Thoughts on existentialism and the crisis of authority

Here’s a thought I had:

It appears, to me, that I take many views that are seen in a type of philosophy called existentialism.  I, though, tend to interpret it differently.


In some respects, existentialism is primarily looking at a specific quality or “illness”, so to speak.   This “illness” has the quality of a ‘complex’ which has traits such as:

  • The idea that something important has “died”, is gone, or is missing.
  • The idea that we’re lost as a result of this.
  • This creates feelings like doubt, anxiety, despair, etc.
  • This causes a tendency, and need, to rediscover what has died.
  • But, regardless of what we do, there is no solution and, therefore, a dilemma is created in life, one which can’t be answered but is always there.

. . . the existential dilemma.

In my opinion, this is a naturally appearing condition in humanity at least in some form or another.  But, due to historical circumstance and situation, it has been particularly exaggerated these past several hundreds years in Western society.  Its a dilemma that seemed to ‘appear’ right after the Napoleonic wars, especially, and grew in intensity as time went on.  It almost seems to go through stages (at least in philosophy):

  1. The discovery.  This would be like the early-mid 1800’s.
  2. The defining.  This would be the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. 
  3. The realizing.  This would be the early to mid 1900’s.
  4. The forgetting.  This would be the mid to late 1900’s.

In other words, the existential dilemma, as a whole, has a quality of discovering an “illness” but, finding ourselves helpless against it and unable to cure it, we end up forgetting it. 

But, we must remember, the “illness” still continues.  Overall, the existential dilemma has become a forgotten enigma, as if drowned by the events of history which have, it seems, molded the existential dilemma into new forms.  In other words, its existence has caused other reactions, particularly recently, than the original philosophical explanation.  Despite this, its fact continues to exist and influence things.  Sometimes, the dilemma is hidden behind some form of thought or thinking, of principles or points of view, such as:

  • Justification – As a cause (for example, that its a “liberation”, or a “freedom”, etc.).
  • Explanation – As something to give other explanations for (such as that its caused by consumerism, cellular phones, the Republican party, not enough fiber, etc.).

But, being so deep set it often affects people differently, beyond thought, such as:

  • Experienced – As an underlying despair or anxiety (this, of course, captures the existential dilemma in its original form).
  • Non-acknowledgement – As something not acknowledged and ignored.

In other words, the reaction to the existential dilemma tends to go in a thought and non-thought pattern.  In actuality, this tendency reveals a basic problem found in the existential dilemma . . .


One aspect that the existential philosophy reveals is a condition that is created by philosophy and thought in general.  Since this is a “thinking society” this problem permeates this society and, no doubt, causes the general existential dilemma we now see in society.  To put it simply, the tendency of philosophy and thought is to come up with all these fancy ideas which seem to work but, in reality, we are running around in circles getting nowhere.  In other words, it shows the ‘illusion of thought’.   That is to say, thought actually tends to deceive us in a number of ways, such as:

  • It makes us fabricate things that aren’t happening or true.
  • It gives us the illusion that, just because we thought it, it is “solved”.
  • It makes us get lost in all the complexity, ingenuity, and novelty of thought.

This illusion becomes particularly pronounced with existentialism because, in respect to all other philosophies, it tends to be focusing on a dilemma (the existential dilemma) and, accordingly, it is an attempt at explaining it.  Because of this, it makes it very specific and focused in its orientation.  As a result of this fact, its “philosophizing” brings out the ‘illusion of thought’ rather prominently.  No matter how much they philosophize about it, the dilemma is never “solved” nor does it ever seem completely explained.

The ‘illusion of thought’ tends to follow a particular path of thinking:

  1. The dilemma is defined.
  2. They philosophize about the dilemma.
  3. They find a solution that “makes sense”.
  4. It appears that they have “solved” it.  But they haven’t “solved” it . . . they just “think” they do.
  5. The dilemma is not solved.
  6. They are right back where they started.

In actuality, nothing is “solved” . . . they just philosophized about it to their satisfaction giving an ‘illusion’ of a solution.  This shows how the tendency of philosophy and thought, in general, is to emphasize one phase – the solution that “makes sense” – and to rely totally on that phase as the panacea of it all.  This is typical of philosophy and thought as a rule.  This over reliance is, in effect, the cause of its failure but because it “makes sense” we still hold onto it as if it is true, making it seem or appear true.  The nature of philosophy, then, is not if it is true but if it “makes sense” to us and believe in it enough to give us the illusion of the “solution”:  the ‘illusion of thought’. 

It shows that philosophizing and thought can actually keeps us away from a “solution”.  In other words, the explanation becomes everything to such an extent that it develops an almost god-like quality with great authority.  Sometimes these explanations take on religious proportions as an explanation.  Because of this, we become deceived by it all . . . dazzled by the explanation.  But, yet, it gets us nowhere and are unwilling to admit it.  We “need” the explanation that “makes sense”, whether it works or not.

This shows that “thought” and reason isn’t as powerful as it seems, nor is something that necessarily  “makes sense”.  Since philosophy is primarily based in thought and reason it shows that philosophy is limited in its effects and outlook.  Relying on logic, reason, thought, and things that “make sense” isn’t necessarily the answer to things.  This is why philosophizing often doesn’t work and, no doubt, is why there are so many types of philosophies.  In many ways, the existential dilemma reflects this fact:  the failure of thought. 

One of the reasons why this is so significant is that there is a tendency to view thought as authority.  In other words, there is a tendency to view thought as being the authority.  Oftentimes, this is any thought, particularly if it is thought over “serious” things, such as we find in philosophy.  But thought is not authority.  Just because one “thinks” or has “ideas” does not automatically give it authority.  Because of this, there becomes a confusion between thought and authority, a tendency to equate the two:  the ‘thought-as-authority confusion’.  This confusion reveals that there are several aspects to any thought:

  1. The actual thought.
  2. The authority behind the thought.

Though they may seem identical they are actually totally separate entities.  In other words, authority exists separately and removed from any thought.  In this way, thought only “captures” the authority.  It does this by putting it in words, ideas, concepts, and such.  To put it another way, thought is an “interpreter” of authority.  This gives thought the quality, really, of a language:  how you interpret it depends on what language you speak.  Different cultures, different religions, different points of views, different people . . all interpret the authority differently and, accordingly, give different thoughts to describe it.  I have found that its not uncommon for two different thoughts to sound totally different, at first glance, but actually are saying the same thing, only in different ways.

Because of this, it is very important to not get too carried away with ones thought or, rather, interpretation.  This, though, is not easy.  Very often we tend to get so involved in our thought that we forget the authority that it represents.  This is a common problem with anyone who thinks, such as philosophers.  Too easily, they get deceived by their own thoughts.

And speaking of authority . . .


Generally, the dilemma of existentialism is often viewed in the context of religion, such as in Nietzche’s statement “God is dead”, at least in the beginning.  This, in my opinion, is one of the things that has led everything off the track.  Its no surprise that they viewed it religiously as they were coming from Christian times.  Its only natural that they would look at things in that way and interpret things in that light.

I tend to feel, though, that it is rooted in something more than Christianity.  One of the reasons why I say this is that the change that happened after the Napoleonic wars, it seems to me, is not really religious but cultural.   In other words, it is not god who ‘died’ but something else.

And what do I believe that some thing else is?

It seems, to me, that what died is authority.  Naturally, in the 1800’s, they used the best example of authority that they understood:  religious authority and the authority of god This is what people were taught for centuries.  But there was something else going on underneath the Christian religious teaching, another form of authority.

But what type of authority?

My feelings is that it is cultural authority.  Why is this?  Because it was at this time that there were great cultural changes happening.  In many ways, the centuries old pattern of Western cultural tradition were beginning to be undermined at this time.  But, even then, I feel that cultural authority is too general.  It seems that there is still another authority that is not being mentioned.

But what is it?

I feel that it is the authority of the tribe.  In other words, th authority issue does not deal with religion and god as much as we were led to believe.  The explanation of religion was an easy one as it fit in to the ‘accepted explanation’ and the ‘accepted explanation of the faithful’ of the times.  But the idea of the tribe has all but been forgotten in Europe, hidden behind centuries of Christianity, social and political conflict, change, etc.  In short, we have forgotten that Western society and culture is tribal in nature.  Germanic society is tribal in nature . . . it always has been.

This shows how I tend to feel that Christianity, in particular, has made us forget our tribal nature.  This is because of some traits of Christianity such as:

  • It is taught to us, forcing many of our original beliefs into the background which often made us forget them.
  • Its a formal belief system, meaning that it is defined whereas a lot of ‘tribal belief’ is not so defined.
  • It preaches an all pervasive religious authority in the Church, Doctrine, and God which takes emphasis away from the tribe.
  • It is manifested in overt behavior such as rituals, morals, ethics, etc. to make impress it upon our minds.

In many ways, these have been as if “overlayed” upon our tribal nature and as if hide or disguise it.  These traits are very different from the qualities of the tribe, which include things such as:

  • There is a strong sense of people.
  • There is a sense of belonging.
  • It is a specific style of way of life.
  • It is developed from experience, not necessarily from being taught.
  • The beliefs are not necessarily defined or delineated.

It shows a big difference:  Christianity is dogma-centered, the tribe is people-centered (keep in mind that by ‘people’ I mean ‘ones people’, who one belongs to, and not ‘people’ in a general overall sense).  These are two totally different orientations.  One could say that, though Christianity brought in a new orientation in thought, it did not destroy the original tribal orientation deep down inside.  This continued to exist but in the ‘background’ or, if you prefer, unconciously.  As a result, we actually had two forms of orientation in Western society:

  1. A tribal orientation.
  2. A Christian orientation.

Both existed side-by-side in the society.  In actuality, we were influenced as much by one as the other.  One was overt and formally acknowledged (Christianity), the other was not (tribal).  As a result, any change or alteration in the ‘tribal sense’ tended to be ascribed to other things, such as Christianity.  This, it seems to me, is what we see with existentialism:  ascribing to Christianity what actually took place with the ‘tribe sense’.

As a result, what has actually “died” is the authority of the tribe, not Christian dogma or “god”What we actually lost are traits of the tribe, such as our sense of belonging, our connectiveness, and the presence of being part of a ‘people’, which is what happened after the Napoleanic wars.   This loss has created a great sense that something is “gone”, “missing”, or has “died”, which is a significant part of existentialistic thought.

Many things happened after the Napoleonic wars that helped cause the fall of the authority of the tribe.  In fact, many actually pre-date it.  They, or their effects, just became more pronounced after the Napoleonic wars.  These include:

  • The rise of liberalism.
  • The rise of the middle class.
  • The French Revolution.
  • Democracy.
  • Individualism.
  • Overpopulation.
  • Exposure to other ways and ideas.
  • Political strife causing doubt in authority

These all created conditions that undermined the authority of the tribe which affected the ‘tribal sense’.  One will notice that religion does not figure prominently showing, as I said above, that there is a lot more than religion in this situation.

One can see that existentialism, and the existential dilemma it describes, is a reaction to historic circumstance and conditions and reflective of a social problem.  In other words, its a reaction to the conditions of the times. Existentialism, in my opinion, is not a problem of the individual person.  Otherwise, it would naturally be there and we’d see it regularly.

There appear to be phases, based on the mentality and conditions of the times, that are reflected in particular existential philosophers:

  1. Religious phase (1800’s) – Kierkegaard.
  2. Religious/scientific (late 1800’s) – Nietzsche.
  3. Scientific (early 1900’s) – Heidegger.
  4. Political (mid 1900’s) – Sartre.

All these philosophers describe the mentality of the times from the point of view of their specific historical circumstance.  In other words, each form of thought is a reaction to historical circumstance.

Jean Paul Sartre, for example, used French and Western ideas of freedom (which also entailed individualism) in his explanation of existentialism.  He tended to see it as a dilemma of ‘freedom’ reflecting the mood of the times.  To me, this is nothing but the ‘politicalization’ of existentialism.  That is to say, it is seeing the existential dilemma  through the current existing political ideas of the times, caused by WWII.  It seems, to me, that this shows how rooted this philosophy is to the times.

The condition of ‘freedom’, as Sartre describes it, actually refers to the effects of an absence of authority as well as the lack of the ‘tribal sense’:  the lack of direction, of belonging, of purpose, etc. . . . all the traits of the existential dilemma.  When these are lacking we feel disconnected and alone (the absence of the ‘tribal sense’).  But he is associating it with the political idea of freedom and, therefore, as a great ’cause’.  In so doing he, in a way, glorified the condition of the existential dilemma by associating it with politics and calling it ‘freedom’.  In this way, the glorification of freedom is really the glorification of the fall of authority, an ironic and contradictory conclusion.


Because the existential dilemma is based in a lack of authority it shows that there is a need for authority.  In other words, it reveals that the dilemma of Western society, after the Napoleonic wars, is a dilemma of authority . . . we are needing an authority but its not there.  Because of this, much of this period of history entails “attempts” at somehow “regaining” authority.  Since humanity is made up of many different qualities the dilemma of authority, reflected in the existential dilemma, appears in different ways, such as:

  • The ‘personal existential dilemma’.   This is the dilemma as felt by the person and individual.  It primarily appears as a form of philosophy and as opinions about things.  This is what is generally spoken of when one speaks of the existential dilemma.
  • The ‘social existential dilemma’.   This is the dilemma in the society in general.  Because it is a social situation it does not entail the individual person exclusively.  Its existence in the society, though, tends to affect the individual person and is often what creates the ‘personal existential dilemma’.  It also often creates a tendency to have great belief in social ideals, morality, etc. as a “solution” to maintain or create social authority.
  • The ‘governmental existential dilemma’Because government is part of the society, and made up of people, the existence of the former existential dilemma’s tend to create an existential dilemma in the governmental (that is, a crisis of governmental authority).   As a result, there is a tendency to try to create governmental authority.  This is usually by the creation of a governmental theory or principle (such as democracy, communism, fascism, Nazism, liberalism, etc.) which was very prevalent in the early-mid part of the 1900’s.

In all cases, a distinquishing trait is the creation or need of some sort of theory, principle, or idea as a representation of authority.  Often, the theory, principle, or idea is treated as “the authority”.  In actuality, it is nothing but the convincing of ones self that it is authority and the ‘final answer’.  Because of this, they come and go like the wind but, to their adherrents, they are treated almost like a god.  Perhaps this shows the desperation behind the need for authority? 

The absence of authority often tends to create a reaction which basically amounts to creating false or pretend authorities to fill the void:  the ‘pseudo-authority’.  This is done in a number of ways, such as:

  1. ‘Mock authority’.  Basically, because there is no authority it creates a tendency for some people to “mock” authority.  This is basically a pretending that they have authority, at least in some way.  When its not there it forces some people to pretend that they have it. I first observed this tendency in myself.  I noticed how I often talked in an authoritative way, often without knowing anything.  As I reflected on it I could see that what I was doing was trying “recreate an authority that should be there but isn’t”.  In this way, I tried to become the “absent authority” . . . I was performing a ‘mock authority’.  This was not done out of arrogance but out of desperation.  I need an authority and, since none is there, I have no choice but to be it.  Once I noticed it I began to see it in many other people.  Its almost pathetic, all of us running around trying to pretend to be an authority that isn’t there simply because we need it.
  2. ‘Glorified authority’.  This primarily consists in making something out as authority even though its not.  In this way, they tend to glorify things a lot, making things out bigger than they really are.  This glorification can be toward governments (as seen in Nationalism and democracy), people, beliefs, ideas, and such.  Its seen a lot in the media and social opinion.
  3. ‘Pining for authority’.  This is not really the creation of a new authority, as described above, but a reaction to its absence in which one has a longing for what isn’t there.  In so doing, it as if establishes a form of an authority – the ‘negative authority’.  This authority does not really exist but is a condition created by its absence making it a false form of authority.  A person basically yearns or pin’s for authority.   This ‘pining for authority’ makes up a lot of the ‘personal existential dilemma’.  In fact, I tend to feel that the existential dilemma is primarily ‘pining for authority’, at least in some form.  This pining causes the desperation, anguish, and despair that is such a big part of the existential dilemma.

Unfortunately, all the ‘pseudo-authorities’, described above, have largely failed.  They simply do not work that well.  Despite this, they still persist if for no other reason than the fact that there’s nothing else.  In this way, Western society is now dealing with a new form of authority:  the ‘pseudo-authority-because-there-is-no-other-alternative’.  In other words, we are no longer dealing with a ‘naturally appearing authority’ in society anymore but, rather, a multitude of pretend authorities.  The question is if I “accept” it or not more than the fact that it is authority.

Because this new form of  authority is based in what one “accepts” we could speak of a ‘whim-based pseudo-authority’.  In other words, what determines what is authority is our “whims” at the moment.  This has created a condition where much of society, nowadays, is based in “catering to whims”, primarily to gain the “acceptance” that it is authority.  This is seen a lot with politicians (particularly during voting season), the media, and consumerism.  In other words, things are now catering to peoples whims so they will “accept” them as authority.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Christianity, Christian conversion, Post-Christianity, and Christian influence, Existence, Awareness, Beingness, Consciousness, Conceptionism, and such, Historical stuff, Modern life and society, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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