If You’re So Trad, Why Don’t You Move to Afghanistan?Nicholas R. Jeelvy
Soon after the fall of Kabul, I witnessed an online exchange between a conservative and libertarian. The conservative commented that America had been weakened by her liberal stance towards degeneracy, whereas the Taliban were hardy, traditional men whose strength emanated precisely from their traditional approach to social matters. The libertarian then flippantly asked the conservative, “When will you be moving to the traditionalist utopia?”
The conservative in question was of the European sort, not steeped in the asinine self-deceptions of Anglo-American conservatism about “values,” and treated the question as patently ridiculous. The libertarian took this treatment of the question to mean that his interlocutor’s revealed preferences did not match his stated ideology and declared victory, because he “owned” his hypocritical opponent, as one owns a lib.
The conservative’s reaction, which the libertarian took to be hypocrisy and the conservative took as so obvious as to not need explanation, is that Afghan traditions aren’t the same as Western traditions, and that tradition isn’t an ideology like liberalism and Communism, which can be practiced by any people or in any country. Whereas Communism should theoretically look the same in Russia as it does in Cuba, or liberalism look the same in America as Japan (the reality is quite different, of course), traditional societies cannot even theoretically look the same. A traditional America would look nothing like traditional Afghanistan, and of course, when America was a traditional society, it looked nothing like Afghanistan – either then, or today.
What I suspect the libertarian was trying to do was run the old, “If you’re so Communist, why don’t you move to North Korea?” argument. A Communist who doesn’t go to live in a Communist country theoretically reveals a preference for living in a non-Communist nation. Likewise, the old retort to anarchists of any kind — but especially libertarians — was that if they hate the government so much, they should move to Somalia, which doesn’t have a functioning government. This is not actually true of Somalia, however, because it only lacks a functioning government by Western standards. When judged by the standards of Afro-Semitic, IQ-60 shitholes, the warlords and pirates of Somalia do actually provide a functioning and more or less stable government.
But it is a devastating counter-argument to any libertarian because it forces them to admit that they wouldn’t want to live in a non-white country. Indeed, many non-white countries are significantly freer of government these days than white ones, mostly because centralized and powerful government requires a concentration of high-IQ bureaucrats to staff its institutions, something which is sorely lacking in these countries. Of course, the people in such countries aren’t actually freer, merely enslaved (sometimes quite brutally) by private actors, militias, warlords, terrorists, or multinational corporations.
Now, if you’re the James Lindsey type of mouth-breathing lolbert who’s trying to gatekeep against spicier forms of Right-wing thought, “If you’re so trad, why don’t you move to Afghanistan?” should theoretically be a devastating own, especially if you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid and actually believe that the nationalist Right is “socialist” because we want “big government” and don’t believe in economic and moral anarchy. If you’re coming from the position of Anglo-American-style conservatism or libertarianism and refuse to believe in the immutability and innate nature of human characteristics, of their differences across peoples and nations and in the need for rootedness and belonging to a community, then yes, the adherents of this strange ideology called “traditionalism” are hypocrites if they do not move to traditional countries such as Afghanistan.
If, however, you understand that people are not equal across the world, that man is not a blank slate, that human nature is inborn and immutable once a man is born, that a fulfilled life requires that one is rooted in a specific time and place and bound to specific people, then you see the reasons why someone who wants a more traditional government and society would — unless they were Afghan — not want to move to Afghanistan. It would be clear to you that only Afghans could be happy and fulfilled living in a traditional Afghan society, whereas Americans would require a traditional American society in order to be happy and fulfilled. The conservative from the exchange I observed felt that there was no need to state this, obviously believing that man always prefers to be with his own and that this tendency is so strong that it often overrides ideological considerations. Being Macedonian, I am happiest in Macedonia and within the context of my own culture, the State’s official ideology be damned. We see this revealed preference in Communists who don’t want to live in Cuba or North Korea, or in libertarians who refuse to live in Somalia.
In this sense, tradition is not an ideology but rather a state of being, or a mode of living for a type of people. What our grandfathers did, we will do; their ways will be our ways. That is tradition. There is no Traditionalist Manifesto, we don’t have a Marx, and a traditionalist state doesn’t have an ideology — it is merely the organic outgrowth of a way in which a people has ordered its affairs historically and today.
But even the Dissident Right makes this mistake. A lot of the cheering for the Taliban was simply delight in globohomo’s defeat, but at least a part of it was rooted in the notion that since our ideology is tradition, we — or fellow traditionalists, at any rate — who won in Kabul. There are two sources of this thinking on the Dissident Right. The first is capital-T Traditionalism, as proposed by René Guénon and Julius Evola, while the second is the idea of GNON, as proposed by Nick Land and propagated by neoreactionaries and the HBD crowd.
I cannot criticize the Traditionalists better than our very own Collin Cleary, who in his essay on Heidegger and the Traditionalists wrote that
[t]hough Guénon contrasts the position of the modern freethinker to the Traditionalist, Heidegger would doubtless argue that there is a fundamental identity between them. The freethinker imagines that he has freed himself from any cultural-religious context and become a kind of intellectual or spiritual cosmopolitan. Yet the Traditionalist thinks the exact same thing. The only difference is that the freethinker believes he has cast off religion or “spirituality” itself, whereas the Traditionalist imagines that he adheres to a decontextualized, ahistorical, and universal spiritual construct called “Tradition.” This standpoint too is fundamentally modern.
One might object, however, that Guénon’s decision to convert to Islam and “go native” in Cairo, where he spent the last twenty years of his life, indicates that he was aware that tradition could not be a free-floating abstraction, and that to be a true Traditionalist one had to choose a living tradition and immerse oneself in it. This is true, as a statement of Guénon’s views. But the very idea that one can choose a tradition buys into the modern conception of the autonomous self who may, from a standpoint of detachment from any cultural or historical context, survey the different traditions and select one. It is no use here to point out that all Muslims must, in a sense, “choose” Islam, as it is not an ethnic religion but a creedal one, whose faith all adherents must profess, and to which anyone may convert. This is a valid point, but a superficial one. Islam emerged from a cultural and historical context quite alien to the West, and which no Westerner may ever truly enter.
Some time ago, I saw a meme which critiques the hippy-dippy view that “all religions are the same,” which is rightfully rejected by an earnest Right-winger using a caricature of Evolian thought, stating that “all religions are the same, but racist,” and indicating that this is based. I would reproduce it for you here if not for the fleeting nature of online culture.
As for GNON, it is a backronym of Nature, or Nature’s God, which is an autistic atheist’s way of saying “God in his role as judge of nations.” The idea of Gnon was developed to account for why some polities are successful and others are not. The idea is that through a process of natural selection, the best political system is selected for and the selector — the ultimate judge — was poetically described as Nature, or Nature’s God. Since human beings aren’t good at seeing reality as it is, they usually interface with Gnon through proxies, such as the Christian God or the Chinese Tao, but a polity has to follow Gnon’s commandment and avoid his judgement if it is to prosper.
Given that the neoreactionaries are all former libertarians (except Land, who is a former Marxist), in the early days this merely referred to political systems and did not account for the inherent biological differences between peoples. Somehow, however, this notion was folded into the human biodiversity (HBD) sphere, and now you see people like Emil Kierkegaard, Edward Dutton, and Michael Woodley of Menie repeating it, usually in terms of rearranging societal structures to select for optimal IQ and personalities. It’s more or less the same thing: the idea of a god judging for the purpose of developing the best society.
The problem with this view of the world (or indeed, God) is that it doesn’t take into account the dynamic between population and government. The HBD crowd is especially prone to this idea because it seems so simple: the feudal lords implemented manorialism, leading to high IQs among the northwest European population. Of course, this reduces the panoply of human experience to IQ, and maybe the “high factor of personality,” because it’s “the best predictor we have” and “measurable” — completely ignoring the category of the unknown and unknowable, since otherwise the equations and five-year plans don’t work.
In the realm of scientific research, it’s fine to focus merely on the known and knowable, but in the realm of policy and governance, we must also somehow account for the unknown and the unknowable. This has traditionally been done through the exercise of judgement by decision-makers and their subsequent ownership of the consequences of their judgement. It leads to some errors, but not to such a degree that the system can’t absorb them. In practice, what we see historically are systems of governance arising from and being created by men because of those men’s unique biological and psychological traits.
Western traditions arose out of the immutable nature of Western man. Islam likewise arose from the immutable nature of Arab man, and wherever it has found purchase among other peoples, they’ve transformed it into a tradition fitting their own. Just look at the way Shi’ism is practiced in Iran. Persian biology trumps the Islamic memeplex and hews it to its own contours. For this, and similar reasons, I find laughable the notion that Christians practice a Jewish faith or worship a Jewish God. Man, the being of flesh and blood, shapes a belief, not the other way around, otherwise Christianity would not have been germanized in the early Middle Ages, nor would Iranians still worship Ahura Mazda (but call him Allah).
In Heideggerian terms, what the HBD and neoreactionary crowd do is lose sight of the dickung: the thickness of the wood where the unclear, unknown, and unknowable is, for the same reasons that the Western metaphysical tradition forgets the thickness: It cannot conceive of a thing unknown and unrepresentable by man, and yet such things hold great sway over the realm of human affairs. Beneath the surface level of parameters such as intelligence, represented by the intelligence quotient, lies the deep, hidden nature of man, which is nevertheless intuitable if not representable, and reproducible for others to read about. One has to meet an Afghan, or better yet go to Afghanistan and spend time with the locals in order to intuit these hidden things about them which aren’t representable on a spreadsheet or intelligence report. But even without venturing into Heideggerian thought, we can quote Joseph de Maistre:
Now, there is no such thing as “man” in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.
It’s these unknowable things which make the difference between Afghans and Americans, and accordingly between Afghan and American tradition. However, when a one-size-fits-all ideology is applied to both, each people will accuse the other of practicing it incorrectly. Historically, the way in which socialism was practiced in Yugoslavia was criticized as wrong, misguided, and corrupt by socialists in Russia. Perhaps it was, but nevertheless, the people living in Yugoslavia lived and prospered under this wrongheaded version of socialism.
Similarly, contemporary American liberals may sneer at the way liberalism is practiced in Europe, with its generous welfare states, the gun restrictions, and open state-corporate cooperation, but Europeans live and prosper (or would, if not for “diversity”) under this wrongheaded liberalism. Traditional Europeans, however, cannot tell Afghans that they’re practicing their traditions incorrectly; we wouldn’t know what is right or wrong about it. We can be reasonably sure, provided we’ve exercised judgement, about European tradition, and that’s quite enough for me. And even if a traditional European state were to subjugate another traditional non-European state, it would be unwise to attempt to upend the traditions of the subject state. This would only inflame tensions with the locals and lead to more rebellion. Indeed, in the early stages of colonialism, the traditions of the colonized people were at least left intact.
It is hubris to believe that there is a single political system which is best for all peoples of all times, and this causes many of the problems of the modern West. In the past, we invaded and conquered lands because we wanted their resources or to neutralize threats. We had to own the consequences of those conquests, including the moral ones, if we treated the conquered too harshly. Today we invade lands and try to convince their inhabitants to abandon their traditions in favor of liberalism, and are then shocked when they rebel and reject liberalism. Since we invade them for their own good, to bring them the single political system that is best for all peoples, all of the time, we are justified in doing whatever it takes, and we can’t be judged for it. Indeed, judging what is the best political system is to be an evil nazi-racist-fascist, which is to say to be at the absolute bottom of its moral hierarchy.
In an obvious case of projection, liberalism, convinced as it is that it is facing a mirror image of itself in traditionalism, just as it faced Communism in the twentieth century, will attempt to fight traditionalism as it did Communism. Even at the level of the mouth-breathing libertarian who believes activism consists of owning the libs with clever rhetorical tricks and exposing hypocrisy, liberalism holds that the whole of the Dissident Right is just an ideology rather than a primal and somewhat poorly-articulated yearning for rootedness, homeland, and belonging.
Fate has decreed that my task is the articulation of this yearning, but that yearning exists even when unarticulated and unrepresented, and has to be taken into account. It is not a human universal, not even a Western one, but it is there, and it finds some commonalities in a similar yearning which has just actualized itself in Afghanistan.
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