Note: My Taki post is back from the celebration of Juneteenth. Sunday Thoughts is up behind the green door for those who are in need of audio stimulation. If you need even more audio stimulation, then there is this from the weekend. I was very active over the weekend, so there is this bonus post behind the green door.
The terms Left and Right have been ubiquitous in Western public discourse for so long people just assume they are universal constants. The fact is though, they are neither universal nor constant. There is no African Right or Burmese Left. These cultures have not been shaped by the French Revolution. Similarly, what it means to be on the Right or Left has changed over time. Today’s left-wing American genuinely detests yesterday’s left wing American, who is probably on the Right today.
There is not much in the way of ideology on either side. There has not been an important thinker on either side in a long time. The last important radical thinker was probably Herbert Marcuse or perhaps John Rawls. On the Right, Paul Gottfried and Sam Francis are recent, but their influence is only on the fringe. The main driver of politics is the Left and they are wildly ignorant of the intellectual history that shapes left-wing politics today.
In the main, people divide up over history. What controls the American Left is the sense that the past is littered with monsters. These monsters are things like slavery, discrimination, morality, decency and so forth. The fact that these things have existed means they could exist again. The practical effect of something like slavery, for example, is zero, but the possibility it could return shapes the present. These monsters haunt the dense fog that is the left-wing mental space.
This is why the Left maintains all of its focus on the future, a place that is free of those monsters like inequality and human suffering. It is a secular Gnosticism in which a mystical and esoteric understanding of what lies at the end of history justifies the assault on the present. The monsters of the past haunt this fallen world and the only way out is to destroy this world thus freeing mankind from its grip and allowing man to move into the next phase of human history.
On the other side of this is the Right. They share the Left’s disdain for the present, but for entirely different reasons. They see the present as a degraded version of some past they hold up as the ideal. To be on the Right is to consume yourself with discovering forgotten kingdoms and then imagining yourself in them. Just as the future is an escape for the man of the Left, the past is a refuge for the man of the Right. The difference is his escape is much more detailed and appointed.
It is on the Right where you see the immutable differences between American and European politics. In Europe, the man of the Right can embrace ancient social structures like pre-Christian paganism and tribalism. He can embrace the aristocratic age of the high Middle Ages. These are not pasts that an American can conjure as they do not exist in the American past. The one shared alternative is the period of the interwar years but that brings unique problems.
For Americans, the most popular past is the Founding. Throughout the 20th century, right-wing Americans have said some version of, “If we just return to our founding principles everything will be fine.” Even at this late date there is an effort to conjure the 18th century colonial experience into the present. Implementations of this have been a desire to return to the America of the 1950’s or the 1980’s. In both cases, it is a desire to go back before the start of the present troubles.
This difference between Left and Right explains the difference in tangible results over the last century. Left-wing activity can move forward. Time marches on regardless of human desire, so the illusion of progress is easy to maintain. It just requires the destruction of present customs and traditions. The image of a toppled statue provides the left-wing mind with s symbolic step toward the promised land, which in turn provides a motivation to keep moving forward.
The Right has the insurmountable problem of time. There is no way to go back in time to start over. Time only moves forward. This physical reality that provides the Left with hope provides the Right with dread. Every day they move further from their desired spot in the past, suggesting it will never be attained. This despair results in a stubborn defense of the present, not because of its superiority to the proposed future, but for its vantage point into the desired past.
The reason modern conservatism is stuck in 1985 is because that was the last good viewing point for 1955. Of course, that was the last good viewing point for 1925 and so on into the founding period. Similarly, for many on the European Right, the interwar years were the last high ground to see the fading aristocratic order. For the Right, history is a series of signal fires leading back to a romanticized ideal order where Western man could fully express his nature.
While the Left has the advantage of time, they are increasingly haunted by the fact they are running out of it. The old Marxist framing said that once economic relations were solved, political relations would be solved. That proved to be both impossible and incorrect, so they moved up to the institutions. Once they controlled those, they would guide society into the future. That led to the seizing of the culture. By controlling the means of cultural production, they can build the desired future.
Of course, the reality of the human condition is once again unravelling these plans for the great temporal leap. The only thing that remains is something like a rapture in which the political elect is taken off this fallen world into the promised land, leaving the rest of humanity behind. One reason the Left sounds increasingly like a UFO cult is they are sure the end times are approaching. They cannot articulate it, by they sense the hour is short and the great finale will happen any minute.
The Right is not prepared to make the leap into the abys but they are also haunted by the prospect of time. In their case, it is the reality that is too late to defend the present from the ravages of the Left. There is nothing left to defend. The last bridges to the past have been severed. Like survivors on a lifeboat, the Right is terrified by the prospect of floating along for eternity in a sea of nothingness. For the Right, hell is the eternal present, cut off from the past.
Perhaps this signals the final denouement of the cycle that began with the French Revolution and ushered in ideological politics. The dream of the glorious future will die with the dreams of a return to the glorious past. Politics will lose its sacredness and return to being the struggle over practical things. The sacred and the profane will return to the sphere outside of earthly demands. The sacred will produce moral men to debate the practical, rather than practical men to debate morality.
On the other hand, maybe the West is simply out of time. The long cycle that began in the high Middle Ages has run its course. The people will remain but what defines them, that old Western tradition, including its messianic claims, will fade away, slowly replaced by something not yet born. The West is now a death row inmate waiting execution, terrified of both the future and the past. The former for obvious reasons and the past because it is what brought him to this point.
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