"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Übermensch And Not The Saint - In Praise Of Genghis Khan, Big Men, And The Exercise Of Pure Will

It is common today to talk of compromise, fellowship, and good will as essential elements of human value; and so it is that society, with few exceptions, is comprised of those who are content to follow, to listen to others, and to make their way without disturbance. Those who impose their will are censured and condemned.  They are obstacles in the way of peace, harmony, and a better world. Their expressions of power, will, and absolute confidence are out of place in a humanity which has put self-interest aside in hopes of a more congenial, tolerant life. 

The world in every century, however, has been dominated by those who refuse to bend to such communitarianism.  From Caesar Augustus to Genghis Khan to Vladimir Putin kings, queens, emperors, shahs, and shoguns have ruled with absolute power and authority.  

Genghis Khan is perhaps the best example of this defiant, indomitable will. He and his armies were known for their cruelty and barbarity, and the sight of them advancing across the battlefield in a storm of dust, the earth shaking with the thunder of 50,000 hooves, was enough to send enemies into retreat. 

The thought alone of this terrible, bloodthirsty, warrior was enough to rout enemy armies. Genghis Khan was a man of absolute will and power, a frightening presence of power and vengeance.  He was a horseman of the Apocalypse.  By the time he was finished, the Mongol Empire extended from the Far East to Europe. 

It is in human nature to want to dominate, to stand alone amidst fallen enemies and be challenged by none, but few attain such power.  Yet American society denies this inherence, and acts to assist human beings in their ineluctable evolution from primitivism to Utopian confraternity. America today is the world's most fanciful and hopelessly idealistic nation.  

Despite 10,000 years of human history and the universal, common, and predictable wars for power, riches, and territory; and despite the preeminence of singular, absolute monarchs, Americans without a shred of evidence continue to believe that the world can become a more peaceful, verdant, and beautiful place. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, Twentieth Century incarnations of the spirit of Genghis Khan are just aberrations, say Utopians; and with dedication, purpose, and commitment, they will never occur again. 


Yet the Twenty-first Century has started off no differently than any other.  Putin, Xi, Erdogan, and the ayatollahs are not shy about their intention to restore the greatness of their imperial past.  The ayatollahs in particular are fired not only by familiar territorial and geopolitical ambitions, but by religion.  Only a universal, pan-global Islamic caliphate will satisfy them. 

There is not a scintilla of doubt in their ambitions, not one smidgen of moral reflection.  They, like their predecessors, feel endowed with and entitled to power; and moreover are convinced that they are unstoppable, invulnerable, and anointed. 

Americans are at a loss with these men. 'Let us reason together', President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously said when inaugurating his Great Society, a progressive, reformist movement that the country had never before seen; but such strangely collaborative ideas hamstrung him in Vietnam.  The hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people had to be won and considered.  There was no such thing as victory at all costs, he thought, conflating domestic communitarianism with geopolitical ambition. 

The North Vietnamese thought otherwise.  There was indeed such a thing as victory at all costs, and the relentless bombing of its territory, the reign of American terror, and thousands of military and civilian casualties meant nothing.  They would eventually prevail.  The Americans lost momentum, interest, and esprit, never really wanted this war, and would leave. 

The absolute conviction of Ho Chi Minh was beyond Americans' comprehension.  He would eventually see the light of compassion.  He would capitulate, give in, surrender. 


A world of compassion, consideration, harmony, peace, and love is but a fairy tale written for children, but this childish mentality has become endemic - it is now the ethos of America; and military might, vast defense treasuries, and sophisticated weaponry are just examples of what Mao called a paper tiger. 

Human society has been universally characterized by one essential trait - competition.  No tribe or settlement has ever resided on complacence or satisfaction.  Adversaries all want wider hunting grounds, more grazing lands, more extensive defensive perimeters, more population, and more power.  Competition is inherent and expressed among siblings, family groups, neighborhoods, communities, regions, and nations.  It is the one common human trait, never to be extinguished. 

There is no room for morality in geopolitics, observed Machiavelli, only an understanding of competing interests and action to resolve differences through the exertion of power and influence.  For Machiavelli, there was no moral basis on which to judge the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of power. Rather, authority and power are essentially coequal: whoever has power has the right to command.


The very idea of moral progress itself is a fiction.  Societies merely configure the moral code to serve as a current, reasonable, and appropriate guide to behavior.  Morality is relative and actions cannot and should not be judged from an absolute position. Surely no one would claim that the Zapotecs who performed human sacrifice as propitiation to pagan gods were any less moral than perpetrators of a ‘just war’; and just as certainly paganism, with its cosmology, deities, respect for a higher power, and powerful link between man and his environment, cannot be any less moral than Christianity.

From an American progressive point of view Stalin, Mao, and Vladimir Putin all are heretical maniacs, counter-revolutionary throwbacks to a primitive past.  The evil of their enterprises will be their downfall.  Such immoral, murderous, dictators cannot survive.  Goodness will prevail. 

History is a never ending repetitive cycle; and although Stalin and Mao are gone, they have been replaced by equally single-minded, determined, leaders.  Political fantasists like Francis Fukuyama said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the end of history, ushering in a millennium of peace, harmony, and good will; but any historian with any understanding of the nature of history knew otherwise.  

Not only does history repeat itself with the same tales of power, war, territorialism, and self-interest, but history always produces indomitable, willful, men who exhilarate in the exercise of power, do not shirk from it, and never parse it for morality, good, or evil.  Ambition is the heart and soul of human nature, and only a few realize its rewards.  

Nietzsche was right - the world, given the cyclical nature of history and familiar repetitions of human activity is meaningless; and the only validation of our existence within it is the expression of pure individual will. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.