cannot psychologically cope with the severity of natural laws.
Consequently, living our lives in isolation is impossible. We are constantly interacting with our environment, which in large measure consists of people with whom we are in contact. A very substantial part of the energy that we expend is directed at other persons whom we are continually trying to influence, or rather change. Whether we realize it or not, we spend much of our lives trying to shape the will, desires, attitudes, feelings, and thinking of other people. We are thoroughly social beings.
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