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John Bruce Leonard

Agon and Enemy

Does the true Right have a proclivity for infighting and fragmentation?

It is a commonplace by now (though one which occasionally receives some degree of just critique) that one of the fundamental practical differences between the right and the left in our day is the more or less monolithic quality of the latter, and the possibly inveterate tendency of the former toward infighting and fragmentation. The most notorious evidence in favour of this proposition is the simple fact that liberals and centre-leftists do not in general renounce or even resist the communists and anarchists among them, but on the contrary often enough seem to be as the streetsweepers to the advancement of their radical contingents; while the ‘conservatives’ of today climb over one another to denounce the least shadow of what is fancifully called ‘right-wing extremism.’ While intellectual liberals generally excuse communist regimes, often blaming their worst deeds on the West and especially America,1 or even talking about the ‘good intentions’ of communists living and dead, as if these latter were proposing a system which did not have a hundred million deaths on its conscience, there is literally not a single mainstream figure alive within the conventional right who would dare utter an even remotely exculpatory remark on the ‘fascist’ regimes of the past century.

The question of solidarity in the right is of fundamental importance for any pragmatic attempt we make today, and the allegations brought against us, if true, demand of us a careful balancing of our accounts, that we might understand the roots of this problem. We propose in the present essay to make a stab in that direction, not certainly by coming to grips with the question, which would require a much deeper analysis than we can here dedicate, but rather by clarifying the true limits of the problem, so as to understand the extent to which these accusations are legitimate, and the extent to which they actually represent a superficial understanding of the political drama of our day. Finally, in that sphere in which they are legitimate, we would like to indicate a few of the reasons which might contribute to this inner conflictuality of the Right, and how we might begin, if not to cure, at least to ameliorate them.

Conflict on the ‘Right’

Any suggestion that the ‘right’ suffers from interior disunity depends on one of the common presuppositions of our time: namely, the so-called left/right political spectrum. It depends specifically on the notion that the ‘right’, just as the ‘left’, represents a unitary political continuum in itself, ranging on the right from the most moderate and centrist conservative to the extremest and most radical fascist. The necessary consequence of this view is that the centre-rightist and the extreme-rightist must have something in common, some shared agreement in axioms or principles, which permits them to be considered the elements of one half of the entire spectrum.

Conflict between the true Right and conservatism is, so far from being a sign of some inner failing of the true Right, actually a signal of its health, vitality, and proud self-consciousness:

But the left/right political spectrum is beset by insurmountable difficulties. This is not the place to discuss its failings in detail;2 we limit ourselves here to noting one consideration which speaks decisively against it: any idea of a unitary and universal political spectrum – be it on a line or a horseshoe, a circle, a spiral or a Möbius strip, in a single-dimension or a field of two dimensions or even a sphere of three – fails the simple test of continuity. Given a ‘political spectrum’ of the right, for instance, it should be possible to measure each step one might take, beginning from a conservative position and arriving at a fascist one, just as it is in fact possible to do with the political space standing between a centrist liberal and a radical communist; but in point of fact it is impossible to walk that line ‘on the right’. To take but a single but decisive example, one will never arrive at a political view which subsumes the individual in an organic hierarchy (as for instance fascism, which adores war and martiality, does) from a view which insists on the inviolable and essential integrity of the individual (as does the ‘conservatism’ of our contemporary ‘rightists’) without a rupture in one’s basic values, a fundamental shift in one’s worldview. To proceed from centrist conservatism to ‘right-wing’ fascism requires a radical break with one’s prior belief; it requires an ideological leap, a moment of conversion. What is called the ‘extreme right’ does not lie on a continuum with the centre-right at all, but represents a fundamental alternative to it.

We have taken fascism as an example only, because it is commonly regarded (in our view erroneously) as the extremity of ‘right-wing’ thought. The point here, however, does not regard fascism as such: the point is that the spectrum, no matter how it is defined or arranged, fails to cover the full range of political possibilities, but rather treats only of a fragment of them, forcing the others into artificial conformity. The political alternatives which in fact do lie on the left-right spectrum all proceed from a specific and shared set of principles, which are essentially modern in origin and in aim, and which can be traced back to the Enlightenment. Beyond the spectrum there lie any number of potential orders which were tacitly if not explicitly rejected by the founding fathers of modern thought in their attempt to establish a new political philosophy, but which were widely acknowledged as real political alternatives, in some cases eminently desirable ones, by all pre-modern thinkers.

The fact that there are today emerging any number of political visions which do not fall within the parameters lain by modern political philosophy is but the practical side of the crisis of that philosophy, and demonstrates the necessity of stepping beyond it, either by establishing a new political philosophy, or else by reinstating an older or classical political philosophy. Both the one or the other possibility must fundamentally reject the scientistic idea of a ‘political spectrum’, and must opt inside for the analysis of political regimes, both those which exist now and those which are possible but not actual, in an attempt to understand the fundamental alternatives confronting human polities. The true or Deep Right is the self-conscious expression of this attempt.

But then it would be utter folly to expect the conservatives to embrace, protect, or even proclaim a truce with the Deep Right, or vice versa: the Deep Right proposes a social order which is fundamentally incompatible with that proposed by the conservatives. Heated conflict or irreconcilable disagreement between the two is, so far from being a sign of some inner failing of the true Right, actually a signal of its health, vitality, and proud self-consciousness: one of the major points of evidence which is brought to demonstrate the infighting or fragmentary tendency of the Right, is anything but.

Yet this is but one reason to suppose such a tendency within the Right. The other reason does not touch upon the conflict between the ‘conservatives’ and the ‘far right’, but rather has to do with conflicts between persons or groups exclusively within the latter. One recalls, for instance, the strife standing between Yockey and Mosley.3 Similar examples could be dredged up from the annals of the history of the last century; in our own day, the examples are rife and growing, and it is both needless and distracting to list them here.

Some of these difficulties, to be sure, emerge on account of mere deficiencies in character or virtue on the part of specific individuals; but such cannot explain all these disputes, nor their evident frequency. What account can be given then for this behaviour?

Thumos and Soul

We have suggested an abandonment of the bipolar ‘political spectrum’, and have proposed in its place a return to classical regime analysis as the foundation, not only for a deeper investigation into the political changes of our time, but also for the preparation of a new political vision and reality. The classical explication of regime analysis, at once the most original and the greatest, is to be found in Plato’s Republic (see in particular Books VIII–IX),4 which proposes a fivefold division of the possible forms of government – to wit, and in descending order: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. An essential part of this analysis is its firm refusal to consider the regimes of men as mere political forms, its insistency that these regimes are as much regimes of the soul as regimes of the city. The analysis of regimes therefore brings with it two related and integral questions regarding the present (rather than the past, the future or the eternal): namely, 1.) what is the regime beneath which we live? and 2.) what is the regime which governs our own souls – or, in the highest possibility, by which we govern our souls?

The political question therefore reveals itself, following the movement of the Republic itself, as a gate of entry into the personal or spiritual question. Given that the former is premised on the latter (the regime of any people tends to be or to become that which the people deserves, and all attempts to change the people exclusively through changes in standing law are doomed to hardship if not to ignominious failure), the analysis of regimes proves its worth on a higher plane, of which our impoverished and historically contingent ‘political spectrum’ does not even suspect the existence.

To keep to our theme, we may ask first and foremost: what is the political regime that most individuals on the so-called ‘far right’ most ardently desire? Given the descriptions that Socrates makes of these in his conversation with Glaucon (who himself is revealed over the course of the Republic to be a timocratic soul), it is evident that most of these men desire emphatically the timocratic regime:5

In the honour given to rulers, in the abstinence of the warrior class from agriculture, handicrafts, and trade in general, in the institution of common meals, and in the attention paid to gymnastics and military training in all these respects this State will resemble the [aristocratic regime]….

But in the fear of admitting philosophers to power, because they are no longer to be had simple and earnest, but are made up of mixed elements; and in turning from them to passionate and less complex characters, who are by nature fitted for war rather than peace; and in the value set by them upon military stratagems and contrivances, and in the waging of everlasting wars this State will be for the most part peculiar….

[T]hey have neglected her who is the true Muse, the companion of reason and philosophy, and have honoured gymnastic more than music….

[B]ut one thing, and one thing only, is predominantly seen, the spirit of contention on and ambition [Greek: φιλονικίαι καὶ φιλοτιμίαι; lit. ‘the love of victory and the love of honour’]; and these are due to the prevalence of the passionate or spirited element.

The defining feature of the timocratic regime, as the timocratic soul, is spiritedness: thumos. Thumos is a striving, a martial, an agonistic trait, which presses one toward conflict and contest, the delight in battles of all kinds, be they physical, personal or intellectual. It is related to what we scientistic moderns like, in our reductive and impoverished way, to call ‘testosterone’: it is a predominately masculine virtue. It has been a lynchpin of the re-emergence of the true Right in modernity, beginning already from Nietzsche, who could even be said to have made it the centre of gravity of his entire philosophy (the will to power might be interpreted as the metaphysical reification of thumos). Its evident lack, not to say suppression, in the modern world, both in the political and the social and the artistic realms, has led those who are naturally thumotic to an opposite excess: they place their dishonoured trait at the centre of political and social considerations, and make of it a kind of coping stone for the architecture of their beliefs. This can be seen historically in the emergence of fascism, and today most evidently in the so-called ‘Manosphere’, but it is present to no mean extent as well throughout the entirety of what is dismissively called the ‘populist right’. The visible re-emergence of the thumotic in the Right is indeed one of the most promising signs of our times, and should be duly celebrated.

But to praise a thing is not the same as wishing its apotheosis, and it must also be recognized that the thumotic part of the soul, when it is made the core and king of the same, leads without fail to a number of great difficulties, both for the individual, and for any society which he partakes in or forms.

The conflictual nature of diverse groups or movements in the contemporary Right is in many cases nothing but a sublimation of the duel.

The will to contest naturally brings with it certain concomitant tendencies: namely, the love of loyalty, courage, discipline, victory and honour. Indeed, these last in particular are taken by Socrates to be the summum bonum of the timocratic order, the highest good at which it aims, and by which it judges all things political and personal. In our own day, which has departed so far from honour that it hardly even remembers what the word could possibly mean, there is a tendency to associate the idea of honour with what are considered to be antiquated and to us inexplicably ‘barbaric’ practices like duelling. This association, though it culminates in childish and superficial judgements, is nonetheless not baseless: the decline of duelling and the decline of honour or the love of honour were indeed parallel historical processes, since neither of these things can exist without the other.

In a certain sense, the conflictual nature of diverse groups or movements in the contemporary true Right is in many cases nothing but a sublimation of the duel. It is often said that the differences between various ‘right-wing groups’ are differences of ‘philosophy’, using that term in the lax contemporary sense, meaning mere differences of opinion. But the intellectual side is ever secondary, and the proof for this is the fact, as mentioned at the beginning of this essay, that no fewer nor lesser divergences exist also between various parts of the left, but such china-like fragmentation does not there tend to arise. Relative divergences in opinion in the left are taken by leftist individuals somewhat more in stride (not always, to be sure, but generally) than they are on the Right. The reason for this is that on the Right there is an element which is largely lacking on the left: the love of honour, the love of victory.

The breaks which occur on the Right are very frequently sparked off by personal rather than intellectual disputes. It is easy to pass these off as ‘petty infighting’, and it is doubtless that in some cases this is precisely what they are. Yet for the most part, the very attribution of ‘pettiness’ to these disputes is itself a sign of a certain kind of specifically modern pettiness: when a man of honour feels himself dishonoured, so far is it from being low of him to respond with harshness and wrath, it is even noble of him to do so.6

More yet: The Right, the true Right, is necessarily and inherently agonistic. It revels in contest, competition, striving against a worthy opponent; it praises the love of victory. A man of the Right wishes to excel; he is naturally ambitious, and this ambition colours the better part of his relations. Now in general, his very sense of honour counterbalances the violence and contrariness which agonism might bring; for honour implies as well standards of fidelity, friendship, paying one’s dues, etc. But the same striving easily brings men into rivalries which, while being in general healthy, as they goad each to achieve ever greater things, can easily erupt in the heat of the contest into harsh language, overbearing attitudes, and words and deeds that easily might be interpreted as dishonouring. And from here, it is but a step the further to the kinds of disputes, vituperations, and even ruptures which we see plaguing the Right today.

It would behoove us, perhaps counter Schmitt, to give greater weight to the idea of friend than to that of the enemy.

Dishonouring: to be sure, today, we might use different terminology – we might say that a man has been insulted or offended, for instance, and leave the matter there. In truth, we lack the language to speak of these things adequately, because our higher vocabulary has fallen into desuetude through the wretched impoverishment of the contemporary soul. The question is not how to eradicate this attitude and these values from the Right: it should be clear by now that the Right would not be the Right at all, did it not enshrine these ideas near its very core. The question is rather how these things are to be tempered, by what means they might be limited to their right and healthy sphere, and how we can stop our best virtue from degenerating into the vice which might destroy us.

Friend or Foe?

In what is surely one of his most celebrated political concepts, Carl Schmitt famously located the basis of the political in the friend/enemy dichotomy in his book The Concept of the Political. This could not be more ‘of the Right’ in the sense that we have proposed above; nor, of course, was its centrality unknown to thinkers preceding Schmitt. Socrates in the Republic lays out a strikingly parallel notion when he is speaking of the guardians of the city:7

Why, a dog, whenever he sees a stranger, is angry; when an acquaintance, he welcomes him, although the one has never done him any harm, nor the other any good… [H]e distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing.

But this canine logic comes some time after Socrates had already submitted the friend/enemy distinction to critique. In the central passage of this section, Socrates recounts the following conversation with Polemarchus, whose name in Greek means ‘leader in warfare’:

By friends and enemies do we mean those who are so really, or only in seeming? [I asked.]

Surely, [Polemarchus] said, a man may be expected to love those whom he thinks good, and to hate those whom he thinks evil.

Yes, but do not persons often err about good and evil: many who are not good seem to be so, and conversely?

That is true.

Then to them the good will be enemies and the evil will be their friends ?

True.

And in that case they will be right in doing good to the evil and evil to the good ?

Clearly.

But the good are just and would not do an injustice ?

True.

Then according to your argument it is just to injure those who do no wrong?

Nay, Socrates; the doctrine is immoral.

The friend/enemy distinction, without further modification, is inadequate as the defining feature of the political: if it is to be both just and effective, it relies fundamentally on the ability of a man, not only to discriminate, but to discriminate justly. To mention only a single aspect of this problem, there is the eternal risk of entertaining facile confusions between the antagonist and the enemy. Guillaume Faye has some interesting thoughts on this matter in a geopolitical context:8

It is also worth asking ourselves whether in this context the United States still represents an enemy (as I myself once argued) – which is to say, a power posing a mortal threat – rather than a foe or economic, political and cultural rival.

It is of the essence for the guardians of the city, or for the men of the Right more generally (who are as today’s true, but hidden guardians), to recognize, not the distinction between friend and enemy, but rather between antagonist (rival) and enemy – the difference between on the one hand personal disputes, having to do with divergences in character, practice and habit, or conflicts over ‘territory’, be that territory physical or metaphorical; and on the other hand disputes of principle, which touch, not only the affairs of one or two individuals, but of the whole community.

Such confusions are inevitable when the thumotic element of the soul gains predominance. At the beginning of Plato’s Laws, an idea is introduced which is bound to be congenial to men of honour, warriors and all thumotic souls: namely, that the world is war and nothing but war, peace being a mere illusion.9 However, not the words of the dialogue, but its very development, reveals that this view is incompatible in the first place with a serene and philosophical soul, and in the second place with conversation, dialogue, the joint pursuit of truth, and friendship itself, understood as the true basis of the political order. The tremendous valorization of friendship, which Nietzsche considered to be one of the specific characteristics of the Greeks,10 could indeed be considered a countervailing aspect to their equally tremendous love of honour and victory, and it is one place where we of the Right might certainly look to find some mitigation to an overweening combativeness amongst ourselves. It would behoove us, perhaps counter Schmitt, to put greater emphasis on the idea of friend than of enemy. And friendship, while it excludes the concept of the enemy, does not exclude that of the antagonist or rival.11

Clear recognition of this difference can only come through the habit of self-consciousness, the developed awareness or knowledge of the ground upon which we stand: autognosis must be also our watchword. Only given this is it possible for us to justly distinguish between those men whom we oppose in their character, and those whom we oppose in their principle; only then does the ‘friend/enemy’ dichotomy serve us by closing our ranks, rather than undermining us by splintering them apart.

The attempt to arrive at self-consciousness, if it be carried out in a sincere and devoted manner, demands self-overcoming of us, and indeed an alteration in our inner regime. Thumotic men of honour, on account of their love of strife, tend to put an enormous premium on the virtue of courage, and it is not rare for them to consider it the paramount virtue, the ‘first part of virtue’ rather than ‘the fourth part’, as the Platonic Athenian stranger calls it.12 In the Platonic dialogue on courage, the Laches, the fundamental contradiction in this virtue is clearly identified: courage is evidently greater when coupled with ignorance. A man who knows he will survive and win a battle and fights valiantly is obviously less courageous than one who does not know if he will survive or win, but fights valiantly all the same. Yet courage is considered by all13 a good thing, while ignorance is considered by all a bad thing; how resolve this contradiction?

The answer to this riddle, as is shown by the progress of the Laches itself, is philosophy: courage is the simultaneous recognition of and confrontation of Socratic ignorance; in its highest form, it is the virtue of a man who fearlessly pursues the truth, though he does not and cannot know what that quest might mean for him, or whither it might lead.14 But the courageous pursuit of the truth requires that one be capable of laying aside the love of victory, of subsuming it, at least momentarily, beneath the love of truth: philosophy is the mastery of thumos.15

In the Socratic analysis, the unbridled love of honour, in part on account of its connection to the love of victory, leads imperceptibly but necessarily to the love of money, which brings the emergence of oligarchy out of timocracy, and the oligarchic soul out of the timocratic. ‘Wouldn’t [the timocratic soul] despise money when he’s young but love it more and more as he grows older, because he shares in the money-loving nature and isn’t pure in his attitude to virtue?’16 This is the downward gravity which has swallowed not a few Right-inclining movements in the last century, and has indeed led to the degeneracy of our European nations themselves. As Socrates himself foretold,17 there is and can be only a single cure for such a disease, a single cure which can permit us also to overcome the dangers inherent in our agonistic drive, and to tame our wilder thumos. It is simultaneously the single valid response to the age-old problem, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?: Philosophy, in its highest and most uncompromising sense.

Footnotes

1 Cf. for example the apologia of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for the Khmer Rouge: ‘Distortions at Fourth Hand’, The Nation, June 6, 1977 http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19770625.htm.

2For a general critique, see my recent essay for Arktos Journal, ‘What is the Deep Right?’ as well as Charles Lyon’s ‘Shifting the Left/Right Paradigm’ and also his more recent ‘Usurocracy Delenda Est’.

3For a full and fair account of this particular dispute, see Kerry Bolton, Yockey: A Fascist Odyssey (Arktos Media Ltd., 2018), pp. 91–104 and 447–449.

4For classical alternatives to or modifications of these scheme, see Aristotle, Politics, esp. Book IV, and the fragments that have come down to us of Cicero, De re publica, Book III, XXXI–XXXV.

5Plato’s Republic, Book VIII, 547d–548c. All excerpts are taken from the translation of the honourable Benjamin Jowett.

6It is not superfluous to note that, precisely on account of the nature of honour, such conflict is hotter when it stands between two men who are considered honourable, rather than between an honourable man and some random fellow of little note. Thus we see that conflicts of this kind are more likely to arise between the foremost figures of the Right, than between a key figure and some lesser one.

7 Plato’s Republic, 376a–b.

8Archeofuturism (Arktos Media Ltd., 2010), p. 77.

9See Laws, the very opening discussion of the entire dialogue, 626a–632d. Cf. Heraclitus, Fragment 53; also Nietzsche, The Gay Science, §92 and Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, §6.

10‘“[Y]our jealous soul shall love no one, unless it be the friend”—that made the soul of the Greek quiver; thus he walked the path of his greatness.’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra (New York: The Modern Library, 1995), First Part, ‘On the Thousand and One Goals’.

11The recognition of this distinction is essential, not only for the growth and solidarity of the Right, but also for that of the West itself; it applies as much to geopolitics as to politics and metapolitics, as indeed Faye clearly sees: his very discussion of the difference between rival and enemy arises in his analysis of the United States — a regime which is presently dangerous to Europe, but not essentially or necessarily so. Plato in his very consideration of warfare in The Republic, makes parallel reference to the state of the Hellenes, in what must be certainly a lesson also for us:

‘Do you think it right that Hellenes should enslave Hellenic States, or allow others to enslave them, if they can help? Should not their custom be to spare them, considering the danger which there is that the whole race may one day fall under the yoke of the barbarians?’

Book V, 469b–c; consider also the passage that follows until 471c.

12Laws, Book II, 667a.

13At least in noble antiquity. But consider Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter XXI: ‘When armies fight, there is on one side, or both, a running away; yet when they do it not out of treachery, but fear, they are not esteemed to do it unjustly, but dishonourably. For the same reason, to avoid battle is not injustice, but cowardice.’

14See Laches, considering the entire dialogue, but in particular the passage leading up to and following the Socratic turn at 193e; cf. the very heart of the Meno, 86b–c.

15We mention but another advantage which might accrue to us if we are vigilant here. That rather tendentious accusation which is often brought against the ‘far right’ really has an element of truth: we of the Right really are in danger of finding ourselves today in a kind of ‘echo chamber’, marginalized from any kind of real criticism and surrounded by like-thinking men who but repeat our ideas back at us. This has the inevitable consequence of leading to a certain shallowness or limitedness of perspective on certain questions. We would add to this criticism only that the ‘mainstream’ itself has operated in a similar ‘echo chamber’ now for at least a hundred years, if not since the beginning of modernity. Yet there is a fundamental difference between us and the ‘mainstream’: We have the cure to this illness in us, in our thumotic spirits, our will to confront one another and to challenge one another on the justice or validity of our ideas. But this can only be of aid to us only insofar as we are able to replace the love of victory, the love of mere honour, with the love of truth; otherwise, it is certain to degenerate into the kinds of petty bickering and childish personal attacks that we too often see weakening us and compromising our ranks, which will bring about nothing if not a fragmentation of the echo chamber into so many echo cubicles.

17Book VII, 549b; cf. 409a and 378b-c.

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