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Cultivating Your Ethos. A review of For a European Awakening

Une recension en anglais de l'ouvrage collectif Pour un réveil européen (La Nouvelle Librairie Éditions, septembre 2020), par Guillaume Durocher (unz.com).

Cultivating Your Ethos. A review of For a European Awakening

In Europe today, it is easy to fall into permanent numbness amidst the omnipresent falsehoods, frivolousness, and slouching. That makes it all the more remarkable when one encounters some who resist, some who hold to an ethos, to the legacy of an entire civilization… an invigorating oasis in the most sterile spiritual desert.

Thus I came across this remar­kable lit­tle book by the Iliade Ins­ti­tute, “For a Euro­pean Awa­ke­ning,” with contri­bu­tions from over a dozen French acti­vists figh­ting for the cause of indi­ge­nous Euro­peans and their excep­tio­nal civilization.

The book is part of Iliade’s gro­wing col­lec­tion of attrac­tive paper­backs for the Euro­pean wishing to recon­nect with his roots and look to the future without flin­ching, cove­ring issues as varied as Euro­pean iden­ti­ty, poe­try, demo­ni­za­tion by the media, the Middle Ages, and the Euro­pean dimen­sions of Sha­kes­peare and Nietzsche.

The authors include a wide varie­ty of contri­bu­tors from the French iden­ti­ta­rian cultu­ral eco­sys­tem, inclu­ding tea­chers and uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sors, his­to­rians, book and maga­zine edi­tors, PhD stu­dents and gra­duates, and the occa­sio­nal high civil ser­vant and cor­po­rate mana­ger. Among them we have the phi­lo­so­pher Alain de Benoist, Iliade co-foun­der Jean-Yves Le Gal­lou, and the young Thi­baud Cas­sel, an alum­nus of the Euro­pean institutions.

The book repre­sents an ethi­cal syn­the­sis, almost a mani­fes­to, of what we might indeed call the Ilia­dic or Ven­ne­rian school of French iden­ti­ta­ria­nism. The col­lec­tion seeks to give intel­lec­tual and prac­ti­cal ans­wers to the ques­tion : How is a self-res­pec­ting Euro­pean to behave today ? The work is orga­ni­zed accor­ding to the three Ilia­dic slogans :

  • Nature as foundation.
  • Excel­lence as goal.
  • Beau­ty as horizon.

The result is an impres­sive med­ley of essays on topics as varied as eco­no­mics, urban deve­lop­ment, envi­ron­men­ta­lism, spi­ri­tua­li­ty, work, and poli­ti­cal philosophy.

Pour un réveil européen The Ilia­dic school empha­ti­cal­ly affirms the spi­ri­tual conti­nui­ty of Euro­pean civi­li­za­tion, from the ancient Greeks through the Romans and medie­val Euro­peans right up to the moderns. One can right­ly ask : Is there real­ly such a Tra­di­tion – and not a fun­da­men­tal insta­bi­li­ty – in Euro­pean his­to­ry ? And any­way what of this sur­vives among the rapid­ly decli­ning, sad, and squi­shy Euro­peans of today ? What com­mo­na­li­ty is there bet­ween the Greek explo­rer-pirate and citi­zen-sol­dier, the Roman far­mer-legion­naire, the Chris­tian knight or monk, the ear­ly-modern scien­ti­fic and world-conque­rors and … the Euro­pean of today – the less said about which the bet­ter ? What is real­ly left of the mos maio­rum, the ances­tral tra­di­tions that sus­tai­ned our societies ?

Iliade does not pro­pose a return to any par­ti­cu­lar tra­di­tion – Stoic, Chris­tian, or other – but a kind of gene­ral ele­va­ted ethos dra­wing from Europe’s varied spi­ri­tual roots. One may deem it post-Nietz­schean or neo­clas­si­cal. At bot­tom, it is an eli­tist, aris­to­cra­tic ethos chal­len­ging us to achieve indi­vi­dual excel­lence within an orga­nic com­mu­ni­ty, gui­ded by the Hel­le­nic tri­fec­ta of Nature, Excel­lence, and Beauty.

In terms of poli­tics, there is a mus­cu­lar rejec­tion of the social contract, in favor of an Aris­to­te­lian vision of flou­ri­shing groun­ded in human nature, that of, inter alia, a social, spi­ri­tual, une­qual, inter­ge­ne­ra­tio­nal, and here­di­ta­ry ani­mal. Hence a deci­ded­ly par­ti­cu­la­ris­tic and bio­cen­tric world­view : “Ethos does not mean for the Greeks a uni­ver­sal mora­li­ty foun­ded on the oppo­si­tion bet­ween good and evil : ethics is the way in which beings bear them­selves in the face of the world over the course of their usual sojourn. The ethos of a people draws its roots from a tra­di­tion and res­ts on trans­mis­sion” (147).

The basic fact of conti­nui­ty with ances­tral tra­di­tion lies in human nature. Indeed, we need “a rea­lis­tic concep­tion of human nature …based on the tea­chings of ancient wis­dom bol­ste­red by the dis­co­ve­ries of modern Euro­pean science” (p. 31). Iliade hap­pi­ly inte­grates the latest bio­lo­gi­cal science – the Anglo-Ame­ri­cans have long had a much stron­ger empi­ri­cal tra­di­tion – into a very French intel­lec­tual tra­di­tion of deep know­ledge of his­to­ry and phi­lo­so­phy. Indeed, the rea­der gets some­thing of a crash course in Greek and Roman ethi­cal ter­mi­no­lo­gy, with ample refe­rences not only to French authors, but also and espe­cial­ly to great Ger­man thin­kers (Schmitt, Jün­ger, Höl­der­lin, Heidegger…).

The his­to­rian Hen­ri Leva­vas­seur admi­ra­bly sums up the insane hubris of the blank-sla­tist eman­ci­pa­to­ry pro­ject against human nature :

In the name of the struggle against all forms of discrimination, the advocates of the “blank slate” are determined to deconstruct the classic anthropological categories. They want to definitively impose, first through media and social pressure, then through judicial and State coercion, a “fluid” model of identity, meant to replace “natural” families and nations, entities considered to be oppressive or outdated. In this view, the sovereign individual must be able to choose its identity in complete autonomy : the social order has no other role than guaranteeing the existence of this free choice… This deathly ideology however is crashing against the wall of reality… (p. 32)

This vision applies natu­ral­ly to nations – consi­de­red as nothing more than contrac­tual eco­no­mic spaces – and, in hor­ri­fyin­gly sur­real fashion, to bio­lo­gi­cal sex itself. The result howe­ver of going so bru­tal­ly against the grain of human nature is mere­ly ugli­ness, sick­ness, and chaos, as wit­nes­sed by the per­pe­tual eth­nic strife of mul­ti­cul­tu­ral nations.

The revolt against iden­ti­ty – the last constraint – seems to flow quite natu­ral­ly from the gene­ral col­lapse of beha­vio­ral stan­dards since the Second World War, what we might call the Great Slouching :

Though it may seem difficult to establish objective criteria of “conduct” [tenue], everyone can instinctively define what must be rejected : unkemptness, vulgarity, slackness. The latter takes various forms : slackness of the body (flabbiness or exhibitionism), of behavior (lack of self-control, neglect of rules of courtesy), of the spirit (intellectual laziness, conformism), or of the soul (loss of a sense of honor, lack of courage or lack of faithfulness to one’s principles). (p. 152)

This ethi­cal col­lapse natu­ral­ly coin­ci­ded with and entren­ched Europe’s cultu­ral and geo­po­li­ti­cal col­lapse. The his­to­rian Phi­lippe Conrad observes : “The ‘dark Twen­tieth Cen­tu­ry’ wit­nes­sed glo­bal power’s cen­ter of gra­vi­ty move to North Ame­ri­ca, itself bea­ring a new model of civi­li­za­tion, ini­tial­ly ins­pi­red by Wil­so­nian uni­ver­sa­lism and libe­ral illu­sions” (p. 8). Europe’s decline was aggra­va­ted by socie­tal libe­ra­lism, most spec­ta­cu­lar­ly expres­sed in France with the May ‘68 pro­tests, a decline only par­tial­ly mas­ked by ongoing tech­no­lo­gi­cal progress.

Today, Europe is in a posi­tion somew­hat simi­lar to France in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry : riding on her past glo­ries and facing rapid decline rela­tive to other powers. France, once Europe’s cultu­ral hege­mon and lea­ding power, became a high­ly vul­ne­rable second-tier great power. So Europe, once mis­tress of the world, is now a mere trade bloc – having lost all mili­ta­ry or cultu­ral pree­mi­nence – and a rapid­ly decli­ning one at that. If the Uni­ted States long was able to sus­tain a dyna­mic sym­bio­tic rela­tion­ship bet­ween poli­ti­cal libe­ra­lism and natio­nal power, few today remain opti­mis­tic about that hyper-pola­ri­zed non-nation’s medium-term pros­pects. We risk a rude awakening.

Per­haps the book’s most impor­tant pas­sages are those sug­ges­ting prac­ti­cal actions each of us can under­take to lift our­selves out of this morass. The Euro­pean may ele­vate him­self through a self-conscious and deman­ding ethic and way of life. Thi­baud Cas­sel urges us (citing Domi­nique Ven­ner): “to culti­vate a close rela­tion­ship with nature, through hun­ting or hiking … to prac­tice a mar­tial art, in order to culti­vate a concrete viri­li­ty and to gather the indi­vi­duals who still have a live­ly taste for effort … to write often, and to reread our­selves, so as to culti­vate conscious­ness of our action” (p. 84).

The Iliade Ins­ti­tute gra­duate Alix Mar­nin writes of the need for well-spent lei­sure or otium, “free time dedi­ca­ted to stu­dy and reflec­tion … as the neces­sa­ry condi­tion for all action, dis­tinct from agi­ta­tion and busy­ness, that is nego­tium. The accom­pli­shed man does not dis­tin­guish action from contem­pla­tion, and has the will to deve­lop him­self intel­lec­tual­ly” (p. 88). Indeed, pri­vate and pro­fes­sio­nal life should not be “balan­ced” as anta­go­nis­tic poles of one’s life, but form a uni­fied and har­mo­nious whole (p. 91).

Leva­vas­seur him­self pre­sents an alter­na­tive to the post­war anti-ethos :

To seek excellence as a goal means to keep to moral elegance, to practice a certain self-restraint, to cultivate demands upon oneself ; it means to fight to harmonize thought and action, being and appearance, to tend towards overcoming, rather than seeking, hedonistic “fulfillment”; to submit to freely consented discipline rather than demanding total freedom ; it is to know that one is “a link in the chain,” to serve others rather serve oneself, to be demanding in choosing one’s peers while being able to face solitude ; finally and especially, it means transmitting this collection of demands through example, to never deny oneself by way of ease, comfort, and security. The surest way of achieving this is to build an “inner citadel,” through daily meditation, reading, but also through the discipline of the body. (p. 153)

In short, the Euro­pean must not live as he has recent­ly lear­ned to, at ran­dom. Rather, he will live in such a way that he may, as a Roman did, proud­ly ins­cribe on his tomb : “My man­ners have enri­ched the vir­tues of my race. I have begot­ten des­cen­dants, I have sought to equal to the exploits of my father. I have deser­ved the praise of my ances­tors, who rejoi­ced to see me born for their glo­ry. My honor has enno­bled by lineage” (p. 149).

Rea­ding this book, I could not help but feel ins­pi­red and rene­wed. I thought to myself : here is a work which merits trans­la­tion, into Ger­man, Ita­lian, Spa­nish, Hun­ga­rian, and… why not, English ! Europe needs a new elite which feels for her as our com­mon mother­land. We need dis­sen­ters from glo­ba­lism who will not be side­tra­cked by cer­tain ste­rile pet­ty-natio­na­list or conser­va­tive culture-war obses­sions. The pre­ser­va­tion and resus­ci­ta­tion of Europe as a dis­tinct, sove­rei­gn­ly ani­ma­ted, and living human com­mu­ni­ty will serve genuine human diver­si­ty : “As a tree can­not sur­vive without roots, so the uni­ver­sal only exists as a poly­pho­nic exten­sion of spe­ci­fic iden­ti­ties” (p. 31).

Admit­ted­ly, not all will be convin­ced by some of these essays in the detail. The phi­lo­so­pher Rémi Sou­lié makes the case for the “gol­den thread” of Euro­pean mys­ti­cism – Pytha­go­ras, Pla­to, Mas­ter Eckart, Mir­cea Eliade … (p. 24) – and one is left won­de­ring how to prac­tice this out­side any par­ti­cu­lar tra­di­tion. (The glo­ry of Zen and Ortho­doxy as living tra­di­tions, as Pla­to might well have conceded.)

Jean-Phi­lippe Anto­ni, a pro­fes­sor of urban and ter­ri­to­rial deve­lop­ment, right­ly asks : What exact­ly may be dee­med “natu­ral” in the age of GMOs and syn­the­tic bio­lo­gy (p. 45)? This in fact means no dis­cre­di­ting of the notion of bio­lo­gi­cal nature, but mere­ly that it must be thought in a futu­rist spi­rit, one which unders­tands that ances­tral wis­dom and tra­di­tio­nal notions of excel­lence must indeed be recast as and when our tech­no­lo­gy comes to trans­form, not mere­ly the condi­tions of life, but life itself. This cen­tu­ry will indeed wit­ness more per­fect beings and per­fect monstrosities.

I who­le­hear­ted­ly endorse this fine col­lec­tion and invite Euro­peans across the world to read and trans­late its contents. We are, deci­ded­ly, living in a time of great­ness, of a sort. The authors rea­di­ly refer to the famous demo­gra­phic Great Repla­ce­ment, but also to the cultu­ral Great Effa­ce­ment, the Great Confi­ne­ment of the past year, the Great Uphea­val that these represent, and ulti­ma­te­ly the Grand Res­sour­ce­ment. An expres­sion I can­not ade­qua­te­ly trans­late, but which means some­thing like “the Great Return to Our Roots.”

Jean-Yves Le Gal­lou right­ly observes that Euro­pean his­to­ry is made up of rises and falls punc­tua­ted by rebirths (96). Thus if we work and car­ry on the torch we may right­ly hope, in our life­times or the next, for ano­ther trans­for­ma­tion : the Great Renaissance.

Guillaume Duro­cher
Source : The Unz Review , March 16, 2021