Some time ago I was reading the Belmont Club and Wretchard brought up Goethe’s Faust in some context. It was something I had been meaning to read for some time so I went ahead and got Part I, then Part II from the library.
Part I is a pretty straightforward tragedy, a good but not great epic poem. The devil helps Faust seduce a poor girl, Gretchen, with a series of horrible consequences for her. Ultimately she is facing execution for drowning their illegitimate baby; Faust tries to rescue her with Satanic assistance but she refuses his help, accepts judgement for her sins and goes to heaven. It’s strongly Christian; the message is people shouldn’t try to get around God, and should follow the rules because they can’t predict the consequences of breaking them.
Part II is really a completely different thing, and why Goethe even brought Faust into it, except that he had an established character he wanted to use. It’s not very good; I pretty much just skimmed through it. The important parts are the beginning and the end.
It starts out right after the death of Gretchen. Faust is sleeping in some supernatural location. He is cleansed of all his sins and awakened. Think about this; he has made a pact with the devil and caused the deaths of Gretchen, their child, and her brother and mother. But, with a snap of the fingers, that’s all gone.
Faust has various adventures and dies. Gretchen comes back into the picture, asking for his salvation. It is granted, because all is forgiven for the man who strives. All is forgiven for the man who strives. This is a massive moral change from traditional recognition of the limits of human agency, whether ancient Greek or 19th century Christian. This seems to come from the Romantic movement, but whether this is more Byronic or German, although I would say German, because Byronic romanticism seems to have been more limited to art, while German romanticism was more interested in politics and society.
I must qualify myself here by admitting I wasn’t paying much attention in college, even if they had been covering anything like this. All my real knowledge comes from bits of reading here and there.
Nietzche developed this further with the idea of the “superman”, who placed himself above the rules followed by the common herd. Like the Byronic hero, he might be moody, volatile, misunderstood, guilty (in the traditional sense) of various crimes- but it didn’t matter, because he was after something more, something higher.
This inclination to leave behind traditional morality and limits may have been a big force behind Bismarck and the establishment of the modern German state. The first modern, nationalist state was Napoleonic France. As bloody and disastrous as the Napoleonic wars were for Europe, the consequences of German unification were worse. The Franco-Prussian War, World War I, the Russian revolution, and World War II all ultimately came from this.
In the 20th century the two primary ideologies bred by this new lack of restraint were Nazism and Marxism-Leninism. Nazism was destroyed; Marxism-Leninism as a political philosophy is dead, although all kinds of leftism still find the idea of a higher morality convenient.
So what in the Sam Hill does all this have to do with black punks looting electronics stores or randomly attacking hapless whites? It has everything to do with it.
Mainstream opinion is starting to get used to the idea we have a problem, but they can’t get past traditional explanations for bad behavior of this sort as coming from anger over deprivation (the preferred liberal explanation, although as we see on VFR the British unemployed are far from deprived) or poor parenting and lack of Christian morality (the preferred conservative explanation.)
But the criminal does not operate under a lack of morality, he acts under a supermorality. The idea of the criminal as superman- as a revolutionary attacking the system through crime- seems to date from Antonio Gramsci in the 30’s, but became very popular with black American criminals in the 60’s. Any black person attacking a white person is a revolutionary superman asserting the power and beauty of the black counterculture against the bourgeoisie.
This is difficult to deal with because one, the idea of the criminal as a rebel is popular with all lower-class and many middle-class and upper-class people and all leftists. The idea of blacks as victims- and so legitimately inclined to rebel against their victimization is even more pervasive.
The simple truth behind this is that black people more than any other group benefit from bourgeous morality, and their rebellion against it is less than ridiculous. Only under such a moral environment are white people inclined to protect and care for black people. In a white atmosphere of violent romanticism or an honor culture black people are dead or slaves.
The reason that the typical person- particularly the type of middle- or upper-class person who makes decisions for society- doesn’t understand violent and manipulative people is that they haven’t had much contact with them. This is their great good fortune, but creates great suffering for the people who are victimized by criminals.