Romantic rebellion

This page is unfinished. It may be a mere placeholder in the book outline. Or, the text below (if any) may be a summary, or a discussion of what the page will say, or a partial or rough draft.

I have a fair amount of text completed, but not a clean version yet. The following is from the 2007 draft of Meaningness. It draws heavily on Camus’ The Rebel.

Romantic rebellion starts from denying the “omnibenevolent” clause in Problem of Evil. Since there is undeserved suffering, the Cosmic Plan is not good after all. Therefore the eternal ordering principle must be defied. (This can apply to any source of order seen as corrupt, including God, Fate, The Establishment, “the artistic mainstream,” “oppressors,” or whatever.)

The first problem with romantic rebellion is that it is necessarily doomed, because it doesn’t actually deny the eternal principle, it merely defies it. The Authority remains omnipotent, or at any rate vastly more powerful than the rebel. So the enterprise is obviously hopeless from the start.

As a result, there is a certain lack of seriousness about the whole business. The rebel wants to convince himself that he’s extremely committed and that defying God is massively courageous, but it’s all quite silly. “Dream the impossible dream” & tilt after windmills. It’s about glory, not practical consequences. Romantic rebellion is romantic because it is based in passion, not reason.

Recognizing this impracticality, the rebel must denigrate the possibility that things can actually be changed for the better. The rebel sees ordinary, pragmatic benevolence or reform as the enemy, because it draws attention away from the necessity of rejecting the existing order in toto. The rebel “can only exist by defiance”.1 Any sort of moderation is also the enemy, because again it implies a degree of acceptance of what is. Total destruction is (in theory) the aim. Typically, the logic of romantic rebellion makes any actual destruction unnecessary, but there is always a danger that moral confusion plus romantic logic will lead to acts of terrorism. Mass murder on the scale of saturation bombing and concentration camps is not romantic, but suicide bombing—and destroying people’s careers using social media—can be.

On the other hand, actual retaliation from The Authority seems unlikely. (If genuine defense against The Authority becomes necessary, rebellion ceases to be romantic and becomes unpleasantly practical.)

The second problem is that romantic rebellion does not identify an alternative coherent source of value. (If you set up such a source, you’d have a new, different eternalism; a different move.) Lacking such a source, romantic rebellion somewhat arbitrarily extols some of what was previously seen as good as evil, and vice versa. The two are blended. Extolling “the outlaw, the criminal with a heart of gold, and the kind brigand.”2 “The romantic hero, therefore, considers himself compelled to do evil by his nostalgia for an impracticable good.”3

In the Rudra move, one takes oneself to be the source of value. But the romantic rebel does not have the guts to do that, or has enough sense not to.

The romantic rebel actually recognizes his or her own confusion about values, and this is a source of suffering. This is a specifically romantic suffering that the rebel celebrates. It is a badge of honor.

Since there is no realistic hope or method for overthrowing The Authority, there is nothing practical for the rebel to do. What is left is to maintain an attitude of opposition. Quietly maintaining an attitude by oneself is not very exciting, however; and romantic rebellion is all about faux heroism.

Romantic rebellion is, therefore, necessarily a social activity. What is important is not simply to maintain an attitude, but to strike an attractive pose. One must be seen to be maintaining an attitude.

To be seen as a rebel, one must join in a Movement that forms the audience for one’s heroic pose. Further, one looks to The Movement for confirmation of one’s uncertain value judgements.

Within The Movement, the important thing is looking cool—since actually warring against God is hopeless, and actually doing anything useful undercuts the total rejection of the existing state of affairs. The actual source of value is personal glory. This entails playing to an audience; “always compelled to astonish”.4

Romantic rebellion doesn’t work as theology (though people have tried; Satanism, for instance).

Romantic rebellion also makes for lousy politics. Striking defiant poses is not a workable basis for government—although it is the main activity of most contemporary politicians. Not to mention Islamist terrorists.

Romantic rebellion is a lot of fun, though, and can have terrific aesthetic value throughout the arts. E.g., rock’n’roll is all about romantic rebellion.

Sympathy For The Devil. Paradise Lost.

  1. 1.Camus, p. 47.
  2. 2.Camus, p. 46.
  3. 3.Camus, p. 44.
  4. 4.Camus, p. 48.