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Towards a Right-Wing Critical Theory

2,503 words

Amid the social turmoil of the late 1960s, the German Communist student Rudi Dutschke called for a “long march through the institutions” as the preferred strategy of ensuring the victory of global Marxist revolution. The success of this initiative is no more prominent in the West than in today’s academia, where Frankfurt School Critical Theory and its related trend, postmodernism, maintain an iron grip of control over the intellectual atmosphere, viciously rooting out all forms of dissent through outing, outrageous accusations, public shaming, firing, and, all too often, the tragic consequence of permanently destroying one’s future. Should any uppity academic arrogate to oppose the systemic “deconstruction” of the heteronormative, cisnormative, patriarchal, ethnocentric, elitist, religious West, their villainous resistance to tolerance and progress will be justly silenced.

Naturally, such quasi-Stalinist practices (we will remove “quasi” once incarceration, and not the loss of one’s livelihood, becomes the normal penalty for opposition) make a bad impression on those yet unconvinced of the merits of these intellectual traditions. Popular figures such as Jordan Peterson and Pat Buchanan are well known for their criticisms of critical theory, with the unfortunate consequence that their obstinacy in truly engaging with the school has resulted in more than a few jokes and the vehement refusal of most men on the Right to see anything valuable in the enemy’s unwavering criticism and deconstruction of the modern West’s various sacred cows. Peterson is often mocked by Leftist intellectuals and their followers for his tirade against “postmodern neo-Marxism,” quick to see the movement as nothing but a nihilistic and epistemologically skepticist cult with no real conviction for anything but frenetic revolution. Pat Buchanan, in The Death of the West, [1] [1] acknowledges the Frankfurt School’s success in undermining the various institutions of our civilization, but can only pathetically anathematize critical theory as “anything but benign” [2] [2] in the typical fashion of a paranoid and impotent American “conservative” who is chronically unable to realize the inevitable, downward-spiraling consequences of the Enlightenment project and fears for the destruction of his comfortable, consumer lifestyle. Accusing the cultural Marxists of preferring psychological conditioning to philosophical argument, [3] [3] Buchanan fails to see the irony when he continues to merely restate the anti-Western positions of critical theorists in order to generate panic in his readership without producing any real understanding or alternative, openly remarking a few pages later that “traditionalists have yet to discover effective countermeasures.” [4] [4]

But they have. If “traditionalists” have yet to discover effective methods to defend the West’s traditional values, it is only because Buchanan conflates traditionalism — more specifically, Traditionalism — with his own “paleoconservatism” and worship of classical liberal American principles. It is indisputable that Republicans, Right-wing libertarians, and other mainstream conservatives are more concerned with the performance of the stock market and a vague notion of “liberty” than they are with the much more tangible and profound issues of demographic change, the family, spiritual well-being, and other matters factoring into the question of whether or not the proverbial “pursuit of happiness” means anything more than the hollow satisfaction offered by monetary gain; consequently, they are by no means willing to actively engage with self-professed enemies of Western Civilization through anything but the occasional pseudointellectual garbage (of which The Death of the West is a slightly above average example) regurgitated by “thinkers” like Dinesh D’Souza or Ben Shapiro. This is owed in no small part to the time-honored American tradition of anti-intellectualism and the fact that any real action would cost them their own, slightly older, modernist ideals. However, once one is willing to recognize that a true conservatism entails a rejection of all revolutionary tendencies and thus begins to look outside the camp of those satisfied with self-destructive American principles, one sees that the Right itself has access to an entire critical tradition of its own, older than that of the Frankfurt School, which needs only to be revived to fight academic Leftism with its own methods: a radical disillusionment with the bourgeois narrative of progress combined with a systematic effort to establish an intellectual elite of theorists through securing as much influence as possible by openly working to deconstruct all modern myths.

You can buy The World in Flames: The Shorter Writings of Francis Parker Yockey here. [5]

That is to say, if the Right can look beyond the specific, unappealing conclusions of critical theorists and postmodernists and instead take inspiration from their methods as a whole, this tradition could be recovered. But, once again, what is meant by “Right” is no milquetoast Americanist conservatism, nor even the illiberal ethnonationalism of the “alt-right,” which are both essentially modernist. Rather, what might be termed “Right-wing critical theory” is fully and fundamentally counter-revolutionary, in the intellectual vein of the Traditionalists René Guénon and Julius Evola. To the extent that the “West” is identified with the individualistic, secularist paradigm of European society following the Enlightenment and French Revolution, Right-wing critical theory can even be termed anti-Western. Opposing material and moral progress, the bourgeois invention of the nation-state, the artificial dichotomy of capitalism and communism, the secular rationalism of the Enlightenment and its arrogant dismissal of other cultural traditions, stale Christian moralism, biological racism, the unjust oppression of colonized peoples by mercantile European empires, the primacy of science, and a plethora of other ideas specific to the modern West, Evola and Guénon frequently sound like trendy postmodern academics or other “cultural Marxist” intellectuals. If the Traditional Right is to crush — or “deconstruct” — the ideologies and institutions that led to the genesis of decadent modernity, then they would do well to imitate the critical theorists by looking at our own critical tradition as developed by these seminal thinkers and thus catch the enemy off guard by using his own weapons. In what follows, I will list five excerpts (though I could list many, many more) that demonstrate Guénon and Evola’s uncanny skill in challenging the distorted and puerile Weltanschauung of Western bourgeois civilization.

Let us begin with the central myth of modernity. Regarding the idea of progress, Evola, in Revolt Against the Modern World, states:

No idea is as absurd as the idea of progress, which together with its corollary notion of the superiority of modern civilization, has creative its own “positive” alibis by falsifying history, by insinuating harmful myths in people’s minds, and by proclaiming itself sovereign at the crossroads of the plebeian ideology from which it originated. . . . Our contemporaries must truly have become blind if they really thought they could measure everything by their standards and consider their own civilization as privileged, as the one to which the history of the world was preordained and outside of which there is nothing but barbarism, darkness, and superstition. [5] [6]

Written during the existential crisis of faith experienced by the champions of liberalism in the wake of the Second World War, Guénon appraises the idea of material progress:

However, let us consider things for a moment from the standpoint of those whose ideal is material “welfare,” and who therefore rejoice at all the improvements to life furnished by modern “progress”; are they quite sure they are not being duped? Is it true that, because they dispose of swifter means of communication and other things of the kind, and because of their more agitated and complicated manner of life, men are happier today than they were formerly? The very opposite seems to us to be true: disequilibrium cannot be a condition of real happiness. Moreover, the more needs a man has, the greater the likelihood that he will lack something, and thereby be unhappy; modern civilization aims at creating more and more artificial needs, and as we have already said, it will always create more needs than it can satisfy, for once one has started on this path, it is very hard to stop, and, indeed, there is no reason for stopping at any particular point. [6] [7]

Next, for those who know all too well the Leftist lecture on how everything is merely a “social construct,” let us take a look at Evola’s views on the modern nation-state, taken from the same work, wherein the “nation” is only a result of the degeneration of the higher ideal of the Imperium, or Empire:

Modern nationalism is not based on a natural unity, but on an artificial and centralizing one . . . Regardless of its myths, the substance of modern nationalism is not an ethnos [emphasis original] but a demos, and its prototype always remains the plebian one produced by the French revolution. . . . It is well known that in Europe during the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with revolution . . . What emerges in nationalism is an opposite aspect, namely, the cumulative and collectivizing element. [7] [8]

What may be most surprising is how similar the Guénonian-Evolian critique of European colonialism sounds to modern liberal-academic critiques of the same; far from praising the conquering spirit of the European people, Guénon and Evola strictly condemn the cruel spread of materialism and “progress” to other parts of the globe, the subsequent economic exploitation, the laughable intimations of Western superiority, and the perceived unbridgeable differences between East and West. Any reader who has taken a college course or two on an Eastern culture will probably have heard of the Gramscian Marxist and postmodernist writer Edward Said, who in 1978 published Orientalism (a holy book in today’s universities), accusing Western civilization, which supposedly sees itself as masculine, active, rationalistic, and progressive, of caricaturizing the East — fundamentally Other — as feminine, passive, superstitious, and regressive, and using this depiction to justify colonialism. Long before Said penned Orientalism, however, Guénon, as early as 1927, had already dismissed the arrogance of modernist Western scholars who had failed to understand the East, blaming the supposed divide between Occident and Orient on the West’s abnormality:

There is no essential opposition between [traditional civilizations] . . . On the other hand, a civilization that recognizes no higher principles, but is in reality based on a negation of principles, is by this very fact ruled out from all mutual understanding with other civilizations . . . There was no reason for opposition between East and West as long as there were traditional civilizations in the West as well as in the East; the opposition has meaning only as far as the modern West is concerned, for it is far more an opposition between two mentalities than between two more or less clearly defined geographical entities. [8] [9]

Often misrepresented as a sadistic, militarist fascist bent on oppressing others for the mere hell of it, Evola, in Recognitions: Studies on Men and Problems from the Perspective of the Right, critiques Western imperialism:

. . . but especially with regard to the Orient the idea of “superiority of civilization” was a mere presumption of the white races, as was the conviction that Christianity made the Occident the bearer of the true faith, authorizing it to a haughty detachment from the rest of humanity, which it considered “pagan” and barbaric. . . . The myth of superiority, which in the end justified every sort of abuse and oppression, rested on the progressivist superstition — that is on the idea that science and technological civilization constitute the last word on the history of the world, and secure the Europeans of the global right to a general “civilizing” work. [9] [10]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s From Plato to Postmodernism here [11]

It is quite obvious that the similarities with the critical theorists extend only as far as the act of criticism itself, only in recognizing that there is a crucial problem with the world today and the subsequent initiation of intellectual-cultural militancy against it; thus, the critical Right must in truth act as a counter-criticism, combating the pernicious assumptions of the modern world as well as of the Marxist theorists themselves. One clear example is found in Evola’s doctrine of the regression of the castes, viewing bourgeois society as a morphological anomaly of civilizations but even more harshly condemning the Marxist-led proletarian movements which seek to replace it. [10] [12] Nor could the formation of a true Right-wing critical theory flourish without a concomitant spiritual awakening; as today’s subversive academics are fueled by a religious white guilt and bourgeois pity for “oppressed” minorities, the Right ought to draw strength from a source indescribably higher.

One might object that the formation of an intellectual elite in today’s increasingly dystopian environment is fanciful at best and delusional at worst. After all, Guénon, in The Crisis of the Modern World, explicitly advocated for the formation of an élite intellectuelle to make contact with spiritual representatives of the East in order to direct the West back onto a course of normality, eventually giving up on this possibility late in life. Likewise, Evola’s idea of the Männerbund (though this was less intellectual for him) has hardly come to fruition. Furthermore, open critical dissent — that is, not merely expositions of one’s own ideology, but the direct deconstruction of the dominant paradigms peddled by the Leftist elite — isn’t safe for a family man with a job.

However, as the technocratic surveillance state tends increasingly towards practical omnipotence and omnipresence, and those preferring to stick to the shadows in some remote corner of America become increasingly unable to do so, one must ask oneself what alternatives are left. Nor should anyone mistakenly believe that a Right-wing critical theory would discourage complementary action; as the 60s generation marched in the streets, their allied intellectuals fervently published in their defense.  It is also worth considering that the revolutionaries themselves faced the same dangers of loss of their livelihoods, reputations, or even lives through active dissent. If true men of the Right can ride the tiger by adopting the same methodologies of deconstruction and disillusionment as their subversive opponents, and use their increased popularity to gain ever more prominent positions with society, then as long as the counter-revolution sticks to truly Traditional principles, perhaps the tide can be turned. Counter-Currents already recognizes that the culture war is truly crucial.

If modernity is a prison, then we must survey the movements of our guards to learn how to escape.

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[1] [15] Patrick J. Buchanan, “Four Who Made a Revolution,” in The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

[2] [16] Buchanan, 80.

[3] [17] Buchanan, 83.

[4] [18] Buchanan, 90.

[5] [19] Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995. p. xxx.

[6] [20] René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2004. p. 93.

[7] [21] Evola, 339.

[8] [22] Guénon, 21-22.

[9] [23] Julius Evola, Recognitions: Studies on Men and Problems from the Perspective of the Right. London: Arktos Media, 2017. p. 90.

[10] [24] The regression of castes permeates Evola’s work. For an overview, see “The Regression of the Castes” in Revolt. See also “The Historiography of the Right” in Recognitions for an example of the appropriation of Marxist methodologies for Right-wing purposes.