I enjoyed the recent article by Michael O'Meara, entitled The Shock of History, being a review of a book by the same name--Le Choc de l'Histoire by French historian Dominique Venner. He finds that amidst the current crisis--financial, demographic, cultural, existential--Europe is awakening from a long sleep, a dormition, if you will. Venner's thoughts on tradition are ones that can be appreciated by the Orthodox reader. He draws interesting distinctions between America and Europe, and I largely agree with his observation that the U.S., in its own way, occupied western Europe every bit as much as the Soviets did in the East. A few selections, as follows:
“The future belongs to those with the longest memory.” –Nietzsche
Conservative thinking...is essentially historical thinking—in that it orients to the concrete, to ‘what is’ and ‘what has been’, instead of to ‘what ought to be’ or ‘what can be’. ‘Properly understood’, historical thinking (as créatrice de sens) reveals the ‘Providential’ design evident in the course and test of time.
Venner’s thesis is that: Europeans, after having been militarily, politically, and morally crushed by events largely of their own making, have been lost in sleep (‘in dormition’) for the last half-century and are now—however slowly—beginning to experience a ‘shock of history’ that promises to wake them, as they are forced to defend an identity of which they had previously been almost unconscious.
Like the effect of cascading catastrophes (the accelerating decomposition of America’s world empire, Europe’s Islamic colonization, the chaos-creating nihilism of global capitalism, etc.), the shock of history today is becoming more violent and destructive, making it harder for Europeans to stay lulled in the deep, oblivious sleep that follows a grievous wound to the soul itself—the deep curative sleep prescribed by their horrendous civil wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), by the ensuing impositions of the Soviet/American occupation and of the occupation’s collaborationist regimes, and, finally, today, by a demographic tsunami promising to sweep away their kind. As Europe’s lands and institutions were assumed by alien interests, her ancient roots severed, and her destiny forgotten, Europeans fell into dormition, losing consciousness of who they were as a people and a civilization.
Tradition for him is precisely that which does not pass. It is the perpetual spirit that makes Europeans who they are and lends meaning to their existence, as they change and grow yet remain always the same. It is the source thus of the ‘secret permanences’ upon which their history is worked out.
Tradition...is preeminently contemporary....It renders what was formed and inspired in the past into a continually informed present. It is always new and youthful, something very much before rather than behind them. It embodies the longest memory, integral to their identity, and it anticipates a future true to its origin. Life lived in reference to tradition...is life lived in accordance with the ideal it embodies—the ideal of ‘who we are’.
In one sense, Venner’s Europe is the opposite of the America that has distorted Europe’s fate for the last half-century....Modeled on the Old Testament, not the Old World...America’s New World (both as a prolongation and rejection of Europe) was born of New England Calvinism and secularized in John O’Sullivan’s ‘Manifest Destiny’....Emboldened by the vast, virgin land of their wilderness enterprise and the absence of traditional authority, America’s Seventeenth-century Anglo-Puritan settlers set out, in the spirit of their radical-democratic Low Church crusade, to disown the colony’s Anglo-European parents....Believing herself God’s favorite, this New Zion aspired—as a Promised Land of liberty, equality, fraternity—to jettison Europe’s aesthetic and aristocratic standards for the sake of its religiously-inspired materialism. Hence, the bustling, wealth-accumulating, tradition-opposing character of the American project, which offends every former conception of the Cosmos.
Venner says US elites (‘cosmocrats’, he calls them) pursue a transnational/universalist vision (privileging global markets and human rights) that opposes every ‘nativist’ sense of nation or culture—a transnational /universalist vision the cosmocrats hope to impose on the whole world. For like Russian Bolsheviks...these money-worshipping liberal elites hate the Old World and seek a new man, Homo Oeconomicus—unencumbered by roots, nature, or culture—and motivated solely by a quantitative sense of purpose.
As a union whose ‘connections’ are essentially horizontal, contractual, self-serving, and self-centered, America’s cosmocratic system comes, as such, to oppose all resistant forms of historic or organic identity—for the sake of a totalitarian agenda intent on running roughshod over everything that might obstruct the scorch-earth economic logic of its Protestant Ethic and Capitalist Spirit. (In this sense, Europe’s resurgence implies America’s demise).
What will awaken Europeans from their sleep? Venner says it will be the shock of history—the shock re-awakening the tradition that made them (and makes them) who they are. Such shocks have, in fact, long shaped their history. Think of the Greeks in their Persian Wars; of Charles Martel’s outnumbered knights against the Caliphate’s vanguard; or of the Christian forces under Starhemberg and Sobieski before the gates of Vienna. Whenever Europe approaches Höderlin’s ‘midnight of the world’, such shocks, it seems, serve historically to mobilize the redeeming memory and will to power inscribed in her tradition.
More than a half-century after the trauma of 1945—and the ensuing Americanization, financialization, and third-worldization of continental life—Europeans are once again experiencing another great life-changing, history-altering shock promising to shake them from dormition. The present economic crisis and its attending catastrophes...combined with the unrelenting, disconcerting Islamization of European life (integral to US strategic interests) are—together—forcing Europeans to re-evaluate a system that destroys the national economy, eliminates borders, ravages the culture, makes community impossible, and programs their extinction as a people. The illusions of prosperity and progress, along with the system’s fun, sex, and money (justifying the prevailing de-Europeanization) are becoming increasingly difficult to entertain. Glimmers of a changing consciousness have, indeed, already been glimpsed on the horizon.
The various nationalist-populist parties stirring everywhere in Europe—parties which are preparing the counter-hegemony that one day will replace Europe’s present American-centric leadership—represent one conspicuous sign of this awakening. A mounting number of identitarian, Christian, secular, and political forces resisting Islam’s, America’s, and the EU’s totalitarian impositions at the local level are another sign. Europeans, as a consequence, are increasingly posing the question: ‘Who are we?’, as they become more and more conscious—especially in the face of the dietary, vestimentary, familial, sexual, religious, and other differences separating them from Muslims—of what is distinct to their civilization and their people, and why such distinctions are worth defending. Historical revivals...are slow in the making, but once awakened there is usually no going back. This is the point, Venner believes, that Europe is approaching today.
History is the realm of the unexpected....In history, the future is always unknown. Who would have thought in 1980 that Soviet Russia, which seemed to be overtaking the United States in the ‘70s, would collapse within a decade? Historical fatalities are the fatalities of men’s minds, not those of history.
History, moreover, is the confluence of the given, the circumstantial, and the willful. This makes it always open and hence potentially always a realm of the unexpected. And the unexpected (that instance when great possibilities are momentarily posed) is mastered, Venner councils, only in terms of who we are, which means in terms of the tradition and identity defining our project and informing our encounter with the world.
Hence, the significance now of husbanding our roots, our memory, our tradition, for from them will come our will to power and any possibility of transcendence. It’s not for nothing, Dominique Venner concludes, that we are the sons and daughters of Homer, Ulysses, and Penelope.
(The 3 paintings--Echo and Narcissus, The Siren, and Tristan and Isolde--all by pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse are appropriate to the subject matter, I think.)