Man as God

The Idea of Genius

ByRev. R.J. Rushdoony – bio

 

 The idea of Genius is an important but toolittle studied aspect of Western history; it is an important pagan conceptwhich still governs our thinking. We can begin to understand what genius means if we recognize that it isbasically the same word as the Arabic jinn or genie. -lhe word genius comes from theLatin, and the idea is Roman, but it is hard to distinguish it at times fromthe Arabic idea, because the two are so similar.

The idea of genius comes out of pagan animism and ancestorworship. The genius of a family, house, group, or state was the protecting,guiding, inspiring supernatural spirit which took care of it and was also theobject of its worship. All good Romans therefore worshipped "the genius ofRome." "The genius of Rome" was the divine power protectingRome, the Roman mission, Rome itself ("divine Rome"), and its heroicleaders and emperors. Godlike men were believed to receive from the gods aspecial destiny above that of ordinary mortals. These men became the Lares or genius for their time.


With the coming of Christianity, the idea of genius receded, as did the related Greek ideaof the hero. The hero was a great protector of men who was descended from thegods, or born of a god, and he was worshipped as a god after His death. BecauseBiblical faith makes a sharp and clear distinction between God and man, betweenthe uncreated and divine Being of God, and the created and creaturely being ofmen, the idea of the genius (and of the hero) was for some time in the background. With the revival of Greekphilosophy, of Aristotle and of Plato, the idea of the genius again came to thefore, especially with the Renaissance. The hero or divine leader of men came to be aleader of the state. The Leader or Hero now became a commanding andtotalitarian figure. The Genius, the man with divine powers of insight andguidance, came to be the artist. Previously, in Christian Europe, the artistwas not an artist in the modern sense. He was acraftsman, an artisan, and a businessman who was a specialist in his field. (Inrecent years, one composer, Igor Stravinsky, specifically denied being anartist in the modern sense and saw himself as an old-fashioned semi-Christianartisan, an opinion for which he was widely attacked.) The Christian artisandid his work like any other skilled specialist, without any pretensions. Withthe Renaissance, the artist was not only regarded as a man of genius, but alsocalled by extravagant names, "the divine Aretino", "the divineMichelangelo", and so on.


But this was not all. In paganism, the genius had been essentially apolitical figure in the developed form of the idea of genius. The medievalartisan was essentially related to the faith, and his greatest work was in thechurch. After the Renaissance, the artist associated himself increasingly withthe state. The church continued to be a great patron of art, and, in thefollowing eras, such creations as baroque church art certainly represented verygreat outlays of money, but artists found their chief voice and their best self-expression in works done for theroyalty and the nobility, for the state. The neo-pagan genius and hero wereworking together.

The artist, and especially the writer began to see himself as a genius,producing for the ages. He was thus an elite man, but he was more than merely anelite man; the elite are the pick of society, the choicest part. The genius ismuch more than that: he is a supernormal and somewhat supernaturalbreak-through into society and thus above even the elite.

The literary elite atfirst identified themselves with the nobility and with royalty, with the greatheroes of the arena of politics. With the Enlightenment, however, the artists,especially the literary and pseudo-philosophical ones, began to turn againstthe nobility and royalty even while often fawning on them.

The French Revolution waspreceded by a long war by men like Voltaire, Diderot, and others on church andstate alike, with a new concept of society vaguely imagined as the true andcoming order. In the French Revolution, men who believed in their geniusoverthrew a social order and began the ruthless destruction of all things whichran counter to their "inspiration". Because the middle class had beenheld back and hindered by the monarchy, the literary elite briefly championedthe middle class cause as a useful weapon towards overthrowing the old regime.Very quickly, however, they turned on the middle classes with venom.

 

In the 19th century, theidea of the hero as the organizing principle of society (together with hisinstructor, the artistic genius) became very common. It was widely taught bysuch men as Carlyle, Nietzsche, and Wagner, and, in the 20th century, bySpengler, Stefan George, D. H. Lawrence, and others. The world, they held,cannot be understood by the faith and creeds of Christianity but only byintuition, history, and the hero. The evolution of things in history is interms of the hero, who acts without being hindered by old moralities andcreeds. He incarnates the true evolution of the world and brings in a new orderas the next step of evolution. His attitude is pragmatic, not dogmatic. He hashis roots in the folk or people, and he moves them into the future and progressby his ruthless, powerful drive. The hero is a realist who is not afraid tokill or to sin in order to further his cause. As Bentley summarized Carlyle'sview, "The man who is undefiled by pitch...must be in the wrong, for hehas not been willing to sin and compromise. He has not seized reality by itsfilthy hand." (Eric Bentley: A Century of Hero-Worship, p.56. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957,second edition.) The ideas of the men of "genius" of the 19th and20th centuries helped produce the "heroes" they imagined, men likeLenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

 

Moreover, the genius,having broken quickly with the middle class, then turned against the middleclass savagely for failing to bow down to him and to recognize his genius. Hecalled therefore for the liquidation of these insensitive clods who could notappreciate genius and were too much concerned about business and profits. The"genius" class or elite turned now to the working class, the proletariat,as a new hope for society, as a people who would follow the leadership ofgenius into a brave new world. The Russian Revolution was the longed-forproletarian revolution. The workers, however, failed the artists and writers:they did not appreciate genius. Only by a dictatorship could the state proceedwith its plan for a new society. In the 20th century, and especially with the1960s, the men of "genius" began to look for a new class to overthrowworkers and the middle class alike, the outlaw. The existentialist genius inparticular began to see the criminal as the true hero (and this criminal-herodefinitely includes the homosexual in the forefront), and prison riots becamerevolutionary events in which men of genius located new heroes. (Remember toothat the prison days of Lenin and Hitler were widely hailed as a part of theirheroic history.)

 

For some time now, themen of genius have been in search of a society to lead. Some have dreamed of asociety of programmed men, as in B. F. Skinner's intellectual nightmare, menwith electrodes in their brains to obey the commandments of heroes andgeniuses. The Genius has been increasingly a man with a pathological hatred ofsociety, of normality (of the "squares"), of a world which rejects hisprivileged and superior wisdom. He has not found that world in the nobility androyalty, nor in the middle and working classes, nor will he find it among theoutlaws, who, like him, are incapable of true loyalty and allegiance, let alonesubservience. The genius believes that he is beyond the law, that he should, infact, be the organizing force in society today, even as in ancient Rome thegenius was worshipped, and, in the person of the emperor, ruled. By the 1830's,the writers of France had come to a logical conclusion of the doctrine ofgenius: "everything is permitted to men of intelligence." (CesarGrana: Bohemian versus Bourgeois, p. 47. New York: Basic Books , 1964.)Their hatred of the normal world was so great that one writer of that era said,"I would give half my talents to be a bastard." (Ibid., p. 145.) In his excellent study ofSartre, Molnar has shown how the idea of bastard and intellectual came to beidentified; the bastard-intellectual is a heroic outlaw at war with middleclass society and culture, deliberately at odds with normal, well-integratedpeople. (Thomas Molnar: Sartre: Ideologue of Our Times, pp. 5ff. New York: Funk &Wagnalls, 1968.)

Thebastard-intellectual-genius is in search of a society to lead, but he can onlydisintegrate society: he can neither create nor lead one, because the essenceof his inspiration is destruction. He no longer looks for a hero, because, inhis pretensions he no longer needs the hero, but only followers. Such ideaswere prominent in Nietzsche, who wrote to his sister in December, 1888:"You have not the slightest idea what it means to be next-of-kin to theman and destiny in whom the question of epochs has been settled. Quiteliterally speaking: I hold the future of mankind in the palm of my hand."Everything was settled, if only the world would recognize it! But what theworld recognized and learned from each bastard-intellectual-genius was thecorrosive, burning hatred of man and society, the radical contempt of allthings save its own superiority and genius. Carlyle said, "There isnothing else but revolution and mutation, the former merely speedierchange." The goal thus is perpetual revolution for perpetual destruction.The state must obey genius and must liquidate all things in terms of a gospelof perpetual revolution or destruction.


The idea of genius in the modern world gained much from Rousseau. Amongother things, Rousseau, in his Social Contract, held that "Whoever refuses toobey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This meansnothing less than that he will be forced to be free." As Andelson haspointed out, this is echoed in the slogan of Orwell's 1984, "Freedom isSlavery." The general will is not merely the democratic majority, it isthe genius-intellectual's interpretation of what the general will of the wholebody or country should be. Robespierre, as spokesman for the Jacobins, saidbluntly, "Our will is the general will." (Robert V. Andelson: Imputed Rights, p. 8. Athens: University of GeorgiaPress, 1971.) The old latin expression, vox populi, vox dei, the voice of thepeople is the voice of God, now had a new development: the voice of thegenius-intellectual is the voice of the people and of the gods.

As against the idea ofthe genius, Biblical faith offered and offers to men the idea and office ofprophet. Most people make central a secondary aspect of the office of prophet,namely, one who foretells the future. The primary function and office of a prophetis to speak for God and to represent Him in total faithfulness to His law-word.This is the duty of every man in whatever calling he has. His reliance must notbe on his word, or his idea of truth, or his concept of good and evil, but onthe absolute and unchanging word of God. That word must be applied to church,state, school, science, all society and all learning, and its implicationsfaithfully developed. The Christian must work for the liquidation of the ideaof genius and its replacement by the calling of the prophet.

But this is not all. Thebeliever has a priestly office. In his priestly office, the believer mustdedicate himself, his social order and institutions, his family, work, and allthings to the glory and service of God. "Man's chief end is to glorify Godand to enjoy Him forever," the Westminster Catechism tells us; this is apriestly calling and task, and its emphasis is on joy. The priesthood of Israelwas radically separated from death and mourning; it could not indulge in griefas could other men, because the priesthood set forth not only the triumph ofGod but joy in Him. Nehemiah told a sorrowful people, "This day is holyunto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep... for this day is holy unto ourLord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Neh.8:9,10). The priestly calling of man brings him joy and peace.

Man also has a royalcalling in Christ, to be a king under God and to exercise dominion over theearth, by knowledge, authority, science, invention, farming, and in every otherway. As kings under God and His law, we must oppose the lawless idea of thehero, the fuhrer, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and all like variationsof the pagan faith. This dominion under God means the development of all thingsunder His law, and it is a mandate for orderly progress and advancement. Itmeans culture. The word culture is related to cultivate and agriculture, itmeans tillage, development, improvement. Culture requires time, capitalization,and work. The bastard-intellectual-genius program of revolution is also a waragainst culture and calls for the destruction of culture, which can only thrivewith time, capitalization, and cultivation. Culture cannot be limited to thearts; it is a myth propagated by the artists of the modern era that culturemeans what they do. Culture, however, is the faith or religion of apeople externalized in their total activities. True culture is today beingwarred on, and many people travel widely to see the relics of culture which aresurviving our age of revolution.

The state as theapotheosis and incarnation of genius is proving to be an anti-cultural,anti-human ideal, a destroyer of man and society. When the Bolsheviks wereaccused of being anti-culture, they answered the charge by turning to the past:they revived the tsar's ballet! This is the way of the Yahoo, on both sides ofthe iron curtain.

 

If our hope is in a heroor in genius, we will wait for such a leader, and we will get a fuhrer ordictator, and we will deserve him. If, however, we see our calling as prophets,priests, and kings under God and in Christ, we will begin the task ofreconstruction wherever we are, because we are the future. The Christians ofthe Roman Empire were ready to swear allegiance to the emperor, but theyrefused to swear by the genius of the emperor, and for this they werepersecuted (Tertullian: Apologeticus, 32.) Under God, they could notsurrender their own calling under God to the will of a man, nor commit theirfuture to the will of man.

The culture of tomorrowwill not come from the state and the bastard-intellectual-genius elite of thestate. It will come from us who are prophets, priests, and kings under God, whoare doing our duty under God and to His glory. St. Paul's counsel still stands:"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, alwaysabounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is notin vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58). The world of the hero and the geniuswill disappear. Good riddance.

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 784; Chalcedon Report No. 78,February 1, 1972)

 

http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-idea-of-genius/

 

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