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John Bruce Leonard

Inertia in Motion: Critical Reflections on Conservatism – Part 2

Series: Inertia in Motion: Critical Reflections on Conservatism

A brief look at the attempts that have been made to salvage the soul of conservatism, and the dead ends into which they have led.

Reactionism

It is by now almost universally acknowledged that the ‘conservative right’ is ‘reactionary’. This term, as indeed both ‘conservative’ and ‘right’ itself, are all foundlings of the French Revolution; but, in distinction to the latter two, ‘reactionary’ was the only one coined by an enemy of the attitude in question.1 It is therefore all the more astonishing that the term should today be passively accepted both by men of the right, who seem insensitive to the slander which it contains,2 not to mention the extent to which it actually turns matters on their head: for the true conservative is and must be deeply and continually active, even ‘revolutionary’ in his willful conservation of a world subject to change; while the leftist, the Marxist, the ‘liberal’ is ever and always responding to, recoiling from, reacting to the ‘evils’ or the ‘injustices’ or the inequalities he finds pre-existing in the social order surrounding him. This is however not the place to submit a full critique of this term, its ill intent, its twisting of the truth or its manifold unhappy consequences. We are rather interested in exploring that part of the right which really has been reactive, and which deserves, in full right and for good and ill, this bad moniker.

For in point of fact the wholly negative reaction to the activities of subversive agents and groups was perceived as one possible solution to the problem sketched in the first part of this essay, of the disparate and heterogeneous nature of the right. If the right could not be united on the basis of what it wanted to conserve, then certainly it could be united on the basis of what it wanted to resist?

Thus one bypassed altogether the evident difficulty of the necessary inconsistency at the heart of the conservative right by pointing to that element of it which seemed unambiguously and ecumenically its own: namely, its mistrust of change. And indeed the right has historically had a kind of tacit negative acceptation. One understands that the leftist, be he the outright revolutionary or merely the abetting or sympathetic bourgeois bystander, is for something, has a positive vision of society toward which he is actively and in some cases tirelessly working. The conservative, meanwhile, is the eternal nay-sayer who ‘stands athwart history, yelling Stop’ even while history, utterly unfased, simply proceeds apace, pushing this stubborn protester before him as though he had been made of straw.

The conservative is the eternal nay-sayer who ‘stands athwart history, yelling Stop’ even while history, utterly unfased, simply proceeds apace, pushing this stubborn protester before him as though he had been made of straw.

There are, it should be obvious, deep and abiding problems with this attitude of mere resistance, which have in the long run cost the conservative practically everything he held dearest.

In the first place, such opposition is powerfully hindered by the fact that it tends to rely on instinctual or emotional aversion to change. Since it is already accepted from the start that no philosophical defence can broadly be made of conservatism as such, save that which merely points emphatically to this or that local state of affairs, the conservative bases his opposition on his desire and his sentiment, rather than on his intellect, his will, or his spirit. He is thus in many cases, and in many essential cases, unable to formulate sophisticated or profound counter-arguments to the sleepless deconstructive inventiveness of the left. And since it is (as the banality rightly has it) much easier to destroy than to build, and also appreciably simpler to change than to conserve, insofar as he who would change the status quo has all the powers of entropy, complacency, laziness, greed and envy as his constant allies, the leftist has been continually favoured in this ‘historical dialectic’; only that rather than bringing about a progressive and eternally ascending social order, as his myth has it, he has in fact been the prime spur downward, toward the nether and even the infernal regions of the world.

The leftist is always able and most willing to provide philosophical or analytical justification for his labour of dismantling, because the entire complex of modernity is almost a bag of tools fit for breaking aging edifices apart. The conservative, meanwhile, is relegated to playing a constant game of catch-up, and must be ever wary to capture the most recent bit of leftist philosophastering so as to refute it as quickly as he can. But he, as opposed to the leftist, is a poor reactionary, since in point of fact he moves ever from a starting position of often simple and even simple-minded love.3 Moreover, the relentlessness of the assaults on that love are destined sooner or later to wear away at his bulwarks. He is like a prince in a castle surrounded by enemies with thousands of tiny catapults and cannons, confident that they, being so small, will never break through to him; but though their work is slow, it is myriad and ceaseless, so that the prince and all his men are liable sooner or later to see the grand garrisons crumbling beneath so many tiny blows, or to grow themselves feeble and weary, indifferent or distracted, in so endless a war of attrition.

That is already a grave problem for the ‘reactionary conservative’; but it is a problem whose consequences are protracted over lengthy periods of time, and so which are largely imperceptible in the moment, and available to a man only in long retrospect. This is indeed one of the most formidable, because most invisible, of the advantages the left enjoys today: its actions and successes have been spread over the face of many centuries, so that one almost cannot perceive them at all until a very late stage; and even then one only glimpses them in hindsight and fragment, and cannot understand their enormity without a degree of ‘historical sense’ – the same historical sense that the left, in its fervent dogma of constant scientific and social progress, relentlessly suppresses or poisons. The conservatives have therefore been like men in a boat upon a tranquil and sluggish river, waters which only gradually begin to gain in speed, so imperceptibly that the somnolent passengers of the craft, lulled by its gentle going into believing themselves motionless, do not so much as notice that they are actually moving steadily along – until all at once they awaken to find themselves already in the grip of the rapids, and heading fast and inexorably toward a raging cataract.

Another, and no less decisive, aspect of this problem is to be found in the appeal of the ‘progressive left’ to the mind and spirit of youth, and the corresponding degree to which the reactionary conservative right has until recently absolutely failed to rally the passions of lively, energetic, idealistic and enthusiastic young people to its cause. The left frames its task in grandiose historical terms, employing language and images which are aimed at eliciting the fire of young souls. The reactionary conservative right has by and large limited itself to attempting to quench these same flames, to tame the wild passions of the riled young, and to suppress their explosive vitality, which of course does nothing but drive the young elsewhere. These conservatives are like the man who stopped up a geyser only to stand in amazed bewilderment when it burst out with quickened vigour in an altogether different place. Thus is added an almost comical, and absolutely historically unusual and even unnatural, generational aspect to the struggle between the progressive and the conservative: we have indeed lived with this for so long that we take for granted that the young person, at a certain point in his adolescence, is bound to ‘rebel’ against his stern old forebears, and to express his ‘rebellion’ in the most obvious and abrasive of ways, by taking up habits, dress and notions which are abhorrent or even anathema to the older generation. But although it is an eternal part of the human drama that this or that son will rise to disobey his father, there is absolutely nothing normal in this state of affairs; its present generality is largely a consequence of the decision on the part of the old right to play the part of the stodgy ‘reactionary’.

The results of this dynamic are far-reaching indeed. In the first place, the left has, practically since the dawn of its revolutionary period,4 been able to count on fresh new recruits for its battles (be they pitched battles on real and bloodied fields, or merely the various socio-cultural frays of the ‘culture war’), renewed each decade by the advent of the latest generation to majority. The sheer force of this advantage in terms of lively manpower already gives the left such an edge over the right that it is truly marvellous to think that the progressives were not able to crush their enemies much more quickly than they did. But of course, one must also consider the fact that the young revolutionary or idealist does sooner or later come of age, and enters an adulthood which, with its various familial responsibilities and inescapable financial burdens, is liable to temper his heat, and force somewhat more conservative views upon his maturing mind. This would seem to balance everything out even to the conservative right’s favour, insofar as there are many more middle-aged and elderly persons in the world than youths. The problem, of course, is that a middle-aged or elderly conservative who was baptized and raised in the fires of revolutionary fervour is unlikely to have escaped from them entirely unscathed; almost to a certainty, he will bear with him some residue of his old ‘ideals’ in this or that sentimental attachment to this or that figure or policy or tendency, in this or that loyalty to this or that pseudo-revolutionary vision or visionary, or in the softness he bears toward the latest generation of ‘young rebels’; he will carry this in his heart, and it will act there, albeit wanly and partially, toward the realization of a world he once strove for with all his powers and at the risk of his very reputation, well-being or even life. If he himself no longer harbours similar desires for such a world, he will at least be that much fonder toward them when they appear in the next generation’s young.

Thus the progressive left channels the most willing and most zealous portion of humanity into its own ends, and gains enormously therefrom; and all the while the reactionary conservative looks on in wondering disapproval, murmuring haplessly of the ‘good old days’ which he is already half incapable of remembering and utterly unable to resurrect, and the curious fractiousness of these ‘young upstarts’ whom he is incapable of enticing to his cause.

For the final and overarching failure of the reactionary conservative is his renunciation from the first of a clearly definable, emotionally and intellectually invigorating, and universally binding vision, aim, or cause to which he can make definitive reference in all the various aspects of his attempt at salvation. He is affected by a historical malaise: this vision was granted in all societies before the modern by the notion of the unattainable political ideal. The ‘just city’ or the ‘best regime’, the ‘city of God’ or the ‘Utopia’ governed the expectations and the aims of premodern institutions, statesmen and aristocrats. This ideal, to be clear, was an ideal in an older sense: it was understood that it was practically unattainable in almost all concrete and real cases, and to that extent it was understood that it would be a rash and unforgivable folly to overturn society so as to attempt to realize it; yet it stood as the constant point of reference, the True North of all political navigation, and the standard against which the real polities could be judged and stabilized.

All of this has been abandoned in the Modern Era, which indeed was premised on its abandonment; this abandonment is the reason for the feverish instability of the most recent centuries. Yet the political forms which were offered in substitute for these ‘imaginary principalities’ (as they were derisively called by the first father of this modern trend) in the end secretly implied their own ideal forms, which have since the beginning of modernity engaged and invigorated the progressives. This came, however, with a concommitant change in the sense of the word ‘ideal’ itself. The ideal was no longer the unearthly measure and weight, the divine standard against which the real could be evaluated; the ideal became that which was realizable on Earth: the republic or the commune, the New Atlantis or Crystal Palace, or the anarchical socialist ‘utopia’ which, in abuse of the original sense of the word, was actually and in point of fact to become a pantopia, a universally established ‘new world order’. In the wake of this momentous philosophical change, the very notion of an ideal was subsequently abandoned by the conservative in good reactionary fashion. The reactionary conservative pays for this renunciation with the very thing he sought to preserve by means of it: over the long course of generations, lapping like erosive waves upon his shores, the charm of local customs, beliefs, usances and tongues is finally swallowed irrevocably into the monstrous rising tide of universal Enlightenment liberalism, until the last conservative stands upon the merest strip of what was once a broad and well-loved strand, his back against a stone wall and his eyes gazing numbly over the boundless sea that will soon claim him, too: its final victim.

The principles of the conservative are not ecumenical in the same way as the principles of the left; they do not provide the ground for a broad and globally unified culture: for all culture is a kind of fertile and seminal controversy made possible by rigidly established boundaries of belief, credence, ‘value’ and morality.

A scene from what stands only apparently on a different plane encapsulates this pluricentennial drama: Brahms, stolid defender of the past glories of classical music, and Mahler, representative par excellence of the quest for novelty in an increasingly exhausted epoch, were once strolling by a stream, discussing the fate of music in their day. The elder man, shaking his leonine beard, was lamenting the decadence of the new music and the decline of the old, when the clean-shaven Mahler, turning to him with a wry smile on his fine lips, took the arm of his august companion and indicated the stream below them, saying, ‘Look, Herr Doktor: there goes the last wave!’

Whatever might be said for the question of which of them had the sounder sense and juster argument, it is painfully evident which of them had the more persuasive one.

Formalism and the Hollow Core

The inherent and inescapable weaknesses in the reactionary position have come to light in recent years with such immediacy and generality that they can no longer be ignored or denied. Conservatism itself, we may say, is the representative of these internal flaws: it has utterly failed at its single task, has let everything fritter through its fingers, has come at last to a final and wretched end crushed beneath the march of history. To be merely conservative today, in some parts of the West, is almost to demonstrate one’s lack of integrity. Indeed, even any retrenchment on the part of a shamelessly reactionary position today (as for instance the self-proclaimed Neo-Reactionaries, or the so-called ‘Neo-Nazis’, or certain paleoconservative segments of the American Alt Right) has the scent of something desperate and hopeless clinging to it, and seems always to be jumping back into a time of the not-so-distant past which itself was already deeply and thoroughly compromised. Either this, or it stands in continual expectation of some imminent social collapse from which it will, by mechanisms and organizations that no one has even fully articulated much less set in place, rebuild the rubble into a beautiful new order. Awareness of this inadequacy has led to a widespread sense that a universal reconstitution of positive principles is desperately needed on the ‘right’: this task is identical with the creation of a culture of the Right.5

But any such reconstitution must come to grips with the general problem of the conservative position, as noted above. These positive principles rest most obviously on the specific and local traditions of a given town, region, people, or at most country. They are not ecumenical principles in the same way as the principles of the left; therefore, they do not provide the ground for a broad and globally unified culture: for all culture is a kind of fertile and seminal controversy made possible by rigidly established boundaries of belief, credence, ‘value’ and morality. Culture, to take the term as literally as we may, really is like a field or a garden, which if it be not properly walled will become the fruitless feeding ground for the beasts, subject of constant erosion by wild winds and rains. Attempt has therefore been made to find principles which are at once global and local – principles which can be adopted by the Right here, there, or anywhere, but simultaneously provide space for and work toward the preservation of local customs. Thus, the right began to embrace such concepts as localism, nationalism, sovereignty, capitalism6 etc., hoping to derive therefrom the principles fit to constitute itself as an international force capable of countering and conquering the left.

This is the latest, almost last-ditch effort on behalf of a historically faltering right, and it has up to now succeeded at many points where the old right clearly failed. Its most recent and most spectacular triumph can be seen in the rise of what is known as ‘populism’, which has brought to power across the West a whole line-up of ‘right-leaning’ intellectual figureheads and political leaders, many of whom have managed to attain to positions of strong or even central influence, and who really do represent an active and potentially effectual counter to the centuries-long entrenchment and actualization of the left.

The concept of ‘populism’ itself, however, reveals the limitations and the inherent dangers to such a tack. In the first place, ‘populism’ has always been an element of modern political regimes, has indeed been the guiding practical medium of all modern ‘revolutions’ and ‘reforms’ until very recent years. This indicates that ‘populism’ as a force, not to speak of the ideas of nationhood and sovereignty upon which it rests, cannot be counted on by the Right to yield the results that we would seek. And indeed, that very statement suggests a deeper problem: namely, that the results that we seek are informed by something other than those concepts to which the right has begun to make reference. Nationalism, souverainism, regionalism, and populism are not positive principles of political action, but rather merely the framework within which those principles can find space to grow, to be practised and established in concrete and visible form. They are thus fundamentally inadequate to the task of providing the ground for a culture of the Right; indeed they can be turned as well against such fertilization as toward it. The populist tide which today rises to lift us up upon its crest can as easily tomorrow swallow us into the undercurrent or dash us against the reefs. This all the more easily the more successful it first seems to be.

That these concepts and historical developments are useful to us, we must not deny; but we must recognize their limitations, which have even recently begun to make themselves felt. To name but two examples of this: both the Scottish and the Catalan independence movements, by the broad and abstract conception of the ‘right’ hereabove indicated, would be movements ‘of the right’, insofar as they sought to preserve regional differences (conservatism) and to break apart larger hegemonies (anti-globalism, anti-anti-identitarian-nationalism). However in both cases the end aim with this movement was precisely to afford to local potentates more power in augmenting immigration flows, opening the economy as wide as a circus and committing the same erosive work of the globalist hegemony at an accelerated rate. Formally, these movements were ‘of the right’; but if one leaves the matter here, with some vague reference to the ‘ethnic rights of the people’ (‘rights’ which evidently will abolish themselves in their exercise), one has essentially given up the ghost, and allowed that the ‘right’ is as meaningless and empty a term as it had appeared to be at the start.

It should come as no surprise that this effort finally culminates in the to-all-appearances sincere and unironic adoption on the part of certain ‘men of the right’ of a kind of classical nationalism, which insists on the ‘democratic rights of the people’ to choose the form of government they will, and the ‘sovereign rights of nations’ to exist according to the institutions and laws determined by the popular will, etc., without reflecting for a moment that these are precisely the same formulations which the left initially used to dispose of European aristocracy, to shatter the temporal and truly conservative influence of European Christianity, and to produce the ‘egalitarian liberal’ societies which today almost mark the burial of the spirit of Europe and all her better history and destiny.

The ‘extreme right’ is utterly unable to answer the question of how a generation of revolutionaries trained in indecency, slovenliness and immorality can possibly hope to produce a fundamentally decent, ordered and moral society, even should they come out victorious.

Indeed, to the extent that the right has begun to focus on vessel and not vintage, it has opened itself up to all manner of dangerous infiltrations from the left, which has never once hesitated to take advantage of such opportunities. Or what – do we expect the sinister half of the ‘political spectrum’ will fail to take advantage of an opened door, when it has hitherto entered by the keyhole? The left has insinuated itself into every crack and flaw and lacuna in the defence of old ideals since the beginning of modern times: it was by precisely such subtle but constant mechanical work that the humanistic agitators, weasels and moles of the last century were even able to burst asunder the great bastion standing against Modernism in Europe, the Catholic Church, first by treating aspects like the liturgy and architecture, the language and regalia, the sacraments and the ecclesiology itself as merely formal elements of ‘Church history’, and then by filling these ‘formalities’ with dogma of its choosing. Formalism, though at this historical juncture is of great service to us and must be used to the fullest extent possible to stave off the rising advance of the left, to curb its wilder projects, and to buy ourselves space and time for the necessary metapolitical work of the right, cannot suffice as a long-term project for the Right.

Right and Tomorrow

Even as Julius Evola half a century ago diagnosed, the innermost problem with all attempts to constitute a culture of the Right in our day is the lack of positive points of orientation which are at once capable of establishing real political forms, and eliciting wide agreement throughout the various special forms and local manifestations of the Right. The hobgoblin of the right, which can be glimpsed leering out of all its books and speeches, its deeds and political gestures, is none other than its eclecticism, and its consequent superficial reactionism and empty formalism. The Right faces a unique and complex task in our day, and it is still very much an open question as to whether it will, or even can, succeed in meeting it: it must find unity in its diversity, such as is capable of unambiguously establishing the former and the nourishing the latter.7

Both the reactionary and the formalist, while they take their practical bearings by that locality which they would preserve and make to flourish, nonetheless take their intellectual bearings first and foremost negatively, in contradistinction to that which they oppose: they look first to the philosophies, ideologies and intellectual works of the left, and then define themselves in consequence.

This is due in part to the widespread recognition of the fact that the left in our day is really the triumphant party to this dispute, and has been leading victory after victory throughout the West practically unopposed for the last several generations. (Anyone with deeper vision yet can easily perceive that the ‘left’ has really been succeeding now for the past several centuries.) It is quite in the natural order of things that the remnants of true resistance within an invaded country should consider their tactics in light of the fact that they have been essentially surrounded by their enemy, and should indeed glean whatever they can of their enemy’s strategies in order to attempt a last-minute turnabout.8 To that extent, we can only encourage the men of the Right to look more carefully at the work of the left in the past decades and indeed centuries.9

Nevertheless, the trouble comes when this reflective work becomes the primary or unique approach of the ‘right’ to the ‘left’. The ‘right’ makes itself into nothing but the negator of the left’s audacious and visionary movements; it becomes the mirror image of the left, and one which is even ‘time-delayed’, stutteringly following its image and eternally arriving a moment too late. The left thus stands as the centre of gravity, not to say of attention, of ‘history’ itself. More than that: the negative approach to the left forces the ‘right’ to exist wholly within the worldview and intellectual sphere delineated by the left, at a moment in which nothing is more badly needed than transcendence of the same.

On the practical level, given that their only universally valid and generally visible point of reference is the left itself, the formalist and the reactionary alike can easily be accused of ‘extremism’ with respect to the norm imposed by the left; and thus there is a constant resistance on the path toward the ‘right’; those who come our way are often the kind who thrive on the scandal, the shocking quality, the violent energy of extremism. A kind of reverse filter is put into place, through which only a certain type of man – and not always, it is needless to say, the most self-mastered, self-possessed or virtuous type – is encouraged to shift, while all those who feel themselves to be in any way attached to concepts like decency or traditional forms of etiquette and manners and morals – a great many of whom are actually deeply conservative in their beings – are actively repelled. One sees this all too often at the ‘extreme periphery’ of the ‘right’: a kind of insistent, often petulant and sometimes even proud vulgarity which in many cases embraces blasphemy and obscenity, and which is utterly unable to answer the question of how a generation of revolutionaries trained in indecency, slovenliness and immorality can possibly hope to produce a fundamentally decent, ordered and moral society, even should they come out victorious.

It is evident that such a ‘right’ can be neither pure nor effective. It is confused about its true position in the world from the start; it is reduced to the situation of mere apologia, mere polemicism. It cannot stand and deliver boldly and confidently in the world, because it must always and everywhere continuously (and often enough resentfully) point to its enemy as being the true centre of political action, the real ‘unmoved mover’ of Modernity. It is hobbled from the start by the chains of that ideology it would throw from itself, and all its action has the horrible rattle of a slave attempting, and failing time and again, to win his freedom.

I will have more to say in the future about what can be done to remedy the deep deficit which all of this indicates; at present, however, and in conclusion of the present essay, it seems only fitting to close on the same note with which modern conservatism itself must bow out from the stage of history: modern conservatism, which has been so thoroughly reactionary, as its last act in this world must naturally react – against itself. One hears the death knell already in the terms that have been used with regard to it: paleoconservatism, conservative revolution, neoconservatism: but a conservatism which looks to the very distant past (which is already dead and can no longer be conserved) or to the new, to the future (which must slay the present) is no longer conservative at all.

The death of conservatism, to which we are present witnesses, leaves a gaping political void within the realm of the political. This void is rife with dangers, but also with novel possibilities. Opportunity has come for the first time in centuries to step beyond the political schema invented wholesale and violently imposed by the fathers of modernity – to step beyond the meretricious ‘left-right spectrum’ and its rigid Enlightenment confines, to step beyond the false ‘progressive-conservative’ dichotomy, to step beyond the spurious distinction between the ‘real and the ideal’ which has shackled the ‘realist’ right even as it liberated the ‘idealist’ left, and to find our way to a rightly holistic vision of the world, of politics and society – a vision as new as it is old, upon which a true and positive culture of the Right might one day come to grow and to thrive – not despite its rich diversity of customs, ethe and ethne, but on account of it.

References

1We owe its first use to the letters of one Lazare N. M. Carnot, a man whose agitations in an agitated period can best be summed up by referring to the title he was unofficially awarded after the Revolution: ‘Organizer of Victory’. His use of the term can be found in his ‘Reply of L. N. M. Carnot: Citizen of France to the Report Made on the Conspiracy of the 18th Fructidor, 5th Year’. The term ‘right’ was naturally adopted by both sides of the dispute in deference to the physical (and traditionally justified) position occupied by the defenders of the crown in the French Assembly; for some brief reflections on the justice of this term, see the last section of my essay ‘What is the Deep Right?’ We owe the term ‘conservative’, meanwhile, to a man who was in many ways very much a prototype of the conservative as we have here painted him: François-René de Chateaubriand, a great popularizer of Catholicism, who, however, too often fell prey to the temptation to defend the Church by secretly harmonizing it with humanistic and Enlightenment principles – deplorable seeds of which endeavour we have seen springing up in horrid strangling vines most recently, and most inexorably, with Vatican II.

2Of no group is this truer than the ‘Neo-Reactionaries’, who have engaged the dubious wisdom of accepting terms of abuse as their own proud self-labels. Surely, this can be done to great profit; but one must perceive as well that the nub of criticism remains in these terms. A Yankee is as much a Yankee today, and for the very same reasons, as he was when that term was used exclusively by the Southerners to insult and patronize him. Similarly, the Neo-Reactionary accepts his role as a secondary player in the great game of politics, a mere bystander to the event itself who then attempts (perhaps) to intervene. It is no accident that men who would accept such a label should by and large relegate themselves to the shadowy periphery of the internet, contenting themselves with largely anonymous commentaries (often of great brilliance, learning and depth), and should seem to all appearances to be quite ready to wait until the breakdown of civilization itself before they make any real attempt to alter things. Curiously then, the deeper one goes with ‘reactionism’, the more that idea seems to practically correspond to mere resignation.

3It is indeed my considered position that the conservative is much more revolutionary, in the true ‘Evolian’ sense, while the leftist or progressive is actuated fundamentally by a reactionary tendency in the truest meaning of the word. I have made this point in various places, and have dedicated a portion of a recent essay to it: see the segment ‘The Left as Reactionary’ in ‘Sex, Gender and Nature’.

4Inaugurated, of course, by the American and French Revolutions, continued in the Revolutions from 1848 to 1871 (not to speak of the Russian Revolution beginning in 1917), and finally cinched at the close of the Long War of 1914 to 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In point of fact, all of these events can be carried back to a single root: the attempt, and indeed the eventually successful attempt, of revolutionary Enlightenment humanism to seize political and social power exclusively for itself in modern times.

5We owe the term itself to none other than Julius Evola; we will discuss his groundbreaking contribution to this problem in a future essay

6Capitalism in particular is, to be sure, one of the first instances of this kind of movement, and indicates most clearly its problematic aspect. For as has become abundantly clear, capitalism is much more the friend of liberalism and the principles of the left than of those of the right, as is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of the greatest beneficiaries of capitalism – the capitalists themselves, with their teeming billions – are almost to a one men of the left, and have intermingled capitalism in Cultural Marxism for a truly potent brew, capable of sending the better part of modern societies into a kind of dream-like and somnambulant state, which permits these monsters of mammon to have the better of the laws and orders which exist expressly to stop such in the first place. Evola briefly treats this problem on pages 306 to 307 of the Recognitions (Arktos, 2017); Kerry Bolton has also lain bare the dynamics of this development in his Revolution From Above (Arktos, 2011).

7It is interesting to note that this is a problem faced, not only by the political Right, but also by the whole of Europe itself. Europe, torn between the evident necessity of cultivating her abundant rich diversity of custom, language and ethos on the one hand, and politically unifying so as to protect her very future on the other, can be seen as a kind of real-world complement to the spiritual and metapolitical crisis of the right. The causes of this echo between the two would be interesting matter for speculation.

8We mention in the safe umbrage of the footnote that one of the great tasks confronting the metapolitical work of the Deep Right in our day of emergency is that of determining which tactics and strategies of Modernity we can adopt as our own, first without compromising our honour, and second without compromising our aims.

9Here, to wit, are some of the questions that should be posed in this regard. Several of them have received the beginning of some response, but several of them seem to be largely neglected even to this day: How did the left, practically, intellectually, psychologically and organizationally, manage the infiltration of practically all the standing institutions of the West in the seventeenth and especially eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? To what extent is this outstanding triumph the result of conscious unity and deliberate strategy, to what extent the result of accidental factors, either within the revolutionary movements or within the regimes and hierarchies that they sought to overthrow, and to what extent the result of a ‘dialectic of history’, albeit one that moves in the opposite direction to that ascribed to it by the believers of progress? What was the role of the philosophical revolution of the Enlightenment in preparing for the practical upheavals of Modernity, and can it feasibly be undone or commandeered? Insofar as we owe the revolution of Modernity to accidental causes within the societies and regimes of the West, what account can be given for the existence of these weaknesses — how can they be strengthened in the present and sutured in the future? Nearer our own day: Why has the old right proved so dramatically incapable of turning this rising flood? (The present essay, it will be seen, falls primarily on this query.) What are the ethnic, cultural, ethocal preconditions on the one hand, and the practical, intellectual, propagandic and institutional methods on the other, that have led to the recent initial successes of the Right in some countries, and their utter failure in others? And wherever the right conditions are lacking, how can this dearth be supplemented in the short term or rectified over time?

This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. John, a few brief comments, following on from the points I made regarding part 1. First, in part 1 you argue that there are many forms of ‘local’ conservatisms, and yet in this part you appear to discuss conservatism as if it is a single entity.

    Second, and more fundamentally, I feel that your description of conservatism bears no relation to my understanding of it, nor does it relate to any of the mainstream literature (remember in the literature Evola is not taken in the least seriously). In particular, you critique conservatism for its lack of a coherent philosophical position, yet this would be taken by many conservatives as entirely missing the point. The conservative does not see politics as being about ideas. The notion that one needs to develop a ‘philosophy’ would be absurd and best left to those sitting at the side arguing. Conservatism is a disposition, a way of acting.

    In your discussion on conservatism as reaction (something I have written a book on) I feel that you ignore entirely why one would want to and does resist change. While there may be fixed philosophical underpinning, this does not mean conservatism is not based on something concrete, i.e. the preservation of our life as we now lead it. This is by no means a negligible matter and to argue that past attempts at preservation have failed is entirely to miss the point. At any moment and in any place, what matters to those there is the threat they see coming towards them. Again, you appear to be mistaking conservatism for a philosophy rather than a disposition.

    Fundamentally, conservatism works because it is a complacent disposition, based on the understanding that we can only live well when we believe that the things around us will stay in place. If you want a justification of this, I can offer none better than Michael Oakeshott in this essay ‘On being conservative’ who wrote:

    “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbound, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of the more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty and promise.” (1991, pp. 408-9)

    1. Thanks as ever for your comments, Peter. I am more sympathetic to your position than might appear. I would be its very champion if I believed we were living in a society in which tradition was still even a valid possibility.

      But permit me to explicate this in response to several of your points:

      First, in part 1 you argue that there are many forms of ‘local’ conservatisms, and yet in this part you appear to discuss conservatism as if it is a single entity.

      That is the natural consequence of my analysis: the first part was dedicated to critiquing conservatism as it originally appeared (i.e., taken on the global scale, as a fragmented, heterogeneous and often incoherent body of disparate situations, ideas and institutions) in the post-revolutionary period of Modernity, and the second part dedicated to critiquing the attempt that was subsequently made beginning in the late nineteenth century to produce a unified and more effective conservatism by finding some common basis for this wide amalgamation of conservative positions.

      You critique conservatism for its lack of a coherent philosophical position, yet this would be taken by many conservatives as entirely missing the point. The conservative does not see politics as being about ideas. The notion that one needs to develop a ‘philosophy’ would be absurd and best left to those sitting at the side arguing. Conservatism is a disposition, a way of acting.

      If you can show me any political ‘way of acting’, any ‘disposition’ in political things, which does not make constant reference to an articulable and therefore rationally assessable view of the world, I should much like to see it. Idea and act, especially on the political level, are not so easily divisible. I can understand how many conservatives would nurture a healthy suspicion for the abstract ‘theoreticians’ we have been deceived into calling philosophers; but philosophy in its truest and original sense is anything but ‘abstract’, and always takes its bearings by the concrete. I know of no politician – not even the most venal and treacherous – who does not defer to ideas on political things in practically all his political action. More to the point, I know of no man living who is not informed even in his most prosaic activities by that web of presuppositions and evaluations which is (supposing he is not himself philosophically inclined) simply given him by his time and his society. I am not sure what a ‘disposition’ divorced from ‘ideas’ would even look like.

      Will politicians ever be philosophers? Of course not, barring the almost impossible advent of the Platonic ‘best regime’. But in the West, it is our particular destiny that they will always and everywhere be influenced by philosophers; and given that we live in an age which has committed precisely the audacious travesty which you so rightly critique, to substitute idealistic philosophy for concrete responsibility, it seems to me we are a thousand times justified in seeking to neutralize modernity first and foremost on the philosophical level.

      To argue that past attempts at preservation have failed is entirely to miss the point. At any moment and in any place, what matters to those there is the threat they see coming towards them.

      But what I am saying is that the threat is not ‘coming towards them’, it is standing beneath them, they are living upon it, and, what is increasingly true, the better part of the things they would seek to preserve are laced through with it. For that reason, it is essentially to the point that past attempts at preservation have failed; these attempts have not failed merely because human things, being contingent, always change; these attempts have failed because what they take to be the threat is not at all the true threat. They are busy fighting off the nearest manifestation of a historical force which already stands behind us in the river of time, and which has carried us all away with it, utterly despite our attempts to fend off the flotsam and jetsam popping up around us.

      As for the excellent quotation you present by Mr. Oakeshott, I can thus only comment that today, the familiar, the tried, the fact, the actual, the near, etc. increasingly coalesces with the desire for the unknown, the untried, the possible, the unbound, the distant etc. The very society which the conservative would conserve is itself deeply anti-conservative; his ‘tradition’ itself, anti-traditional: how then?

      1. John, Thanks as always for your comments. On the issue of whether we need any underpinning to political action I had hoped that the quote from Oakeshott would have sufficed. I think there is a need to distinguish between why I, as a political actor, respond and react to my situation, and an external attempt to understand that as rational behaviour. Whether one calls it common sense, knee-jerk reaction or merely a whim, I would suggest that the basis for the action of many conservatives is a gut response. That is what I mean by a disposition: it is a politics based on feeling rather than ideas. People like myself, who have studied conservative ideas for many years, might be able to put labels on this and point to intellectual antecedents, but the individual actor need not. I can remember debating with a prominent conservative commentator several years ago who took issue with my intellectualising on the conservative tradition. He told me he had never come across a conservative who acted on the basis of tradition. Thinking about it later, I realised that he may well have been right!

        I think what perhaps separates us most is our understanding of our present circumstances. You appear to see that we are crisis and in an unsustainable position, whereas I feel that things could be better but trying to do anything about it might make it a lot worse. The fact that we have the leisure to debate this, using technologies we can rely on but without having to understand, gives me confidence I may not be wrong. It is though in the nature of the conservative to be complacent!

        1. It is finely put, Peter! I also think you have pinpointed at least one of the major sources of our difference in opinion. This last is fit subject to continue beneath your latest essay (I really will be writing a comment to it in coming days). I am happy therefore to leave your remarks here as the last word on the present conversation — apart of course from this brief comment to thank you once again for a most engaging and necessary discussion.

  2. As I suspect that I will always be pointing out, the Left-Right paradigm is a barren landscape with which to revivify European life. The Conservatives must now be considered to be the functional organ of the Left while employing language rightist in superficial form. All the more reason to abandon such language. It creates fodder for arcane graduate-school debates while anesthetizing the subject for euthanasia. Self-confident Europeanism will re-establish itself with ineluctable, emergent force. But first the patient must first be saved. Presently, moribund Europe as analogously considered a patient, is a patient in grave crisis. This patient is on the gurney in the emergency room having collapsed from administered toxins of would-be assassins as well as the natural slide toward self-abuse common to man and his civilizations. Diagnosis proceeds treatment. The primary feature of this crisis is a deficient fecundity. A contraceptive, anti-natalist poison has been administered. Further, this toxin possesses late-stage effects that are systemic and lethal. Nonetheless, now is not the time to prescribe colorful vegetables to the patient. The patient long ignored preventive advice. Conservatives can be re-captured and serve the palace guards of Europeanism when the latter is again recovered and thriving. Conservatives cannot be allowed to think themselves as the leaders. Conservatives must be cared for. They will serve well in the body once returned to health. They will serve as the skeletal system serves that body; as genetic material serves the phenotypic expression of the behaving organism that we see, as blueprints and libraries serve architects and scholars; as form serves function. Conservatives stabilize the healthy body and are critical templates against which counterfeits are recognized. But as with bone, Conservatives must be reminded that bone is living tissue that responds to the experienced pressures. In contrast, the vanguard of European vitality, and not Leftist forces, must be the movers and challengers of the body Europa who are creating the healthy stresses to which the Conservative skeleton must shape itself. European vitality that confidently and creatively projects in the future stands in opposition to all else that detracts form it by either diametric opposition or by undermining, tepid, burdensome allies such as the Conservatives mentioned here. Conservatives are fundamentally naïve regarding the dangers and are ill-disposed and ill-fitted for the bold action and aggressive conflict. Our problem with the Conservatives is not that we love different cultural values. Instead it is a matter of temperament. Conservatives make poor allies in the bunkers. At the worst moments, they leap out of the bunkers waving flags of surrender just as we are about to seize victory. Conservatives are frightened of conflict, of thrusting political and cultural bayonets, of disruptions of what they consider (wrongly) to be peace. The future-facing enterprising spirit of vital Europeanism is experimental, fecund, confident, self-preserving, realistic (contrary Peter King’s accusation). Conservatives—for their safety and our future—must be removed to the rear where they support and can no longer do harm. In their place, the forever-now leaders of sustained, unconquerable European preservation will be like the relentlessly metabolizing, immediately and constantly self-healing front of European fecundity and cultural creativity. Forever grow and heal—or die. We must seek opportunities to recapture agriculture, finance, manufacturing and housing in order to give young men and women hope in self-sustaining (but not extreme survivalist) lives in the practicalities of local live. Technology in the hands of the well-ordered, vigilant citizens must be taught as an ancillary means not of idle entertainment, but of fulfillment through meaningful enterprise; invention and innovation organically blended with tradition; human interaction and conversation.

    1. Frankly, I hope you will always be pointing out the deficiency of the left-right spectrum, as I too have done and will continue to do. It is an obsolete and deleterious paradigm which, as I have attempted to show in various places, including the present essay, was dangerous from the first: a deck of cards loaded against the enemies of Modernity.

      I have of course made liberal use of the spectrum in the above essay, and not only in the above essay. My reasons for so doing can be easily enough discerned, I believe. In ‘What is the Deep Right?’ I explicitly address several of my ‘positive’ motivations. To mention one ‘negative’ concern: as you yourself have said, ‘Diagnosis proceeds treatment.’ To mention another: it is easier for us to see the hill that stands before us than the mountain that lies upon the horizon, and often enough the former must be summited before the latter can so much as be glimpsed.

      As for the rest, your comments on conservatism seem to me vivid, meet, and by and large spot on. Perhaps the only quibble I might have with them regards the question of the ‘bunkers’. While I agree that true conservatives have a fundamental preference for peace over war (in healthy times this is one of their great virtues), once the battle has been met and the stakes have been clarified, it is often enough the conservatives who are most willing to lay down their lives to defend what they love. Whether the war be metaphorical or real, that is a tactical point, I think, which should not be disregarded.

      1. John, quite correct. I imagined myself to be supporting your position, though I probably did so like a drunken and frenzied sailor slashing about with a sword. I imagined my stance in that comment to be one of addressing an audience hidden behind the klieg lights rather than you two on the stage. You and Peter are fine interlocutors skilled in the language and philosophy of politics. It is interesting to watch such drilling down, but I believe you two both know that it no longer even makes sense to talk about the time being late. We are fully in a state of emergency. Everything must be immediate. Whatever talent someone has, all that can be said is: “use it.” But here is where my rub is with Conservatives, if I might politely address Peter for just a moment. There is nothing to conserve. Whatever there was of a social order is in ruins. The pretty, marble columns of various excellences of the past social, political, cultural and religious order are just as well toppled. Even the artwork of the West and things of that category are literally at risk of being destroyed. “Conserve?” The last person who you want to hear when you have dialed 9-11 to save civilizational order during a home invasion is a Conservative. They are not made of the right stuff. They are not a police SWAT team. I believe that my analogy of a skeletal function, the slowly changing framework of those curators of “what worked,” is apt. Beyond this, and respectfully so, perhaps Conservatives can be credited with and assigned the active role of the immune cells, recognizing invasive threats, creatively elaborating specific antibody defenses in response. (Maybe this gets at your remark regarding their courage in bunker fighting.) But the living tissue of European wound healing, growth and reproduction must be recognized in the acquisition of new material and structure, the occupation of new places and the creation of new places to occupy. Muscle must leverage against the Conservative skeletal frame in order to locomote to those new places and to execute new actions once there. It must be a confident endeavor. When I say that muscle takes the body and its limbs where it was not previously, I am not thinking principally in geographic terms–we’ve got enough real estate. I am talking about reconstructing out city within. Indeed, the enemies of Europe and it Diaspora have nearly ruined us with foreign interventions. We do not need foreign acquisitions. Now, a note about rebuilding European civilization: the first task is not to destroy one’s fellow defender and wall builder. Over the course of decades I have noticed that in casual conversations with Conservatives or Traditionalists, if I happened to innocently use words or phrases like ‘dialogue’, ‘experimental’, or ‘evolution’, or the ‘sexual (as in reproductive) nature of all politics’, that these hoped-for confederates would instead look at each other and actually wink or make snide comments. I came to realize that is the nature of many Conservatives to want to detect potential threats by the most superficial of clues (recall their legitimate role as an immune system when they are at their best.). They compete to outdo each other in being more suspicious and more adept at spotting that one antigen that signals, in their minds, a proven and deadly threat. In this sense, they might be analogized to be acting with hypersensitivity. It is by these means that the auto-immune disease of Conservatism presents itself. Perhaps in intellectual games they will take a swipe at the Left. But the Left only provokes intellectual battles. They care not about being convinced by defeating arguments. They simply shrug and go about winning with the blissful and oblivious energies of an Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. They merely engage in arguments to waste energies on our conservative front in as much as we foolishly allow our skeleton and our immune system to be our leading force. Those organic systems are for strengthening our body, for showing our body that it does have form and that its identity can be, and deserves to be preserved. But that preservation—and this is very important I believe–that preservation must not set the Conservatives at war with its own body. Notice, I do not dismiss the very real importance of skeletons and immune systems. But it is the nervous system manifesting its will through the muscles that is necessary for engaging in the exterior battle for life and in procreating our civilization. And this should be a lesson for the future: those “neuromuscular” actions are never to be ignored and let to go flabby and de-conditioned. There is no “safe place” or guaranteed time for a civilization. Grow and fight, defend and conquer—or die. There are all the necessary elements here by which young people can be attracted to this grand cause of Europe and by which their natural tendencies can be unleashed. They need just a little help to see the adventure in this, the genuine sexual-reproductive fulfillment, the thrill of building their own homes and civilization that reaches into both the pass and the future for its identity.

        1. David, the fact that you have the leisure to comment, with a trust a glass of something comforting nearby, shows how wrong your analysis is. Once the sailor has his tankard taken away you will have grounds to complain.

          1. Dear Mr. King, what an off-the-mark comment. I was up at 4 a.m. commenting. The only thing in my tankard is coffee. I have had two appointments so far this morning. I hustle. I am trying to make happen exactly what I commented about.

    1. You bet, Peter. I see that I reacted quite positively to you October article on ‘dwelling,’ “Of the World.” I had forgotten about that. My situation is not at all comfortable. I am at the battle’s edge where the forces destroying our civilization are at work and it is frustrating trying to alert the boiling frogs. It is not about undirected and misdirected anger. No, indeed. Anger needs to be reined in with articulate, reasoned thought, civilization-building lawfulness. All that I assume when I am trying to provoke people to awareness and, yes, anger. No anger, no serious action. No intelligently articulated and legitimately expressed anger–no success likely. This does not mean, just to be clear, that we cannot live and love and enjoy our artifacts of civilization. these are all things that refresh the soldier for the battle and give him cause for dedication. And thank you for what you do.

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