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Forging a New Iconoclasm

2,385 words

The conception prevalent among the general public is that since the late 1960s the left has been culturally ascendant. To a certain extent this is true: leftist values forged in the ‘60s (and prior) have achieved a sort of cultural dominance in the media, academia and the marketplace. However, the hegemony of the values of equality and deconstruction (if deconstruction can be considered a “value”) within the cultural discourse are merely a shadow of the sweeping and radical changes Marxists and leftists hoped to instantiate at the inception of their revolt.

If the progressive of the 1960s was concerned with class structure and financial equality, the modern progressive has not only acquiesced to an appeal to Capital as an authority to institute equality, but actually delights in this acquiescence. Hence, in contrast to the true believer of 50 years ago who tried to organize a self-sustaining co-op in order to institute his ideals in opposition to the system of Capital, today’s liberal financially petitions Netflix and John Oliver to repeat the tenets of the liberal ethos back to him in order to further substantiate them within his mental life and discourse. Willful, conscientious action on the part of the subject in this context has been relinquished.

This transition on the left was largely precipitated by the influence of globalist capitalism, which for the sake of brevity I will refer to as Capital in this essay. Accumulation, boundless expansion (or at least the hopeful anticipation of it), and repetition are the necessary components of Capital as it exists today. Before we can discuss the right’s current interaction with the system of Capital we must look critically at the left’s failed engagement and how this has paved the way for the new iconoclasm.

Requiem for the Contrarian Left

In 2001 the British author Christopher Hitchens published a book called Letters to a Young Contrarian. Being a devout and idealistic old school leftist in the Henry David Thoreau tradition, Hitchens genuinely valued the ideals of free speech, free inquiry, and political dissidence, and intended the book as a vehicle to carry those values out into the world of one-dimensional political discourse.

By “one-dimensional” I don’t mean that Hitchens saw the forces of “left” and “right” as being homogenous blocks of thought. Instead he hoped to see the left unify around common principles, the central revolutionary one being contrarianism, i.e., endlessly interrogating the powers that dictate the contours of discourse. The desire was essentially based on a type of political argumentation we can classify as dialectical. By dialectical, I mean simply a type of argument that leads to some form of resolution that has acknowledged the points made by both sides in the debates. The sense of resolution, however tenuous it might be, rests on the confidence the arguing party has in how it has responded to the accusations made by its adversary. Granted, this is an idealistic view of human disagreement because it essentially tries to untie our modern notion of argument from ad hominem personal attacks.

Within this framework Hitchens has two stances that he sees as being intrinsically laudable to the contrarian mindset: radical independence from ideology and dissidence. For Hitchens the dedication to argument for argument’s sake is inextricable from a mentality that is not satisfied resting on the tenets of any one established ideology. There are of course moral tenets worth arguing for and against, but these have to be drawn out of established ideologies and culturally resituated for the contrarian and his opponent in the midst of debate.

I cannot really delve too deeply into the philosophical soundness of Hitchens’s position here because it would take us too far afield, neither can I totally sympathize with him as a historical personage. What I am trying to do here is to give a concrete example of leftist contrarianism as it occurred at a particular point in history (the late ‘90s) and examine how the left has reacted to it. In this regard, it is worth noting that this book has not had any lasting impact on leftist rhetoric. Of all of Hitchens’s Quixotic positions — antagonizing the Clintons, antagonizing the legacy of Mother Teresa, defending David Irving’s right to publish, etc. — the only one that has been maintained by the left is his attacks on religion, and in doing so it has abandoned any pretense of contrarianism.

At this stage of the narrative the left has inadvertently taken on the project of preserving modernity and the system of Capital. As this shift has come to its apex the left, which had always viewed itself as intellectually superior, has relinquished its reliance on any semblance of the argumentative structure Hitchens advocated; political attacks by the left are either physical or ad hominem. In this sense, the intellectual vacuity of the media structures that now channel the frustrations of these people are actually being replicated within them like a virus. From an objective standpoint the endpoint of liberalism is now the total mirroring of the global capitalist agenda. The irony of this prospect negates any pretenses to libertarian individualism or identity politics the left might claim to embody.

The Marriage of Capital and Media

There is a Faustian aspect to the Boomer generation, this lies in its relation not to technology per se, but to the technology of mediation that picked up steam in the 1970s. To be sure, the Boomers were present for a great number of technological innovations that were of practical value, however, these are all now secondary in value to the streamlining and replication of media. The marriage of the media to the corporate world signifies what has become a fundamental premise for the project of modernity: technocracy. Technology and the principles of progress, which are innately aligned with it, have now edged out what can be called Tradition. I define Tradition here in the Evolian sense:

According to Tradition, every authority is fraudulent, every law is unjust and barbarous, every institution is vain and ephemeral unless they are ordained to the superior principle of Being, and unless they are derived from above and oriented “upward.” The traditional world knew divine kingship. It knew the bridge between the two worlds [the “material” and the “spiritual”], namely, initiation; it knew the two great ways of approach to the transcendent, namely heroic action and contemplation; it knew the mediation, namely, rites and faithfulness; it knew the social foundation, namely, the traditional law and the caste system; and it knew the political earthly symbol, namely, the empire.[1]

In contrast, Capital is essentially a hydra; it is advertising, it is corporate retail, it is the legacy news media, it is the entirety of television and film. All of these entities work together to maintain the current state of modernity that rules, or attempts to rule over, our day-to-day social interactions. Movies and TV reiterate the norms of complacency just as much as the news media. The media tell the subject explicitly what to think, television and film then show the subject how to act in accord with these principles and how to interpret the actions of others in light of them.

Due to this relinquishment of moral authority to the forces of Capital on the part of the left, the right now sees itself (or ought to see itself) in the contrarian role the left slowly abandoned over the last 50 years. They have conscientiously purged themselves of the abstract notions of equality, constitutional freedom, magic dirt, etc., which the previous wave of conservatism upheld. Thus, the right are the new contrarians and iconoclasts.

Instead of contrarianism, the farther extremes of the movement put race realism, or biological reductionism, at the heart of the movement. Unlike Hitchens, I am not arguing that the right ought to make contrarianism central; I believe the contrarian spirit is now a default attribute of the Alt Right as it moves into the role of legitimate counter-culture. I also do not see a dire need to replace race realism with things I feel to be more authentic, e.g., Tradition or Hierarchy. I believe these components exist implicitly and do not need to be consciously carried to the fore.

On this note it is important to draw a dialectical comparison between the far left and the far right and how it relates to the authenticity of what a movement is built around. Everyone has seen some photo of the torchlight march of August 11th. In contrast to this compare the image of the antifa member taking a selfie in front of a fire. Both of these images involve the utilization of an object that is a byproduct of modernity. For the torch-bearer it is a tiki torch purchased at Lowe’s, for the antifa it is a cellphone.

The narratives inscribed into both photos can be propositionally exhausted if we talk about them in physical terms, e.g., “These are white men, at night, carrying torches, wearing polo shirts, etc.” “This is an anti-capitalist protester, wearing black, taking a photo in front of a fire, etc.” What‘s more important though is that there is a metaphysical component to both of these photos. For the antifa it is the irony of him using a byproduct of the system he claims to detest to capture his moment of “defiance”.[2]

In a profound sense, the antifa’s moment is entirely contingent upon his place in modernity and what modernity has given him. His presence within the image is saturated with irony, an irony that he would willfully celebrate were it pointed out to him (such is the stuff that memes are made of). The metaphysics of the antifa’s photo is the embrace of this irony and all of the narratives we can construct that relate directly to the moment he is captured in.

By contrast, the technology being utilized by the rightist (the torch) is not dictating the metaphysical narrative of his photo. The torch is not the contingent aspect of the march photo, if anything is contingent in this sense, i.e., marks it temporally, it is the polo shirts. The photo of the march does not really have a significant ironic narrative necessarily attached to it in the way that the antifa’s does. Instead, the photo captures an ineffable narrative: men who have banded together to defend a historic monument. The question of authenticity in regard to the object has been relinquished as these men participate in a traditional narrative that could have occurred a hundred years ago, or even twelve hundred years ago.

The issue of this ineffability is conjoined to the spirit of Tradition and it is crucial that we take note of the fact that the media is totally incapable of understanding this. This is an action that falls outside the spectrum of the media’s ability to assimilate. However, assimilation is the role of the media insofar as it is an arm of Capital: the media must assimilate and translate an event to its consumers. Hence, the greatest lie being perpetrated by the media is not the labeling of the torch march as being a “Nazi rally.” No, the fundamental lie here is the media’s pretense to possessing the authority to define this event at all. The media — like the system of Capital that it serves — is a symptom of modernity, and as a symptom it has foresworn authenticity from the outset. It is for these reasons that I see the spirit of Tradition looming at the heart of the Alt Right as a movement and as a people.

The movement we are in is similar to the postwar period when conservatives attempted to coalesce but found themselves routed by the introduction of the neoconservative agenda. The damage committed by the rift created by the neocons seizing control of the mainstream face of conservatism cannot be overstated.

If the Alt Right has accomplished anything so far it has been the overthrowing of total neocon hegemony and the allowance for diverse members of the right, who had been excluded before, to begin coalescing again.

On the right the iconoclasm has been directed towards the neocons and the social ills they encouraged: military adventurism, celebrating multiculturalism in the service of plutocracy etc. The contrarianism, however, is broader. It is what marks our movement as an authentic counter-cultural revolution. In an interview, Jean Baudrillard stated that once the Soviet State had locked in its agenda freedom — as we understand the concept — became frozen. Subsequently, with the fall of the Soviet Union that freedom began to thaw and recirculate. This insight should hearten us as we enter into an increasingly Orwellian world, assuming that these acts of censorship and propaganda on the part of Capital are antecedent to America’s transition from its Weimar period to a more stable state of Soviet repression — so long as we remember that this state is something we can still opt out of by denying the legitimacy of the media and Capital in general.

By opting out in this manner we allow the State to atrophy into an entity that will separate itself from the authentic culture that still thrives amongst the common Americans who see the media and politicians as being foreign to their sensibilities. The new iconoclasm consists in exacerbating this fissure between the “normie” and the false media culture that seeks to placate him into a state of passive acceptance. As we saw earlier, this was the snare that sent the ‘60s counter-culture into a whirlwind of turmoil and contradiction. It is now time for us to collectively push the media and Capital into the realm of the totally foreign and explicitly illegitimate. We can accomplish this by continuing to move in the populist and grassroots way we did leading up to the election. For the Boomers, Capital was something that was lazily accepted into the heart of their movement and slowly poisoned it from the inside. For us it will be a process of willful extraction from this mindset of lazy acceptance.

Notes

[1] Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995), p. 6.

[2] The irony is only multiplied when we take stock of the fact that this phone is a product of the slave-labor of third world populations who the antifa sees himself as acting on behalf of.

 

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2 Comments

  1. gloob
    Posted September 12, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed this piece very much. Keep up the good work.

    I would also like to pass along this piece to Alex and his readers. It’s from a different slant from our issues. It’s always good to see that you’re not the only one who sees that there’s change in the wind.
    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-09-29/the-coming-of-the-postliberal-era/

  2. Laugh Track
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Outstanding analysis. Were the Left truly self-aware, they would be performing analysis like this upon themselves. Instead, ironically, they avoid such self-reflection and make sure that they, or their mainstream followers, never see such analysis by stigmatizing C-C or more broadly the Alt-Right as “a bunch of Nazis”. In other words, the Alt-Right is doing the intellectual work that the Left declines to do. Good stuff, Alex.

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