An abridged 2008 version of a longer work by the Spanish author, Félix Rodrigo Mora, that expresses culturally pessimistic and morally conservative views, yet from an extreme left perspective, which maintains that hedonism and the ideologically sanctified “pursuit of happiness” fostered by the liberal state have degraded human beings and deprived them of the psychological qualities necessary for effective participation in a revolutionary movement and made them “weak”, “hyper-docile”, “vulnerable”, dependent, stupid, addicted to drugs and alcohol, obese and chronically ill, and that the Epicureanism of the left has attracted a “swarm of nullities … without magnanimity or quality….”
A Critique of the Idea of Happiness and a Refutation of Hedonism – Félix Rodrigo Mora
Life as effort
Moral philosophy is not a fashionable discipline. It is repudiated and mocked on all sides: by leftism, which is dedicated to the reform of what exists; by the academic world, which tirelessly offers a caricature of moral philosophy; and by the media champions of consumer society and the putrid universe of “contemporary art” and managed entertainment. But the revolutionary transformation of the current order and the presently existing human being—if it is still possible to use such a term—requires the recovery and, above all, the reformulation and recreation of the knowledge, based on experience, concerning the why and the wherefore of collective and individual behavior that attains, or should attain, to the category of habits and norms; for this is what morality is. As has been pointed out, contemporary society proudly displays its amorality, especially those sectors that are deeply indoctrinated with the ideology of progress, which is today a majority neo-religion, and with the ideology of the most carefree modernity. All of these trends, far from being the positive factors that some people believe them to be, are expressions of the degree of disintegration suffered by sociability and the ability to coexist with others, the shocking level of degradation, mental and physical, that afflicts the individual and, above all, the unprecedented extent of the State’s multi-faceted management of the contemporary social formation, since, as Kant pointed out, there is an inverse relation between the ethical and the juridical, that is, the State.
Such an elementary truth already situates us within the material we must consider. For it is the State that promotes, with singular vigor and pertinacity, the ideology of amorality and, within that ideology, the categories of happiness, public and private, as well as that of sensualist hedonism, which always accompany the ideology of amorality. In particular, the idea of welfare, which is the political and economic synonym of the prevailing idea of happiness, is manifested in the definition of the Welfare State, a social order in which the public body assures the happiness-welfare of all, which transforms the latter into an imposition, as both the ideology of the contemporary State and as a constitutional mandate. The liberal revolution, as a great leap forward in the effective power of the State, at the expense of the independence and freedom of the popular classes, situated the concept of happiness at the heart of its program. The founding document of the prevailing political order on a world scale, the 1776 “Declaration of Independence” of the United States, proclaims that “the pursuit of happiness” is simultaneously a right guaranteed to all by the state artifact and the basic primary impulse of the human being, and therefore a compulsion of a quasi-biological nature, and the primordial goal or purpose of government established with the “consent of the governed”, that is, of the contemporary regime of political dictatorship.
The Spanish constitution of 1812, the first of a series and therefore the model for the current constitution that was ratified in 1978, in its Article 13, embraces the US “Declaration” with an overweening eagerness, saying that “the aim of the (constitutional) Government is to ensure the happiness of the Nation, since the purpose of every political society can only be the welfare of the individuals of which it is composed”, a bizarre declaration wherein the rulers assume the responsibility to bring happiness and well-being to the ruled. The “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” itself, of the French Revolution, so intensively mythologized by the academic world and pro-system radicalism, proclaims that its goal is to realize “the happiness of all”. Even Saint-Just, the deputy and executioner of Robespierre, congratulated himself because, according to him, “happiness is a new idea in Europe”, which is not just a shameless assertion, given the unique nature of his activities, but also quite mistaken, since Thomism, the official ideology of the Catholic Church since the 14th century, rejecting its Christian past and following Aristotle instead, the Eudaimonian par excellence, holds that happiness, first in this life and then, after death, in the afterlife, must be the cardinal goal of the human being.
The fact that such fundamental, or ‘founding’, political-juridical documents impose happiness as their central world-vision and ideology is, first of all, an attack on the most basic freedom of all, the freedom of conscience, since it makes a predetermined concept of existence compulsory, without making allowance for the equal impact of other conditions, alternatives and dissenting views. For example, such an emphatic validation of the category of happiness displaces and marginalizes the idea of the truth, which is why X. Zubiri is right when, in “Man and Truth”, he maintains that it is of the essence of contemporary society to disdain the truth, so as to live in error, lies and induced hallucinations.
There can be no doubt, after what was pointed out above, that authoritarian eudaimonism, and therefore compulsory hedonism, are the guiding criteria of modernity. The particular form assumed by the idea of happiness is different for the powerful minorities as opposed to the vast majority of those who have been deprived of their power of decision. The happy life, in the first case, is achieved by accumulating the maximum power of command, in the form of political (in the State body), economic (wealth, in the form of capital), intellectual, media and aesthetic power, to cite only its most relevant expressions. For the masses, enforced happiness is the fate of the producer-consumer who is always falling off the cliff of dehumanization while running after the mirage of everyday pleasures. Our entire society lives by Bentham’s assertion that “each portion of wealth corresponds to a portion of happiness”, without, however, forgetting the maxims of Plato, Hobbes, James Mill, Stirner and Nietszche which proclaim that the highest form of the refined life is political and civil rule over others, which is all the more intensely gratifying the greater the servitude to which the others are subjected.
The category of happiness is fertile in other more existential, equally miserable and vilifying, manifestations. One is the aspiration to totally eliminate suffering, a chimera that transforms the subject into a pusillanimous and docile creature, made supine by his dread for that entity that has the maximum means of inflicting suffering, the State. Another is the eagerness to lead a comfortable and easy existence, effortless and without ambition, supposedly thanks to technology, from which derive the various scientific-technological utopias, which are even more disturbing. A third one conceives of human life as nothing more than an accumulation, in the ego, of pleasing experiences, which shapes the sensual subject of modernity, a subhuman entity incapable of thought, decision, living with others or struggle, since his reduction to the sensory plane tends to extinguish within him the higher, or human, faculties and capacities. Similarly, from the idea of happiness at any price derives the specifically Epicurean aspiration of putting an end to all disturbance, tension and discord, which renders life understood as an effort to achieve transcendent goals impossible, for such goals are often enough only conceivable and attainable, whether we like it or not, by means of agitation, risk, constant dedication and suffering. In short, while J. S. Mill held that it is “better to be a dissatisfied human being than a satisfied sheep”, today the multitudes have been taught to choose a life without freedom, without consciousness, without dignity, without conviviality, without truth, one that is supposedly abundant in sensory pleasures; a sheep’s life.
The right wing and open reactionaries are often presented as the enemies of happiness and well being, as the proponents of a life mired in suffering, while it is said that the left and progressives seek to free the human being from unhappiness, and to create a more refined social order, in which the human being will realize his supposedly innate aspiration to happiness. But the philosophy of happiness, or “eudaimonism”, is common to all forms of institutional thought, and has always dominated the discourse of power, except during a few eras, when wars led to the emergence of certain expressions of stoic ideology, although the latter did not exclude a faith in happiness, and only reformulated it to fit the conditions. The left, because it is today the most perfect expression of the basic interests of capital and the State, shamelessly uses the eudaimonist and hedonist rhetoric in order to more securely bind the masses to the strategic projects of reaffirmation and expansion of capital and the State, a task in which the intelligentsia, the pedantocracy and the aesthetocracy also play a decisive role.
As for the rest, the nastiest expressions of contemporary Spanish thought also situate the category of happiness at the heart of their systems of ideas. One example is Julián Marías, a disciple of the liberal-fascist Ortega, who, in his book, Human Happiness, elaborates the notion in such a way that it contradicts and denies truth, freedom and sociability, and represents the core of all eudaimonist thought, which, by forming part of the nucleus of the prevailing system is more important than all the petty differences that separate right from left.
The idea of pleasure as the “greatest good” is found in Aristotle, but the latter, because he was a eudaimonist, distinguished between happiness, as a desire for a totally refined life, and each particular concrete pleasure, so that sometimes a particular pleasure would have to be renounced in favor of the former concept of happiness, if its enjoyment clashed with the integral happiness to which Aristotle aspired. This concept, on the terrain of politics, was the real concern of “the Philosopher”, and meant that, while engaging in the preferred exercise of the higher pleasure of ruling, it is sometimes appropriate to abstain from certain sensual satisfactions, which distract one from the exercise of the power of command or weaken one’s resolve to oppress and repress, manipulate and indoctrinate, others. Simple hedonism, on the other hand, conceives happiness as a mere sum of enjoyable sensations, which reflects its nature as an ideological product for the consumption of slaves and neo-slaves, who renounce freedom and today, especially, renounce their condition as human beings, only out of a desire, which is chimerical besides, for limitless enjoyment.
There is a kind of leftism, however, which, although it claims that it still believes in “the revolution”, still clings to the hedonist-eudaimonist worldview without noticing the contradiction the latter entails. The revolution is an expression of herculean efforts and maximum tension that can hardly be reconciled with the philistine accumulation of pleasant experiences, with the epicurean aspiration to the tranquility of the soul or with the vulgar everyday pursuit of happiness. This is why the entire eudaimonist left either converts the category of revolution into an abstract universal that is only for talk and for seduction, or else transforms its followers into subjects that are so degraded by hedonism that they are worthless when it comes to any sublime or noble action, especially for the revolution. Of course, if one expects the “laws of history”, in a providential act that transforms them into the new name of God, to graciously confer upon us the gift of the end of capitalism, the disintegration of the State and the establishment of a society of uncounted marvels and perfections, then yes, one can be both a revolutionary and a hedonist. For those of us who, more soberly, believe that the revolution either has to be carried out by us, who must devote ourselves to it as a reasoned project and a magnanimous passion, or else it will not be realized for all of eternity, we must rationally repudiate eudaimonism and hedonism, and instead situate ourselves on a psychological plane that overcomes the appetite for happiness as well as any morbid appetite for senseless unhappiness; a condition one could call a-happiness, or indifference to happiness and unhappiness in favor of the transcendent and magnanimous goals that we shall briefly outline below. This position, on the terrain of philosophy, is equivalent to transforming the question of happiness vs. unhappiness, as well as the contents of the concupiscent and enjoyment creeds, into pseudo-problems from which one must free oneself before one can focus on more decisive and substantial business.
The philosophy of Epicurus deserves special refutation, with his motto of “pleasure is the only goal of life”; although elsewhere in his writings, mortally terrified by suffering, he renounced not only the experience of pleasure but the desire itself to live in dignity and self-respect, and even to live an upright life. Epicureanism, which is today very influential, contaminates a large part of the critique of contemporary society with its desire for egoist tranquility at any price, with its blind zeal to constitute a private “garden” where one can survive the evils and troubles of the world, without putting an end to the prevailing order and without even proposing to do so. Most of the radical currents of the last 40 years, with regard to both experience and ideas, amount to mere Epicureanism propagated to build spaces of survival, based on an ideology of existential mediocrity, intellectual cowardice, vital exhaustion and political conformism, all of which is soaked, as is to be expected, in an enormous mass of words and accessory gestures.
To dare to challenge what exists, not in order to live more comfortably within its interstices but to deliberately destroy it, demands a greatness of spirit which the currently fashionable neo-epicureanism, terrified of the possibility of suffering and pain, cannot possess. One of the most distressing consequences of this trend is the swarm of nullities, of subjects without magnanimity or quality, who circulate in leftist, reformist and alternative milieus. The experiences of the last few decades prove that only on the basis of an effort-based worldview is it possible to simultaneously approach the question of transforming the prevailing order with coherence, and to constitute oneself as a subject with the nobility and dignity proper to a human being and to free oneself from the sophisms and pseudo-problems of the baleful eudaimonist and hedonist philosophy, which impose upon us “the pursuit of happiness” as a constitutional and State mandate.
We shall now proceed to a brief examination of an example of the philosophy of effort, of dedication to great transcendent goals and indifference towards pleasure and pain. León Felipe’s 1937 poem, “La Insignia”, begins by demanding “great History” and “uncontrollable hurricanes” as the terrain for the existence of human beings as such, as opposed to eudaimonist mediocrity and everyday ordinariness, in order to proclaim that our era is the “era of heroes./Of the heroes against the foxes” and calls upon us to engage in the “effort of collective heroism” and sets forth a proposition of colossal ethical and cognitive significance, that “life is not and never has been/a question of happiness,/but a question of heroism”. With this poem the foundations of the greatest moral philosophy are laid. He completes his proposition with this noble statement, “we are not seeking happiness”, adding in a visionary way that after the revolution “we will not be happy either./There are no inns of happiness/or of rest”, since human existence means advancing “always along a heroic road” where there are no final destinations, so that the decisive goal is effort, which, without ceasing to be a means, is simultaneously raised to the status of aim and purpose. The poet thus debunks the hedonistic bourgeois worldview of those who still insist, in an apotheosis of consumer society (which makes pleasure the supreme “civic” duty of the hyper-servile and hyper-degraded subject of the latest stage of modernity), in presenting claims as “subversive” and “anti-system” which can only be answered by a healthy outburst of laughter.
We should not, however, restrict our focus to the political dimension when considering the significance of eudaimonism and hedonism, however correct and timely such an approach may seem to be, because the worldview of effort and service is good and true in and of itself, and not just because it is a useful medium for revolutionary action. This means that besides being a means it is also an end, desirable for its intrinsic value. In response to the cardinal question of moral philosophy, “how should we live?, our answer must not be based on one or another dogmatic, theoretical or doctrinaire system, but on experience that has been subjected to reflection. Since the absolute imposition of the eudaimonism-hedonism duo upon the masses took place in the West during the 1960s, enough time has passed to enable us to pronounce a judgment based on its effects. What observations can we make with regard to the development of the concrete nature of the average individual and the social body over the last 50 years? Has it gotten better or has it gotten worse?
What we perceive is that the vehement emphasis placed on pleasure is contributing to the creation of individuals who are increasingly vulnerable and weak, who are ever less capable of facing the difficulties of existence, who possess a constantly diminishing degree of psychological independence and who suffer from an ongoing deterioration of their mental capacities. Depression, as dysfunction and as suffering, and as a grave form of unhappiness, is on the rise. One of its principle causes is compulsory hedonism, since the latter means egotism, egotism is solitude, and solitude carries with it a higher risk of profound spiritual suffering, for the human being is by nature sociable and emotionally affective, having been bequeathed by nature the need to love and be loved, to live collectively and to realize his potential in the context of community, outside the prison of the ego in which he is now held and where he has allowed himself to be kept. Such a state of affairs leads to the commercialization of the spiritual life on a grand scale, under the direction of the latest manipulators of consciousness and annihilators of spiritual freedom, the psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. They are carrying out the expropriation of the internal life of the individual, which is less and less his own and with each passing day more and more the property of these word merchants who are always invoking happiness and joy as the alleged purpose of their profitable interventions.
Since eudaimonism only applies, in the case of the plebeians, to the sensory faculties, all the other natural capacities of the human being end up atrophying for lack of use, a reflection that is strictly consistent with our observations. Intelligence is on the decline, empathy is extinguished, the will is neutralized, and nothing remains of sociability. This transforms the individual into a being without any substance or individual identity, a being that is constructed from without by those who have the power to do so, the ruling elites, and especially those connected with private and state directed means of mass indoctrination, most particularly the university and public school systems. The subject who feels dispossessed of everything, who thinks of himself as dull, solitary, overwhelmed, unhappy, indecisive, vulnerable and unintelligent has a tendency to focus more and more on money in order to acquire the alleged remedies to his ills, and thus monetizes his existence to the utmost, at the same time that he expects everything from institutional intervention, which leads to the contemporary mentality that always wants to receive but never to give, which in turn generates an even more serious atrophy of the individual’s capacities. At the same time, people are being devastated as biological entities by sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, obesity, medicalization, laziness, the compulsive consumption of pleasure commodities (alcohol and drugs), confinement in vast megalopolises and the increase in chronic illness.
From the sum of these factors we may deduce that the average individual is currently experiencing an increasing degree of de-spiritualization, at the same time that he is in accelerated decline as a biological entity. He is perfect, however, with respect to his status as a hyper-docile subject, who always obeys established power, who not only carries out every order he is given from above but also thinks, desires and feels what authority determines he should think, desire and feel in every circumstance. We are therefore witnessing the apotheosis of “homo docilis”.
Such are the proven effects of sensualist and eudaimonist amorality, four decades after the “hedonist revolution” launched by institutions in the 1960s, but there are other causes of the evils we have exposed, several of which possess a an importance similar to those we have discussed. Frankly, we are face to face with the culminating point of the destruction of the concrete human essence, the primordial goal of the liberal State since its origins. The immediate antidote seems to be the creative rehabilitation of moral philosophy, as a discipline that is subversive of what exists, along with other measures of various kinds.
Félix Rodrigo Mora
Note: This text is an abridged version of a longer work by the author.
Translated from Spanish.
From the Basque journal, Ekintza Zuzena, No. 35, May 2008.