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A Critic Takes the Dissident Right Seriously

[1]2,006 words

Matthew Rose
A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021

Countless books and articles have sought to explore the “Alt Right” over the past five years. Most amount to little more than point-and-sputter journalism, expressing horror in every paragraph that people would dare to believe such things as we do. You don’t learn anything about what the radical Right believes from them; they merely provide a few soundbites designed to achieve maximum shock value among a liberal audience.

Matthew Rose’s A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right is not that kind of work. Readers are not treated to lurid tales about movement personalities or moral diatribes about how evil the Alt Right is. Instead, we find a book that takes the movement’s ideas seriously and explains them to an unfamiliar audience.

Rose is no fan of the radical Right; he has written several articles over the years deriding it as racist and anti-Christian. Yet, he’s able to assess its ideas without heavy-handed condemnations. He simply lets the ideas speak for themselves. Rose properly understands these ideas and where they’re coming from, in spite of being deeply opposed to them.

A World after Liberalism focuses on five figures he believes best represent the radical Right. They are Oswald Spengler (who he calls The Prophet), Julius Evola (The Fantasist), Francis Parker Yockey (The Anti-Semite), Alain de Benoist (The Pagan), and Sam Francis [2] (The Nationalist). There is a chapter dedicated to the life and thought of each. The final chapter concerns “the Christian Question.” The chapter on Francis was previously published as an essay for First Things. The Christian Question chapter is mostly based on essays previously published in the same magazine.

Much of Rose’s focus throughout the book is on how these writers perceive Christianity. He believes all five could not be called Christian and display a strong hostility toward the faith. Rose is a Christian conservative who believes the answer to the crisis in liberalism lies in Jesus Christ. He primarily opposes the radical Right because it offers an alternative answer: that the solution to the crisis lies in racial solidarity.

Rose argues in his Introduction that we live in a post-liberal moment. He claims the ideology is losing its grasp on the Western mind, and that the greatest threat to it comes not from foreign adversaries but from disaffected Western intellectuals. He points to a new conservatism arising that dispenses with the platitudes and dogmas of the old. It’s no longer thrilled with the liberal project, and seeks an alternative to the present malaise.

So far, this is typical thinking for an average First Things writer. Many conservative intellectuals now proudly declare themselves to be “illiberal,” but most of them are very different from Spengler and Yockey. Many of these “post-liberal” conservatives insist that racism is bad and even argue that white people don’t exist. They keep their critiques within the framework of acceptable discourse determined by liberals.

This is where Rose parts ways with most other conservative intellectuals of today. He fortunately does not pay attention to such writers or their influences. If he did, the book would’ve likely ended up being a hagiography of Adrian Vermeule and Patrick Deneen, and how the two tenured professors somehow threaten the entire global order. He instead focuses on the influences behind the “Alt Right,” which suggests that the book was conceived before “respectable” anti-liberals began hogging the limelight.

Rose highlights aspects of all five figures that make them relevant in our present moment, and discusses how their influence can still be discerned in the contemporary Dissident Right. Most of the characterizations are spot on, but Rose often gets minor details wrong. He claims Sam Francis showed no concern for culture, for example, despite the late polemicist’s obsession with English literature and the many articles he wrote on cultural issues. He’s particularly loose with exact years and ages. But overall, the book is accurate in its assessments.

Oswald Spengler is portrayed as the man who gave the radical Right its pan-European mindset and warned of the dangers of a future colored world revolution. The Hour of Decision receives more attention than The Decline of the West, with Rose believing the former better represents the radical Right’s contemporary concerns. Spengler believed Europeans are one distinct people and that their Faustian spirit made them better than the rest. Rose notes that Spengler was not a biological racialist and argued that being a Westerner was more of spiritual/cultural category than a racial one.

Spengler acknowledged the importance of Christianity for the West, but claimed that Faustian man made Christianity and not the other way around. We adopted it and shaped it to our being, making it what it is today. Rose asserts that the German intellectual felt there could be no Western civilization without Christianity and that it was a faith exclusive to Western man. Spengler was nevertheless aware of the corrosive elements within Christianity and of how it has helped bring about Western decline. He believed that in its early form, it was a kind of primitive socialism that caused its believers to pine for another world. Spengler’s primary contribution to the Dissident Right, according to Rose, is his positing of a unique identity for whites that unites them with the distant past and other peoples from across the West.

Rose sees Julius Evola as more of a dreamer than Spengler. The Baron aimed to educate modern people about the concept of a primordial Tradition, with a capital T, that animated the world and which is being suppressed in our time. Evola’s Tradition was not necessarily religious, according to Rose. Tradition turned mortal necessities into sacred events. It created rituals around war, eating, birth, and death to provide meaning and order in everyday life. Without this Tradition, the terror of time overcomes man.

Rose notes that Evola saw Christianity as hostile to Tradition and did not want to see it returned to the center for European life. The book also discusses Evola’s authoritarianism, elitism, his contempt for the modern world, and his aloofness from contemporary politics. Like Spengler, Rose points out that Evola likewise had an ambivalent relationship with fascism and could not be described as a fascist. Evola and Spengler were both pessimistic about the political prospects of the world they lived in, but Evola offered a utopian vision for the Right to dream about.

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You can buy The World in Flames: The Shorter Writings of Francis Parker Yockey here. [4]

The chapter on Francis Parker Yockey is probably the weakest in A World after Liberalism. Rose spends more time on Yockey’s life and activities than his ideas. Yockey was a genuine international man of mystery and his life makes for a good tale, even if Rose focuses on the its more tawdry aspects. As the chapter title makes clear, Rose highlights Yockey’s anti-Semitism, which the author believes is one of his vital contributions to the Right. Yockey saw Jews as culture-distorters who turned Westerners’ own rationality against them and their civilization. Rose considers Yockey’s anti-Semitism to be “virulent.” He sees the American fascist as important primarily because he became a martyr for the idea: He killed himself in police custody rather than expose his contacts to the authorities.

Rose points out that Yockey held some views that were different from those of the radical Right. He wasn’t strictly a racialist and believed that the racial view of history should be discarded. He later came to advocate for a kind of Third-Worldist strategy against American imperialism. It was primarily his commitment to his cause, according to Rose, that makes him important today.

Alain de Benoist, for his part, comes across as a “hipster” Right-winger in the book. We’re introduced to him as he was admiring the Left-wing riots in Paris during 1968, and Rose makes sure to list all of his ideas that align him with the modern Left. Benoist’s defense of multiculturalism and contempt for Christianity are well-covered. The French writer’s paganism is more of an outlook or an intellectual frame than an actual religion, according to Rose. He doesn’t advocate for arcane rituals in the woods or anything like that; he just wants Europeans to resacralize their connection to their heritage and homeland.

Like the three previous writers, Benoist also has an ambivalent attitude toward racialism. Early in his career, his work relied on a biological understanding of race and its importance. He continues to insist on a “right of difference” in which every people should embrace its unique ethnic identity as a cause for all “indigenous” peoples to aspire towards. Despite this change in emphasis, Rose admits that Benoist has remained a resolute critic of liberalism throughout his public career. Benoist’s primary contribution to the modern radical Right, according to the book, is his pagan outlook on the world.

The Sam Francis chapter devotes most of its attention to the paleoconservative’s theories on power and the managerial elite. Rose depicts Francis as a cold-blooded realist who eschewed and mocked the conservative movement’s pieties – something he is not fond of himself. Francis called for a populist revolt of working-class whites against the managerial elite in ways that anticipated Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Francis, unlike the other four, was a committed race realist throughout his life — a fact that absolutely disgusts Rose. He finds Francis’ ideas on economics and society interesting, but he can’t help but heap scorn on him for being relegated to the White Nationalist ghetto after he was purged from Conservative Inc. Francis’ contribution to the radical Right, according to Rose, was is providing a concrete political platform for obtain power.

Rose’s final chapter reveals his opinions on all these writers. While he can’t help but find them fascinating, the conservative writer feels they must all be rejected. Why? Primarily because they weren’t, or aren’t, Christians. He begins this chapter with an e-mail from an Alt Right reader who says he has left the Church because it is now an enemy of Western civilization and has become an unhealthy religion. Rose laments that many on the Right feel this way and wishes that they would return to the faith. He claims that only true Christianity can resolve today’s crises. Rose argues that it offers true meaning and community of a sort which the radical Right or paganism cannot. He essentially calls the entire radical Right a form of LARPing, while traditional Christianity is genuine. He believes the radical Right is fundamentally anti-Christian and must be confronted by Christians. Only God can save us.

It is interesting that Rose sees the Dissident Right as un-Christian. A look at the popular Right-wing figures of today would reveal plenty of faith-based arguments for nationalism and why it must be a Christian movement. Open criticism of Christianity is not tolerated anymore. This aspect of the book therefore does date it somewhat to 2016-17, when the Alt Right was at its peak.

Nevertheless, his perception of the Dissident Right may be more accurate than that of many of its current proponents. There is an uneasy tension between the radical Right’s ideas and the faith of the West. All of the figures in the book understood, or understand, that tension, with at least two of them wishing to replace Christianity entirely. That tension will always exist as we advocate for ideas that institutional Christianity condemns and declares to be incompatible with the Bible. This does not of course mean that we need to follow the path suggested by Evola. We need Christians on our side to achieve victory. It simply means we should not fool ourselves into thinking we are the new and improved religious Right.

A World after Liberalism is arguably the best critical book written on the Dissident Right so far. It takes our ideas seriously and portrays them mostly accurately. Even readers who have a large library of Right-wing classics will come away with a fresh understanding and appreciation of what we stand for. Moreover, identitarians will see how empty the criticisms of our ideas are. This is not LARPing; it’s the answer to our people’s decline.

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