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R. R. Reno’s Return of the Strong Gods

Cover of R. R. Reno's Return of the Strong Gods1,694 words

R. R. Reno
Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West
Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 2019

Most of the people who come to the Dissident Right do so in spite of the Dissident Right. It is a common experience for those who become red-pilled to discover that the hatred they have experienced from the Establishment for the “sins” of being white or heterosexual or male is matched in vehemence by the hatred exhibited by many on the Dissident Right for those whose “sins” consist of having been born between the years of 1946 and 1964 or for being believing Christians. I know that there are many “silent” members of the Dissident Right whose views are not even expressed anonymously, but who have decided to remained cloistered—not out of fear of being doxxed—but out of a desire to limit the explicit hatred they endure to that from just those whose politics they oppose.[1]

I have argued in these pages and elsewhere that the Dissident Right only exists as an intellectual movement. It has been, and continues to be, completely bereft of any political leadership. Indeed, before it can even begin to entertain the idea of engaging in real political activity, the Dissident Right must learn how to educate and persuade white people of the rightness of our cause. This will involve engagement with caucasians of all stripes, including Baby Boomers and Christians.[2]

R. R. Reno’s Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West is an important book and one that needs to be taken very seriously by the Dissident Right. The author demonstrates that the origin of our current situation is much more complex than that put forward by the standard Dissident Right narrative. Furthermore, he presents a critique of laissez-faire capitalism, globalism, and radical individualism from a Christian standpoint that is as withering as anything emanating from the pagan Dissident Right.

Reno is a former Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism. He received a doctorate in theology from Yale and taught theology at Creighton University for twenty years. Currently, he is the editor of the Catholic journal First Things, which is gradually coming over to an editorial stance that is receptive to many of the ideas of the Dissident Right.

Reno’s thesis is that the generation that experienced the horrors of World War II came through that conflict with an understandable desire to prevent such a cataclysm from ever occurring again. With the best of intentions, they created a postwar consensus that sought to downplay what Reno calls the “strong gods,” that is, “the objects of men’s love and devotion, the sources of the passions and loyalties that unite societies” (p. xii). This movement was heavily influenced by Karl Popper’s book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)—a book that was an expansion upon Max Weber’s concept of “disenchantment”—in which Popper argued that to avoid another world war it was necessary to “open up” society by emphasizing the individual over group solidarity. As Reno explains it, this can be summarized as the abandonment of the “strong god” of truth for the “weak god” of meaning. In Dissident Right terms, we would most likely refer to this shift as the abandonment of the biological imperative for the caprices of self-actualization.

The proponents of the postwar consensus believed that they were creating a post-ideological polity, one based entirely on the empirical results of social science research. Reno acknowledges that Popper himself was aware of the paradox that his position creates an ideology that is ultimately inflexible and hostile to dissent:

As Popper makes clear, pragmatism in politics—the end of strong truth-claims in public life—produces paradoxically powerful political and cultural imperatives. It requires denying principled political arguments and policies. Championing authenticity in personal life demands rejecting the authority of traditional moral norms. (p. 13, italics in original)

Reno then shows that the influence of two other books, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) and T. W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s The Authoritarian Personality (1950) contributed heavily to the process of “weakening” and “disenchantment” that has brought Western Civilization to its current predicament. In the former book, man is reduced by laissez-faire capitalism to the status of an atomized economic unit in which economic rights and individual economic freedom obviate the need for moral normativity. In the latter book by the two doyens of the Frankfurt School, any type of patriarchal family is a breeding ground for fascism and must be opposed.

While the pagan Dissident Right often talks about the Faustian nature of the white race (and very correctly, I believe) in which exploration, creativity, and an aristocratic disdain for the quotidian predominate, and in which the pursuit of truth and excellence results in an acknowledgement and celebration of true difference, Reno rephrases this pursuit of truth and excellence as the search for the transcendent. Here is an important nexus between the pagan and the Christian Dissident Right. Whether one aspires to the condition of the Übermensch or to eternal salvation, the Dissident Right is ultimately concerned with something beyond the self. The individual is not an atomized economic unit, and identity is not endlessly malleable.

In the very excellent chapter entitled “Therapies of Disenchantment,” Reno explains that postwar educators sought to keep the traditions of Western Civilization and liberal education but to reduce their authority by “shifting from truth to meaning, from conviction to critical questioning” (p. 38, italics in original). As Reno quotes from The Open Society, Popper states:

If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that if we wish our civilization to survive we must break from the habit of deference to great men. (p. 39)

Of course, if there is no authority, and education is no longer a pursuit of truth, but is rather a process of critique, what is the goal of all of this? As Reno explains, the goal is the production of “meaning,” that is, to deny truth and to demonstrate that institutions, ideas, works of art, and historical events are products of economic, racial, social, and cultural conditions and have no intrinsic merit. For example, Mozart’s 40th Symphony is not one of the greatest instrumental works in Western history; it is, instead, a product of a class-ridden, racist, and misogynistic society in which similarly great symphonies by female, non-cisgendered, and persons of color were not allowed to be composed. By this logic, anything that attracts our interest, our admiration, and our loyalty must be “problematized” so that the process of disenchantment can never be abated. The Cold War mitigated to a certain extent the ever-downward course of this process of disenchantment; however, as the author points out, once begun, the weakening forces of disenchantment “tended toward pure negation, leaving us a utopian dream of politics without transcendence, peace without unity, and justice without virtue” (p. 75).

The tragedy of liberalism as described by Reno is its “smallness,” its rejection of greatness and transcendence, its celebration of diversity without difference, its abhorrence of any form of discrimination including discriminating taste. As the author so eloquently phrases it:

A society lives on answers, not merely questions. The political and cultural crisis of the West today is the result of our refusal—perhaps incapacity—to honor the strong gods that stiffen the spine and inspire loyalty. (p. 95)

What then, is to be done? According to Reno, what will not work is “never-ending critique, the spontaneous order of the free market, technocratic management of utilities, and other therapies of weakening” (p. 140), because “the actual problems we face—atomization, dissolving communal bonds, disintegrating family ties, and a nihilistic culture of limitless self-definition—go unaddressed” (p. 144). Reno proposes:

  • Greater economic solidarity between labor and capital
  • Strong families
  • An educational system based on truth instead of critique
  • Return to a belief in the transcendent
  • A respect for communities of identity

Reno is not completely red-pilled. He is still too much of a civic nationalist for my taste, but his intellectual evolution has been remarkable, especially for one who only four years ago was a never-Trumper. His book strengthens and gives greater insight into the standard Dissident Right narrative of how we got to the current year. He explains the intellectual history of the postwar era in a way that is accessible and appealing to intelligent normies and can help to move them ever so closer to our side. And for that he deserves our praise and gratitude.

Notes

[1] For instance, a friend of mine — who is a DBB (Dreaded Baby Boomer), an evangelical Christian, and a high-ranking official in my state’s GOP, and who has no idea of my involvement in the Dissident Right — last year attempted to red pill me and gave me a list of websites I should peruse, one of which was Counter-Currents. My friend even goes to the trouble of using anonymous means of contributing to a number of Dissident Right entities, a wise idea given her position. She does express some trepidation about the Dissident Right’s hostility to Christianity, but takes it in stride as just one more cross to bear. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if the Dissident Right actually created a welcoming environment for those who share our beliefs?

[2] The Charlottesville incident has had the salutary effect of eliminating or marginalizing the influence on the Dissident Right of the SS-wannabes with mother-in-law fetishes, the vulgarians with daddy issues, and the upper-class twits with trust funds. As the eminent blogger The Z-Man so eloquently put it in a recent podcast: “No one is going to buy Richard Spencer 2.0.” All of this has allowed gifted communicators for the cause of Caucasians to come to the fore — including No White Guilt, The Great Order, and the Z-Man himself among others — who are not overtly hostile to white Baby Boomers (whose votes and $7 trillion in assets could prove to be very useful in the coming struggle) and white Christians (who engage in the type of family formation that is essential for the survival of the white race).

21 Comments

  1. Stronza
    Posted January 17, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    From First Corinthians: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

    It may cause me a bit of anguish to have to quote from the bible to make my point, but here it is: the religions that our ancestors practiced for ages, and during which they thrived, are no longer right for us. Because we are not the same people anymore.

    If you want to return either to paganism or Christianity in a big way just because it was during those eras that we soared, then you have to recreate the conditions that existed then. Those conditions produced our ancestors. This is not some kind of deliberate construction project. If it happens – a return to the strengths of our forefathers – it will be in a way most of you would never, ever want to see happen, that is, total collapse.

    There’s bits of wisdom here and there in the bible that no pagan would automatically dismiss.

  2. Andris
    Posted January 17, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    It still amazes me how a grown man can believe in a fairy tale book while ignoring that the West as we know it was sculpted by Pagan Ancient Greeks and Romans. It’s truly incredible how christian nonsense is still a thing.

  3. Alexandra O
    Posted January 17, 2020 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    The reason I stopped being a Christian and stopped supporting Christianity in any way was their missionary efforts, which send boatloads of money, medicine and other aid to every third-world sinkhole in order to ‘convert’ them, which creates nothing but a pipeline for them to move in with us. We must stop immigration into White homelands in North America and Europe, or we will cease to exist as a political entity (nations) or a physical entity — White people. That’s as clear as I can be on this subject. I still live according to 6 of the 10 Commandments of Christianity, absorbed from Judaism, and consider myself a moral person, and I think most White people who have been raised Christian have kept this moral compass as well, but contemporary Christianity has totally lost its authority and its mental bearings, as I see it! And I’m an old boomer as well, and remember a better America before the immigrants flooded it.

  4. NorthWitch
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    The idea that the dissident right is dominated by Christian-hating pagans is preposterous. Who? Where?

    More seriously, simply asserting Christianity over the population because it seemed like a good idea in the past is not going to work. Christianity has lethal problems at its core that need to be addressed if it is to be made into something life affirming. Personally I don’t see the dissident right ever permitting this work to happen. If there is hope, it lies outside the systems that got us here, not in doubling down on them.

  5. E. Perez
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Permalink


    Greater economic solidarity between labor and capital
    Strong families
    An educational system based on truth instead of critique
    Return to a belief in the transcendent
    A respect for communities of identity

    From which edition of Der Völkische Beobachter did he copy that ?

  6. Nikandros
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    As long a Christian supports the formation of a white ethnostate and the exclusion of Jews from said state, they’re okay by me. Although, they would all probably be happier if they split off and formed their own society once our racial future has been secured.

  7. Dr ExCathedra
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    No longer Christian myself, but I can’t help noticing that the only groups who seem to hate the WhiteWest’s millennial religion more than righty Neo-Pagans and Nietzscheans are Jews, Marxists/Progressives,and Feminists.

    Odd.

    • nowon
      Posted January 16, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t odd at all. The latter group hated / hates the religion simply because it was normative for people of European descent in power; the content was of secondary concern.
      The first group ‘hates’ it because of its ultimate corrupting influence on that same European people, losing power , and for its concomitant foreign-Semitic baggage.

  8. John Smithwick
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Build the European American Faith

  9. HamburgerToday
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if the Dissident Right actually created a welcoming environment for those who share our beliefs?

    And, of course, the first two comments are anti-Christian to some extent.

    Now, on to the essay itself.

    Well-written and very helpful.

    I read a review of this same book on a different site (not sure which) that presented a different interpretation of ‘Return of the Strong Gods’, so now I’m a bit more curious about it.

    As for Reno’s remedy — ‘Greater economic solidarity between labor and capital’ etc — my response is ‘Yeah, so? What’s it going to take to get there?’ because that seems to me to be the task before us.

    Assuming most of the Dissident Right are not aching for a Turner Diaries Gotterdammerung, how are we going to seduce enough of the victims (and carriers) of Culture of Infinite Critique and Endless Narcissism to our side?

    For myself, the ongoing task is to identify and eliminate all vestiges of ‘liberal’ thought-processes within myself while continuing to explore and cultivate Racial Right mentation.

    • nineofclubs
      Posted January 16, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      “As for Reno’s remedy — ‘Greater economic solidarity between labor and capital’ etc — my response is ‘Yeah, so? What’s it going to take to get there?’ because that seems to me to be the task before us.”

      Indeed. I wonder what Reno thinks of when he speaks of ‘capital’. Does he mean shareholders? Does he mean the managerial class? Does he speak of the banking sector, with its power to create new money?

      Unfortunately much political debate (or what passes for it) – especially in the US – is characterised by the use of vaguely defined but highly emotive terms that polarise our people.

      IMO the answer to creating greater solidarity between members of an organic nation lies in creating a system that provides fairer – but not absolutely equal – economic outcomes. Living wages, more direct worker or consumer ownership of the means of production, nationalisation of natural monopolies, a generous welfare system characterised by reciprocity rather than entitlement and an end to the privatised power of banking corporations to create the national money supply.

      The socialism of the the late 19th century supported cooperatives and mutual associations. Many of these associations were defined along religious lines, with religion being the dividing (or uniting, whichever way you look at it) element in ethnically homogeneous societies. Today, I see some prospect for the return of mutual aid societies in an environment where religion is no longer the dividing element, but rather with ethnicity as the uniting/dividing factor. If you look at Casa Pound’s community work among the Italian people, you can see how this might work.

      I hardly imagine Reno will come out endorsing Casa Pound, but in the short term I think something like their approach would help to build greater solidarity within organic national communities.

      .

      • Traddles
        Posted January 17, 2020 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        It’s so good to see positive suggestions such as yours, nineofclubs. It’s what we badly need to go forward. I’ve long believed that mutual-aid societies would be very helpful, and frankly essential, and I also think your ideas for a more fair economic system are worthy of much consideration. For those who are troubled by the internationalist aspects of some socialists, there are many examples of patriotic, socially conservative socialists who can also be studied and emulated (and not just National Socialists in Germany).

        The sad death of Roger Scruton highlights some of the weaknesses in the dissident right. For some, Scruton was not, shall we say, “woke” enough to the Jewish question or racial issues to merit attention. Yet I can’t think of anyone who did more in recent years to seriously fight for traditional Western culture, and standards, and concepts such as beauty. Along with his deeper philosophical works, Scruton frequently argued important truths in accessible ways; for example how conservatives look around them and see things that should be preserved, while leftists are obsessed with what they want destroyed, both before and after acquiring power. He offers a lot of ammo that we dissidents can use, yet he and others like him are sometimes simplistically dismissed as “Civic nationalists.”

        • HamburgerToday
          Posted January 17, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          The problem is the ‘conservative’ brand, it was never really what the movement was about. The reality is that ‘conservatism’ was always a reaction to liberalism and in many, many ways symbiotically dependent upon liberalism in order to make sense. ‘Conservatism’ has always been defending the traditions of autochthonic ethnoi against various forms of attack driving from other ethnoi. Eventually ‘conservatism’ just became the slightly-behind-the-times version of liberalism and Scruton’s appeals to universal values are a good example a ‘conservative’ completely accepting liberal idealism. Conservatism is done because Liberalism is done. The Age of Revolutionary Ethnoi is upon us. The question is whether the White ethnos will successfully rise to this revolutionary struggle or be wiped from the face of the Earth.

      • HamburgerToday
        Posted January 17, 2020 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        I concur with your comments about ‘capital’ and the (intentional?) imprecision of much political-economic discourse.

        IMO the answer to creating greater solidarity between members of an organic nation lies in creating a system that provides fairer – but not absolutely equal – economic outcomes.

        Yes and this this was at least one of the insights of Italian Fascism. Humans do not live by bread alone, but nor are they able to fill their bellies with The Symbolic, however important those symbols might be.

        Italian Fascism was incredibly successful at generating loyalty, especially in — the seemingly always poor — Southern Italy. When Mussolini’s granddaughter ran for office, she was elected handily. One of the reasons for the success of Lege is that they have toned down their anti-South rhetoric (and removed ‘Nord’ from their name).

        We are not going to strip away every barrier to conflict within the White Race, but that really isn’t necessary to achieve victory. All that is needed is that the most intense causes of friction be sufficiently diminished that a critical mass of people feel that they have a stake in, first acquiring, and then maintaining ethno-genetic solidarity.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    It’s very difficult for me to take anything a Catholic says seriously. When they learn I’m a Satanist they tend to freak out badly out of their ignorance (it’s atheistic and not defined by Christianity, but they only know of their narrow and ridiculously inadequate definition of Satan).

    I agree, however, with this idea that we’ve got to get past those kinds of hangups if the Dissident Right is to ever leave the shadows.

    I’ve made it a personal goal for a year or so now to really try to learn how to get along with religious Christians. I’m surrounded by them and they are the majority of society for the time being (even as that is changing, but I find many “Nones” and self-described atheists still think a lot like their former Christianity, habits ARE hard to break after all).

    This is a good message and something I think the American founding fathers intended, E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.

    • Randy
      Posted January 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Satanism is Catholicism inverted. Who could ever trust a Satanist if the bottom line is one’s own individual advantage? Anyway a Satanist should be quite happy with today’s global culture because it is certainly a black mass secularized. All traditional values have been turned upside down.

      • Anonymous
        Posted January 17, 2020 at 1:35 am | Permalink

        No, it is not but the world is full of ignorant people like you who refuse to accept facts from primary sources.

        I literally said it wasn’t defined by Catholics even though they ignorantly think so but you took off with it anyway. The Church of Satan has a F.A.Q. on their website. I suggest you read it. You probably won’t but everyone gets one and it’s not common knowledge.

        Now, as far as your ridiculous statement about self interest, I’ll remind you that all human behavior, for the most part, is self interested, even the altruistic stuff. It feels good to help other people. We’re social apes and that is normal, healthy, and natural for us.

        “All traditional values…”
        Life is change. We evolve both as individuals and as a species with time.

        It seems like you have a problem with reality. Take your complaints up with reality, not me.

        • Randy
          Posted January 17, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          I read the pedestrian Satanic Bible years ago when probably about your age.
          You are welcome to be a Satanist, so far as I am concerned. I suppose that is better than being a guy who has a monthly period. Last word goes to you.

    • Achilles Wannabe
      Posted January 16, 2020 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      What is your definition of Satan?

  11. Joshua Shalet
    Posted January 16, 2020 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Both paganism and christianity are stupidity and lies respectively

    See Alan W Cecils book “secular by design” and the “Noahide Code”

    • Randy
      Posted January 16, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      I certainly don’t agree with this. Here’s a great book on the subject of Greek religion, epic poetry and philosophy: “The Discovery of the Mind” by Bruno Snell

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