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John Bruce Leonard

Metapolitics and the Right – Part 1

Series: Metapolitics and the Right

The rise of the ‘populist right’ compels us to revisit the concept of metapolitics.

It seems eminently appropriate, in the early days of this journal, to seek to come to new terms with what is by now an oldish concept: metapolitics. The word has made such broad inroads into the speech and writing, and indeed the thought of the contemporary true Right (and not only), that one can by now take it as a dato di fatto, as is said in Italian: something simply given, the existence of which can no longer be disputed. This fact itself – the widespread acceptance of a word which even sixty years ago almost literally did not exist – is indeed at least a limited sign of the efficacy of metapolitics; the term can be taken as incidental proof of the concept. Yet we also find that this word is used (as indeed a surprising amount of our language, when one begins to scratch the surface) in a way which would seem to be straightforward and clear, and yet which, when analysed, opens a window upon a number of vital difficulties. In the present case, these difficulties relate to what might be called the ‘worldly project’ of the Right: its attempt to establish itself as a viable social and political reality in the world around us.

It might appear, however, arrogant or impertinent of us to address ourselves to an issue which was in a way the founding premise of the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE), and to do so moreover on what is very nearly the half-century birthday of that intellectual project – particularly as we owe practically our entire political existence to the efforts of the men involved in it. Though this is very far from our intent, it might appear as if we were suggesting, with all the ungraciousness too often common to young men in our day, that the work done by figures the rank of de Benoist or Sunic or Venner or Faye should be overturned by this new generation of upstarts as if it had been but a cart of feathers.

We are emboldened in this impertinency, however, by two considerations. In the first place, if GRECE can be compared with the Frankfurt School (and there are valid reasons for submitting such a comparison, as should be obvious to most of my readers), it is clear that the results obtained by the one, when compared in an analogous historical framework, are from the practical point of view markedly inferior to the results attained by the other. (So far as the intellectual point of view goes, we constrain ourselves to noting that where the Frankfurt School constructed, GRECE and the men who followed from it for the most part either discovered or rediscovered.)

To say it again, we are presently living in the fiftieth year after the commencement of GRECE, which was officially launched (most significantly) in 1968. The Frankfurt School did not have so clear an origin; it can be dated back at earliest to the 1920s, with the founding of the Institute for Social Research, and in terms of the appearance of its major names, it might be given somewhat arbitrarily a year of departure in 1930. Given this date, it is evident that easily within fifty years of its advent, it had contributed to the production of society-wide revolution in the social and political perspective of the average man throughout the entire geographical breadth of the West; suffice it to mention only the spirit of 1968, the same fateful year on whose very eve GRECE was founded. This not even to speak of the fact that the Frankfurt School was, from its own point of view, strongly obstructed at the start of its project by the existence of strongly entrenched ‘fascist’ regimes throughout Europe, as well as the rapid outbreak of the greatest armed conflict the world had ever known. Despite these handicaps (although also to an extent perhaps because of them, thanks to the ingenuity of its founders) it succeeded in gaining an enormous influence in key sectors of political and social institutions, as well as a nigh unbreakable stranglehold over the universities, thereby controlling the general directionality of the political and social thought of generations entire, and forming the world to a really remarkable extent in its own image.

Conventional political thought takes for granted the closed circle of political ideas as they are generally held, while metapolitics seek to shift or shatter the limits of that circle itself.

A full half century after the founding of GRECE, meanwhile, we are forced to admit – though let us insist once again that this in no way prejudices our gratitude toward the figureheads of that institution, and we would never belittle that which it has attained, which is in many ways of much greater and more enduring value – that its worldly effects can hardly be said to measure up to those of its greatest rival. Politics has been drifting leftward for decades now – indeed, with a steadily increasing tempo – and the contrary changes we have seen only in these last handful of years have been on the one hand ideologically ambiguous, and on the other can trace their origins back in many cases to concrete, often temporary or remediable socio-economic discontents among the people, rather than to any kind of ‘ideological revolution’ effected by the great metapoliticians of the Right. In particular, it is at least highly dubious that these healthier alterations to which we have lately been witness can be credited to the direct or indirect influence of GRECE; though we cannot reject this possibility out of hand, honesty compels us to admit that we owe many of these to merely contingent and tertiary causes, a reaction against the left rather than an independent action of the Right.

The question naturally arises as to why this should be so, and to what extent the problem here, rather than being one, say, of historical accident or our lack of material resources or limited possibilities in ‘networking’, is actually retraceable to errors in the intellectual underpinnings themselves of the metapolitical idea on the Right.

In the second place, the gratitude that we owe to our forefathers in this political effort should not prohibit us from, should indeed encourage us to, look at their heritage as closely and keenly as we may. Their greatest gift to us has been a certain liberty of intellect in the face of the increasingly rapid ossification of Western thought. Then let us do them the honour they merit, and let us exercise that liberty even with respect to what they themselves have taught us.

What is Metapolitics?

In his aptly aimed ‘Metapolitical Dictionary’,1 Guillaume Faye defines ‘Metapolitics’ itself in this way:

Metapolitics is an effort of propaganda – not necessarily that of a specific party – that diffuses an ideological body of ideas representing a global political project. Metapolitics is the indispensable complement to every direct form of political action, though in no case can it or should it replace such action.

Characteristically, this Fayean definition implies a critique of metapolitics, closely connected to Faye’s critique of GRECE itself, which we will come to later. We focus for the moment on the positive definition.

Metapolitics is an ‘effort of propaganda’; yet it is clear that metapolitics is not identical to propaganda. This can easily be demonstrated by consulting those writers who are consistently taken to be ‘metapolitical’: Alain de Benoist, Julius Evola, Tomislav Sunic, René Guénon or Guillaume Faye himself, are surely not at all ‘propagandists’ in the rough and rude sense that this word is usually meant. They are intellectuals, when they are not philosophers or something more than philosophers;2 many of their works are as good as opaque to the general run of mankind. The propagandist aims at producing the maximum emotional or psychological reverberation in the greatest number of human beings possible; the audience of the great metapolitical figures of our times is often restricted enough, and these men aim to sway, not our emotions or our ‘psychologies’ as such, but our reason or our higher beings. What then could Faye have in mind?

The metapolitical task of the Right in our day, which is a task such as can exist only in a time of democracy, is to prepare the way for the regime which will supplant democracy.

The etymology of ‘propaganda’ will come to our aid here; the word derives from the Latin propagare, meaning to expand, to extend, hence our English ‘propagate’. Metapolitics is an act of expansion, an extension of the domain of ideas and of the present political discourse, so as to make new horizons practically accessible on the political level. It is thus an active attempt to influence. This distinguishes it from political philosophy, which is an active attempt to understand (though this attempt necessarily includes both an esoteric and exoteric side, as is clear already from the most superficial reading of Plato’s Republic which dialogue is far from lacking in an ‘influential’ aspect). It is not aimed toward specific and delimited goals, as is propaganda, but rather toward ‘an ideological body of ideas representing a global political project’, as Faye puts it: it is global rather than local, general rather than specific; it is a question, not of beliefs, but of principles. In this, however, it would seem to be deeply akin to political philosophy. It appears thus to occupy an intermediate position between mean propaganda and thought on the one hand, and political philosophy on the other. Yet most curiously, ‘metapolitics’, as we have pointed out, is a new concept; it is far from being one of the traditional subdivisions of philosophy, along the lines of metaphysics or psychology or epistemology. So far as the Ancients are concerned, metapolitics does not seem to exist; this intermediary position between philosophy and politics was lacking to classical philosophy. Why should this be so?

Let us take recourse to a few practical examples, which will help us elucidate this problem. Revolt Against the Modern World is eminently a metapolitical work; metapolitical, too, though on a much lower level, is that lone individual on an American college campus who tapes a sign reading ‘It’s OK to be White’ to a lamppost. The uniting factor here is, as has been said, an active attempt to influence the thought of the day. Yet this in and of itself is not sufficient: for a commonplace opinion editorial in this or that newspaper, which in the most banal and conventional terms possible expresses its support for, say, Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel, is clearly not a work of metapolitics, despite its evident wish to influence its readers. The specific difference is that the latter exists within the political understanding conventional to our day, while the former exist outside of it; the latter takes for granted the closed circle of political ideas as they are generally held, while the former seek to shift or shatter – or, in some ‘conservative’ cases, to more indelibly inscribe – the limits of that circle itself. Just as the Frankfurt School, when it began its work, often laboured in an atmosphere which was openly hostile to the Marxist vision that the better part of its members professed and yearned for, and nonetheless gradually succeeded in embedding those Marxist ideas into the public discourse itself, so the metapolitician seeks, not so much to change minds regarding this or that existing political alternative, as to introduce radically new alternatives into the public consciousness as legitimate and thus attainable practical possibilities. Put otherwise, while politics works on the surface and the extremities of political practice, metapolitics works on the roots and the core of the same. As Daniel Friberg states it in his excellent political and eminently practical handbook, The Real Right Returns:3

Metapolitics is a war of social transformation, taking place at the level of worldview, thought, and culture. Any parliamentary struggle must be preceded, legitimised, and supported by a metapolitical one. Metapolitics, at its best, reduces parliamentarism to a question of mere formalities.

Now, in past times, even in some sense up until the very last century, such work, far from being widely practised or considered generally acceptable, was in fact held to be but a species of political subversion; what we today call ‘metapolitics’ would in the past have been defined as revolutionary thought, speech, literature. And in most parts of the world, in most periods of history, this kind of work has had strong limits imposed on it. The reasons for this will be clear enough; many present areas of the globe and almost all past epochs had strongly entrenched regimes of generally aristocratic, monarchical or oligarchical mold; such regimes as these do not indiscriminately permit the expression of such arguments or reasoning as directly undermines their authority. ‘Metapolitics’ in past days was an illicit practice, and one which therefore had to be undertaken with greatest prudence and risk, in general by writing in such a way that one’s most revolutionary ideas would be somewhat concealed or softened by a more conventional exterior. Even this did not always save one; men like Spinoza and Rousseau, to offer but two prominent examples, suffered, through exiles and excommunications, the consequences of their heterodoxy. This not to speak of the much graver cases of a Giordano Bruno or a Galileo Galilei, who chose the other path open to the pre-modern ‘metapolitician’, and gambled on martyrdom. This gives us one explanation for why metapolitics was not considered a category of philosophical investigation in the past; it was hitherto equivalent to subversion and revolutionism, and so was guarded against by the authorities, and largely veiled by its practitioners.

Metapolitics was not considered a category of philosophical investigation in the past; it was hitherto equivalent to subversion and revolutionism, and so was guarded against by the authorities, and largely veiled by its practitioners.

That is, however, but half the riddle; for in point of fact, before a very definite date at the beginning of the modern period,4 even the kind of subversive thought of a Spinoza, a Rousseau, a Hobbes, or even a Descartes or a Locke, almost did not exist save in certain very infamous cases. The political philosophers, though they were yet held in suspicion and in some cases came to very bad ends, did not make the same radical attempt on the existing order as the modern philosophers have almost habitually done. They were, we might say, moderate in their revolutionism. They seem by and large to have believed that the influence of the greatest Legislator, the philosopher, would necessarily be of a delimited scope in society, since he must come up against the insuperable limitations of his people and the unalterable physical conditions of his country, and that in consequence it would be mad and irresponsible of him to attempt the impossible, by ‘hurling the little streets upon the great’. They restrained themselves to orienting political thought, as much as was in their power, toward a political ideal.5 Modern philosophers beginning with Machiavelli are characterized on the contrary by their evident belief that, through the influence of the greatest Prince, the philosopher, society could be reordered, restructured, ‘improved’, so long as one takes one’s bearings by reality itself rather than any kind of unattainable ideal; and, for reasons which are to be sought especially in the earliest members of the Anglo-Saxon contingent of these philosophers (Hobbes, and above all Locke) this worldly attempt has represented almost exclusively a movement toward what we would today call the liberal democratic order.6

This leads us to two conclusions: First, Metapolitics strictly speaking is itself is a branch of specifically modern philosophy, a direct consequence of the revolutionary nature of that philosophy, which for the first time as it were asserted the legislative rights of the philosopher in society. Metapolitics is unthinkable without that revolution, and in this sense all metapolitical activity is the direct child of Machiavelli in particular. To get to the bottom of the meaning and final limits of metapolitics, it would therefore be necessary to arrive at an adequate understanding of that aspect of Machiavelli’s thought, and how it relates to the older, pre-modern understanding of the political philosophers – analysis which we cannot so much as begin in the present essay, since it lies well beyond our scope, not least of all as it would require a clear-sighted analysis of the Renaissance itself.

Secondly, metapolitics, in the sense that we use it here and now, is a kind of activity which can freely or openly exist only in a very specific political regime, namely, liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is marked by at least a putative protection of the freedom of speech, by its establishing much looser boundaries around what can be said and written. It therefore makes possible a kind of speech and writing which attempt to rework the principles underpinning or governing the social and political expressions of mankind.

Now, liberal democracy presently stands at a moment of crisis for this reason precisely; and this in turn is part and parcel of the modern crisis as such. Liberal democracy in our day would like to manifest itself as an open society, i.e. a society in which there are virtually no limits on what a man might say or write save in extremely special cases (inciting to violence, calling for the death of a ‘public servant’, etc.). The freedom of speech would presumably protect that speech or writing which opposes the liberal democratic order itself, seeking to replace it with a non-liberal or non-democratic order. But a non-liberal or non-democratic order would almost certainly not provide the same broad and indiscriminate ‘freedoms’ for what might be said or written. The open society thus paves the way for its own undermining. It can, of course, happily permit one or two cranks here or there to rant in the local pubs or publish this or that poorly written anti-democratic screed; its magnanimity will extend so far as that. But what is it to do when the very freedoms it permits lead to the growth of a substantial movement, or the emergence of true thought-leaders, or the sprouts of a new worldview in important segments of the populace, which threaten its continuation? It cannot permit such a thing without compromising its very existence as an open society, and it cannot close itself to such a thing without becoming at least in part a closed society, thus destroying its nature and transforming into what it is not. It must choose between death and the devil.

Though the garb worn by this dilemma is distinctly modern, the principles are eternal. Democracy is, as has been known to all the ages but our own, an inherently unstable form of government. Save in the most exceptional circumstances, it is not long for the world, but inevitably transforms into something else, either by the blade or by the blood, either by the violent crumbling of society or by the slow and secret transmutation of the political order into something else. This is not due exclusively to any institutional weakness in democracy, as is believed by the scribblers of constitutions, and technocrats and bureaucrats of all stripes; it is due to the nature itself of democracy. The metapolitical task of the Right in our day, which is a task such as can exist only in a time of democracy, is to prepare the way for the regime which will supplant democracy. The deepest work of the metapolitician of the Right is therefore necessarily anti-democratic: he seeks to produce a society in which metapolitics, save in its conservative aspect, no longer exists.7

And in this lies the prime challenge for such a one.

Footnotes

1Why We Fight (Arktos Media Ltd. 2011), p. 91. Emphasis Faye’s.

2Cf. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §§12, 20, 42.

3Daniel Friberg, The Real Right Returns, 2nd edition (Arktos Media Ltd., 2018), p. 20.4We can give this date as 1532: the publication, rather than the penning, of Machiavelli’s Prince.

5See Laws, Book IV, 739 and the following discourse, keeping in mind the eminently practical context of that dialogue. Cf. 708e–710d.

6Yet consider the project of Nietzsche in particular – he who is the greatest of the moderns, because he has almost single-handedly indicated the way that modernity might be reconstituted and redirected from within.

7The case of Galileo Galilei is of especial interest here. It takes a mind steeped in the naive self-obsession of modern historiography to read the Catholic suppression of Galileo’s teaching as simple hostility on the part of religious ignorance toward scientifically ascertained facts; in truth, a great many Cardinals thoroughly understood the reasons a thinking man might have for adopting the heliocentric model. But the Church is above all a religious and moral institution, and did not neglect for an instant the teaching of the Ancients that a man’s reading of astronomy or astrology has moral consequences – wisdom which we have long since profoundly forgotten. The quarrel with Galileo was not over the movement of the heavenly bodies, but rather over the corresponding influence that a teaching like Galileo’s – with its near contempt of the vulgar interpretation Biblical teaching – would have within the soul of man. The Church at that time was of such a seriousness and studiousness that it was capable of thinking on such a level; nothing could be more significant of our decline than the apology the Church has seen fit to make for its treatment of Galileo. Such the nature of our day, which has seen fit without the first attempt at real justification to ‘liberate’ science from all moral or political control. That is part and parcel of the dilemma of the ‘open society’, which we have already discussed both here and elsewhere.

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