A Journey Without Distance – Reflections of a self-professed Libertarian

Recently, I have been reflecting on my journey as a self-professed Libertarian and the shifts in my thinking that have occurred over the past twelveyears as a Libertarian party member. I have noticed more frequently that some colleagues with whom I have shared common views in the past on policy topics are no longer in alignment with my views. 

I acknowledge that I have changed. I have slid in and out of various “camps” of Libertarian conviction over the years. My experience within the Libertarian movement, which has been responsible for my evolving views, has included: 

I was elected Chairman of the Ontario Libertarian Party (OLP) in 2017 with the mandate to recruit and prepare 124 OLP candidates for the June 2018 Ontario Provincial election (the Conservatives won a majority under Doug Ford and handed a humiliating defeat to the incumbent Liberals under the highly unpopular Kathleen Wynne); 

As the Libertarian candidate for my home riding, I learned much from being a political ‘insider’ as I had in fiveprevious occasions as a Libertarian candidate; 

Proclaimed by the former OLP Leader as the party’s “most prolific writer” (mostly on Facebook), I witnessed and learned from thousands of responses to the Libertarian content about which I wrote. [Note: social media has proved to be the best way to reach the public with our message since all mainstream media outlets consider every other party except for the three top contenders to be irrelevant and non-newsworthy.]

This personal reflection has been partially inspired by Canadian author William D. Gairdner’s book THE GREAT DIVIDE, Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. It addresses a phenomenon that seems to exist at every point along the left-right continuum of political engagement, and even within political parties. The theme of his book is: “The populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favourite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing – and that could mean democracy is failing.” 

Mr. Gairdner’s observations hit home to me personally because of my experience with the mini-divides that exist within the Libertarian parties with whom I have been associated. The perspective of time will help to explain my point. 

When I first joined the Ontario Libertarian Party in 2007, the atmosphere within the leadership team and the party’s most enthusiastic supporters was one of rigorous adherence to the body of Libertarian ideas that tended to the extreme: Anarcho-Capitalism. Often abbreviated as “Ancap,” it is considered a faction of libertarian political philosophy that promotes individual freedoms, private property, and free markets through the removal of government. “Removal” implies wholesale privatization of all government institutions so that they must compete with non-government service providers for business without relying on the immense benefit of guaranteed tax funding to support them. 

In those early days, the OLP comprised a small group on members who were mainly greying white men who shared the dream of attaining a virtually (if not entirely) government-less society. After being elected to the Executive Committee as Member at Large (MaL) around 2010, I concluded that the OLP was operating primarily as a men’s club that liked to talk about attaining political success and influencing opinion across broad communities of voters, but their goals were out of reach so long as the organization stumbled along making next to no progress. 

 During those early years, I also began reading extensively to deepen my understanding of Libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics which was an essential pillar undergirding any possibility of achieving and sustaining a Libertarian society if it was to ever be realized. Authors like Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Hans Herman Hoppe, Tom Woods and others with predominately Ancap leanings all had a profound impact on my outlook as a Libertarian. Their ideas were inspiring to say the least, but eventually I came to the conclusion that they will never be widely accepted in our western democracies. 

In 2012, a new leader of the OLP was elected–Allen Small. I came to know and respect Allen when he had also been a MaL on the Executive Committee. As a former high school teacher, Allen had the attributes and talents that I felt would help the OLP to make progress as a political entity. 

Over the next six years, Allen lead us through two elections. Both of these elections marked record-breaking results unseen since the OLP had been founded in 1975. Allen worked closely with Rob Brooks, an experienced political campaign manager from another party, to shape a new election platform designed to make it appear less extreme and more attractive to a broader community of supporters. Allen was also the driving force behind building a larger social media following which was crucial to our growth. His legacy as the most successful Leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party in modern times is one that has set a high bar for future leaders to surpass.

During Allen’s tenure, I continued to read and gradually took a renewed interest in the OLP. As I held a very demanding job, my time was limited and I was unable to offer much assistance in support of Allen’s efforts. My views on Libertarianism had also begun to shift again, and they can be best described as politically-pragmatic because I came to accept the notion that proven methods of political messaging were essential to improve electability. However, I was still privately sympathetic to Ancap ideas. In retrospect, I was gradually becoming more “minarchist” as I continued to emerge from my earlier Ancap cocoon.

Minarchism is generally viewed as a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for the state to exist in forms that function solely to protect citizens from harm, aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. During the OLP buildup to the June 2018 election, I felt compelled to condense and simplify my personal understanding of what it means to be a Libertarian. Ultimately, I settled on the following statement and I printed it on my business card as OLP Chairman: “Libertarians defend and protect individual persons (their mind, body and efforts) and their property from intentional and unwanted harm and aggression imposed by others including those employed by the state.”

Another shift in my thinking was also taking place as I actively campaigned on our 2018 election platform which featured a new Non-Government Options emphasis in our Libertarian vision. Integral to this vision was the necessity to introduce competition into the “public services” markets. For it to work, it is essential to eliminate all regulations that empower public institutions to operate on a monopoly basis. This will put the power of choice back into the hands of our citizens so that they can be free to patronize their choice of available service providers who best serve their unique needs and preferences. Furthermore, for citizens who prefer that services in health care or education (for example) be provided by the government, they are free to opt in as a “government customer” and pay their share of the taxes needed to sustain government operations. Conversely, for citizens who decide that they are best served by “non-government” service providers who will surely emerge to meet market demand after existing anti-competition regulations are repealed, these people will not be required to remit taxes; they can apply these tax savings to buy private insurance policies or make direct payments to providers. I refer to this form of Libertarianism as “free choice minarchy.”

The reasons why I remain a “free choice minarchist” today is because of the obvious advantages it brings to all voters. First, for citizens who choose “non-government” service providers, payments will not be managed by an inefficient, impersonal, expensive and often inflexible “middle man”–the government bureaucracy that collects our hard-earned money through non-optional taxation.

Second, free markets have a proven history of spawning business model innovations and prudent capital investments in order to control costs and improve the pricing and quality of their products as well as their customer service reputations. All of this is derived in direct response to the ever-present forces of competition.  It’s no mystery that “the customer is king” in competitive businesses, but the same cannot be said within government operations. 

Third, everyone gets what they want by being free to choose from viable alternatives. The thinking goes that it is none of my business what my neighbour wants to buy and it’s none of my neighbour’s business concerning what I prefer, so why should any drama exist between us as to how we meet our needs and preferences. 

Fourth, government expenses are directly proportional to the number of regulations that are “on the books” and must be enforced with expensive resources. By eliminating all pro-monopoly regulations, the government will have lower enforcement costs and thereby require less money from taxation and/or public debt. 

Fifth, this approach eliminates the element of “autocratic rule by one-size-fits-all” policy implementations which have always been the result of every election in our history. People differ in every conceivable way, which is why businesses adapt and adjust constantly to find new ways to serve customers profitably. It stands to reason that when government monopolies eliminate all consumer choices, they take on the same problems for which anti-trust laws were created to break up private sector monopolies. This double standard is hypocrisy at its most obvious. Governments must no longer operate under the protection of biased legislation if we are ever to expect service levels to improve in quality and decrease in cost. 

After running in six elections as a Libertarian candidate, I am asked often why I continue to do it given our history of attaining less than 1% of the popular vote. Recently, I have been asking myself the same question. Here’s why.

Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada (PPC) has achieved impressive success in 5 short months since last September 2018 to build a nation-wide party complete with EDAs (Electoral District Associations) in every riding across Canada. Neither the OLP nor the Libertarian Party of Canada (LPoC) has accomplished anything even close in spite of being in existence for over 4 decades. Bernier’s fund-raising ability is extraordinary. His ability to attract followers and media attention dwarfs ours. He has shown me what can be done under the right leader and the level of highly motivated talent that such a leader can attract. It is a demoralizing comparison to me as a long time OLP and LPoC member. 

I consider the PPC platform shown on its web site as “Libertarian lite” insomuch as it seeks “Less Government” just as a Libertarian minarchist does. In other words, our directions are the same but only the degree of change is different. 

After reading Right Here, Right Nowby former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (for whom I have great respect), I am convinced that Harper’s incremental approach to public policy change is wise. Policy results can be tested from small first steps and evaluated/adjusted before further steps are taken. This is the right approach for any elected Leader who wants Less Government and one that I would hope for if a Libertarian, PPC, or Conservative Party is elected in the upcoming federal election.

For my final, and maybe most significant consideration, I fall back on the reasons why I entered politics in the first place–my daughters. I had come to the conclusion years ago that I could not consider myself a responsible parent if I was not prepared to act to defend and protect my children from threats. To me, the greatest threat to their future has been and continues to be the unopposed and relentless growth of government power, scope, size, and cost at every level of government. The threat is manifest in an enormous set of fiscal, social, and cultural risks that will surely eat away at the quality of Liberty in their lives through no fault of their own. 

Years ago, I reasoned that we do not live in a true democracy unless at least one genuine Less Government option appears on every election ballot at every level of government. Since the only true Less Government option has been the Libertarian ballot choice, I have chosen to be that candidate in my riding when no one else was prepared to do so. I knew that I had no chance to be elected, but I felt that at least there would be one voice in each election to argue the reasons why continued government expansion was dangerous to everyone and why Less Government is the only viable antidote to these risks. 

Sadly, there has never been an election in Canada that featured a Libertarian candidate on every ballot in every election riding. The best effort so far was achieved last June when the OLP ran an Ontario-wide election campaign with 116 candidates for 124 ridings even though we operated on a shoe-string budget of about $40,000. (Note: the campaign budgets for the largest four Ontario parties was subsidized with tax dollars under the Per Vote Subsidy resulting in campaign cash windfalls of $5.1 million (Liberals), $4.1 million (Conservatives), $3.2 million (NDP) and $640,000 (Green Party). The other 22 so-called “fringe” parties that had registered with Elections Ontario for the June election and had complied with all of its campaign rules, required paper filings and fee payments, did not qualify for funding. If you are asking yourself why you were not aware of the 22 parties, you now know part of the story: running elections and reaching the public with campaign messaging is very expensive and “fringe” parties are put at a significant disadvantage to the major parties by tax subsidies.

As you can see from the above, my political path has been meandering even though I have remained a card-carrying Libertarian. As Mr. Gairdner pointed out, politicians and their most ardent supporters generally dig in for the long haul in support of their partisan convictions and are frequently loathe to budge even a smidgeon from their ideological perch. 

There are likely as many Libertarians who hold stubbornly to their views, proportionately speaking, as there are ardent Liberals and Conservatives. Politics is certainly a messy business and it is easy to see why so many people avoid the topic in “polite company.”

The photo shows, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” by Edward Moran, painted in 1886.

Politics And The Political

In 2003 Jean-Luc Nancy gave a brief, basic philosophical radio talk in which he discussed the question of politics and the political. Reprising his early work with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe at the Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political, he explained that excessive use is often made of the term ‘political’. When we claim that everything is political, politics loses its specificity. It becomes ‘totalitarian’ in the sense that ‘the horizon of thought is that of a ‘political’ absorption of every sphere of existence.’

In the face of such a subsumption, Nancy suggests the analytical move of differentiating le politique (the political) from la politique (politics). Where politics signifies the everyday to-and fro of the representative political arena, the political is that which is ‘most political’ in politics. ‘“The political” seems to present the nobility of the thing – which thereby implicitly regains its specificity, and thus its relative separation.’

The distinction between politics and the political was popularized in the late seventies by Claude Lefort who saw the political as the manner in which society was produced as a unity through the now empty place of the King. Politics on the other hand was the interplay of conflicting powers within this unity.

He suggested that in democracy, the political was the (empty) symbolic space of authority. In the absence of a king, legitimacy remained always in question. Thus, the political signified the space for the contestation of the very basis of power.

When Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe set up the Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political in 1982, they envisaged it as a space for ‘the philosophical questioning of the political’ and ‘the questioning of the philosophical about the political.’

They claimed that it was important to take such an approach, because the political had withdrawn from politics – it had retreated. Thus, traditional political theory and political science were incapable of thinking the political because they simply took politics as their object.

In this sense, Nancy marked both a consonance and dissonance with Lefort’s thinking: he suggests that the political ‘designate[s] not the organization of society but the disposition of community as such.’ However, he also travels a more philosophical path, demanding that the political is the essence of politics.

Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe diagnose what they call the ‘retreat [retrait] of the political’. This is the way that “the question of the political, that is the question as to its exact nature or essence, retires or withdraws into a kind of evidence or self-givenness, in which that which is political in politics is taken for granted or accorded a kind of obviousness which is universally accepted.”

Our epoch is no longer concerned with the nature of the political, rather such a question is treated as already ‘given’. Politics in neo-liberalism, for instance, is presupposed as that which happens after and in the wake of the economy and is ultimately determined by the economy.

In a classic deconstructive move, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe play with the term ‘retreat’, insisting that the retreat of the political from politics, should allow us to open new paths of thinking by ‘re-treating’ or re-tracing the political. This can be thought through a philosophical questioning that withdraws from politics in order to approach the question of the political.

In Being Singular Plural, Nancy delves further into this question, explaining two modes of the withdrawal of the political. Firstly, politics collapses into law. Human rights law appears to always already give easy answers to the question of the political. In other words, the human rights of international law begin to subsume politics with an insistence of an all-encompassing juridical framework.

This critique will be familiar to readers of Agamben or Foucault. However, Nancy insists that the other side of this withdrawal of politics into law is the manner in which ‘the formal abstraction of the law, which undoubtedly ‘does right’ by every participatory and every relation, but without giving this right any meaning other than itself.’ In this sense, law becomes a cipher for ‘the reality of the relation of forces – whether economic technical or the forces of passion.’

Alongside this withdrawal of politics into law, there is the second limb of the withdrawal of the political: what the situationists called the society of the spectacle. In this the political withdraws into ‘a self representation that no longer refers to an origin, but only to the void of it’s own specularity.’

Nancy here repeats the situationist critique of late capitalist society, but with a crucial difference. In the society of the spectacle, representation ‘triumphs, absorbing entirely both the transcendental and the concrete.’ However, because the spectacle is all consuming, it cannot help but move within representation itself:

“The denunciation of mere appearance effortlessly moves within mere appearance, because it has no other way of designating what is proper – that is, nonappearance – except as the obscure opposite of the spectacle. Since the spectacle occupies all of space, its opposite can only make itself know as the inappropriable secret of an originary property hidden beneath appearances. This is why the opposite of deceitful ‘imagery’ is creative ‘imagination’, the model for which is still something like the Romantic genius.”

Nancy tells us that the Situationist critique comes very close to understanding a ‘society exposed to itself, establishing its being social under no horizon other than itself.’ Yet it places such an insight back into the most traditional of metaphysical constructs, insisting upon the distinction between the false reign of appearance and some authentic presence beyond it.

While he disagrees with this formulation, Nancy nevertheless suggests that mediatization forms a part of the retreat of the political which has to be retreated. It remains clear that despite their collapse back into the metaphysics of appearance, he sees the Situationism as opening certain paths of critique.

The photo shows, “Le boulevard,” by Gino Severini, painted in 1911.

Carl Schmitt On Federation

One of the most thorough and interesting discussions of the relationship between federalism, constitutionalism and democracy is presented by Carl Schmitt in Constitutional Theory. A federation of states, or just a federation, is according to Schmitt a curious and structurally contradictory interstate relation, which has to be distinguished from, on the one hand, a confederation (an alliance of sovereign states) and, on the other hand, a federal state (one sovereign state).

A federation is a permanent association of two or more states which rests on a free agreement of all member-states with the common goal of self-preservation; an agreement that however changes the political or constitutional status of the member-states. It is immediately clear that the federation lies in between—or is a curios synthesis of—the confederation and the federal state.

On the one hand, in contrast to the federal state, which rests on a public law constitution, but similar to the confederation, the federation rests on an international contract. On the other hand, in contrast to the confederation but similar to the federal state, the establishment of a federation leads to a political change of the member-states’ constitutions.

The constitutional change of the member-states does not necessarily entail a change of constitutional law in the member-states; the constitutional change regards something far more important, namely, “the concrete content of the fundamental political decisions on the entire manner of the existence of the state.”

It is here important to note that Schmitt operates with a fundamental distinction between a constitution and constitutional laws. The constitution is not the sum of the constitutional laws. The constitution consists in the fundamental political decision on the political form of the state. In this way, the fundamental decision on democracy is encapsulated in the preamble to the Weimar Constitution: “the German people provided itself with a constitution” and “State authority derives from the people” and “The German Reich is a republic.”

The constitutional change of the member-states of a federation consists in the establishment of a permanent order that includes the member-states in their total existence as a political unity into a common political existence. This common political existence does however not eliminate the existence of the individual member-states; the federation and the states exist politically alongside one another.

The federal constitution is an interstate contract the content of which simultaneously is a component of each of the member-states constitutions. The federal contract is the only genuine form of contractual constitutionalism, because it presupposes two or more politically existing states, each of which containing within them one subject of the constituent power.

Within a state, a constitution will according to Schmitt always be a one-sided decision by the sovereign people as the sole carrier of the constituent power. The federal constitution is in this way a contract between two or more national subjects of the constituent power.

The aim of the federation is self-preservation. This entails that all federations unconditionally guarantee the political existence of each of the members of the federation, even if this is not stated explicitly. Internally, self-preservation signifies a necessary pacification. Internal peace is essential within the federation; a war between two member-states would signal the end of the federation.

Furthermore, in the name of the common interest in self-preservation and security, the federation has the right of supervision and, if necessary, intervention with regard to maintenance, preservation and security.

Externally, the federation protects all the member-states against foreign invasion: “Every federation can wage war as such and has a jus belli. There is no federation without the possibility of a federation war.” However, this does not mean that the individual members of the federation are totally deprived of their jus belli; “it follows from the nature of the political existence of the individual members that a right to self-help and to war is only being given up insofar as it is conditioned by membership in the federation.”

The federation as a political form is, according to Schmitt, characterized by three legal and political antinomies. Firstly, there is a contradictory relationship between, on the one hand, the federation’s aim of self-preservation hereunder the maintenance of the independence of all member-states, and on the other hand, the lessening of this independence of every member-state with regard to their jus belli.

In this way the federation leads to a contradictory status with regard to the self-preservation of the member-states. Secondly, there is an antinomy between, on the one hand, the fact that the federation members seek to preserve their self-determination and their political independence through the federation, and on the other hand, that the federation in the name of common security and self-preservation has the right to intervene since it cannot ignore the domestic affairs of the federation members. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, there is an antinomy between the political existence of the federation and the political existence of the member-states which have to coexist under a federal constitution.

The federation is conditioned on this coexistence: neither the member-states nor the federation are to be subordinated to the other part: “the federation exists only in this existential connection and in this balance.” The essence of the federation resides in this “dualism of political existence.” If the existential balance of this dualism is not kept intact the federation will dissolve either into individual sovereign states or into one federal sovereign state.

The problem of this dual existence is practically best illustrated by the problem of secession. On the one hand, the federation is founded as a permanent order which entails a continual renunciation of the right to secession. On the other hand, the federation is a contract of independent politically existing states which must have the continual right to decide upon the status of this contract themselves, also with respect to the annullability of this contract, i.e., the right to secession. In this way, the federation is existentially conditioned both on the member-states’ continual right to secession and renunciation of this right.

In this way, the fundamental problem of the federation can be stated as follows: if an existential conflict arises between the federation and the member-states, who decides? The problem is, that the federation is predicated on the existential balance between the two parties’ equal right, and if a decision is made, the federation will dissolve because either national or federal sovereignty is declared supreme.

For this reason, the existence of the federation is conditioned on a perpetual openness of the question of sovereignty, that is, the existence of the federation is predicated on an existential exclusion of internal conflict in the federation. It is important to note here that existential balance between two political entities, according to Schmitt, does not entail a “division of sovereignty”: the question of who decides is merely left open.

The only possible resolution to these antinomies, according to Schmitt, lies in an existential and substantial homogeneity among all members of the federation, which will ensure (a) that the first antinomy regarding the member-states’ self-preservation is resolved by ensuring internal pacification and external compatibility of enmity (in this way the jus belli of the member-states will coincide with the jus belli of the federation), (b) that the second antinomy regarding the self-determination of the member-states is resolved by ensuring that the interference of the federation in the internal affairs of the member-state will not appear as foreign in existential terms (in this way the interference by the federation will not be against the will of the member-states) and (c) that the third antinomy regarding sovereignty is resolved by ensuring that internal conflict is existentially excluded (in this way, the closure of the question of sovereignty is precluded).

Two questions have to be raised in relation hereto: Firstly, how is the homogeneity established? Secondly, what are the consequences of this homogeneity for a federation of democratic member-states? Regarding the first question, Schmitt argues, substantial homogeneity can primarily be derived from national similarity of the member-states’ populations. However, political form (democracy, aristocracy, or monarchy) and principles such as religion, culture, or class can add to the principle of national homogeneity. Homogeneity is in this way primarily something which is existentially given.

In order to answer the second question, a short discussion of Schmitt’s conception of democracy is necessary. According to Schmitt, democracy is in general treated as an ideal concept not properly distinguished from liberalism and the Rechtsstaat (hereunder socialism, justice, peace and international understanding); an ideology and a political form which democracy, according to Schmitt, is not merely distinct from but directly opposed to.

In contrast to the general discourse of the Rechtsstaat presenting freedom and equality as the dual principles of democracy, Schmitt argues that not merely is freedom not a democratic principle, freedom and equality are often opposed to one another.

The democratic principle is according to Schmitt equality; not the general human equality of all persons discussed by liberalism which precludes political distinction and exclusion, but the concrete equality of a people within a nation-state: “Even the French Declaration of the Rights of Man,” Schmitt writes “states that all persons are by nature free and equal. As soon as it involves political rights and those of the state, however, it no longer speaks of persons (homme), but instead of state citizens (citoyen).”

In a national democracy, like the French, the presupposition of democracy is a substantial equality of a people, meaning a national homogeneity: “democratic equality is essentially similarity, in particular similarity among the people. The central concept of democracy is people and not humanity” (p. 261-3).

Democracy is by Schmitt defined—both as a state form, a governmental form and a legislative form—as the identity of ruler and ruled. Identity as the key term of democracy has at least three meanings for Schmitt: (a) the identity of a homogenous people (national identity), (b) the identity of politically unified people (political identity) (c) the self-identity of a physically present people as in contrast to representation (presence identity).

Democracy rests in this identity because if the identity is strong enough there will be no difference between the opinion of one and the opinion of another: there will be one sovereign will of the people. It is this will that has the power or authority to constitute a state as a democracy: the homogenous sovereign will of the national people is the subject of the constituent power.

Regarding the second question: since both democracy and federations rest on substantial homogeneity, it is necessary that the national homogeneity converges with the federal homogeneity.

For this reason, Schmitt argues “it is part of the natural development of democracy that the homogenous unity of the people extends beyond the political boundaries of member states and eliminates the transitional condition of the coexistence of the federation and the politically independent member states, and replaces it with a complete unity.”

In this way, the principle of homogeneity that led to the resolution of the antinomies of the federation—the antinomies which again, if not resolved, would lead to the dissolution of the federation because of the closure of the question of sovereignty—has in the case of democratically constituted states a path dependency which stirs the federation directly toward its dissolution into a federal state.

On the other hand, if the homogeneity is not strong enough, the antinomies of the federation will lead to a collapse of the federation into sovereign states. For this reason, the legitimacy of a federation, in Weberian terms (the sociological criteria which will lead the population to accept the political system), will lead (a) to the dissolution of the federation into a federal state if they are fulfilled and (b) to the dissolution of the federation into nation-states if they are not fulfilled. The non-statist form of the federation is therefore, according to Schmitt’s theory, merely a transition from one form of statehood to another form of statehood.

The photo shows, “Spring in the Trenches,” By Paul Nash, painted in 1918.

Traditionalism, Or More Insanity

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism. The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism. Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.

I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered. Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something. But what? Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

I read Against the Modern World as part of my ongoing analysis of the lesser-known branches of modern right-wing thought. I was dimly aware of one Traditionalist thinker, the Italian self-described “superfascist” Julius Evola, about whom there was a burp of interest in 2016 when Steve Bannon mentioned his name as someone with whom he was familiar.

George Hawley’s excellent Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism spent some time on Evola and other Traditionalists, expanding my minimal knowledge; it noted an overlap between Traditionalism and the French New Right, wellspring of people like Guillaume Faye and his Archeofuturism.

No Traditionalist is a household name; I therefore read this book hoping to gain more insight. I learned facts I did not know, but as far as insight, I was disappointed—although, to be fair, given that I expected no new wisdom, I can’t really complain.

Sedgwick’s writing isn’t great; he’s an academic, not a popularizer. But he seems to know an awful lot about his subject. Though British, for a long time he has worked in Denmark as a professor of Arab and Islamic Studies, so he is very familiar with the different threads of Islam, essential since the majority of Traditionalists have a close relationship to Islam (more specifically, Sufism).

In fact, his enemies say that Sedgwick long ago converted to Islam, which as far as I know he has neither denied nor confirmed. If that’s true, it does not appear to affect his writing in any way, so for these purposes it’s irrelevant.

Most of his book revolves, in one way or another, around Rene Guénon (1866–1951), the French founder of Traditionalism. Guénon espoused and spread what he viewed as the “Perennial Philosophy,” or “Perennialism,” the idea that there is some “primal truth” that precedes, and is contained in, many (but not all) of the world’s major religions.

The term arose with the Renaissance priest Marsilio Ficino, who tried to reconcile Plato and Christianity, and as whose heir Guénon viewed himself. This idea of reconciling Greek philosophy and Christianity wasn’t new with Ficino, of course—although Sedgwick doesn’t mention it, Christian Neoplatonists, such as Saint Augustine, worked along the same lines, and the tradition of an underlying truth had continued up until and after Ficino, both within Christianity, and, to a greater degree, among movements like Hermeticism. But it had died out in the early modern world, as modernism and materialism came to dominate the West.

What brought Traditionalism back was the perceived defects of the modern world; hence the title of this book. Sedgwick doesn’t do a great job of describing what defects Traditionalists saw (and see); they seem to revolve around spiritual anomie and excessive materialism, which are viewed as inevitably leading to collapse and barbarism.

The modern age is often thought of as the Hindu kali yuga, the fourth and final stage of human degeneration before the cycle begins anew. Such preoccupation with decline and collapse is a very twentieth-century preoccupation, and part of the larger culture beyond Traditionalism—Oswald Spengler being the most obvious example. The Traditionalists, however, put a specifically religious gloss on both the projected collapse and its solution.

My key initial objection, or concern, is that we are never told with any precision, by Sedgwick or anyone else, what the claimed tenets of the universalist “Perennial Religion” are. I don’t think that’s Sedgwick’s fault, but rather the Traditionalists’.

There is much talk of “ancient wisdom,” but nobody seems to think it particularly important to actually identify or specify that wisdom. The only belief that seems evident is in a transcendent deity of some type, source of all wisdom and perfection. The other characteristics of this deity seem opaque, and it is not because they are deliberately hidden in the Gnostic manner—Traditionalists wrote many books.

There is talk of “the sacred unity of reality,” whatever that means. As a side dish, there is muttering about the “Absolute which is indescribable,” which may be accurate, but is not very clarifying. What it all seems to boil down to is generic mysticism; a claimed path to approach, and to understand, the divine and ineffable without, and outside of, detailed rational thought.

Now, mysticism has a long and respectable pedigree in most of the world’s religions, tied to and found as an extension of core doctrines. In contrast, though, most or all Traditionalist mysticism seems to be solipsistic navel-gazing, unmoored from religion. It pays lip service to religious belief, but really thinks religious doctrine is fiction. To Traditionalists, that is probably a feature, not a bug, but it feels a lot like more sophisticated Oprah, pushing The Secret, talking about how the “Universe” wants each of us to have a new car.

One way to understand Traditionalist mysticism, from what I can tease out, is as an accelerated, shortcut, hobbled version of Orthodox theosis, union with the divine energies of God (but not with the divine essence). However, Orthodox doctrine, and thought outside doctrine, is extremely specific about the characteristics of the divine, what God requires, and in what manner it is necessary to approach God. (I imagine the same is true of other religious mysticisms, such as Sufism or those found in Hinduism).

Blathering about “ancient wisdom” and “unity,” beyond feeling like it was derived from a fortune cookie, seems calculated to impress other humans, not set one on an actual path to mystical experience. Probably that’s why, it seems, a lot of Traditionalists end up partaking of various rituals, many newly manufactured, to unlock the key to the divine presence.

Whether to prevent being sullied by the uninitiated, or to prevent being ridiculed, these are rarely publicized (hence the “secret intellectual history” of the book’s subtitle). That’s not new, either, though—the reason we know little about the original Christian Gnostics, other than that some of their thought was suppressed, is that, like all such movements throughout history, they were obsessively secretive about their “hidden knowledge,” a necessary element of their attraction.

At first glance, Traditionalism is thus just another in a long line of quasi-religions that have a strong shyster element. The most obvious precursor is late nineteenth-century Theosophy, progeny of the earlier Spiritualism and mishmash of fraudulence and silliness, associated with the conwoman Helena Blavatsky (died 1891), which lasted some decades as an undercurrent in American intellectual circles.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau had ties to it; later on, Henry Wallace, sometime Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt, lost his chance to become President, and impose Communism on America, by being exposed as a Theosophist. Sedgwick spends a good deal of time parsing various other related movements, such as Martinism (tied to Freemasonry). None of this is surprising—as Chesterton did not say, but should have, when men cease believing in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

Or, as Sedgwick names it, citing Bryan Wilson, we get a “cultic milieu,” where, like the Island of Misfit Toys, fringe beliefs collect to support each other in their fringiness.

Today we get New Age beliefs and various other clownish schools of “thought,” which, to be fair, are even more degenerate in their stupidity and lack of intellectual sophistication than Theosophy and its relatives. (Admittedly, these modern beliefs aren’t Gnostic, which makes them somewhat different in structure and approach. Maybe that’s confirmation of Traditionalist beliefs about modern degeneration—today, we can’t even manage a decent Gnosticism.)

The core of all Gnosticism has always been to promise initiation into some hidden, esoteric knowledge. Thus, it is no surprise that most Traditionalists end up connected to, and many formally received into, Sufism. Christianity has always treated Gnosticism as a heresy and held that truth is available openly to all.

Sufism, on the other hand, offers both orthodoxy and a distinction between exoteric and esoteric belief. All (or nearly all) Sufis are devout Sunni Muslims (despite occasional tension with those finding mysticism unpalatable), but they add a layer of esoteric belief. This maintains the precise certainty for believers, something that Islam offers most of all among the major religions, while also offering the feeling of secret knowledge, and thus superiority and being on the inside track, all at the same time, a neat trick.

A few of the Traditionalists profiled in this book tried to combine Perennialism with Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but the inherent tensions in that project seem to always pull them either toward orthodox belief or its opposite, formal universalism.

A few others, Evola being the most prominent, combined Traditionalism with a total rejection of monotheistic religion, focusing on what to them were real, earlier pagan gods.

Most Traditionalists seem to find much of value in Hinduism—easy to do in Hinduism, with its many threads and voluminous, opaque writings, which they pick and choose from as their starting point, but I suspect that actual, devout Hindus would not agree with Traditionalist thinking, and anyway all the Traditionalists seem to abandon everything but a few cherry-picked elements of Hinduism, moving on to focus on other religious traditions—from which they also cherry pick, since universalism is rejected by all such traditions.

Back to the history. Probably the reason Guénon got as much traction as he did was because in the early twentieth century mysticism was in the air, and more mainline figures, such as the prominent Catholic thinker Jacques Maritain, initially sponsored his writing to some degree.

As with almost all Traditionalists, Guénon soon thought himself into being fundamentally opposed to actual Christian doctrine, as being both too exclusive in its claims and being a religion of enervation and femininity (shades of Nietzsche), so he went his own way.

A circle formed around Guénon and a new journal in which he was involved, The Veil of Isis, from the name of which you can tell which way they headed, toward secrecy and supposed Eastern wisdom. World War I helped Guénon’s project, in that it made the idea that modernity was fundamentally broken hard to argue. Still unsatisfied, Guénon ended up a Sufi, moving to Egypt and going native.

Sedgwick’s covers two basic periods, before and after Guénon’s death, in 1951, since his death caused divergence into several vaguely connected movements, and turned an already nebulous philosophy into a mishmash. In fact, at least according to Sedgwick, most of the influence of Traditionalism in the past several decades has been through what he calls “soft Traditionalism,” not always easy to identify.

Basically this consists of academics in various fields (all in the humanities), who dislike modernity and hold to the universalist beliefs popularized by Guénon, such that elements of Traditionalism appear in their works, but they are by no means necessarily devotees. Such soft Traditionalism extends to men like E. F. Schumacher in his book Small Is Beautiful, and even to Prince Charles, who to external appearances is mostly just soft in the head (though if he is pulled toward Traditionalism, this, more likely than actual devotion to Islam, explains his frequent positive comments about Islam).

In Russia, though, Traditionalism has lately had some apparent real political impact, through the “Eurasian” program of Alexander Dugin, alleged to influence Vladimir Putin and the Russian government (and having a great deal in common with Faye’s Archeofuturism).

Sedgwick talks about so many people, all obscure, that they are hard to keep straight. Thus, for the most part, I think this book is most valuable as a reference work, although to understand the overall framework you really have to read the whole book.

A few people stand out, or maybe they just stand out to me because these are the ones I’ve heard of. Isabelle Eberhardt, Swiss woman of dubious mental stability, who converted young to Islam, moved to French Algeria (cooperating with the French colonizers but also assisting the locals, and conducting a tangled relationship with Hubert Lyautey, the French officer and Legionnaire in charge), and died before she reached thirty.

The Italian Julius Evola, pagan occultist, worshipper of what he called the Absolute Individual, kept at arms’ length by both Mussolini and the Nazis, because he thought they did not go far enough in maintaining hierarchy, and that they were too materialist by believing in racial, as opposed to spiritual, superiority.

After the war he abandoned politics for his vision of “riding the tiger,” i.e., surviving modernity by ignoring it until it collapses (similar in some ways to Ernst Jünger’s concept of the Forest Rebel, or his related concept of the anarch).

Frithjof Schuon, whom I know of because he lived nearby while I was at school at Indiana University; what I did not know was his adoption of the usual cult leader practice of sleeping with his disciples’ wives, a practice to which he gave the elevated name of “vertical marriage.”

He only died in 1998, after a scandal involving naked carousing with underage girls; apparently even the Bloomington police have limits. Since then, only Dugin has any relevance today, so apparently, at least as against Traditionalism, the modern world is in the ascendant, despite more than a hundred years of effort.

What all the many people Sedgwick profiles had in common was subscribing to the Perennial Philosophy. Again, though, I can’t figure out what that means. I doubt if Eberhardt and Evola had much in common, other than a declared belief in some kind of transcendent unity of all things. What that implied for life meant very, very different things for them, and for most of the Traditionalists.

It seems to me that something that has no predictive value, that ex ante cannot describe the acts or thoughts at any relatively narrow level of generality of any person, is not a useful categorization.

I’m all for attacks on the modern world. This is a difficult argument to make today, because Steven Pinker isn’t wrong, that in a great number of important ways, we are better off than we used to be.

The ways in which we are not better off are harder to quantify, and counterintuitive—for example, excessive personal autonomy is bad, but it feels so good. Yes, there are external indicia of the problems, most notably the failure of all modern societies to reproduce themselves.

But Traditionalism is not a cure for modernity. It makes historical claims that are easily falsifiable. Its theology, to the extent it has any, smacks of pandering to the self-absorbed.

What is needed is a much more grounded philosophy and political program. I am working on it, you will be glad to hear. In the meantime, this book is an interesting exploration of a dead end.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “The Punishment of Loki,” by James Doyle Penrose, a work on paper, published ca. 1912.

Budapest – A City of Overtourism?

My love affair with Budapest began at an early age when the spirit of the city’s former late-nineteenth-century grandeur was still evident despite the destruction of the Second World War, the Hungarian Uprising, and the quarter-century of communism that followed.

As a child, I found the baroque buildings – the grimy plaster facades of many marred by bullet holes and artillery fire – fascinating, and I remember spending much time studying the neglected angels and classical figures over the doorways wondering if and when they would emerge from their enforced hibernation and regain their former glory.

Beyond the baroque and neo-classical buildings forming the inner city core stood ugly the lines of panel apartment blocks, which not only provided a strong contrast to the inner-city architecture, but also stood out as the unsightly testament of socialist utilitarianism.

I spent much time in Budapest as a child, and as a young adult I was fortunate enough to witness Budapest shake off its communist oppression and begin its renewal. Of course, this renewal was not without its trials and tribulations as the turbulent and tempestuous assault of unconstrained liberty drowned the city in feverish impulses and ruthless ambitions.

Budapest of the 1990s and early 2000s was indeed a City of Earthly Desire, its streets marred by poverty, homelessness, and crude businesses that exploited the upended social structure and lured many of the country’s inhabitants to sell their souls in exchange for financial gains.

These forces were dissipating when I lived in the city from 2001 to 2003, but the ill effects of the hyper-liberalization that filled the vacuum communism had left behind could still be felt, and I drew much inspiration for my novel The City of Earthly Desire from the two years I spent living in Budapest.

Before moving back to Hungary in 2015, I considered settling in Budapest again, but after having spent most of my life living in or extremely close to big cities – Toronto, New York, and of course Budapest – I had little desire to reside in an urban center again, especially after the rather pleasant experience of living in a small rural town in northern England.

Hence, I turned my back on the possibility of Budapest and settled instead in a small village near a minor provincial city near the Austrian border. Though I have been to Budapest many times since moving back to Hungary nearly four years ago – mostly visiting relatives who live in the suburbs and outskirts of the city – my forays into the city itself were few and brief.

I could feel the city’s magnetic pull, but I was reluctant to spend any significant amount of time wandering through its streets and reacquainting myself with its charms. I don’t know what the source of the reluctance was. Was I afraid of what I might find there, or did I simply wish to preserve the city that existed in my memory?

Fast-forward to 2018 and after my brief two-day visit I can proclaim that Budapest continues on its seemingly endless transformation from a capital debased by communism to a city that has recaptured and may even surpass its former glory. At the surface level, Budapest has never looked so good.

Many buildings have been refurbished or rebuilt; the bridges gleam as they stretch across the Danube; the public squares are both tidy and inviting. The grime and soot that previously besmirched landmarks such as the Parliament Buildings and the Buda Palace is gone. Streamlined streetcars and busses have replaced the noisy, ramshackle public transportation vehicles of the past.

As I walked through the city with my wife, I was overcome with wonder and admiration at the transformation that had taken place since we had moved away from the city, but the more we walked, the more my admiration became tempered by mild displeasure.

An unsettling form of over-cosmopolitanism has settled down inside the city’s refurbished exterior, especially within Districts V, VI, and VII. Here one can walk for blocks without hearing a single word of spoken Hungarian or seeing a single storefront sign that is exclusively written in the country’s language.

The sidewalks here throng with tourists of every shape, form, and age – young Brits out on a boisterous pub crawl, kitschy Russians and Ukrainians sauntering past the marquee stores lining Andrássy Street, timid Japanese shuffling about the Parliament, groups of bewildered American retirees overwhelmed by the hustle of a guided city tour, and everyone else one can imagine mixed in among these crowds sloshing through the streets like ceaseless, almost liquid, human waves.

The amenities in these districts cater almost exclusively to Budapest’s international visitors – trendy burger restaurants, sushi stands, fusion cuisine bistros, burrito bars, and glorified street food venues have replaced the often grimy, but delightful eateries than once lined these sidewalks.

You can enter one of these new restaurants and encounter serving staff who speak no Hungarian, and chances are even the native-speaking staff will greet you in English when you walk in the door. Concentrated between these eateries are the many bars, nightclubs, and drinking establishments where the price of a beer is easily triple what you would pay for one in another part of the city. And of course there are the boutique hotels, the designer stores, the high-end beauticians and barber shops, and the trendy clothing shops.

I walked past these establishments and tried to imagine the amount of money all the tourists milling around spent and how positive that undoubtedly was for the local economy.

The only problem was I had a craving for a good, old-fashioned bowl of gulyás soup while I thought of these things, but I could not for the life of me find a simple Hungarian restaurant and ended up settling for an overpriced, modish goose meat hamburger instead.

As my wife and I walked back to our hotel, I cast glances up at the apartment windows above the many rowdy bars, glitzy souvenir shops, and chic eateries and wondered how the locals felt about it all, assuming there were any locals left in those apartments. For all I knew, the lit windows might now be Air BNBs.

Overtourism is a difficult concept to define because it is hard to set the parameters delineating it, but I would hazard to guess that Budapest has morphed from being The City of Earthly Desire to a City of Overtourism.

If I had to choose, I would find the latter preferable to the former, but that does not imply that the rampant overtourism Budapest is now experiencing is not without its pitfalls. Statistics show Hungary welcomed well over 50 million tourists last year; that works out roughly to five tourists for every citizen. I imagine at least two-thirds of the 50 million visited Budapest exclusively, which would put the tourist-to-local ratio somewhere in the ten-to-one or perhaps even the twenty-to-one range.

Now there is no denying the vast economic benefits tourism can bring to a city or a country, but I cannot help but wonder what some of the drawbacks might be, especially over the long term, and whether the short-term benefits are worth the long term negatives.

Whatever the case may be, I humbly assert Budapest needs to be careful – another decade of the kind of hyper-tourism I witnessed may transform the city into nothing more than an urban playground for budget-airline party seekers and the global well-to-do.

​And that would be a shame, to say the least.

Francis Berger blogs from Hungary and is the author of the novel, The City of Earthly Desire.

The photo shows, “A Street Scene,” by Antal Berkes, painted ca., 1938.

The Mental State Of Liberalism

In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked “What Is it Like to be a Bat?” Nagel rejected reductionism, the idea that all consciousness can be reduced to simpler components identical for all sentient beings. Instead, he held that for each type of conscious being, there is a unique mindset embodying what it feels like to be that type of being.

These subjective experiences are called the “qualia” of consciousness, the internal viewpoints inherent to a sentient creature. Nobody can say what the qualia of a bat are, but I am here to analyze a closely related question: what are the qualia of a liberal?

By liberal, I do not mean classical liberal, or even the American moderate Left that until the 1960s was ascendant in the Democratic Party. Rather, I mean left-liberal, or progressive, the ideology of cultural Marxism, of the Frankfurt School, now dominant in the Democratic Party, as it has been dominant for some time in the academic world and in other worlds controlled by the Left, such as the media-entertainment complex.

What goes on behind their eyes? To a neutral observer, the externally visible political actions of today’s liberals are irrational and incoherent. The simplest explanation for their behavior is that liberals are people of low intelligence, and that they are not educated (whatever degrees they may have).

An alternative simple explanation is that they desire evil and hide that desire, so their actions and stated reasons do not match. But, while both are possible explanations, it seems unlikely that that any of this is how they perceive the world and their actions. So again—what are the qualia of a liberal?

We should be clear that specific policy prescriptions are not examples of qualia. For example, demanding gun control every time there is a shooting, or demanding gun control in general, despite the demonstrable total irrationality of using that policy prescription to fix the problems liberals claim it will fix, is not an example of qualia. Nor are the ever-increasing Left demands for censorship of views that oppose theirs.

These are only the external appearances resulting from internal phenomena—equivalent to a bat turning in the air upon echolocating a mosquito to eat. The deeper question is what is the bat thinking upon making the turn? He is trying to achieve a goal, but what mental visions impel that effort? Upon this question, and similar ones, translated to the liberal brain, much turns, for if we can understand, even a little, we can more effectively combat their poison.

This question of liberal qualia first occurred to me when listening to a new podcast put out by the New York Times, called “The Argument.” Having listened to three episodes, it has become clear that this podcast alone provides all I need to complete my analysis. I conclude that liberals have four key qualia, ones unique to liberals, compared to normal human beings. I note, by the way, that all human beings share most of their qualia.

There is no reason to believe that liberals perceive, say, the color red differently than the rest of humanity, or the taste of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Here we are seeking the qualia distinctions that explain political action. (Furthermore, naturally, we are relying to a certain extent on generalizations.)

The first quale is that liberals do not see reality as it is. What their eyes perceive is not the truth, because everything is filtered through an ideological lens, which removes anything that contradicts their ideology before it can enter their minds. Reality is totally subordinated to political ends, which are derived purely from abstractions.

Unlike a bat’s echolocation, this is not merely a different way of seeing the world. It is an inferior, neutered, way of seeing the world. If a bat could not see the world accurately, it would starve. Liberals are able to avoid such consequences, the hammer blows of reality, because in America today they live in bubbles of their own creation in which everyone else believes the same thing, in which they are never exposed to the consequences of reality and where everyone whose opinion they care about acts as if unreality is real.

Critically, in those bubbles, liberals also control the levers of power, and of reward and punishment. In this walled ecosystem, they do not starve, because food is stolen for them from those who can produce value because they see reality clearly.

Liberals are thus like the Old Bolshevik, Rubashov, in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, who, on his way to be shot after conviction for crimes he knows to be wholly imaginary, truly believes that his execution is necessary and correct, since the Party is always right, history dictates that his death is required, and through this lie the Promised Land will be achieved.

Even as the bullet enters his skull, Rubashov cannot free himself of the prison his mind has created for him, and so it is for liberals today—except that the rest of us, not them, suffer and die for their distorted vision of reality.

The second quale, related to but distinct from their divorce from reality, is that liberals use key words, first inside their heads and then spoken out loud, only after mentally assigning them new meanings designed to serve their abstract political goals. For example, in current political discourse, we constantly hear that anything not Left, and especially Trump, is “corrupt” and “illegitimate.”

These words are used because liberals know that anything not in agreement with them is bad, and they know that the words “corrupt” or “illegitimate” designate bad things.

But corruption is objectively defined, Webster’s says, as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” (Or, more broadly, corruption means that someone with power claims to be performing a defined, neutral, role, and is instead performing a different, self-interested, one).

Illegitimate means “not authorized by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules.” Liberals’ complaint about Trump has nothing to do with those meanings. Instead, the words have been redefined to mean “nebulously very bad, in a way I need not explain.” In practice, this is a rhetorical device, what Scott Adams calls “linguistic kill shots.” Critically, though, in liberals’ own minds the meanings have not changed.

The third quale, again related but distinct, is emotivism ruling rationality. Any matter perceived by a liberal that affects his political worldview is not analyzed objectively, nor are his conclusions supported logically, but rather with unbridled emotion.

Occasional efforts at rationality are made, but upon any examination or challenge, emotion swamps any such attempt. Why? Well, we can’t really tell directly, of course, but this phenomenon seems to let the liberal avoid the consequences of denying reality, to serve to indicate tribal affiliation to other liberals, and to signal virtue and righteousness to the world at large, as well as to the liberal himself.

Emotivism often appears as projection in the service of self-exculpation, used by liberals to whip themselves up into a righteous rage and justify ever more vicious attacks on those who stand in the way of their utopian political goals.

The fourth quale is breathtaking arrogance, blended with a nebulous, yet unshakeable, conviction of their own moral superiority, both tied to the belief that history is a wave and liberals are destined to ride it like the Silver Surfer.

The origin of this is not anything rational, such as an analysis of the past and measured predictions about the future, but an insatiable desire to lord it over supposed inferiors, feeding the human desire to feel that one is on a higher plane than others.

This characteristic is often the most evident in particular political discussions, such as those surrounding global warming. It is reinforced, as with the anti-reality quale, by liberals’ living in a walled ecosystem, where they can daily reassure each other that yes, indeed, we are superior. And it often comes out in the visceral belief that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, since that belief allows feeling superior without any need to demonstrate superiority.

So those are the four liberal qualia. I will note that my analysis of qualia is done with a somewhat broad brush. Some liberals, for example, do see the world clearly; they are just evil and want evil ends. Such was Lenin. But in America today, few liberals are like that, though probably more than are willing to admit that their main difference from Pol Pot is that their field of action is in North America, not Asia.

It might also be objected these are not true qualia, since they are ideologically driven distortions of mental processes, not purely organic products of the brain. True enough, though it’s not clear that the ideology came first. Just as likely, some defect in the liberal mind resulted in them believing this way, and that same defect reinforces the qualia driving specific political demands.

As Jonathan Haidt has noted, morality derives largely from pre-existent mental states; so (probably) with liberal qualia, although we will never truly know, since normal people cannot get inside the liberal mind, and if we are liberal, we lack the ability to self-analyze in this fashion.

Finally, this analysis is not without its dangers. One logical progression of identifying the mental defects of one’s political opponents is to view them less than human, a path that has led to disaster ever since the French Revolution.

That path is primarily one the Left has trodden, and in recent times, they have increasingly become unrestrained about wanting to step onto it in America. But the same temptation can occur on the Right. We should be careful that understanding the liberal mind is used as a tool to combat their political program, and to strip them of power, forever, but not to dehumanize them.

OK, let’s illustrate these characteristics through examples from the podcast. The declared reason for “The Argument” is “for democracy to work, we need to hear each other out. . . . [We] explain the arguments from across the political spectrum.”

The podcast features three regular New York Times columnists, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt. Douthat is the only conservative who writes for the NYT and he is very conservative, although also very much infected by inside-the-Beltway thinking (which he admits). Goldberg and Leonhardt are very far left. Goldberg is farther left; that the newspaper thinks that Leonhardt can be the centrist in this trio is charming.

But it isn’t surprising—every other person who writes for the NYT is also very far left, except for house “conservative” David Brooks, since the paper has reimagined itself as a full-time organ of attack upon Trump and anyone right of center, providing a safe space bubble for its clueless readers to imagine that they have the moral high ground, while reminding them of the looming powers of those wishing to attack the Left.

Whenever I read the NYT, to which I have to admit I subscribe, I often find it weirdly compelling, even hypnotizing, until I step back and realize that almost all articles are packed with demonstrable lies, both of commission and omission, and, perhaps more importantly, skilled writing is used to weave deliberate propaganda, of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud.

Anyway, in the first episode, “Is the Supreme Court Broken?,” the three columnists did a good job of being civil. All three are well-informed. But a good part of what Goldberg especially, and Leonhardt as well, said was quite literally insane and utterly divorced from reality, which made me think of bats as an explanation—maybe she just sees things in a way normal humans don’t.

Despite appearances, I don’t think Goldberg is a mental defective. Instead, she is an outstanding illustration of the externally visible results of liberal qualia, as is Leonhardt, to a somewhat lesser degree.

The pivot of the discussion in this episode was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, with the premise being Leonhardt’s statement, “For the first time in decades, the court is firmly conservative. And now Democrats are calling it a broken, partisan body.”

Leonhardt, acting as de facto moderator, first asks Goldberg, “When you realized that Brett Kavanaugh was going to be Justice Kavanaugh, how did it feel?” She responded, “[I]t’s hard for me to emphasize the extent to which this is, just, like, personally degrading, right, there’s political disagreement and there’s political loss, and then there’s personally feeling like you have been dehumanized and degraded and a sinking punch in the gut that, you know, these hostile men basically have their boots on our necks and are not going to remove them. . . . It is grueling.”

We see here three of the four characteristics of the liberal qualia. We see rank emotivism—it is grueling; doom is coming; they are bad; I am choking. We see an unreal reality; no normal human being could conclude that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation was anything other than “political disagreement” and “political loss,” or that it was objectively, in any way, “dehumanizing,” degrading” or that “hostile men . . . have their boots on their necks and are not going to remove them,” metaphorically or otherwise. And we see “partisan” redefined to mean “no longer dominated by the Left.”

Moving on, Douthat, after abasing himself to a small degree with preemptive apologies, something never done once in any episode of this podcast by either Goldberg or Leonhardt, or anywhere else by them, probably ever, notes that “for forty years, after World War II, the Supreme Court was run by a cabal of pretty liberal justices who spent a lot of time overturning a lot of laws and effectively sort of moral customers in America. . . . The way liberals are feeling right now about the prospect of a conservative Court is the way conservatives felt about the real Court for generations.”

Leonhardt responds that what we have now “feels qualitatively different” and maunders on that the Court is “more partisan, I think it’s much more radical than when it had a center or center-left majority.”

Again, no attempt is made to demonstrate this in even the slightest way, because the assertion is self-evidently ludicrous—it is more pure unreality and emotivism, as shown by the dead giveaway verb “feels,” along with more redefinitions.

Goldberg jumps in to endorse shrinking or expanding the Supreme Court to pack it with liberals, rejecting that the possibility that will lead to a downward spiral of reaction and counter-reaction.

She rejects it not for any rational reason, but because otherwise the End is Nigh. “The situation we have now strikes me, and I think not just me, as intolerable, and I think that most liberals have the sense that there is no limit to the right’s kind of determination to impose its power on us by any means possible, and so inasmuch as you sort of lose faith that we’re all playing by some set of ground rules or that we all have some shared commitment to the process, you just start feeling that like you’re a sucker if you don’t use every single tool at your disposal.”

So, decades of rule by the Supreme Court in favor of the Left and in opposition to democracy may be ending, though no court ruling has been made yet, but the Apocalypse has arrived. Again, we see three of the four liberal qualia (this time, we are missing word re-definitions, but we have unreality, emotivism, and claimed moral superiority).

Then Goldberg, without seeing the contradiction to what she just said, suggests that the real problems (for the Left) will not show up “unless and until this Supreme Court starts handing down really radical 5-4 decisions that, say, thwart what a President Elizabeth Warren tries to do with corruption reform—I think you will see a popular demand that something be done.”

Leonhardt chimes in to say that despite “this enraging moment,” “the right answer is for Democrats and progressives to continue pointing out the ways in which this Court is illegitimate.” And here we have my original example, of redefinition of “corrupt” and “illegitimate.” In no plausible universe does either of these words apply to the Supreme Court as currently constituted (which Court, as I say, has not issued a single ruling).

But, using the transitive property, to liberals, “conservative majority on the Supreme Court” equals “rulings that do not comport with Left desire to rule through the Court” equals “bad” equals “corrupt and illegitimate.”

Leonhardt asks Douthat what he hopes for out of this Court, to which Douthat says he wants some victories for conservatives on social issues, but modestly rejects “an aggressive activist Court that’s trying to strike down every law that a President Warren passes. I think the way we get back to sanity around the Court is for the Court to give some victories to social conservatives . . . [but] respect democracy when it leads to liberal outcomes too.”

In turn, Goldberg answers the same question, unleashing a barely coherent rant. “I don’t really have hopes. I think that they’re just going to do their worst.” We will have “extremely sinister effects, not just on the hot button social issues, but really on the power of corporate money, on the abilities of Democratic majorities to pass laws restraining corruption and inequality.”

Brett Kavanaugh was chosen so that Donald Trump could neuter Robert Mueller, who is, any day now, going to find Russian meddling in some broom closet. “So I think we could have a real breakdown of the rule of law.” Leonhardt wraps up by saying “I hope the whole mess of this confirmation makes the Court a little more humble. . . . I think a humble Court right now, rather than a Court that tries to remake America and society in its own image, would be much better for the country.”

We see here all four qualia. “Humble” is redefined to mean “subservient to liberal goals.” When the Left spends decades remaking America, that is justice; when the possibility arises that the Right may reverse some of these Left gains, they need to be subservient instead, because that is “better for the country”—i.e., better for the Left.

We also see here bizarre claims of moral superiority, akin to the man who, having killed his parents, throws himself on the judge’s mercy as an orphan. No acknowledgement is made of the hatred and confusion engendered purely by leftist attacks on Kavanaugh by obvious liars and perjurers, whipped up in organized fashion.

Their purity is unassailable; their opponents, by merely defending themselves from slander, are “sinister” and trying to achieve “the breakdown of the rule of law.” All this in just a few sentences—and note that nowhere in any of these podcasts can Douthat be even once accused of exemplifying any of the four liberal qualia.

I could multiply these examples endlessly, and maybe I already am, but let’s just see two more, from a different podcast in the series, “How Screwed Up is American Democracy?” Goldberg hyperventilates, “We’re already in a situation where I and a lot of other people feel like we’re being ruled by an illegitimate, undemocratically elected cabal of our enemies.”

When Douthat queries the use of “enemies,” asking “do you pause at all before using the word ‘enemies’ ”, she shrilly responds, “Not any more. . . . I look at a President whose basic raison d’etre is ‘owning the libs,’ is making people like me, and my family, and my friends, scared and afraid and humiliated, and I see people cheering for him, I see people cheering for him precisely because he does that, and I don’t know how to describe them anyway except ‘my enemies.’”

On the surface, this is a mirror image of conservative complaints about their enemies. Maybe conservatives just live in their own bubbles, a topic I am going to address in a different analysis. But poke a little, and it’s not just ludicrously unmoored from reality, but malevolently so.

Does anyone actually believe that Goldberg is ever “scared and afraid and humiliated”? Is she attacked when she goes to restaurants or in public places? Might she lose her job if she says something liberal? Might her children be ostracized by some political position she takes? Do people in power that she cares about treat her with contempt? Of course not. Those things only happen to conservatives, every day, to millions of them. Never to liberals, and most especially never to powerful liberals like her.

But that’s not what Goldberg sees, and that’s my point. What Goldberg actually objects to, even if it is hidden from her, is that she may not be on top anymore; she may no longer be able to dish out contempt and humiliation to conservatives, forcing them to accept her radical political programs, because they may succeed in neutering a chief method of liberal power.

That’s why they are her enemies—because the peasants are revolting and trying to throw off the liberal yoke and whip, not because they are actually causing her any type of harm. Filtered through the four liberal qualia, though, Goldberg sees herself as the persecuted, yet resilient and ultimately triumphant, Angel of Justice, pure in thought and deed.

And in the same podcast, in addition to continuing to use “corruption” and “illegitimate” with redefined meanings, both Goldberg and Leonhardt repeatedly, more than twenty times, refer to the Republican Party using “damaged,” “broken,” “beyond repair,” “fundamentally sick,” and similar terms. They never say once what they mean by that; they treat it as obvious.

But it’s transparently not a normal use of those terms—when one refers to something as “broken,” that means it cannot perform its function. In the case of a political party, its function is to gain power for its adherents.

By that measure, the Republican Party is very much not broken, and no case can be made that it is. No, what they mean is a complete inversion of the actual meaning of “broken”—they mean that the Republican Party is effective and dominant, and eroding the power of their own political party.

Once Leonhardt reverts, and says the Republicans are “doing so much damage,” which is an accurate phrasing. That reversion unveils the redefinition, of course.

It’s not just this podcast series, of course—it’s most liberal pronouncements today. Take, for example, a piece that the famous Holocaust historian Christopher Browning wrote a few weeks back in that liberal bastion, the New York Review of Books, shrieking that Trump is Hitler (and tacking on that it doesn’t matter, since global warming is going to kill us all).

Unfortunately for him, his writing totally beclowns him, and ruins his reputation. He, however, does not and cannot see that, for he has the qualia of a liberal (and lives and breathes in the walled garden of liberalism). But his pieces jarringly illustrates all four characteristics of liberal qualia, as you will see for yourself if you subject yourself to the link. I won’t go into detail, since this analysis is long enough, and dead horses should not be beaten, but I’m happy to discuss further if there is demand from the People!

In the meantime, you can take this analysis home with you, and when you listen to liberal demands, I hope you will have a better idea of what is actually behind those demands. How to fight back most effectively is a topic for another day, but, as always, forewarned is forearmed.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Rattfaengler) by Oskar Larsen, painted in 1936.

How The Green Party Failed Its Own Promise Of Participatory Democracy

The Meaning Of Participatory Democracy

One of the most obvious principles of liberal democracy is that those who are most affected by the decisions of elected governing authorities be the most consulted on the decisions in question.  The right to be consulted does not equate to a right to a veto, only to be heard or considered in an objective analysis as to which course of action will maximize the greatest good for the greatest number.  A democracy that maximizes this kind of consultation may be properly considered to be a Participatory Democracy.

Various Green Parties in Canada and elsewhere were founded with Participatory Democracy as one of their six stated values, alongside Sustainability, Non-Violence, Social Justice, Ecological Wisdom, and Respect for Diversity.  Unfortunately however, the value of Participatory Democracy has been one of the declared values that the Green Party of Ontario has most failed to abide itself by.  I know this from personal experience.

How the Green Party Spited Me For My Election Candidacy Attempt

In July 2017 I was present at the Green Party of Ontario Guelph Nomination Meeting for the Leader Mike Schreiner.  In casual conversation afterwards the Leader asked me at his own initiative, “Are you going to be a candidate?”  Schreiner was aware that I had been the 2015 federal Green candidate for my home riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.

After careful consideration and inspiration from the GPO, the following October I applied to become the Green candidate for the same riding.  On November 23rd, the Provincial Nominations Committee approved me as a Nomination Contestant.  I waited patiently for updates as months went by, but kept being stalled with vague deadlines and non-information.

In the meantime I was made to feel supported with training opportunities provided by the party in Guelph, Ottawa, and in webinars.  Then on April 13th, after assurances that nominations were closing and without anyone else having yet applied to become the Candidate, the Nominations Committee and Executive Director abruptly slammed the door in my face on my candidacy prospect.  No supporting details were offered.

I needed an explanation that I could give to my hundreds of constituents who were expecting my Green candidacy, as all public hints prior to April 13th were that there was no outstanding objections or competition to my candidacy and so many citizens were confused.

I wanted to give an explanation that would not damage the party’s reputation or my own.  But that option was never allowed to me.  The motive was contemptuously kept a secret and dialogue was shunned, even after I protested the Committee’s tone with scathing criticism before party members.  There was no possible reason that I was not prepared to respectfully discuss or publicly debate.

I subsequently emailed Mike Schreiner repeatedly to request that he ask the Nominations Committee for the reason for my rejection, as was in his power to do.  He continuously ignored and then deflected my request.  The party approved a last-minute paper candidate whose profile was lower than my 2015 candidacy and who missed both all-candidates meetings.

Pattern Repeats With Shut-Down Of Deputy Leader Candidacy

After history-making election as an MPP, Schreiner hired the party’s Executive Director as his Chief of Staff.  Schreiner may be perceived to have rewarded the inexplicable abrasiveness of the Executive Director towards me.

Then in August, I was nominated by Green Party members to become a Deputy Leader Candidate for internal elections.  Days after membership voting began in a contest in which I was plausibly going to win, the Executive Director led party authorities into kicking me out of the party within a secretive closed-door process excluding my input.  While on Schreiner’s payroll, the Executive Director sealed the contest against my victory.

The stated reasons for membership termination were that I “harassed” party authorities by protesting the manipulations regarding my attempted candidacy, and that I attempted as a Deputy Leader Candidate to attend an event where the Leader was present.

It was demanded by GPO authorities that I not be present at this event, ostensibly to “protect” a complainant with a history of public negativity towards me during the course of a transparently-unprofessional and artificially-prolonged “investigation”.  I now believe that the truth is that this demand was made because Schreiner himself was newly anxious to keep space between himself and myself, even without actually asking me for such.

Motivations For The Persecution

Why would Mike Schreiner and his peers persecute me first without explanation and then with an inflammatory explanation?  In my years with the party Schreiner had been repeatedly encouraging to my face, such that I thought that he felt genuine respect for me.

I did not see a menace in his inability to admit self-error or continuously debate over any of our many high-profile policy disagreements, but merely perceived his disagreements as disappointments to be overcome with more patient lobbying of the party membership.  Certainly he never directly communicated with me any desire for my reduced participation in the party.  I still believe that he is a phenomenal MPP for the riding of Guelph.

But I now also believe that Schreiner was never prepared to come to terms with the potential of any victory on my part over our policy disagreements.  He was never prepared to accept my rising-star status within the party, but also lacked the courage to admit that there was a problem.  And his employee and peers, or “puppets” if you will, took silent cues and accordingly persecuted me with expectation of being rewarded with internal power and influence.

At every stage of this conflict the GPO leadership recklessly defied the party’s core value of Participatory Democracy.  At every step of the way the most consultation was not targeted at who was most affected, but instead at who already had the most power.  At no point did GPO authorities attempt to show the humility necessary for two-sided learning.

Lessons To Be Learned

The hard-learned lesson of this experience is that no political party consistently practices Participatory Democracy, because the flaws of human nature get in the way of doing so.  Humans sometimes desperately invest their self-esteem in given courses of action, and when confronted with criticism only become more desperate to dig in.  It takes an especially courageous politician to show the openness and patience for opposing views as to be consistently courteous where two-sided consideration is due.

When I had attempted to appeal to the GPO Ombuds Committee, an institution which later revealed itself to be controlled by the Executive Director, the Committee had made a telling claim that Participatory Democracy was a party value that could be compromised for the sake of “efficiency and expediency”.

But that is a false proposition: political parties that humiliate their own supporters with inconsiderate disregard in the decisions at hand are parties that reserve themselves for special spots in electoral hell.  Those are precisely the kinds of parties least likely to achieve growth.  Indeed even as the GPO elected an MPP for the first time, its vote share was down from its 2007 peak of 8% to roughly 4.6% in 2018.

I do not doubt in my mind that Mike Schreiner wishes for more Green MPPs to be elected alongside himself in the next election in 2022.  If he could wave a magic wand to make it happen, he would choose to do so.  And yet, he is sure to undermine that very goal with his perceived short-term need to retain control of the GPO at my expense and at the expense of others who disagree with him.  He may make his constituents proud as an MPP, but so long as other like-minded MPPs are not elected alongside him, he will keep losing battles just as he currently does under Premier Doug Ford’s government.

The point here is that to achieve true political success, one must be in keeping with the practice of both integrity and Participatory Democracy.  One may potentially earn a salary or achieve short-term fame in the example set by Green Party leadership, but the only legacy that one can be proud of will be accomplished after long-term perseverance in being courteous and respectful towards opposing views.

It will not be accomplished through spiting or alienating critics so that one may feel in more immediate control in the present.  Sadly, the Green Party of Ontario under current leadership is not on track towards true long-term political success, because it does not live up to its own core promises even when in its long-term interest to do so.

Stefan Klietsch was a dedicated Green Party of Ontario member from 2012 to 2018. He graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Ottawa, and currently studies Computer Programming at Algonquin College.
The photo shows a cartoon of political corruption by Thomas Nash, published ca. 1870s.

Lenin: The Giant Mushroom

In 1991, just months before the collapse of the USSR, Soviet audiences witnessed a shocking scene on television program, Pyatoe Koleso (The Fifth Wheel). Two serious-looking men – Sergey Sholokhov, the host and his guest, an underground musician and writer introduced as “politician and actor,” Sergey Kurekhin were sitting in a studio discussing the October revolution of 1917.

Suddenly, Kurekhin offered a very interesting hypothesis – that Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, was not a human being but a mushroom.

Kurekhin started with a rambling discourse on the nature of revolutions and his trip to Mexico where, in ancient temples, he had seen frescoes closely resembling the events of 1917. From there, he moved on to the author Carlos Castaneda who described the practices of Central American Indians of using psychotropic drinks prepared from certain types of cacti.

“Apart from cacti, Castaneda describes mushrooms as special products with a hallucinogenic effect,” Kurekhin continued and then quoted Lenin’s letter to leading Marxist Georgi Plekhanov: “Yesterday I ate many mushrooms and felt marvelously well”. Noting that Russia’s fly-agaric mushroom has hallucinogenic effects, Kurekhin assumed that Lenin was consuming these kinds of mushrooms and had some kind of psychedelic, mind-altering experience.

It was not only Lenin who dabbled in such fungi, but other Bolsheviks as well, Kurekhin claimed. “The October revolution was made by people who had been consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms for years,” he said with a poker face. “And Lenin’s personality was replaced with that of a mushroom because fly-agaric identity is far stronger than a human one.” Therefore, he concluded, Lenin became a mushroom himself.

After that sensational statement, the program went on for another 20 minutes, with Kurekhin and Sholokhov citing endless “evidence” of Lenin’s affinity for mushrooms, starting from his passion for collecting fungi and going so far as to compare a photo of an armored vehicle Lenin once posed on to fungal mycelium.

At some point, both couldn’t help but laugh after stating that the Soviet hammer and a sickle symbol was, in fact, combination of a mushroom and a mushroom picker’s knife. But even the laughter didn’t prevent thousands of people from taking the program seriously.

“Had Kurekhin been speaking of anyone else, his words would easily have been dismissed as a joke. But Lenin! How could one joke about Lenin? Especially on Soviet television,” Russian anthropologist Alexei Yurchak said to explain the gullibility of many Soviet viewers.. He emphasized that viewers didn’t necessarily believe that Lenin was a mushroom – but they treated Kurekhin as a serious researcher, calling the television and writing letters demanding that the station confirm or refute the idea of the Bolshevik leader being a fungus.

Sergei Sholokhov, who made the program together with Kurekhin, later said: “The day after the show aired, a delegation of old Bolsheviks went to our local Communist party boss who was in charge of ideology and demanded an answer – was Lenin a mushroom or not. She answered with a fierce ‘No!’ claiming that ‘a mammal cannot be a plant’.”

Both himself and Kurekhin were quite shocked by such an answer, Sholokhov notes. On the other hand, Sholokhov may have made the story up  – just like he and Kurekhin (who died in 1996) did with the TV show.

It was Kurekhin, a humorous hoaxer who came up with the idea. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the world of Soviet media was changing, and as journalists enjoyed more freedom, some of them were talking nonsense.

As Kurekhin’s widow Anastasia recalled, “Once we saw a TV show on the death of Sergey Yesenin (the Russian poet who committed suicide in 1925). The host built his “proof” that Yesenin had actually been killed on absolutely absurd arguments. They showed photos of the poet’s funeral and said: “Look, this man is looking this way and that man is looking the other way, so it means that Yesenin was killed.” Kurekhin saw it and said to Anastasia: “You know, you can prove anything using such “evidence”. And so he did.

Alexei Yurchak explains that the hoax and people’s reactions to it was a good illustration of how people, no matter where they live, tend to trust the media without checking facts. “If there’s something in the media, there must be something to it,” Yurchak wrote. Kurekhin’s provocation was a hilarious way to prove how easy it is to feed people with the most bizarre nonsense if you sound confident enough.

 

Oleg Yegerov writes for Russia Beyond, through whose courtesy this articles is provided.

Review: The Forest Passage By Ernst Jünger

Ernst Jünger was one of the more fascinating men of the twentieth century.  Remembered in the English-speaking world primarily for his World War I memoir, The Storm of Steel, he was famous in Europe for a range of right-leaning thought spanning nearly eighty years (he lived from 1896 to 1998).

His output was prodigious, more than fifty books along with voluminous correspondence, and not meant or useful as a seamless ideology, although certain themes apparently recur. This book, The Forest Passage, was published in 1951, and is a compelling examination of how life should be conducted under modern ideological tyranny.

Jünger’s answer is jarring, both in its originality, and in its flat rejection of any relevancy of those modern (though failing) totems, liberal democracy and egalitarianism. Jünger was no Nazi; he contemptuously rejected their efforts to profit off his reputation, and was tangentially involved in the Stauffenberg plot. But he had just as little use for modern democracy or liberalism; much of his thought seems to have revolved around a type of social and political elitism with a spiritual core. It appears that The Forest Passage was his first exploration of the specific topic of resistance to tyranny; he developed the thought in this book further with a novel published in 1977, Eumeswil, which I have not read.

This is quite a difficult book to read; it can be opaque, and it assumes the reader’s recognition of various oblique references (I had to look up that Champollion was a decrypter of Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example).

This 2013 edition, from Telos Press, is greatly helped by occasional notes (though more would have been better), and an outstanding introduction from Russell Berman. Most of Jünger’s books have not been translated, and Telos, a left-leaning entity, has usefully been translating and reprinting at least a few, all of which I have bought and am now working through as I explore alternatives to our own crumbling social and political system.

Jünger had lived through World War I (barely), receiving numerous awards for bravery, and become famous for The Storm of Steel. That book was and is often criticized for being the mirror image of anti-war writings, from the British war poets to All Quiet on the Western Front.

Jünger did not oppose the war, even after its disastrous end; he liked certain aspects of it, regarding them as spiritually valuable, even epic.  (In this he was much like Erwin Rommel, who also wrote a memoir that made him famous, though Rommel was practical about his like for war, not spiritual).

During the interwar period Jünger was a key figure in the so-called “Conservative Revolution,” the loose movement of intellectuals (including Oswald Spengler and Carl Schmitt), opposed to Weimar and democracy, and more broadly to modernism and individualism, as well as to the coming thing, Communism.

During the war, Jünger also opposed the Nazis, mostly passively, although he wrote a novel implicitly critical of Hitler (On The Marble Cliffs), something he could get away with because of his fame. After the war, for decades, he was a leading public intellectual, never forgiven by the dominant Left for his rightist views, but able to haughtily ignore their carping, and widely honored until the end of his life.

In 1951, of course, Germany stood between the immediate past of Nazism and the immediate threat of Soviet Communism. This is the backdrop of The Forest Passage, and the book cannot be understood without keeping it in mind. That said,  Jünger’s thought is directed at challenging any ideological tyranny, which includes, increasingly, our own Western “liberal democracy.”

What should a person oppressed by such a tyrannical state do?  The book is really an answer on two levels: What he should do in the external world, and what he should do in his internal world. More precisely, it is an exploration of how the latter should drive the former.  Jünger was not George Orwell, predicting the victory of global tyranny.

In fact, he was quite optimistic about the future, predicting elsewhere that ultimately technology would allow a global state, a “planetary order,” to emerge under which humans could flourish.  But in The Forest Passage he was interested in tyrannies present or future, whatever their origin, and how one should live under them.

Jünger begins by discussing how in an oppressive state the mere act of voting “no” where ninety-eight percent vote “yes,” as demanded and enforced by the state and by one’s fellow voters, is an act of rebellion.

It does not matter that the state actually wants fewer than one hundred percent to vote “yes,” because that way the vote seems more realistic, and, more importantly, the state can thereby justify further action against its opponents, whose existence is by the vote made visible to all, and also therefore the need for their suppression so that Utopia can finally be reached (although, as in Zeno’s Paradox, it can never actually be, for that would deprive the dictatorship of its reason for seeking more power).

“Dictatorships cannot survive on pure affirmation—they need hate, and with it terror, to provide a simultaneous counterbalance.” (This is true also of proto-dictatorships, such as today’s American Left. As Shelby Steele has recently pointed out, the Left existentially needs to see racism everywhere, so they can keep whipping up hate to augment their power through terror).

Rather, the point of, and the meaning of, the vote “no” is not to “shake the opponent, but [to] change the person who has decided to go through with it.”  He, by the choice of voting “no,” or by any equivalent choice, becomes a “forest rebel,” transformed into something new, who takes the “forest passage,” taking actions that are also something new.

Here, “something new” is not a throwaway line of mere contrast to the existing tyranny.  The newness of the forest rebel’s path is critical to Jünger’s analysis.  The man who votes “no,” the freshly minted forest rebel, is not trying to turn back to the old ways of democracy, or any other specific prior political system.  Those are dead and gone, along with his own past individual nature. He is on a new path.

“This is why the numerous attempts under the Caesars to return to the republic had to fail.  The republicans either fell in the civil war, or they came out of it transformed.” You cannot go back. The way is shut. While Jünger is focused on tyranny, this principle is more generally applicable, as Jünger’s reference to Rome shows.

In fact, I think that newness is a critical element in planning our own future. For Reaction, something I wish to implement after the inevitable rupture as our own system dies, is properly viewed not a turning back, as its caricaturists and opponents would have it, but the creation of a new thing informed, in part, by the wisdom of the past.

This is what Jünger calls “retrospection,” conducted by a small minority, made possible because “in the nature of things,” “when catastrophes announce themselves . . . the initiative will always pass into the hands of a select minority who prefer danger to servitude.” Failing to grasp that newness is essential, and must be accepted and made central, will lead to nostalgia, and thence to dissonance and failure of all political plans and action.

What most of all characterizes the forest rebel is his devotion to freedom. He is internally completely free, and he works for external freedom as well. These things set him apart from both the tyrannical state and the mass of men. But it essential to note that Jünger is not a libertarian. His idea of freedom has very little in common with Robert Nozick and less with Milton Friedman.

The freedom of the forest rebel is not the freedom to do as he pleases; it is not the unbridled autonomy and atomized individualism that were the poison at the heart of the Enlightenment and are the engine of its destruction. Those are “unworthy interpretations” of freedom;  Jünger specifically sneers at the French Revolution. Nor is it exactly the older conception of freedom, the ability to choose rightly, although it is much closer to that than to libertarianism.

Rather, it is a modernized version of that, consisting of two related threads.  First, and concretely, the refusal to obey or even acknowledge the commands of an oppressive and malevolent, state. Second, and abstractly, a spiritual core with which the forest rebel analyzes his decisions, informed by a rejection of degrading “automatism” and its consequence, “fatalism,” in favor of self-rule and of the virtues of “art, philosophy, and theology.”

Jünger’s analysis of voting under tyranny prefigures Václav Havel’s famous analysis of the grocer who refuses to put the sign, “Workers of the World, Unite!” in his shop window. For Havel, this is refusing to “live within a lie,” which allows the grocer to reclaim his identity and dignity, but for which he must pay, because even this minor act of defiance threatens the entire regime, even though it has no explicitly political intent or meaning.

The forest rebel’s attitude is much the same.  And even though Jünger focuses more on the rebel’s internal mental state than his specific external actions, he is quite clear that he expects the forest rebel, ultimately, to act, rather than merely ruminate.

Confusingly, at the same time Jünger sometimes seems to say that the forest rebel mostly lives and acts completely in isolation, in the forest, a type of garden, but a solitary one. True, the forest rebel battles “Leviathan,” but his is sometimes characterized as a holding action, to keep himself from the degradation of the masses who acquiesce, and, implicitly, to form the core of something to come.

This ambiguity as to the actual actions to be taken may be deliberate, for Jünger knows that context dictates action, and he has no Marxist-flavored belief in inevitable turns of history.  Ultimately, he says that “The armor of the new Leviathans has its own weak points, which must continually be felt out, and this assumes both caution and daring of a previously unknown quality.

We may imagine an elite opening this battle for a new freedom, a battle that will demand great sacrifices and which should leave no room for any interpretations that are unworthy of it.” Thus, Jünger always returns to the concept of battle, and it is a fair conclusion that is what he expects of the ideal forest rebel.  “The task of the forest rebel is to stake out vis-à-vis the Leviathan the measures of freedom that are to obtain in future ages. He will not get by this opponent with mere ideas.”

The forest rebel is therefore exemplified by William Tell, mentioned twice in this brief book.  Tell, of course, was the (probably mythical, but no matter) fifteenth-century Swiss crossbowman who shot an apple off his son’s head at the command of the malevolent state, represented by Albrecht Gessler, proxy for the Habsburg dukes who ruled Tell’s canton.

Gessler’s command was punishment for Tell refusing to salute Gessler’s hat, which he had placed on a pole and then required the people to salute, in order to humiliate them and bring low their spirit.  Most of us remember that Tell put two crossbow bolts in his belt, and when asked by Gessler, after successfully shooting the apple, why he had done that, replied that the second was for Gessler, had Tell hit his son.

Most of us probably do not remember the second act of the story—Tell escapes, to the forest, and then soon ambushes Gessler and assassinates him, starting a successful rebellion.  (By coincidence, I bought several books on Tell for my children a few weeks ago.

I am glad I did that; these are important lessons and guides to action, and I am willing to bet zero children are told Tell’s story in most schools today.)  Tell was no libertarian—he was a free man in a free society, but he was bound by, and loyal to, that society and its rules.  His was the freedom of Leonidas, not of Hugh Hefner.

Tell is, however, not the only rebel Jünger praises—one other, an anonymous man, gets his nod. Speaking of the breakdown of the rule of law in 1933 Berlin, and the acquiescence of the population in Nazi suppression of political opponents, he says, “A laudable exception deserves mention here, that of a young social democrat who shot down half a dozen so-called auxiliary policemen [i.e., NSDAP storm troopers] at the entrance of his apartment.

He still partook of the substance of the old Germanic freedom, which his enemies only celebrated in theory.”  It’s hard to miss Jünger’s message, and it’s not that the forest rebel should meditate silently on freedom while sitting at home.

Both by such examples, and by explicit statements, Jünger is clear that his contemplated rebellion is not one of raising an army, but of ad hoc or guerrilla warfare. When striking physically at the state, the forest rebel is not to worry unduly about the mechanics of rebellion. Instead, he must focus on tools and getting the party started. The details will take care of themselves.

“In regard to organizing maneuvers and exercises, setting up bases and systems adapted to the new form of resistance—in short, in regard to the whole practical side of things, people will always emerge who will occupy themselves with these aspects and give them form.” Therefore, “More important is to apply the old maxim that a free man be armed—and not with arms under lock and key in an armory or barracks, but arms kept in his apartment, under his own bed.”

Moreover, in matters of arms, a man “makes his own sovereign decisions.”  Jünger would not approve of today’s gun grabbers, any more than he did of the gun grabbing by the Nazis or the Bolsheviks, because he saw clearly what the seizure of arms always made possible and was, and is, intended to make possible, whether by Lenin or Dianne Feinstein—the triumph of the totalitarian state.

Even aside from open rebellion, though, the forest rebel has an outsized effect relative to his numbers.  He is a “chemical reagent,” because he is (physically) surrounded by others, he will influence them. Hence the growth in police in oppressive states, and “these wolves [the forest rebels] are not only strong in themselves; there is also the danger that one fine morning they will transmit their characteristics to the masses, so that the flock turns into a pack. This is a ruler’s nightmare.”

(Here Jünger departs from Havel, since Havel thinks that the “wolf” is actually representative of the majority of people, and Jünger thinks most people are intellectually complicit with the tyrannical state, which is perhaps why Havel rejected revolt, preferring the power of example.)

How are those characteristics transmitted? Through imagination, which “provides the basic force for the action.” Imagination is not itself enough, but it, poetry writ large, provides the spark. I would only add that the impact of imagination cannot be predicted.  Cometh the hour, cometh the man, but it is impossible to know anything more in advance, which makes it essential that the forest rebel keep the powder needed to set alight the conflagration dry and ready to hand.

Jünger, and the forest rebel, laugh at the idea of egalitarianism as a denial of basic reality. The forest rebel is an aristocrat, not of blood, but of virtue, which is real aristocracy. To Jünger and the forest rebel, it is blindingly obvious that all men are not equal—they may be equal before God, but the forest rebel is the superior of the masses, for his choice is hard and risk-filled, yet objectively better.

Not for Jünger the idea that each man’s choice is merely each man’s choice.  No, some choices are better, and therefore, the people who make them are superior.  They are a “heroic elite.” This aristocracy is open to all; Jünger says that the freedom he calls for “is prefigured in myth and in religions, and it always returns; so, too, the giants and the titans always manifest with the same apparent superiority.

The free man brings them down; and he need not always be a prince or a Hercules.  A stone from a shepherd’s sling, a flag raised by a virgin, and a crossbow have already proven sufficient.”  David the son of Jesse, Joan of Arc, and William Tell are the elite.

“This miracle has happened, even countless times, when a man stepped out of the lifeless numbers to extend a helping hand to others. . . . Whatever the situation, whoever the other, the individual can become this fellow human being—and thereby reveal his native nobility.

The origins of aristocracy lay in giving protection, protection from the threat of monsters and demons.  This is the hallmark of nobility, and it still shines today in the guard who secretly slips a piece of bread to a prisoner. This cannot be lost, and on this the world subsists.”

It is not only in his demand for private weapons and his disdain for egalitarianism that Jünger is wildly not politically correct, a bone in the throat of today’s Left.  Not for Jünger other modern ideas, such as false gender equality or the idea that the liberal democratic state is the real bulwark of our real freedoms.

“Long periods of peace foster certain optical illusions:  one is the conviction that the inviolability of the home is grounded in the constitution, which should guarantee it. In reality, it is grounded in the family father, who, sons at his side, fills the doorway with an axe in hand.” This is not a fashionable set of ideas, but I’m betting all of them are about to gain fresh traction.

Along the same lines, it is very clear, though mostly below the surface in this book, that Jünger thinks highly of vigorous religious belief, as opposed to modern godless ideologies, as a key part of a forest rebel’s thought. A transcendent belief is necessary for the forest rebel to succeed, or even to be a forest rebel.

Jünger praises “churches and sects” as a counterpoint to what drives the tyrannies he fears, “natural science raised to the level of philosophical perfection.”  (He also specifically exalts Helmuth James von Moltke, the deeply Christian founder of the Kreisau Circle, executed by the Nazis in 1945).

Faith means freedom; materialism reinforces tyranny. Religion (implicitly Christianity, for Jünger tells us Christ has shown the way to conquer the root of all fears, the fear of death) is good, it prepares man “for paths that lead into darkness and the unknown,” though not enough by itself, and in any case it will always be persecuted by the tyrannical state, which insists on absolute power.  Thus, we find “tyrannical regimes so rabidly persecuting such harmless creatures as the Jehovah’s Witnesses—the same tyrannies that reserve seats of honor for their nuclear physicists.”

All this is very interesting, and offers much material for reflection. We get a very good idea of the type of system Jünger does not want—modern ideological tyrannies, in short, the heirs of the French Revolution. We understand the mechanism for resistance and eventual overthrow. But what system does Jünger want?  On that he is less clear, but there are occasional glimpses.

It is most definitely not modern liberal democracy, although again there is little direct criticism of such modern systems, even if in the 1930s Jünger had vociferously criticized Weimar.

We can get a clue, though, when Jünger refers to the “virtuous way” as derived from “simple people . . . who were not overcome by the hate, the terror, the mechanicalness of platitudes. These people withstood the propaganda and its plainly demonic insinuations.

When such virtues also manifest in a leader of people, endless blessings can result, as with Augustus for example. This is the stuff of empires. The ruler reigns not by taking but by giving life. And therein lies one of the great hopes:  that one perfect human being will step forth among the millions.” That is, Jünger wants a Man of Destiny, to free us of ideological tyranny, and lead us to the sunlit uplands.

This resonates very strongly with me; as I have written elsewhere, we await that Man of Destiny, an Augustus for the new age, and he will not come borne on the wings of so-called liberal democracy.

My feeling is that as the cracks spread in the West, tyrannies and oppressions of one sort or another are increasingly likely to offer to oppress us, in a way that seemed inconceivable even fifteen years ago, and they will have to be resisted, with shot and shell.  Who could have predicted, so soon after the fall of Communism and the apparent end of ideological tyranny in the West, that a book like The Forest Passage would become relevant again? Not me. But that’s where we are, and perhaps some of Jünger’s thought will shorten the path through, and time spent in, the forest.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The photo shows, “Leipziger Street Berlin,” by Albert Birkle, painted in 1923.

Two Paradigms Of History

Two book appeared over decades ago that still warrant consideration. One is Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, and the other Peter Gran’s Beyond Eurocentrism: A New View of Modern World History. Both embody two respective specific views history that are termed “modernization theory” and “political economy theory.” Before we proceed to examine the two books in question, it is best, first of all, to briefly define these two theories of history, in order to gain a firmer grasp of the arguments of the two authors.

When we turn to modernization theory, we find that the emphasis is on the industrial knowledge and strength of wealthy nations, who achieved their prominence by way of a process of modernity. This first stage in this process is industrialization itself, which in turn brings about modernity. Thereafter a sequenced series of events occurs that bring about social, economic, and individual progress.

Thus, nations that espoused modernity prospered because they learned ways to ensure sustained economic growth; and this brought them greater riches in the form of cultural, social, and political standards and principles that fully embodied modernity. For theorists of modernization, the problems of the Third World are rooted in forms and structures of traditional societies, which markedly differ from modern ones. Traditional societies are intensely religious, while modern ones are secular, since they have learned to separate social, political, and economic standards from religion.

Traditional societies are rural; modern ones are urban and based upon commerce and trade. Thus, the strengths of modern societies lie in their secularization, urbanization, the ability to develop science and technology, their stress on social mobility, the inculcation of a system of rewards for merit rather than inherited status, the great importance of the rule of law, and the division of labor in society.

On the other hand, traditional societies are governed by religious authority, and depend upon a rural mode of existence. They do not have the ability to engender discoveries and innovations in technology and science; they have extremely inflexible social structures that allow for very little mobility. As well, traditional societies dispense reward based on inherited status rather than merit; they discourage innovation and new ideas, do not place controls on the implementation of political will and authority, and do not show social differentiation.

Thus, according to modernization theory, the rise of capitalism is the essential element that transforms traditional societies into modern ones. The Third World is poor because it has not cast off its traditional ways of organizing society and as a result modernist, capitalistic institutions have not emerged. In effect, modernization theory views history in a very linear fashion that proceeds along definite and knowable processes.

Whereas modernist theory focuses on progress, political economy theory concentrates structures of power and economic resources. The essential issue here is the examination of the distribution of power, namely, who has how much, and the inevitable result is an analysis of power distribution in society. Thus, it is social class that eventually determines how much wealth and economic power individuals have; and it is support of this structured distribution that society itself organizes itself.

This theory therefore critiques the resulting political economy, that is, how social, economic, and political policies and forces influence individuals. As well, there is a stress on determining the effects of power struggles that result because of the rift between the haves and the have-nots. Consequently, history is the result of these forces and struggles that see power and political economy shifting in order to balance and accommodate social needs.

In effect, political economy theory presents a materialist understanding of both society and history, in that ideology and culture are the result of material production. Thus, there is a relation of production that correlates to a stage in development of material powers of production; and it is the result of this relation of production that generates the economic structure of society, which in turn forms the basis of legal and political superstructures and engenders forms of social consciousness. In brief, social existence determines consciousness.

Thus, when Peter Gran critiques history in his Beyond Eurocentrism: A New View of Modern World History, he brings into play the various factors involved in political economy theory, in that his stress is social history, as well as the destruction of dominant paradigms: “Would not, then, a break with Eurocentrism as proposed in this book spell the birth of a Golden Age for social history both in the academy and beyond?”

When Gran turns to explore world history through the lens of social history, he suggests that there are in fact four structures of hegemony in the modern world, namely, the Russian road, the Italian road, the tribal-ethnic state (he uses Albania as an example), and bourgeois democracy (for which he gives Britain as an example). He emphasizes the fact that there are “only four” such structures.

Since these hegemonic structures are vaster entities and are not confined to Europe alone, for they find expression in different parts of the world. For example, Iraq adheres to the Russian road; India and Mexico keep to the Italian road; Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) sticks to the Albanian tribal-ethnic road; and the United States follows the bourgeois-democratic road, exemplified by Britain.

These four structures individually follow a series of three stages, namely, the early, “liberal” phase; a corporate or “collective” phase; and lastly another liberal or “neoliberal” phase. Certainly, Gran is well aware of the fact that the various countries he discusses do show variance in these phases, and although there are individual differences, the structural coherence of the three phases is maintained.

However, it is precisely at this point in his discussion that Gran veers away from the trap of assuming that the bourgeois-democrat road is superior to the other three, because he contends that Anglo-American society is founded upon racism, in that people of color, as well as women, are purposely kept in inferior ranks, in order to keep the mass of its male citizens happy and content, so they do not rise up against the privileged. In fact, multiculturalism is nothing more than a structure that continually plays “one race’s identity against another.”

Certainly, Gran finds points of critique in the other three roads as well, in that they have developed their own methods of preserving the hegemony of one group of elites or another. Thus, when he turns to the Russian road he plays down the role of Marxism-Leninism and instead focuses on “the ruling caste, or nomenklatura.”

As for the Italian road, he sees it as an amalgam of Mussolini’s fascism as well as a leftist corporatism, as evidenced by Mexico (under Cardenas) and India (under Nehru). And as for the Albanian road, he critiques the clan chiefs, or warlords, ruling through extensive family ties, whether they are monarchs (such as King Zog in 1920s), or the Communists, under Enver after World War II.

However, given the overriding nature of this study, and the inherent aim of political economy theory to critique forms of power, Gran continually overstates his case: “…standard world history is, in fact, so focused on the Western countries, their elites, and high cultures, that it does not permit much critical analysis of them. And this sort of overstatement continues.

Thus, for example, he states that “the U.S. state promotes the existence of a racial under-caste; it plays the white worker off against the black.” Certainly, this ignores the entire process of the civil rights movement and affirmative action. And because of this consistent overstatement he undermines his own approach of presenting a social history of the world, in that he concentrates his argument mostly on European nation-states and their political economy. Thus, for a work that seeks to steer away from Eurocentrism and strike a new course in world, the bulk of his argument remains rooted in European history and culture.

Against this work of political economy theory, we may read a work of modernization theory, namely Samuel Huntingdon’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In his work, Huntingdon basically argues that some societies (or civilizations) will never evolve into liberal democracies, rooted in capitalism.

The reason for this is that it is culture (and cultural identities), which is ultimately a civilization identity, that shapes the structures of unity, dissolution, and clashes in the post-Cold War world: “Yet the major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures.”

Thus, for Huntingdon, the world is divided into seven civilizations that are forever competing. These are: the Western, the Sinic, the Japanese, the Hindu, the Islamic, the Orthodox, and the Latin American. Given this structure of the world, Huntingdon tells us that global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational, and that modernization is distinct from Westernization and is leading to neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense, not the westernization of non-Western societies. Thus, the balance of power among these seven civilizations is changing, with the West slowly losing influence, and non-Western civilizations reifying their own cultures.

As well, Asian civilizations are increasing their economic, military, and political powers; and Islam is increasing demographically and thereby destabilizing both Muslim nations and their neighbors. Thus, “alignments defined by ideology and superpower relations are giving way to alignments defined by culture and civilization. Political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones: ethnic, religious, and civilizational.”

However, within this context it is important to realize that modernization and Westernization are one and the same, wherein each guarantees secular, liberal democracy, free market economy, and a loosely protestant religious structure. As well, given the great advancement of technology in the West, it is important also to note that the other six civilizations tend not to have a high degree of technological sophistication. Thus, the ensuing clashes although very probable must always assume differing aspects, rather than outright conflict. And there is the special case of alignments of civilization in order to overcome a common enemy, or achieve a common goal.

For example, India may be seeing a Hindu revival, nevertheless this revival is largely in the context of its fight against Islam, rather than any meaningful struggle against the West. Huntingdon certainly gives due credit to religion and sees it as an extremely potent force in contemporary world politics: “In the modern world, religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilizes people.”

As the well, the clash is an uneven one, in that the West has consistently pursued conflict in a highly organized and systematic way. Thus, when civilizations clash, there is an unevenness to the conflict, in that one side is slated to win: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of others civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.” However, as a representative of modernization theory, Huntingdon is extremely useful in that he takes care to include all of civilization (economics, politics, religion, culture, religion, mode of life).

Thus, we find that both political economy theory and modernization theory present two methods for offering a critique of history. In the first instance, the stress is on studying the distribution of power, and the modes of its production.

This view, although beneficial in providing a critique of capitalism cannot be seen as a more cogent reading of history, given the fact that it consistently seeks construct large political and economic structures, at the expense of ignoring the pertinent details.

Modernization theory on the other hand provides a rather efficient method of reading history, since it involves study of minute details that fit into a larger pattern, or civilization, for it these details that determine not only the identity of a civilization, but also its method of survival and propagation.

 

The photo shows, “Aqueduct Near Rome’ by Thomas Cole, painted in 1848.