On the ideological mirror part 2: Radical Right, dishwater right, analytical Marxism, dialectical Marxism, and the spectre of Hegel.
Posted by El Mono Liso
The Radical in the Right and the Left
One thing that is often ignored by many leftists is that same weapons of analysis derived by Henri Lefebvre and Louis Althusser have been either co-opted, or more problematically, literally developed in a parallel traditions. One reason for this is many of thinkers of the radical right, particularly in the fascist sense which in some ways can be harder to place on the ideological spectrum that many left-wingers are actually willing to admit, actually come out of a Hegelian tradition.
So I have been reading Corey Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind, posits conservatism as opposed to traditionalism. The traditionalist isn’t conserving anything, he is merely the extension of the old regime according to Robins, but the conservative is a sort of a reactionary project that not only co-opts the left tactics for practical reasons but also because the reactionary prerogative comes from a sense that it is too late. I have called this before inverse utopianism. I would say, however, that most people in the far right use the terms in the opposite matter.
One thing that Robin’s does not do, however, is talk about the contemporary truly radical right and how it should be very discomforting to many leftists. Note I did not say liberals again, who should already find it discomforting, but many leftists in the tradition of Marx. So I was listening to Alterative Right podcasts today: I was amazed about how much more blatantly Spencer and company were willing to talk of race outright and admit they were racial nationalists, not just separatist but supremacists ones. Most lefts and liberals turn it off right there, but I kept listening because I noticed Robert Spencer when interviewing Alex Kuragic sounded remarkably like many, many leftists I know. The talk of collapse, of the decline of the liberal class, and the ability to seize the moment in the turn against the illusions of Democracy. What Spencer and Kuragic called the left-liberal period can easily be fit into what contemporary Marxists like David Harvey and Jodi Dean call the neo-liberal periods. Instead of the proletariat or the working class being the only class to change society, it was the return to white supremacy and tradition that was posited.
My socialist friends have offered two responses to these eerie similarities: the first is simple co-option, which is true in some cases but not all. The second is that this kind of conservatism is a revolt of the vulgar middle class—either that of the Lumpenproletariat or that of blue collar middle class. One socialist friend of mine went so far as to say that fascism is always the revolt of the middle class against both the lower class and capitalist class, socialism the revolt of the working class, and anarchism the revolt of the peasant class. When I challenged him as to how in the hell that was true outside of early 20th century revolutions in Mexico and Spain, he just said “individuals do not always manifest as clearly as materially emerging class types.” This is obviously an attempt to create a category that is immune not only from critique but from any differentiation between modern movements.
I think the implication may be more bothersome for the Marxist if she or he is honest. It is the revolt against modernity on both sides of spectrum which is part of the impetus for the Marxist and the Radical right, but even that combining Hegel with some pre-existing train of thought is part of the mode of operations for both groups. Spengler parallels to Marx cannot be overstated, but Spengler focused on a completely different typological end of the dialectical process. So instead of the clash of class, there is a clash of civilizations in decline.
Dialectics of universality or Utopian inevitability
The shape of this thought should really horrify most of the more orthodox Marxists with their class typology. Not that I am the first to notice this, not in the least actually. Both Arendt and the National Bolsheviks have made this argument for since the 1940s in the sense that the development of teleologies of dialectical ideas.
In a sense, one can admire the right for their lack of reliance on materialist conditions or implied teleological biases. Indeed, in further points, I would say that aside from the populist front of religious right in America, no one is taking anything as given teleological formation. The populist religious right on these points are frankly schizoid in their attempt to hold view which as obviously incompatible such as American exceptionalist theology with Christian catholicity, or trying to reconcile benefiting from rationalist science in terms of antibiotics while rejecting the frame of thought that makes it possible or belief in things like the prosperity gospel. Such religious right benefit and are damned by their inability to understand points of context and their own internal contradictions.The nationalist right of Spencer and Alternative Rght is a return to a mixture radical traditionalism in both pagan and Christian spheres despite the fundamental contradiction of those religious outlooks. Now there are other internal fractures here as well, the narrative of hyper decline which they somehow special plead that they somehow do not represent as well. The critique of ‘mainstream’ conservatism and there increasing separation from it sounds like a critique of liberalism by leftists. In another interview on the conservative cannon, I take Paul Gottfried’s point as valid, most of what passes for conservatives by Andrew Sullivan, Sam Tanenhaus, and even the neo-conservatives in the cabinets of Reagan and Bush are really various versions of different ideological groupings from Enlightenment liberalism. Of course, these guys do not recognize distinctions amongst their enemies in the “elites of the cultural Marxist liberal-left, but then again, most leftists do not recognize this either. In fact their refuse often to acknowledge that all disharmony is not rooted in class or even in an extension of class into race or gender, they often miss that there are other enemies than the capitalist class and that capitalist never actually completely superseded the old regime any way. It just co-opted large parts of it.
In fact, one can almost admire Spencer and Kuragic’s spleen in comparison to the self-deception of otherwise sound thinkers like the Tory philosopher Roger Scurton, who calls all Foucault merely rhetoric, says that English law is proof that power is not necessarily oppressive, and that Thatcher is somehow an embodiment of sound English values like home and hearth. As everyone from the socialist Orwell to the neo-conservative Daniel Bell has pointed out, the family was eroded by capitalist developments like the ones Thatcher advocated. However, these soft conservative-liberals like Scruton who praise high culture, traditional family cultural and praise the market without realizing that both the aristocracy and the conservative religious knew that those three idols do not ever really lock together.
Dialectical or Analytical Marxism. . . or Both.
But let’s go back to the left: I sometimes wonder if insistence on things like “Universal nature of the working class” are no different than the neoliberal foolishness about the end of history. In other words, it’s a failure of imagination and a dependence on history as teleology to make sure the desired ends could even happen. Hence the way traditional Marxists have held dialectics to be crucial and have disparaged both post-Marxists in the post-structural “tradition” and the analytic Marxists who have held that one must rid Marx of “bullshit” or “essentialism” as unacceptable heresies or deviants or revisionisms. I actually hold by the analytical Marxist line that Marx is like Darwin, his empirical predictions stand as science or they don’t stand. However, here are the issues: Marx’s critique of capitalist political economy isn’t dependant on the dialectic, its dependent on a materialist view of ideology and taking classical political economy as a given. It is an analytic heuristic in the classical sense. Marx’s final stage of communism as a wage of a universalized class is completely dependent on the dialectic. So Marx as prophet DOES dependent on dialectics and a specific, although materialist, teleological version of the process.
Now, I am not sure we must abandon dialectics, but structures of decline and progress are eerily similar in their critique, but eerily vague in their possible solution. I will be reading Fedric Jameson Valences of Dialectic in order to more truly understand the possibility of the dialectical process, but what I can safely say is that dialectic must stand up analytically or it doesn’t wash. Now I still consider myself somewhere oriented in something like the left, but one must admit that one of the things about the radical right is that since they are not assuming they will win. That assumption in many ways makes them far more powerful than most leftists or liberals would be likely to admit.
I have already mentioned in a prior point above that often the Marxist refuses to see the differences between elements of the old regime, the feudal order, and the capitalist class , OR the radical differences between conservatism, traditionalism, and libertarianism. The similar is true of the right: neo-conservatives, theo-conservatives, libertarians, paleo-conservatives, and ethnic nationalists. What destroy the simple oppositional dialects are often ideologies that are considered most dangerous: integralist, fascists, national Bolsheviks, distributists, anarcho-capitalists, mutualists, etc. The typical move is claim that the blended ideologies are just new forms of the old ideological spectrum. Corey Robins like to basically revolutionaries and reformists and current regime and counter-revolutionaries.
I don’t think this is distinct or subtle enough. I have laid out my categories for ideology before: explicit and illicit, attitudinal and orientational, and closed and opened. However, there are some other areas that make understanding a banal conservative intellectual like Scruton from a radical rightist like Evola from an American partisan populist like Herman Cain.
First, conservative and liberal have attitude orientations as well as pure ideological ones. This has been noted before by people must more in tone with things like values indexes and even neurology. This can be seen in the work of Jonathan Haidt for example.
What has not been talked enough is that radical and reactionary ALSO have attitude and ideological variants. Many of the counter-revolutionary or nationalistic reactionaries have a radical mind-set while many liberals and leftists are essentially reactionary in attitude, they have no plan and react to the threats from outside. This is a problem. The radical is on the offensive, the reactionary merely reacts to attack or decline. The progressives, for all there talk of progressive, are often defensive in their tactics for a variety of reasons, but more often than not they don’t have an any real plan.
The first in this series is here.