Trump and Musil’s Moosbrugger

David Auerbach compares Trump to…Moosbrugger (!), the lust-murderer from Musil's The Man Without Qualities:

Musil’s core insight is that Moosbrugger possesses a cosmic sense of himself that removes him from the world of human agency and responsibility, akin to Strawson’s objective attitude. Moosbrugger’s indifference to all values and to the very idea of values threatens yet fascinates, since it offers us the freedom to give voice to our most egregious selves and see them reflected back at us not as human qualities but as forces of nature. So it is with Trump, a catalyst that transforms resentment and worship into fame. Elsewhere, Musil describes Moosbrugger’s dissolution of self into universe in this way:

Anyone can conceive of a man’s life flowing along like a brook, but what Moosbrugger felt was his life flowing like a brook through a vast, still lake. As it flowed onward it continued to mingle with what it was leaving behind and became almost indistinguishable from the movements on either side of it. Once, in a half-waking dream, he had a sense of having worn this life’s Moosbrugger like an ill-fitting coat on his back; now, when he opened it a bit, the most curious sort of lining came billowing out silkily, endless as a forest.

This is a kind of super-solipsism, not just a conviction that no one else exists but an inability to conceive of one’s own self as a separable agent in the world. Trump’s psychology only makes sense after this traditional conception of ego is discarded. I do not think that theADHD-addled Trump cares how he is remembered; all there is for him is the attention, the worship, the now. For Trump, who defines himself only against his immediate surroundings, liminal forms of relating take precedence over any and all values, facts, or even goals. This lack of temporal awareness and planning may be his downfall, since all he knows is immediate escalation and pandering in pursuit of the immediate win. If he amassed an army of brownshirts, he couldn’t be bothered to give them orders.

As cosmic entities, Moosbrugger and Trump are only human as far as we perceive them to be. As raw forces of narcissism, they demand that we perceive them. And yet because they are empty, they are constitutionally incapable of taking responsibility for anything they do, or of having any intuition that words and thoughts should tend to accord with an external reality. Trump’s profound and sweeping ignorance of all things serves his narcissism; knowledge would only put constraints on his ability to be what people want him to be and what people will love him for.

I'd call this an interesting failed argument. Not because Moosbrugger is a serial murderer and Trump isn't, that's too obvious. The real problem is that, as the passage describing Moosbrugger's adaptation to prison shows, Moosbrugger is insane. Musil was quite knowledgeable about psychiatry, and portrays many different symptoms of schizophrenia in these passages: delusions of reference (statements directed at the general public are meant for me alone), command hallucinations, and of course voices:

Moosbrugger heard voices or music or a wind, or a blowing and humming, a whizzing and rattling, or shots, thunder, laughing, shouts, speaking, or whispering. It came at him from every direction; the sounds were in the walls, ill the air, in his clothes, in his body. He had the impression he was carrying it in his body as long as it was silent; once it was out, it hid somewhere hi his surroundings, but never very far from him. When he was working, the voices would speak at him mostly in random words or short phrases, insulting and nagging him, and when he thought of some- thing they came out with it before he could, or spitefully said the opposite of what he meant. It was ridiculous to be declared insane on this account; Moosb~gger regarded these voices and visions as mere monkeyshines. It entertained him to hear and see what they did; that was ever so much better than the hard, heavy thoughts he had himself. But of course he got very angry when they really annoyed him, that was only natural. Moosbrugger knew, because he always paid close attention to all the expressions that were applied to him, that this was called hallucinating, and he was pleased that he had this knack for hallucination that others lacked; it enabled him to see all sorts of things others didn’t, such as lovely landscapes and hellish monsters. But he found that they always made far too much of it, and when the stays in mental hospitals became too unpleasant, he maintained outright that he was only pretending. The know-it-ails would ask him how loud the sounds were; a senseless question, because of course what he heard .was sometimes as loud as a thunderclap, and sometimes the merest whisper. Even the physical pains that sometimes plagued him could be unbearable or slight enough to be imaginary. That wasn’t the important thing. Often he could not have described exactly what he saw, heard, and felt, but he knew what it was. It could be very blurred; the visions came from outside, but a shimmer of observation told him at the same time that they were really something inside himself.

Other people in the novel (especially Rachel) project qualities onto and into Moosbrugger, which is somewhat analogous to Trump. But Musil makes it clear that Moosbrugger is simply insane. Unusually intelligent and self-aware, but clearly nuts.

Whatever else you might say about him, Donald Trump has no real problems with reality-testing, to use the psychiatric phrase. He may be a narcissist, but this simply means he has a distorted view of how the world should treat him and what he's entitled to, not a distorted perception of what is real and what isn't.

So, I say Auerbach fails, but fails interestingly. 

9 thoughts on “Trump and Musil’s Moosbrugger

  1. Yeah, right. Trump: The Man with No Sense of Agency.

    Seriously, Trump makes it so easy to argue against him as a presidential candidate, why do journos have to come up with bullshit like this or the six-pointed red star of David nonsense? They’re only making the case against those who make the case against Trump.


  2. Scott Adams is more cynical than you.

    … if you think either Clinton or Trump have good policy ideas, that is evidence that you are brainwashed. As a civilian, you have no idea which policies are better for the economy, or trade agreements, or immigration, or for battling ISIS. But you think you do because you have been brainwashed into believing that voters can know that sort of thing. They can’t. The candidates don’t know either.

    However, let’s stipulate that you are right. How much will President Trump get done? He will be fiercely opposed by not only the Democrats in Congress, but also by many of the Republicans. As well as by the vested interests too numerous to mention. Moreover, as Mark Steyn has said so many times, it’s culture not politics. The multi-culti Left won the culture wars a long time ago.

    Islam is the No. 1 Enemy of a free world, Nazism and Communism were only temporary usurpers. Most voters, however, deny this, either because they sincerely believe in the propaganda lies being broadcast on most channels or because they know the truth but find it too painful to accept.

    Trump will not win in November. Islam and its useful idiots will continue to make inroads. Western Europe is lost, including the Anglosphere’s ancient founding member the UK — the Greece to America’s Rome.

    Time to accept defeat and start working on cultural renewal, knowing that seeds planted now may take generations to come to fruition.


  3. It’s time to do a bit of differentiation here, just to ensure readers know where I stand.

    Ann Coulter and Mark Steyn, but especially Ann Coulter, are not to be taken seriously. They’re the intellectual equivalent of right-wing talk radio bloviators whose sole occupation is making inflammatory remarks to sell their books, which are slapped-together, minimally-edited collections of their columns. They are both largely forgotten now, and in the future, their writings will have as much influence as moldering John Birch Society newsletters from the mid-1960s do now, with their incessant warnings against fluoridation, Communist infiltration at the highest levels of government, etc. etc.

    As for Scott Adams, he’s an interesting commentator. But the quote cited above is empty contrarianism. Policies can and do have predictable effects, and there is a quite logical choice to be made between them.

    Also, I have no idea where anyone gets the idea that Islam poses an existential threat to the U.S. or Europe. Both the USA and Europe have faced threats literally hundreds, thousands? of times more dangerous than this one and never even come close to collapsing. Uncontrolled mass migration is a foolish policy that will increase tensions and costs, but it won’t lead to the collapse of the social order as we know it. Even ‘Submission’ doesn’t go that far.


  4. Ann Coulter

    I don’t believe I’ve ever referenced Ann Coulter, nor is she on my list of people to read. However, here’s another leggy blonde who should be on everyone’s reading list:

    Ich muss sagen, dass mich auch heute, fast ein Jahr nach der vollkommen unkontrollierten Öffnung der Grenzen, all das immer noch sprachlos macht. Dass ich hier vor meinem Notebook sitze und einfach nicht fassen kann, wie man alles, was in diesem Land so hart und teuer erkämpfen wurde, so mirnichtsdirnichts über den Haufen werfen konnte. Dass die Lehre, die wir aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und den Greueltaten des Nationalsozialismus gezogen haben, nicht die war, die Freiheit, die Demokratie und den liberalen Rechtsstaat mit allem, was wir haben, zu verteidigen, sondern die, alles Fremde, egal wie sehr es genau diese Freiheit gefährdet, zu hofieren, weil man sonst ein Rassist, ein Nazi ist – und dass wir damit eigentlich offenbaren, dass wir überhaupt keine Lehren aus der Geschichte gezogen haben, dass wir überhaupt kein Verständnis dafür entwickelt haben, was den Nationalsozialismus eigentlich ermöglicht hat. Dass unsere ganze Art der Geschichtsbewältigung uns offenbar für das nächste Desaster anfällig gemacht hat, statt davor zu bewahren.

    Mark Steyn

    is the best satirist of his generation. Satirists do not win Nobel prizes nor one of the other hallmarks of “immortality”, but we remember them, Tucholsky and Mencken being two prominent examples.

    Both the USA and Europe have faced threats literally hundreds, thousands? of times more dangerous than this one

    Name those threats, please. Keep in mind that unlike the spread of Hitler’s troops across Europe in World War II, the consequences of the current Islamic invasion have only begun to unfold.

    it won’t lead to the collapse of the social order as we know it. Even ‘Submission’ doesn’t go that far.

    Women pushed away from having a career? Polygyny for Mohammedans, others condemned to singlehood? Massive preferences for Muslims, massive discrimination against others? Jews again having to leave Europe? If that is not a “collapse of the social order as we know it”, what, then, do you call it?


  5. Off topic, live now on Deutschlandfunk radio, another propaganda/brainwashing feature questioning why there should be any borders or limits to migration at all.

    Look for it to show up on DLF website tomorrow.

    Amusingly, one egghead quoted in broadcast is a “philosopher” who won a “competition” organized by “Gesellschaft für analytische Philosophie” that posed the question “How Many? Which Ones?” (Andrew, sue them for copyright infringement LOL.)


  6. Sorry no time to do a summary translation of this —

    tl;dr A massive study of what German media in 2015 published on the “refugees” topic. Preliminary results: they manipulated their readers and viewers, big-time. Massively. Humongously. On an overwhelming scale. And drove politicians before them. Hope they all burn in hell, for trillions of years!

    Chancellor Helmut Kohl was the last German politician able to withstand a full-frontal assault from the media. Since 1998, no one else has even tried.


  7. “Women pushed away from having a career? Polygyny for Mohammedans, others condemned to singlehood? Massive preferences for Muslims, massive discrimination against others? Jews again having to leave Europe?”

    Again, this is so absurdly over-the-top as to me immediately self-refuting. I’m not exactly sure what most of these things are references to. There is no legal recognition for ‘polygyny’ in any European society, and there never will be, except in a few outlier cases involving complex transnational legal issues. The notion that the 93% of Europeans who are not of the Muslim faith will consent to be ‘massively discriminated’ against by the 6% who are is completely, utterly, totally, insert other adverb here demented. Attacks against Jews are worrying, but there is no large-scale exodus of Jews from Europe, period. And there never will be, since the obvious advantages of living in Europe vastly outweigh the miniscule risk of becoming the victim of some attack. And remember, I said large-scale. And even if there are isolated cases but they are irrelevant to my point that society as a whole is not threatened with collapse or ruin. That was my point, and every sane person reading this thread agrees.

    You seem to be displaying the typical distortions in perspective and risk analysis of people who spend too much time indoors, reading horror stories and hyperventilating commentary. Get out and enjoy the summer! Lie down in a meadow and watch the clouds! Go have a tasty döner kebap! It’ll do wonders for your blood pressure!


  8. Every sane person reading this thread agrees that you need new reading glasses.

    Obviously my comment was in response to the last sentence from you that I was quoting:

    Even ‘Submission’ doesn’t go that far.

    You were talking about the book “Submission” by Houellebecq, weren’t you? Right. I simply summarized some of what H. describes in his near-future dystopian novel (emphasis on “near”).

    Read what I wrote again and then answer my question:

    If that is not a “collapse of the social order as we know it”, what, then, do you call it?

    The true proportion of Muslims in western Europe is much higher than six percent, especially since the recent massive (documented and undocumented) influx of Muslim men aged 17-35, who are not only military age but prime breeding age. Very soon now, German politicians will announce that for “humanitarian reasons” bla bla (but really due to their disproportionately high commission of rapes and other forms of sexual assault), it is imperative that they be allowed to bring in marriageable females … children … parents … and these families will immediately start breeding at a much faster rate than Germans. Paid for from the taxes collected from middle-class working Germans … who will also be squeezed by the demand for “affirmative action” hiring quotas for migrants, unwonted attention from Muslim males for their daughters, hijabbed young Muslim girls being unavailable for their sons (unless they convert to Islam first), the threat of Muslim violence, etc., and eventually middle-class Germans will say “I don’t need this shit” and emigrate to where conditions are better for them. In turn, this increases the burden on those taxpayers left behind. Houellebecq’s book is one way that one can envision how this plays out. Variations are possible, no one has a crystal ball. But that this will not end well is beyond doubt … at least to anyone who is sane and paying attention.


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