Greek Aristocracy

10 posts

Bronze Age Pervert

From Burckhardt's History of Greek Culture:

More to come...

The question would be if this model of a splendid culture and society is at all possible in our modern and degenerate age of cities of millions, ideologies, mass movements, and the like. If one asks if it is relevant the reply is that it has to be because it is the one and superior form of social and political organization, regardless of time and place; if it is "irrelevant" to modern life because impossible in modern life, then this speaks to the irreducible mediocrity of modern life. If one answers that as an individual one may excel even in modern life or lead a life of aesthetic contemplation and escape the trend of the age, then the reply again would be that this is an implicit concession that only a desperate and risky "second best" solution is possible in our age.

The "urban patriciate" or patriarchate that Burckhardt mentions here--and which in the Italian Renaissance led to a similar flowering of physical and mental and cultural excellence--is also taken by Strauss and some Straussians (like Bloom) to be the kind of social class that is throughout history the only sure friend of philosophers. They are therefore eager to form some type of this gentleman within liberal mass democracy, as the prerequisite of the higher life of the mind and culture, and ultimately the safeguard of philosophy. I think this is naive and don't think that such a class can either be educated or bred today; or suppose that it could, but then it can't be sustained and propagated for any period beyond one or two generations. Certainly the Straussian attempt to educate such a class of gentlemen has degenerated into parody, as any honest Straussian will tell you in private. What then is the solution? Only Straussians have thought about this, and even if their solution is bad, at least they haven't forgotten what is important. I don't speak about all Straussians of course.

But forgetting Strauss for a moment, the problem still remains that among all the great political crises that face Western peoples today, and the white race--which is the biological prerequisite of genius--the successful resolution of ALL of them would still leave us back to square one with respect to this one greatest fault. Which is to say, that there is no reform and no project possible within the context of modern mass societies that can reconstitute such a "splendid society" of aristocratic agonism and its breeding of supreme forms of excellence.
Bob Dylan Roof

The division of labor between philosopher and nobility has proved to be a degenerate institution. The frail and isolated philosopher must either choose the fate of Archimedes at Syracuse or compromise his commitment to truth and give himself over to the prevailing religion. Historically he has chosen the latter. Lacking the physical resources to defend himself, the philosopher must concoct an esoteric fitness strategy in order to preserve his idle way of life. The philosopher is incapable of securing his own liberty and must therefore assimilate to the dominant spirit of the age.

The behavior of Straussians (of which I have only superficial knowledge) is as illustrative of this phenomenon as the fusion of Church and philosophy at the fall of the Roman empire. The Straussian goal was, no doubt, admirable if they really intended to nurture a nobility of blood and honor, but the image of the frail and idle modern academic promoting such an institution is too absurd for words. The energy with which the Straussians have encouraged fidelity to modern institutions, customs and prejudices, even while ostensibly defending an aristocratic tradition, supports this analysis.

Reminds me a bit of Spengler's comments on ancient Greeks.

Well, we do have people who focus all of their energies on their appearance, their sport, or their personal fitness--particularly at the expense of genius. There may be a minor dynastic element at play as often the offspring of good-looking or "athletic" actors, models, athletes, etc., try to emulate their parents. Some have political influence to the extent that money can buy. Other than that, I do not see them forming a true aristocracy in the sense of one that fights and governs for their people. They resemble an aristocracy in the sense that the plebs follow their every move as if they were actually important, via all of the worthless television shows and tabloids.

That being said, I do not think that it is per se impossible for this "model" to return, but I do not foresee it returning organically. Perhaps the Schutzstaffel could have formed an aristocracy obsessed with form, aesthetics, fitness, strength, and the national welfare, but that ship has sailed.
Bronze Age Pervert
It is not the purpose of an aristocracy to fight and govern for the people, this is a democratic justification and understanding of aristocracy that is in truth no aristocracy. It is rather the way of life of the aristocracy itself, and its own supremacy and brilliance that constitutes the "rule by the best," who rule for themselves, their honor, the glory of the names of their ancestral houses, and their personal excellence, not for the well-being of the plebs. I believe this is also what Burckhardt was saying in what I quoted.

Any comparison between the SS and the archaic Greek or medieval Italian urban patriciate is not good, what basis is there for this comparison. The SS was more akin to the bodyguard of ancient tyrants; it was on the other hand like modern political armies/security forces such as exist in Marxist states to form a check to the power of the military. To compare them to ancient aristocracies makes about as much sense as thinking that Hitler was somehow Roman because of the Roman salute, or that modern fitness/gym culture has anything in common with the ancient model Burckhardt was talking about--I don't agree with this comparison you make either. The ancient culture of gymnastics he talks about was a consequence, as he says, of the agonistic principle on which every Greek city was built, there is simply no comparison to modern utilitarian health/fitness culture and the like.

When Burckhardt mentions "genius," by the way, he means individual innovation and personalization, which was abhorred in Greek arts, etc. ...

But since you do bring up the SS, it was rather my point that attempts to counter modernity and liberalism through efforts like NS or the SS in fact ends up making modern liberal democracy look good by comparison. The reason the "ship has sailed" on that model is not because it was defeated by force, but because its example was so grotesque that no one would want to emulate it. If one could say anything good for the SS it would not be that it was a revival of ancient aristocratic principle, but rather that it formed one of the "barbaric brotherhoods" that Nietzsche predicted would embrace strong nihilism to wipe away the soft nihilism of modernity. But I think this is also going too far, it was in fact just the political army of a socialist-democratic totalitarian tyranny that adopted certain cynical trappings for propaganda/rhetorical purposes. Just look at who the recruits were, and what their job was.
I think you misinterpreted what I said. I wrote their people, which you can interpret as narrowly or broadly as you would like, not the people. When I spoke of plebs, I was speaking of modern-day plebs who obsess over the details concerning the lives of the rich and famous as if they are modern-day aristocrats. I did not mean to imply that aristocrats govern for the well-being of plebs, peasants, or anyone but themselves.

This is not totally true; the scope of the SS' activities was vast. The Liebstandarte served as a bodyguard, others served a police function, others served in the political army (Waffen SS), and others followed scholarly pursuits (like the Ahnenerbe, who carried SS rank and wore SS uniforms). The SS' moral and ideological purpose also evolved over time.

The chief point is that, with the SS, Himmler to a great degree sought to build a cadre of people that was physically, mentally, and racially harder than others yet also united by blood and soil. Ancient aristocracies cultivated similar attributes until they typically fell into decadence. One can only speculate what would have become of the SS had the war turned a different way, but with their unique rituals, breeding programs, selective admission criteria, etc., they could have emerged as a form of aristocracy in "our modern and degenerate age of cities of millions, ideologies, mass movements, and the like."

Lastly, the aristocracies of Greek city-states were not interchangeable in terms of their behavior. I do not think that it is ludicrous at all to suggest that someone brought up in the Hitlerjugend, who follows that with SS service, could become something akin to a modern-day Spartan.

Well, I did not make that argument, and disagree anyway. There are a few problems here. One of these is that historians have not figured out if the Romans, in fact, saluted in this fashion:
"The modern gesture consists of stiffly extending the right arm frontally and raising it roughly 135 degrees from the body’s vertical axis, with the palm of the hand facing down and the fingers stretched out and touching each other. [1] According to common perceptions, this salute was based on an ancient Roman custom. [1] However, this description is unknown in Roman literature and is never mentioned by ancient historians of Rome. [1] Not a single Roman work of art, be it sculpture, coinage, or painting, displays a salute of this kind. [1] The gesture of the raised right arm or hand in Roman and other ancient cultures that does exist in surviving literature and art generally had a significantly different function and is never identical with the modern straight-arm salute. "[1]

Oops. Also, Hitler did not always give the stiff-armed salute. He had his own unique salute as well, which he employed more often in his later years.

People find the alleged atrocities of the National Socialists and the Schutzstaffel to be "grotesque," not their aesthetics. The rallies, uniforms, and so forth simply had no comparison.

Also, the aristocratic model had been defeated by force. I am not solely referring to the ancient Greeks now (although we know what happened to them), but the model barely held on during the Napoleonic era and monarchies with their noble/aristocrat pets were more or less killed off with the end of WWI.
Niccolo and Donkey

Thermo is about to make Beachstud submit.

Bronze Age Pervert



Yes but what did the Nazis believe? Are you denying the NS based a lot of their aesthetics on Roman themes? Were they actually Roman-like is the question, or was it propaganda kitsch?

The point is that it is not force that is keeping NS repressed today, it is voluntary disgust on the behalf of most of mankind at their political program. They actually made and make liberal democracy look good, this is probably their biggest for the rallies and so on, they have been reproduced by other socialist totalitarian regimes, and I don't find these displays to be glorious. Again NS kitsch is to ancient Greek aristocratic aesthetics what modern fitness/health culture was to ancient agonistic athletics. I'm sorry but I'm not impressed by mass democratic prole attempts to rip off a historical ideal that in reality stands opposed the reign of mediocrity that is the rule among inferior modern men.

The comparison to historical European aristocracies (the remnants of which had nothing but contempt for the von der Gasse NS rabble) is not right here either, as I don't think their disappearance had to do primarily with force. It's not as if people would flock to them if they came back. It is modern life as such, democracy as such, that makes the appearance of a genuine aristocracy and grand way of life impossible.
Bronze Age Pervert
You added this later, and I guess this is the disagreement. Your claim is to me equivalent to someone saying that a highly capable and well-trained GRU agent, trained since his youth in Marxist-Leninist ideology, physical exercises, youth Pioneer movement, and so on, is something akin to a modern-day Spartan, and I disagree. There is basically no difference between the SS and the organization I just named. The supposed "vast scope" of activities you mentioned still characterizes the SS as a mere political/party security force that is meant to provide a check to the military and to give unswerving support to a totalitarian administrative state. That for propaganda purposes this organization wanted to claim the veneer of knighthood or Sparta is not something anyone should get taken in by. How would they compare precisely to the model of aristocracy that Burckhardt lays out above? The principle of the Greek aristocratic way of life was not absolute loyalty to a leader or party, and the education and mindset had nothing to do with ideological indoctrination and correctness; the principle of social and cultural life was the agon, loyalty was to family, friends (including foreign friends) and clan, and life was characterized, e.g., by the Roman patricians as otium et bellum, "leisure and war." There is basically no point of contact between the way of life of a pre-modern aristocrat and that of a highly ideological security agent of a Party machine, no matter how well-trained this latter may be, or how much he may believe himself to be a modern knight and so on.

I would ask that, if you want to make a comparison between the SS man and the ancient aristocrat, that you refer either to the long passage from Burckhardt that I quoted above, or to some other source for evidence for some precise comparisons, I'm certain you will find none.
Its a specious argument on both sides. The SS never purported to be an aristocracy , nor did it claim the be the heir of Hellenic values or thought or modes of life and fighting.

Nor was the SS simply an aestheticized variant of the NKVD or a police department with an imperial mandate.

Himmler himself consistently irritated the officer corps of the Heer with his public and prideful declarations that he was of peasant stock, and his Napoleonic, quasi-Jacobin, commitment to merit-based commissions within the Waffen SS. Dietrich, Pieper, Kurt Meyer, Michael Wittman stood out because they were men who would have been, or in Dietrich's case actually were, overlooked by the Reichswehr under the Imperial regime as lacking the taste, breeding, pedigree, and intellect required of combat officers. What the SS substituted for these qualities was a radical commitment to duty, absolute fealty to the race and the leader principle, and a demonstrable willingness to sacrifice their own well-being (physical, material, and spiritual) in the service of a grand struggle against the burgeoning world order.

The sources of the SS ideological vision are found in peasant Romanticism, expressed by scribes like Hermann Lons, a reverence for the feudal heritage of the German lands that was steeped in pious violence, culminating in the 30 Years War, and a belief in personal piety and selfless commitment to the blood community that was deeply felt in both the Pietist north as well as among the ancient and clannish Catholic agrarian lands of the south.

The ''Classical'' trappings and aesthetics of the NS state, its physical structures and pageants, and its cult of physicality and martial exercise and readiness had to do with the fact that these things were immediately resonant within the European mind and had a simple but profound appeal to people who are habituated to mobilization and national warring. This is not unique to Germans, nor is it evidence of a belief in Hellenism or an attempt to recreate the actual political forms of Greece.
The GRU officer and the SS troop were closer to the Spartan than the anonymous ''world citizen'' is the point, albeit overstated.

Marxist-Leninism and National Socialism were anti-modernist movements that believed mass society could be tailored towards heroism and that put a premium on purported psychological elements of humans that defy rational quantification. Thus a certain prestige afforded the profession of arms in political life and the claim that struggle and violence were laudable values in their own right were defining characteristics of the Third Reich and Stalinist states.

Again, its erroneous to draw comparisons, positive or negative, between 20th century socialisms and classical antiquity, but at the same time, the guiding idea of modern authoritarian states was that world-historical struggle and martial virtue was essential to national character and human experience; juxtaposed with the Liberal claim that warfare is a ''criminal'' act or the result of conspiracies, and this has a parallel with the medieval mind (if not the ancient mind) that should be obvious.