It is natural for dissidents, collectively and individually, to decry their exclusion from the institutions of society. Collectively, their exclusion means the systematic exclusion of their ideas and their critiques of the prevailing orthodoxy. At the individual level, it means exclusion from the pleasures and benefits of their career. There’s also the fact that human beings are social animals. Exclusion, especially systematic exclusion, is felt as a personal rejection and that hurts even the toughest person.
There is, of course, the unfairness of it all. The people in charge of the institutions rely on purges and exclusion to protect their interests. There is the assumption that they rely on their institutional power to combat their enemies, because they lack the intellectual power to win a fair fight. They are petty men, who would rather persist in their error than face correction, so they use their power over the institutions to purge those who will challenge them and point out their error.
The natural temptation, therefore, is for dissidents to seek access to the institutions, in order to make their case. After all, if they can just get on the stage and make their points, so the theory goes, the superiority of their claims will win over the crowd and win them status. This is the mentality of the reformer, who continues to have a love and appreciation for the institution from which he has been purged. His complaint is largely personal, as he does not oppose the institution, just the people in it.
This has always been the emphasis of the paleocons. They are the result of the neocons gaining control of the conservative institutions. Those neocons then set about purging anyone who opposed their agenda. The paleos came to be more defined by their expulsion than by their ideas. They criticize the men in the institutions, rather than the institutions themselves. Their adversaries made the fight personal, and the paleocons were willing to take it personally. They still do.
That is the trap the modern dissident must avoid. Majorities will always place trust in institutions, as those institutions, if not purpose built, have been adapted to maintain their majority status. Man is a social animal and expects his participation in society to have benefits. Similarly, his society expects benefits from his inclusion. In a social order built around institutions, the natural dynamic will be to seek the benefits of those institutions, while maintaining those institutions.
The exile, in contrast, denied access to the institutions, will place his trust in ideas. His social sphere should evolve around shared ideas. That normal social dynamic will define the exile by his contribution to the intellectual life of his social group. The value he gains from it will be the refining and expansion of the ideas he shares with his fellow dissidents. For the proper dissident, exile provides the environment for a dynamic and creative intellectual life that exists outside of the institutions.
The best example of this is the Protestant reformers we call the Puritans, who eventually settled in North America. They began as reformers of the English church, but eventually ended up as exiles. They were not only exiled from the church, but from English society and eventually their country. As a result, Puritanism was able to develop into a fully formed and independent set of religious and social beliefs. Puritanism probably could not have survived if not for the exile of its adherents.
The birth of European conservatism is another example of how exile creates the dynamics for a new intellectual framework. The aristocrats who fled the French Revolution, found themselves as strangers in foreign lands. In exile, they first waited for restoration, but then moved beyond that to creating an authentic alternative to the radicalism of the Jacobins. The conservatism of Joseph de Maistre remains an authentic alternative to radicalism, because it evolved outside of it.
That is an important thing for modern dissents to grasp. The conservatism of Bill Buckley was always a Burkean response to American radicalism. That is, a response that evolved within the same institutions as the radicals. Burke did not develop his ideas as an outsider, but as an insider. Similarly, the American Right in the last century evolved in the elite institutions, as a traveling partner with the radicalism that developed after the Second World War. Left and Right were co-dependent.
This is the difference between the dissident and the dispossessed. The former not only accepts his outsider status, but relishes it. Free from the institutions, he can develop his own mental framework as a genuine alternative to the prevailing orthodoxy. The dissident sees his expulsion as the break, the vital break, from the historical and intellectual timeline. Rather than being carried forward by the momentum of his inheritance, he creates a new vision to replace the old.
The dispossessed, in contrast, are haunted by their expulsion. Who they are is defined by their loss of institutional support. They are the bitter ex-wife or the disgruntled former employee. They stand outside, perhaps shouting criticisms, as their identity is an entirely negative one. They relish every slight. They celebrate being criticized by those inside, because that’s who they are. They are people purged from that which had given them purpose and meaning. They are men without a polis and nothing more.
If dissidents are going to have a role in what comes next, it must be as the creators of something independent and indifferent to the prevailing orthodoxy. Communities of ideas, operating outside of the institutions, are the greatest threat to those institutions, because they cannot be co-opted and they cannot be easily attacked. Like the Puritans, the dissident eventually has to accept that what comes next for him is out in the wilderness, away from the existing order and independent of it.
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