The War of Ideas

In previous articles I’ve looked at several possible paths to a failure of the progressive hegemony, but which either are not feasible by themselves, or are not sufficient by themselves to destroy the existing governing structures.

The vital missing piece, which I believe is the key step after which the old order is finished and the new order must be built, is the loss of faith of the ruling class themselves.

That is what actually finished the USSR, it finished the Commonwealth of England, and for that matter it is what sadly finished off European Monarchism in the 19th Century. The secessions,
the final hollowing-out, did happen, but were consequences of the collapse of belief in the political formula of the state by the rulers themselves.

Do not be fooled into thinking that the dogmas of liberalism are merely convenient fictions to the priests and practitioners of the democratic state. We are ruled by True Believers. If they were cynically parotting the mantras of democracy and equality we would probably be better governed than we are.

Some of the contradictions of the progressive faith are indeed visible to these people, but they live with them as best they can: after all, every faith has its mysteries. The faithful either study them and attempt to rationalise them, or else brush them aside as a problem for other people to solve. The faith holds.

But there could come a time when it does not. A few dissenters here and there are of no consequence: they can be driven out and replaced. However, it can come to pass that it becomes general knowledge that the axioms of the faith are false. Then the true believers will be diluted and finally swamped by the cynical opportunists. They will, for a time, retain the doctrines as empty justifications, but while they rely on them for their legitimacy, without genuine belief they will have no reason to defend them into the future. They become subject to erosion by the normal exigencies of political competition; abandoned bit by bit as tactics demand. The final stage arrives when nobody important genuinely believes them, and also, vitally, everybody knows that nobody important genuinely believes them.
(That last condition is why, though the loss of belief
is gradual, the final collapse is sudden).

At that point, the regime retains the instruments of power, but has lost its legitimacy. But, as Chesterton observed, when faith goes it is not replaced with nothing. It will be replaced with something. The state will be reconfigured, either gradually or abruptly, to reflect some alternative political formula.

If the state is efficient at dealing with internal apostasy, then it will switch its beliefs after the ideas of the broader society. It will absorb the new reality socially, from the community that its members engage with at an intellectual level. That is why I say that spreading our ideas matters, but simple numerical majority is not the goal. The elite don’t care now what the ordinary man believes, and they aren’t going to start. But they care what their peers think — they care what their doctor thinks, what writers think, and what their staff think, and maybe even what television comedians think. That is why it is necessary to project the ideas beyond the obsessives, to integrate theory and practice.

Ordinary educated people have to mention to their ordinary friends and colleagues, over coffee or a pint, that they don’t believe that democracy is worth preserving. That’s the most powerful propaganda there is. The ideas have to be developed further and spread more widely through the obsessives before they can start to enter the culture that way, but I think the start of that phase is not far off, no more than a few years.

When the opinions of what the rulers are forced to think of as “sensible people” become overwhelming, their own beliefs will follow. Then we get the period of total hypocrisy, and after that the final discrediting of the old formula.

All the failures I looked at before — economic, administrative, military — can contribute to the discrediting of the formula, but that belief is the ultimate indicator of whether the structure will hold or fall.

From an activist point of view, once it does fall, it is too late to do anything. The intelligentsia by that stage have long since stopped believing in the old formula, and they almost certainly already believe in another one. Whatever happens on the ground, that new formula will dictate what the new order looks like. It might not be clear-cut, there might be conflict and disagreement, but any conflict will be between people who already have power and already know what they believe.

The best case, for Britain, is that the heresy that quietly spreads through the elite until it has gone far enough to come into the open, is that the Royal Family will do a better job than the democratic system. The best case for the USA, as far as I can see from here, is that there should be some kind of breakup, with regions perhaps adopting different formulae.

Neither looks very likely right now, but the collective loss of faith does not look very close, either. There is still time. Our work is to build a theory that is good enough to win over the desperate, ten or twenty or fifty years from now, when belief in democracy and equality becomes unsupportable. It doesn’t need to be popular today, but it needs to be solid, thorough, adaptable, tested in intellectual debate.

By preparing such a theory, we are not just “waiting for a collapse”. We are both bringing about the end of the present regime (since the old political formula will be discarded more quickly if there is a practical alternative), and winning the battle to succeed it. Once the collapse becomes visible, the die is already cast. The real battle of ideas has already been fought, already won or lost. Attempting to force out the rulers, either by violence or by election, while the bulk of them still believe in their ideals, might conceivably succeed, but it can only be a revolution, not a restoration. The new regime would lack legitimacy except as the representative of the revolutionary movement which created it. If reactionaries were to attempt this, the best they could create would be a kind of revolutionary-reactionary hybrid — in short, fascism.

On the other hand, if the holders of official and unofficial power under the Modern Structure themselves recognise reactionary ideas, then the restoration is the legitimate successor to the present regime. It can demand loyalty from everyone on the basis of defending peace, stability, order and unity in a way that a party-based fascist regime cannot.

That does not mean there will be no violence required to secure the regime, but the holdouts will be self-evidently rebels — not just against the new order but against the old. That will be the time for action and glory — not as guerillas or revolutionaries, but as soldiers of honour: loyal knights of the rightful Sovereign. (I will have an urgent dental appointment that day, unfortunately, but I will wish you fame and victory).

It is also conceivable that the elite could hold out, clinging to the old beliefs after the rest of the culture has rejected them. I do not expect that — none of them have the moral courage it would require. If I am wrong, then a more activist penultimate phase would be called for — the formation of a shadow government or government-in-exile, leading to a final popular uprising. The culture must be won over first, in any case.

There are two things that make it possible now to break the centuries-long trend of more and more extreme liberalism. One is the over-extension of liberalism — its destructiveness is getting more obvious. The other is communication technology. In the past the Cathedral really could swamp out intellectual dissent, and make it invisible. Twenty-five years ago, our important thinkers simply would not have been able to reach an audience. The strength of the Cathedral in the battle of ideas is its obvious dominance: the impression it can give that there are no alternatives. The only way to publicise dissent was through activism — forming parties, pressure groups. That works as outreach, but it is self-defeating, because it crushes the movement between humiliation, caused by playing the enemy at their own game and losing, and compromise, which is necessary to the strategy, but destroys the intellectual integrity of the ideas being advanced.

Bringing the arguments into the political arena automatically discredits them. They can only hold the status of an alternative belief system if they are kept out of party politics, where all arguments are required to be judged by their immediate consequences, never by their merits. If, say, HBD is advanced as a reason for opposing a particular immigration bill, then it is automatically false, and cannot be considered further. If it is not associated with one political faction or another, then it remains an “academic” question, which seekers after truth can consider on its merits. Heritage’s cowardice in the Richwine affair is a good thing: as politicians, they are just as damaging to reason as their opponents. It is better that reactionary views are completely driven out of mainstream politics, as that preserves the distance between reactionaries and politicians. There can be no victory through gradual change: adoption of any reactionary ideas must be accompanied by total rejection of the old formula. If reactionary views are banned, that is better still, since it draws that clear line between the present body of thought and the next.

2 thoughts on “The War of Ideas”

  1. Question – how do you imagine a possible scenario of the elite adopting any of the neoreactionary policies? Will there be a complete replacement of the elites, or will the DE be so hip, modern and dominant that the existing ones will adopt it?

    The reason why I'm asking this is that I can easily imagine Harvard professors hanging out with high ranking civil servants, Elton John walking in the room and 2 hours later everyone present supports gay marriage. 15 years later, everyone outside the room supports gay marriage too. I somehow can't imagine the same process of seduction that will lead them hooked on Hoppe, Kuehnelt-Leddihn or Carlyle.

  2. A replacement of the elites is possible, but a conversion is both more likely and more desirable.

    The answer to your objection is the integration of theory and practice, the emergence of reactionary ideas from a freak ghetto or a dusty ruin.

    Sure, the bien-pensant aren't going to get hooked on Carlyle, any more than they are going to get hooked on De Sade or Aleister Crowley. But ideas spread from somewhere, and the future reactionary Elton John may be just about to follow a funny "have you seen this insanity" link to The Radish. Elton, after all, is only one or two degrees of separation from Crowley.

    The Dark Enlightenment is not intrinsically outlandish; it is outlandish because nobody normal associates with it. The explosion of the last six months, tiny as it is on an absolute scale, is already having an effect. In the last two days I have seen two references to Henry Maine, from outside the reactionary clique. And Moldbug said, Once you've read Maine, perhaps you are ready for Filmer.

    At the same time, the Modern Structure's old defense, of incorporating opposition into the "outer party", is beginning to break down. Its internal dynamics produce an accelerating leftward move, but its success depends on the past being forgotten. Today positions that were commonplace and moderate twenty years ago are considered impermissibly extremist – the stitching of history is showing. The Tea Party and UKIP are symptoms of that, and while they will achieve nothing, their ineffectiveness will teach further lessons.

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