Triumph of the Will

In my book Postmodern Times, I write about how the will has replaced reason in contemporary thought.  In my book Modern Fascism, I discuss  the great filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s celebration of Hitler, The Triumph of the Will, and argue that the phrase encapsulates the philosophy of Fascism. I also contrasted this worldview with that of Luther, who wrote The Bondage of the Will.

I am pleased to see R. R. Reno discussing the same topic, how today the will–what I want, what I desire–trumps everything.

From R. R. Reno, Triumph of Desire » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog:

What makes a man a man or a woman or a woman? For a long time–forever to be exact–it was nature and its serendipitous allocations of chromosomes. A tiny, tiny, tiny number of newborns emerged with scrambled codes, but the rest of us fall to one side or the other: “Male and female he created them.”

That’s now changing. Australia recently adopted a system of self-selected gender: male, female, and, well, whatever. On all personal documents individuals can self-select one way or the other–or not at all. And they can do this irrespective of whether or not they have undergone sex-change operations or hormonal therapy. The will–what we want to be–triumphs over nature.

Germany is going the same direction, Spiegel reports. As of November, birth certificates will allow parents to select gender “X,” neither male nor female. The same new right goes to adults as well.

It’s fitting that Germany passed this legislation. It reflects our postmodern version of the will’s triumph over given realities. Nazism was an earlier version of this triumph, very different in countless ways, of course, but sharing a basic, underlying similarity. Hitler believed in the priority of the deed over truth, the will over fact, strength over established affairs. He wanted to forge a New Germany in accord with new myths, and part of his appeal rested in the fact that he affirmed the priority of this desire over all else. It’s intoxicating to believe that we can make our own destiny by the strength of our self-choosing.

This priority of the will made Nazism a hyper-modern phenomenon. It was not reactionary in any sense. The old regime was built on metaphysical claims about authority that were fixed and immobile. Hitler wanted no truck with a sacred order that limited the will. Force shapes destiny, and concepts of right and wrong must be made plastic to serve this new future.

A similar triumph of the will—or perhaps more accurately a triumph of desire—animates the gay rights movement. How our bodies function biologically can’t limit what we can and should do. This triumph of the will has been obscured by the fact that contraception has largely made sex sterile in the West, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions. But with this new approach to gender–assigned rather than recognized, chosen rather than given–makes the logic quite clear. Who we are—even our maleness or femaleness—depends on what we want, and nothing more.


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