Misanthropic Pessimism (an article from 1914) (1 Viewer) News & Blogs 

Cornelius Vango

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Original article location

So I read this article recently, it's loosely associated with anarchist concepts so that's why I put it in this section...

I don't necessarily agree with everything it has to say (also it's old) but I thought it was an interesting read and was wondering what you think about it:

______________________________________________

Georges Palante
Misanthropic Pessimism
The pessimism we want to study now is that which we have called misanthropic pessimism. This pessimism doesn’t proceed from an exasperated and suffering sensibility, but from a lucid intelligence exercising its critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species. Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility; of universal nanality and universal turpitude. As the pitiless painting of a world peopled with cretins and swindlers, of ninnies and fools.
The character of this pessimism appears as a universal coldness, a willed impassibility, an absence of sentimentalism that distinguishes it from romantic pessimism, ever inclined to despair or revolt. The mute despair of Vigny is more pathetic than a cry of pain. In Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt, while in Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the world’s pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As for the misanthropic pessimist, he makes no complaints. He doesn’t take the human condition as tragic, he doesn’t rise up against destiny. He observes his contemporaries with curiosity, pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts and is amused by their presumption, their vanity, their hypocrisy, or their unconscious villainy, by their intellectual and moral weakness. It is no longer human pain, it is no longer the sickness of living that forms the theme of this pessimism, but rather human villainy and stupidity. One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism could be this well-known verse: “The most foolish animal is man.”

The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness that we can call dogmatic foolishness, that solemn and despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and rites, across public opinion and mores, which makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices. While romantic pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse, misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the intellectual, ironic, and disdainful observer. He prefers the tone of persiflage to the minor and tragic tone. A Swift symbolizing the vanity of human quarrels in the crusade of the Big-endians and the Little-endians, a Voltaire mocking the metaphysical foolishness of Pangloss and the silly naiveté of Candide; a Benjamin Constant consigning to the Red Notebook and the Journal Intime his epigrammatic remarks on humanity and society; a Stendhal, whose Journal and Vie de Henri Brulard contain so many misanthropic observations on his family, his relations, his chiefs, his entourage; a Merimée, friend and emulator of Stendhal in the ironic observation of human nature; a Flaubert attacking the imbecility of his puppets Frederic Moureau and Bouvard and of Pécuchet; a Taine in “Thomas Graindorge;” a Challemel-Lacour in his Reflexions d’un pessimiste can all be taken as the representative types of this haughty, smiling, and contemptuous pessimistic wisdom.

In truth, this pessimism isn’t foreign to a few of the thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic pessimism, for the different types of pessimism have points of contact and penetration. A Schopenhauer, a Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human foolishness, presumption and credulity. But in them misanthropic pessimism can’t be found in its pure state. It remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering, of despair or of revolt, to the sentimental pathos that is the characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism: in fact, in more than one of its representatives (Stendhal, Flaubert) it proceeds from that spirit of exact, detailed and pitiless observation, from the concern for objectivity and impassivity that figure among the characteristic traits of the realist esthetic. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender individualism? This is not certain. Among the thinkers we just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived, nor practiced, nor recommended the attitude of voluntary isolation that is individualism. Though they had no illusions about men they did not flee their society. They didn’t hold them at a disdainful distance. They accepted to mix with them, to live their lives in their midst. Voltaire was sociability incarnate. Swift, a harsh man of ambition had nothing of the solitary nature of Obermann and Vigny. But there are several among the misanthropic pessimists we just cited, particularly Flaubert and Taine, who practiced, theorized, and recommended intellectual isolation, the retreat of thought into itself as the sole possible attitude for a man having any kind of refinement of thought and nobility of soul in this world of mediocrity and banality
Flaubert, haunted by the specter of “stupidity with a thousand faces” finds it wherever he looks. He seeks refuge against it in the pure joys of art and contemplation. He said: “I understood one great thing: it’s that for the men of our race happiness is in the idea and nowhere else.” “Where does your weakness come form?” he wrote to a friend. “Is it because you know man? What difference does it make? Can’t you, in thought, establish that superb line of interior defense that keeps you an ocean’s width from your neighbor?”

To a correspondent who complains of worry and disgust with all things: “There is a sentiment,” he writes,” or rather a habit that you seem to be lacking, to wit, the love of contemplation. Take life, the passions, and yourself as subjects for intellectual exercises.” And again: “Skepticism will have nothing of the bitter, for it will seem that you are at humanity’s comedy and it will seem to you that history crosses the world for you alone.”
Taine was led by his misanthropic vision of humanity to a stoic and ascetic conception of life, to looking on the intelligence as the supreme asylum in which to isolate himself, to defend himself from universal wickedness, universal stupidity, and universal banality. A singular analogy unites Taine to Flaubert. Taine asks of scientific analysis what Flaubert asks of art and contemplation: an intellectual alibi, a means of escape from the realities of the social milieu.
This deduction is logical. Misanthropic pessimism supposes or engenders contemplative isolation. In order to intellectually despise men one must separate oneself from them, see them from a distance. One must have left the herd, have arrived at Descartes’ attitude which “lives in the midst of men like amidst the trees in a forest.” Whether we wish it or not, there is here a theoretical isolation, a kind of intellectual solipsism, the indifference of an aristocrat and a dilettante who “detaches himself from all in order to roam everywhere.” (Taine)

Let us add that the clear-sightedness of the misanthropic intellectual has, in and of itself, something antisocial about it. To take as the theme for one’s irony the common and average human stupidity means treating without respect a social value of the first order. Stupidity is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is possible. It is the cement of the social edifice. “Stupidity,” said Dr. Anatole France’s Trublet, “is the first good of an ordered society.” Social conventions only survive thanks to a general stupidity that envelops, supports, guarantees, protects, and consecrates the stupidity of individuals. This is why critical, ironic, and pessimistic intelligence is a social dissolvent. It is irreverent towards that which is socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity. It attacks respect and credulity, the conservative elements of society.
 
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i love stuff like this, thank you for sharing

edit: this is actually huge for me, apparently Camus (an author I like) was influenced by this guy (thanks wikipedia)
 
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D

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Original article location

So I read this article recently, it's loosely associated with anarchist concepts so that's why I put it in this section...

I don't necessarily agree with everything it has to say (also it's old) but I thought it was an interesting read and was wondering what you think about it:

______________________________________________

Georges Palante
Misanthropic Pessimism
The pessimism we want to study now is that which we have called misanthropic pessimism. This pessimism doesn’t proceed from an exasperated and suffering sensibility, but from a lucid intelligence exercising its critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species. Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility; of universal nanality and universal turpitude. As the pitiless painting of a world peopled with cretins and swindlers, of ninnies and fools.
The character of this pessimism appears as a universal coldness, a willed impassibility, an absence of sentimentalism that distinguishes it from romantic pessimism, ever inclined to despair or revolt. The mute despair of Vigny is more pathetic than a cry of pain. In Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt, while in Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the world’s pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As for the misanthropic pessimist, he makes no complaints. He doesn’t take the human condition as tragic, he doesn’t rise up against destiny. He observes his contemporaries with curiosity, pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts and is amused by their presumption, their vanity, their hypocrisy, or their unconscious villainy, by their intellectual and moral weakness. It is no longer human pain, it is no longer the sickness of living that forms the theme of this pessimism, but rather human villainy and stupidity. One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism could be this well-known verse: “The most foolish animal is man.”

The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness that we can call dogmatic foolishness, that solemn and despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and rites, across public opinion and mores, which makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices. While romantic pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse, misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the intellectual, ironic, and disdainful observer. He prefers the tone of persiflage to the minor and tragic tone. A Swift symbolizing the vanity of human quarrels in the crusade of the Big-endians and the Little-endians, a Voltaire mocking the metaphysical foolishness of Pangloss and the silly naiveté of Candide; a Benjamin Constant consigning to the Red Notebook and the Journal Intime his epigrammatic remarks on humanity and society; a Stendhal, whose Journal and Vie de Henri Brulard contain so many misanthropic observations on his family, his relations, his chiefs, his entourage; a Merimée, friend and emulator of Stendhal in the ironic observation of human nature; a Flaubert attacking the imbecility of his puppets Frederic Moureau and Bouvard and of Pécuchet; a Taine in “Thomas Graindorge;” a Challemel-Lacour in his Reflexions d’un pessimiste can all be taken as the representative types of this haughty, smiling, and contemptuous pessimistic wisdom.

In truth, this pessimism isn’t foreign to a few of the thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic pessimism, for the different types of pessimism have points of contact and penetration. A Schopenhauer, a Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human foolishness, presumption and credulity. But in them misanthropic pessimism can’t be found in its pure state. It remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering, of despair or of revolt, to the sentimental pathos that is the characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism: in fact, in more than one of its representatives (Stendhal, Flaubert) it proceeds from that spirit of exact, detailed and pitiless observation, from the concern for objectivity and impassivity that figure among the characteristic traits of the realist esthetic. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender individualism? This is not certain. Among the thinkers we just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived, nor practiced, nor recommended the attitude of voluntary isolation that is individualism. Though they had no illusions about men they did not flee their society. They didn’t hold them at a disdainful distance. They accepted to mix with them, to live their lives in their midst. Voltaire was sociability incarnate. Swift, a harsh man of ambition had nothing of the solitary nature of Obermann and Vigny. But there are several among the misanthropic pessimists we just cited, particularly Flaubert and Taine, who practiced, theorized, and recommended intellectual isolation, the retreat of thought into itself as the sole possible attitude for a man having any kind of refinement of thought and nobility of soul in this world of mediocrity and banality
Flaubert, haunted by the specter of “stupidity with a thousand faces” finds it wherever he looks. He seeks refuge against it in the pure joys of art and contemplation. He said: “I understood one great thing: it’s that for the men of our race happiness is in the idea and nowhere else.” “Where does your weakness come form?” he wrote to a friend. “Is it because you know man? What difference does it make? Can’t you, in thought, establish that superb line of interior defense that keeps you an ocean’s width from your neighbor?”

To a correspondent who complains of worry and disgust with all things: “There is a sentiment,” he writes,” or rather a habit that you seem to be lacking, to wit, the love of contemplation. Take life, the passions, and yourself as subjects for intellectual exercises.” And again: “Skepticism will have nothing of the bitter, for it will seem that you are at humanity’s comedy and it will seem to you that history crosses the world for you alone.”
Taine was led by his misanthropic vision of humanity to a stoic and ascetic conception of life, to looking on the intelligence as the supreme asylum in which to isolate himself, to defend himself from universal wickedness, universal stupidity, and universal banality. A singular analogy unites Taine to Flaubert. Taine asks of scientific analysis what Flaubert asks of art and contemplation: an intellectual alibi, a means of escape from the realities of the social milieu.
This deduction is logical. Misanthropic pessimism supposes or engenders contemplative isolation. In order to intellectually despise men one must separate oneself from them, see them from a distance. One must have left the herd, have arrived at Descartes’ attitude which “lives in the midst of men like amidst the trees in a forest.” Whether we wish it or not, there is here a theoretical isolation, a kind of intellectual solipsism, the indifference of an aristocrat and a dilettante who “detaches himself from all in order to roam everywhere.” (Taine)

Let us add that the clear-sightedness of the misanthropic intellectual has, in and of itself, something antisocial about it. To take as the theme for one’s irony the common and average human stupidity means treating without respect a social value of the first order. Stupidity is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is possible. It is the cement of the social edifice. “Stupidity,” said Dr. Anatole France’s Trublet, “is the first good of an ordered society.” Social conventions only survive thanks to a general stupidity that envelops, supports, guarantees, protects, and consecrates the stupidity of individuals. This is why critical, ironic, and pessimistic intelligence is a social dissolvent. It is irreverent towards that which is socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity. It attacks respect and credulity, the conservative elements of society.
Interesting read. Especially considering it was from 1914. Nice to know people have been thinking everyone and everything is shit since shit existed. ;)
 
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Camus, Sartre, and the other existentialist philosophers all seem to echo certain sentiments expressed in the above. I have always seen the existentialists, the nihilists, the pessimists, and the materialists as subscribing to an ultimately flawed view of existence.

The notion of the absurd initially intrigued me, but ultimately proved flawed in my eyes, the absurd meaning: "The notion of the absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it." I can't accept this as clear thought, there is clearly meaning in the world beyond the meaning which we give it, and it's actually incredibly obvious. This somewhat ties into sartre's notion that "nature is mute" again, this is ridiculous, nature is not mute, you only need ears to hear, and the world is a mass of meaning which is deeper and far more complex than most humans are able to interpret.

I have to agree with terence McKenna on this one:

The myth of our society is the existential myth that we are cast into matter, that we are lost in a universe that has no meaning for us, that we must make our meaning. This is what Sartre, Kierkegaard, all those people are saying, that we must make our meaning. It reaches its most absurd expression in Sartre's statement that nature is
mute. I mean, this is as far from alchemical thinking as you can possibly get because for the alchemist nature was a great book, an open book to be read by putting nature through processes that revealed not only its inner mechanics, but the inner mechanics of the artifice.

-t mckenna

If any of you are interested in this kind of thing, I highly recommend a book by Flans Jonas called The Phenomenon of Life. It's a book of philosophical essays but there's one essay called "Gnosticism and the Modern Temper" in which he shows that once you take Gnosticism and dump all the angels and all the star demons and all the colorful bricabrac of late Roman thinking what you have is a thorough going existentialism completely compatible with Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, and the kind of intellectual despair that characterized the post WWII generation in Europe. Heidegger is thorough goingly Gnostic in his intentionality, it's just that the language is modern and stripped of this magical thinking and by being stripped of this magical thinking in a way modern, the modern retention of that state of mind is even more hopeless and disempowering. Fortunately, I think we're moving out of the shadow of that, but I'm 44 years old, I grew up reading those people and it made my adolescence much harder than it needed to be. I mean, my god, there wasn't an iota of hope to be found anywhere. That's why, for me, psychedelics broke over that intellectual world like a tidal wave of revelation. I quoted to you last night Jean Paul Sartre's statement that nature is mute. Now I see this as an obscenity almost, an intellectual crime against reason and intuition. It's the absolute antithesis of the logos and much of our world is ruled by men, older than I am, who are fully connected into that without any question and they just think that the rest of this is just namby pamby ecological softheartedness of some sort. There is no openness to the power of Bios, to the fact of a living cosmos. This is what Rupert Sheldrake is always trying to say. The reinvestuture of spirit into matter, the rebirth of the world soul is a necessary concomitant to what we understand about the real nature of the world. In a way, the theory of evolution, which was born in the 1850s, was the beginning of the turning of the tide because even though the first 100 years of evolutionary theory was fantastically concerned to eliminate teleology, eliminate purpose, nevertheless nobody ever understood that except the hardcore evolutionists. To everyone else, evolution meant ascent to higher form. I once heard someone say "if it doesn't have to do with genes, it ain't evolution." Well, that's a tremendously limited view of what evolution is. The inorganic world is evolving, the organic world is evolving and there the currency is genes but also the social and intellectual world of human beings is evolving and there the currency is not genes but means so that idea carries with it the implication of ascent to higher form and correctly broadened and understood becomes permission to optimism and to the kind of hope that these folks were trying to articulate. -terence McKenna


The initial "misanthropic" paper reminded of the song in the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0dUnoecoZ0

(I don't even like crust, punk or grind, I listen to mostly jam and reggae, yet somehow I still know all of these stupid little songs)
 
D

Deleted member 20683

I closed my account
oh man, thanks for this...hitting the spot.

i have been sliding this way for years, and it's kind of weird. when i was traveling/homefree i saw the best and worst of humanity that i ever have. i'm in a very normcore part of my life now and feel like my mind is breaking a little on how down i feel towards the people around me, myself for living this way, the world in general. i don't want to be "intellectual, ironic, and disdainful" but i feel like i'm winding up there. i don't want to be a misathrope, it's just been a long time since i've met anyone who really reminds me of the good in people. i don't want to be one of the ones that "flees society", but i am anxious, and traumatized and stuff. the "love of contemplation" has thrust itself on me, or maybe the slowness of depression and routine has let something awaken. i've wound up getting really interested in a lot of spiritual/religious traditions - again, not because i set out to, it's just kind of where i wound up because of all this...and SO many of them have this theme of how most people are basically fucked and the world is getting worse with every generation. and i share that view with them, but also the one that humans are capable of doing SO much better. one of my favorite biblical passages portrays wisdom as a woman who is calling aloud to people in the city square, and no one is listening. wisdom is not some esoteric thing as much as people are just really stupid.

"stupidity is the first good of an ordered society" - hahaha, love it, need to check out this anatole france character.

i guess i wish i could have been way more pessimistic when i was younger and roaming around all the time. i wouldn't have been taken advantage of so much and i wouldn't have had so many expectations to be disappointed in. i think the overall point is to take pessimism (about life, and people) as a means of disillusionment so that real life and real happiness can come through clear. which i feel..nah? younglings, take note !
 
D

Deleted member 20683

I closed my account
Camus, Sartre, and the other existentialist philosophers all seem to echo certain sentiments expressed in the above. I have always seen the existentialists, the nihilists, the pessimists, and the materialists as subscribing to an ultimately flawed view of existence.

The notion of the absurd initially intrigued me, but ultimately proved flawed in my eyes, the absurd meaning: "The notion of the absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it." I can't accept this as clear thought, there is clearly meaning in the world beyond the meaning which we give it, and it's actually incredibly obvious. This somewhat ties into sartre's notion that "nature is mute" again, this is ridiculous, nature is not mute, you only need ears to hear, and the world is a mass of meaning which is deeper and far more complex than most humans are able to interpret.

I have to agree with terence McKenna on this one:

The myth of our society is the existential myth that we are cast into matter, that we are lost in a universe that has no meaning for us, that we must make our meaning. This is what Sartre, Kierkegaard, all those people are saying, that we must make our meaning. It reaches its most absurd expression in Sartre's statement that nature is
mute. I mean, this is as far from alchemical thinking as you can possibly get because for the alchemist nature was a great book, an open book to be read by putting nature through processes that revealed not only its inner mechanics, but the inner mechanics of the artifice.


-t mckenna

If any of you are interested in this kind of thing, I highly recommend a book by Flans Jonas called The Phenomenon of Life. It's a book of philosophical essays but there's one essay called "Gnosticism and the Modern Temper" in which he shows that once you take Gnosticism and dump all the angels and all the star demons and all the colorful bricabrac of late Roman thinking what you have is a thorough going existentialism completely compatible with Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, and the kind of intellectual despair that characterized the post WWII generation in Europe. Heidegger is thorough goingly Gnostic in his intentionality, it's just that the language is modern and stripped of this magical thinking and by being stripped of this magical thinking in a way modern, the modern retention of that state of mind is even more hopeless and disempowering. Fortunately, I think we're moving out of the shadow of that, but I'm 44 years old, I grew up reading those people and it made my adolescence much harder than it needed to be. I mean, my god, there wasn't an iota of hope to be found anywhere. That's why, for me, psychedelics broke over that intellectual world like a tidal wave of revelation. I quoted to you last night Jean Paul Sartre's statement that nature is mute. Now I see this as an obscenity almost, an intellectual crime against reason and intuition. It's the absolute antithesis of the logos and much of our world is ruled by men, older than I am, who are fully connected into that without any question and they just think that the rest of this is just namby pamby ecological softheartedness of some sort. There is no openness to the power of Bios, to the fact of a living cosmos. This is what Rupert Sheldrake is always trying to say. The reinvestuture of spirit into matter, the rebirth of the world soul is a necessary concomitant to what we understand about the real nature of the world. In a way, the theory of evolution, which was born in the 1850s, was the beginning of the turning of the tide because even though the first 100 years of evolutionary theory was fantastically concerned to eliminate teleology, eliminate purpose, nevertheless nobody ever understood that except the hardcore evolutionists. To everyone else, evolution meant ascent to higher form. I once heard someone say "if it doesn't have to do with genes, it ain't evolution." Well, that's a tremendously limited view of what evolution is. The inorganic world is evolving, the organic world is evolving and there the currency is genes but also the social and intellectual world of human beings is evolving and there the currency is not genes but means so that idea carries with it the implication of ascent to higher form and correctly broadened and understood becomes permission to optimism and to the kind of hope that these folks were trying to articulate. -terence McKenna

The initial "misanthropic" paper reminded of the song in the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0dUnoecoZ0

(I don't even like crust, punk or grind, I listen to mostly jam and reggae, yet somehow I still know all of these stupid little songs)

ok there is a lot to say about the mckenna quotes here. i am all for more philosophy threads on this board, i don't wanna derail this one too much. i will say i think mckenna goes way overboard on finding meaning in the world; i tried reading "the invisible landscape" and i like "supertheory of supereverything" type books but that one just got way too bonkers for me. i don't think the i ching is actually a computer program that predicts the entire shape of spacetime, i think those dudes just did way too much dmt...sorry. i'm interested in what the logos/bios distinction means. it seems like he should agree that ultimately it doesn't really hold up? like sure, nature is only mute if you don't listen to it or don't try to read it. sure, it's a text made up of genes and ideas and what not, but it's also a text we express, read aloud, act out, live by...the texts, genes and ideas are all made up of little particles too.

anyway, as far as the absurd, i preferred nagel's take on it: absurdity is about our ability to always put anything in question including our own perspectives and truths.

https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/The Absurd - Thomas Nagel.pdf
 

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