- 1.Inertia in Motion: Critical Reflections on Conservatism – Part 1
- 2.Inertia in Motion: Critical Reflections on Conservatism – Part 2
The successes of the left in our day can be understood in large part as the consequence of the inherent weakness of conservatism.
In his final book Recognitions,1 Julius Evola spends several chapters reflecting on the idea of a ‘culture of the Right’ – a culture which, as he notes, is largely wanting in comparison to that of the left. The question naturally emerges as to why this should be so. It goes without saying that, even if the left-right spectrum is a merely historical and historically contingent development, as I have elsewhere proposed, the ‘right’ nonetheless was coeval with the ‘left’, and had every bit as much time to develop its own positive worldview and culture as the left. I have in prior essays noted its extraordinary failure in this regard, and given a cursory account of the same;2 but it would be worth our while to attempt to understand the failure of the ‘right’ at the philosophical level – where it rightly belongs. Such knowledge is essential for the preparation of a legitimate culture of the Right, which is as badly needed in our own day as it was half a century ago, when Evola himself wrote on this problem.
To begin, the ‘right’ of modern times has always and everywhere been conservative.3 It has defined itself, and been defined by its allies and enemies alike, as an attempt to maintain the status quo of the present moment, or that of a very recent past. It has seldom attempted to alter society, save as such change should be retrograde a single lone step, but has rather striven to keep society still and firm upon a fixed point. It has been wedded essentially to love of what is, or nostalgic regard for what was in immediate memory.
In the earliest days of the totally artificial ‘left-right’ divide, which is to say the decades immediately following the ‘liberal’ revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the conservative looked to a society which had until yesterday been aristocratic or monarchical; the earliest ‘right’ was thus organically associated with these higher regimes, or more to the point, with the failure and overturning of late forms of these regimes. Such a right could offer sound and ready critique of the growing Enlightenment avalanche, by referring to those stable pillars which yet resisted that onslaught, or which still existed with tolerable vividness to human memory. There were still visible traces of a rigorously non-Enlightenment society upon which to found both opposition to the Enlightenment, but also a positive view of what might be used to replace Enlightenment schema. But with the passage of time, the growing remoteness of those epochs and the growing fragmentation, isolation and inauthenticity of their remnant forms, the opposition which the conservative right was capable of exerting became proportionally feeble and inadequate.
But that, while grave, is the lesser part of the problem. More decisive was this: that many if not all of those original men of the ‘right’ took as their primary reference point the last bastion of a failing kingdom. They aimed at reproducing aristocratic and monarchical models which were already on their last leg, which were already falling, already internally compromised if not outright rotten; and this weakness of the last pre-Enlightenment orders was often enough reflected in a certain infirmity within the early ideologues or intellectuals of the ‘right’ – particularly men like Burke or Burckhardt, who made a powerful show of contrariness but were already inwardly men of modernity in any number of essential respects. These men were aiming at a society which had died yesterday; but it had died yesterday precisely because it had for some generations been moribund and bed-ridden, consumed by the disease they wanted to extirpate. They should have flung themselves back into a nobler and healthier past, but they were prohibited in this by their temperament and the temperament of an age, that already-entrenched modernistic apologia which denigrates all epochs before the Renaissance as being antiquated and nescient. Even the terms used by the contemporary historiography – terms like ‘Dark Ages’ or ‘Middle Ages’ – indicate that any pre-modern period is simply not worth taking seriously, with the single partial exception of Roman or Greek Antiquity: but even these were the Ancients as the humanists had interpreted them, and certainly not as men like Averroes, Avicenna, Boethius or Thomas Aquinas had interpreted them. The early thinkers of the ‘right’ thus found themselves often enough inscribed within a kind of cursed circle, which doomed almost all of their acts and works to eventual inadequacy and ineffectuality.
Nonetheless, it might seem to an onlooker – and indeed it has many times been claimed or insinuated in recent years especially – that the men of past generations, the Maistres and Tocquevilles, the Cortéses and even the Burkes, were more ‘of the right’ than their contemporary analogues. But in truth this is not the case: they are every bit as much ‘of the right’, as the ‘right’ has been understood in all of modern times. To be sure, one would like the contemporary ‘men of the right’ to stand a little bit more against the contemporary left, as those older generations still knew how to do; and this can and must be urged particularly against many of our present-day ‘conservative’ politicasters, who have sold their souls for a pittance and will stand to all of posterity, if they still stand at all, as foremost representatives of the society of blackguards and scoundrels to which they made themselves the ignominious lickspittles. Be this as it may, standing against is but the half, and the lesser half, of any war, be it military, political, cultural, or ideological. First and foremost, one must stand for: and as the ‘right’ has never, on the whole, stood for anything at all, how could it be expected to resist its largely unified enemy even an inch? As Evola states in Chapter 37 of Recognitions, ‘A Right which reduces itself to generic nationalism and to the defense of those values proper to a bourgeois society … is naught but a very approximate Right’ (Recognitions, p. 282).
The problem can be formulated in this way. The ‘right’, throughout all of modernity, has been conservative; that means, it has held faith with the local ways, customs, laws and religious traditions most immediately surrounding it. But these ways, customs, laws and traditions are obviously incompatible with any number of other contemporary ways, customs, laws and traditions surrounding them. Thus, the conservative in one part of the world or of Europe, or even in some cases of one and the same nation, finds himself standing in practical opposition to the conservative of another part. The conservative’s resistance, insofar as it is rooted in a positive vision, must make reference to the specific and immediate, the ‘here and now’; and that means he cannot mount any counter-initiative which does not accord with merely local prejudices.
Several simple examples of this dilemma will suffice from out of the plethora that might be called forth. Today, the conservative of Catalonia (which obviously is but a noteworthy exemplar of any number of identifiable linguistically or ethocally distinct regions even now existing in the nations of Europe) stands for the preservation of the Catalan dialect and Catalan customs, for their teaching in schools and their transmission to the new generations, as their special and most characteristic heritage; the conservative of Madrid, however, stands for the continuation of Spain as a common national unit, which demands the unambiguous favouring of a common language and a common and consistent set of customs over and above any local or regional sub-forms. Again: a conservative of Serbia or Holland can still make reference to what remains of the monarchy or aristocracy as the basis for his conservatism; but a conservative of Italy or America can at best make reference to a document, and what is more a republican document, the ‘constitution’. Or again: an American conservative (at least up until the very recent past) would tend to prefer a reduction in the size of the state and a diffusion of central authority over the whole web of American federalism; while conservatives of any number of specific European traditions might well seek precisely the opposite: a centralization of authority, the localization of authority in a single city or even individual. Or to take a final example from the recent past: the conservative of many parts of Germany of yesterday stood for the continuation of the Protestant faith, which was his special heritage; while a conservative of England might have stood for the continuation of the Anglican faith, and a conservative of Spain or Italy, the Catholic faith, and a conservative of France, the faith of liberté, égalité, fraternité4 – each of which proposes a vision of man and God distinct from and in many ways incompatible with the others.
Thus, while a man of the left has been able, no matter where and in what time he found himself, to point to relatively stable and unchanging principles – and indeed ideals – of the left, every man of the ‘right’ has been thrust back on a purely limited and specific tradition, which must defend itself as much from the special traditions of other conservatives, as from the left itself. This has weakened him, and his cause, in two fundamental respects. First, it has made it impossible to mount any unified front of the ‘right’, any Internationale even remotely similar to that which communism was able to organize during the Cold War. The conservative must rely merely and almost exclusively on whatever local powers, support, finances etc. he is able to raise, which are dwarfed by the hegemonic and leviathan-like monolith of the left.5 Secondly, no intellectual movement has ever been possible for the ‘right’ as it has been for the left; the right has been necessarily and unalterably lacking in a culture, because it lacked even a unified and consistent soil within which such a culture might be cultivated. While the left is able, by a process which is entirely automatic wherever it is not premeditated, to consolidate its efforts and to mount lengthy and insidious campaigns in academics, politics, religion, art etc., the conservative is necessarily limited to sporadic efforts here and there, which, entirely despite whatever value they might possess individually, have no real point of contact with those which arise elsewhere, and consequently tend to be drowned in the flood of ‘progress’.
Both of these failings have haunted the right. The former has led to insurmountable difficulties in its attempts to install itself politically and socially, even on the local and national level, not to speak of the European or international scale, in which its attempts have been either non-existent or else risible in both form and outcome.6 The latter, on the other hand, has made it impossible for the ‘right’ to entrench itself in academia, literature and art with even a fraction of the same discipline, patience, constancy and consistency as the left, thus leaving the entire wing of a key part of this battleground almost entirely unmanned; and those few individuals who have been talented and brave enough to make some stab into this by now abandoned and hostile landscape have been left to their own devices, and have finished not rarely surrounded by enemy hosts, in financial ruin, social ostracism, insane asylums, prisons and suicide.7
It is evident that the latter problem, the problem of the intellectual and interior deficit of the Right, is actually precedent to the former: so long as the Right lacks in a legitimate and generalized culture of its own, which is nourished by other wells than those the left has tapped – a culture based first and foremost on the cultivation and the self-discipline and the self-mastery of the individual, on spiritual development, on hierarchy within and without, all attempts the Right makes to unify on the political level will be beset by paralyzing setbacks, controversies and infighting.
In recent decades some novel stabs have been made in this direction. We cannot even so much as outline these attempts here in their particular manifestations; suffice it to say that some of them have been more successful than others, and some, more to the point, have been sounder than others. Some have perceived our plight, and the causes thereof, with tolerable clarity, while others have dedicated themselves with astounding resoluteness and blind tenacity to committing precisely the same errors as those made by their fathers and forefathers, which led us, step by implacable step, into the impasse which presently entraps us.
In the second part of this essay, we will limit ourselves to identifying two of the major traps into which nearly all of these movements have fallen, and to diagnosing one of the primary reasons for this error on their part, which will bring us back to the question of the ‘left-right political spectrum’, and the insidious undermining that that idea has performed beneath the development of a true Right.
2See ‘What is the Deep Right?’, comment section of which contains a very capable defence of the conservative attitude by Arktos author Peter King, who also submitted a recent and very compelling essay on the same, ‘Here and Now’. Mr. King’s comments and essay can be taken as a clarion and useful counterpoint to everything herewith offered.
3 The exception of a brief and well-known historical period spanning some several decades of the past century will surely be brought against me as a counter-example here. For the moment, I can only reassert what I have elsewhere argued: namely, that those states of the first half of the 1900s which truly offered an alternative, not just to Communism, but also to Western ‘liberal’ democracy, in point of fact had nothing essential to do with the ‘political right’ as it was understood from the special viewpoint of ‘liberal’ democracy. The represented instead practically the only political, social and practical attempt at offering an alternative to Enlightenment schema; the degree to which they failed in this endeavour, and the extent to which they were actuated by principles which led them to adopt specious, atrocious, self-destructive or enslaving practices and policies, is matter for another essay.
4I proffer this last example, of course, halfway tongue in cheek – but only halfway. For in point of fact, as has already been indicated, one of the fundamental problems of ‘conservatism’ in the contemporary period is its utterly unconscious, not to say unconscionable, adoption of ‘liberal’ principles. The ‘right’, in its defence of the status quo, has often enough been the defender of the earliest forms of ‘liberal’ societies, and has sought to keep these precisely as they were; but this is like to a gardener who goes about constantly seeding flowers and weeds haphazardly, and then spends the rest of his life tearing the weeds out wherever they spring up, and moreover lamenting the fact, until he has grown too tired of his battle to persist in it, concluding at last in his dotage that the weeds, being the hardier growths, surely deserve to thrive.
5Some will argue that I am overstating the unity of the left with this description, and will rise at once to furnish example upon example to demonstrate internal fragmentation and infighting within the left. I will not for a moment call these into question, nor will I suggest that they should not be strongly capitalized upon, by driving wedges wherever we find such cracks in leftist discourse, using precisely these inner conflicts as points of leverage for our own ideas. Nonetheless, these conflicts are incidental, not essential, to the left, and the simplest and at once most elegant proof of this is that the entire world has been drifting ever more rapidly ‘leftward’ practically since the dawn of Modernity, in blissful neglect of any ‘interior fragmentation’ of the left.
6It would seem that the recent rise of populism has made possible a truer nationalistic and internationalistic effort on the part of the Right, and truly it gives ground for some cautious optimism. Nonetheless, as we will later discuss, this populism must not be confounded for a veritable revolution of the Right; it is based on any number of transient and even leftist principles which will out, sooner or later, and which must be addressed if the ‘populist wave’ of these present days is not to subside once more or even produce a powerful undertow in precisely the opposite direction.
7Suffice it to nominate the justly celebrated examples of Ezra Pound, Knut Hamsun and Francis Parker Yockey. Kerry Bolton in his definitive biography of this last figure, Yockey: A Fascist Odyssey (Arktos, 2018) dedicates an entire section to similar scapegoats led to the slaughter on behalf of the contemporary ‘right’, pp. 371–390.