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Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, by Fr. Seraphim Rose: A Refutation of ‘Nothingness’

Father Seraphim Rose was born Eugene Rose in 1934 to a middle class family in San Diego, California. Though later to become a hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Father Rose was not born into the Orthodox faith but rather found it through prolonged and dedicated spiritual search. Beginning his education at Pamona College with an atheistic view of the world, he would soon be drawn to the monism of Eastern spirituality studying Chinese philosophy, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as becoming versed in the Chinese language, receiving a masters degree in Oriental language from the University of California, Berkeley, a linguistic trend that would continue through his years of study. The impersonal monist perspective of the Eastern religions eventually lead him in his search to the discovery of the personal God found in Orthodoxy.

Following his conversion to the Orthodox faith, Father Rose founded the St. Herman of Alaska Press publishing house in San Francisco in 1964. Several years later in 1968 he became a hieromonk and founded the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in the mountains of Platina, California where he lived, studied, prayed, and wrote for the remainder of his life. Father Rose himself translated many of his own works into Russian which were distributed as samizdat (underground press) in the Soviet Union, drawing many lost souls of the communist state back into the fold of the Orthodox faith. Notable works include Genesis, Creation and Early Man, The Soul After Death, and Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.

The book covered in this article is a collection of writings from an unfinished work undertaken in 1962 that was to be titled The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, that were assembled post-humously into this short but impactful book that came to be titled Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. Throughout this work Father Rose makes his case that the source of modern man’s calamity all stems from a nihilist root, a modern disregard of Truth itself and an attempt by man to deny reality and in turn remake it in his own vision. A relevant perspective for all modern truth-seekers who are disaffected with humanistic politics and material answers to spiritual questions, Father Rose draws upon the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Church and its Holy Fathers to offer an alternative view to those who may be lost in darkness and doubt.

Introduction: The Question of Truth

The Nihilist, to be sure, is in some sense ‘sick,’ and his sickness is a testimony to the sickness of an age whose best – as well worst – elements turn to Nihilism; but sickness is not cured, nor even properly diagnosed by ‘sympathy.’ In any case there is no such thing as an entirely ‘innocent victim.’ The Nihilist is all too obviously involved in the very sins and guilt of mankind that have produced the evils of our age; and in taking arms – as do all Nihilists – not only against real or imagined ‘abuses’ or ‘injustices’ in the social or religious order, but also against order itself and the Truth that underlies that order.

Father Rose opens his book with a foundational critique of the modern worldview as a whole. In his introduction he spares neither right nor left, conservative or liberal, fascist or communist. For the “sickness” of nihilism has no particular political loyalty nor does the good or the evil of the world dwell in this dialectical paradigm. The argument made within these pages goes beyond the superficial differences of the modern political spectrum, of the differentiating forms of the revolution, to rest its case upon the rejection of Truth itself as the presupposition which ultimately undermines one’s claim to righteousness. From this vantage point above the tropes of equity, progress, and liberation versus conservatism, individual rights, and free speech, Father Seraphim cuts to the root of the age by identifying the falsity of its foundation: Nihilism.

Nihilism has been defined, and quite succinctly, by the fount of philosophical Nihilism, Nietzsche. ‘That there is no truth; and that there is no absolute state of affairs – no thing in itself. This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind.’

The Stages of the Nihilistic Dialectic

The single Nihilist cause is thus advanced on many fronts simultaneously, and its enemies are confused and deceived by its many tactics. To the careful observer, however, Nihilist phenomena reduce themselves to three of four principle types, and these few types are, further, related to each as stages in a process which may be called the Nihilistic dialectic. One stage of Nihilism opposes itself to another, not to combat it effectively, but to incorporate its errors into its own program and carry mankind one step further on the road to the Abyss that lies at the end of all Nihilism.

The arguments at each stage, to be sure, are often effective at pointing certain obvious deficiencies of a preceding or succeeding stage; but no criticism is ever radical enough to touch on the common errors all stages share, and the partial truths which are admittedly present in all forms of Nihilism are in the end only tactics to seduce men to the great falsehood that underlies them all.

Anyone even vaguely aware of the current political reality in the West should be able to observe the obvious truth in the opening lines of part one. If you are reading this article, chances are you are more closely aligned with the conservative side of the current culture war, in the spectrum ranging from classical liberal to ethnic nationalist. I sincerely doubt there any transvestites or Antifa militants interested in reading about the philosophical musings of an Orthodox monk. However, what sets this work apart from the type of viewpoints one would find in the present day alternative media is the proposition that the phenomenon of the culture war itself, of the apparently opposing political and moral forces, is in fact the same nihilistic spirit with all sides and variations of our political systems ultimately grounded in the denial of Truth.

Liberalism: The liberalism we shall describe in the following pages is not – let us state from the outset – an overt Nihilism; it is rather a passive Nihilism or better yet, the neutral breeding ground of the more advanced stages of Nihilism. Those who have followed our earlier discussion concerning the impossibility of spiritual or intellectual ‘neutrality’ in this world will understand immediately why we have classified as Nihilist a point of view which, while not directly responsible for any striking Nihilist phenomena, has been an indispensable prerequisite for their appearance. The incompetent defense by Liberalism of a heritage in which it has never fully believed, has been one of the most potent causes of overt Nihilism.

The liberal worldview may not be the worst form of nihilistic thought nor does it, as Father Seraphim concedes, have “an attitude of open hostility” towards ultimate Truth. It does however lay the groundwork for the more degenerate and revolting forms cultural and spiritual manifestations that have multiplied to the point that one can hardly keep up with the progression. The liberal (in the classical sense, not party affiliation) seems to be accepting, fair and “inclusive” to the extent that his own presuppositions are not exposed as contradictory when he fails to accept logical conclusions of his own position.

In January of 2022, an Illinois elementary school made the national news in the United States by offering an “After School Satan Club” sponsored and brought to the children by none other than the Satanic Temple. This unsurprisingly caused a reaction on the political right, with Fox News host Tucker Carlson airing a segment in which he grilled Lucien Greaves, a representative of the Satanic Temple. What was clearly intended to be righteous skewering of Greaves by Carlson ended up being a complete and utter decimation of the latter, not because Greaves’ position was correct but because Carlson’s foundation was correctly challenged.

When Carlson asked if the parents and teachers were simply going along with this program because they were “passive,” Greaves responded that it “has nothing to do with being passive, its understanding what the LAW is and understanding what the CONSTITUTION is, what FREE SPEECH is and what RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is.” Caught on his back foot, Carlson resorted to questioning Greaves about why Christian groups were not having their own “freedom of expression” protected, which pretty much sealed the fate of his position as indefensible.

Greaves was not arguing for Truth or what is right; but Carlson was. Lacking a foundational paradigm to justify Truth, Carlson was beaten with his own position. Citing the constitution, free speech, and religious liberty is a rare occurrence on the left in the United States due to the fact that they are rarely the ones having those categories threatened. But when the positions were reversed, when Carlson was the one on the attack, he was quickly disarmed with his own defense that is endlessly utilized by conservatives. Father Seraphim’s book covers the Stages of the Nihilistic Dialectic in much greater detail than can be presented here, but this present day instance is an excellent exposure of the falsity of the classical liberal position which is what a vast number of conservatives base their arguments upon, but what simultaneously provides the foundation for something like the Satanic Temple to fully justify its right not just to exist, but to exist in a child’s school.

The Theology and the Spirit of Nihilism

Our inquiry thus far has concentrated upon definition and description; if it has been successful, it has identified the Nihilist mentality and furnished some idea of its origin and its extent. All this, however, has been but necessary groundwork for the task to which we must now turn: an exploration of the deeper meaning of Nihilism. Our earlier examination has been historical, psychological, philosophical; but the Revolution, as we saw in the last chapter, has a theological and spiritual foundation, even if its ‘theology’ is an inverted one and its ‘spirituality’ Satanic. The Orthodox Christian finds in the Revolution a formidable antagonist, and one that must be fought, fairly and thoroughly, with the best weapons at his disposal. It is time then to attack the Nihilist doctrine at its root; to inquire into its theological sources, its spiritual roots, its ultimate program, and its role in the Christian theology of history.

The denial of Truth itself, according to Father Rose, is nothing less than the denial of God. I am not trained in Orthodox theology nor am I in any way qualified to express the views of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox faith. I can however attempt to communicate some of the wisdom from Father Rose who is, undeniably, an authority on this matter.

Father Rose takes care to emphasize that the modern nihilist is not to be regarded as indifferent to God or “agnostic” in his attitude towards His Truth. If God is Truth itself and the nihilist believes in nothingness, then the ultimate result is an inversion, that inversion is Satanic in its essence. As the serpent promised in the Garden that man would become like God, so the nihilist in his rejection of the Absolute seeks not to simply replace the Absolute with nothingness, but to worship nothingness as the absolute. But this attempt to subvert the eternal order is ultimately futile and even the most devout nihilist cannot escape the consequences of his denial.

To fight the very God Who has created him out of nothingness requires, of course, a certain blindness as well as the illusion of strength; but no Nihilist is so blind that he fails to sense, however dimly, the ultimate consequences of his action. The nameless ‘anxiety’ of so many men today testifies to their passive participation in the program of anti-theism; the more articulate speak of an ‘abyss’ that seems to have opened up within the heart of man. This ‘anxiety’ and this ‘abyss’ are precisely the nothingness out of which God has called each man into being, and back to which man seems to fall when he denies God, and in consequence, denies his own creation and his own being.

The Nihilist Program

The claims of “God is dead” and “there is no truth” by no means signify that the spirit of nihilism lies in the acceptance of all forms of “truth,” subjective and relative to a person’s own experience. That is, however, what is certainly being sold to the masses today under the cloak of a variety of labels and slogans like “multiculturalism,” “transgenderism,” and “diversity is our strength.” But this façade is not novel or new and has been facilitated for centuries by the nihilist proponents of the revolutionary spirit. Father Seraphim lays out three categories of the nihilist program: The Destruction of the Old Order, The Making of the New Earth, and The Fashioning of the New Man. As Nietzsche stated, if there is no truth then all that remains is the Will to Power, and power achieved through violent force has always been the prerogative of the nihilistic revolutionary.

The first and most obvious item in the program of Nihilism is the destruction of the Old Order. The Old Order was the soil, nourished by Christian Truth, in which men had their roots. Its laws and institutions, and even its customs, were founded in that truth and dedicated to teaching it; its buildings were erected to the glory of God and were a visible sign of His Order upon Earth; even the generally primitive (but natural) living conditions served (unintentionally of course) as a reminder of man’s humble place here, of his dependence upon God for even the few earthly blessings he possessed, and of his true home which lies beyond this ‘vale of tears,’ in the Kingdom of Heaven. Effective war against God and His Truth requires the destruction of every element of this Old Order; it is here that the peculiarly Nihilist ‘virtue’ of violence comes into play.

Destruction of the established order, of the structure of the state, but most importantly of the Church is a well known result of nihilistic, communist revolution since the 18th century. The horrors of the Red Terror in Russia following the 1917 revolution both confirms this nihilistic ‘virtue’ of violence and dismisses any illusions one may have about the elimination of Truth leading to freedom. One would struggle to find in all history an atrocity on the scale of what took place following the Bolshevik take over. “200,000 members of the clergy – priests, monks, and nuns – were systematically murdered in a horrific orgy of bestial tortures,” [1] and that figure just applies to the immediate aftermath. Mass rape and mutilation specifically aimed at the Christian population was the order of the day and these crimes continued for decades. The overthrow of the established order was sealed with the murder of the Russian Czar Nicolas II and his family by a group of Jewish Bolsheviks led by Yakov Sverdlov and Yakov Yurowsky, on July 17, 1918. [2] The Romanov family were canonized as Saints in the Russian Orthodox Church on August 15, 2000, the last of the Orthodox monarchs.

No place is secure from the encroaching empire of this Nihilism; everywhere men feverishly pursue the work of ‘progress’ – for what reason they do not know, or only very dimly sense. In the free world it is perhaps a ‘horror vacui’ that chiefly impels men into feverish activity that promises forgetfulness of the spiritual emptiness that attends all worldliness; in the Communist world a large role is still played by hatred against real and imaginary enemies, but primarily against the God their Revolution has dethroned, a hatred that inspires them to remake the world against Him.

If man was made in the image of God, it seems only fitting that the nihilist revolutionary would seek to remake the world in the image of himself, such is the inversion of nihilism. Following the destruction of the established order comes the remodeling of the external world into the earthly paradise that was being denied existence by the suppressive reality of Truth, the reality of God. Grand designs were envisioned through the centuries of nihilist revolution, prior to, during, and after the violence. Karl Marx stated in his Communist Manifesto, in all seriousness, “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character…. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” [3] Marx believed (or more accurately, claimed to believe) that once the hierarchical structure of reality had been toppled that all men would come together in brotherhood, without antagonism. The Kingdom of God on earth, with man as his own god.

As Father Seraphim contends early in the book, there are variations and stages of nihilistic thought and revolutionary activity. When viewing the entirety of the modern, secular, and political world through the lens nihilism you will find many differences in approach and in action, with some camps more willing to engage in violence and destruction than others. But they all ultimately aim at the remaking of God’s established Order.

The destruction of the Old Order, however, and the organization of the ‘new earth’ are not the only items in the historical program of Nihilism; they are not perhaps even its most important items. They are but the preparation for a work more significant and more ominous than either: the ‘transformation of man.

When it comes to The Fashioning of the New Man, one will find as much nihilistic variety as he would the many utopian visions of The New Earth. In the classic Marxist sense, the new man is the one that is free from the shackles of religion, from the servitude of class distinction, and from the yoke of family bonds. In the years since Father Rose’s death we are seeing new mutations of this same line of thought with the “transgender” phenomena which only began to rear its counter-cultural head a handful of years ago and has already poisoned nearly every public and private institution in the Western world. Waging war on biological reality itself, the new nihilists deny the difference between men and women and also between ethnic distinction, calling mankind to become a part of the post-human-blob. As with all humanist ideology, claims of separation from the spiritual are entirely false.

What, more realistically, is this mutation, the ‘new man?’ He is the rootless man, discontinuous with a past that Nihilism has destroyed, the raw material of every demagogues dream; the ‘free thinker’ and skeptic, closed only to the truth but ‘open’ to each new intellectual fashion because he himself has no intellectual foundation; the seeker after some ‘new revelation’, ready to believe anything new because true faith has been annihilated in him; the planner, the experimenter, worshipping ‘fact’ because he has abandoned Truth, seeing the world as a vast laboratory in which he is free to determine what is ‘possible.’

Beyond Nihilism

What are we left with when we abandon Truth and embrace un-truth? Do we open our minds, our souls, and our world to the grand and infinite possibilities of what ‘could be’? Do we bask in the sunlight on the multicultural shores of paradise, where all men have their own ‘truth’ and all are included the Kingdom of Man? A brief examination of the nihilist tradition leads one to answer those questions with a definitive no. History has shown us that following the ‘death of God’ and the denial of ultimate Truth and Authority leads us to hell, to the realm of the Satanic where up is down, black is white, good is evil, and day is night. The idea that there is no truth yet somehow all ‘personal truths’ are equally valid is the most blatantly obvious philosophical contradiction. If we ultimately build our foundation of resistance to the looming New World Order on the sands of the pre-Nihilistic principles of liberalism, as Father Rose has demonstrated, our resistance will be futile as our position is self-defeating. If we embrace the more extreme forms of nihilism and disregard any possibility of pure Truth we are left with nothing but the Will to Power, and hell follows with it. Father Rose leaves us with his answers and conclusions in this incomplete yet valuable work, calling men back to source of all Truth. Back from where God is nothing and the world is all, to where God is all and the world is nothing.

The present age is, in a profound sense, an age of absurdity. Poets and dramatists, painters and sculptors proclaim and depict the world as disjointed chaos, and man as a dehumanized fragment of that chaos. Politics, whether of the right, the left, or the centre, can no longer be viewed as anything but an expedient whereby universal disorder is given, for the moment, a faint semblance of order; pacifists and militant crusaders are united in an absurd faith in the feeble powers of man to remedy an intolerable situation by means which can only make it worse. Philosophers and other supposedly responsible men in governmental, academic, and ecclesiastical circles, when they do not retreat behind the impersonal and irresponsible façade of specialization or bureaucracy, usually do no more than to rationalize the incoherent state of contemporary man and his world, and counsel a futile ‘commitment’ to a discredited humanist optimism, to a hopeless stoicism, to a blind experimentation and irrationalism, to ‘commitment’ itself, a suicidal faith in ‘faith’.

References

Father Seraphim Rose, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age

B.L. Bradberry, The Myth of German Villainy

[1] page 96

[2] page 95

K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto

[3] page 26

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