September 9, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
The Secret Silencing
This article was originally published on Counter-Currents.
THE RECENT COORDINATED ATTEMPT following Charlottesville to smother the Right has forced a renewal of the ancient debate surrounding censorship—what it is, when and if it is ever just, how to combat it in those cases that it is employed unjustly. There are many reasons to be pleased that this question should be so hot in the public discourse in the present moment—not least of all because the manifest injustice of the treatment of the members of the Right, from any even remotely liberal point of view, very well might redound to our benefit in the long run. It is to be hoped that some portion of the wider populace will perceive the absurdity of the double standard which is wielded against us, and also the dangers inherent to these enormous “private” companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Paypal, which are able to inflict their arbitrary will on increasingly sizable portions of the agora.
But in a certain sense, that open debate concerns only the most obvious aspect of the question of censorship, which aspect is the easiest to comprehend and critique, and the manner of resisting or evading it is comparatively straightforward. As the Right well knows, the most effective censorship is the subtlest—that which binds the tongues and the minds of countless individuals without so much as passing a law or banning an online account. True censorship, and certainly the most devastating kind for our cause, is none other than the “cultural” kind, which establishes certain limits on what can and cannot be said—not because the saying of such things is illegal, but because it is “taboo.”
To be sure, to pray for a world in which taboos utterly vanish and everyone can speak his mind on anything at all, is not only to hope for a figment and a chimera, but it is also to betray a somewhat tenuous sense for the sacred or the profane. A healthy society, far from having to impose clear limits on what is and is not acceptable subject of public discourse, simply possesses such limits, and but seldom transgresses them. On one side it is reverence which imposes these rigorous boundaries, and on the other, noble taste. The trouble is that we are not living in a healthy society, and the bonds which presently restrict our speech have nothing to do with reverence nor with taste. Indeed, the contrary: the present taboos are being actively manipulated by malign and often extraordinarily vulgar influences toward our silencing and our ultimate ruin.
I would like therefore to extend the present critique of censorship into deeper ground. And I would like to enter into this question through a word which is all too familiar to us, both for its ubiquity and for its curious psychological power: namely, “racism.”
We need not mention the forces which are responsible for employing this word as a bludgeon against us; the readers of Counter-Currents are surely well enough informed on this score. Neither is it necessary to demonstrate the inherent weaknesses in this concept; a great deal of pertinent and useful thought has been submitted toward this end by numerous figures in the Right. Let us rather for a moment take a wider view. Already in the very existence of these debates and investigations, something curious and untoward is happening. We set about trying to get to the bottom of this word “racism” intellectually, even as we might do with any number of more or less neutral terms of perennial import, like materialism or spiritualism. We treat this “racism” as a kind of intellectual datum which is merely in need of proper clarification and comprehension. But in point of fact, the concept itself is of recent origin, and it is anything but neutral. It is a word founded on an inherent bias—and that alone should awaken us to the peril it contains, and to the difficulty of building anything upon it other than what has already been built.
Suppose some new kind of communist accused a man of being a “workist,” and defined this term as follows: “a workist is a man who, because he would rather be paid well than poorly for his labor, evinces ‘prejudice’ and even ‘hatred’ against the poor, and manifestly and unjustly considers himself ‘superior’ to them.” It is evident that the man to whom this epithet was applied should fling it off as ridiculous, and should not waste two seconds in its debate. But supposing, for some obscure reason, he did begin to dispute the meaning of the term “workist,” tacitly acquiescing to the accusation it contained but attempting to twist it to his advantage—well, would the communist not be simply delighted at this turn of events? And if all of society then somehow began freely employing this term, and it became common currency to accuse this or that working man of “workism,” and a debate on this concept conflagrated and began to rage in the public forum—would this not indicate a decided victory for this new communist movement, which before the advent of this word could not even have publicly articulated certain of its own concepts regarding “work” in ways that most people would understand? Should these new communists not count it a triumph simply that this word had become a part of the lexicon, simply because it had begun to reframe the “structure of thought,” so to speak, of the common man?
This is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves today with this little word “racism.” Indeed, we are at a far advanced stage of that process. The word is anything but ancient. Its first recorded use does not precede the turn of the last century. It has been suggested that its wider acceptation is owed to its appearance in a work by none other than Leon Trotsky—claim which, whether or not it be true, is most suggestive. At least this much is certain about the term: it gained ground and popularity during and especially following World War II, and was invented or immediately co-opted in a spirit of propaganda against certain ideas and political forms (most especially the Nazis) that never themselves employed the word. Its intent from the start was polemical. (For more, see this most informative essay by Sam Francis.) And to that extent, our attempts to change the spirit of the word are from the start doomed to frustration.
The word has surely never lost its polemical edge. It has never ceased to appear under the sign of denunciation and obfuscation. “Racism” was not the first, but it was surely one of the most successful, of a series of contemporary words which employ the endings “-ism” and “-ist” in an innovative and insidious way. Originally, the suffix -ism, which comes from the Greek -ismos, meant simply a practice, a doctrine. In this spirit one speaks of “materialism” and “atomism,” and also, in a more contemporary context, of “globalism” and “communism.” As its counterpart, the suffix -ist, from the Greek -istes, indicating the adherent to such a practice or doctrine. Thus it comes often in English to designate a profession, as in “artist” or “scientist.” The “racist,” taking this word in its original acceptation, would then be none other than he who studies or contemplates the human races and develops certain ideas in regard to his discoveries in that field. Clearly, this is far from the meaning generally ascribed to the word. Somewhere in the past few centuries, these suffixes were bent to an ideological bias; they were transformed into terms of derogation.
It would be most interesting to chart the course of this development, but for the present it suffices to clearly define the meaning which is really infused in these suffixes, in a whole series of contemporary neologisms, like “sexism,” “classism,” “genderism,” etc. It is evident that the suffix -ism here indicates nothing other than “a false, a prejudiced doctrine,” or what we contemporaries might (if rather strangely) refer to as a “dogma.” Such an -ism is nothing but an idea with no adequate basis, no sound scientific or philosophical foundation—quite probably an idea which issues from the darker elements of the “subconscious,” and from any number of disagreeable and “irrational” emotions like hatred, envy, fear, &co. An -ism, in this particular context, indicates therefore nothing but a debunked or groundless idea adhered to by weak and febrile minds—and precisely to those minds, one applies the -ist.
Let us not deceive ourselves here; these suffixes direct the destinies of the words to which they adhere. They form the root value-meaning of those words, and cannot be turned round on themselves. A word is like a man; its character is congenital, and not all the social (or in this case verbal) engineering in the world can finally make it into something it was not born to be. True, words live longer than a human being; it is possible, in certain cases, to fundamentally alter their meanings, given long enough stretches of time and assiduous enough an effort. It is well for us to recall this fact to ourselves, for such alteration forms part of the highest work of the Right. But we are speaking here at bare minimum of decades, more commonly centuries or millennia, and that is time that we of the Right do not presently have at our disposal.
Then we must ask ourselves what can be done here and now about the existence of this eminently tendentious and all-too-powerful term?
If a man calls you a scoundrel, you will not get very far if you attempt to argue the meaning of the word with him, to convince him that it is really very desirable to be a scoundrel, or that everyone is in fact a scoundrel. Better to reject the accusation forthwith, and leave its demonstration to one’s accuser. Then he will be forced to engage you on details and particulars; and there, it is quite possible and in many cases quite easy to demonstrate the farcical and mendacious quality of the original allegation. In conversation, it often suffices to return the question to its proposer: when anyone employs this term “racist” against us, it is useful to demand to know what he means by this word, in good Socratic fashion, and to press him on it, thus putting him into the defensive. It does not take much to show that the word indicates nothing but a caricature of a real philosophical or political position. Generally speaking, it is better to affect a haughty indifference to these terms, rather than to permit them to drag one in the mud from which they first emerged and into which they ever must return.
It is obvious, of course, that in certain cases it is impossible to ignore or sidestep the question. Anyone who upholds the cause of White Nationalism, for instance, must sooner or later address the “race issue” directly in one way or another. And here is the real value which the intellectuals of the Right have afforded us in the candid head-on confrontation of these charges of “racism” which are so universally brought against us. But it is equally clear that if we let the matter lie at these efforts alone, we cannot hope for much success in the future; for we continue to work on the very plane established by our enemies. We remain, as it were, on “their turf,” and in a way our very participation in this debate does nothing but augment their strength. For it is they who have set the terms of battle, they who have decided its setting, and in land that they know well, for they themselves have formed it. We remain forever, that is to say, in a position of handicapped defense.
Here we find the very deepest sense of the word “censorship”—the censorship, not of speech, but of meaning and value. This is a censorship built into the structure of our language by “interested” parties. It delineates, with lines of power whose very invisibility forms an essential part of their influence, the realms of “acceptable knowledge” and “acceptable speech.” It exploits the enormous reservoirs of shame which previous religious epochs have accumulated in the human soul, and redirects them toward the quiet and subtle channeling of conversation and contemplation. And it casts into the frightful shadows all those ideas, issues, problems, and topics, which threaten or offend it.
It is evident that we cannot battle this kind of censorship without understanding its mechanisms—and turning them to our favor. It is informative to consider the Latin root of the word: it comes from the Latin verb censere, meaning “to judge, to esteem, to decree.” A word is “censorial” in this sense: it contains judgement, it imposes this judgement on sense itself. In this spirit, it is fit for us of the Right to meet censorship with censorship. As an example in the present case: it would be well for us to invent some neologism, which is the spiritual contrary of “racism” and which can be used in swift response to accusations of racism—something like “mediocritism,” for example, to indicate the beliefs of that human being, that “mediocritist,” who has become contemptibly indifferent or even hostile to human quality and excellence. It does not matter if these words mean at first nothing to those against whom we turn them; it is unessential if our interlocutors do not recognize the force of this pejorative, nor even fully comprehend its meaning. One hundred years ago the word “racism” would have fallen on similarly deaf ears. It is the intent which is key; it is the justice which we carry, the simple confident presupposition that it really is despicable, risible, and wretched to live as if there were no fundamental differences between man and man. The determined use of tactically conceived concepts on our part is the essential first step; the rest, given our consistency and our insistency, will follow of a course. And if such terms can be made a part of the popular discourse, even if only marginally, they might have a proportionate effect. The history of modernity has without any doubt shown that this is true.
The left has a decided advantage over us in the fabrication of such language; intuitive knowledge of the popular mindset is its peculiar heritage. Even beyond the fact that its historical connections to the “proletarian” movements and its present obsession with all kinds of “minority problems” and “social ills” render it naturally more sensitive to the common mindset, even its so-called “elites”—its George Soroses, its Rockefellers, its Bill Gateses, for instance—are for the most part nothing but capitalists, which is to say, common men writ large. These “elites” owe almost their entire instinct in these matters to that origin precisely—though they themselves surely take it as another aspect of their title to rule. But a true ruler, which is to say, a true aristocrat, knows as little about that kind of purely manipulative and demagogic “command” of the “people,” as an upstanding citizen knows about successfully playing the part of the strong-armed pimp in a bordello.
Nonetheless the Alt-Right in particular has demonstrated a degree of inspiration in the production and employment of novel and efficacious terms. One thinks immediately of such happy inventions as “cuckservative,” “red pill,” and “social justice warrior,” though a goodly portion of the so-called “meme war” finally has no other purport. With a deal of concentration and discipline these particular tendencies might be turned to our advantage. But it is a truism that if the archer does not know where to direct his arrow he shall never hit the target. Rather than consuming our energies in continuously defending ourselves from the veritable stream of partisan jargon which oozes eternally about our heels, we would be well counseled to attempt to fashion the active counterparts to this contumely. That requires clear knowledge of what it is we are aiming at, what kind of society and principles we are proposing to the world. It requires clarity in our spirits, and also the inner strength to which Chad Crowley recently and so justly incited us. It requires, in other words, positive points of reference.
Only if we begin to work from such an affirmative position as this, rather than from this continual and continually disadvantaged, if necessary and often creative defense, can we ever hope to put ourselves on the offensive with respect to the most powerful and most secret censorship which afflicts the contemporary era.