The culture of the soil is worked best upon the level field, in conditions that are homogeneous and consistent, and by methods that, while differing from crop to crop, do not vary from plant to plant within each individual crop. Not so for the culture of man. Mankind, that single crop, contains within itself a host of strikingly differing ethnicities, each of which must be approached on its own terms, even if the final standard of human excellence can be said to remain one and the same for all. And even each single ethnicity is not to be treated as, say, a field of wheat or a garden of tomatoes or an apple orchard, in a unified and proudly exclusivist approach, as was one of the great moral failings of National Socialism; for man, as opposed to an atom, a stone, or a meteorite, is a being with both an organic and a spiritual end, and for that reason can only be judged in light of these ends. Some men in any given society are radically incomplete; almost all men are deficit, and only a few excel. Man differs from man, so that between man and man there often stands a distance superior to that standing between wolf and dog. Yet to tend a wolf as one would tend a hound is to invite the murder of one’s barnyard stock; to raise a wolf as one raises a poodle is to ruin the noble ferocity of the one, and to fail the winsom charms of the other. Had Romulus got his milk of a Beagle, what city would ever have sprung from the Seven Hills? And had the Cynics been called lupines and not canines, what might we have expected of them?
Culture therefore differs in its treatment of man and man, group of men and group of men, and will not mean the same thing for the high as it does for the low. It is the work of the Right to reinstil this sense of hierarchy once more within the human heart, hearth and nation, where it has been so roundly abolished or abased. We have discussed in previous essays the failure of conservatism to attain these ends, or to produce or prepare fore anything like a culture, and have introduced Julius Evola’s reflections on several of the conditions necessary for reawaking such in our day. In the present essay, we will briefly consider several of the sources to which one might look in our present moment for the principles capable of constituting this new Culture of the Right. The first part of this essay considers three false or incomplete sources; the latter half offers the briefest and most preliminary considerations on three legitimate if today riddled possibilities that might serve as wolf’s milk to promising young men weaned, for no fault of their own, amidst an increasingly insipid race of milksops.
We must in the first place address a tendency which has sprung up everywhere in the Right of recent years: namely, to take science as a major or primary groundwork for the activity or the thought of the Right. Science is taken to be an aid especially in the political and social work of the Right, rather than in its cultural work, for it is sensed (wherever it is not understood) that there is a fundamental disconnect lying between science and culture.1 Nonetheless, despite the uses that science might have in the work of persuasion, propaganda, and argument on any number of specific themes, the moment the secret metaphysics of science is transposed onto the level of human things, it cannot help but have negative ramifications both for one’s view of man and for the natural and spontaneous productions which might come of the human soul.
Science is to be rejected as the underpinnings of a new culture for a variety of reasons, but here we limit ourselves to a single but absolutely decisive consideration: Science is necessarily value-neutral, this being a non-negotiable element of its methodology. It cannot pass judgement beyond the strait scope of determining the mere comparative validity or non-validity of hypotheses, it is constitutionally incapable of any true nay or yea, of any real justice. But culture is immersed in questions of value, is meaningless apart from them; to divorce culture from value is to pave the way for the shallow contemporary understanding of culture, by which all conceivable (and even not a few inconceivable) human groups or subgroups possess their own identifiable and characteristic ‘cultures’. By this view, the local football club, the local nightclub and the local Rotary Club each has its distinctive ‘culture’; there exists a ‘popular culture’, an ‘internet culture’, a ‘porn culture’; and each individual man pertains not just to a single culture, that of his people, but rather to a myriad of ‘cultures’, based on his hobbies, practices, work, diet, faith, race, gender, proclivities, habits, etc. etc. Moreover, no rank order can be established between these various ‘cultures’ to indicate which of them might be ‘high’ or ‘low’, but each must be taken as the next. The absurdities into which this kind of fractal-like proliferation leads any honest investigator of human things need not be analyzed here; suffice it to note that all of this is the consequence of the scientific or scientistic approach to culture, and that the attempt to constitute a culture based on scientific research, theories, results or worldview can lead to no other end.
Moreover, on account of this value-neutrality, any principles derived from science will inevitably be descriptive in nature; they will be, that is to say, attempts to comprehend human nature and human activity in the light of the mechanistic and materialistic explanations which science brings to bear on all things. Those principles can at best explain how human beings act now, in general, which might lead as well to hypotheses or conjectures about how they acted in the past. But to say how a human being acts is to beg the much more important question of how he ought to act, which can be answered alone by a methodology or a way of looking at the world or a vision of things which is not a priori constrained to view ‘value’ as being inherently and necessarily ‘subjective’.
Populism and Nationalism
One of the most tempting places, because one of the most immediately effective places, for the Right to look today for a refurbishment of its principles is in that force or phenomenon that has been termed ‘populism’. This populism appears to be a return to the charms of local customs and ways, or an insistence on the sovereignty of the people over and above that of the national or supranational government, which is often enough compromised by money power and corrupt ‘elites’; it is indeed in contrast with these last that the new populism takes shape in our day.
Populism as such is nothing new; it is even, as it were, the mantelpiece of all democratic or tending democratic times. What is new today is the coincidence of populism with generally ‘conservative’ or ‘right-wing’ thought. To be sure, something similar has been seen at other fairly recent historical junctures, including in the last century before the rise of the great anti-democratic regimes of the early nineteen hundreds. What distinguishes those uprisings from the present one was the fact that they were generally caused by deep and wide-spread economic hardship, in particular the wild inflation and general financial travails brought on by the political and social outcomes of the First World War. The suffering of the peoples brought them to seek out men and political parties that would succour and save them. Most of the key components of contemporary populism, meanwhile, certainly cannot be said to presently endure so keen a degree of duress; nonetheless, they feel that they do, and that is the cinching matter. They increasingly believe (and not wholly without reason) they have been neglected, manipulated, deceived and tricked, their own interests bartered against those of foreigners and immigrants, and for the final benefit of the extremely wealthy alone; and out of a mixture of envy, resentment and spite they turn against those wealthy plutocrats that they perceive have been the agents of their misfortunes. They are moreover increasingly troubled by the palpable presence in their lands of ever larger numbers of individuals from far away places, whose ways are radically different and whose rates of crimes, sometimes outlandish and unspeakable in their nature, are generally markedly higher. Despite the people’s growing concern and indeed alarm at this evident reweaving of the very social fabric enveloping them, they find that they are largely ignored and even derided on all sides when they broach their doubts, which turns them even more strongly against those ‘elites’ who treat them with such wilful condescension, and who persist in their policies and haughtily moralizing mass immigration despite all the many and evident problems with the same.
We need not idle on the fact that all of this opens a unique window of opportunity to the activism and the politicking of the Right; much has already been said on this, for it is the evident difference standing between present-day politics and the politics even of five or ten years ago. The question is to what extent all of this can be used as soil for a culture of the Right, keeping in mind as well that the soil in and of itself never suffices for the raising of a crop, since even good soil, without the proper preparation, irrigation, and fortunate good weather, is liable as well as not to rot its own fruits.
Now it has been claimed that if today the major decisions of the body politic were taken on the basis of plebiscites or referenda, conducted, say, via some online system of voting, thus permitting for the first time in history a large nation to participate in universal direct democracy, the results would be much more sympathetic with the desired ends of the Right than can be expected, certainly, of those issuing from any of our professional politicasters. This in turn, it is vaguely felt, would provide the necessary preparation for a return to those local customs and consuetudes which have historically been such fertile fields for poetry, costumes, painting, diets, music, and all things related to art in the life of man. Supposing this were true, however – and there are reasons to wonder if it is so – it remains to be demonstrated that this is a perennial or constant, rather than a wholly temporary and accidental, state of affairs. ‘The people’, in another moment and another mood, might support (and has indeed often enough supported) precisely the opposite policies to those it presently favours; and indeed ‘the people’, understood as the democratic masses, has always had good and evident reasons to largely favour egalitarian and socialist policies of the most invidious kind, a fact which has been long used toward the manipulation of our contemporary regimes and their slow inward corruption.
In truth, the very notion of ‘populism’ begs the question. What is the people? Is it a people in the older and original sense of an ethnic and social unity, marked by common customs, common faith, common worldview? Or is it rather ‘We the People’, an arbitrary assemblage of atomistic individuals who are constituted by a kind of social compact, sewn together by the secret work of a subtle ideological thread, united by their ostensible agreement to basic, and very abstract, legal principles and economic ‘freedoms’? Or is it rather simply the mass, the rabble, thrust together accidentally into a ‘hodgepodge of folks’2 and thus into a perpetual state of ‘competition’ for land, for space, for influence, for money, for political and social air – an endless form of pseudo-warfare heightened and aggravated by the ‘needs’ of that blind and ravenous dragon known euphemistically as the ‘market’? What is the ‘people’, for instance, of contemporary London, Paris, or Malmö? For there is a difference between the people which is the original seed and principle of nationalism (a word derived, as has often enough and very justly been noted, from the Latin natio, birth, the human material which is homebred), and the ‘people’ which is the product of the ‘modern democratic nation’; yet it is the latter, and not the former, which is the inevitable result of democracy, and its inevitable staff of support. For this reason, democracy is always as a tower founded on gravel.
Apart from all the other questions and criticisms (and there are many) that one might broach regarding populism in our day (not to speak of nationalism and democracy), it is evident that at this historical juncture, save in extremely delimited cases, far from furnishing the principles such as might be employed by the Deep Right, it itself must be moulded in accordance with the same: ‘the people’, rather than being a point of commencement, is a goal, an aim for us; rather than providing form for us, it is the very material in need of form. Which necessitates that one seek elsewhere for the principles of the form itself.
There is another, and still more meretricious, because still more modern, source of principles to which a great many men of the Right are liable to turn in their present doubt and uncertainty: and that is, broadly speaking, ‘history’.
The concept of ‘history’ is a modern one; it bears little in common with the original meaning of the Greek term (literally, an inquiry, or knowledge attained through inquiring), nor with those Roman and Medieval traditions which followed upon the Greek. All of these regarded history as something like the human or political or social aspect of becoming, and sought to derive from it, certainly not ‘transhistorical’ principles for human life or political ordering, but rather meaningful stories, episodes and vignettes from the lived life of nations and men, and therefrom knowledge of the nature of human beings and their polities. History as a power, history as a dialectic, history as progress, is an essentially modern confabulation, and can be traced back to the very first thinkers of Modernity.
Now, a man who turns to history for lessons, generally will do so in one of two spirits: he may do so as the conservative does, who seeks to improve upon his people’s reverent knowledge of their forefathers, or he may do so as Machiavelli did, who sought to learn from the errors and successes of, for instance, the Romans, Greeks and Renaissance Italians, and thereby to develop a definitive science of politics or society to which legislators and prophets might have recourse.
The conservative sense of history is, in our day, nothing better than an urgent begging of the question. For our time is characterized by nothing so much as its fundamental detachment and disconnection from every previous valid social or political tradition, which state of affairs necessitates the hunt for ‘historical principles’ to begin with. But if one is to discover these, one is compelled to settle upon a specific epoch in the history of one’s nation to use as the standard. It is already difficult to locate such an epoch unambiguously in the course of long and organic histories like those possessed by countries like Great Britain; it is somewhat easier in the cases of nations which have, at some moment of historical crisis, radically transformed their regimes, such as France (following the French Revolution) or Italy and Germany (following World War II). Easiest of all is the identification of such an ‘epoch of reference’ in certain countries which had, as it were, a ‘founding moment’, such as certain of the European colonies, like Mexico and the United States, most evidently did, generally following a war of secession or revolt. But in all cases of a founding moment, be it clear or indefinite, evident or disputed, at least this much can be surely said: the countries that issued from such moments were all of them, to a one, modern countries, and the regimes that they adopted were the fertile soil for, rather than the last defence against, the present degeneration and abuses of our postmodern politics.3
This means that in any attempt to settle on a historical ‘golden age’ to which one might attempt to return or from which one might attempt to draw useful principles, one must already have some sense of what these principles are, since they constitute the very basis of judging such a period to begin with. Otherwise, one falls into the errors of a Burke, determining this or that historical period as the ‘standard’ when in fact it is really a poisoned well. The study of history in search of principles has since Machiavelli’s time had about it the feel of ‘pragmatism’; it is itself the theoretical forefather of Realpolitik and utilitarianism. But pragmatism divorced from higher meaning is essentially void and destructive. Thus the historical question is perforce tertiary, and not primary, to the constitution of a culture of the Right in our day.
1It is not so clearly perceived that there might be a similar disconnect standing between science and human things as such, such as might explain the dramatic and salient difference between the successes of science in the so-called ‘natural world’ and its equivalent failures and clumsiness in the so-called ‘soft sciences’, which comprise practically the whole of human activity. Consider the lecture The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow, which considered the evident split between the sciences and the ‘humanities’. There is much to say about his analysis, but two points here will suffice: In the first place, to refer to the work of science as a ‘culture’ is already to understand culture by the terms imposed by science, and not by that historically held by the ‘humanities’. Second, Snow’s major gripe seems to be the ignorance on the part of men of the ‘humanities’ of the basic theories of science, and he seem to call for an infusion of the latter by the former, in which infusion he appears to see a potential reconciliation between these estranged halves of the human intellectual experience. But I am ready to argue that a poet will learn more about his art from a day passed with an unschooled gardener than from a month-long lesson in modern physics.
2The quotation is from none other than President Obama, in an interview released to Ezra Klein of Vox.
3For this reason, the Americans in particular find themselves in a desperate plight. They are a people that was literally constituted by an act of revolution, not to say treason, and who therefore have historically understood themselves as being bound principally by political adherence to the very Constitution which gave birth to them. (This is one of the reasons, for instance, that the American flag is found so ubiquitously in the United States, where in other countries such rampant displays of nationalism would be considered strident and even vulgar.) But this Constitution is itself a modern document, replete with the modern presuppositions, and even its most complete and total reinstatement as the law of the land could do no other in the long run than lead sooner or later to our contemporary distress once more. The Americans thus find themselves in dire need of a reconstitution of their country, at precisely that moment in which they are most in want of the strength for such a project. The Americans thus reveal themselves here, as elsewhere, as being a special expression of the modern crisis. But considering the American situation specifically, little can be expected of it other than a relapse into tyranny or a generalized fragmentation of the present political order; and all things considered, both on the geopolitical level and on the level of American society itself, it is quite possibly this last for which one should best hope.