So near and yet so far.
So near and yet so far.
Are you such a dreamer
To put the world to rights
I’ll stay home forever
Where two and two always makes a five
I’ll lay down the tracks
Sandbag and hide
January has April showers
And two and two always makes a five
It’s the devil’s way now
There is no way out
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now
Because: you haven’t been paying attention…
“2+2=5” and “Wolf At The Door”
Hail To The Thief, 2002
Man so far as he is a being who, gifted with an intellect, possessing the ability to choose his course of action and thus able to take moral decisions, raises himself above the animal world can likewise sink far below their level, as for instance when he goes to war with his fellows, a phenomenon which we should seek in vain among animals of the same species. Even so he is still true to his nature in seeking reasons for his action, in possessing the impudence to excuse himself for his zoological nature or even boast of it. In short, in using his intelligence to be “far beastlier than any beast.”
It is precisely the mistake of rationalism to be led astray by a boundless trust in the intellect, to regard it as a never failing guide and to forget the deeper meaning of the Biblical story of the Fall; “ye shall be of the gods knowing good and evil.” The mistake lies in the belief of no possibility of mistake, in disregarding every warning signal, protective railing and signpost, and failing to observe all those uncanny and malicious complications, deceptions, traps and paradoxes of which the human intellect is capable and which can lead finally to anti-intellectualism, anti-humanism, and irrationalism; in short to the betrayal of humanity. It may appear very surprising but anyone who has thought about these matters can scarcely doubt that it was a kind of misuse of the intellect which, with a small and seemingly innocent lapse here, with colossal misuse there, has inconspicuously influenced human thought during the past few centuries to act in a way which has led to the wretched conditions of things in the world of today. The latest and lowest step along this road of misguided intellect to which men of unbounded optimism and unbelievable confidence in the intellect have been led, is that of fully doubting the possibility of intellect and giving themselves up with rational over-sophistication to irrationalism, emotionalism, to the worship of blood and instinct or whatever one likes to call it.
This misuse of the intellect which springs from overlooking its limitations and conditions stands in strong contrast to the arrogant superiority with which the intellectualist and the rationalist is in the habit of approaching us and laughing at our humble recognition of the limiting factors of the intellect as a form of simplemindedness. We are not reproaching him with too much use of the intellect but with a misuse of it, a false one. Since we can only take a false step when we do not recognize that is is false it is too little intellect that we attribute to the erring rationalist, and hence it is an additional amount of thought and reasoning which we are demanding and not less. It is fundamentally false thinking which we would make responsible for the condition of the world and of humanity and it is correct thinking from which we hope the world’s salvation may come. And incidentally are we therefore not reproaching the rationalists in spite of all their thinking with not having thought a little further? And are we not accordingly of the opinion that this deficiency has proved a world calamity? This is in fact our opinion and we do not mind whether for that reason we are classed among the rationalists or the romanticists. Such neat classifications are no small part rationalism which takes a delight in labels and tickets and which regards these as adequate scientific analysis. But tickets and labels are quite immaterial to us so long as we only understand the thing itself and agreed in the simple requirement that false thinking should be corrected by thinking properly.
Let us repeat: our thought always takes the wrong road when it follows its unfortunately inherent tendency to stray, to dogmatisation and to seek after absolutes while forgetting the conditions, and limitations to which it is subject…
The power impulse has two forms: explicit, in leaders; implicit, in followers.
Imagination is the goad that forces human beings into restless exertion after their primary needs have been satisfied. Most of us have known very few moments when we could have said:
If it were now to die,
‘Twere now be most happy, for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.
And in our rare moments of perfect happiness, it is natural, like Othello, to wish for death, since we know that contentment cannot last. What we need for lasting happiness is impossible for human beings: only God can have complete bliss, for His is ‘the kingdom and the power and the glory’. Earthly kingdoms are limited by other kingdoms; earthly power is cut short by death; earthly glory, though we build pyramids or be ‘married to immortal verse’, fades with the passing of centuries. To those who have but little of power and glory, it may seem a little more would satisfy them, but in this they are mistaken: these desires are insatiable and infinite, and only in the infinitude of God could they find repose.
While animals are content with existence and reproduction, men desire also to expand, and their desires in this respect are limited only by what imagination suggests as possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility. These men are framed after the model of Milton’s Satan, combining, like him, nobility and impiety. By ‘impiety’ I mean something not dependent on theological beliefs: I mean refusal to admit the limitations of individual human power. This Titanic combination of nobility with impiety is most notable in the great conquerors, but some element of it is to be found in all men. It is this that makes social cooperation difficult, for each of us would like to conceive of it after the pattern of cooperation between God and His worshippers, with ourself in the place of God. Hence competition, the need of compromise and government, the impulse to rebellion, with instability and periodic violence. And hence the need of morality to restrain anarchic self-assertion.
Of the infinite desires of man, the chief are the desires for power and glory. These are not identical though closely allied: the Prime Minister has more power than glory, the King has more glory than power. As a rule, however, the easiest way to obtain glory is to obtain power; this is especially the case as regards the men who are active in relation to public events. The desire for glory, therefore, prompts in the main, the same actions as are prompted by the desire for power, and the two motives may, for most practical purposes, be regarded as one.
The orthodox economists, as well as Marx, who in this respect agreed with them, were mistaken in supposing that economic self-interest could be taken as the fundamental motive in the social sciences. The desire for commodities, when separated from power and glory, is finite, and can be fully satisfied by a moderate competence. The really expensive desires are not dictated by a love of material comfort. Such commodities as a legislature rendered subservient by corruption, or a private picture gallery of Old Masters selected by experts, are sought for the sake of power or glory, not as affording comfortable places in which to sit. When a moderate degree of comfort is assured, both individuals and communities will pursue power rather than wealth: they may seek wealth in order to secure an increase of power, but in the former case as in the latter their fundamental motive is not economic.
The error in orthodox and Marxist economics is not merely theoretical but is of the greatest practical importance.
Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The declaration of the the Rights of Man at the end of the eighteenth century was a turning point in history. It meant nothing more nor less than that from then on Man, and not God’s command or the customs of history, should be the source of Law. Independent of the privileges which history had bestowed upon certain strata of society or certain nations, the declaration indicated man’s emancipation from all tutelage and announced that he had now come of age.
Beyond this, there was another implication of which the framers the declaration were only half-aware. The proclamation of human rights was also meant to be a much-needed protection in the new era where individuals were no longer secure in the estates to which they were born or sure of their equality before God as Christians. In other words, in the new secularized and emancipated society, men were no longer sure of these social and human rights which until then had been outside the political order and guaranteed not by government and constitution, but by spiritual and religious forces. Therefore throughout the nineteenth century, the consensus of opinion was that human rights had to be invoked whenever individuals needed protection against the new sovereignty of the state and the new arbitrariness of society.
Since the Rights of Man were proclaimed to be “inalienable”, irreducible to and undeducible from other rights or laws, no authority was invoked for their establishment; Man himself was their source as well as their ultimate goal. No special law, moreover, was deemed necessary to protect them because all laws were supposed to rest on them. Man appeared as the only sovereign in matters of law as the people was proclaimed the only sovereign in matters of government. The people’s sovereignty (different from that of the prince) was not proclaimed by the grace of God but in the name of Man, so that it seemed only natural that the “inalienable” rights of man would find their guarantee and become an inalienable part of the right of the people to sovereign self-government.
In other words man had hardly appeared as a completely emancipated, completely isolated being who carried his dignity within himself without reference to some larger encompassing order, when he disappeared again into a member of the people. From the beginning the paradox involved in the declaration of inalienable human rights was that it reckoned with an “abstract” human being who seemed to exist nowhere, for even savages lived in some kind of social order. If a tribal or other “backward” community did not enjoy human rights, it was obviously because as a whole it had not yet reached that stage of civilization, the stage of popular and national sovereignty, but was oppressed by foreign or native despots. The whole question of human rights was quickly and inextricably blended with the question of national emancipation; only the emancipated sovereignty of the people, of one’s own people, seemed to be able to insure them. As mankind, since the French Revolution, was conceived in the image of a family of nations, it gradually became self-evident that the people, and not the individual, was the image of man.
The full implication of this identification of the rights of man with the rights of peoples in the European nation-state system came to light only when a growing number of people and peoples suddenly appeared whose elementary rights were as little safeguarded by the ordinary functioning of nation-states in the middle of Europe as they would have been in the heart of Africa. The Rights of Man, after all, had been defined as “inalienable” because they were supposed to be independent of all governments; but it turned out that the moment that lacked their own government and had to fall back on their minimum rights, no authority was left to protect them and no institution was willing to guarantee them.
“On The Perplexities of the Rights of Man”