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Category Archives: On Greatness

We have spoken of the age-old impulse to abandon culture, to flee from the present day and its misery. In times such as these the impulse comes over us now and then more powerfully than ever. What will be the refuge? There are still a number of roads open. Though the past no longer proffers us the lively dream of a peaceful perfection that may perhaps return in the future, ancient beauty and wisdom still grants sweet forgetfulness to the person who seeks it. Does the future have more to offer? We can observe this raging world from an absurd distance and say that it will take three thousand years for all the madness of the present conflict, the stupidity and the terror, the fate of states and nations, the very cultural values that now seem the highest stake to have become just as unimportant to humanity as the wars of Assyria are today. This is no consolation; that, too, is mere forgetfulness. And such resignation can also be achieved from a briefer distance: we can view all this through the eyes of those who have fallen. That is still the shortest road to liberation. The person who wants to abandon today, with its heavy burden of history, has to abandon life. But the person who wants to carry that burden and still climb upward finds a fourth open: that of the simple act — it makes no difference whether in the trenches or in any other serious work. Giving of oneself is the end and the beginning of every philosophy of life. Liberation is to be found not in the abandonment of culture, but in the abandonment of one’s own ego.

– Johan Huizinga (Men and Ideas, p. 96)


1. The discipline of history is suffering from the defect that the issues are insufficiently formulated.

… In the historical discipline, with its necessarily unsystematical character, currents in thought are constantly moving in divergent directions. Only a very few of all these studies seem to point back toward a central core of knowledge. Here the critical scholar voices his opposition, expressing the opinion that they do. Every monograph, he says, is a “preliminary study ” for later integration. The material has still not been made sufficiently available, and there has still not been enough critical sifting. Before the major problems can be taken up a great deal more of the details will have to be determined. We are providing the building stones. We are the willing hewers of wood and drawers of water. But our doubts respond: you are creating an illusion of humble unselfishness for the sake of others’ future profit. But when the master builder comes he will find most of the stones you have laid ready for him unusable. You are not hewing and chipping but polishing and filing. And you are doing it because you are not strong enough for more vigorous labor.

– Johan Huizinga (Men and Ideas, p. 20)

We shall do without such historical decorative end pieces. Instead, we have a request to make of fate — a request for a feeling of duty for what lies before us each time, submission to the inevitable, and, when the great problems of existence confront us, a clear, unambiguous statement of these; finally, a request for as much sunshine in the life of an individual as is necessary to keep him alert for the fulfillment of his duty and his contemplation of the world.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Judgements on History and Historians, p. 259)

At our universities, the historians like to dump the Ancient History course in the lap of philologists, and vice versa. Here and there it is treated like a poor old relation whom it would be a disgrace to let go to ruin entirely. But with the public at large antiquity is completely out of fashion, and the ‘culture’ which is supported by this public even feels hatred for it. Various faults of antiquity serve as a pretext. The real reason is conceit about modern communication and transport and the inventions of our century; then, too, there is the inability to distinguish technical and material greatness from the intellectual and moral kinds; and finally, the prevalent views about refinement of manners, philanthropy, and the like.

But what makes it generally impossible for the present-day average ‘educated’ man to find anything appealing in the ancient world is the total egoism of today’s private person who wants to exist as an individual and asks of the community only the greatest possible security for himself and his property, for which he pays his taxes amid sighs, and who also likes to attach himself to the community in a specific sense as an ‘official’.

On the other hand, the peoples of the ancient Orient, who lived tribally, impress us as races of which each individual is only a type, with the King has the highest type.

And even where the individual develops, especially since the Greeks, we still deal for a long time and essentially with types, e.g. The heroes, the lawgivers. They are, to be sure, depicted as great individuals, and this is borne out by feeling and tradition; but at the same time they are all the more fully types and condensations of the characteristic and the general. And last, the complete individual in antiquity is, above all, πολιτης [part of the state] to a degree of which we now, in the present mode of connection between the individual and the state, have no idea. Whenever one breaks with the πὁλεις (polis) or when it is lost, it is a tragedy every time.

Finally, today’s ‘educated’ men are firmly resolved to make a bargain, with whatever power, for their existence at any given time. There is an enormous veneration of life and property. There is a mass abdication, and not just on the part of the rulers! And there are numerous bargaining positions and concessions against the worst — and all this with great touchiness in matters of recognition and so-called honour.

With the ancients, on the contrary, it was all or nothing, with no fear of disaster. The fall of states, cities, and Kings was considered glorious. That is something utterly alien to us.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Reflections on History, #4.)

No one should ever judge what they do so positively or as having been done so well that they become so casual or self- confident in their actions that their reason grows lazy or slumbers. But they should always elevate themselves with the twin faculties of reason and will, thus activating the very best in themselves and protecting themselves against all harm by means of understanding in matters both internal and external. Thus they will not fail in anything anywhere but will make constant spiritual progress.

– Meister Eckhart (The Talks of Instruction, 8th part)

The great, to some extent ultimate, task posed here is that of understanding fear in all its forms as an instrument of the Self. Fear of the unknown and of all that is ego-alien turns out to be fear of the unknown aspects of “one-Self” and of “one-Self” as the unknown. In this sense the transformation process of becoming one-Self again and again embraces new unknowns, indeed, ever-new worlds of fear-inspiring unknowns.

In development through the archetypal stages, the individual must overcome fear with each transition from one phase to another, which, of course, always means the new phase of an existence unknown until that time. In this context we cannot take up the various ways in which men and women overcome fear, nor can we address the striking and as yet not well understood fact that the manner in which the ego overcomes fear is symbolically “genital,” i.e., is coordinated with the specific form of the genitals. Thus the male form of overcoming fear is active, intrusive, and pugnaciously heroic just as the typical form of fear appears as “castration” fear. Conversely, women’s fear is the fear of rape, and her way of overcoming fear is not activately heroic but passively heroic, accepting and incorporating it in her surrender to fear.

But always and independently of any of its forms, overcoming fear represents a specific form of integration in which something alien to the ego, some piece of Not-I, is recognized and realized as one’s own. Thus the man experiences the Terrible Feminine in its character of anima and transformation as belonging to his own psyche, just as he experiences the maternal and elementary character as “his own,” and only after assimilating all these aspects of the feminine will a man attain to his own authenticity as a human Self that is male and female simultaneously. Only when the “pure masculinity” of the patriarchy has been overcome through this process of transformation does a man overcome the fear in which his “pure masculinity” screened itself from the otherness that appeared symbolically as feminine. The same holds true for woman and her fear of the Masculine, which she has only concealed by her identification with the animus world demanded by the patriarchy.

In this experience of transformation the human individual becomes conscious of the relentless power of the Self, which recasts all phases of development as well as all ego-conquests of the outer and inner worlds into aspects of Self-realization that manifest from the very beginning as automorphism, as a tendency at work in the psyche. When the personal Self that manifests as a fear-inducing world assaulting the ego from within and from without is integrated, not only the one who fears and the one who overcomes fear but that which arouses fear can be seen as belonging together. Just as the good and evil gods in Bardo Thodol are one and turn out to be only projections of an underlying third thing, here we are led to experience the unity of Self and world. Destiny in its unity of inside and outside that arouses fear from without and from within turns out to belong to humankind and to be the living experience of the personal Self. World events appearing from outside as much as inner, fear-inducing phenomena of the psyche prove to be disguises of the Self. Inner and outer realities that at first appear strange and hence frightening are later experienced and “unmasked” as belonging to one’s very own authentic being, and thereby lose their foreign as well as their fearsome character. In this transformation the ego experiences that it belongs fundamentally to the Self, and that, in the form of the ego-Self axis, this “belongingness” has determined the entire development of personality on a new level. When the ego grasps the degree to which the Self directs fear and uses it as a “tool for transformation,” it also experiences itself embraced by the Self’s demand for transformation. In this way, however, the ego unmasks its own annihilation through fear and recognizes it as a process of negation brought about by something unfamiliar that proves itself to be one’s most essential nature, and one gains a paradoxical security in the Self that creatively forces the ego into continual transformation. As the ego becomes the transparent exponent of the Self, this agent of transformation, the Self, becomes one’s most treasured essence that remains fearlessly creative throughout all transformations. Only in this way does fearlessness arise for the ego that no longer clings to itself but rather in transformation surrenders and devotes itself to the Self as to its “own.” Thus the ego-Self axis becomes humankind’s guarantee of a creative existence, i.e., of an existence of transformation. Despite this ego-Self unity, however, the opposition persists in which the ego, as a smaller part, is subjected to a Self that is existentially superior to and more than a match for the ego. This means that the ego must necessarily continue to experience fear. Fear disappears only when the ego has come to that stage of the conquest of fear in which the human being’s sense of security lies in existing not only as an ego but, in a mysterious and numinous way, also as a Self that guides the personality through all ego-phases and turns all of the ego’s fear-constellations into stages of transformation in which existence reveals itself as an unending metamorphosis of aspects of the creative.

– Neumann (The Fear of the Feminine, p.278-281)

To walk while the Earth trembles,
To dance while the Earth quakes.

The Ground erupts and convulses;
Thrusting, spewing forth chaos,
Uncertainty and death; No longer
Does the Earth speak to the I, as
something known; All intimacy
Has dried and sunk into
Darkness and oblivion.

Lost is the I who once saw,
Lived, slept in the towering
Cities of Man; His home
Was but a shell, a cloak
Which concealed from him
How snug his naivete
Had verily become.

Our I had slipped; been over
Powered, and lowered into the
Present; the time-full realm–
The merely temporary.
Had lost its ability to overcome
The power and intoxication
Of the moment–To raise itself
Up above, necessary but, merely
Egoistic aims of security and
Certainty–above and towards
The Timeless.

For “Time crumbles all things;
everything grows old and is
forgotten under the power of time.” 1

How can the I come to meet:
“The broad, incalculable sweep of time
(which) lets emerge everything that is
not open as well as concealing (again)
in itself what has appeared.”? 2

What I can, in the midst of
Glory and success, perceive the
Death and meaninglessness of
Its achievements; That
Everything will again be
Swallowed up by time?

What sits below and beyond
All such timely Ego creations?

“One has to pay dearly for immortality;
one has to die several times while one is still alive.” 3

A snake must sheds its skin
To remain alive, potent, vital.
An Individual must change
Its skin; must shed its
Opinions of itself, its place
And its societies mores.
Must experiment.

What I can dance this dance?
What I can, seeing its own
Decay, take hold of its own
Dissolution–as a power–Shed
The old, and transform
Into the new?

What I can, being so integrated,
So self-centered, see into its
Own depths and transform its
Being without having been
Forced by the necessity
Of the outer world?

1: Aristotle
2: Sophocles
3: Nietzsche


“A person is thought to be great-souled if he claims much and deserves
much [as Socrates did in the Apology when he said he deserved the greatest
honor Athens could bestow], . . . He that claims less than he deserves is
small-souled. • • . The great-souled man is justified in despising other peopIe
-his estimates are correct; but most proud men have no good ground
for their pride .••• He is fond of conferring benefits but ashamed to receive
them, because the former is a mark of superiority and the latter of
inferiority •••• It is also characteristic of the great-souled men never to
ask help from others, or only with reluctance, but to render aid willingly;
and to be haughty towards men of position and fortune, but courteous
towards those of moderate station .•.. He must he open both in love and
in hate. Since concealment shows timidity; and care more for the truth
than for what people will think; ••. He is outspoken and frank, except
when speaking with ironical self-depreciation as he does to common people
•••. He does not bear ‘a grudge, for it is not a mark of greatness of
soul to recall things against people, especially the wrongs they have done
you, but rather to overlook them. He is . • • not given to speaking evil
himself, even of his enemies, except when he deliberately intends to give
offence .••. Such then being the great-souled man, the corresponding
character on the side of deficiency is the small-souled man, and on that of
excess the vain man.” (Nicomachean Ethics IV.3. Rackham translation
Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1947).

– Aristotle