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Christopher Jolliffe talks about the liberal West’s internal enemies and external rivals.

The apocryphal story has it that Napoleon, watching the Allies fall into a carefully laid trap, made the comment that you never should interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. This was Austerlitz in 1805, his most impressive victory. A deliberately weakened right flank allowed a strike into the enemy’s vitals that caused him to make a further quip. That one sharp blow would end the war.

It didn’t end the war, not ultimately — sharp blows rarely do — but bought him a few more years and ensured a substantive entry in the history books. For our purposes, the better remark might belong to Woodrow Wilson, who in 1916 suggested that you should never murder a man who is committing suicide.

In an age of renewed geopolitics, when the unipolar liberal international order we have taken for granted for decades seems under genuine threat, this is the mantra the West’s recently resurgent rivals are following. We are in trouble, as the West plays whack-a-mole on three separate fronts, and all of Fukuyama’s past optimism about the final victory of liberal democracy seems a little premature, as even he now admits. For this we might be grateful: to genuine reactionaries, a liberalism without challengers is a solution only in the final sense. Our problems are deep and abiding and, in the Spenglerian view, entirely internal. Unfortunately for those who dream of Kant’s world republic, those rivals seem to have a better handle on them than we do.

…nobody who has any brains really believes that diversity is our strength, but thanks to advertisers as much as our political life, we have become accustomed to accepting untruths uncritically.

Our problems are two-fold, in the demographic composition of our people and what passes for their thoughts. The West artificially inflates flatlining fertility with mass immigration, but the cure might be worse than the disease. This we are now discovering, even if the only metric most can politely express revolves around property prices. States like China and Russia, who have the same problem but do not want the same solution, must feel the clock is ticking, as they try to undo the effects of second-hand feminism. They are wagering that our decline is the more terminal one. And, like a good Western lawmaker who seems to think legislating assisted suicide is the highest form of good, they are happy to help us along. We focus on the material, because the material has given us victory in the past; they focus on the ideational, for the same reason. States that once enjoyed the Bolshevik Revolution, the Long March, or the rise of the Ayatollah can hardly be blamed for this.

Our philosophical declarations are muddy-headed, contradictory, and utterly ridiculous; nobody who has any brains really believes that diversity is our strength, but thanks to advertisers as much as our political life, we have become accustomed to accepting untruths uncritically. This weakness is not a chink but a gaping chasm in our armour, one that these rivals hope might deliver them victory. We think in terms of carrier groups, GDP, and weapons development. They think in terms of animating myths, national spirit, and thumos. Both are necessary to prevail. When it comes to capturing the imagination, they have Alexander Dugin, while we have Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow. “Men without chests” does not go far enough; we are also lacking the other necessary bits of equipment.

This explains why a TikTok video that went viral, presenting a white woman rejecting marriage as a life of drudgery, turned out to be produced in China. It is also why the Wagner group was helping African refugees cross the Mediterranean earlier this year, something that the Italian government called “hybrid warfare.” A time traveller from a century ago, arriving in any Western city, would be horrified by our recent demonstrations. They might wonder how we ended up occupied by Bedouins and consumed by the tribal concerns of groups who were once merely anthropological curiosities for characters like Lawrence of Arabia. Our rivals are happy to aid our mistakes, and we are stupid enough to believe they are anything else.

Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai are examples of these latter-day astroturfed saints, which aim to tap into the eternally guilty consciences of Westerners and are intended to undermine our best spiritual defences…

The Dalai Lama said that sometimes the best teacher is your enemy. He didn’t mean it the way I mean it, though; he was talking to modern-day Mahatma Gandis, of whom there are many, and who are the only heroes we are allowed to have any longer, outside of one-dimensional celebrities. But Mahatma Gandis are the products of underdog or overmatched anti-societies who must reforge the conscience of their enemy as a sword against them. This was the weapon of choice for civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and George Floyd, and provided your opponent has a conscience to begin with — however misguided — they are an effective means to leverage power. Gandi recommended the same strategy to undesirables living in 1930s Nazi Germany; you can imagine how this might have gone down. Against a society that knows what they are about, for good or ill, the political equivalent of gaslighting is unlikely to yield results. This is why colour revolutions fail in states that can look at Benjamin Barber’s McWorld with clear eyes. A degree of demoralisation, of undermined foundations, is necessary first; for us, this is homegrown, though those opponents are happy to add fuel to our fires.

Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai are examples of these latter-day astroturfed saints, which aim to tap into the eternally guilty consciences of Westerners and are intended to undermine our best spiritual defences; but they are products of our zeitgeist, rather than the zeitgeists of our erstwhile rivals, even if, as in the case of Yousafzai, they occur in other places. They are soldiers for that nasty liberal internationalist view of the future, one that purports to be vast and horizon-spanning, but in fact is no bigger than a cloud the size of a man’s hand — the very view that led us into such philosophical decay. In this, one might assume they share the goals of those rivals, even if they are not conscious of the fact, and if their messaging and methods are very different, and often seemingly unrelated. There is an accidental commonality of purpose between Western elites and some of our geopolitical foes, although both would be embarrassed to admit it.

The former imagine death and reanimation into something vaguely propositional and totally unrecognisable, following on from H. G. Wells’s The Open Conspiracy, a process well underway; the latter wish to undermine geopolitical power from the outside. At least one is honest about what they are doing. It is a terrible bind for traditionalists, who must love the soil from which they come, even if they loathe what it has become. They must balance what is particular with what is perennial, and detachment from the proximate is the first cause of every liberal. Things previously considered inalienable commonalities break into kaleidoscopic privatised worlds, and loyalties that once came naturally find little purchase. Whether in broadly civilisational terms or in terms of states that once expressed that civilisational sentiment, the future has never looked so uncertain. For Western people, mentally deadened by decades at the trough of uncritical liberalism, merely facing the right way seems impossible.

“They have all the watches,” said the Taliban, “but we have all the time.” Indeed.

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Christopher Jolliffe

Christopher Jolliffe resides in Australia, where he teaches philosophy. He writes for various publications, including mainstream conservative journals and magazines, who believe they are not liberal.

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Joshua Pickett
Joshua Pickett
4 months ago

“A time traveller from a century ago, arriving in any Western city, would be horrified by our recent demonstrations. They might wonder how we ended up occupied by Bedouins and consumed by the tribal concerns of groups who were once merely anthropological curiosities for characters like Lawrence of Arabia.”

It’s funny when you put it like that. That good sense of humor is a good sign that somewhere out there the spirit is still alive.

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