The other seven in this series can be found here. I predict that I will not be doing many political interviews for my own blog for a while so after this interview expect political and philosophical ruminations.
C. Derick Varn: Recently you pointed me some European thinkers pointing out that conservatism has sapped the intellectual core of the right. The essay, which I believe is by Alain de Benoist, actually praises the far left for keeping an intellectual core in the conversation while the rest of the left has largely atrophied. Do you agree with this analysis and how is this the context different for the United States?Recently you pointed me some European thinkers pointing out that conservatism has sapped the intellectual core of the right. The essay, which I believe is by Alain de Benoist, actually praises the far left for keeping an intellectual core in the conversation while the rest of the left has largely atrophied. Do you agree with this analysis and how is this the context different for the United States?
Keith418: As I have said before, even Heidegger insisted that the Marxist view of history was the most important yet developed. European writers like Benoist are bright enough to look at Heidegger’s POV and try to see why he thinks that. The American right has done absolutely nothing with Heidegger at all. They have concede him to the left or to outlier religious mystics.
Conservatives, especially in America, are often reduced to just defending the status quo – they have nothing else to really do. A well-known libertarian pundit pointed this out to me last year. They don’t want to be authentic reactionaries because, in a very real sense, such a position is really to “radical” and not “conservative.” European writers like Benoist – they don’t have this problem. He’s often described himself as being on the right, but with a leftist frame of mind – by that he means critical, introspective, etc.
Before leftists get too cocky about this, they might stop to think how much of Benoist’s criticisms often apply to them too. Benoist and others reveal the way that left arguments and critical techniques can be turned around and appropriated by those on the right – Benoist, in this sense, models what has been termed “Right Gramscism.”A friend noted that the left in the US has become a lot dumber. They blamed identity politics for that – it removed the challenges that sharpened the left’s critical thinking skills. “You used to have to be smart to be a leftist,” the told me. “Now you do not.”I personally just feel amazingly disappointed from looking at the American far left and its sectarian groups. I find nothing redeeming about any of them any longer. I had hoped for some silver lining, but as a friend who is involved with “Freedom Road” told me, the people in these groups swim in the same media-saturated stream as everyone else. They cannot escape from the “society of the spectacle” and their focus is just as scattered as that of the rest of larger society’s.
Benoist is praising the far left because they are the ones daring to attack the status quo. He desires a right that will do that too.
C.D.V.: Well, do you think there is a meaingful far left in the US? Identity politics after say 1980, it seems to me, are fundamentally liberal and have very different conceptions of what these identities are than say Marxists or identity-nationalists prior to the 1960s.
Keith418: We’ve spoken about this before. There has been, and may still be a semblance of a meaningful far left, but they tend to look totally crazy to everyone else. The authors of “False Nationalism, False Internationalism” were supposedly E. Tani and Kae Sera [???] – they come to mind here. Some of my friends on the left have read this and they agree that it’s a “great book” but I can’t get them to really talk about its ideas.Have you read “Revolution In the Air” by Max Elbaum? What happened to all of those people? Where did they all go? Why isn’t anyone interested? To me, there story and their fate is probably the single most interesting part of American radical political history, but it’s barely discussed. The failures of these numerous groups and movements have to to be really important, but I can’t find people who want to look into it too much.”Identity politics” has proven itself to be guilty of everything the communists said about reformists. It’s total opportunism, too. But the tide in its favor is irresistible, I think, because it speaks to people in a “socially innocent” language. Americans have to overcome this reticence to speak about class and, in the ’70s, we saw people on the left trying to do this. The Maoists I knew in the ’70s talked about creating “class consciousness.” Who wants to talk about that now? But without it, you go to work for the Avant–garde of the bourgeoisie without even knowing that’s who you are working for. You’ll integrate their businesses (helps marketing!) and gentrify neighborhoods ($$$) for them, and all the while what’s going on? The inequalities grow deeper and more entrenched.
C.D.V.: I have read Elbuam’s book and I don’t know where a lot of them went except to liberal NGO’s or to total de-politicization. IF you look at the Weather Underground, for example, that definitely seems the case. Those are only the highest profiles though. So do you think the “material conditions” are going to play a lot of this out: looking at what is happening in Europe or the slow down in Asia, it seems like there are events that those in the US just want to avoid trying to contextualize?A separate but related problem is that few want to look at class enough to make it conscious of itself? What would the class position of the right be exactly?
Which right? The European New Right? These people do not always have a very developed sense of the actual material conditions of various classes – or if they do, I’m unaware of it. It’s a think tank and cultural movement, not a populist one, in any case. I’m not always sure which class they speak for and to. A middle class threatened with immiseration
? What’s going to happen when that moment comes to America? Is it already here?The American right usually speaks to the lower middle and middle class, but the GOP has killed its own demographic constituency, as Pat Buchanan never tires of telling it recently.I still do not think anyone has really ever investigated what the “anti-revisionist left” left in its wake. Are the answers that could be there just too painful for people to face? The NGO stuff is more reformism, isn’t it? Doesn’t it have to be?
C.D.V.: Well, this brings me a figure that we haven’t talked about much, what do you make of the Trotskyist left in the US. Why has it become so “dominant” in the far left despite the history of splits and neo-conservatism just before the emergence of the New Communist movement and its roots in anti-revisionism in the 1970s and 1980s. I believe the largest “Marxist” organization in the US is the ISO even now.
It’s communism at its most idealistic and least practical. In this sense, it’s almost a total political theology – a substitute for religion in its most complete form. The nuts and bolts issues just don’t matter to these people. Given its qualities, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t so popular.
Do people want a politics or do they want a religion? Contemporary materialists and atheists can criticize only a very limited number of religion’s features. They cannot examine the way, for example, that these ideologies start took more and more like religious groupings.
Others have pointed out that Maoism, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, was really a kind of Trotskyism. No one knew that much about what was really going in China and you could project anything you wanted onto it. Much of the cogent criticism of the RCP is that it is Trot in every real way. They are using Mao like the Trots use Leon.
C.D.V.: This to me seems pretty important because de Benoist points that conservatives seem to be built around individuals, but I tend to see the cult of individuals, ironically, just as heavy in what is left in the far left. Why do you think this is? Also another real criticism of the European New Right is that they actually don’t do much actual ground politics. Why do you think that is?
People need to grab on to something tangible. In the midst of a celebrity-driven culture, who could resist the urge of battening onto individuals? What was the substitute for this in the past, assuming there was one? Slogans? Are we supposed to do that now with memes?
The ENR people want to be an intellectual think tank. They want to be the right’s version of the Frankfurt School. I don’t think there’s any investment in doing anything more than that, and this tendency has drawn fire from some of their former adherents, like Faye. He’s gone after them for this, but it was never Benoist’s idea to do anything else.
C.D.V.: Faye’s politics, however, seem to draft towards something like a racialist neo-conservative, however. His embrace of Israel is confusing to me. What do you think motivates that? Is the the same kind of reformism you see in left?
Faye wants a rapprochement
with the Le Pen people, but it will never happen. He wants action. His real issue is a hostility towards Islam and the immigrants – hence his affinities for making up with Front National. I don’t see it, in his case, as reformism. It’s a longing for combat on the ground against the Third World people he sees invading France – and it’s a way to capitalize on the sense of dread and loathing they inspire among so many there. Benoist is more invested in attacking capitalism than in attacking immigration, and I think this detachment enrages Faye.
C.D.V.: Well, would not analysis place capitalism at the root of the immigration problem? Still I can see the frustration as I do not know what the new right could possibly do about capitalism. Either way, none of this would really speak to the US right.
Keith418: Benoist angered American right wing types by telling them that anyone who complains about immigration and who has nothing to say about capitalism should just shut up. I loved it! They want to place real limits on it: “A society with a market, but not a market society.” Benoist is unrelenting on this front. His essay on Hayek is brutal.
C.D.V.: Do you think this is what attracted the Frankfurt friendly journal Telos to his work a few years ago?
Keith418: I think they were looking for something new and something fresh. Those guys have a penchant for paleos there too – have you read Paul Gottfried’s description of his friendship with the editor? It’s quite sweet.
C.D.V.: I have never read that, although I do remember Gottfried actually having articles published by Telos. What do you make of that given how much hostility Paleo-conservatives showed the Frankfurt school in particular?
Keith418: One of the things you need to keep in mind about the Frankfurt School and these people in general is the way various approaches can be appropriated. How much did the people doing deconstruction take from Heidegger? If those on the left can take from those on the right – adapt their techniques, turn them around – then those on the right can do the same thing with thinkers on the left. Look at what the left has done with someone like Nietzsche. If they can do that much with his work, could those on the right do even more with it?
Can someone do to the people in the Frankfurt School what they did to everyone else? How hard is it to see how this would go?
C.D.V.: Why have the Frankfurt school attracted more interest and scorn than other types of academic Marxists do you think?
If you are fighting a “culture war” then you have to look at who is on the other side. I think that school’s focus focus (and its influence) on culture and on psychological characterizations are what draws the fire.”Nobody knows exactly what he wants as long as his adversary does not explain it to him.”
– Nicolás Gómez Dávila
I think there’s more on an explanation of the kind of ire that the Frankfurt School inspired in John Murray Cuddihy’s “The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity.” For some of them, there seems to be elements of an ethnic struggle involved.
There’s an article in a recent issue of The American Conservative that goes into detail about how much certain kinds of studies have come to dominate in grad schools – and the long term effect of that focus – have you read it? It’s here.
C.D.V.: This is interesting though because it’s pretty clear that the more influential members of the Frankfurt school hated a lot of the New Left focus on the identity poltics, even Marcuse seemed uncomfortable with it by the 1970s. Even if I go with the idea that the focus was somehow rooted in their own analysis, they also seemed to balk at it. What do you make of that?
The most insidious ideologies are the ones that operate without the people sharing them recognizing them, or acknowledging them, as ideologies at all. It’s just “common sense” or unexamined beliefs, assumptions, and principles, right? You think people on the left are exempt from these blind spots? Please. Sometimes they are the worst victims of this phenomena. Could the people in the Frankfurt School have been suffering like this? How could they not? Some, though not all, of their adversaries have figured this out. Again, a culture of critique can spawn techniques that can be appropriated by anyone. Weapons on analysis and criticism can be turned back around on their inventors.What would a “Frankfurt School of the Right” look like and who would it go after with those kinds of tools?
C.D.V.: What would stop a Frankfurt school of the right from unleashing its own problematic tendencies? Or what do you think European New rights blind spots are?
Keith418: Dugin tries to look at some of this when he asks what their “subject” is. The individual is the “subject” in liberal capitalism, and the working class is the subject in communism. For fascism, the national collective or ethnic group was the “subject.” If all of these ideologies have exhausted themselves, then who, or what, is to be the new “subject” – one that another, new ideology can center itself around? I don’t think the ENR has a clear grasp of who its subject actually is, who it is speaking to and for. Without a grounding in this subject, as we can see, ideologies go off the rails.
C.D.V.: Do you think Dugin has a good answer for a new revolutionary subject?
Keith418: Do I think he does? While some of his ideas please me personally, I don’t think what he’s proposing is going to go too far, practically speaking. It’s not really going to resonate. People aren’t going to take to the streets to with signs and banners defending “Dasein.” Nevertheless, Dugin calls us back to examine the nature of the subject. Who is the revolutionary subject? When subjects appear, how to we judge them? What kind of subjects are we? These aren’t aren’t important questions? They are important.
Do I think he does? While some of his ideas please me personally, I don’t think what he’s proposing is going to go too far, practically speaking. It’s not really going to resonate. People aren’t going to take to the streets to with signs and banners defending “Dasein.” Nevertheless, Dugin calls us back to examine the nature of the subject. Who is the revolutionary subject? When subjects appear, how to we judge them? What kind of subjects are we? These aren’t aren’t important questions? They are important.
C.D.V.: Do you think the left has lost understanding of its revolutionary subject? Do you think the right in the US even knows what its subject is?
Keith418: I think both of them are wandering around on this front. People like Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis knew EXACTLY who their subjects were. They were wrong about what those subjects would actually do, but they knew who they were writing for, I do not think the Old left nor what remains of the New Left know who their subjects are any longer, nor are they interested in finding out. They want to speak for everyone, for “99%.” Come on.
C.D.V.: What exactly motivates the disinterest in the proletariat in the case of the left?
Keith418: Who knows who they are? Why won’t they do what we want them to do? Why do they refuse to do what we think they should be doing? Why are they so conservative, reactionary, etc.? How many people do you know who actually “went into the factories” in the early ’70s and emerged to tell the tale? Why didn’t that plan work?
C.D.V.: It interesting to me to look at the political alliance of the Southern Baptist conference. In the early 20th century, it was aligned to William Jennings Bryant-style semi-socialism, and by the early 21st century was aligned with the rearguard of 20th century. In a strange way this gets to both your points about Buchanan and the left, something happened and very few outside of the evangelical community have looked at it. Do you see this as telling?
Keith418: It’s even more amazing to see who was supporting “abortion reform” in the early ’70s, and who turned against it. The white working class will support social programs, as long as they are the ones who benefit from them. Pat is telling them they have committed suicide, demographically speaking, by not listening to people like him sooner – and I think the demographics are destiny.
C.D.V.: If Pat is right, then that revolutionary subject is dead? What’s the point exactly of all the decrying?
Keith418: He makes a living. How much of the “conservative” movement is really just selling books and lectures now?
C.D.V.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Keith418: We can all laugh at what Dugin is trying to do, but his focus on the subject? Can we ignore it? I don’t think so. It has to start there. I always challenge my friends who are interested in politics by asking them what kind of subject they really want, and see if they are working on how to create it or change it.