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Whiggish History & the Right

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Buckley posing as writer in limousine with dog accessory

There is currently a minor contretemps in the Alt Right and Alt Lite as to whether National Socialism is of the Left or of the Right. This is a debate which, I believe, is generally of no practical import, is potentially divisive, and is rooted in several historiographical misapprehensions. 

First of all, the terms Left and Right have been defined in capricious and conflicting ways by several generations of commentators. Is a neoliberal to the Left of a neoconservative? Is a Right Hegelian to the Right of a classical liberal? You tell me, and we’ll both know.

The Left/Right debate here is mired in a problem in historiography known as a false dichotomy. It seems to me that the real issue at hand is not a division between Left and Right, but between nationalism and globalism, between the interests of the ethnostate and those of a deracinated, mongrel leviathan dominated by a few corporations wielding global monopoly control. Until a few decades ago, big business was generally considered to be aligned with the Right; now the giant corporations are almost exclusively in the camp of the Left. Left and Right, therefore, have become definitionally pretty useless; they really only serve as terms of convenience.

Secondly, the debate as to where the NSDAP should be placed along the Left-Right political spectrum is part of a phenomenon first adumbrated by the British historian Herbert Butterfield in his famous essay “The Whig Interpretation of History.” Butterfield noted that the 17th-century Whigs reinterpreted history in a manner that justified their current political positions. In other words, the Whigs viewed the past as malleable and the present as fixed. Since the Whigs viewed their political policies as the eschatological realization of a path that was fixed by God, the past had to be “re-ordered” to conform with this divine plan of progress.

The Whiggish “re-ordering” of the past has been a problem on the Right ever since William F. Buckley founded National Review. Buckley, a status-obsessed pathological narcissist, viewed politics as an evolutionary process in which William F. Buckley would become socially acceptable to liberals. Buckley seemingly had no enemies on the Left and no friends on the Right, and was a serial traitor to his closest associates, throwing under the bus the John Birch Society, Joe Sobran, Revilo Oliver (the best man at his wedding), Patrick Buchanan, John O’Sullivan, and Peter Brimelow, among many others, as his Weltanschauung drifted ever leftward. As the Left moved further leftward, Buckley was always there chopping off the Right wing of the Right. Under Buckley’s editorship of National Review, the Overton window became essentially a one-way mirror.

In his recent debates on the political orientation of the NSDAP, Vox Day has exhibited not a small amount of Buckleyism. Like Buckley, Vox is forever reminding us of how intelligent he is. There is, however, an underlying insecurity in someone who will cite his IQ score as a conversation starter. It comes as a surprise, then, for someone who is as self-evidently and self-referentially intelligent as Vox that he exhibits such a limited knowledge of the history of the Third Reich. The Nazi economy really was a mixed economy. Private ownership of property and industry remained largely in private hands. The Nazis did much to increase private ownership of family homes and many protections were enacted by Agriculture Minister Walther Darré to prevent bank foreclosures of family farms. It is also important to keep in mind that the first six years of the Third Reich were devoted to war preparation; the second six years were during WWII. In such times governments always exert greater control over their respective economies. The economy of the United States during WWII was hardly a paragon of laissez-faire virtue.

Interestingly, the Strasser brothers (Otto and Gregor) and Joseph Goebbels initially were leaders of the “Left” faction within the NSDAP who advocated a socialist course for the party. This was opposed by Hitler himself and was an issue that was not resolved until the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

Even in matters of aesthetic policy, the Nazis were hardly of one mind. On the same weekend in 1936, the music of Igor Stravinsky was performed and promoted at a festival of new music sponsored by the Reich Chamber of Music while the composer was denounced at a conference on Aryan art sponsored by Party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. It is somewhat humorous to note that the Third Reich exhibited greater diversity of thought than not only the Soviet Union of the Stalin era but also the typical American university of the present day. Generally speaking, intellectual diversity is more associated with the Right than the Left. Those slave-owning Founding Fathers certainly valued free speech much more than the typical SJW genderqueer Google executive or associate dean for affirmative action at the local community college.

Probably the most significant Left/Right distinction that places the NSDAP within the spectrum of the Right was the Nazi Party’s embrace of biology. The single idea that unites all varieties of the Left is the denial of biology. The sine qua non of all leftist ideology is the Lockean tabula rasa, that human nature does not exist, that genetics is nothing more than a social construct, and that man is a palimpsest upon which anything can be imprinted. In this regard, the NSDAP seems to be as far as removed from Leftist ideology as possible.

But the most unbelievable remark made by Vox Day during his most recent debate was that all philosophical disputes can be reduced to Aristotle vs. Plato. This is not only a false dichotomy; it is also a canard. This ridiculous example of historical reductionism has been around for decades. Plato has been falsely branded as a fascist or a communist because extremely shallow writers—most notably Ayn Rand—despised Plato due to his use of Sparta as a model for his ideal government as outlined in The Republic. In this philosophical dispensation, Aristotle is viewed as a precursor to Barry Goldwater. The idea that there can be any direct political analogy between the Greek polis of ca. 450 BC and the exhausted and deformed American democracy of the 21st century is ludicrous on its face. I am unaware of Aristotle’s view on marginal tax rates, but I doubt that the author of Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics would have been impressed with the Republican Party Platform of 2012. I am also fairly confident that Alexander the Great’s tutor would not have been impressed with the likes of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Vox’s constant celebration of himself and his use of the Randian Aristotle/Plato riff, I believe, are clear indications of his real political orientation. In his heart of hearts, Vox Day thinks of himself on the model of Ayn Rand’s pulp Zarathustras, Howard Roark and John Galt. Vox has now deigned twice to come down from Olympus and set us to rights about the true nature of National Socialism. In the end, we have learned little about National Socialism and much about Vox Day. But I am unimpressed with his preening, cheap rhetoric, and attempts at ideological policing and purging. We don’t need another Ayn Rand or William F. Buckley.

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20 Comments

  1. Lady B
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    What is Vox Day’s IQ?

  2. ronehjr
    Posted September 12, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Actually Vox’s argument is much simpler than you are trying to make it. He cares less about whether nazi’s were right wing than he does about whether the daily stormer and Andrew Anglin are bad for right wing politics because they are truly awful people. The intellectual categorizations are ultimately meaningless because the great bulk of the white population will respond to a simple moral argument than the semantics of naziism. That group definitely includes me.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 12, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Actually, if that was Vox’s argument, I think he would have made that argument.

  3. Posted September 12, 2017 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    yeah, even thought I do not agree with most of what anglin espouses, I was more on the side of anglin…as opposed to vox day and the stuffed shirts he caters to….

  4. nineofclubs
    Posted September 12, 2017 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    A very incisive article. The political divide of the 21st century will indeed be about communitarian nationalists v cosmopolitan globalists. Left and Right are already anachronisms.

  5. Mick
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Karl Popper had the same sort of thing to say about Plato in the Open Society. Is he considered shallow?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes

    • Lemur
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      Popper played fast and loose with both Hegel and Plato to suit his ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ agenda.

    • Posted September 12, 2017 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      Karl Popper interpreted Plato in a way that no one before him had ever done—presuming, evidently, that all prior commentators had been foolish or blind. He laid the responsibility at Plato’s feet for the Nazis (which he as a good liberal misinterpreted to their roots), despite the fact that they arose two millennia after Plato’s death and in a society which had changed radically from the days of Socratic Athens. He did this almost exclusively based on a singularly one-dimensional reading of Plato’s Republic and a curiously naive interpretation of Plato’s involvement in Syracuse.

      Laying aside all the questions begged by such an analysis—which it really is difficult not to accuse of shallowness—evidently Popper’s fundamental claim is that a thinker should be judged by the practical consequences which issue from his thought, whether or not these consequences were intended, and no matter when and in what circumstances they occurred. Then by Popper’s standards, we must surely hold Popper directly responsible for the acts, for example, of George Soros, who was even his student in university, and who has been throughout his monstrous career a proponent of none other than the “open society.” All the lives that have been damaged and ruined thanks to Soros’ political and economic meddling, all the ways in which Soros has bent society to form it precisely into a kind of closed society, all Soros’ sophisticated preparation for an inherently oppressive single world state—all of this must surely be traced back to Popper.

      And since Popper’s ideas have evidently resulted in their practical contrary (in the course, not indeed of two millennia, but of less than a single century), I think we can quite safely assert the man’s shallowness—again, by his very standards.

      • Arthur Frayn
        Posted September 12, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        I must be misunderstanding Karl Popper’s “open society,” because this argument is absurd. He was basically arguing that any attempt to identify a universal mechanism of historical change is an invitation to totalitarianism because we would inevitably attempt to impose this abstract ideal on real world social relations, which would then no longer be “fluid and emergent.” The existing development of society then would become a totalitarian self fulfilling prophecy.

        Think about what this means. He’s basically arguing that we can learn nothing from history without risking the prospect of totalitarianism. So why study history at all? If what he’s arguing is true, then we should stop studying it immediately and burn the history books, since we risk concentration camps, tyranny, war, oppression, and millions dead.

        What’s more, he’s assuming that existing societies haven’t already tried to discern for themselves what human nature or mechanisms of historical change are when they developed their institutions. But of course in any society we find attempts to answer these questions in their theology, philosophy, folktales, creation stories and so on. And we find institutional arrangements of various degrees of complexity reflect their conclusions. Therefore all existing societies are totalitarian and no “fluid and emergent” society has ever existed. And if we attempted to create this open society, we would be the totalitarians by his own definition because we would be attempting to remake existing social relations in the image of an abstraction which was invented and unconnected to real world experience.

        What did he think? That existing cultures and social relations developed out of thin air, at random, and that people had no agency in shaping their own institutional arrangements? Were we ants mindlessly building anthills until the latter half of the 20th century when we magically, like Skynet, became self aware?

        What’s more, isn’t he guilty of abstracting some universal law from history in interpreting it and deciding that all attempts to abstract universal laws of history lead to the prospect of totalitarianism? Is this is a joke?

        When you read shit like this, do you ever get the sense that the author himself doesn’t even believe what he is arguing?

        I’ll agree with the author about Vox, but I strongly disagree that Plato can’t be interpreted as a fascist. He, in fact, can and this is the real value of Plato’s analysis. He provides the both the most sophisticated defense of modern fascism as well as the most devastating critique of the axiomatic assumptions underlying liberal democratic modernity.

        Like our own emerging politics, Platonism came out of a post-democrtatic discourse in which people had to grapple with the realization that democracy was infeasible since much of what happens politically and socially has very little to do with the universal, conscious, and deliberate application of reason that our own Enlightenment thinkers posited. What is the value or point of tradition if such universal reason is possible? And how would democracy be possible or feasible if it isn’t? Those assumptions dead in in notions of universal equality and an interpretation of tradition as chains which hold us down and must be dismantled in the name of “progress” and the mythical end of history which is forever just around the corner.

  6. Antlitz Grollheim
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    The reactionary perspective a la Moldbug and Künnelt-Leddin is apt here. A “Left” is a sign of a degenerating power structure. A stable sovereign just is, and that’s the essence of the Right.

  7. Michael L.Woodbridge
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    The dichotomy between Left and Right is surely still useful despite historical obfuscation. A handy definition would be between those who believe in the morality of equality (Left) and those who believe in the morality of inequality (Right). Such moral principles cut across all other considerations. For instance, an emphasis on capitalism and big business, which has traditionally been regarded as of the Right, is at a philosophical level of the Left because it views all men as equal in their universal greed and fundamental materialism. On the other hand collectivism which has traditionally been regarded as of the Left, is at a philosophical level to the Right because it presupposes an hierarchical and therefore a biologically unequal structure to society.

  8. Peter
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Yeah… for all his merits… Voxday didn´t do himself many favors with his latest antics. I´m more and more unimpressed with him… his sophistic bickering over semantics with his really clever classification of NS as “left”… his mindless thrashing around upon the latest gab name-calling scandal (pedophile), his acknowledged willingness to burn down the whole world over this… while the alt-right is under the most massive attack… all this just reveals an immature character IMO. Sad.

  9. Angrif
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I doubt Aristotle would have much regard for “free market capitalism” given his opinion of usury, the very thing NatSoc economic policy was built around countering:

    “The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.”

  10. JimB
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Vox Day encapsulates perfectly the term “an educated idiot”, but he’s definitely not alone; there are scores of Vox Days all over the place, writing idiot articles, making idiot videos on YouTube, preening and mentally masturbating.

  11. Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    “But the most unbelievable remark made by Vox Day during his most recent debate was that all philosophical disputes can be reduced to Aristotle vs. Plato.”

    Sure sign that Vox Day has never seriously read either.

    This article is to my mind going absolutely in the right direction. The dichotomy between the right and the left surely has some provisional or delimited use in the context of Enlightenment thought; but it is itself of modern birth and carries the watermark of that origin.

    I would wager that the better part of the ideas that occur on a journal like Counter-Currents are irreducible to Enlightenment schema—which means, they exist outside of the dichotomy between “left” and “right.”

  12. curri
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    “It is also important to keep in mind that the first six years of the Third Reich were devoted to war preparation”

    The Versailles Treaty provisions effectively rendered Germany defenseless, the re-armament program of the Third Reich was meant to bring about a more normal balance of power. In 1933, France and the countries allied with France against Germany had a 12-1 superiority in active combat divisions and a superiority of 97-1 if fully equipped and trained reserves are included.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBLgZAv_Iqo&t=136s

    http://buchanan.org/blog/did-hitler-want-war-2068

    But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?

    If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?

    Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?

    Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?

    Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?

    Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

  13. Pietas
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    My IQ is 163. One can sort of see from Buckley’s son’s numerous book and Hollywood movie deals that he was buying his lineage’s way in to some neocon power structure all along. Thank you for Smoking was a good movie though. Contrast Oliver and sobran, both of infinitely greater intellectual integrity than William Buckley, but both dying without issue! They’re selecting us out!

  14. kerdasi amaq
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Buckley was working to his own hidden agenda. That why he fell out with so many people.

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