The Reading Room
“Call me Schnitzel”: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Anti-Satan
One of the surprise cultural hits of this past summer was the three-part Netflix docu-series Arnold, which has scored a 96% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and which has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.
Arnold tells the fascinating story of how an obscure but strong-willed Austrian became the world’s greatest bodybuilder, then became the world’s most famous movie star, and then became the governor of the most populous state of the most powerful country in the world. There might be no more improbable real-life story in the past fifty years than the story of the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is rare enough for someone to become wildly successful in one field, but to do so in three fields? And three fields as disparate as sports, movies, and politics? This is rarified air indeed.
If anyone has a right to call himself a self-made man, it is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger came from the outskirts of one of the smallest (and, after World War II, one of the most economically devastated) countries in Europe to become one of the most successful individuals of our times. And he did so (at least at the outset) with no connections to anyone in bodybuilding or Hollywood, with no rich parents or relatives, and with seemingly no obvious path for getting to where he desired to go. And yet Schwarzenegger, in Part Three of the documentary, is emphatic that in his own eyes he is anything but a self-made man. As Schwarzenegger declares, when speaking about all the people whom he befriended and who helped him out along the way,
When someone says, “Arnold, you’re the perfect example—the ‘self-made man.’” And I say, the only thing that is “self” is kind of my motivation and my visualization and all this stuff. There were endless amounts of people that were helping me. You can call me Arnie. You can call me Schnitzel. You can call me Kraut. But don’t call me “self-made man.” Because I’m not.
Here lies one of the keys to Schwarzenegger’s success: Schwarzenegger has never thought of himself as “self-made”; he instead acknowledges the debts he owes to all those who, at every important career crossroads he reached, gave him a green light so that he could arrive at his destination. Schwarzenegger, in this regard, is the perfect example—the perfect example of everything that Milton’s Satan is not, and the perfect example of everything that makes Milton’s Satan the epitome of a figure whose example we should not be following. Schwarzenegger’s refusal to describe himself as “self-made” reflects his gratitude and his realistic self-appraisal, whereas one of Satan’s defining traits, according to Paradise Lost, is that he believes he is self-made—or, as Milton’s Satan’s puts it, “self-begot, self-rais’d” (Book V, Line 860).
Satan’s conviction that it was not God who created him but that it was rather he who created himself was one of the primary mental models he possessed that informed his decision to rebel against God and wage a disastrous war against Heaven. Satan’s lack of gratitude for those who helped him become such a powerful angel led to his fall from Heaven, and this fall from Heaven led to his decision to try to corrupt God’s newest and most beloved creation—the human being. Nothing is more ruinous than to be in possession of the Satanic fallacy—the false belief that it is somehow possible to create ourselves.
We are all products of complex, multifaceted social, political, and geographical environments. We may have worked hard to have arrived at our current positions, but we never could have attained these positions unless key people said “yes” to us along the way. We may possess natural talents, but we have also had teachers, parents, friends, and role models who have guided us and who have showed us how to best apply these talents. We may have cultivated a strong work ethic, but what would our industriousness accomplish were it not for a whole host of people whom we do not know and whom we will likely never meet who ensure that our society continues to be stable, lawful, functional, and free? There are so many people who have helped us become who we are that to deny this fact is literally Satanic, as well as fallacious. If even Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people recognizes the fallacy of calling himself “self-made,” what right do we have to christen ourselves with this misguided moniker? Arnold should motivate us to not only do a few more pushups; it should also cause us to be grateful for all those who have helped us build ourselves into the people we have become.