Having come a long way…

2 09 2010

It would, moreover, be interesting to psychologize some historical psychologists; I believe we could discover in them two tendencies. One is iconoclastic: it takes pleasure in attacking such figures as Plotinus or Marcus Aurelius, for example, who are naively respected by right-thinking people. The other is reductionist: it considers that all elevation of the soul or of thought, all moral heroism, and all grandiose views of the universe can only be morbid or abnormal. Everything has to be explained by sex or drugs.

The above is from Pierre Hadot’s book on Marcus Aurelius entitled The Inner Citadel, and concerns the theories of some modern scholars that the Stoic emperor was somehow a dope fiend or some other type of degenerate. I suppose I have also been going hog wild with my own postmodern conspiracy theories, and perhaps I need to take things more at face value. It is worth a thought.

Hadot is certainly no Catholic neo-con, or even a cultural conservative. But he was concerned with the integrity of human thought. One should take human nobility at face value most of the time, but one must always be vigilant againt irrational motives. Perhaps that is what is most useful about the tools supplied by such thinkers as Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and other postmodern thinkers. Reason must always be subject to self-critique, or it ceases to be reasonable. Once passion enters in too much, once rhetoric becomes too belligerent, the structure must be torn down to preserve one’s humanity. Otherwise, one becomes a beast with the power of speech.

The fact is, since I read this book, I have almost considered myself more of a Stoic than a Christian, if only because I share most of their fatalism and think that often the only way to get by in the universe is to conform yourself to its coldly rational workings. Metaphysically, I am still a Neoplatonist on good days, but I have long since ceased to think that the course of history follows some gentle, loving path of gum drops and sweet compliments. History is brutal, and the cosmos is tough. Brace yourself, prepare for the fight, and do your duty.



9 responses

8 09 2010

I must be really dense because the significance of the Hindu images eludes me.
Dave’s Books from Georgia used to sell an odd collection of traditional Catholic books, book on Hinduism, and books concerned with the Third Reich and its secret weapons.

A few years ago, the LeFloch Report published an article on what it called “Perennialism” showing a link between rad trads and hinduism going back as far as Chesterton and Belloc and culmination in Fr. Coomaraswamy.



8 09 2010

No postings for the celebration of lord Krishna early in September?

Remember, there is no Nirvana without Samsara.

3 09 2010
Jared B.

I myself am a stoic by temperament, and for most of my life have not fully realized much distinction in ethics or attitude between Stoicism & Christianity, to the point that that first quote from Chesterton made absolutely no sense to me the first few times I read it. I’m still trying to work out where Stoicism leaves off and the Gospel picks up; it has something to do with humility, psychological defensiveness, and sacramentalism.

The second quote is not intended as a refutation of Arturo’s valid point about belligerent rhetoric and irrationality, but just a good counterpoint. Identifying passion as bestial may be going to far. To be passionate — not to put too fine a point on it, even to be irrational — is essential to being human. Underrating reason will make us cruel, but typically it is a human cruelty. Overrating reason and underrating irrationality will more assuredly make us inhuman.

3 09 2010
Jared B.

On rationality and Stoicism I was immediately reminded of two quotes by the paradox-loving G.K. Chesterton from a book I’m currently reading:

The mediaeval Europe which asserted humility gained Romance; the civilization which gained Romance has gained the habitable globe. How different the Pagan and Stoical feeling was from this has been admirably expressed in a famous quotation. Addison makes the great Stoic say–
“‘Tis not in mortals to command success;
But we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”
But the spirit of Romance and Christendom, the spirit which is in every lover, the spirit which has bestridden the earth with European adventure, is quite opposite. ‘Tis not in mortals to deserve success. But we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll obtain it.


No one, perhaps, but a sociologist can see whether a housing scheme is right. But any healthy person can see that banging brass cymbals together must be right. A page of statistics, a plan of model dwellings, anything which is rational, is always difficult for the lay mind. But the thing which is irrational any one can understand. That is why religion came so early into the world and spread so far, while science came so late into the world and has not spread at all. History unanimously attests the fact that it is only mysticism which stands the smallest chance of being understood by the people. Common sense has to be kept as an esoteric secret in the dark temple of culture.

3 09 2010
Arturo Vasquez

It’s all about the dharma.

2 09 2010


Why the choice of the image to go along with this post?

2 09 2010
Sam Urfer

Agreed. That was what I was trying to go for.

2 09 2010

Of course, Sam. But it’s also good to recognize that the same God that gives us butterflies and bourbon is the same God who lets good men go through absolutely terrible things, and, indeed, himself marks them with afflictions. This tells us something about the nature of goodness: goodness is not always kindness. Goodness is often in opposition to kindness and happy things.

2 09 2010
Sam Urfer

“See, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be then as wise as snakes, and as gentle as doves. But be on the watch against men: for they will give you up to the Sanhedrins, and in their Synagogues they will give you blows; And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…And brother will give up brother to death, and the father his child: and children will go against their fathers and mothers, and put them to death. And you will be hated by all men because of my name: but he who is strong to the end will have salvation.”

We were never promised flowers and butterflies in this life. Our hearts can soar, but we must keep on living on the ground, until the end. Should we not be both the grim, pragmatic stoic and the spiritually minded Theurgists?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: