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Greatness is the Unifying Value of the Right

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Given the Alt Right’s recent break from Donald Trump, this article may seem a little mistimed. However, I think there’s a deeper truth to explore here that is not contingent on the blowing winds of transient current events.

What would you say if I asked you what your vision was of an ideal society? What are the values that your society would be centered on and organized toward achieving?

A libertarian may have values he wants to achieve, and he may even think that a libertarian order would be the most effective means for achieving them, but he doesn’t think society should be organized towards achieving anything. At least, not anything other than giving people an economy that makes it easier for them to buy whatever goods or services they’d like to buy.

Most libertarians focus on the ways in which value is subjective: if I want to spend my life masturbating and eating Cheetos, then the value of that activity is subjective to me. If you want to spend your life raising well-adjusted children, then the value of that activity is subjective to you. And if I’m willing to spend more money to be able to masturbate and eat Cheetos than you are on raising healthy families, then, well . . . it follows that in the libertarian framework, masturbating and eating Cheetos is more valuable than raising families in the only sense of the word “value” that means anything to the libertarian.

Most readers will be familiar by now with the research of Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist at New York University. We could summarize the research of Jonathan Haidt by saying that according to liberals, the supreme value around which society should be organized is everyone being nice to everyone. In his academic research on moral foundations, Haidt identifies five primary dimensions by which morality can be measured. Liberals don’t care about what he calls “authority,” “loyalty,” or “purity,” but they do care about “fairness” and “care.” Thus, the two most important things to ask are, was everyone treated according to the same rules, and did anyone get hurt?

Haidt has infamously established that conservatives actually understand the way liberals think far better than liberals understand conservatives. Because of research like this, Haidt has distanced himself from the liberal label. But Haidt’s framing of these issues still reflects the fact that he is, in his heart of hearts, a liberal. He still doesn’t intuitively get the impulses that a Rightist naturally feels. I believe Haidt is best understood as a reformer – that his inner hopes are on reforming liberalism so that he could feel comfortable calling himself a liberal once again.

This is an extremely important point: those of us on the Right side of the political spectrum don’t care about “authority” and “loyalty” just because we think those things are important in and of themselves. With these terms in place, the questions still remain: loyalty to whom? Who do you recognize as an authority? Hillary Clinton? The SPLC? CNN?

And when I think of the process by which Social Justice Warriors have infiltrated institutions and done things like watering down the standards for becoming a firefighter in order to allow in greater numbers of people from groups that perform worse on the entry tests, it occurs to me that those kinds of rules will necessarily be put in place and enforced by . . . “authorities.” Yet, no matter how high the Alt Right, or the Right more generally, might score on “authoritarianism,” I can’t bring myself to imagine a world where defending these kinds of rules just because authorities implemented them is the central point of the Right’s moral compass. Indeed, I could very well imagine conservatives actively working to subvert those rules, and the kinds of authorities that would uphold them. So claiming the Right puts greater value on “authority” than the Left really seems to miss the point.

I’d like to propose that when Donald Trump made “Make America Great Again” his campaign slogan, as trite as it may seem, this actually struck a much deeper chord than it appears at first glance, even to those of us who were taken in by his campaign. Those of us in the Alt Right will be more explicit about this, but I think it struck the same chord with a significant portion of the “normie” public as well: the value we want our ideal society to be organized towards achieving is greatness. And this really is just as significant and central to our political philosophy as the individual’s natural rights are for the libertarian or care and fairness are for the liberal. We may have different views of what it would take to achieve greatness, or of what greatness would look like, but the fact that we share this core value in common when we envision an ideal society is an extremely significant aspect of what unites us despite these differences.

Thus, the reason I can’t picture Right-wingers defending the kinds of “authorities” who do things like lower standards for entry into firefighting departments for the sake of so-called “equality” is this: these kinds of rules directly undermine the greatness of that firefighting department’s performance. The rationale for attributing an intrinsic valuing of “authority” to the Right is only because “authorities” are usually people who are leading institutions towards greatness! But as in the case of firefighting departments lowering their entry standards, we can clearly see that when “authority” and “greatness” come into conflict with one another, the Right would choose greatness, and thus, greatness is the essential value.

To his credit, Richard Spencer may be the only person I’ve yet heard who explicitly picked up on this when, in his 2016 appearance at Texas A&M, he said:

I agree with liberals who say, “Oh, Donald Trump, he’s vulgar, he’s ridiculous.” Look, I agree. But just the fact that Donald Trump said that word, “great” – that he had a sense of height, of upward movement, of greatness, that striving towards infinity – however vulgar he might be, at least he had a sense of it. And that’s what inspired the Alt Right . . .

This, I’d suggest, is why atheistic Nietzscheans and Randians find a natural home in the Alternative Right alongside Deus Vult Catholics: the ideal of the übermensch is about nothing other than placing greatness at the center of the reason for why society exists.

Quoting from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra:

The overman is the meaning of the earth. . . . Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman . . . What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end . . .[1]

Quoting from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s exposition of Nietzsche:

In modernity, the emergence of such figures seems possible only as an isolated event, as a flash of lightening from the dark cloud of humanity. Was there ever a culture, in contrast to modernity, which saw these sorts of higher types emerge in congress as a matter of expectation and design? Nietzsche’s early philological studies on the Greeks, such as Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, “Homer on Competition,” and “The Greek State,” concur that, indeed, the ancient world before Plato produced many exemplary human beings, coming forth independently of each other but “hewn from the same stone,” made possible by the fertile cultural milieu, the social expectation of greatness, and opportunities to prove individual merit in various competitive arenas. Indeed, Greek athletic contests, festivals of music and tragedy, and political life reflected, in Nietzsche’s view, a general appreciation for competition, rank, ingenuity, and the dynamic variation of formal structures of all sorts. Such institutions thereby promoted the elevation of human exemplars.

We can see here that it is central to the Nietzschean worldview that society is organized towards achieving greatness – that the value of greatness be reflected in the structures underpinning society.

Commentators often note that while the Right side of the political spectrum is united by its rejection of egalitarianism, it has no equivalent uniting principle of its own. This perspective defines Right-wing philosophy in the negative: it is anti-egalitarian, it is about opposition to the value the Left-wing places on egalitarianism. But why do we oppose egalitarianism? Is it not obvious that it’s not only because it is a fact that people are unequal, but because they are unequal in achieving greatness? And is the reason we care about this not because greatness needs to be differentiated from inferiority because we want to see, and be a part of, a society that works to elevate, promote, and encourage the former?

I would suggest, too, that this is why Ayn Rand’s fiction has always been more popular than her non-fiction in her so-called “philosophy.” While my view of the latter is mostly negative (I think she was a nearly incoherent philosopher in many ways), I also think the underlying spirit of her fiction is one of fixation on greatness. In a letter to Ayn Rand dated January 1958,[2] Ludwig von Mises made this observation in a particularly biting way:

Atlas Shrugged is not merely a novel. It is also – or may I say: first of all – a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society . . . You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: “You are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

There is obviously harsh emotion behind this statement, but I would suggest that the disdain he displays is not merely a reaction to the masses’ inferiority; it is a reaction to their lack of appreciation for greatness. Were the masses to remain just as “inferior” as they already are, but appreciate the greatness represented by those of their betters who improve the human condition, I see no reason to think Rand would have held the same contempt towards them. She loathed the masses not merely for being what they were, but for their lack of appreciation for the achievements of greatness.

Quoting from a dialogue between Cherryl Taggart and James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged:

All of you welfare preachers – it’s not unearned money that you’re after. You want handouts, but of a different kind. I’m a gold-digger of the spirit, you said, because I look for value. Then you, the welfare preachers . . . it’s the spirit that you want to loot. I never thought and nobody ever told us how it could be thought of and what it would mean – the unearned in spirit. But that is what you want. You want unearned love. You want unearned admiration. You want unearned greatness.[3]

Notes

1. Walter Kaufmann (ed.), The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking Penguin, 1982), pp. 125-127.

2. Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism (Auburn, Al.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007), p. 996.

3. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Signet, 1996), p. 821.

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13 Comments

  1. Jez Turner
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Jonathan Bowden would have liked this article. That’s praise indeed. The best of us are not in this movement solely for the sake of survival or mere materialism, but for something that liberals, leftists and libertarians can never understand; something higher, something indescribable and indefinable. The Glory that was Greece, the Grandeur that was Rome, and the GREATNESS of the coming White Race Renaissance!

  2. Posted April 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    A very fine article—and one which, to my mind, highlights an enormous challenge facing the Alt Right movement. This movement’s concern with what Mr. Cassiel usefully calls greatness alienates it from all other contemporary political movements, which pander rather to the vanity and the ressentiment of the masses. But how does a movement devoted to greatness gain a wide base of popular support in a society which not only disdains but actively repulses greatness?

    • John
      Posted April 18, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I understand your concern with the apparently low level of excellence in the modern West.
      But a couple of questions present themselves:
      Does such a movement need a large base of support?
      Does there need to be a “movement”, per se, at all?
      My intuition is that the thing to do is for each of us to simply pursue excellence in our own lives, and seek out like-minded others, and beyond that we simply accept that human societies evolve and unfold in the ways that they naturally will unfold. We don’t need to “do” anything other than become excellent and provide comradeship, support, and inspiration to others who are also pursuing excellence.
      I think there is a spark of desire for excellence in every person and simply by providing a living example of someone clear-headedly pursuing excellence, we naturally inspire others to do the same.
      No amount of organizing, agitating, voting, educating, or just generally talking is going to affect other people like seeing someone living and embodying excellence. An example is the way we are drawn to beautiful people. Or as Bin Laden put it, “people are naturally drawn to the strong horse.” We are drawn to excellence. It’s in our nature. So all there really is to “do” is to be as excellent as we can be.

      The difficult thing is to answer the question, “what about the people who simply can’t produce excellence – the weak, the old, the genetically cursed? What happens to them?” It’s hard to answer that question because the cold truth is that nature means for them to die. Nature tries out infinite combinations of DNA and intends the excellent combinations to flourish and the low-quality combinations to vanish. Real excellence means living in accordance with reality, with nature. But we also have compassion, and that feels like a kind of excellence too. So the answer would seem to be some sort of compassion for the unfortunate that soothes their suffering without helping them to reproduce or to hinder the pursuit of quality by those who are capable of excellence. Another answer would be that all are capable of behaving excellently even if they are not capable of producing the same excellence of outcomes.

      • Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Your point is well taken, John; at the very least it is certainly true that one must take care of one’s own, before one can legitimately worry about anything so wide and vague as a “movement.” I am also sympathetic with the idea of merely living one’s life as well as one may, and letting the dramas of wider society unfold as they will—participating in them at the peripheries and watching their unfolding with a degree of stoic remove. Yet there is something also to be said for the good battle, be it ever so doomed, against precisely the natural unfolding of societies—is there not?

        I admit to being somewhat skeptical of the “spark of desire for excellence in every person.” Surely it depends on how one defines excellence. I think it at least indisputable that the spark in question is not near so strong in our modern democratic day, as it has been in other times in our Occident. One of the true problems with our day, for which the Occident very well might be irrecoverable, is the degree to which it has ceded power and influence to individuals who have no regard for the heights of human achievement, and perhaps even look upon greatness or excellence with suspicion as being a thing they cannot participate in, nor even understand.

        So far as compassion goes—it seems suspect to me, as suspect indeed as cruelty. I agree with Nietzsche; a hundred times better were it to cultivate a kind of “joying with” human beings in their fortunes, than this largely useless “suffering with” in their misfortunes, which we so often preoccupy ourselves with. Or put otherwise—it is surely true that some, perhaps even many, cannot attain to true excellence even in poor reflection: why should we trouble ourselves overly with their plight?

  3. Proofreader
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always found the concluding words of Léon Degrelle’s Campaign in Russia profoundly moving:

    “But we could look to the future with heads held high. History weighs the merit of men. Above worldly baseness, we had offered our youth against total immolation. We had fought for Europe, its faith, its civilization. We had reached the very height of sincerity and sacrifice. Sooner or later Europe and the world would have to recognize the justice of our cause and the purity of our gift.

    “For hate dies, dies suffocated by its own stupidity and mediocrity, but grandeur is eternal.

    “And we lived in grandeur.”

    I feel that the ethos expressed by Degrelle is anagogic, leading onward and upward, appealing “to the individual to carry himself beyond himself, beyond simple vegetative life” (Julius Evola).

    • Ted
      Posted April 14, 2017 at 2:13 am | Permalink

      Thank you for posting Degrelle’s comment. Sometimes a moral boost like that is necessary.

      And I generally agree with the original post on greatness. This is why I always say that EGI is necessary but not sufficient. After all, assuming you safeguard your racial survival, then what? That’s a beginning, not an ending. One then has to look at Yockey’s idea of “actualizing a High Culture” – of achieving greatness on both the individual and the group levels.

      EGI is the foundation. Once the foundation is secure then you should build upon it, built up toward greatness, and storm the gates of heaven with your Faustian audacity.

  4. Intelligent Dasein
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    I don’t disagree that greatness is a unifying value of the Right, but I think it needs a little more context.

    I believe that, in some sense or another, everybody on the Alt-Right (or, as I see the term now being used, the True Right, which is a semantic change I applaud) has a metaphysical vision of order, an intellectual grasp of the way things essentially are and therefore existentially ought to be. It is acting under the impulse and guidance of this spiritual awareness that leads us towards greatness in all things.

    A portion of this can be grasped by the natural light of reason, but the fullness of it requires the theological virtue of faith. In either case, however, it cannot be dispensed with. Any attempt at achieving greatness without the essential truth will lead not to greatness but to monstrosities, as your example of the firefighters displays.

  5. Posted April 13, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Well I certainly agree that greatness is fundamental to the right. And one would expect this if one studies r/K selection theory, which asserts that K selected animals seek to reproduce less often while investing more energy into raising the offspring. Wolves (K selected) value competition because mastery of strength, speed, etc are all important survival needs within an environment of scarce resources.

    But I think the right-minded libertarian would say this: a person who is forced to be great really cannot be said to be great at all. Because greatness implies something earned or even morally superior, and those require a choice be made. Philosophically, greatness begs the question “great compared to what?” In the case of MAGA, compared to the present. And the past, since Trump followed up with “greater than ever before”. The key word for me is “Make”. People aren’t making things like they used to. We need to regain that spirit and remake ourselves. That’s not something governments are capable of doing. A leader can inspire but only the individual can aspire and act, not selfishly (Rand) or money (atheism) but for his kin and the future he leaves behind.

    • Aedon Cassiel
      Posted April 14, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      I’d just like to add here that I have no issues whatsoever with “libertarianism” if “libertarianism” is the position that a significantly reduced size of government would be a preferable social arrangement for achieving certain positive social and political outcomes. But “Libertarianism”, by and large, mostly just doesn’t seem to be made up of people who take this kind of position.

      Now, they usually think that this is true, sure—but even the fact that they think so really isn’t the root of their position. Just suppose with me, for a moment, that it was possible to shift our society in a direction towards becoming more like ancient Greece by creating institutions like theirs, and the only way to fund them was through putting major taxes on Cheetos and porn. Let’s say there are no paying jobs in our “Cheetos and porn” economy for people concerned about greater things to go into, and it would take forcing them into an arrangement more like ancient Greece’s to (a) sort the wheat from the chaff and (b) teach at least some of them that this is an arrangement worth having through experience.

      This is a slightly absurd scenario, sure, but the point is that for the “principled” Libertarian (as opposed to what we might call the “empirical” Libertarian), they would say that moving society in that direction by taxing porn and Cheetos would be the HEIGHT of immorality even IF this was in fact the empirical situation. I can agree with the “empirical” Libertarian on many points, and respectfully disagree on others. But I think this particular kind of “principled” Libertarianism should be disagreed with as disrespectfully as possible.

  6. Aedon Cassiel
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Since it’s a tangent, I’ll just use the comment box here to add a little substantiation to my claim about austro–libertarians. Here’s a perfectly ordinary, common sense claim: a starving homeless man gets more satisfaction out of a $1 sandwich than a rich man gets out of having an extra $1 to spend on a yacht. The starving man’s alternative to using that dollar on a sandwich is starving to death. The rich man’s alternative to keeping that dollar in his bank account is to buy a yacht worth $999,998 instead of one worth $999,999. Whatever else you may think about taxation, or welfare, or poor people, or rich people, or anything else, this much is true: the poor man gets more value out of that $1 sandwich than the rich man gets out of having the extra dollar spent on a yacht.

    Well, here’s an example of how austro–libertarians literally claim that you can’t say thisthat starving to death is objectively worse than having $1 less to spend on a yacht—because “intersubjective comparisons of value” or “interpersonal utility comparisons” are impossible:

    If preferences are subjective to each individual, and cannot even be measured or quantified for each individual, then obviously it would make no sense at all to try to combine or aggregate individual preferences into “social” preferences. Unfortunately, even professional economists often engage in just this type of reasoning. Many people (try to) justify progressive income taxation, for example, by claiming that “a dollar means more to a poor man than to a rich man.” The idea is that taking $1 million from Bill Gates won’t lower his utility very much, whereas handing out $1,000 to a thousand different homeless people will greatly boost each of their utilities. Therefore, the typical argument goes, total or “social” utility has been increased by the redistribution of some of Bill Gates’s wealth.

    … [But] You can’t add up different amounts of utility from various people.

    Again, regardless of your position on welfarism, there’s a real undercurrent of nihilism in the principle here that there are no objective measurements of value, just whatever the hell people happen to prefer—and that it’s not just poor taste or something, but somehow logically impossible to pass any kind of valid judgments on what those preferences are.

    • Proofreader
      Posted April 14, 2017 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Libertarian reasoning sometimes smacks of Talmudic casuistry or logic chopping, which is perhaps no surprise given the Jewishness of some of its leading figures (e.g., Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block).

      • Wiesse konig
        Posted April 14, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Where can I find out more about what the Talmud is actually saying? I keep hearing vastly different things on what the Jews actually think. (And of course I cant get a straight answer when I ask them)

        • riverrun
          Posted April 19, 2017 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          Read it. It’s easy to find and read.

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