A Highly Tonic Effect

The election of the individual is the kernel of Protestantism. It must be that without it, a proper emphasis on Works opens the door to the institution of the Church, its system of sacramens and a priesthood, and makes the individual dependent on it. Hence the insistence on Justification by Faith, the doctrine of the proesthood of all believers. Many have found it curious with regard to the Protestant attachment to Predestination, as they do inn the case of Marxist determinism, that it should be precisely these deterministic creeds which create the greatest energy of will in their adherents and drive them on to make the greatest efforts. It seems paradoxical in those who are at such pains to deny freedom of the will. The explanation can only be that to identify your desires and wishes with the march of events is the greatest assurance, comfort and reinforcement that human egoism can command. It stores up and releases untold energies; for, as we all know, human egoism is the greatest motive force in the world.

A. L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth.

 

In this new religion, everything had to be within the common range of the Arabs, i.e., it had to be possible. Therefore Islam has the simplest catechism, and the main elements of this simplicity are as follows:

Oneness of God and his predicates.

Allah is neither procreated nor procreating.

Revelations by the prophets Adam, Noah, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed as the last of the prophets, but with intimations of a Mahdi.

The absolute decree; fatalism (Mohammed himself calls it “submission”) which had a highly tonic effect on aspiring forces. In connection with untoward things one speaks of “Mektub.”

Belief in angels (because Mohammed found devas, jinn, and peris).

Immortality and Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell (“Paradise lies under the shadow of swords”).

Moral laws, all kinds of moral precepts, among them “No lying” (for Mohammed reserved lying for himself); part of this is the civil law of the Koran which is in force to this day.

Finally, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage.

Jacob Burckhardt, Judgements on History and Historians.

 

Nevertheless we should remember that a perfected idealism has a tendency to change into its opposite and become a materialism for all practical purposes. Absolute Will is not a natural being, not anybody’s will or thought; it is a disembodied and unrealised genius which first comes into operation when it begins to surround itself with objects and points of resistance, so as to become aware of its own stress and vocation. What these objects or felt resistances may be is not prejudged; or rather it is prejudged that they shall be most opposite to spirit, and that spirit shall experience its own passivity—one mode of its fated and requisite experience—in the form of an influence which it imputes to dead and material things.

The whole business of spirit may, therefore, well be with matter. Science might be mechanical, art might be cumbrous and material, all the instruments of life might be brutal, life itself might be hard, bitter, and obsessed, and yet the whole might remain a direct manifestation of pure spirit, absolute freedom, and creative duty. This speculative possibility is worth noting: it helps us to understand modern Germany. It is no paradox that idealists should be so much at home among material things. These material things, according to them, are the offspring of their spirit. Why should they not sink fondly into the manipulation of philological details or chemical elements, or over-ingenious commerce and intrigue? Why should they not dote on blood and iron? Why should these fruits of the spirit be uncongenial to it?

A theoretical materialist, who looks on the natural world as on a soil that he has risen from and feeds on, may perhaps feel a certain piety towards those obscure abysses of nature that have given him birth; but his delight will be rather in the clear things of the imagination, in the humanities, by which the rude forces of nature are at once expressed and eluded. Not so the transcendentalist. Regarding his mind as the source of everything, he is moved to solemn silence and piety only before himself: on the other hand, what bewitches him, what he loves to fondle, is his progeny, the material environment, the facts, the laws, the blood, and the iron in which he conceives (quite truly, perhaps) that his spirit perfectly and freely expresses itself. To despise the world and withdraw into the realm of mind, as into a subtler and more congenial sphere, is quite contrary to his idealism. Such a retreat might bring him peace, and he wants war. His idealism teaches him that strife and contradiction, as Heraclitus said, are the parents of all things; and if he stopped striving, if he grew sick of ambition and material goods, he thinks he would be forsaking life, for he hates as he would death what another kind of idealists have called salvation.

We are told that God, when he had made the world, found it very good, and the transcendentalist, when he assumes the Creator’s place, follows his example. The hatred and fear of matter is perhaps not a sign of a pure spirit. Even contemplatively, a divine mind may perfectly well fall in love with matter, as the Moon-goddess did with Endymion. Such matter might be imagined only, as if Diana had merely dreamt of her swain; and the fond image might not be less dear on that account. The romantic poet finds his own spirit greeting him in rocks, clouds, and waves; the musician pours out his soul in movement and tumult; why should not the transcendental general, or engineer, or commercial traveller find his purest ideal in trade, crafts, and wars? Grim work, above all, is what absolute Will demands. It needs the stimulus of resistance to become more intensely conscious of Self, which is said to be its ultimate object in imagining a world at all. Acquisition interests it more than possession, because the sense of effort and power is then more acute. The more material the arts that engage it, and the more complicated and worldly its field of action, the more intense will be its exertion, and the greater its joy. This is no idealism for a recluse or a moping poet; it does not feel itself to be something incidental and fugitive in the world, like a bird’s note, that it should fear to be drowned in the crash of material instruments or to be forced to a hideous tension and shrillness: shrillness and tension are its native element. It is convinced that it has composed all the movements there are or can be in existence, and it feels all the more masterful, the more numerous and thunderous is the orchestra it leads. It is entirely at home in a mechanical environment, which it can prove transcendentally to be perfectly ideal. Its most congenial work is to hack its way through to the execution of its World-Plan. Its most adequate and soul-satisfying expression is a universal battle.

George Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy.

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Expanse of Soul

I do not admire the excess of a virtue as of valour, except I see at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas, who had the greatest valour and the greatest kindness. For otherwise it is not to rise, it is to fall. We do not display greatness by going to one extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening space. But perhaps this is only a sudden movement of the soul from one to the other extreme, and in fact it is ever at one point only, as in the case of a firebrand. Be it so, but at least this indicates agility if not expanse of soul.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer.

 

Simultaneous existence of incompatible things in the soul’s bearing; balance which leans both ways at once: that is saintliness, the actual realization of the microcosm, the imitation of the order of the world. The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul – like pincers to catch hold of God.

Simone Weil, ‘Contradiction’, in An Anthology, translated and edited by Sian Miles.