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Narcissism and the culture war
March 8, 2012
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst

Originally published February 8, 2004

The culture war might be likened to fighting a war against a coalition of powers. Imagine WWI-style trench warfare on a long front. In the center of the enemy lines are the forces of moral relativism. These forces oppose the idea that there is a universal moral law. On one flank are the forces of the sexual revolution, including gays, feminists, adulterers, the promiscuous, and the pro-abortion folks. On the other flank are the cultural relativists, and multiculturalists. This camp opposes the ideas of truth, beauty, and intrinsic quality. It seeks to suppress the literary, philosophical, and artistic heritage of western culture and to replace it with a shallow, drifting, culture-free realm.

Let us call the allied enemy powers on this battle front the "Postmodern Coalition." What characteristic does this motley crew have in common that enables it to be welded into a common cause? These folks are in bondage to a particular kind of evil — an evil that is almost ubiquitous in the decadent, postmodern West. That evil is narcissism. They do not have a monopoly on narcissism, of course. One can find narcissists in every nook and cranny of this self-indulgent society. But as I explore the different phases of the Postmodern Coalition, I find that all roads lead to narcissism.

Narcissus Spellbound

Narcissus was a youth in Greek mythology. He spurned the love of a nymph called Echo. She appealed to the goddess Nemesis for revenge. Nemesis cast an evil spell on Narcissus. He saw his own image in the water and fell in love with it. The spellbound Narcissus pined away in a hopeless love of his own image, suffered terrible frustrations, and died. By a strange resurrection, he became a flower which bears the name Narcissus.

Narcissism is an inflated self-love, especially as expressed in a fetish of self-absorption — as in the prototype of Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the water. Narcissism involves an inordinate self-love, self-admiration, self-celebration, and self-worship. Narcissism is often a sickness unto death as it was with Narcissus.

Depressive narcissism can involve low self-esteem, self-pity, and bitterness. It is essentially a wounded self-love. This trauma can be as terrible as any of the pains known to mortal flesh and can lead to the most fearsome self-obsessions. Some of the most self-absorbed people I have met are bitter or self-pitying.

An attitude of self-hatred and self-pity is not humility. It is a wounded self-esteem pacing in an endless circle of regret, resentment, and despair. Humility involves a healthy measure of self-forgetfulness. The humble see themselves in their true relationship to the real world. A personal self has real value, but it cuts a modest figure in comparison to immensity of the cosmos. It is dwarfed by the great world of men. Humility is realism. Depressive narcissism is delusion.

Many of the obsessive hatreds of the postmodern left are derived from bitterness. Narcissistic bitterness in the search of a scapegoat breeds the paranoid conspiracy theories of ideological fanaticism.

Narcissists do not forgive or forget. Tear down a selfish man's personal idol and he is your enemy forever. The frustrated god of the narcissistic self cannot be satisfied or appeased.

Extreme narcissism can collapse into solipsism — the feeling that I am the only thing that really exists and that everything else I see is somehow an extension of me or exists by my good pleasure. When a narcissist snubs you, he has demoted you to the status of a non-person. When a solipsist snubs you, you cease to exist.

Narcissism and the Postmodern Coalition

Narcissism is observable in every part of the Postmodern Coalition. The moral relativists who occupy a central place in the coalition are inventing their own individual moral world. A narcissistic relativist believes he can create a separate moral cosmos by arbitrary acts of his will and self-interested decrees of his mind. He worships self, the creator-god of his own little personal cosmos. He resents any suggestion that a higher God might make claims on him or set boundaries for his actions. It rudely violates his sense of self-divinity as the creator of his own realm.

During the age of absolutism, European kings often displayed the motto "Dieu et Mon Droit," meaning "God and my Right." It was the assertion of the divine right of kings to rule. The postmodern era is also a time of the absolutism of rights. My right to choose is absolute. By what authority is this claim made? Certainly not the Bill of Rights appended to the Constitution. There is a constitutional right to speak, to worship, and to publish, but not an unlimited right of choice. Lawful free-will is always exercised within boundaries. The baroque kings claimed that the Christian God granted them the divine right to rule. The narcissistic individual claims that Almighty Self grants himself an absolute right to choose and to create a self-cosmos that will ratify his choices. The self has no authority to endow such a right unless the self is a god.

A society of narcissists in which each self has divine pretensions must be based on the absolute toleration of all choice. Otherwise, every narcissist will be at war with every other narcissist.

On the sexual revolution flank, a self-absorbed hedonism prevails. It is the cult of sensual pleasure. One definition of narcissism is a preoccupation with self-administered sensory pleasure. Narcissus gazed at his image in the water and experienced the sensory pleasure of his eyes as he worshiped himself. Narcissism breeds an exaggerated lust for sensory pleasure concentered upon self. It can become a means for pumping up the energies of obsession which makes narcissism possible. Rules which preclude promiscuity and sexual perversions are a threat to the existence of the self-indulgent god of narcissism. If you take away the compulsive sex, how does one keep the self-god pumped up? This goes far to explain the rage of the gays against any restriction and any social disapproval of their sexual practices. Take away their hyper-sexual ways and you deflate their artificially inflated selves. Narcissists sometimes are haunted by the paranoid idea that the deflation of self equals the destruction of self. In reality, letting some air out of the inflated self can be the first step towards healing.

On the artistic-literary-philosophical flank of the multicultural coalition, an art of self-absorption prevails. The art was pioneered by three extremely narcissistic men — Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollack. Jacques Derrida, a pioneer of postmodern philosophy, openly celebrates his Narcissism. Jean Paul Sartre developed atheistic Existentialism, which injected narcissism into the New Age movement. Sartre was a narcissist if ever there was one.

These postmodernist pioneers were seeking an art and a philosophy in which the subjective self could freely express itself in all its rhythms, impulses, and moods. Nothing of the forms and concepts of the objective world which are known to reason must be allowed to stand in the way of the explosion of narcissistic self-assertion. The paint-drip techniques of Jackson represent the nadir of a wild self-indulgence.

Narcissism breeds mediocrity and is hostile to excellence. Excellence requires reaching beyond the self towards an objective standard. It requires a disciplined focus to produce something that has an intrinsic value in its own right. It demands arduous discipline and self-denial in pursuit of a high vision of something above the self.

Excellence exposes the posturing and pretensions of the proud mediocrity. The works of self-absorption are contemptible in comparison to the excellent works of those who have risen above themselves to excellence. The works of Picasso, Dali, and Jackson Pollack are contemptible when you set them side by side with the works of Michaelangelo, Bernini, and Rembrandt.

The Culture of Narcissism

Christopher Lasch wrote The Culture of Narcissism (1979 & 91). His book is remarkably comprehensive in describing how the increasing self-absorption of the populace has affected many facets of American life and culture. He covers many subjects including the sexual revolution, the decline of the family, and the self-engrossment of the New Age Movement. Many institutions of our society have been deformed by narcissism.

Multiculturalism is the triumph of narcissism over culture. Imagine a group of self-absorbed individuals wandering about at a multicultural fair. Each ethnic group has put on the table a few dishes of their traditional foods. The narcissists randomly sample the wares as they drift on the currents of their whims and moods. Then they proudly pronounce themselves to be gourmets of all the world's foods. In reality, their palates are poorly developed. They have no discernment of the good dishes and the bad. Quality disappears when the chefs find out that a poorly prepared dish is just as apt to be praised as a well-prepared dish. This is what the superficial dabbling in "culture" is like — which we call multiculturalism. It is the death of culture in the name of culture in a society of self-deceived narcissists. Narcissism leads to barbarism.

For a quick look at how horrible is the cultural death we have sustained, take a glance at the nightmarish ugliness of "abstract expressionism" which is hung in our art museums. During World War II, the beautiful cities of Germany were reduced to rubble. In like manner the once beautiful culture of the West has been reduced to rubble. When I view the postmodern art in our museums, I get the same feeling of desolation I get from looking at photographs of the ruins of German cities.

Civil War of the Narcissists

Narcissists do not easily unite. Every narcissist is solely concerned with the interests of self — not the interests of others. Narcissists have a natural tendency to fight all other narcissists. Every narcissist wants to be the only narcissist, and he wants all others to cater to him — or get out of his way. The fatal weakness of our enemies in the culture war is the tendency to fight among themselves. Hang out with any circle of narcissists and you will hear perpetual quarreling. I never heard such mindless quarrels as when I accidentally joined a circle of academic feminists.

In The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits, elves, dwarfs, and people quarreled violently before they formed the fellowship of the ring. Their mission almost failed several times because of internecine quarrels. The enchanted ring bred quarrels because it stirred up the latent narcissism of each person. When Gollum stared at the ring and called it "my precious," he had that look of Narcissus staring into the water at his own reflection.

Narcissism works against having an allegiance to something higher than individual. Thus, great things, like God or patriotism or the cause of family and community — which unite ordinary men — cannot unite narcissists. However, a narcissist may attach himself to a community if he sees the community as an extension of himself or a source to meet his needs. He might join a community if the community is fighting an enemy of his. For example, the gay community has a strong solidarity against their cultural enemies, and it supplies sexual partners to its members. But they are a quarrelsome lot — much like the feminists.

The Cause for Hope

The transcendent vision of God and the belief that he will ultimately triumph over evil is the main ground of our hope in this present darkness. This is our hope, our inspiration, and the ground of our courage. We seek the privilege of joining with God in His battle against His enemies. He shall triumph in His cause.

The universal moral law is written in all men's hearts (Romans 2:14, 15). God writes His law in the heart of the believer in a special way (Hebrews 8:10). Those who violate God's laws know it is wrong (Romans 1:32). This is a powerful advantage in the culture war. In our heart of hearts, we know that our cause is right. Our narcissistic opponents know in their heart of hearts that their cause is wrong.

Gay sexual practices are "against nature" (Romans 1:26). Postmodern art and philosophy involve a rejection of nature. Western art was once inspired by nature. Shakespeare said that the purpose of drama is "to hold...a mirror up to nature." By doing this, we resist the things that are against nature. We are on nature's side.

Interestingly, the New Age Movement has made a religion out of nature. In this, they profoundly misunderstand nature. The nature which God designed is contrary to their purposes. Some scientists have tried endow nature with divine qualities such as self-creation and self-purpose. But nature, as a realm designed and created by God, is contrary to their theories. The truth about nature is on our side.

Postmodernism is a revolt against reason. Christianity has become the defender of reason against secular forces. The postmodern mind has become a mushy logic-free zone. If Christians will learn to exercise their mental muscles, they can win the battle for men's minds. This is a moment of great opportunity.

God designed each of us in a unique form and for a special purpose. He created this unique nation for a special purpose. Our role is to grow up into the design God has for us and carry out His plan for us. Our enemies are in revolt against God's design for them and his plans for this nation. Those who are growing towards God's design and moving in God's plan are strengthened and fortified. Those who are fighting against God's plans and designs will become debilitated and eviscerated. Narcissism is unhealthy and self-destructive. As God builds us up, our enemies destroy themselves.

For all these reasons, I believe that we can win the culture war. We must not lose heart or become fatalistic because of recent setbacks. The battle is the Lord's. All glory be unto Him. Te Deum Laudamus.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

© Fred Hutchison

 

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31