This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The experience of freedom

“Free, dost thou call thyself? Thy ruling thought would I hear of, and not that thou hast escaped from a yoke. Art thou one entitled to escape from a yoke? Many a one hath cast away his final worth when he hath cast away his servitude. Free from what? What does that matter…Clearly, however, shall thine eye show unto me: free for what?”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Free for what? That is Nietzsche’s powerful question to modern men. No one can answer this satisfactorily.

I’ve said that, here in the United States, we’ve made the mistake of deifying certain experimental social policies, elevating them to a level nothing short of religious; and in doing so we have allowed these principles to demand of us the same unquestioned obedience as religious doctrine. One of these immortal principles, which will serve as a convenient illustration, is Freedom.

What follows is only an illustration from the perspective here in question, and is not meant to be a thorough explanation of the proper view of human freedom, which is addressed elsewhere.

If you know one thing about yourself as an America—if there is one thing that has been driven into your head over and over—it is that you are ‘free,’ freer than any man who ever lived. But freedom is not just a fact to be lived without a care. It isn’t something you can just “have” without giving anything back. Freedom is a question. In fact, it is one of the questions of human existence, which every person can feel weighing on him and which each must answer in some way or another, or else pay the consequences.

The more substantial the freedom exercised by a person, the more substantial the answer must be. This is why men of old did not rush so quickly into absolute liberty. They knew they’d have to come up with an absolute answer to this absolute freedom—and they knew that it could destroy them if they were not worthy.

Liberate yourself too far and it comes rushing back at you like a boomerang or a tidal wave. It grips you around the neck, lifts you off your feet, and pins you against the wall, demanding an answer to the eternal question: “Free for what?”

That’s you. You’re free, just as everyone keeps telling you—but do you have an answer for that freedom? You know what you are free from. From kings, priests, moral prohibitions, etc. But do you know what you are free for? You don’t—you can’t. That’s another thing that was destroyed when Tradition was wiped from the face of the modern world. Tradition was the collective answer to a question no man could answer alone. Now that answer is hidden away and extremely difficult to find. Everyone became free to be whatever and whomever he wanted to be. We’re all completely responsible for our own being and our own personalities. That’s our great privilege, with no traditions and no real culture to speak of. And that’s the Sphinx we feel standing over us, waiting to devour us lest we answer rightly.

How does this Sphinx-freedom feel to you? It has felt to me like a vacuum into which I was born and to which I cannot offer a justification. It feels like being freed into outer space, where freedom reigns infinitely, where you will find freedom and freedom only, in a chaotic emptiness.

Man at one time may have been born into a mold, and that mold may or may not have suited his preferences and talents. But you and I, we are born into a void—the molds were thrown out the window one and all! And a cold void suits nobody’s fancy. I’m not saying I’d prefer a mold, necessarily. I can’t be certain what I’d prefer, and that’s the problem.

I’m told that I should design my “self” according to my desires, but how can I design myself unless I already know myself? It is a chicken-and-egg conundrum and I’m stuck in it. I don’t think I have it in me to become wholly responsible for my own being and personality. No one does. I can contribute to the affair, and I would happily do so. I can discipline myself and I can work; I can learn and form my mind; I can enter relationships that impact me to the core and help me grow. But this is not enough. My parents contributed as well, but I’m still more than what they formed through their blood, sweat, and tears.

I’m beyond myself and doomed to live beside myself, alienated from my own person. This great and subtle thing, this Self, that has been tossed in my lap for me to play with is too powerful for me to develop alone and outside any supporting framework. I desire community, cooperation, companionship, direction, and the well-beaten paths, all multicolored and multifaceted, that those things provided in traditional civilizations.

As much as my culture taught me otherwise, I need other people to help me build my “I.”

This new freedom is far too much responsibility, and it causes me more pain each time I’m reminded of how absolutely free I really am. I’m too much for me to handle alone. And that’s what this freedom really is—it is a sentence of aloneness. My freedom is an exile. Regardless of what it was meant to be in the beginning, that’s what it has become. It has removed man’s connection to man, and now no one believes his fate is intertwined with any other living thing.

There’s another lie I need to mention. It is the lie that says God once denied man freedom, and now that we have it we’ve delivered ourselves from God, we’ve escaped His arbitrary limitations. That is just another superstition modern people use to comfort themselves in an attempt to live with the freedom they can’t answer for. They confuse the monster breathing down their necks with God. They think it’s Him back there, but they are mistaken. No God ever ruled man’s every move, threatening him with wrath at each step. The God of traditional religions left man free—all too free, it seems.

As for man’s part, he was smart enough to understand the implications of this freedom and to build a framework of limitations around himself. The Greeks, as we all know, were obsessed with this moderation and nothing offended them more than excess. They sensed the profound danger of exercising too far man’s capacities. Some limitations are blessings—they are like iron bars of safety over a treacherous bridge. You can free yourself of them, but only a suicidal man would free himself from the things that sustain him.

When our forefathers liberated themselves and made “freedom” an absolute, they struck down all forms of safety and said: “Every man for himself!”

That’s what happened when freedom—or “Liberty” as it is called—became an ideal held religiously by our civil religion. Your forefathers wanted to be free, and were allowed to become so. The consequences may have proven more than we can handle.

It was as if humanity liberated itself from its own sustaining atmosphere—all the spiritual air and cultural beauty got sucked right out from around them, even if it took a couple hundred years for people to feel the breech in the hull. Now everything is gone out into the void: community, wisdom, tradition, and limitation. Now our existence feels like a desert in which we are absolutely free, because although we can go anywhere we want, there is nowhere we really want to go to, and so we are not really free.

Now we’re left under the weight of that great question: “Free for what?” All the principles for which men used to live and die are gone and all of the answers have gone with them. Free for what, then? That’s what you have to answer, my dear reader. That’s our task. We are floating in space, freer than free, and now we have to figure out some way to build around ourselves a cockpit. If we can, then maybe someday we can fly it back to earth and become human again—maybe even start a family.

Our job is to find the answer to our freedom. We need each other to find it, don’t forget. We have to reach out and set our own limits again. It is only within the context of fixed limits that you can reach out and touch anything. You can’t walk across the room unless you have a floor to push against with your feet. We crave the ability to walk around, and to touch and know one another. We’ve got to construct limits. Then perhaps you can finally find a Self—that deep identity which we have been told to build arbitrarily as if it were a pile of play-dough.

You can’t build your own being. That was the great prideful absurdity of the whole affair. You can’t do it. You can only discover your being, and it often takes a lifetime to find it.

That must be the new orientation and aim of human liberty: to know thyself—the Self which you do not build but were born with. Then, perhaps, you can answer the question, and only then can you safely and confidently take a little piece of your freedom, living not just free, but free for this.

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