Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The core problem with Gasset's philosophy is his notion of "nobility". For Gasset, nobility means living according to some ideal and not living according to bovine impulse. Self-discipline then is the core characteristic of the noble man. The problem, though, is that the content of the ideals matter, and self-discipline in the pursuit of stupid ideals only leads to stupid outcomes. There is no doubt that many men were inspired by Nazism and Bolshevism, and suffered greatly for them. Felix Dzerzhinsky and Reinhard Heydrich both lived the ideal, both were the "hard men" of their respective ideologies, and both ended up being made monsters by them. The core problem with Nietzschean inspired philosophies is that self-discipline becomes an end instead of a means. Self-discipline is not enough; ideals and ends matter.
In his book, Gasset, demonstrates and admiration of the noble men of antiquity, especially when empire building. Hence his "European solution." Gasset, using historical precedent and seeking to motivate men to nobility, proposes the development of European Empire to inspire them to greatness.
History, however has proved the idea wrong. The European project, as evidenced by the formation of the European union, has not "lifted" man out of his "demoralisation", rather, it seems to have made the problem worse. And I'm not talking here about the political implementation of the European project. Rather, in modern Europe and it's derived cultures, the Greek remains Greek and the German, German. The average man seems resistant to the attempts by the European elites to ditch his "blood and soil" allegiances in preference to abstract universalist ones. Gasset, despite his sociological insight fails to understand human nature. Brussels is not exactly the triumph of the human spirit.
Still, despite its flaws, Gasset's book has some important insights which are valuable for the conservative.
I think Gasset does a good job describing mass-man and the hive mind. Any conservative political theory which does not take into account this phenomenon is ultimately denying reality. Gasset's book raises real doubts as to the viability of modern "universalist" conceptions of democracy by demonstrating that the hive-mind is unable to perform the mentation and self-discipline necessary to sustain civilisation. Any serious conservative push-back is going to have to tackle this problem head on.
Secondly, Gasset is never given enough praise for his criticism of the modern specialist, and our contemporary culture's excessive worship of him. Gasset clearly recognises that civilisation is a balancing act between competing values and interests. Specialist advice is frequently given in ignorance of other facts of life and thus hampers the functioning of civilised life. The mind with the ability to see the big picture is the only mind that can rightly be considered "cultured" or "educated". We need to bring back a social distinction between the highly skilled and the cultured. Amgonst conservatives the cultured man needs to be given precedence over the skilled and "Joe Average." Merited elitism needs to make a comeback.
Finally, Gasset warns us that civilisation can't be taken for granted and it can't be taken as a given. It needs to be maintained. Detroit is what happens when the proles are in control.
Overall, I think it is a valuable but flawed book. The Brothers Judd did a very good review of it which can be found here. It's a good addition to any conservative library.