“But mark this. The world will not attain its goal so speedily as we expect and desire. There are always retarding daemons, who start in opposition at every point; so that, although the whole progresses, it is but slowly. Only live on, and you will find that I am right.”
“The development of mankind,” said I [Eckermann], “appears to be laid out as a work for thousands of years.”
“Perhaps millions, “ said Goethe – “who knows? But let mankind last as long as it may, it will never lack obstacles to give it trouble, and never lack the pressure of necessity to develop its powers.
“Men will become more clever and more acute; but not better, happier, and stronger in action – or at least only at epochs . . . .”
In the literary tradition of Walden by the American Henry David Thoreau, I would like to make some serious suggestions concerning the theme of Mankind and peace, which in our time are, in my view unfortunately, too far outside of the generally closed “universe of discourse” of international political ideas to be much other than dismissed as irrelevant and unrealistic, if interesting.
I do not believe, regrettable though it may in some ways to us humans be (or seem), that a “culture of peace” is possible, or even, perhaps, realistic; not, in any case, as it is most often conceived, imagined and pursued today. Granted, few of us earthly individualizations of the now lost and troubled “Adam” can wish for war and violence – though, having long studied human history, and for many years observed the human condition called “California, USA”, I must say that the extremities, eccentricities, and perversities to/of which human nature is susceptible/potent should not be underestimated.
If the expression (the first of the “Aims”) “world/international community”, really did exist, this specific symposium would have been generally unnecessary – but “world society” is closer to the actual facts. The so-called “Global Village” is actually more a “Global City” – though the majorities of the human population may still live (in 1998) in villages worldwide (with satellite and television downlinks?); and though the growing over-populations of the world’s nations mostly have village mentalities.
“Counteracting a culture of violence” – here is the crux of the problem; is declaring a “culture of peace”, a “human right to peace”, etc., an adequate counteractive, even as a beginning? I don’t believe so. But what kind of a culture IS adequate to creatively defeat a “culture of violence and war”? Certainly, of course, in the long term, not “words, words, words” – though it is my firm Occidental “perennial philosophy” (Augustino Steuco, 1543) position, that higher “thoughts, words and deeds” – and such a culture and leaders – by men and women of Man would help! (More anon.)
The second listed “aim” of the Forum, was related to one of the greatest weaknesses in the world today: its leaders, often meager leaders indeed – perhaps history will show them to have been our misleaders. As a self-exiled American scholar, it is clear living in post-Soviet, Dollar (not democratic) Russia, that Ortega y Gasset was quite correct about the passivity of the masses. The majority everywhere are passive, labile – so that leaders are important and influential. But what kind of leaders do we have in the world’s societies? “Politicians” – not a great complement in most of the world today! Power, prestige, possessions, perks, popularity, etc., . . . seldom are they societies’ best or noblest men – as if democracy could well choose what Jefferson – author of “all men are created equal” – himself called the “natural aristocracy” of “virtue and talents”. Let me cite some comments from retirement by John Adams (second US President) in a private letter to Thomas Jefferson dated November 15, 1813 [text is not modernized]:
“We are now explicitly agreed, in one point, viz., that “there is a national Aristocracy among men; the grounds of which are Virtue and Talents [Jefferson to Adams, October. 28, 1813]”.
“You very justly indulge a little merriment upon this solemn subject of Aristocracy. I often laugh at it too, for there is nothing in this world more ridiculous than the management of it by almost all the nations of the Earth. But while We smile, Mankind have reason to say to Us, as the frogs said to the Boys, What is Sport to you is wounds and death to Us. When I consider the weakness, the folly, the Pride, the Vanity, the Selfishness, the Artifice, the low craft and meaning cunning, the want of principle, the Avarice[,] the unbounded Ambition, the unfeeling Cruelty of a majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratical influence; and, on the other hand, the Stupidity with which the more numerous multitude, not only become their Dupes, but even love to be taken in by their Tricks: I feel a stronger disposition to weep at their destiny, than to laugh at their Folly.”
Has much changed? Were the “representatives of culture” today deeply – and broadly – learned, cultivated and inwardly-rich individuals, the noblest souls of Mankind, what John Adams described as “sad men” (the only ones “fit for Legislators and Magistrates”, cf. Adams to Jefferson, May 6, 1816), perhaps the world would not be so troubled and confused as it is today. But what are many of our social “leaders” in the world today? Hollow Hollywood “superstars”? Physical athletes? Novelists for the global masses? Leaders of pre-modern, pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment religious “belief systems”? Abstracted and dull courtier-like (Thoreau) professors? Hyper-specialist scientists? Commanders, servants and protectors of economic powers? Middling souls of “Old Boy Networks”? Moderate “nationalist” politicians in the various nations? And, frankly, what can the average demos politically elect – when money and economics is the real power in the world – but average middling individuals. These are some of the facts of Adam’s “democracies”.
As to the third “aim”: “all civilizations-cultures-religions-races-nationalities-histories-moralities-etc., are created equal”– such is the theoretical tendency today. But the masses globally seem to prefer American culture and civilization?!? Does not Hollywood dubiously unify (conquer?) more people today than religion(s), ecumenical theology, political ideals, or the accomplishments of Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan, Napoleon and Hitler!?
As to the “treasure house of the world’s cultural heritage”: a royal treasure chest of gold coins, jewels, etc., stands beside a wise philosopher’s cabinet full of ancient manuscripts, books, texts, etc… Given the choice of one, into which would the world’s nations’ peoples, and their leaders, most often reach today?! And is the answer not one of the “prime indicators” and “factors” as to why we have a “culture of war” rather than a “culture of peace”, in history, and the world, today?
Aim four: fifty years is very really little time in history; and the United Nations is not much more that a reflection of humanity as it – and “the powers that be” – are today. But the UN must also be seen sub specie aeternitatis – as well as understood sic transit gloria mundi. But after the “death of God”, and the pervasive predominance, sub specie temporis, of a secular sense of and consciousness towards daily life, world, values, Mankind, etc., the UN and the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” was understandably necessary to help govern the growing Darwinian tendencies in many nations.
What I see are needed is leaders who live by a “Universal Knowledge of Human Responsibility, or Morality”. “Rights” are generally conceived today in the context of Man dominated and oppressed by the state (it is not understood as Man standing in a moral, spiritual cosmos), though “rights” tends to be increasingly treated by many (in the example-setting USA at least) as a sort of justification for demands to property and possessions – legal, social, and material; and becomes ludicrous when young British children claim “the right to be children”, or Americans boldly claim their “right” to “the pursuit of happiness”, etc.
With the absence of a real, living, human, cosmic sense of “conscience” – perhaps the central anthropological idea which is, characteristically in our “hollow” age, shallowly understood today (a concept which reaches in history from the Zarathustran daena unto Vaclav Havel’s “Memory of Being”) – it is understandable that a mundanized Adam, with an immanential, secular Weltanschauung (no matter what religious beliefs), must seek to find at least legal, worldly means to govern and control individual and collective human acts, to bring justice and “equality” to the world, etc. But justice – as belated trials of Nazis for “crimes against humanity” show – will never fully be present in this world; nor will equality. We are trying today – with our often abstract socio-political jargon – to solve the problems of “the human condition” with penultimate political means (and mentalities), and then perhaps casually turning to the representatives of the old, spiritually-sleepy “religions” for a worldly “amen”. Like, hate, reject it, or not – we can not build solutions to the human condition which do not somehow include the invisible, immaterial spiritual worlds from which the spiritual essence in Man (Indo-European root: mens, to think) is said to have descended, and to which it is said to return after death. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in retirement corresponded of the legendary “war in heaven” – how should life be better with descended, earthly, incarnated Adam? And if we seek “solutions”, and give “Universal Declarations”, which ignore, or – in the Seville Statement on Violence – deny such facts, should we expect them to have a lasting historical reality?
The cited quotation from the Declaration of “The Human Right to Peace”: “the peace of freedom – and therefore just laws – of happiness, equality, and solidarity, in which all citizens count, live together and share” calls to mind its opposites in our world: ‘warring, socially unfree; living under tyrannies and unjust states; unhappy, unequal; . . .’. But what is a “solution”? Certainly not presuming “human nature” innocent, and social surroundings “guilty”! How much history do we need to suffer to understand that Man is a mixture of good and evil, noble and ignoble, and high and low?!
I made a list from the “A Culture of Peace and Democracy – Handbook” of the main elements in the secular sociology and politology of Man – which (alphabetically listed) include: burden-sharing, community, democracy, dignity, economic development, equality, freedom, happiness, health, justice, liberty, life, mutual respect, non-violence, peace, rights, social development, solidarity, tolerance, etc.; but are these based on a realistic or adequate view of Man – individually, socially, historically, spiritually?
“Aim five: the year “2000”, a Christian time-reckoning used in much of the world today, is certainly disputable to all other “equal” religions. One religion’s calendrical imperialism? Or is the date a mere convenience? That the divisive Christian churches shall celebrate the new Millennium is understandable; but many, many people in the world will just celebrate the grand number “2000”. Numerological idolatry?
“Aims” six and seven of the Kishinev Forum seemed to me problematic – even if typical (?) – of international conference planning. “The participants may adopt a ‘Kishenev . . .”, they “may adopt a concrete Programme of Action”. Certainly the “may” should be “will”, and the conference’s conclusions thus seem to have already been known before it had occurred. This did not seem to be very expectant that anything new, unexpected, or creative will have come from the “symposium” itself. Did it?
Generally Speaking: We are seeking secular solutions to the human condition; but we are really in an ongoing mysterious human story (which often includes unpeaceful death, pain and suffering – physical, emotional,…) the ultimate elements to which can only be known by somehow including – in Dantean experience and cosmos – the spiritual realities which are arguably as important to human reality as mundane life, comfort, ideals, experience, etc. Secular solutions by secularized minds and souls, to questions with a spiritual core – that is how I see our social situation today.
Is the UN not a sort of secular “religious” institution of Man, with its NY “cathedral”, its own sacred texts, ideals of Man, “saints”, etc. It seems to me to be a kind of necessary culmination of the secular, earthly, material view of Man, society, politics, history, etc. which has its obvious lineage in Humanism, the Enlightenment, science, etc. Traditional religions may be merely adjunctory – “God”, which one can either personally believe in (in one “faith” or other), or perhaps, humanistically, ignore, is a pious “Extra”. A living sense of spiritual, cosmic responsibility – to one’s daily “thoughts, words and deeds” – is rarely felt or worried today in our high public offices, among our social “leaders”; as if – to adapt Emerson and Goethe – “God was, not is”. The necessary Universal (Earthly?) “Declarations of Rights to…” lack this real, living, trans-religious, cosmic, immaterial, spiritual sense of Mankind, its purpose, meaning and story; they are too worldly – or perhaps they show that many of Adam now are.
Recalling Goethe’s words to Eckermann of “retarding daemons” . . . if “Mephistopheles” is present in Creation, as the Lord (Der Herr) in Faust says, to prevent Mankind from sleep and “unlimited rest [quiet, or peace]” (
die unbedingte Ruh, “Prologue in Heaven”, lines 340-344), then surely the “culture of peace” must be rather more deeply conceived than with a purely earthly, utopian, political, secular view of life, of Man and of world. The various “Declaration(s) of the Human Right to . . .” is a culmination and peak of an inherently penultimate, if humanistically-noble, view of Man and world, history and society. But even if such secular strivings allow the sleepy religions to give needed help to moral and social order in nations, cultures, civilizations, etc., today – there still is a profound tendency in our time to act as if “God” is not so much “dead”, as inattentively off napping some mysterious where far away. Or as Goethe stated it:
“To hear people speak,” said Goethe, “you would almost believe they were of opinion God had withdrawn into silence since those old times, and man was now placed quite upon his own feet and had to see how he could get on without God and His daily invisible breath. In religious and moral matters, a divine influence is indeed still allowed, but in matters of science and art it is believed that they are merely earthy, and nothing but the product of human powers. . . .
“And after all what does it all come to? God did not retire to rest after the well-known six days of creation, but is constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor occupation to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones.”
Let us seek to build a culture on such a vision of Man! (And, perhaps, some “peace” will follow?)
To even begin to defeat a “culture of war and violence” we must have a deeper anthropology and psychology of Man than that which is more or less consciously present in the world today. Presumptions of “inherent goodness of Man” should rather be contrasted by a serious spiritual and earthly “cacology”, a “cacosophy” – a knowledge and wisdom of “evil” in Man. (Did “science” deny the bloody facts of history and society, with its 1986 Seville Statement on Violence? A date based on the birth of a Crucified Man!)
In the fall of 1997, Moscow celebrated its 850th anniversary – in typically shallow style: the goal was the entertainment and distraction of the masses, rather than the elevation and enlightening of Russian Man. And while the emblem of Moscow, St. George defeating the Dragon, is one very deep concerning the conquering of the inner dragon in Man, to hear the “new leaders” – political, social and religious – speak, one would never have imagined that the emblem was more than an outer decoration. Both Occidental seers William Blake and Rudolf Steiner stated that there would be fewer outer wars, if there were more inner victories over malevolence within – but what wisdom do we hear from our “social leaders” today?
Vaclav Havel wrote thoughts which seem to me to be inside of the lost greater cosmos of Man:
Genuine Politics – politics worthy of the name, and the only politics I am willing to devote myself to – is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community, and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility, expressed through action, to and for the whole, a responsibility that is what it is – a “higher” responsibility – only because it has a metaphysical grounding: that is, it grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere ‘above us’ in what I have called “the memory of Being’’ – an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is subject. Genuine conscience and genuine responsibility are always, in the end, explicable only as an expression of the silent assumption that we are observed ‘from above’, that everything is visible, nothing is forgotten, and so earthly time has no power to wipe away the sharp disappointments of earthly failure: our spirit knows that it is not the only entity aware of those failures. . .
. . . A heaven on earth in which people all love each other and everyone is hard-working, well-mannered, and virtuous, in which the land flourishes and everything is sweetness and light, working harmoniously to the satisfaction of God: this will never be. On the contrary, the world has had the worst experiences with Utopian thinkers who promised all that. Evil will remain with us, no one will ever eliminate human suffering, the political arena will always attract irresponsible and ambitious adventurers and charlatans. And man will not stop destroying the world. In this regard, I have no illusions.
Neither I nor anyone else will ever win this war once and for all. At the very most, we can win a battle or two – and not even that is certain. Yet I still think it makes sense to wage war persistently. It has been waged for centuries, and it will continue to be waged – we hope – for centuries to come. This must be done on principle, because God wants it that way. It is an eternal, never-ending struggle waged not just by good people (among whom I count myself, more or less) against evil people, by honorable people against dishonorable people, by people who think about the world and eternity against people who think only of themselves and the moment. It takes place inside of everyone. It is what makes a person a person, and life, life.
In conclusion, I would like to cite Thoreau from his Walden:
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. And though this be so, in my view, it will nevertheless be a long, long time . . . till Adam rests in peace!
Paper presented at the UNESCO Conference: “International Forum for a Culture of Peace and Dialogue of Civilizations, against a Culture of War and Violence”, 15-19 May 1998, Kishinev, Moldova.
See also UNESCO’s Path to World Peace in Kishinev? (English, #24, June 1998, p. 1-14.)