THE POWER OF IDEAS
Communism is discredited because it hasn't worked; capitalism is discredited because it has worked, argues Tom Acton. This gives an excellent opportunity for alternative political philosophies to flourish. Already there are some signs of a changing intellectual climate...
Left: Martin Heidegger Right: Friedrich Nietzsche
FOLLOWING the death in June of this year of Sir Alfred Ayer it is possible that few in this country could name a single living British philosopher. Sir Alfred's comparative fame was less a mark of his achievements, and that of the Logical-Positivist school with which he was associated, and more of a condemnation of the mediocrity and lack of originality of his contemporaries.
There is currently mounting evidence that philosophical fashions are changing once, again, and changing, quite possibly, to the benefit of Nationalism as a political ideology. The old ideas and ideals which buttressed creeds of materialism, egalitarianism and internationalism are increasingly being questioned; more significantly perhaps major philosophers who advocated radically different goals and values for society are again coming into fashion. Given the low standard of contemporary thinkers in Britain it is perhaps not surprising that the initiatives for change are all taking place on the Continent or in America, rather than in Britain.
Shortly after Ayer's death a conference entitled 'The End of the West' took place in Paris. Organised by the Olin Centre of Chicago University it attracted philosophers of a wide range of political views from all over Europe and America - but none from Britain. The theme of the conference may seem paradoxical at first. With Marxism apparently brain-dead and suffering a massive loss in intellectual credibility, and with Western capitalism enjoying a new lease of life and increasingly dominating the world it may seem an odd time to hold such a conference.
Yet the ostensible triumph of capitalism, and the cosmopolitan and consumerist lifestyles associated with it, may yet prove its undoing: the world has tasted the fruits of its victory and found them bitter. The vision of a designer label future of ever more cars and tv sets blasting out mindless game shows, and yet more adverts for yet more worthless trinkets cannot obscure the fact - indeed it highlights it - that the world is getting ever poorer in things of real worth.
The collapse of Marxism has led to the creation of an intellectual vacuum - is there any credible alternative to the 'brave new world' of the global Coca-Cola culture? The discussions at the Paris conference made it clear that many there believed there is. In particular the thoughts of two major European philosophers came in for specific attention: Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.
It would of course be inaccurate and dishonest to pretend that either Nietzsche or Heidegger were specifically racial nationalist philosophers, whose work dovetails with the thinking of contemporary British Nationalism in every particular. However they are far closer to us than, for example, Marx or Sartre; and their criticisms of contemporary society are close to ours.
Consequently the change in the intellectual climate that would be caused if Nietzsche, Heidegger and similar thinkers were to become more 'fashionable' would operate to the overall advantage of the Nationalist cause. To those of us involved in the minutia of day to day party politics such considerations doubtless seem vague and irrelevant to practical politics. Yet it would be foolish to ignore the power of ideas. It is said that Czarist censors let Das Kapital be published in Russia because they found it such tedious verbiage they couldn't conceive it having political effect. The millions of Russians killed by communism since 1917 might just disagree!
So what do Nietzsche and Heidegger have to offer? Both were essentially concerned that European civilisation had lost its way, that obsessive egalitarianism, monetary greed, and a loss of spiritual values were, amongst other factors, combining to reduce us to the level of a domesticated herd population, living shallow, empty and meaningless existences.
Nietzsche believed that religion had lost its capacity to inspire, and to give meaning and purpose to human life - "God is dead" as he put it. Instead he tried to create non-metaphysical goals, embodied in the concept of the ubermensch so that European civilisation could be true to itself, and attain all it is capable of.
For Heidegger the domination of machine civilisation and egalitarian values meant the end of individual personality and thus of European culture. An aching sense of loss fills his whole philosophy; his answer, very briefly, was for man to seek out the roots of his 'authentic being' in himself, and in his nation.
The rising influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger has caused some alarm among establishment journalists here in Britain. One such journalist was George Walden in the Telegraph, who trotted out a few 'Nazi' smears:- "Nietzsche was the only major philosopher to be invoked by National Socialism", "Heidegger went through the denazification process though his repudiation of the Holocaust was disturbingly unemphatic", "How can it be that Nietzsche with his talk of 'the will to power' and the 'superior man' and Heidegger with his Nazi links, can exert a continuing fascination over modern liberal or Left-wing intellectuals?"
The 'Nazi' smear is as usual a misrepresentation. To take Nietzsche for example: all the Nazis did was to scan his works, and pick out small facets of his thinking which, when taken out of context, appeared to validate their thinking. In truth however Nietzsche was too concerned with the individual, and the liberty of creative individuals to ever have been a National Socialist.
Moreover his oft expressed detestation of militaristic German chauvinism - strong in Germany after the Franco-Prussian War - could scarcely have endeared him to the Third Reich. By no stretch of the imagination could Nietzsche truly be called a National Socialist, and Mr Walden is, we may be sure, sufficiently knowledgeable about him to be aware of this: this doesn't of course stop him implying otherwise in his writings. Such is journalistic integrity..
In conclusion: many differing factors affect the political climate at any given time. In previous articles in this series we have looked at some of the major factors likely to operate to our advantage in the future. It is difficult to be sure how much effect intangible and 'airy-fairy' philosophical concepts have on what might be called 'the real world'. However it is clear that there is an increasingly large intellectual void waiting to be filled: the alienating and de-humanising effects of Western consumerism are becoming all too clear, equally it is now obvious that Marxism cannot provide a viable alternative.
There is a clear opportunity for Nationalism to establish itself in the Nineties as the only alternative to the Gadarene rush to decadence and decay under global capitalism. Any change in intellectual 'fashions' which will make it easier for us to advance our ideas is to be welcomed. It's just one more reason for guarded optimism as we look forward to the 'Nationalist Nineties'.