Against the Nietzschean conservatives

With some in the neoreactionary crowd toying with the idea of inventing a religion, Right Scholarship‘s very quotable warnings are quite timely.  Some excerpts:

A member of the neoreaction twittersphere suggested that I check out a transcript of a 2007 talk by Jonathan Bowden, which is available on Counter-Currents Publishing site as “Credo: A Nietzschean Testament.” It is a perfect example of Right Nietzscheanism.

Bowden says, “I believe that strength comes from belief, in things which are philosophically grounded and appear real to you.” In other words, belief functions as an expression of the will to power, as long as the things that you believe in “appear real to you” (italics mine)….

The problem is that these archaic ideas from the past, reconstituted through the will to power, will not be quite the same as they were before. Like the reanimated beings that rise from Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will be a little different, and a little unstable, with a tendency to turn against their owners….

When an older moral regime is reconstructed, the reconstruction will be different from the original in that those living under the original regime viewed its structure as something ‘given’—something rooted in truth or nature or the will of God—while those living under the reconstruction can never achieve that same level of naiveté. The inhabitants of the reconstruction must always struggle to believe, even when they know, on some level, that the principles that guide them are rootless. Such is the difference between a Norse pagan of the ninth century and the twenty-first century neo-pagan. Does the latter really believe that Thor and Odin exist?

To provide an antidote to all this stifling Nietzscheanism, I will briefly introduce a thinker whose photo graces this site: the amateur philosopher T.E. Hulme (1883-1917)…

This passage is from Hulme’s seminal essay “A Tory Philosophy,” but I have quoted it from a review in the New Criterion by Roger Kimball, which incidentally serves as a decent introduction to Hulme. (If I can find my copy of “A Tory Philosophy” I will provide a proper citation.)

Here is Hulme describing his position regarding religion:

“I want to emphasize as clearly as I can, that I attach very little value indeed to the sentiments attaching to the religious attitude. I hold, quite coldly and intellectually as it were, that the way of thinking about the world and man, the conception of sin, and the categories which ultimately make up the religious attitude, are the true categories and the right way of thinking. . . . It is not, then, that I put up with the dogma for the sake of the sentiment, but that I may possibly swallow the sentiment for the sake of the dogma” (Hulme 70-71).

Dogma is superior to sentiment, and truth superior to tradition—this is the core of Hulme’s message.

17 Responses

  1. Tradition is just a social way of giving concrete expression to intuitive knowledge. It is a way of grasping hard to grasp truths. But it only has value because it indeed grasps the truth.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Did you read my long article against inventing religions earlier this month?

  3. “while those living under the reconstruction can never achieve that same level of naiveté. The inhabitants of the reconstruction must always struggle to believe, even when they know, on some level, that the principles that guide them are rootless. Such is the difference between a Norse pagan of the ninth century and the twenty-first century neo-pagan. Does the latter really believe that Thor and Odin exist?”

    This is an observation that I can see the reasoning of, but I disagree with any conclusion that this means man needs some new religion, or ‘machine god’. How is this any more believable? How could we ascribe the title of god to something WE created?

    A Neo-Pagan may hold that these deities exist if they understand the nature of the original Nordic Tradition, but few do. Neo-Paganism is for most just some attempt to grasp at an Occidental Tradition that ‘sounds cool’ and is before that which Modernity ridicules, Christianity. Modernity does not attack Odinism. It doesn’t need to.

    One can imagine the knowledge of the Faith as a horseshoe. No, never again may people believe that God directly launches down thunderbolts from the clouds, but perhaps in the future he may never believe the lie that the universe is past-infinite,or caused itself. The scholarship of apologetics has sharpened over the last few decades. After a long period of laziness, Christians are defending the faith with intellectual answers that atheists are increasingly hard pressed to answer (see Richard Dawkins running away from William Lane Craig).

    If we are to truly React, we have to shed the notions instilled in us by Modernity, and this includes the misguided folly that there has been no god in the past and we need to create one to satisfy the future. No, there is already a god, and is He not a jealous god?

  4. When a functionalist calls for a new religion, he normally argues that society needs something to check the powerful drives of selfishness and despair. A Christian can, for instance, practice self sacrifice in the hope that this self sacrifice will be recognized and ultimately rewarded. No such hope can be wrung out of a conscious fiction.

    If I am adrift in a lifeboat with a man who knows these waters and he tells me there is an island to the west, I will row to the west with a will. If I am adrift in a lifeboat with a man who suggests that we pretend there is in island to the west, as this will sustain our morale, I may row for a bit, but when I grow tired I will despair.

    It is faith that gives us hope, not fiction.

  5. A superb analogy JMsmith

  6. I did, and it was an excellent article making many similar points
    (https://aramaxima.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/quit-playing-prophet/).
    I think I was just too busy to jump in when everybody else was having the religion debate. That happens to me a lot.

  7. NB: The late Jonathan Bowden (who was an excellent speaker, whatever else might be said about him) is quite definitely nothing to do with neoreaction. If anything, neoreactionaries consciously define themselves against the fascistic far-right movement with which Bowden was associated.

  8. vimothy – its important to note not all such far right groups that trace their lineage back to the 1930s are fascistic. Fascism as an ideology is a losing game, but it wasn’t particularly abhorrent. Mussolini, contrary to popular belief, was a stupid but benign dictator whose main problem was not listening to the intelligent people around him and blundering into conflicts his army was in no position to fight.

    National Socialism was indeed an abomination, as was the insanity set up in the ‘Independent State of Croatia’ under Ante Pavelic. However all Reactionaries should recognize the troubles of the interwar period and subsequently WWII were the result of legitimate critiques against the bankruptcy of Modern ideology. The incarnations of this backlash ranged from stunningly brilliant to stomach-churningly grotesque.

    Francisco Franco and Antonio Salazar for example are often called fascists, and yet I think their governments had a better political orientation than almost any around at the time.

  9. I agree that not all far-right groups dating from the 1930s are fascistic, and of that those that are, are not all bad.

    Still, Bowden could fairly be described as fascistic — described himself as such, many times (“too conservative for the fascists, too fascist for the conservatives”), and urged conservatives and those on the right not to turn away from or be afraid of associating with fascist thinkers. His major work, really, was an effort to rehabilitate a far right cultural space where the fascistic aspects of modern European art and thought were foregrounded without shame. So in some sense the significance of Bowden was precisely this association with fascism — elevated in some respects, populist in others (including an involvement with the BNP, a far-right party in the UK that mainly draws on the support of the native working class).

    If you are unfamiliar with him, then I highly recommend the lectures given to meetings of the “London New Right”, many of which are on Youtube. (I particularly enjoyed the talks on Punch and Judy, Lovecraft, and Marxism and the New Left).

  10. I am familiar with Bowden’s work, having watched his lecture on Julius Evola. Interesting in some respects, my opinion of him is that much like the rest of the British National Party’s intellectual supporters, he was always chasing a doomed to fail project.

    Your sentiment that Reactionaries should not associate with Bowden is correct, I was just pointing out that generally not all ‘third position’ fascist thought is to be dismissed. Bowden was in the end, a marginal figure and so I’m sure most Reactionaries will never hear about him.

  11. I’m not in the business of telling reactionaries who they should or shouldn’t associate with. My point was much more limited: merely that neoreactionaries in particular (to be distinguished from other reactionaries and right-wing groups) consciously define themselves against quasi-fascists like Bowden, whom they regard as populist crypto-leftists.

  12. I did not mean to suggest that there is no distinction between neoreaction and Bowden’s neo-fascist neo-paganism. Bowden is from the sphere of the European New Right, and I used him as an example of Right Nietzscheanism in its clearest and most recognizable form. Neoreaction does not always explicitly draw from Nietzsche, and I know that neoreactionaries do not embrace neo-paganism, but it seems to me that neoreaction is about what I would call the science of power. All of the various political alternatives to democracy that they toss about are judged in terms of their effectiveness, and not their rightness. In some ways, the neoreactionaries are more like the Left Nietzscheans (Foucault and co.), in that they are obsessed with power structures, as if power is the only currency. They are reading politics through the eyes of Nietzsche. Even the libertarian tendencies in neoreaction seem loosely connected to Ayn Rand’s interpretation of Nietzsche. As for the rejection of Nazism as demotism by neoreactionaries, I think they have more in common with Nazism than they think (and the link lies primarily in the thought of Carl Schmitt).

  13. rightscholarship @ When I first read the word “demotism” in your post, it registered as “demonism.” I have to thank you for prompting the misreading, because that is the word I’ve been fishing for as a just descriptor of Bowden. His speeches were demonic. Some might also say Satanic, but that’s not what I’m after here. He speaks like a man possessed, raging like a mighty storm, all the while making a remarkable amount of sense. The style is actually like that of certain backwoods preachers. I do not recommend trifling with real demons, but there are some things neoreactionaries could learn from Bowden when it comes to style. As you say, they are interested in the “science of power,” which stands to actual power rather as the science of sex stands to actual sex. There is more to rhetoric than analysis and snark, and Bowden is a good guide to some of it.

  14. “His speeches were demonic. Some might also say Satanic, but that’s not what I’m after here. He speaks like a man possessed, raging like a mighty storm, all the while making a remarkable amount of sense. The style is actually like that of certain backwoods preachers.”

    Just so. Bowden in full flow, frothing at the mouth as he lectures on Carlyle’s The French Revolution or decries the cowardice of the conservative establishment is something to behold. It’s also worth noting that the appeal of Bowden’s speeches was broad enough to encompass both the soi-disant intellectuals of the “New Right” and the terse working class northerners of the BNP (a remarkable thing, in its way, reminiscent of none other than Enoch Powell).

  15. […] note for clarification, from a discussion regarding this post at Throne and Altar (3 February 2015): I did not mean to suggest that there is no distinction between neoreaction and […]

  16. I agree with your take on Bowden. His ideas are exceptionally clear, presented with some real rhetorical force. He speaks from the gut. I can appreciate that, even if I don’t accept many of his views.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: