Beyond the Spectrum

IT IS EVERYWHERE increasingly felt that there is something about the old left-right political dichotomy which does not quite “fit” our times. To name but the most celebrated example of its shortcomings: it fails to give consistent account for certain historical political phenomena, like National Socialism and Fascism. As these political forms appear to adopt elements of both sides of the traditional spectrum, they seem to defy being plotted upon it. The mere existence of this difficulty is already very telling, for it indicates that something has shifted in the historical ground beneath us which it would be well for us to comprehend. And such comprehension clearly cannot come from the artificial reworking of an inherently inadequate scheme.
      Once one perceives the limitations of the traditional spectrum, the temptation arises to abandon it altogether as obsolete. This temptation should be resisted. Simply because the “left-right” spectrum is not universally applicable to all political forms and ideas does not mean it is wholly without merit. More specifically, analysis of its proper scope can be greatly informative for the true Right, for it can help us to account for numerous salient features of post-Enlightenment politics which are not always easy to explain. More than that, it can aid us in more thoroughly comprehending our own relation to those same politics.
      Proper awareness of the origins of this spectrum must be the root of any attempt to comprehend it. It is generally believed that the terms “left” and “right” owe their genesis to nothing more than an historical accident: on the eve of the French Revolution, as the forces of subversion were gnawing at the very foot of the throne, it became the practice of those loyal to the King to gather at the right of the National Assembly. These were the same loyalists, it goes without saying, who were later exiled and massacred en masse during the Terror. That surely forms an inauspicious beginning for all subsequent adhesion to the “right,” and we shall have occasion to consider this fact in greater depth.
      It is apparent that those who subsequently adopted the term “right,” or to whom that term was applied, were not supporters of the crown per se, for in most places there were no longer any crowns to support. The concept was slowly transformed; the “right” became synonymous with any attempt to preserve the “here and now” against the efforts of the left to upheave the same. The “right” has therefore from the first been associated with resistance—or, as it is commonly put, conservation—and the left with change—or, as it likes to call it, progress. For the same reason, one associates the right with “reaction” and the left with “revolution.” For any proponent of the true Right, the very term “conservation” in this connection is revelatory; for it supposes simple adherence to the status quo, however “progressed” that status quo might objectively be. The conventional conservative takes his bearings, not by any transcendent or super-historical values, but rather by some more or less provincial “tradition” which is arbitrarily posited as the standard. And because this entire process has historically emerged within modern political forms, we are necessarily speaking of an effort to conserve a given phase of Enlightenment development, which therefore contains within it the germ of the specifically Enlightenment disease of “progressiveness.”
      The natural long-term consequences of this state of affairs become appallingly evident in retrospect. The modern “conservative” from the very first has yielded the principle to the left, and for that reason cannot in any legitimate way resist the rising tide. The left moves ever confidently forward toward its ideal; the right draws back in mere partial negation of the same. And as ever in the conflict between those who proceed out of an active disposition, and those who react merely out of resistance and mistrust, the overarching historical movement of the latest centuries has unambiguously favored the “affirmative” side, the left.
      This permits us to understand several of the most notable features of the contemporary right. First of all, its stunning inability to resist, to hold its ground, to oppose change. This failure is not entirely due to the particular vices of our contemporary conservative politicasters (though we should be the last to deny their vices); it is in fact more fundamentally due to a contradiction inbuilt in the very concept of “conservation” in the modern era. The modern conservative is none other that man who voluntarily adopts modernity halfway, only to rest stupefied when others carry what to its natural conclusion.
      More: it is a subject of continual marvelment amongst us that the left should be so much less divisive than the “right.” The communists are but seldom condemned by moderate leftists, while our more moderate conservative brethren show absolutely no scruples in denouncing us at every turn. But given the observations above, we at once perceive the reason for this. In truth, those are no “brethren” to us at all, for they are united to us at most in negation of the left, but never in affirmation of a positive political vision. We reject the very social and political forms which the “conservative” of the conventional right would like most to “conserve”; we aim at a society which would perforce supplant those forms. Far from belonging to the “same side as them,” as one is led to expect by the monodimensional left-right spectrum, we are in fact contestants for the same ground. It is no accident then that so much of our harshest critique should be directed against them, and it is not in the least surprising that they should so furiously resist us—as is indeed their modus operandi. The path to the true Right in the present day is not via conservation—but conversion.
      Numerous attempts have been made to preserve the purportedly universal validity of the left-right spectrum by refurbishing or reinterpreting it. All such attempts neglect the historically relative nature of the spectrum, and for this reason most of them smack of blatant artificiality. One of the most effective of these attempts (because it keeps nearest the phenomena) comes by asserting that the root conflict between the the left and the right is over the question of equality: by this account, the left embraces human equality, and the right rejects it. This explains why Fascism and National Socialism, for instance, which evidently have nothing whatever in common with, say, American Republicans or European Social Democrats, are grouped together with these milder forms on a single side of the spectrum.
      There is no doubt that this interpretation eliminates numerous difficulties. Nonetheless, it is much more valid as an explanation for the left than for the conventional right; for that right has always been, from any supra-Occidental vantage, a hodgepodge affair, irreducible to any single idea or principle. It is difficult if not impossible to say, for instance, how opposition to abortion, support for the freedom to bear arms, or insistence on equality before the law—all of which have been in various places and times strongly associated with the political right—have anything to do with hierarchy, or in any way challenge the doctrine of equality. In many definite cases the political right has based its ideas and its policies on nothing but the idea of a radical human equality à la Christianity. And indeed, the “far” or “extreme” right has often been associated with religious fundamentalism, which of course has nothing at all to do with Fascism or National Socialism. Thus even by this interpretation one must still explain why the right should be so heterogeneous compared to the left.
      Account can be given for this, but only if we are willing to posit that the “left-right spectrum,” far from representing a universal scale of political thought, is in fact merely the description of specifically modern politics. The left is nothing but the continuation of Enlightenment currents, which are indeed fundamentally egalitarian. The conventional right on the other hand represents simple resistance to the left, and the forms of that resistance have naturally depended on historical and geographical contingencies. The conventional right therefore has never possessed any universally defining characteristic, if not the abstract and essentially variable principle of “conservation.” The conventional right cannot be said to embrace “hierarchy” or “anti-egalitarianism” save as these ideas happen to coincide with local traditions. This lack of overarching principle is indeed yet another reason the right has historically been weaker than the left, and why it has continued to cede ground to the same up to the present day.
      If we see the “left” and the “right” as essentially modern terms which apply exclusively to modern political dynamics, we can easily explain why they are so utterly inadequate for comprehending the Fascists and the National Socialists. These last regimes are nothing if not the most anti-modern political forms ever to issue in the modern period. They confound the left-right spectrum at every point, because, in base and essence, they reject the Enlightenment presuppositions of that spectrum. Or put more completely: the points at which they coincide with Enlightenment schema are either accidental, or else are due to the hesitation or inconsistency of their practitioners and theoreticians. The same can be said for the true Right; the true Right is a political worldview which emerges from principles which are radically different from those embodied in the Enlightenment; it therefore represents a “positive rejection” of both progressivism and egalitarianism. For this reason one refers to it as the true Right; for it is the truest, deepest, and most consistent opponent of the left—but therefore also of most forms of the conventional “right.”
      But if it it is in fact true that we do not belong to the “left-right spectrum” at all, must we then conclude that it is inaccurate, misleading, or undesirable for us to adopt the epithet “right” to our cause? Is it really merely an historical error which has given birth to the name “Right”?
      On the contrary; this name is as significant as it is rhetorically efficacious. For reasons we cannot here consider, but which stem from the historical dynamics we have outlined in this essay, the modern right has entered a period of terminal crisis. The “progress” which the Enlightenment set into motion has achieved such success and has attained such a heightened tempo in our day that it has shown forth the poverty of the very notion of “conservation” in modernity and the inherent element of acquiescence in the soul of the conventional right. The right in consequence of these revelations is collapsing, and the most evident symptom of its collapse is the rising “populism” in our day, which almost everywhere associates itself with the “extreme right,” despite the fact that the rebellion of the people as “proletariat” was historically associated with the extreme left. The conventional right, which means nothing if it does not mean conservation, is today forced to become “progressive” and more and more to seek “change.” That is surest sign of its internal decay.
      The collapse of the conventional right, quite beyond any of its wider ramifications, leaves a void within our contemporary politics; and indeed if it were not for this fact, our cause, the cause of the true Right, should certainly be doomed from the start. But there is the chance for us now to arise into the shell-like space which once housed the conventional right, and to inherit its failing realm. The use of the term “Right” to describe our politics has indispensable merit as an indicator and a lure to the best of the disillusioned “conservatives” who are even now becoming aware of the inevitably self-sabotaging inadequacies of their old ideology. The moniker “Right” serves as the upward road toward that higher view of the world which might induce an awakening, in souls prepared for such awakening, to the fact that modernity as modernity must be overcome, and that new positive political forms, proposed by a finally unified front of the true Right, are now urgently in order.
      But there are reasons for the rightness of the name “Right” which extend well beyond this essentially pragmatic question. It is no accident that the word “right” in English carries a double meaning, signifying at once both a spacial relation, and also “correctness,” “justice,” “goodness.” The two concepts have eternally been wed to each other, and not only in English; English is simply fortunate enough to possess a single word for them both. The “right side” has always been the good side, the honest side, the virtuous side; the “left side” has always been the questionable, the suspicious, the dark. Our word “dexterity” comes from the Latin word for right, dexter, which derives in turn from the Ancient Greek; “sinister” comes from the identical Latin word for “left.” Even the loyalists to the doomed regime of Louis XVI did not place themselves arbitrarily at the right of the Assembly: prior to modernity, the “right hand” was always and everywhere associated with just power and fair rule. Iustitia and Themis, the Roman and Greek goddesses of Justice, are traditionally depicted as holding the scales in their left hands, and the sword in their right; the right hand thus was responsible for meting out justice. Christ himself was to sit at the right hand of the Father—the same position which was given to Athena by Zeus. The reasons for the link between these apparently unrelated concepts fall beyond our purview here, but it is enough for us to suppose that that link is not wholly arbitrary. And thus it can in all justice be said that we of the Right propose not merely a new “right” as against an old “left,” but rather a concept of right as such, an idea of justice and a sense precisely of “right and wrong” both in society and also in one’s own personal mores and manners. This concept draws from deep roots and traditions which long antedate the modern era. And so by its very nature it must utterly transcend the meager borders of the threadbare modern schema.
      Given all of this, it becomes evident that the true Right can as little be located on the traditional left-right spectrum as the abstract idea of “legitimacy” can be plotted on the color scale; the two phenomena are simply incommensurable. From our vantage beyond that spectrum, we are capable of understanding its nature and limitations with a degree of perspicacity which is uncommon to those who dwell within it. That is our right place with respect to it. We must really cease making the fatal error of foisting Enlightenment notions upon ourselves. It is worn garb to these new limbs; it neither fits nor flatters us.

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Cultura animae

IN THE STRUGGLE which presently engages us, and upon which our very future rides, it is imperative that we keep stern vigil over our tongues. The words we have at our disposal are our weapons in the metapolitical aspect of our war. And I am afraid that too often we take the vice of riding into battle wielding arms that were forged by our very enemies, and which they are therefore sure to ply more effectively than we shall ever do.
      I limit myself to a single example taken from the multitude possible, albeit an example which has long seemed to me of special importance: the use, rather say abuse, which the word “culture” receives in our day. This word, once a term of noblest significance, has become as effaced as the meanest coin, and passes freely from hand to hand in the most banal exchanges imaginable. Yet it is we who have been impoverished thereby.
      In its present use, the term “culture” is extended to every form of communal human existence. Every human group of any size, composition, duration, or quality is automatically supposed to possess its peculiar “culture.” A tribe of cannibals, the countries of Renaissance Europe, the protesters moiling idly outside the state building, and the local bar of drunkards—each of these groups is understood as having its peculiar and identifying “culture.” One speaks freely of “popular culture,” “primitive culture,” “drug culture,” and other such noxious concoctions, without perceiving for a moment the gross miscarriage of justice they represent.
      To reconquer our right perspective, let us return to the origins. The word “culture” derives from the Latin; it makes its first recorded appearance in Cicero, who in his Tusculanae disputationes speaks of philosophy as a cultura animi, a culture of the soul. The metaphor employed by that old master of oratory is at once precise and enlightening. Culture is a means of improving the human being, not only physically, but spiritually; it therefore signifies a process, one in which deliberation, discretion, knowledge, experience, and awareness all play fundamental part. It implies value, a sense of high and low, of human perfection and human imperfection. It implies effort over long periods of time—not the act of a moment, but rather the work of seasons, years, decades, even lifetimes. It implicates reason on the one hand (the conscious deliberation which is demanded in such effort) and nature on the other (the peculiar quality of the soul in question). It is to be contrasted precisely with the wild, the fallow, the untended, the neglected, the entire accidental portion of the soul, which our modern term encompasses precisely.
      Culture was historically considered to be the unique preserve of a few high civilizations (the fateful and dubious division between culture and civilization, as expressed most notably in the work of Spengler, came later). Owing to the valorization of art which accompanied certain important epochs of the modern era, the word culture came to indicate also the aesthetic aspects of civilization, which have fruitfully striven for primacy over Western culture since its very birth. Cultures were thus understood as belonging either to the noblest extinct societies of classical antiquity, or else the most illustrious extant civilizations—civilizations exclusively of Europe and delimited regions of Asia. Up until very recently, to refer this term “culture” to, say, sub-Saharan Africa or pre-European Australia or America would immediately have been recognized as the laughable absurdity it objectively is. We, alas, are not so keen of our vision; we pay the price for it daily.
      The modern decadence of the idea of culture imposes a tacit equivalency between all cultures. Consider for a moment the psychological effects of this. How must it alter one’s estimation of European culture in particular, to believe that culture is but an instance of something which exists whole and complete in every human society? To see this problem more clearly, consider the sensible distinction between the words society and civilization. All men everywhere live in a kind of human society, be they the Bushmen of Africa, the Bedouin of Arabia, or the banshees of Antifadom; thus no man feels proud to live in a society as such. One can however feel proud to live in a civilization as such, for these other groups all lack civilization. Nowadays, in noteworthy contrast to the past, “culture” is understood every bit as universally as society: every human being, even the most primitive or wretched, possesses a culture. By our contemporary idea, one can at best feel proud of one’s peculiar culture; but one runs the risk of esteeming arbitrarily, on account of the mere accident of one’s birth.
      The way was paved for this essentially egalitarian understanding of culture by early anthropology and sociology, which in their initial attempt to produce a rigorous and objective science of human societies sought to comprehend human things without reference to “value judgements.” This attempt could do nothing but paralyze such social concepts, as for instance culture, which are founded essentially on value. In the nineteenth century an effort was made to resist this aridification of culture: one began to speak of “high” and “low” culture. Matthew Arnold is perhaps the most celebrated spokesperson for this attempt; he must then be regarded as the foremost symbol of its failure. We shall not dwell on his default, informative though it be. The inconsistency and weakness of the “conservatives” of our era is too well known to occasion much surprise; nor is this the place to analyze the deeper reasons for it.
      The problem with the Arnoldian argument can be briefly explicated as follows. By supposing that the difference between high and low “culture” is the unique legitimate cultural distinction, one thereby presupposes the universality of “culture”: one allows that all societies possess “culture,” the unique difference between them being their respective quality. The same logic applies to the idea of society itself, but the situation is complicated in the case of culture by culture’s inherent and inseparable connection to value. For it is evident that most men judge a “culture’s” quality (or a society’s, for that matter) on the basis of those values which they have been furnished by their own “culture.” Anyone who speaks of his own “high culture” thus appears to be the mere subjective advocate of the land of his birth. More often than not, one’s presumed right to adjudicate the rank value of various “cultures” is simply the consequence of one’s ability to impose one’s “culture” on other societies—the result, that is to say, not of any inherent superiority of one’s “culture,” but only of the greater military strength of one’s society, which, especially in our technological age, has nothing essential to do with its culture. (Anyone who believes otherwise must perforce consider the United States of America in its present incarnation to be the highest “culture” which has ever existed. Whatever else one might say of such a proposition, it is utterly incompatible with any kind of truly aristocratic thought.)
      This state of affairs gradually undermines the arguments proposed by the defenders of “high culture” until they are finally reduced to mouthing the feeblest apologia for their merest preferences. “High culture” comes to mean the artistic and intellectual achievements which a given society arbitrarily holds to be of particular worth or quality: the idea of culture falls prey to the creeping relativism of our times. We should not for a moment close our eyes to what this transformation has meant: in rendering the word culture universal, we have robbed it of all its highest significance.
      The problem can be clearly observed in a comparison of the word culture as it is used today with the word in its older acceptation. The word today is in fact the exact inversion of what it once was. Today “culture” is taken as a spontaneous growth of the human soul; whereas the word culture itself indicates deliberate care, conscious development, or careful preparation of the spirit. It is today taken as being essentially arbitrary, dependent on the accidents of local usage and custom; whereas the word itself indicates nurture in accord with the specific nature of the crop involved—with the specific essence or race of men in question, which is the cause and the not the consequence of usage and custom. Culture today is taken as a term indicating any and all societies; but the term itself exclusively indicates high societies, societies of a very rare warp and woof—societies which have progressed so far beyond the merely economic concern with survival that they can afford to embark upon the adventure of the spirit. The word is taken today to implicate no judgement whatever; but in point of fact it is essentially a term of implicit and inevitable estimation and discrimination. Indeed, culture, as it was originally understood, was precisely a term of distinction, and for this reason alone could be regarded as objective: some societies possess culture, others do not, and conflating the one category with the other is equivalent to an act of conceptual vandalism or revolution.
      As for the concept which the word “culture” is now generally used to indicate (i.e., the simple aggregate of ways and practices of a given human group or society), there are a handful of perfectly adequate substitutes: “customs,” “ethos,” “usages,” even the word “society” itself, all quite adequately fill the requisite definition. There is no need here to despoil an excellent word, enslaving it to menial uses for which others are by nature fit. We gain nothing thereby, and we lose the use of an inimitable word.
      And truly, here we find the most horrid aspect of our modern quandary: thanks to the success of this linguistic travesty, we no longer possess a term to express the higher meaning which the word culture once contained. An excellent word has been robbed from us by the wretched metapolitical and linguistic disease of modern egalitarianism. It falls to us to take it back. I could not more strongly urge our kin and comrades to restamp this word “culture” with the power and nobility it once proudly bore, and to use it with due discretion and with meet pride, as a term to describe the heights principally of European artistic and philosophical achievements.
      It is not sufficient to resist the erosion of our language, as prior generations have attempted— and failed—to do. We must in fact rebuild the very foundations of our speech.
      It behooves us to look more carefully at our language in general, and to engage in the kind of etymological research which has here been indicated. Anyone who believes this work to be of secondary importance would do well to spend even half an hour researching the manipulation of language effected by progressive and egalitarian thinkers in the past five centuries, and to reflect on the manifold and profound consequences this has had in our own day. There can be little doubt that one of the most insidious and effective forms of egalitarian revolution is found in the reduction of terms of distinction to mere terms of inclusion—the transformation of high and select words, into broad and universal ones. Not only are low things thereby inflated with an exaggerated and utterly unmerited worth, but we non-egalitarian thinkers are quite literally hobbled in our rhetoric: for this linguistic debasement tears from human speech the power of so much as expressing loftier ideas.
      We, who would reinstate the heights to human life, who would indeed build our castles at those bracing reaches, will not proceed far on those parlous paths if we must drag such low usances behind us like lead shackles. We must shed the bad linguistic habits of democratic times, and grant ourselves the free dexterity of a higher speech. We must deliberately and consciously work our linguistic alchemy, transforming leaden terms of inclusion once again into golden terms of distinction. Truly, this is the first indispensable step toward a reawakening in our day of culture, as it is rightly understood.

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