The Existential Man

ExistentialManby Glenn Fairman   3/28/14
If one were to catalogue the man-made horrors of the twentieth century, then those bastard sons of the secularized state: Nazism, Fascism, and Socialist Collectivism would surely top the list. And viewed from a vantage point other than that of their bewitched “True Believers,” it is amazing how these personality cults, driven by their technologically amassed power, have so artfully acquired the techniques of concealing their true natures behind the prim facade of justice.

Wherever it has plied its sermon of peace and plenty, that lumbering Leviathan we know as the Progressive state, soon mutilates the quality of free human conscience and evangelizes the grey homogeneity of its hive mentality. Those who invoke the Collective have always known, in their heart of hearts, that the squalid Marxian Science of Man has from its inception been a purely deterministic enterprise. Consequently, it has understood that instead of the greater freedom it once promised, humanity is instead being shrunk into pre-selected boxes, and that men are to be incrementally diminished by their managers as material possessed and maintained by the secular regime’s utilitarian hand.[pullquote]…the existential drama is personified as the untethered soul seeking meaning in a universe of rank meaninglessness.[/pullquote]

Even today, as the wreckage of systematic communism is littered about the circumference of the earth, those of the Progressive or liberal inclination (who deny the transcendent soul and the metaphysical possibility of freedom) wrestle with this heritage of historical necessity. The Collectivist entity, having interpreted Man as a being bereft of an immutable core, overtly seeks to cultivate a diminished population unworthy of the name citizen. By virtue of the managerial tyranny to which all liberalism is forever bound, Men are then to assume the form of structured automata, and humanity’s plastic utility is fated to contingently rest upon the character of the political regime — from whose power it is impossible to withstand.

In time, it was perhaps inevitable that cracks should form and a certain moral revulsion should arise, given the clamor within the human spirit for liberty against the historical backdrop of biologically deterministic Darwinism, Scientific Marxism, and the psychologically reductionist Freudian interpretations of the psyche. Given humanity’s actual personality, the binding of mind, flesh, history, and political life to irresistable forces that lay outside the purview of autonomous control, could only fail. It is here that in counterpoint to necessity, the phenomenon of existentialism flourished.

tormentpicDefined technically as existence preceding essence, the existential drama is personified as the untethered soul seeking meaning in a universe of rank meaninglessness. In a civilization that has internalized the horizon characterized by the Death of God, a terrible freedom incrementally bears down upon being; and with this heaviness, a gnawing despair in encountering and coming to terms with a cold and empty moral universe. Existential Man realizes that without a set of ethical or ontological bearings to navigate by, life itself is an endless parade of sensation, acquisition or conquest that at best is transitory, since our exertions and the fruit thereof will expire alongside us. Against such formidable knowledge, Existential Man must resolutely hazard a leap of faith into commitment — throwing his longings into a cause or activity through which he might redeem the time that lies so tenuously before him. And lo, it is a heroic attitude — given the Himalayan expanse over which its acolytes must negotiate.

The nagging truth (if such a thing can exist existentially) is that no matter which labor I set my hand to from the existentialist perspective, I am confronted with a fundamental absurdity that stands in direct contradiction to my commitment. If the universe is (as they say) as cold and as deaf to my cries and strivings as a stone, then whether I commit myself to the bedding of 10,000 women or seek to succor the starving in foreign lands, ultimately my efforts are for naught—-and they are for naught because the moral “ought” has no lasting currency in a meaningless universe. Within the worldview of such a philosophy, my actions only accrue value subjectively through eyes which are sympathetic to my vision; and whether I slit the jugular of a child or nourish him back from cholera, ultimately I am less than an electron in the night sky. Interpreting life from beneath the lamp of existentialist reason: there is no ultimate justice, no abiding love that we can view as enduring in the metaphysical sense, and benevolence is patently absurd – albeit it is perhaps noteworthy from some foundationally unexplainable moral perspective. When the ideations of good and evil, justice and transgression or noble and base are cut loose from their perpetual moorings, what actions or judgments can escape the entropy of utter meaninglessness?

It is here that the substance of this philosophy breaks down. For if such a shriveled human horizon was at all possible, then the resulting life would scarcely be worth living. Of the myriad entities that populate the globe, man is the creature that cannot live absent a sense of meaning; and the soul of man grows thin without hope. Ever the prophet, G.K. Chesterton holds up the looking glass and shows us this sickness some have valued as virtue: “The modern world is insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal, but because it cannot recover the normal.” Having either forgotten or forsaken what we once were, we are not merely infatuated with those endless variations of becoming, but we have declared war and taken up arms on that past world to make certain that it never again overtakes us.

But in contradistinction to this psychological prison he can forge through the power of his formidable mind, man is in fact metaphysically teleological. Although the Existential Man is unmoored as pertaining to origins and ends and is defined solely through his ultimately gratuitous actions, Teleological Man is fundamentally reconciled to the universe because it is not perceived as morally dead – but, in fact, as rational and coherent. A man with a telos (appointed end or purpose) understands that he is not a dead cog in a deterministic machine, but a being possessing both provenance and destiny whose innate value infinitely transcends his life’s actions. Indeed, such actions are ideally integrated into both who he is and what he ultimately will become upon passing beyond that divided line. Teleological man is not alienated from life through the absurdity of death because he knows that by virtue of the love and justice inextricably tethered to his heritage and apprehension of reality, his being transcends death and will be affirmed in that greater revelation of life — upon the fullness of days. In truth, the existentialist remedy answering mankind’s diagnosis of modernity’s lonely void is only half right. The answer lies squarely in the object that one chooses to “leap into.”

Existential Man, having become estranged from the possibility of apprehending existence beyond the absurd exercise of some nebulous freedom, is a fugitive from the moral universe because he has despaired of his origins and ends. Wandering about in temporal anarchy viewed narrowly as a shapeless species of liberty, he walks blind because ultimately he knows not where he is bound. He is, ironically, a pilgrim without a destination — and for all intents and purposes, sojourning in a hellish labyrinth of his own choosing.

Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at • (2414 views)

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13 Responses to The Existential Man

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    There was some modest discussion of existentialism when I was in high school, but I never understood it. Now I see why: it never really made sense to begin with, but was simply a hopeless attempt to salvage meaning in a pitiless world (sort of Lovecraftian in its way, with strict materialism replacing the Great Old Ones).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      …was simply a hopeless attempt to salvage meaning in a pitiless world.

      You’re describing text messaging, right? 😀

      The Christian view of the world is an optimistic one. The materialist view of the world is a pessimistic one. The Christian view is full of tempered hope. The materialist view is based on grievance, nihilism, and a trite secular kumbaya collectivism. Christians are wise. Materialists are “Brite.” Christians, via their excesses, have perhaps killed a few thousands. Materialists have killed over a hundred million, and that in just the last century.

      Clearly atheism is bad for your health. Worse than cigarettes.

    • Rosalys says:

      Existentialism: an example of many big words arranged in a confusing jumble, masquerading as profound brilliance!

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Teleological Man is fundamentally reconciled to the universe because it is not perceived as morally dead – but, in fact, as rational and coherent.

    That’s a good thought.

  3. steve lancaster says:

    While I do not hold with the dogmatic atheism of many existentialists, like Sartre there are concepts that call for examination in existential philosophy and there are well known existential thinkers that are very religious, Kierkegaard from a Christian view and Berber on the Jewish side. There are even quasi-existentialist thinkers like
    Franz Rosenzweig, who in the Star of Redemption foresees Orthodox Judaism as the ultimate relationship with God. If you don’t read passable German, don’t try the translations are very heavy.

    Most classes taught on existential philosophy are confusing because they are taught by professor/philosophers who either do not agree with the concepts involved, or just do not understand them in the first place, generally both I think.

    If you can understand that you are the sum of your decisions, good and bad, and that no person or entity has caused you to be the person you are, and the decisions you make represent a choice, even deciding not to chose, then you have stepped on the path existential philosophy would take you. It is up to you to decide how far to go.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      One thing that Timothy said on the Darwin thread comes to mind:

      If all you do is trust the scientists without understanding them, then it’s simply a matter of which prophets you choose to have faith in.

      How does one prove God or prove nihilism? Much of what we’re dealing with is what people prefer to believe. Given that people are now provided with a sub-par education and have lost the ability and will to do critical thinking (if only because of the vulgar and inane entertainment they subject themselves to), what one tends to believe is whatever is most amenable to whatever lifestyle one has. That is, people tend to believe whatever is convenient or self-flattering.

      This is especially true on the side of nihilism. If nothing means nothing then no one can object to your behavior, nor need you deny any urge and hold yourself to a higher standard. In fact, the “Progressive” culture has learned how to fool itself by doing just that in a very systematic way, calling abortion “a woman’s right to choose,” for example.

      This is man, the animal, at his worse, using his brainpower to deceive and to self-deceive.

      It’s only fair to say that being an animal does indeed come with creation. Where the religious differ is their realization that man is not just an animal. I’ll not argue the various doctrines. But Christianity, at heart, is about man being not just an animal but a being who can, and should, have higher aspirations and higher standards applied to him. With this I am in firm and total agreement, no quibbles whatsoever.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have long thought existentalist philosophy was mainly a Western interpretation of Hinduism and Buddhism. Both are essentially foreign concepts having to do with little in the Western tradition, and until that disagreeable man Schopenhauer turned up the study of Eastern religions was a specialist field. Now we have all sorts of poorly informed people following the eightfold path.

      Schopenhauer is the prototype of the modern Leftist. A population control eugenicist who did not like the prolies, but had great compassion for animals.

      Old Arthur is up there with the likes of Rousseau when it comes to people who have damaged our culture.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Mr. Kung, that brings a recent passage to mind. C.S. Lewis makes some interesting distinctions regarding religion in “The Grand Miracle”:

        Now I notice a very odd point. All other religions in the world, as far as I know them, are either nature religions, or anti-nature religions. The nature religions are those of the old, simple pagan sort that you know about. You actually got drunk in the temple of Bacchus. You actually committed fornication in the temple of Aphrodite. The more modem form of nature religion would be the religion started, in a sense, by Bergson[4] (but he repented, and died Christian), and carried on in a more popular form by Mr. Bernard Shaw.

        The anti-nature religions are those like Hinduism and Stoicism, where men say, “I will starve my flesh. I care not whether I live or die.” All natural things are to be set aside: the aim is Nirvana, apathy, negative spirituality. The nature religions simply affirm any natural desires. The anti-natural religions simply contradict them. The nature religions simply give a new sanction to what I already always thought about the universe in my moments of rude health and cheerful brutality.

        The anti-nature religions merely repeat what I always thought about it in my moods of lassitude, or delicacy, or compassion.

        But here is something quite different. Here is something telling me-well, what? Telling me that I must never, like the Stoics, say that death does not matter. Nothing is less Christian than that.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The Cathars (variously known as Bogomils and Albigensians) seem to have operated on the basis that the material world is the devil’s snare for the faithful. This may be why the Church was so hostile to them.

          • steve lancaster says:

            Indeed, it was good Christian Catholics that slaughtered the Cathars, and good solid Protestants that purged the church of Catholics in Holland.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            The Cathars (variously known as Bogomils and Albigensians) seem to have operated on the basis that the material world is the devil’s snare for the faithful.

            Makes sense. I know that any belief that the world is inherently bad is usually considered a heresy. And as Steve mentioned, violence has sometimes broken out over such things. The difference regarding Christianity as opposed to, say, Islam, is that the doctrine of Christ does not advocate it. It is the evil that men do (whether inside a religion, inside government, or even inside a taco stand).

            Myself, I’m not an existential man, although I am a bit of a heretic at times. I certainly do religion in my own way. I like to go out hiking, as I did today (covering about 7 miles in the mountains). Yes, I do it for exercise, but it is also my way to “commune with nature.” But, really, that’s not quit the right choice of words, for I’m not hugging any trees or rolling in the fields. Instead, I am often in a sort of running contemplation.

            And here’s a thought that hit me while I was out on the trail: Many of the people I know — good people — have a concept of Christianity that is just a rude caricature. Certainly that’s all that people such as Christopher Hitchens ever had. They were always arguing against completely constructed straw men. And, of course, you can never lose a battle that way.

            And there are some pretty stupid Christians out there as well who help to feed those caracatures, but there are stupid people in all walks of life. And I’ll also admit that what many people are learning as “Christianity” today is pretty thin. But in my experience (this certainly comes from knowing more than a few Catholics), none of the facts of life are unknown to Christians. This would fit better in the Darwin thread, but its a complete myth to say that Christians live inside a bubble of “delusion.” Although they wouldn’t use these words, they might agree that life is like a Nazi death camp. You’re not going to make it out alive. And there’s no point in trying to bribe the guards.

            Instead, one is to pick of one’s cross and say, “I shall carry my burden.” Any do it joyfully and with humility. And if you ask me, that is the point of Christianity. Yes, I know there are inducements such as “eternal life.” But much more realistic and meaningful, at least to my ear, is the idea that “in order to find yourself you must lose yourself.”

            Frankly, I wouldn’t want to spend eternity as me. And I don’t think eternity as me is the point. I think it’s discovering that “me” isn’t necessarily what I thought it was all along. And these avenues of thought are complete cut off from radical materialists. They are impoverished basically by their ego which won’t budge off their well-practiced sense of smug superiority.

            • steve lancaster says:

              “Frankly, I wouldn’t want to spend eternity as me. And I don’t think eternity as me is the point. I think it’s discovering that “me” isn’t necessarily what I thought it was all along. And these avenues of thought are complete cut off from radical materialists. They are impoverished basically by their ego which won’t budge off their well-practiced sense of smug superiority”

              Right on Brad, whatever, however, or if there is life after death it has less to do, IMHO, with who we go to church with, than who we are. I could envision a heaven with Hitchens as resident simply because he was faithful to his principles and one in which most of the Popes of the last 2000 years were not present.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, the Popes who relied on their temporal power probably belong somewhere other than Heaven, but since the Papacy’s realm was reduced to the Vatican I suspect most would end up there (eventually), and probably some of the earlier ones.

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