Is it better to be good or look good?
I have been rereading some of the novels of Keith Laumer, a sadly under recognized master of the SF genre. As before, this is not a book review as much as a meditation prompted by revisiting a youthful pleasure. My bookshelf has all the same paperbacks I read when I was in school, in pristine condition, and placed in the same order. This bookshelf was first filled long ago enough that those authors were alive. None now are: Frederick Pohl, the last of the giants, passed away this month. Readers who wish to read reviews of modern books must patronize the journal of some man more prone to read modern novels.
In this case, the short novel involved is called THE GLORY GAME by Keith Laumer, published in 1973. The novel is well crafted, concise, without a wasted scene or word, and therefore has the clearest and most trenchant point of any tale I have ever read that is actually a tale and not a tract. The novel is so concise that the twist ending would not exist were it not for the last line, nay, the last four words.
I regret that I must reveal the those four words at the end to discuss them, so I would ask any reader to go out, buy and read the novel, and only then return here.
SPOILERS BELOW! YOU ARE WARNED!
The characters are rough sketches, painted in broad, energetic strokes, as befits an adventure yarn. However, this is not an adventure yarn but a morality play. The fight scenes consist of two scuffles and one shoot out. The war which serves as the backdrop to the events is never fought. The meat of the drama is in the simple but winning formula of having the hero told to violate his principles and refusing.
The writing style is masculine, muscular, brief, and copies that same staccato brevity that Noir writers like Hammett and Chandler perfected.
The tone is pitch perfect Noir at its darkest. Noir stories are not nihilist stories, albeit they are cantilevered over the abyss of nihilism and dangle their toes. The point (if it can be called that) of a nihilist story is that nothing is worth doing because call ideals are dead and foolish. The point of a Noir story is that the world holds out nothing worth doing, but the tarnished knight, no longer unstained white, carries out his ideals, despite all this. In Noir tales, the ideals are dead but were not foolish, and a man lives up to them out of a sense of melancholy respect for their memory. It is like saluting the flag of a sunken Atlantis.
As for the plot, all plot elements serve the point efficiently. Writers wishing to master the technique of a crisp, fast-paced, tense, curt, driving plot could do worse than studying this short novel and noting the cleanness of the story structure.
THE GLORY GAME is set in three acts:
In the prologue to the action, we meet Tancredi Dalton, Space Naval Commodore on the eve of what is perhaps a military exercise and perhaps something more. We meet his girlfriend Arianne the daughter of an influential senator Kelvin on the Armed Services committee.
(I have what prompted Laumer to select Tancredi as a name: It may refer to a leader of the First Crusade, the hero in tragical opera by Rossini, or to a main belt asteroid.)
During his last night of shore leave, the whole theme in miniature is played out. At a nightclub, Tancredi Dalton sees some servicemen being slighted by the waiters (who reneges on a promise to give them a good seats for the floorshow after taking their bribe). Dalton stops a brewing brawl and intimidates the waiter into living up to his promise. The servicemen, not mollified, harass the waiters, trip the civilians and provoke a fight with the bouncers. Dalton again interferes, this time bringing his steely-eyed intimidation skills to bear on the servicemen, whom he orders back to barracks double-time.
The Arianne is puzzled and appalled by Tan’s colorblindness to the political ramifications of his actions, since he alienated both the civilians by siding with servicemen, and then alienated the servicemen by siding with the civilians. Dalton asks why it is so difficult to understand his creed: one is supposed to do what is right without having any unrealistic ideas about the cost.
Then comes the setup: An alien race called the Hukk have been prying into Terran space, attacking colonies and committing raids; these fierce warriors are weaker militarily than the Terrans, but more aggressive. The fleet has been called upon to perform exercises near Hukk space, as a show of force, in a place dubious electronic intel says the Hukk Armada is gathered. Dalton is approach by the Softliners, who want to answer Hukk aggression by supine concessions, waving the olive branch; and approached by the Hardliners, who want a preemptive military strike without a declaration of war, followed by general massacre of the Hukk worlds.
In Act One, Senator Kelvin the Hardliner reveals to Dalton that the Admiral Starbird has secret, sealed orders not to engage the Hukk even if fired upon, which means the destruction of the Terran fleet, which must be halted at all cost; the Undersecretary Treech the Softliner reveals that another Commodore named Borgman has secret, sealed orders to relieve Admiral Starbird of his command before he opens his secret, sealed orders, and then Borgman will carry out the general massacre, which means a genocide of the Hukk civilians, which must be halted at all costs. Dalton is given a third set of secret, sealed orders allowing him to relieve Admiral Starbird of command before the Commodore Borgman relieves Starbird of command, so that Dalton can prevent the massacre.
The Hardliners demand Dalton work for them, because he is the man who will be in crucial position when the fleet sails. He says only, “I’ll think about it.” The Softliners, after trying to abduct him, likewise make that demand for the same reason. He gives them the same answer. “I’ll think about it.”
Hence, both sides demand his loyalty, albeit he has agreed to nothing. He tells them both he is working for no one but the Constitution, to whom he gave his oath. Neither side understands him.
Dalton, figuring the situation from the Hukk point of view, realizes that they, like their human counterparts, are playing the Glory Game. That is, they want the maximum advantage military force can bring with minimal losses on their side. The Glory Game is a practical and non-idealistic approach to military policy, and attempt to maximize gain (including terrain, but also face, reputation, honor) while minimizing loss (shame and live and treasure). It is Realpolitik.
He realizes from several clues that the logical option for the Hukk is to send their Grand Armada to Luna while the Earth fleet is out of position performing their meaningless exercises, because the Earth intelligence has been deceived as to the Hukk fleet location. Defying (without technically disobeying) his orders, Dalton pulls his tiny contingent of the fleet back toward Earth and full flank speed, and convinces the Hukk Grand Admiral, by sheer poker bluff and hardcore stare that the Hukk fleet is outgunned and outflanked and outnumbered. The Hukk Grand Admiral, impressed, believes the bluff and surrenders. The alien warships strike their colors and dump their guns.
The Hardliner Commodore Borgman radios ahead and orders Dalton to open fire on the helpless Hukk ships, and proceed with the massacre. Dalton, who gave his word of honor to the Hukk Grand Admiral, refuses. Dalton shows Borgman his secret sealed orders overriding the second set of secret sealed orders overriding the first set of secret sealed orders, so he is technically not disobeying a lawful command. So he alienates the Hardliners.
In Act Two, Dalton is showered with rewards by Treech and his powerfully-placed Softliner party, and given a promotion to Admiral, because he saved the Hukk from genocide. Dalton is asked to help promote a controversial treaty which will give the Hukk aid and weapons and a lollypop and a pat on the head and dismantle the Terran Fleet, in an act of suicidal mass stupidity that seemed utterly unrealistic when I read it as a child but which, rereading it as an adult, seemed if anything a trifle mild and understated. (Real politicians bent on preemptive surrender would do much, much worse.)
As before, his girlfriend Arianne urges him to play along with the powers that be, to pick a side and stick with it. However, when called upon to testify before Congress, Dalton cannot bring himself to speak out-and-out lies, nor will he sign on to the falsified after action report, nor go along with the huge deception the Softliners are attempting to pull on the people.
In one glaringly anachronistic scene, a newsman actually asks him for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and reports it. That scene would be laugh out loud funny if someone tried to write it about newsmen of this day and age. Can you imagine newsman actually being interested in the truth? It is like a whore being interested in chaste romance.
The Softliners are now alienated; everyone hates Dalton; he is cashiered and sent off to oversee a junkyard of old Naval hulks on the dusty dry and dismal frontier planet of Grassroots.
Act Three is a reprise, the same theme in a minor key. The scene opens but three months later. Dalton quite by accident discovers strange signals from space, investigates, and gives chase to a one-man scoutship, which pancakes into the ground while attempting to evade him. Aboard is a dead spy and Hukk plans for invasion. (The Hukk, as Dalton predicted, interpreted the peace treaty rewarding their aggressive behavior as an invitation for further aggression.)
Dalton attempts to tell the local mayor of Grassport, but when His Honor discovers he is disgraced Admiral Dalton, he dismisses him as a lunatic, or recommends sitting tight, doing nothing, and letting the all-wise Terran bureaucracy handle everything.
With no further ado, Dalton breaks into the arsenal, abducts the local on recruitment officer, Sgt Brunt, and heads out to the location where the Hukk are landing their assault boat. With the aid of some rifles set on autopilot, and some sniper skills, he damages the boat, and kills half a dozen Hukk officers and crewmen before Brunt, betraying Dalton, wanders into the kill zone waving the white flag.
Dalton pretends to surrender, and then draws his holdout pistol, threatening to shoot through Brunt to kill the Hukk Captain cowering behind him. This Captain had been part of the Grand Fleet which surrendered to Dalton previously off Luna, and remembers him, and agrees to terms.
The Hukk agree to withdraw if and only if they can save face: that is, Dalton must agree never to reveal that they actually set foot (in their case, set claw) on the frontier planet. Dalton agrees, even though that means he faces the scorn from the mayor for ringing a false alarm, and possible criminal prosecution from the militia for breaking and entering and stealing their rifles.
At this point is the expected reward for virtue: Brunt turns out to be a Major in Naval Intelligence, specifically sent to the planet to keep an eye on Dalton. Now that it has been proved that he was right about everything all along, honest and being slandered all along, the Navy Intelligence corps is willing to embrace him with open arms, let bygones be bygones, and give him his old career back.
Dalton says, “I’ll think about it.”
* * *
The four word ending impressed me as a child and impresses me more as an adult, albeit now I see the melancholy, the painful sorrow, beneath that brief and stoic sentence. It means that the Naval Intelligence corps is no more to be trusted to protect a man’s conscience than it the Senatorial staff, the bureaucrats, the State Department, or the Joint Chiefs who form the backdrop of corruption and compromise against which Dalton shines so brightly, and so alone.
It means there is no reward for virtue. None.
It means virtue is not its own reward, virtue means merely getting a boot toe in the teeth when a man is already beaten into the ground.
As a youth, I was too sunny and filled with the milk of human kindness to be able to comprehend such a bitter moral to the story. I just thought it meant Dalton did not need the approval of his peers, that he was a nonconformist (as was I, and all of my generation. We were nonconformists together, in perfect lockstep, each careful to be a nonconformist exactly like all the others). Like I said, I did not get it.
Dalton is a martyr. He is a witness to a higher moral code than any code found in this life. But, since this is a science fiction story, and since it was written in the seventies, no introduction of any religious theme would have been welcomed here. It would have been against the mood, which, as I said, is Noir in its purest and darkest form.
I warned the reader that this would not be a book review but an exploration of another chain of thought to which rereading this book led me. Here below is that chain of thought. And, for better or worse, it is a long one.
The theme of the book, as I said above, is abnormally clear, because the Laumer skillfully has left out anything which might detract or delay from emphasizing that theme. This story is as sharply pointed as a fable by Aesop. The point is the answer to the question famously asked by Socrates, but surely asked by all men in all ages when they reach a certain age, whether it is better to be seen as evil while truly being good, or to be seen as good while truly being evil?
The question divorces the reward of virtue from the reality of virtue, at least, in the view of the world where the only reward is the esteem and applause of men. Tan Dalton does what is right, come hellfire or floodwater, and does not flinch at paying the price in terms of esteem lost, prestige ruined, career savaged, character slandered—and he does not get the girl in the end.
The setup of the paradox of seeming rather than being good is simple enough: Dalton is presented with two political parties, a stupid party and an evil party, both of whom have a dumb and cowardly answer to a not-very-complex question, but a question that requires bravery and fortitude to answer. He cannot in good conscience join with either party, and so he is isolated, despised by both, and scorned by all. In other words, he is given for his goodness get the exact same reward rightly given to evil men.
One thing that particularly delighted me both as a child and as a man about Dalton’s answer is pragmatic idealism of it. Pragmatically, it is unwise either to overreact or underreact to the aggression of an ambitious but weaker alien menace. But whether it is unwise or not, it is unfair on idealistic grounds not just to Mankind, but to the Hukk aggressor also, to meet aggression with a reward, because it confuses them into a false picture of the world, one where they can make many small piecemeal attacks with no fear of massive, overwhelming, or (in this case) genocidal retaliation.
Now surely no one raised in a Christian nation (even one that is culturally Christian if not officially) is unaware of the answer to the Socratic question. The Nonchristians who, for whatever reason, accept Christian value judgments as valid can see in the example of Christ on the cross, or Socrates drinking hemlock, the reward of being good rather than looking good. Until very recently, the picture of a man willing to make any sacrifice to do the right thing, despite any slander or false accusation, was a paramount ideal of our civilization.
The self-aggrandizing hucksterism of a Cassius Clay was not a mainstream ideal, nor was success at any cost, nor did anyone listen to smirking cads who said that winning was not everything but the only thing.
Even children were taught the ideal of seeking the reward of virtue not in the opinion of the fickle world: Superman is garbed as a drab and mild mannered reporter who cannot even get a date, no worldly reward comes to Clark Kent for his good deeds; Spiderman is hated as a menace by the city he saves, so if anything, his reward is even less. These are the men upheld, and rightly so, as heroes to our children. Glory Hounds like Booster Gold or Gilderoy Lockheart are rightly portrayed as distasteful, comedic, or villainous.
We are a society that by tradition—Christian tradition—mistrusts those who seek the good opinion of society. How alien this is to the caste system of the Hindu or the Mandarin philosophy of Confucius cannot be overemphasized: in those systems, position in society was identical with virtue. The shame of loosing face was the evil, of loosing family honor, or getting caught.
On that level, the self sacrifice of our clean-cut Naval hero in our short adventure novel is nothing extraordinary except perhaps (as I said) the clean clarity of the point. It is what we Westerners expect. In a happy ending, the merit of the hero is finally rewarded with an overdue recognition, perhaps an apology and a reconciliation. In a tragic ending, the merit of the hero is undiscovered until after his death, if ever.
But, again, the ironic twist of the last four words — “I’ll think about it,” — is that of a man who is not eager to accept the alleged reward his overlooked merit has finally earned.
I call it ironic because Dalton is not a Christian who believes in God, nor even a Socratic philosopher who believes in a transcendent ideal of truth worthy of such self-sacrifice. He is just a competent man trying to do a difficult job made more difficult by the evil and stupidity of his political superiors.
I call it ironic because there is a second note or overtone behind this main note of self sacrifice, the note of Noir cynicism, of hardheaded pragmatism, of dry-eyed unsentimentality which would seem to undermine the idea of self-sacrifice in any form.
For the author goes out of his way in the opening pages of the book, practically the first scene, to permit Dalton to explain what is meant to be a philosophy so plain and clear that none of the craven shortsighted politicians in the book understand it, nor the politician’s daughter either. Dalton has the following dialog with Arianne, his girl, which is worth reciting at length, because otherwise the point may be lost.
The humans have forced the moron-level natives of the planet Aldo Cerise onto reservations to make room for humanity, which she regrets, but he justifies with these words:
“The human race has reached a point where it has to expand into space. Planet-bound, we’ll choke on our own waste-products… we have to live, and living means growth, and growing means expansion. A single planet cannot hold us, Arianne. We have to go out, or die.”
Heinlein has almost the same argument in almost the same words in his famous and ferociously maligned STARSHIP TROOPERS. Also, I watched the first episode of LOST IN SPACE with my kids today. I had forgotten that population pressures are expressly the reason that sends the space family, Robinson, to pioneer new homesteads on an inhabitable planet of Alpha Centauri. In these days of underpopulation, looking at the fears of overpopulation always evokes a weary headshake of wonder in me: what made our parents willing to be buffaloed by the likes of Paul Erlich?
Hearing this cold doctrine of population pressure leading to war, Arianne wonders:
“Why couldn’t we limit ourselves to totally uninhabited worlds? Why does our advantage have to mean some other race’s disadvantage?”
“You know as well as I that worlds where we can live without artificial environment are rare, and every such world has evolved its own life—is the product of life.”
“Of course. I just wish it were somehow different.”
“So do I—in a way. And in another way, I accept the laws of nature. The fox is a beautiful animal. Without rabbits to live on, it would soon die out. That’s nature. Who are we to decide unilaterally that the order of nature is wrong?”
“So we just go on, perpetuating a dog-eat-dog—or fox-eat-bunny—existence?”
“No—but we have to remember to make the distinction between what’s true and what we wish were true.”
A paragraph later, the conversation resumes. Dalton remarks that the curious urge to take unwise risks is peculiarly human,
“The old primate trait: climbing down out of a nice safe tree to see what it’s like out on the grassland among the lions.”
“Don’t talk about me as if I were an anthropological specimen,” Arianne said.
“But you are, my dear,” Dalton said, “And so am I. That is what we have to keep in mind every time we’re tempted to play God.”
Finally, looking over the colony town of this harsh new world, Arianne wonders at the desperate courage of the first settlers. Dalton comments:
“They did what they had to do. Now the Hukk are doing what they have to do. Our blunder was in not stopping them sooner…”
For a short novel which I have praised several times for being crisp and clear, this is remarkably convoluted and obscure. Dalton seems to be saying that men should avoid overweening pride. Certainly that is not a startling message, and appears in all good stories since Homer. But note what he is dismissing as an act of overweening pride: the act of regarding men as being somehow above nature and in a position to condemn it, namely, to condemn the Darwinian struggle of the fittest to survive.
For Dalton, war is not an evil, or, rather, not an unavoidable evil.
War is just a fact of the business of life, the side-effect of coming, as he puts it, out of the nice safe tree to see what it is like on the grassland. Life is a zero sum game, so races in order to survive must expand and occupy the inhabitable terrain, displacing or exterminating the weaker races as they go, and meeting the expansion attempts of competing races of equal strength with all the terrible ferocity and glory of war. Which, for some reason too obvious to mention in this dialog quoted here, must be fought bravely and honorably, without tear or trembling to face defeat and death at enemy hands, and buffoonery, chicanery or even treason at friendly hands.
Dalton accepts this grim business as the laws of nature. To rebuke or refuse these laws is yielding to the unsound or perhaps insane temptation to play God.
This unsentimental, plain and practical doctrine comes across as brisk and cold as a slap of cold water in the face. Life is what it is, and the hero plays the best hand he can with the bad hand he’s been dealt.
But why not cheat at cards? Without God, or some transcendent standard of behavior, why must one fight the dog-eat-dog dogfight of Darwin with honor and honesty and goodsportsmanship? Why not fight like a dog? Absent God, then there is no referee nor umpire to the great game of life, and no one to chide the winners for cheating, or to cast down the proud from their seats, or to declare the meek blessed.
To be sure, there may be angry retaliation from someone you’ve cheated when it comes to a rematch, and had you treated him honestly, you might have befriended him (or at least made a temporary alliance of convenience before turning on him when the odds change). But this consideration only applies to enemies whose retaliation you fear, on onlookers whose opinion influences when and on what side they will fight you when their turn comes. And in the remorseless realpolitik world of Dalton, their turn will always come.
But behold the paradox. If life is a Darwinian struggle with no umpire, fear of retaliation is a reason not for honorable conduct, but for craven conformity and party-loyalty to whatever faction it is more prudent, from a survival standpoint, to join. Fear of retaliation at most is a motive for looking good but never for being good. What pragmatic reason is there for being idealistic?
There are a number of writers who believe in this odd combination of idealistic pragmatism, but none of them to my knowledge can answer this question. To answer would be too idealistic, I suspect.
If like me, Tancredi Dalton’s philosophy reminds you markedly similar to things said by characters in Robert Heinlein books, or Gordon R Dickson, or Poul Andersen, or half a dozen others I could name, you may be wondering about the similarity.
Do not wonder. Writers, and the readers who support them, have a large but finite number of philosophical stances, given the current situation of the intellectual and cultural history of the West, about which they can group.
Naturally writers less concerned with philosophical coherence can range over a wide set of stances, since such men can contradict themselves more often, but those of average coherence gravitate to a very small number of positions.
The reasons, most importantly their view of man and man’s place in the cosmos, such men give for their conclusions on one issue are more likely to inform their conclusions on other issues, because drawing a distinction or exception as to why their general logic or general worldview does not apply in this case is an extra effort, and introduces ever greater possibility of self contradiction. Something like a natural Occam’s Razor operates in all human consciousness, rewarding simpler and clearer explanations over jury-rigs of ad hoc.
Now, you might say that only philosophers are interested in avoiding self contradiction in their worldview; that everyone else follows the general trend of their times, or repeats the opinions of their parents or of the talking hairstyles on the television.
You would be partly right, but only partly. Philosophers are concerned with rational consistency, the kind of thing one can put into words. Layman are concerned with a consistency of mood or general outlook, a consistency of judgment, the kind of thing one cannot put into words, but by which one lives one’s life.
There is a reason why those who favor high taxes and high minimum wage laws also by and large favor gun control: because both value judgments about the role of property and the role of self defense are informed by a more fundamental judgment about the civility and independence of man versus the prudence of trusting Caesar, either with gold or with iron.
Not every man who favors high taxes is a gun-grabber: I once met a man who was not. But he had to go to some elaborate explanation, one might say rationalization, to reconcile his view of man as a weak and untrustworthy ergo not to be allowed control of his own money, with his view of man as strong and trustworthy ergo not to be disallowed control of his own means of self defense.
Let us therefore map out, in far more detail than any patient reader would care to see, the whole landscape of thought as it exists from now until the end of the world.
Usually the books that have the profoundest effect on us are those encountered in the green youth of early adulthood, in the late teens or early twenties, which provide some schema or structural explanation of the complexities of life young adults so dearly need to orient themselves. In my case, however, there is at least one book I encountered later in life which provided a framework of pellucid clarity for understanding the relation of schools of thought one to another. There is many a student who regards the description in Plato’s REPUBLIC of the degrees of the degeneration of the state as just such an epiphany. This was to me what the REPUBLIC was to them. It comes from a tract called NIHILISM by a man who delights in the name Archmonk Brother Seraphim Rose, albeit he was born Eugene Rose.
Rose’s scheme groups the schools of thought of Western man as he falls away from Christianity into four general categories.
The first school of thought is the classical liberal position of the pragmatic man, which says that religious opinion is a private matter that ought not to disturb the public weal by insisting on any special or central position in life. Instead of God as the source and center and summit of civilized life, or precise theologically defined dogmas addressed to the last nuance, we should have instead a rogue and vague dogma saying only that each man should mind his own business.
In this school, each man is free to seek his own pleasures in his own way, climb to the summit of his ambitions without necessarily stepping on those below him (but not necessarily giving him a hand either). We all must agree only on general rules of civility and good sportsmanship needed for public order; we need encourage and obey the civic virtues of teamwork and self sacrifice where needed to keep the family, the city, and the market free from fraud, trespass, or invasion, and perhaps to curb such gross immorality or bad taste as pollutes the public weal. Each man must show respect for the religious opinions of others without showing uncomely zeal for his own.
In this school, ideals are impractical, because the world is imperfect and cannot be made perfect; but civic virtue and the prudent exercise of liberty and civilized tolerance of the dissent of others, which is their prudent exercise of their liberty, is crucial. A healthy respect for what are called ‘Judeo-Christian Values’ is crucial to the civil order. God is not crucial.
Ironically, this is the liberal position as classically understood, characterized by Locke and other Enlightenment writers, what would now be called conservative.
To avoid confusion, let us call this pragmatic and man-centric school of thought ‘Worldliness.’ They want to leave heaven alone and tend to business here on earth. They are hard-headed and hard-hearted men, idealistic only for ideals that work, impatient with theory, concerned with results.
The second school of thought is the sharp rebellion against this. Where the Worldly position seeks worldly wealth, civic peace, and the comfort of conformity in opinion, the radical rebellion seeks Heaven on Earth, Utopian visions made solid, and all pragmatism is rejected as treason against the Great Dream of the great cause. Religion and Worldliness are rejected with scorn in favor of Ideology. Ideals are impractical, so this school holds, only because men are weak vessels too selfish to practice them: all the world could be made perfect if only sufficient force was used on weak men by a sufficiently enlightened and despotic Glorious Leader.
The only Ideology to afflict the modern era is Socialism and its various mild epigones, Fabianism, Leftism, Feminism, Environmentalism, Political Correctness, and other Marxist offshoots. Nowadays they are accustomed to deny their Marxist roots, but gaily and liberally use simplistic Marxist myths about oppressors and oppressed to analyze human relations between man and workingman, man and women, man and nature, man and ideas. The relation is one of a ruthless Darwinian struggle for survival between man and fill-in-the-blank, and even saying “he” rather than “he and she” is defined as an act of oppression.
In this school, freedom is dismissed as selfishness and sacrificed to the common good or the Great Dream of the Utopian vision. Man lives for his neighbor, or, to be precise, for the Utopian vision. The only rules demanded are those of loyalty to the Great Dream; disobedience of civil authority either peaceful or violent or manically bloodthirsty is allowed or required. All institutions of the state and church and civil society are to be smashed, or, in the less violent version of the Ideology, subverted, suborned, and subordinated to the Utopian vision. Only the Great Dream merits love, loyalty, respect, honesty, courtesy; only the Great Dream has rights; anyone disloyal to the Great Dream is an enemy. Life is crusade.
Hatred of God and Man, hatred of Judeo-Christian and indeed all civilized values of any sort, is required in the long run, albeit a pretense of respecting ideals such as compassion for the poor or the equality of man is needed during the initial subversive period, to gain the aid of useful idiots.
Because this school of thought changes its name and its public rationale as frequently as the fashion industry changes the height of skirt hems, and because this school is fundamentally subversive, that is, fundamentally based on an inner circle deceiving the useful idiots of an outer circle who believe the opposite of the movement’s true purpose, no unambiguous name can be assigned these ideologues.
They are Socialists in economic issues, feminists on family questions, Greens on questions of industrial policy, Race-baiters and Hatemongers on questions of face, absurdist in art and vulgarians in culture, totalitarians in politics but libertarians when it comes to questions of vice and victimless crimes. They are materialists on philosophical issues, secularists on religious issues, pacifists on military issues (unless the question is civil war and the overthrow of their own institutions, whereupon they are bloodthirsty warhawks and apologists, nay, groupie and shrieking bobbysoxers of the world’s filthiest dictators).
In sum, they are idolaters who substitute the worship of Caesar for the worship of Christ; they are Gnostics in the posture of eternal rebellion both against God in Heaven and civil society on Earth. They are chameleons who adopt any ideals or values or party lines needed for so long as needed to destroy them, including Pragmatism, including Worldliness. They are Politically Correct and factually incorrect.
They seek to destroy civilized institutions here on Earth and drag Utopia down from heaven to replace them, indifferent, or even glorying, in the bloodshed required.
To avoid confusion, let us call them Ideologues. They are utterly unworldly, rejecting the pragmatism of the Worldly Man as cold and loveless and unspiritual.
The Ideologues are as nearly a pure evil as mankind has ever produced or can imagine, but please note that their motives are the highest and noblest imaginable: they seek things of the spirit, peace on earth, food for the poor, dignity given to all men, and all such things which are the only things, the holy things, that can electrify dull mankind and stir him to take up the banner and trumpet and shining lance of high and holy crusade.
The pure putrefaction of their evil springs from their materialist philosophy, which says that man can create Eden on Earth, and overthrow the Curse on Adam that he must labor for his bread, overthrow the Curse of Eve, that says she will be subject to her husband, and over throw the curse on the snake, that says he will be bruised. Merely reaching out one’s hand, breaking all the laws of reason and morality, will allow one’s eyes to be opened, and to be God.
The materialist philosophy says that in a godless world all we need do to overthrow the laws of economics and the limits of human nature is shed enough blood and make enough sacrifices of other innocent people, and the mouths of endless cornucopias will be opened. You cannot make an omelet without a genocide of innocent eggs, and without Walter Duranty to get a Pulitzer for lying his ass off about it.
The Ideologue is a revulsion of the Worldly Man and his civilized pragmatism. The Worldly Man accepts necessary evils. The Worldly Man is willing to go to war for peace, and willing to tolerate his neighbor for peace. The Ideologue tolerates no one and nothing, not even an unspoken thought, if it is against the Party, against the Program, against the Great Leader, or against the Great Dream. The Ideologue is a heresy-hunter. But he is also a coward, since he is not willing to go to war; it revolts him that reality makes war necessary. He thinks peace comes from placating enemies with gifts, or enlightening them through education to the wonders of the Great Dream.
A third school of thought is in sharp rebellion against the first two. These are Otherworldly types, Theosophists and Spiritualists and New Age gurus and believers in various Americanized forms of Buddhism or Witchcraft or Astrology who utterly reject both the materialistic worldliness of the Worldly Man, and the fanaticism and bloodlust of the Ideologue.
The Otherworldly Men seek peace through renunciation, and escape from the turmoil of life through the pursuit of inner tranquility, perhaps aided by mystic visions, meditations, or voices from the outer worlds, or hallucinogenic drugs.
Not for them the looming smokestack of the scientifically planned socialist utopia of the Ideologues, nor the loud billboards and hungry strip malls of the Worldly. They want to live in Hobbiton, or Arcadia, of with the tribes that only exist in the imagination of Rousseau, noble savages in harmony with nature, or perhaps the movie DANCES WITH WOLVES or AVATAR (not the real one).
This movement has never been numerous enough to merit its own name, and although it often combined with the Ideologues their enemies against their mutual enemies the Worldly Men, the Otherworldly Men have no name. Call them Spiritualists.
The Spiritualists are utterly unpragmatic and irrational about their religious sentiments. They are the type of men who believe in angels but not in God. They have no use for theology or reasoning about spiritual or moral issues, much less metaphysics. They are the dilettante and aesthetes of the spirit world, seeking sensation rather than understanding, novelty rather than certainty, seeking a spiritual truth that will serve them and flatter them and provide for them, not a God whom they must serve.
They feel toward the things of the spirit what the Worldly Man feels towards worldly goods in the marketplace. The only thing the Spiritualist does not want is a final answer, an organized religion, a Church. They want to hear gossip from the Ghost of Cleopatra but not words of power from the Prophet Jeremiah. The only thing the spiritual seeker does not want is for the Holy Spirit to come to find him, and to find him out.
The Spiritualists are as nearly worthless in peace or war as it is possible for any warm bodies occupying space and breathing in otherwise useful oxygen can be, but their motive is noble and high and pure. They suffer the same revulsion about worldliness and the same yearning for something better than war as does a hermit standing on a pillar in the desert.
Their drive is indeed purely spiritual, but it does not drive them toward the only reality worth seeking in the spirit world, namely, the Holy Spirit. Hence the effort is self-centered, reaches nowhere, inspires no social revolutions, builds no observatories, erects no universities, opens no charity hospitals, captures no Holy Lands, kills no Saracens, galvanizes no missionaries to spread the Good News of Fashionable Theosophist Blither to the enlightened savages. Charity, the burning love of the Christian, is impossible in the Spiritualist framework because charity requires an objective standard of values, a living truth as terrible as unquenchable fire, and not merely a selfish seeking for truth.
Although much less violent and much, much, much less dishonest than the Ideologues, the Spiritualists are also, ironically, farther from God and farther from the truth. The Ideologue is at least willing to join a crusade, man a barricade, march in a protest, send money and mash notes to gangsters in Russia and sadists in Cuba, and falsify news reports about the murders and enormities of their fellow travelers.
The Ideologue has a perverted ideal of charity toward the poor and downtrodden in the same way that the homosexual has a perverted ideal of romantic love; and it is just as sterile and vile. But in the same way that the sodomite at least is a step above masturbation, in that his love at least turns outward toward another man, the Ideologue is at least concerned with destroying allegedly unjust social institutions such as church and state and marriage and sanity, whereas the Spiritualist wishes, like the shy cenobite, to withdraw from the shock and jar of the world and seek the ineffable in private. Spiritualism is the otherworldly version of the Sin of Onan.
The final school of thought is not a school of thought at all, but an exhausted rejection of thought. This is Nihilism, and it is the dominant philosophy of our age, and the unspoken assumption underlying nearly every major social policy debated or enacted today.
Nihilism is the metaphysical posture that no truth is actually true. If no truth is true, life is what you yourself have the strength of will to decree it to be, like God separating Light from Darkness at the dawn of time, by fiat. If no truth is true, no flag is truly worth dying for or fighting for or even arguing about, and no marriage is final and no contract is binding and your word of honor means nothing, and you owe your friends no loyalty.
If no truth is true, the only impermissible sin is to believe and preach and practice the truth.
Nihilism shares with Worldliness its patience for dissent. Since no truth is true, there is no point in disagreeing with another man, nor even having a deep conversation with him on any topic, not even to discover whether he disagrees or not.
Nihilism shares with Ideologues its contempt for worldly and material things, for ambition and self-made men. None of these things are worth seeking in and of themselves, but only if you, in your godlike self-sovereignty, deem or decree them to be worth seeking.
Nihilism shares with Spiritualism its distaste for theology or reason or organized religion.
The Nihilist lives in a formless void, and believes only in himself, his willpower, his self image and his self esteem. His motto is that life is what you make it.
He sees the long and tragic history of man, with all its kings and slaves and wars and empires and monarchs and democracies and despots and with all its philosophers and saints and sages, and sees that none of these things have brought peace.
And so he condemns all systems, all sagacity and all saintliness to oblivion, and promises that as soon as men realize that there is nothing in the universe, then nothing will be worth fighting for, and man will have peace.
The Nihilist does not mention that man will no longer be man in any recognizable sense of the word, merely a dull lump of meat seeking to beguile the hours with diversions both refined and profane until kindly death relieves him of the intolerable burden of an conscious existence he did not seek and does not use. Nihilism is the cult of death.
Unlike the Worldly Man, or the Ideologue, or the Spiritualist, the Nihilist seeks nothing but to bolster his self esteem and entertain himself to death. Nihilism is an end-state. There is no room for a rebellion away from Nihilism because there is nothing away from which to rebel.
The reason why I say the scheme of Seraphim Rose maps out the mental landscape from now until the end of the world is that Nihilism is a dead end. There is no further point of degeneration beneath which to fall. Once your philosophy tells you all philosophy is vain, you cannot erect a new philosophical variation on that foundation. There will never be such a thing as Neo-Nihilism or Post-Nihilism.
The reason why I say the scheme is complete is that there are no other major variations possible, once Christianity is abandoned, for a worldview.
Christianity is the only religion that combines reason, ethics, spiritualism and individualism into one coherent theological picture of the cosmos and man’s place in it. Christianity is the center of the map of possible worldviews. Everything that deviates from it abandons one of these or the other in order to emphasize its opposite.
Imagine the map with reason to the north, spiritualism to the south, individualism to the west, and ethics to the east.
The Worldly Man moves north toward great Reason, abandoning the mysticism of Spiritualism to the south. He keeps his ethics and his individualism, but in a distorted form. For he attempt to shift ethics and individualism onto a secular footing, and give them practical rather than idealistic reasons to justify his ideals.
The Ideologue moves east, abandoning individualism and selfcenteredness in favor of the great collectivist daydream of a unified crusade to create a unified world. His effort, odd as it sounds considering the appalling evil of his means and goals, is toward ethics. He wants life to have an overall ethical meaning, a crusade, a moral structure worthy of his devotion. Absent God, of course, what he gets is a political party. His spiritualism becomes distorted and placed on a secular footing, so that instead of seeking the Utopia of the New Jerusalem in Heaven, he seeks the Utopia of the Socialist Commonwealth in Tomorrowland, and instead of worshiping God he worships science (or, rather, SCIENCE!) which promises him endless uplift to superhuman wealth and power. His reason is likewise distorted. Reason become ‘freethinking’ which means an idolatry of scientific materialism, and involving a loss of philosophy and free inquiry. Instead of debate, the freethinker merely accuses his opponents of bigotry and bias, or undermines the opponent’s argument as being illegitimate for some other reason. And this he calls reason, and he is much inflated with his self opinion on how reasonable and scientific he is.
The Spiritualist moves south, losing sight of reason, seeking intuition and mystic revelation. He is an individualist in that his quest is a lonely one, but whether it ends in the Buddhist desire to quench the self, or in the Christian desire for redemption and glorification via non-Christian means, cannot be known beforehand. His ethics continues but it is distorted in the opposite fashion as the Worldly Man, for the Spiritualist seeks emotional and mystical and ineffable reasons for his ethical behavior. Moral rules have force not because they were revealed by God but because they were revealed by personal visions.
The Nihilism moves toward individualism and abandons ethics. He keeps a distorted view of spirituality and reason, just enough to justify his belief in himself and his own ability to create his own reality for himself.
Again, we may be able to assign certain meaning to the diagonals of this diagram, such as by placing Fabians (peaceful Ideologues, socialists rather than communists) to the northeast, or Nazis with their mystical worship of blood and iron to the southeast, Libertarians and other arch-rational individualists to the northwest, and Satanists and Witches with their self-centered view of the spirit world, which they regard as no more than a source of power, to the southwest.
There is of course a pagan worldview possible before Christianity is introduced, and heretical or breakaway worldviews copying only some aspects of Christianity, such as Islam or Mormonism. But as a practical matter, classical paganism has been absorbed into the Christian worldview and baptized, so that one cannot be an Aristotelian or Neoplatonist or Stoic without gravitating toward Christianity. Neopaganism has nothing to do with paganism except its name: Neopagans are Spiritualists, men seeking an undemanding form of spirituality without the demands of a strict moral code. Pre-christian schools of thought would tend to gravitate near the center, and Oriental religions such as Taoism toward the spiritual, Oriental systems like Confucianism toward the ethical away from the individual, and Greek philosophy toward the reason.
We can also assign positions nearer and farther from the center. Calvinists and Lutherans, for example, who have a deep mistrust both of Aristotelian philosophy and organized religion might be placed either westward or southward of the very center, more spiritual or more individual, or, due to their greater keenness to avoid the evils of drink and concupiscence, the Puritans might be placed immediately to the east, closer to the ethical pole.
But this would involve needless complications, and give an appearance of particularity where none exists: this chart is good only as a very rude overview of what large numbers of smart people taken as a group have in common in their thinking, and the commonality is one of mood and worldview, not one of specific philosophical axioms.
We science fiction fans can, however, place any author famous for any strong opinions without much debate on this map. (We are only identifying how the way each portrays his characters betrayed his view of man in the cosmos, not making any bold assumption about what the author himself might think on a given issue.)
Heinlein and the John C Campbell Junior authors, whether conservative or liberal or any other question, portrayed in his books a view of man as strong and independent, a creature evolved to explore, expand, and conquer: they are Worldly Men, ranging to the north. Ursula K LeGuin portrayed a view of man as a creature best served by seeking a tranquil life, preferably in a bucolic setting. She is to the south, a Spiritualist, specifically a Taoist. China Mieville is an Ideologue; Michael Moorcock is a Nihilist.
Armed with this perhaps overcomplex and inefficient classification system, the stance of Tancredi Dalton, and perhaps of Keith Laumer, becomes more clear. Like a character in a Noir story, Tan is a tarnished knight, someone who does the right despite the jeers and brickbats of the world, not for the greater glory of God and recompense in heaven, but for no glory and without recompense. It is an absurdly bitter world view, for it calls upon men to embrace the tribulations and torments of martyrdom, but denies them the martyr’s palm in heaven. The most you can hope for is the quiet nod of fatherly approval from your own conscience.
Dalton’s stance is that of a purely Worldly Man who has pulled away from the spiritual axis of the map so far that the question is not even raised once in the text, and the only mention of God is in the context of what not to pretend to be. But he is still near enough to the center to admire and promote Christian ideals of knightly behavior, such as mercy toward a fallen foe, such as keeping one’s word of honor, which have clear justification in the Christian worldview but only sentimental justification, or none, in the pagan worldview or a pragmatic one.
But Dalton is drifting, rudderless and unanchored, toward the drear and muddy waters of Nihilism. The only source of his moral code is a brusque Darwinian view of the inevitability of war, due (of all stupid things) to population pressures and pollution increases. This view cannot logically justify honor toward a fallen foe nor self sacrifice when face by a dilemma, but it can justify those things in terms of mood and worldview, that is, man is presented as being both foolish and brave for climbing from the safe tree to the dangerous lion-haunted grasslands, and this foolhardiness will carry him one day to the stars, but will not banish the lion from the haunted darkness, nor make it lie down with the lamb.
This is the point of view of a Western man, raised in a culture seeped with Christian notions of chivalry and fairplay and equality and nobility, but who has lost confidence in the center. It is the point of view of the knight errant who lacks faith in the crusade, and hides the red cross he wears.
We must also add a historical note to put this in perspective:
The 1970′s, when this was written, at the height of the Cold War, was at a low point, perhaps the lowest point, in the confidence of the West.
Christianity was slowly being shoved out of the public square as old-fashioned, unscientific, absurd and repressive, and being replaced by an incoherent mush of Darwinism, which said that man was a beast; Freudianism, which said that morals were unhealthy and the mind of man an irrational machine; Marxism, which said that all human society was a ruthless war between oppressor and oppressed; and Nietzscheanism, which said the God was dead. So man was no longer the apex of created life, no longer a rational animal, no longer a political animal, and no longer to turn to any higher power for help.
The Cold War was being fought by a nation that was continually being told by our intellectual class that we were in the wrong and the vilest lying-ass butchers and mass murderers in history were in the right.
But the decline and loss of confidence of the West has roots earlier than that: the disaster of World War One had far greater repercussions overseas than here, but our artists and novelists took their inspiration from the European intelligentsia, sitting among the graves and memorials of the Great War which did not end war after all, amid the toppled crowns and the crumbling cathedrals. The intellectuals told the world that the war had not been to stop barbaric German aggression, but instead had occurred for no reason and to no point. Christianity had failed to stop the horror. The intellectuals, seeking a more fashionable home than the discredited Church, fled to each quarter of the mental map given above, to silly spiritualism and barbaric nihilism or to cold and optimist rationalism, but most of all, as a stampede, they fled toward the crusade of the Great Dream of socialism.
Americans reacted with disdain and a crusade of their own against the Red Menace. This is clear enough in the writings of the 1930′s and 1940′s that at least half of the popular authors were unimpressed with this utterly unchristian and starkly anti-American (and anti-human) worldview that was proving so alluring to the shattered Europeans. The classical Noir stories, the whole detective genre as defined by Hammett and Chandler and their many epigones, comes from that era. Each is a tale of a lonely individual using his brawn and brains to overcome corruption and the collapse.
Each is a tale of medieval knighthood, a tale of King Arthur, but not of Arthur finding the Holy Grail, no: Noir stories are each a tale of Arthur on the margin of the sea watching in grim yet dry eyed sorrow as the tired but gold eagles of Rome disappear over the horizon, leaving England forever, and watching behind him the lamps of civilization go out, with none to reignite them but him.
Keith Laumer was a fan and epigone of the hard-boiled school of writing, and all his serious characters are serious in the Chandler and Hammett motif. A Noir hero, even a Space Navy hero, cannot appeal to any higher power or higher authority for his moral standard, but only to an unspoken and hard-won hardheadedness which admits of no more compromises, no matter how weary the load continuing to bear him down.
That is what I now see rereading this simple morality play as an adult which I did not see as a youth: Tan Dalton has to speak those last four words and refuse, or, at least, express caution about, rushing toward any reward which will recompense him for his loss.
The Worldly Man can maintain his optimism about leaving God on the sidelines and concentrating on building up the strength of the city and the wealth of the market place. Wars and famines come. The rains come and the flood.
When that happens, he has three basic choices: he can reacted with childish petulance, and demand the world and everything in it be revised to make war and poverty impossible. That is the reaction that is half a step toward the Ideologue. That is where you find Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke and all the other confident Worldly Men of science fiction when the future they predicted turns out darker than you hoped: they tell you not to lose hope because the experts in the government will fix it. Man is infinitely pliant and pliable, and any day now we can expect utopia to be discovered in a lab. This folly at least has the gleam of optimism.
Or he can react with stoicism and cynicism, and tell himself not to believe life’s fairy-tales, and to make the needed sacrifices not for any particular reason, but only because of his own isolated but understated heroism. That is the reaction that is half a step toward the Nihilist. There is where you find Tan Dalton, and perhaps Keith Laumer and Bob Heinlein and all the other confident Worldly Men of science fiction when the future they predicted turns out darker than you hoped: they start talking about how each man is an island, and owe no other man anything. Man will never improve nor change, and the heroic man who sees what is right for himself and works for himself and triumphs for himself will never change, nor bend, nor yield. Man is not pliant. This folly at least has the dignity of pessimism.
Or he can realize that worldliness by its very nature and inevitably leads to disappointment if it is not based on otherworldliness. Even as all math is based on principles not themselves open to mathematical proof or disproof, even as all physics is based on assumptions no physical experiment can prove or disprove, the worldly man when he realizes the simple truth that all nature is based on the supernatural, only then can restore God to the central place in his life and in his society. Only then can that man have a rational view of life that does not idolize rationality. Such idolatry is not rational at all, but is instead a reluctant cynicism, a yearning for the untarnished ideals of yore, and an irrational desire to be good even at the cost of a present evil for which the cynic sees no future recompense.