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Archeofuturist Fiction 
Frank Herbert’s Dune, Part 1

DuneFirstEdition1,591 words

Part 1 of 2

German translation here

If science fiction is quintessentially “progressive” and fantasy literature is “reactionary,” then we need a third category for the six Dune books by Frank Herbert (1920–1986)—not to mention George Lucas’ six Star Wars movies—which combine futuristic, sci-fi elements with the archaic values and magical universes of fantasy. 

Fortunately, French New Right theorist Guillaume Faye has already coined the perfect term for this genre: archeofuturism, which for him is a kind of political philosophy and philosophy of history. But it also captures a unique fictional genre which just so happens to be close to the hearts of many on the far Right, Old and New. (Faye himself ends his book Archeofuturism with a novella depicting the system he advocates.)

Dune, the first novel of Herbert’s series, is the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Dune is set more than 21,000 years in the future. Mankind has colonized the galaxy, creating highly advanced technologies—spaceships, glowglobes, ornithopters, lasguns, protective energy shields, etc. Entire planets, such as Ix and Richese, are devoted to advancing technological civilization.

Yet religion and mysticism are also very important in the Dune universe. Herbert shows how religion can be cynically used by the powerful as a tool of social control. But he also shows how sincere religious fanaticism can revolutionize societies. For instance, more than 10,000 years before the setting of the first novel, a religious war, the Butlerian Jihad, destroyed all artificial intelligences and banned the creation of thinking machines. Herbert explores how ecumenical ideas—like the Traditionalist notion of the transcendental unity of religions—can be used to promote peace and tolerance, whereas exclusive forms of monotheism lead to intolerance and conflict. Finally, Herbert is very aware of the importance of religion and rituals of hierarchy and initiation in bonding together hierarchical societies, especially secret societies.

The ban on artificial intelligence forced human beings to develop their mental and physical capacities. Three groups have gone the furthest in this direction.

First, the Bene Tleilax have created mentats—human beings who can perform calculations, solve problems, and store data like computers. The Tleilaxu have also mastered genetic engineering, allowing them to grow human beings and other organic substances from isolated cells and manipulate their genetics. “Gholas” are cloned and genetically altered human beings. “Face dancers” are human beings which can take on the personality and appearances of other humans.

Second, the Spacing Guild has learned to replace computers for faster than light travel with the mental powers of its navigators, who are mutated humans with prescient awareness that allows them to “fold space” and move their ships from one part of the galaxy to another without moving.

Third, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood is a quasi-religious order the goal of which is to guide the future evolution of mankind through eugenics. The sisterhood has also honed human physical and psychic abilities, endowing them with remarkable skills as fighters, mind-readers, negotiators, and all-round manipulators. The Reverend Mothers of the Bene Gesserit also share in the memories of all previous Reverend Mothers, which they pass along psychically to their successors.

Both the Guild and the Bene Gesserit are dependent upon a drug, the “spice melange,” which has the power to extend life and expand consciousness. And, since the civilization of the galaxy depends on space travel, the spice is the most valuable substance in the universe. And it is found on only one planet: Arrakis, also known as Dune.

The Guildsmen use the spice to mutate their bodies and endow their minds with prescience. The Bene Gesserit use spice to expand consciousness. They employ a related substance, the water of life, to open their minds to the collective ancestral memories of the sisterhood.

Because, however, women are unable to expand their consciousness into certain regions through the water of life (for instance, male ancestral memories), but all men who take the water of life die, the Bene Gesserit are trying to breed a male who has the capacity to transmute the water of life and peer into pasts and futures invisible to the sisterhood. Their name for this individual is the Kwisatz Haderach, which means “shortening of the way.”

Both the Bene Gesserit sisters and the Bene Tleilax gholas are capable of accessing memories that could not have been simply stored in a human brain. Thus Herbert’s cosmos presupposes the reality of a kind of metaphysical dualism in which individual and collective consciousness (memory) can exist without a material substratum. Furthermore, both the Bene Tleilax and the Bene Gesserit practice “prana-bindu” yoga, which endows them with superpowers, meaning that their yoga is a Left-hand path that produces Tantric siddis (superpowers).

The idea of a Spacing Guild, as well as hierarchical-initiatic orders like the Bene Tleilax and the Bene Gesserit, all of which are medieval institutions which wield what are in effect magical powers, place Dune firmly in the archaic and magical cosmos of fantasy literature.

But there is swordplay as well as sorcery in the Dune universe: the galaxy is ruled by a Padishah Emperor, while many of the planets are ruled by dukes, counts, and barons who form a “Landsraad”—a college of noble houses. (Other planets, like Bene Tleilax, Ix, and Richese are equivalents of the medieval free cities.) It is an essentially feudal system.

Herbert, moreover, did not bemoan this system as repressive and unfair. Indeed, he regarded feudalism as a superior form of government and one uniquely suited for mankind’s expansion throughout the galaxy. Feudalism, unlike liberal democracy, is a highly decentralized system, which is suited to widely scattered planets and high transportation costs. Furthermore, feudalism, unlike liberal democracy, is capable of pursuing grand strategies over the vast spans of time necessary for space travel and colonization.

Because of the decentralization of power and costs of transportation, the different planets of the Empire evolve very different cultures, some free, martial, and gallant (such as Caladan, ruled by the Atreides dukes—who trace their descent to the ancient house of Atreus), others despotic, sybaritic, and cruel (like Giedi Prime, ruled by the Harkonnen barons). But all planets have hierarchical, aristocratic forms of government. Herbert never has a kind word for liberalism or democracy.

In the Dune universe, martial and aristocratic values are dominant, and commercial values, although unavoidable and widespread, are regarded with aristocratic disdain. Great houses compete and ally with each other in accordance with iron codes of honor. Atomic weapons are outlawed. Laser and projectile weapons are seldom used because of the existence of energy shields, which can stop any projectile and destroy both attacker and target when they come in contact with a laser. Shields are, however, unable to protect from slow blades at close range, so high-tech shields are actually conducive to swashbuckling combat with swords and knives. Vendettas are governed by the iron code of kanly and can be settled through treachery or duels to the death.

Now, before I discuss the main characters and plot of Dune, we must pause to ask why these novels have such a powerful appeal on the Right. The answer, of course, is that Frank Herbert was no liberal. No liberal praises feudalism over democracy, hierarchy over equality, and martial virtues over bourgeois ones—but Frank Herbert does. No liberal attaches great weight to heredity, speaks of racial memories, praises eugenics, and explains the Darwinian benefits of subjecting human populations to the ruthless culling of harsh environments—but Frank Herbert does.

Herbert believes in essential differences between men and women, which was uncontroversial when he began writing Dune more than 50 years ago, but today it is considered the height of reaction.

Herbert’s novels are deeply and disquietingly anti-humanist and anti-individualist. He thinks in terms of the evolution of the human race over vast spans of time. He looks at history like a general on a battlefield, coolly sacrificing individual lives for the greater good. His novels are filled with well-drawn individuals, but that just makes it all the more poignant when they go willy nilly to their doom—or are resurrected as gholas to play another part in a larger drama.

Herbert traces the rise and fall of civilizations through great cycles, moving from vital and heroic barbarism to cynical, sclerotic, and decadent civilizations, which are then liquidated by fresh barbarians. (His view of historical cycles is closer to Giambattista Vico and Oswald Spengler, both of whom see vital barbarism as the first phase of history, as opposed to the Golden Age of the Traditionalists.)

For the sentimental and humanistic, the overall effect can be bleak, depressing, and distasteful.

Aspects of Dune do, of course, appeal to the Left. When it first appeared in 1965, its ideas of mind-expanding drugs and sprinkling of Hindu terms found receptive ears in the counter-culture.

Dune can also be read as an anti-colonial allegory. Arrakis produces the most valuable commodity in the universe, but its people—particularly the Fremen of the desert—live in utter deprivation. Yet they dream of one day seizing control of Arrakis through guerrilla warfare and using its wealth to improve their lives.

This leads to a third theme in Dune which is popular with the Left, namely ecology, for the Fremen’s dream is the creation of the Kynes family, both father and son, the Imperial Planetologists of Arrakis who set in motion plans to reclaim parts of Arrakis from the desert and create an earthly paradise.

None of these themes appeal to the Republican or libertarian Right. But the New Right can and does embrace deep ecology, Eastern spirituality, anti-colonialism/anti-capitalism, and even a bit of spice—together with Herbert’s anti-egalitarian biopolitics—in a wider synthesis.

 

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20 Comments

  1. Wrynn.CZ
    Posted July 19, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Tony is right. Like there is citation in Herbert books that there are “plans within plans”. One must read book and search different meanings and concepts. Brian told and he was right that he is not as good writer as his father. He only wanted to show us whole story.

  2. tony
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I know I came late to this, but I think you’re a bit far from the ultimate message. Herbert was very much libertarian. However he was not optimistic that humanity could handle libertarians. This is the goal of Leto II’s Golden Path-to breed humans that can organize for mutually beneficial goals but will not remain organized. That would not follow charming dictators, nor follow traditions for the sake of tradition, nor suffer for the sake of social obligation- which was Mineo’s final lesson. Dune needs to be peeled back over several readings. I think I just finished my eighth or ninth re-reading and I still found new concepts. Each sentence is multi layered. It can actually get very intense. Even his concept of ecology is meant to show that the macro and the micro are important for understanding any system. The follow up books by Brian are not as in depth, but you can kind of see where it was going. Brian just isn’t as good at condensing the concepts.

  3. R_Moreland
    Posted August 19, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Good to see you covering Dune.

    An interesting thing about the three novels which were taken up by the 1960s counterculture (Dune, Lord of the Rings, and Stranger in a Strange Land) is that they were written by, respectively, an archeofuturist, a traditional Catholic, and a right-libertarian. They have common themes about elitism versus the mass and unleashing the metaphysical power of select individuals. There is also the author’s creation of a fully developed world in which the adventure takes place. Herbert and Tolkien do so in some detail; Heinlein via his Future History series (which is somewhat inconsistently applied). Lucas trods similar ground (or space) with his Star Wars universe: the “Force” is accessible only to the elect of genetically determined individuals (in the main white people) whose powers are awakened via Mannerbund style adventuring.

    Given the incredible popularity of these works, some inner chord is being struck here.

    The question is, how to turn these themes towards creating a mass rightwing counterculture?

  4. Eikos
    Posted August 17, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 18, 2014 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      The YouTube video is shameful because it tells lies about the Bene Gesserit to heighten the analogy with the Jews. We don’t need lies to make our case.

  5. Ulf Larsen
    Posted August 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    OT:

    Greg, do you have any thoughts about the whole ISIS/ISIL situation? I would love to read an article by you, commenting on the subject from a WN perspective.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 18, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Thanks. I will think about it.

  6. meh
    Posted August 17, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I believe Frank Herbert was a conventional liberal in most respects, but there may be some amount of taqiyya involved in that the Dune novels may have been his way of signalling some of his true beliefs in fictional form.

    Also remember eugenics didn’t really become “evil” until after WWII; and really not until the 1960s or 70s; before then liberals tended to support eugenics. Liberalism has been evolving.

    Dune was well timed, as well, to appeal to the environmental movement just then gaining popularity, and it also was well timed with the emergence of the Arab world and oil politics into popular awareness in West. Drugs and mysticism were well timed too, but other science fiction authors were going that route too (Heinlein for instance).

    At the time, the idea that religion might still be an important part of society in the far future was probably the most shocking idea to science fiction readers circa 1965; feudalism in the far future would have been an afterthought shocking idea in comparison. George Lucas’ Star Wars would take this idea of mixing medieval fantasy with science fiction in 1977 and run with it.

    “If man can travel freely/quickly across the galaxy, what would ecology even mean?”

    Quickly, but not at no cost. The Guild consumes a lot of spice to make space travel possible, and charges monopoly prices. As a result, few people travel and planets are very much isolated from each other. Not sure what travel costs have to do with invalidating the meaning of ecology. It’s very easy nowadays to jump on a jet and travel to Australia, but Australia still has a very different ecology from that of North America.

  7. Jaego
    Posted August 16, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    There are striking similarities between Dune and The Game of Thrones: the betrayal of a great hearted but naïve Lord, the overt destruction of his noble house, and its rebirth on a higher level. Is there anything in our traditional literature that is anything like this? Or is this a new meme, one that perhaps unconsciously symbolizes the fate of the White Race?

  8. Bryan Sylvain
    Posted August 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Will you be discussing

    MISSIONARIA PROTECTIVA

    (exploitable “infectious superstitions”)

    in Part 2?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      It will have some mention.

  9. Posted August 16, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Great piece!
    I love this book.

    Will Trevor Lynch write about a dune-movie, maybe the movie from David Lynch / Dino De Laurentiis (1984)?
    It’s an epos like Jacksons LotR-movies.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 16, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Yes, Trevor is working on a review of the Dune movies.

  10. Verlis
    Posted August 16, 2014 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    This one of the few pieces I’ve read on CC that I can wholeheartedly admire. I’m grateful for this review that has succinctly put into words loose thoughts and themes that appealed to me so much when I first read Dune as a teen. Later on in my twenties I came to accept that there is more to life than order, authority and state security and that to ignore these other aspects was to deprive myself of too much of the juice in life. I became something of a liberal, and I remain one even now. I mention this because it’s important to remember that right-liberalism (as distinct from Conservatism Inc. hucksterism) gradually shades into traditionalism and authoritarianism. There is a contingent among right-liberals for whom individual liberty is not nearly so sacrosanct as portrayed by anti-liberals, particularly not with regard to all possible aspects of it. Such right-liberals are amenable to appeals to greater visions whose achievement may require sacrificing some degree of liberty. I apologize for being a nag, but assuming the goal is to be persuasive, surely the decision to characterize such a greater vision as feudalism qualifies as effectively calculatedly self-defeating, doesn’t it?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Freedom is important, but there are other values still higher.

      Feudalism is Herbert’s term.

      I don’t believe in feudalism and castes (another feature of the Dune cosmos). Far better is a socially fluid meritocracy on the model of the military and various holy orders.

    • Jaego
      Posted August 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      You may be closer to Herbert’s vision than you think. He takes on Communism or Humans as Insects in “Hellstrom’s Hive”. And remember, the both Lady Jessica and Paul are rebels to some degree against their orders. He may have seen such personal rebellion in the Elite as necessary, at least periodically, for the fulfillment of the Vision. And of course Joseph Knecht of the Glass Bead Game comes to mind as well.

  11. Peter Quint
    Posted August 15, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    It has been a few years since I have read Dune and I need to read the whole series. You seem to have an understanding of it. I remember that Leto II starts mutating into a sand worm i. e., a dragon. The planet Arrakis starts moistening and blooming, which will lead to the extinction of the sand worms and destruction of the only source in the universe of the spice melange. If I have read your article correctly that will end the spacing guild’s ability to fold space and end interstellar travel or at least sit it back. Why does he do this, what is the long-term goal or strategy? I understand that Leto is becoming a god, I just want to know what the end-state for the universe will be and why? Will Leto become an immortal and lead humanity to a golden age?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 17, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      That is at the end of Children of Dune. The worms don’t die, but their habitat is reduced, which tightens the spice supply and gives Leto greater despotic power. He rules as a tyrant for 3,500 years. His goal is to breed a new human type who is invisible to prescience, including his own prescience. He wants to free humanity from the control granted by prescience and prophecy.

      • Peter Quint
        Posted August 18, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Thank you for setting me on the “Golden Path.”

  12. John
    Posted August 15, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    If man can travel freely/quickly across the galaxy, what would ecology even mean? Also, the harshness of Dune, which harshness many interesting characters which to change, produced one of the most interesting cultures of fiction. I’ve never understood that part, but I’ve never read the later books.

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  • By The Guardian Hates Jews | The Right Stuff on April 4, 2015 at 7:32 am

    […] anniversary of Frank Herbert’s Dune in The Guardian. In the piece he links to the article, Archeofuturist Fiction:  Frank Herbert’s Dune, Part 1, by far right intellectual Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents […]

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