July 1, 2020


The Far Right's People Problem (CAMERON HILDITCH, June 25, 2020, National Review)

Since the French Revolution, mainstream conservatism has been rooted in certain assumptions about human nature that are said to be true of all people across time and space. These include the recognition that our nature is both fixed and flawed and that consequential knowledge about how societies function is necessarily diffuse among its members, together forming the conviction that excessive centralization should be avoided. Because these things are true of all people everywhere, conservatism in the American tradition holds that there is no basis for according different legal or political privileges to people based on their race, sex, or any other immutable characteristic. The capacity to reason and to make decisions is an individual trait shared by virtually everyone, and so conservatism has traditionally regarded the individual as the ultimate, final, and irreducible political unit. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence is a salient example of this kind of thinking.

The key thinkers on the radical right call this brand of politics "universalism," and they don't care for it in the slightest. The notion that anything of any political significance is universally true of all people everywhere is anathema to them. These writers regard traits shared by all individuals, including reason, conscience, and consciousness, as insufficient grounds for a working political regime. For Carl Schmitt, successful politics is built upon the "distinction between friend and enemy." He argues that "what ultimately underpins politics is the fundamental distinction between us and them." Thus, Schmitt emphasized the local community or tribe as the necessary foundation for politics. As he saw it, classical liberalism "ignores this precondition of a constructive politics because it is biased toward universalist ideologies." The kind of affirmation of universal human dignity that one finds in the Declaration of Independence hinders the development of an 'us-versus-them' mentality by maintaining that the most important aspects of human beings as political actors are things that they all share -- an obvious lie in Schmitt's eyes. This friend/enemy foundation for political action has been widely accepted by subsequent thinkers on the far right. Alain de Benoist, for example, thinks that universalism engenders an "ideology of sameness" that opens the door to globalism and the subsequent exploitation by capitalists of what should be locally autonomous ethnic communities. After the work of Nietzsche and Heidegger, the most important founding text for the radical Right is Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, in which much of the same dismissal of a politically relevant 'human nature' is present. According to Spengler, "cultures" are the great actors on the stage of world history. "Mankind," by comparison, is simply "a zoological expression, or an empty word."

Most of the thinkers in Sedgwick's book are self-described pagans who hold Christianity in contempt and deeply regret the starring role it has played in the history of the West. Larry Siedentop, most emphatically not a man of the far Right, has observed that "the most distinctive thing about Greek and Roman antiquity is what might be called 'moral enclosure,' in which the limits of personal identity were established by the limits of physical association and inherited unequal social roles." This moral enclosure, whereby duty is circumscribed by race or caste, is what the thinkers of the radical Right are trying to retrieve from pagan antiquity. When working as a contributor to the publication Europe-Action between 1963 and 1967, de Benoist became a devotee of the philosopher Louis Rougier, and embraced his rebuke of Christianity as "an egalitarian and thus subversive doctrine" responsible for destroying the hierarchical social model derived from "the old pagan wisdom of Europe." He would subsequently publish a book in 1981 entitled On Being a Pagan. Jean-Yves Camus identifies the following as the most important sentence in all of de Benoist's writings for understanding his work: "I hereby define the Right, by pure convention, as a positive thing; and the progressive homogenization of the world, extolled and effected by two thousand years of egalitarian ideology, as a negative thing." 

Posted by at July 1, 2020 12:00 AM