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Last week, the Weekender Herald published a very amusing article entitled “Looking at Life.” The article, written by John Ovenden, lampooned one of the more absurd (and that’s saying something) discussions between the members of the so-called “local progress association.”
The topic of discussion was name changes for the various townships in the Adelaide Hills. What John Ovenden was lampooning was the pretentiousness of these groups and just how out of touch they are with the common people.
The fact that our supposed “social betters” are willing to change the names of townships to suit their own ideological needs is hardly new. Today, only those with an interest in local history would know about Adelaide Hill’s rich German heritage. Anti-German sentiment generated by the First World War (1914 – 1918) caused the authorities to change the names of many German settlements. As a consequence, Blumberg was changed to Birdwood, Grunthal was changed to Verdun, Hahndorf was briefly changed to Ambleside (though it was changed back in 1935), and Germantown Hill was changed to Vimy Ridge (it was later absorbed into Bridgewater with the road being renamed ‘Germantown Hill’).
The same thing appears to be occurring today, albeit for entirely different reasons. The general distaste for Germanness had developed into a general revulsion for all of western culture.
A perfect example of this is the Mount Barker District Council and their attempts to modernise Mount Barker. Given that the population of the township is estimated to reach almost sixty-thousand by 2036, there can be little doubt that this modernisation is largely necessary.
However, one cannot help but worry that this modernisation will be used as an excuse to dismantle much of the town’s heritage. I worry that this modernisation will be used to remove statues and demolish old buildings. There are signs of this happening already. Take, as an example, the statue installed at the top of Gawler Street. Like virtually all modern art, it is a travesty which fails to connect people with their heritage let alone represent anything.
Fortunately, most of the Adelaide Hills has rejected this pernicious call to change. Instead, they have clung onto their traditions and their heritage. When one drives through the Adelaide Hills, one sees old farmhouses, old Churches, and open fields.
This is partially natural and partially deliberate. It is certainly true that the country is always more conservative than the city. On the other hand, however, local heritage has been preserved thanks to the tireless work of numerous local historical societies.
What is more, it is perfectly possible to bring a township into the modern age without destroying its heritage. Hahndorf is a case in point. Australia’s “oldest German settlement” has managed to modernise itself without sacrificing its traditional façade. Furthermore, it has even managed to capitalise on its German character and heritage. Along its main street, one can find boutique stores, small cafes, restaurants, and pubs that one would expect to find in old townships. Yet along that main street one can also find Asian restaurants, tattoo parlours, and other more modern venues.
Why are some local councils so hell-bent on destroying the heritage of the towns they have been elected to govern? Part of the answer can be found in their nature. Local councils, like most bureaucratic bodies, are left-wing by nature. As such, they eschew heritage and tradition. The impetus is on progress not on preserving local heritage.
The Mount Barker Council, for example, has signalled their commitment to so-modern “values” over adherence to tradition and stability. Rather than occupying one of the township’s historical building, the local Council has instead decided to occupy an ugly, multi-storeyed office building.
There is a darker reason, however. There are those who wish to alienate people from their heritage by destroying their cultures and traditions. Among the tactics they employ is the defamation of local and national history, the abolition of holidays such as Christmas and Australia day, and the demolition of old buildings, statues, and other historical sites. They hope that by dismantling a town or nation’s heritage, they can remould society along their ideological lines.
Fortunately, a great deal of work has been done to protect local heritage. Local historical societies, the History Trust, and other similar organisations have worked tirelessly to protect and preserve local history.
It is our culture and our heritage that has made us who we are. We must resist attempts to destroy it. What’s in a name? Everything.
On May 9th, 2018, the YouTube Channel, Juice Media uploaded a video entitled “Honest Government Ad: Trickle Down Economics.” In the video, the rather obnoxious and condescending female presenter tells the audience that the reason Australia has “one of the fastest growing inequality rates in the world” is trickle-down economics, which she defines as “when we [the government] piss on you and tell you it’s raining.”
According to the video, tax cuts for investors, entrepreneurs, and business are directly correlated with poverty and the lack of wage growth in Australia. The presenter argues that the government cuts taxes on the rich while simultaneously claiming that they don’t have enough money for healthcare (which would be a lot more effective if people took responsibility for their own health), renewable energy (which is really an excuse to take control of the energy market), and the ABC (which doesn’t deserve a cent of anyone’s money).
The primary problem with the video is that the premise of its argument does not actually exist. There is not a single economic theory that can be identified as trickle-down economics (also known as trickle-down theory). No reputable economist has ever used the term, nor have they ever presented an argument that could be said to conform to the idea of what it is supposed to be. As Thomas Sowell (1930 – ) wrote in his book, Basic Economics:
“There have been many economic theories over the centuries accompanies by controversies among different schools and economists, but one of the most politically prominent economic theories today is one that has never existed among economists: the trickle-down theory. People who are politically committed to policies of redistributing income and who tend to emphasise the conflicts between business and labour rather than their mutual interdependence often accuse those opposed to them of believing that benefits must be given wealthy in general, or to business in particular that these benefits will eventually trickle down to the masses of ordinary people. But no recognised economist of any school of thought has ever had any such theory or made any such proposal.”
The key to understanding why political players disparage pro-capitalist and pro-free market economic policies as trickle-down economics is understanding how economics is used to deceive and manipulate. Political players understand that simple and emotionally-charged arguments tend to be more effective because very few people understand actual economics. Anti-capitalists and anti-free marketeers, therefore, use the term trickle-down economics to disparage economic policy that disproportionately benefits the wealthy in the short term, and increases the standards of living for all peoples in the long-term
The economic theory championed by liberals (read: leftists) is demand-side economics. Classical economics rejected demand-side economic theory for two reasons. First, manipulating demands is futile because demand is the result of product, not its cause. Second, it is (supposedly) impossible to over-produce something. The French economist, Jean-Baptiste Say (1767 – 1832) demonstrated the irrelevance of demand-side economics by pointing out that demand is derived from the supply of goods and services to the market. As a consequence of the works of Jean-Baptiste Say, the British economist, David Ricardo (1772 – 1823), and other classical economists, demand-side economic theory lay dormant for more than a century.
One classical economist, however, was prepared to challenge the classical economic view of demand-side economics. The English economist, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) challenged the anti-demand view of classical economics by arguing that the recession Great Britain experienced in the aftermath Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) was caused by a failure of demand. In other words, purchasing power fell below the number of goods and services in the market. Malthus wrote:
“A nation must certainly have the power of purchasing all that it produces, but I can easily conceive it not to have the will… You have never I think taken sufficiently into consideration the wants and tastes of mankind. It is not merely the proportion of commodities to each other but their proportion to the wants and tastes of mankind that determines prices.”
Using this as his basis, Malthus argued that goods and services on the market could outstrip demand if consumers choose not to spend their money. Malthus believed that while production could increase demand, it was powerless to create the will to consume among individuals.
Demand-side economics works on the theory that economic growth can be stimulated by increasing the demand for goods and services. The American economist, J.D. Foster, the Norman B. Ture Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy at the Heritage Foundation, argued that demand-side works on the theory that the economy is underperforming because the total demand is low, and, as a consequence, the supply needed to meet this demand is likewise low.
The American economist, Paul Krugman (1953 – ), and other economists believe that recessions and depressions are the results of a decrease in demand and that the most effective method of revivifying the economy is to stimulate that demand. The way to do this is to engage in large-scale infrastructure projects such as the building of bridges, railways, and highways. These projects create a greater demand for things like steel, asphalt, and so forth. And, furthermore, it provides people with a wage which they can spend on things like food, housing, clothing, entertainment, so on and so forth.
Policies based on demand-side economics aims to change the aggregate demand in the economy. Aggregate demand is consumer spending + investment + net import/export. Demand-side economics policies are either expansive or contractive. Expansive demand-side policies aim at stimulating spending during a recession. By contrast, contractive demand-side policies aim at reducing expenditure during an inflationary economy.
Demand-side policy can be split into fiscal policy and monetary policy. The purpose of fiscal policy in this regard is to increase aggregate demand. Demand-side based fiscal policy can help close the deflationary gap but is often not sustainable over the long-term and can have the effect of increasing the national debt. When such policies aim at cutting spending and increasing taxes, they tend to be politically unpopular. But when such policies that involve lowering taxes and increasing spending, they tend to be politically popular and therefore easy to execute (of course they never bother to explain where they plan to get the money from).
In terms of monetary policy, expansive demand-side economic aims at increasing aggregate demand while contractive monetary policy in demand-side economics aims at decreasing it. Monetary expansive policies are less efficient because it is less predictable and efficient than contractive policies.
Needless to say, demand-side economics has plenty of critics. According to D.W. McKenzie of the Mises Institute, demand-side economics works on the idea that “there are times when total spending in the economy will not be enough to provide employment to all want to and should be working.” McKenzie argued that the “notion that economics as a whole, sometimes lacks sufficient drive derives from a faulty set of economic doctrines that focus on the demand side of the aggregate economy.” Likewise, Thomas Sowell argued in Supply-Side Politics that there is too much emphasis placed on demand-side economics to the detriment of supply-side economics. He wrote in an article for Forbes:
“If Keynesian economics stressed the supposed benefit of having government manipulate aggregate demand, supply-side economics stressed what the marketplace could accomplish, one it was freed from government control and taxes.”
The man who greatly popularised demand-side economics was the British economist, John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946). Keynes, along with many other economists, analysed the arguments of the classical economists against the realities of the Great Depression. Their analysis led many economists to question the arguments of the classical economists. They noted that classical economics failed to answer how financial disasters like the Great Depression could happen.
Keynesian economics challenged the views of the classical economists. In his 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (one of the foundational texts on the subject of modern macroeconomics) Keynes revivified demand-side economics. According to Keynes, output is determined by the level of aggregate demand. Keynes argued that resources are not scarce in many cases, but that they are underutilised due to a lack of demand. Therefore, an increase in production requires an increase in demand. Keynes’ concluded that when this occurs it is the duty of the government to raise output and total employment by stimulating aggregate demand through fiscal and monetary policy.
The Great Depression is often seen as a failure of capitalism. It popularised Keynesian economics and monetary central planning which, together, “eroded and eventually destroyed the great policy barrier – that is, the old-time religion of balanced budgets – that had kept America relatively peaceful Republic until 1914.”
David Stockman of the Mises Institute argues that the Great Depression was the result of the delayed consequences of the Great War (1914 – 1918) and financial deformations created by modern central banking. However, the view that the Great Depression was a failure of capitalism is not one shared by every economist. The American economist, Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006), for example, argued that the Great Depression was a failure of monetary policy. Friedman pointed out that the total quantity of money in the United States – currency, bank deposits, and so forth – between 1929 and 1933 declined by one-third. He argued that the Federal Reserve had failed to prevent the decline of the quantity of money despite having the power and obligation to do so. According to Friedman, had the Federal Reserve acted to prevent the decline in the quantity of money, the United States (and subsequently, the world) would only have suffered a “garden variety recession” rather than a prolonged economic depression.
It is not possible to determine the exact dimensions of the Great Depression using quantitative data. What is known, however, is that it caused a great deal of misery and despair among the peoples of the world. Failed macroeconomic policies combined with negative shocks caused the economic output of several countries to fall between twenty-five and thirty-percent between 1929 and 1932/33. In America between 1929 and 1933, production in mines, factories, and utilities fell by more than fifty-percent, stock prices collapsed to 1/10th of what they had been prior to the Wall Street crash, real disposable income fell by twenty-eight percent, and unemployment rose from 1.6 to 12.8 million.
According to an article for the Foundation for Economic Education, What Caused the Great Depression, the Great Depression occurred in three phases. First, the rise of “easy money policies” caused an economic boom followed by a subsequent crash. Second, following the crash, President Herbert Hoover (1874 – 1964) attempted to suppress the self-adjusting aspect of the market by engaging in interventionist policies. This caused a prolonged recession and prevented recovery. Hourly rates dropped by fifty-percent, millions lost their jobs (a reality made worse by the absence of unemployment insurance), prices on agricultural products dropped to their lowest point since the Civil War (1861 – 1865), more than thirty-thousand businesses failed, and hundreds of banks failed. Third, in 1933, the lowest point of the Depression, the newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) combatted the economic crisis by using “new deal” economic policies to expand interventionist measures into almost every facet of the American economy.
Let’s talk about the New Deal a little bit more. The New Deal was the name for the Keynesian-based economic policies that President Roosevelt used to try and end the Great Depression. It included forty-seven Congress-approved programs that abandoned laissez-faire capitalism and enacted the kind of social and economic reforms that Europe had enjoyed for more than a generation. Ultimately, the New Deal aimed to create jobs, provide relief for farmers, boost manufacturing by building partnerships between the private and public sectors, and stabilise the US financial system.
The New Deal was largely inspired by the events of the Great War. During the War, the US Government had managed to increase economic activity by establishing planning boards to set wages and prices. President Roosevelt took this as proof positive that it was government guidance, not private business, that helped grow the economy. However, Roosevelt failed to realise that the increase in economic activity during the Great War came as the result of inflated war demands, not as the achievement of government planning. Roosevelt believed, falsely, that it was better to have government control the economy in times of crisis rather than relying on the market to correct itself.
The New Deal came in three waves. During his first hundred days in office, President Roosevelt approved the Emergency Banking Act, Government Economy Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, Agricultural Adjustment Act, Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the Security Act, Abrogation of Gold Payment Clause, the Home Owners Refinancing Act, the Glass-Steagall Banking Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, and the Civil Works Administration.
In 1934, President Roosevelt bolstered his initial efforts by pushing through the Gold Reserve Act, the National Housing Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and the Federal Communications Act.
In 1935, the Supreme Court rejected the National Industrial Act. President Roosevelt, concerned that other New Deal programs could also be in jeopardy, embarked on a litany of programs that would help the poor, the unemployed, and farmers. Second-wave New Deal programs included Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, Emergency Relief Appropriation, the Rural Electrification Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Resettlement Act, and the Social Securities Act.
In 1937, Roosevelt unleashed the third wave of the New Deal by aiming to combat budget deficits. It included the United States Housing Act (Wagner-Steagall), the Bonneville Power Administration, the Farm Tenancy Act, the Farm Security Administration, the Federal National Mortgage, the New Agriculture Adjustment Act, and the Labor Standards Act.
According to the historical consensus, the New Deal proved effective in boosting the American economy. Economic growth increased by 1.8% in 1935, 12.9% in 1936, and 3.3% in 1937. It built schools, roads, hospitals, and more, prevented the collapse of the banking system, reemployed millions, and restored confidence among the American people.
Some even claim that the New Deal didn’t go far enough. Adam Cohen, the author of Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America, claims that the longevity of the Depression (the American economy didn’t return to pre-depression prosperity until the 1950s) is evidence that more New Deal spending was needed. Cohen commented that the New Deal had the effect of steadily increasing GDP (gross domestic product) and reducing unemployment. And, which is more, it reimagined the US Federal government as a welfare provider, a stock-market regulator, and a helper of people in financial difficulty.
However, the historical consensus is not to say that the New Deal is without its critics. The New Deal was criticised by many conservative businessmen for being too socialist. Others, such as Huey Long (1893 – 1935), criticised it for failing to do enough for the poor. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891 – 1967), the Secretary of the Treasury, confessed before Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee on May 9th, 1939 that the New Deal had failed as public policy. According to Morgenthau, it failed to produce an economic recovery and did not erase historic unemployment. Instead, it created a recession – the Roosevelt Recession – in 1937, failed to adequately combat unemployment because it created jobs that were only temporary, became the costliest government program in US history, and wasted money.
Conservatives offer supply-side economics as an alternative to demand-side economics. Supply-side economics aims at increasing aggregate supply. According to supply-side economics, the best way to stimulate economic growth or recovery is to lower taxes and thus increase the supply of goods and services. This increase leads, in turn, to lower prices and higher standards of living.
The lower-taxes policy has proved quite popular with politicians. The American businessman and industrialist, Andrew Mellon (1855 – 1937) argued for lower taxes in the 1920s, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963) argued for lower taxes in the 1960s, and both President Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) and President George Walker Bush (1946 – ) lowered taxes in the 1980s and 2000s, respectively.
Supply-side economics works on the principle that producers will create new and better products if they are allowed to keep their money. Put simply, supply-side economics (supply merely refers to the production of goods and services) works on the theory that cutting taxes on entrepreneurs, investors, and business-people incentives them to invest more in their endeavours. This money can be invested in capital – industrial machinery, factories, software, office buildings, and so forth.
The idea that lower taxes lead to greater economic prosperity is one of the central tenants of supply-side economics. Supporters of supply-side economics believe that providing financial benefits for investors (cutting capital gains tax, for example) stimulates economic growth. By contrast, high taxes, especially those metered out on businesses, discourage investment and encourages stagnation.
Tax rates and tax revenue are not the same thing, they can move in opposite directions depending on economic factors. The revenue collected from income tax for each year of the Reagan Presidency was higher than the revenues collected during any year of any previous Presidency. It can be argued that people change their economic behaviour according to the way they are taxed. The problem with increasing taxes on the rich is that the rich will use legal, and sometimes illegal, strategies for avoiding paying it. A businessman who is forced to pay forty-percent of his business’ profits on taxation is less likely to increase his productivity. As a consequence, high tax rates on businesses leads to economic stagnation.
Supply-side supporters use Arthur Laffer’s (1940 – ) – an advisor to President Ronald Regan – Laffer Curve to argue that lower taxes lead to higher tax revenue. The Laffer curve showed the dichotomy between tax revenue and the amount of tax that is collected. Laffer’s idea that the more taxation increased, the more tax revenue is collected. However, if taxes are increased beyond a certain point, less revenue is collected because people are no longer willing to make an economic contribution.
Taxation only works when the price of engaging in productive behaviour is likewise reduced. Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation stated in an article entitled a “Supply-Side” Success Story, that tax cuts are not created equally. Mitchell wrote: “Tax cuts based on the Keynesian notion of putting money in people’s pockets in the form of rebates and credits do not work. Supply-side cuts, by contrast, do improve economic performance because they reduce tax rates on work, saving, and investment.” Mitchell used the differences between the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as evidence for his argument. Mitchell pointed out that tax collections fell after the 2001 tax cuts whereas they grew by six-percent annually after the 2003 cuts. Mitchell points out that job numbers declined after the 2001 cuts whereas net job creation averaged more than 150,000 after the 2003 cuts. Mitchell points out that economic growth averaged 1.9% after the 2001 tax cuts, compared to 4.4% after the 2003 cuts.
Proposals to cut taxes have always been characterised by its opponents as “tax cuts for the rich.” The left believes that tax cuts, especially cuts on the top rate of tax, does not spur economic growth for lower and middle-class people and only serves to widen income inequality. They argue that tax cuts benefit the wealthy because they invest their newfound money in enterprises that benefit themselves. Bernie Sanders (1941 – ), the Independent Senator from Vermont, has argued that “trickle-down economics” is pushed by lobbyists and corporations to expand the wealth of the rich. Whilst opponents of President Ronal Reagan’s tax cuts likewise referred to the policy as “trickle-down economics.”
In reality, the left-wing slander of tax cuts can best be described as “tax lies for the gullible.” The rich do not become wealthy by spending frivolously or by hiding their money under the mattress. The rich become rich because they are prepared to invest their money in new products and ventures that will generate greater wealth. In reality, it is far more prudent to give an investor, entrepreneur, or business owner a tax cut because they are more likely to use their newfound wealth more prudently.
According to Prateek Agarwal at Intelligent Economist, supply-side economics is useful for lowering the natural rate of unemployment. Thomas Sowell, a supporter of supply-side economics, claims that while tax cuts are applied primarily to the wealthy, it is the working and middle classes who are the first and primary beneficiaries. This occurs because the wealthy, in Sowell’s view, are more likely to invest more money in their businesses which will provide jobs for the working class.
The purpose of economic policy is to facilitate the economic independence of their citizens by encouraging economic prosperity. Demand-side economics and supply-side economics represent two different approaches to achieving this endeavour. Demand-side economics argues that economic prosperity can be achieved by having the government increase demand by taking control of the economy. By contrast, supply-side economics, which is falsely denounced as “trickle-down economics” by the likes of people like Juice Media, champions the idea that the best way to achieve economic prosperity is by withdrawing, as far as humanly possible, government interference from the private sector of the economy. Supply-side economics is the economic philosophy of freedom, demand-side economics is not.
The term “noble savage”, referring to the so-called “natural man” who has not been corrupted by civilization, first appeared in The Conquest of Granada by the English playwright, John Dryden (1631 – 1700). Since then it has been a popular theme in books, television, and movies with stories like Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Avatar espousing noble-savage philosophies.
The Genevan philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) believed there to be a distinction between human nature and society. Taking his inspiration from John Locke’s (1632 – 1704) philosophy of innate goodness, Rousseau believed human beings were inherently peaceful and that concepts like sin and wickedness and bore no consequence to the natural man. Rather it was society that had perverted mankind’s natural sense of ‘amour de soi’ (a form of positive self-love which Rousseau saw as a combination of reason and the natural instinct for self-preservation) had been corrupted by societal forces. Rosseau wrote in the 18th century:
“Nothing can be more gentle than he in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the pernicious good sense of civilized man.”
While Rousseau was not the first philosopher to posit that society may have a corrupting influence (the French philosopher, Montaigne (1533 – 1592) described the lives of Native Americans as being so idyllic that he claimed they did not have words for lying, cheating, avarice, or envy, and that they did not need to work), it has been his influence that has been the most damaging. The first attempt to politicise Rousseauan philosophy, the French Revolution, ended not with paradise on earth, but with the mass executions that characterised the reign of terror. The social movements that have followed Rousseauan ideals have worked on the notion that it is society, not the individual, that is to blame for social problems. No aspect of human nature is responsible for evil, that is the result of a bad home, a bad neighbourhood, prejudice, poverty, and so forth. Human emotions are ultimately benevolent; evil and brutality are the results of social stressors on the individual. It is this philosophy that has been the driving force behind virtually all social programs.
The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679), saw life in a state of nature as one of perpetual civil war. According to Hobbes, life in a state of nature was “nasty, brutish, and short” (this, rather amusingly, has been used to describe the careers of some football managers). Since concepts like morality and justice have no place in a state of nature, the natural man has no concept of them. In Leviathan, written in 1651, Hobbes asked the reader to imagine what their lives would be like if they lived outside the protection of the state. Without law and order there are no checks and balances on an individual’s behaviour. Human beings, therefore, must be kept in check by an authority that has the ability to punish wickedness. Kings and governments have a responsibility to teach their citizens to be just, to not deprive others of their property, including their lives, through theft, fraud, murder, rape, and so forth. Hobbes believed the only way people could protect themselves from the trials and tribulations of life would be to transfer authority to a Government and a King.
The “noble savage” idea is a myth, pure and simple. It is merely a means for shifting responsibility away from the individual towards society. It is time for people to put this ridiculous belief in the one place it belongs: the waste-paper bin.
This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.
Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.
Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.
During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.
From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).
In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.
In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.
The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”
Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.
Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.
The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.
The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.
Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”
Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.
The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.
Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.
In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.
The evolutionary psychologist E.O. Wilson referred to war as “humanity’s hereditary curse.” It has become infused in our collective and individual psyches. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, Shakespeare’s Henry V is centred around the Battle of Agincourt, and All Quiet on the Western Front tells of the experiences of young German soldiers on the Western Front.
The purpose of war can be split into two fields: philosophical and pragmatic. Most modern wars are fought for ideological, and therefore philosophical reasons: capitalism versus communism, fascism versus democracy, and so forth. Richard Ned Lebow, a political scientist at the University of London, hypothesised that nations go to war for reasons of ‘national spirit.’ Institutions and nation-states may not have psyches per-say, but the individuals who run them do, and it is natural for these individuals to project the contents of their psyches onto the institutions and nation-states they are entrusted with.
Rationalists, on the other hand, have another perspective. War, they argue, is primarily used by nations to increase their wealth and power: allowing them to annex new territories, take control of vital resources, pillage, rape, and so forth. Bolshevism arose in the political instability and food shortages of World War One Russia. The Nazis used the spectre of Germany’s humiliating defeat in the Great War and its treatment in the Treaty of Versailles as a stepping stone to political power. In the Ancient World, Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279BC) used war to form the Akkadian Empire, and then used war to quell invasions and rebellion. Similarly, Philip II of Macedonia (382BC – 336BC) used war to unify the city states of Ancient Greece.
Another explanation may be that we engage in war because we are naturally inclined to. War speaks to our need for group identity, and to our deep predilection for conflict. And it should come as no surprise that the two are not mutually exclusive. Our strong predilection towards our own group not only makes us more willing to help other members of that group, it makes us more willing to commit evil on its behalf. Chimpanzees have been known to invade other congresses of chimps and go on killing sprees. The obvious intention being to increase territory and decrease intra-sexual competition. Similarly, our own evolutionary and primitive past is fraught with violence and conflict. It should not escape our attention that history is abundant with examples of invading soldiers slaughtering men and raping women.
Like all the profound aspects of culture, war conceptualises a facet of a deeper truth. It has been central to our history and culture capturing both the more heroic and the more frightening aspects of our individual and collective psyches. We both influence and are influenced by war.
For our weekly cultural article, we will be examining Martin Scorsese’s 2004 masterpiece, the Aviator: a biopic of the legendary businessman, aviator, filmmaker, and eccentric, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (1905 – 1976).
The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003), and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990). It focuses on Hughes’ glory years and is set between the late 1920s and the late 1940s.
The film essentially follows two competing storylines. The first storyline depicts Hughes’ struggle with his mental health, his battle with his worsening OCD and paranoia which, by the end of his life, would culminate in utter madness. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man whose intense germophobia renders him unable to touch the doorknob of a public toilet (he has to wait for someone else to open the door so he can leave), who washes his hands so ferociously he actually draws blood, who gets stuck repeating the same phrase over and over again (“the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future”), and who locks himself in his projection room for months on end.
The second storyline focuses on Hughes’ life as an entrepreneur: his success as a filmmaker, his successful career as an aviation pioneer, and his fight with the Senate War Investigating Committee. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man of unbridled ambition spurned on by his incredible early successes and comforted by legions of romantic conquests (which would include Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner, among others). The film opens with Hughes directing the Hell’s Angels (1930). An early theme is quickly established, with Hughes’ peers ridiculing him for his boldness and ambition. By the end of the film, Hughes defies prediction by successfully test flying the H-4 Hercules.
HOWARD HUGHES: THE MAN
The Aviator ends after Hughes’ after the successful test flight of the Hercules. In real life, Hughes lived another twenty-nine years and died a lunatic and a recluse. If you happened upon the man during the final years of his life you would describe him as an impoverished and gaudy man of six-foot-four. When he died of kidney failure in 1976, he weighed only 40kg, had grotesquely long fingernails, toenails, hair, and beard, and had hypodermic needles embedded in his arms. So unrecognisable was Hughes that the FBI was forced to rely on his fingerprints to identify him.
Howard Hughes ought to be remembered, and admired, as a brilliant businessman and pioneer. He was an eccentric perfectionist who, between the ages of eighteen and seventy, managed to amass a personal wealth of one-and-a-half billion dollars. He was a man who made remarkable, and often groundbreaking, successes in film, aviation, and real estate. Between 1926 and 1957, Hughes produced twenty-six movies, including Scarface (1932) and the Outlaw (1943), and directed the classic World War One air warfare film Hell’s Angels (1930).
As an aviator, Hughes’ not only helped to revolutionise air travel, he also set many aviation records personally. In 1935, Hughes set the overland flying record by travelling nearly 352mph over Santa Ana, California. In 1937, Hughes set the record for transcontinental flight by flying from Burbank California to Newark, New Jersey in seven hours, twenty-eight minutes, and twenty-five seconds. Then in 1938, Hughes, along with a four man team, circumnavigated the globe in a record three days, nineteen hours, and seventeen minutes.
In a re-release trailer for Hell’s Angels, Howard Hughes is introduced as:
“Howard Hughes: millionaire genius, was a pioneer in aviation and motion pictures. He defied convention, set new patterns for others to follow, made stars of unknowns, and left the world a legacy of film classics.”
Howard Hughes represents a type of man that doesn’t really exist anymore: the bold, dashing, larger-than-life individual. A man who achieved incredible things against what was often overwhelming odds. It is characters like Hughes that build countries and improve the world we all live in. And it is films like the Aviator which presents their stories to us.