Are We Right? (Part I)
Long before choosing to involve myself in the Alt-Right in 2012, I used to lurk around the fragmentary dissident Rightist scene as a passive observer, red-pilling myself on various topics. From that time back in the early 2000s up to the present day, as the range of official thought has narrowed and dissent has expanded, I have watched one truth go from a pessimistic suspicion to an article of faith among the awakened. It is this: the so-called “mainstream Right” is not a secret sympathiser or potential ally, but a deadly enemy that loathes us just as much as the Left.
The “free competition of Left and Right” in the “democratic public sphere” is a sham. “Conservative” politicians – those who are not outright imposters – are essentially client rulers, allotted some political power in return for pacifying and misdirecting our people, true advocacy for that people’s interests being forbidden. Disturbing as this may be, accepting it meant that dissidents no longer had to cut themselves loose from all ideological tradition by framing themselves as “beyond Left and Right”. The modern Left was indeed the same force that had bathed humanity in blood under the guise of Communism; the Right, properly understood, was the antithesis to this force; but the “mainstream Right” known to the general public was a kept eunuch of the enemy.
Thus, we dissidents gradually adopted the name ‘Alt-Right’ – which is just a modern brand, aimed at those who know only the sham competition between the Fake Right and the Left, for that which in fact conceives of itself as the True Right. The hysteria directed at our small movement by the Left, together with the panic of their wretched pet opposition, indicates that we are on the right track towards recovering the non-liberal Rightist tradition of the West. But does the Alt-Right, speaking of the movement in the widest possible sense, really understand what it means to be ‘on the Right’?
Nearly everyone on our side understands that ‘the Right’ is where we need to position ourselves, and yet it seems as though everyone has his own definition of this term. The neo-Nazi fancy dress brigade, descended from an obsolete tactic of Rockwell, understands ‘the Right’ as whatever seems to be hated most by the Left: thus, swastikas and Hitler-worship are as far Right as it is possible to go, and everyone else must pay obeisance to this position by “not punching Right”. Recently, Vox Day launched a counterattack intended to reframe the neo-Nazis as false Rightists, but this too was based on an excessively narrow and libertarian definition of the Right.
The neoreactionary school, too, has its own ideas about the difference between Left and Right. According to the arguments of Mencius Moldbug, absolutist monarchism is the furthest to the Right you can go in the present day; and some (not all) of his followers, recalling the role of nationalism in overthrowing the dynastic order, view the racial and nationalist focus of the Alt-Right as just another form of Leftism. As the courtiers of an absolutist monarch do not fight and agitate the masses, but rather stroll into power by appointment, neoreactionaries are naturally led towards an odd strategy called passivism: the idea that the ruling Leftist coalition will allow us to build a superior organisational structure under its nose, then hand power to it in recognition of its “worthiness”, instead of just finding an excuse to take it over and feed off its productivity for another couple decades of gibsmedat. Depending on your view of human psychology, this is either an elaborate justification for preferring a quiet life far away from the antifa and fake news, or an indication that our definition of ‘what is Right’ actually matters quite a lot.
To give such a definition is a deceptively simple task. Most people on our side tend to say that the Right is about hierarchy, whereas the Left is about egalitarianism; that the Right is nationalist, and the Left universalist; that the Right upholds tradition, while the Left breaks it; that the Right is interested in authority and order, and the Left in liberation and chaos. But all of these are subject to challenge – by the rival factions fighting over the mantle of the True Right, by the client conservatives suckling on the Fake Right racket, and by the skilled polemicists of the Left.
If Rightists don’t break with tradition, how are we to deal with the fact that most people in the West consider their “traditions” to be liberal democracy and individualism – which practically guarantee their servitude to the Left? If we wish to delve further into history for our tradition, then how can we justify a positive view of nationalism, an egalitarian force that helped to destroy the traditional dynastic and religious order of Europe? Speaking of religion, the traditional religion of Europe since the late Roman era is spiritually egalitarian and universalist – so surely we ought to dump it in favour of hierarchical and nationalistic neo-paganism? But how would this differ from the typical Leftist practice – reflected in, for example, the feminist mythology of a pre-Aryan matriarchy in Europe – of reaching for dead traditions so as to kick down living ones?
If the role of the Right is to keep social and political order, then surely all agitation of our people against the ruling power structure is “against our principles”, and only the timidity of conservatism and the wishful thinking of passivism are available to us. And if we are will-to-power hierarchists who despise egalitarianism, then surely we ought to congratulate modern progressivist elites, for setting themselves up as the feudal benefactors of immigrants and treating working-class whites with moralistic snobbery? Gated communities on the hills, castles by another name, in which complex virtue-signalling rituals go on while a polyglot peasantry toils away in the slums below – doesn’t this progressivist dystopia bear a greater resemblance to the Middle Ages, the crucible of European tradition, than anything advocated by the strictest “reactionary” in our circles?
You would be wrong to think that I am just picking holes for the sake of it, or that the Right-Left distinction is arbitrary and unimportant (please spare me the ackshuallying about the French National Assembly). The Alt-Right defines itself in opposition to a Fake Right, “mainstream conservatism”, which offers safe and comfortable participation in the system in return for a commitment to political uselessness. Thus, we face a constant internal threat from those who want to defect to the conservative racket, and can only respond by erecting “pure Rightism” as a loyalist rallying point. Moreover, we are traditionalists who tend to look for the primordial roots of things – and one suspects there is a reason why right and left have their particular etymology, why dexter and sinister in mediaeval heraldry denoted honour and bastardy respectively, why the superstitious still throw salt over their left shoulders to blind the Devil, and indeed why those loyal to the king chose to sit on his right side in the French National Assembly.
In other words, the question “are we Right?” matters, and the confusions on this point need to be cleared up. Fortunately, I believe that our movement does belong to the Right, and may even deserve to call itself the True Right. But it’s going to take some explaining why.
What is Right? The Social Order vs. Subversive Power
Remember how I just brought up the common view of the Right as a tendency towards order, traditionalism, hierarchy etc., and poked a load of holes in it in order to illustrate its deficiencies? Now it’s time to patch up a few of those holes again, making use of common and easily-verified observations on the nature of the Right, before introducing a more precise definition.
If we require only a rough sketch of the Rightist and Leftist tendencies, there is no major error in using words like “hierarchy” and “order” to describe the Right. But these words give us the wrong impression that the Right can be reduced to abstractions. In reality, the Right is always concerned with a particular hierarchy and a particular order, as well as a particular tradition and so on; this is why so many Rightists despise abstraction and intellectualism, and treat old social and political forms with superstitious veneration. Leftists, who make use of abstractions to critically attack these forms, are drawn towards the opposite tendency, a “clever-silliness” in which abstract reasoning is employed without any regard for common sense.
“Hierarchy” and “order” in the abstract can, of course, exist in Hell just as well as in Heaven. This is well understood by Rightists, who often speak of decadence, a phenomenon by which a sick or dying entity comes to resemble a degenerate parody of its original self. In the spiritual narrative of René Guénon and the Traditionalist school, this is represented as a straight degeneration: a fall from the summit of the mountain to its base, and then further down towards the inverted and illusory summit shimmering in the water below. In the cultural narrative of Oswald Spengler and others, the movement towards decadence is cyclical: a civilisation begins in ‘infanthood’ and ends in ‘old age’, in which its original characteristics return under a negative aspect.
In any case, the basic direction of this movement is not disputed on the Right: the healthy state is the original one, which develops into the decadent state through a long series of alterations. From this derives the tragic, pessimistic, and severe mentality of the Right, which always holds to the path of most resistance, in stark contrast to the Left with its “faith in progress”. The basic options of Rightist strategy are similarly determined: the Right can either conserve a given state by defending its ground, or else react and take back lost ground in a counterattack, but it can never adopt the fundamental innovation and aggression of the Left.
One obvious consequence of this is that the Right tends to have a more positive view of history than the Left; but this does not mean that Leftists cannot also look to the past. The clue is in the details: those Leftists who do not idealise the future tend to call for the restoration of long-lost historical states, while those Rightists who do not try to conserve the present generally aim at restoring immediately-preceding historical states (which may, nevertheless, be imbued with the ethos of the distant past). To explain this through the metaphor of civilisational decline, it is not possible for someone on the slopes of a mountain to leap to the summit in one bound, or for someone in mid-adulthood to drink an elixir and return to infanthood; however, one can certainly reach the inverted summit under the base of the mountain in a single plunge, or drink poison and advance straight to infirmity and death. In accordance with the truth expressed here, the Leftist beguiles us with visions of the summit that lead us ever downward, while the Rightist thinks of the summit and advances back up to the ridge he just lost.
By this point, the mist of abstractions should have given way to a more solid impression of the Right and Left, based on common observations of their nature. But there is much in this that still appears dark and arbitrary. To shine a light upon the silhouette, and expose its actual content, I must have recourse to more learned authors; but these all approach the matter from different perspectives, and not one of them is capable of illuminating the whole structure at once. The one who in my own estimation comes closest, and does so by approaching the problem from our own social and political perspective, is the French conservative liberal Bertrand de Jouvenel in his classic work On Power.
De Jouvenel begins his study in 1945 by asking a poignant question: why has the history of European states seen such unremitting growth in the size of armies, as well as the expansion of war from small-scale mediaeval campaigns to the militarisation of whole societies? The answer: the expansion of war has gone hand in hand with the growth of resources and controls at the disposal of central governments. The question, then, should be rephrased: why has European history seen such unremitting growth in the resources and extent of Power, relative to the rest of society? (‘Power’, spelled with a capital ‘P’, is de Jouvenel’s term for the central governing authority, abstracted from its various forms and guises.)
De Jouvenel finds that “from the twelfth to the eighteenth century governmental authority grew continuously”, and that “the process was understood by all who saw it happening; it stirred them to incessant protest and violent reaction”. Then came the tide of revolution, the overthrow of monarchical despotism, the enshrining of the power and liberty of the people under their elected representatives – and the result of all of these is that governmental authority has continued to grow, and has exacted ever-higher tribute from society in treasure and blood, with the difference that people neither understand the process anymore nor think to protest or react against it. Could it be that “democracy” and “popular liberty”, and now “socialism” and “the welfare state”, are mere smokescreens thrown over the constant expansion of tyrannical Power? Could it be that the fallen kings have simply been replaced by hundred-headed hydras, composed of all the ambitious and unscrupulous, who fight over control of the governmental machine while uniformly seeking to safeguard its prerogatives and extent?
From this starting-point, de Jouvenel weaves together a powerful narrative of degeneration, which is all the more compelling for its not having been intended as a work of Rightist pessimism. What degenerates in the course of this narrative is the social order, which is originally differentiated and hierarchical, containing diffuse points of authority that are jealous of their privileges and naturally resistant to Power. Power subverts the autonomy and discipline of the social order with the aid of the lower orders, raising up plebs against nobles and individuals against collectives, to the end of crushing all ‘makeweights’ and extending its unlimited authority over society.
On the basis of scant historical records and modern accounts of primitive tribes, de Jouvenel reconstructs the earliest societies ruled by priestly or magical elders, in which the power to influence human conduct resides almost entirely in the social order. In these societies, every action is tightly governed by traditional rituals; and while a king might play an important sacral role, he is considerably more constrained by the social order than his subjects. In the first, long-forgotten political revolution, warrior elites depose the elders and establish the aristocratic patriarchates of early antiquity, in which the king plays a dual sacral and military role while social authority resides in the heads of noble clans. As these clans either take in outsiders as plebians or slaves, or conquer subject peoples, or both, Power eventually finds itself in a position to make a bid for absolute authority in the name of reducing social inequality. The outcome of this battle, won by Power in the East and won by the aristocrats in Greece and Rome, is one that profoundly influences the development of entire civilisations.
A similar pattern has played itself out in the history of our own European civilisation, which began in the aftermath of fallen antiquity. Contrary to progressivist myths of arbitrary mediaeval despotism, the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages were constrained on all sides: by the nobility, the Church, the customary law, the parliaments debating whether to vote royal taxes, and the theory of divine kingship that made legitimate rule dependent on religion. When Power began to strain against its bonds, it resorted once again to raising the lower orders against the social authorities: thus we see the rise of popular national identity focused around the person of the king, as well as occasional attempts by jurists to tie royal legitimacy directly to the people, which became unnecessary after the Reformation weakened the Church and allowed the divine kingship theory to be co-opted into an all-purpose justification for Power.
This tendency led in time to the absolutist revolution, which transformed the constrained mediaeval ‘king’ into the unconstrained early-modern ‘monarch’ (a distinction made by the historian Regine Pernoud), largely through promotion of the bourgeoisie and state-dependent official class at the expense of the traditional aristocracy. In France, the absolutist monarchy hedged against the nobles by selling aristocratic privileges to bourgeois plutocrats, who imposed many of the “feudal exactions” deplored by the common people on the eve of the Revolution. But as de Jouvenel points out, the expansion of Power under absolutism and divine-right theory remained quite limited: the monarch still did not dare to impose arbitrary taxation or general conscription, and the old nobility began to fight back by displacing the plebian clerk elite from state offices.
The 1789 Revolution, led by the discontented plebian elite, broke the impasse by dispensing with the monarch and repositioning sovereignty (i.e. the hegemonic rights of Power) in the abstract body of “the people”. The results of this were immediately apparent in the massive Revolutionary and Napoleonic conscript armies, which smashed the traditional order of Europe; and Power has expanded itself under the protection of the popular-right theory ever since, ascending to new heights of social levelling and wealth redistribution undreamed-of even by the Jacobins. The customary law respected by kings has given way to positive law, the arbitrarily-defined plaything of Power, and the reality of freedom from Power has given way to the illusion of participation in Power. As all social makeweights against Power are levelled, we are reassured by fictions such as the “separation of powers” and the “rights of the individual”; but these mean nothing, as the separated powers do not represent separate social forces but rather the single interest of Power, and the atomised individual is helpless against it.
Now, some may argue that de Jouvenel’s theory is too conditioned by the particular experience of the French, who have seen their central authority morph from kingdom to republic to empire and back again. But although the Anglophone world may have avoided the sharper edges of absolutism and revolution, partly due to our stronger customary law and geographical isolation, one look at the growth of Power and social subversion in our own time should suffice to show that this criticism is wrongheaded. In his theory of the social order subverted by Power, de Jouvenel has brought to light a real historical tendency, which can be generalised at least as far as the boundaries of Western culture.
More importantly, de Jouvenel has finally illuminated the content of those mysterious categories ‘Right’ and ‘Left’. Broadly speaking, we can define ‘the Right’ as that which defends the social order against subversion, and ‘the Left’ as that which subverts the social order and results in the erection of Power in its place. The trajectory of our history can be seen as a cyclical movement from one to the other, which is now reaching the stage of advanced decline, necessitating a far-reaching reaction against the prevailing tendency so as to avert a catastrophic dissolution.
It remains for me to mention that several other Rightist perspectives can be folded into de Jouvenel’s theory without doing undue violence to their content. For example, the Traditionalist narrative of Guénon is concerned solely with the decline of spirituality and religion, but this obviously dovetails with the dissolution of social order emphasised by de Jouvenel. If Guénon’s prophecy of a “reign of Antichrist” has any factual content, surely we can understand it as an illegitimate and unconstrained Power grown strong and tyrannical enough to wage war on all traditional religions.
Spengler, drawing on an organicist view of society rejected by de Jouvenel, speaks of a decline from a living ‘Culture’ to a mechanical ‘Civilisation’. But if we amend the word organic from asserted fact to metaphor, we can assimilate this quite closely to the movement from a self-directed social order towards a mass of human atoms manipulated by Power. (Incidentally, the inability to tell the difference between these two types of society is one of the marks of the true Leftist. I have heard one argue that politically-correct speech codes do not oppress people any more than the ordinary structures of language – which is rather like saying that one does a man no harm by bending his arm backward, as under normal circumstances it can only bend forward.)
How should we understand the new social dominance of the managerial class in the light of de Jouvenel’s theory of Power? This important question is the subject of the second part of this essay.