Stormtroop Ludwig Wittgenstein
Updated: Aug 7
It came from Vienna. What did? The 20th century: modern architecture, modernist music, Adolf Hitler, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—and Lenin hung out there too. Goodnight, Vienna. Before all that there was Weininger, Otto Weininger—literally “the man from Wein”; or, as he would have preferred, “the genius from Wein”. Weininger: we all contain masculine and feminine elements within us to various degrees, such that these can even be expressed as fractions; homosexuals, such as Weininger and Wittgenstein, have a misbalance towards the feminine—they are feminine men, perhaps ¾ feminine. There are, naturally, also lesbians—masculine women—and yet they are still women; and women, says Weininger, have no souls—they lack the masculine capacity to translate data into a comprehensive picture; and, in fact, rely on a man to do so—even butch lesbians are this way (sorry, Camille Paglia); they are still defective, still women—still obsessed with sex and materialism, procreation and base material support.
Men, on the other hand, have the potential—not universal—to be geniuses; the genius has refined his soul to the highest to degree—all men have a soul to a certain extent, yet only the genius develops it to such an extent so as to be immortal. He often achieves this feat, somewhat paradoxically, through the way he appreciates a woman—just as Dante had his Beatrice. However, this appreciation must take place at a distance, for absence makes the heart grow fonder—you only really love those from whom you are separated, so that the dastardly woman has no chance to reduce everything to the sexual level. It could be said, per Serrano, men have souls whereas women are soul—every woman is the same woman, they represent nature’s perennial desire to bring forth life; and yet they have no particularity, they do not have a soul.
This is all contrary to the contemporary PUA view, itself a feminine and materialistic outlook that reduces everything to Darwinian sexual dynamics—in actuality, “oneitis”, the yearning for “the one”, is the source of genius; it is only in profane times that you need to “get over it” and “move on”—Dante never “moved on”, hence he produced The Divine Comedy (“Totally irrational oneitis, mate. Forget Beatrice. Move on.”)
Weininger was a Jew, but he looked at himself—at only twenty-three years old—and said: “The Jews are women too, we are also materialistic and obsessed with sex—we have no genius; yet, perhaps, through pure will I, Otto Weininger, will become a genius and transcend Jewishness. I will transcend the feminised materialistic 19th century, in which the Jews already played a large part, and I will die in the spirit of Mozart and Beethoven—musical genius, the pure reflection of nature, being the ultimate genius; music is pure soul.” Hence he completed his work, Sex and Character, and, in 1903, in the house where Beethoven died, shot himself to death—the genius is not perturbed by death, he is confident in his immortality; life is an either/or proposition: you either shoot for perfection, complete integrity, or you fail and become debased—you become a spiritual woman, just like a dark red blotch on a used sanitary towel.
Well, errr, that’s quite a philosophy you’ve got there, Mr. Weininger. Sounds a mite misogynistic, racist, and anti-semitic though. Well, quite. Yet Weininger’s Sex and Character was consumed by Wittgenstein as a teenager, casting around after he lost his naïve religious faith and had dabbled in Schopenhauer, and, really, Weininger remained a lodestar for Wittgenstein for life. Wittgenstein’s biographers, in late 20th-century embarrassment, have tried to tamp down the idea that Wittgenstein—who vies with Heidegger for the position “20th-century’s top philosopher”—could possibly have taken Weininger’s philosophy seriously; perhaps he wanted to be a genius, yet surely Wittgenstein would never credit Weininger’s ramblings about Jews and women? Not ultra-intelligent, ultra-educated Ludwig W.?
Yet when Bertrand Russell—hereditary liberal, his grandfather was a Liberal Prime Minister—began his do-gooder campaigning period, after he finished with his serious contributions to philosophy, he started work with women’s suffrage; and Wittgenstein replied that it was a waste of time, all the women in his university classes did was flirt with the lecturers—and they could never take anything seriously; they were stupid—stupid cows. So the evidence is that Wittgenstein agreed with Weininger’s spirit all the way (although, as we shall see, he parted company on particulars). In short, Wittgenstein’s life can only be understood in relation to Weininger, in relation to a lifelong struggle to overcome everything feminine, homosexual, and Jewish within himself—to attain a soul.
Another man from Vienna who would have understood where Wittgenstein was coming from was his schoolmate in a rather working-class primary school (quite surprising, because Wittgenstein came from one of the wealthiest families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire)—a boy Wittgenstein was two years above in school class, and who appeared with him in a school photograph: that boy, Adolf Hitler. Not only did Vienna create the 20th century, it threw its most influential figures together in the same primary school; two men with peculiar eyes—Wittgenstein shared with Hitler a history teacher, the teacher credited with gifting the boy his, err, world-historical ambitions.
Hitler also knew about Weininger; his somewhat mystical master, Dietrich Eckart, informed him that: “There was only one decent Jew, and when he realised what he was he shot himself.” So Hitler, while he may not have read Weininger, knew about him—knew about the general scheme; and, as with Wittgenstein, whose family was passionately musical, Hitler also placed music at the centre of his life—it is the Viennese way, twirling ball gowns and pianos and discipline; you will never learn the piano unless you are disciplined, very disciplined.
It is almost inconceivable in the 21st century, as I listen to Katy Perry for the fourteen gigienth time, to imagine what it meant to be “musical” at the turn of the 20th century in Vienna—and how far, even then, thoughtful people conceived that everything had become decadent, clogged with artificial ornamentation and superficiality; hence, modernist architecture—hence Loos wanted to flush ornament down the lav, so he designed unadorned buildings; the ornaments were flushed. This was a time when dynamite was required—musical, operatic dynamite.
Wittgenstein’s concern was with what is absolutely prior in every respect: he defined philosophy as a project to establish those propositions that are prior and foundational to scientific work, yet cannot be established via scientific work—and he delivered this definition in four minutes, in a seminar where papers were limited to eight minutes; he halved the previous record. Concision and precision were his hallmarks; and, in his view, few were precise enough to get at the nature of logic—he was disappointed to find, as he perused the philosophical classics, howler after howler. People were just not serious—never had been.
Perhaps there were so many errors because people are not honest. For Wittgenstein, honesty had the highest moment; and this was precisely because, at around eleven, he decided that it did not really matter if he told the truth or not—and, besides, he was an obliging child; he was the type who, when in ill in bed, would say to his concerned parents, “I can’t wait to be up and about again. I feel like I’m ready to get going right away,” even if he just wanted to crawl beneath the covers and die. He had an exquisite sensitivity for other people; and, unfortunately, rather like myself, this led him to lie to please them. It was only in his late teens that he made a commitment to the most rigid honesty; and this commitment often led him into conflict with others—slightly bemused at his perspective.
It led him into a sympathy with Nietzsche, albeit indirectly, for in his desire to be honest Wittgenstein took integrity, loyalty to what you are, to be the equivalent to an “ethical” commitment; and he held that honesty and aesthetic sense are interlinked: only that which is honest can be beautiful—aesthetics as ethics, a Nietzschean sentiment. As a result, Wittgenstein’s philosophy took on a pared down form where he made pronouncements without arguments. In effect, he wrote aphoristically—just as Nietzsche did. Clean concise statements that a person either accepts or rejects: accept/reject, either/or—the commitment to genius again, you either have integrity or not. Take it or leave it.
Indeed, Wittgenstein went so far to say that fear of death means that one has lived a bad life; and by a “bad life” he meant a “false life”, so that the more you dissimulate about what you are, the worse you can be considered to be as a person—the more you act like a woman, a homosexual, or a Jew. As with Nietzsche, the concern is for the most thorough-going honesty, such that it permeates and cleanses all filth-clogged recesses—and leaves only light.
As such, Wittgenstein eventually fell out with Bertrand Russell—at first Russell was the master, his work on the relation between logic and mathematics was the most advanced at the time; yet it was overtaken by Wittgenstein in about a year (I find it hard to write these sentences because I feel Wittgenstein over my shoulder saying, “What does ‘relation’ here mean? Is it a ‘relation’?”. This is what logicians are like—about everything). Wittgenstein never really took a degree; he was a complete outsider. He had started a studentship as an aeronautical engineer up in Manchester and then became possessed by philosophical questions, so he came down to Cambridge to see Russell and, as described, quickly overtook the world’s leading logician in his own subject—as a formality Wittgenstein was sent to actual undergraduate classes in philosophy; the lecturer demurred, “He’s teaching me.”
So Wittgenstein was completely self-taught and outside the system—he could do so because his family were staggeringly wealthy; he used to say he grew up with seven grand pianos (in fact, it was more like five); and he and his brothers had an army of tutors from an early age (in a Wittgensteinian spirit, the picture below of one of the Wittgenstein homes demonstrates their wealth). Wittgenstein was also intelligent in an unearthly way—at the age of five he constructed his own working sewing machine; and, later in life, while employed as an elementary school teacher, he fixed a local steam engine by the suggestion that workmen tap it in various places in a rhythmical fashion (Hans, 4 times; Georg, 6 times; Ernst, 3 times)—a fine combination between rhythmical activity and mechanical problem-solving; quite literally, in Nietzsche’s spirit, “how to philosophise with a hammer” (a tuning hammer). So you see what Wittgenstein was like; he could deal with a complex intellectual problem, even in a subject with which he had only an amateur interest, and solve it in a novel way.
To understand Wittgenstein’s concern in philosophy, consider that we are bewitched by language—so that when you pick apart the statements “Socrates is mortal” and “Two plus two is four” the copula “is” in each statement does not, on close inspection, mean the same thing; although it appears to be the same. Ordinary language is filled with these ambiguities and, in fact, many problems in politics and even everyday life stem from the fact that people literally do not understand what they have said to each other—or even what they have said themselves, sometimes.
In order to reduce these ambiguities to a minimum, philosophers adopted symbolic logic to represent the construction of language in a way that does not contain the ambiguities present in ordinary language (it looks like mathematical notation “x, y”, mathematics being a minimally ambiguous language—whether it states truths is, on the other hand, a philosophical question; although what can be said for sure is that it is less ambiguous than ordinary language).
So Russell and Wittgenstein were engaged, you could say, in a project to clarify what we actually say—whether in mathematics or in ordinary language, and how these languages can achieve maximal concision and coherence. What does this have to do with the meaning of life and ethics and all those things philosophy is supposedly about? The answer: really, not very much—for logicians, those questions are not even meaningful; though they have aesthetic value for mankind and are inevitably contemplated to some degree or another.
The philosophy practiced by Russell and Wittgenstein was not really even useful—not essential—for scientific activity and was trivial in relation to it; although, however, all scientific activity throws up questions as regards “those propositions that are foundational for scientific work but cannot be established by scientific work”. What Russell and Wittgenstein did was almost like chess, almost the highest intellectual activity you could undertake purely for its own sake. There was no need for them to do what they did for people to do science or create technology—except that those ultimate questions were always implicit in those activities and would crop up as troublesome niggles as those activities went on.
The foundation for Wittgenstein’s philosophy was summarised by himself as follows:
<<In philosophy there are no deductions; it is purely descriptive.
The word 'philosophy' ought always to designate something over or under, but not beside, the natural sciences.
Philosophy gives no picture of reality, and can neither confirm nor confute scientific investigations.
It consists of logic and metaphysics, the former its basis.
Epistemology is the philosophy of psychology.
Distrust of grammar is the first requisite of philosophical philosophising.
Philosophy is the doctrine of the logical form of scientific propositions (not primitive propositions only). A correct explanation of the logical propositions must give them a unique position as against all other propositions.>>
From this basecamp, Wittgenstein ventured forth to the assertion that a logical position can be shown to be either true or false without knowing the truth or falsity of its constituent parts. What did he mean by that? The statement, “It is either raining or not raining,” is true whether or not it is raining—it is a tautology. If I were to say, “It is either raining or not raining is neither true nor false,” I would have made a contradiction—and logic rejects contradictions.
Wittgenstein said that if we could determine by a single rule whether a proposition is either a tautology or a contradiction then we would have a single rule to determine all the propositions in logic; and if we could show that this single rule could be expressed as a proposition we would have a single rule from which to determine all the propositions of logic—there would be a single primitive proposition from which the whole of logic stemmed. In a departure from traditional British logic—which held that logic is about consistency—Wittgenstein put the accent on tautologies, so that all the propositions of logic are generalisations for tautologies and all the generalisations of tautologies are propositions of logic. This is the whole of logic—and the next step for Wittgenstein was to develop a sign system so that every tautology could be recognised in the same way.
Unless you know a little about philosophy, the above will not mean a very great deal to you; although it is elegant, isn’t it? However, we need to keep the above in mind for the other stages in this essay. Wittgenstein’s philosophy had three stages: tautologies; Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; and philosophy as an invisible method—and it is the second that now concerns us; it represented a departure from the insight above—a departure informed by Wittgenstein’s experiences in the First World War, where he constantly requested to be put in the front lines and held that to confront death was a vital act that conferred gravity upon a life. The Tractatus, as presented in extract form below, will not mean a great deal to you but that doesn’t matter (unless you know it already, of course). I present an extract here so you can get a feel for the presentation; the presentation is important because, in fact, the Tractatus cannot only be read backwards and make sense—you can also start at any numbered point you please and then move to another and it will all make sense.
3.03 We cannot think anything unlogical, for otherwise we should have to think unlogically.
3.031 It used to be said that God could create everything, except what was contrary to the laws of logic. The truth is, we could not say of an “unlogical” world how it would look.
3.032 To present in language anything which “contradicts logic” is as impossible as in geometry to present by its co-ordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space; or to give the co-ordinates of a point which does not exist.
3.0321 We could present spatially an atomic fact which contradicted the laws of physics, but not one which contradicted the laws of geometry.
This aspect to the Tractatus makes it like a Zen koan—and so it should, because that is what it is. The Tractatus is, from the logical perspective, meaningless. What do we mean by that? It is no longer a scientific document, in the broad sense, it no longer tries to convey information in the way a man like Russell would have recognised—rather, as with an art work, its primary purpose is aesthetic; it is about how it says what it says, not what it says. Why should Wittgenstein do this? As a logician, his concern is concise clear statements that refer to things that are meaningful—as a logician, he should really want to distinguish between clarity and opacity. Yet, as Lewis Carroll, himself a logician, had shown, you can write concise and clear nonsense—Alice in Wonderland has a very clear logic to it, dream logic.
Wittgenstein had divined that there is a meaning that inheres in language that cannot be expressed logically but can only be alluded to. This is why I highlighted “descriptive” in my quotation of Wittgenstein’s basic principles above—Wittgenstein’s philosophy is about what can be shewn, not what can be said. The idea is similar to the Zen notion that “the master points to the stars, but the disciple looks at the finger.” Wittgenstein would say that we are all looking at the finger; however, he cannot just tell us to look at the stars—he can only shew us how to escape our predicament, our predicament being that we are looking at the finger.
The problem is that you cannot just say, “Look at the stars, not the finger,” since the metaphor does not fully cover the reality; in a sense, the finger that we look at is language itself—as noted in the previous example, in the way the statements “Socrates is mortal” and “two times two is four” appear to be the same but are not; and yet ordinarily most people would assume that language does express reality, hence Wittgenstein’s contention that “philosophy begins with suspicion of grammar”; indeed, most people have no idea what they are actually saying most of the time. Hence we look at the finger, not at the stars—and it is the exercises deployed in Zen, the mental exercises deployed by Wittgenstein, that will shew us the stars.
So Tractatus does not provide any information for us; it is more like a circuit to run until we pop out and see the stars—as such it is a mystical exercise, it is meaningless just like chanting AUM is meaningless; except it does have a point, a point I can only shew you. Indeed, the Tractatus supports the view that solipsism and realism can be reconciled—the two points meet, and they meet because the old alchemical assertion that man is a microcosm constitutes reality. At the same time, Wittgenstein adopted his “picture theory of logic”—inspired by a trial in a French court he read about where models were used to represent an automobile accident. The content of this theory does not concern us and Wittgenstein eventually abandoned this view, but what we can take from it is the notion that the picture—the image—became a theme in Wittgenstein’s thought.
What Wittgenstein really shewed us with the Tractatus is that the old shamanic-mystic-Hermetic worldview is how the world is. The primordial reality, what is prior to everything, even science, is the void, the macrocosmos-microcosmos, and the image—magicians, for example, work by images; the image is the thing (so that when the Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing’s mother made a doll of him and stabbed it in the heart, he had a heart attack). This state cannot be described to people, although it is inherent in language—it is like a heat haze around words and symbols. When Wittgenstein famously said, “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must remain silent,” he expressed the basic mystical position that we must still the mind so that “we” disappear and so commune with primordial nothing—hence in the Hermetic tradition the initiate raises a single finger to his lips, the symbol of Harpocrates. Wittgenstein offered, in his Tractatus, an intellectual exercise akin to yogic breathing or a mantra that was designed to stop thought—bring thought to rest—so that a person may see what is beyond language: —.
Wittgenstein’s philosophy did not stop at the Tractatus; in fact, he moved beyond it so as to develop a pure method—a method characterised by a refusal to make assumptions; for him, genuine philosophy had to be a method that others could mimetically adopt—as with any mystery school, like his contemporary Gurdjieff and his “work”, you understood Wittgenstein through doing; he had a practice for you to adopt—a practice he likened, in a rather Petersonian metaphor, to tidying your room; for, like Peterson, he held that the only thing we can do to improve the world is to improve ourselves (he tidied his room with damp tea leaves that he used to absorb the dirt and dust). Indeed, Wittgenstein often encouraged his students to drop out of university and pursue manual work or, in particular, medical work—again, the idea is that practice, often a humble ascetic practice, will lead to “enlightenment”.
To exemplify what Wittgenstein’s method involved, consider this example from when he worked as a lab technician during WWII: there were many patients at the time who suffered from what was called “bomb shock”—Wittgenstein helped to review data on the condition from the First World War, yet he maintained that the problem with the work to identify what the condition was did not lie in data quality—rather it was the concept “shock” that caused a problem; indeed, so far did he think “shock” was a misdirection that he said that in reports it should be written upside down to emphasise the misnomer. “Shock” itself was a block to the investigation; so what Wittgenstein wanted to do was shew people—it has to be shewn—a method by which you could avoid ensnarement in concepts that made a situation insoluble.
To use a very basic example: it is as if you were stuck with a puzzle as to how to get a ball through a narrowly constructed hoop and then realised that you could move the hoop over the ball—Wittgenstein wanted people to train themselves to not jump to the rigid conclusion that it was a “ball-through-hoop” matter, so that they could not see that the hoop itself was mobile. In fact, in this way, many life problems that are obscure seem ridiculously simple when you realise you can “move the hoop”.
Wittgenstein loathed the atmosphere in places like Cambridge, a place where he said he “manufactured his own oxygen” whereas other people might die of suffocation. He hated the non-serious bitchy gossipy world cultivated by the universities, “Oh, really?”—the gossip’s tell; typically English, unfortunately. Hence Wittgenstein fell out with Russell because he judged that Russell had stopped being serious, he devoted himself to progressive social causes (such as new “progressive” schools) that Wittgenstein saw as nonsense. He said Russell’s works should be bound in two colours, his mathematical works in one colour—every student of logic should read them; and his social and political writings, nobody should read them.
Russell did things like write a positive review of a friend’s book just to help out with sales, even though he thought little of the book—for Wittgenstein this was not serious; no integrity—and he similarly disdained Russell’s endless affairs, since he thought these cheapened everything. Russell, of course, went on to be the grandfather of the ’68 generation and influence on such luminaries as Che Guevara. Wittgenstein loved detective novels and cowboy films: he was a Clint Eastwood or Sam Spade type in philosophy, a rightist archetype—the laconic serious man, the gunslinger, who appears in town to clarify the situation; the bad guys are ambiguous chatty people—trivial people.
Wittgenstein’s ideas were initially welcomed by the famed Vienna Circle, the logical positivists, who wanted to use logic as a para-scientific instrument (note that Wittgenstein thought philosophy should be above or below science, not “next to” it; not -para)—the idea being to clear away all quasi-religious or mystical nonsense that sometimes intruded into scientific work through imprecise formulation of ideas.
A simple example as to what they meant comes from the famous “double-slit” experiment in quantum physics: you have probably heard or seen a quasi-yogic video at some point that claims this experiment says that the observer can change the result of the experiment—therefore, “Consciousness can change reality, man”; the science has proved it—you can “think yourself rich” (or handsome). This has come about through a very elementary confusion, “the observer” could actually just be an instrument like a Geiger counter, not necessarily a human—it is the additional physical presence, not the “the act of observation by a consciousness” that changes the experiment; and so, in this way, the ambiguity in what a physicist means by “an observer” and what the general public means can create the impression that whether or not I look at an experiment—apply my consciousness to it, so to speak—can change the result. It was notions such as this, though at a more refined level, that the Vienna Circle wished to clear up.
However, when “the circle” actually met Wittgenstein, they found him nothing like what they expected—even though his ideas underpinned their project. He would sit quietly, concentrate intently, and then produce a perfectly honed formulation that was aesthetically pleasing and unassailable—again, Wittgenstein was like a mystic; he threw his thunderbolts from Olympus—he waited for the disorder of thought to still, then, like a frog from the lily pad, allowed a formulation to spring forth. Wittgenstein was rather like LEJ Brouwer—the Dutch intuitionist in mathematics—in both thought style and views; for example, Brouwer was also very much against women and Jews. Brouwer was “the frog” of mathematics, so his contemporary thinkers said, a Zen-like thinker.
The Vienna Circle was really more like a women’s knitting circle—they wanted to sit round, chit-chat, and chew the cud (they wanted to sit around and stroke each other and tell pretty lies). Wittgenstein wanted to get down to it—no bullshit! Stop chatting like a load of old women. From this fact, we can deduce that the Vienna Circle was not serious and said nothing worthwhile—they were a circle-jerk; and, indeed, their most famous products, men like Karl Popper, were not very impressive.
So that’s Wittgenstein’s philosophy, but what about Hitler—I was promised Hitler, I was promised “evil”; so where is Hitler? As you can see, there is an overlap between the two men: both thought primarily musically, both were formed by Vienna—and both were mystic outsiders, both disdained Jews and women. So let’s see how the two ran along parallel lines.
Before the National Socialists took power in Germany, Wittgenstein was at his most anti-semitic—as recorded in his own private notes and annotations. At around this time, Wittgenstein had a dream in which he concluded that “must there be a Jew behind every indecency?”. The Weininger contention never left Wittgenstein. Women, homosexuals, Jews—all compromised, all dishonest, all without souls; they all trade in chit-chat, money, and gossip—not serious. Three of Wittgenstein’s brothers committed suicide and he himself was constantly plagued by thoughts of suicide—even after Russell confirmed his genius in philosophy (the Weiningerian exit); and I think that for him it all came back to Weininger—Weininger realised what he was and concluded the only decent thing to do was to kill himself; and yet Wittgenstein never had the courage—and, indeed, despite the existential risks he took during WWI, he constantly reproached himself for a lack of courage.
The Weininger connection is not trivial; as late as the 1940s, Wittgenstein urged his colleagues at Cambridge to read Weininger—they were all a bit bemused by this appeal, Cambridge in 1940 was a very different place to Vienna in the 1900s. Now, admittedly, Wittgenstein did say that what Weininger said was valuable if you put the logical symbol for “not true” before it—so, perhaps, late on, he rejected the content of Weininger’s work; and, indeed, his anti-semitism reduced when Hitler achieved power.
However, brutality would not have necessarily dissuaded Wittgenstein, at one point Russell wanted to establish, post-WWI, a society for international “peace and freedom”—Wittgenstein scoffed at this suggestion. Russell suggested that he’d prefer an international society for “war and slavery”—“Yes, rather that!” replied Wittgenstein; perhaps the remark was facetious, but it also shewed that he accepted, in Heraclitus’s mystical vein, that “war is the king of all and makes some men free and other slaves”.
By the 1940s, Wittgenstein was not so much interested in the content of Sex and Character as in Weininger’s thought style; he thought there was something intriguing in the way Weininger tackled a problem, not necessarily in what he said. I think what he admired was the absolute commitment in Weininger; he produced his thesis and then acted upon it—killed himself; he was a serious person, you either achieve perfection or die in the attempt—and, indeed, in one of his confessions Wittgenstein admitted that his chief fault was a desire to be perfect.
Primarily, Wittgenstein was a religious man; he wanted to be a Christian—and was buried as a Christian, his family being Christians for many decades (until Wittgenstein’s parents’ generation they had out-bred from the Jewish community)—but could never make the necessary move; he found Christian dogma to be unbelievable, although he respected it. The problem was that he rejected Origen; he rejected the Gnostic contention that God grows from us—although his philosophy implies that we are “nature knowing itself”.
Wittgenstein disliked this approach because it was insufficiently Abrahamic: Origen said that all would be saved eventually, even Satan—the process would take a long time to work out; but it was a process, not a full stop. For Wittgenstein, this made it unserious—there had to be permanent judgement, permanent Heaven and Hell (I think most Europeans reject this instinctively). The problem was that to think in this way, with “God the Father in Heaven” and so on, was unbelievable to his rational mind—so he could never commit to Christianity; he never took the final irrational step into full mysticism (although he noted that the appeal of Freud’s theory was that it has a mythico-cyclical aspect to it that comforted people)—he could not be mystical enough, not transcend his Abrahamic stance (indeed, the people with whom got on best as interlocutors, rather than docile disciples, were his fellow Jews Sraffa and Engelmann).
When he visited the USSR, Wittgenstein was not disturbed by the fact that people couldn’t choose their own jobs—he said he had no objection to tyranny, so long as it achieved a satisfactory mode of existence; and he maintained a preference for a tyranny that led to a classless society—hence he voted for Labour after the war; if he had thought about it a bit more deeply, he would have seen that this contradicted his aesthetic commitments—however, his interest in politics was also religious; as with his friend John Maynard Keynes, he didn’t take Marxism seriously but he saw in the Soviet Union a potential religious spirit and mode of activity that was needed in a godless world. His Jewish sympathy for the underdog, his hostility to the class system, got the better of him—perhaps the real malicious reason he advised many of his young protégés to drop out of Cambridge and become manual workers. Wittgenstein was bright, but he was not necessarily a saint; not necessarily beyond a resentful attitude.
Indeed he was known, when he retreated from the academic world for ten years to work as an elementary school teacher in an Austrian village, to be violent and brutal with his pupils—he made them bleed, and even ended up, in absentia, before a professional tribunal for brutality (he was acquitted; later he would apologise to all the children involved—one girl he knocked out, his worst offence, simply replied, “Ja, ja, ja,” in a dismissive way).
Wittgenstein was a bit like Freud in that he was dogmatic and did not really respect obvious social conventions (shades of the ordeal of civility, the Jewish struggle to deal with social norms in European society)—at Cambridge Wittgenstein was known as “a bore” because he went on and on, often very violently, about an issue (although this is a Germanic trait as much as a Jewish trait) and tended to want malleable disciples who followed him absolutely. This was his unappealing dogmatic aspect, an aspect that could have made him sympathetic to either Communism or fascism—although really he was one of those people who is so bright as to be abstracted from politics and so approaches it in such a counter-intuitive way that his mode of attack makes no sense to most people.
Yet from everything he said, Wittgenstein should have been a fascist. Thus, for example, he agreed with Spengler’s Decline of the West and constantly referred to “rotting, putrid” English civilisation—to be a Spenglerian is not really compatible with Marxism; yet Wittgenstein was only fully disenchanted with Communism when he went to Vienna post-WWII and saw what the Red Army was like (they had billeted themselves and their horses in the house he designed for his sister—and, naturally, severely damaged it).
The Decline of West also chimes with Wittgenstein’s thought style in that Spengler maintains that the healthy and vital thought stage is characterised by analogy—nature as rhythm—whereas the decadent civilisation phase is characterised by mathematics and technology. Wittgenstein wanted to get back to the analogy, to the primordial state—to what is pointed at through musical expression. He detested the worship of science; and he said that science is truly conservative in the sense that it runs along railway tracks—it is rigid; only analogies and intuition are flexible—magical. Hence the West, in its high decadence, naturally worships science—and Wittgenstein found this fact depressed him. The railway tracks only lead in one direction—death; and before death, triviality—so much worse.
Wittgenstein’s political ideas might seem contradictory; and, in fact, we cannot say he had “ideas” so much has sympathies. As noted, Wittgenstein was so intelligent that his mind worked in ways that are alien and are, in fact, opaque to me. One key to his character, however, is that he was very sensitive; and this sensitivity coupled with his family’s extreme wealth and his homosexuality led him to experience great shame—and one way this great shame expresses itself is to give things away, to divest oneself of wealth and importance (Wittgenstein experienced chronic neurotic shame for much of his life; and I have known many ultra-intelligent people like that—it was one reason he liked Dostoyevsky so much, a man with a similar deep sensation that he was ashamed to live).
Hence he signed all his fortune away “committed financial suicide”—so said his lawyer—and for extended periods lived in a modest Norwegian hut, effectively as a hermit (when his sisters needed to flee the Nazis, Wittgenstein dismissed their lawyer’s concern for their money as “typically Jewish”). The shame was compounded by his fear that he misrepresented himself: there was also a famous musical German aristocratic family called “the Wittgensteins”—and Wittgenstein was aware that he was mistaken for this Aryan family at times, and became concerned at the confusion (especially when he let it pass); he feared to accidentally dissimulate—to become too womanish.
Wittgenstein understood that the West was in decay; he understood that the scientific worldview is not the whole world—he understood the mystic injunction that returns us to the unus mundus. He understood that a society in decadence will be dominated by women, homosexuals, and Jews; and this is because these groups are the most dishonest, greedy, and sexualised—the most group-orientated and the most dishonest; he thought like his schoolmate, Hitler—and like Heidegger, the Hitlerite philosopher. His dilemma, as with Weininger and his musical brothers, was whether he should commit suicide—or whether he should hold out for belief; a belief that would never come because, as he himself intuited, religion is a practice not a belief. You shouldn’t believe in anything, just accept what you see. Wittgenstein thought in a mystical way—like Hitler, like Brouwer, like Jung; and so cannot it be any coincidence he went to school with Hitler, or that when he died it was in a house called “Storey’s End”. It was where it ended, and where our story ends too.