More American nihilism

Nihilism as a state of soul is revealed not so much in the lack of firm beliefs but in a chaos of the instincts or passions. People no longer believe in a natural hierarchy of the soul’s varied and conflicting inclinations, and the traditions that provided a substitute for nature have crumbled. The soul becomes a stage for a repertory company that changes plays regularly – sometimes a tragedy, sometimes a comedy; one day love, another day politics, and finally religion; now cosmopolitanism, and again rooted loyalty; the city or the country; individualism or community; sentimentality or brutality. And there is neither principle nor will to impose a rank order on all of these. All ages and places, all races and all cultures can play on this stage. Nietzsche believed that the wild costume ball of the passions was both the disadvantage and the advantage of late modernity. The evident disadvantage is the decomposition of unity or “personality,” which in the long run will lead to psychic entropy. The advantage hoped for is that the richness and tension present in the modern soul might be the basis for comprehensive new worldviews that would take seriously what had previously been consigned to a spiritual ashcan. This richness, according to Nietzsche, consisted largely in thousands of years of inherited and now unsatisfied religious longing. But this possible advantage does not exist for young Americans, because their poor education has impoverished their longings, and they are hardly aware of the great pasts that Nietzsche was thinking of and had within himself. What they do have now is an unordered tangle of rather ordinary passions, running through their consciousnesses like a monochrome kaleidoscope. They are egotists, not in a vicious way, not in the way of those who know the good, just or noble, and selfishly reject them, but because the ego is all there is in present theory, in what they are taught. (Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, pp. 155–56)

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