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2/28/02

VIEW FROM THE MOUNT

Sober Thought Provoking Essays
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and the TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE . . .

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Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.
 - Soren Kierkegaard

Politics of the Existential Experience

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Søren Kierkegaard

There would be little disagreement that politics doesn't touch our lives in countless ways. But even more pronounced than the organization of society is the cauldron of the individual within the struggle of their own existence. Existentialism seeks to confront our need to make sense out of a seemingly irrational universe, and arrive at a sensible purpose even if it is not fully understood. Each person perceives reality through the filter of their own mind and experiences. The most basic reality is always personal. The individual must encounter and cope with the isolation and solitude of their own being, alone. Meaning can only be achieved one person at a time.

The nature of the existential process rests more on method than tenets. The range of thinkers who make claim on this approach to discern meaning vary widely. The most celebrated names are associated with theories that meaning is but an illusion and that man's absurdity is just a reflection of the senseless cosmos. And who can fault the illuminism of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus when their sense of dread is a product of the cruelty in the world condition. The essence of suffering lies in the "Amoral" system of corrupt behavior, and the authentic absurdity of our "Ontology". "Nihilism" becomes a substitute for ethics.  Right or wrong becomes obscure invoking moral resemblance to group conformity.

Man's existence overshadows and takes precedence over the essence of their inherent nature. Our own humanity obligates us to be free and responsible for our actions. Constant conflict reflects the essence of each decision as our existence is defined by our behavior and thoughts. The plight of Freedom allows for achievements and our anguish in the dread of a meaningless universe. "Existentialism has come to be identified as a crucial, reactionary way of thinking, celebrating the individual, freedom, embodiment, and the limits of rationality and systematic theorizing."

In order to understand and appreciate the existential approach, one should draw the clear distinction and departure from Hegelian Dialectic. Soren Kierkegaard best characterizes this difference when he said that Hegel would have been the greatest thinker who ever lived, if he had regarded his system as a thought-experiment. Instead he took himself seriously to have reached truth, and so rendered himself comical.

Kierkegaard is commonly credited as the originator of the existential insight and remains the primary source on its genuine character. All succeeding followers accept and stress the importance of  passionate individual action in deciding questions of both morality and truth. From his journal Kierkegaard wrote: "I must find a truth that is true for me . . . the idea for which I can live or die." Since he was a man of faith, his views and conclusions are quite different from Sartre and Camus. The notion of a "Necessary Being" accepts a being or intellect preceding all other existence. He viewed this relationship in what most would define as agnosticism. However, his Christian faith is based upon subjective passion. Faith is the most important task to be achieved by a human being, because only on the basis of faith does an individual have a chance to become a true self. This self is the life-work which God judges for eternity.

"For if God does not exist it would of course be impossible to prove it; and if he [or she] does exist it would be folly to attempt it." Demonstrating the existence or non- existence of God only produces reasons for belief, not the actual proof that God exists. Kierkegaard also claims, "...between God and his works there exists an absolute relationship: God is not a name but a concept" The relationship between man and God is a concept. A person with belief in God, cannot prove its existence through his or her own relationship with God.

Each persons bears the anxiety or dread (Angest)  of the presentiment of this terrible responsibility when the individual stands at the threshold of momentous existential choice. Anxiety is a two-sided emotion: on one side is the dread burden of choosing for eternity; on the other side is the exhilaration of freedom in choosing oneself. The question of eternity as a possible reward has little value when viewing existential thought as it applies to politics. But the notion of  a "Necessary Being" is vital.

The form of political design that flows from this fundamental of all choices rests upon this belief, or rejection thereof. For Sartre, nausea is used for the individual's recognition of the pure contingency of the universe, while Kierkegaard held that it is spiritually crucial to recognize that one experiences not only fear of specific objects but also a feeling of general apprehension, which he called dread. Sartre used anguish for the recognition of the total freedom of choice that confronts the individual at every moment.

Sartre supported Marxist causes while Camus promoted "humanistic socialism". Nietzsche, while popularly characterized as an atheist, found no significance in pondering the existence of a deity. We all know the dark side that drew upon Nietzsche's superman. The political regimes that employ the godless underpinnings of the "collectivism" that are reflected in the roots of Hegel to the theories of Marx to the perversions of Nietzsche by the Nazis, clearly leaves a negative legacy in their political conflicts with authentic existentialism.

The morality of choice is essential to the politics of existentialism. The rule is "there are no universal truth" which must transition into no universal rules. One could easily conclude that this is a paradox and that the political reality of existentialism must be anarchy. But the error in this inference is that the existentialist does not view anarchy as chaos. Personal responsibility is at the core of existential political behavior. Degrees of significance in moral choices rise with the scope of political authority. Freedom is the essential objective for individuals and society. Action becomes the realization of choice. Many non believing existentialists have favored authoritarian structure for government. Their desire to have functional necessities provided by an artificial organization was never a conflict, for in Niethzsche's words, "god is dead". If our condition is to be free and the result of this choice forces us to select from bad decisions, what is the difference if a society is highly directed for it should be more utilitarian.

Contrast this viewpoint with the Christian tradition of Kierkegaard that adheres to the political equality of individuals but recognizes their inevitable inequities in talent and motivations that should not be encouraged or retooled through political authority. The existential elements of "the single individual" as opposed to "the crowd", is a reoccurring theme in Kierkegaard.

Christian dogma, according to Kierkegaard, embodies paradoxes which are offensive to reason. The central paradox is the assertion that the eternal, infinite, transcendent God simultaneously became incarnated as a temporal, finite, human being (Jesus). There are two possible attitudes we can adopt to this assertion, viz. we can have faith, or we can take offense. What we cannot do, according to Kierkegaard, is believe by virtue of reason. If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd.

Francis Parker Yockey asks: "First, what is politics? That is, politics as a fact. Politics is activity in relation to power. Politics is a domain of its own - the domain of power . . . . The way politics divides the world is into friend and enemy."

Likewise, existential politics must be viewed within the context of faith in a "Necessary Being". The consequences of Niethzsche "nihilism" extends well beyond an existential perspective of the world. Man's rule is marked with hubris of  "Rationalism". The praxis of this failure can only increase our mutual anguish. Soren Kierkegaard's approach offers our best chance to authentic freedom - in harmony with the universe - and purpose of our being.

SARTRE - February 28, 2002

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.
 - Jean Paul Sartre

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