Note: This essay is occasioned by the new Imperium Press edition of Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, which is required reading.
Like Jack London, Georges Sorel (1847–1922) was a Left-wing writer whose primary influence today is on the Right. Sorel’s most influential book is Reflections on Violence, written in 1905–1906.
Reflections on Violence is a rather misleading title, which Sorel himself is eager to qualify. Sorel wants to defend proletarian violence in the form of strikes and ultimately the overthrow of capitalism through a “general strike.” But Sorel assures us that proletarian violence will somehow be noble and pure — not monstrous, like the state terrorism of the French Revolution, which Sorel blames on the bourgeoisie and the persistence of ideas derived from absolute monarchy. Sorel distinguishes between “force” that emanates from above and proletarian “violence” that emanates from below.
But proletarian violence really will be violent. Sorel likens it to Homeric warfare, vendettas, and lynch mobs. Nevertheless, Sorel assures us that the proletariat will organize itself in autonomous workers’ councils, not scramble like the bourgeoisie to control the coercive powers of the state. The proletariat will be free from envy, resentment, and hatred, even though such motives were conspicuous on the Left, then as now. The proletariat will also be restrained by honor and magnanimity, even though such values are derived from the old aristocracy and the proletariat aims at the complete destruction of the bourgeoisie. In light of the subsequent history of Marxism, Sorel seems utterly delusional.
So why should we take Sorel seriously as a political thinker? Because the basic elements of his thought are more serviceable for the Right than the Left.
In Reflections on Violence, Sorel’s focus is less on violence than on what I will call militancy, by which I mean consciousness of enmity. As Carl Schmitt famously asserted, politics arises from enmity, the division between friend and enemy, specifically between collective friends and enemies, i.e., us and them. Enmity is not always violent, but it is always potentially violent, which gives enmity its moral seriousness. (See my essay “Reflections on Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political.”)
One need not be conscious of enmity. For instance, someone can choose to regard you as an enemy without announcing that fact. Someone can regard you as an enemy and work actively to harm you while you keep high-mindedly extending the hand of friendship. It is also possible for two groups to have conflicting interests — which is the objective basis of enmity — without them being aware of the fact. Thus it makes sense to distinguish objective and subjective components of enmity.
When one becomes fully aware of enmity and reciprocates it, one has become militant: hostile, bellicose, belligerent, combative, confrontational, truculent, pugnacious, etc. All these terms refer to a readiness and inclination to fight, even if violence never actually happens. Militancy also connotes reluctance to compromise or make peace with one’s enemies. Militants are always on a war footing, whether the war is hot or cold.
Because militants are disinclined toward peace and compromise, a confrontation is inevitable, but it need not be violent, for their enemies can always capitulate. But retreat and surrender are not options for the militant. Thus, the militant always conceives the final settling of accounts as a victory. This is obviously not a rational conviction. One cannot know the future, nor can one predict it with certainty. Instead, the militant has faith in the ultimate victory of his cause.
Sorel thought of himself as a Marxist, but he was hardly an orthodox one. Sorel was an independent and eclectic thinker who counted Vico, Pascal, Nietzsche, Bergson, Renan, and William James among his influences. Sorel was a humanist, a voluntarist, an irrationalist, and a pessimist. He rejected the idea of progress. He was a defender of the patriarchal family and martial virtues. None of these ideas is consistent with Marxist materialism.
But Reflections on Violence is premised on the Marxist concept of class struggle, which Marx believed would intensify until a proletarian revolution overthrows the bourgeoisie. Sorel, however, was alarmed by the decline of class struggle in his time. He believed that, objectively speaking, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were still enemies. But subjectively speaking, awareness of that enmity was being submerged due to bourgeois reformism and social democratic pragmatism, aided by appeals to ideas that bridged the classes like Christianity, liberalism, and nationalism. Sorel’s goal was to put the revolution back on track by restoring proletarian militancy. (Of course, the idea that class struggle can be strengthened or weakened by ideology is a complete inversion of orthodox Marxism.)
In Reflections on Violence, Sorel is addressing the socialists of his time. He seeks to restore proletarian militancy in two ways. First, he subjects social democratic compromisers to scathing critique. Sorel is a talented writer, and these polemics are often hilarious. Second, he seeks to clarify the nature of proletarian militancy. When Sorel speaks of the “ethics of violence” or the “ethics of the producers,” he does not offer moral arguments or principles. Instead, he talks about motivations to fight in a heroic or sublime way for the proletarian cause. He is talking less about morals than about morale, specifically about esprit de corps, team spirit. For Sorel, the ultimate motivating principle of a political group is a “myth.” For the proletariat, it is the myth of the “general strike.”
Sorel’s best example of a political myth is Christianity. Christianity is premised on a deep division and enmity between good and evil, God and Satan. Their battleground is this world and every soul within it. Every victory of the faithful is interpreted as a triumph of God. Every impediment or setback is interpreted as the work of the devil. The faithful might suffer. The wicked might prosper. But the faithful will win out in the end. God is on their side. Christ will return. Satan will be cast down. Everyone will finally get what he deserves.
This myth has two essential elements: absolute enmity and ultimate victory. Absolute enmity means: enmity under all conditions. An absolute enemy is one with whom there can be no peace, only defeat or victory. Absolute enmity divides us into hostile groups and bars accommodation with the enemy as evil. Ultimate victory makes accommodation unnecessary. This myth has sustained Christian militancy for nearly two thousand years.
Sorel hopes the myth of the general strike can accomplish the same wonders. The idea of absolute class enmity leads the workers to reject every attempt to placate them. The faith in ultimate victory through the general strike makes compromise unnecessary.
If White Nationalists are to summon and sustain the militancy needed for victory, we too will need a myth. Do we have an absolute enemy? If so, who is it? Do we have faith in ultimate victory? If so, what sustains it? If not, how do we acquire it? What is the White Nationalist myth?
As an ethnonationalist, I believe that whites can coexist with all peoples, provided we all have homelands of our own. The only people we can’t coexist with are those who deny the ethnonationalist principle, i.e., imperialists and globalists who wish to rule over other peoples. With them, no compromise or coexistence is possible.
What visions of ultimate victory sustain us in our struggle?
In October of 1922, Benito Mussolini declared,
We have created a myth. This myth is a belief, a noble enthusiasm: It does not need to be reality; it is a striving and a hope, belief and courage. Our myth is the nation, the great nation which we want to make into a concrete reality for ourselves.
This was just a few months after Sorel’s death, on the eve of the March on Rome and Mussolini’s rise to power. (See my essay “Notes on Schmitt’s Crisis & Ours.”)
In many ways, the White Nationalist myth is a continuation of Mussolini’s myth of the nation made great again. Today, whites worldwide are stateless peoples, because our homelands have been captured by globalists who are subjecting us to the slow genocide of replacement. Our deliverance will be the creation or recreation of white homelands or ethnostates. Thus, Michael O’Meara extolled the “white republic” as an explicitly Sorelian myth. (See Michael O’Meara’s “The Myth of Our Rebirth.”)
Zionism is an excellent example of a political myth in Sorel’s sense. There is absolute enmity between Jews and non-Jews based ultimately in what Jan Assmann calls “the Mosaic distinction”: the idea that the Jewish God is the one true god; all others are false. (On Assmann, see my essay “The Hatred Born on Sinai: Jan Assmann’s Moses the Egyptian.”) The history of the Jewish diaspora is a long record of persecutions, real and fabulous, from which Jews can be delivered by the creation of a sovereign homeland. Thus, many White Nationalists consciously model our movement on Zionism. For instance, William Pierce spoke of a “White Zion” (here and here).
The ethnostate is an image of what we will create after our victory. But what of the victory itself? How will we win?
One account of victory is the “white strike.” Whites alone make Western civilization possible. Non-whites depend upon us. Yet in the current system, whites are oppressed, condemned, and slated for replacement by the very people who depend upon us. It is completely unsustainable and absurd: if the parasites got their way, they would perish along with us. Thus, the whole farce would end quite quickly if whites simply went on strike. Our enemies can’t even destroy us without our help. A white strike would paralyze the anti-white regime, allowing us to overthrow and replace it.
The white strike of course resembles Sorel’s general strike, but the primary model is Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, originally called The Strike, in which the producers who sustain the world go on strike against the socialists who both oppress and depend upon them. Atlas Shrugged screams out for a racialist interpretation, since the white race is the Atlas that holds the modern world on our shoulders even as we are attacked as oppressors and exploiters.
The white strike is a form of a broader myth that has enormous purchase in our movement: “the collapse.” Currently, our movement is too weak to hope to overthrow the anti-white system. The collapse is the idea that the present system is so out of sync with reality that it cannot be sustained. Ultimately it will collapse, and when it does, whites will be able to take over and install a pro-white regime.
The myth of the collapse harmonizes with another myth that has great power among White Nationalists: the cyclical nature of time. This idea comes in two forms: Traditionalist and evolutionist. Both schools hold that at the beginning of history, man lives in a golden age of harmony with nature. As time passes, man falls out of step with nature. Eventually, our estrangement from nature becomes so radical that civilization collapses. Then nature reasserts itself, giving rise to a new civilization, which undergoes the same pattern of decline and fall.
Traditionalists like René Guénon and Julius Evola believe that the golden age is characterized by intuitive knowledge of the deepest truths. The evolutionary version of this myth is offered by Giambattista Vico and Oswald Spengler, who hold that early man lives in harmony with nature not through abstract wisdom but animal vitality. Civilizations decline and collapse because of devitalization or decadence. (For more on Vico, see my lecture, “Our Marx, Only Better: Vico and Modern Anti-Liberalism.”)
The idea of cyclical history looks optimistic or pessimistic depending on where one is in the cycle. If one is in the golden age, prospects are bleak. But if one lives in the dregs of the dark age, as White Nationalists believe we do, then deliverance is at hand.
The cyclical view of history plays the same role for White Nationalists as the progressive view of history plays for the Left: It sustains hope in ultimate victory by claiming that our efforts are supported by historical forces. Of course, such an article of faith can lead to complacency. But those who are already inclined toward militancy are only spurred on by the conviction that historical forces are on their side.
Another article of faith that sustains White Nationalists is that, at a certain point, an “awakening” of white racial consciousness is inevitable and unstoppable. This is not an entirely irrational conviction, since people cannot ignore reality forever, ideas can become viral, and once they reach a tipping point, they can rapidly become hegemonic.
Rationally speaking, of course, there is no guarantee that any of these scenarios will result in victory. Whites may never strike. A collapse is inevitable, but it might be so slow in coming that whites will have almost ceased to exist. Moreover, once a collapse takes place, there’s no guarantee that a better system will replace it. There might not be a revival of civilization after a collapse. The white awakening may never happen.
But such considerations are beside the point when dealing with a genuine political myth. Reason can give us no certitude about the future, whereas myths are irrational certitudes about the future, articles of faith and visions of victory that can sustain us through a long struggle.
Aside from their utility, the other thing that recommends these myths is that White Nationalists actually believe them. You are welcome to come up with better myths if you can. But it is one thing to invent a story, another for people to actually believe it.
Sorel distinguishes between utopias, which are intellectual constructs, and myths, which supposedly arise spontaneously. But this might be as spurious as his distinction between force and violence. Sorel admits that Christian stories of persecution under Rome were highly exaggerated, i.e., mostly fictional. Could a political myth be entirely fictional? Maybe myths are just utopias whose authorship is lost in the mists of time. If so, maybe it is possible to create a White Nationalist political myth entirely from scratch. Again: What matters is whether people believe it. But since we are talking about irrational beliefs, if a myth is appealing enough, what would stop people from believing it? We won’t know if it is impossible unless we try.
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