Enoch Powell’s Nietzschean Christianity: Notes & Analysis

These are notes and analysis on the essay Enoch Powell’s Nietzschean Christianity by Ian Bryce[1].

“I’m hungering to hear, to be told, and to receive, things which I don’t know where to find elsewhere, and which I feel I shall be the poorer if I don’t hear and receive, and which I feel in some sense I shall die if I don’t have. (J. Enoch Powell, No Easy Answers (London: Sheldon Press, 1973), 34.)”

“Enoch Powell delivered the above as a response to the question, ‘Do you consider yourself a religious man?’ It is an answer that surely resonates with the Western man of the 21st century. For we live in age of irreligion, of absence—be it of nation, identity, the sacred, or numberless other treasured things.”

This Nietzschean religiosity already has the character of God as Gnon, God as discovery, of the capacity for enlightenment as well as for deception. Answers for Powell are suggestive of secrecy or cloaking. This then suggests both a revelatory position but also something beyond this simplistic Christian position, into different relations of understanding and interpretation. Here we would encounter the thoughts of Thomas Traherne or Gilbert de Poitiers, particularly the latter’s conceptualisation of the natural/secular realm and the divine realm as interrelated entities or essences. Here we go beyond Aristotelian substances to the atomism of Lucretius or Democritus, to the flows of materiality as well as will and spirit (characterised by emotional vestiges as per Traherne and power as per Nietzsche).

“Powell spent the first 20 years of his adult life as a convinced Nietzschean atheist. In his early 20s, he ‘read all Nietzsche—not just the main works but the minor works as well, all of them, and every scrap of published correspondence.’ (Simon Heffer, Like the Roman, the life of Enoch Powell (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), 22.) His postwar conversion to Christianity did not put an end to his Nietzscheanism. One might ask how such a thing is possible. How does one reconcile the thought of Christianity’s most vociferous critic with the very same faith against which Nietzsche’s launched his invectives? And should we care?”

In conceiving of a Nietzschean Christianity it cannot be conceived as a pure dialectic or synthesis. Rather it exists as an oppositional interrelation, a contradictory set of premises that don’t interlock but rather tense against each other. Fundamentally any such endeavour would need to tackle and integrate Nietzsche’s critiques of Christianity, particularly its gregarious instincts, its slave morality and its aptitude of equality of souls.

“The distinguishing feature of the contemporary Identiarian movements is a refusal to be bogged down in the petty minutiae of economic micro-management that passes for modern politics. The coming battles will need to be fought on a higher, meta-political level. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to examine—or even experience—the beliefs that drove a man who was so thoroughly correct on so many issues so early on.”

Bryce’s distinction here between the micro-politics of political economy and a grand politics (or meta-politics) seems arbitrary, as it does in Nietzsche. While conceivably distinct as separate realms with separate logics, they continually bleed into each other such that as Nietzsche suggests with the emergence of a new elite, they cannot ignore the demands of those beneath, but must shape and drive them into new directions. “Rather, we should regard it as the purpose of the inferior species to assist their superiors in their endeavours and to provide a foundation upon which they can stand”[2]. This foundation cannot be constructed without the “tedium” and “monotony” of political economy (“mechanicalism” in Nietzsche) in combination with/service to a grand politics of originary design.

“Returning then to the initial question of the very possibility of a ‘Nietzschean Christianity.’ The question itself betrays something about our own thinking: the demand that a statement ‘makes sense.’ Now, before I am criticized for naïve postmodernism, consider the following: what do we mean by ‘making sense’? We mean conforming to the laws of logic that characterize scientific discourse. To we moderns, ‘making sense’ means ‘replicable in a (Newtonian) physics lab.’ Science—and physics in particular—has a monopoly on truth. However, as Nietzsche himself said: ‘It is dawning now on perhaps five or six minds that physics, too, is only a world interpretation and arrangement (by us! If I may say so) and not a world explanation. (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, I §14.)’”

Force and will as merely flows of essences amongst quanta that exist in tension and contradistinction with each other. The Lucretian clinamen as the driving essence of tensile force. In regards to science, this means the imbuing of man’s characteristics into the interpretative framework of physical laws which dictate concepts like cause and effect. Cause and effect is merely the perspectival lens attempting to construe patterns in the interactions of quanta. “The fact that something happens thus and not otherwise implies quanta of force whose essence consists in wielding power over all other quanta of force, not that there is a ‘prin­ciple’, ‘law’ or ‘order’ involved. With regard to the belief in cause and effect, the main thing is always forgotten: the event itself”[3]. This is where logic lies, not as the governing relation of all physical action, but as the sense organ of lawmakers.

“Physics is a language. There are no such things as the mini solar systems of hydrogen nuclei surrounded by electron planets, as are so often depicted in those Common Core physics textbooks. We treat light as a wave or as particles depending on which one fits the circumstances better. These are just representations that allow humans to make sense of phenomena. Many will argue that physics’s truth is amply proven by the space shuttle or the jet engine. Nietzsche would reply that such things merely testify to the power of language, not its truth. The liberals who re-post those ‘I Fucking Love Science’ memes on Facebook are, as in so many other things, simply enamored with a discourse of power. This naïve thinking has infected all the institutions of modern Western civilization. It is against this that Powell set his face like flint.”

The will to power as one essence among many. A Nietzschean perspectivism thus relegates science to one quanta of flow among many in the competing wills. This goes to the heart of Nietzsche’s reckoning of being as the attempt of a dominating centre to presuppose its temporary existence as permanent and universal. Behind being is the nature of becoming and of the competition of dominating centres with their own perspectives.

“Onetime Labour MP Bryan Magee, in a dialogue with Powell, offers an excellent example of this modern epistemological naïveté, stating: ‘And it seems to me that if individual Christians and the Christian churches were really serious about what they say they believe, they would be committed to what one can only call the politics of welfare.’ Powell replies: ‘To make the stones bread.’ Magee is ecstatic at what he thinks to be the beginnings of acquiescence from Powell, defeated by the very words of the Savior. However, Powell goes on to say: ‘I metaphorically described the sort of programmes to which you are referring and in which you expected the Church, because it is the Church, to engage as turning the stones into bread—not a bad metaphor. But you remember the context is the invitation of the Devil to Christ at the beginning of his mission (Matt 4:3; Luke 4:3). It was a temptation he rejected. (Powell, Wrestling with the Angel (London: Sheldon Press, 1977), 31.)’”

Here we see these quanta of forces of power playing out in religious vs secular debates. The predominant will of the liberal age as that of welfare maximisation as the sine qua non of the polity, of governance itself. An emerging post-war politics of desire and satiety. Against this Powell posits the values of rigorous self-denial, of a stoicism to reject temptation and desire in favour of higher ideals, of faith and suffering through perseverance and strength. The desire of an individual will against the will of the Devil. How this interacts with Nietzsche is interesting, as Nietzsche prised qualities of elite asceticism, stoic disposition and sombre rigour in the face of temptation and suffering. Here we see the interaction of the Christian celebration of suffering (against temptation in favour of the higher ideal) with Nietzsche’s suffering in itself, as the essence of a will to power. A mixture of the individual will (for dominion over others – in this case over passions for their own sake) and the will of God(s), as the locus for that determination. This moves Christianity away from being a collective agency of welfare maximisation toward an integrative framework of collective-individual. The church as more than community but a collective will of religious power.

“The human subject is not a physics problem (indeed, physics pre-supposes a human subject). A strictly dialectical approach better represents this reality. For Powell, Christianity was initially negated by Nietzscheanism, which, in turn, was itself negated—the infamous Hegelian ‘double negation’ (Aufhebung)—through the deployment of a new synthesis that delivers something genuinely new, while preserving both the original elements.”

A dialectical approach seems mistaken here as it would arbitrarily discard Nietzsche’s criticisms while preserving the ossified structures of the church. Rather a view toward Nietzsche’s concept of will to power as the emergence of a further concept on top of it, that of the multiplicity of wills and forces. “An enormous multitude of characteristics”[4] integrable to one will but without definitive finality. A Nietzschean Christianity would thus be militaristic, individual and conceived around the tensions of wills, around the tension of the natural and divine spheres. Rather than a gregarious instinct founded upon the general welfare (the common good), this would be a Christianity of hierarchy, both in this world and in salvation. This is the Christianity of the Templars and the Crusades, combining militaristic rigour with Christian ascetics. Great leaders as in Richard Lionheart or Alfred the Great.

Here the idea of “only God can judge me” is equally cloying and freeing. Rather than being the product of a slave morality, this idea is equally the potential thoroughfare for immoral action, for attaining and using power so as to further ends of the individual will and the will of God. Being in tension with God and the religious instinct, always in belief but outside of a framework of purity.

“Thinking on his prior reading of Nietzsche making a ‘reinen Tisch’ or clean sweep of religion, Powell stated: ‘My earlier conclusions had been true, broadly speaking—there was no going back on that. But had they in fact, as I imagined, disposed of the Church and of Christianity? Was there ‘a clean sweep,’ after all? It seemed not. (Powell, No Easy Answers, 2.)’”

Again this would appear to have the characteristic of an oppositional interrelation. The tensile combination of gregariousness with solitude. In some sense this can be seen in the biblical Jesus, the man in need of constant peace and reflection but also in need of disciples and followers. Nietzsche conceived Jesus as a Buddhistic figure, one wholly turned over to kindness and simplicity. However he was also the reckoner of the Jewish faith, recognising its corruption into a series of petty elites. While Nietzsche saw this as a symptom of décadence, these elites were little more than functionaries of the Roman tributary system. They were by no means great men. Here again we see the multiplicity of wills, the tensile combination of gregariousness and solitude.

“Further clarity can be gained by considering a talk Powell gave on the Athanasian Creed. The creed is rarely spoken of now, as it raises the thorny issue of the exclusivity of salvation: ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.’”

“Powell provides his own loose translation and at the same time defines his faith: ‘The thoughts we hold about ourselves and our fellows and about our relation to the universe are overwhelmingly important, so important as to make the whole difference between true success in life and failure, between utter happiness and utter misery. Just any thoughts at our own option will not do; they must be thoughts of a particular nature, if they are to have this result. Being each of us unique and bound in by time, our failure, if we fail, cannot be made good, the tape cannot be run back, erased or ‘edited’. Once for all, it makes our eternity.’”

“Powell is unequivocal later in the same talk, stating: ‘Christianity is about the content of a human mind.’ (Ibid., 7-12.) It was this radical vision of Christianity, free from the idols of our liberal age, that Powell embraced.”

This then emplaces Christianity within the eternal recurrence. In the way Jesus overthrew the cloying vestiges of Jewish faith and its petty rituals, and in the way Christianity integrated elements of the pagan faiths to develop the Catholic or European forms of Christianity, the modern church has itself become ossified as a vestige for welfare lobbyists and petty bureaucracy, happily integrating itself with a liberal secularism that means any traditional beliefs (in sexuality, hierarchy or salvation) are thrown in the fire of liberal dogma. Nietzsche conceived the power of the church as the will of the weak, of the slave morality. However he also recognised the ordering principles within the church, its capacity to demur the equalising instinct, to instead focus on self-renewal and control of the passions. In Nietzsche’s concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian wills, a similar tension emerges between that of control and that of passion, with both required to delineate a new aristocracy. “The content of the human mind” as Powell posits is precisely this tension of wills. A revolution in Christianity, much as before, to found new tensions and forces in individual wills alongside the divine will is required in the foundation of a new Christianity that Powell points toward.

“For it is human thought that is primal. Powell took Nietzsche’s fundamental critique of Western thought seriously. While not repudiating science, he realized it was not enough, that man’s flourishing, his very survival as man, would require a transcendence of the physical thinking so characteristic of our liberal age. In other words, he attempted to transcended modern Christianity and Nietzsche himself. In doing so he obeyed Nietzsche’s exhortation in the ‘Fifth Gospel’: ‘You say that you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? And what matter all believers? You had not yet sought yourselves; and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little.’ (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 22, §3.)”

God is dead but that does not mean he is not re-discoverable. The essence of a divine will can still be present in the feelings of the holy spirit or in the automatism of disgust against liberality and hedonism (nihilism and décadence). “Those things which we instinctively regard as aesthetically repulsive are the very things which the whole course of human experience has shown are harmful, dangerous and suspicious; the sudden expression of the aesthetic instinct (e.g. in disgust) includes a judgement”[5]. The reconceptualisation of the church upon the salvation of the human mind and soul, configured as it is by the flows of force and sin therein.

“Physical, scientific thinking can only prosper by appealing to a timeless, ideal realm, the messy realities of human, temporal life and death are dismissed as somehow ‘less real.’ No wonder then the modern tendency to sink towards a managerial, technocratic civilization, where these messy realities are efficiently, mechanically dealt with. In short, The End of History, evidenced perfectly by the timeless civilizations of China and the East. It was from these ‘timeless’ civilizations that what was to become European civilization began to extract itself over three millennia ago.”

The potential immanentization of heaven and hell through the forces previously mentioned. The ugly and demonic or the pure and beautiful. Morality and immorality. As Nietzsche noted they require each other as forces of will in tension. As the church has moved to see suffering as a consequence of sin, and therefore eradicable, a revaluation must see suffering as the means through which salvation can be defined (or divined). “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm”[6]. The immanentization of this power through great leaders and the collective will of the traditional church. The immanentization of hell through aesthetics of the eerie and dark. “A pathologically capable aesthetic of psychological discharge and congestion, the observer is stripped bare to the point of abjectification and forced to bear witness through hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, feeling, channeling the abjectified physical and/or virtual interface of the form”[7]. The Devil’s will (temptation, desire) as the necessary concomitant to the founding of a will of the church, of God.

“Powell and Nietzsche’s thought was most fundamentally historical. We find ourselves deep in that 200-year purgatory of which Nietzsche prophesied, facing the collapse of all that we hold dear. We cast around looking for ‘solutions’ of varying degrees of fantasy but which all derive from the same physical thinking that is a product of the liberal age we so despise.”

“Powell, the aspiring Viceroy of India, saw the empire he loved since the age of six collapse in the space of a decade. For him, a very Western commitment to truth, and not a retreat into a realm of fantasy, defined the faith held by the West for almost two millennia. Maurice Cowling described Powell’s faith as ‘post-Christian,’ (Heffer, 136.) a term I doubt Powell would have liked. He would and did, however, often point to the very individual nature of faith.”

There is no escape from the secular cycle, as Powell witnessed with the fall of the British Empire and the emergence of the liberal order. The church also falls within these cycles, emerging triumphant and hegemonic, integrating criticisms and revulsions. Now its power is significantly waning, and the requirement for new understandings and machinations of God and the divine are required to emerge from the stagnation of a church caught in the thralls of liberalism and decay. One that moves beyond the simplistic maxims of justice and peace and looks towards forging a new community of will. Whether such emerges is contingent as Nietzsche recognised. The age of great men may even be over as great machines (of technology and ideology) appear to be the movers of society.

“Once the total economic administration of the earth is at hand, an event which is both inevitable and imminent, mankind will be able to find its high­est purpose as machinery in the service of that administration”[8]. Such a future supposes a mechanical man, one entirely subsumed. While Nietzsche premises this as the emergence of a new aristocracy, it might also spell the need for a spiritual revulsion, a move toward the localistic and non-technological. Certainly the emergence of the current tech monopolies has augured a further entrenchment of liberal power and the emergence of subsets of bioleninist and BIPOC structures. There may be no grand politics that emerges from our current cycle.

“Powell took the tradition of his fathers, which appeared to have arrived at its terminus, dived into it, fought with it, applied it to his very modern circumstances and arrived at something so new that it defied the very structure of thought that continues to define our time. He was radically traditional.”

“As we progress across these two centuries of nihilism, we would do well to read Powell and realize that by embracing—but not being limited to—our Christian heritage, we, too, might arrive at something new, and we might create history as our fathers did. We might find our very Salvation.”

The eternal recurrence of the quanta of wills shows the means through which a new Christianity may emerge, but also the means through which it can further degrade. It appears Christianity (at least in its current form) is at its twilight as a religion of history and power. Revivalist movements appear little more than attempts at profit or avenues of futility. Salvation can be sought but it may not be given.

[1] http://www.radixjournal.com/journal/2015/7/19/enoch-powells-nietzschean-christianity

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

[6] Isaiah 40:1-11

[7] https://vastabrupt.com/2019/10/21/alt-economy-of-inner-night/

[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

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