Apoliteia as no Concrete, Appreciable Results Possible

through Rectifying, Political Action

(from “Ride the Tiger”)

[...] The "immortal principles" of 1789 and the rights of equality granted by absolute democracy to the atomized individual regardless of qualification or rank, and the irruption of the masses into the political structure, have effectively brought about what Walther Rathenau calls a "vertical invasion by barbarians from below," Consequently, the following observation of essayist Ortega y Gasset remains true: "The characteristic fact of the moment is that the mediocre soul, recognizing itself as mediocre, has the audacity to assert the right of mediocrity and impose it everywhere."

In the introduction I mentioned the few who by temperament and vocation still think today, in spite of everything, about the possibility of a rectifying, political action. Men among the Ruins was written with their ideological orientation in mind. But on the basis of experience we must admit the lack of the necessary premises to reach any concrete, appreciable results in a struggle of this kind. On the other hand, I have specified within these pages a human type of a different orientation, although spiritually related to those others who will fight on even in hopeless positions. After taking stock of the situation, this type can only feel disinterested and detached from everything that is "politics" today. His principle will become apoliteia, as it was called in ancient times.

It is important to emphasize that this principle refers essentially to the inner attitude. In the present political situation, in a climate of democracy and "socialism," the rules of the game are such that the man in question absolutely cannot take part in it. He recognizes, as I have said before, that ideas, motives, and goals worthy of the pledge of one's own true being do not exist today; there are no demands of which he can recognize any moral right and foundation outside that which they derive as mere facts on the empirical and profane plane. However, apoliteia, detachment, does not necessarily involve specific consequences in the field of pure and simple activity. I have already discussed the capacity to apply oneself to a given task for love of action in itself and in terms of an impersonal perfection. So, in principle, there is no reason to exclude the political realm itself as a particular case among others, since participating in it on these terms requires neither any objective value of a higher order, nor impulses that come from emotional and irrational layers of one's own being. But if this is how one dedicates oneself to political activity, clearly all that matters is the action and the impersonal perfection in acting for its own sake. Such political activity, for one who desires it, cannot present a higher value and dignity than dedicating oneself, in the same spirit, to quite different activities: absurd colonization projects, speculations on the stock market, science, and even - to give a drastic example - arms traffic or white slavery.

As conceived here, apoliteia creates no special presuppositions in the exterior field, not necessarily having a corollary in practical abstention. The truly detached man is not a professional and polemic outsider, nor conscientious objector, nor anarchist. Once it is established that life with its interactions does not constrain his being, he could even show the qualities of a soldier who, in order to act and accomplish a task, does not request in advance a transcendent justification and a quasi-theological assurance of the goodness of the cause. We can speak, in these cases, of a voluntary obligation that concerns the "persona," not the being, by which - even while one is involved - one remains isolated.

I have already said that the positive overcoming of nihilism lies precisely in the fact that lack of meaning does not paralyze the action of the "persona." In existential terms, the only exception would be the possibility of action being manipulated by some current political or social myth that regarded today's political life as serious, significant, and important. Apoliteia is the inner distance unassailable by this society and its "values"; it does not accept being bound by anything spiritual or moral. Once this is firm, the activities that in others would presuppose such bonds can be exercised in a different spirit. Moreover, there remains the sphere of activities that can be made to serve a higher-ordained and invisible end, as when I mentioned the two aspects of impersonality and what is to be gained from some forms of modern existence.

Turning to a particular point, one can only maintain an attitude of detachment when facing the confrontation of the two factions contending for world domination today: the democratic, capitalist West and the communist East. In fact, this struggle is devoid of any meaning from a spiritual point of view. The "West" is not an exponent of any higher ideal. Its very civilization, based on an essential negation of traditional values, presents the same destructions and nihilistic background that is evident in the Marxist and communist sphere, however different in form and degree. I will not dwell on this, given that I have outlined a total conception of the course of history, and dismissed any illusion about the final result of that struggle for world control, in Revolt Against the Modern World. Since the problem of values does not come into question, at most it presents a practical problem to the differentiated man. That certain margin of material freedom that the world of democracy still leaves for external activity to one who will not let himself be conditioned inwardly, would certainly be abolished in a communist regime. Simply in view of that, one may take a position against the soviet-communist system: not because one believes in some higher ideal that the rival system possesses, but for motives one might almost call basely physical.

On the other hand, one can keep in mind that for the differentiated man, having no interest in affirming and exposing himself in external life today, and his deeper life remaining invisible and out of reach, a communist system would not have the same fatal significance as for others; also an "underground front" could very well exist there. Taking sides in the present struggle for world hegemony is not a spiritual problem, but a banal, practical choice.






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