Glory is Godhead

“Here, then, on all sides, this irreducible affinity, this tragic proximity between the warrior and death becomes clear. Victorious, he must immediately leave again for war in order to assure his glory with an even greater feat. But in ceaselessly testing the limits of the risk confronted and forging ahead for prestige he invariably meets this end: solitary death in the face of enemies. …There is no alternative for the warrior: a single outcome for him, death. His is an infinite task, as I was saying: what is proven here, in short, is that the warrior is never a warrior except at the end of his task, when, accomplishing his supreme exploit, he wins death along with absolute glory. 

Warriors do not seek death in and of itself perhaps, but it inevitably comes at the end of the path they have decided to travel: seeking glory, they meet death. One cannot be surprised then by the very high rate of mortality among the warriors. The ancient chronicles have retained the names and figures of the best among the warriors, namely the war chiefs: almost all died sooner or later in combat. We must also remember that these losses decimated a specific age group: men between the ages of twenty and forty-five, that is, in a sense the prime of this savage chivalry.”– Pierre Clastres, “Sorrows of the Savage Warrior,” Archaeology of Violence

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found this passage, and the chapter it was taken from in its entirety, very interesting on a number of grounds. Clastres suggests the emergence of the “state,” i.e. a dominating class, an authority separate and over the people, could come from warriors, who have a monopoly on the highest attainment of skill in violence in so-called “warrior societies,” at some point turning on society, using their violence against their own people rather than its former exclusion for the enemy.

Warrior societies, in this sense, are societies that predate civilisation proper — i.e. societies with a clearly-defined, ruling elite, a “State” — but they differ from other kinds of “primitive” societies in that much of the social machinery and some of the most distinguished, elaborate cultural symbols and rites, are centred upon the warrior. Every man in many primitive societies has to, is expected to exercise violence in some capacity or when called for, as a means to maintaining group identity or demonstrating group strength to both allies and foes — but the warrior in a warrior society is the specialist on violence, the most adept at its exercise, as already noted, and other skills required to succeed by the rules of war as dictated amongst a cultural group.  Violence and its use in warrior societies remains egalitarian, just as in the “savage” society, as every man will still be called on to defend or to go on the offense by his peers — but the warrior, the war chief, emerges as one whose very social existence is dedicated to the pursuit of violent exploits, for in his success, he gains exceptional distinction and prestige. Whereas the feats of the common man — the non-warrior — may likewise gain prestige, the warrior in a warrior society enjoys an elevated kind of merit, reflective of how much the warrior society values the warrior’s feats. Such feats are at times economical in value, i.e. their social value is entailed by the material benefits they afford to society. Other times, however, any material benefit is secondary, or else entirely lacking, such as a deliberate expedition to capture prisoners of one’s enemy, risking one’s own life or freedom in the process, only to kill them shortly after capture, or else grooming them for a time, then killing (and possibly eating) them, as was the alleged custom of some South American tribes. 

The pursuit of this prestige is different from the pursuit of power on a number of grounds, of which prestige has often been confused with. While prestige bestows noteworthy elevation to those who cultivate it above those who maintain it in a lesser degree, the quality described by “prestige” is not “power” because it is granted, willingly, by society. A warrior is great and lauded among a society of peers, impressed as they are by a courage that is not wholly alien to them, being fierce and warly themselves. This is the natural hierarchy of humans, so often mistakenly misplaced by creatures of the State in reference to its power. Prestige is the elevation of peers amongst peers — honour amongst peers — in recognition of their prowess. But that praise does not persist — like any other gesture, it is ephemeral, expiring into the shadow of memory, and however fondly remembered, it no longer elicits the same admiration, and from it, the same licence to the “perks” of such accomplishment. The warrior is then as ephemeral as the chieftain in his social status; he is recognised, and is, only the sum of his actions for society, his peers, and as soon as he retires — ceases to act, to pursue prestige — he is no longer a warrior or chief. In societies where the loss of such a chieftaincy, or membership in a warrior band, was a loss of honour — invariably, since it is a loss of its prestigious badge, a mark of beauty on one’s face — this is as good as, or perceivably worse than death. And so, those who set out on the pursuit of prestige are often compelled to pursue it always, in what Clastres refers to briefly as the “will-to-glory.” Glory and prestige is granted freely from the people — and so it is, if power can be said to be exercised here, it is the people, one’s peers, who hold power over the warrior, for he must always strive to impress them to maintain his image, his honour, as he sees fit. 

But while the abandonment of the warrior’s path may, uncertainly, spell death in the eyes of some societies, following the warrior’s path to its conclusion often spells certain death.  In pursuing exploits against the enemy in the will-to-glory, above and beyond what all others do out of a more-utilitarian necessity, the warrior is likely to meet his death. Clastres enumerates many examples of this among American warrior societies in his essay, of which I will not repeat in its entirety. In summarising the evidence, however, we come to the classic archetype of the “savage warrior,” suicidally fearless, willing to rush to a solitary death, into impossible straits, for the chance at glory, if not in his life than in the ultimate glory of having his name enshrined, forever, in the memory of his people, if the feat is glorious enough. One sees this mirrored in the tales of the Gaelic epics, most notably, the Red Branch Cycle centring around Cú Chulainn and the other warriors of the  ancient Ulaidh. Cú Chulainn himself stands alone against an army in the story of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, out of duty to his people and for fear of dishonour otherwise, and he, echoing the fate of Achilles, gladly accepts a short life in exchange that it be filled with “glory,” over a long and inglorious one, the lot of the common man. Discounting Cú Chulainn’s demi-godesque status, there are numerous other instances to be found in the tales, of Ulaidh warriors and others, setting out alone or with few friends against impossible odds, merely at the prospect to gain glory, to beautify the face that is honour, even though they come to their death all the sooner. The warrior’s will-to-glory is then a will-to-death, of which the warrior is often prescient of this expectation.

In this, the will-to-power (courtesy of Nietzsche) is subsumed under the will-to-glory;  the warrior seeks domination or submission over his enemy, the other tribe, in service to the glory and praise that only his own, his people, could give him. What happens, though, when the warrior rejects this will-to-glory, will-to-death? Warriors in societies with a State of course still exhibit the pursuit of glory at all costs — one was just exemplified in Gaelic Éire, especially its early and pre-Christian form, as clearly, it was a civilisation, with a clear dominating and dominated division within it, a State and its Subjects. The warriors of such civilisations still enact “suicidal” bravery and the feats expected of the warrior. But the highest figures, the most “powerful,” within societies with a State, in the figure of the king, a royal caste, etc. — they no longer have this will-to-death. Will-to-glory, perhaps — but without the courage and lack of caution that the destiny of the “Aided” (old Irish: “violent death”) for glory would demand. For example, from the same Irish suite of tales, we have another central figure in Conchobor, the legendary king of the Ulaidh. Though he may have gone to battle, as was a not-uncommon custom or expectation of some societies for its king (especially those which would later be academically referred to as “barbarian), it was cited at least once when describing his ascent to kingship that:

“Heroes and battle-veterans and brave champions went before him into every fight and fray, to keep him from harm.” (The Táin; Kinsella translation)

This could very well be dismissed, given that it is also mentioned that this was done because he had yet to produce a son. It is unclear why this point would matter, however, in a society in which kingships and chieftaincy was not heritable, other than it may have been a very high regard/courtesy to Conchobor. Whereas a son might be a likely candidate, the king’s heir, known as the “tánaiste,” was elected by the noble class — peers choosing the most worthy of their number to rule the tribe. Dismissing this hint, though, there is ample historical and literary evidence to suggest that an Irish king, while he may not have been forbidden and at times was expected to fight alongside his warriors, was still kept at some distance to the usual daring exploits that occupied the warriors beneath him, excused from these affairs in his primary, divine duty in tending the land he reigned over. Many other societies the world over, when such a figure — the figure of the State — emerged, demonstrated varying degrees of distancing this figure more or less from harm. Frazer, in his foundational (but oft and rightly-criticised) work of “The Golden Bough,” made this one of the central preoccupations to his theory, how and why the figure of the god-man, the god-king, is revered and doted upon by his subjects, either from birth or through elevation from the class considered directly under him, the warriors, as in the Irish case. In highly-unequal societies like ancient India, the highest caste of the Brahmins, the symbolic “head” of the society, were ideally defined by their pursuit of scholasticism and the keeping of State ceremony and religious doctrine. Their relation to combat was tenuous at best, and eventually they were not associated with combat in much of any capacity, divorcing them not only from the will-to-death, as the king in the Irish case, but also the will-to-glory as well, with the warrior caste — the “arms” of society —  beneath them still expected of such.

In any case, there eventually emerges the precursor to our modern heads of State; a group of people entirely divorced from the martial pursuit, except (and one can certainly argue strangely) as “commanders” of the ones who fight. Returning to the proposition that the earliest civilisations — societies with States — emerge from the warrior group at some point “turning” on society, this turn, then, may be said to entail one or many of their number forsaking the will-to-glory and/or will-to-death that is obliged to the warrior, and in so doing, he forsakes the critical compact with society. Those who thirst for fame, for elevation, are granted such as “prestige” by the society, but in exchange, they must eventually annihilate themselves, eliminating the potential threat their desire and elevation may pose to the society itself. Power remains with the society, in other words, because it annihilates all the would-be kings through the will-to-glory, the beautification of one’s honour as only one’s peers can grant in acknowledging, perceiving it. A fatal moment of cowardliness, however, causes the abandonment of the will-to-death, but as that is inextricably linked to the will-to-glory, insofar as the society expects the warrior to eventually die by violence, then it could be said, in truth, the will-to-glory is also abandoned (contrary to the former implication of the will-to-glory being preserved in absence of death). It is here informative to turn once again to Frazer, with his concept of the “killing of the god;” that is, in some “primitive” societies, the figure of the divine chieftain or king, the head of Society even if only in ceremony, the “god incarnate,” was readily killed by his people if he failed to live up to society’s demands, or else as a matter of course as part of a ritualistic cycle. In attempting to connect the pageantry of “peasant” folk customs to the ostensibly-universal rite of killing the divine power in the flesh, Frazer refers to both legends and historical accounts of the divine king, faced with the prospect of his impending sacrifice, conveniently escaping it by a revolution of thought or a reformation of “policy” that spares the tyrant from the price he was expected to pay for his elevation, the reason of its existence, to begin with.

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At that fatal point, the will-to-glory, and the will-to-death, becomes the will-to-power — that is, the will to dominate others, and not just the enemy, as formerly, but one’s own people as well. Inspired by cowardice, it is the only way to escape the aided, the expectation of the violent death by society, insofar as declaring the society itself an enemy as well, one whose wishes can then be ignored in favour of one’s own interests, one that must be dominated, subjugated, to oneself. And so comes the cravens who sit on high, for whom battle has, increasingly throughout history, been deemed further and further beneath them. The hardness expected and delivered on those who aspire to any sort of elevation, the warriors, in times of yore, through the expectation of the pursuit of glory and the “terrible” fate that awaits them in this pursuit, suppresses the emergence of such power over the rest of society. When they are relieved of this harshness, this check, this expectation that they sacrifice themselves for their society in exchange for the satiation of their desire — then the potentate, the tyrant, has been born, in all of its decadence, degeneracy, cravenly leisure. 

No longer is the warrior, chieftain, the god-king expected to sacrifice, to give of himself, for the good of Society — instead, the one doomed to the necessary death cheats it, through conniving, sweet-tongued reasoning, or by both the use of force and the same poisoned justifications for the importance of his own continued life and privileges. The “revolution of thought,” or the reformation of “policy.” There is no need for him to die, when he can do so much more good by living. The slaying of the god, or the one with power, is barbaric — conveniently pronounced when it is his turn to die. Better to be rid of it, to insist that society is “served” so much better when the rogue warrior’s social elevation is allowed to persist, even in absence of the original reason he was allowed it, i.e. to harry the enemy, and to die gloriously for oneself and one’s people. His sacrifice is foisted off on to others — a god proxy — but thereby mutating and obscuring the original meaning of the sacrifice, which was the necessity of the one with power to die in service to Society, to obstruct as possible the will-to-power from turning against Society.  The State figure is the very first humanist, ever championing for his — or now, more appropriately, Its — life, at its most beguiling winning the sympathies of its subjects by claiming to champion for their lives as well, the submissive ones, the ones who are remade in its image. And so begins the decay of Society by him, the one who fears death, the one who has shunned glory for comfort. This deathless vampire exerts itself upon his own people in order to sustain himself, sucking the life out of them — first, in their ferocity, their ability to cast out the growing State infrastructure and infiltration of culture, then, as in so-called “advanced civilisations,” in the degradation of the human ties that bind themselves, each to the other and to the non-human world, through the State exerting its will down to and between individuals, erecting mazes of bureaucracy and ever greater demands of tribute, obeisance, “regulations.”

The State then comes from the warrior — or a group of such, as it may be — who forsake the will-to-death, will-to-glory, placing his preservation in elevation above all else, whatever the cost to his people. The cost his people bears, after all, is no longer an issue, so long as it is not so high or so abrupt as to be utterly intolerable and thus threaten the tyrant’s reign, for his people are made an enemy, one who must be dominated and pilfered. What remains of the warriors, once this ascent is made, no longer serve Society, whose power and agency — and the prestige it could therefore offer — is gradually eroded. Instead they serve the State, for the State now gives them the prestige and praise for their temerity that it has purloined from Society. The heads of the State themselves may simply be former warriors, elevated from this broader class, as the king/chieftain was in the Gaelic case, and so there is further incentive for the warriors to conspire against Society. 

These semi-independent warriors, or warly nobles, however, represent a potential threat to the State’s march towards total power, and by it, total security for itself, its own existence. Everything becomes suspect, a potential threat, when one’s chief concern is one’s safety — but moreover, the warriors clearly are rivals and threats to the heads of State, in competing amongst themselves and with the heads for the position, or else in having the potential to supplant the heads if the opportunity presents itself. And so, the kind of State that carries the quest for safety and the will-to-power to its utter conclusion sees the warriors abolished. This was the case of European societies — through various means, the feudal lord, the anarchic warrior, was abolished or pacified, the will-to-glory, will-to-death extinguished, and in their place is installed the “soldier.” Much can be said about the differences between a “warrior” and a “soldier;” it will suffice only to say here that the soldier, unlike the warrior, rarely ever fights for his own honour above all else. That would not only be anathema to the organised warfare of conquest particular to civilisations, but one does not fight for honour when a society has lost practically all sense of it.

The once-warrior, who has made all his enemy in his pursuit of security, at last expels, from itself and all who are bowed down under it, the will-to-glory, will-to-death — and the ferocity and courage that only that reckless valour can bestow.  The State eliminates the warrior, for though the tyrant may have his roots as a warrior, once he departs the warrior’s path, he becomes the warrior’s irreconcilable antagonist, with the antagonism deepening with an increasing cultural decadence and slovenly cowardice instigated by the tyrant. The warrior, after all, whether he serves the people as of old, or whether he has been maligned to serve the tyrant, in seeking glory, seeks immortality beyond this life. He seeks immortalisation in memory — his name to live forever after him, in exchange for a shortened life — and in an undying realm expressible only through the language of “myth.” And so this achiever of mighty feats, by his own strength and iron will, seeks a transcendent godhood, to boldly make the supreme sacrifice and by it, reign “on high” forever. The tyrant — the State — on the other hand, builds his kingdom in the here-and-now. He lives only for himself, and as such, his goal is to prolong his life, and all its precious comforts, as long as he can. His kingdom as such is wholly mundane, his pursuit that of pure pleasure, and as such, his rhetoric one of pure utilitarianism — always an appeal to minimise “pain” and hardship (though only for an exclusionary, affluent few, the State elite of course among them), to tend to and think of the material —
“production” — at the expense of a nobility of thought and deed rooted beyond the mundane, beyond the craven’s short-sighted goal of avoiding all risk in the immediate moment (and so is the tyrant’s tendency to quick self-destruction, the continuous collapse of civilisations, in being incapable of true foresight and concern beyond himself).

And so we come to see: the State, the “coldest of all cold monsters,” who can speak nothing but “lies” — part and parcel to its inherent decadence, degeneracy — inverts reality itself through its falsehood. The “primitive,” the “savage,” has, by the State’s rhetoric, often been denigrated as the “sensual” one, the one incapable of thinking beyond the immediate and material, “closer” to the earth and to nature — while the State proclaims itself the divine voice of heavenly authority — or the divine authority itself — the one that lifts men out of hellish sensuality and into the superior realm of “culture.” But in following the path of glory — in being warriors — the “savage” is actually the “noble” one, the one who lives and dies by the laws and signs of diverse cultures and the pursuit of something beyond himself, for his people. If he be closer to nature, it is in that nature, far from the callous and meaningless filth the State has proclaimed it as, is thoroughly inscribed with laws and relationality — in keeping with honour — that goes beyond the smallness and mechanistic myopia of the tyrant, and so do the warriors go down gladly to “sacrifice themselves to the earth” (Thus Spake Zarathustra: Nietzsche), and by it, his name lives in perpetuity, enshrined in glory. The State and its creatures, in truth, are then the decadent and the sensual — the tyrant’s kingdom is a carnal one, his pursuits, in all of their meanness and banality, closer to the desires of the caricaturised “beast,” seeking ever only pleasure and instant gratification, and through this pursuit, he grinds the most of his subjects deeper into the stinking mud of indignity or outright deprivation. His domain is the utter hell the shameless liar casts all others as, from which his antagonistic resolve “to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad” (The Antichrist: Nietzsche).

All gods must die — all sacrifice for their people, as the sign and price of their power, and in upholding their people. Warrior and god — hero and god, as the likes of Joseph Campbell would have put it — one and the same. The once-warrior — the bloodless coward who, in shouting “I, before all others” — forsook this sacred pact, desiring power without its price, and in doing so, he, or the collective descendent of the State, becomes the Great Enemy of his people, Evil, in all of its deceit, decadence, and terror for what is bright, noble, bold. Whomever aspires to the latter would do well to take heed of that ancient custom that so occupied the interest of Frazer. The god must be slain — the bloodless coward at last should pay his due, the god killed as of old for the rejuvenation of peoples and lands. And the ones to do that, to take on the greatest enemy of all, heedless of the death that they rush all the sooner to in the fray — they are warriors, reclaiming the fury and wisdom of old, fighting for honour, fighting for their people, for their own usurped dignity, for the dignity of man, and for the dignity of all life. And in doing so, he seeks and claims his own godhood — his own glory.

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