the depths of dysfunction

As I’ve been assembling quotes and sources for my review of Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights, I’ve found that what is fascinating about him (and much of the alt–right/politically reactionary set) is that combination of powerful critique of the modern political order and thorough embedding within it: He is an anti–democratic sworn democrat, an anti–subjective relativist, a cosmopolitan anti–universalist, a pan–European who rigorously defends local particularity. Perhaps most notably, Benoist displays a uniquely European version of the foolish faith in federal structures; he actually believes that a pan–European government will simultaneously allow the flourishing of local particularity— a sort of extreme cultural federalism. While he insists that his ‘New Right’ is simply a think tank and he is not proposing a practical program, this particular oddity crops up again & again in his essays and interviews; if he did not despise America so much, he might see what federalism ultimately does to local particularity and government. He occasionally seems to provide a solution for this in his idea of a restricted idea of citizenship, but explicitly rejects this for a broad, post–Jacobin definition of democracy (indeed, he says that the only undemocratic act a democracy is capable of is abolishing itself). For a man who says that constitutions and the rule of law are helpless before the weight of politics, this is a curious faith.

This litany antinomies is inherent in the project of a right–wing itself; Corey Robin’s thesis of an essentially parasitic right is wholly correct, but right–wing embracers of such an idea often begin only with the French (or American) revolution and not much earlier. Moldbug and his disciples are near–unique in pushing the event back to the English Civil Wars, which recognizes the broader history, but it doesn’t go far enough. To this extent, while not recognizing his own binding within the tradition, there is some truth to Benoist’s idea that this comes ‘out of Christendom’, insofar that it was initially a theological event that politics wed itself to. Pathology is fine as metaphor, and Benoist perhaps touches on a better metaphor when he mentions (in passing) nominalism, but even that is really insufficient. Modern discourse has been—and for some time—inherently democratic, and Benoist is just particularly honest in trying to base his particularist and quasi–elitist right on open, democratic principle. The Taylor/MacIntyre communitarians he admires (while not ‘right’) are in the same position. To this end, Benoist—correctly—recognizes the ephemerality of the right/left distinction, but doesn’t explain why very well, relying on the collapse into neo–liberalism and the consumption–as–expression society he believes is uniquely American (but is not entirely detached from church–as–expression, etc). While it may seem myopic to focus on him, here, it’s his pathological honesty that makes him such an excellent target for diagnosis; ‘I have never tried to please.’, he says— and it obvious that he means it. In any case, such bipolarities would seem to have more to do with a love for metaphors of clear opposition, of war, rather than clear realities. In reality (something Benoist touches upon), politics truly is particular— it is about loyalties, duties, aspirations, fears, hopes, and private convictions. Traditional governance is largely more practical than ideological, and politics has often been separated from governance–as–such— which is hard to imagine for us.

Another interesting confession is his condemnation of LePen’s Front National for its entirely negatively–defined idea of France and the French people; he says a real nationalist party would be asking, ‘What is French?’ Yet, is not ‘What is French?’ the sort of question that negates itself in the asking? Being French is simply being French; it’s a fiat confession, something hardly thought about by the ‘traditional’ peoples he lauds. It is hard to imagine a medieval resident in Normandy (Benoist’s home) asking himself, ‘What is Norman?’ or ‘What is French?’— to the degree that the identity would matter at all, it would be assumed in the same way you see people claim that such–and–such is American, though there is not anything obviously American about it. As an ‘old American’, I’ve never felt much need to define what being one is: I can claim its due to my centuries–long ancestry, my love for America’s land, and so on, but the real truth is that my being American is just something I am, and any attempt to pin it down in any non–bullshitting–over–beer sort of fashion would just be a joke. Romans claimed that certain attributes were Roman just because they saw them as such; historical grounding was not defined. Herodotus used cultures as counter–points without much thought to the historical and anthropological validity of such claims. Culture, nationality, even political alliance is metaphor; they are how we navigate social commitment and desire, not their reality.

The obvious objection to this would be religion: Did not the Church define itself in precise terminology? Yes, it did, but in each case it did so in reaction and never expected the bulk of its people to understand or even know its confessions; the philosophical definition was to preserve the actuality of an inexpressible belief and allegiance— a sort formal assent would be demanded (the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the inclusion of Justinian’s ‘Only–Begotten Son’ within the Greek Liturgy, and so on, but the sort of personal, internal certainty we associate with assent was not. What Newman called the ‘illative sense’ was and remains operative in the faith of the Church, as much as an attenuated version of that sense bridges so many of our metaphors from the formal knowledge that could be attached to them.

Indeed, I’m not really formally defining any of what I’m saying here— and while I do think a more rigorous conception is possible, I’m incapable of doing it myself at this time. It’s a combination of metaphor and an illative grasping at what I intuit to be true about our intellectual situation.

In completely trivial news, I’ll include updates to this blog on the Twitter account I’ve had sitting around for a while, unused. It is somewhat possible I will use it for something other than an alternate way to keep track of updates, but I don’t know.



Filed under philosophy & theology, politics & economics

4 responses to “the depths of dysfunction

  1. John

    Criticisms of the New Right that go much beyond tired epithets are few and far between, so your last couple posts on this have been fascinating. Although you seem very familiar with this type of reactionary politics I would recommend the following book as a comprehensive overview of its ideas:

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Thanks. I hate reading PDFs because they don’t convert well to e–ink format (long–term screen reading is tedious— at least for me); I’ll try to buy the print version later if I keep down this road in a fashion that is focused on the New Right itself. I wouldn’t call myself ‘very familiar’, because this was the first thing I had read of Benoist’s, though I have read and followed Anglophone admirers for a few years.

      Right now, I’ve been reading some Strauss, because I think the connection between Benoist and Strauss is interesting in that both were/are trying to find a grounded politics in — what is for them, at least — a post–Nietzschean/Heideggerian world (Strauss’s references to Heidegger are not by name in Natural Right and History, but they are there). I think the connection (and it’s something more obvious in a writer like MacIntyre, with the tension between his Thomism and Hegelianism) is the problem of a coherent metaphysics; political theories have generally been at outgrowth of ideas of the divine or metaphysical order; even Aristotle — who is very practical in his politics — still sees the importance of their harmony with the metaphysical order. I think this is because you cannot have an ethnical conversation between persons with radically different ideas of what reality is. My suspicion here is that the big difference between Strauss and Benoist here (besides the fact that Strauss was much smarter than Benoist and a better scholar, which isn’t really an attack on Benoist, because I don’t think he’d think of himself as a scholar on that sort of level) is that Strauss chooses to (largely) accept the Heideggerian deconstruction of classical metaphysics, while claiming we should act as if they are true, anyhow. I could be wrong about this, because I’m not very well in Strauss; I hope to acquire this book (either when I can afford it, or when I finally get library access to a local uni) to get a better treatment of this particular interrelation.

  2. “The obvious objection to this would be religion: Did not the Church define itself in precise terminology? Yes, it did, but in each case it did so in reaction and never expected the bulk of its people to understand or even know its confessions;”

    The bit that jumped out at me was that the Church defined itself in reaction – the same applies to all true institutions. And the definition is always an incomplete and distorted summary of reality.

    So definition becomes pernicious when the definition becomes primary – and the institution re-defines itself on the basis that the definition is ‘literally’ true.

    • I think there are times when definition can become primary (intellectually, though, not in act), but those times are when definition has been forgotten; but even then it is recovered in reaction, rebuilt & reconsidered.

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