He who would understand the alterations in the political terrain of his day, could choose no better place to begin his explorations than the most recent changes in political speech – not that speech which is employed by the contemporary academics, whose language is built from foundationless abstractions, and who live in a world of phantasms and cobwebs; but rather that speech, vivid and concrete, which is employed day to day by the citizens of a country, by the real-world movements or political parties which spring up in the political fray, by the politicians (particularly when they speak publicly or to their constituency), and by the media and the press. For this language exists and arises in response to specific and immediate political contingencies, albeit ones which are generally only halfway or quarterway understood by its users, and often even by its makers or originators. The propagation, if not the creation, of new political terminology is thus largely a natural process, brought about first by need – by the perceptible and perceived inadequacy of existing conceptual schema, along with some understanding, intuition, or instinct regarding what should replace them – and second by will, the training of desire and vision to need. Many of these terms, then, are like natural geographical accretions or the outgrowths of novel plants in some desert, leading us hence toward oases or natural refuges, with much greater accuracy than the signposts of the academics, which are stuck here and there into the shifting sands by cartographers who do not know these places first-hand, and which are thus wont to lead us nowhere if not to desiccation and the madness of mirages.
One of the most salient changes in the political lexicon of recent years concerns not this or that new name of some political movement or association or even party (such changes are to be expected in democracies especially), but rather and most strikingly an emergence in the popular discourse of terms which attempt to rectify or redefine the entire political right as such. For reasons we will have occasion to touch upon, this has not occurred to the same extent within the political left. The political right has seen a continual movement in this direction, beginning already from the early part of the last century, and gaining momentum in recent years, as in the rise of the New Right, the Alternative Right, the populist Right, even (and most suggestively) the True Right. The so-called Dark Enlightenment or Neoreaction is surely another facet of this same change, as indeed is the older Revolutionary Conservative Movement, for though these names do not include any explicit reference to the ‘right’, they nonetheless make decisive reference to a reaction against modernity or the Enlightenment, that philosophical juncture from which the conservative right (as indeed the left) first sprang. Yet another example would be the emergence toward the end of the last century of paleoconservatism, a conservatism, as its name implies, which looks to older things to seek its bearings, or perhaps which seeks to conserve, no longer the present, but rather a society which is already past. Equally, though in a much more sinister fashion to anyone who takes his bearings by the True Right, we can locate the emergence of ‘neoconservatism’ in this same general trend.
It is clear that what what we might call (though not without a certain smile) the traditional right, has entered into a moment of hardship, of duress, even of decline, even of crisis and illness – and who is to say that this illness might not be terminal?
Before anything, it would be well to come to terms with the nature and the causes of this illness – to perform a brief, and necessarily incomplete, diagnosis of the moribundity of the right. This in turn requires of us a more or less adequate understanding of the very nature of the left-right political division as it exists today, and as it has existed in recent history. Only then can we glimpse the problem of the Deep Right – what it might be, how and by what standards it might take its bearings, what its relation is to existing political positions, what its emergence might portend in this world.
It is impossible, of course, to come to terms with any of these problems in the space of a single essay. We can do no more than give what we hope are suitable points of reference for the further exploration of these questions.
The ‘right’, no matter which ‘right’ one happens to evoke, is always tacitly understood in contrast to the political left; any and all mention of the ‘right’ thus makes implicit but inevitable allusion to the left-right spectrum of political thought. In recent times, this spectrum has increasingly fallen under critique, and for very good reasons: quite apart from the fact that it has shown distinct signs in recent years of strain and inadequacy even in the face of existing political parties, men and theories, it would reduce the entire wide and rich constellation of political things to a binary opposition running in unbroken continuum from one extreme to another, along a single line. The rank simplification of the whole involved in such a proposal should have been enough, long ago, to convince thinking men to laugh this ‘spectrum’ out of court, and it is most telling that it has for centuries now rather played at monarch therein; it has been regarded as the way of most rapidly and accurately identifying a man’s political bearings, to such a degree that, even today, it is simply presupposed in the majority of political speech.1
We need not rehash the origins of this spectrum here in any great detail: it emerged, suffice it to say, during the French Revolution, in the opposition between those who defended the Ancien Régime and those who wished its overthrow. Its ‘spatiality’ was owed simply to the physical position that these two factions took in the National Assembly with respect to the King. As there were good reasons at that precise historical juncture to really divide all men, notwithstanding subtler divergences in opinion, into neat categories, for the sake of that ideological clarity demanded by all extreme and revolutionary times, one began to conceive of men and ideas as occupying one of two opposite and opposing ideological spheres, equivalent to the two groups of Assembly members themselves: the revolutionary left and the monarchist right.
The distinction stuck, though the sense of it evolved: for the moment of revolution was comparatively brief in European countries (it is indeed alarming to see with what rapidity liberalism and ‘democracy’ were able to establish themselves throughout the continent, overthrowing and demolishing millenary institutions, social classes, and ideologies), and in its very success, being a ‘monarchist’ surely did not mean what it had once meant. The aristocracies were felled; the monarchs, wherever they kept their crowns, not to speak of their heads, began their slower transformation into mere symbolic representatives of their country, utterly divested of any real political power, utterly at the behest of parliamentary wrangling on the one hand, and the whimsy of the people on the other. The left-right spectrum survived this transformation by itself transforming: rather than being understood as dividing the political between the revolutionary on the one hand and the monarchical or aristocratic, or at any rate ‘loyalist’ on the other, it rather came to be seen as dividing the world roughly into ‘liberal’ (later ‘progressive’) on the left, and ‘conservative’ on the right: those who would forge ahead at all costs toward the ideals inherent in the thought of the Enlightenment, and those who would resist these changes, with greater or lesser zeal, capability and success. The transition of the original sense of ‘left’ and ‘right’ as two absolutely incompatible and incommensurable political positions thus gave way to the idea of a single gambit of continuous political thought which one could presumably walk from one end to the other, step by step, in unbroken stride.
It is essential to any understanding of this spectrum, and indeed of the political dynamics of the past several centuries up to today, to recognize two distinct facts about it: first, the left-right spectrum was born out of the drama of the Enlightenment, out of the ferment of modernity, and is itself a creature of the same, existing wholly within the sphere of Enlightenment thought – or if you please, standing as the precise borders of that thought, as the limit and measure of that thought; and second, that the spectrum emerged at a specific historical moment which was coeval with the first triumph of the ‘left’, broadly understood, and the decisive defeat of the ‘right’, as it was originally understood, i.e. as a purely defensive Traditionalist and Monarchist stance in the face of the onslaught of liberal-democratic egalitarianism and the essentially modern attempt to create a new political form. The left was born out of success; the right was born out of the ignominious death of an older world.
These points bear a moment’s explication.
To begin from the first, one cannot understand the spectrum without direct appeal to Enlightenment values. The spectrum, so far from representing a universal schema capable of encapsulating any given possible political position in any place or time, is in fact but a kind of still life of a single historical moment, and subsequently the portrait of a single historical-theoretical era. Within that limited scope, it is both useful and valid; exported beyond those borders (when it is applied, e.g., to the old aristocracies, to Fascism or to monarchy; to orders like Medieval feudalism or the Roman Empire or the Spartan Constitution; to men like Cicero, Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, Plato, Napoleon, Augustus, Thucydides, etc. etc.) it becomes perforce artificial and arbitrary, and only deforms that which it would clarify. While it is often understood as representing two positive visions of the world, from what has just been said it clearly emerges that it is in fact more like a magnetic pole with a positive and a negative end, the positive end representing Enlightenment ideals, the constant ceaseless agitation and press toward those ideals, and the negative end representing this or that local attempt to repulse or resist that movement. Enlightenment-style progress (movement) on the one hand and more or less entrenched conservativism (resistance) on the other: that is the left-right spectrum. And it is evident that, even as in the case of a serpent, when the head of this ‘spectrum’ willfully determines some aim or goal, the hind scales of that viper, however much they might resist the motion forward, needs must follow the lead that has been set.
The only thing that amazes in the conservatives’ failure to halt the ‘progress’ of Enlightenment ideals, is that anyone should ever have found this failure to be amazing. In the aftermath of the American Revolution or the French Revolution, and also the Revolutions of 1848 which followed in the wake of the first two and truly earth-shattering upheavals, a ‘conservative’ has never meant anything else but one who seeks to preserve the ‘here-and-now’; but this ‘here-and-now’, after the aforementioned Revolutions, has always been a ‘here-and-now’ existing within the Enlightenment, within the range of its aims, its social orders, its philosophies, its worldview. This explains as well why ‘conservatism’ has meant different things in different times and climes, while ‘liberalism’ has universally meant more or less the same thing, though to differing degrees and expressed in different language:2 the ‘conservative’ has always represented a somewhat thoughtless mixture of ‘tradition’ (i.e. the historical accident of his specific time and place) on the one hand, and ‘Enlightenment’ (i.e. revolutionary egalitarianism) on the other. He has always been a mottled beast, a kind of splotched donkey who likes to yawl about ‘principles’, braying that one should ‘stop’, even while sitting stubbornly and ‘immovably’ in place – upon the very back of the egalitarian wagon that bears us all hence. He has therefore been largely powerless, certainly in the long run, against that progressive who is rather the wholesale advocate of the same ideals that he adopts only in part; he has been fragmentary, partial, and inconsistent, where that other has been entire, zealous, and thorough. Thus it is that each new generation’s ‘here-and-now’ lies to the left of the previous generation’s; each new generation of conservatives is necessarily more liberal than the one to precede it. The conservative’s great paradox is that he stands, with respect to his very forefathers whose ways he should be reverently ‘preserving’, in the position of a revolutionary with respect to stale and stodgy old reactionaries. The modern ‘conservative’ is the laughingstock of history.
When one speaks of the ‘left-right’ spectrum, therefore, as if it contained two holistic worldviews, one contrary the other – as if one could place oneself on the ‘right’ in total and principled opposition to the contrary pole – one already is working beneath a severe and severely handicapping misunderstanding. One has already, in a certain sense, given up the ghost; one has acquiesced, in part or in whole, to the Enlightenment understanding of the world, which is already an understanding embodied more perfectly in the left than in the right. The political right and the political left, as they have been understood since the time of the French Revolution, agree in fundament; and indeed without this agreement it would have been impossible to plot them both on a single spectrum to begin with.
Only that, due to the ‘polarity’ we have discussed above, this has meant an inexorable movement toward the left, a slow, but decisive, and at the present moment rapidly hastening, encroachment of the egalitarian utopia which has always been the effective heart and motive centre of Modernity.
The Spectrum Fails
It will be clear to discerning readers, then, why the present world has the sense of such deep political instability; why one begins to hear talk of ‘irreconcilable differences’ between the left and the right; why ‘partisanship’ has become so hot, and one’s relations with one’s political opponents so cold: the famed ‘spectrum’, which is supposed to encompass all worldviews, no longer even encompasses those ‘conservative’ viewpoints which once constituted one of its own poles. Or, put more in the terms proper to contemporary political discourse: what once would have been considered a perfectly moderate ‘centre-right’ view throughout the West (e.g. opposition to political or social recognition of homosexuality; realism regarding general and unalterable differences between human races; belief in the different natural tendencies, natures and roles of men and women; adherence to principles of hierarchy), has now come to constitute what is known as the ‘far-right’ or even the ‘fringe right’, which (thanks to the metapolitical and propagandic work done by the left after World War II, principally via the Frankfurt School) is now considered a domain peopled exclusively by ignorant bigots or men of perverse psychology. There is thus a visible gap, not to say a chasm, which opens up in the inner experience of any man who happens to hold such viewpoints – a rift between his understanding of himself, and the image of himself which he finds presented in the world around him (in the media, in the ‘entertainment industry’, in Hollywood and popular literature, in the speechifying of politicians, etc.): they claim that he is a secret font of hatred and irrational bigotry and prejudice; while he sees in his beliefs nothing but sensible positions, often supported by any number of sound arguments, empirical evidences and scientific data, which are, moreover, certainly not less ‘extreme’ than the beliefs of his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents, for whom he maintains at least his respect, if not his reverence. Some of these men – those who are, truly, the most ‘conservative’ among them – will reply to this assault on their worldviews by digging in their heels, resisting the offensive and derogatory insinuations or slurs which are made against them, and performing the same kind of ass-like defiance that conservatives have attempted and failed since the birth of modernity, only with this difference: that now they have been painted as a kind of enemy of society, so that their resistance must be that much more desperate and fierce.
This particular drama, intriguing though it is, does not concern us here. We are interested rather in another group of so-called ‘conservatives’ – those who, finding themselves in the situation just outlined, respond to it radically, by attempting to get to the bottom of their plight, attempting to understand it, not merely superficially as a kind of spontaneous historical occurrence of our moment, but as a deep problem which might even be congenital to the political ‘right’ as such. In this investigation, two important things happen: in the first place, awareness is opened up of the purely contingent roots of our present historical juncture, which permits, for the first time in a century, and perhaps really for the first time in half a millennium, a widespread and profound revaluation of the modern project as a whole; and simultaneously, ipso facto, the ‘conservative’ transforms into something else: he transforms into an anti-modern; he transcends the Enlightenment scheme entirely, and breaks free of the rigid barriers set around him by the ‘left-right spectrum’. From a half-hearted contestant of the left, he becomes, for the first time, the bearer and carrier of principles which truly oppose the left – and therefore also the conventional right.
Enter the Deep Right
We have indicated that a degree of skepsis regarding the left-right spectrum has begun to make itself felt. One increasingly often comes across suggestions that the spectrum is ‘outdated’, thus implying that it has been rendered nugatory by ‘recent historical developments’, whatever this term is supposed to mean. Insofar as it is merely intended to signify that one historical moment has yielded to another, and nothing besides, it is worse even than a truism; one must then suppose there is something else beneath it.
It is clear that when one speaks of or implies ‘historical development’ today, the idea often enough carries a sense of improvement, of learning from past mistakes. The idea of ‘historical development’ itself is a modern one, presupposing as it does a kind of ‘evolution’ of human thought. In considering the change of the political spectrum ‘historical’ or ‘evolutionary’, however, one considers it as a kind of natural transition from the past to the present, moving ever toward the future; one preserves, if only implicitly, the idea of ‘progress’ which is essential, not to human thought as such, but only to modern thought. One tacitly neglects, that is to say, other possible interpretations of this transition, which, prior to all philosophical analysis, we must allow as being equally possible: namely, that it might represent a decline from a healthy and hale worldview to a decadent and diseased one; or a return to a past position; or a leap to a radically different position.
In order then to come to grips with the change, one must go back, back to the roots: one is in need, that is to say, of a deep and penetrating analysis, not only of the political facts and facets of our day, but of our entire epoch and indeed era, of the entire Modern Era of which we are all the children.
Enter here the Deep Right. Though this concept can be meaningfully applied to any number of theories or movements of the past hundred years, the term itself is of recent origin, having to my knowledge emerged in the context of the Swedish Right. It makes its first appearance in English in the writing of Joakim Andersen, in what can certainly be regarded as one of the best if not the best handbook for the metapolitical endeavours of the contemporary Right: Rising from the Ruins.3 Andersen considers the Deep Right to include ecology, Tradition, and Spiritualism:
We must reconnect to our hidden sources, both in terms of our long memories, our myths and the authentic Right. Economy and immigration can sometimes be of urgent importance, but we must not neglect the deeper aspects. We must devote ourselves to both defense and to reconstruction (p. 302).
The very term ‘Deep Right’ indicates the profundity of this venture; it does not stop up, as does this or that conservative movement, with what is, with the here-and-now; it seeks the root or the principle by which the here-and-now can be made sense of, can be rightly adjudged and addressed. It implies therefore also work on the present, through the abiding principles of the Tradition; yet it does so in full awareness that to terraform a desert, one cannot plant a jungle. One must understand the nature of the land whereupon one dwells. The project of the Deep Right thus can be seen to neutralize the primary venom which has hitherto rendered the political right sickly and ineffective, and which is presently leading to its inevitable demise. The Deep Right presents itself as an urgent task in a moment of exceptional historical sensitivity and importance: for the death of the political right, the one force which has ever even remotely obstructed the flow of ‘progress’, is now being overwhelmed and carried away by that flow. This represents the triumph of the Enlightenment, the ‘end of history’.4 At the same time, the possibility is opened for an alternative to Modernity.
For this, the Deep Right goes back – back to the origins, back to the roots; back to the time before the emergence of the left-right political spectrum. The Deep Right in its historical, anthropological, Traditionalist venture reveals itself as more comprehensive than the left-right political spectrum: it stands beyond both left and conventional right, challenges them both, offers an alternative to both; it reveals itself, that is, as the foremost total political antagonist of Modernity, of the Enlightenment. In challenging the political spectrum, the Deep Right dissolves it, reminding man of other fundamental and perennial possibilities for political and social life, and forcing us to turn away from a painfully simplistic and myopic, essentially dualistic interpretation of political things, to a more articulated, nuanced, and varied conception of a variety of political regimes (as the Ancients had proposed), each standing in a sense counter all the others, but also related to all the others in a complex and irreducibly non-linear fashion.
Modernity can be practically opposed only in one of two ways. One can either offer an alternative political and social and philosophical vision to its own, by resurrecting visions of the pre-modern past; or else one can, in an almost modern spirit, attempt to rectify the principles upon which modernity itself is built, by turning to the original figures of the modern venture and attempting to understand them in a different and more wholesome light. As but an example of the latter: Modernity as it is understood here and now is essentially and exclusively egalitarian; yet when one returns to certain fathers of Modernity, such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, this egalitarian element, while in many places being implicit, is certainly countered by other and essentially non-egalitarian concepts and concerns in those thinkers. But to be able to revalorize these hidden and nigh forgotten elements of Modernity, one must have recourse to other principles than those which presently govern us; returning, without any deeper points of orientation, to the origins of Modernity alone is wont to lead us into a vicious circle, by whose cruel arc we are carried inexorably back to precisely the same difficulties we presently face.
The first of these routes is known as Traditionalism; the first and the second together comprise the work of the Deep Right. The foremost labour of the Deep Right is then the reclamation of a forgotten, a suppressed, an ever-vital but presently dormant, taproot of human political excellence, of human social order, and more fundamentally yet of human perspective and spirituality. This work, for its utterly and uncompromisingly radical nature, is destined to be politically ineffective in our day barring a collapse or transfiguration of the present social order. Such a collapse, however, given the heinously irresponsible and terrifyingly powerful globalistic-technological aspect of Modernity, might well represent, not a clearing of the field for new human growth, but a salting of the earth and the utter annihilation of the very preconditions for human growth. It could represent the end of the human being, either in his simple physical destruction, or in his ‘transcendence’ (really his radical and irredeemable descent) into a robotic, digitized, unnatural and unspiritual plane of existence, through the ‘Singularity’ or the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, or however else one wishes to nominate the digital death of man. The Deep Right, precisely as it is radical, cannot then afford to ‘let well enough alone’, to sit by complacently awaiting the apocalypse, with idle dreams of antiquity distracting its thoughts.
Beyond that: there is an element in any Deep Right of the warriorly attitude, the will to fight where the fight is good. Daniel Friberg has summed this up nicely in his essay on metapolitics in A Fair Hearing:5
Simply put, the struggle is not lost. In fact, it has only just begun. Instead of being depressed about the direction society has taken, we must view our present situation as an opportunity for adventure, an era where our actions can impact history itself.
Riding the tiger in the Evolian sense may have been a sound and necessary strategy during the latter half of the previous century, but this is no longer the case. The West is bleeding, but the tiger – liberal modernity – is dying as well. It is time to jump off its back and put it out of its misery while there is still a European civilization to fight for (p. 194).
Given this as the imperative premise of any and all of our work, the second and special task of the Deep Right thus arises: to use the thrust and impetus of Modernity against itself, through its original figures; to oppose Modernity, not by attempting to stand in the midst of its by now unstemmable current, but rather by attempting to throw the might of the river upon a different course. It is easier to transform a worldview from within, according to its own presuppositions, than without, according to radically different ones. The presuppositions of a worldview, however, represent the frozen horizons surrounding it; there are thus laid about any given political stance strict and insurmountable limits as to what forms it might take. The Deep Right must then investigate the origins of Modernity to see to what extent they might be made to work within the greater sphere of the Deep Right itself, toward renovation and rejuvenation of this failing West. May be that we shall discover that the tree of Modernity was poisoned by egalitarianism from the start, and that nothing but poisoned seeds shall drop from it, or spring up from its origins; but barring careful, deliberate, and aware investigation on the part of men who know whence they act and think, it were premature to conclude as much, and the hope still stands that Modernity, at least in some limited sense, might be straightened, or at least ameliorated and prepared for a different outgrowth, from within.
We close with an observation on the very name ‘Deep Right’, on the use of the word ‘Right’ for a viewpoint which, as we ourselves have admitted and indeed insisted upon, lies beyond the left-right political spectrum. There are two points to consider here.
In the first place, the word ‘right’ in English does not limit itself to mere chirality. Indeed, in a connotation which is mirrored or echoed in languages and societies around the world, ‘right’ necessarily carries connotations of ‘justice’, ‘goodness’, ‘correctness’, ‘rectitude’, ‘honesty’, while ‘left’ has historically borne implications of the ‘sinister’, the ‘dishonest’, the ‘crooked’, the ‘suspicious’, the ‘erroneous’ (observation which is indeed, from the perspective of the Right, cutting commentary on the nature of these left-leaning days). Even that historical accident which spawned the left-right political spectrum, the division of the members in the French National Assembly on the eve of the Revolution, did not occur by chance: for the members who gathered at the right hand of the King did so according to a long tradition, by which standing at the right hand of the Authority is connected with loyalty, fidelity, kinship. One thinks immediately of the ‘right hand of God’ as but one of the clearest examples of this; on a more mundane level, it is not for nothing that in the West one shakes hands with one’s right. The Deep Right is then an attempt, not to revivify the purely modern ‘political right’, but to seek out the right, understood in the juridical, the moral, the spiritual sense of the word.
So much for the deeper meaning. Fortuitously, there is also in the present moment a simply pragmatic aspect as well to the use of this word in English. If it is true that the political right is collapsing, that its pillars are crumbling out from under it, that it can no longer sustain its own weight by any of the principles upon which it has historically rested, that it has become but an openly hypocritical and useless appendage to the political left, then all those men who perceive this, or even intuit it, must perforce flee back to some sounder redoubt, taking their bearings by a more fortified position. They will slowly but inevitably abandon that conservatism which has represented since the beginning of Modernity the position of men who were often unconscious traitors to the very thing they wished to preserve; they will seek a view which is at once higher and deeper. The name ‘Right’ will call the best of these men home through the desert of Modernity, to the perdurable city of our fathers.
1It is worth noting in passing that most of the proposed substitutes to the left-right political spectrum attempt to preserve its polarity, as if this polarity were somehow clearly wanted in an understanding of political things; rather than suggesting a substitute to the form of the scale, they seek merely to substitute its terms. There is surely an element here of political scientism, the attempt to render the political world measurable and gradable. But the life of man is not mathematizable; and our understanding of politics should take a natural, rather than a scientific-artificial, mould. Replacing one totally inadequate and unnatural model with another does nothing for anyone. It would be preferable to return to an elder vision, and to attempt to reconstitute the regime-analysis of the Ancients; at that point, it would be possible to rigorously comprehend modernity from at least a single super-modern point, to see if our contemporary forms of government are comprehensible by the Ancients’ analysis, or if they in fact represent innovations upon it. For the Ancients’ approach was organic and rational, rather than being artificial and logical; as such, it could be modified without being abandoned – flexibility which our present left-right political spectrum decidedly lacks.
2Needless to say, this should not be construed as stating that ‘liberalism’ is wholly consistent; it has its deep and immutable inner contradictions, the manifestations of which at present form so many cracks in the contemporary crisis of the West. We mean only to say that these contradictions, as indeed the general creed and aim of liberals everywhere, has remained largely unchanged in the course of these past centuries, while the right has varied starkly on the basis of the variety of times and places it has inhabited, in such a way as to be incompatible with itself. But a few examples: the right historically has been now monarchical, now constitutional-republican; it has been here fundamentalist Christian, and there rigidly secular; it has at times adopted the most strident and heedless capitalist principles, while at other time declaiming sternly and even moralistically against the excesses of capitalism in society or politics. The left, one might say, has taken up now this, now that tool to address the more or less universal ‘deficiencies’ it finds in the social order; the right on the whole has never even been consistently certain as to what those deficiencies, or their contrary virtues, might really consist in.
3Rising from the Ruins: The Right of the 21st Century, Arktos, 2018.
4This concept, which is implicit in all of modernity, and most especially in the work of Hegel, has made somewhat disquieting and triumphant appearance, as is by now well known, in the thought of Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man, 1992); well would it be, however, to understand it for the void horror it represents, beneath all its pomp and circumstance.
5A Fair Hearing, Arktos, 2018.
Your argument goes to show how hard it is to pin down the right shape emerging from a wide and varied but common yearning for meaning (and even purposeful day to day activity and relationships) that is lacking in what Modernity or globalism forces on us. Perhaps we sense there is no future in a globalist rape of everything on the planet and even off planet – given the erasure of the american flag on the moon. It is odd that so many of us would go along with the erasure of our history and culture and its replacement with Man as nothing more than rapacious, consuming beast. This struggle for definition out of the clay must also wrest with its racial aspect, currently being attacked relentlessly by the globalist “squid” which seeks to scatter our genes , those same genes that built modernity, before they reshape a new society.
John, I’ve rather belated got round to reading this. It is a fascinating piece and there is much to admire and cause onto stop and think. Perhaps not surprisingly, my attention was caught by your discussion of conservatism and its adherence to ‘here and now’. As you know, this little phrase – here and now – is perhaps my personal credo. I agree that it defines conservatism, but I see it as its inherent strength rather than its weakness. No matter how fervently we might wish to be elsewhere, we can only be in the here and now, and I would suggest that the great resilience of conservative ideas and parties imprecisely because they recognise this. It is indeed quite correct to say, looking from an objective (I won’t use the word ‘academic’) distance, that this means that conservative appears to be constantly shifting according to what is currently here and now. But the key point to remember is that each individual within an actually existing social realm is a fixed point that does not move. They are entirely still: this is where we are, and we can be nowhere else. We may, in a month or a year, be in a radically different situation, but this merely presents itself as another fixed reality. This idea of the ‘continuous present’ explains why conservatism is so enduring, and perhaps also why it might be somewhat futile to try and find an alternative term.
I am obliged to you, as always, Peter, for presenting such incisive critique of my views. In the present case it even seems to me you have gotten directly to the crux of the matter, and have pointed to the point by which my contentions either stand or fall. For if matters are as you say, then the idea of a Deep Right, beyond being superfluous, is probably also dangerous.
To begin with the idea of conservatism: you have described conservatism as being ‘resilient’ and ‘enduring’, and given our point of agreement regarding it – namely, that conservatism is always the attempt to conserve the here and now – I must of course agree, insofar as at any given moment there will of course always be someone who attempts to preserve things the way they are. The question, of course, is whether there is not something hollow about a resilient and enduring attempt to conserve the here and now which is demonstrably unable to do so to any meaningful extent whatsoever. And indeed, the New Right, in all its various movements, and certainly the Deep Right, is nothing if not a response to the fact that conservatism in the decisive sense is not resilient, is not enduring, but has proved itself to be hopelessly rigid and ephemeral.
To avoid repeating what I have already said regarding conservatism in the essay above, let me attempt to approach the matter in this way. You speak of the individual as being a ‘fixed point’ in the here and now. But this ‘fixed point’, being an individual, is in truth not fixed at all, save as the individual in question has an anchorage, a transcendent, superhuman, divine and thus unchanging and eternal principle which lends its immortal character to his purely mortal deeds, thoughts, and beliefs. Barring such a connection as this, the human individual is doomed to be a fickle and mercurial creature. This for the simple reason that the human being is contingent; his being does not depend on himself. Therefore, if he does not bind his contingency to what is unchanging, he will necessarily bind his contingency to what is changing. This is what we see in our day, and have seen since the beginning of Modernity, which was from the first a rejection of the Church, a rejection of all eternal principles. And this is the drama for which I have tried to provide some loose and superficial account above.
To put the point in a metaphor: the human being, at any historical moment, surely is a ‘fixed point’; but that which he is fixed to, his body and his life and even his mind, is dependent upon the world: it itself is not fixed. It is as a raft upon which the individual dwells, and it itself remains precisely as motionless as the liquid upon which it drifts, which in our metaphor we may call society. Modernity, from the start, has been dedicated to the task of pushing this river ‘onward’ – in point of fact, downward. The individual who lacks a transcendent point of reference, something to anchor him in place, will thus follow the stream of modernity whither it drags him; his ‘staying put’ will actually be a ‘going with the flow’. His conservation will be nothing more, at its very best, than an attempt to maintain his present speed; but because he has nothing still and stable against which to compare it, he will not even notice as he slowly accelerates. He will be the fool of ‘historical progress’, and specifically of the progressive ideals which are like the gravity drawing the water, and him with it, downward.
The question about such ‘conservatism’ is whether it is really conservative at all; whether it really is capable of conserving anything, or if he is not rather just the shadow of the progressive, following dog-like at the progressive’s heels and always turning up embarrassingly late for his own party. Sadly, I think this really is the figure cut by the conservative in our day. He has no principles which could truly bind him to a place and time, for in his heart he has acquiesced to those principles which work ceaselessly for the transformation of that place and time. He is, in the soul of him and no matter his outward protestations, the precise opposite of a conservative, because the ‘here and now’ to which he assents is a ‘here and now’ which is philosophically and spiritually given over sleeplessly to the ‘there and then’.
But if this is so, and if, in consequence, the society we see around us today is actually at a late stage of these developments, and has begun to rot in its very core, because there has been no one on the ramparts to defend it, no one who has even minimally been able to provide a true fixed point, then it is clear that ‘conservatism’ has not even failed so much as proved either treasonous or hapless in the face of its enemies, and must be replaced with a more capable and principled stand, which, given the extremity of our situation, must be something more than merely conservative, insofar as it must actively attempt to change things in a ‘backward’ direction.
Here we enter into the question of the worth of our day, and to address this I should really respond to your latest article for Arktos Journal (very fittingly named ‘Here and Now’), since you enter into this question directly there. I hope at any rate that my statements here have helped to clarify my position, and the reason I consider ‘conservativism’ in our day to be utterly inadequate.
John, many thanks for your comments and I look forward to to what you have to say about my recent article. All I would add at the moment is that the great virtue of conservatism is that it is pessimistic with regard to change. There is an assumption, based on experience, that change will most often go badly. Another way of stating this is to suggest that any attempt to create, or recreate, a ‘better’ society is bound to fail. All that we can hope to attain is some amelioration of the effects of change and to put a break on it. As one of the great 19th century Conservative statesman, Lord Salisbury, argued ‘delay is life’. We must seek to put off what can be put off; where change is only ever acceptable to correct rather than reform; and where change cannot be avoided we should not let our opponents do it but implement the changes ourselves. Finally, the residence of conservative is precisely because it is a disposition or attitude of mind and not a set of principles, transcendental or otherwise. Putting principles before the process of governing is a modernist conceit.
I agree with almost everything you have said here, Peter; only that I believe there is another and fundamental dimension to our present plight which forces a different interpretation of these points.
The fact of the matter is that conservatism, throughout the long course of modernity, has absolutely failed to ‘put a break’ on change. I will have more to say about this in an essay I intend to publish (if all goes well) next week, but briefly I can say this: conservatism has been like a dog digging in its heels and refusing to budge; but progressivism has been like the dog’s master dragging it inexorably forward. The dog, to be sure, doesn’t take a single solitary step by its own will, but it moves nonetheless. And sooner or later one really has to ask what good his stubborn resistance to change is, if it is unable to really stop change in any meaningful way whatsoever. On a long enough timeline, ‘slowing things down’ becomes a meaningless project.
One deeper problem here (which returns us to the question of principles) is this: the progressive has always had a positive goal which has inspired him, enthused him, guided him and given him momentum; the conservative has had nothing but a pretense toward inertia, which has proved itself regrettably ‘relativistic’ and consequently ineffectual.
Thus, while you are absolutely right to say that ‘Putting principles before the process of governing is a modernist conceit’, it seems to me that this is a conceit from which we really have something to learn. This ‘modernist conceit’ has so far gained the upper hand that it has been permitted to restructure and revolutionize literally every society of the West. It was really possible to focus on the ‘process of governing’ when virtue, morality and religion were still esteemed as being the compass rose of statecraft; thanks to the efforts of the progressives, this is obviously no longer true in our day. We are therefore forced to attempt to reconstitute them, else we will one day find ourselves (and that day is rapidly approaching) living in a society in which ‘conservatism’ as the simple attachment to the status quo will be identical to defense of a monstrous despotic-technocratic state such as utterly eclipses all past tyrannies in the scope of its power.
Having said that, I subscribe entirely to your warning that ‘change will most often go badly’. It is our duty to recall this to ourselves time and again, as firmly as a memento mori – for in truth and at root the two things are akin if not identical. There is nothing desirable in our situation; a thousand times preferable would it be to live in a society in which conservatism was still possible. But this bad necessity, to say it again, has been forced on us by the salient successes of the progressive left and the visible failure of historical conservatism.
John, it is a pleasure to debate with you. I appreciate the points that you make, and I look forward to reading your forthcoming essay.
It is certainly true that conservatism can appear to have little positive to offer other than delay. It does not try to suggest that the world can be markedly better than it is now – conservatives know from experience that it cannot – and this is why progressive views can appear so appealing, especially to the young. It is therefore tempting to try to ape the methods of progressives and suggest that we can have a better, brighter future of our own.
I would argue that attempting to copy the methods of the left is hugely problematical. In my book Here and Now, published by Arktos in 2015, I point to four problems, or modernist conceits, that we should be wary of:
1. It is a modernist conceit to believe that we can start from somewhere other than where we currently are and so wish away what we do not currently like
2. It is a modernist conceit to believe that it is in our disposal to change things according to our will
3. It is a modernist conceit to believe that we are necessarily right. Why do we assume we have any special knowledge compared to those who have built our present world?
4. It is a modernist conceit to believe that history matters, but that where we are now is contingent and readily changeable. If the present is contingent, then so is the past. If history matters, then so does the result of that history
If we accept these four points, then we need to be very careful in simply saying that as the methods ‘work’ for the progressives they can work too for us. We need to remember that we are trying to do diametrically different things.
One can quite legitimately ask, what then can we do? I have also tried to answer this is Here and Now, and in the essay of the same name published last month in this journal. We have to point out what positive elements remain and live our lives in a manner that demonstrates the virtue in following our principles.
Finally, I don’t think things are as remotely as bad as you suggest, and we need to guard against overstating the problems we face: we can only cry ‘fire’ so many times and expect to be believed.
The pleasure of this conversation is entirely mine, Peter. Many thanks once more for putting up a stiff protest against what are, I do not doubt, my excesses and overstatements.
I have just published a general critique of conservatism (‘Inertia in Motion’; I see you have already made a short reply to the first half of it), and I still mean to respond to your essay ‘Here and Now’; I will thus leave the relevant portion of my reply to the work I have done in the one place, and will do in the other.
Here I would like to address the four ‘modern conceits’ you have identified. I would have something to say about each one of them, both by way of agreement and dispute, but I think it might be more effective for the purposes of our discussion if I respond in an overarching fashion. It seems to me that the nub of our dispute comes down to a diverging view of the quality of the society in which we live. If I believed that this society were more pious, virtuous and noble (or had the potential to become so as it presently stands), I would no doubt happily champion your conservative position, which actually accords better with my temperament; whereas I suspect (and you can correct me if I am wrong) that if you believed our situation to be one of true crisis and immediate emergency, you might be more amenable to a somewhat more radical approach to political or metapolitical change.
Now, I state this last point somewhat in contrast to your words. We clearly agree that social and political change tends to be for the worse, and should be sought only with great caution and in moments of exceptional duress. You have stated the case much more strongly, however, and have gone so far as to argue, it would seem, that it is always for the worse, and should never be sought. This seems to be contradicted by history itself, which is made as much of ascent as of descent. The idea that change is always for the worse necessarily culminates in the proposition that we stand here and now at the lowest point in history to date, with absolutely nothing before us but a continual decline unto the grave.
I doubt you hold to this view. I suspect your view is rather that, whatever it was that brought about past points of elevation, it had little to do with human action and deliberation. I think, if I understand your position, it could be characterized as the following, eminently sober, view: all political change effected by human beings is saturated with the moral and intellectual limitations of human beings, and if it comes out well, this is generally due less to the virtues of its architects than to some happy turn of fortune or the intervention of higher powers. Active intervention in political or social forms is thus unwise in the best of times, and wholly dangerous in the worst; it should be reserved, if ever, for moments of true breakdown, from which we are certainly blessedly distant yet.
Supposing I have understood you, we can establish a basis of agreement between us thus: revolution is dangerous and should not be sought blithely. Even to effect changes in the moral or ethical outlook of men is already an attempt fraught with hazard for the wisest of men, not to speak of we who are not the wisest, and is liable to worsen whatever it attempts to meliorate.
So much for our agreement, such as I understand it. Our dispute comes, then, in my specific belief that our time is such as not only justifies but forces us to make the attempt to metapolitically redefine the framework within which men live and manifest themselves socially and politically. I enter my position through your third ‘modern conceit’:
I think the two halves of your observation stand in tension with one another. I am willing wholeheartedly to embrace the first; but it implies as well that our ‘present world’ was built by men who accepted that modernist conceit. We therefore have at least this much special knowledge with respect to them: we recognize this modernist conceit as a modernist conceit. Given that we live in political and social orders which are founded largely on that error precisely, and which have been imbued with a directionality, an ideology, a structure and a spirit consonant with it, this demands of us much deeper response than merely attempting to preserve what is, on account of the force of all these factors, inherently unpreservable: the modern status quo.
Moreover, our present social order, precisely on account of its modernism of institutions, governmental forms and ideology, has made possible (and, if nothing is done to stop it, likely) a kind of tyranny which dwarfs all prior efforts at tyranny. This tyranny, being global in extent, could not be escaped; having the benefit of modern technology, would be ubiquitous and totalitarian; being radically Godless, would make its citizens into the worst of the beasts; and being ruled, in all probability, by a ‘class’ of men who have been actively selected by an utterly amoral scientifico-capitalistic ‘meritocracy’ for their ruthlessness and shameless avarice, would have a potential for cruelty and inhumanity hitherto unimagined. This form of government might really represent the ‘end of history’ – meaning, as it must mean, the end of humanity itself.
In the last analysis, I think it is well, in the tradition of our forefathers, to commend our destiny unto God’s hands, as He wills it; but that has never in all our history prohibited the men of the West from rising to be the champions of right and justice when they see these things outraged, as they are presently being. The moment is far from us, thank God, that we have to lay our hands upon the sword; then we should do whatever we can to see to it that that fatal day remains distant. And if the last three hundred years have taught us anything, it is that the merely conservative attitude in the face of the atheistic ideologies of the modernists will not suffice for that work of measured, sober and just conservation.
John, I would prefer to say we are having a discussion rather than a dispute. Indeed, I largely agree with your summation of my position. I would state it in succinct Burkean terms as ‘only change to correct’.
My view in my third modernist conceit is a little more straightforward than you imply. I am simply stating that we should not assume we know more than those who came before us. I would argue that this is purely empirical, based on past attempts by modernists to ‘improve’ on the past.
We ought to remember that if things were really bad this discussion would not be possible. Likewise, we can still choose to live outside of the mainstream.
You can be sure, Peter, that I was using the word ‘dispute’ in its Latinate sense of a clarifying examination, and that I meant no strife by it. This conversation is not only greatly agreeable to me, but also, I have no doubt, salubrious in and of itself, and would be impossible if it were not premised on the friendly desire to seek the truth.
I agree we should not assume that we know more than those who came before us; neither, however, should we assume we know less. In a normal society and a normal time, our investigation of ‘what came before’ could and should be done, I believe, in a predominately private way; it is of the essence of Western philosophy to examine all things, tradition included, but to do so quietly – even when it publishes its reflections about them. But I do not believe we are living in normal societies or normal times. Here, again, is the point on which I think we primarily diverge: the extent to which ours is a time of crisis.
I take your point that things could be much worse than they are, and, while I have perhaps not insisted on this quite as loudly as I should, I have never, I think, lost sight of it in my writing. In terms of material wealth, medicine, technology etc., ours is truly a time of wonders. In Europe especially, for good and for worse we have been liberated from poverty, disease, and warfare to an unprecedented degree. Nor, I agree, should we ever take for granted the ‘civil liberties’ which we are still largely permitted us; and while I do not hold these to be the watermark of a just society, relative to tyranny and to totalitarianism they are to be cherished. When I speak of a crisis of our age, therefore, I am referring to a crisis which unfolds on the level of spirit, aesthetics, philosophy, morality and religion. Yet these matters are of infinitely higher worth than questions of physical well-being, are higher even than questions of ‘freedom’ in the modern sense of the term. In perceiving this crisis and noting its depth, I am in the company of wiser men than I, many of whom were anything but revolutionaries. And indeed, if I myself were interested in stirring up a revolution, to replace existing society with some kind of fantastical dream state, you will agree that I have so far gone about it in a very roundabout and not immediately effective manner.
The Burkean precept which you have cited seems to me eminently wise: the question, of course, is where lie the limits of correction – which literally means a return to the straight line – in a time which is as bent as our own. The work of the Deep Right, as I perceive it, is exploration of those limits. This means not merely reacting to Modernity, nor even ‘revolting against’ Modernity, all of which activity exists wholly, if negatively, within the sphere of Modernity itself; it is my opinion that the only way we can hope to supersede the crisis in whose grips we find ourselves is to transcend Modernity altogether. Only from a viewpoint which stands beyond the modern can we justly evaluate the quality of our time, the end toward which Modernity is really tending, and what, if anything, can be done to change course before it is too late.