We live in an age of lost souls. Most do not recognise this consciously, nor would they wish to, yet wastelands abound subconsciously and emotionally. With that said, are many of us truly living? I cannot answer that question with complete confidence. What meaning is there to be found from a mass of emotional wrecks tucked safely away in their boxes, their lives mostly spent on screens and engaged solely in consumption to fill the void where one’s mind might just be lent the space to construct a human being? God forbid one person develops any attachment to another, for following such a world-ending eventuality the world might begin!
It may seem this situation of inner vapidity and misery is unique in the history of mankind, in large part due to the role of the internet in accelerating a constellation of societal problems. However, in tracing a lineage to the start of what is conventionally considered modernity we find another reaction against a soulless world in Romanticism. The Romantics fought the beginnings of the far more advanced creature that publications like this one react to now, hence the betrayal of their world holds lessons for the ongoing ruination of ours.
We must begin with the imagination, that most playful and frenetic component of the mind. It defies all reason and all rationality in being more attuned to one’s emotions, however deep-seated, than the rules dictating one’s circumstances in reality. Romantic introspection does not occur for the sake of modern obsessions of self-improvement, but for the inner activity of spiritually hungry souls to then be cast upon the world as art. The imagination also serves as an invitation to the infinite, an escape towards higher forms from one’s limitations. This is crucial to understanding every facet of Romanticism, as well as the lessons it might hold for the present. The movement emerged as a reaction to the nascent Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, both of which certainly sought to dampen the power of irrationality over the world. Instead of contemporary fashions of reason or empirical sensation, intense emotion controlled these artists’ outpourings onto canvas or page. Their works were not just about love, as the movement’s name implies, but the whole range of human emotions, since that is what the imagination can draw upon.
This is an excerpt from “Ides”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By Jake Scott — 11 months ago
‘The idea is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
We are all Blairites now. It is a horrible thought, especially to those of us who despise the Blairite constitutional project: from gutting the Lords to the creation of the devolved assemblies, and the paradoxical tension between the move towards localism and the edictal erasure of British ways of life. The sad reality is that we live in Blairite Britain, more than we live in Thatcherite Britain.
Such a thought, as uncomfortable as it is, must be the starting point of all conservative discussions, whether they are concerned with strategy, identity, or even over what we aim to ‘conserve’, because we can only begin to know where to go by knowing where we are. David Foster Wallace once gave a talk to a graduating class in which he told the following story:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “morning boys, how’s the water?” and the two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “what the hell is water?”
The story is intended to remind us of a simple truth: that the most obvious realities are the hardest to talk about, because they are so essential and taken for granted in our daily lives. Blairism is the cultural water we swim in, and the current that drives us inexorably towards the next crisis we cannot resolve, because Blairism holds the conflictual beliefs that government should be in every part of our lives, but that it should be so completely and utterly impotent. Think about how difficult it is to do anything in modern Britain, but that you absolutely must do it whilst holding the hand of the government.
Regardless of Blairism’s inherent contradictions, we must not ignore the tide, even if only to swim against it. How do we do this? In Modern Culture, Sir Roger Scruton wrote that we cannot
return to a pre-Enlightenment world because the Enlightenment is so inherent to how we think about society, Man, government, culture and so on. Even those of us who are believers in faith must accept that the draperies were torn down; but only by realising they were torn down can you put them back up. So, rather than deny the legacies of the Enlightenment, Sir Roger says, we must accept that they are with us, and instead ‘live as if it matters eternally what we do: to obey the rites, the ceremonies and the customs that lend dignity to our actions and which lift them above the natural sphere’.
The philosophical movement that took this lesson to heart the most, in my opinion, was the Romantics. They did not pretend that the legacies of the Enlightenment were so easily eradicable nor so easily deniable; instead, they accepted that they lived in a changed world, but sought to use that change to re-suture man’s relationship with himself, to correct the deficiencies of the Enlightenment and the empty rationalism that it loved so irrationally.
The Romantic movement, by virtue of its own logic, was not universalist. The Enlightenment sought to be universal, to find laws and rules that governed Man in every circumstance and every place; but Romanticism, in reaction, favoured particularism, rootedness, and the cultural significance of place and people. In fact, so many of the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century owed more to the Romantics than they did to the Enlightenment (but again, only in the sense that the Enlightenment showed us that all humans are deserving of dignity and respect, they just choose to express that dignity in varied ways).
One such example of Romanticism that has always fascinated me emerged in Russia in the 1830s, more than anything because I believe that Russia then holds a multitude of lessons for Britain now. Early-nineteenth century Russia experienced what could only be described as an existential crisis: the Napoleonic Wars had damaged Russia’s understanding of herself as the great military power of Eastern Europe, and brought many ideas of universal brotherhood into contact with a society that did not even have the intellectual framework to accommodate such thoughts. But the crisis went deeper: as much as one hundred and fifty years before, Russian society was shaken by external ideas, more than any invasion could have hoped for, under the Reforms of Tsar Peter the Great. The Petrine Era of Russia saw cultural changes from the top – governmental reforms, military reforms, and technological innovation, much of which modernised Russia and made her into a Great Power; but these changes did not go unquestioned. In fact, many of the influential groups in Russia rebelled, sometimes violently, as in the Moscow Rising of the Streltsy in 1698.
The legacy of Peter’s reforms, however, were not felt until much later. Of course, all major cultural and social changes take time to really be felt at all, but the ‘short eighteenth century’ was a time of such rapid and dislocating change – across all of Europe, but especially in Russia – that many generations found themselves intellectually and culturally cut adrift from those who came immediately before them. Peter, pursuing a programme of Westernisation insisted, for instance, that the Russian court speak French, a language thought of as ‘intellectual’ (with good reason); dress like the Prussian court; rationalised the military along the Western European lines; built an entirely new town on a North Italian design (St. Petersburg – of course); and, in one of my favourite little quirks of history, outlawed beards in that city’s borders.
Cultural issues grow like pearls grow – a single grain of sand works its way into a mollusk, and irritates the mollusk in such a way that bacteria and calcium grows around it. Cultural changes irritate the social fabric of the community it works into; but we don’t have bacteria to grow around it, we only have each other. Yet we can understand cultural issues in the same way as a pearl – an irritant works its way in, and we grow that irritant into a recognisable tangible entity, by coalescing around it and growing it in such a way that it becomes instantly recognisable.
This is what led to the Slavophiles. Petrine Russia thought it was undefeatable – and from the Great Northern War onwards, it very much was – until Napoleon came roaring in. But the Napeolonic Wars did two things for Russia, both with the same outcome; the first was importing many ideas into Russia that challenged the existing understanding of Russian political and social structures; the second was, in the same way Soviet soldiers pushed Nazi Germany back into Europe, Petrine soldiers followed Napoleon back into Europe. In both instances, educated Russian men saw the way Europeans lived, and realised that their society was not the improved form that their reforming leaders dreamt of.
And just as with a grain of sand in a pearl, the cultural dislocation of Peter’s reforms that had long irritated the reactionary elements of eighteenth-century Russia, was seized on by many of the early-nineteenth century intelligentsia as a means of explaining the situation in which they had found themselves. This fermented a series of backlashes, intellectual and cultural, that led to an explosion of political movements, such as the terrorists, the socialists, the populists (narodniki), and – most importantly – the Slavophiles. The Slavophiles looked at the state of Russia in the 1830s and considered the Petrine reforms to be an unmitigated failure: they had not kept Russia at pace with the rest of Europe; they had dislocated the cultural and social elites from the people over whom they ruled; and worst of all, they had severed the Russian people from their own past. Peter the Great had made the mistake of proto-enlightenment liberalism, that there were universal standards of humanity against which peoples’ behaviours, cultures and laws could be judged, and in doing so, he had not attempted to “reform” Russia’s venerable history, but deny its very existence, and begin from scratch.
Instead, the Slavophiles urged a return to pre-Petrine, Muscovite-style Russianism, an embracing of folk styles, food, clothing, language, and so on – not to petrify them into a living museum of nostalgia, but to rectify the mistakes of the previous century, and offer an alternative direction into the future. This precipitated many of the following century’s movements: for instance, the emphasis on the folk of Russia encouraged the nascent populism into radicalism; the embracing of the Russian commune form of land management gave Russian socialism a concrete model from which to work; and the idea of Russia taking an entirely unique path of development to Europe created the intellectual condition for Lenin and the communists to believe Russia could “leapfrog” past the bourgeois liberalism of the continent and move straight to socialism. This is not to say the Slavophiles were socialists – to even say so is to misunderstand the subtle relativism that denies such universalist theories in itself. Indeed, many Slavophiles were ardent absolute monarchists, with the famous Memorandum to the Tsar by Alexei Aksakov in 1831 claiming that Russia’s unique place in history stems from its Orthodox Christianity, the invitation by the Kievan Rus to the Varangians to rule them, and the steppes shaping the Russian mindset to one of boundless opportunism (something that Berdayev later used as a comparison to the American prairies and Manifest Destiny).
The consequences of the Slavophile movement might not be palatable, but their inspiration is something that Anglo conservatives need to pay attention to. Their movement began by an important moment of clarity: the political reforming project of the previous age had failed. It is no secret that the emerging conservatism in Britain despises the Blairite consensus, and in many ways that means we are already doing as the Slavophiles did: only by recognising that we are in Blairite Britain can we undo its disastrous effects. But we need to go further; we cannot simply throw our hands up and accept Blairism as the present condition of Britain, but we need to see it for what it truly is. It is a complete and utter separation of Britain from our past, a denial of that past’s validity, and an attempt to create a new political identity on entirely alien lines.
Moving into the future requires acceptance of the present circumstance; one of the silliest phrases is that the clock cannot be wound back, when the truth is, if the clock is showing the wrong time, it is imperative that you wind it back. And just as taking the wrong turn and continuing down the wrong path will only get you further from where you want to go, so too must you turn back. We are all Blairites now; and just as alcoholics have to admit they’ll never recover from their alcoholism, we have to admit we will likely never recover from Blairism, but will always “be” recovering.
But I do not want to be defeatist; the first step of recovery is acceptance. We need to accept that we live in Blairite Britain, and only then can we begin tearing it apart. We need to start ripping out its core parts: the communications act (2003); the equality act (2010); the Supreme Court; the devolved assemblies; the abolition of the hereditary aristocracy; the fox hunting ban; the smoking ban; in short, all of the components of a foreign way of life that have been foisted upon the British people by our own misguided maniacal reformers. It is time to go to war; but you can only do that if you accept the war is already going on.
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By Philip Diaz-Lewis — 9 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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By Samuel Martin — 7 months ago
Sam: A common criticism I hear from people on our side of the ‘cultural divide’, regarding Vorticists and Futurists, is that the avant-garde, as a concept, is antiquated. Do you think that’s true, or do you think people are being a bit too pessimistic about its potential?
Fen: Being pessimistic and cynical is something inherent to people who are more on the conservative spectrum, but I think that one must look back to go forward; you can clasp at the fire and the energy of a certain group or a certain movement, and then you can run forward with that. I don’t think it’s a case of saying, you look back at them and stay there.
I think that it’s going to take time, movements, and art styles to take a while to mature and find a new way. I don’t at all believe that we simply just have to take on what they do and just reside there.
Sam: In other words: “it’s not worship of the ashes, it’s the preservation of the fire.”
Fen: Yes, absolutely. I think what’s important is that if you are going to throw this forward – I mean, the futurists were, for example, very excited by the motorcar and the aeroplane and flight, because that was the period that they were in.
I don’t think we need to be excited by the aeroplane in the material sense. However, I think we can be excited about something. That visionary and Faustian spirit is deeply ingrained within our European psyche. I think we get excited about going on and going forward. I don’t think it’s a case of simply just regurgitating the platitudes or what they were doing. It’s about finding a place for that energy now.
It’s really about energy and celebrating force over death and decay; the latter of these is what the current regime works on. It’s the cult of the victim. This is not glorious stuff. This is not about going upwards towards something higher: this is about keeping you on the lowest level. For me, that is not how life is, that’s not how nature is: it is a lie. It’s not a culture that has any sort of fire in the belly. It doesn’t make you want to live.
This is an excerpt from “Blast!”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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