Having laid out the foundation for my proposed binding force of American conservatism, which reorients it away from Anglophone conservatism and towards a more traditionalist, eschatological, and continental European notion of conservatism, I want to address some possible objections that conservatives may have with this reorientation.
I’m anticipating the cry of the conservatives I took to task– of both the reactionary and progressive bent– who read the article (along with my other writings) taking issue with my incredulity towards capitalism. I suspect the reason is that the material success of capitalist society, which unlike left-wing critics of capitalism I don’t deny, has made them too comfortable and given them too much to lose. If there were, as Hans Freyer described it, a revolution from the right, society would be, in all probability, poorer from a purely materialistic standpoint.
One complaint is that this view of conservatism is “anti-wealth”, “socialism”, or, as the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises called it, “The Anti-capitalistic Mentality”. To the first charge of anti-wealth there is the underlying presupposition that wealth is good. However, no one argues that wealth in of itself is good, the argument is always that the accumulation and use of wealth is a good thing, but this claim is questionable. A hyperfixation on wealth is not a good thing and, empirically, increasing wealth without care for other higher values (as liberalism, which leaves higher pursuits to individuals alone, tends to do) creates a crass hedonism. This reorients our focus towards short-term pleasure over higher values such as the salvation of the soul and reconnecting with the spiritual dimension which we’ve lost in modernity. As a Christian, I believe that we store up riches in heaven. If wealth prevents us from achieving our higher ends, then we will need to reevaluate our relationship with wealth. We must be spiritually rich even at the cost of being materially poor. This is a key part of how I would define socialism. So when charged with the crime of being a socialist, I stand guilty as charged with no reservation, but what we understand as socialism is radically different from the popular conception.
Perhaps to the surprise of many ahistorical conservative ideologues, capitalism and laissez-faire has traditionally been seen as a left-wing ideology of progress, change and universalization against the particularism of the entrenched reactionary forces of monarchism and feudalism. While this is not an argument against capitalism itself, it’s important to contextualize that just a few centuries ago capitalism was seen as a left-wing ideology, and its first enemies were the conservative forces of throne and altar. Only with the development of allegedly more progressive economic systems has capitalism been seen as a right-wing or conservative ideology. “No Marxist will forget”, writes Vladimir Lenin, “that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism”. Communism, from Marx’s own perspective, is the more progressive form of capitalism (this an oversimplification but I’m not going to delve into Hegelian dialectics). The bourgeoisie with their capitalist technics have made Communism a possibility with their destruction of the old feudal order. Thus Marx and Engels praise the bourgeois capitalists in their manifesto: “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” Marx’s socialism is thus much different from that of other socialists of his time, and in fact a large part of his manifesto and his corpus of work is dedicated to attacking other socialists.
“Marx was only the stepfather of socialism”, Oswald Spengler says, for he was neither the first, the main, nor the last socialist. The socialist tradition we affirm is that anti-capitalist tradition that much of the right, including in America, has historically followed. To quote again from Spengler, himself a right-wing socialist, “The meaning of socialism is that life is dominated not by the contrast of rich and poor but by rank as determined by achievement and ability. That is our kind of freedom: freedom from the economic capriciousness of the individual.”
Socialism is the ability to consciously control our society and to strive for a greater good rather than merely protecting the individual pursuit of happiness. It has the moral epistemological boldness to say that some ideas are better than others and that society should strive towards a rich conception of the good that is more than the sum of the individuals in society. Socialism is that which will allow us to transform the state into something beyond an instrument of capitalist technics and to immanentize the eschaton. “We are socialist. Let us hope that it will not have been in vain.”
Another controversial point that I argued for is embracing aspects of philosophical traditions over which the left is assumed to have a monopoly. These include Marxism, postmodernism (the boogeyman of math-nerds-larping-as-philosophers like James Lindsay), and feminism. The texts of all these traditions, insofar as they deconstruct aspects of our contemporary society, can prove to be rather elucidating for this conservative project.
Before diving into what the lessons we can take from Marxism, it’s important to note the difference between left and right critiques of capitalism. Left critiques of capitalism assert that capitalism doesn’t fulfill its promise and has failed. The Right asserts capitalism has fulfilled its promise all too well. I affirm the latter tradition, but there are still several insights the Marxists have in their critique of capitalism and society which are worth considering.
The first point to take away is their view of capitalism as not a force of tradition or conservatism, but as a violent, chaotic, and disruptive force that is qualitatively different than any other previous system (a point Marx himself stressed to the chagrin of the utopian socialist of his day who critiqued capitalism as a form of neo-feudalism). The next insight is their keen focus on history, their acknowledgement that there have been other systems before capitalism, and thus that new economic systems are possible. In other words, while there are alternative economic systems, capitalism “reifies” itself in our consciousness to make it appear as the only possible option, as noted by the 20th century Marxist György Lukács. Capitalism, which has existed for a small fraction of human existence, now takes its place as the only option conceivable to most people, including today’s political philosophers. While rejecting the conclusion of the Marxists, we can affirm with them that there are alternatives to capitalism. Instead of affirming the even more progressive and disruptive alternative of Communism, we embrace conservative socialism as the alternative.
With the postmodernist thinkers, including Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Giles Delueze, and Michel Focault, we can deconstruct our current society through their focus on history, signs, technology, and myth to show us the origin of various institutions we hold as normal to help break this process of reification. More specifically, we can understand the postmodern moment that we are living in– the massive societal confusion into which man has been thrown (largely thanks to hyper-technological capitalism) with the breakdown of traditional social orders that once gave us meaning and place. Unlike the Marxists, the postmodernists have embraced semiotics (the study of signs) through which they have discovered aspects of reality lost in the modern age but well known to the premodern mind. Through their analysis, we can see the ongoing effects of a reality which premodern man intimately understood. They show us these “ancient superstitions” are still integral in our society (albeit cloaked in the language of the profane) and through their understanding we can better understand contemporary power structures.
To illustrate this, we can view the work of Jean Baudrillard– who sees modernity having advanced into postmodernity defined as a hyperreality where spectacle-producing technology simulates reality in a way that is “more real than real” with models of reality being made without any corresponding reality. Advertising and the semiological bombardment on our minds plays a large role in this with advertisements creating a stylized view of reality to sell a product creating a feedback loop wherein that stylized reality starts to become imitated. It is then stylized again by advertisers until the reality is completely gone and it becomes a pure simulacrum where it doesn’t even feign to model reality anymore. Baudrillard makes the case that this has become the norm for virtually all aspects of our life, and places like Disneyland serve the function of making us forget that LA is the real imaginary land.
Drawing on ethnographic studies and specifically the “gift economies” of many tribal societies (a phenomenon recently popularized by David Graeber), Baudrillard describes Western hegemony not in terms of a power structure that has “taken everything and given nothing back”, but rather as giving everything “without their being able to give it back.” This unilateral gift results in humiliation for with nothing to give back, one’s labor must be in the service of the creditor in a form of slavery until a comparable gift may be returned. For this reason, Baudrillard noticed the effectiveness of the September 11th attacks. The terrorists were able to reverse the score and give the US the one gift profane man, living only in this life, is unable to give back, the gift of death.
Feminism is probably the most diverse of these schools of thought. So, I will specify that I am not referring to mainstream liberal “Tumblrite” feminism but more philosophical feminism rooted in various schools of Marxism, and Postmodernism, as well as Jungian and Freudian schools of psychoanalysis. While there is less that can be taken from feminism than the previous two philosophical traditions, more heterodox feminists such as Camile Paglia have stinging critiques of modern society which reveal the often uncomfortable truths about both genders that we otherwise try to hide and suppress.
At its best, feminism reveals that being a man or a woman is more than just having certain genitals or chromosomes, there is a larger phenomenological meaning– “lived experience”– to gender which can’t be reduced to material biology. To a certain point male and female are “social constructs” and the two genders are tethered to each other in ways that we often don’t even realize. When not delving into the nonsensical, critical feminism shows how both genders are suffering in our modern society and are wretched creatures in terms of what they could be. Feminism at its worst however, as feminist Camile Paglia described in Sexual Personae, turns women into the “modern aggressive woman who can think like a man and write obnoxious books.” Echoing the traditionalist writer Julius Evola’s indictment of feminism for “not be[ing] able to devise a personality for women other than by imitating the male personality” and that imitation of the male personality not being what truly ought to be, but a poor imitation of the contemporary wretched man– a true Baudrillardian simulacrum.
Even the liberal feminists who have become the object of much justified derision can be weaponized when properly contextualized. This is done not through taking up their suggestions or buying into their presuppositions, but by showing how liberalism fails to live up to its own promises completely. While we can still hold onto the critique that liberalism and capitalism are bad because they have triumphed, we can still make the broader point that it survives on the remnants of the more primordial and centripetal social values which it constantly undermines. The internal ideological nature of liberalism with its anti-essentialist view of man (excuse the gendered language) as a blank slate or tabula rasa does, for instance, logically leads to the conclusion that children can indeed be transgender and should have gender affirming surgeries because they should have the freedom to control their lives against the fascism of parental authority and to fully express their will as long as it doesn’t physically harm or defraud anyone. Anyone who disagrees, yet still swears fealty to the tenets of liberalism is, by their own logic, an inconsistent liberal as exposed by the feminists.
The main take-away from these three traditions is that there is indeed an alternative and that conservatives who claim “there is no alternative” to capitalism and to our current epoch of unbridled technics are wrong. It is always difficult to imagine a cosmos outside of one’s own, even the cosmos of profanity, but even if we can’t approach it “positively” through describing what it will be, we can use the mystical approach of apophaticism, the “negative” approach, to say what reality is not. However until then the noomahkia– the war of the intellect– must be waged, and this war of the nous must be a total war on all fronts. The bastard children of modernity, Marxism, postmodernism, and feminism, must be subversively taken up to kill their father. While we must prove these ideologies are fundamentally misguided, we will ultimately affirm Marx’s statement that “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave diggers.”