How To Ascend Despair

All the way back in the simpler and quieter times of 2009, Paul Gottfried gave a speech to the HL Mencken Club on the development of a new right-wing. Almost immediately, Gottfried quoted Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s command to his troops at the battle of Gallipoli during World War One, “I am not asking you to stand and fight here; I am asking you to die in your tracks.” Befitting Gottfried’s notorious fatalism, he did not quote Atatürk’s second line: “In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.” Nor did Gottfried note that it was Atatürk’s side, the Ottoman Empire, that ultimately won that battle. Also noteworthy is that not long after that military victory, Atatürk himself became President of Turkey, and a very successful one at that, fending off both Western encroachment and Islamism while rapidly modernizing the nation. (Atatürk was so talented, in fact, that Wilmot Robertson considered him the greatest statesman of the twentieth century. He is discussed at length in chapter eleven of Ventilations, the follow-up to The Dispossessed Majority.)

Despair, then, is not always as prophetic as it can feel. I doubt very much that as an officer in WWI, Atatürk felt certain he would eventually reach the heights he went on to achieve. Indeed, he almost certainly thought he would die in Gallipoli, still in his mid-thirties. There is a strange appropriateness to this arch: only someone with the dedication on display in that quote would be capable of such greatness. Someone less honest, less willing to sacrifice, and less willing to challenge fate would have had a much harder time becoming such a beloved national hero. In this way, the very traits that open our eyes to the futility of a situation are the same traits that can take us out of and above it. This is worth assigning some thought to.

Taking the life of one historical figure and making it parable, however, is perhaps an excessively secular act. As Peter Brimelow often reminds us, beyond objectivity, in Christianity there are also “theological injunctions against despair”—and the ancients felt the same. Marcus Aurelius’s personal prayer book (“Meditations”) is filled with reflections on the matter. For Christian and Pagan alike, I recommend saying these prayers of his once a week, and seeing what of it comes.

5:9 Do not be distressed, do not despond or give up in despair, if now and again practice falls short of precept. Return to the attack after each failure, and be thankful if on the whole you can acquit yourself in the majority of cases as a man should. But have a genuine liking for the discipline you return to: do not recur to your philosophy in the spirit of a schoolboy to his master, but as the sore-eyed recur to their egg-and-sponge lotion, or as others to their poultice or their douche. In this way your submission to reason will not become a matter for public display, but for private consolation. Bear in mind that, while philosophy wills only what your own nature wills, you yourself were willing something else that was at variance with nature. ‘Yes, but what other thing could have been more agreeable?’—is not that the inducement wherewith pleasure seeks to beguile you? Yet consider: would not nobility of soul be more agreeable? Would not candor, simplicity, kindness, piety? Nay more; when you reflect on the precision and smoothness with which the processes of ratiocination and cognition operate, can there be anything more agreeable than the exercise of intellect?

5:20 In one way humanity touches me very nearly, inasmuch as I am bound to do good to my fellow-creatures and bear with them. On the other hand, to the extent that individual men hamper my proper activities, humanity becomes a thing as indifferent to me as the sun, the wind, or the creatures of the wild. True, others may hinder the carrying out of certain actions; but they cannot obstruct my will, nor the disposition of my mind, since these will always safeguard themselves under reservations and adapt themselves to circumstances. The mind can circumvent all obstacles to action, and turn them to the furtherance of its main purpose, so that any impediment to its work becomes instead an auxiliary, and the barriers in its path become aids to progress.

7:8 Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

7:71 How ridiculous not to flee from one’s own wickedness, which is possible, yet endeavor to flee from another’s, which is not.

10:3 Whatever befalls, Nature has either prepared you to face it or she has not. If something untoward happens which is within your powers of endurance, do not resent it, but bear it as she has enabled you to do. Should it exceed those powers, still do not give way to resentment; for its victory over you will put an end to its own existence. Remember, however, that in fact Nature has given you the ability to bear anything which your own judgment succeeds in declaring bearable and endurable by regarding it as a point of self-interest and duty to do so.

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