“You know how to gain a victory; you do not know how to use it.” Those are the famous words Maharbal, a commander in the Carthaginian army, told Hannibal after they had achieved a momentous success on the battlefield at Cannae. Whether or not Maharbal really did utter the admonishment does not matter. There are so many quotes, events, and figures from the past that may never have been said or occurred or existed, yet their legacies carry on throughout the centuries because they have transcended the material world of historical facts. Marharbal’s warning has become cemented in the story of the Second Punic War because his words, especially viewed in hindsight, add to the drama and pathos of Hannibal’s fate. They speak to something we all have felt: the regret of not doing the things we should have done.
I’m often reminded of that old Numidian’s rebuke when I think of nationalist and dissident politics in recent times. So many victories: Trump, Brexit, electoral domination in places like Italy — yet none of those victories are ever put to appropriate use. While there have been victories in the realm of politics, albeit fruitless or underwhelming ones, when it comes to matters of culture the nationalist-dissident-conservative side of things has a dismal record. There are several reasons for this, especially as to why conservatives in particular are inept at creating culture and waging a culture war. We will not go into too much detail about those reasons in this article, but one worth mentioning here is the fact that artists on “the Right” are effectively shut out of the mainstream channels of artistic endeavors. So when someone such as Oliver Anthony appears out of nowhere with a song that captures international attention, and whose music video has been watched 15 million times on YouTube as of this writing, one would think that “the Right” would be thrilled. But in an example of not knowing how to use a victory, many on “the Right” have reacted to Oliver’s country dirge by scorning and scoffing at it. There is no shortage of people who one would think agree with the song’s message, but who are vocally putting the song and its composer down rather than reveling in a spotlight which is not often shining on “conservatives” or “dissidents.”
Whether or not one likes the song is not the point here. Personally, I don’t like it. I don’t like American country music in general, which is strange considering how much I love the Irish and Scottish folk music from which it originated. As is often the case, the American version just isn’t as good as the original, I suppose. The lyrics of “Rich Men North of Richmond” make me cringe, literally. They are too awkward and artless, lacking in finesse, and not very profound. Anyone who thinks a country song or a working man’s song cannot have lyrics which do boast those qualities is mistaken, but to be honest, lyrical complexity across all genres of music has been decreasing for decades, with specific genres such as pop and rap descending to an 8-year-old’s level of English. However, none of this matters. The song is infused with a political message whose importance takes precedence over my personal taste, and this is something too many on “the Right” have failed to realize. Too many have decided to mock Oliver Anthony — and rural folks in general — as a country bumpkin singing a stupid song about Joe Biden’s America. That may very well be what the song is about. And? The fact of the matter is that “Rich Men North of Richmond” is something that hardly ever comes into existence: an artistic expression of dissident or conservative sentiment which has widespread appeal.
Today’s “Right” doesn’t have enough artists who are capable of reaching people’s feelings. The Right thinks it can fight a culture war or spark a revolution while completely skipping over the part where you inspire people to want those things in the first place. To do that, we need more songs, more poems, more novels, more paintings, more films. Again, whether or not these works are to one’s particular taste is irrelevant. The point is that a song or a film has the potential to affect people in a way that a tedious Twitter thread or Substack essay cannot match. Men of the past understood this and made sure to drape their political cause in a veil of art. Think of Irish nationalism and the poetry of W. B. Yeats, Spanish Republicanism and the paintings of Pablo Picasso, German National Socialism and the works of Richard Wagner. It is not enough to only hand out pamphlets, make speeches in city squares, or in our time, hustle “hot takes” on podcasts, livestreams, and social media apps. There must be a romantic element.
Furthermore, “the Right” needs to stop LARPing as an elitist establishment and understand that, in this age of inversion, “the Right” is both on the side of and comprised of the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the abused. “The Right” is a populist and underdog movement, and “Rich Men North of Richmond,” regardless of its artistic quality, has clearly resonated with the people for whom today’s “Right” claims to stand: white, rural, honest, and fed up with the corruption and mistreatment oozing their way from the seats of power. Putting on haughty airs and mocking rural working-class country folk, as Richard Spencer and so many gremlins from the farcically-named America First movement did, is indescribably stupid. Note too, reader, that it doesn’t matter if Oliver Anthony is actually a well-to-do middle-class young man with enough money to buy fancy microphones. Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp weren’t working-class boys, yet their songs have become anthems for working-class folk all over the world, not just in the United States. Not only that, but Springsteen in particular has been able to use his star power to promote Left-wing ideals for decades. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Barack Obama voters or “refugees welcome” activists whine about Springsteen latching onto their causes. Complaining about a perceived inauthenticity in Oliver Anthony as a person is just another example of too many people on “the Right” not getting it.
Some other complaints about Anthony and his song were equally ridiculous. Anonymous accounts on X were flustered at the discovery that Oliver Anthony might have attracted the attention of a marketing agency which works to promote artists and those loathsome creatures of the 2020s, influencers. If Anthony signed up with a conservative media management team after his song’s success, or if a conservative media management team created the successful song, either situation should be seen as a victory by “the Right” as used appropriately. Both cases suggest that people with money have understood the importance of metapolitics and the romantic element, and are investing that money in talented individuals who can use their artistic abilities to shape narratives, influence the masses, and promote (in this instance) so-called conservative values and the concerns of rural white Americans. There is a legitimate worry that Anthony might be lured into the clutches of the Daily Wire types. That’s a very likely possibility, but it has not yet become reality, so there is no sense in criticising Anthony for being a neocon shill just yet.
Another criticism leveled at Anthony is that his hit song is defeatist. One online hot-take hustler named Steve Franssen said Anthony’s art is “evil” because it contains nothing uplifting, only the sounds of a despairing man. I haven’t listened to any of Anthony’s other songs, but even so I still wouldn’t go so far as to say his music is “evil.” It is not evil to lament, nor is it evil to protest at one’s conditions. A rather annoying feature of many people online and on “the Right” is their tendency to characterize everything in absolutist terms without ever making room for nuance, context, and exception. Now, it is true that too much lamenting and despair is not a good thing, and if Anthony’s other songs are, as some have described them, about smoking weed and being a deadbeat, then there is a genuine critique to be made. But we must be realistic. At this present time, there is much that a white man such as Oliver Anthony has legitimate cause to gripe about. We cannot only focus on the uplifting and ignore the very real plight that so many “people like me, people like you” are in, a plight that is already ignored — and caused — by the establishment, one unbeknownst to a significant portion of the rest of society. It’s worth getting offline and reminding ourselves that there are a great many people who are totally unaware of the Great Replacement, the deaths of despair, the victimization of our kin at the hands of the state, and all the other hardships afflicting native and diaspora Europeans. Before we can have a Liberty Leading the People, we must have a Massacre at Chios. While I will probably never listen to any of his future songs, my sincere hope is that Anthony improves as a country singer-songwriter. I hope he does write some inspiring ballads and edifying anthems. I hope he evades the talons of FOX News and other kosher conservative media. But I don’t mind him singing it as it is.
I suppose all of the criticism and derision surrounding Oliver Anthony is a symptom of our time. We already live in a Metaverse. A cultural phenomenon today is met with a hurricane of critique, deconstruction, and opinions, all emanating from the millions of voices across social media. No cultural expression has any time to breathe before it is already picked apart by interminable Twitter threads and op-eds across the Internet. Our metaverses are worlds of curated realities. If an idea, an opinion, a film, or a song does not suit the curated reality of one’s Metaverse, then it must be removed from the gallery. “Extremely online” commentators rushed to respond to “Rich Men North of Richmond” — this intrusion into their curated reality — and to augment their “traction” and “reach” on their curated reality social media platform of choice. I think this is also a reason why art which “goes viral” tends to peter out and fade away rather quickly. It’s difficult for a piece of music, for example, to stand the test of time when it must withstand more public criticism, dissection, complaints, conspiracy theories about its success, and opinions that go just as viral as the song itself than a composition from before the Internet Age ever had to endure. In the past, it was sufficient to either like or dislike a song and go about the rest of your life. Nowadays, every listener is seemingly required not only to have an opinion, nor even to merely share his opinion, but to strive for having an opinion more caustic and niche than everyone else’s opinions. This does not bode well for dissident and nationalist artists, of whom we are in great need. Who would want to toil away on a work of art and proffer it to an audience of the supposedly like-minded, only for it to be ridiculed for a host of reasons most of which have little to do with the actual qualities or merits of the artwork itself? Once again, it is what I call “The Followship” that is letting us down.
Of all the subjective views on art, tastes in music are arguably the most subjective. A bad film is often considered as such by a consensus of audiences. It’s arguably easier to identify what makes a film good or bad. The same goes for literature and painting. Music is a bit different. A song might please one listener, but absolutely traumatize another. Certain genres are totally intolerable for some, while mellifluous for others. The point is that that the counter-culture which is dissident politics needs to start actually creating culture. This means that not all of it will be to everyone’s taste. In that eventuality, it would behoove the online Right to offer constructive criticism, or simply to keep silent. Creating metapolitics is more important than your hot take. And should dissident art, such as a song, “go viral” and become a hit, then it would be fantastic if “the Right” finally learned how to use a victory.
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