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Why All that Theory?


Plato and Aristotle from Raphael’s “The School of Athens”

4,336 words

There are those who wonder what the point is in discussing abstract theory while we are losing control over our society, in concrete and measurable ways, on multiple fronts, on a daily basis. For them abstract theory is just words, futile and devoid of meaning because their effect cannot be quantified, because their abundance is disproportionate to their physical effects, and because what ultimately counts for them is what transpires in empirical reality.

This is an extreme empiricist view, which is driven by a pragmatic turn of mind. However, it is not an uncommon view, given that only a small minority are capable of thinking in very abstract terms. And yet any movement that seeks fundamental political change is mostly about words, which means it is mostly about ideas. While it is true that what counts, ultimately, is what happens out there in the empirical world, what happens out there represents the culmination of a process that began once upon the time with a lone man thinking.

We can find no more obvious example than the debate about race in the West in the 21st century—probably because it is existentially the most important debate of our times. In liberal epistemology knowledge results from empirical evidence processed by reason (Kant). On that basis, one would think that, repeatedly presented with “the facts” about the diverse nature of man, even an enthusiastic proponent of equality would in time be induced to reflect and modify his views accordingly. However, this very rarely happens. The commitment to equality remains impervious to evidence. Convenient facts are given maximum weight and authority, while inconvenient facts are explained away or altogether dismissed as flawed or irrelevant. The scientific method is thus subordinated to “proving” an a priori value position, and science is thus relegated to serve yet another battlefield in the war of ideas—ideas that are entirely outside of science. The matter of who has claim to objectivity turns out to be a highly subjective matter.

The struggle for the West is not, therefore, about truth or factual accuracy, but rather about the a priori value positions that determine the interpretation of evidence. These positions are integral to the dominant moral system in our society. As such they are emotionally compelling, because morality is largely determined by emotion (something noted by Hume, a liberal). It is not “the facts,” then, but how people feel about “the facts,” and the reasons why they feel about in them in the way that they do, that defines our battleground.

The Five-Factor Model 

In discussions about race and race relations, people in the West are generally motivated by five implicit considerations:

Social validation and status are important external sources of self-esteem. Self-esteem itself is important, being an innate human need. Assuming healthy family relations, these sources may be seen as concentric circles of relatedness, whose importance is inversely related to distance from the center. In North Western European societies, which are based on the nuclear family and lack the extended kinships of Southern and Eastern societies, importance diminishes very steeply, which means they also become vulnerable very quickly. Where family relations are poor or non-existent, a person usually finds alternative sources in close friendships. There is a practical side to this, in that family and close friends also provide support networks, a sort of insurance and place to go to if things ever go wrong. Disapproval and ostracism at this level can make life very difficult, emotionally and otherwise. Hence, we will often find those with non-conforming opinions exercising restraint, attenuating their expression or denying them altogether, unless safely cocooned by the knowledge that unorthodoxy will be taken lightly.

No negligible factor is the desire to be liked by those who are admired or whose social standing is aspired to, as well as by those who would, by virtue of their reputation and social standing, provide premium sources of status and self-esteem. At one extreme, the relationship may be entirely instrumental (an employee may wish to be in good graces with his superiors, even if he has no opinion of them personally, in order to maximize his chances of a promotion) or entirely refractive (a person may get satisfaction from a personal relationship with someone who is eminent in a particular field, or from membership to an elite circle, which is more or less the same). A person may regard appreciation from high-status individuals as an external measure of personal development, and a motile life that offers possibilities of improvement is always more fulfilling than a stagnant life. Indeed, stagnation can be worse than deprivation, and there have been cases of individuals who, having attained—or stagnated into—a comfortable affluence, have given it all away in search for the thrill of redevelopment.

Nowadays there is a tendency heavily to correlate status with material success, which is the basest source of status, being just one level above brute force. Status can, however, be achieved through reputation. In the West, even in times that we perceive as degenerate, being of good character and morally sound is of paramount importance. Usury or promiscuity may no longer be stigmatized as they once were, but challenge the notion of equality and you will be met with a reaction of puritanical fervor, which will come in unison and, if the offence is deemed grave enough, without pity, with irrational fury, from all quarters, relentlessly, until your life and reputation have been ripped to pieces. When it comes to equality, we are living in puritanical times. Is it a surprise, then, that people keep certain opinions to themselves, or that they keep away from certain strands of opinion? To this we must add the fact that the ideas sanctioned by liberal morality, which is the established morality in the West, enjoy all the high-status trappings of institutional support and legitimacy, and institutionally recognised social advancement is ostensibly conditional on scrupulous obeisance to the established morality.

A significant obstacle nowadays for those with so-called “Right-wing views” is the negativity, pessimism, naysayerism, necrophilia, museology, and paranoid conspiratology popularly associated with them. The liberals and the Left like to perpetuate the idea that their critics on the Right are always miserable, have a miserable worldview, and will only bring misery if they are ever again allowed to hold power. Liberal/Left historiography has been tendentiously constructed to demonize anything that came before it. The term “Enlightenment” is an obvious example: implied is that before it there was an age of darkness—you are only “enlightened” if you agree with the liberals, or their critics on the Left, no matter how far to the Left. (After all, the liberals and their critics on the Left have common philosophical roots.) This makes perfect sense because no one wants to be miserable, be in miserable company, or live in a miserable world. It is far more tempting to think that everything is well, that everything will work out fine, and that the world is a wonderful place. Marketers know this is what sells and we see it reflected in most of their advertising campaigns.

Whites in the West today have no understanding of racial dynamics. In ordinary circumstances they may notice a person’s color, but if that color happens to be brown or black the awareness is quickly suppressed and not given great significance. Sometimes the White party effectively “forgets” that he is talking to a person of color. This is because they operate on the assumption that a brown or a black man is just a man, like any other, who happens to have more pigment on his skin, and may belong to a different culture or subculture whose impact amounts to little more than a slightly different dress sense and exotic cuisine. The White assumes that the brown or black man in front of him operates just as he does, and, automatically replicating liberal assumptions, reduces inter-racial encounters to rational, mature, free individuals transacting in the market place. Ethnocentrism, and therefore racial self-identification, is very weak among Whites. Their tendency to formulate universalist worldviews, whereby all men are created equal or in God’s image and whereby salvation is available to all men, reflects this. And it reflects this, in part, because it also affirms it as a virtue. This is not to say that Whites are not, at the same time, acutely aware of race. The exaltation of “color-blindness” to the level of virtue demands, ironically, an acute awareness of race, since treating men equally, irrespective of their color, requires actively policing behavior respective of color. Thus, “color-blindness” curls back upon itself to become a mechanism of racial self-flagellation. Thus, the sights of White marchers wearing yokes, chains, and black t-shirts moaning “So Sorry,” as an act of apology for the fact that several centuries ago a small minority of wealthy Whites, to whom most were not even distantly related, purchased black slaves from black enslavers in West Africa, who were only too happy to get rid of their vanquished, rebels, and psychopaths in this way.

By contrast, ethnocentrism is much stronger among other racial groups, for whom it is a necessary, healthy, and socially sanctioned behavior. Theirs is a particularist, not a universalist morality, so the good is what is good for them. Where a brown or black man repeats liberal nostrums of racial equality, he does it for purely instrumental reasons: he knows this is an effective tool for extracting resources and concessions from the Whites. In the West, the White man is his best friend because the White man is his worst enemy. The brown or black man who arrives as settler in the West, therefore, quickly learns to master the basic language of victimhood, so helpfully supplied by the theoreticians of equality. The brown or black man who was born in the West is, in turn, macerated in this language from day one. Any conversation about race and race relations is thus defined by this dynamic, where Whites are preoccupied by a desire to prove their moral virtue (to themselves and to others) while the rest look for ways to exploit that preoccupation to their advantage. It is difficult not to imagine that the latter group privately marvel at the idiocy of the Whites.

Liberal Morality and the Five-Factor Model

All of the above considerations are, in turn, subordinated to the dominant morality, which in the West is liberal morality. In the latter we can identify two strands, which are in opposition: one that favors liberty, another that favors equality. In both cases equality is regarded as an absolute moral good. However, the egalitarian strand is nearly hegemonic, while the libertarian strand, which is closer to classical liberalism and is therefore a form of liberal fundamentalism, is a critique.

The aim of liberalism was to “liberate” man from anything that is transcendent or external to him. The moral goodness of equality is attained in this way, for if one abrogates the transcendent and the external, one is left with a collection of individuals, with generic humans, who are little more than abstractions in a purely material world they must negotiate through the use of reason. This is, in essence, a secularization of the part of Christian metaphysics that views man as created in God’s image, each with a soul that is equally eligible for salvation. (This is not to say that Christians are to “blame” for liberalism; liberals were seeking to liberate themselves and man in general from Christianity, but also religion in general.) Thus, equality is the more fundamental value because it is the first consequence of liberation. This creates a self-destructive logic, whereby inequality is taken as a sign of a lack of liberty (obviously, since inequality results from hierarchy, which implies levels of subordination), signaling the need to restrict freedom in order to prevent those hierarchies from occurring. The resulting circular logic, whereby freedom is restricted in order to increase equality and thereby freedom, is the counterpart of its twin, whereby equality is good because it is good for equality. The pursuit of liberty then ends up subordinated to the pursuit of equality, which is why libertarians constitute a minority pressure group, and why the egalitarian state eventually morphs into a totalitarian state, in the grip of a secular puritanism.

In the context of race and race relations in the West, mention has been made elsewhere of the limited value of hard data in the effort to instigate policy changes at institutional and government levels. Because knowledge is always evaluated and interpreted in accordance to a moral code, no amount of empirical evidence relating to the science of race, and therefore to the fundamental inequality of man, will make any difference so long as the dominant moral code is one that enthrones the absolute moral goodness of equality. In a society, such as ours, where moral abstractions are important, where individuals sort themselves micrologically on the basis of shared moral values, where a man like Barry Horne becomes a vegetarian and immolates himself to advance the rights of other species, people derive much of their self-esteem and sense of well-being through their being thought of as a “good person.” If equality is an absolute good, then inequality is the ultimate evil. Even if one advocates “equal rights for Whites,” the act of singling Whites out as a special category needing attention indicates that the advocate regards Whites as more than simply generic humans, that they are, in other words, imbued with valuable characteristics not present in others; this implies inequality and therefore immorality. Perceived immorality results in disapproval from family and friends, in not being like or being liked by high-status individuals, in loss of social standing, and in feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. The consequence is that “the facts” are trumped every time.

Flipping the Table 

Any movement for social change can be divided into hierarchical fields of operation. At the highest level are the “philosophers,” because these influence the strategists, who influence the organizers, who influence the activists, who influence the man in the street. (All are necessary parts of a whole.) A slogan on a placard, a talking point, or even a Molotov cocktail flying through the air en route to a particular window in a particular building, all have a body of theory behind it, and represent a distillation of a complex of concepts and values that originated at the level of abstraction. Millions of words are poured out at all levels before that slogan is painted on the placard, that talking point is used in a conversation, or that bottle is filled with unleaded petrol. And it may well be that the balaclava’d rioter does not understand a word of the theoretical texts that constitute the intellectual foundation of the movement to which he belongs, but, unless he is engaged in random violence, he will know instinctively, through exposure to the mass of words around him, and through the feelings and attitudes inspired by them, which window to target with his Molotov cocktail and why it must be that window in that particular building and not another.

The reason we must think in terms of abstract moral theory, rather than a simple desire for power or loot, is that our society attaches importance to moral justification. The desired end result may be a change in practical politics, but politics is the art of the possible, and the realm of possible is delimited by the dominant morality. And we think of morality as a series of emotionally charged abstractions, then the project of fundamental political change in our society cannot begin anywhere else but on defining how we are to feel about a certain set of abstractions. Unless this is worked out first, action at any other level further down the hierarchy may prove futile and even counter-productive. Ultimately, a project is a narrative that tells a story, and the future prospects of the project hinge first of all and at the most basic level on being able to tell the whole story till the end to people who want to listen and want to be seen listening because they feel really good about it.

We can think of liberal morality as a game designed by an opponent in such a way that he wins every time. It is not quite like that, obviously, because liberals are convinced that their morality is the best morality there is, but the net effect is the same. In such circumstances, it makes little sense to play this game. It makes better sense to flip the table, battle it out in the bar room, and start a new game.

Reinventing the Wheel 

In some ways metapolitics is about reinventing the wheel. A common objection that is made to the metapolitical project is that reinventing the (morality) wheel takes too long and that we do not have that kind of time, because our demographic decline puts a time horizon that is closer than the time horizon we would need to do our own “march through the institutions.” This objection, therefore, sees metapolitics as a form of dropping out, a retreat into a comfortable irrelevance. The error objectors made is to assume that we are starting from zero. This may have been the case for the liberals, because they were starting more or less from zero, in that they were breaking with tradition (although they remained European); and it may have also been the case with the Marxists, because they were breaking everything. This is not the case for us, because our ideas are ancient. They have been dominant for most of our history, albeit in a variety of different ways, depending on location and period. In other words, we are not talking about abolishing ourselves and becoming something alien; we are not talking about changing the gene, so to speak, only how it is expressed. What is needed is a way of thinking and feeling that remains profoundly European, but which in our times offers a way forward, beyond modern liberalism.

The foundations are there and even those have a long history: tradition was given a modern formulation beginning two centuries ago. It may have been mostly forgotten or pushed to the margins, but it is there, being redeveloped, repurposed, and adapted as we speak. And they have already been in popular culture for several decades, even if on the margins. The major question pending is its moral justification. Everything follows from that, although it has to be said that artistic and literary expression is implicated in the justification process, simply because they have the power to produce altered emotional states.

The conditions are also there. Liberalism is in decline, morphing into oppression, catalyzed by its incorporation of Marxist criticism, and therefore falling into discredit. As a creative political force it is dead, condemned to an endless reiteration of its mantras because it has nothing left to say. The creative force of rebellion, the real action, is now on the outside.

It may be useful to imagine ourselves looking back at our present moment in history from a future time, maybe a century or two hence, when our preoccupations have become irrelevant. Future historians will likely interpret our present, and our past, in ways that make sense of the outcome. A successful reassertion of European tradition will produce likely produce a narrative where the post-liberal moment is not seen to begin in our century, but as a culmination of a process that began centuries before. In such a scenario, liberalism would be seen as an anti-traditional phase or period, a sort of deviation that ran its course before it was devoured by a resurgence of tradition, out of which a new syntheses emerged. Whether this scenario or another comes to pass, however, is entirely up to what we do today.

The Myth of Theoryless Liberalism 

Some commentators argue that liberalism does not have a theory. This is partly because triumphant liberalism has, as Alexander Dugin points out, become a practice; because it is no longer a creative political force, and, having defeated its challengers, crushing one and partially absorbing another, its assumptions are now “common sense” and taken for granted. The myth of theorylessness is partly due also to the obvious and ever-growing divergence between theory and practice: egalitarian liberals preach the moral goodness of equality, even to the point of committing mass violence, but then segregate themselves into exclusive neighborhoods, à la Bill Clinton. Yet none of this indicates an absence of theory, only a triumph and human weakness in the face of impossible or impractical ideals.

The fact is that there is a great body of theory. Classical liberal epistemology, which is invisible because hegemonic, comes from the Enlightenment traditions of rationalism (René Descartes) and empiricism (Francis Bacon), which followed the scientific revolution (although they go back to the ancient Greeks) and were finally synthesized by Immanuel Kant, once a rationalist who was later inspired by the skeptical empiricism of David Hume. The conception of the human mind as a tabula rasa comes from John Locke. Social contract theory comes from Thomas Hobbes, who believed in the natural equality of men, individual rights, and the liberal interpretation of the law (according to which, all that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed). The idea that markets automatically channel human self-interest toward socially desirable ends, a central justification for laissez-faire economic philosophy, comes from Adam Smith. A not unrelated idea, the utilitarian axiom that greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong, which permeates anything from government policy to manufacturing, comes from Jeremy Bentham. And so on. These ideas are very familiar to anyone who lives in the West, affecting their daily thinking and activity, even if they do not know where the ideas came from, who came up with them, and where they are written down. They are, nevertheless, disseminated throughout Western higher education, even if, in some cases, via Marxist criticism.

Marxist theory is essential to understanding modern liberalism, which is a synthesis of Marxism and Classical Liberalism. The Frankfurt School of Social Research, on whom Pat Buchanan (a liberal in the classical mold) blames the decline of contemporary America, was instrumental in the achievement of that synthesis. The Frankfurt School itself was a synthesis of Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis. They are associated with the radical Left, even though Theodor Adorno, one of its principal theorists, was an elitist and in some ways a Right-wing deviation. Indeed, some of the theorists of the Frankfurt school were critics of Marxism, and we must mention Herbert Marcuse, a key influence in the sexual “liberation” of the 1960s youth culture. (There is hardly any need to dwell on Freudian psychoanalysis, many of whose phrases and pseudoscientific concepts have entered the English language and are ceaselessly repeated in popular culture: “ego,” “anal retentiveness,” “Freudian slip,” “oedipal complex,” etc.) Marxism provides an important foundation to modern race relations and postcolonial theory (Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak), where the colored men and women from the former colonies, now colonists seeking to colonies the homelands of their penitent Western colonizers, have been reconceptualized as an oppressed class, who must now be given an equal legal and cultural footing in Western societies. Post-colonial theory is permeated with post-structuralist methodologies. Homi K. Bhabha, who was the first to apply these methodologies in the field, was influenced by Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis, and Michel Foucault’s notion of discursivity.

In Western higher education, all of the above-named intellectuals, plus a great deal more in that same Freudo-Marxian tradition, supply the analytical frameworks that are used across the humanities: feminism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, post-structuralism, neo-Marxism, and incestuous hybrids of the above. One cannot do a humanities course at university without encountering them and being required to master them and use them. Deviation is discouraged and may result in academic failure. Eventually, the students passing through Western universities take up jobs. Some achieve positions of influence, and some within those go on to teach the next generation, thus replicating the paradigm. Even if most forget almost everything they were taught, and could not five years later even vaguely summarize Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, their feelings and attitudes will have been molded by the moral suppositions underpinning that entire body of liberalism and Freudo-Marxian criticism. They will find the idea that there may be a moral case against equality completely unimaginable, and will, if challenged, instantly reproduce as arguments every liberal cliché they have ever heard. It is therefore important that there be a coherent body of counter-theory, founded on articulable moral suppositions, that can effectively challenge these clichés, halting their replication through inducing self-doubt, soul-searching, and shame among those infected by them.

Because, as we have seen, empirical evidence is interpreted in whatever way satisfies the dominant moral theory, this challenge cannot be accomplished with facts and statistics. The challenge must first be constructed at the level of theory.

Mindless Collapse 

The rickety state of zombie liberalism should not be taken to mean, as is often the case among Right-wingers, that all we need now is a cataclysmic event—the so-called “Collapse”—to catalyze a rupture. As I outlined in my talk in Sweden [2] last July, a collapse can take any number of shapes, most of which are unrecognizable. A collapse also offers no guaranteed outcome. As we saw in London and elsewhere in August 2011, without a morally justified worldview to direct righteous action and establish an objective (i.e., what comes after the collapse), a collapse event will produce no more than mindless arson, rioting, and looting, followed by suppression, arrests, and prosecutions.