“we wished to awaken the feeling of man’s sovereignty by showing his divine birth; this path is now forbidden, since a monkey stands at the entrance.” (Nietzsche, Dawn, §49)
God is dead in Europe, and I do not see much chance of revival except in the wake of catastrophe. Not quite everything has been lost of the religious attitude, however. Individuals still think of themselves as being of unique importance, but without the countervailing humility of considering themselves as having duty toward the author of their being, a being inconceivably larger than themselves. Far from inducing a more modest conception of man, the loss of religious belief has inflamed his self-importance enormously.
For the person with no transcendent religious belief, this life is all he has. He must therefore preserve and prolong it at all costs and live it to the full. There are not many Hamlets who could be enclosed in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space. For most people, living to the full means consuming as much as possible, having as many experiences as possible, and not only many experiences, the most extreme experiences possible.
But the problem with consumption is that it soon ceases to satisfy. How else can one explain the crowds that assemble in every city center every weekend to buy what they cannot possibly need and perhaps do not want? Will another pair of shoes supply a transcendent purpose?
The same might be said of the experiences that people feel they must seek if they are to live life to the full. Sports become more extreme in their competitive urgency, holidays more exotic, films more violent, broadcasting more vulgar, the expression of emotion more crude and obvious. Compare advertisements showing people enjoying themselves 60 years ago and now. Mouths are open and screams, either of joy or pain, emerge. Quiet satisfaction is not satisfaction at all; what is not expressed grossly is not deemed to have been expressed.
So what is left for Europeans? The present being all that counts, it remains to seek the good life, the enjoyable and comfortable life, for themselves alone. Europeans are fearful of the future because they fear the past; they are desperate to hang on to what they have already got, what the French call les acquis, because it represents for them the whole of existence. So important is the standard of living that they see children not as inheritors of what they themselves inherited, but as obstructions to the enjoyment of life, a drain on resources, an obstacle to next year’s holiday in Bali.
I wish that someone would express this point without making religion out to be the saviour of the West. Dalrymple addresses scholarship as a potential transcendent value by which one could order their life, but dismisses it choosing to fall back on religion and seemingly relentless conservatism instead. Similarly Marxism is rejected—although I think that Dalrymple misuses the term here—as obvious nonsense. (I think of Marxism more so as a lens or perspective and not something you could genuinely live your life by—you can’t really live your life thinking that you are a thread in the unweaving of history towards emancipation…I just don’t see it.)
I wish someone would synthesize a real meaning that could incorporate the welfare-state while countering contemporary decadence and nihilism. Camusian revolt and living without appeal isn’t quite satsifying—try again.