An Heroic Tale in Three Acts
Every now and then, a social phenomenon reported by the omnipresent media drives me to engage with a recurring cycle which begins with a question “What would be the most perfect way to destroy Man?” And every time I reach the same conclusion: Throw Man into a darkened room where all the mirrors have been shattered and where no sound can be heard apart from his own screams. In other words, Man cannot discover himself without points of reference and thus take the first step on his journey of becoming. Without solid ground, Man is left at the hands of the Moirai and the whims of his Will. What I consider to be a method of destruction through desperation is in contradistinction valorized by our age’s dominant belief system as a path to complete liberalization. The underlying assumption seems to be that Man must reach a state where he is completely free to create himself out of nothingness and from this it follows that every single vestige of bondage will be regarded as an obstacle to overcome. Although the origin of this liberalization project dates back to the Enlightenment era or even to the age of Baron Verulam and Descartes, we may observe that the progression of this ideology has reached its zenith in more recent years when the idea of Western Man itself explicitly became the prime target of various ‘deconstructionist’ attempts. And this is precisely the moment when one of Newton’s adages comes to life. The trajectory of Progressivism has seen a number of counter-reactions before and so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the fire of the Reactionary has been rekindled once again.
In search of a scapegoat.
Let us approach the current predicament by beginning with a simple observation: belief systems or ideologies created by human mind cannot escape certain forms borne out of their own heritage and this can be seen in contemporary Progressivism’s mission of liberalization which presupposes a special kind of sacrifice. Redemption is gained by offering a scapegoat to the gods as atonement for past sins and in Progressivism’s case this means the sacrifice of Western Man which is seen as an escape from his cycle of violence on Earth and as the final step towards the freedom of heavens. And if we follow this logic rigorously to its end, we’ll notice that the ritual of sacrifice must be performed by a member of Western Man’s tribe and with the tools provided by the same tribe. But ultimately the performance of ritual will fail to deliver because human action the lacks the essential component, the divine character, and this is the reason why the cycle will inevitably begin anew.
In order to catch a better glimpse of the conundrum at hand we need to revisit briefly the goal of Progressivism which is liberalization. This goal is to be achieved by separating Man from roots which bind him and steps taken so far have given rise to such phenomena as subjectivism, individualism, aestheticization of all life spheres, relativism and egalitarianism. What this all amounts to is that liberalization will be actualized by an interplay between the forces of annihilation and of leveling. This vision of freedom stands in stark contrast to those views influenced by Plato where the notion of freedom is a bit more modestly linked to the idea of becoming aware of true limitations of Man. One may hastily arrive at conclusion that Progressivism is all about giving free reign to Man’s desires over himself (this true only to a certain extent) but what we are really witnessing are the workings of Reason unchained. In his Zibaldone, the Italian man of letters Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837) remarks on a number of occasions that there exists a perpetual enmity between Reason and Nature. But Progressivism has bit by bit widened the chasm between these opposing forces to a point that they are no longer seen as having a binding effect on each other and as a consequence Nature has ceased to exist in any meaningful sense. So Reason is harnessed exclusively for the sole purpose of dismantling obstacles from the road to liberalization and thus it is only capable of producing negative truths. And should this Reason happen to come across with an immovable object, it would simply ignore it. After all, isn’t everything supposed to be within its grasp?
One of the more serious consequences of a Reason on a rampage can be discerned in the creeping obscuration of conceptual thinking. At the heart of a concept formation is negation, as Spinoza among other thinkers has stated, and if a concept loses this act of setting a limit it will eventually become devoid of meaning and in consequence pave the way for radical subjectivism. Examples of conceptual hooliganism are abundant and every part of Western identity from culture to family has been subjected to attacks which usually involve the use of irony as a method of questioning the foundation of a concept and turning the traditionalist stance into a subject of ridicule. Strangely enough, even Progressives seem to abhor a vacuum and so we have also witnessed an avalanche of new terms and some combinations of old ones which have led to the multiplication of identities built upon shifting sand. One notices that this kind of radical subjectivism is often defended on various utilitarian grounds since the notion of binding truth has already been discarded to the dustbin of history (“If it doesn’t harm you, then why would you object to it?”).
At this point Progressivism is forced to deal with the existence of other human beings and this encounter reveals one peculiar contradiction within this liberating belief system: By entering the political sphere Progressivism can’t help but make demands and deal out punishments for any transgressions from the dogma. Behind the facade of freedom there is only naked exercise of Power which penetrates every life sphere and forces individuals to participate in each other’s subjective fantasies. At this point, we should briefly remind ourselves that true philosophy occupies an eternal state of stasis, which makes the expression “political philosophy” something of a contradiction in terms, and so it would more accurate to describe Progressivism as “a half-philosophy” which is the expression used by Mr. Leopardi when he tried to capture the essence of the French Revolution in his Zibaldone. “La plus belle des ruses de diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas” (The loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist), wrote Charles Baudelaire in his The Generous Gambler (1864), and the same ploy is favored by advocates of an ideology when they make the Leviathan to do their bidding. And yet people in general are not quite convinced by the claims of inevitability of the March of Progress and its’ promises of deliverance from the chains of natural order as a number of push-backs against specific political projects seem to indicate. Has something forgotten by the spirit of the contemporary age awoken from slumber and is now trying to make its voice heard again?
Skirmishes, pitfalls and thoughts about the maintenance of momentum.
Everyone’s favorite pessimist once advised somewhat sarcastically if you wish to learn eternal truths from History then study Herodotus and be done with it. This crystallization brings to the fore the main challenge of philosophies of history: Anyone attempting to understand the present through the prism of the past will inevitably learn about a number of singular events and persons which have received a status of representing a crucial turning point in the flow of history. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to the neglect of developments, which preceded the Great Event and/or Person, and consequently one may become either rigidly deterministic in regard to the flow of history or hubristic in consideration of human potential to shape events. Of course, one can fall to the traps of similar nature by denying the existence of exceptional events and/or persons but the point here is that a healthy dose of humility and restrain is required when constructing a story out of seemingly separate episodes. With these lessons in mind, let us turn our gaze to more recent events and see if we are able to grasp the hem of God’s garment.
Year 2016 has certainly turned out to be a remarkable one because a number of political events have disturbed the Progressive comic narrative which is usually presented as something fundamentally unassailable. Trump victory and Brexit are the most significant moments and naturally they have been analyzed from countless different angles which have offered all kinds of explanations ranging from economic deprivation to prejudices of the white voters. Of course, one should resist the temptation of accepting any theory based on superficial reductionism too eagerly and keep in mind that these two events were preceded by smaller episodes which managed to cause some cracks to Progressive façade but were ignored eventually. But let me for a moment put aside my own cautions and briefly indulge myself with a bit of abstraction by dividing existing analyses into perspectives of the body and perspectives of the mind. Explanations belonging to the first group stem from materialism and they seek answers from perceived economic inequality and uncertainty caused by forces of globalism. Quite often the chosen instrument of diagnostics predetermines the recommended remedy and this case is no different because recommended solutions consist of strengthening the heavy hand of Leviathan (increases in public spending on different areas like education, social benefits and infrastructure projects) and this approach is particularly favored by the established elite. The appeal of materialistic explanations is easy to discern: by shifting focus to the outcomes of Progressive politics the core of Progressive program itself is protected from any serious criticism coming both from the outside and the inside which is made possible by the chasm existing between intentions and results of an action. The embrace of this approach is further facilitated by the transformation of politics into a branch of technics which turns man into ‘perfectible’ material according to ideological design. In other words, the would-be rebels are to be brought back into submission by showering them with Leviathan’s gifts and hence there shall be no need to worry about the possibility of genuine confrontation in the field of ideas. Despite all the hyperbole running through the countless of columns and op-eds recent events are perceived only as slight tangents on the path of Progress.
Now let us shift our focus on analyses produced by the perspective of mind which seem to be favored by the younger and more radical torchbearers of Progressivism. To borrow from Plato’s library of metaphors, the political will expressed by the plebiscite is interpreted by the Enlightened Ones as another proof that the masses are not yet freed by the light of Reason but are still controlled by the shadows. Underworld of social media has predictably conjured up all the familiar hobgoblins from Nazis to your run-of-the-mill rural rednecks but this time the intensity of Progressive accusations reached such a high that even moderate Liberals begun lamenting the rise of ‘identity politics’ – although “politicking with identities” would be more apt description – and how it prevents the ignition of introspection process. Nevertheless, for our purposes it suffices to note that all these lesser shadows spring from the same source – the idea of Western Man – and consequently the Progressive remedies bare all-too-familiar hallmarks of disassembly and reconstruction which serve to put the March of Progress back on the track again. Although perspectives of the body and of the mind may seem to be unconnected each other by operating on different planes and it certainly is not in vain to point out contradictions wherever they surface, we should always stay aware how these two approaches actually supplement each other and clarify the inherent incoherence of Progressive promise – that the ultimate emancipation of Man is to achieved by surrendering Man completely to the totalizing instruments of technics. But to give credit where credit is due, both perspectives have helped in their own way to resurrect the question of identity in the public sphere albeit in a confused manner. And this has created an opening – or rather one of the first openings – for Reactionaries to reframe the discourse concerning the nature of Western Man and bring the warring words from celestial heights closer to Earth.
Generally speaking, Man goes through a number of ordeals in his life time and occasionally he even learns something from these character-building events through suffering – woe to those who only have success as their teacher – but should he ever find himself in a situation, where he is in danger of losing his dignity, sooner or later an almost primordial reaction is bound to make its presence felt. As we have already noted, little bits of Western Man’s identity have slowly been chipped away by Progressivism, and although the phenomenon itself is old, technological innovations and educational herd-mindedness have accelerated the speed of the process tremendously in more recent times which consequently has made it much more visible and aggressive in the eyes of the uninitiated. The ideological pressure is experienced in those hyper-political moments when demands are being made and the option of remaining in a non-partisan position is no longer accepted since the divide between the public and the private sphere has become virtually unrecognizable which turns even silence into an act of submission. But the growing possibility of a conflict also helps the subject’s scales fall from his eyes and become more aware of those pieces of identity which are something more substantial than simple subjective sensations. “Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are.”, penned down one Plettenbergian when describing the role of agon in identity-formation. One should add that becoming conscious of one’s self-image is greatly facilitated by the opposing ideological force which pushes its agenda bluntly despite surfacing discords with perceived reality and self-contradictory promises. Those living on the wrong side of history have scored some victories by exploiting Progressive self-contradictions in the public sphere; these kinds of activities are beneficent because they are a relatively safe form of exercise, can help to plant the seeds of discord among Progressive ranks, seed doubt among the undecided and even win over few converts to the Reactionary cause. But the greatest benefit of these skirmishes is that they foster the Reactionary ethos of activists and prepares them for greater conflicts.
Naturally, one shouldn’t shy away from engaging with potential allies and push them to a point of decision where Both-And stances are replaced with Either-Or dispositions. However, any movement riding the wave of popular sentiment will draw some members who are essentially drill-seekers or have some other ulterior motives for engaging in counter-movements against the established order. Although one should be wary of installing any kind of Reactionary purity test – for every one of us would fail such a test in the end – it would be reasonable to develop a hierarchy of levels of cooperation which would enable the practice of critique among comrades without the sacrifice of rootedness of particular concrete groupings. This way one could hope to avoid the totalizing effects of an ideological movement, bracket the potential conflicts within the movement in advance and make it easier to discard those instruments which no longer serve their purpose. The growing intensity of conflict means increased risks for those involved because every knight of faith will eventually face the temptation to justify any means to reach a desired end. For example, recent legalistic challenge thrown against Brexit and the questioning of legitimacy of Trump victory due to alleged Russian meddling represent a technical method of playing loose with the established rules, which is favored by the members of established elite. Then there are character-assassination attacks against prominent individuals usually made from the shadows which constitute another tactic favored by the radicals. And in a sense this warning should also be a lesson to a Reactionary who should strive to become a disciple of Machiavelli (1469–1527) without succumbing to naked Machiavellism. One should also remain aware of the danger of hubris caused by successes which leads to overestimation of impact of one’s own activity and consequently to an excess deceleration or acceleration of momentum. But even greater threat to a Reactionary is to get bogged down in endless battles and lose the sight of war.
Reactionary nomads returning home from the wasteland.
So far, the prevailing mode of operation of Reactionaries has been the performance of critique of the system in power; that is, by pointing out inconsistencies and absurdities of the Progressive doctrine one hopes to bring the house of cards down and expose it as a mirage to the public. On proper philosophical/transcendental level, the ultimate destruction of any system of thought presupposes the annihilation of fundamentals. However, the political can only aim for establishing a lasting dominion over rivals because its reach remains limited both spatially and temporally. Nonetheless, on both levels the question “What should we have in place instead?” demands a response or otherwise the playing field is still left open for Progressives to rebuild their house of cards or we could even be left with a void filled with passive nihilism. In other words, even Reactionaries need their “vision thing” but where Progressivism has accomplished this task by creating it ex nihilo, Reactionary relies on a method which is closer to Plato’s anamnesis or recollection.
Creation of the vision thing – or an ideal Past in Reactionaries’ case – is about re-establishing the idea of Western Man and this can be done with a process of negation in relation to some key assumptions of Progressivism. First and most fundamental question revolves around the question of the nature of Man: for a Reactionary Man is essentially a fallen and bound creature with ailments which he can only remedy through self-improvement but never completely get rid of. We may think of Man as a block of marble which can be carved around the edges with different tools according to limited number of designs but one should recognize that all these three elements have limitations of their own and that mistakes are possible on the path of becoming who we are. In the spirit of Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913–1994), freedom for Reactionary means rattling one’s chains and touching the walls of his prison cell, not to remain immobile and be ruled by shadows. On the issue of temporality, useful view can be formed with the help of Reinhart Koselleck (1924–2006): Past and Future come alive in Reactionary Man living in the Present, which is determined by the interaction between his space of experience and horizon of expectations, whereas Progressive Man has diverged the temporal spheres and become in the process an ahistorical Being caught in the eternal Present. Over time, Reactionary’s vision thing should extend to other interconnected spheres of human existence, such as Esthetical–Ethical–Religious/Transcendental and Power–Hierarchy–Order, for our purposes it enough to note this is all about placing Man back to his rightful place through rediscovery of his roots and restoring the equilibrium between Nature and Reason. And in this task particular focus should be on the restoration of words of power which means the strengthening and development of Reactionary lexicon. Well-phrased expressions and catchy coinages are powerful weapons in the mundane world of politics, as the word “cuckservative” demonstrated during the U.S. presidential election, and special attention should paid to endeavors to detoxify older concepts like nationalism. Whoever masters the grammar rules the world.
However, one should maintain a parsimonious attitude towards their use of words because they quickly lose their effectiveness if used sloppily regardless of particular context (the most glaring example is provided by Reductio ad Hitlerum and its numerous variants). Another caveat concerns the use of negation itself which also contains the risk of turning Reactionary thought into a half-philosophy or a mirror-image of Progressivism itself if it is allowed to run amok. This issue can be clarified with the concept of Absolute Enemy who is something to be annihilated out of existence in toto, not just defeated. As Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) has taught us on a number of occasions, this kind of battle has transcended the boundaries of the political and become an apocalyptical clash which would usher us into an End Time. The similarity with Progressivism becomes discernible if you notice that that both sides of this absolute antagonism make the assumption that Man is omnipotent because no chain can hold him in pursuit of his vision. Although political struggles can evolve into extreme confrontations, they’ll only deliver destruction instead of Paradise in the end. Reactionaries’ goal is much more modest: the reaffirmation of the ideal order of Nature against the illusions conjured up by Progressivism. And while Reactionaries participate in this eternally recurring cycle, they should always pay heed to the example of Augustus and develop a sense of self-restraint for Power can only be wielded but never truly possessed.
– Urho Lintinen holds a Master of Social Sciences from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, and currently resides in the city of Vantaa, Finland. Mr. Lintinen’s last contribution to the Sydney Traditionalist Forum was to its 2015 Symposium (“quo vadis conservatism, and do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system“) titled “Impressions from the Old Continent“.
This article is to be cited according to the following convention:
Urho Lintinen, “Restraint: An Heroic Tale in Three Parts” SydneyTrads – Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum (11 February 2017) <sydneytrads.com/2017/02/08/2017-symposium-urho-lintinen/> (accessed [date]).
My Dear Mr. Lintinen: Both your fine essay and mine characterize the liberal modern regime as sacrificial. In my case, I intend the characterization quite literally. I wonder whether you have, in fact, the same grim conviction.
Dear Mr. Bertonneau,
I’m glad that you found my essay intriguing as I did yours. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about The Aeneid since lately I’ve been quite taken by the character of Augustus as a quintessential model for a statesman found in European history and naturally the figure of Virgil and other artists loom large in the background as the creators of Roman narrative and identity. Other essays of this symposium were fascinating as well and I was quite surprised by the number of similarities between them.
As for the function of sacrifice within the context of modern liberal ideology, I do think it is indispensable part of it but it is performed badly in a sense that this ritual of sacrifice always stops midway and therefore a return to founding principles or natural order of things cannot take place. It is curious that modern liberalism quite explicitly denies the existence of a binding foundation and yet incorporates the ritual of sacrifice, albeit in a twisted form, into its modus operandi which manifests itself as incessant tossing of “taboos” (concepts related to identity) into the bonfire in the name of “liberalization”. But the hunger of flames is insatiable and instead of anamnesis, we’re left with amnesia (“How can you stray from the true path if you deny the existence of such a path in the first place?”). And it just might be the case that these different contradictions inherent in the liberal mindset actually are the cause for its destructive drive and quasi-religious fervor and the explanation why traditionalists have found it difficult to react against it with equal power.
There are few encouraging signs of a counter-movement emerging from the hinterlands but it’s too early to say what kind of role it will play in this human comedy.