Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Question for people who question the Enlightenment: how do you diverge from Traditionalists?

It's a vital question. There are a lot of reasons to dislike parts of what the Enlightenment has bequeathed to us, but it also brought us ideas of democracy and liberty. The thing is, in the universe of folks who take issue with the Enlightenment there aren't just Progressives and folks who have studied post-colonial theory, there are also right wing people associated with a current of thought known as Traditionalism or Integral Traditionalism, that was started by a guy named Rene Guenon but brought into full political fruition by a Fascist named Julius Evola. These folks make some of the same sorts of arguments against the Enlightenment that people on the Left sometimes do--it lead to a rise in materialism, it lead to a reductionist, determinist, view of life, to one where the sense of the sacred is sacrificed all together, with the religion of science replacing more traditional systems of belief. Yet they're model for what society looks like combines all of this with a belief that the ideas of equality, democracy, and liberty are likewise ill defined reductionist ideas born of the Enlightenment and so therefore not valid. They envision a state of return to a pre-modern system of belief and social organization that would be organized around neo-fascist lines. So the question is, then, what exactly makes certain left wing objections to the Enlightenment different than them, which is another way of asking how exactly would you preserve ideas like liberty, equality, and democracy while attacking the Enlightenment as a whole?

I'm not asking this as a hostile questioner. I have plenty of problems with certain aspects of the Enlightenment--and I have answers as to how to reconcile a belief in liberty, equality, and democracy with objections to what the Enlightenment has done (that don't exclusively rest on the Renaissance, if you've been following my recent posts on this subject). But I want to both hear from people about their ideas and get folks to think about what really does define them against the fascist traditionalists. There should be something. If not, you've got a problem, because the very ideology you're using for liberatory purposes could easily be turned against them and put to use for extraordinarily anti-libertarian and anti-human ends. And simply saying that because you belong to x group of people and x group have traditionally been oppressed, that you naturally wouldn't do anything fascist, doesn't cut it. What in your ideas makes you different from the fascists?

And it's not an idle question. Julius Evola, the person mentioned above, was the guru for the terrorist right wing in Italy in the 1970s. Folks who were his followers bombed leftists and other targets, and folks who follow him have lead the charge in re-establishing the Far Right in countries that were once part of the Eastern Bloc, like Romania and Hungary. Evola remains a fixture in the reading lists of the neo-fascist New Right both in Europe and in their American manifestations, which currently exist under the radar and don't attract mass attention even though they are out there.

How are you different than Alain de Benoist, to throw out another name?

Something to consider. The pre-modern world was also extremely cruel. It wasn't all just naked hippies fucking in the woods. If you open the door to the pre-modern don't expect to not have to face the cruel along with the peace and love, unless you have something up your sleeve that explains how peace and love is the thing to do within that context.

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