There is much, much less intellectual diversity now than there was one hundred years ago. It is impossible to imagine someone like Oswald Spengler arising in the intellectual world of today, much less his becoming a cultural sensation. The Overton window has not merely shifted Left but drastically narrowed. Even Leftists were much more interesting and diverse one hundred years ago–one cannot imagine a character like Georges Sorel in today’s world either. One hundred years ago, the ideological landscape was a dizzying array of communists, Fabian socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, guild socialists, laissez faire classical liberals, nationalist liberals, distributists, agrarians, and Carlists. And when I say that these groups existed, I mean not as a couple of isolated dissidents unable to propagate their doctrines, the way dissidents exist today, but rather that they had significant followings and were able to participate in the great debate about how society should be organized. The metaphysical debate, too, was much more open, as it was an age of positivist, but also of spiritualism, Bergsonianism, and the neo-scholastic revival. Today, we have a consensus with enthusiastic support from nearly all writers, and the few whose support is less that enthusiastic know that it is professional suicide to openly question it.

What happened? Is this just the natural evolution of intellectual life–one school wins the debate, and then consensus is achieved? One does not see nearly the same contraction between 1820 and 1920. The center shifted Left (Jacobins became Bolsheviks, and Legitimists became Social Catholics) but the spread remained wide. Arguably, the spread of beliefs had been increasing with time since the Renaissance.

Anyway, we know what happened. The communists won World War II, and imposed an ideological purge of unprecedented savagery, universality, and thoroughness. Remember, the post-war red terror that engulfed France killed far more people than the Jacobin Reign of Terror. German de-Nazification would be called an ideological tyranny if it were ever objectively described, and it brainwashed a generation of Germans. The German soul of romantic discomfort with the modern world was murdered, with disastrous consequences for European culture. Liberal democratic cosmopolitanism didn’t win any arguments; it won a war, and got to impose itself by force.

Intellectual diversity died very quickly, but not immediately. The early post-war period (late forties to early sixties) seems like a golden age to us–with the existentialism craze and the early, creative days of the New Left and the New Right; it was quite pathetic compared to the pre-war intellectual adventure, but the mindless sixties that followed make it look good in retrospect. Even seventies-to-eighties intellectual discourse, e.g. the liberal-communitarian debate, seems impressive to us. It was never allowed to have any practical consequences (communitarians would never dreamed of supporting any concrete anti-liberal measures except the socialist ones that the Left already endorsed), but it was a real debate with an actual disagreement and actual dialogue between the two sides. But even this was not sustainable. It required at least one side to implicitly disagree with some aspect of the victorious Allied consensus without acknowledging it. Critics could aways put an end to this by screaming “Fascist!”, and the accused could do nothing but surrender or enter the tiny ranks of intolerable dissent. This has, of course, devastated the intellectual Right, but it has also drastically constricted the intellectual Left, which once also had many branches that would now be accused of being “fascist”. (Actual fascists were intellectually quite eclectic.)

The first step is to acknowledge what has happened.

  1. Far from “allowing previously marginalized voices”, the range of “heard” opinions today is far narrower than at any other time in modern history. Nor was the single voice allowed today absent a hundred years ago. It just wasn’t the only one.
  2. This occurred not by rational persuasion but by force. “We won the war” is not an argument.
  3. The constriction is continuing. It has gone far beyond what the original de-Nazifiers had planned, but it has a momentum of its own which if unchecked (and it remains unchecked) must annihilate intellectual life entirely, leaving nothing but wild or opportunistic accusations of hidden fascism.

14 Responses

  1. Augosto del Noce points out that some time in the 50s the West stopped arguing against Communism by appealing of faith, family and tradition, but by appealing to the superior economic and scientific results of free markets and free inquiry. For del Noce, this was the victory of materialism over metaphysics: the bourgeois West had accepted the metaphysical basis of Marx, just disagreed about the way to get there.

  2. Thought provoking essay.

    Another Leftism that was very popular in the early 20th century, and which I kept stumbling across in my reading, was Georgism – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George.

    “The German soul of romantic discomfort with the modern world was murdered, with disastrous consequences for European culture. ”

    Well said. I love that Germanic Central-European culture – but it cannot be found in modern Germany. It is as if the culture (it was more than the German nation, obviously – Austria, Switzerland, Prague, Budapest, the Hanseatic ports, perhaps the Flemish Netherlands…) has had a piece of frontal lobe removed – so that the organism is functional but has suffered a coarsening and simplification of personality.

  3. Domestically, it seems inevitable that the system will get woker and woker. Temporary respites aside, there’s no plausible mechanism by which this trend can be reversed.

    OTOH, liberal-internationalism faces a long-term threat on the world stage. One Baizuo racial ideology may not allow defense against.

  4. Reblogged this on Carlos Carrasco and commented:
    The Overton Window shrinks and shifts ever leftward. Soon, perhaps, it shall have bars fastened over it.

  5. […] There is much less intellectual diversity now than there was 100 years ago […]

  6. When you say “the communists won World War 2” you mean Jews, right?

    You are correct, the first step is to acknowledge what happened. Your point number 3 is false. The constriction is exactly as intended. Read Israel Shahak, for example, if you want to hear a Jew explain what the Zionist Jews are doing.

  7. The universities are partly to blame. They sucked in a lot of the intellectual talent when the began to grow rapidly after the war, and this caused a large swath of American intellectual life to become academic in the bad sense of that word. Spengler was rejected by the German university system, and any new Spengler would be rejected by the American university system. If the universities didn’t kill poetry and serious fiction, they certainly hastened their demise.

    I’m also impressed by the decline into cultural insignificance of disciplines like sociology, psychology and anthropology. Americans used to look to luminaries in these disciplines for wisdom. Now they have no luminaries and no wisdom. I think the bigger issue is that Americans don’t expect to solve their problems with ideas in the intellectual sense of that word. They expect to solve their problems with technology.

  8. > “you mean Jews, right?”

    More or less, but putting it like that tends to divert the conversation in unhelpful directions regarding the facts that not all Jews were in on it, and some Gentiles were. It will be shocking enough to some readers to hear the Allies described as the communist side.

  9. Ironically, it seems that the Eastern Bloc in some ways checked the worst tendencies of the West. Western liberalism couldn’t attack Christianity too harshly without risking an important reservoir of support in the struggle against Communism (even if it came with the caveat of purging Christianity of pre-modern elements accomplished at Vatican II). 1991, then is also a key marker.

  10. @pseudoise. Too late to reply really, but it isnt appreciated that the Bolsheviks made a serious attempt to destroy Christianity completely. Bishops, priests, monks and nuns were imprisoned and killed in vast numbers, and the faithful.likewise. The sheer numbers were staggering, because Russia was probably the most devout Christian nation and the church very powerful. That the Soviet authorities failed, was not for lack of effort – but a testimony to Russian Christians. I urge you to research this for yourself, otherwise you will not believe me. Of course – because it was a Holocaust of Christians, the Western Establishment covertly approve. After all they have just done much the same in the Middle East over the past 20 years which is equally unknown. They really do hate Us.

  11. Its ironic how the internet has played into this process. On one hand, the internet has greatly expanded access to the otherwise obscure. There are certainly extreme sedevacantist Catholics today, with strong opinions on obscure theological questions, who probably would be entirely ignorant of basic Catholic doctrine and apologetics if around in the 1980s. This goes for literally every other fringe or niche movement/religion/interest out there, and even some things that aren’t even fringe but are still slightly outside the mainstream (back in the day there were people who read National Review and didn’t know that The American Conservative and Chronicles existed because they didn’t have the internet).

    On the other hand, the internet is now being used as a tool for surveillance. Amazon can probably piece together my political and religious beliefs from book purchases alone. The only things I have watched on Prime Video are anime, the 1981 Brideshead Revisited mini-series, and conspiracy documentaries. This will get me sent to a FEMA camp one day.

  12. On the other hand, the mainstream itself (defined widely as all the views one wouldn’t be punished for publicly holding) was much wider then. Those who held views considered beyond the pale in the 1980s might be better off now thanks to the internet and there being many more people who are in essentially the same situation.

  13. The only way to deal with this tightening Overton Window then is to smash it. The Battle of Milvan Bridge was also won by (divinely-guided) force.

    Of course, divinely-guided arguments also matter – how else would have Saint Helena converted her son? But, again, sometimes push has to come to shove.

    The internet helps amplify both conformity and dissent – so eventually, both forces will come to a head.

    Stay safe, know your neighbors, keep your families and Faith.

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