THE PHILOSOPHY OF HYPOCRISY
By Benjamin De Casseres.
(Originally published in The International, July 1915)
THE epithet “hypocrite!” is generally applied by a hypocrite. The clairvoyant mind smiles and passes on. Make-believe is the eternal Fact. Appearance, semblance, illusion, seduction, lying, constitute the elements of life. Emerson said God’s method is illusion and he spoke of life as a procession of “hypocritic days.” That is, God himself is the primal make-believe, the protagonist of all hypocrites. Are we not created in His image? The “things are seldom what they seem” of the Gilbertian ballad should have read, “things are never what they seem.” Duplicity is inherent in all movement, in all thought, in all human action. A study of history reveals a stupendous charlatanism. The study of religions reveals the inherent quackery of human belief. The history of human ideals is a history of pretence, fraud, self-hypnosis.
Life is a passion for masks. The Kiss of Judas on the forehead of the Lord came out of the heart of man. Each of us desires to seem the thing he is not. It is a life-instinct. Hypocrisy, whether conceived as Maya, the god of illusion, whose work goes on forever and whose lies are sublime and transfigurating, or whether conceived as Pecksniff, who covers his feelers and snatchers with the parson’s white gloves, is the one unpunishable sin. Hypocrisy spells success. Whether sublime or mean, it is the primal element in the will-to-live. Therefore I praise hypocrisy and glorify the hypocrite. Hypocrisy comes from the Greek words hypo (under) and krinomai (contend). It is a life-word. Its roots reach down into the heart of existence, which is combat, struggle, vengeance. The batteries that lie masked behind a smile and a salutation, the humility that charms and puts to sleep, the impassive look that swarms with eyes—these are the higher forms of the arts of the primordial bushwhacking being, the prehistoric man who lived by decoy and snare. Tartuffe is a descendant of Nimrod. Man nor animal, nor army, nor atom ever “fought in the open.” It is and always will be a “contending under.” Every act, every thought, every aspiration secretes itself in a Trojan horse before the obstacle to be scaled or the enemy to be conqured.
A great French thinker, Jules de Gaultier, has said that the one thing needful to life was a lie. It is the vital requirement of the human being. Whenever an epoch comes to an end a great dreamer, religious, philosophical, or humanitarian, rises up and invents the lie-ethical. This profound truth (the universal necessity for the lie) gives us the metaphysics of hypocrisy. The external world is other than it seems. It is a series of representations or images in the brain. The imagination colors the raw material of impressions and sensations, and builds up in that monstrous house of a billion scintillating wonders—the brain—a world that does not exist. We project it outside of us and go eternally toward it, but it recedes forever and forever, that New Jerusaleum an arm’s length away, that hypocritical and smiling mirage of the perfidious Life-spirit. A malign and ancient seduction! A sublime, ironic Falsehood! The Spirit of Life the first Hypocrite!
In the struggle for existence as formulated by Darwin, hypocrisy is a condition of survival. The law of adaptation to environment, whether in the higher or lower forms of animal life, is a law dependent on flexibility. How quickly can we change? How quickly can we put away our previous selves and engender newer attitudes? Turn-coat, Volte-f ace, and Trimmer always survive in the struggle for existence. “When in Rome do as the Romans do” is not a proverb from Baedeker, but a physiological, sociological and psychological law. To the degree that the individual urges his personality against the claims of the personality of the mass, in that degree are his life and welfare threatened. In that monstrous process from the amoeba to man forms and intelligences have survived through cunning, which is the heart of hypocrisy, as the instinct to survive at any price is its soul.
The theory of sex selection in Darwin, which has played such a tremendous role in the evolution of life, is an exposition, unconsciously, of sex-hypocrisy. The courtships of animals, birds and men do not differ in any manner. The whistle from the tree-tops, the strut of the peacock, the clean collar and newly manicured finger nails of the lover, the piano lessons that the young girl receives, all constitute part of that feigning and dissembling that cloak a brutal fact. Joseph Surface came nearer the secret of successful courtship than his brother. Before possession and before yielding the man and woman are always Janus-faced. Nature lards and fards to secure her end. After mating all masks are thrown off. The two sentimental hypocrites revert to a kind of intolerable sincerity and baldness of speech. The Sunday finery is laid away in the chest. The animal world and human world put on jumpers and cheap calico after attaining the end for which they were spawned. Hypocrisy in this field is a solemn sport.
If the race is to persist (and there has never been a single reason advanced why it should, but from Solomon to Schopenhauer one could quote a thousand thousand reasons why it should not) hypocrisy is as necessary as food, and whatever is necessary is moral. Hence hypocrisy is moral because it furthers the perpetuation of the species. To bring about chaos, disorganization and universal death it is only necessary for each individual, each nation to proclaim “the truth” from the housetops. Truth is the one thing to be feared, truth is the one thing to be shunned. Truth is Medusa. It is the basilisk in the human heart; he who encounters its gaze dies. Let men drop their masks and look at one another in the face, let us pluck our thoughts naked and bleeding out of the voluptuous body of our deceits: Society or the race could not last a minute. Men play the hypocrite before themselves. They do not seek truth, but comfort, happiness.
Read “Don Quixote.” Is the Idealist the supreme comedian of Time? Read “Don Quixote.” Is truth in the head or in the bowels ? Read “Don Quixote.” O thou Idealist : Fragrant and immortal liar ! Divine and aromatic hypocrite, from the zenith of thy filigree heaven scattering sweets from thy magical scent-bag!
All the ills of civilization as it is constituted to-day and as it was constituted anciently flow from the hypocritical Ideal. The physical and mental organization of man is always trying to escape natural laws and straining to cross natural barriers and limits. “National ideals” breed the patriotic hypocrite, the political hypocrite, the diplomatic hypocrite, the imperialist hypocrite. All the nations of the world have disparate ideals—that is, masks to cover the preying, prowling jackal of racial pride. Buccaneers, looters, assassins at heart, they hide their motives behind their gold-embossed ensigns and ornamental insignias. Wearing the full regalia of the Ideal, they strut before one another bowing and scraping—these pliant tools of a satanic god.
Hypocrisy is an aesthetic. In the hands of attitudes. Before complacency he is an art that conceals a crushing irony. “I am all things to all men, and to myself no thing” is the formula of the chameleon of attitudes. Before complacency he assumes the self-satisfied air. Before shrewdness he plays the fox. Before luxury he plays the Sybarite. Before poverty he assumes a threadbare air. Before intellect he parades his prowess. But in assuming these masks, to make the art exquisite and to more completely subtilize the sublime buffoonery of existence, the aesthete of this cult must exaggerate. He must play the hypocrite to the nth power. His protean attitudes must be the sublimation of life itself. He must reincarnate himself from minute to minute in the diverse attitudes and nuances of voice and expression of the person he is satirizing. He makes believe he is flattering and imitating—and thus pours acid on acid. He never antagonizes. He blends and mixes and yields at every point, slipping on the characteristics of the other one like a skin-tight garment. And from the zenith of his consciousness there will flash across his brain that “unarithmetical smile” of Aeschylus, that silent laughter that rolls its thunder over the summits of the great world-intellects. This hypocrite, of which Montaigne and Sainte-Beuve are the eternal types, is a surgeon of souls who works masked and gloved.
In the hands of the weak there is no weapon like hypocrisy. It is the sum and substance of the Nietzschean psychology. It is the first rung and the last rung in the Jacob’s ladder of the weak—that invisible ladder that littleness and incapacity construct while the strong and capable sleep, and which reaches from the niggard reality of earth into the fat heavens of the gluttonous imagination. The will-to-power masks itself as “justice,” “equal ity,” “brotherhood,” “internationalism.” And a stench of scruples comes from their mouths—scruples, which are the fears of Hypocrisy. And from the midst of the hypocritical lowly come forth from time to time “redeemers,” victims of auto-hypnosis, who, regal in themselves, are in time covered with the pollution of infinite adoration. Their cloaked dream : to draw the quivering heart from the breast of Power and strip it of its secret. The rich are thieves, no doubt ; but the poor aspire. From the hovel to the palace the pilgrims are on the way, cloaked and cowled with the stuffs of their reveries—and the keen poignard of envy protruding from their under belts. Hyperions of an ancient heaven, to-day they mask themselves as socialists and “redeemers of society.”
The strong no less than the weak wear the mask of pretence. To gain their ends they must feign and fawn and practice a sly humility and break bread with the respectable. They draw the thunderbolts of destiny from her invisible heavens, but they must always pretend that the thunderbolt sought them out. It is fatal for Strength to play the egotist. Strength for itself must never be glorified. The Titans must come before the lowly with something sacrosanct about them. Their vital purpose must walk the earth tip-toe. It is also politic for strength to snivel and whine occasionally and sham meekness and confusion. And its kit of burglars’ tools should always have some homely motto engraved on it, such as “God Bless Our Home,” or “God Be With You.” The captains of life should look like missionaries in their dress. The Will-to-Power in the strong must scale back fences before it can enter its mansion in the skies.