W. B. Yeats

“Puritanical anti-Europe has become exactly what it set out to become: New Zion,” wrote Sebastian Ronin a couple of years ago referring to the US. Regular visitors of this site know that from my point of view the etiology of white decline is, in order of importance: (1) materialism, (2) Christian ethics and (3) Jewish influence. These excerpts from Kerry Bolton’s essay on Yeats in his book Artists of the Right give the idea of the most harmful factor of all:

 

The rise of industrialism and capitalism during the 19th century brought with it social dislocation, the triumph of the commercial classes and interests, and the creation of an urban proletariat on the ruins of rural life. Smashed asunder were the traditional organic bonds of family and village, rootedness to the earth through generations of one’s offspring, and attunement to the cycles of nature.

With the ascendancy of materialism came the economic doctrines of Free Trade capitalism and Marxism and the new belief in rationalism and science over faith, the mysteries of the cosmos, and the traditional religions. The forces of money had defeated everything of the Spirit. As Spengler explained in his Decline of the West, Western Civilization had entered its end cycle. Such forces had been let loose as long ago as the English Revolution of Cromwell and again by the French Revolution.

There was, however, a reaction to this predicament. The old conservatives had not been up to the task. The spiritual and cultural reaction came from the artists, poets and writers who reach beyond the material and draw their inspiration from the well-springs of what C. G. Jung identified as the collective unconscious. This reaction included not only the political and the cultural but also a spiritual revival expressed in an interest in the metaphysical.

Among the artists in “revolt against the modern world” was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), leader of the Irish literary renaissance and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Despite his English and Protestant background, Yeats was involved in the Young Ireland movement, much of his poetry celebrating the Irish rebellion and its heroes.

Yeats had been as a youngster introduced by his father John, himself a Pre-Raphaelite artist, to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, the romantic imagery of which stood then as a rebellion against the encroachments of modernism and industrialism. Having lived in England as a child twenty years before, Yeats was now struck by how much had radically changed under the impress of “progress.” The modern era had even impacted upon the aesthetic of Yeats’ own family, writing of how his father now made his living, and also alluding to the changes being wrought by modernism in art:

It was a perpetual bewilderment that my father, who had begun life as a Pre-Raphaelite painter, now painted portraits of the first comer, children selling newspapers, or a consumptive girl with a basket of fish upon her head, and that when, moved perhaps by memory of his youth, he chose some theme from poetic tradition, he would soon weary and leave it unfinished. I had seen the change coming bit by bit and its defence elaborated by young men fresh from the Paris art-schools. ‘We must paint what is in front of us,’ or ‘A man must be of his own time,’ they would say, and if I spoke of Blake or Rossetti they would point out his bad drawing and tell me to admire Carolus Duran and Bastien-Lepage. Then, too, they were very ignorant men; they read nothing, for nothing mattered but “Knowing how to paint,” being in reaction against a generation that seemed to have wasted its time upon so many things.

For Yeats the mystical was the basis of both his poetry and his political ideas. He was particularly interested in the Irish mystical tradition and folklore. He saw the peasantry and rural values as being necessary to revive against the onslaught of materialism.

Additionally, the “occult” provided a literally hidden culture that was above and beyond the crassness of democracy, of the herd, and of material existence, hence its being termed the “Royal Art,” where again, as in traditional societies over the course of millennia, a priestly caste, at the apex of a hierarchical society, served as the nexus between the terrestrial and the divine, serving as that axis around which High Culture revolves.

Yeats’ poetry was intended as an expression of these symbols of the unconscious and the archetypal. This resurgence of these age-long memories required a “revolt of soul against intellect now beginning in the world.” What is here called “intellect” was the advance of rationalism, scientism, and Enlightenment doctrines that had destroyed man’s nexus with the divine embodied in traditions and hierarchical social orders, and which has repressed man’s spiritual nature in favor of the crassly material.

Yeats, like D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, et al., was particularly concerned that commercialism would mean the pushing down of cultural values in the pursuit of profit rather than artistic excellence. Hence, he called for a revival of aristocratic values. He lamented that, “the mere multitude is everywhere with its empty photographic eyes. A declaration of war on the masses by higher men is called for. Everywhere the mediocre are coming in order to make themselves master.”

His appeal was to the artist and to the individual of taste and culture for, as Nietzsche had pointed out, culture is the faculty that distinguishes the human from other organisms. In this spirit, Yeats applauded Nietzsche’s philosophy as “a counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity.”

Yeats’ keen sense of historical context is reflected in “The Curse of Cromwell.” Here he identifies the English Revolution as what we can see as the inauguration of the cycle of “Money over Blood,” in Spenglerian terms: the victory of the merchant class over the traditional order, which was to be re-reenacted in the French Revolution. The Bolshevik Revolution was of the same spirit of money against blood, of the materialistic against the spirit and culture.

All three revolutions were carried out in the name of “the people” against the traditional rulers, only to create a greater tyranny in the service of money. Spengler had written in The Decline of the West: “Practical communism with its ‘class war’… is nothing but the trusty henchman of big Capital, which knows perfectly well how to make use of it… in that their object is not to overcome money-values, but to possess them.”

Cromwell’s English revolution has had lasting consequences for the entire West. The cycle of Money over culture and tradition that Cromwell inaugurated has never been overcome. America was founded on the same Puritan money ethics and continues to spread that spirit over the farthest reaches of the world.

The specter of Puritanism has haunted the entire world ever since, “far and wide.” Nobility of character, regardless of “class”—itself a vulgarization of the traditional castes—was destroyed by the inauguration in the West of the reign of money by Cromwell, and one that was not overcome, but rather adopted by its supposed “enemy,” socialism, as Spengler was to point out. Yeats, as “The Curse of Cromwell” shows, has been one of the few to realize the full depth and lasting significance of Puritanism under whatever name it might appear.

No longer are there left those of noble tradition, those who served as part of a long heritage, “the tall men”; and the old gaiety of the peasant village, the squire’s hall and aristocrat’s manor have been beaten down.

All neighborly, content and easy talk are gone,
But here’s no good complaining, for money’s rant is on.

The artists, once patronized by the aristocracy, must now prostitute their art for the sake of money on the mass market, as script writers, and “public entertainers” to sell a product. All individuals are now producers and consumers, including the artist producing for a consumer market.

And we and all the Muses are things of no account.

Yeats considered himself heir to a tradition that has been repressed by democratic vulgarity, and he lived in service to that tradition, now virtually driven to the catacombs under the dead weight of “mass culture,” which is nothing more than consumerism posturing as “art,” “literature,” and “music” manufactured according to market demands. He and a few others of the same temperament lived in the service of High Culture as contemporary troubadours “against the modern world” to uplift the spirits of the remnant who have managed to maintain their nobility in the face of the crass.

One product of democracy and capitalism that Yeats feared was the proliferation of those he regarded as inferior people. Yeats advocated planned human up-breeding and joined the Eugenics Society at a time when eugenics was a widely held belief among the intelligentsia. Yeats had “On the Boiler” published the same year, where he endorsed the psychometric studies that were showing intelligence to be inherited, and expressed concern at the proliferation of the unintelligent.

The aristocracy of old, the noble lineage of blood, of familial descent, has been replaced by the new rich, the merchants, our new rulers are those who measure all things by profit. Like Spengler, Yeats saw hope in Fascist Italy: “The Ireland that reacts from the present disorder is turning its eyes towards individualist Italy.” In particular, he admired the educational reforms and cyclic historical doctrine of Italian Fascist philosopher and Minister of Education, Giovanni Gentile, stating in 1925 before the Irish Senate, of which he was a member, that Irish teachers should study the methods that Gentile had enacted in Italian schools, “so to correlate all subjects of study.”

The following year Senator Yeats stated that the Italian educational system was “adapted to an agricultural nation” which was applicable also to Ireland, “a system of education that will not turn out clerks only, but will turn out efficient men and women, who can manage to do all the work of the nation.”

With the assumption to Government of De Valera in 1932, the following year Yeats was seeking to formulate a doctrine for Ireland that would be a form of “Fascism modified by religion.” History consisted broadly of “the rule of the many followed by the rule of the few,” again reminiscent of Spengler’s idea of a “new Caesarism” that follows on the rule of plutocracy at the end cycle of a civilization.

For Yeats, the rule of the few meant a return to some form of aristocracy.

Civilisation’s “Heroic Materialism”

Originally I posted this article on April 25, 2012. But now that I have been postulating that the One Ring of greed and power—that we might start calling “the Aryan Problem”—could be the main factor in the West’s darkest hour, I am moving it at the top of this blog.

Below, some excerpts of “Heroic Materialism,” the last chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark. (For an introduction to these series, see here.) Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages. Also, the headings don’t appear in the original text:

The westerners’ new god: Mammon

Imagine an immensely speeded up movie of Manhattan Island during the last hundred years. It would look less like a work of man than like some tremendous natural upheaval. It’s godless, it’s brutal, it’s violent—but one can’t laugh it off, because in the energy, strength of will and mental grasp that have gone to make New York, materialism has transcended itself. It took almost the same time to reach its present conditions as it did to complete the Gothic cathedrals. At which point a very obvious reflection crosses one’s mind: that the cathedrals were built to the glory of God, New York was built to the glory of mammon—money, gain, the new god of the nineteenth century. So many of the same human ingredients have gone into its construction that at a distance it does look rather like a celestial city. At a distance. Come closer and it’s not so good. Lots of squalor, and, in the luxury, something parasitical.


Blake’s Satan

One sees why heroic materialism is still linked with an uneasy conscience. The first large iron foundries like the Carron Works or Coalbrookdale, date from about 1780. The only people who saw through industrialism in those early days were the poets. Blake, as everybody knows, thought that mills were the work of Satan. ‘Oh Satan, my youngest born… thy work is Eternal death with Mills and Ovens and Cauldrons.’

The [slave] trade was prohibited in 1807, and as Wilberforce lay dying in 1835, slavery itself was abolished. One must regard this as a step forward for the human race, and be proud, I think, that it happened in England. But not too proud. The Victorians were very smug about it, and chose to avert their eyes from something almost equally horrible that was happening to their own countrymen.

In its early stages the Industrial Revolution was also a part of the Romantic movement. And here I may digress to say that painters had for long used iron foundries to heighten the imaginative impact of their work with what we call a romantic effect; and that they had introduced them into pictures as symbolising the mouth of hell. However, the influence of the Industrial Revolution on Romantic painters is a side issue, almost an impertinence, when compared to its influence on human life. I needn’t remind you of how cruelly it degraded and exploited a mass of people for sixty or seventy years.

What was destructive was size. After about 1790 to 1800 there appeared the large foundries and mills which dehumanised life. Long before Carlyle and Karl Marx, Wordsworth had described the arrival of a night shift ‘that turns the multitude of dizzy wheels, Men, maidens, youths, Mothers and little children, boys and girls, Perpetual sacrifice.’

The terrible truth is that the rise in population did nearly ruin us. It struck a blow at civilisation such as it hadn’t received since the barbarian invasions. First it produced the horrors of urban poverty. It must have seemed—may still seem—insoluble; yet this doesn’t excuse the callousness with which prosperous people ignored the conditions of life among the poor on which to a large extent their prosperity depended, and this in spite of the many detailed and eloquent descriptions that were available to them. I need mention only two—Engels’s Conditions of the Working Classes in England, written in 1844, and the novels written by Dickens between 1840 and 1855. Everybody read Dickens. But his terrible descriptions of poverty had very little practical effect: partly because the problem was too big; partly because politicians were held in the intellectual prison of classical economics.

The images that fit Dickens are by the French illustrator Gustave Doré. He was originally a humorist; but the sight of London sobered him. His drawings were done in the 1870s, after Dickens’s death. But one can see that things hadn’t changed much. Perhaps it took an outsider to see London as it really was.


Degenerate architecture

At the beginning of this series I said that I thought one could tell more about a civilisation from its architecture that from anything else it leaves behind. Painting and literature depend largely on unpredictable individuals. But architecture is to some extent a communal art. However, I must admit that the public buildings on the nineteenth century are often lacking in style and conviction; and I believe that this is because the strongest creative impulse of the time didn’t go into the town halls or country houses, but into what was then thought of as engineering. In fact, all modern New York started with the Brooklyn Bridge.

In this series I have followed the ups and downs of civilisation historically, trying to discover results as well as causes; well, obviously I can’t do that any longer. We have no idea where we are going, and sweeping, confident articles of the future seem to me, intellectually, the most disreputable of all forms of utterance. The scientists who are best qualified to talk have kept their moths shut.

The incomprehensibility of our new cosmos seems to me, ultimately, to be the reason for the chaos of modern art. I know next to nothing about science, but I’ve spent my life trying to learn about art, and I am completely baffled by what is taking place today. I sometimes like what I see, but when I read modern critics I realise that my preferences are merely accidental.

Western civilisation has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves. I said at the beginning that it is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Fifty years ago W.B. Yeats, who was more like a man of genius than anyone I have ever known, wrote a famous poem.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Clark’s humanness

From Kenneth Clark’s The Other Half: A Self-Portrait (ellipsis omitted between unquoted excerpts):


The last words of the programme were shot in Saltwood, in my study. As if in sympathy the camera broke down, and a new one had to be sent from London. But at last the final words were spoken, including the prophetic lines by Yeats, which I had heard him read soon after he had written them; I walked in to my library, patted a wooden figure by Henry Moore, as if to imply that there still was hope, and out of shot.

It was all over. The crew came over to the Castle for a drink. We had become a band of brothers and were not far from tears at the thought that we should not meet again. I may be fanciful, but I think something of this feeling of comradeship is perceptible in the film. It seems ridiculous to say that the happiest years of my life took place when I was sixty-eight, but so it was.

The communication with simple people was one of the things about the programmes that particularly annoyed intellectuals of the left, who believed that they had a prescriptive right to speak to the working classes. Academics were furious at the simplification of their labours. In fact my approach to history was unconsciously different from that now in favour in universities, which sees all historical change as the result of economic and communal pressures. I believe in the importance of individuals, and am a natural hero-worshiper. Each programme had its hero—Charlemagne, the Abbot Suger, Alberti, Erasmus, Luther and Montaigne, Mozart, Voltaire, Jefferson, Rousseau, Wordsworth, and finally Brunel. One whole programme is called The Hero as Artist. The majority of people share my taste for heroes, and so were glad of an historical survey that emphasised outstanding individuals rather than economic trends.

When the series was shown in the U.S.A. things got out of hand. The number of letters quadrupled, and some of them were rather dotty.

When I arrived in Georgetown to stay with my old friends David and Margie Finley, Carter Brown, the Director of the Gallery [National Gallery at Washington], rang me to say ‘For God’s sake don’t go in through the front door. You’ll be mobbed’. I went in by the back door and down a long underground corridor to a press conference. After it was over I was led back along the same corridor so that I might walk the whole length of the Gallery upstairs. It was the most terrible experience in my life. All the galleries were crammed full of people who stood up and roared at me, waving their hands and stretching them out towards me.

I then went downstairs and retired to the ‘gents’, where I burst into tears. I sobbed and howled for a quarter of an hour. I suppose politicians quite enjoy this kind of experience, and don’t get it often enough. The Saints certainly enjoyed it, but saints are very tough eggs. To me it was utterly humiliating. It simply made me feel a hoax. I came up to lunch with red eyes, and tried to put the experience out of my mind. But, as the reader will have realised, it would not let go, and has not gone. And I record it because I must be one of the few ordinary, normal men on whom this kind of experience has been inflicted. The Finleys drove me home in silence. They felt as embarrassed as I did.

Speech on receiving the National Gallery of Art medal

When I tried to read the great German philosophers, I turned over the pages of Kant and Hegel, and I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt absolutely frustrated and humiliated, but I had to go until I thought I understood something, and at least acquired a new mental process.

Now although I believe that this part of education is the most important part, it has a great defect. One may achieve intellectual discipline, but one doesn’t remember a single thing that one learnt in that way, because one doesn’t absorb it. I can’t translate the simplest Latin inscription, and if you ask me what Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is about I couldn’t tell you.

Education has another aspect—what you learn through delight. It is by falling in love with a subject, a period, a style, an individual hero, that one absorbs something so that it becomes a part of one’s living tissue, and one never forgets it. ‘Give all to love,’ your great underrated poet said. It’s true of education as well of life. And the first advice I would give to any young person is, when you fall in love with Roman baroque or with the essays of Montaigne or with whatever it may be, give up everything to study that one, all-absorbing theme of the moment, because your mind is in a plastic condition. A plastic period usually takes place between the ages of about fifteen to the age of twenty-two; and anyone who is learning at that moment will never forget what he has learnt. Read and read, look and look; you will never be able to do it so intensely again. I often wonder if in the last fifty years of grubbing away and reading in galleries and libraries I’ve learned anything compared to what came to me in those plastic moments.

My goodness, if people really began to be sceptical and use their minds, in order to see through cant and humbug and after self-serving lies, advertisers and public relations men and a number of politicians, and even a few favourable philosophers, would be out of business. And the way that education does this is not only by training people to use their minds, but by teaching them history. When you read history you learn that people in the past were just as clever as we are, in fact at some periods they were a good deal cleverer.

I would like to think that these programmes have done two things: they have made people feel that they are part of a great human achievement, and be proud of it, and they have made them feel humble in thinking of the great men of the past.

On Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation”

Kenneth Clark may have been clueless about the fact that race matters. Yet, that our rot goes much deeper than what white nationalists realize is all too obvious once we leave, for a while, the ghetto of nationalism and take a look at the classics, just as Clark showed us through his 1969 TV series Civilisation.

Compared to the other famous series, Clark’s was unsurpassed in the sense that, as I have implied elsewhere, only genuine art—not science—has a chance to fulfill David Lane’s fourteen words.

By “art” I mean an evolved sense of beauty which is almost completely absent in today’s nationalists. Most of them are quite a product of Jewish modernity whether with their music, lifestyles or Hollywood tastes, to a much greater degree than what they think. For nationalism to succeed an evolved sense of female beauty has to be the starting point to see the divine nature of the white race. In Clark’s own words, “For all these reasons I think it is permissible to associate the cult of ideal love with the ravishing beauty and delicacy that one finds in the madonnas of the thirteenth century. Were there ever more delicate creatures than the ladies on Gothic ivories? How gross, compared to them, are the great beauties of other woman-worshiping epochs.”

Below, links to excerpts of most of the chapters of the 1969 series, where Clark followed the ups and downs of our civilisation historically:

“The Skin of our Teeth”

“The Great Thaw”

“Romance and Reality”

“Man—the Measure of all Things”

“The Hero as Artist”

“Protest and Communication”

“Grandeur and Obedience”

“The Light of Experience”

“Heroic Materialism”