like medieval chivalry and Age of Enlightenment ideals,
has contributed in shaping the premise of Chivalry-Now. As
a philosophy, it gained notoriety during mid-twentieth century Europe
as a response to the rise of totalitarianism and two devastating
world wars. In a sense, it tried to rescue people from the inherent
evils of modern society, while preserving the dignity of the individual,
in realistic terms. It showed us a way to avoid the mental, emotional
and spiritual conformity that allowed totalitarianism to take control.
Just prior to the First World War, Western
civilization considered itself the epitome of cultural advancement,
and sought to Westernize the rest of the world through imperialism
and commerce. European leaders considered themselves rational, civilized
and moral, even as they exploited cultures that were not so technologically
belligerent. In other words, they were not as moral as they let
on. When it came to jockeying for position of economic control,
they were willing to engage in a new form of all-out-war that resulted
in an atrocious and unprecedented loss of life. The machine guns
and mustard gas of trench warfare, the later tanks of blitzkrieg,
the merciless submarine torpedo, concentration camps killing civilians
by the millions, the atomic bomb, oppressive totalitarian regimes,
the Russian Gulag all pointed to the perverse consequences
of modern ideologies that were choking the life out of personal
values. Truth and honor had been replaced by national pride and
Existentialists arose from the chaos of this
disillusioned world, and found that they could not make sense of
it. Religious promises seemed empty against the reality of Auschwitz.
Nationalism seem more dangerous than helpful. The glory of war from
yesteryear was replaced by wide scale absurdity and horror. Was
there nothing good to salvage? Had human nature evolved to the point
of eliminating all but the basest meaning to life?
The existentialists took a bleak yet powerful
stance of integrity that some people grew to fear while others admired.
They acknowledged what they saw, and refused to romanticize or mythologize
it. They admitted that life was absurd. But that did not
mean that we had to be absurd. Once we come to grips
with absurdity, we can choose to bring meaning into our own personal
lives. All we need is to step forward and make choices that make
Existentialism rejects the moral authority of
outside interference, and places the onus on the individual
not in the name of license or hedonism (indeed, it is a rejection
of both), but in the name of personal responsibility.
It's core moral belief is an interesting variation
of the Golden Rule. Instead of saying "do unto others
as you would have them do unto you," or the variant Silver
Rule of "do not do unto others as you would not want them
to do unto you," existentialism provides a mandate of conscience
that points to universal implications. When you judge an act you
are about to do, ask yourself if it would be acceptable for everyone
in the world to do likewise. In other words, whatever you do adds
to the definition of everyone as human beings. What would you want
that definition to be? Hitler, and French collaborators, added despicable
nuances. What will you add?
Because of this emphasis on personal responsibility,
and its lack of feel-good mythologizing of reality, some people
view existentialism as a dark, pessimistic philosophy. This is especially
true for Americans, who participated in both world wars but came
out the better for it. The closest Americans ever came to the existential
shock that Europe felt after the World Wars occurred on 9/11,
with the destruction of the Trade Towers. Even that was very
limited in comparison. Such shocking reality has a way of challenging
optimism and complacency. The 2008 economic crisis
added to this feeling of insecurity. The stability of institutions,
along with the kind of security one feels in long-standing political
ideologies, no longer sufficed. Stripped of illusions, people find
themselves adrift on a turbulent sea. No one can save us but ourselves.
Waiting to be rescued by someone else only makes things worse.
If we are looking for jingoistic patronizing,
existentialism has none of that. Instead, it looks critically at
the illusions of politics and commercialism that would enslave us.
The only moral authority it recognizes is reason-based
choices, something similar to the earlier Age of
Enlightenment project. To existentialists, it offers an oasis
of sanity in a world otherwise insane. Chivalry-Now offers
the same thing, encouraging people to think for themselves, question
the status quo, and look for real virtue in the only place it can
be found, inside ourselves.
Existentialism is an appeal to intellectual integrity.
Chivalry-Now must never do less. The biggest difference between
them is that Chivalry-Now emphasizes the natural law of conscience
as a waiting reservoir of principles, already at odds with the darkness
of absurdity. It also recognizes how this struggle for autonomy
and personal integrity has a long history in Western civilization,
and that chivalric virtues reflect this.
The base message of these philosophies tells
us that we are not bound to any sense of determinism or false security
that haunts and ultimately deters our better natures. We perpetually
choose who we are, whether we recognize it or not. We choose the
path we tread, be it good or bad. It is that choice, and the freedom
it posits, that makes the principles of these philosophies into
a natural bulwark against totalitarianism, be it communism, fascism,
or its more subtle persona, commercialism. Quite simply, freedom
that is actualized prevents the mass conformity that
totalitarianism thrives on. On the other hand, when freedom is based
on conscience, which Chivalry-Now advocates, natural law
precludes the kind of radical behavior that would result in hedonism.
It would be free and moral at the same time.
The three main proponents of mid-twentieth century
existentialism were Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and
Albert Camus, who were intimate friends and resistance fighters
in France during the Nazi occupation. Their philosophy was not entirely
new, echoing conclusions from such divergent thinkers as Kierkegaard
new existentialists had witnessed first hand some of the worst atrocities
ever perpetrated by human beings, including death camps, slave labor,
ethnic cleansing, collaboration with the enemy, religious silence
in the face of nationalistic evil, and mass civilian targeting during
war - all produced by a Western culture that they once believed
to be moral. It was no wonder that they fundamentally questioned
everything they previously believed in, and tried to find something
better. They viewed cautious autonomy not as pessimism, but as optimism
in the face of absurdity, optimism based not on blind hope, platitudes
or religious rhetoric, but on action. In response to all the disloyalty
and pain he witnessed, Sartre declared in no uncertain terms that
we are completely responsible not only for who we are, but who
we plan to be. Only by taking an active role in deciding
who we are can true liberation can be found.
few quotes from Sartre illustrate this:
first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make
the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when
we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean
that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he
is responsible for all men."
is nothing else but what he makes of himself." (Sartre called
is not a single one of our acts which does not at the same time
create an image of man as we think he ought to be."
of existentialism places an incredible amount of responsibility
on every person. It rejects the helplessness and complacency people
feel when confronting the ways things are. No power enslaves
us so successfully as our own attitude and lack of effort. We are
always in a position to resist evil, and we must, if humanity is
to represent anything meaningful at all.
Here we find the call of today's Knight-Errant
articulated plainly - the call to responsibility and a new form
of idealism, rooted in reality, that Chivalry-Now espouses.
By inserting the recognition of Nature's Law, Chivalry-Now
adds a completeness that redeems the so-called negativity of existentialism.
Life is only absurd when we allow it.
Existentialism therefore, as we know it today,
is the bastard child of two world wars, Auschwitz and the atomic
bomb. It is a Western remedy of Western civilization gone bad. It
sees reality as most of us refuse to see it anymore, pointing out
lessons that are not pretty, yet purchased at great cost.
Such lessons can only be ignored at great peril.
Having to learn them again, first hand, might spell the end of us