The alternative right goes ultramontane?

My comments on what an “alternative right” might be have provoked enough comment at Alternative Right to call for continuing the discussion.

Jack Donovan has called for a rag-tag alliance of right-wingers, Richard Spencer for a coalition against bad things. Both can serve a function, and I agree with the project. Still, the direction of events has been against us for a long time so something more is needed.

Health-care and immigration “reform” show the problem: for years we’ve been playing a series of sudden-death overtimes against disaster. According to the rules, our losses are enduring but our wins are only temporary because they’re just followed by another sudden-death overtime.

It’s obvious that we have to change the direction of events in some basic way. The difficulty of doing so doesn’t change the situation. It’s the only way we can win.

The basic issue is that a political movement can be a loose coalition, but a society can’t. A society is a complex enduring system of cooperation that demands sacrifice from each of us and extreme sacrifice from some of us. For such a thing to exist there has to be some sort of reasonably coherent collective view as to what life and the world are all about.

For that reason a society is always based on some sort of established religion. That’s as true now as it ever was, and for that reason the past hundred years have seen a variety of political religions.

In my piece on The One, the Many, and the Alternative Right I discuss some of them and argue that they haven’t worked out. The modern view is that there’s no transcendent. That means that the ultimate authority in a modern society is always some this-worldly thing. That might be the state, the race, the people, equality, experts, the leader, individual desire, or whatever, but it’s never up to the job and always leads to catastrophe because it always tyrannizes over other things we care about.

In that setting, liberalism has won out because it’s been comparatively moderate on the whole and it claims to solve the problem of tyranny. As I’ve argued, the moderation eventually wears off and liberalism descends into tyranny like the rest. We see that process all around us today.

So what to do?

An appeal to Western Civilization simply as such can’t solve the problem, because without regard to anything that transcends it Western Civ is simply the current state of the West—the EU, Obama’s America, Canada, and so on. But if that’s Western Civ it’s the problem and not the solution.

The obvious way to restore Western Civ as a standard that makes sense would be to restore the principle that formed it and made it something worthy of our loyalty. Since the West grew up as Catholic Christendom, to all appearances that principle is Catholic Christianity.

That’s an awkward thing to say. After all, a religion can’t be adopted for political reasons. If it is it’s not religion, it’s ideology, and it’s not believed, it’s just play-acting. Ideological play-acting leads to either cynicism and corruption or fanaticism and tyranny, depending on how much effort people put into making it all seem real. That’s not the way to go.

Still, the problems that come up must be dealt with even if they’re awkward. The awkwardness is a sign that we haven’t gone deep enough and need to go deeper.

Politics is not our ultimate concern but it involves ultimate concerns and so raises issues it cannot resolve from a simply political viewpoint. It can nonetheless point toward solutions, if only because it incorporates more basic recognitions and commitments. If religion is basic to politics, then politics is an expression of religion, and by looking at our politics we find out the religion to which we have effectively committed ourselves.

We all have some sort of belief about what at bottom the world is really like. Since God by definition is the Most Real Being, that belief is our religion. As such, it determines what we make of the people, situations, and issues that compose our world. Similarly, what we make of people, situations, and issues shows what we think about the world, and therefore what our religion is.

Like all knowledge and belief, religion is experimental to some degree. What we think is true depends on what we find true. Since Catholic Christianity was basic to forming the West, someone attached to the West and therefore to the values and understandings that have made the West what it has been already accepts a great deal of Catholic Christianity. Why not clarify the situation by pointing that out and suggest that consistency requires going a bit farther?

  • If you think good is really different from bad, then you think reality is oriented toward particular purposes.
  • If you think Europe—a civilization of many nations with none dominating the rest—and free government—the individual and locality as independent and active but still part of something larger—are really better than the other possibilities, then you think there’s a transcendent principle that justifies and supports particulars and intermediate arrangements while bringing them into a common system.
  • And if you think truth, rationality, and knowledge are possible then you think that in the end it’s possible to get some sort of resolution for basic disputes.

It seems to me that Catholic Christianity justifies those conclusions better than any other view. The modern outlook can’t account for them at all. So if you accept the conclusions and want to be rational you’d better be a Catholic Christian, unless you have some other argument that’s better.

In other words: so far as I can tell, if you say “it’s right for me to be a Westerner” part of what you’re saying, if you want to make sense in the long run, is “it’s right for me to be a Catholic Christian.” Conversely, if you say “get rid of Catholic Christianity” what you’re saying, among other things, is “get rid of the West as it has been.”

That argument by itself isn’t likely to persuade many people, but no argument on basic issues is conclusive. If it were then the argument’s premises would be more basic than the conclusion, and the point argued for wouldn’t be basic. And in any event a short blog entry is not a complete treatise on every possible issue.

It’s also an argument that may not make much sense to a lot of people. Certainly it’s not a line of thought that exerts much influence. A lot of the reason for that is an understanding of religion that makes religion trivial. Trivial religion is not religion. If you want Christianity you don’t take the current mainstream public view of things and toss Jesus in as a cosmic nice guy to make us all feel good. You need a basically different understanding of what’s real.

The usual idea of religion among secular-minded people today is that you take the world natural science and technology give us—wave functions, space-time, technical resources, human desires, habits, and understandings—and you stick God into it, so now you’ve got the same thing only with magic and miracles layered on.

I agree with the average Internet atheist that the resulting picture of things doesn’t make much sense. Even if it were true it wouldn’t have any religious interest. If you stick some really big guy who’s really strong into the universe according to Richard Dawkins, and Big Guy announces he wants us all to do X, Y, and Z or he’ll beat us up, then it might be advisable to take notice but it’s hard to see what that has to do with the meaning of life. Ditto for adding magic, miracles, and pixie dust to the picture of the world presented by commercial pop culture. Walt Disney had many talents but he wasn’t a great religious thinker.

It’s not just outright secularists who think of religion in such a way. Even believers pick up the view. It’s easier to go with how most people think about things, so a lot of religious people now explain their beliefs to themselves in a way that trivializes them, and that’s what their beliefs become. That is the situation Evola describes in Mr. Donovan’s quote from Ride the Tiger.

All of which is another way of saying we’ve got big problems. But if we have problems we have problems, and it doesn’t make sense to act as if we didn’t. Our biggest problem, after all, is triviality. So why not go for what ultimately counts?

If we want to fight present political tendencies effectively we have to fight the religion now established. If seemingly intelligent, rational, and well-informed people, like the better class of liberals, routinely do things that make no sense, it shows that their basic grip on what makes sense and what reality is all about—that is to say, their religion—is defective. If the people accept their leadership and follow them, it shows they share something of the liberal religion. Pointing out practical problems isn’t going to change that. We have to deal with the underlying problem at its own level.

To do that we need to offer something better. Otherwise we continue to lose. So it seems to me that a necessary part of an “alternative right” intellectual movement would be investigating just what that “something better”—that thing that would systematize and make sense of what we already understand as right, good, and true—might be.

2 thoughts on “The alternative right goes ultramontane?”

  1. Bingo…

    It’s not just outright secularists who think of religion in such a way. Even believers pick up the view.

    I’m not entirely convinced that it isn’t the other way around. It seems that the entirety of Roman Catholic catechesis these days consists principally in telling the children of our parishes that God just wants us to be nice people; that Christian doctrine consists of the 10 commandments (often more or less loosely construed). As a 9th/10th grade catechist in my parish, my primary focus was to disabuse them of such rot: that any civilization (at least worthy of the name) would come up with at least 7 of the 10 commandments utterly without Divine Revelation, and manage to be (more or less) nice to each other. And that this was the last reason anyone should want to be Catholic… Hope it worked.

    • Scotus

      The usual idea of religion among secular-minded people today is that you take the world natural science and technology give us—wave functions, space-time, technical resources, human desires, habits, and understandings—and you stick God into it, so now you’ve got the same thing only with magic and miracles layered on.

      Actually it did begin with religious believers, specifically with Blessed John Duns Scotus, as well explained here:

      Brad S. Gregory, “Science Versus Religion?: The Insights and Oversights of the ‘New Atheists’,” Logos 12:4 (Fall 2009), 17–55.

      (Scotus inadvertently moved scholasticism in this bad direction, but I suspect that it would have happened eventually in any event, as it is easy to miss the subtle reality of the relationship of the Creator’s Being to the being of the universe.)



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