Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
God willing, in a few generations’ time, there will be no need to speak of Western identity. The idea of “Western-ness” seems always to arise in periods of great crisis: when our many nations and peoples are existentially threatened by a common foe. In times of peace and prosperity we hardly think twice about any overarching affinity and are quite content to mercilessly antagonize one another. It’s worth noting that, in better ages than this one, the Sunni-Shia feud seemed trivial compared France and Germany’s.
I don’t say that to be flip. (Or at least not completely.) Those conservatives who warble so passionately in praise of this abstract West – myself undoubtedly included – should always bear in mind that this corporate identity has very strict limits. It’s an on again/off again marriage of convenience. And our goal should always be yet another divorce. Traditionalists in the Anglosphere will know we’ve overcome the present crisis when, upon Holland’s electing some Geert Wilders, we look askance and mutter, “I’ve never met a Dutchman who wasn’t more trouble than he’s worth.” Western chauvinists’ end goal should, in effect, be the same as the Marxists’: to render ourselves politically and ideologically useless. For the West’s sake, we must abolish the West.
I should make absolutely clear that I don’t mean to derail the pan-Western movement just now. That would be deeply hypocritical. After all, it’s not a pure fiction. There’s a reason that ideologies (liberalism, socialism, Islamism, etc.) simultaneously pose a clear and immediate danger to the many peoples and cultures that compose this fissiparous geographical region called “the global West”. Undoubtedly we’re all part of the same extended family. Our laws, mores, and arts are all rooted in a very particular strain of Christianity. Our traditional (or classical) music is distinctly alike, especially when compared with its Asian, African, and indigenous American counterparts. We clearly share a certain sartorial sensibility – hence the phrase “Western business attire”. Our languages have formed and transformed one another over the centuries. We can speak of our various political systems (absolutism, democracy, fascism, etc.) in regards to one another in a way that doesn’t extend to other parts of the world. It’s abundantly clear that, even throughout our tumultuous history, the disparate components of this thing called “the West” had at least an unconscious recognition of one another. Even in times of devastating conflict, we could’ve sensed a familial resemblance had we chosen to. And our wars were more bitter for it. The very first death, after all, was fratricide.
Still, one of the reasons pan-Westernism has failed is because it’s tried to impose homogeneity on diversity – the very criticism we levy against the Left. The cultural and social particularities of the West’s various component-nations are often overlooked in our desire to perceive, and thereby defend, a singular whole. Yet this is flawed, for the same reason that left-wing universalism is flawed: abstract understanding begins with empirical particulars.
The family is an easy example. All of our social relationships are based, fundamentally, on how we relate to our immediate kin. Family friends are affectionally referred to as aunts and uncles by young children; women call their close friends of like sex their sisters; soldiers are brothers-at-arms. And this is equally true on a far larger scale. Paternalism helped organize tribes around the father-figure of a chief, before the nation-state allowed for a vast expansion of what constitutes one’s tribe, originally with the king serving as patriarcha. Yet if the fundamental unit of our society – the immediate, traditional family – were broken down, so too would our concept of nationhood. We could no more relate to our government and community, which is based in models of kinship, than we could achieve space travel without understanding the laws of physics.
Likewise, to speak of the West without regards to specific Western nations is like speaking of a community without a working definition of a family. We can only perceive “the West” in its totality because we understand Western peoples in their variety. Yet this assumption is rapidly proving libellous. As generations become increasingly detached from their local and national roots, it comes virtually impossible to communicate the value of the abstract West to them.
That’s because, as we said, there’s really no such thing as a Western culture. In fact, the nearest we come is the culture of liberal consumerism. Many popular Western chauvinists, like Milo Yiannopoulos, will emphasize the progressive and pluralist aspects of our corner of the world. It’s where anyone can come and make their home, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Likewise, many left-wing critics of Western-ness (and some more debauched proponents on the nominal Right) emphasize its consumerism and capitalism. We only need to browse references to “the influence of Western culture” in any major newspaper to see how we perceive ourselves, and how the world sees us. To be “Westernized” means to be sexually promiscuous, dress in t-shirts and sneakers, listen to screechy pop music, and eat Big Macs. It makes no reference to the West as we, its partisans, understand it.
And that is, to considerable extent, our own fault. We’ve tried to counter these perverse definitions of Western-ness with equally vague ones of our own: something to do with Earl Grey, lederhosen, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. We expect to communicate the value of the whole West to a completely deracinated public. We don’t understand why an Englishman lacking a basic familiarity with English culture can’t learn to appreciate English, German, French, Italian, Greek, and Polish culture all at once. We may as well ask a man who’s never heard of Newton to build a rocket capable of travelling to Mars. It’s a simple lack of intellectual equipment.
So Western chauvinists must change our strategy. We have to teach our countrymen to walk before we show them how to run. We must, in other words, rekindle our national identities before we can save our civilization. And because I wouldn’t presume – as an American writing for a predominantly Australian audience – to instruct Germans or Frenchmen or Montenegrins on how they might undertake such a renaissance, it seems only sensible to stick to our shared national (or, rather, transnational) identity: that of the Anglosphere.
Partisans of Anglo identity have generally been dismissed as “fogies” – grumpy, noisome reactionaries with an irrational hatred of the modern world. They insist on cycling everywhere, hate computers, and think women’s pantsuits diabolical. They are, in a way, rather like the Amish: under the bizarre impression that history peaked sometime in the 19th century and then began a slow, unstoppable decline into perversion and degeneracy. Yet the fogey is far worse, because he’s not animated by piety. No: he’s simply dismayed by historical progress, and can’t reconcile himself to a world where straight, white men don’t enjoy a monopoly of power.
Certainly there are such creatures, though they’re few. But, because Anglo history is rife with movements proudly adopting their enemies’ slurs – the Tories, the Suffragettes, and so on – I have no qualms with using fogeyism to describe this doctrine of Anglo monoculturism. In fact, it may be ideal, because a “fogey” connotes something essentially apolitical. Fogeys as a class are really individuals who, by their own accord, came to reject the atomizing effects of globalism and multiculturalism. They take refuge in the well-worn customs and traditions of their forefathers, by nationality if not by any means race. It is, to borrow from the progressive lexicon, a lifestyle choice. Yet, like all lifestyle choices, its implications for politics and government can’t be overstated.
To make a pitifully remedial point, our personal and political conduct are inextricably bound together. If we govern ourselves according to prejudice and prescription, we will in turn be governed by prejudice and prescription. If, on the other hand, received mores are abandoned in favour of “experimental” lifestyles, our politics will in turn tend toward experimentation and social engineering. This is why the Left dreads the “normalization” of Donald Trump: they may hope his presidency will be nothing but a fluke, a temporary deviation in history’s unstoppable march toward progress, unless his conservative and nationalist rhetoric is once again deemed acceptable for use in polite society.
We know this all too well. We know how the “normalization” of sexual promiscuity, blasphemy, and other such social evils cleared the way for the far-Left’s ascendency to political power. Yet conservatives have done nothing with that knowledge. For instance, we now immediately recognize the political effect that clothing had in the Cultural Revolution. We know that tie-dye shirts, Birkenstocks, and other aspects of the Hippie uniform helped give visible coherence to 1960s radicalism. In Australia you have the stereotype of the Young Liberal – blue shirt, chinos, and R.M. Williams boots – which the YLs have eagerly embraced. On a grander scale, we have the profound symbolism of the London-educated lawyer Mohandas Gandhi’s abandoning his three-piece suit to don the Hindu ascetic’s simple white dhoti. The socio-political importance of clothing is plain in history, and yet even traditionalists are quick to dismiss fogeys as frumps and eccentrics.
This is sheer folly. I tell you now that there will be no Cultural Counter-Revolution until the counter-revolutionaries choose to set themselves apart in the way they dress. Until we stridently adopt the traditional costume of the Anglo-Saxon peoples – the suit, blazer, sport coat, dress trouser and tie, as it happens – we will see no social improvement.
This is true for two reasons. Firstly, such a uniform serves as a constant reminder to the wearer that he is at war. It helps to discipline his body, that he might better discipline his mind. No, it’s not as comfortable as a t-shirt and jeans. But comfort isn’t the point of clothing. That’s the logic of the utilitarian, the liberal, and the rank consumerist. Civilized men and women dress for one another, not for themselves. Our costumes are fashioned, not for comfort, but for beauty. They signify to one another that we’re willing to sacrifice a bit of ease for the sake of making their world a brighter and more lovely place to live. They’re a tool of goodwill, commonweal, and social order.
Secondly, clothing, like architecture, is our means of exercising the dominion over the Earth given us by God. We must clothe ourselves, just as we must build shelters, for survival; but we make artworks of these necessities to show that we’re greater than the mere beasts that came before us. We aren’t simply content to make ourselves warm when she’s cold. We give our habitations order where she’s rough; we make them arch and soar where she’s flat, and we make marble where she’s grassy. Likewise, the civilized man doesn’t content himself to wrap a bit of animal skin around his genitals. He weaves silk and cotton and wool in resplendent colours, to mark the temple of the soul that he is. Nature has her own beauty, but so does man. And like the Palace of Westminster, which rises in Gothic splendour from the Thames, our traditional costumes harmonize the beauty of the human form with the beauty of the human genius.
Yet it’s clear why we must wear the English costume and not (say) the Dutch or Spanish or some other Western peoples. While each is undoubtedly beautiful and meaningful in its own way, the bedrock of aesthetics is harmony, and traditional costumes harmonize with all aspects of a nation’s traditions. It may be too difficult to recognize this effect in our own culture, to which we’re still sufficiently conditioned not to recognize its similarities, as daughter tend not to see their resemblance to their mothers. But when we look to far-flung lands it’s abundantly evident. We see the harmony between, say, the Arabs’ long flowing thawb, their curved scimitars, and their proclivity to smooth domes and arches in their mosques. It all arises from the landscape: the gradual rises and falls of the sand, the lilting palms, and so on. The Arabian or Islamic aesthetic exists as a totality. Those parts of the Muslim world untouched by modernization appear completely at home in themselves.
By contrast, modern culture seems at home nowhere. Jeans and sneakers have no more obvious ancestors in any culture than do skyscrapers. They seem as alien and unwelcome in London and Sydney as in Dubai. The modern aesthetic is generic and hostile, unnatural and unlovely. And that’s quite the point. To be partisans of beauty (as traditionalists undoubtedly are), our aesthetic must be local and national as well as simply traditional.
Music is an especially powerful example of this phenomenon. There are certain great composers who, just slightly beyond our ability to articulate exactly how, seem to embody the spirit of their people in their work. Wagner and the Germans are most commonly invoked as an illustration, but it’s certainly true of other peoples’ maestros. Janáček and Shostakovich, for instance, are both distinctly Slavic; yet Shostakovich is clearly more urbane and Russian, while Janáček has more European and rurality. For our part, I’ve always said that the exemplary Anglo composer is Elgar. His music is, while not patriotic as such, a hymn in the spirit of the English people. Listening to him, one can hear the resonation of thousands of years of those islands’ history. It’s the sound of feet upon green mountains and pleasant pastures, of light rain in rose gardens, of hats doffed at the door of red-brick townhouses. Is it idyllic? Yes – though the Left would probably prefer the term “aspirational”. These composers embody the mythology as well as the realities of their respective nations. They exalt our consciousness, endowing familiar visages with a divine quality; they speak the common tongue of our souls, binding our higher natures together.
This is entirely bereft in all modern music, as it is in all modern dress and architecture. Be it rock, pop, hip-hop, whatever: they’re all barbarity and bastardism. They appeal, not to our genius, with its national and spiritual aspects, but to our animal carnality. They drip with lust and hunger, if not in their lyrics then certainly in their simplistic tunes. Their tedious thumping is horrible to the soul but excites our appetites. It breaks down all categorical barriers, uniting us in our most universal nature: the animal. The traditionalist, of course, realizes that these are barriers better left standing.
We could go on and on with examples in poetry, sculpture, cuisine, language, even landscaping. But I think we’ve made our point. Culture isn’t merely entertainment: it’s the binding agent of our social order and the incarnation of our values. And we can’t revive one without reviving the other, any more than we could water a tree’s roots without also watering its leaves. Traditional society is, whatever Kirk’s objections, an organism; its parts exist symbiotically.
Traditionalists who are serious about purging the Left from our institutions of power and saving the West must then begin by conducting themselves traditionally – in the Anglosphere, as fogeys. We can’t really claim to reject modernity if we are, in practice, modern men. As Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world. We have to live as though society is correctly ordered and encourage others to follow our example. And they will be converted, because our way is simply better than their way.
Of course, we shouldn’t have any illusion that this will be easy. We live in an age that scorns everything we treasure: beauty, order, authority, faith, virtue patriotism, identity. We’ll have to go well out of our way not to consume its poisonous fruits, which are cheap and abundant. But it’s our only sure way forward. With the institutions that for generations safeguarded our traditions – the church, the monarchy, the universities, the courts, the family, and so on – all either neutered or occupied by the Enemy, ours has become a guerilla war. No one will give us shelter; we certainly shouldn’t expect reinforcements from on high. Our entire being must be an affront to the unjust authorities who rule this wasteland that was once the West. Our every thought, every word, every deed must be an act of defiance.
Perhaps it’s even silly to speak of saving the Anglosphere or the West at all. Both have been abolished by decree of the cultural Marxists, Left and Right. What we must do now is rebuild them. Our mere presence must be an enclave of our civilization, which we proudly carry everywhere rallying others to its banner, until it regains all its lost territory. If traditionalists across the West mobilize and set off down this path, we’ll make tremendous gains at once. Thousands of disgruntled bystanders will instantly become counter-revolutionaries. Our victory won’t be assured, but at least it will be possible.
So consider this a call to live traditionalism, not merely espouse it. Embrace fogeyism in all its unfashionable rightness. Embody our vast and proud inheritance for your neighbor; let him deride you until he sees that you can show him a better way of living. Don’t be ostentatious or smarmy; don’t act like you’re playing a game. You’re not. What we’re asking isn’t for you to put on airs – it’s to live in accordance with Creation and the wisdom of our forebears. Nothing could be more natural or less pretentious. Do this bravely, compassionately, and giving aid and comfort to those like us, and we can’t fail. Because, all rhetoric aside, modernism is inferior to tradition. It makes men lonely and resentful. It makes them famished one moment and bloated the next. That’s no way to live out one’s few hours on this planet.
Traditionalism is the best way, the only way, to wring a bit of peace out of this veil of tears. We know this to be true. And by our example, we can prove it to others – but only if we’re willing to practice what we preach. Faith without works is, after all, quite simply dead.
– Michael Warren Davis is a native Bostonian who has contributed essays to the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. His last contribution to the Symposia was in 2015 (“quo vadis conservatism, and do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?”) was titled “Voting Traditionalists are Here to Stay, and so is Party Politics”.
This article is to be cited according to the following convention:
M. W. Davis, “Fogeyism: in Theory and Practice” SydneyTrads – Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum (11 February 2017) <sydneytrads.com/2017/02/11/2017-symposium-m-w-davis/> (accessed [date]).