There are a lot of ways of describing the great debate in the West that has raged, off and on, since the Enlightenment. The most popular way is to frame it as Left-versus-Right, even though the definition of Left and Right has changed significantly over time. Another way is to view it as traditionalists versus progressives. The former resists change while the latter embraces it. Of course, there’s always the appeal to nature, about the natural order of human society, whether we are more like chimps or bonobos.
Another way to think of the great debate in the West, is to think of one side as the horizontal argument and the other as the vertical argument. Those on the Left start with the assumption that the natural state of human society is flat, where human societies are a lattice work of relationships among equals. Those on the Right look at human society as a hierarchy, where important social relations are between those above and below. To both sides of this divide, these arguments are mutually exclusive.
Starting on the Right, the argument against liberalism since the French Revolution has been focused exclusively on social hierarchy. At the bottom are the peasants, who serve a lord, who in turn is a vassal to a greater lord. This relationship continues up to the very top of both the secular order and the religious order. In fact, the secular and religious hierarchy are intertwined, reaching into the heavens. At the top is God, who is not only served by this hierarchical order, but created it and maintains it.
This hierarchical understanding of human society was the default until the Enlightenment, when both the secular and religious conception of human organization was challenged by a new conception of society. This horizontal conception sees all humans as fundamentally equal. They are equal to one another and equal before God. In fact, it is the Christian conception of equality before God that is the root of this view. If all men are created in God’s image, they must be equal before God, and therefore equal to one another.
In practical political terms, democracy is the tangible expression of the horizontal conception of human society. There can be no greater expression of social equality than one man one vote. This is why there is no room for Christianity within a fully democratic society. If God holds dominion over man, it means the inequality of man is the work of God, which contradicts the notion of universal equality. The egalitarian world view has no place for a transcendent God, so God had to be eliminated.
On the other hand, the peak of aristocratic rule was the ultimate expression and the Christian West. From the lowest peasant to the heavens, stretched an unbroken chain of vassal relationships. Every man in the chain answered to someone and everyone answered for someone. The exception were the peasants at the bottom were only responsible to their lord. Equality of any sort is pointless in such an arrangement, as even equals will have unequal duties and obligations.
To this day, both sides argue for their conception of the world to the exclusion of the alternative. In the reaction to the French Revolution, conservative thinkers focused exclusively on the need to for authority that could only come from hierarchy. Ultimately, a belief in God is what gave legitimacy and authority to all secular arrangements, as God was at the top of the nature order. As a result, they could accept no alternative to the old aristocratic order, where a monarch sat atop the social hierarchy.
Similarly, to this day the Left cannot accept that there may be a hierarchical relationship between people within a society. They have taken this to the extreme of denying basic biological differences between people, including differences between the sexes. In the French Revolution, holding up the severed head of the king was the ultimate expression of the equality of man. In this age, forcing boys to take hormones and dress like girls is the ultimate expression of sexual equality. The world is perfectly flat.
Both sides of this great debate are wrong to think each view of human society is exclusive of the other. A more complete view of human society includes both the vertical and the horizontal model. The horizontal is like a spinning disk with a tight core. That core exists around the vertical axis of hierarchy. The vertical axis is held in balance by that core. If the core collapses, the vertical wobbles and collapses. If the vertical becomes unstable, the core becomes unstable and the horizontal flies apart. Society disintegrates.
There are many explanations for why the old hierarchical order collapsed, most spectacularly in the French Revolution. The industrial revolution, changing demographics, increases in population and the rise of a middle-class are good reasons to explain some of what happened in France. The fact is, the vertical, that series of hierarchical relationships became unstable. Once the King was no longer able to pay his bills, fulfill his obligations, the logic of the system started to collapse. Without a king, there can be no hierarchy.
Today, as the West reaches the limits of horizontal organization, not only has the vertical axis of hierarchy been eliminated, the core itself is beginning to pull apart. Lacking the gravitational force of social hierarchy and the rituals and ceremonies to enforce it, the core is drifting away from itself. Instead of centrifugal force pushing dissimilar elements to the fringe, those foreign elements are free to pass through the core, increasing its rate of disintegration. As a result, the system is showing the same instability as 1789.
The question, of course, is whether there is a third conception of human society that will replace the horizontal once it dissipates. The argument from the Right is the collapse of the Progressive moral framework will inevitably lead to a restoration of the old order, where hierarchy defined social relationships. That’s unlikely as the ingredients that gave rise to the old order do not exist in the modern world. Modern western societies lack the human capital to make anything like the aristocratic order work.
There’s also the question of whether the West will exist after the collapse of the Progressive moral order. There is a strong case that the West is getting dumber, which explains the grip of multiculturalism on the ruling class. That decline in IQ is being magnified by the waves of low-IQ populations from over the horizon. We may have reached a tipping point from which there is no turning back. The future of the West may be Neolithic people squatting in the ruins of what used to be Western civilization.
If there is to be a next chapter to the story of European people, it will require a conception of society that acknowledges the hierarchical relationships that are natural to man, but also the interlocking horizontal loyalties and commitments that allows for a strong cultural core. That means transcending the crude materialism that sprang from the Enlightenment, but also acknowledging the limits of authority. That probably means a clear eyed understanding of the nature of man and his biological origins as a species.