Military Style - Prussian Style - "Militarism" - Heroism - War

(from "Men Among the Ruins")




[...] I will not repeat what I have expounded elsewhere in a more detailed fashion, namely how often in the traditional world we encounter the interpretation of life as a perennial struggle between metaphysical powers, between Uranian forces of light and order, on the one hand, and telluric, dark forces of chaos and matter on the other. Traditional man yearned to fight this battle and to triumph in both the inner and outer worlds. A true and just war on the external plane reproduced in other terms the same struggle that had to be waged within: it was a struggle against forces and people that in the external world presented the same traits as the powers the single individual needed to subjugate and dominate internally, until a pax triumphalis was achieved.


From this follows an interdependence between the warrior idea and that of a certain "asceticism," inner discipline, and superiority toward or control of one's self that appears in various degrees in the best warrior traditions and remains on the military plane (in the specific sense of the term) with the authentic value of a culture, in the anti-intellectualist sense of development and mastery of one's self. Contrary to what the bourgeois and liberal polemics claim, the warrior idea may not be reduced to materialism, nor is it synonymous with the exaltation of the brutal use of strength and destructive violence. Rather, the calm, conscious, and planned development of the inner being and a code of ethics; love of distance; hierarchy; order; the faculty of subordinating the emotional and individualistic element of one's self to higher goals and principles, especially in the name of honor and duty—these are all elements of the warrior idea, and they act as the foundations of a specific "style" that has largely been lost. This loss occurred with the shift from the States that are regarded as "militaristic," in which all this corresponded to a long and stern tradition, to the democratic and nationalistic States, in which the duty of serving in the armed forces has replaced the right to bear arms. Thus, the real antithesis is not between the "spiritual values" and "culture," on the one hand, and "militaristic materialism," on the other; the antithesis is between two ways of conceiving what spirit and culture really are. We must resolutely oppose the democratic, bourgeois, and humanistic view of the nineteenth century, which, in correspondence with the advent of an inferior human type, has presented its interpretation as the only legitimate and unquestionable one.


The truth is that there has been an entire cycle of civilization, especially in the Indo-European areas, in which elements, feelings, and structures of an analogous warrior type were determinant in all the domains of life, up to and including the domain of familiar and patrician right, whereas the factors of a naturalistic, sentimental, and economic character were limited. The hierarchical idea is certainly not exhausted in the hierarchy of a military or warrior type. The more original form of hierarchy is defined with essentially spiritual values (the Greek word for hierarchy means "sovereignty of the sacred," hieros). However, it must be pointed out that in many civilizations even the hierarchies with a spiritual foundation either relied on hierarchies that were more or less warrior and military or reproduced their form, at least externally. Thus, when the original spiritual level could not be maintained, hierarchical structures of a warrior type constituted the armature of the major States, especially in the West.


The Prussian spirit, the bête noire of democracies, should not be regarded as the anomaly of a certain people; on the contrary, in it we must see the same style that, thanks to a set of favorable circumstances, was preserved until recent times in German-speaking countries (as an "intolerable obscurantist residue," according to the progressive representatives of the modern era). The Prussian style did not apply only to the military: by defining itself as "Frederickianism," it shaped one of the most austere and aristocratic European military traditions, but also manifested its influence in everything that is service to the State, loyalty, and anti-individualism. This style educated a class of government officials according to principles very different from mere bureaucracy, petty clerical spirit, and the irresponsible and lazy administration of the affairs of the state. Moreover, this style never failed to act in the economic sector, ensuring, at the onset of the industrial era, an intimate cohesion to great industrial complexes led by quasi-dynastic lines of entrepreneurs who were respected and obeyed by the workers almost in terms of military loyalty and solidarity.


Thus, the antithesis between two eras is reflected in the polemics concerning the meaning of the military and warrior element: moreover, in it we see the polemics between the two components of a collective organism—the social and the political. Antimilitaristic democracy is the expression of "society," which, with its material ideals of peace or, at most, of wars waged to maintain peace, is opposed to the political principle—that is, to the principle of the Männerbund, the shaping force of the State that has always depended on a warrior or military element, that cherished less material ideals, such as honor and superiority. Thus, what has transpired at an international level in the democratic ideology upheld during the two world wars is yet another aspect of the regressive phenomena and of the aggressive emergence of an inferior element.


Aside from this, from a practical point of view we must acknowledge that in modern times, since the sensibility for purely spiritual values and dignities has become mostly atrophied among Western populations ("spiritual" in a traditional sense, not an "intellectualist" or "cultural" one), the model of a military hierarchy, though it is not the highest nor the original one, is almost the only one that can still supply the basis and act so as to emphasize hierarchical values in general, and thus save what can still be saved. That model still retains a certain prestige, and exercises a certain attraction on every human type that is not yet entirely disintegrated and "socialized." Despite any antimilitaristic propaganda culminating in the shallow, spineless, and gutless "conscientious objectors," there is a heroic dimension in the Western soul that cannot be totally extirpated. Maybe it is still possible to appeal to this dimension through an adequate view of life.


In relation to this, a further consideration concerns a general attitude and a certain level of tension, which in many sectors of contemporary life become necessary, with the effect of minimizing the distinction between times of peace and times of war. I am not alluding to the political struggles among political parties, which are phenomena that relate only to a period of decadence and an absence of the idea of the State: I am alluding to all those aspects of modern life that, in order to be mastered and not to have destructive consequences on the individual, require a complete assumption of one's own position, so as not to refrain from turning risk and discipline into an integral part of one's way of being. In this case, too, we have an attitude opposite of the bourgeois man's. Obviously it cannot be required that such a climate of tension last permanently and remain in everybody, in the same degree: however, at the present time, in certain instances there is no other choice. It is on the basis of various capabilities of the individuals to conform to such a climate, to love such a climate, so that in every domain new selections and real, existential hierarchies can be determined; these hierarchies are such as to find a natural acknowledgment from every healthy human being.


It is obvious that the nations in which such premises are sufficiently realized will be not only the ones better prepared for war, but also the ones in which war will acquire a higher meaning. Concerning the first point, it is the equivalent of what applies on the material plane, where the wartime efficiency of a nation is measured by the virtual potential for industries and peacetime economy to be suddenly converted into wartime industries and economy. There will be a certain continuity of spirit and attitude, a common moral denominator in peace and in war that facilitates the shift from one state to the other. It has rightly been affirmed that war shows a nation what peace has meant for it. The "military" education of the spirit has an independent value from "militarism" and from war; however, it creates the necessary potential so that, when a war breaks out, a nation is ready for it, and fights it with a sufficient number of men who reproduce in a new form the warrior type, rather than that of the "soldier."


The entire order of ideas that has been discussed so far is thus ignored or falsified by the polemics against "militarism," just as in other cases (e.g., "totalitarianism") a false target is created. In reality, what is meant to be effaced and discredited is a world that the merchant and the bourgeois type abhor, hate, and regard as intolerable, even when it does not directly threaten democracy. Thus, it is convenient to focus on that which is only a degeneration of militarism, namely those situations in which a certain class of professional soldiers, of rather narrow views and limited competence, exercises an artificial influence on the politics of a nation, pushing it to the brink of war with the support of warmongering elements. Such situations can be definitely condemned without thereby compromising the value of the overall warrior view that I have discussed so far. However, this does not amount to espousing the democracies' theoretical pacifism and sharing their totally negative view concerning war and the meaning of battle.


Contemporary democracies are caught in a contradiction that undermines their very physical existence. After trying to persuade the world that their last anti-European crusade was a "war against war," or the last war, now they need to rearm themselves, since they cannot defend their interests against the new "aggressors" with mere prayers and solemn proclamations issued by their leadership. Thus, this is the situation we are facing today: democracies theoretically continue to deprecate war; to conceive of war only in terms of "defense" and "aggression"; to abhor "militarism"; and almost to perceive the warrior as a criminal—and yet with such demoralizing and self-defeating ideological views, they arm themselves in order to confront their new opponents, namely the world of the Fourth Estate, organized by communism into one powerful bloc. The ideal for these democracies would be to find someone else to wage a war for them, as their "soldiers," limiting themselves to supplying weapons, ammunition, financing, and well-tested propaganda employing slogans such as "defense of the free world" and "defense of civilization." But such propaganda loses credibility day by day; moreover, we should not harbor too many illusions concerning the value of a technical and industrial superiority (unless it is totally overwhelming) when the counterpart of a moral factor and the warrior spirit is lacking in the fighting troops.


Finally, it is not easy to find somebody naive enough to believe that he is fighting in the "last war" and to be so selfless as to risk or sacrifice his life for those who will come after him in the hypothetical, idyllic democratic age without wars. And so the situation arises in which one is forced to fight, while his entire bourgeois and democratic education makes him hate war and conceive it as the worst scourge or as something ushering in ruin and all sorts of miseries. The best possibility will be to fight out of desperation in order to save one's life or wallet, since plutocratic democracies today remind us of the situation of one who, confronted with the choice between his wallet and his life, prefers to risk his life rather than surrendering the wallet. We can see up what blind alleys the democratic "antimilitarism" leads today, when those who are fighting are the elements more or less directly threatened and pushed against the wall. The civilization of the merchant and the bourgeois who extols only the "civic virtues" and who identifies the standard of values with material well-being, economic prosperity, a comfortable and conformist existence based on one's work, productivity, sports, movies, and sexuality causes the involution and extinction of the warrior type and the hero; what remains is the military man as "human material," whose performance on the battlefield is very problematic due to the above-mentioned absence of the inner factor—namely, a corresponding tradition and warrior view of life.


However, we may wonder if, after the recent experiences, one has had enough, or if one should forget what a modern "total war" entails; moreover, we may recall the extreme technical nature of such a conflict, seeing it not as a war of man against man, but rather as a war of the machine, matériel, and everything devised by science harnessed for purposes of radical destruction against man. We may wonder, in such a war, what margin is left to the traditional type of the warrior and the hero. The reply is that what is at work here is what Asians call karma. Modern man has no other choice. We may well agree with Ernst Jünger's views, according to which modern man, by creating the technology to dominate nature, has signed a promissory note that is now due; for instance, this is the type of war in which technology turns against him and threatens to destroy him not only physically, but spiritually as well. Thus, mankind must come to terms with its creation and compete with it. This is impossible unless a new inner dimension is created, which, in the case of war, will manifest itself in the form of a cold, lucid, and complex heroism in which the romantic, patriotic, instinctive element is absent, and in which, beside a more specific technical preparation, we find a sacrificial disposition: man's capability to face, and even to love, the most destructive situations through the possibilities they afford. These possibilities, in their elementary character, offer him the chance to grasp what may be called the "absolute person." All this, to a certain degree, will have to be applied to an entire nation, as in the modern "total war" the distinction between combatants and noncombatants is a relative one.


It may be said that modern war will lead only to the transformation of the heroic disposition and that its increasingly technical nature will constitute a real test, so that this disposition may assume a quintessential form, be purified and almost deindividualized, joining particular and complex forms of control, lucidity, and dominion. This purely spiritual and naked assumption of heroism is probably the only one that is still possible.


Obviously, in these terms heroism assumes an autonomous value as pure experience and individual realization. The circumstances of modern times seem such that those who still yearn to be warriors and heroes must place this value at the forefront. In a novel written during World War II, a character says: "It is a luxury to be able to fight for a just cause." This is a significant testimony concerning the deep, widespread mistrust toward the ideological background of the recent wars, a background shaped by many lies and much propaganda. Thus, wars will increasingly display the traits attributed to them by certain sociologists; such traits are similar to those of elementary and unavoidable natural phenomena, and the result is the relativization of the meaning and value of the "cause" in the name of which people fight on both sides. We might be inclined to suspect that to think in these terms may promote a demoralizing and defeatist attitude. This may be the case, but only in those who have a passive attitude toward the phenomenon of war and who are bourgeois in spirit. In other instances, it will be a matter of inverting the relationship from means to end: the value of the "cause" will consist in its susceptibility to become a mere means for the realization of the experience as "autonomous value." Beyond any destruction, ideology, and "ideals," this realization will remain as an intangible and inalienable thing. However, it is not the view of life endorsed by modern democracies that will propitiate this eventual inversion of perspectives. The times ahead of us, despite the euphoria for the "second industrial revolution," make it very likely that to remain spiritually upright and to endure even after extreme trials and destructions will be possible only on such conditions.



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