Joseph Campbell – Permanent Human Values

At the start of the US involvement in WWII Joseph Campbell was put in the position of having to defend culture and truth rather than go along with the crazed nationalism and outright invasion of so many public institutions through all manner of propaganda. He ended up being accused of being a Nazi by many who should have known better. The Bollingen Foundation was backed by Mellon family money and it sought to establish an integrative disciplinary approach including the mystical precepts of Mircae Eliade and Carl Jung. It was a truly good effort that still brings culture and Brotherhood values through the many books they published. Their efforts at Eranos deserve close attention for any scholar seeking to understand the positive side of the old-money families or elites. I wonder if the Elite sometimes do demonstrate a beneficent paternalism when I see these good efforts. The speech that follows stands as true or truer today, than when he gave it to the ladies at Sarah Lawrence College, where he was a professor.

“Permanent Human Values

I have been asked to tell you what seem to me to be some of the important things–permanently human–which men are likely to forget during hours of a severe political crisis.

Permanent things, of course, do not have to be fought for–they are permanent. We are not their creators and defenders. Rather–it is our privilege (our privilege as individuals: our privilege as nations) to experience them. And it is our private loss if we neglect them. We may fight for our right to experience these values. But the fight must not be conducted on a public battlefield. This fight must be conducted in the individual mind. Public conquerors are frequently the losers in this secret struggle.

Permanent things, furthermore, are not possessed exclusively by the democracies; not exclusively even by the Western world.

My theme, therefore, forbids me to be partial to the war-cries of the day. I respect my theme, and I shall try to do it justice. I am not competent to speak of every permanent human value. I shall confine myself, therefore, to those which have been my special disciplinarians: those associated with the Way of Knowledge.

Which of these are likely to be forgotten during the hours of a severe political crisis? All of them, I should say. I think that everything which does not serve the most immediate economic and political ends is likely to be forgotten.

I think, in the first place, that the critical objectivity of the student of society is likely to be forgotten–either forgotten or suppressed. For example: The president of Columbia University has declared that the present conflict is a war ‘between beasts and human beings, between brutal force and kindly helpfulness,’ Yet Columbia professors laboriously taught, during the twenties and thirties something about the duties of objective intelligence in the face of sensational propaganda: and no educated gentleman can possibly believe that the British Empire or the French Empire or the American Empire was unselfishly founded in ‘kindly helpfulness.’ without gunpowder or without perfectly obscene brutality.

It is not surprising, of course, that there should be a strain of opportunism in those public gentlemen who are in a position to tell the multitude what to think; but that our universities–those institutions which have plumed themselves in their dignified objectivity–should begin now to fling about the gutter-slogans of our newspaper cartoons, seems to be a calamity of the first order.

Perhaps our students must prepare themselves to remember (without any support for our institutions of higher learning) that there are two sides to every argument, that every government since governments began, has claimed to represent the special blessings of the heavenly realm, that every man (even an enemy) is human, and that no empire (not even a merchant empire) is founded on ‘kindly helpfulness.’

When there was no crisis on the horizon, we were told that objectivity was a good. Now that something seems to threaten our markets–or to threaten perhaps even more than that–we are warned (and this by still another of our university presidents) that the real fifth-columnist in this country is the critical intellectual. What kind of leaders are these men, anyhow?–snorting through one nostril about the book-burnings in Germany, wheezing through the other at critical intelligences in our own Republic?

In the second place we are in danger of neglecting the apparently useless work of the disinterested scientist and historian. Yet if there is one jewel in the crown of Western Civilization which deserves to take a place beside the finest jewels of Asia, it is the jewel cut by these extraordinary men. Their images of the cosmos and of the course of earthly history are as majestic as the Oriental theories of involution and evolution. But these images are by no means the exclusive creation, or even property, of democracies. Many of the indispensable works which you must read, if you are to participate in the study of these images, have not even been translated into democratic tongues. Let me say, therefore, that any serious student of history or science who permits the passions of this hour to turn her away from German is a fool.

Whatever may be the language for hemisphere defense, German, French and English are the languages of scholarship and science. (Biblio: At Sarah Lawrence, as at many schools and universities, German and Italian were being eliminated from the curriculum, as if somehow the boycott of the language would enforce some kind of sanction on the country or its political leaders. It was probably this practice Campbell was decrying.) German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Scandinavian, English, Irish, Polish, Russian, Swiss, Christian, Pagan, Atheist, and Jewish have been the workers in these spheres. Chauvinism has no place here. The work is international and human. Consequently, whenever there is a resurgence of the nationalisms and animalisms of war, scientist and scholar have to cork themselves tightly in. They are not anti-social parasites and slackers when they do this. It is with them that Western Culture, as opposed to Western Empire, will survive.

In the third place, the work of the literary man and the artist is in danger. We need not worry about the popular entertainer: he will be more in demand than ever. But we may worry about the artists of social satire: theirs will be a plight very like the plight of the objective social scientist. And we may worry about the creative writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians devoted to the disciplines of pure art. The philistine (that is to say the man without hunger for poetry and art) will never understand the importance of these enthusiasts. But those of you whose way of personal discipline and discovery is the way of the arts will understand that if you are to keep in touch with your own centers of energy, you must not allow yourself to be tricked into believing that social criticism is proper art, or that sensational entertainment is proper art, or that journalistic realism is proper art. You must not give up your self-exploration in your own terms. The politicians are such a blatant crew and their causes are so obvious that it is exceedingly difficult to remember, when they surround you, anything but the surfaces of life….

The artist–in so far as he is an artist–looks at the world dispassionately: without thought of defending his ego or his friends; without thought of undoing any enemy; troubled neither with desire or loathing. He is as dispassionate as the scientist, but he is looking not for the causes of effects, he is simply looking–sinking his eye into the object. To his eye this object permanently reveals the fascination of a hidden name or essential form…

Now this perfectly well-known crisis, which transports a beholder beyond desire and loathing, is the first step not only to art, but to humanity. And it is the artist who is its hero. It cannot be said, therefore, that the artist is finally anti-social, even though from an economic point of view his work may be superfluous; even though he may seem to be sitting pretty much alone.

In the fourth place, the preaching of religion is in danger. God is the first fortress that a warlike nation must capture, and the ministers of religion are always, always, always ready to deliver God into the hands of their king or their president. We hear of it already–this arm-in-arm blood brotherhood of democracy and Christianity…

And how quick the ministers of religion are to judge the soul of the enemy; when the founder of their faith is reputed to have said: ‘Judge not, that you may never be judged.’ How quick they are to point at the splinter in the enemy eye, before they have looked for the plank that sticks in their own! ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,’ is not the phrase for a political emergency. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ is not the phrase for a political emergency… And perhaps it would be well to remember that even the inhabitants of the democracies were born with original sin on their souls: and that not even the President of the United States has any objective assurance that he is the vicar of Christ on earth.

We are all groping in this valley of tears, and if a Mr. Hitler collides with a Mr. Churchill, we are not in conscience bound to believe that a devil had collided with a saint (Biblio: This phrase was quoted out of context, with a predictably horrifying impact on modern sensibilities, in the New York Times article of 1989 on Campbell’s alleged bigotry.)–Keep those transcendent terms out of your political thinking–do not donate the things of God to Caesar–and you will go a long way toward keeping a sane head.

I believe, finally, that education is going to suffer during the next few years, as it did during the last war. You will be tempted to forget that you are educating yourselves to be women: you will imagine that you are educating yourselves to be patriots. Primarily you are human beings; secondarily you are members of a certain social class. Primarily you are human beings; secondarily you are daughters of the present century. If you devote yourselves exclusively, or even primarily, to peculiarities of the local scene and the present moment, you will wonder, fifteen years from now, what you did with your education…

I would not say that the Way of Knowledge is the only way to human fulfillment: but it is a majestic way; it is a way represented by the innumerable sciences, arts, philosophical and theological systems of mankind. The final danger is not (let me repeat this emphatically in closing), the final danger is not that mankind may lose these things (for, if Europe and America were to be blown away entirely, there would remain millions and millions of subtly disciplined human beings–who might even feel relieved to see us go!). The great danger is that you–unique you–may be tricked into missing your education.” (4)

I am such a fan of Mr. Campbell and there are so many things of his which I quote in different books that some think I am nuts about him. The facts he presents have been added to in the archaeological and linguistic or anthropological, so I really end up quoting more of his pure spiritual ecumenicism thoughts. But when a potential editor from my alma mater who had 14 years post secondary education and had been a professor commented about Campbell being a Nazi sympathizer – I lost interest in him. He also was stupid enough to suggest the Pyramids had nothing unknown to academia – RIGHT!!