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The Real Pandemic

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The world is panicking, the stock market is tanking, and even the wealthy and powerful are being struck down by a virus no one really understands. We are told this isn’t yet a pandemic, but it could become one.

I’m unmoved. We already have a pandemic. The countless suicides, overdoses, and self-destructive behavior among young men throughout the West are racking up a larger death toll than any virus.

Even the corporate press talks about “deaths of despair,” the people in Middle America who are drugging or drinking themselves to death. Their institutions have failed them; the industries that sustained them outsourced their jobs. The churches, for many people, provide no answers, partially because clergy lack the courage to defend their own doctrines.

What is really happening is that people have lost a center, a purpose, an identity. In Germanic mythology, the Irminsul, sometimes represented by a sacred tree, was a pillar that upheld the cosmos. It was the place where a tribe could ground itself, a way for individuals to know their identity and their worth. When Charlemagne and others forcibly Christianized the Germanic peoples, they destroyed these symbols. It was a way to rip out a tribe’s identity and resistance.

But this isn’t about religion, or another tiresome “Christian vs. Pagan” debate. It’s about a more universal concept, the idea of a center, the roots of identity. Various Christians sects have looked to Rome, Jerusalem, or Constantinople as a center. Jews think of the Temple; hundreds of millions of Muslims face Mecca every day to pray and are required to undertake a pilgrimage.

Of course, due to the virus, Saudi Arabia has placed a temporary ban on pilgrimages. I see this as fitting. We live in a commodified and desacralized world. We feel like we have no control over our own lives. We’re pawns of political and economic titans and the idea we have self-government is a bad joke. Even those things that some people see as sacred can’t survive in this current economic and global order. Events thousands of miles away and people we’ve never heard of seem to direct our lives.

Many people might believe (or pretend to believe) in God or the gods but there’s not that all-encompassing certainty people enjoyed in the past. Jean-Paul Sartre said we are “condemned to be free.” There’s no deity to shape our lives so we have the awful responsibility of deciding “how to live.” Of course, Sartre’s own choice was throwing himself behind trendy political movements, worshiping ressentiment instead of something worthy of service.

This is what most people do. Lacking identity, meaning, and purpose, people pursue money, notoriety, political power or temporary pleasures. We try to show we’re better than other people because we have more money or online clout. Nietzsche told us we need to become worthy of the death of God; instead we’re degrading ourselves even further. We have technology that could give us the power of gods; we use it to play insipid cell phone games and watch football and porn.

The “cures” people demand for social problems like income inequality or health care will just make problems worse. A government bureaucracy can’t substitute for tribe and a passport doesn’t give you a real identity. When people invoke “community,” it’s usually a sign that a real community doesn’t actually exist.

So we suffer. We suffer alone. We suffer and the world laughs at it. The Great and the Good believe our pain should be mocked. We live vicariously though blue screens, giving our time and money to people who despise us.

I’ve known those who have taken their own lives, voluntarily or involuntarily. Of course, when it comes to drug overdoses, even that has an element of choice because everyone knows how that road ends. In all these cases, I’ve felt personal responsibility. I felt it not because “I wasn’t there for them” or because I didn’t refer them to some stupid hotline, but because I wasn’t able to provide an alternative.

Of course, I recognize everyone has agency. As someone who’s struggled with suicide, I also understand that when you are gripped by the urge for self-destruction, often the last thing you want is someone telling you “life is worth living.” Is it? It sounds like a cope, like the person telling you just doesn’t want to deal with the aftermath of your death. It makes you more eager to put the barrel to your head. It means that even avoiding suicide becomes an act of weakness and fear.

I also understand that even when suicide has a trigger – a breakup, losing a job, the death of someone you love – there’s always something greater at work, something subconscious. It’s really the knowledge that whatever was holding you to this world was gone.

If you think about it rationally, the sum total of suffering in your life outweighs joy. Whatever experiences, accomplishments, or relationships you form will all end with death. Mere life, in and of itself, is not worth living.

So why do we go on? Or, rather, why do some of us go on? It’s not because we fear what comes hereafter, as Hamlet did. It’s because we feel we have something to do. Life reaches behind itself; we go forward because we are building towards something greater than ourselves. “Vita est militia super terram” – life is a soldier’s service upon the earth.

What is the mission? Some will say that it’s to “do good for others” or to “be kind” or “love people.” That’s petty, fake nonsense. It’s a good thing to comfort dying people in a hospital, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re dying. If you claim to love all of humanity, you really don’t love anyone. Those who bleat the most about loving everyone are usually the most vicious and dishonorable in their personal conduct.

We need a higher purpose and a higher goal to justify our being here. Nietzsche said it was the Overman, but everyone has their own definition of what this means. We can’t philosophize our way into justifying life. We need something greater than life. We need Myth.

What is Myth? It’s something that lets us feel and know that we are participating in something eternal. We aren’t just seeking pleasure or power. We’re pursuing an Ideal, and we aren’t doing it along. We are joined by living comrades and the ranks of the victorious dead.

Our Ideal isn’t about dragging the world down to the morass of egalitarianism. It’s to pursue something higher, better, and above ourselves. It’s a holy mission. And we must endure and never give up, because we can’t let our comrades down nor fail our Ideal.

I know some of you out there are suffering. I also know those cackling faces on the blue screens want you to pull the trigger, to stick the needle in your arm, to destroy yourself with cheap food and cheap booze. Defy them. “Hate will keep you alive when love fails,” wrote Mark Lawrence in one of his novels. That’s true, but it burns itself out eventually. Ultimately, it is love that will sustain you. It’s just not the greeting-card, candlelight-vigil horseshit prevalent today. It’s the burning, furious devotion to comrades, conflict, and a holy crusade.

We are rootless and cast adrift. Yet there is something calling to us. The Irminsul still stands, it just remains for us to find it. Don’t let this world tear you apart mentally or physically. Instead, find your identity, your home, your center. Find those that will constantly push you upward. Make every moment of pain into a sacrificial offering on the altar of our great Ideal. And no matter what, endure.

You’re not a fucking consumer and you’re not a product. You’re not a number on some government form. You’re a pilgrim on a holy mission. Accept your burden, do your duty, and you too can live a Myth that reaches beyond mere life. Don’t become another casualty of Empire, of the anti-culture that wants you dead, the spiritual pandemic that’s ripping out our will to live. Rebel.

I’m pulling for you. We’re all pulling for you.  And if you feel the call, step forward.

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The Storm of Steel: Review

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No word is more overused today than “legendary.” Some new movie is “legendary.” Some celebrity is “legendary.” Some putdown on social media is “legendary.”

We need to use our words more carefully. Something legendary is something out of Myth, something that approaches what we vaguely term the numinous or the divine. Here now, in the Kali Yuga, legends are almost unknown.

But Ernst Jünger was a legend.

A warrior, philosopher, and philosopher of unparalleled skill and insight, he lived to be 102 despite throwing himself body and soul into the singular experience of his life, the First World War. He was wounded numerous times and was one of the very few infantry leaders to receive the Pour le Mérite for extraordinary heroism and bravery.

The new edition of The Storm of Steel, his memoir of World War I, shows us not just a vanished world, but vanished values. This new edition from Mystery Grove Publishing Company should really be called the “old” version, because this is the original 1929 translation that contains the youthful soldier’s thoughts on heroism, nationalism, and duty.

In the Preface to the English edition, Jünger pays tribute to the soldiers he faced, calling the English “not only the most formidable but the manliest and the most chivalrous.” Jünger’s is not penning a bitter screed against hated opponents. “Warlike achievements are enhanced by the inherent worth of the enemy.”

Three major themes emerge.

First is Jünger’s defense of war as an opportunity for personal growth, even transcendence. This is staggering, even bizarre to most of us, because the popular image of World War I is that it was a pointless fratricidal conflict that destroyed the Western order for reasons that seem petty and short-sighted in retrospect. The foolish statesmen on all sides caused civilizational catastrophe, and World War II and its horrors were simply an outgrowth of that first conflict.

Yet Jünger is not really talking about politics. He does refer to marching with the front with his comrades with the “ideals of ‘70” in his heart (referring to German unification). However, he reflects on the effects the war had on his own character and those of his comrades. Jünger states: “Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart.” Those forged “in fire and flame” could “go into life as though from the anvil.” “What is more sublime than to face death at the head of a hundred men?” he asks. The experience of the war and the intimacy with death gave “an indescribable intensity to every expression of life.”

A second theme is Jünger’s insistence that individual heroism mattered in World War I. The popular image is of masses of soldiers running directly into machine guns and artillery fire, following orders given by stupid generals who didn’t understand modern warfare. “On the contrary, to-day more than ever it is the individual that counts,” Jünger writes, invoking the “princes of the trenches” who face terrifying conditions where neither retreat nor mercy is possible. “Blood sounds in the shrill cry that is wrung like a nightmare from the breast.”

He also describes the battle frenzy which can only be called Odinic:

“The roar of battle had become so terrific that we were scarcely in our right senses. The nerves could register fear no longer. Every one was mad and beyond reckoning; we had gone over the edge of the world into superhuman perspectives. Death had lost its meaning and the will to live was made over to our country; and hence everyone was blind and regardless of his personal fate.” He compares this feeling to that of “werewolves [who] have howled and hunted through the night on the track of blood.”

Finally, there is his view on how not war, but life is justified by struggle and the pursuit of an idea. After it was over, he finds that the “martyrs” who threw themselves at death can no longer be understood.

With remarkable prescience, he states, “When once it is no longer possible to understand how a man will give his life for his country–and the time will come–then all is over that faith also, and the idea of the Fatherland is dead.” He suggests men may come to envy those who acted in the name of a faith that can no longer be truly understood, in the same way his generation could “envy the saints their inward and irresistible strength,” dedicating their lives to a religious ideal that no one today could truly grasp.

“We are all afraid, but we must fight against it,” he says. “To be overcome by one’s weakness is only human. At such a moment look at your leader and your fellows.” Of course, as Jünger himself became company commander, this terrible burden of exemplifying bravery became his, even when the German Army knew “that victory could no longer be ours.” “But the enemy should know that he fought against men of honor,” he recalled.

We are as foreign to Jünger’s worldview as Jünger was to those Catholic martyrs who would suffer or even seek unspeakable torments to gain the Kingdom of Heaven.  However, we can still find truth in his words.

“[L]ife had no depth of meaning except when it is pledged for an ideal, and that there are ideals in comparison with which the life of an individual and even of a people has no weight.”

What makes these themes remarkable is that Jünger does not shy away from the ugliness of war. This is not a romance glorifying war. He painstakingly describes the decaying bodies, the filth of the trenches, the monotony, the rats, the atrocities, the sick feeling it gave Jünger to kill men he clearly admires and in other circumstances would be his friends.

He recalls comrades who died in the mud, lost to unknown graves, brave and loyal men transformed into rotting corpses in forgotten fields.  A compassionate, courageous, intelligent companion who had so much to contribute would be cut down by a “senseless piece of lead.” Beautiful French communities would be destroyed by endless artillery bombardments as the giant armies, like two forces of nature, move back and forth.

Somehow, because the war was so horrible, because it ended in defeat, because it ended in disillusionment, he finds meaning. “[T]he ideal of the Fatherland had been distilled from all these afflictions in a clearer and brighter essence,” he writes.

Jünger also confronts truths about himself. He was insanely brave. One almost must believe in the supernatural to explain how he survived this war, let alone live to be 103. He’s shot numerous times in the book. Yet he keeps coming back to the front to lead his men.

However, even he admits he once fled after a moment of “blank horror” following artillery. He recalls himself to his duty because “an officer’s sense of responsibility drowns his personal fears.” It provides “a sticking-place, something to occupy the thoughts,” he writes. However, after the initial danger passes, he “broke into convulsive sobs while the men stood gloomily around me.”

He also admits that the war, while it provided the opportunity for transcendence, also could lead to utter baseness and atrocity.  “Weak natures are prone to the atavistic impulse to destroy; and it takes hold of the trench fighter in his desolate existence when any one appears above ground,” he wrote. “I have felt it myself only too often.”

He also admits the dark impulses, perhaps even the death-drive, that animates young men. “The horrible was undoubtedly a part of that irresistible attraction that drew us into the war,” he said. “A long period of law and order, such as our generation has had behind it, produces a craving for the abnormal, a craving that literature stimulates.” Of course, these young recruits “never for a moment dreamt that in this war the dead would be left month after month to the mercy of wind and weather, as once the bodies on the gallows were.”

Jünger found that “national pride not a quality of the masses.” At the same time, before the last great offensive, he said, “Every man felt his personality fade away in the face of a crisis in which he had his part to play and by which history would be made.” Thus, the masses respond to ideals which only a minority truly possess and understand.

In the beginning of R.R. Reno’s Return of the Strong Gods, the author quotes one of his students who bemoans living in the “long twentieth century.” We are still in the postwar world of 1946 and mainstream culture, values, and narratives still derive from the supposed moral drama of the Second World War. As the decades pass, those ideas seem, if not irrelevant, more distant. The Storm of Steel gives us a glimpse of a pre-war world from the perspective of a spiritual aristocrat, a man fiercely protective of his own identity and code who found self-actualization in fire, flame, and comradeship.

The Storm of Steel is worth purchasing and reading even if you aren’t looking for philosophy or introspection. Simply as a thriller, it is infinitely more terrifying and engrossing than the tiresome paperbacks of war fantasies and spy novels you find at drug stores. The words stab at you like bayonets; each chapter is an artillery barrage.

However, The Storm of Steel is far more than a memoir. It presents us with profound and uncomfortable questions about life, death, identity, and meaning. For those of our generation, we already live in the situation Jünger prophesied, when we lack faith because we lack an ideal.

What is our Ideal? To what standard to we rally? What are we willing to die for, and, much more importantly, live for?

I have my answer. What about you?



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Cultural Sickness: Virtus Vs Virtue Signaling

The Academy Awards, which fewer people watch each year, was a disgusting spectacle. I can’t imagine watching it, but unfortunately, because of mass media, I had to hear about it.

Millionaires who live in unimaginable luxury lectured others about equality. It’s another sign that we’re in a period of decadence, a time when existing institutions, cultural norms, and spiritual philosophies seem exhausted. Thus, people turn to escapism and voyeurism, virtual life instead of real life. Fake characters on the screen are more “real” to many people than their friends and family, assuming they have any. And as we all know now, behind Hollywood’s glitter something deeply sick and perverse is going on.

When the wealthy and elite lecture about equality, we call it virtue signaling. It’s a way for those who hold power to legitimize their positions. By praising weakness, they become strong. Their thrones are built by hypocrisy. Though they claim to be victims and underdogs, they command resources dwarfing those of past kings and emperors. Unless you are a true believer in media Narratives, you can see the cynicism behind these performances.

There is something inherently corrupt about the entertainment industry. In Rome, actors were considered part of an unclean trade. The Emperor Julian prohibited pagan priests from even going to the theater. He was on to something.

We could use a Julian about now. We’re not a serious society. Instead of wanting to accomplish things, we want to be celebrities, famous just for being famous. Instead of forging lives of heroic achievement, we look up to people whose only value is in pretending to be someone else. We’ve gone from a stern pioneer society to a decadent mob always crying for novel pleasures and entertainments.

Consider – a recent survey found a plurality of American and British youth said they wanted to be YouTube stars when they grow up. The same survey found most Chinese youth want to become astronauts. That, right there, shows the relative trajectories of these two cultures.

Many Western youth want to live in the artificial world. They want praise and attention from the all-encompassing media machine. They want to accept its values.

We don’t.

Yet… you’ve probably heard a sermon like this before. You may have written it yourself – probably on social media. Isn’t this just self-congratulation?

It’s easy to blast celebrities, or sneer at the media, or cultivate an “outlaw” image. However, if you’re critiquing the system without building an alternative, you’re not weakening it. You’re strengthening it. You’re not an outlaw. You’re part of the problem.

We must resist the temptation to give in to our own brand of virtue signaling. You may have healthy values, but what good are they if they don’t lead to real-world accomplishment? Slamming celebrity culture is no different than calling in to some local radio show to complain about what a bum some professional athlete is. It’s just ressentiment.

Get offline. Get outside. Act, don’t criticize.

Instead of virtue signaling, cultivate Virtus, the masculine virtues of heroism, strength, and the desire for glory. The cure for depression is purpose and an amor fati that views even the largest obstacles as challenges to be overcome. Instead of pretending you are some Viking warrior, admit what you are. After accepting that, strive to become something greater.

The best way to cultivate Virtus amid decadence is to find a space to physically, mentally, and spiritually separate yourself from Empire. It means having a sacred space of your own for ritual, reflection, and meditation. This may be in your house or apartment, but it is better if it is in nature. Here, you can recharge, reflect, and become better connected with your own Ideal, your own Highest Self.

After that, it’s time to act. It’s time to start building something in the real word. I’m not telling you to find your own answer. I’m telling you the Operation is the answer.

We emphasize physicality and fitness because physical hardship is often the best path to mental discipline and spiritual enlightenment. Restrain from the temptation to write an angry Facebook post and go to the gym. Instead of wailing about the NFL and wearing some other dude’s name on your back, start training yourself.

You may not have the strength of some professional athlete. Maybe you’re fat. Maybe you drink too much. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is what you do about it. Start your Ascent. Live by your standards. Instead of bragging on Facebook, become what you say you are, even if it’s hard, even if it costs you fake friends.

That’s really what this is all about – authenticity. There’s no privacy anymore. Some people out there will exploit this to  attack you. Living in this kind of world is a challenge, but also an opportunity. It means that we must embrace furious action and fierce sincerity.

You can only be hurt if you allow yourself to be hurt. The best way to reduce your vulnerabilities is to act, instead of talk. Unplug. Train. Get together with friends who share your values. Start a Division. Apply for Werewolf Elite during the next opportunity. Look for opportunities for adventure. Live a Myth.

Don’t worry about the magnitude of the task before you. Just focus on one thing at a time. Perform the next correct action. Slowly, you will grow in physical power, mental discipline, and temporal success. And by living this way, you will attract others to the banner of strength.

We know we live in a sick culture – almost more of an anti-culture. There’s no possibility of regeneration from the top. No one is coming to save us.

So start building a new alternative. I’m not saying it’s possible or even desirable to block out mass culture. But even amidst the filth, you can find things that you can use for your own ends.

What are those ends? Building a new culture. Pursuing strength. Enjoying fellowship. You have the power, right now, to do these things. So use it.

Escape from the blue screen. Build an alternative to degeneracy. Take the forest passage. And perhaps, one day, I’ll see you around the fires.

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Defy their attempts to silence us.

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Arma virumque cano – “Of arms and the man I sing”

The Aeneid

From the beginning of the universe to the time you were born, everything had to happen exactly as it did to create you. You are the culmination of thousands of years of struggle.

Simply because you are alive, you are part of an unbroken chain that goes back to the beginning. Perhaps you can trace your line to some great king or hero. However, all of us have ancestors that were defeated, enslaved, or humiliated. Yet ultimately, just because we’re alive, we know we had ancestors that endured.

However, how do we relate to those ancestors? How can we identify with empires, nations or tribes whose very names have been lost to history? How can we determine who we really are?

Identity is defined by two things. First, identity is defined by those things you have which can’t be reduced to a commodity. The second thing that defines identity is will. A tribe, a people, and a cult can endure beyond defeat. They can keep their identity even when Power tries to stamp it out. They just need the will to continue, even under the most difficult circumstances. And sometimes, they need to adapt their tradition into new forms to meet new circumstances.

In the classical tradition, the hero Aeneas was one of the great fighters in the Trojan War. Of course, he fought the for the losers. His city was destroyed, his king killed, his people all but wiped out.

However, this wasn’t the end for him or his tribe. He gathered a group around him, including his father and son. He also carried with him the statues representing the gods of Troy, thus continuing the sacred cult which defines identity.

The image of Aeneas leading his son and carrying his father (who in turn carries the gods) has echoed throughout Western art. It is a powerful representation of the chain of identity that binds all of us.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas leads his small group from the ruins of Troy into exile. He has a passionate romance with the Carthaginian queen Dido, and Aeneas is tempted into staying with her. However, he is reminded by the gods that he has a greater destiny. Dido swears eternal enmity and then kills herself. This presages the later wars between Rome and Carthage.

After all, it is Aeneas’s destiny to found Rome. He leads his group to Italy and ultimately to victory over the Latins. Virgil portrays Aeneas as the legendary ancestor of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, sanctifying the ruling dynasty.

Scholars argue whether the Aeneid is imperial propaganda or a clever, subversive text that is about the horrors of war and the abuses of power. Both views are wrong.

Virgil was a Roman pagan, and he had the pagan worldview very few share today. The pagan view of life is a tragic one. This doesn’t mean life is depressing. It means we are bound by fate and that our choices can’t be reduced to an abstract morality of “good” and “evil.” We operate within the context of an honor culture.

The pagan Virgil knew that Aeneas was not an autonomous individual who can just do whatever he wants. If he was, he would have stayed with Dido. Instead, he must fulfill his destiny. He has a Need (symbolized by messages from the gods) that he must fulfill, no matter what the cost. He must fight and conquer so that he can continue the Trojan legacy. He ultimately lays the foundation for Rome, which in turn conquers Greece. The past, the present, and the future are all united in one chain of existence and they all affect each other simultaneously.

Aeneas went from being an exile from a defeated, defunct city-state to becoming a progenitor, the founder of something new. Yet that new thing he founded was still related to that older Trojan tradition. It was an eternal way of existence that adapted itself to new forms.

The universal longing for continuity and for Identity, to know one’s place and roots, is why the Aeneid had such power in so many diverse cultures. Snorri Sturluson, a Christian Icelandic political leader and historian, wrote in his Prose Edda that Thor was a Trojan prince.

Historically, this makes no sense, and is probably even further removed from the truth than the Greek or Roman tales. Yet it served a mythic role, inserting the Norse peoples and their supposed progenitors into the classical history so prized by many early Christians. It was an attempt to claim legitimacy, to say that the Norse weren’t on the margins, but had always been at the center of the Western story.

Today, we too may feel marginal. Today’s values, such as they are, disgust us. The System wants us silenced. The institutions have failed us.

We are disconnected, disenfranchised, exiles in our own land, strangers in our own culture.

The temptation is to link ourselves to some glorious past, to make ourselves something more than we are. This is what Snorri did and it’s very understandable. Yet ultimately, such efforts betray a certain inferiority complex. If your only accomplishment is to be born from a great line, then the chain ends with you. Ultimately, you must carry it forward, not rest on the laurels of your ancestors.

Consider again the statue of Aeneas. His father is not carrying him, he is carrying his father. Aeneas shoulders the burden of the past. Yet he does this willingly. In turn, his father holds the gods, the archetypes of primordial identity and ultimate aspirations. Aeneas is fleeing defeat, but his destiny is to create a new beginning.

It may seem like the chain is broken and that we are rootless and alone. It may seem easier to abandon the past altogether, to let it drop to the ground and seek pleasure and contentment.

But that’s not how heroes are made. We must take up the burden of the past. Yet we go forward to a new destiny rather than looking backwards to past defeats and dead institutions. We are the progenitors of a new line, a new tradition, a new cult that is rooted in the deepest and most ancient of primordial truths.

It’s already happening. We have it in our power to create a new rising culture out of the ruins of Empire. Those of you reading this can become more than just a link in the chain. You can become progenitors, founders, the creators who give rise to a new people, culture, and way of existence.

As we look back, we see the chaos of Empire, the grey of a dead world, the insanity of a ruined culture. So we go forward, carrying the sacred flame with us, walking the path of ascent, and paving the way for the new Age of Heroes.