Authority and Domination: Nihilism as an Answer to the Absurd


Irmgard Fuchs-Lévy

Humans, worshipped like gods, lose actually in time their human tongue.
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Leader: often someone, who needs the others and makes them believe they need him.
Karlheinz Deschner

In the philosophical essays The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel: an essay on man in revolt, Albert Camus speaks about nihilism and revolt as the two possible answers to the absurd. Misfortune or fortune, success or failure depend on these answers. I will identify various aspects of nihilism and the absurd and present largely their traits and their connection to rule and partnership respectively. The chapters Authority and Rule and Authority and Partnership build the foundation for the next chapters, which will provide concrete examples for these types of relationships.

Before addressing nihilism, I wish to clarify what the absurd is and what it means to our life. Dictionaries inform that absurditas comes from Latin and means irrationality, senselessness or unfitness. Generally, we tend to name ‘absurd’ anything that opposes us, be it valuable or worthless, true or false, rational or irrational. The philosophical dictionary of Heinrich Schmidt points out that since the Second World War the absurd counts as a feature of the human condition (Seinstellung). The entry mentions purposely The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus written in 1942 (1978, 4). For Camus the human person is predisposed to connect to the world, his or her fellow humans and himself or herself, but is impeded to do so by the absurd. This absurd is also the improper, the unforgivable, the incomprehensible, emerging through domination, rule, subjugation, constraint, threat, power, manipulation, infantilizing, deceit and blinding.

When we consider our life, we find 3 manifestations of the absurd: we have to cope with the ontological absurd (death), the socio-cultural absurd (doctrines of salvation and their heralds, exerting domination and demanding obedience) and the individual absurd (for instance vanity or narcissism). As history proves, there is a direct relationship between the socio-cultural and the individual absurd, amenable to education. Usually the absurd appears in the figure of the absolute, which represents centrality, uses abstraction and bears the sign of domination. Spurring, enticing or forcing people to believe in the Absolute, means driving them towards physical, emotional and intellectual suicide (Hohl, 1986, 81).

The ontological absurd, that is death, which determines the conditio humana as unalterable is the essentially important. This is the absurd par excellence, a fact the human person has to cope with, without being able to understand or transcend it. As known, our conscience calls for security and duration, but finds itself confronting risk and has to accept its irrevocable end. This circumstance causes a profound angst, which can never be completely silenced. Death as destiny and end is and remains to us alien and eerie (Gronemeyer 1996, 15ff), as it encumbers us with the unbearable burden of transience. Thus death falls under repression, which prepares the ground for the other forms of suppression (domination, subjugation, sexuality), highlighted by the art of poetry and the depth psychology.

At the beginning I claimed that nihilism and revolt count as answers to the absurd. As I will treat revolt in detail in the next chapter, a brief description should suffice now: to revolt, means to rebel against the absurd on the ground of solidarity, by considering dignity, measure and limit. While revolt confronts the absurd with denial, and tries to reduce it, nihilism ensures its affirmation, promotion and dissemination. This succeeds through the denial of solidarity and the establishment of a hierarchical order, characterized by the open or the concealed rejection of human dignity, the foundation in the lack of measure and the tendency to trespass limits. The medium of nihilism is the monologue, its goal is domination and the leveling of differences, the belief connected to it is the belief in a somehow defined god (an absolute), that forbids any criticism, any doubt and any opposition. The crux of nihilism is the authoritarian ethic, which promises order, but stirs a bellicose mental disposition.

This sort of belief demands self-sacrifice and goes together with giving up self-inquiry, the feeling of one’s own value and the self-formation. A belief grounded on the absurd and the rejection of the human person as a thinking, feeling, will-guided and acting being, is the main demand of the Christian church “Credo, quia absurdum” (“I believe it because it is absurd”, Büchmann 1903, 473). This main demand has been taken over by the secular world, that is by the political, philosophical and scientific churches. They all require from the beginning to believe what could not and cannot be proved, and promise the ‘poor in the spirit’ – the believers, party members, followers – the celestial realm.

It is precisely the fear of death that power-greedy authorities have taken advantage of for millennia, as they situate themselves as absolute and style themselves to a center. Behind the motivation to free men from this angst, they force them into the procrustean bed of an authoritarian ethic, which reinforces not only the death angst, but also the living angst. This ethic delivers the type of man and the world valid for that kind of authority, the respective norms and values included, to moral rigor and the double morality that goes with it. With this comes the principle of dualism, the birth, nurturing and at the same time malediction of nihilistic affections, and the associated prohibitions of thought and thought clichés.

As a justification for using their fellow men as means to their end, the representatives of the absolute rely on a god they themselves create and enthrone. They surround him with the aura of untouchability, they endow him with supreme might, supreme knowledge and supreme wisdom and are invested by him with the right to decide on life or death. Michael Bakunin synthesizes in his work “God and the State” the consequence of all this, as follows: “As God is everything, the real world and the humans are nothing […] As God is the master, man is the slave. As God’s slaves, humans must also be slaves of the church and the state, as the state has been turned holy by the church” (Bakunin, 1968, 119).

As evidence proves, this is not restricted to the special position and assertiveness of the representatives of the state and the church. Philosophers and scientists manifest patronizing ambitions and make themselves openly or secretly accomplices of those who despise men. Thus the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who stated that democracy was the red thread of his work (Dotzauer, 2005), turns out at the beginning of the 21st century as the defender of the authoritarian-centralistic-patriarchal principle. He speaks about the danger of secularizing modernity and pleads for the persistence of religion in a continuously secularizing environment (Habermas 2005). To Marius Meller this appears as if “Habermas would like to defend people from their freedom” (2005, 25).

With his conservatism, that is with his relatedness to authority, Habermas continues a typical German tradition. According to the philosopher Ernst Tugendhat, this tradition would refer to the history of philosophy as such, or to singular thinkers like Kant, Hegel and Heidegger as unquestionable authorities (2005, 7). The founders of depth psychology, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, as much as many of their disciples and followers, and the representatives of other psychological theories, were contaminated by this. It permeated their lives and teaching, and it radiated to all social domains. This confirms Karlheinz Deschner’s declaration that a sharp understanding becomes completely incomprehensible when it places itself as absolute (1989, 24); and Gunter Preuß acknowledges that the one who places himself above others is a lightweight. (2003, 38).

The god of religion, who requires submission through the mouth of popes, priests and their assistants and promises instead a life after death in a paradisiacal kingdom to come, bears in politics names like “king”, “legislator”, “leader”, “party”, a.s.o. In philosophy concepts like “idea”, “spirit”, “moral law”, a.s.o. have obtained divine consecration. In natural sciences “objectivity”, “nature”, “drive”, “gene”, “brain” a.s.o., represent the absolute, and in the humanities notions like “wholeness”, “unity”, “virtue”, “evolution”, “sense of community” are divinized. Basically every concept can turn into an idol and serve the overbearing authorities to justify the glorification of themselves and the oppression of others.

With these authorities the socio-cultural and individual absurd comes into the world, supported and promoted by nihilism. Yet, they do not appear to us openly as misanthropes, as they avail themselves of the masques of peace bringers, redeemers, dignitaries, benefactors, bringers of happiness, saviors of the world, leaders, a.s.o. These promising figures, almost exclusively men, offer totalitarian solutions and disguise themselves as “strong fathers”, who take care of everything in return of obedience and dependency. (Eisler, 1993, 304). If the obedient disapproves and denounces his/her dependency, the protectors turn in a flash into persecutors, avengers and judges.

As the influence of the single human being is limited, even when he propagates a godly ideal or declares himself as “Savior”, he must find disciples who admire him. This is however not enough. Simultaneously he needs people who make themselves available as propagandists. This circle of people, that are co-responsible for the consolidation of absolute dominance, are actually the vassals as Max Weber explains in his Universalgeschichtlichen Analysen (Analyses of universal history, 1973, 155f). The vassal contributes to stabilize the structure of power: he renders himself available for the representative of the absolute as his “right hand”, but takes distance from the slave, serf, servant or follower respectively. The vassals are also beneficiaries of the absolute authorities, and they are as pernicious for social life as those they submit themselves to, as they can breed their own ambitions of dominance in their shade. Typical for this type, ideally incarnated in the courtier (noble man, bishop, chancellor, clerk, crown prince or model student), is the renouncing of criticism against the repressive authority, which results in the promotion of the absurd. The vassal shares with this authority the contempt for peoples, masses, for the average man in general. The many serve only to increase the fame, richness, influence and power of the chosen ones.

An impressive example is the English philosopher Thomas Morus (1478-1535), who was appointed chancellor of King Henry VIII in 1529. For years he not only acquiesced to, but also induced his king’s cruel methods of torture and the massive executions, but his conscience rang an alarm only when the king was no longer willing to recognize the pope as the superior authority. Since Morus demanded in his work Utopia (1516) that the non-believers should be brought into the fold of the Catholic Church through arguments, the pious ascetic and passionate penitent was awarded the honorary title of a humanist. In his theory Morus presented himself as a humanist, in his praxis he was a pitiless man-hater. This is a clue that the fracture between the abstract and the concrete represents an old maneuver of self-deception and deception of others full of consequences, which is familiar also in the humanities or religious sciences, more precisely with expert-intellectuals.

In order to create and uphold the necessary distance, the authority and the vassal have the habit of declaring their own person as mystical, idealizing it and turning it into a taboo. This occurs first of all through renouncing the respective suppression of the personal absurd, that is of vanity or narcissism, the tendencies of submission and dominion, as well as through presenting a softened and cleanly washed image for the surrounding world. The distance taking is anticipated by an unacknowledged conflict avoidance and an anxiety before disputations. In the end the development of conflict entails the danger of disclosing contradictions and embellishment or to bring to light deceptions. Besides, it would become obvious, that who does not like to convince with arguments, builds argumentations with convictions (Kudszus 2002, 91). In this sense one has to agree with Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach as she acknowledges that one does not have to fear those who argue, but much more those who avoid arguing (1941, 11). Deceiving and blinding the other prove to be important postulates for the establishing of absolute authorities and their supporters. Both drag humans into nihilism, i.e., into “dead movements” (Hohl 1984, 13), made of whatever man does out of fear and that corresponds to alienation.

The personality cult is often associated with centralism and hierarchy building and is accompanied by holy men, charismatic leaders, heroes or overmen. They populate the heaven of religions, political doctrines, philosophical systems and scientific teachings. At the same time they function as advertisements of an authoritarian ethic as well of a kitschified concept of humanity. Beyond that they influence the life of fantasy and chain it with specific images and contents. Myths, mysteries and legends, in other words “mad creations of the spirit”, ”delusions of the mind” as Spinoza says (1979, 9), replace reality and the quest for truth.

Next to the Bible and political manifestoes there are numerous philosophical and scientific works of “the chosen ones”, written with a grandiose excess of self-estimation and permeated by subjective chimaeras. When he was 26, Ernst Bloch wrote to his friend George Lukacs “I have decided now, […] to stage my fame and the fame and the print of my philosophy […] Georg, I assure you, all people […] will feel themselves taken by the hand, they will have to weep and tremble, and be redeemed in the great binding Idea; […] and erring is put an end to, everything is permeated by a warm and glowing clarity; a great life wholesomeness arrives […] and all serve and pray again, and the strengths of my faith are imparted to all, and into the smallest hours of everyday life, all are shrouded and rescued in the new childhood and youth of the myth and in the new Middle Ages and the new reunion with eternity. I am the Paraclete, and the people to whom I have been sent will experience in their inner selves and understand the returning God.“ (Bloch, 1989, 107)

Bloch saw himself as the new Messiah predestined to actualize the promise of the Jewish-Christian religion in a godless world. He felt himself called to show people the path to salvation, but focused on the abstract and lost sight of the concrete. “Fascinated by utopian ideas, the philosopher underestimated the weight of the opposing forces, the persistence of the things established on conditions, the inheritance of millennia-old dominion and oppression […]. Not only does the new bind with its enticements, but also the old exerts a powerful influence with its dull placid safety” (1993, 182). In his main work The Principle of Hope (1953), Bloch considers Marxism as the transition stage versus the long-term objective of the absolute, which he calls “All” and which for the human being is located in the identity with the divine. (Horster, 1989, 108). The philosopher discovers this analogy with the divine in Lenin, he celebrates “as a biblical redeemer” (Koesters 1981, 293) as well as in Stalin, whose crimes he justifies and excuses.

The saints, leaders and heroes, offered to us as “saviors” are artificial products, derived from the human-all too human. They have to fulfill two important functions. On the one hand they have to present standards desirable to the average men, that can never be met, as nobody can measure up to them. This is meant to incite feelings of guilt and bad conscience about one’s own incapacity, one’s own ignorance, and one’s own inferiority and fuel self-doubt. The individual should fall on his knees and perceive an arched back as his proper attitude. Among others, these must encourage him to “the total identification” (Wyss, 1977, 358ff.) and act to some extent as a compensation for the degrading to slave, enemy of culture or neurotic.

Elias Canetti stated, in reference to this, that those who submit themselves to a divine, no matter of what nature, basically leap out of anger and step on the weaker. This proves that the human person cannot tolerate the denial of his/her dignity, without taking revenge on his fellow humans. The total identification inspires the illusion of being one with the divine authority. In any case, it impedes the persons concerned, to reflect on their life situation and if necessary to change something about it. In the case of the total identification, we have to do with a pathological process, according to Dieter Wyss, as it consists in “the total transfer of the other in the subject: the over-I is the Other, conceived as pseudo-object. This would make the capacity of the conscience to take a critical stance versus one’s own actions, impossible; man’s possibility of self-reflection, the conscience implies, would not be achieved through the concept of total identification. The human person ‘herself’ would not act at all, only the other, as the Self. Total identification and self-reflection exclude each other” (Wyss 1977, 359). This realization may also contribute to clarify a phenomenon, still puzzling at the beginning of the 20th century, namely the command and its consequences. Before going deeper into this, I would like to concentrate on the doctrines of salvation and the authoritarian ethic. With their help the rulers consolidate their influence and power and reinforce the people’s fear of life and death.

Doctrines of salvation are dogmas, i.e. petrified Weltanschauungen, which operate with superlatives and extremes and whose authors pretend to be interested only in our happiness. They promise the redemption from every evil in change of accepting a prefabricated, prescribed life. Besides, they praise the virtues that are convenient to them, warn about vices and affirm “to have received the truth and the word exclusively and first-hand, be it God’s word or the truth of Karl Marx, of the Führer, of Stalin or Mao. And all of them meant and mean that only they would have the right to interpret the word and the truth, in conformity with the law and to impose the law by force or by threat (Eisler 1993, 304). The theories referred to nourish on speculative idealism, which devalues reality, directs the individual’s attention towards the transcendental, the ideal, the eternal and the infinite and glorifies askesis, humility and devotion. This idealism urges the service of God or of idols instead of the service of man and advises the individual to invest his energy in the fame and honor of authorities that despise him.

Erich Fromm speaks in this context about irrational authorities, which distinguish themselves fundamentally from rational ones. While rational authority is temporally limited and allows a continuous control and criticism from those submitted to it, the absolute-irrational authority requires a life-long dependency, defends itself against control and prohibits control and doubt. It has its origins in the power over the others, which can manifest itself physically, emotionally or spiritually, directly or indirectly: “Power on one side, fear on the other, these are over and again the props, on which irrational authority grounds itself.[…] Irrational authority bases its nature on inequality and difference in value. […]. Authoritarian ethic denies the human person formally the capacity to know what is good and what is bad. The norm giver is always an authority that transcends the individual. This type of system is not founded on Reason and Knowledge, but on the fear of authority and on the feeling of weakness and dependency. The magical power of authority makes it so, that one leaves to it the decision taking. Its decision cannot and must not be questioned. Concretely (or rather content-wise) the authoritarian ethic answers the question of good and evil primarily from the point of view of its utility for the authority, and not the utility of the individual. It always exploits, even when the individual thinks he has a considerable psychological or material gain from it. (Fromm, 2/1980, 11).

In order to be redeemed and saved, we have to be first defamed and devalued. As everything that comes from the domineering authority, this devaluation is also disguised and given as a revealed truth or objective-scientific knowledge. It is not out of contempt or arrogance that we are debased by the religious, political, philosophical or scientific representatives of God on earth, but because of our “human nature”, which proves to be “sinful”, “weak”, “neurotic”, “compulsive”, “aggressive”, “hostile to co-existence or evolution”, that is “antisocial”. Only these premises justify oppression, humiliation, incapacitation, a.s.o. Based only on them, every opposition or resistance will be regarded as an offense, every critique as lèse-majesté. The guardians of virtue, the lawmakers and the owners of knowledge stamp the rebel as a heretic, a stupid or a neurotic, who must be ostracized or eliminated. I prove in this book that the demons (Ungeist) of religious patriarchy used to spread and still spread in pedagogy, deep psychology and psycho-therapy, in educational institutes, in large and in small groups. It has not been put in only by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, but by entire generations of expert-intellectuals. The maxim of Karlheinz Deschner (1989, 82): “Christianity – the religion of the message of joy painted with war” is valid also for philosophical and scientific religions.

The doctrines of salvation as axiomatic truths are spread through sermons, manifestoes and theories, Camus equates to dictates (1992, 213). Dialogue, which requires a solidarity basis and nourishes on critique, doubt, arguments and skepticism is not possible in a hierarchical relational structure. Absolute authorities cultivate mainly the monologue, which they advertise as dialogue. Even the psycho-therapeutic treatment, which promises healing through conversation, is frequently determined by the monologue of therapists and doctors. This situation can stay concealed for a long time, actually as long as the expert succeeds to veil the discrepancy between word and deed. The sententious sermon tone can replace the culture of dialogue not only in churches, but also in state and social institutions as schools, educational institutes, in work circles and groups.

The authorities, which derive their status of being chosen from an apparent secure knowledge or the belief in an abstract ideal, use this as a decoration and a protective shield. They place their being chosen between themselves and the others and between themselves and the world. The spatial and emotional distance becomes obvious in three ways: first, through the withdrawal in churches, palaces, party headquarters; institutes a.s.o (even libraries can turn into fortresses for misanthropes as Elias Canetti shows in his novel Auto da Fé); second, through the run after pulpits, thrones and lectern; third the hunt for academic titles, public honors, and social positions, so fame, honor and prestige, or through establishing power centers. Canetti, who traces domination, misuse of power and blinding in his work, shows that a destructive force derives from superlatives and ideals (Canetti, Provinz, 1981, 75). He recognized in these authorities the “alien makers”, who push people aside, instead of reconciling them with themselves and their fellow humans.

I have mentioned before command and obedience as corner stones of authoritarian ethic, and now I would like to go deeper into it. According to Pattillo-Hess (1992, 9-18) the command belongs so obviously to our everyday life, that we find no attempt in the history of western thought to understand or at least describe it. It was pointed out, that for the Jewish-Christian religion, obedience is the highest virtue and disobedience the biggest sin. “To be good” means consequently to obey orders, “to be bad” means to resist or reject them. In general it is “good” what serves the authority and “bad” or “evil” what serves the individual.

It was Canetti’s merit to have treated this in detail in his work Crowds and Power. The chapter The Command is defined as one of his most original achievements (Pattillo-Hess 1992, 7-8). Canetti discloses the finality and indisputable character of the command, which backs us off even today from dealing with it in a more precise manner. It is disconcerting and at the same time significant that neither deep psychology nor other psychological theories have dealt with this social power. Even if, diversely from psycho-analysis, individual psychology has treated educational problems, it has avoided this explosive theme and its far-reaching consequences. It would be revealing to answer the question, whether we have to do with a process of suppression here.

According to Canetti, the command must be older than language, otherwise dogs (animals in general) would not understand it. The oldest command was a death penalty and forced the victim to escape. “It is good to think about it,” Canetti writes in this text, “when we speak about command among humans. The death sentence and its cruel capacity to cause fear, shines through all commands “(1982, 335). The principle of religious-authoritarian, patriarchal domination which lives on obedience and submission, constrains since childhood to social adaptation and safeguards itself in this way in time against resistance and protest. One has to start early with the suggestion. That is why all doctrines of salvation are designed to shake the children’s self-confidence through authoritarian educators and the request to accomplish unquestionable commands: “Those who suffer the most from being ordered about are children. It appears as a wonder that they do not crush under the burden of commands, that they survive the treatment of their educators. The fact that they do the same and in the same cruel manner to their own children is so natural as biting and speaking. […] Each child, even the commonest, does not lose or forgive none of the commands, through which it was ill-treated“(Canetti 1982, 338-339). A child that has been destabilized in this way aspires at a total identification with the aggressor, which means that he/she submits and at the same time develops ambitions of dominance, to compensate for the loss of identity into which he/she was carried along. In other words: parents, influenced by the so-called social authorities, favor the child’s disempowerment and make it at the same time into an author of victims, as I have hinted at in the first chapter. The action that follows a command is different from other actions. The command is perceived as something alien, coming from the outside, so the deed that comes out of it is a “dead move”. Commands come from authorities, from the detainers of power, and are not to be questioned. They can express themselves in form of military education or in philosophical and scientific suggestions, rules, taboos, offers and prohibitions or in camouflaged threats. A verified mean, often used by parents, is not rarely taken over by the pedagogue, doctor or psychotherapist: it is the threat to withdraw love, support or the threat of repudiation.

The standard for the spread of nihilism and the reinforcement of the social-cultural and individual absurd is the division of the command into input (the command giver) and sting (command receiver). It is not seldom that receivers of command turn into command givers, as according to Canetti no command is lost, but deposited for ever. The command relative to the individual isolates him and destroys his autonomy, as it is an existential attack on his personality. However, a command that regards the masses, has a different effect: it distributes itself on all the members of the mass and does not cause anxiety. Anyway, the individual does not take any responsibility for the implementation of the command based on the dissolution of one’s own self in the mass. When an authority, of no matter what origin, has in its power a group or a crowd, it can ask from it what it wills. In the chapter on the hysterical-vain type of personality we will continue to talk about it.

Every authority which expands its power at the expense of externally controlled and dependent human beings must tug them to and fro between extremes and make the roots of their existence in time and space shrivel away or cut off those roots completely. This happens first through the reference to an illusionary paradisiacal past and equally illusionary paradisiacal future. Through this the individual will be deviated from the present, from the here and now, and impeded to take care of his own life. On the other side it is necessary to discredit the body-bound existence with its relativity, its limitation and its finitude and to demonize sensuousness and sexuality. But the tendency to norm the sexual behavior and to deny the individual intimacy belongs here too. Moreover, the aim is to call into question and trivialize individual experience, to control and colonize people’s souls. Only when the mindset has been corrupted, is it possible to mobilize nihilistic affects at whim.

Another way to reinforce the humans’ fear of life is the principle of separation. The apostles of salvation postulate thus the separation between God and the devil, between god and man, good and evil, man and the world, man and woman, rich and poor, individual and society, abstract and concrete as well as old and new. Beyond this, they plead for the isolation of nations, peoples, classes and skin colors. In this way they start the war of the genders, the wars between peoples and nurse the hate for the stranger, racism and anti-Semitism. The dualistic explanation of the world, is meant to impede humans to rebel against their real enemies: against the absolute authorities from various religious, political, philosophical and scientific camps.

Albert Camus treated this topic in the drama The siege (1991, 118-186), which takes place in Cadiz. It was performed 1948 under the stage direction of Jean-Louis Barrault, with the music by Arthur Honegger and many known actors. The author attacks in this piece absolute authority, totalitarianism, nihilism and the hypocritical bourgeois morality, which had prepared the ground for the dictatorship. The plague and death impose the state of siege on Cadiz and want its citizens to lead a prescribed and obedient life. This is the reason why they release their decrees in a gibberish which nobody can really make head or tail of. The people are not meant to understand, but to “obey”. The denouncers are rewarded with an extra food ratio. Furthermore, men are separated from women, as the plague is the horror of a lover’s face. Nada is congenial to the nihilist, as he earlier always used to spit secretly from the back on the loving couples. Now he advises the inhabitants, rather to live on their knees than die standing. Not only is life, but also death “ordered”, for at the time of the plague (the dictatorship) the only thing left is a death according to the list. As the plague cancels differences and will make of the people a mass, it forbids love, freedom, solidarity and adventure. But Diego sees through the method of the men in power and is revolted. In a quarrel with the secretary (death) he discovers that the absolute authority (the plague) loses its power, when a human wins his angst. As Diego comes to term with death, the plague does not succeed to make him a traitor in Cadiz. The city is saved.

The way authorities consolidate themselves in the absurd, their exercise of power and the nihilism that is bound with it, compromise the way people feel and think. I name feeling and thinking in one, as I base myself on Spinoza (1632-1677), who indicates in his main work Ethics (1980, 256ff.) and in his theological-political treatise, that we always have feeling, or affections respectively, which correspond to our thoughts, – and vice-versa. Besides the will depends on these categories and is in no way “free”, as the clergy postulate.

Even if the recognition of the unity between feeling and thought represents one of the greatest scientific achievements of all times according to Wilhelm Dilthey (1957, 40), which can be verified everyday, this has not turned into common lore so far. It is still attempted to separate the two. It is therefore important to remark, that for Spinoza thinking and belief in absolute authorities are mutually exclusive, as there is no prescribed order for human life (Negri 1982, 9). In the Tractatus he proves the irreconcilable contradiction between belief and thought, as their goals diverge: “The goal of philosophy is only the truth, the goal of belief is only obedience” (1979, 443). Religion represents only superstition for him. Three hundred years later, Albert Einstein aligned himself with this position. In a letter to the philosopher of religions Erich Gutkind, the famous scientist defines religions as incarnations of the primitive belief, as he explicitly refers to the “wise man from Amsterdam”.

When the representatives of the absolute-abstract devalue humans, separate them from each other and fuel their angst, they fuel simultaneously their self-hate, self-doubt and self-contempt. They foster conformity, submission, stereotypes of thought and guilt feelings and encourage a second-hand life. It is precisely here that the dependency of feeling and thought becomes obvious. As known, the lacking self-love goes together with envy, jealousy, vanity, measureless ambition, distrust, defiance and anger. I have defined these affects, following Camus, as “nihilistic affects” (Fuchs, 1998, 9-33), as they plunge the individual into despair and unhappiness. They are particularly damaging for the others when they are suppressed, disavowed and projected.

And yet these affects have a positive side along with the negative one. Namely, when we encounter authorities, which neither forbid, nor defame, but consider them as signal for a specific frame of mind, they can be used for changes and can transform into “revolting affects”. The nihilistic affects lose their destructive character, if they are taken seriously and serve the search of individual truth. If they are demonized or suppressed, they reinforce themselves and waste the life of the persons concerned and his/her fellow humans.

While a series of psychotherapy theories grant a high value to the emotional, one finds with the founder of individual psychology Alfred Adler a contrary point of view. The moral rigor that he advocates blames the nihilistic affects in unison and speaks about their foundational hostility. Somewhere else he speaks about “self-betrayal” and “self-deception” or “life lie”, these affects are meant to serve (Fuchs-Lévy/Greulich-Jansen 1991, 261-263). As I am going to show in chapter 4, Adler labels already the child as villain and vilifies the neurotic as enemy of evolution, of society and culture.

If the life angst is reinforced and deepened through conceited authorities, then the negative side of the nihilistic affects take really effect. They can turn to a surrogate for a mature emotional life and a capacity of discerning knowledge and lead to prejudice that go together with bitter hate. Spinoza says about this in his Tractatus: “…aye, prejudices too, which degrade man from rational being to beast, which completely stifle the power of judgment between true and false, which seem, in fact, carefully fostered for the purpose of extinguishing the last spark of reason! Piety, great God! and religion are become a tissue of mysteries; men, who flatly despise reason, who reject and turn away from understanding as naturally corrupt, these, I say, these of all men, are thought, O lie most horrible! to possess light from on High”(transl. R.H.M. Elwes, 1883).

The prejudice which grounds all others, is the superiority of absolute authorities versus the average man. On the same grounds the prejudice about the inferiority of woman versus man, the superiority of the white over men of other skin color, or the superiority of a system of thought or doctrine over others.The throttle of feelings caused by the domination of nihilistic affects, would also produce “revolting affects”. Some of them are the indignation, devaluation and defaming, the anger versus paternalism, humiliation, deception, and blinding or hate of racism, anti-Semitism or poverty. In the next chapter I will refer closer to this group of affects.

As Spinoza explains, self-hate and self-contempt, nihilistic affects and prejudice, the anger versus criticism and doubt as well as deceit, blinding, and obedience, belong to the lowest stage of consciousness. Instead of being held to think, feel and act, the human person will be required by presumptuous authorities to believe, pray and repeat the sanctified texts which do not have much to do with the individual life. Canetti speaks about praying as the most dangerous form of repetition, a burden that promotes infantilism (Provinz 1981, 11). In this investigation it will be shown how narrowly infantilism, nihilism and imperiousness are intertwined. Everywhere, where humans are held dependent, there is the promise, that the belief in a great father or leader, could solve the individual problems. All doctrines of salvation contain simple recipes for complex and complicated questions. One can speak therefore about raising ideological blockades through the representatives of the absolute.

The bigger the life angst, the less will be the individual put in the position, to distinguish between supportive or obstructing authority. All the more would he submit himself to pre-fabricated rituals, and for despair swallow the bait of the terribles simplificateurs, who declare themselves ready to take over the responsibility for his own life. Anyway, man cannot escape his responsibility. He cannot abdicate in favor of such a convincing authority, without missing his life. Nothing can set him free from the greatness of his decision. According to Abosch, anything, “which deprives him of his responsibility, serves the lack of responsibility, helps the harm” (1993, 166).

But the missionaries of their own thing do not aspire only at the dependency and the discouragement of human beings. They use these also as living weapons to fight the different thinkers, by arousing nihilistic affects in their mind or soul. These arsonists do not sit only in “houses of God”, palaces or party headquarters, but also in professorship chairs and act from writing desks. They lead circles, which turn into secret societies, or lead groups, which bask themselves in the light of humanism and progress. Any one who discovers their maneuvers of deception, contradicts them or simply takes a different stand, ends in the gun sight. Jochen Hörisch describes in his essay The Fall of the Patriarch (2004), the drive to systematic missionary work and exclusion of foreigners: “There is the danger, when one refers to the ultimate truth, to have to believe in it, when one does not believe in it at all. […] What does one do with those who do not believe in the revelation, who point out as the Spinozists Lessing and Goethe, that the revelation is not at all manifest, for in that case there wouldn’t be so many conflicting revelations? What is there to do with the ones who obdurately reject the holy promise of the only, true God, […] What can one do with the ones like Goethe who found life here on earth not so bad, and presumed that the necessity of salvation creates the conditions from which one needs to be saved?” The nihilists in the figures of absolute authorities are convinced that, the one who does not pay attention to them, does not pray or prize them, is an enemy, a stupid, a coward or a megalomaniac. Saint-Just, the merciless, was not the only so full of self-compassion, whose the “ideology of mankind love” concealed intense contempt for man. (Abosch 1993, 26).

The lowest stage of consciousness corresponds therefore to sticking to conventions, which level any individuality, material or psychological-spiritual uniforms are forfeited, supporters are recruited and followers are gathered. In this context there is barely any doubt, that the one who is impeded to develop his capacities, to win the recognition of the self, to solve conflicts, to lead discussions and to follow his own paths, lands in self-idealization, vanity and obstinacy. In these cases, even if they come promptly, the calls of social authorities for peace, reconciliation, tolerance or comprehension, fall in the void: humans whose self-esteem has been systematically undermined and whose life angst is systematically fomented, bear a bellicose attitude in themselves and disintegrate all social relationships. It’s no longer a secret, that self-hate and xenophobia are just the two sides of the same coin.

To conclude, let us briefly summarize the main components of authority as domination: if at the beginning of the 21st century there is a destructive force in philosophy and humanities, this consists in the secretly smuggled in religious-authoritarian patriarchal principle. This principle is committed to the absolute-abstract, increases the socio-cultural and individual absurd with the help of nihilism and considers a rigid hierarchy in human relationships as god- and nature given. These disciplines have inscribed precisely on their banner to follow Kantian maxims and to free the human persons from their self-inflicted immaturity. This immaturity is not self-imposed, as Kant claimed, but structurally conditioned. As Michael Schmidt-Salomon remarks in his essay From illusionary to real freedom (2007, 213) humans do not decide of their own free will for religious or other delusive ideas, “but only, because they have to falsely assume, based on their experiences and information, that this is the best choice for them in their given situation”.

In spite of the enormous amount of knowledge, findings and information, which find expression in theories, doctrines or systems of thought, our knowledge and understanding of ourselves, our fellow human beings and the world, have barely increased. There is much on the surface, much is just repeated, instead of being examined, and the majority of us is still satisfied with “the appearance of knowledge”, so that according to Abosch (1993, 141), nothing is clearer than our confusion. “The amount of information suspends the special status of the individual in favor of a magma, which loses any differentiation. The images, that should represent reality, are deforming symbols […]. The citizen of the informed society is inadequately informed, barely able to distinguish the authentic from the false.”

Science has established as the new theology, the detainers of knowledge are our new gods (Abosch 1993, 117). This is evidence that “the good new” has been contaminated by the “bad old”. Magically transfigured expert-intellectuals place themselves as absolute, rise above the others, manacle us and disguise themselves under the little cloak of progress. They suggest, they could create a new human being, on condition that their words are believed unconditionally. In this way they disclose themselves as representatives of the socio-cultural absurd, they pretend to fight. One has to also thank them, that the humanization heralded in the 20th century makes barely any progress.


This text is a translation of Chapter 3 from the volume Autorität als Fessel oder Ansporn (Authority as Fetter or Spur, Quercus Verlag, Berlin, 2009).

Acknowledgement: This version is meant to grant visibility to an author from the German-speaking area. The translator and the editors have considered this priority over the philological requirement to render the quotes in the published English translation, when there is one.

Translation: Gabriela Dragnea Horvath

Editing: Patrick Burke



Abosch, Heinz: Das Ende der großen Visionen. Plädoyer für eine skeptische Kultur. Hamburg 1993.
Bakunin, Michael: Gott und der Staat. In: Bakunin, Michael: Philosophie der Tat. Herausgegeben von Lambert Schneider und Peter Bachem. Köln 1968.
Bloch, Ernst: Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Frankfurt am Main 1959.
Bloch, Ernst. In: Horster, Detlef: Metzler. Philosophen Lexikon. Stuttgart 1989.
Büchmann, Georg: Geflügelte Worte, 21. verbesserte Auflage. Berlin 1903.
Camus, Albert: Der Mythos von Sisyphos. Reinbek bei Hamburg 1980.
Camus, Albert: Der Belagerungszustand. In: Ders.: Dramen. Hamburg 1991.
Camus, Albert: Tagebücher 1935-1951. Reinbek bei Hamburg 1992.
Camus, Albert: Der Mensch in der Revolte. Reinbek bei Hamburg 1993.
Canetti, Elias: Die Provinz des Menschen. Aufzeichnungen 1942-1972. Frankfurt am Main 1981.
Canetti, Elias: Die Blendung. München 1982.
Canetti, Elias: Masse und Macht. Frankfurt am Main 1982.
Canetti, Elias: Der Befehl. In: Masse und Macht. Frankfurt am Main 1982.
Deschner, Karlheinz: Nur Lebendiges schwimmt gegen den Strom. Aphorismen. Basel 1989.
Dilthey, Wilhelm: Die geistige Welt. Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens. Ges. Schriften, Band V. Stuttgart 1957.
Dotzauer, Gregor und Schuller, Moritz: Der Tagesspiegel vom 16. Oktober 2005, S. S.1: „Die Bibel ist auch dumm und brutal“. Die Existenz Gottes? Sie ist für ihn so wahrscheinlich wie die grünen Männchen. Interview mit Ian McEwan.
Ebner-Eschenbach, Marie von: Aphorismen. Leipzig 1941.
Eisler, Riane: Kelch und Schwert: Von der Herrschaft zur Partnerschaft. Weibliches und männliches Prinzip in der Geschichte. München 1993.
Einstein, Albert: In: Relativ ungläubig. Ein Brief offenbart Einsteins Haltung zur Religion. Der Tagesspiegel vom 15. Mai 2008 (bas./wez).
Fromm, Erich: Psychoanalyse und Ethik. Bausteine zu einer humanistischen Charakterologie. In: Ders.: Analytische Charaktertheorie. Gesamtausgabe, Band 2. Stuttgart 1980.
Fuchs, Irmgard: Gefühle, nihilistische und revoltierende Affekte – zur Geschichte und Differenzierung des Emotionalen. In: Dies. (Hg.): Eros und Gefühl. Über den emotionalen Wesenskern des Menschen. Würzburg 1998.
Fuchs-Lévy, Irmgard und Greulich-Janssen, Gisela: Über das Wesen und die Dynamik des Gefühls. Eine Studie tiefenpsychologisch und philosophisch orientierter Gefühlstheorien in ihrer Bedeutung für die Psychotherapie. Dissertation Freie Universität Berlin 1991.
Gronemeyer, Marianne: Das Leben als letzte Gelegenheit. Darmstadt 1996.
Habermas, Jürgen: Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Philosophische Aufsätze. Frankfurt am Main 2005.
Habermas, Jürgen in Dotzauer, Gregor In: Der Tagesspiegel vom 1.12.2005.
Hohl, Ludwig: Die Notizen oder Von der unvoreiligen Versöhnung. Frankfurt am Main 1984.
Hohl, Ludwig: Von den hereinbrechenden Rändern. Nachnotizen. Frankfurt am Main 1986.
Hörisch, Jochen: Herbst der Patriarchen. Der Tagesspiegel vom 4.4.2004.
Horster, Detlef: Metzler. Philosophen Lexikon. Stuttgart 1989.
Kudszus, Hans: Das Denken bei sich. Aphorismen. Köln 2002.
Koesters, Paul-Heinz: Deutschland deine Denker. Geschichten von Philosophen und Ideen. Hamburg 1981.
Meller, Marius: Ein bisschen Metaphysik muss sein. Entwürfe für das postsäkulare Zeitalter. Jürgen Habermas besinnt sich in seinem neuen Buch auf die Idee Gottes. Der Tagesspiegel. Kultur, 13. August 2005.
Negri, Antonio: Die wilde Anomalie. Spinozas Entwurf einer freien Gesellschaft. Berlin 1982.
Pattilo-Hess, John (Hg.): Der Stachel des Befehls. IV. Canetti Symposion. Wien 1992.
Preuß, Gunter: Vogelfedern. Halle 2003.
Schmidt-Salomon, Michael: Von der illusorischen zur realen Freiheit. Autonome Humanität jenseits von Schuld und Sühne. In: Die Freiheit des Denkens. Herausgegeben von Konrad Liessmann. Philosophicum Lech. Wien 2007.
Spinoza, Benedictus de: Tractatus Thoelogico-politicus. Theologisch-politischer Traktat. Herausgegeben von Günter Gawlik und Friedrich Niewöhner. Darmstadt 1979.
Spinoza, Benedictus de: Tractatus de intellectus emendatione. Ethica. Darmstadt 1980.
Tugendhat, Ernst: Philosophen sollen in die USA fahren. Wissen und Forschen. Der Tagesspiegel vom 8. März 2005.
Weber, Max: Soziologie. Universalgeschichtliche Analysen, Politik. Stuttgart 1973.
Wyss, Dieter: Die Tiefenpsychologischen Schulen von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Entwicklung. Probleme. Krisen. Göttingen 1977.

About the Author

Irmgard Fuchs-Lévy

Irmgard Fuchs-Lévy, PhD, works as a psychotherapist and scholar in Berlin. Her research integrates depth and humanistic psychology with phenomenology. She edited Eros und Gefühl (Eros and Feeling, 1998); Tiefenpsychologie und Revolte (Depth Psychology and Revolt, 2005); co-authored with Josef Rattner and Gerhard Danzer Glanz und Größe der französischen Kultur im 18. Jahrhundert (Brightness and Grandeur in 18th century French culture, 2001) and authored Autorität als Fessel oder Ansporn (Authority as Fetter or Spur, 2009).