Richard Wagner on Tragedy, Christianity, and the State: Three Essays, Second Edition
Melbourne: Manticore, 2020
“I am the most German being. I am the German spirit.” — Richard Wagner
Counter-Currents readers will welcome another contribution from Alexander Jacob. These essays make a useful companion, or counterpoint (sit venia verbo!), to Collin Cleary’s Wagner’s Ring & the Germanic Tradition. While Cleary explores the Ring’s roots in the earliest strata of Germanic tradition (beyond the Nibelungenlied itself), Jacob digs further back into the primal Indo-European mythology, as well as the origins of Greek tragedy.
As reflected in his varied productions, Jacob takes his bearings from Indo-European mythology on the one hand, and on the other what might be called the “high Germanic culture,” from Goethe through Kant to Schopenhauer (Nietzsche, as we’ll see, is a stubborn outsider).
The first essay, “Wagner, Nietzsche and the Birth of Music from the Spirit of Tragedy,” signals by its title — inverting that of Nietzsche’s famous essay — what will be Jacob’s task: like a conductor seeking a historically accurate performance, he must scrape away over a century of discount-Romantic varnish lovingly applied by Nietzsche and his epigones, which he considers “one of the great misfortunes of modern aesthetic theory.”
Despite being a supposed genius among classical scholars, “Nietzsche does not seem to be aware of the original significance of the Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo, nor of their relation to the representations of tragic drama.” The reader will no longer be in such a predicament, especially after the third essay to come.
Nietzsche is unable to discern either the birth of tragedy or the spirit of music, being hindered by a variety of mistakes and biases. He views music as essentially “Dionysian” and understands “Dionysian” to involve wild intoxication, the Unconscious, and what he calls “the dream world”:
In fact, there is no indication that drunken intoxication — representing Dionysian inspiration — was the basis of tragic drama, even though it may have formed part of the original ritual celebrations of the God from with dithyrambic drama arose.
The aim of these rites however, as in all Indo-European religions, would have been a serious soteriological one rather than a frivolous one, as in Nietzsche’s account.
It is true that the Dionysian mysteries, much like the Indian Tantric ones, are not imbued with a sense of ‘sin’, but they are nevertheless focused on the need to transfigure human passions into divine ones — even if it be through indulgence. The Dionysian satyr-plays are, therefore, a hedonistic, quasi- Tantric counterpart of the higher sacerdotal sacrifices among the Indo- Europeans . . .
In any event, these “orgiastic celebrations of the entry that the solar force contains in the underworld” were not the origin of tragedy. “Their ritual representations merely served, historically, as the source of dramatizations of tragic stories in Greece,” for as we learn from Aristotle,
tragedy gradually evolved from the spoken prelude to the Dionysian dithyrambs. . . . Indeed, tragedy did not arise from any Dionysian spirit of music, but rather tragic drama arose from the soteriological impulses of the Dionysiac mysteries.
Tragedy arose from the spoken commentaries of the originally single actor, the effect eventually heightened by the addition of melody. Only is this way could tragedy achieve the effect that led Schopenhauer to call it the greatest of the arts: The fall of the tragic hero is perceived by the spectator as his own fall, the Fall of everyone into the alternately boring or painful, ultimately unsatisfying phenomenal world.
[In] tragedy we see that those powers which destroy happiness and life are such that their path to us also is open at every moment . . . shuddering, we feel ourselves already in the midst of hell. (Schopenhauer)
Although it’s fun and informative to see Jacob correcting several more of Nietzsche’s blunders, ultimately Nietzsche’s problem is that he is simply too immature a character to understand tragedy, which requires one to rise to “an ethical evaluation of the condition of human life in general,” and not a mere “aesthetic judgment of the pleasure afforded to the ears or eyes by the spectacle on stage.”
Alas, poor Nietzsche; by the time Jacob is done with him, the only question for the reader is whether Nietzsche simply misunderstood his supposed mentors, — the Greeks, Schopenhauer, Wagner — or deliberately distorted them for his own benefit, as an act of his “will to power.”
With some relief Jacob and the reader turn to Wagner, whose “conception of the genesis of the earliest forms of drama and music is rather more subtle than Nietzsche’s.”
For Wagner, melody is “the primal expression of what he calls ‘Feeling,’” while the added dramatic lyrics “gradually became increasingly intellectual and didactic in tone to the detriment of the expression of Feeling itself.” The later developments of orchestral polyphony and harmony, much vaunted by those who see them as “progressive,” led to further decay of melody and thus of Feeling as well. The task he saw for himself was to develop a new form of melody, to achieve a kind of Hegelian return, at a higher level, to the “maternal font” of Feeling:
Wagner believed that the ultimate aim of musical development was the invention of a true melodic form that would, now that it has been filtered through the understanding, revive the original Feeling at the basic of all music in a much more faithful and concentrated form.
At this point, your humble reviewer is having some positive feelings himself at this version of Wagner. The notion of “Feeling” of course puts one in mind of our favorite mid-century mystic, Neville, who told us that “Feeling is the Secret” to his version of New Thought.
Moreover, the perception of Greek tragedy as essentially monodic, and the desire to overcome the orchestra and return to it, brings Wagner into an unsuspected alliance with Harry Partch, whose dogged Yankee experimentalism has been my own anti-Wagner foil; this will have to be reconsidered: Rather than Partch being our Wagner, is Wagner the German Partch?
Here again, Nietzsche and Wagner get a little confused, letting their provincial Germanophilia get in the way of understanding authentic Aryanism. Both blame the Catholic Church for divorcing music from its choreographic roots and celebrate Luther’s German chorales as a return to dance music or, in Nietzsche’s case, Dionysian ecstasy. Really, Luther?
The reality is that the Church created for the Mass “the first examples of modern tragic drama,” and the Church at least attempted to ban polyphony precisely to retain the emphasis on understanding the lyrics. Moreover, the “quasi-melodic recitative of the stile rapprensatitvo” would later be “the dramatic foundation of the Italian opera of the Renaissance”:
The Florentine opera that flourished during the Renaissance was also closer to the original Greek drama that both Wagner and Nietzsche wished to emulate than the German music of the time insofar as the focus on the musical quality of poetic declamation was perfected only in Renaissance Italy and in the Italian operatic tradition that followed from it.
The entire tragic action of drama rests on the narrations and emotional reactions of the characters to these narrations that are conveyed by the recitatives. The orchestra can always only be a vehicle of general feeling. The ‘da capo’ arias that followed the recitatives for musical effect are not the bearers of the drama but merely the musical reflections and echoes of the dramatic recitatives.
Not only did Nietzsche try to identify Wagner’s Feeling with his “subconscious Dionysian spirit,” he also “shrank back in horror” from Wagner’s melodic innovations; one recalls his insistence to the end that Carmen was a greater work than Parsifal. He did, however, have reason to fear that “Wagner’s melodic achievement is that it might lead to the collapse of music under the burden of expressiveness — as indeed happened with the appearance of the atonal post-Romantic music of Schoenberg.”
The second essay, “The Christian Religion and Politics of Richard Wagner,” attempts to give us “a clear idea of Wagner’s racial-Christian doctrines of social and political regeneration” by “perus[ing] his several prose works” with an eye to discerning the “consistent ethical system, based on Schopenhauer and Proudhon, which accompanied the great musical dramas.”
Wagner is interested only in the Indo-European race, which he considers “the most highly developed spiritually.” Unfortunately, Wagner’s ideas on this score are seriously defective. He believes the Aryans originated in India and gradually migrated through Iran, Greece, and Rome; along the way, they lost their original spiritual force through conversion from vegetarianism to a meat-based diet. Guilt over this led them to develop a religion based on an intense awareness of sin and an opposition of Good/Light and Evil/Darkness, until Christ appeared, who “gave his own flesh and blood ‘as the last and highest expiation for all the sin of outpoured blood and slaughtered flesh.’”
All this, as Jacob points out, is likely false; “there is no certainty that the Aryans first settled in India rather than in the regions round the Black Sea,” and no religion — except the deliberately obstinate Hebrew faith — is based on relatively trivial “sociological” factors rather than on “cosmological insight.” Wagner “understands the Christian story literally” when in fact it “borrows heavily from Babylonian and Dionysiac prototypes . . . whose death and resurrection were mythological representations of the primal drama of the cosmic solar force” (of which more anon).
For Wagner, Christianity began to go wrong when Christ’s sacrifice was monopolized by an organized priesthood, whose “church” could only survive by entering into collaboration with the state and sanctifying its violence, which required that the violent Old Testament God, Jehovah, be given prominence over Christ:
The first requisite for a true Christian, according to Wagner, is to divorce his conception of Christ from the Jehovah of the Jews.
Jewish power also expanded as the state required borrowed money to conduct its wars. Moreover, in the modern world, the Jewish-controlled press is now able to directly shape “public opinion” through the “flattery of the ‘vulgar egoism of the mass’” and a “confusion of names” such as “German freedom.”
The latter is an interesting point, applicable to not a few of the Dissident Right. Catchwords like “white” or “European” or “Aryan” are used — especially by our foes — to instill a false sense of complacency, a belief that one is “quite of oneself . . . something great and needs to take no sort of pains to first become it.” In fact, the use of such slogans
[t]empts the bulk of middling talents [today’s “midwits”] to consider the great minds their own by right of birth, to persuade the mass with demagogic flatulence that they themselves are Goethes and Schillers.
For Wagner, the key to reforming both the personal and the political lies in the return to a Christianity interpreted through the categories of Schopenhauer’s philosophy; indeed, what’s notable here is how these are applied to both realms. Both Jewish Law and secular law must be replaced by Christian Love, “the love that springs from pity, and carries its compassion to the utmost breaking of the self-will.”
To lose the will, our precious individual self, is to gain “oneness with God [and] Nature, while, as Jacob says in a cleverly-worded phrase, “an Egoist who does not give anything to the universal will be robbed in the end of all by the latter against his will.”
Self-sacrifice is thus a creative act. The “most basic selfless act” a man is capable of is the love of a woman, which is realized in children; he can also “divest his ego through love of a greater fellowship,” which is love of one’s fatherland, or patriotism; but the highest path is “giving up of oneself for the sake of humanity at large.” This Wagner calls a “last creation in itself, to wit the upheaval of all unproductive egoism, a making place for life”; Wagner identifies this “most perfect deed of love “with “the enthralling power of the Christian myth.”
In an essay dedicated to his patron, Ludwig II of Bavaria, Wagner applies the same categories to the public realm. I would say — though Jacob doesn’t say it as such — that Wagner sees the personal as what Schopenhauer would call the subjective, and the public realm corresponds to the objective. In any event, Ludwig was no doubt happy to learn that monarchy is the most perfect form of government, since only by such a figure can the conflicting interests of parties be “adjusted precisely for the safety of the whole.” So far we seem to be in the region of Neo-Reaction, but there is a metaphysical element here. The monarch does so by his attunement to “a supra-egoistic ‘Wahn’ or unconscious ‘instinct’” which Wagner associates with the “spirit of the race” or species, as per Schopenhauer’s discussion of bees and ants.
Here the personal and public rejoin: The patriotism a man is capable of is weak and likely “contaminated by . . . natural egoism” which sees the state, as in liberal democracy, as a mere mechanism to adjudicate his interests with those of his fellow men. “In order to sustain the patriotic Wahn, a lasting symbol is required, and this symbol is the monarch.”
The monarch may even, if “endowed with a particularly elevated spiritual nature,” provide an “edifying example” in the manner of one of the saints; only in this way can “the two essentially different realms of state and religion [be united] into a harmonious whole.”
Although the language is Schopenhauer’s, I’m not sure he would agree with this metaphysical Yarvinism. I’ve located only one essay of his on “Government,” and I suspect he found the topic too trivial and worldly to spend much time on it. While he certainly promotes monarchy and tradition, he also insists that the purpose of government is to adjudicate interests and protect liberties — another sign of the healthy effect of his British and mercantile education, like his clear writing and insistence on starting from empirical data, not vague intuitions — rather than provide the summum bonum of human existence: a view he associates with philistines and charlatans like Hegel and their epigones.
The third and final essay explores the “Ancient Indo-European and Medieval Christian Roots of Wagner’s Grail Opera.” So take a deep breath, and let’s start our deep dive:
The ancient Indo-European religions . . . were all essentially solar in nature and . . . their various sacrificial rituals involved phallic worship. . . . [For] in the cosmological scheme of the ancient Indo-Europeans, the entire evolution of our universe and the sun of our system arises from repeated castrations, and preservations, of the divine phallus, first in the Ideal realm of the macroanthropos, Purusha (Man/Adam), then in the early cosmos (Heaven) of Brahman and, lastly, in the ‘underworld’ of the material Earth, where the solar force (as Osiris/Varuna/Aegir) is sunk after a second assault, bereft of its vital force. It is this solar force that is finally revived in our system as the sun atop the phallic ‘Tree of Life’ that arises in the ‘Mid-Region’ between the underworld and the heavens.
Okay, take another breath, there’s only a bit more. What‘s this about a tree?
Before the sun acquires its tremendous force and emerges from the Tree of Life, it is necessary that the latter too be purified of its material elements. This occurs through a third sacrifice, that of the Tree of Life itself. This purification is also the reason of the more general contemptus mundi and asceticism which underlie the theologies of the solar religions, especially the Indic and the Dionysian-Orphic, as well as the Pythagorean-Platonic.
The material universe being considered in the most ancient Indo-European religions as an illusionary result of the divine desire and incomparably inferior to the original Cosmic Light and Intellect, it is the duty of the ‘yogi’ or adept to detach himself from it by “cutting down” the Tree of Life.
Nor is this all a bunch of Oriental mumbo-jumbo:
In Germanic mythology, the tree serves as the locus of the great self-sacrifice of the god Odin/Wotan/Wata to himself, which may be a repetition of the original killing of Ymir, the First Man. . . . It is as a result of this sacrifice — akin to the ordeals of the Mesopotamian Marduk and Tammuz, and even the Christ — that Odin achieves mastery of the magical runes.
And as for our mediaeval romances, “many of the details of the ancient Indo-European cosmogony reappear in them in a somewhat obscure form.” So, “given the various metamorphoses that the Celtic story of the cultic object called the Grail underwent in the numerous romances of the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that a proper understanding of the significance of this cultic object has eluded most scholars.” Jacob lauds the pioneering work of Leopold von Schroeder, whose knowledge of Indian mythology expanded the field of Grail scholarship enormously, and Julius Evola, whose Mysteries of the Grail “contains many interesting elucidations of the cosmic significance of the Grail as a cultic object.”
It is the Fisher King, a “primal character of the drama” who represents the rise of the Sun, that is “brought into poignant focus” in Wagner’s final music drama, Parsifal, at the climax of which Parsifal,
[t]hrough [his] sympathetic awareness of the pain of Amfortas . . . has now revealed the enlightened understanding through compassion that is required of the person who will redeem Amfortas and the Grail knights.
As Jacob concludes his survey of the development from myth to legend to drama,
[the] most ancient Indo-European myths concerning the formation of the sun were continued within a more human context in the medieval Christian Grail stories of the Celts, French and Germans. In Wagner’s Parsifal, however, this human drama is deepened by the natural philosophical understanding that Wagner had derived from Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the “will to live” and of the need to repudiate it.
What Wagner brought to the Indo-European conception of the life-giving Grail (or divine Phallus) is thus a Schopenhauerian emphasis on the essentially painful nature of all desire which has to be overcome just as it was in the divine Passion of Osiris/Varuna/Aegir in the underworld and in that of Wotan/Christ on Yggdrasil and the Cross respectively.
A valuable addition to this second edition is a selection of Wagner’s “notes” to his projected opera Jesus von Nazareth, translated by Jacob himself — under the provocative title “Thus Spake Jesus Christ” — which “provide a further glimpse into the deep philosophical penetration of the Ideal world” in both Wagner’s music and Christian morality; indeed, these notes from 1848 show that Wagner had already arrived at Schopenhauer’s ethic of compassion and surrender of the will long before discovering his books in 1854, although this discovery did provide a philosophical justification for his concept of Christian love.
Like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, Jacob is also a musician; his recordings of piano reductions of Parsifal, Lohengrin, and the Ring Cycle, prepared in the nineteenth century and detailed in the “Wagner Discography” here, are available as MP3 files from the world’s largest retailer, among other sites.
These essays, with their scrupulous scholarship and creative imagination, are highly recommended to anyone interested in a clearer conception of our German or Indo-European heritage, especially those who may think these are incompatible with Christianity. As Leopold von Schroeder said,
[Parsifal] represents indeed the most powerful synthesis of Aryanhood and Christianity. The roots are Aryan, but the crown of this mighty tree is Christian.
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 Diary of Richard Wagner 1865–1888: The Brown Book, ed. J. Bergfeld, tr. G. Bird (London: Gollancz, 1980), p. 73.
 Alexander Jacob was born in Madras, India and obtained his Master’s in English Literature from the University of Leeds and his PhD in the History of Ideas from Pennsylvania State University. His post-doctoral research was conducted at the University of Toronto.
 His publications include Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the early Twentieth Century (University Press of America, 2001), De Naturae Natura: A Study of Idealistic Conceptions of Nature and the Unconscious (Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992), as well as annotated editions of such classics as Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Political Ideals (Lanham, Md.: The University Press of America, 2005) and Alfred Rosenberg’s The Track of the Jew through the Ages (Uckfield, Sussex: Historical Review Press, 2012). He has also published several English editions of works by European conservative thinkers such as Edgar Julius Jung, Charles Maurras, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg). For more by and about Jacob, see various reviews, essays, and interviews here on Counter-Currents, such as these.
 The conjunction of Schopenhauer and the earliest Indo-European thought is not fortuitous, as Schopenhauer acknowledged the intimations of his system in Plato and even the Pre-Socratics; see Jacob’s edition of Paul Deussen’s essay of 1910, Vedanta, Plato, and Kant (Melbourne: Manticore, 2021).
 Nietzsche rides another of his hobbyhorses when he denounces this as “democratizing” of a “middle-class mediocrity” (as he calls . . . Euripides!)
 One recalls here the contemporaneous but still unknown Kierkegaard’s delineation of the aesthetic, moral, and religious “stages of life.”
 “Wagner’s entire musical and philosophical oeuvre constitutes an awe-inspiring, and definitive, refutation of the anti-Idealistic and anti-Christian outbursts of Nietzsche.” Nietzsche would eventually get a dose of his own hermeneutical medicine from Heidegger.
 I wager Thomas Mann took this view of polyphony over from Wagner rather than his supposed muse, Theodor Adorno, in creating his Jewish Evola, Dr. Breisacher, who dazzles and bemuses the cultural conservatives of Munich during the Weimar era with his proto-Nazi modernism: “’It was the same thing, he said, with the change-over of music from monody to part-music, to harmony, which people liked to think of as cultural progress, when actually it had been just an acquisition of barbarism. ‘ ‘That is . . . pardon, barbarism?’ croaked Herr von Riedesel, who was of course accustomed to see in the barbaric a form, if a slightly compromising one, of the conservative. ‘Yes indeed, Excellence. The origins of polyphonic music — that is, of singing simultaneously in fifths and fourths — lie remote from the centre of musical civilization, far from Rome, where the beautiful voice and the cult of it were at home. They lie in the raw-throated north and seem to have been a sort of compensation for the rawness. They lie in England and France, particularly in savage Britain, which was the first to accept the third into harmony. The so-called higher development, the complication, the progress are thus sometimes the achievement of barbarism. I leave it to you whether this is to be praised or not. . . .’ . . . Obviously he did not feel comfortable so long as any of his audience knew what they were to think.” Dr. Faustus, Chapter XXVIII.
 I’ve frequently written on Neville, especially in his relation to Evola, here on Counter-Currents; you can explore them on this convenient aggregation site, while many of the earlier pieces appear in my recent collection Mysticism After Modernism: Crowley, Evola, Neville, Watts, Colin Wilson & Other Populist Gurus (Melbourne, Australia: Manticore Press, 2020).
 “A dramatic focus on the tragic condition of the hero as expressed in the text can be achieved only through poetic declamation, or its heightened musical counterparts — quasi-melodic recitatives and monodies.”
 See my three-part series on Counter-Currents, “Our Wagner, Only Better: Harry Partch, Wild Boy of American Music,” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture, ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014); and “The Bayreuth of Hobo Pythagoreanism: The University of Washington’s Harry Partch Festival.” As I pointed out at the time, Partch shares Wagner’s interest in inventing new instruments and stagecraft to realize his vision. Partch writes, “In the wrestling match between Wagner’s music drama and his symphony orchestra, Wagner’s symphony orchestra (with yeoman help from his arias) gets both shoulders of Wagner’s music dramas on the floor within five minutes after the curtain rises and for the following two or three hours jumps up and down on the unconscious form.” Harry Partch, “Oedipus” (1954), reprinted in Bitter Music, 219. Cf. Kyle Gann: “He may have written opera, but he was closer to . . . Balinese Monkey Chant, ancient Greek drama, early Florentine opera, the blues — any genre that which uses music to enhance, not dominate, a story (Music Downtown: Writings from The Village Voice, p. 191).
 For an operatic treatment of the debate, see Hans Pfitzner’s Palestrina, reviewed here by Alex Graham, who notes that “Pfitzner’s main philosophical influence was Schopenhauer, and the opera’s epigraph is a quotation from Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena, contrasting the “purely intellectual life of the individual” and the corresponding realm of the arts and sciences with the realm of worldly affairs, governed by the will.
 See The Case of Wagner. One imagines Nietzsche echoing the American Bandstand teen: “It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.”
 An earlier version appeared on Counter-Currents in 2012: “The Aryan Christian Religion and Politics of Richard Wagner.”
 Jacob does not elaborate on this, but I infer that he regards the Christian story as, if not entirely mythical, at least maximally so; a position I’ve promoted in several essays and reviews here as well.
 While Wagner rejects “the exhortation of a vain clergy,” he endorses the Catholic use of “the edifying example of saintly figures” rather than, as he says, a Protestantism where “every English shopkeeper, so soon as he had donned his Sunday coat and taken the right book with him, opines that he is entering into immediate personal intercourse with God.”
 As Jacob points out, even though Wagner renounces his revolutionary past and, as we’ll see, endorses the principle of monarchy, he still views property and social relations through the lens of Proudhon, the anti-state socialist.
 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Luke 9:24. A basic principle of New Thought: By thanking the universe for what we receive, we keep open that channel so as to receive more to come; see William Walker Atkinson, The Science of Getting Rich (1910, many editions), Chapter 7: “Gratitude.”
 I mean, the idea of the return of monarchy. No sooner did I type these words than Yarvin produced a critique of “effective altruism” which I take to mean such an expansion of compassion to an all-encompassing radius. Schopenhauer, I think, is clear that this is the state of the saint or sage, not an effective political ruler or ideal citizen.
 He notes that the one recent attempt to avoid monarchy and tradition, “the United States of North America,” provides a sorry example, which he details in a long and typically amusing and insightful passage well worth contemplating today.
 Evola, in his study of early Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening, forcefully distinguishes the Aryan contempt for the mere material world from any notion of “sin,” as in Christianity, or a womanly shrinking from “suffering,” as in most — especially modern Western — interpretations of Buddhism; see Julius Evola, The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts (London: Luzac & Co., 1951; Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995).
 The Mystery of the Grail: Initiation and Magic in the Quest for the Spirit (1937; Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1996).
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