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The Dissident Right and its Discontents

The Dissident Right and its Discontents
The label might be cringe, but post-enlightenment ideas aren't going anywhere

The Dissident Right

A specter is haunting the internet; its name is the dissident right.

In this case, the term "specter" is rather literal since the dissident right was dead before it even became a thing, if it ever was a thing. I first remember the term coming into prominence in the wake of the rapid rise and fall of the original "Alt-Right", as people needed some other word to describe right-wingers who were neither normie-cons nor libertarians.

For this reason, I frequently employed the term "dissident right" to describe myself between 2017 and 2021, even though I never thought it meant much of anything beyond describing things I didn't believe.

What did it mean to be “dissident right”?

Did it mean NOT progressive?

Did it mean NOT a “LOLbertarian”?

Did it mean NOT a David-French-style normie con?

Skeptical of mainstream power, either state or corporate?

Sure, that makes me a "dissident", so the name dissident right fits well enough.

But the term was contentious, even if it was always used in a purely negative capacity.

From the time it emerged as a common label, pretty much everyone online was already trying to "debate the dissident right", "refute the dissident right", or "debunk the dissident right" as if the term referred to a specific movement rather than a loose collection of rightwingers skeptical of modern ideas. It even got to the point when, during internecine fights on the right, each belligerent party would describe the other pejoratively as "dissident right", even though the term might properly apply to both sides.

Frankly, I was expecting the label to fade from prominence. Yet no matter how much everyone wanted the term to die, it persisted. What could explain this?

Probably because "dissident right" describes a real phenomenon. It is not an ideology, nor a movement. It is an attitude towards politics brought about by a disillusionment with modernity and its consequences. People are noticing critical flaws in the liberal world order that are at odds with human nature and reality. They are asking questions. And the system does not have any believable answers.

The most important thing to understand about our current historical moment is that the world is transitioning from an enlightenment to a post-enlightenment political paradigm. We could describe this as an ideological revolution, but the development is more akin to a restoration of historical normalcy for our species. A revolution did occur in the early 20th century, but then it failed, and now we are trying to understand how to react to this development.

In short, for the last two hundred years, the West (and subsequently the rest of the world) broke with traditional human political forms and began reconstructing social institutions based on egalitarian ideas from the 18th century. From the outset, there were philosophical problems with these ideologies. Furthermore, even its early advocates realized that the scope of their project was limited to circumstances particular to certain European peoples. Nevertheless, looking forward, it seemed that these problems might be surmounted by improvements in technology and further political radicalism; and, as such, a new world order might govern humanity under the banner of total freedom and equality.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and these Enlightenment ideals are in shambles. It is  clear to most reasonably aware people that the necessary civilizational trust, which undergirded past liberal societies, has degraded throughout the West’s secularization. Meanwhile, the only way modern nations justify their pursuit of the secular liberal political project relies on making appeals to the ghost of civil nationalism while farming economic growth from a rapidly dwindling native population and an immigrant demographic that shares neither its productivity nor its values.

Furthermore, on a more basic level, modern leaders don’t even believe in the core liberal progressive ideals, either in their moderate or radical form. And the populations of most Western countries are growing increasingly aware of their perfidy. The pretenses of the Enlightenment are crumbling.

But what does that mean for our society? And what comes after?

Nobody is quite certain. Perhaps something more like the political order of premodernity. Perhaps something different. But no one wants to have this conversation. In fact, contemporary people seem singularly incapable of talking about anything that really matters, at least in public.

Long-time readers will know that the recent "death of discourse" is a hobby horse of mine. But this phenomenon is one of the most notable cultural developments of the last 10 years. Contemporary people are not interested in engaging with ideas, but in shutting them out, so that the same familiar tropes can play out over and over again.

We are more political than ever, but we don’t talk about political issues critically. We just flex on the other team and play weird virtue-signaling games in public. Furthermore, we don’t want our culture to ask challenging questions. Or even suggest that other times and places may have been better than our sacred “Current Year”. Modern “Media Literacy” is not about finding subtle hidden, and potentially unintentional lessons inside the art we consume, but rather is concerned with comforting all interpretations into a single simple ideological conclusion.

Perhaps it is vanity, but it seems clear to me, that this central cultural sterility owes directly to our collective unwillingness to address the spirit of our historical moment, politically, starting with many of the critical observations usually described as “dissident right”.

For this reason, the online radical right (by whatever name we call it) comprises the central negative focal point for modern discourse, not really because of anything it says, but because it represents the ideas that must be universally denied by our status quo rulers and all those other groups still  sympathetic to the progressive project in any of its many forms.

This implicit centrality of right-wing ideas is observable in the ways the various contemporary political camps structure their discourse internally. Far from planning a revolution of any variety, the radical left’s efforts are mainly focused on countering the effects of “fascist” ideas. Likewise, an enormous amount of discourse in the prestige media is dedicated to defending normality against corrosive radicalizing right-wing disinformation, with a similar effort afoot in the world of neo-conservatism and Evangelical Christianity.

Even the presumably “right-wing” writers on SubStack from Richard Hanania, to James Lindsay, understand their ideas, in no small part, as in opposition to the eternal far-right menace, those horrible pieces of wrong thinking which, though they dabble in the outer layer, still pose an eternal threat to our society and the well-ordering of the West'.

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Everyone wants to tear down the radical right and replace it with their preferred alternative which, supposedly, will work better. But these alternatives never work, not even at the conceptual level, and they create more problems than they solve. In the meantime what you see in most intellectual spaces that exclude the "dissident right" is just an attempt to stick to the party line, sweep the problems under the rug, and hope that no one notices the larger issues.

As such, I have noticed more serious thinkers trying to make compromises with certain distasteful right-wing realities while simultaneously building a boundary around the core assertions of modernity. The fear seems less in losing some particular contention than in a total collapse of the moral logic of managerial society with the corresponding return of something resembling a pre-modern political situation. The preference of the ruling class is to reform the excesses of progressivism while maintaining the larger narrative of modern progress itself.

I suppose the effort to hold back a radically disruptive societal change does make sense in the light of the precautionary principle. But do we really want to keep a system that is fundamentally at odds with reality and humanity? Wouldn’t we rather just be done with it? Would not the truth be better if it was out, so we could build a better future for our species?

That sounds like dangerous thinking, which is probably why I am a dissident, or on the “dissident right”. But these ideas are not really about me, or any novel concept that I developed, it’s just noticing basic things that would be common knowledge to every well-thinking man before the 19th century.

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Perhaps it would be helpful to summarize these observations in short. I could list them in eight theses, or eight “antitheses” since each represents the removal of an ideological fixture of the Enlightenment rather than an original formulation.

Antithesis 1: “All politics is based on moral systems which in turn are fundamentally religious.”

This is the most abstract antithesis of the set. But it’s also the place we need to start, with a direct refutation of the Enlightenment’s main project to replace the religious center of society with something based on the rationality of humanity.

In short, this project is futile. All politics, like all law, is based on foundational moral principles. And no moral principle can justify its validity on pure reason, much less vague appeals to humanity in the abstract. This reality is why, as Nietzsche prophesized, the modern condition tends towards doubt, and modern ethics tend towards nihilism (the proper interpretation of the Nietzschean “Death of God”).

In the absence of such a false promise, humanity has to locate the source of its moral ethos outside of rational discourse in what are functionally spiritual principles. Therefore, as DeMaistre and Schmitt pointed out, theology is the center of all modern politics, and as DeCoulange‘s Ancient City reminds us, it might have always been that way.

Antithesis 2: “Discourse without moral alignment is impossible.”

This is a simple extension of the previous antithesis. Without a shared moral basis, human social organization doesn’t work. It is impossible to have a discourse without a concept of “oughtness”, or teleology, which (as we previously established) cannot justify itself based on rationality itself. In the abstract, many people understand that moral commonality is a basis for discourse, but don’t understand the extent of its implications to the ordinary operation of our society.

Sure the moral collapse is the reason why we can’t have serious political conversations in the modern world, and why meaningful mass culture is a thing of the past. But did you ever think what else we relied on was discourse-based?

Our judicial system certainly is. Mr. Trump is learning this lesson the hard way. And he won’t be the last. It’s not surprising that our legal apparatus has become politicized with activist magistrates bending the law to accommodate their political preferences, favoring Schmittidan friend-enemy distinctions to anything approaching the equal application of common law. After all, what are the judges supposed to do in the absence of a moral spirit behind our society’s notion of justice? Become bean counters for a dead legal logic no one thinks is still in effect? And so the judgments become a pantomime inside  our society’s larger moral conflict of visions.

But this problem doesn’t stop with the law. Our entire understanding of science is essentially discourse-based. Certainly, an early “red pill” for my ideological development was witnessing the political corruption of the debate around global warming, where skeptical and moderate voices were consistently suppressed in favor of activist hysteria. A similar phenomenon occurred with COVID. And, after seeing this process play out three or four times throughout my life, it’s pretty clear that, in any conflict between objective science and politics, politics always wins. Still, you would be surprised how many people still are holding out hope that some politically uncorrupted form of science will save us from our political crisis.

The central problem here and elsewhere is that so much of Western society was essentially reliant on moral discourse and discernment to provide checks against corruption. Without that, what can be salvaged from our liberal order? Not much.

Antithesis 3: “Human desire, to be healthy, must be restrained.”

This antithesis is obvious to the extent that all ancient philosophers would be flabbergasted to learn that it was ever questioned. Suffice it to say, it is apparent to any mature mind that not all human desires are good, and that, in the absence of moral structure, humans tend to pursue self-destruction collectively, and sometimes individually. You don’t need to learn this principle from any dusty tome of moral philosophy, you can just look outside in any American metropolitan state and see its truth made manifest.

Nevertheless, our thought leaders commend the exact opposite principle: that consent is the only standard for good, that freedom means pursuing pleasure, and that any claim of certain lives being “higher” or “more uplifted” by virtue is an oppressive moral imposition. And it’s not hard to see how we got here. To distinguish “freedom’ and “license” there needs to be a moral distinction between choices of moral vocation (e.g. “I want to join a monastery”) and a lapse into rank debasement (e.g. “I want to live my life-consuming fentanyl on the streets of San Francisco”).

So once more the fruits of moral relativism come back to haunt us, and we have leaders, like Scott Weiner, who think that living your life for orgies and drug binges is just as good as dedicating your existence to faith and family. And the fruits of this diseased idea are apparent everywhere.

Antithesis 4: “Technology, to be fruitful, must be governed.”

This might be more subtle, but a similar observation can be made about technology itself. Scientific advancement is not necessarily good in itself, it has costs and trade-offs which need to be managed. As I wrote earlier this month:

Not every development of technology is necessarily benign. No one who has read any serious science fiction can’t conceive of a technical invention that poses a risk to the human race. And it doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate some scientific development that, if widely implemented, would lead to the imminent extinction of all life on the planet.

Therefore, for technological or political progress to benefit humanity, some form of discernment must be in place to separate the good developments from the bad ones.

Once more, we could endlessly relitigate the details of this conversation, but I think in the early 21st century with the problems caused by social media and the iPhone it’s pretty easy to see.

However, it never ceases to amaze me how our leaders have failed to internalize this lesson, always acting like the distribution of new technologies will fix every problem except the problems that they obviously caused. Certainly, the root problem is that technology itself is a core part of the Enlightenment narrative. It is the prophesied way that the contradictions implicit in the modern worldview are fixed, and therefore it can never be questioned. But it’s time to call the bullshit on this prophecy and look towards an ideology that allows humanity’s needs to govern technology rather than the other way around.

Antithesis 5: “Different human groups have radically different behavior. Governments must reflect this difference.”

Once more this antithesis is an essential human reality that would be recognized by all right-thinking people before the 20th century. Yet somehow, this near-universally understood reality is denied by our ruling class to the extent that the future of almost all Western nations is being gambled on it not being true.

But it is true, and so we are in a lot of trouble.

To be nice to the normie cons, we could start by focusing on sex differences, as almost everyone who is reasonably aware of reality knows that men and women are different. Great, but if we all knew men and women are different why did we spend the last 70 years destroying the family structures of the West in the name of equality, often with the help of people who called themselves “conservative”? Our public understanding of sex has degraded so far that there are now hundreds of online content creators who make good money explaining the basic differences between men and women which, in a healthy society, should be obvious to any 13-year-old.

And it only gets spicier when we talk about the differences between racial groups. Here, we should be humble. We don’t know the exact extent to which the differences between ethnic groups are cultural or biological, and these are all just statistical differences between collectives, not individuals. However, what is indisputable is that these differences are not changeable through means available to modern states, in a time frame that modern states would care about politically. There is currently no way to make Nigerians collectively behave like Han Chinese, socially, academically, or politically. And that’s a huge problem for the liberal world which, over the last fifty years, has designed every element of its immigration and educational systems on this not being the case.

Antithesis 6: “To be accountable, government must be particular to a people and a place.”

Here the antithesis can be expressed as the consequence of the previous ones. Political systems are fundamentally moral and religious, different peoples follow separate religions and have radically different behaviors that need to be addressed, therefore, the only reasonably accountable government must be localized and chiefly concerned with one particular group or an alliance of similar groups.

Pretty simple? Sounds like it. But, once more, this antithesis runs afoul of everything our modern rulers believe as global managerial multi-culturalism is the order of the day.

Quite clearly the impulse towards crude managerial globalism derives from two Enlightenment dreams: the need for global governance and the desire for governing institutions that serve people’s needs. In isolation, these concepts are not entirely ridiculous. However, somewhere along the line, we mixed up our peas and carrots.

To be effective at governing at a management level, systems must be particular because they must be centered on a certain people’s nature which is not always the same across the broad diversity of humanity. As such the question of direct governance must be fundamentally separate from the question of governing relations BETWEEN people at a global scale, which must always be minimally concerned with maintaining boundaries, securing order, and restricting the proliferation of catastrophic technologies like large-scale nuclear devices and super-viruses.

But, once more, the confusion of our current ruling class has led to the opposite of this prudent approach, with the international government trying to micro-manage how cultures treat homosexuality and feminism while intentionally destabilizing borders and ignoring the potentially catastrophic risk of things like gain-of-function research. But this extreme local incompetence paired with global ambition is the natural consequence of a one-size-fits-all government that fits no one.

Antithesis 7: “Past social arrangements are sustainable, in a way that contrived alternatives are not.”

This is a difficult antithesis because, unlike the others, it describes prospective  projects rather than an observable reality. For instance, can I necessarily guarantee that there won’t be alternatives to the traditional family superior to what organically developed through history? Strictly speaking, I can’t. But what I can say is that for the past three hundred years, modern institutions have been trying to develop alternatives to these organic systems and have universally failed. Manufactured religions rarely work, and alternative family arrangements are never stable, despite decades of progressive attempts to make them work.

I guess it’s interesting to speculate WHY these projects failed. At the most basic level most progressive social alternatives to traditional forms fail because they cannot restrict human desire (see Antithesis 3) so the systems just lose cohesion and degenerate away. At a broader level, there is a mechanistic problem with applying technocratic logic to design human institutions since to properly “test” the circumstances, one would need an objective way to measure “good outcomes” across the course of hundreds of years, a proposition made even more difficult by issues with science discussed in Antithesis 2.

In totality, the problem is just that evolved organized systems (especially involving humans) are complex, and cannot easily be rebuilt. To paraphrase Kevin Dolan of the EXIT group, if you were a farmer who had a problem with sick bees not pollinating your crops, the solution would be to cure the disease in the bees not to invent a race of mechanical bees from scratch.

Antithesis 8: “Politics involves real winners and real losers, punishments for enemies, rewards for friends; otherwise, it accomplishes nothing.”

Once more this antithesis is basic and almost obvious, but critically absent in our modern understanding of politics. Politics, to be real, must instantiated in the forces of government, which means real consequences, real enforcement, rewards for good behavior, and punishment for bad actions. Is this too obvious to state? Maybe, but this fundamental political reality seems to be hard to remember in our supremely comfortable age. We understand, on paper, that a radically different order needs to be enforced in government. But implementing this reality is daunting, and so we shrink from any effort, locally or nationally to restore sanity.

As time goes on, I increasingly think that this aversion to the harder implications of politics is the defining feature of our age. We can acknowledge the problems, as they are increasingly right in front of our eyes. But we can’t do anything about them. We can’t even imagine implementing the necessary solutions if those solutions would imply something mean or unseemly. And so the problems get worse causing more harm than they ever would have had they been dealt with firmly. I suppose that’s a classic enough insight. Politics is about understanding difficult truths, but also taking hard, but necessary actions to execute them for the greater good.

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The Discontents

These are the broad antitheses of the dissident right in eight points, though I probably could have regrouped them in more efficient ways. Still, I chose this outline to resemble the points on which the opponents of the counter-enlightenment (or “dissident right”) tend to object. Because it is on these critical issues that most contemporary political movements show their weakness.

As my friend J. Burden often points out, for all its other flaws, the online right is the only place where discourse still feels alive and meaningful. Although none of us have power, and our organization efforts have just started in earnest, these alternative spaces are one of the few places where people are talking about the things that MATTER. It's a refreshing contrast to the mainstream.

Why is this?

Well, it's because the online right is not in a state of denial about the reality of the modern, post-enlightenment world, as described in the previous eight antitheses. As such, we are free to recognize reality and productively discuss real issues.

The only authentic discourse lies on the other side of acknowledging obvious realities about the given age. Otherwise, thinkers are stuck in cul-de-sacs, spinning cope about how things SHOULD BE, and trying not to notice how their compromises prevent them from taking on the problems head-on. Each denial of an essential truth creates a thought-terminating cliche that can obscure an infinite number of fatal mistakes, and effectively block further progress towards developing solutions.

To illustrate, we might make a brief overview of the various parties still doing politics in 2024, and the corresponding blocks to meaningfully understanding the world as it is.


Block 1: The Lefty Denialist Delusion

We can begin our investigation with the most severe case: those people in complete denial of modern political reality: progressive leftists. Here are the people who don't understand any of the necessary realities of the modern world. These people are the Enlightenment’s fanatics, and they go above and beyond anything the original thinkers of the Enlightenment would have thought possible or commendable (Charles Fourier notwithstanding). They want it all. They want it equally. And they want it now. They want John Lenon's Imagine.

The progressive mind is simple. They are true believers in the modern world's promises, tech Utopia and all. As such, they would reject all of our counter-enlightenment antitheses. In fact, they would be offended that you even mentioned them, offended that you even think of them. The horror of right-wing thought crime is eternally lurking in the progressive imagination, waiting menacingly to destroy the prospects of their utopia. And to the extent that the outside world reminds them of this wrong-think, it must be shut out entirely in favor of a virtual hug box.

Progressive ideas spaces are well-known vacuous echo chambers, the absolute zero of political discourse. But what is interesting, for me at least, is when a progressive thinker becomes aware of the disconnect rampant inside his community, and subsequently attempts to be a go-between to connect his fellow leftist idealists to reality itself. What plays out is a sort of "Inspector Gadget" comedy Routine where an unappreciated companion ceaselessly intervenes to keep the main character from walking off a cliff, only to be scorned for his efforts.

Certainly, my favorite one of these characters has to be Freddie DeBoer, a millennial professor eternally sleuthing after the cause of the latest progressive irrationality, trying to get his fellow lefties to come clean about their mistakes and self-correct. What makes DeBoer entertaining to read is that he is an otherwise very insightful man who has been caught up in the thralls of a collective religious hysteria obvious to everyone outside of his immediate bubble. He also plays “both sides of the psychological couch”, in one moment trying to get other progressives to see the reality right in front of their noses, the next desperately trying to defend (or minimize) his irrational belief in fashionable nonsense.

But humor aside, I don't honestly know what this community expects to achieve. None of its honest and intellectually aware members think that they are going to implement their socialist dreams, critical reasoning is virtually non-existent, and the fallout from their bad ideas (both at a personal and collective level) is daily becoming more apparent. Still, you can't argue people out of ideas that they were never argued into, and so this community will likely remain frozen in aspic until a broader political realignment occurs.

Block 2: The Progressive YIMBY Paralysis

But if the leftist true believers are caught in a perpetual state of arrested development, what are the adults in the room doing? You know, the ones that don't believe in the great project to legislatively abolish reality? The creative class? The elite human capital the left is always bragging about? The supremely educated people who consume (and are featured in) NPR and the New York Times? The Matt Yglesiases and Noah Smiths of the world? The self-described "reality-based community"?

Well, it turns out that this "reality-based community" is having something of an identity crisis in 2024, not least because of their disconnect from reality. They know the numbers don't add up. They know their predictions and solutions are failing to materialize. They know that their "expert" management has been a disaster. Still, the entire moral justification for their affluent upwardly mobile lives is built around these untruths. So what are they supposed to do? Just declare ideological bankruptcy and vacate their positions as the guardians of correct thought?

As the kids on the internet like to say: "LOL, LMAO even".

Of course, like all good leftists, the elite moderate progressives are believers in the Enlightenment, at least on paper, and so, in theory, would reject almost all of our dissident antitheses. However, unlike their more ideologically pure counterparts, very few moderate progressives don't understand that there are problems with their ideology in application. They see it every day, right in front of their faces. However, they are struggling to come up with some kind of solution that allows them to save face. And there aren’t that many options available to them.

Outright denial?

That's a tough sell given how apparent the problems are in the current year and how easily they can be linked to causes that even moderate progressives previously supported, and supported quite loudly.

Targeted moderation?

That is also difficult to pull off since the position of any moderate elite progressive relies on the buy-in of more radical true believers who will cancel them if they look like they are betraying the broader cause of leftism writ large.

Perhaps a reframing to pragmatic concerns and the imperative to "get things done"?

This certainly sounds more plausible. After all, we can't get caught up with who said what in the past. We can't stay mired in theories or notions of equality that we all devoutly professed previously. What matters now is improving things; taking those small but essential steps in the real world to demonstrate the value of the progressive worldview where it matters.

Fair enough, but here there is a stumbling block for our elite progressive friends that can be summed up in one word: "Privilege"

Yes, "privilege". Privilege is the eternal enemy of our liberal elite; it is simultaneously the original sin that they see in the lives of everyone else, and also the most prominent quality that other people notice in them. Privilege is the fly in the ointment, that troublesome element of the progressive’s life that he has the hardest time justifying to himself or others.

We may want to avoid discussing the finer points of progressive ideology, and its failures. We may want to show people the pragmatic political good that we are doing on the ground. But if things get too real, too grounded, or too personal, then a different set of uncomfortable questions start emerging about how these elite leftist advocates ended up in their comfortable positions, pushing their luxury beliefs into the public sphere while studiously avoiding the brunt of their consequences.

And no one wants to talk about the reality of that “privilege”.

Enter the solution which most well-to-do progressives have arrived at in 2024: YIMBYism (that's "Yes In My Backyard" contrasting the "Not In My Backyard" of "NIMBY" fame). This is a kind of "lead from the front" attitude popular among young well-to-do progressives who are convinced that "we are the people we were waiting for!". These movements are made up of progressive believers convinced that their individual competence will allow them to succeed in the idealistic, egalitarian, and diverse projects that have failed for so many others in the past. Here you might see activists advocating for integrated high-density housing where they live, the implementation of carbon taxes that impact their consumption habits, and measures against "over-incarceration" that penalize their otherwise sound lifestyle decisions.

YIMBYism remains in my mind the ultimate millennial progressive trope, as it perfectly dovetails both the idealism and narcissism of my generation with just enough reality-denying cope to make the results funny. As one might expect, despite how uniquely competent white-collar progressives think they are, they cannot veto reality or get off the hook for the consequences of their own decisions. Eventually, it all catches up with them, and they end up having to cash the checks that their mouths wrote. And as the consequences pile up, one by one the YIMBY idealists gradually desist.

The reader must forgive me for dwelling on this group since they are, by far, the type of people that I deal with most in my day-to-day life, as an early middle-aged millennial. I can't tell you the number of conversations that I have had with co-workers or fellow parents whose small talk about their personal lives amounts to an apology for abandoning some previous attempt to live their progressive principles in the real world. And yet they still cling to their ideals, down to the last letter.

What is the correct response when you hear from a friend who moved his family from Harlem to Princeton "for better schools and safety" that he is trying to find ways to make sure his kids don't grow up "privileged"? I don't know man. That's a tough one. Maybe find a new reality where the law of non-contradiction doesn't apply?

What eventually develops in these circles, from what I have observed, is a kind of agreement to not speak the unspeakable truths. We all know that the ideology is rotten at its core. We all know that we can't live our ideals. And we all know that we chose our own privilege over the self-sacrificial equity that we advocate for others.

But don't TELL anyone about that. Otherwise, the gig is up and we can't maintain our comfortable lifestyles alongside our smug sense of superiority. Subsequently, this demographic is inevitably accompanied by an unspoken pact of comfortable silence, quite similar to the one that I was told ruled middle-class bourgeois communities in the 1950s.

And that is how discourse died in the class of people whose job it is to create intelligent discourse. Discussing ideas, real ideas is just not something that is done in polite company anymore. And politics is just a shibboleth we roll out periodically so we can collectively complain about those "damn Republicans!" in the same spirit that people used to complain about the Yankees. Nothing new ever happens, nor will it.

Block 3: The Idealist Conservative Fantasy

In contrast to the modern moderate progressive, we have the modern moderate conservative. To be honest, I have the hardest time understanding the psychological underpinnings of this group even though they are ideologically the closest to my perspectives, especially on social issues. The best I can figure is that they are suffering under some kind of learned helplessness brought on by decades of convenient political delusions. Still, they are in for a rude awakening when they realize not only that American Democracy is a joke, but that they are this joke’s ultimate butt-monkey. And weirdly enough an increasing number seem resigned to their status as such.

Some of my readers might not appreciate my description of the modern conservative movement as butt-monkeys. But that’s what the modern conservative movement is. And boy do these monkeys dance! They just go on and on! So we get impassioned defenses of the concept of limited government that hasn't been a reality since the end of the New Deal, heartfelt worship of documents that haven’t been properly in effect since the end of the Civil War, and endless handwringing about “leftist hypocrisy”.

The modern conservative twists himself in pretzels to conserve an America that he has never lived in, under the pretense that he represents normalcy in a mainstream culture that considers him a bizarre freak. And all the while, there is this inexplicable  devotion to the very symbolism of the government that considers them anathema, the flag, the military, and the "documents".

I confess to being even more mystified when I hear these attitudes coming from conservative Christian religious communities which supposedly have a higher calling than worshiping the outcroppings of idealized 18th-century secular political philosophy. Give unto Caesar just the empty money which he mints. But give unto the constitution your undying loyalty to the point that you mindlessly support a government that has actively sought to subvert your faith and destroy the lives of your fellow believers? The attitude doesn’t seem remotely in keeping with classic Christian understandings of politics.

Returning to our counter-enlightenment antitheses from the previous section, mainstream conservatives would probably endorse all of them except the item concerning anti-egalitarianism (Antithesis 5). Sure most conservatives know that equality is false, at least in theory. Most even understand that group differences exist. But they are also aware of just how deeply the principle of equality is buried in the core assumptions of our current moral order and they would much rather be the people who finally fulfill the Enlightenment’s dream than the people who turn the tables over and capsize the American project.

But you can’t fulfill the Enlightenment’s dream because the Enlightenment’s dream is based on an untruth. And so conservative attempts at fixing this system will continue to fail. And unlike the failed YIMBY progressives discussed previously, conservatives will actually be held accountable and have money and power taken away from them when they fail.

That’s the conservative role, isn’t it? To lose and keep losing. And they are very good at playing their part. Play the game, lose the game, and cope. Not much in the way of useful discourse, and eventually people are going to stop playing, at least if they become aware of their situation.

Block 4: The Liberal Secular Fake-Fixes

Emerging most prominently in the wake of COVID-19 and the death of Libertarianism, several perspectives have emerged online as alternatives to the far right. Attempting to steer clear of the obvious mistakes of mainstream political movements, most of these alternatives involve providing some “fix” to curve the excesses of “both sides” in order to establish a new moderate baseline with the core secular Enlightenment assumptions of society still intact.

Initially, this took the form of the moderate liberalism of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW). The IDW combined common sense American values from the 20th century with pieces of classic wisdom and translated the fusion into the language of the internet for a younger audience. The IDW's precipitous decline in the last several years probably owes to the decline of their main intellectual forces (like Jordan Peterson) and also because their answers were fundamentally status-quo-oriented and did not make sense in the rapidly changing social environment that emerged in the 2020s.

Filling a similar role, 2024 has seen the emergence of the more intellectually serious and more edgy "Elite Human Capital Right", or "New Secular Right". Regardless of the name we use for this group, it generally comprises a more technocratic and secular set of thinkers who believe that they can combine choice elements of techno-optimism and libertarianism to get around many of the challenges of post-liberalism by patching the problems with the decline in human social order with shrewd policy and novel technical solutions. Here I would count among this number most prominently figures like Richard Hanania and Nathan Cofnas, while also including more centrist thinkers like James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian.

Altogether none of these figures share a common ideology, and the intellectual space is much too young to be characterized culturally. However, from what I can see of it the thinkers broadly in this category tend to make the same set of mistakes. And these mistakes are easier to see in light of our previously discussed antitheses.

If polled collectively about the big mistake of the contemporary world, invariably these thinkers would cite egalitarianism (Antithesis 5). However, almost universally, what holds this community back, and leads to their general incoherence, is an inability to grasp the myriad of other ways that the Enlightenment vision fails. Without a broader understanding of modernity’s other problems, nothing is really going to get accomplished, practically or ideologically.

For instance, what good is an understanding of group inequality if we are going to persist in hammering all people into the same procrustian bed through globalist mass migration? Furthermore, are we supposed to believe that acute political adjustments to Civil Rights law are going to end wokeness when it is the de facto religion of our ruling class? And would educating people about inequality really be sufficient to correct for the ravages of modernity if we continue to organize society around freedom to pursue crass hedonism and technological growth at all costs?

In each case, these secular post-leftist “fixes” appear like bandaids placed over cancer tumors. The problem is deep, systematic, and insidiously embedded in the operation of our society, and these proposed changes are superficial and largely cosmetic, giving the impression that we are fixing the problem in the short term while doing nothing to address the underlying ideological flaw.

At base, the problem with most of these thinkers is that they try to ignore the religious underpinning of modernity’s crisis (Antithesis 1). It is the absence of a motivating spiritual and moral ethos that makes the existence of “wokeness” necessary for our ruling class and drives the other elements of societal decline. Furthermore, correcting this fundamental problem cannot be accomplished with some technocratic patch or some optimized neo-religion invented from whole cloth. Cynically crafted surrogate faiths are never an adequate replacement for genuine belief. History teaches us that much.

If I were to speculate about this relatively new group, I would guess that these thinkers will continue to be a force in what remains of political discourse online. Still, I don’t expect anything to ultimately come from their efforts. Just like a poker game played for no stakes, expect to see much shuffling of ideas, a lot of novel experiments, and  hyped-up projects. But no one will ultimately win anything worthwhile. There will be no collective belief system that can bring these thinkers together for concerted political action, and if, incidentally, some type of practical alliance does occur, it will neither be decisive enough to restrain its member’s discordant desires nor solid enough to be passed down through the generations. This group might create a bunch of interesting salons, but they will never forge a ruling ideology.

Block 5: The Late-Stage Limbo of Hesitancy

Finally, we arrive at the last mental block standing against the emerging post-enlightenment world: hesitation. This is probably the most understandable concern, as I myself frequently suffer from it. There is a sense of vertigo that seizes the mind when one realizes that they are calling into question everything that ordinarily functions inside modern society. And when a thinker tries to take stock of what unspooling these problems would entail, he inevitably experiences a moment of doubt, wondering whether it might not just be better to leave well enough alone.

In the wake of radical political change people stand to lose everything. And we are considering this development from a supremely comfortable baseline existence. Why should we be the instrument of these hard truths? Why does this generation have to be the one to tear down the false idols of the public square? Can't we just kick the can down the road? Can't we just push this off to another day?

I know a lot of people are asking themselves these questions, myself included on some days. And, while it doesn't behoove me to name people who have “burnt out”, the spirit of hesitancy has removed more political actors from the right than any progressive political opponent.

But is there an alternative to facing up to the hard task that's before us? Like Jonah trying to escape from the task that was appointed to him, you can't run from the truth. You just end up ricocheting from one comforting procrastination to another, until you land in a supremely uncomfortable place, wondering how your choices led you into such a predicament.

People are right to be afraid of the future, but I don't know what a good answer to the problem of hesitancy would be. I am certainly willing to sympathize. But even as I share people’s concerns, the inescapable nature of our circumstances is that the consequences of these untruths will eventually come to bear either on our lives or on the lives of our children. Furthermore, we can't begin to address these problems unless we can look at the issues head-on and discuss the various costs of dealing with them seriously.

For my money, we owe it to the future to do that at least.

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What is to be Done?

This is the basic dialectic struggle of our time. These are the fundamental untruths that are blocking the honest understanding of politics in the 21st century and the development of effective solutions. But if this is the case, what is to be done? It certainly doesn't appear that anyone is moving from their positions.

To a certain degree, time will solve the problem. Macrocosmic forces in history eventually remove bad ideas from circulation even when societal discourse is frozen. Ultimately, change will come. It's just a question of how much it will cost us. And delay will certainly cost us dearly.

So what is standing in the way of action?

Fear. Our society is full of it. We are paralyzed in its presence. This is the age of anxiety. And isn't that the source of all our intransigence? The psychological origin of the blocks that keep us from making the necessary changes?

I see fear everywhere.  I see it in the liberals who think they can avoid the disruption of their lifestyles with a technocratic tweak, and in the conservatives who can't overcome their need to LARP as idealist losers. I see fear in the progressive YIMBYs who spend their fortune to live in Potemkin villages of their own failed ideology, and in the radical lefties terrified that reality could exist beyond the hug box that validates their fantasies.

But confronting fear is a harder question. The standard Boomer answer is to obtain the required courage by “growing a pair" or "just manning up". However, as the years have gone by, I have understood just how useless these kinds of pronouncements can be, just shouting disapprobation at young people because they cannot do things that they were never trained to do isn’t helpful. It’s just cruel.

As CS Lewis said:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Recently, I encountered this same problem in a different form when Joel Berry wrote a tweet directed at my friend Auron MacIntyre, ostensibly voicing fears about a right-wing movement going too far.

Leaving aside the passive-aggressive dig (which Auron was not too happy about), Joel's Tweet highlighted a sincere desire that I have heard from many good people over the years; the desire for some principle to limit the forces required to make the necessary changes in our society, the desire for some rule by which we might say, like Job, "this far and no further."

It is not a bad desire. But it is an impossible one.

Our contemporary political war is a war of belief, core beliefs, religious beliefs. And religious beliefs don't have limiting principles. If they did then they would not be religious beliefs. As long as political struggle crosses these critical lines of foundational moral principle, there can be no shelter for those looking for ordinary conversation and safe discourse. There is only war, in one form or another. That's just a reality.

However, given the nature of the struggle, where are ordinary people supposed to find assurances of safety and order if not from a promise found in law or some other idealized notion of “rights” or “progress”?

Ultimately, we need to look towards things that are personal, not ideological. There are no particular objects, institutions, or abstract ideas that are worthy of our trust. Only particular persons are worthy of our trust. And only particular persons, in turn, should be the objects of our loyalty.

We should not look towards abstract concepts like “rights” or “limiting principles”, but rather to each other, to the people with whom we might forge a community of trust and common belief. We should look to those fellows who we recognize as neighbors and kindred. We should follow those leaders who have shown themselves to be worthy in matters of morality and strength. And we should place our ultimate faith in the providence of a living, and very personal, God.

This is because faith, real faith, is supremely personal. It cannot be located in the promises made only in historic memory, nor in the dead words written on a page. Instead, faith becomes real through personal communion in which its language obtains spiritual significance and its words obtain living meaning.

That probably sounds like a cop-opt to someone like Joel Berry. After all, I haven’t provided any “limiting principles” or ideological “promises”, just a description of a mechanism that might produce them in the future.

But ideas aren't going to save us in the modern world. That is not the nature of the post-discourse age we live in. To the extent that ideas still have power, their power lies in their ability to inculcate strong attitudes of nobility within ourselves and to strengthen the bonds in the moral communities we are building at a local level. And this is healthy. This is historically normal. The dead abstractions that have ruled us in the 20th century are fading away, and now new and vital things can take their place.

And here is found the real purpose of the "dissident right: to clear away the dead things, to put their memory to rest, and to open the doors to a new era where human thriving can be pursued earnestly.

Could we ask for anything better from an ideology that remains simply a specter?

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