Right Scholarship

A blasting site for a new Catholic cultural criticism

Category: neoreaction

Millennial Mutineers?

Statue outside Union Station

Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Perilli in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Robert Taylor (not affiliated with Right Scholarship) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2015 saw a flurry of anti-racist protests on American college campuses, from Mizzou to Princeton, led by students who might be described as Racial Justice Warriors (if we adopt current social media terminology and classify the RJW as a subtype of the ubiquitous SJW or “Social Justice Warrior”). I know very well that protests and PC outrageousness have been part of college life for many decades, but there are some new factors in the recent unrest that have led me to think it’s different this time. These factors are 1) the contrast between the ideological intensity of the new RJWs and their almost complete lack of coherent grievances, and 2) the varieties of popular reaction against the new RJWs on social media, which have emerged from a new generation of rightists who may be referred to collectively as the “Alternative Right” (to borrow a label they sometimes use as a blanket term, although I know such labels are subjects of controversy). I’d like to propose, in light of these two factors, that we are not living through a rerun of the same old debates regarding political correctness, but rather that we are witnessing a new blossoming in the West of what for a long time has been the true “love that dare not speak its name”: racial fellow-feeling. I suspect that this much-unloved form of love, submerged and denied for so long, has risen again to grip the hearts of the millennial left and right for the same underlying reason: millennials are beginning to doubt and fear the false god of global liberalism. Of the two millennial factions I am referring to, I think the members of the Alternative Right are more honest about their motivations, and I share some, but certainly not all, of their political convictions. The RJWs are plainly misguided, but we can always hope that one day they will transcend their current impasse.

Although I know I risk being labelled a “cuck” by some Twitter rightists, and though I know this would make any RJW groan, I must preface my remarks by stating that I am not racist, at least in the precise sense of the term (meaning someone who thinks race is a primary determining factor in human behaviour), or even an advocate of cultural chauvinism. I have genuine respect, although not fawning admiration, for people of all races and ethnicities and consider myself an unconventional multiculturalist. I do, however, think that race is a biological reality, and that the American, Canadian, and European varieties of multiculturalism, and their respective attitudes toward race, may contain within themselves the seeds of future race conflict. The melting pot and the cultural mosaic did not destroy racial fellow-feeling; they merely snipped its roots and naively expected that it would wither and die. It did not die, and was instead set free to mutate with abandon. It has popped up in some very unexpected places, and it could do some serious damage unless we make an effort to ‘put race in its place’ and keep it there.

The RJW protests have emerged in response to provocations that for many observers seem to have little trace of either racist intent or racist meaning. College campuses are some of the most “inclusive” spaces in North America, but the RJWs see them as havens of white supremacy. How can this be? The answer is that the secular university is a microcosm of global liberalism, and is thus unacceptable to the RJWs in its current form. Global liberalism, which neuters race, culture, and religion in order to foster co-operation and humanitarianism, is what most people think they want, but the heart rebels, and the RJWs feel this internal rebellion keenly. On some level, they recognize global liberalism as the destroyer of traditional virtues like courage and hope, of transforming experiences like suffering and despair, and of the bonds of blood that unite families, tribes, and races. There is no mystery, adventure, defeat, or triumph in global liberalism, and no genuine love. Liberalism recognizes difference, but only after difference has been relativized and deflated. Life under global liberalism is, in a word, boring, and where there is boredom there will soon be revolt. To escape from boredom, the RJWs project an image of white hegemony upon the campus; the more inclusive and diverse the campus is, the more attention they must draw to the supposedly systemic nature of white supremacy and the more obscure and detached from reality their complaints become.

Although I can’t prove it (for such things cannot be tested), I suspect, as I have already stated, that under the RJW anger lies a simple desire, unacceptable under global liberalism, for the expression of racial fellow-feeling, or the recognition and valuing of those who share an inborn “likeness” with oneself. What is a “safe space” for students of a particular race other than a form of self-segregation–a space in which one is safe to express racial fellow-feeling? There is nothing inherently wrong with racial fellow-feeling, as long as it does not rob the soul of charity toward the rest of humanity; liberalism, however, will not tolerate it, and the RJWs can only practice it by positing a systemic white supremacy of such pervasiveness that segregation and racial fellow-feeling can masquerade as a simple survival tactic.

Most RJWs, of course, would deny that they have any racial fellow-feeling, and would insist that what they share with other students of their race is the trauma of racial oppression and exclusion. They have taken to heart the words of their anthropology and sociology professors and believe that race does not exist, biologically speaking. They see race as a social construct, but not a construct that has no impact on the individual or community; it is rather a construct of such malevolence that its tendrils penetrate the very skin, organs, and minds of those in our society who are “racialized.” For a racialized person, to be confronted by signs that are in any way linked to racialization triggers a painful internal response. These signs remind the racialized person of the continuing existence of systemic white supremacy, which is the titanic “other” in the Manichean worldview of anti-racist thought and which overwhelms the racialized person with its ideological size and weight. The external, objective context in which such triggering signs appear is irrelevant, for the triggered pain and emotion is subjective and felt in a subjective context. At the same time, the pain caused by these triggers does not simply injure and weaken the victimized subject; it is a shaping pain, through which a racialized identity is imprinted or branded upon the subject. It defines, in ever-more specific and excruciating detail, a racialized person and a racialized community: an ideological prison that monitors and controls but through which an “identity politics” may nevertheless be practiced through acts of resistance and the creation of small spaces of safety and solidarity.

The problem is that when one’s very identity as a racialized person is conceived of as a construct imposed by white supremacy, the only way to express racial fellow-feeling, and to foster resistance and solidarity, is to appropriate this construct, embrace one’s racialized identity, and even engage in activities intended to provoke further racialization. The protesters seek the same sense of fellow feeling that binds, for example, soldiers of the same nation or religion, although in their case the binding agent is racialization. The idea of a “colourblind” society is anathema to them, for such a society, especially if it were universal in scope, would create a black hole into which racial identity would vanish forever. For the RJWs, protest is a means of self-definition rather than an honest call for change. It is the negative expression of a racial fellow-feeling that can’t be expressed positively because to do so would rob white supremacy of its supposed identity-inscribing power. When white supremacist society fails to signal its hate, or even worse, when it opens its arms to embrace the racialized, panic sets in. Something must be done to reignite conflict, and thus the RJWs look for any excuse to protest and sometimes go as far as to fake the signs of white supremacy. They are caught in a tragic situation, seeking racial persecution as a substitute for racial togetherness. Co-opting the construct provides a substitute for racial fellow-feeling, but at the same time it makes the real thing impossible to obtain. The university educator becomes both the liberator and the oppressor, which perhaps explains why racialized students sometimes turn against their supportive professors.

The mainstream conservative media (represented by such publications as the National Review) have certainly been harsh toward the RJWs, but they are careful to couch their critiques in the language of classical liberalism. The task of defending the white race, for better or for worse, has been taken up by a number of relatively new “reactionary” movements, which I have collectively referred to as the Alternative Right, and which exist primarily on Twitter and a large network of blogs. Neo-reaction (NRx) has attracted the most attention, but there are an ever-growing number of monarchist, traditionalist, ethnonationalist and neo-fascist communities on social media, many of which have only surfaced over the last five or six years. Their members appear to be largely from the same millennial generation as the new RJWs (although there are certainly older members as well), and they almost all reject mainstream “Cuckservative” movements like neoconservatism. Many of these groups display an attitude toward race that they sometimes describe as “race realism,” based on the principles of “Human Biodiversity” (or HBD), and a smaller number embrace outright “ethnonationalism” and actively campaign against what they refer to as “white genocide.” Racial fellow-feeling is something they are entirely comfortable with, although I feel they often grant race an unjustifiably high status. In any case, they are the rightist street-fighters of the Twitter era, waging a rhetorical war against RJWs and SJWs wherever they may be found, and I suspect their ideas will have an influence on college campuses in years to come.

I bring up the Alternative Right because I wonder if they share some similarities with the RJWs, underneath all the many obvious differences. The similarities between these two groups go beyond the generational link, and extend to their common embrace of racial fellow-feeling (overt in the former group and covert in the latter) and their rejection of the global liberalism that most likely nurtured them in their youth. The millennial reactionaries, certainly, are not products of traditions of racism and bigotry, since most of them grew up during the great “end of history” that was the 1990s, and would have been, like everyone else, supersaturated with liberal dogma and postmodern fancies. They were raised as global citizens and were expected to, as adults, obediently carry the 21st-century version of “the White Man’s burden,” dispensing invitations, gifts and salutations to the non-white world with one hand while tossing branches on their own funeral pyre with the other (to borrow loosely a simile of Enoch Powell’s). Through the continuous ingestion of liberal media on television and the Internet, and through the education system, they would have developed an elaborate mechanism of self-censorship, present in both the individual and the culture, to ensure the absence of all racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or intolerance of any kind. The millennials who now belong to the Alternative Right are those who felt some kind of pang of discomfort as they were being told of the countless evil deeds of the white man and the West. Their hearts rebelled, and they set out on the painful path away from liberal orthodoxy.

I worry, though, that the rediscovery of racial fellow-feeling among both the RJWs and the Alternative Right may one day ignite ugly conflict. I have no stomach for racial violence, especially since it serves no purpose in our time: like it or not, given the progress of globalization, we are all multiculturalists now. However, the reawakening of racial fellow-feeling, if it does not blow up in our faces, may bring some peace. Given the rapid disintegration of the moral authority the nation-state, we are finding new ways to relate with one another and form political bonds. A gentle, gradual revival of racial fellow-feeling may help to weaken global liberalism and establish a new global multiculturalism, where like may live with like without shame, and where people may take pride in their racial roots without imagining themselves a master race.

To put race in its place we must think hierarchically. Race is not everything, but it is certainly not nothing; nor is it merely a construct. What is required to subdue the twin heresies of racism and anti-racism is to establish a permanent place for race in the hierarchy of qualities that comprise the human person. In their own ways, both the RJWs and the Alternative Right are exploring this question, although the RJWs do not realize it and the Alternative Right are rapidly becoming obsessed with it. In any case, these millennial malcontents are stirring up trouble on the great ship of global liberalism, and it remains to be seen whether their efforts will provoke outright mutiny. Surely though, as they both recognize, some rocking of the boat is necessary.

Right Theory: Mystical bodies, part 3 — “Every spirit that dissolveth Jesus”: The anti-Christ in electronic media

Photo by Giuseppe Enrie, 1931In my last post I outlined the choice facing us all as we witness the growth of the corporate Global Person: incorporation through electronic media into either the Mystical Body of Christ or the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ. The right path, I hope, is clear. Even so, we must always be on guard to avoid being drawn into the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ, and this can be accomplished by gaining critical perspective on the nature of the media entities that seek to incorporate us.

A first step is to determine the characteristics of the anti-Christ as manifested through electronic media; for this problem, the Sacred Scriptures provide some help. The First Epistle of John explicitly addresses the subject of the anti-Christ, and although it dates from a period in history that seems far removed from our own, his time was like ours in that paganism and heresy flourished and true Christians had to discern carefully the spiritual nature of much of what they saw and heard. In the epistle, St. John advises his fellow Christians:

“Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. By this is the spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3; this and all scriptural quotations that appear in this post are from the Douay Rheims Bible)

As this passage suggests, the anti-Christ is a body made of bodies, and not the individual that many, drawing from the Book of Revelation, assume he will be. Earlier in his letter, St. John points to the corporate nature of the anti-Christ with greater clarity when he warns, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The anti-Christ is not a charismatic figure who will appear on our television and computer screens sometime in the future: he was present, as a corporate entity, at the time of St. John and he is present now, although as Marshall McLuhan suggests in his 1969 letter to Jacques Maritain, electronic media have increased his power, speeding up the construction of what McLuhan refers to as “a reasonable facsimile of the mystical body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ.” The “spirits” that St. John speaks of are the heretical teachers, teachings, and churches of his time, while for us they are McLuhan’s “electronic information environments,” which “being utterly ethereal fosters [sic] the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance.”

St. John advises his audience to “try the spirits if they be of God” by determining if these spirits “confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God,” or if they “dissolveth Jesus.” Broadly speaking, in the context of electronic media, spirits that “dissolveth Jesus” may be thought of as those closed media environments that exclude Jesus as the Word or Logos. These closed environments exclude life, in that they deny that Jesus is the foundation of reality. All of us have experienced the magnetism of electronic media environments and their capacity to block out the world, substitute fantasy for reality, and foster the decomposition of the mind and body. Such environments invite solipsism and “dissolveth Jesus” in the soul.

Jesus is the only medium (and His status as a medium is something I have addressed in an earlier post) through which we can find salvation. As McLuhan says in his 1969 Playboy interview, “Christ . . . is the ultimate extension of man,” or the ultimate medium. All other media, if they do not lead us to Jesus, can only lead us back to ourselves. The closed media-environment that excludes nature, person-to-person contact, and spiritual truth becomes, at its extreme, analogous to the snake swallowing its own tail (or Ouroboros): the Zero. The Mystical Body of anti-Christ, with Satan as its head, seeks to contain all such closed media environments into a single, narcoticizing, suffocating body leading from this world to the closed environment from which there is no escape: Hell.

A defining characteristic of closed media environments is their capacity to simulate reality, and this is the means by which they exclude Christ. In the Mystical Body of Christ, media are used to connect us to other people, to the world in all its complexity, and ultimately to the Church, which in turn connects us to the Church Suffering in Purgatory and the Church Triumphant in Heaven. The closed media environments of the Mystical Body of anti-Christ, on the other hand, simulate the world, replacing the sacred with the simulacral and the incorporeal with the merely virtual. The religion that blossoms in these environments is a sort of digital Gnosticism–an echo of the Docetist heresy fought against by St. John and later St. Augustine and others. The believers of Docetism, who represent one variation of the larger Gnostic heresy, managed to “dissolveth Christ” by claiming that Jesus was an entirely spiritual being, and that His human body was merely a convincing simulation. There is a robust teaching that accompanies this idea in Gnostic thought–a false teaching that usually asserts that the spiritual is good and the material is evil, the material world must be rejected entirely, marriage and procreation should be shunned, and abnormal sexuality should be tolerated (all for reasons I don’t have space to address here). Today’s unwitting cyber-Gnostics don’t entirely shun the material world and the processes of nature (for the gadgets that keep them immersed in their spiritual unreality are certainly material), but they alienate themselves from both by living a narcissistic and masturbatory lifestyle, rapt in a world of simulation, often embracing all those sins that fuel our “Culture of Death.” At its worst, such devotion to the Mystical Body of anti-Christ devolves into an asceticism of gluttony: many of us are familiar with the unfortunate prevalence in our society of the figure of the Internet-addicted bachelor who ruins his body with fast food, avoids the sunlight, bathes rarely, and generally radiates the nauseating stink of the shut-in, all for an all-consuming online life of chatting, tweeting, and gaming. The decrepit, willfully unemployed, socially maladjusted Internet geeks of our time are, as cultural figures, the Satanic inversions of the hermitic Desert Fathers, who in the early days of Christianity left the world behind to pray and advocate on behalf of others to God. The simulations of reality they indulge in may appeal to the senses and create a false sense of excitement or comfort, but whiffs of necrotic flesh drift out from behind the electronic facades.

To avoid the lure of the simulacrum, one must distinguish between those signs, flowing through the media, which point to reality (or Christ) from those that merely simulate reality. Some academic philosophers and media theorists, for the most part coming from the French political left, have investigated the concept of the simulacrum in philosophy and in relation to our “postmodern” culture, and their insights can be helpful, even for those like myself who do not share their philosophical and political orientations. Gilles Deleuze, in his essay, “Plato and the Simulacrum,” examines the concept of the simulacrum in Plato in order to explain how one might engage in the task that Nietzsche set for his new philosophy: the “‘overthrow of Platonism'” (45) (and by this, both Nietzsche and Deleuze do not mean the overthrow of Platonism and Platonism only, but the overthrow or inversion of all or most of Western philosophy). Deleuze’s focus in this particular essay is on aesthetics and representation, but his larger project is to rid philosophy of any lingering concepts of transcendence, at least as traditionally conceived, or else submerge them in a philosophy of total immanence or this-world-ness, along the lines of Spinoza’s philosophical pantheism. Anyone reading Deleuze from an orthodox Catholic perspective will see a Luciferian impulse at work here, and I believe there is a connection between Deleuze’s fusion of spirit and substance and McLuhan’s warning that “Electronic information environments being utterly ethereal fosters [sic] the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance.” In any case, through Deleuze’s work we can gain insight into how, specifically, the simulacrum functions as part of the metastatic DNA of the anti-Christ.

Deleuze positions the simulacrum as an unstable concept within Platonism, and presumably also within those aspects of our culture that maintain some connection to the philosophical tradition deriving from Plato. He examines Plato’s theory of representation as it appears in the Sophist (236b, 264c), and comes to the conclusion that “. . . Plato divides the domain of the image-idols in two: on the one hand the iconic copies (likenesses), on the other the phantasmatic simulacra (semblances)” (47-48). The iconic copies each bear an analogical resemblance to an original Platonic Idea. Phantasmic simulacra are those signs that have, by being crafted to appeal solely to the subjective experience of the observer (or in the modern world, by undergoing processes of mass reproduction and distribution), lost their internal analogical resemblance to Ideas and have become mere simulations or fakes. However, Deleuze does not entirely accept this understanding of the simulacrum as “a copy of a copy, an endlessly degraded icon, an infinitely slackened resemblance” (48), since he stresses that it is also something more. He writes, “The simulacrum is not degraded copy, rather it contains a positive power which negates both original and copy, both model and reproduction” (53). Daniel W. Smith, in an essay on Deleuze, Plato, and the simulacrum, expands on this idea in the context of Christianity, suggesting that “If simulacra later became the object of demonology in Christian thought, it is because the simulacrum is not the ‘opposite’ of the icon, the demonic is not the opposite of the divine, Satan is not the Other, the pole farthest from God, the absolute antithesis, but something much more bewildering and vertiginous: the Same, the perfect double, the exact semblance, the doppelganger, the angel of light whose deception is so complete that it is impossible to tell the imposter (Satan, Lucifer) apart from the ‘reality’ (God, Christ) . . .” (13). When icons become simulacra, the foundations of reality are threatened, and the grounding principle of analogical resemblance or likeness is replaced, in the destructive confusion caused by the impostor or fake, with a new sign-system based upon ungrounded difference–“difference” being a key concept for Deleuze and many post-structuralist thinkers, as it allows them to envision reality as an immanent domain of non-hierarchical, radically pluralistic sign-systems. Icons foster hierarchy (which for Deleuze is bad), and simulacra foster pluralism (which for Deleuze is good). Whether “to raise up simulacra, to assert their rights over icons or copies” (52) in order “to overthrow Platonism,” as Deleuze advocates, would plunge us into total relativism and nihilism, is a complicated question; the very least that can be said is that in the differential world of simulacra there is no room for Christ, the Church, or the Thomist philosophy that we must uphold as the surest guide to truth.

The closed media environment and the simulacrum are but two sources of the demonic energy that powers the Mystical Body of anti-Christ, that all-encompassing simulacrum that offers, at best, a simulation of Heaven that amounts to nothing more than great hall of mirrors in an echo chamber, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) multiplied in reflection for all eternity.

Works Cited:

Deleuze, Gilles. “Plato and the Simulacrum.” Trans. Rosalind Krauss. October 27 (Winter, 1983): 45-56.

McLuhan, Marshall. Letter to Jacques Maritain, 6 May 1969, from Toronto. The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999. 70-73.

McLuhan, Marshall. “Playboy Interview – A candid conversation with the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media.” Rpt. From Playboy (March 1969). Essential McLuhan. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1995. 233-69.

Smith, Daniel W. “The Concept of the Simulacrum: Deleuze and the Overturning of Platonism.” Essays on Deleuze. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. 3-26.

Neoreaction: is it for real? Part 3: Removing the Nietzschean Veil

The Great Chain of Being. Drawing from Diego Valadés’s Rhetorica Christiana (1579).

In my last two posts I detailed my objections to the influence of Right Nietzscheanism in neoreaction and reaction in general, but lest anyone think I have nothing to offer beyond criticism, in this post I will clearly state what I believe should be a core principle of neoreaction or any conservative or reactionary movement. More specifically, I will address the concept of hierarchy since it seems to me that it is crucial to neoreactionary theory and relevant to the issue of the structuring of neoreaction as a whole.

Before continuing, I must note that I am aware that neoreactionaries differentiate between neoreaction and reaction, or NRx and Rx. What I am advocating is not simple Rx. In fact, I’m not sure that Rx can possibly exist, since all of us living today (and many generations past) were born and baptized into modernity. All Rx is NRx to some extent. However, the “neo” prefix need not carry Nietzschean connotations. T.E. Hulme is my ideal neoreactionary because although he embraced the twentieth century and its technological innovations, he was comfortable discarding much of the philosophical baggage of modernity. He and the modernist artists he associated with (Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wyndham Lewis, and Ezra Pound) sought in their different ways to revive reactionary classicism in thoroughly modern cultural environments. The past was turned into a radical force by being thrust into the future.

As my last two posts would suggest, I believe that hierarchies must be based upon absolute values that transcend history, rather than the relative, terminally historicized values of Nietzsche’s hierarchies of power. Now, conservatives of all stripes talk about absolute values, but many forget to mention what these values are. Here, I will abandon caution and humility and venture a dogmatic assertion that will allow us to determine the absolute values that inform the structure of all true hierarchies. This assertion is not merely an idea; it is a truth.

My dogmatic assertion, which has been made countless times by countless others before, is this: all things can be classified and ranked on a scale of value that ascends from the material to the immaterial.

The vision of the universe thus revealed is traditionally referred to as ‘the Great Chain of Being” (see Note 1). All attempts to subvert or distort this truth, which is the basis of right order, have led to error or disaster.

At the top of the great chain of being is God, Whose essence is His existence. Beneath Him are His creations, which stand in analogical relation to Him. In descending order, these creations are angels, man, animals, plants, and inanimate objects. This Great Chain of Being, properly conceived, is the basis for all truly hierarchical thinking, the ultimate expression of which is Christian orthodoxy.

I can’t stress enough that in this hierarchy, as in all true hierarchies, the ranks do not stand in opposition to each other. True hierarchies are always harmonious and inclusive rather than oppressive and exclusionary. In a true hierarchy, there’s a place for everyone. What could be more inclusive than that?

Hierarchical thinking bears little relation to oppositional or dialectical thinking, the classic representation of which is Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, which is echoed in Nietzsche’s master morality and slave morality. Indeed, it is not hierarchical thinking that led to the much-maligned “binary oppositions” or “Manichean dichotomies” that have supposedly plagued Western thought (according to the Left). The Manichean dichotomy (if we are to assume that the term “Manichean” has been chosen for a reason) is a product not of orthodox Christianity but of a long tradition of heretical movements like Gnosticism, Catharism, and any number of modern political religions (see the work of Eric Voegelin for more on this). In recent times, it has been inclusive, supposedly pluralist, non-hierarchical thinking that has led to such great divides. You are either part of the inclusive, pluralistic system or you are a bigot, fascist, fundamentalist or Nazi.

Hierarchical thinking is analogical rather than dialectical (see Note 2). All members of a hierarchy are joined in a relationship of ‘likeness.’ Even the lowest member of the hierarchy bears some resemblance to the highest. Modern thought, by contrast, is based upon relationships of difference and opposition (and the overcoming of such differences and oppositions). This may seem contrary to common sense—surely hierarchical thinking is based on difference! However, difference is essential to the structure of any hierarchy only because likeness is impossible without some amount of difference. Much modern thought simply ignores analogical relationships and focuses only on difference, conceptualizing human roles and identities as existing within systems of difference. For the modern progressive, difference is opposition and reflects an inequality of power; it is something to be overcome. The Nietzschean radical takes things further, affirming boundless plurality and the endless play of difference. Have you ever wondered how the political left keeps finding new forms of inequality to campaign against? Their crusade will never end, for they know that any relationship of difference can be reconceptualized as an oppositional relationship reflecting a power imbalance.

The hierarchical order of the Great Chain of Being can be used to establish a hierarchy of areas of human inquiry and endeavor. I would order these areas of inquiry and endeavor as follows:

Theology/Religion
Philosophy
Politics
Culture/Tradition
Economics
Natural Science

The hierarchy descends from areas that are of greater ultimate importance in human life to those that are of greater immediate or practical importance. Most modern heresies take something belonging to the lower ranks and place it on the top (here, I know, I am echoing G.K. Chesterton and especially his books Heretics and Orthodoxy): with nationalism it was Culture/Tradition, with Marxism it was economics, and with Nazism it was natural science (in the form of biological racism).

When I survey the sphere of neoreaction, I see a chaos of influences derived from other movements: Human Biodiversity (HBD), political and economic libertarianism, reactionary traditionalism (such as the European New Right and neo-paganism), and reactionary religious orthodoxy (primarily the various bloggers of the Orthosphere). All of these disparate influences collide, and the only thing holding them together within sphere of neoreaction is the toxic (and intoxicating) glue of Nietzschean philosophy.

I pray that neoreaction, if it evolves and doesn’t fizzle out into irrelevance, will turn to the Great Chain of Being as a guide for the organization not only of the priorities of neoreaction but of its relation to the various other movements in its orbit. The Human Biodiversity (HBD) has much to say that is interesting and useful, but considerations of race and biology should, as I see it, occupy a lower sphere of neoreactionary inquiry and activism. I am not naive enough to think that race is irrelevant as a determinant of human behaviour, but we have seen what happens when race is raised above politics, philosophy, and religion. Economic theories (like Social Credit) have been a feature of reactionary thought for a long time, but when economic solutions are seen as the only solution, you get Ezra Pound, who wasted so much of his mental energy on the problem of money. The reactionary traditionalists have a point to make (and I know there is some controversy as to whether traditionalists are NRx at all, as this concise article by Henry Dampier makes clear), but unless traditions point to transcendent truths, the deification of tradition can only lead to Nietzschean relativism at best. Likewise, a purely political form of neoreaction, which seems to be Moldbug’s ideal, will founder as soon as it sets sail on its own. Neoreaction needs a theological crown, and for that it should turn to the denizens of the Orthosphere, who are producing the most exciting and intelligent material that I have come across in contemporary reactionary circles. All of these influences are worthy of attention, but not of equal attention; neoreaction must establish priorities based upon the hierarchical structure of the universe itself.

A movement that champions the merits of hierarchical relationships will get nowhere if its adherents relate to each other like members of an anarchist collective. Perhaps, though, neoreaction is still in its infancy, and a natural NRx hierarchy will develop over time. I’ll keep watching.

As I am finishing this last post on neoreaction (for now) my conscience is telling me that I may have been a bit hard on Nietzsche. He was a genius, and although his ideas have caused much evil they may also have produced some good. The embrace of Nietzcheanism is perhaps, for some, a necessary step in breaking the spell of naive progressivism–as I think it was for me. Nietzsche’s thought can strip one of many illusions, even if it does not, ultimately, provide an escape from the Matrix of modernity. It is only after removing the Nietzschean veil, through which all things are seen as blurry manifestations of ‘power’ or ‘energy,’ that one can finally see the world as it is and has always been.

Note 1: Arthur O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being (1936) is a classic study of this concept, but Lovejoy, in modern fashion, treats it as a mere idea that has taken different forms over time (making it part of the “history of ideas”). His treatment of the Medieval conception of the Great Chain of Being distorts the idea, leading him to identify contradictions where there are none.

Note 2: The distinction between analogical and dialectical thinking is apparently the theme of David Tracy’s highly-regarded theological work The Analogical Imagination (1981). It is on my reading list.

Neoreaction: is it for real? Part 2

T.E. Hulme in uniform.

In my last post I outlined some reasons for my interest in the phenomenon of neoreaction, along with my concerns regarding its philosophical trajectory. My message to the neoreactionaries, if they care to listen, is that if neoreaction is to be anything more than a virtual pose, it must purge itself of Nietzschean influence. When I recently tweeted this statement, I received a small chorus of tweets in response asking “Why?” In this post, I will expand on the answer to that question that I outlined in my last post and save my suggestions regarding the reorganization of neoreaction for my next post.

To provide some counterbalance to any harshness in my criticism, I will state at the outset that I am a former fan of Nietzsche. I understand the tremendous appeal of his work, and I still consider him one of the greatest thinkers in the history of philosophy. If I were not a Catholic, I would probably still be a Nietzschean. Nietzsche was not at all stupid, but simply wrong, and his enchanting philosophy of ‘life’ unfortunately helped to create our current ‘culture of death.’

Nietzsche has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but these interpretations can be distilled into what I would loosely label Right Nietzscheanism and Left Nietzscheanism. Both of these philosophies of culture situate Nietzsche as the philosopher who revealed the ultimate arbitrariness of conventional morality, who saw the will to power as the fundamental force in human life, and who positioned himself as the enemy of post-Socratic metaphysics, Christianity, and even the concept of truth itself.

Right Nietzscheans generally seek to reclaim the “master morality” that existed (arguably) in paganism until the rise of the “slave morality” of Christianity. There are even some who practice a sort of Nietzschean Catholicism, re-envisioning the Church (while drawing more upon its institutional authority and hierarchical structure than its teachings) as the embodiment of a Christian version of master morality. The more moderate Right Nietzscheans may seek a master morality in national traditions—those that have grown organically over time and are not contaminated by abstract morality.

A member of the neoreaction twittersphere suggested that I check out a transcript of a 2007 talk by Jonathan Bowden, which is available on Counter-Currents Publishing site as “Credo: A Nietzschean Testament.” It is a perfect example of Right Nietzscheanism.

Bowden says, “I believe that strength comes from belief, in things which are philosophically grounded and appear real to you.” In other words, belief functions as an expression of the will to power, as long as the things that you believe in “appear real to you” (italics mine). The belief may be completely unfounded, but that is beside the point; what you believe in must appear real, and you must believe as if it were real. Bowden’s valorization of Charles Maurras clearly displays this emphasis on belief over truth: “Charles Maurras was believed to be an atheist, but he led a Catholic fundamentalist movement in France. Why? Because if you are right-wing, you don’t want to tear civilization down just because you privately can’t believe. You understand the discourse of mass social becoming.” A Maurrasian Catholic accepts Catholicism not because the Catholic Church is the one true church but because the church performs a social function that keeps the population from dissolving into apathy and vice. Such a person, in my estimation, is not a Catholic at all.

Bowden seems to condemn relativism when he says that “Belief is an understanding that there are truths outside nature, and outside the contingent universe that’s in front of us, that are absolute. The left-wing view that it’s all relative, or we make it up as we go along, is false.” Bowden’s statement is deceiving, however, since the view of the New Right is ultimately just as relativistic as that of the left. There is only one absolute truth for Bowden (and Nietzsche) outside the contingent universe: the will to power. Other truths are only truths as long as they can be imposed and believed in, and if the will to believe dies, the truth dies with it. Later, Bowden seems to acknowledge the connection between modern relativism and his own neo-fascism: “So what appears with half an eye closed to be an atheistic, a secular, and a modern system, if you switch around and look at it from another perspective, is actually a form for traditional ideas of the most radical, the most far-reaching, the most reactionary, and most archaic and primordial sort to come back. To come back from the past.” The problem is that these archaic ideas from the past, reconstituted through the will to power, will not be quite the same as they were before. Like the reanimated beings that rise from Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will be a little different, and a little unstable, with a tendency to turn against their owners.

Bowden exemplifies Right Nietzscheanism. Left Nietzscheans are, on a superficial level, very different; they view culture as a complex web of power relations—relations that pervade even the realms of language and knowledge. Following from Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, they see all social norms and the conceptions of truth that underlie them as arbitrary constructions. The French philosopher Michel Foucault, whose influence in academia (one of the great spires of the Cathedral) cannot be exaggerated, was the great proponent of this worldview. Much of the scholarship of the last thirty years in fields like art history, English, film studies, women’s studies, queer studies, post-colonial studies and the like has been influenced by his interpretation of Nietzsche, and much of it leans towards what is sometimes referred to as “social constructionism,” or the idea that our identities and beliefs are social constructs without essences. A recent manifestation of this type of thinking has been the study of the social construction of gender: if gender is a social construct, then obviously the stark male/female dichotomy can be broken down.

While Foucault’s philosophy in its rawest form is not explicitly political (since in a Nietzschean world without moral absolutes there is no reason to prefer one political system over another), it is often employed by those pursuing egalitarian or liberationist political projects. As a sort of Nietzschean progressivism it has trickled down to the rest of the population and as a result we get Oprah and Ellen spreading the gospel of empowerment. They are empowering women, queer people, coloured people, or anyone else who has ever been marginalized in the past. And of course they must do this by funneling power from those who are male, straight, white and ‘privileged.’ Thus, the source of value for both those in both the ivory towers of the Cathedral and its daily talk shows is the same as that for the barbarians at the gate. Relativism makes strange bedfellows.

To summarize, Nietzsche’s philosophy allows us to both recognize all the moral regimes of history as arbitrary constructions (the practice of Left Nietzscheanism) and reconstruct any moral regime of the past by replacing what were considered absolute and unchanging values with power-values (which is the practice of Right Nietzscheanism). When an older moral regime is reconstructed, the reconstruction will be different from the original in that those living under the original regime viewed its structure as something ‘given’—something rooted in truth or nature or the will of God—while those living under the reconstruction can never achieve that same level of naiveté. The inhabitants of the reconstruction must always struggle to believe, even when they know, on some level, that the principles that guide them are rootless. Such is the difference between a Norse pagan of the ninth century and the twenty-first century neo-pagan. Does the latter really believe that Thor and Odin exist?

Both the Left Nietzschean and the Right Nietzschean are lost in the void of modernity, their only guide being the one, endlessly malleable, source of value that Nietzsche recognized: the will to power.

A note for clarification, from a discussion regarding this post at Throne and Altar (3 February 2015): I did not mean to suggest that there is no distinction between neoreaction and Bowden’s neo-fascist neo-paganism. Bowden is from the sphere of the European New Right, and I used him as an example of Right Nietzscheanism in its clearest and most recognizable form. Neoreaction does not always explicitly draw from Nietzsche, and I know that neoreactionaries do not embrace neo-paganism, but it seems to me that neoreaction is about what I would call the science of power. All of the various political alternatives to democracy that they toss about are judged in terms of their effectiveness, and not their rightness. In some ways, the neoreactionaries are more like the Left Nietzscheans (Foucault and co.), in that they are obsessed with power structures, as if power is the only currency. They are reading politics through the eyes of Nietzsche. Even the libertarian tendencies in neoreaction seem loosely connected to Ayn Rand’s interpretation of Nietzsche.

To provide an antidote to all this stifling Nietzscheanism, I will briefly introduce a thinker whose photo graces this site: the amateur philosopher T.E. Hulme (1883-1917). I have not seen Hulme’s name mentioned in NRx circles, which is a shame, because in his time he was a true neo-reactionary. His life was cut short by enemy artillery in World War I, but he managed to have a lasting influence on modernist artists and writers like T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis and (to a lesser extent) Ezra Pound.

Hulme’s form of reaction was ‘classical’ rather than ‘romantic,’ privileging clear ideas over vague mysticism. He believed strongly in the idea of original sin and rejected the humanist idea that people are naturally good. He sought absolute values: those which are as true today as they were 1000 years ago. Here is Hulme describing his brand of reaction in relation to what I have referred to above as Right Nietzscheanism:

“Most people have been in the habit of associating these kinds of views with Nietzsche. It is true that they do occur in him, but he made them so frightfully vulgar that no classic would acknowledge them. In him you have the spectacle of a romantic seizing on the classic point of view because it attracted him purely as a theory, and who, being a romantic, in taking up this theory, passed his slimy fingers over every detail of it. Everything loses its value. The same idea of the necessary hierarchy of classes, with their varying capacities and duties, gets turned into the romantic nonsense of the two kinds of morality, the slave and the master morality, and every other element of the classic position gets transmuted in a similar way into something ridiculous.”

This passage is from Hulme’s seminal essay “A Tory Philosophy,” but I have quoted it from a review in the New Criterion by Roger Kimball, which incidentally serves as a decent introduction to Hulme. (If I can find my copy of “A Tory Philosophy” I will provide a proper citation.)

Here is Hulme describing his position regarding religion:

“I want to emphasize as clearly as I can, that I attach very little value indeed to the sentiments attaching to the religious attitude. I hold, quite coldly and intellectually as it were, that the way of thinking about the world and man, the conception of sin, and the categories which ultimately make up the religious attitude, are the true categories and the right way of thinking. . . . It is not, then, that I put up with the dogma for the sake of the sentiment, but that I may possibly swallow the sentiment for the sake of the dogma” (Hulme 70-71).

Dogma is superior to sentiment, and truth superior to tradition—this is the core of Hulme’s message. Hulme’s innovation was to free reactionary thinking from the romanticism and historicism of the nineteenth century, and the new paths he revealed have not yet been fully explored.

In my next post I will offer suggestions for a reorganization of neoreaction in the spirit of Hulme.

Hulme text cited:
Hulme, T.E. “Humanism and the Religious Attitude.” Speculations. Ed. Herbert Read. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960. 1-71.

%d bloggers like this: