In English we have 2 works of Venner’s, both brought to us by Arktos publishing. For A Positive Critique is, I think, the first book he published (1962) and The Shock of History came near the end of his life: it is a written interview (presumably done over email). So I beg your patience if you are a thorough Venner buff in the French style: From these two books and from the simple story of Venner’s life, I have great respect for the man, but I am not able to know Venner as well as I should like from the works I have.
Venner is French; I am American. His notion of cultural renewal and “a secret and more noble Europe” appeals to me because there is and always has been a “secret America.”
“Before taking part in politics, the Hindus first made a return to the source of their tradition.” The Hindu nationalist eschewed politics (as Venner understands the word) in order to focus on the secret and noble Hindu. Venner admires their focus on scouting movements and education. There really isn’t any use in fighting political battles if there isn’t a side worth fighting for, and only the secret and noble strain of a civilization is worth the fight. If the nobility of your blood or creed or race or whatever defines your nation (or whatever collection of things defines your nation) has no chance at succeeding at politics, politics is bunk for the time being. Venner turned historian in order to do his part in the cultivation of promising youth.
The historian is the ideal man in Junger’s mature theorizing: the historian achieves greatness within himself and this is what permits him to interpret the great men and their influence on history. Historians with poor eyes, impoverished souls, only bungle history and mislead young people. Such historians obscure the secret nobility of their people (supposing it exists—it doesn’t always).
Venner took this seriously and turned historian, giving up political activism as largely ineffective in the midst of so much decline. And not only decline… he recognized that the French people had terribly declined, but he also recognized that even the good men had (and have) no chance at wielding political power, an option only open to the financiers and the few statesmen who stand at the heads of independent states.
For Venner, politics involves the ability to make the most important decisions, which ultimately culminates in decisions of life and death. He follows Schmitt in this way and strikes me as a profound reader of Schmitt. Secret France had no access to this power. I do not know about France today, but I think it is obvious that good Americans do not have access to this power either. In fact, just recently, decent citizens were disabused of a long held notion that they had the right to control their police forces and lock away local criminals. The financier George Soros and others began gradually, but are quickly taking this right for themselves.
Politics must be put aside for the cultivation of the youth. “Thus a Young Europe, founded on the same civilization, the same space, and the same destiny, will serve as the active center of the West and of the world order. The youth of Europe will have new cathedrals to construct and a new empire to build.” This was his activist hope in 1962; only the immediacy of his hopes changed over time. He never lost sight of the youth of Europe: “This awakening [of Europe] will undoubtedly come. When? I do not know but I am positive it will take place.” (2012)
What to Preserve—The Hidden and Secret Elite
“Junger always distanced himself from the infamous and disgraceful acts of his time. He proved that despite the disappearance of the European aristocracy as a social class, the qualities of honour, self-sacrifice, and of conduct could survive in those of elite character who, in decadent times, constitute a sort of hidden aristocracy.” (32) (all quotes from here on out are from Shock)
“[Stefan George] even before 1914, began to outline his idea of a ‘secret Germany,’ embodied by a small elite belonging to a ‘Poetic state,’ opposed to the materialistic society of his time. His poems called for the awakening of a secret elite to protect the ancient flame.” (42)
You cannot just say what makes someone elite. If you could, it would be much easier to be “elite” and there wouldn’t be an elite. Let it suffice here to say, the exertions undertaken by the dissident rightwing are the groundwork for preservation of what is good: BAP’s Sun & Steel, the broad agreement around reading and discussion unbowed by fake morality, new projects, and a longing for real camaraderie.
I am aware that as an internet phenomenon, insofar as we are, there is no camaraderie in the old style. There is a lamentable side to this, but to be sure there is a virtue to be found in it as well. When your life is forced down certain avenues—and much of life has been forced onto the internet—you have to make a virtue of the necessity. The immense pond of human beings would in fact be much more stifling and unhygienic if we could not make the connections we are making over the internet. The groups we are forming in our locales are enriched as a result of our connection online, through which we have access to men we otherwise wouldn’t. I am not saying there haven’t been horrific consequences … our political life has been raped; you understand that. But if you’ve been injected with semen and cannot abort, you might as well bring forth new life as best as you can.
The Wordy Right: A Basis for the Hidden Aristocracy
“The first act by which we free ourselves from tyranny, by which we enter into intellectual and moral rebellion, is to free ourselves from the power of words. It is by means of words, by their seductive, corrosive, and intimidating power, that an able system captures those it wishes to neutralize or dominate, and it does so well before falling back on more dangerous weapons. … From the depths of the Gulag, Solzhenitsyn heroically reconquered his inner world, making himself a free man in spite of the barbed wire fences and guard towers that surrounded him. Solzhenitsyn said that he first had to conquer the lie that Communism had instilled within him, the lie that constituted the crux of his difficulty. Words are strategic implements. To give yourself your own words, and above all to give yourself a name, is to affirm your existence, your autonomy, your freedom.” (62)
Venner leaves the reader with that thought at the end of Chapter 6, and then starts in on a 3 chapter run discussing the history of Europe, where he seeks to provide a diagnosis to his English readers of the problems that beset Europe, specifically, the problem that a set of words has imposed upon Europe and the way out.
Venner does not like America and who can blame him. I have a number of criticisms of his view of America and of what follows, but I am saving that for a follow-up essay.
We start with what is highest: Venner’s view of the gods. Europe is currently guided by two gods and needs a return to the god Apollo. The Hebraic God and the Titan Prometheus currently are the strongest gods in Europe. Prometheus is in some sense the god imposed upon Europe by the Enlightenment and the Hebraic god was an Asian import, whose first foothold came through Plato but later, of course, through the Jews. It was good that the Olympian gods overthrew the Titans and bad that they were replaced by the One God of the Hebrews. We must return to Homer and retrieve the true meaning of Europe.
Taking things out of the realm of the gods: we have to oppose politics through abstractions and moral hypocrisy. We have to recapture the possibility of Tradition and Loyalty in our time.
“Tradition … is not the past, it is that which does not pass away. It comes to use from that which is most distant but always present. It is our interior compass, the benchmark of all the norms that suit us and that have survived all that has tried to change us. Look at the role of women…” (83)
Venner is emphatic on the role of women: the Homeric view of the ideal woman, the feminine virtues, have largely survived (as a remnant, not completely intact) since Homer’s Penelope. If Christianity had had its way, there would be no celebration of the bodies of Women in sculpture: the nude statue or painting would be forbidden. If Christianity could not eradicate this, the “North African immigrants” won’t have their way either. European women embody the truly feminine and excel the women of other traditions, which is why it is only in the European tradition that women are celebrated as they are.
Our tradition also contains a guiltless view of human life, though Christianity successfully attacked this. The truly European religions “made no pretence of being privy to a transcendent ‘truth’ and imposed no ‘morality’ from on high. Natural morals (do not kill, do not steal, honour your father and mother, respect your neighbor’s wife, etc.) were taught through tradition. Everything changed with the introduction of the Hebraic monotheism, which tore morality out of the hands of tradition and put it into those of a divine arbiter who threatened grievous punishment in the afterlife to those who broke the rules. This new ‘morality,’ according to Manent, through its often perplexing interdictions, introduced a conflict between ‘what men do and what men say.’ If we take the notion of secularism in the current sense of the word, the separation of politics from the ‘monotheistic religion,’ it may appear as though there has been an implicit return to the freedom of ancient polytheism, without the pantheon of gods.” (89-90)
So to repeat: the enemies are abstraction, nominalism, and transcendent morality (the ‘theological virtues’ if we are going to call a spade a spade). Tradition teaches “natural morality” and is, as tradition, inherently concrete and not abstract.
Our tradition teaches that we are, in a large sense, the playthings of the gods and in this life… we have the option of striving and though we hope for the best we may run up against a tragic catastrophe. This is okay because tragedy is part of the fertility of tradition: if your life is a tragic one … look, you should consider yourself lucky to be worthy of a tragic eruption. It means you were a significant part of the tradition. As for everyone else, they are only expected to be normal citizens—“do not kill, do not steal, honour your father and mother, respect your neighbor’s wife, etc.”—not tortured by unrealistic and perplexing divine commands whose violation can result in an eternity of torment.
The transcendent morality on the other hand, through its “often perplexing interdictions,” makes men into hypocrites: political action requires the violation of transcendent morality, all real striving must disregard it and you cannot keep men from striving. If you require men to turn the other cheek you just make them into hypocrites; you divorce speech and deed.
Europe toppled the transcendent morality, reasserted itself, in the person of Machiavelli—but it did so by having recourse to the Titan Prometheus, i.e., a reliance on utilitarian or techno-scientific culture. It did not regain its Homeric footing, but it did heal the division of speech and deed. I won’t go into an extensive explanation of the evils of the Enlightenment, which are well known: materialism & skepticism impoverish. If Europe is going to completely reassert itself, it must revive a respect for Apollo, either literally or metaphorically, to counterbalance the Promethean excesses.
“The metaphysic of the unlimited, which has been the driving force behind human progress, has suddenly met its limit. The question we must now ask is: how can we rediscover the Apollonian aspect of our civilization in order to counterbalance the Promethean excess?” (16)
“The European spirit ignores moderation which was a rule among the ancient Greeks, at least before Plato. Apollo against Prometheus, in a manner of speaking. At that time, before the fifth century, a number of Greek philosophers and mathematicians endeavoured to learn about nature (phusis) using reason alone.”
European man must forego his addiction to progress through technology and abstraction; he is to moderate himself which means he is to return to tradition. On the one hand technology and abstractions sever European man from concrete problems… they hide from him the primal concerns of life and death. On the other, specifically with respect to abstract notions of “the good” (a holdover from Plato and Christianity), abstractions about “Man” have plunged Europe into a fit of disloyalty to itself, or disloyalty to its ancestors and their tradition; the abstraction “man” has prostrated Europe before the interests of the refugee-profiteers.
The god Apollo would permit Europeans to be loyal to themselves again. He would orient Europeans to the concrete reality faced by every tradition. The Europeans must recognize their position in the world as a unique people, which must undergo trials and undertake adventures and exertions if it is going to survive. The Apollonian aspect would return order and limit to the “unlimited metaphysics”: Europeans will see themselves as a living tradition that can but shouldn’t permit itself to die. Europe must permit itself a moral faux pas… there is a sense in which every living thing has to face up to the fact that it has no choice but to think of itself, to see itself as a mortal creature whose only security lies within its own resources. Apollo is the god of resourcefulness, of order for the sake of life. And beyond this moral faux pas… Apollo calls upon Europeans to re-cultivate the spirit, to see that they cannot avoid the problem of man: no artificial creation can save man from himself.
“The security of peoples resides in their homogeneity, their resolution, their intelligence, and the bravery more than in miraculous weapons or treaties.” (101)
Venner killed himself 7 years ago today. He did so not in rejection of the Apollonian; that was not the point. You can kill yourself for the sake of life. It does not take much imagination to see how. I do not have time or the inclination to go into his justification and doubt it is even proper… if someone questions this action of his, well, he defended himself quite eloquently on this score. You can find a justification of suicide in Shock as well as his suicide letter.
But let’s briefly look at history’s two greatest suicides: Cato and Socrates. Cato despaired. He had spent his life fighting for a Rome that no longer existed and he knew no other reason for living than for the glory and virtue of the Republic. If you have no reason to live, why do so? I know there are many arguments about “you just don’t know! You cannot play god!” But I think such protests … look, try living your entire life devoted to something and then live with the realization that what you lived for is over. I myself like to think you can always make a virtue of necessity, but maybe that is not always the case.
Socrates goaded the Athenian people into killing him and in so doing protected his friends and glorified philosophy. I don’t know if you know, but he was going to die at some point anyway and was quite old when he did. What if he had run away to Sparta or wherever? Would Plato have been passed down to us? Xenophon?
All honor to Dominique Venner whose accomplishments are still unfolding.