Untimely Observations



Much as has been said of me, I know Larry Auster, he's very intelligent, and I respect him. I read his blog just about every day and find him an engaging presence in person. And I hope he takes the following criticism in the constructive spirit in which it is written.

I often get the sense that Larry has turned himself into a kind of Ayn Rand of the paleo Right. So often, do I see him expelling others from the circle of "conservatism" -- to the point that the only conservatives left are himself and a handful of intimates -- inflating a single issue or difference of opinion into an existential Either/Or, and proclaiming the absolute consistency of his philosophy (while in actuality it's full of the elisions and willed forgetting characteristic of an ideology.)1

His recentcomments on AltRight follow this trend...

I don't write this as a plea for Larry to be more charitable towards me and my website, or for him to let a hundred flowers bloom or anything like that. Rigorous debate, in the Ancient Greek sense of agon, a testing of ideas, is important. And anyone who makes a serious argument should assume that he's right, his opponent's wrong, and his peers should accept his point of view and drop competing ones.  

But it is possible for people to disagree and remain in a working coalition or "big tent." And in his recent blog posts on me and Alternative Right, in which AltRight gets all but condemned, Larry seems to misunderstand altogether what a coalition is. 

Contrary to the charges that AltRight is hopelessly "inconsistent" -- a motley crew of Catholics, atheists, critics of Israel and Jews, et al. all under the banner of "traditionalism" -- what's remarkable is just how much everyone here agrees with one another on real, concrete issues.

Everyone thinks, for instance, that Obamacare is a disastrous addition to an already rotten healthcare system; everyone thinks immigration should not only be curtailed but changed to reflect America's identity as a Western European nation; everyone thinks the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are fool's errands (here we depart from Larry); everyone agrees that the current welfare/warfare state is a monstrosity and inimical to traditional culture; everyone wants to repeal affirmative-action and most anti-discrimination legislation; und so weiter...

So, we have a working coalition. And though I don't think we'll ever command  a majority in these United States (as they are today, at least), there's a sizable contingent of the public that's on board with us. For this reason, and others, I don't think debating policy will actually ever be a crucial component of AltRight. (And since Obama will undoubtedly propose all sorts of new stimulus and welfare packages in the near future that we probably won't have time to address, readers can just assume that we're against them all.)  

Larry is right, of course, that many of us disagree on fundamental --  philosophical and theological -- issues. But agreement in these areas is actually not a prerequisite for a coalition. For a century, the French far Right has been composed of "Nietzscheans" and ultra Catholics, and such an arrangement made up Francisco Franco's ruling regime. One could even argue that we have a stronger coalition than the postwar conservative movement, which is always looking for a Big Enemy (Communism, Terrorism) to unify itself against. So, Larry is making a problem where there need not be one.     

With AlternativeRight.com, I set out to do a number of things. In term of aesthetics, I wanted to create a site that was stylish and cutting edge in terms of user interface -- a first on the right! -- and which integrated longer thoughtful, sometimes scholarly, essays with more timely blogging.

I also wanted to more rigorously pursue the implications of "Human Biodiversity" (HBD). In Paul Gottfried's first book on the conservative movement, he noted that a strong interest in "sociobiology" distinguished the writers of the paleo-libertarian "fusion"; Thomas Fleming was at the forefront of this. (In Modern Times, Paul Johnson listed E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology as marking a new scientific synthesis that reversed the "relativism" discussed in the books opening pages.)

Sadly, HBD/Sociobiology has been all but abandoned by the American Right, dropped by the mainstream because it's "racist" or not properly universalist, and by the paleos as over the past decade they've adopted Romantic, almost Medievalist poses.

So, AltRight is about something new, and it's also an attempt to "bring people together," in the sense of allowing a place for debate between writers who differ from the mainstream in fundamental ways and who share a set of concrete goals.    

The Right is, of course, notorious for engaging in internecine civil war. Certainly the example of paleo-libertarianism from the '90s -- a coalition that disintegrated mostly due to Thomas Fleming's penchant for insulting colleagues and demanding personal loyalty -- makes one think that a non-mainstream Right grouping might be nigh impossible. My hopes have been buoyed, however, by the fact that there were so many independent thinkers who were part of that older coalition, and by my encounter with a younger generation that has little at stake in paleoconservatism and generally identifies with an "alternative."

In the most fundamental of terms, I established this website as a way to squash the egalitarian bug at the core of the contemporary Western world: that deep seated, almost unreachable and indescribable thought pattern that leads, for instance, both mainstream war supporters and detractors to argue for their respective policies on the basis that they would better foster "democracy," women's rights, and the consumptive American way of life around the globe, that leads "conservatives" to oppose the nomination of Judge Sotomayor because she lacks an understanding of equality, and, as Larry has pointed out, defend Anglo-Saxon Protestantism on the basis that it's been the world's most tolerant religion towards ethnic minorities.

For the task of uncovering the root of Western decline, many different people will have valuable things to contribute. (I write this hoping not to sound too much like Mr. Tolerance.)

These declarations out of the way, let's return to Larry's version of conservatism, or what should probably be called "Austerism."

Larry states,

The reason I annoy so many people ... is that I draw definitional lines between what is a legitimate part of conservatism and what is not. I say, for example, that anti-theism, anti-Christianism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and the material reductionism that leads to moral nihilism are both wrong in themselves and not a part of conservatism. But many people on the right today are "big tent types" -- or rather "big website types." They want to include in the discussion anyone who calls himself conservative or right-wing, or, for that matter, anyone who posts a comment. Therefore someone like me who draws lines -- who says that there are certain things that are both wrong in themselves and not a legitimate part of conservatism -- is committing the worst sin.

Note that Larry's exactitude has led him to liken followers of Patrick Buchanan to a "moral swamp" ... but let's leave such hyperbole aside and focus on Larry's litmus-test conservatism in itself.

In a blog appropriately titled "A Litmus Test," Larry names what he believes is an essential component of "conservatism":

In his article today on Geert Wilders, Paul Belien writes:"Wilders regards support for Israel as the litmus test to decide with whom he is willing to cooperate."

In the excellent Wilders manner, this is stated so simply and directly. It gets to the heart of the issue and comprehends other, unspoken issues within it.

Larry doesn't quite equate conservatism with unwavering support for Israel, but he does seem to think that the latter is indispensable to the former.

But what kind of conservatism is this exactly? Does Larry think, for instance, that there were no conservatives throughout history who had, say, mixed feelings about a Jewish state, or who were even a bit anti-Semitic? John Randolph of Roanoke, a nominal Episcopalian of a deist persuasion, apparently wrote that he sympathized with the Muslims during the Crusades. Winston Churchill was an outspoken advocate of Zionism from the beginning, but he supported a Jewish state, quite explicitly, for reason that his neocon admirers would find appalling. Churchill hoped Zionism might "direct the energies and the hopes of Jews in every land towards a simpler, a truer, and a far more attainable goal" and away from the "world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality." Moreover, while Zionism might now be associated with nationalist hard-liners like Bibi Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, the man who came up with the idea, Theodor Herzl, was an atheist and socialist who once dreamed of mass conversion but eventually decided Jews had no place in European society.         

Auster and Wilders

I am in no way saying that it's illegitimate for an American or European conservative to sympathize with Israel -- for that country's enemies are his as well. But I see no reason why a conservative in America must support Israel, or even have a strong opinion on the subject. And there are a whole host of reasons why an American conservative would want to end Washington's foreign aid and captive foreign policy.  

It's worth dilating on this subject a little longer. On the hard neocon Right, there's a tendency to insert "Judeo-Christian values" in explanations for "why they hate us," whereas softer neocons might say "democracy" and George W. Bush, "our freedom." Thus, Robert Spencer (no relation), in his book Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't (a title that has always affected me in a way opposite to that which the author intended), describes the war on terror as a chance for Americans to "stand up for Judeo-Christian values and defend them against the ideological challenge of Islam." He goes on to say that Osama bin Laden himself recognizes this, evidenced by his expressed hatred of  "Zionists and Crusaders"... 

Such terms indicate to me that Osama mostly hates the "Judeo-Christians" who are in his backyard; moreover, I have no doubt that Osama feels the same way about America as he did about the Soviet Union -- it's not a religious or "ideological" challenge, but a decadent, godless, and threatening place. (He's mostly right.)

Larry has criticized Spencer (the other one) rather severely, for not being unequivocal enough in calling for a halt to Muslimimmigration and for supporting secular humanist types like Hirsi Ali. But he remains on board when the project is "defending Judeo-Christianity."  

But such a "creed" is fantasy. Actual "Judeo-Christianity," which boasted Paul and Jesus Christ as its proponents, didn't survive the first century. The J-C Larry and Spencer speak of -- a vague, non-devotional religion and precursor to universal human rights that will apparently one day engage in an ultimate ideological showdown against global Islam -- never informed the culture of European societies. The whole thing marks a kind of grasping for meaning in a gray, decaying world ... as if "Christendom" could somehow be revived through the U.S. military.

Related to this is another spot of tension for Larry -- my willingness to tolerate "Pagans" and criticism of Christianity. This, too, is apparently un-conservative.

Radical Traditionalism can only mean pre-Christian traditionalism. Spencer, like the thinkers of the European pagan "New Right" before him (who were also anti-American), is trying to go back to and revive pre-Christian Europe. He's trying to revive a tradition that predates our civilization. But if it pre-dates our civilization, it's not our tradition. Which means that Spencer's Radical Traditionalism is no traditionalism at all, but a leap outside our tradition. Which is not to say that what is called paganism is not part of our tradition. But those pagan elements have only come down to us through the medium or our Christian culture. There simply is no "pagan traditionalism" in the West. To the contrary, the West came into existence in the act of replacing paganism.

Given the above, no wonder Spencer treated the irrelevant and absurd David Frum as his foil in his introductory video. Frum wants to create a "conservatism" that is pro-homosexual marriage, pro some form of nationalized health, anti-Rush Limbaugh, and anti-mainstream conservatism, which Frum sees as disgusting demagoguery. Spencer wants to create a "traditionalism" which consists of anti-Christians who hark back to the pagan world and reject 2,000 years of Christian tradition. What do the two men, so utterly different, have in common? Each is trying to create a chimerical "conservative" belief system which is a contradiction in terms and will have almost no followers.

Much of what Larry says here strikes me as an almost progressive case for Christianity, which he supports because it happened to occur after Paganism. (Aren't there whole swaths of Western history that Larry wants to get rid of, like the centuries-old tradition of liberalism?) Moreover, one can make a better case for Paganism on traditionalist grounds. In the longue durée of Western history, worship of the gods characterized the spiritual life of Europeans for forty millennia; Christianity, a foreign import, accounts for two, at the very most.

But even such historical argument should be subordinated to larger sense that the gods have truly never died. A host of things, from the days of the week to the placement of holy days on the solar calendar to the accoutrements of feast days (Christmas trees, mistletoe, Easter rabbits and eggs, etc.) are all of European Pagan origin. And this heritage is not merely a matter of ornament. The closely-knit family unit derives from the traditions of the Germanic tribes, and not the Levantine world of the Bible. Europe's imagination -- its characteristic fantasies of heroes, dragons, dwarves, lions, witches, wardrobes -- is unthinkable without its pre-Christian heritage. Our treasured heroes -- those who face challenges with honor and don't think of themselves as inherently depraved creatures in need of "redemption" -- are derived from archetypes that long predate the institution of Christianity. Indeed, they bear little resemblance to Jesus, the martyrs of the early church, or self-mutilating ascetics like Origen. The "Christianity" that Europeans and Americans know is one that has been deeply "Paganized" and "Europeanized"; as James Russell describes it, Christianity was "converted" by the Germans.

Exploring Paganism thus doesn't in the least mark an attempt to jump outside actual tradition, quite the opposite.  It marks a reconnection with Europe' deepest traditions, and promises far more treasures than the abstract creed professed by American conservatives.



1 -- William F. Buckley, too, set the standard for the issuing banishment proclamations from Conservatism proper, though such actions are more understandable in the case of a man who was in charge of a magazine and major resources.