Deep, and yet deeper down, below the marsh slime and the swamp rot, even underneath poppy roots and the granite rows, Old England’s Foundations lie. While thinned and turned soils are cold and damp, the fiery Mantle warms and pulses, twisting round and circling on itself; the Core sees into itself and ponders on its shadows; to reach out into the cold and dark, hope perchance to find new wheels to turn, or perhaps not. Content, in the underworld, dreaming of the pictures of its marble face, Old England’s Foundations are buried the deepest, overwritten by thin and beaten sheets of plaster and tissue paper.
Yet, this is a fantasy: circumstantial myths of Old England, and its Foundations. Those marshes were sealed, and the swamps became roads, and the shapes and the names of the trees do not matter anymore. Accumulated plays turned in on themselves and became a meaningless fresco; the hand-me-down uniform, hoarded in poverty, with no weavers to craft anew. That Core is no form but a feeling, fleeting and shallow, giving only the image of warmth. Gawp at the statues and the towers and the gold on the wall. They were never yours.
Intermission, The Alchemists’ Folly:
Higher, and yet higher so, far reaching beyond the sea and above the clouds, up and up Nature’s Ladder, climbs a Champion. For all its power and glory. He soon received the ravenous attention of The Crow, the most cunning of all the birds. It said: “I have seen many climb, and their plans dissolved away, but wear my feather, and sing my song, and Nature’s sure to play”. The Crow put a feather on The Champion’s shoulder, and The Champion cawed until he had near reached the clouds. He looked down to measure his climb, and one cheek was slashed by The Crow’s feather; he saw many other smaller birds with more beautiful sounds and colours than The Crow, hiding fearfully away in their nests.
Higher and higher, between the feathers and the stars, up The Ladder, climbed The Champion. The clouds from below were sunlit pillars in the sky yet seemed smoke and fog inside. At once, the guiding stars were blotted out, and The Champion was frozen in the dark. He begged it clear, and The Cloud said: “Truly, Nature loves to hide, and seems at first a chaos sight, but learn its ways, obey and pay, by water’s path will light”. The Champion’s waterskin was plucked by a gale, and The Cloud gave in credit due a magic hailstone, and it magnified the light of the stars. His fingers were cold and heavy, his water was lost, and the constellations seemed more twisted than ever before; but, with the dim path seen by magic divined, The Champion waged on.
An earthquake struck, and The Ladder path fell; weathered wood, by many footsteps heeled, shattered with the turning of a generation. His bearing steers all amiss under the dizzying constellations, for the old way is no more; and The Champion loses their footing, curses the folly, and plummets into brine under the bottommost rungs; championing, no more. The Fool who works with wood and nail, at the bottom of The Ladder, did not build houses that day, for another ladder was built by him; and The Fool then propped it, already to seize the opportunity, to climb the path again. But The Cloud and The Crow remain in their Nature, as they wait between the salt and the stars.
Hailing practice and ritual, making nothing new, and the new, ugly; what comes from a fool’s history? Yesterday’s legislation becomes today’s tradition, and old and common habits are preserved by kitsch committee. To justify what happened, because it happened, accounting to stacked sediments of past scoresheets? If that is good, then good is evil; bored eyes make nothing beautiful around our empty hands, so we make eternities of nothing, and are compassed about by our enduring appetites. With Nature as your sentimental measure, you pay tribute to accidental shadows on the wall. Where is The True, The Good, The Beautiful? God have mercy on your windswept souls.
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The Dangers of a Revolution in ReverseBy Philip Diaz-Lewis — 3 months ago
“In conclusion, this is the great truth with which the French cannot be too greatly impressed: the restoration of the monarchy, what they call the counter-revolution, will not be a contrary revolution, but the contrary of the revolution.” – J. de Maistre, Considerations on France, R. A. Lebrun (Ed.), Cambridge, p. 105.
Imagine a prisoner digging an escape tunnel. For years, in desperation and longing for freedom, he’s picked at the stones by hand until his fingers are bleeding stumps. Suddenly he emerges and a rush of hope shoots through his veins. This subsides immediately. Before him is darkness. He had severely underestimated the size of the prison, and all this time he was merely tunnelling into another prisoner’s cell.
This situation, familiar to readers of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, I think pertains to a figure Joseph De Maistre first identifies in 1797, in the aftermath of the French Revolution: the reverse revolutionary. As far as I know, the only other thinker to have dwelt on this character deeply is the conservative Augusto del Noce in the twentieth century, and I shall draw from both to make my case.
First, to define revolutionary. I use “revolutionary” to mean any view that seeks utopian salvation through political or social action, by rejecting traditions of immaterial truth, and an abrupt discontinuity with the past. I don’t necessarily mean one that wants violent upheaval, though usually they do. It’s not the manner that defines a revolution but its content. These ideologies try to sever the link between politics and any truth outside of it. Truth is a socio-political creed. Eric Voegelin’s view that modern revolutionary thought is gnostic serves us here. Ancient Gnostics separated heaven from earth and sought heaven through esoteric spiritual knowledge. Modern Gnostics also separate heaven from earth, but banish heaven from the earth and build paradises out of esoteric political knowledge, without reference to anything beyond it.
A reverse revolutionary is someone who begins as the staunchest conservative. The revolution has come and ruined the world he loves. He’s seen all that he holds good swept aside in a frenzy. Panic ensues, and then rage. What shall he do?
He sets upon pushing back the revolution by what he thinks is a counter-revolution. Whatever the revolutionaries affirm, he’ll deny. Whatever nefarious plans they have, he’ll plan the opposite. Whenever they push, he’ll push back harder. But what he really does is create a contrary revolution. Instead of negating the revolution, he reverses it.
But what’s the difference exactly between negation and reversal? I think it’s the difference between partial and full denial of a revolutionary argument.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Ur-revolutionary, thinks something like this:
“Man is born free but everywhere he’s in chains, so he must be born good and it’s society that makes him evil.“
There’s rather a lot here, but for simplicity’s sake it’s an argument with two parts. “Man is born free and everywhere he’s in chains”, effectively means that humans are naturally equal, but everywhere unequal. Why are we unequal if nature makes us equal? Because “man is born good and it’s society that makes him evil.”. That is, unjust social institutions have corrupted us, and prevent us from living as we would in a state of nature.
We can reverse or negate this position. A reversal would be something like this:
“Yes, man is born good, and society makes him evil. But it’s because by nature he’s unequal, and society is what makes him equal.”
In other words, we agree with Rousseau that society and its institutions are responsible for all injustice. However, we disagree with him that inequality is the problem. The problem is the opposite: equality. In the imagined state of nature, humans are unequal, and it’s society which has imposed an unnatural equality upon them.
If Rousseau’s original position is a sort of egalitarian primitivism, our reversed position is a sort of hierarchical primitivism. Were we to put the latter into practice, it would oppose the former, but create its own revolution to do so. It would resist with equal vehemence the status quo, but for the opposite reasons.
A negation, on the other hand, would read like this:
“Man isn’t born free and he isn’t everywhere in chains, so he isn’t born good, and society doesn’t make him evil.”
While the reversal inverts the premise, but keeps the conclusion, the negation says that the premise and conclusion are both false. It denies them both.
Fair, but why does this matter? Aren’t we just splitting hairs? It matters because reversing a revolution accepts part of its lie. One starts from this lie, then tries to produce from it an opposite effect than so far has been produced. But lies are at odds with reality, because only what’s true is real. By fighting lies with lies one risks ruining the world twice over instead of improving it. Further, since lies by definition don’t correspond to reality, a revolution in reverse is destined to fail. Accepting a lie means to accept something which doesn’t exist, and carrying through this lie into political action means creating a delirium or fantasy. History testifies to the fleeting nature of such things.
To create a revolution in the opposite direction is tempting for those who want to protect themselves from a revolution but have unwittingly drunk from its well. It’s the reaction (in the political sense) of someone unwilling to reflect on the times he lives in or analyse himself as the product of a Zeitgeist. Someone who hasn’t thought that all ideas have a genealogy, and that those ideas he detests might be closer on the family tree than he suspects. The reverse revolutionary, in short, is someone who confuses the familiar with the truth.
Like water through coffee, a revolutionary idea only bursts forth once it has thoroughly saturated the culture. By that point it’s part of a wider background, framing all conversation and extremely difficult to think outside of, like the courtyard surrounding a prison that blocks any view of the distance. Robespierre and the Jacobins normalised political violence as a means of change with La Terreur, and La Terreur Blanche was their mirror. Marxism normalised crude materialism and a murderous utilitarian collectivism, and Nazism was its mirror. Indeed, to get Nazism one must simply reverse, point-by-point, every social creed of Marxism, keep the materialist worldview intact, then embed it in a Prussian context (A. Del Noce, (2014), The Crisis of Modernity, pp. 68-69).
Retreat into so-called centrism doesn’t protect against reverse revolution either. A mild and centrist ideology that opposes a harsh and radical one, can still be a revolution in reverse if it shares the same underlying commitment to a revolutionary ideal. Recall that it’s not the manner but the content that defines a revolution. The reversal of a reductive political utopia must necessarily be another reductive political utopia. Thus, the economic liberal who opposes socialism by curing every ill with market forces is no less revolutionary than the socialist for merely being a centrist. Lastly, that one wishes to achieve one’s aims through gradual change doesn’t make one less revolutionary, for a slow revolution is still a revolution.
In our day such reversals are coming thick and fast on the ground, as they must in an age of crisis and disintegration, though they lack the sophistication of even the crudest Victorian pamphlet. The disgraced and arrested influencer Andrew Tate is a reverse revolutionary of sorts. He accepts the radical feminist vision of the patriarchy as a grand male conspiracy to oppress womankind but considers this a good thing which must be reinstated. The result is a masculinist revolution parallel to the radical feminist one, where everything that feminist revolutionaries decry, Tate applauds. Any existing order which is neither feminist nor masculinist is the shared enemy of both.
In gnostic fashion, Tate has swapped the esoteric knowledge of radical feminists with a masculine counterpart. One thinks, as a revolutionary, that Tate wouldn’t really care if the facts disproved his vision (just as radical feminists don’t), since a political goal has absorbed all reality and replaced truth itself.
I don’t have a simple solution to this problem. There’s no remedy for reverse revolutionaries other than humility, education, and careful thought. The wrathful desire for vengeance especially breeds such people because anger, frothing up, looks for a way to harm the enemy without asking what the tool is. Any tool will do, even if the enemy himself has made it. Perhaps this is why societies filled with wrath are prone to this error.
Maybe we should close with the words of Louis XVI awaiting execution in 1792, to his son the Dauphin: “I recommend to my Son, if he has the misfortune to become King, to remember that he owes himself entirely to his fellow citizens; that he must forget all hatred and resentment, and particularly all that relates to the misfortunes and afflictions that I endure.”
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Orwell’s Egalitarian ProblemBy Philip Diaz-Lewis — 4 months ago
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a book whose influence exceeds its readership. It resembles a Rorschach test; moulding itself to the political prejudices of whoever reads it. It also has a depth which often goes unnoticed by those fond of quoting it.
The problem isn’t that people cite Orwell, but that people cite Orwell in a facile and cliched manner. The society of Oceania which Orwell creates isn’t exemplified in any contemporary state, save perhaps wretched dictatorships like North Korea or Uzbekistan. It’s thus not my intent to draw on Nineteen Eighty-Four to indict my own society as being “Orwellian” in the sense of being a police state, a procurer of terror, or engaged in centralised fabrication of history. A world of complete totalitarianism of the Hitlerian or Stalinist kind hasn’t arrived (not yet at least), but Nineteen Eighty-Four still has insights applicable to our day.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the protagonist, Winston, is suffocated by the miserable tyranny he lives in. The English Socialist Party (INGSOC) controls all aspects of Britain, now called Airstrip One, a province of the state of Oceania. It does so in the name of their personified yet never seen dictator, Big Brother. When Winston is almost at breaking point, he meets fellow party member, O’Brien. O’Brien, Winston thinks, is secretly a member of the resistance, a group opposing Big Brother. O’Brien hands Winston a book called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. This book is supposedly written by Emmanuel Goldstein, arch-nemesis of Big Brother, and details the secret history and workings of Oceanian society, something unknown to all its citizens.
Oligarchic collectivism is the book’s term for the ideology of the Party in response to a repeating historical situation. Previous societies were characterised by constant strife between three social classes: the top, the middle, and the bottom. The pattern of revolution across history was always the middle enlisting the bottom by pandering to their base grievances. The middle would use the bottom to overthrow the top, install itself as the new top, and push the bottom back down to their previous place. A new middle would form over time, and the process would repeat.
INGSOC overthrew the top through a revolution, in the name of equality. What it actually achieved was collectivised ownership at the top, and so it created a communism of the few, not unlike classical Sparta. The rest of the population, derogatorily called “proles”, live in squalid poverty and are despised as animals. They’re kept from rebelling by being maintained in ignorance and given cheap hedonistic entertainment at the Party’s expense. INGSOC nominally rules on their behalf, but in reality is built upon their continual oppression. As Goldstein’s book puts it:
“All past oligarchies have fallen from power either because they ossified or because they grew soft. Either they became stupid and arrogant, failed to adjust themselves to changing circumstances, and were overthrown; or they became liberal and cowardly, made concessions when they should have used force, and once again were overthrown. They fell, that is to say, either through consciousness or through unconsciousness.”
In other words, the top falls either by failing to notice reality and being overthrown once reality crashes against it, or by noticing reality, trying to create a compromise solution, and being overthrown by the middle once they reveal their weakness. INGSOC, however, lasts indefinitely because it has discovered something previous oligarchies didn’t know:
“It is the achievement of the Party to have produced a system of thought in which both conditions can exist simultaneously. And upon no other intellectual basis could the dominion of the Party be made permanent. If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the Power to learn from past mistakes.”
INGSOC can simultaneously view itself as perfect, and effectively critique itself to respond to changing circumstances. It can do this, we are immediately told, through the principle of doublethink: holding two contradictory thoughts at once and believing them both:
“In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion; the more intelligent, the less sane.”
It’s through this mechanism that the Party remains indefinitely in power. It has frozen history because it can notice gaps between its own ideology and reality, yet simultaneously deny to itself that these gaps exist. It can thus move to plug holes while retaining absolute confidence in itself.
At the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Inner Party member O’Brien tortures Winston, and reveals to him the Party’s true vision of itself:
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
It’s here where I part ways with Orwell. For a moment, O’Brien has revealed to Winston one-half of what Inner Party members think. Doublethink is the simultaneous belief in the Party’s ideology, English Socialism, and in the reality of power for its own sake. INGSOC is simultaneously socialist and despises socialism. Returning to Goldstein’s book:
“Thus, the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism. It preaches a contempt for the working class unexampled for centuries past, and it dresses its members in a uniform which was at one time peculiar to manual workers and was adopted for that reason.”
Orwell creates this situation because, as a democratic socialist, he’s committed to the idea of modern progress. The ideal of equality of outcome isn’t bad, but only the betrayal of this ideal. Orwell critiques the totalitarian direction that the socialist Soviet Union took, but he doesn’t connect this to egalitarian principles themselves (the wish to entirely level society). He therefore doesn’t realise that egalitarianism, when it reaches power, is itself a form of doublethink.
To see how this can be we must introduce an idea alien to Orwell and to egalitarianism but standard in pre-modern political philosophy: whichever way you shake society, a group will always end up at the top of the pile. Nature produces humans each with different skills and varying degrees of intelligence. In each field, be it farming, trade or politics, some individuals will rise, and others won’t.
The French traditionalist-conservative philosopher Joseph de Maistre sums up the thought nicely in his work Etude sur La Souveraineté: “No human association can exist without domination of some kind”. Furthermore, “In all times and all places the aristocracy commands. Whatever form one gives to governments, birth and riches always place themselves in first rank”.
For de Maistre the hard truth is, “pure democracy does not exist”. Indeed, it’s under egalitarian conditions that an elite can exercise its power the most ruthlessly. For where a constitution makes all citizens equal, there won’t be any provision for controlling the ruling group (since its existence isn’t admitted). Thus, Rome’s patricians were at their most predatory against the common people during the Republic, while the later patricians were restrained by the emperors, such that their oppression had a more limited, localised effect.
If we assume this, then the elite of any society that believes in equality of outcome must become delusional. They must think, despite their greater wealth, intelligence and authority, that they’re no different to any other citizen. Any evidence that humans are still pooling in the same hierarchical groups as before must be denied or rationalised away.
This leads us back to the situation sketched in Goldstein’s book. What prevents the Party from being overthrown is doublethink. The fact it can remain utterly confident in its own power, and still be self-critical enough to adapt to circumstances. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the former is exemplified in the vague utopian ideology of INGSOC, while the latter is the cynical belief in power for its own sake and willingness to do anything to retain it. But against this, no cynical Machiavellianism is necessary to form one-half of doublethink. A utopian egalitarian with privilege is doublethink by default. At once, he believes in the infallibility of his ideology (he must if he’s to remain in it), and is aware of his own status, continually acting as one must when in a privileged position.
How does this connect to that most Orwellian scenario, the permanent hardening in place of an oligarchic caste that can’t be removed? As Orwell says through Goldstein, ruling classes fall either by ossifying to the point they fail to react to change, or by becoming self-critical, trying to reform themselves, and exposing themselves to their enemies. Preventing both requires doublethink: knowing full well that one’s ideology is flawed enough to adapt practically to circumstances and believing in its infallibility. The egalitarian elite with a utopian vision has both covered. If you truly, genuinely, believe that you’re like everyone else (which you must if you think your egalitarian project has succeeded), you won’t question the perks and privileges you have, since you think everybody has them. That takes care of trying to reform things: you don’t.
Yet, as an elite, you still behave like an elite and take the necessary precautions. You avoid going through rough areas, you pick only the best schools for your offspring, and you buy only the best houses. As an elite, you also strive to pass on your ideology and way of life to the next generation, thus replicating your group indefinitely. Thus, you simultaneously defend your position and believe in your own infallibility.
Could an Oceanian-style oligarchy emerge from this process? Absolutely, provided we qualify our meaning. The society of Nineteen Eighty-Four lacks any laws or representational politics. It has no universal standards of education or healthcare. It functions as what Aristotle in Politics calls a lawless oligarchy, with the addition of total surveillance. But this is an extreme. What I propose is that egalitarianism, once in power, necessarily causes a detachment between ideology and reality that, if left to itself, can degenerate into extreme oligarchy. The severe doublethink needed to sustain both belief in the success of the project and safeguard one’s position at the top can accumulate over time into true class apartheid. This is, after all, exactly what happened to the Soviet Union. As the Soviet dissident and critic Milovan Dilas, in his book The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, put it:
“Every private capitalist or feudal lord was conscious of the fact that he belonged to a special discernible social category. (…) A Communist member of the new class also believes that, without his part, society would regress and founder. But he is not conscious of the fact that he belongs to a new ownership class, for he does not consider himself an owner and does not take into account the special privileges he enjoys. He thinks that he belongs to a group with prescribed ideas, aims, attitudes and roles. That is all he sees.”
To get an Oceanian scenario, you don’t need egalitarianism plus a Machiavellian will to power, forming two halves of doublethink. You just need egalitarianism.
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The Decline of Public Intellectualism (Magazine Excerpt)By Samuel Martin — 2 months ago
POC are just like you and me. Sure, there are technical, mostly visual, differences between us. However, considered in the grand scheme of things, such differences are quite trivial.
Far from a weakness, this diversity is a strength; we all play a role in moving our democracy forward, and ensuring the public realm remains a lively and vibrant place. Of course, by POC, I am referring to People of Commentary.
POC are everywhere. Turn on the television and you’ll be greeted by POC. Scroll through any social media feed, and without much effort, you’ll find posts made by POC. Walk through the middle of London, and soon enough, you’ll sight chattering congregations of POC.
Given the apparent omnipresence of POC, one eventually begins to ask: where did they come from? Were there this many POC in Britain 50 years ago? Yes, I know I’m pushing my luck.
In all serious consideration, the voice of commentators, self-described or not, for better or for worse, constitutes a large chunk of public, especially political, discussion in Britain.
Conversely, and it would seem simultaneously, we have witnessed a rapid decline of public intellectualism over consecutive decades. Indeed, the noted absence of intellectuals from public life is underscored when most people struggle to define what an intellectual actually is.
Many are inclined to believe that the British are, by their very essence, an anti-intellectual people. Distrustful of abstraction, they very much prefer a hodgepodge philosophy of empirical observation and sainted “Common Sense” – both of which, especially the latter, intellectuals supposedly and infamously disregard.
An immediate glance at ongoing matters would support this position. Despite the fundamental disagreements constituting the “Gender Wars”, it is clear that both sides consider Britain, thankfully or regrettably, uniquely resistant to transgenderism. In my view, this can be traced to our Anglo-Saxon forbearers, who gradually removed the notion of gendered words in our language besides the ones which speak to the empirical (that is, biological-anatomical) distinction between men and women.
All this said, empiricism isn’t exactly synonymous with “anti-intellectualism”, just as the names Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, George Berkeley, or Edmund Burke rarely come to mind when discussing “anti-intellectuals”. We can safely assume that intellectuals primarily deal in ideas, but we can’t safely assume said ideas are purely rationalistic and abstract.
Herein lies the distinction: there’s a difference between contemporary “anti-intellectualism”, which has contributed to the explosive ascendancy of POCs, and the “anti-intellectualism” which is distinctly “intellectual” in nature – pertaining to the limits, rather than uselessness, of intellectualism-as-abstraction. As such, we should consider post-war anti-intellectualism as a degeneration of a healthier and more measured position.
Without placing too much weight on the origins of Britain’s post-war anti-intellectualism, I would argue that such a precise attitude be attributed to the popularity of the ideas of George Orwell, as conveyed by cultural osmosis, rather than extensive reading; specifically, his preoccupation with ‘Ordinary People’ and the ways in which they are different to the class of ‘Intellectuals’ whom Orwell sought to disassociate himself.
This is an excerpt from “Ides”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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