How I Became A Hooligan, 1935

excerpts On the art of being a reactionary and a Bolshevik at the same time "He gobs democracy and the human rights…" The Romanian Life  "He insults national security and patriotic feelings." The Commandment of the Times  Not solely is Two Thousand Years Past – as previously noted – a racist and renegade novel, but what is more – a reactionary and Bolshevik book. "Reactionary" it is for "The Literary Truth", "The Romanian Life", "The Construction Site", etc. ; "Bolshevik" – for "The National Defense", "The Commandment of the Times", etc. This is an "honor in excess", as Corneille's "The Cid" phrased it – that I find touching. There I am, with one book: piecing together a kind of "national union" between the right-wing extremists and the left-wing extremists, a kind of "common frontline" between middle class and the blue collar. Their method – of course! – is using my quotes. A series of "reactionary" pieces of my mind for "The Literary Truth" – another battery of those – Bolshevik this time – for "The National Defense". I will again take the liberty this time of not replying. As in the case of the "Anti-Semitic quotes", I deem that a simple read through the book will suffice to restore the truth. And should this not be enough – then all the more worse for the tome. I mentioned that I had no intention of defending it. What I am interested in is merely clearing a number of facts outside the book and to discuss a number of attitudes outside literature. They were scattered in the heat of the fight by one contender or the other, and it is not a bad thing to bring them to light today. For example – this question of democracy versus reaction. It can be found on the "Issues File", lashed out at on scores of pages. Be it as remote from the novel as it is, I would not wish to forfeit the opportunity of clearing a point. It is not for the first time that I find myself caught in the middle, between the ideological s machineguns of the right wingers and those of the left-wingers. All this – whilst lying in wait for the others: the real machine guns. It is extremely probable that – out of the turmoil that mankind experiences today – a new social order will emerge. It is almost certain that what we find ourselves in is not a mere contextual crisis, but a vast structural one. The political and economic foundations of the present-day world are giving way. In the game of history other forces have started playing. The proletariat? The peasantry? Maybe. It is not hard to notice that history is made within a series of ever-expanding concentric circles, engulfing growing masses of people and beckoning to life layers of humanity every time larger and profounder. In terms of rhetorical imagery, one might muse that history opens her arms more widely with every century, to welcome as much human life as possible. The feudal circle embraced a remarkable few, the bourgeois circle – appreciably more, the proletarian or peasant or – possibly – proletarian-peasant will embrace a host of multitudes. In brief: these revolutionary tendencies, still obscure to this day, can be summed up and confined to one single idea: the primacy of collectivity over individuality. It is a pathos-filled and equally successful idea. But, first and foremost, it is an equitable idea. The collective takes precedence over the individual. The historic accent shifts from "man" to "mass". This all too global truth hides countless dangers and a horrible artifice. Actuality can translate very easily into abstraction: the death of the individual. It is elatedly heralded by both the right wing and the left wing, this death that can very easily become… assassinate. The communists and fascists turn the "spirit of the barracks" into the cornerstone of their political acts. What is more than that – into their moral motivation. The "man in uniform" is the type of human grandeur that extremist right and left wing experiences try to foist on our times. Black, brown, blue, and green shirts… violently simplify ideas, stands, and feelings, reducing them to one color, one sign, one cry. By 'virtue' of this: with one move, all possible doubts are effaced, all nuances crushed, all private mindsets leveled under one formidable equalizing pressure. The game is ruled by a remnant of two-or-three absolute and obscure truths no one has the right to question, but for which everyone must fight to their death. Yes – no, white – black. That is all. The rest is suppressed, erased from our conscience, neutered away from our sensitivity. With a shirt, an anthem, a salute, and a badge, all the problems are solved, all the answers are uncovered. Are you in need of a religion? Here's a membership card. Are you in need of metaphysics? Here's an anthem. Do you need a passion? Here's a leader for you. It is enormously simple. The key to truth, to all truth, lies in that shirt which will act as one's conscience, mind, feeling, and action. The man in suit is subject to error. The man in uniform is infallible. Seldom has humanity had so many commodities at hand to resolve its inner tribulations. A hooked cross, a bundle of twigs, a hammer and a sickle sum up, resolve and suppress everything. It would be all too easy to laugh at this mystique of the uniformed man. Let us admit that it answers a natural taste for ceremony, a real voluptuousness to believe in fiction and obey it. Man is an animal with a show instinct, and one of the most mind-boggling shows is that of the crowds. One hundred thousand youths who raise their hands – one hundred thousand arms as if spurting from one huge shoulder are great machinery that can flatter many a power instinct or biological sensation. Let us not look down on this voluptuousness. It is far too perilous. A buccaneer of genius, a daring sergeant-major will one day pick on this sentimental weakness, give a signal, amass ten thousand gents around him, have them raise their right arm… and start a revolution.Let us not deride this natural weakness, but be wary of it. It springs from a drunkenness of power and a drunkenness of submission that aid and excite one another, and go hand in hand well into most disorderly forms of dementia. The "dementia for power" aspect has been responsible for all too many massacres in the world, and its massacres have at all times been sad, barren, leaving an irrefutably foul aftertaste after hours of confusion and lust. I have often seen strong men rendered incapable of fighting and holding out because they were being… adulated. Forgive me my simile as I am under the impression that great pirates of history, the great outlaws, the "good tyrants", as it were, have always resorted to localizing the weak points of the crowd. From the moment where they had spotted it, when they knew "which button to push" – the game was won. The response of the crowds has always been annihilated by the excitement of its crude pleasures. Choirs, cadenced march and vague symbols, these psychological inebriations are the base matter of any dictatorship. Whether they be onerous or not is of no consequence in the least. They are albeit effective, and that suffices.One single enemy can withstand this scourge: the critical spirit. That is why any dictatorship, be it fascist or communist, debuts by suppressing it. "That abject critical spirit" that alcohol and dictatorship remove after their first abuses… out of prudishness at times, out of fear – at all times… this abandonment of lucidity is an added pleasance: for alertness is not comfortable, self-severity not pleasant, and the watch – not restful. The nightly bout will pass, and at dusk will come sickness. Nights of libation persist throughout history: they tend to last for years and decades, if not for centuries. At the end, disgust arrives without fail. "The death of the individual" is tantamount to the death of the critical spirit. I do not believe in this death. It would simply mean the death of man. I am ignorant to where today's or tomorrow's revolutions take us. I do not know where this process of decay ends in which we irrefutably exist. Nevertheless, I know that there are certain human values that are indestructible. They will stay.No revolution will cry off our conscious inner opposition between "I" and "the world". No revolution has suppressed it to this day. Progress is possible at any level save this one.There are a few quintessential dramas that have been bestowed on man and that he will keep for e'er, regardless of his material status. No one can grant an all-embracing exemption from this drama and from redemption at the cost of our individual lives. No existing social system will ever be in the position to circumvent the realities of our conscience, by virtue of which we call ourselves humans and by which we are one step ahead of the animal kingdom."The 'I' versus the world" is a drama the uniformed man does know naught about. He is a happy individual. Happy as a bee, as an ant he is. His place in the world is safe, his horizon clear-cut, his function strictly outlined. But humanity cannot abide too much in the presence of an ignorance of its own laws. That it sometimes strives towards the hive or formicary can be explained, as the hive translates into a status of absolute, thus restful certainties. Nonetheless, our natural condition is freedom, a difficult state, dramatic and compelling. It is easier to be a bee than a human. Albeit unfortunately, there us no way to opt. We shall stay humans, even if we attempt not being thus anymore. Freedom is neither a claim nor an ideal, but a powerful structural obligation; at times, we rebel against it, jealous at the ants' happiness. "The uniformed man" has a ready-made, overwhelming answer to the civilian man: an individualist! It is a fierce insult, but at the same time: an inept confusion.No – opposing the hive spirit cannot qualify as an individualistic attitude; on the contrary, the assertion of the concept of man that must be upheld. There is nothing abstract or Judaic about this opposition. There is, above all, nothing selfish about it. This so-called "individualism" of ours has nothing in common with a society where nine tenths of the individuals are kept in a revolting state of inferiority. Sooner or later, mankind will face an issue of poor versus rich. This thing termed "our individualism" is not waylaying this path. Nor can this path override our inner life, belittle our solitude and our solitarian rights – the only generator of human values. All the pyres, all the machine guns, all the salt works in the world do not suffice to suppress and uproot these rights, these obligations. To kill them, one should first kill man himself. Were we merely in a graveyard, the task would be easy.Marxism and fascism may encompass hosts of decisive political and economical truths, but they both spring from an abhorring ignorance of man. In Marxism and fascism alike, one can sense lifelessness and an overuse of sketchiness that render them artificial from the very beginning. This will turn against us – now or in one hundred years – but it will turn against us. I admit that this stand between extremes is not an easy one to hold. When half of the people shout "yes" and the other half, "no", when placed in between these intransigencies, one is at risk of being twice struck. One wades with difficulty nowadays thorough the realm of ideas, if not uniformed. The critical spirit never had a uniform. It is civilian.I have always avoided absolute truths that I tried pocketing as if they were a gun permit. I have tried to preserve my humble, but tenacious right to fathom things in shades and distinctions. I am not a partisan; I am always a dissident. I only trust the solitary, but in him I place all my trust. I am not saying this and paying for it for the first time. I have been "a fascist" when speaking about the Marxist; I have been "a Marxist" when speaking about the fascist. Today I am reactionary and a Bolshevik, all in one. I realize that any further distinction is futile. These people only hear what they want; only see what they think.Two Thousand Years Past only skirted the issue, only in as much as the heroes of the book went through it. But I have written countless articles in newspapers and magazines, held more than one conference to this effect. To no avail – what I remain is a hooligan and a Bolshevik.In 1932, the ideologists of Capşa and Corso (coffee bars) heralded the imminent enthronement of communism. The Bucharest highbrows converted in masses. At that time, I lectured at the Foundation on the "individual and the collectivity" aspect in front of several hundred suspecting and revolted Marxists. I advocated there what I am writing now, what I have always written. "A Bourgeois!", my left-wing friends clamored. Fascist and Bourgeois... I knew there was no antidote to their swift verdict But I issued in "The Word" a rectifying column, that I still peruse with great pleasure, astounded by its acuteness[1].In November 1933, after almost two years, things happened precisely the other way round. Between Capşa and Corso, the young makers and shakers converted to the Iron Guards. The Fascist Revolution was afoot every day then. If not on Tuesday, Wednesday, then it would certainly arrive on Friday morning. I chanced again to lecture at the Foundation, in a public debate on democracy and dictatorship. "November past, the horizon of Romanian politics seemed indeed gloomy. Clouds had gathered from all winds. In Germany, Hitlerism was delivering its fiercest blow. Here, under the direct sway of Berlin, right-wing extremism was getting ready for its most daring onslaughts. To speak about democracy or, even less, about humanity – was sometimes a naïveté, sometimes temerity." T. Teodorescu-Branişte ("The Free Word", no. 52) Yes – it is true. To speak about humanity was arresting. Before me stood again several hundred inflamed young men – maybe the same lads as in February 1932, but now won over by Hitlerism. I had to speak, against them, about freedom. Thus, although two years before I had been a "Bourgeois" to them, I was now changing into a "Bolshevik". To be constantly unseasonable to such chaps is an honest-to-God pride. I am revising all my writings over so many years and am exhilarated that in the wake of my effort of building up, with every single line I wrote, a position of wakefulness and critique, the agora has only found fit to record two brief outcries: Bolshevik! Bourgeois! The rest might have been received by the few people I put pen to paper for and without whom writing would seem like a barren act.To the others, I will eternally remain "a bourgeois columnist from the nationalist-orthodox and hooligan daily The Word".For, let us not be forgetful – my second or third most heinous crime (albeit I might have lost count) is this: The Word!
[1] "I too Am a Bourgeois" (in The Word, issue no. 2449 of February 15th 1932).

by Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945)