Though we inhabit an era marked by rapid scientific advance and technological proliferation, evidence of cultural decay and social rot dominates our experience of modern ‘civilisation’. While we are constantly reminded about the moral authority of ‘progressive’ ideologies – and the inevitable success of their utopian programmes – it is impossible to conclusively hold that Man today is happier than he was in less ‘enlightened’ times. Many intuitively feel that something is not quite right, or that the official narrative does not mesh with their individual experience of a civil society founded on the principles of managerial liberal democracy, doctrinaire tolerance, radical egalitarianism, and secular materialism. Not surprisingly, we often hear complaints about this seemingly unreformable ‘age of mendacity’, one in which the promises of yesterday are either quickly forgotten or mythologised into unattainable abstracts that shimmer forever on the horizon, like ideological phantasmagoria. In other words, although we are surrounded on all sides by the rationalist doctrine and its scientistic justifications, we have never before been so detached from reality, our own essence as individuals and a people.
In his contribution to this Symposium, Prof. Peter King describes how “progress insists that we set ourselves apart from the world. We seek to improve our condition and we refuse to accept what have now as anything other than transient and contingent. Nothing is therefore beyond transgression.” Any stability in the mundane world is therefore an illusion, and masks an inner disequilibrium: “[t]he desire – the need – for transgression inherent in modernity prevents stability. There is no one place, but a series of temporary holdouts from where we plan our next move. What we lose in this desire for transgression is our connection with the world.” Ironically, the primacy of the profound over the mundane is therefore fundamental to material progress itself. As Michael Tung points out in his dissertation, “from the raising of the pyramids to the great cathedral-building age of 12th century France, economic activity has always sprung from religious needs, not vice versa.” This observation is a heretical reversal of the modernist worldview, a prevailing orthodoxy that dissenters struggle against on a daily basis. In a similar vein, Gwendolyn Taunton describes the civilisation retarding effects of materialist triumphalism, when she writes that by,
embracing capitalism and the ‘valorization of the worker’, [we] have created a nation which is no longer capable of generating authentic culture. The necessity of full time employment for both men and women in a capitalist worker/production society, requires that in order to live at even a level of basic subsistence, the prospect of any pursuits capable of generating culture are instantly negated. Achievements in the arts, humanities, or any other academic area capable of creating cultural values, is likewise denigrated to such an extent that even the worker in factory is now held in higher esteem, and those who do attempt to make cultural achievements to further society receive nothing but lowly paid employment in the hospitality industry. The final culmination of this leaves all cultural efforts still born, the ramifications of which, though subtle, will one day become deadly as modern society fractures into several opposing groups, none of whom will profess loyalty to the community, nation, or civilization. By abandoning the cultural aspects of the nation, the heart of a civilization corrodes, and entropy spreads slowly to poison the entire political system.
The evidence for this bankruptcy of cultural vitality can be broadly categorised into three major realms of dysfunction: the interpersonal, the domestic and the foreign. The interpersonal being the corruption of the relationship between individuals as well as between men and women as co-relative classes. The domestic being the bastardisation of attitudes towards social policy, where the very idea of what constitutes a polis has been misconceived by elites who have abdicated their responsibilities vis-à-vis the body politic. The foreign, being the realm of international relations, and the role now played by major Western powers on the global arena. Within these realms of decay we witness instances and examples of this detachment from principles that once nourished civilisation and ushered in the era of European, Western global hegemony. But where once we were a beacon of light for others to mimic, imitate or submit to, now we have become an object of self-parody, ridicule and defenselessness against the aggression of savage powers. Here, Valdis Grinsteins writes that:
When we look at the history of Europe at a distance, we are struck by how this continent evolved from being the economic, cultural and political center of the world, to merely a sub region in many fields of human activity, and one in decline. The contrast between how European civilization entered and exited the nineteenth century, with how it entered and exited the twentieth, cannot be greater.
Grinsteins explicitly states that Europe has effectively abolished itself by replacing its religious heritage with secular utopian ideologies. We can add that hyper individualism has corroded notions of community, from which individuals once obtained their identity; fatuous commitments to radical egalitarianism has poisoned the relationship between the sexes; as a direct consequence, ideologised appeals to ‘values’, dislocated from the concrete experiences of community and history, has reduced our foreign relations to the export of that same shimmering ideological phantasmagoria that have undermined the West’s cultural capital. We are not longer subject to higher ideals, but have collectively usurped the power to be judges in our own case. Here, James Kalb writes that the “basic proposition” of modernity “is that each of us establishes the good by his will, since individual preferences are what make things good or bad. The result is that each of us becomes a sort of divinity that creates ultimate moral reality ex nihilo.” Alain de Benoist adds that:
For liberals, the notion of the common good makes no sense because there exists no entity likely to benefit from it: since a society is composed uniquely of individuals, there is no ‘good’ that could be common to these individuals. The social ‘good’, in other words, can only be understood as a simple aggregate of the individual goods, a result of the individuals’ choice. It is in this sense that Margaret Thatcher was able to say that ‘society does not exist’ […] It propagates an erroneous conception of the self by refusing to admit that the latter is always ‘built-in’ to a socio-historical context, and, at least in part, made up of values and commitments which are neither objects of a choice nor revocable at will. It gives rise to an inflation of the politics of rights, which does not have much to do with law itself, at the same time as a new type of institutional system, the ‘procedural republic’. It fails to understand, finally, due to its legal formalism, the central role played by language, culture, morals, shared practices and values, as the basis of a true ‘politics of recognition’ of collective identities and rights.
Formalist individualism has dominated our understanding of personal and interpersonal value. But is the departure from nominalism enough to reconnect with what has been lost? Hinting at the answer, Taunton rhetorically asks: “what constitutes national identity in a modern multicultural society where tradition and religion have been displaced?” Echoing Kalb and Grinsteins’ diagnosis, Kristor Lawson reflects that:
The cult of the Incarnate Logos, under whose sway the West rose to global predominance, has been replaced with the cult of nothing. The first principle of the modern West is that there are, and ought to be, no first principles, ergo no moral order imposed upon men by any Logos, whether from below, from above, or from any side. Men ought instead to be radically free to devise their own first principles, and behave as they wish so long as they impose no constraints upon others.
This, of course, leads to the deification of Man, and in turn paves the way towards the enthroning of the Tyrant through the eventual rein of anarcho-tyranny. This is a theme that can be found in the various contributions to the Symposium, all of which touch in various degrees on the dangers of anthropodeification. Dr. Krzysztof Urbanek’s analysis of the aphorisms of Nicolás Gómez Dávila shows how this gnostic attitude permeates democracy itself, which is treated by the masses as a “new religion; more precisely, an anthropotheistic religion in which Man is presented as God.” This leads to the “cult of wealth” where the middle class “consciously elects to create and support the existence of a secular state” in which their whims are effectively sacrelised. In similar fashion, Luke Torrisi reminds us that “[s]ince Nimrod first launched his tower into the sky our folk wisdom has warned us of the dangers of man becoming his own god.” In his discussion of the work of T. S. Eliot, Prof. Barry Spurr likewise describes how today’s “bland diction is that the modern Wise Men, although having reached their destination, find the implications of the Incarnation disturbing rather than exhilarating.” Why? Perhaps it is because, as Kristor plainly put it, “all social disagreements, whether of men or their ideas, are at bottom disagreements with the Logos.” Truth – which always tends to brutally reasserts itself when denied for any lengthy period of time – always shocks and offends the self-deluded, once their delusion becomes apparent.
A lack of alternative modes of social and cultural criticism within mainstream discourse can prevent honest discussions about the root cause of whatever problems may be causing the present malaise. Unsurprisingly, most discourse within the political Sidestream, that heterogeneous milieu of individuals that are sometimes referred to as the dissident or alternative right, is rarely characterised by uplifting, positive or even hopeful rhetoric. Instead, and with few exceptions, contemporary criticisms of modernity tend to be cantankerous, sarcastic, mocking and often fall into the trap of nihilistic capitulation. Of course, this is not the case with all reactionary commentators (and certainly not among the participants of this year’s Symposium) many of whom have laboured to reconnect with the pre-Revolutionary worldview and extrapolate what can be used today for civilisational renewal. Michael Tung writes that:
Traditionalists are easily accused of taking a sour-grapes approach to the ‘real world.’ Some criticize Traditionalism as mere reaction, invented to rationalise malcontent toward the modern world. In fact, the reverse is true: it is the modern world which is ‘unreal,’ created in direct opposition to Tradition, the world of the eternally Real. This opposition emerged with the rise of rationalism and materialism, which interposed the Veil of Maya, or Illusion—to borrow Schopenhauer’s Sanscrit term—between man and heaven. With Disenchantment, man loses all contact with transcendent truths: “the Shadow,” in Eliot’s words, falls “Between the idea / And the reality… Between the essence / And the descent.” The scientific quest, which began with the aim of improving life on earth, ends by creating the most poisonous substances known to man.
Much ink can be spilled investigating the reigning pathologies of each of the three realms of civilisational decay mentioned above. But getting at the radix, the root of the problem, is key to rediscovering any effective counter to the modernist spirit. Thus, while our first Symposium was directed to the question of whether there was a place for traditionalists in the party political system, this time we focus on the more profound question of “transcendence: community, nation, civilisation; religious aspects of the present turmoil.” The assumption we make is that the spirit animates the ‘machine’, and therefore it is the spiritual aspects that need to be investigated to understand how and why the machine has malfunctioned. Once we approach the crisis from this perspective, perhaps more tangible options for reform can be devised. Two are worth noting in this introduction: the role of aesthetics and the central importance of the home. Prof. Thomas Bertonneau describes how secular, modernist elites “hate religion and beauty” and attempt to supplant it with trivial simulacra:
They devise programs of indoctrination that condition the masses to despise religion and beauty while inducing them to adulate opinion and celebrity and to respond indulgently to the gross forms of titillation that pass for entertainment. These immanentist regimes relentlessly inculcate the super-conformity of political correctness, in adhering vehemently to which, however, the de-natured subject undoubtedly experiences physiological and psychological effects that he feels as type of ecstasy. […] In modernity, real transcendence is vanishingly rare while false transcendence is a common – one might say the commonest – occurrence, existing in many only slightly varied and equally jejune forms.
Can this be dealt with in the supra political realm? Responses from our first Symposium would indicate not. Despite the noble efforts of traditionalists who strive to penetrate the world of parliamentary and party politics, the very air of this world appears to corrupt sincere attempts at reform within the statist Leviathan. Once a culture has decayed past a certain point, where basest instincts are no longer constrained by civilising habits and norms, renewal will necessarily take the form of initiatives on the local, micro level: the family, the home. Thus, Torrisi notes that “The notion of ‘home’ seems to be one for which the everyday person retains the capacity to think in transcendental terms – even quite irreligious people.” Only here can advances in counter-counter-cultural initiatives bear fruit:
It is one aspect of life that the liberal economic machine is going to have a great deal of trouble overcoming without force, as the cry for endless growth is yelled louder and louder. In a society in which the economic order depends upon endless high consumption, high rates of work hours, less family time and a plummeting birth-rates – certain demographic realities will come home to roost, and one of the first manifestations of these realities will be the dramatic ‘re-creation’ of neighbourhoods literally from the ground up. This is the result of a ‘global outlook’ implemented by liberalism and its utopic dream of a ‘perfect order’ or at the very least ‘the end of history’.
In the articles that follow, some of which have been cited above, we hope to provide various perspectives to readers who have been searching for guidance in becoming the change they desire in society. We are grateful for being able to provide translations of some of the following work into French and Spanish. Likewise, we have been honoured by Dr. Krzysztof Urbanek for his permission to publish a translation of his manuscript introducing the works of Nicolás Gómez Dávila to the Anglophone world. As we mentioned last year, we hope that the following contributions may “inspire kindred spirits who wish to mobilise for the sake of our future.”
Contributors to the
2016 Symposium of the
Sydney Traditionalist Forum
Barry Spurr was educated at Canberra Grammar School and the Universities of Sydney and Oxford. He was a member of the Department of English at the University of Sydney for forty years and was Australia’s first Professor of Poetry and Poetics. Professor Spurr’s numerous books and other publications cover the fields of literature, and theological and liturgical aspects of it, from the Renaissance to contemporary poetry. His best known monographs are Studying Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) which is now in its second edition, See the Virgin Blest: Representations of the Virgin Mary in English Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and, most recently, ‘Anglo-Catholic in Religion’: T.S. Eliot and Christianity (Lutterworth, 2010).
Prof. Thomas F. Bertonneau
Shostakovitch’s “Leningrad” Symphony:
Art Transcending Politics
Thomas F. Bertonneau is an American intellectual and professor. He has taught at a variety of institutions, and has been a member of the English Faculty at State University of New York, Oswego, since 2001. His articles and essays have appeared in a diverse array of scholarly journals including William Carlos Williams Review, Wallace Stevens Journal, Studies in American Jewish Literature, North Dakota Quarterly,Michigan Academician, Paroles Gelées: UCLA French Studies, and Profils Americains. He was a major contributor to the English section of The Brussels Journal. More recently, his work has appeared in The University Bookman, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy as well as the websites The People of Shambhalaand The Orthosphere. Thomas Bertonneau’s contribution to last year’s Symposium (“quo vadis conservatism, or do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?”) was titled “Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs on Baudelairean Traditionalism”.
Dr. Alain de Benoist
Alain de Benoist born in 1943, lives in Paris. At the University, he has studied philosophy, political science, law and history of religions. He is the editor of the journals Krisis and Nouvelle Ecole, and the co-editor of the magazine Eléments. His main interests are political philosophy and history of ideas. He has published more than 100 books, 600 interviews and 2,000 articles. His latest book is Au-Delà des Droits de l’Homme (Paris: Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2016).
Dr. Krzysztof Urbanek
Nicolás Gómez Dávila Against the Religion of Democracy
Krzysztof Urbanek is a scholar of the work of Nicolás Gómez Dávila and has dedicated his career to translating the work of the Colombian reactionary thinker from Spanish into Polish. His latest work is the 1054 page volume Scholia do Tekstu Implicite (Warsaw: Furta Sacra, 2014).
Dr. Peter King
Of the World
Peter King is Reader in Social Thought at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. He has written widely on conservatism and antimodernism. His chief concern is to argue against political radicalism and for the conservative disposition. His recent works include Reaction: Against the Modern World (Imprint Academic, 2012), The Antimodern Condition: An Argument Against Progress (Ashgate, 2014), Keeping Things Close: Essays on the Conservative Disposition (Arktos, 2015) and Here and Now: Some Thoughts on the World and How We Find It (Arktos, 2015). Peter blogs occasionally at AntimodernCondition.
Liberalism as a Religion
James Kalb is an attorney and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. A Catholic convert, he has written on politics, culture, and religion for a number of publications in Europe and the United States. He is the author of two books, The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command (ISI, 2008), and Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).
Kristor J. Lawson
The Social Contract with the Logos
Kristor J. Lawson has worked as a countertenor, whitewater boatman, woodcutter, hermit, and for the last 35 years as a financial advisor. He is married, a father of three and grandfather of two. He began writing for the public at View from the Right in 2009, and at his present blog, The Orthosphere, in 2012.
The Physician of Culture
Gwendolyn Taunton was the recipient of the Ashton Wylie Award for Literary Excellence for her first book, Primordial Traditions, a selection of articles from the periodical of the same name which was in operation between 2006 to 2010. The award was presented by the New Zealand Society of Authors and the Mayor of Auckland. The proceeds of the award were used to establish further titles. Both becoming a full time publisher and author, Taunton has worked as the web and graphic designer for the National Centre for Research on Europe and the Delegation of the European Union. Presently she publishes other authors through Numen Books and Manticore Press.
Politics, Transcendence and the Corner Store
Luke Torrisi is a retired legal practitioner and now an academic researcher and host of Carpe Diem, Sydney’s only explicitly Traditionalist and Paleoconservative radio programme broadcasting on 88.9FM, between 8:00 to 10:00pm, Mondays. His contribution to last year’s Symposium (“quo vadis conservatism, or do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?”) was titled “Don’t Mention the War! Conservatives’ Forgotten Role”.
Michael Tung is a graduate in Ancient History and Political Studies at the University of Auckland and is currently training for registration as a high school teacher. His contribution to last year’s Symposium (“quo vadis conservatism, or do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?”) was titled “Ride that Tigre; or The Party’s an Ass”.
The Future of Utopian Europe
Valdis Grinsteins is an international activist working with the Tradition Family Property organisation founded by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. While Valdis is predominantly based in Central Northern Europe and South America, on those occasions he has visited Australia he has had a close working relationship with the Sydney Traditionalist Forum and local reactionaries in the Sydney region. His contribution to last year’s Symposium (“quo vadis conservatism, or do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?”) was titled “When a Conservative Feels that he is a Foreigner in His own Home”.
This article is to be cited according to the following convention:
The Editors, “Introduction and Welcome to the 2016 Symposium of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum” SydneyTrads – Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum (30 April 2016) <sydneytrads.com/2016/04/30/ 2016-symposium-introduction-and-welcome> (accessed [date]).