This excerpt is drawn from the 1965 Oxford University Press abridged edition of The Decline of the West, pages 185-187.
Let us, once more, review Socialism (independently if the economic movement of the same name) as the Faustian example of Civilization-ethics. Its friends regard it as the form of the future, its enemies as a sign of downfall, and both are equally right. We are all Socialists, wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly. Even resistance to it wears its form.
Socialism—in it highest and not its street-corner sense—is, like every other Faustian ideal, exclusive. It owes its popularity only to the fact that it is completely misunderstood even by its exponents, who present it as a sum of rights instead of as one of duties, an abolition instead of an intensification of the Kantian imperative, a slackening instead of a tautening of directional energy. The trivial and superficial tendency towards ideals of “welfare”, “freedom”, “humanity”, the doctrine of the “greatest happiness of the greatest number,” are mere negations of the Faustian ethic–a very different matter from the tendency of Epicureanism towards he ideal of “happiness,” for the condition of happiness was the actual sum and substance of the Classical ethic. Here precisely is an instance of sentiments to all outward appearance much the same, but meaning in the one case everything and in the other nothing.
Similarly, and equally necessarily, all Classical men of the Late period were Stoics unawares. The whole Roman people, as a body, had a Stoic soul. The genuine Roman, the very man who fought Stoicism hardest, was a Stoic of a stricter sort than ever a Greek could be.
The directional movement of Life that is felt as Time and Destiny, when it takes the form of an intellectual machinery of means and ends, stiffens in death. Ethical Socialism is the most exalted expression possible of life’s aims.
In spite of its foreground appearances, ethical Socialism is not a system of compassion, humanity, peace and kindly care, but one of will-to-power. Any other reading of it is illusory. The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit. The Stoic adapts himself, the Socialist commands. He would have the whole would take the shape he desires, thus transferring the idea of the Critique of Pure Reason into the ethical field. This is the ultimate meaning of the Categorical Imperative, which he brings to bear in political, social and economic matters alike—act as thought the maxims that you practise were to become by your will the law for all. And this tyrannical tendency is no absent from even the shallowest phenomena of the time. It is not attitude and mien, but activity that is to be given form. As in China and Egypt, life only counts insofar as it is deed. And it is mechanicalizing of the organic concept of Deed that leads to the concept of work as commonly understood, the civilized form of Faustian effecting. Apollian man looked back to a Golden Age; this relieved him of the trouble of thinking upon what was still to com. The Socialist feels the Future as his task and aim, and accounts the happiness of the moment as worthless in comparison. The Classical spirit, with its oracles and its omens, wants only to know the future, but the Westerner would shape it. The Third Kingdom is the Germanic ideal. From Joachim of Floris to Nietzsche and Ibsen—arrows of yearning to the other bank, as the Zarathustra says—every great man has linked his life to an eternal morning.
And here Socialism becomes tragic. It is of the deepest significance that Nietzsche, so completely clear and sure in dealing with what should be destroyed, what transvalued, loses himself in nebulous generalities as soon as he comes to discuss the Whither, the Aim. His criticism of decadence is unanswerable, but his theory of the Superman is a castle in the air. And therein lies a deep necessity; for, from Rousseau onwards, Faustian man has nothing more to hope for in anything pertaining to the grand style of Life. Something has come to an end. The Northern soul has exhausted its inner possibilities, and of the dynamic force and insistence that had exposed itself in world-historical visions of the future—visions of a millennial scope—nothing remains but the mere pressure, the passionate desire to create, the form without the content. The soul was Will and nothing but Will. It needed an aim for its Columbus-longing; it had to give its inherent activity at least the illusion of a meaning and an object. And so the keener critic will find a trace of Hjalmar Ekdal in all modernity, even its highest phenomena. Ibsen called it the lie of life. For deep down beneath it all is the gloomy feeling, not to be repressed, that all this hectic zeal is the despairing self-deception of a soul that may not and cannot rest. This is the tragic situation—the inversion of the Hamlet motive—and a thread of it runs through the entire fabric of Socialism, political, economic and ethical, which forces itself to ignore the annihilating seriousness of its own final implications, so as to keep alive the illusion of the historical necessity of its own existence.
Stoicism is as distant from the mind of the modern Westerner as Polynesian taboos. It is now possible only to gain an intellectual and not a working idea of these systems. The prevailing sentiment is Ethical Socialism, as Spengler claims. “The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit.” Scientism is an offshoot of ES. On this site once appeared the article Ought Wrongs To Be Righted? which came supplied with the not necessarily Stoical but with the Christian answer “not always”. There was tremendous resistance to this deduction, which included such truths that it is futile to wage war against necessary evils. Even today’s conservatives must change the future.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer states “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This in its simplified way is the center between Stoicism, which without complaint accepts fate, and Socialism, which must exert control and which must descend into tyranny as it brushes against what can’t be changed. Tradition and Christianity is the Golden Mean.