Modern atheism is overtly nihilistic … atheistic nihilism struggles between two visions of the world: the Judeo-Christian and something not yet defined … Only time and progress through the century will permit us to discover it. For now we have nihilism. – Michel Onfray
In the lengthy introduction to Hedonist Manifesto, the translator explains and celebrates what he sees as one of Onfray’s key achievements: his neo-Epicurean worldview provides an alternative to the left’s moral relativism. It is clear that “new atheists” are typically on the left side of the political spectrum, however–like Onfray–McClellan does not shy away from being critical of the idealisms of the left, and moral relativism stands out as the great cardinal sin of the left that is tied to the nihilism of the age. While the right is happy to deal with nihilism by selling bankrupt religious creeds, the left has yet to rise to the occasion and produce a satisfying, coherent alternative worldview and morality that is widely accepted. Many Westerners are Epicureans by default, but few are Epicureans on purpose and with a clear understanding of what it means.
Beauty has a history. – Michel Onfray
Onfray, like Nietzsche, views art as a means for the creation of meaning. It is no surprise then that he takes the time to focus on and critique nihilist, psychotic art, which he perceives as a misuse of the meaning-endowing power and purpose of art.
I am not sure to what extent I agree with Onfray’s assertion that “any part of the self that is unwilled may end up psychotic or in need of therapy”. He is not just arguing for living the analyzed life: he is warning of the dangers of not doing so, and pointing to nihilist post-modern art (or what passes for art) as a symptom of what happens when we fail to philosophize. For instance, he criticizes nihilist songs and movies that offer “no overcoming”, and artifacts as “altars to consumerist nihilism”. Consider the distinction between creating content versus consuming content: authenticity versus consumerism. When art is merely an amalgam of consumer products, is there really a part of our soul in the creation?
Onfray likewise is critical of the view that art changes or informs history, arguing that instead “art comes from history”. Material conditions exist first, and only then do ideas emerge from those conditions that are able to create art. He is arguing for a materialist, non-Platonic aesthetics.
An emptied heaven allows for a full Earth. – Michel Onfray
But consumerism is not the only source of our alienation and emptiness of meaning: the God that our ancestors took refuge in to escape nihilism is itself an alienating factor. As an antidote for this, he proposes an egodicy: Derrida coined the word by saying “all philosophical discourse must proceed from a justification of the self”. The word appropriates the concept of theodicy, but turns it on its head. If we were to apply theodicy‘s conventional meaning to the self, egodicy would then mean “the vindication of the self’s goodness in view of the existence of evil“.
The philosopher attends to his Being, constitutes it, gives it structure, solidifies it, and then proposes his own autotherapy, as if it were a general soteriological path. To philosophize is to make one’s own existence viable and livable–right where one is, where nothing is given and everything is yet to be constructed. With his suffering body, sickly and frail, Epicurus came up with a way of thinking that let him live well, live better. At the same time, he proposed, to everyone, a new possibility for existence …
Each individual resides at the center of his own situation – Michel Onfray