Translated by Joe Pryce
521. Man and Earth. Every age, and ours is surely no exception, proclaims certain slogans which embody the inner tendencies of the age. Such slogans possess the power to silence the voice of doubt in the minds of disciples as if with a deafening roar of drums. A new trend is always on display, and even the unbiased few soon congregate around its banner. The three predominant slogans of our own time are "progress," "culture," and "personality." As it happens, in order that the idea of progress may achieve ascendancy as the exclusive creed of our times, its rivals soon relinquish their positions and lend their support, and even their characteristic colors, to the victor. Thus, there are those who suggest that we cannot be inferior to the "primitive" peoples to whom our history books devote a few preliminary paragraphs, and for anyone who questions them as to the basis for their conviction, they have a ready response: science now commands heights never before achieved, and technology has at last subjugated nature—therefore, every earlier form of human culture must beat a helpless retreat before them. Science, which now effectively exploits the inexhaustible riches of the earth, methodically contributes to the general prosperity; space and time are permeated by long-distance communication systems, and even the limitless atmosphere has finally been "conquered" by the genius of technology. It is not, however, for the convinced disciple of this faith in technology (which will die with him), but more for the members of a younger generation, which still asks questions, that we desire to lift at least a corner of the veil in order to reveal the perilous self-deception that lurks behind it.
In addition, those who still see something strange in the view that the guiding idea of "progress" has led to horrendous results, should be puzzled for other reasons. To the ancient Greeks, the loftiest desire was to achieve "kalokagathie," which was that harmonious wedding of man's inner and outer beauty that they saw embodied in the images of the Olympians; to the men of the Middle Ages, it was the "salvation of the soul," which they saw as the soul's ultimate ascension to God; to the man of Goethe's time, it was the poised perfection of style, the masterful acceptance of one's destiny; and no matter how diverse such goals may have been, we can easily comprehend the profound satisfaction that was experienced by those whose good fortune enabled them to achieve them. But the progress-monger of today is mindlessly proud of his successes, for he has somehow managed to convince himself that every increase in mankind's power entails an equivalent increase in mankind's value. We must doubt, however, whether he is able to experience true joy, and not just the hollow satisfaction afforded him by the mere possession of power. By itself, however, power is completely blind to all values, blind to truth as it is blind to justice. Finally, power is undoubtedly blind to all the beauty of the life that has thus far survived the encounter with "progress." Let us add some well-known items to our account.
The pre-eminence of science is conceded; it is immune to all objections, however slight. The high standing of technology is also beyond doubt. And yet one might well ask: what are the fruits thereof? As the Bible wisely says, it is only "by their fruits" that we should estimate the value of the works of man. Let us begin with beings whose status as living organisms no one would question: the plants and animals. We recall that the ancients dreamt of a lost "Golden Age," or "paradise," a realm wherein the lion would lie down with the lamb, and the serpent would dwell with man as his protective spirit. Even this idea is not so utterly fantastic as the false doctrine that teaches us that all of nature is perpetually in the grip of a ceaseless "struggle-for-existence."
The scientists who study the polar regions tell us of the fearless intimacy with which penguins, reindeers, sea lions, seals, and sea-gulls greet the first appearance of man. Pioneers who have explored the tropical regions never fail to amaze us with the images they communicate, especially those which pertain to the moment in which these students first perceive, arrayed in peaceful cohabitation, swarms of wild geese, cranes, ibis, flamingoes, herons, storks, marabous, giraffes, zebras, gnus, antelopes, and gazelles. We understand completely the true symbiosis that embraces the entire animal kingdom, and which extends throughout the entire planet. However, as soon as the man of "progress" arrives on the scene, he announces his masterful presence by spreading death and the horror of death all around him. How many of the species of creatures that flourished in ancient Germanic lands have lasted into our century? Bear and wolf, lynx and wildcat, bison, elk and aurochs, eagle and vulture, crane and falcon, swan and owl, have all become creatures inhabiting only our fairy-tales; this was the case, in fact, even before the introduction of our new and improved wars of annihilation. But there is cause for even deeper merriment. Under the most moronic of all pretexts—which insists that vast numbers of animal species are actually noxious pests—our progress-monger has extirpated nearly every creature who happens not to be a partridge, a roe-deer, a pheasant, or, if need be, a pig. Wild boar, ibex, fox, pine marten, weasel, duck and otter—all animals with which the legends dear to our memory are intimately intertwined--are shrinking in numbers, where, that is, they have not already become extinct; sea gull, tern, cormorant, duck, heron, kingfisher, red kite and owlet are all ruthlessly hunted down; the communities of seals on the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic are condemned to destruction.
We know more than two hundred names of German towns and villages whose names derive from the word "beaver," a fact that constitutes proof of the flourishing of these industrious rodents in earlier times; today there still exists a small preserve on the Elbe river between Torgau and Wittenberg, but even this refuge will soon disappear without immediate statutory protection. And who is not afflicted with grave anxiety to witness, year after year, the disappearance of our beloved singers, the migratory birds? Only a mere generation ago the blue air of our cities was filled all summer long with the whir and buzz of swallows and the cries of sailors, sounds that, emerging from the distance, seemed to fill one with the yearning for travel. At that time, one could count, in one suburb of Munich alone, as many as three hundred occupied nests, whereas today one can only find four or five. More ominously, the countryside has become eerily silent, throbbing no longer as it once did every dew-laden morning in the joyous melody of Eichendorff’s "countless larks." Already one must consider oneself fortunate if, whilst walking along a remote forest path near a grassy, sunlit hollow, one is privileged to hear just once the luminous and yearning call of the quail; at one time, throughout the length and breadth of Germany, these birds numbered many, many thousands, and they lived in the songs of the common people as well as in the works of our poets. Magpie, woodpecker, golden oriole, warbler, rooster, grouse, and nightingale, they are all disappearing, and the decline seems to be utterly beyond remedy.
Today we see ever-increasing hordes huddled together in our big cities, where they grow accustomed to the soot belching from the chimneys and the thunderous turmoil of the streets, where the nights are as bright as the days. These urban masses believe that they have had an adequate introduction to the world of nature as soon as they've caught a glimpse of a potato-field, or seen a single starling perched upon a branch of an emaciated road-side tree. But, to anyone who recalls the sounds and scents of the German landscape of seventy years ago, from out of the words and images in which these memories are embodied a wind would arise to pronounce a warning reproach to the lost souls of today as soon they begin to regurgitate their weather-proof platitudes about "economic development," "necessities," and "culture."
We express no opinion as to whence mere utility derives its deplorable authority over all modern transactions. Nor will we waste our time in belaboring a point that will soon become common knowledge; we merely state the simple fact that in no conceivable case will human beings ever meet with success in their attempt to "correct" nature. Wherever the population of song-birds dwindles, we find an immeasurable proliferation of blood-sucking insects and caterpillars, which can devour whole vineyards and forests in a matter of days; wherever one shoots the buzzard and exterminates the adder, a plague of mice swiftly erupts to bring destruction to the bee-hives. As a result, the fertilization of the clover, which depends upon the bees, will not occur. With the aid of improved weapons, hunters massacre the finest specimens of wild deer, thus bringing about the degeneration of the herd through the excess reproduction of the unfit survivors, in an environment without natural predators; and this unthinking slaughter will continue in this fashion until a serious reaction on the part of wounded nature springs up in exotic lands, in the shape of terrible epidemics, which fasten themselves to the heel of "civilized" Europe. This enables us to understand that the far-eastern plague was, in actuality, the result of the wholesale marketing in Asia of the pelts of rodents such as the wood chuck. Let us put these facts to one side in order that we may focus a bright ray of light upon the one, decisive point: these examples conclusively prove that the profits that are produced by these commercial transactions do not have the slightest connection with any pressing material needs.
What the Germans refer to as an "Alpine forest," is just a recently reforested stand; a true Alpine forest, as it appears to us in myth and saga, will spread itself all the way to the ends of the earth. America, which during the time of the Indians was endowed with the richest forests on earth, has now begun to import lumber; the few regions that export their timber, i. e., Hungary, Russia, Scandinavia, and Canada, will soon be the only regions endowed with a surplus. The "progressive" nations, taken as a whole, annually cut down three hundred and fifty thousand tons of timber for the production of paper, thereby cutting down one book every two minutes, and one magazine every second; we can appreciate, from these rough estimates alone, just how massive the production of these items in the "civilized" world really is. Someone should at least attempt to explain to us why it is necessary to inundate the world with such quantities of newspapers, scandal-sheets, and fictional thrillers; should no explanation be forthcoming, we must consequently consider the cutting down of primeval forests to be an even greater offense.
The Italians annually hunt down millions of migratory birds along their coasts, and they perform this operation in the most gruesome manner; what they themselves don't consume, is packed up for export to England and France. Numbers will express this more clearly: in one example from 1909, a single vessel transported two hundred and sixty thousand living quails, who were shipped in narrow cages to England, where the poor creatures were kept in miserable conditions, until the quail fanciers got around to butchering them. On the Sorrento peninsula, year after year, the birds have been captured alive, in numbers ranging as high as five hundred thousand. For Egypt, the tally of the exterminated reaches three million, not counting the untold numbers of larks, ortolans, warblers, swallows, and nightingales who also perished. It was not hunger that required the slaughter of these plumed singers: they fell to luxury and greed. More gruesome still is the devastation directly attributable to the fashion industry, as we learn when we read about those greedy designers and merchants whose faculty of invention seems to have been inspired by Satan himself. In the words of the Cri de Paris: "The Parisian milliners annually utilize up to forty thousand swallows and sea-gulls. A London merchant purchased during the preceding year thirty-two thousand colibris, eighty thousand sea birds, and eight hundred thousand birds of different species. It is known that every year no fewer than three hundred million birds are killed to adorn our ladies of fashion. There are lands where distinctive species once gave a unique appearance to regions from which they have now vanished. To guarantee that the feathers and down retain their brilliance, they must be plucked from the body of the birds while they still live. That is why one may not hunt the poor creatures with guns, but with nets. These inhuman hunters tear the feathers from their victims, who must endure the sufferings of the great martyrs before they perish in horrendous convulsions."
Thinking of himself as well-bred, man refuses to acknowledge the existence of such awkward happenings, while his women callously adorn themselves with the melancholy trophies of the hunt. It need not be emphasized, that every one of the animal species that we have listed, along with many others such as the "bird of paradise," are nearing the brink of extinction. Sooner or later, the same fate will befall every animal species, except for those whom man has destined for breeding or for domestication.
The billions of animal pelts of North America, the countless blue foxes, sables, and Siberian ermines, all point to the excesses of the fashion industry. In Copenhagen, in the years since 1908, a corporation has been developing a "method of hunting whales in a more peaceful manner, and according to a new method," i.e., employing ocean-factories, which process the carcasses immediately after the hunt. These "swimming" factories, during the course of the two following years, processed approximately five hundred thousand of the largest mammals on the earth, and the day is swiftly approaching when the whale known to history will have become a mere museum-exhibit.
For millennia the American buffalo, the prized game of the Indians, roamed the prairie. But scarcely had the European set foot on the continent, when a lawless and savage slaughter broke out, so that today the buffalo is over and done with. In time, the same sad spectacle will be enacted in Africa. "In order to furnish our so-called civilized man with billiard balls, buttons, combs, and similar tremendously necessary articles, the most recent calculations provided by Tournier of Paris indicate that eight hundred thousand kilograms of pure ivory are processed annually. The result is the yearly slaughter of fifty thousand of the most stupendous of the world’s creatures…In the same way occurred the merciless killing of the antelope, the rhino, the wild horse, the kangaroo, the giraffe, the ostrich, and the gnu in the tropics, along with the polar bear, musk ox, arctic fox, walrus, and seal in the arctic zone. An unparalleled orgy of destruction has seized mankind, and it is "civilization" that has unleashed this lust for murder, so that the earth withers before its noxious breath. These are indeed the fruits of "progress"!
All of these facts are well known. Well-meaning and warm-hearted individuals have raised the warning cry again and again during the past ten years, urging mankind to protect nature and to preserve regional traditions from abuse; unfortunately, neither the deepest causes for, nor the massive consequences of, the menace to nature have been comprehended. However, before we probe more deeply into these matters, we must continue to pronounce our accusation.
We need not concern ourselves with determining whether or not life extends beyond our world, or whether the earth is, in fact, a living being (which was the belief of the ancients), or merely an unfeeling lump of "dead matter" (the modern view); it is only because the earth endures, that the tracts of land, the play of clouds, the bodies of water, the cloak of plant-life, and the ceaseless activity of the animal kingdom, have all been woven together in a profoundly animated totality, which gathers the individual creatures together as if within an ark, which, in turn, is itself closely bound together with the great events of the infinite universe. An indispensable harmony resounds in the clamorous storms of the planet, in the sublime bleakness of the wilderness, in the solemnity of the highest mountains, in the appealing melancholy of the endless heath, in the mysterious fabric of towering forests, and in the pulsating lightning of the sea-storm as it hurls its bolts against the coastline. Or this harmony may exist in a dreamy immersion in the primordial works of man. If, in a moment of profound reverie, we should direct our gaze upon the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the lotus-shaped capitals of Egypt's columns; or upon the brightly decorated bell-towers of the Chinese and the structural clarity of the Hellenic temple; or upon the warm domesticity of the Dutch farmhouse and the Tartar encampment on the open steppes: we perceive that all of these creations breathe the very soul of the landscape upon which they stand. Earlier cultures said that such structures had "sprung from the earth"; thus, we too see that there is form and color in everything that has sprung from the earth, from the dwellings to the weapons and household implements, the daggers, spears, axes, swords, necklaces, brooches, and rings, the elegant decorated vessels, the cakes filled with nuts, the vessels of copper, and the thousand-fold textures and fabrics. More frightful still than those items that we have already surveyed—albeit not quite so irremediable—are the effects of "progress" in the colonial regions.
The connection between the works of man and the earth has now been disrupted, shattering for centuries--perhaps permanently--the primordial song of the landscape. Now railroad tracks, telegraph poles, and high-voltage power cables cut through the contours of forest and mountain; this can be seen not only in Europe, but in India, Egypt, Australia, and America as well. The gray, multi-level apartment blocks that stand attached to an endless row of identical structures, sprout up wherever an educated person wishes to display his ability to increase "prosperity." Everywhere, the rural fields are "combined" into rectangular plots, ancient grave-sites are disturbed, thriving nurseries are obliterated, the reed-bordered fishponds dry up, and the flourishing forested wilderness of yesteryear has had to surrender its pristine state, because all trees must now line up like soldiers, and every woodland must be purged of the old thickets of "poisonous" undergrowth; the winding rivers which once suspended themselves in glittering, labyrinthine curves, must now become perfectly straight canals; the swift streams and waterfalls-and this is true even for Niagara-must now feed electric power-plants; ever-expanding forests of smoke-stacks reach all the way to the oceans’ shores; and the water-pollution caused by industry transforms nature's pristine waters into raw sewage. Very soon, the face of the earth will be transformed into a gigantic Chicago, pocked with a few patches of agriculture! "My God," cried out the noble Achim von Arnim at the beginning of the last century, "where are the old trees, under which we still rode only yesterday? And what has happened to the ancient inscriptions carved upon the boundary-stones?
These things are already forgotten by our people, and nothing could be sadder than to see us striking against our own roots. When the peak of a towering mountain has been but once stripped of its timber, no timber will ever grow there again; my mission is to see that Germany’s heritage will not be squandered!" And Lenau’s impressions of the landscape of our homeland made him feel that nature has been stuffed up to the throat so that blood spurts from her every pore. What would these men have to say to us today! Perhaps they might, like Heinrich von Kleist, decide to quit the earth, whose son, man himself, has brought such shame upon his head. "The devastation of the Thirty Years’ War did not bring about such fundamental alterations of the heritage of the past in town and countryside as the obsession of modern life with its ruthless, one-sided pursuit of practical purposes." (From the announcement of the establishment of the "League for Nature Preservation"). However, as regards the hypocritical "nature feeling" of the tourist trade, we need hardly direct our attention to the devastation which its "exploitation" of remote coastal regions and mountain valleys leaves in its wake. Even these matters were comprehensively addressed, again and yet again, but the effort was wasted. The complete presentation was developed by 1880 through the efforts of the first rate writer Rudorff, to whose 1910 essay "On the Relation of Modern Life to Nature" we would direct every reader’s attention.
As if those things were not enough, the rage for extermination has now dragged its bloody furrow through mankind himself. Tribal populations have dwindled, and some tribes have even vanished. Some were exterminated or starved to death, while others succumbed to disease; all were forced to accept the blessings of "progress": brandy, opium, and syphilis. The Indians are over and done with; the Australian aborigines are finished; the noblest Polynesian are at their last gasp; the most courageous African warriors have fought the good fight, but now they too must give way to "civilization "; and Europe has just seen an equally courageous folk, Europe's last primordial tribe, the Albanians--those "Eagle-sons," whose ancestry can be traced directly back to the legendary "Pelasgians"--methodically killed, by the thousands, at the hands of the Serbs.
Make no mistake: "progress " is the lust for power and nothing besides, and we must unmask its method as a sick, destructive joke. Utilizing such pretexts as " necessity," "economic development," and "culture," the final goal of "progress" is nothing less than the destruction of life. This destructive urge takes many forms: progress is devastating forests, exterminating animal species, extinguishing native cultures, masking and distorting the pristine landscape with the varnish of industrialism, and debasing the organic life that still survives. It is the same for livestock as for the mere commodity, and the boundless lust for plunder will not rest until the last bird falls. To achieve this end, the whole weight of technology has been pressed into service, and at last we realize that technology has become by far the largest domain of the sciences.
Let us pause here for a moment. In a certain sense, even man belongs to nature; some even suggest that man nature belongs entirely to nature; as we will see, that is certainly an erroneous view. In any case, when something within him struggles with life, it is not, after all, struggling with man himself. Our chain of evidence will lose its most important links if we do not also offer illustrations of the self-demoralization of mankind.
The roll call of the dead, which could be inscribed here, even were it to be restricted to the most important names, would far exceed the list of fallen animals. It will suffice to commemorate a few prominent victims: where are the popular festivals and sacred customs, which for uncounted millennia served as perpetual springs for myth and poetry? Where is now the rider on the meadow who sows the precious seeds? And where can we find the procession of the Pentecostal bride and the torch-bearer running through the cornfields? Where is now the intricate richness of traditional costume, in which every folk could express its own nature, on its own landscape? The rich pendants, the multicolored bodices, the decorated waistcoats, sashes adorned with precious metals, and the light sandals? Where can we find now the toga-styled shawls, the pleated turbans, and flowing kimonos? They are all being replaced by "civilized" attire. Throughout the world civilization distributes the three-piece suit for the men, and for the women--the latest Parisian style.
Where now do we find the folk-song, that ever-renewed treasury of melody, which cloaks with its fabric of silver man's growing-old and passing away. Wedding-feast and solemn wake, revenge, war and destruction, drunkenness and wanderlust, the feeling of a child and the delight of a mother, all of these things breathe and stream in inexhaustible songs, which can swiftly provoke one to a fiery action, or swiftly cradle another in the sleep of forgetfulness. There were once poems and songs composed for the dance, for the brimming goblet, for farewell and homecoming, for consecration and magical incantation, for the dusk that falls in the spinning room; before the battle, and at the bier of the slain, one was stirred by songs of scorn, by martial anthems of a dark-bright poetry blending mountain, spring, and shrub, the animals of the household, wild game and plant, the force of the wind and the torrent of rain. Even work was felt to be a kind of festival, a feeling that has long since been inconceivable to us. Song was not reserved solely for roving and revelry; song accompanied the hoisting of the anchor, the rhythm of the oar-stroke, the shifting of heavy cargo, the towing of the ship, the stowing of the casks, the blacksmith's hammering, and the rowing of the oarsmen; there was song for the mowing, threshing, and grinding of the corn, and for the picking, braiding, and weaving of the flax. Not only has "progress" made life gray, it has also silenced life's very voice. But no-we forget that after the primordial melody of the popular ballads comes the operetta and the syrupy idioms of the cabaret; after legendary musical instruments like the Spanish guitar, the Italian mandolin, the Finnish kantela, the gusli of the Southern Slavs, and the Russian balalaika, there comes the piano and the record-player. There we have the fruits of "progress"! Like an all-devouring conflagration, "progress" scours the earth, and the place that has fallen to its flames, will flourish nevermore, so long as man still survives. The animal- and plant-species cannot renew themselves, man’s native warmth of heart has gone, the inner springs that once nurtured the flourishing songs and sacred festivals are blocked, and there remains only a wretched and cold working day and the hollow show of noisy "entertainment." There can be no doubt: we are living in the era of the downfall of the soul.
There would be still large personalities under such circumstances! We certainly do not wish to underestimate the ingenuity of the masters of technology, nor the computational talent of our captains of industry. Nevertheless, if one placed such mere talent alongside a true creator's strength, we must surely come to the conclusion that technology is without the slightest capacity to enrich life. The cleverest machine has meaning only in the service of a purpose, and even the most extensive industrial organization of today will be nothing in a thousand years; whereas the poetry of Homer, the wise words of Heraclitus, and the symphonies of Beethoven belong to the undying treasures of life. But how sad we become, when we think of those who once were justly proclaimed to us as the most illustrious of men, when we look at our poets and thinkers of today! Whom do we have still, since the veterans of the spirit and the deed have departed: Burckhardt, Boecklin, Bachofen, Mommsen, Bismarck, Keller, and even Nietzsche, the last flame from that old fire, all of them gone without a trace, without a successor! It is as empty up on Parnassus, as it is in politics and thought, and we will maintain a discreet silence regarding the putrefying arts. When we come down to the level of everyday life, we can see very clearly the total nihilism behind all the commonplace chatter about "personality" and "culture."
Most men do not really live, they merely exist: some to be used up as if they were mere machines in the service of some great undertaking, and some to be reduced to the status of money's slaves, deliriously busying themselves with the value of stocks and bonds; some, finally, attach themselves to the frenzied diversions offered by the big city. Many, likewise, are oppressed by the wretched and ever-increasing tedium of this existence. In no earlier time was unhappiness greater or more poisonous. Groups of men, large or small, whose members are bound each to the other in the furtherance of some special interest, struggle endlessly to destroy their enemies. Such enmity may arise from commercial, political, racial, or religious grounds. At times one may discover such crazed power-struggles even within a single association. Humans the world over always seem to project their own prejudices onto their environment. Thus, man foists his own obsession with status and power onto nature, wherein he swiftly discovers a wild struggle-for-existence; he convinces himself that he must have been in the right if he alone survived this struggle-for-existence; and he paints the world in the guise of a great machine, where the pistons only give off the steam that must turn the wheels, in order that " energy " - one does not see to what end -will be transferred, and he accompanies all of this with a bit of idle chatter about the so-called "philosophy of monism," which utterly falsifies the billion-fold life of nature in order to reduce the universe to the level of the human ego. Where one previously prized love, or renunciation, or a god-intoxicated withdrawal from the world, we find instead a newly hatched success-religion, which is announced, from atop the graves of former ages, to those of little faith, whose coming had been anticipated by Nietzsche, who, with white-hot scorn and a knowing wink, makes his "last man" proclaim: "We have invented happiness!"
Of course, the superficial errors in all of these systems, sects, and tendencies will not be with us for very much longer. Nature knows no "struggle for existence," but only a caring for life. Many insects die after the act of procreation, thus demonstrating the slight emphasis that nature places upon mere preservation. Nature only insures that similar forms will continue to unfold amid the surging waves of life. What prompts one animal to hunt another to the death is simply the need to appease the predator’s hunger; greed, ambition, and the lust for power have no place here. In reality, there is a gaping abyss here that no evolutionary logic will ever bridge. Species were never exterminated by other species, since every excess on one side is followed almost immediately by a reciprocal reaction on the other; the ranks of the vanquished are thinned, and the booty of the slain foe becomes the sustenance of the stronger. Transformation, however, is consummated over gigantic periods of time, and invariably leads to a burgeoning of lower life-forms in the vicinity. The annihilation of hundreds of species during the course of mankind’s earthly tenure permits no point of comparison with the wholesale extinction of the dinosaur and the mammoth.
Utterly mindless, moreover, is the transfer of the numerically quantifiable operations of the physical laws that govern the conservation of energy, to questions of life. No single living cell has ever been created in a chemical retort, and should science ever announce such an achievement, it will not have been as a result of some combination of physical forces, but because even the chemical matter with which such an experiment must begin is already instinct with life. Life is an enduring, perpetual renewal of formative power; and we extinguish some measure of such power whenever we exterminate a living species, and the earth will be impoverished till the end of time because of it, regardless of any detriment to the so-called conservation of energy.
As we have said, such erroneous teachings will fade and perish eventually, but the resulting, all-too-real eventualities that they have brought to pass will remain, making all those conceptual schemes seem more like mere shadows of thought than the genuine article. There is certainly no basis for the opinion that considers the on-going destruction to be a mere side-effect of passing conditions, out of which will arise some sort of attempt at reconstruction. With that we arrive at the meaning of the preceding course of events to which man has given the name "world history."
The ancient Greeks had no skill with electrical wiring, power cables, and radios, and this fact sheds light on their habitual scorn for physical science, which they saw as a rather lowly business. But only they could construct temples, carve images on columns, and cut precious gems, of such beauty and delicacy, that we can only compete with them by presenting our most artificial tools! Without conducting experiments, and supported only by everyday perception, the Greek philosophers have influenced, and in large part governed, the course of western thought for over two millennia. The didactic virtue of Socrates has been revived in the scrawnier "categorical imperative" of Kant; the Platonic "doctrine of the Ideas" has been revived in the aesthetics of Schopenhauer; and the philosophical framework of the atomistic theory of chemistry stems directly from Democritus. Faced with these facts, is it not more likely that the Greeks avoided physical science not because of their lack of capacity for such study, but because they chose not to have any dealings with it? Perhaps their mystics might enable us to recover many insights that have been lost to us? Let us take another example: the Chinese of antiquity would have seen all our modern discoveries as alien to their culture; the modern Chinese would feel the same way towards these discoveries, had we not compelled China to accept them by force. We are likewise impressed by the great Chinese philosophers, sages such as Laotse or Lia Dsi, who speak to us in words of such wisdom that even Goethe seems a mere bungler by comparison. Thus, if the Chinese did not possess a science with whose assistance they might have been able to build cannons, blow up mountains, and grace their tables with margarine, that is because they had no desire for these things. Behind the scenes certain forces are controlling mankind, and it is only by examining these forces that we can understand a crucial fact: before the progressive research of modern times could be undertaken, the intellectuals had to be conditioned to adopt a philosophical theory upon which would be founded a required practice: we call that practice capitalism.
No intelligent person can have the slightest doubt that the dazzling achievements of Physics and Chemistry have been pressed into the exclusive service of "Capital." The identifying characteristic of modern science is its substitution of numerical quantities for unique qualities, thus merely recapitulating, in the cognitive form, the fundamental law that the will must control everything, even that which resides in the brightly-colored domain of the soul and its values: the values of blood, beauty, dignity, ardor, grace, warmth, and the maternal sense; these must yield to the insidious values of the power which judges the worth of a man by the weight of his gold. A new word for this viewpoint has even been coined: "Mammonism." Nevertheless, how few are conscious of the fact that this "Mammon" is a genuine, substantial entity, which seizes hold of man, and wields him as if he were a mere tool that might help Mammon eradicate the life of the earth. Let us provide here a brief word of explanation.
We have already indicated that "progress," "civilization," and "capitalism" constitute different manifestations of the same direction of the will. We must likewise admit that the disciples of this will-centered world-view are drawn exclusively from the Christian world. Only within that world were the inventions accumulated; only within that world was that quantifying, "exact" scientific methodology brought to perfection; and, finally, only within that world, that Christian world which is perpetually engaged in the most ruthless imperialism imaginable, could one find those men who have sought to conquer all of the non-Christian races, just as they have sought to conquer the whole of nature. Consequently, we are compelled to locate the proximate causes of world-historical "progress" in Christianity itself. On the surface, of course, Christianity seems always to be preaching sermons in praise of "love," but when we take a closer look at this "love," we discover that in reality this persuasive word functions as a gilded surface which masks the underlying reality of a categorical command: "You must"; and this unconditional command applies solely to man, who has now come to consider himself as divine, as a god standing in opposition to the whole of nature. Christianity may mouth such phrases as "the welfare of mankind," or "humanity," but what the voice inside these formulas is really saying is that no other living being has the slightest intrinsic value or purpose, except in so far as it can be forced to serve the purposes of man. From time immemorial, the "love" of the Christian has never prevented him from persecuting religious pagans with a murderous hatred; and this same "love" doesn’t prevent him even now from abolishing the sacred rituals of conquered tribal cultures.
It is a well-known fact that Buddhism proscribes the killing of animals, because the Buddhist recognizes the obvious fact that each and every earthly creature shares a common nature with man himself. But when one objects to the Italian’s murdering of an animal, he will immediately respond by assuring you that the creature "has no soul," and "is not a Christian." This indicates clearly that, for the devout Christian, only man has a right to live. To the people of the ancient world, religion, which at one time also proceeded according to this pattern that even now springs up in hovels of the people, restrains its standard bearer, and yet it excites him on the other hand, and permits the power of one who threaten the peace of the world to prosper until it has become the terrifying megalomania that considers the bloodiest offenses against life to be permitted, and even commanded, provided such deeds result in "benefits" to humanity. Capitalism, along with its pathfinder, science, is in point of fact the fulfillment of Christianity; the church, like science, constitutes a consortium of special interests; and the "one" that is addressed by a secularized morality is indistinguishable from the life-hostile "ego," which, in the name of the unique godhead of the spirit—only now coupled with a blind cosmology--accounts for the war that has been waged against the innumerable, "many" gods of the world; earlier ages were at least more honest in their opposition to the cosmic deities, for they frankly approached the fray in the menacing aspect of judges…
By now it should be perfectly clear, however, that he who seeks to enrich himself--whilst he stomps earth's blossoms into dust--is man as the bearer of calculating reason and the will-to-acquisition. The gods whom he has torn from the tree of the life are the perpetually changing images of the phenomenal world, from which he has exiled himself. The hostility to images, which was inwardly nurtured by the self-lacerating Middle Ages, had to emerge into the light of day, as soon as it had achieved its goal, which was to sever the bond connecting man to the soul of the earth. In man's bloody atrocities against his fellow creatures, he could only complete that which he himself had already begun: to exchange the multiform patterns of living images for the homeless transcendence of the world-alienated spirit. He has shown enmity to the planet that bore and nursed him, and even to the revolutions of the starry heavens, because he is now possessed by a power that resembles a vampire, which introduces into the "music of the spheres" sounds of an ear-shattering dissonance. At this point it is clear, however, that in the course of this very ancient evolutionary process, Christianity signifies but one epoch; from distant beginnings, this process has now reached its final stage. Certainly, the unique physiognomy of Europe was decisively shaped by this process.
In fact, the force that provokes man’s enmity against the world is precisely as old as—"world history"! The "history" that is surnamed the evolutionary process-- which in the course of events marches beyond, and ever onwards, and can not be compared to the destiny of other organisms—begins at the very moment of man’s expulsion from "paradise," when he finds himself on the outside, seeing now with the cold, clear gaze of the stranger, and knowing that he has lost his previous accord with plants and animals, with oceans and clouds, with rocks, winds, and stars. In the myths of almost every people we encounter bloody battles in pre-historic ages between solar heroes who are bent upon installing a new order and the "chthonic" powers of fate, who are finally banished into a lightless underworld. Nevertheless, a Jesuit scholar, in an astonishing, but instructive, reversal of circumstances, has discovered in the legend of the acts of the Greek Herakles a prophetic "plagiarism" of the life of the Christian redeemer! That above-mentioned reorganization, with which history begins, is always and everywhere the same: over the soul rises the spirit, over the dream reigns a wide-awake rationality, over life, which becomes and passes, there stands purposeful activity. During the millennial development of spirit, Christianity was only the final, crucial thrust. Therefore spirit, which emerged from a condition of powerless knowledge--Prometheus is in chains, while Herakles is free!--now penetrates the will, and in murderous deeds, which have constituted, without interruption, the history of nations ever since, has revealed a truth that had heretofore seemed to be merely a notion: that a power from outside our cosmos had broken into the sphere of life.
For that reason, our dearest desire is simply for everyone to open his eyes. Further, we should desist from all attempts to blend together things that are sundered by the profound abyss that separates the powers of love and the soul on one side, from the powers of reason and will on the other. We must perceive that the very essence of the will is manifest in its compulsion to tear the "veil of Maya" to tatters; for when man has been reduced to the status of a mere creature of will, he must, in a blind rage, set his hand against his own mother, the earth. In the end, all of life, along with man himself, will be swallowed up by nothingness.
No teaching can return us to that which has once been lost. Regarding all such attempts, we feel that man simply does not have the ability to bring about a transformation of his inner life on his own. We stated earlier that the ancients never presumed to unravel nature's secrets by means of experiments, and never thought to conquer her through the use of machines, which they dismissed as clever contraptions that were suitable only for slaves; we now insist, moreover, that they abhorred such attempts as ungodliness. Forest and spring, boulder and grotto were for them filled with sacred life; from the summits of their lofty mountains blew the storm-winds of the gods (it was not from lack of a "feeling for nature" that one did not climb their peaks!), and tempest and hailstones threatened or clashed furiously in the play of battle. When the Greeks desired to construct a bridge across a stream, they begged the river deity to pardon this deed of man for which they atoned by offering up to him a sacrificial libation of wine. In ancient German lands, an offense against a living tree was expiated by the shedding of the offender's blood. Today's mankind sees only childish superstition in those who attend to the planetary currents. He forgets that the interpreting of apparitions was a way of scattering blooms around the tree of an inner life, which shelters a deeper knowledge than all of science: the knowledge of the world-weaving power of all-embracing love. Only when this love has been renewed in mankind will the wounds inflicted by the matricidal spirit be healed.
It was a mere hundred years ago that something truly new welled up within the hearts of men, as if from out of the depths of mysterious springs: we are alluding to those unforgettable dreamers, those child-like sages and poets, whom we conventionally call the "Romantics." Their expectations were illusory and their storm has subsided; their wisdom has been buried, the flood has receded, and the "desert grows." Nevertheless, we are prepared, like the Romantics, to believe in miracles, and we are quite willing to deem it possible that a coming generation may indeed see the birth of a new world. Perhaps the visionary words of Eichendorff in "Foreboding and the Present" best describe the labor pains that must precede the birth of that world: "Our age seems to me to resemble an ever-expanding, uncertain twilight. Light and shadow battle still, powerful forces that appear to be inseparable; storm-clouds brew dark destinies, and no one can tell whether their portents indicate death or benediction; and the wider world below remains abandoned to its hollow expectations. Comets and celestial messages haunt the heavens once more, phantom spirits wander through the night, and mythical sirens plummet into the sea as if they fled in dread of some approaching tempest that has already obscured the mirror-surface of the waters; they sing, gesticulating with bloody fingers, warning us of some terrible, impending doom. No carefree childhood game or frolic can delight our young people as much as those sessions of long ago, during which our forefathers prepared us for the serious side of life. We are born in battle, and, regardless of whether we are victor or vanquished, we will perish in battle. For, from out of the magical mists of our schooldays, there takes shape the Ghost-of-War, clad in armor, with the pallid face of death, and with blood-spattered hair; his eyes are well-accustomed to solitude, and they already perceive, through the webs of smoke that swirl all around, the almost imperceptible outlines of the coming struggle. Woe to those who, when the hour of battle strikes, find themselves unarmed and utterly unprepared for combat! How many weak men, who fritter away their idle hours in the pursuit of pleasure and in frivolous reflections, who manage to deceive themselves as readily as they deceive the world, will recall the words of Prince Hamlet: ‘The time is out of joint; O cursed spite/That ever I was born to set it right!’ "Then, out of the collapse of the world, will emerge once more an unprecedented contest between the old and the new, and the passions of today that slink about in disguise, will find that their masks are now disparaged. A burning frenzy will burst with flaming torch held high into the pandemonium, as if the inferno itself had been loosed upon the world. Justice and injustice will seem to have merged their natures in a blind access of rage. But miracles will at last take place, and the just will receive their just rewards; and a new, yet somehow very ancient, sun will radiate its light through the scenes of horror. The thunder will still roll, but only upon the peaks of distant mountains; and then the white dove will soar aloft in the clear blue skies; and the earth itself will shine with a brighter light from the heavens above."
Translated by Joe Pryce from the original sources. For reference, notes refer to the more easily obtainable texts:
AC=Klages, L. Zur Ausdruckslehre und Charakterkunde. Heidelberg. 1926.
AG=Klages, L. Ausdrucksbewegung und Gestaltungskraft. Munich. 1968.
LK GL=Schroeder, H. E. Ludwig Klages Die Geschichte Seines Lebens. Bonn. 1966-1992.
PEN=Klages, L. Die psychologischen Errungenschaften Nietzsches. Leipzig. 1926
RR=Klages, L. Rhythmen und Runen. Leipzig. 1944.
SW=Klages, L. Sämtliche Werke. Bonn. 1965-92.
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