The Corner

Nock & Nihilism

Interesting email:

Jonah,

Great article on Nock. I now know more than I did after finishing Superfulous Man, which turned me off for reasons I can’t remember.

I am writing because just before reading your article I read an article by David Bentley Hart from a 2007 issue of First Things that dovetails in an interesting way with the Remnant and Epstean’s Law.

Hart argues that modern nihilism could only have come about in the aftermath of the Christian experience. He quotes Heidegger in a way that gets to Nock’s Remnant:

Nihilism, says Heidegger, is born in a forgetfulness of the mystery of being, and in the attempt to capture and master being in artifacts of reason (the chief example — and indeed the prototype of every subsequent apostasy from true “ontology” — being Plato’s ideas).

And the first commandment of the God that lies inside that mystery is “no other God before me,” which say Hart:

this commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again.

Epstean’s Law says mankind will only ever withdraw from the first commandment, which has no interest in a cautery. Hart’s prescription for reclaiming the first commandment is doomed if Epstean’s Law is absolute:

this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. It takes formidable faith and devotion to resist the evils of one’s age, and it is to the history of Christian asceticism — especially, perhaps, the apophthegms of the Desert Fathers — that all Christians, whether married or not, should turn for guidance. To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture — all of which are so tempting precisely because they enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.

Epstean’s Law is not absolute because, as Hart shows above, you can’t have it both ways. I suspect for Nock, Epstean’s Law was absolute because the only thing that restrains the desire for easier living is “no other God before me,” and I did not detect that first commandment longing in Nock.

Anyway, interesting article. I enjoyed it a great deal.

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