culture

Slavophilism: The Russian Model for Anglo Conservatives

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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The Family Sex Show: Grooming Comes to Britain

I knew Bristol was liberal; the city is famous for it. Me? I have traditional values, I am involved with the Conservative party, and I have been a Christian my whole life. But when I got an unconditional offer to study a course at the University of Bristol which ranked third in that subject, I accepted it without hesitation. Nine months into living here and I have seen advertisements for climate-crisis bake sales, intersectional feminist poetry slams, and students “occupying” the Wills Memorial Building (and subsequently whinging that their vegan Deliveroo wasn’t able to reach them) in solidarity with striking lecturers. However, having nonchalantly followed Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres on Twitter to see if any shows piqued my interest, I saw something that one couldn’t just dismiss as liberal lefty nonsense – this was something truly horrifying.

Tobacco Factory Theatres retweets ThisEgg (a theatre company) promoting their new show, The Family Sex Show (also promoted by The Guardian) The title is possibly alluding to incest, to Red Light District sex shows, and is definitely intended to shock. Already feeling slightly disturbed, I read on. The age recommendation is 5+ and the show description reveals it is intended as “an alternative to porn”. I read on to learn that “there is nakedness, yes. At one point in the show, everyone on stage takes their clothes off…” This is ringing every alarm bell possible.

Posing as “sex education”, the adults involved (who were hastily cast via Twitter only a month ago) don’t seem to know the first thing about safe, age-appropriate sex education. What five-year-old needs an alternative to pornography? Exposure to pornography is often used as a desensitising tactic when grooming children. In defence of this horror show, the website claims that “sexual development and behaviour in children starts from birth”. This is an argument which I have only previously heard from a documentary about PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) to justify removing the age of consent.

Speaking of consent, which this show claims to teach us all about, I have to question why the “actors” get to choose their level of comfort when stripping. A five-year-old child, however, cannot consent to seeing naked strangers. The only guidance for parents is that they can leave if they feel uncomfortable, yet the theatre manager has written extensively on how the actors will be supported if there was negative feedback. How, I ask, are the “actors” the victims in this situation? This show seems to be all about what the adults want to do in front of the children, convinced that they know best. Cyber-flashing has just become a crime, and yet the cast of The Family Sex Show feel it is their right to flash infant-school-aged children. Many Twitter commenters reminisced over days when “dirty flashers” would be chased off by police. Now, liberal parents pay them ten pounds a ticket to bare all on stage. These people do not deserve to be parents.

My sex education at school took place in Year Six. We were ten and eleven years old and were taught about sex and puberty in an age-appropriate, sensitive, non-embarrassing way. The teachers, surprisingly, didn’t find it necessary to strip naked and point to their genitals to get the message across. Most of my generation will have had a similar experience and don’t feel we have gaps in our knowledge. Of course, we have all witnessed the odd person getting changed at the beach rather indiscreetly – but this is contextual, and hopefully accidental. If children are taught that it is normal for strangers to want to show their genitals to them, then this completely undermines the preventative measures that parents, and trusted adults, take against grooming. And as for the argument that “children will encounter porn anyway, so why not teach them about it now?” I worked in Early Years education for four years and I didn’t meet a single five-year-old who could read, write or type well enough to access pornography. And if parents leave it accessible to children, someone needs to call CPS.

I am just thankful that the live show and tour was all suspended during the multiple lockdowns, or we could be two years into child-traumatising theatrical sex shows. The Twitter outrage has been huge, and the account, Libs of TikTok, made famous by Joe Rogan’s podcast, shared the story, at my request, to an audience of 591.3k angry followers. We also have riled up over 800 Bristolian mothers on Mumsnet who have taken this story to the Daily Mail, started a petition, and are boycotting the theatre. Grown adults are being paid to strip in front of little children, in UK theatres, funded by the National Lottery and Arts Council England. Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres want your money! In return, you and your five-year-old can watch simulated sex acts followed by a stage full of strange adults exposing their genitals. I have never been more horrified.


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Little Dark Age and Murdering the Author

Roland Barthes’ essay Death of the Author is required reading for many students who wish to study the humanities, such as English Literature. The general thesis of the essay is that narrative intent from the author cannot be discovered as it is impossible to know what the author’s thoughts were at the time of writing. Thus, Death of the Author can be understood to mean “art without the artist” – by the reader is the only true reading. The authority of the author, and therefore the author himself, perishes.

It is an interesting and incredibly influential essay that has played a large part in the development of critical theory over the course of the 20th century. Using this as a basis, it is my belief that we can take the theory further.

Rather than experience the art in a passive way, accepting what the author produces as is, and making our own interpretations from that point, I propose that we instead take an active participation in taking art from the artist and use it to our own ends. This is much easier to do thanks to the internet, and the emergence of meme culture.

It is from meme culture that murdering the author rises. 2016 can be seen as the black swan moment for this with the election of Donald Trump and the reignition of right-wing populism. In this moment, a new breed of meme was born, and it is one of these memes that I think best exemplifies how effective murdering the author can be.

In 2017 MGMT released their song “Little Dark Age”, a protest song lamenting the election of Trump. As the title suggests, the zeitgeist as the artist saw it was regressing back into a period of ignorance, ultimately taking the past 70 years of Progress with it. As recent as 2021 however, the meme remixes of this song have become increasingly popular. The song is used as a backdrop over footage designed to ignite reactionary pride – praise of Christianity and the heroic spirit are commonplace within this. My personal favourites are the ones that glorify the British Empire.

The popularity of the meme is an example of the remix culture unique to the internet, an issue with 21st century creations in general. 21st century art is stunted, and we can only find creative outlets in what has come before. This is a problem with all art and culture in the West, but has been commented on before so I will not belabour the point, except to say that our obsession with nostalgia seems to have left us bereft of creating our own cultural milieu and we are forced to stand blindly on the shoulders of giants.

We are indeed in a little dark age, and MGMT clearly felt that. It just isn’t the dark age they think it is. For a generation of people brought up in countries whose hour of greatness was over, and on whom all the world’s ills could be blamed, it is little surprise that a song like Little Dark Age could be used in the way it did. With lyrics like “Forgiving who you are for what you stand to gain/Just know that if you hide it doesn’t go away”, the song seems to be calling out to those who are trodden on by the current regime, such as political dissidents, delivering the Evolian message of riding the tiger. In the remix culture that epitomises internet trends, this is an example of destroying the meaning of a talented, well intended but misinformed artist and rewiring it for a different purpose.

No matter how MGMT feels about the current political and cultural climate, the fact remains that Little Dark Age is reactionary. It speaks of cultural degradation, inauthenticity – the sense of something being lost. MGMT have put their finger on the pulse, and their diagnosis seems apt – but the wrong patient has died.

Their anger is correct but misdirected, which is why we on the right see the song as something to be hijacked. We are not witnessing the death of the author here – instead, we are the author’s murderers. We are Lenin storming the Tsar’s palace in 1917. We take what is theirs and subvert it to our own ends.

The fact is that reactionary media, be it music, film, literature or television, is entirely hegemonic to the left’s favour. Reactionary discourse is repeatedly shut out of the Overton window, which is panned by boomeresque false idols on one side and comical Marxist villains on the other. In order to make a point, we must use the tools of the enemy. We must be the Vietcong stealing M16s from a US military base. We take from the author what is theirs, deconstruct their arms and create something entirely new using the skeleton of their works.

We are the murderers of the author and this is our strongest weapon.


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