How Professor McManus defeated House Slytherin
The Fall of House Slytherin
Perhaps it's a Millennial defect in my soul, but I have an odd inclination to explain political ideas with references to Harry Potter. Actually, I am not particularly fond of the books, but it's indisputable that they have captured the imagination of my generation and seem, in their own strange way, to hold a key insight into cultural life in the early 21st century.
I think the Harry Potter series represents a kind of apex merger between the old-world fantasy tradition and the height of the late 90s Boomer Truth regime, each trope spun together seamlessly by a middle-aged woman with an acute talent for beat storytelling and absolutely zero self-awareness. What emerges is a strange narrative Chimera, a captivating story that contains almost no wisdom, but seems to perfectly represent the defect in our modern cultural moment.
A magical British boarding school? That's a pretty standard fantasy trope. But things start getting weird and modern when we try to locate the villains. We are, after all, thoroughly cosmopolitan people so the evil force, menacing our protagonists can't simply be some demonic spiritual threat (too religious) or some external invader (too xenophobic). The antagonist, reflecting the true modern nature of evil, has to be internal, political, and vaguely traditional with roots running back to mid-century Germany and its chief moral-failing being “racism”.
JK Rowling seems to have given the subject of evil a lot of thought, but it never seems to come together. Black magic and dark magicians are shunned, students are taught to guard against them, and regulations against the "Dark Arts" seem to be a core part of the wizarding tradition going on for centuries. Yet practitioners of these Dark Arts, the "Death Eaters" comprise the most blue-blooded and traditional caste in their society, the most connected to the ancient core of the wizarding world. In fact, despite their forbidden nature, the dark arts seem to be built into the foundation of Hogwarts, with one of its schools, Slytherin, dedicated to training a new generation of irredeemably racist 11-year-olds to practice black magic.
Of course, Potter fans will likely jump down my throat at this stage. There is an in-universe distinction between House Slytherin and "The Death-Eaters". And the suggestion is always that the Slytherin characters who turn to evil, are in fact making a choice due to a personal moral failing (racism?). But really to any discerning reader this distinction between "Dark Magic" and "Slytherin" is obviously paper thin both in the text and in the imagination of the author.
Not only is the dark lord himself a member and "heir" to house Slytherin, the members of House Slytherin, led by Harry Potter's personal rival Draco Malfoy, spend most of their plot time wittingly or unwittingly trying to resurrect the in-universe equivalent of the anti-Christ. And lest readers presume this connection to Dark Magic is a recent degeneration of a once proud tradition, Rowling informs her readers in the second book that, in fact, the founder of Slytherin himself was a murderous racist who built secret death traps into the architecture of Hogwarts presumably for the future use of racist Dark Wizards.
For this reason, I have always found the Slytherin characters an interesting case study that reveals something bizarre in the mind of the Boomer author, especially later in the course of the series when Rowling is forced to humanize her antagonists. Here the Malfoy family is primary, who, from Draco to his parents, Lucius and Narcissa, represent the classic blond blue-blood WASP families so popular as villains in late 20th-century fiction. When the Malfoys aren't scoffing at the plebs, playing golf at their magical country club, or counting their trust fund doubloons, they are enslaving house elves and destroying unicorn habitats for fun and profit. And of course, they are responsible for all of the historical crimes of the wizarding world.
Knowing all this, it comes as no surprise to the reader that the Malfoys, along with most of House Slytherin join up with the Dark Lord in the last book to fight the protagonists. Perhaps it’s more surprising when the Malfoys repent of their evil ways during the last battle, just in time for that very Boomer moment of narrative catharsis where the audience learns that even racists can be redeemed. By the series’ denouement, we see Draco and his pure-blooded wife dropping their last scion off at the Hogwarts train station to be the classmate of Harry Potter’s own child. There is a feeling of collegiality with some rivalry, but not malice. The Malfoy child will presumably be assigned to House Slytherin, and play his role as the opponent to Potter’s son in the school quidditch games, but nothing more. And the proud Malfoy family will continue their legacy of breeding blond magical purebreds and practicing their Slytherin traditions, just in a less racist way.
But really does any of it make sense? Does anyone really believe that Draco Malfoy is Harry’s equal in this post-Voldemort era? That House Slytherin now has equal standing with House Gryffindor at Hogwarts? That this new generation of children will meet on equal terms? There are literally war crime tribunals for allies of Voldemort followed by recriminations and tortuous jails for his supporters. Are people going to forget the role the Malfoys and House Slytherin played? Presumably, Slytherin still represents its own legacy and intellectual traditions in the contests it faces against the other houses, a legacy now intimately connected to Dark Magic. But, this being the case, how can the legacy of Evil even be allowed to win? Wouldn’t it jeopardize the narrative and safety of the new “good” political order?
In reality what has happened is that Rowling, in her earnestness to describe the moral and political reality of her time, has blithely written a straight-up moral contradiction into her fiction. The great perceived evil of our time is also a pillar of our historical legacy, academic institutions, and traditional social order. Our great Satan is one and the same as our great ancestor. And the traditions we honor and follow as part of our balanced “liberal” education are also the source we blame for all things wrong with modern society. But under these conditions, how can one square this circle? Maybe people need to be more open-minded and subtle in their perception of right and wrong? It’s a good bet that JK Rowling, like most Boomers, doesn’t really believe in evil. So the problem all seems rather academic.
But her millennial fans certainly do believe in evil. One of the first Boomer Truth regime illusions to be uniformly discarded by my generation (left, right, and center) is moral ambivalence. Something about growing up in the early 21st-century West makes it impossible not to believe in genuine human wickedness and depravity. It’s hard to look at the modern order and think that all roads in life inevitably lead back to the moral center. The devil walks among us and woe to those who follow his path of deceit and iniquity.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You don’t bargain with evil, you don’t go in for half-measures. You reject it. You crush the serpent before it strikes your foot. The devil doesn’t get equal time at the podium. Evil doesn’t have an equal stock in the marketplace of ideas. The demons don’t get their own football team at the Super Bowl, their own fraternity, and university department. Beelzebub doesn’t get to run his own political party. The idea that everything was “up for debate” is peak Boomer delusion. What are we supposed to do? Sit around and debate whether maybe, this year we can make things worse and more corrupt. What responsible society would allow genuine evil to play in a fair contest of chance when the stakes are real power?
But then, returning to the world of wizards and Harry Potter, what is the necessary role of the Malfoys and house Slytherin? After all, in the moral and political frame of their universe, they are essentially and necessarily occupying the role of team evil. It’s in their name. It’s in their culture. It’s in their blood. Can they leave it behind without leaving themselves behind? But if not, then what role can a good society give them?
Perhaps the role of designated losers? After all, someone has to eat shit on the quidditch field. And without a default bad guy, students’ time at Hogwarts will certainly feel less epic. And I can’t imagine the alumni of Slytherin will fair much better in a professional setting. Really? Is an employer going to think the recent graduate from “House Evil” will be the best fit for our opening as a wizard of Human Resources management? Not such a bright future for Draco and Astoria, much less their son, Scorpius.
For me, the narrative disjunction stood out like a sore thumb. And in the broader story of the Harry Potter universe, I noticed that other millennial readers didn't exactly know what to do with the Malfoys and other Slytherin, as evidenced by their head-canons and fanfics describing what happened after the official curtain closed on Rowling’s epic series.
Ok, so the infamous Draco Malfoy is good now? Perhaps his allegiance to the Dark Lord was just a personal flaw. He was an asshole in high school, but then who wasn't? And now he is better. But what, therefore, to make of his affiliation with House Slytherin and his evil family? Certainly, he needed to be publicly repentant, even guilty of his complicity in past evils. Perhaps a broader act of contrition was necessary?
And this is where the imaginations of many progressive Potter fans seemed to take a darker term, speculating that Malfoy himself could only be redeemed by the intentional scuttling of his native house Slytherin and the future of the Malfoy family, with some of the more radical narratives having Draco go full "Meine Blutlinie endet mit mir" and deciding to deny the Malfoy family any new heirs which might continue their wicked Slytherin bloodline. Perhaps having the first baby was a big mistake?
Knowing how these historical guilt narratives usually amp up over time, I dread to think what awaits the remnants of House Slytherin and the Malfoy family in the next generation. Will Draco’s son be subjected to ever harder guilt-inducing propaganda and be expected to perform even more extreme forms of self-abasement to demonstrate fealty to the new moral order?
Perhaps this time, once Slytherin is defeated by Gryffindor through the spontaneous deduction of their points for “being on the wrong side of history”, Scorpius Malfoy can lead the rest of House Slytherin in a spontaneous act of collective self-sterilization just to ensure the cursed genetic line is destroyed, and there is a finally an end to the racist legacy of Salazar Slytherin.
I can imagine, thunderous applause will erupt from the more progressively minded Houses.
Progress at last! An end to the Slytherin! Finally the abolition of institutional anti-muggle racism at Hogwarts! We are the change we have been waiting for!
But perhaps there will also be some murmuring unease among the crowd.
Who will lose at quidditch now? After all, is institutional anti-muggle racism REALLY over? There’s still so much to do! We have to struggle onward!
The thing is, as JK Rowling herself learned all too well, once you move from a spiritual concept of good to a political one, the revolution can never really stop. There are new crusaders coming up through the ranks, wanting to follow the example of Harry Potter, and looking for their own House Slytherins to slay. Perhaps House Hufflepuff is the new evil house? I heard Helga Hufflepuff made her fortune in the house-elf slave trade! And did you know that Rowena Ravenclaw believed in a biological basis for gender? I suppose that’s why there are so many Ravenclaw bigots trying to keep trans-witches out of the girl’s locker room at Hogwarts.
Thus, the standard of progress always rolls forward, and the revolution always eats its children. And as the purge continues, the richness of Hogwarts’ legacy diminishes bit by bit, the ancient wisdom shunned, and each chamber of particular and challenging secrets barred from access until the four dreaming spires of the school are consolidated into a monolith. From a magical place of learning to a staging area for ideological struggle sessions, recriminations, and witch-hunts.
Witness the closing of the Wizarding Mind.
Professor McManus and the Last Academic
As a reader might have guessed, all of this blabber about Harry Potter and Slytherin is a not-too-subtle segway to a broader story about the modern academy’s decline.
At the risk of displaying “ressentiment”, as the lefties call it, I do have to admit a certain level of personal animus towards modern academics. As a right-winger people always accuse you of “hate”, but the only group I ever felt spite towards was my own class of white progressive academics. I suppose that no hatred is ever justified, even if I do believe that my native people’s hubris is responsible for most of the modern world’s problems. Still, at an emotional level, it feels like I have a right to this resentment.
After all, modern academia was the world that created me. I was the son of two University lecturers, raised in a University town, and spent an embarrassing amount of my adult life pursuing post-graduate degrees. And for the longest time, in my early adolescence, I idolized academia, even hoping that I would someday become a professor of some humanities subject, pursuing the life of the mind and great ideas wherever they led.
What always enchanted me about academics, at least of my parent’s generation, was how much they loved ideas. They believed in them in a way that I found enthralling to witness, no matter how kooky the professor in question. Of course, I don’t want to insinuate that this phenomenon was the undiluted pursuit of knowledge. There was an enormous amount of ego in all of this, the academic was typically in love with his idea. But the center of the academic’s pursuit was still the idea itself, the knowledge, the belief, and the quest for truth.
Yet, something is quite different in my own generation of academics, especially in the humanities and related fields. I could sense this change first in undergrad. And, by the end of my Ph.D., I was thoroughly disillusioned with what the academy had become, mandatory DEI statements and all. Still, until this year, I always held on to the fancy that, somehow, had things gone differently, had the university been better managed (at least less politically), I would have been well-suited to be a university professor.
I guess it's always good to put away childish fantasies by looking at the thing that you once thought you wanted soberly, realizing what it actually is. And, oddly enough, I don’t think I would have fully completed this late realization without coming in contact with the online lefty personality, and academic, Professor Matt McManus.
Now I should emphasize here, I don’t think Professor McManus is out of the ordinary, nor are his progressive views particularly unusual. Having written a number of articles, and at least one book, about the new right, Professor McManus was one of the lefties pushing back against the new anti-progressive political movements online since 2015. I had spoken to Matt early in 2021 about his work on the right, provided some criticism, and then promptly forgot about him until he emerged in 2023 writing a response to Curtis Yarvin and the rest of the “New Right” in the magazine Commonweal.
I guess what immediately stood out to me about Matt was a certain similarity in our biographies. We are about the same age, have the same level of educational achievement, and have the same disposition toward reading old books. Yet, our lives have ended up pushing in diametrically opposed directions. But what really is interesting about Professor McManus, for the purposes of this essay, is how perfectly he exists as an archetypical specimen of the millennial left-wing academic, starting with his political views.
And what are those political views?
At the surface level, Dr. McManus, like many other aspiring academics, stands at the forefront of modern social justice progressivism, still desperately trying to retain some of the pieties of the old liberal academic tradition. Still some kind of Christian (not Catholic but somehow everyone online thinks that he is), McManus describes himself as a “socialist” officially, yet when pressed in public conversation, defers to advocating for the “Nordic Model”, which is probably why many of his interlocutors mistakenly believe he is a “social democrat”.
The core of Matt's more rigorous political material consists of familiar deconstructive critiques of traditional "teleological" worldviews in favor of modern progressive politics. The general form of his case, retracing familiar progressive arguments, amounts to insinuating that deconstructive philosophical schools, emerging in the late 19th century, invalidate classic approaches to knowledge leaving progressive orthodoxy as the only valid philosophical contender. This is a common view, and a perspective that I have seen used many times against more classical philosophical outlooks. It starts with rehashing a general skeptical form that “calls everything into question”, and then follows it up with some modern progressive arguments (usually from John Rawls) to make the default leftie answers seem reasonable.
Really, at this stage, answering these standard, "view from nowhere", deconstructive critiques should be routine for reasonably aware post-progressives, but for the neophytes in the audience perhaps a rehash would be useful.
To start with the obvious, modern, scientifically-inspired critiques, derived from the work of Nietzsche, Freud, and Darwin, are not narrowly tailored intellectual defeaters for classical ethical traditions. Instead, these perspectives are (in the words of Daniel Dennet) "universal solvents". They are broad-based, extensive deconstructive attacks that reduce all human ethics to emergent properties and call into question all prescriptive moral sentiments. There is no get-out clause for the ethical perspectives that progressives like Matt enjoy using liberally in their own politics. Nietzsche's "death of God" does not come for the God of Aquinas and Aristotle, leaving the God of Paul Tillich and Martin Luther King alive and well. The critique is extensive. It applies to all moralism and all sacred sentimentality, traditional or progressive.
Attempts by the left to save their political project from the deconstruction they apply to their enemies comprise an embarrassing catalog of sloppy thinking and special pleading. Invariably, the arguments amount to linguistic hat-tricks where philosophers smuggle their own preferred specific teleological preferences in through the backdoor while denying the existence of the concepts generally. Furthermore, the attempt to appeal to "will-to-power" or existentialism to reconstruct ethical certainty ends up being facile, since, just as the original critique deconstructs all forms of human value, an appeal to "will" brings them all back. Far from solidifying a progressive worldview, the approach creates a post-modern condition where no system holds validity and political power itself becomes the only determination for authority.
But, for philosophers like Professor McManus, trying to integrate the progressive political project with choice parts of the Christian worldview the problem is even worse. Because the elements of the old tradition preferred by progressives (such as rights, equality of dignity, and compassionate universalism) rely more on the teleological and metaphysical core of the worldview than do the parts that they hate (hierarchy, practical inequality, and essentialist notions of identity).
More to the point, as anyone will tell you who has read modern, post-Hobbsean, right-wing authors (and some post-Hobbsean ones) the argument for inequality and hierarchy does not rely on teleological presuppositions. Rather, they are a necessary political response to material reality. To think that men are unequal (and need to be treated as such) and that hierarchy works at getting things done, a person just needs to open their eyes and observe the material world of humans as they exist. To think that all men are created equal and endowed with some invisible set of rights, a person must have some contact with a metaphysical or spiritual tradition. Dare I say a “teleology”?
And it's for this reason that post-modernity has a distinctly "right-wing" flavor to it.
I make this digression, not to simply dunk on McManus, but because it is important, for the point that I am pursuing, to understand that the problem we see here is not unique but a general crisis of justification for leftist worldviews generally.
Progressivism is an anti-ethical ethical tradition, an anti-teleological teleological perspective, and an anti-spiritual spirituality. It would in any proper anthropological sense be considered a religion. Yet, despite itself, the movement rabidly pursues secularism and deconstruction, less out of a procedural commitment to discipline but because it can be used as a pretense to disqualify its opponents and ensure its dominance of the public square.
These contradictions form the basis for a fundamental crisis in 20th-century leftism. Initially, I think progressives understood this issue as a genuine academic question, with curious individuals looking for a solution. However, post World War 2, with the consolidation of military power in the US and the consolidation of the academy under the new left, a practical political solution emerged offering two complementary but contradictory narratives.
First, for the respected professional and academic set (needing to justify their own institutional power) modern progressivism became justified via technocratic performance and excellence towards serving people's needs while steering clear of troublesome teleological and essentialist concepts. The task was proper management and “best practices”, nothing to do with moral or spiritual identities relying on metaphysics that the 19th-century philosophers called into question.
Second, for the younger and more ideological set, in search of “meaning”, the left provided a revolutionary and identitarian formulation for itself. Progressivism was about fighting the evil of the old colonial order, tearing down systems of oppression, and uplifting the identity groups of marginalized peoples. And equality (or “equity”) would be achieved imminently through incremental reforms pursuing the endpoint of the broad Civil Rights movements. Leftism was core to establishing and vindicating one’s internal spiritual identity and giving one’s life narrative purpose. And both your identity and purpose WERE VALID.
Did these conceptions of progress ever make sense in combination? Not really. But for a time post-1960s when the project was fresh and untested and while like the left was led by actual intellectual giants like Marcuse and Chomsky, the contradictions could be papered over.
But things look different in the year 2023. Not only have broad civil rights regulations failed to deliver the promise of racial equality and broad-scale societal cohesion, our uniformly progressive managerial classes, ruling over the richest parts of Europe and North America, have demonstrated themselves singularly incapable of fighting the creeping social and economic decline of the West. Moderate progressive leaders furiously try to cover their asses with appeals to the latest outrage, while promising that the halcyon utopia of the "Nordic Model" is just around the corner, so long as the middle class pays out for the next activist boondoggle. But really, the problems go deeper. And the extent of the left’s ideological failures can now be directly witnessed in the products of progressive educational institutions.
The feminist project of the sexual revolution, after spending decades attacking traditional family norms, has manifestly demonstrated it has no idea how to get men and women to relate to one another and form stable family arrangements in a post-patriarchal world. And need we revisit the results of the moral philosophy being circulated inside the progressive professional classes? Apparently, directing the young to define themselves in terms of sexual preference and grievance politics while prioritizing personal pleasure over the permanence of family and faith doesn't do wonders for your psychological health. Even in his intellectual decline, Jordan Peterson could have told you as much, but it's no longer speculative. The numbers are in, and it's hard not to conclude that the leftist worldview itself is a leading vector of the catastrophic decline in modern mental health, second only to the iPhone.
As someone who was raised in a progressive community, I can tell you that this isn’t what we signed up for. We wanted John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and this is what we got? A generation of young men and women too angry to date, too sexually debauched to marry and reproduce, constantly sliding into misery and depression.
Ladies and Gentlemen the fruits of progress!
For these reasons, we see the core contradictions of both left-wing projects (managerial and radical) come to a head on the issue of their enemies: the reactionaries, the right-wingers, heretics from the leftist vision, and the people who turn their backs on the tide of progressive modernity. Why do they exist and what does a good progressive do with them? It’s strange. Looking back to older versions of the left-wing project, the idea of political opposition wasn't very prominent. Now, in the early 21st century, progressives can't stop thinking about right-wingers and the looming brown menace of Fascism.
The old left was propositional, focused on creating a better world for everyone, even the deplorable Slytherin types like myself who like God, big families, and blond children with high cheekbones. The new left is oppositional, focused on holding back the ever-present threat of modern mid-century Germans resurrecting the Dark Lord Mustache-Man to spread “whiteness” around the world once more.
As many have noticed, for the modern left the existence of the right is more essential than ever. They need an enemy to give their own political project meaning and a scapegoat to explain why the true promises of the left have not come to pass. Yet the problems only start to materialize when progressives try to describe their opposition, what it is, and what role it plays as an oppositional force.
For the managerial left, the political opposition must in some sense be integrated, adversarial, and collegiate. They are, after all, the smartest guys in the room. That's why they occupy the positions of prestige that they do! And the story of their ascendency doesn't really make sense unless they have an open, academic, and adversarial relationship with their (right-wing) political opponents.
For the radical revolutionary left, the political opposition must be a great Satan, an adversary of incredible threat and harmful potential that needs to be crushed absolutely so that good can thrive. They were promised a better world half-past-yesterday and progressives aren't exactly thin on the ground in managerial leadership positions. Therefore there must be, in fact, an incredibly powerful and maleficent force working behind the scenes to keep the new good world from coming into existence.
Fight on brave revolutionaries because by fighting your adversaries you are literally saving our lives!
In reality, as most people realize, these stories are hogwash. The domination of intellectual spaces by progressive ideas owes more to trends in political power post World War 2, not some hypothetical contest of wits that progressives won, much less the general ability of left-wing thinkers to notice, explain, and predict sociological phenomena. Furthermore, modern social ills, and the fact that the civil rights movement’s promises are not materializing, cannot be laid at the feet of a secret fascist cabal of radical right-wingers. Christian monarchists and reactionary third-position guys aren't sabotaging New York’s ability to equitably enforce law and order or provide affordable living for its denizens. Trad Cath school moms aren’t preventing the progressive elites of Seattle and San Francisco from paying out billions to African Americans in reparations like they say they want to. Gym-bro zoomers reading Bronze Age Pervert aren’t causing 40-year old progressive millennials to sink deeper into mental illness, double-fisting SSRIs to overcome their anxiety and social isolation.
But beyond the ridiculousness of their vilification, the bigger issue is how these contradictory descriptions of the right fit together. We return to the problem of House Slytherin. Is the right a legitimate adversary, a conversational partner with whom we are discerning a future in the messy process of liberal democracy? Or, alternatively, is the right wing a lurking evil? A snake in the grass that needs to be guarded against?
The question is made all the more troublesome by the fact that the right is growing in strange ways. No one on the “New Right” has any meaningful institutional power, but more elite people are beginning to doubt the progressive project, ask troubling questions, and come to very disturbing right-wing conclusions.
Here is where our hero McManus enters the scene, armed with the confidence of modern academia and progressive moralism set to slay the dragon of post-modern reaction and restore pride-of-place to the left-wing political project. This is a good niche for an academic since so few modern progressives want to take on the new right head-on. But Matt seems to have very little to say about the core progressive contradictions driving the resurgence of post-leftist thought. Starting with the simple issue of how to honestly describe what the right is.
From what I have read, Matt McManus seems to be following in the tried and true tradition of Theodore Adorno and Corey Robin describing the right in taxonomic terms, pathologizing ideological differences, and insinuating, when possible, that right-wing thought itself is the product of a psychological defect. Early in McManus’ project, I think this was easy enough. Being published in the era when social media populism and plebian blowhard leaders were rapidly eclipsing the more thoughtful right-wing perspectives on the scene, and focusing largely on charlatans like Milo Yiannopoulos and crude political celebrities like Donald Trump, it was easy to portray the right as a brainless knee-jerk political reaction to post-modernity itself.
However, Matt’s project became much more confusing post-2021 when the re-emergence of neo-reaction and the post-left highlighted a new group of thoughtful writers, at odds with the characterization of the right-wing as fundamentally dishonest and anti-intellectual. Could Matt (or any thinker in the new left) confront these perspectives without resorting to psychologizing, sassy personal attacks, or appeals to academic authority? For this reason, I regarded Matt's recent article on Curtis Yarvin with some interest. And I could tell, reading it, that Professor McManus was having some trouble defining a consistent narrative about the right-wing that he could sell to a modern leftist audience.
On the face of things, it's obvious what progressive readers want to read. They want to read about a more or less rigorous way to dismiss troubling right-wing contentions and justify their moral condemnation of their political enemies. And if this was the only requirement, Matt could have probably gotten away with your typical "point and sputter" takedown piece. But I got the sense that Matt wanted to deliver some kind of legitimate intellectual body blow to neo-reactionary thought that might pass muster as a genuine academic case. And so his response had to take a different form.
In the end, it seemed McManus decided to focus on some of Yarvin’s historical revisionist points made in Unqualified Reservations a decade earlier. Though far from the core of what draws people to Yarvin’s writing, contesting factual historical points is a legitimate academic contention. And overestimating the strength of the mainstream narrative of events, I think the Professor believed he had stumbled on the true weak point of Moldbug’s case, a flaw that could be used to legitimately discard his worldview as “unserious”. Therefore, repeating much the same lines as you will hear from any post-colonial freshman seminar, Matt McManus dispensed with the serpent of neo-reaction.
However, probably to McManus’s surprise, Yarvin replied back to defend his heresies. Supporting his claims with primary sources and books written close to the time of the events in question, Yarvin asked earnestly if the mainstream narrative held up to independent scrutiny. If the history of the last two centuries really was as Howard Zinn described it, as McManus describes it, how does one explain these testimonials, these relevant comparisons? The existence of the modern world? Yarvin had plenty of questions based on well-documented texts, and a set of very academic problems for the good professor. Certainly, with such a collegiate attitude, could a modern academic defer from the challenge?
What resulted instead was less an intellectual dialectic than a pharisaical academic Marx brothers routine, with Matt McManus and his colleagues tripping over themselves to sputter out condemnations, calling Yarvin's historical analysis "lazy". “Lazy”? I suppose because the independent analysis based on the actual historical text didn’t obtain prior approval from the academic consensus it was meant to challenge? It was obvious that neither Matt, nor any of the other lefty academic types wanted to take on Yarvin’s factual contentions, and by the time I was leaving Twitter for Lent, Matt was quick at work inventing new campy epithets for Yarvin to demonstrate to his online progressive audience that arguments of these types weren’t worth his time.
Wanting to see the point pushed a little further, I reached out to Matt asking him for the real reasons why an open debate with Yarvin couldn’t continue. Eventually, Matt publicly admitted that the real reason he had no interest in continuing the conversation was less the nature of the question than his opinion that Yarvin was acting immorally; mind you, Not for any specific action or intellectual dishonesty on Curtis’s part, but because Yarvin was a public advocate against progress and egalitarianism, an opinion that apparently put extended public debate beyond the pale.
And it’s at this point, I had to take a step back.
Sure, I get it. I am a religious man myself, so I know how this works. “Error has no rights”. And in a sense all wrong ideas are “immoral” and spreading wrong ideas is an immoral act. But liberal academia is not supposed to work this way. I can’t answer Ibn Khaldun’s historical perspective by labeling him as an unrepentant Mohammedan. I can’t refute Giordano Bruno’s cosmology by condemning him as a filthy heretic. The factual contentions and arguments must stand apart. This is the basis for all open intellectual inquiry, the reason why academic dialectics and the supposed “marketplace” of ideas work and we don’t all just collapse into religious war. I know this. Matt knows this. And feigning ignorance is a trick McManus is playing on his audience. Matt’s trick might work for some time yet, but not much longer.
And it really has nothing to do with some great argument Yarvin is making, or even the “correctness” of his positions. Love him or hate him, as everyone knows, Yarvin has been very very wrong about a number of things. The problem comes down to the fact that none of the ideas the left criticizes and condemns in Yarvin are at all original. The concepts Curtis uses to direct his worldview are old, very old, and in fact, comprise a foundational pillar of the Western tradition.
At the end of the analysis, if Yarvin is out of the conversation because of his “anti-egalitarianism”, who exactly is in?
Just as there is no coherent standard of “anti-slavery” ethics that condemns Robert E. Lee which does not also condemn George Washington. There is no moral standard that can condemn Curtis Yarvin for his anti-egalitarianism that does not also condemn Thomas Carlyle, Roger Scruton, David Hume, and Aristotle. Huge swathes of the Western tradition now declared immoral and out of bounds? As it would seem the vast majority of the Western tradition is totally unacceptable, save a tiny corridor of thought beginning around Jean-Jacques Rousseau and only being properly completed by John Rawls.
I think here perhaps Matt would defend himself by citing some special quality of the New Right that makes it uniquely historically deplorable, beyond its simple anti-egalitarian tendencies. But this is transparent anachronism used in the service of post hoc self-justification. Are we supposed to believe that the personal qualities of an eccentric San Francisco computer programmer with a penchant for old books trigger some deep disapprobation in the progressive imagination that wouldn’t also be triggered by the racist white male philosophers of the Enlightenment, the slave-holding luminaries of the American Revolution, or men like Aristotle and Plato (themselves scions of ancient militaristic and slave-holding societies)?
Indeed, progressives are experiencing a real emotional reaction that tells them that these ideas are evil. But they misidentify the source of this reaction as a new development on the right, when really it is a new development on the left. Progressives are experiencing a metastization of their own leftist worldview from its considerate liberal origins to a revolutionary puritanical hysteria. And now, as the new attitude of the left creeps forward, it identifies ever more broad elements of human thought to be heretical and morally unacceptable.
Is there a way around this problem for the honest progressive? There certainly are personal solutions. But for progressive academia, this new development is almost certainly fatal to the project of open inquiry.
For example, Matt is supposed to be a modern liberal academic. So how does he describe his chief adversaries ideologically? Are the adversarial ideas well represented in his students and colleagues, and the intellectual tradition that he finds worthy of debate? And if so what is his relation to the thinkers from these schools? Are they valued colleagues honestly examining hard political questions in a spirit of open debate? Or do they simply represent a moral failing bearing some archaic defect that preemptively disqualified their concerns from consideration?
And really, in the professional academic context, it has to be one of the other. A school’s job is to defend its wards from evil while exposing them to adversarial ideas so the distinction between the first and the second must be very bright.
When you see a co-ed in the hallways of Hogwarts holding a copy of Salazar Slytherin's Collected Works, do you invite her to a seminar on magical lineage or report her to the school counselor as a potential security risk to other students? If the resident quidditch fan posts a banner of the Slytherin emblem before the big game, is he showing understandable house spirit, or brandishing a hate symbol? If in a class on magical biology, a contrarian student brings up a topical point about the statistical differences in magical aptitude between muggle-born and pure-blood populations, is she presenting an interesting idea for discussion or an actionable threat to the well-being of the muggle-born students in the class?
There need to be answers to these questions. And the answers can’t suddenly change from one day to the next. You can't play quidditch against Slytherin on Monday, then send them to Azkaban prison when you are sore about losing on Tuesday. You can't invite the Malfoy family to a theological debate on Wednesday and then charge them with blasphemy for arguing their side on Friday. Not if you want to present any semblance of academic integrity.
There is a perennial challenge I issue to progressive thinkers who have dedicated their careers to studying evil right-wingers like myself:
Can you, a progressive, come on my channel and earnestly try to persuade me and my (right-wing) community to join the political left?
Even though this is an incredibly simple request, for the most part, these activist types never say yes to this proposition. They never want to speak TO the people they make a living speaking ABOUT.
I guess I should say "almost never", because, as an exception to this rule, and to his great credit, at the time of this writing, Professor McManus has tentatively agreed to do just this sometime, early Summer of 2023. Still, the good professor was very hesitant about the necessary framing of this discussion. And although academic integrity compelled him to the terms, I could tell Matt did not relish the prospect of speaking in a persuasive capacity to a right-wing counterpart on equal terms, even if he couldn't explain his reservations.
Since I don't like to draw people into rhetorical traps that could be damaging to their careers, I will here lay my cards on the table and explain why progressives like Matt are right to regard such discussion with trepidation.
In brief, the reason for the hesitancy to engage in dialectic is that the overarching practical political narrative of the left relies on there being no collective and legitimate non-progressive concern. Once a right-wing community is framed as a client, as a concerned party with needs to be met and legitimate values to be addressed, the modern leftist kayfabe falls in a heap. The progressive party cannot simultaneously portray itself as caring, authentic, and concerned.
More immediately, in any open dialectic with a right-winger, a leftist would have to face any number of hard questions about a set of ineffective and vindictive social democratic policies that have demonstrably destroyed human health and cohesion throughout many communities. And, since the persuasive frame excludes the common rhetorical dodge tactics, smart-sounding leftist answers to these concerns would not be forthcoming. There are honest responses, and there are the responses left-wing orthodoxy considers “correct”, each being, more often than not, in direct contradiction with the other.
But the core issue is more fundamental, since the simple act of engaging with a thoughtful right-winger in a frame that portrays them as a party with legitimate concerns destroys the core narrative of the new left, which needs its political opposition to be simultaneously incompetent and demonic.
To return once more to the Hogwarts example, suppose one day Harry Potter, using his cloak of invisibility, happens upon the headmaster Dumbledore in a discussion with Lucius Malfoy about how Hogwarts’ curriculum will benefit the Malfoy family and increase the reach of House Slytherin’s academic tradition.
What has Harry witnessed? Not much. This is only Dumbledore engaging in good academic best practices, a collegiate discussion with a parent as to how best to manage the school's pursuit of proper student development. Yet how different would the reaction be had the topic changed only a little? Perhaps with Malfoy and Dumbledore discussing how best to increase the interests of The Death Eaters and spread the practice of Dark Magic? In that case, Dumbledore is guilty of high treason and deserves to be sacked if not sent to Azkaban prison.
The distinction between client and wrong-doer, between alternative academic ideas and pernicious social iniquity is bright indeed. See the distinction? I am sure you do. I am sure Matt does. But you know who doesn’t? Virtually all of Matt’s younger progressive audience.
It is very important to understand, that this failure is not personal but institutional and generational. Even if McManus bites the bullet and takes up my difficult offer for conversation, he will only manage to escape repercussions through a combination of wits and luck, which might not always be there. And as the generations shift, the window to pull off this kind of stunt will close, as the ideological basis for the permanent revolution solidifies.
And therein lies the fundamental political lesson for myself, that only emotionally solidified at this late date, post my interaction with McManus.
In our age, in our special civilizational epoch, being an honest institutionally affiliated academic is impossible. And (as I would like my more Nietzschean readers to note) the problem lies less with particular issues in leftism than in our modern relationship to knowledge and ideas.
Once the death of God has been sincerely proclaimed, once the world is “disenchanted”, once our leaders believe there is no greater source of truth or goodness that binds them to the pursuit of either, then the relationship between man, power, and inquiry changes fundamentally. Revolutionary and political values will eclipse spiritual and religious ones. The managerial imperatives will become crudely utilitarian, and the use of adversarial debate to test ideas will be subsumed by the need to achieve rank political ends.
Despite what liberal pronouncements institutions make at their outset, without a higher commitment to some spiritual ethos, the managerial perspective will always become enthralled by politicized ideology, killing off inquiry in the name of activism and expediency, which is to say, killing truth in the name of power. Because in the absence of God, in the absence of any telos, power is all that remains as a justifying force for inquiry and argument, no matter how many beautiful progressive sounding words we use to describe its conclusions.
The great irony for modern aspiring professors like McManus is that the professional stature of academic life he covets is practically prohibited by the post-teleological worldview he confesses. Eventually, post-modernity turns everything into politics, and politics consolidates into power-hungry activism in turn destroying any belief in persuasive dialectics. But once a thinker leaves persuasive conversation by the wayside, he is no longer performing the role of a classic professor like Dumbledore, instead, he is following in the footsteps of Harry Potter’s own profession and has become an Auror, or as we say in the non-wizarding world, an inquisitor.
And I say this, as a post-progressive myself, I understand the need for inquisitors. It’s not a profession that attracts my ambitions but it is still a profession that is sometimes needed in a just society. I “respect the office” so to speak. And we all think Gregor Eisenhorn is a badass for a reason.
However, even if necessary, what grants the inquisitor his nobility, and what justifies his rage, is the slithering and deceptive nature of heresy, which promotes seductive and harmful ideas with the camouflage of lies and misrepresentation. But the office loses all dignity when it hides its purpose and conviction behind a deceptive pretense of being academic, much less when the ideas it defends are actively destroying humanity.
And if this disgusting farce is what the modern university seeks to train, the only thing it CAN train, then I want absolutely no part in the endeavor.
Those Who Walk Away from Hogwarts
At this point, I arrive at the part of the essay relevant for long-time readers and friends, the only subject topical to our own period of crisis in the early 21st century buried under two digressions about internet fights and pop culture. As always, what remains for us as dissidents is to cultivate the right attitude that will help us survive post-modernity. We can talk all we want about decline, ridiculous out-of-date world-views, and hilariously self-contradicting entertainment products, but it does not get us out of needing to answer this larger, more serious, question.
Would I insult the reader too much by continuing to explore the issue through references to Harry Potter?
In fact, the topics are not so disconnected in my mind, autobiographically, as the article that encouraged me first to pick up Rowling’s Young Adult Opus, was also one of the first articles that made me question the tone and direction of modern culture. At the time, I remember having a good number of friends into Harry Potter, first ironically, as a guilty pleasure, and then later, as "Nerd Culture" became a thing, as a self-professed and ironic part of their own identity.
At the time, thinking the craze more than a little embarrassing, I scoured the internet for scathing reviews of Harry Potter and came across a quite notable review by the author A.S. Byatt in the New York Times. Strangely enough, Byatt (herself famous for writing what will perhaps be the last academic romance) actually had something to say. Rather, than simply taking Rowling to task for her juvenile plot and predictable indulgent storytelling, the author pointed out a deeper absence in Harry Potter that also inhabited most modern fantasy literature. For whatever reason, these new tales, possessed a complete absence of the mystery and romance that was once the core of stories that described the fantastic. In modern fantasy literature, the sense of the deep and mystical was replaced by more tame entertainment archetypes that could be easily digested by a mass audience.
I remember reading about this absentness and thinking back to the (recent) Peter Jackson adaptation of Lord of the Rings. No matter how much Jackson’s movie series was able to capture the look of the books, the films seemed to miss something essential about what Tolkien was trying to express. Or as Byatt put it when describing Rowlings’ writing: "The (modern) magic world has no place for the numinous".
Afterward, I remember voraciously consuming the Harry Potter books, looking for this absence. And while I found the books more entertaining than I imagined, I could see what Byatt was talking about. Everything in Harry Potter's universe felt institutional, on rails. It was all part of a formula and predefined process Potter and his friends were "experiencing", but that never really challenged them to the core of their souls. It’s not that there weren't evocative elements in Rowling’s universe, it was that the plot seemed constantly to cut away from them, directing readers’ attention back to the petty plot points that would keep the novel's beat storytelling churning along.
For the longest time, I took it as an entertaining mental exercise, to imagine how one might "fix" Harry Potter. How might a skilled author, re-direct the plot and the cast of characters so that they might explore the deeper and more cathartic human elements of the wizarding world? And here, my thoughts returned to House Slytherin.
After all, post the canonical book series, Slytherin was on the outs. They were the underdogs, the villains, and, if the Harry Potter “Extended Universe” followed its own logic, soon-to-be exiles from the world they once considered to be their dominion. But in that dispossession lay a certain bizarre liberty. They were leaving the world of Hogwarts. But they were also leaving the world of institutional magic, bureaucracies of sorcery, enchantments sold for gold and silver, and worst yet, the world of politicized academia.
What remained after all that was gone? Nothing but themselves, their values, their talents, and an old magical world. If the Slytherin exiles kept their pride and their heads steady what would they find in the wilds of the magical realm beyond the imagination of Hogwarts? Perhaps the numinous?
When it comes to my own community of dissidents, my own fellow travelers, and my own family, I sometimes like to think of us in the position of a newly exiled Malfoy family. How would Draco, Astoria, and Scorpius face a newly hostile world, naked and without the institutional support they once imagined? Where should they go? What should they hope for? And what should their priorities be? And what would be the things they held dear and defended firmly against every darkness?
You can never really leave the place that created you. But exiles can’t take everything with them. So what to keep and what to leave behind? And is there a new life to be had if exile is, indeed, eternal? Here there are many lessons for us, some sober, some comforting, and some harsh.
I think the first lesson for those newly exiled comes down to developing a sense of acceptance. Do not be the ones who orbit around the Hogwarts that exiled you, be the ones who walk away. Do not lament the institution that turned you to the winds. I suppose I can thank Professor McManus for completing this process in my own mind if only the penultimate step. Still, there are far too many of us, who, in different ways, wish to see the old world come back and dedicate an insane amount of time to lamenting over its corpse. This is one of the greatest pitfalls for the dispossessed because nostalgia is, in fact, your tormentor's last cruelty, the reason why exile is so frequently a capital punishment.
Man is not an island. He needs the polis to define him and give his life purpose. And for those born into such an over-socialized reality, the narrative of the modern world defined every aspect of our being, even as we raged against it. Do we even know what we are on the other side of our departure from it?
Eventually, I think, the only solution will be psychological separation, a breaking of ways with the narrative frame of the old world. Whatever else is truly good and beautiful, whatever it is that is left when you turned your back on Hogwarts, it does not define your identity. You are no longer of "House Slytherin", you are no longer a "conservative", or a "Republican" or a "patriot". These are institutional relationships that now only act as a millstone around your neck, dragging you into the suicide of an old order.
But in this process of separation is there nothing to be salvaged from what we once knew about ourselves and the things we used to believe? Not at all.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the difference between good and evil, light and darkness, order and chaos. Whatever else is forgotten this must be remembered. The old order called us devils because they needed a devil to cover the tracks of their lies. But we are not devils, nor should we be tempted to their cause simply to spite our former adversaries, though many, I am afraid, will take this path. Whatever else was untruth, the existence of chaos and the dark arts were very real, and they remain no less ruinous now than ever. Our ancestors knew this all, before the first stone of the old world was set in place. Will this again have to be relearned through hard experience? If so, it will be a deadly lesson for both body and soul.
But after the threat of spiritual ruin, there remains the question of what might lead us forward and give us a greater purpose. Perhaps we can start with the things that we can’t leave behind: our faith, our families, the bond to our posterity, the link to our ancestors, and what remains of our heritage after the severing of all institutional bonds. Here there are some tricky questions, the fine line between the songs and spirit which might provide hope for the future and dangerous nostalgia that might chain us to a dead dream.
How would the exiled Malfoys now look back on the annals of their ancient family and the men of their tradition who forged their magical heritage? It’s difficult certainly, our ancestors will always be with us, and there is always a way in which we cannot escape their influence. But, just like Lot’s wife, there is danger in looking backward as the power of the past has a habit of obsessing the mind, never allowing us to make a new start.
Here, I have noticed two dangers. The first is a kind of reflexive recrimination against the old order, trying to find the source of the past decline by attacking working traditions because they were the immediate location of the previous catastrophe. To me, these efforts always appear like a parent trying to cut the healthy lungs out of a child because their grandparent died of lung cancer. This mistake has many becoming retroactive Fire Marshalls for a long past world, enacting preventative controlled fires long after the forest has burnt down and they should be looking for seedlings to replant.
Another symmetrical mistake is to turn one’s existence into a type of Egyptian cult of death. Worshiping the romance of some past “Golden Age” that existed once and will never return. We were great in the past, now no more. And the rest of our collective existence must be a funeral procession to decorate the grave of a world that can no longer be.
But really, in a state of decline and exile, how can we regard a past that is larger than us? Dwarfing us both with its own majesty and degeneration, its extreme depravity and impossible heroism?
The only option is to maintain perspective. Perhaps the way the exiled Malfoy Family might regard the contradictory heritage of a Salazar Slytherin.
For instance, was there any validity in Salazar’s penchant for pureblooded magical lineage? Maybe. It almost certainly was based on some kernel of truth. But how relevant is that particular truth in the new age when the boundaries that constructed that distinction are crumbling down? After all, there will be half-blood and muggle allies which the Malfoys will need to survive, even if there is a separation at some level. And rank bigotry or condescension is a luxurious vice hardly affordable to the destitute. And so following a new sense of realism, a modern Malfoy may look back on, Salazar Slytherin with nuance: a person with many talents, much wisdom, some obsessions, and some failings but very much a man of his own time, only appreciable as such.
Because whatever virtues or vices Salazar Slytherin may have possessed in life, whatever wisdom he might have created which still exists, the man is dead. And there is no use in making the future a slave to his legacy. The only way to guard your family’s bloodline and find a new way for it to thrive is to seek its good within the actual challenges and opportunities of the world around you, pureblood, half-blood, or muggle.
Will this involve breaking faith with some strictures of the old order to find a new way? Perhaps. There most certainly is a trade-off here, and not an easy one. Our ancestors, even those long removed from our times, do pass judgment on what we have built in this very different world. And for those of us who must, by necessity, take a different path, the only way to rightly address the challenge of the past is to cleave ever closer to the spirit of what our ancestors loved, even as we might cleave away from some of the forms they promulgated.
People call me a “traditionalist” online but I don’t really advocate for anything “Traditional” per se, just things that I find useful for the cause of life. After all the dead things must remain in their graves until judged by a Higher Power. They have no right to the future independent of the truth, goodness, or beauty they point to. I don’t tell people that they should read old books because they are old, I don’t tell people to believe in God because religion is good for society, I don’t put forward Christianity because Jesus was part of our heritage and a hero who died nobly.
No, the only reason you should read a book is that there is something true or beautiful in it, the only reason to believe in God is that God exists and is present in every moment of existence, and the only reason you should follow Christ is that He is alive.
And this brings me to the final and most poignant lesson for the dispossessed: the imperative to find new life. There was the old life that failed, never to return. But where does new collective vitality start? Almost certainly with the concept of the numinous.
We stand now in a strange and dark wilderness, a middle place between a dying old order and a crawling chaos that may devour us all. And yet, these conditions, though dire, are ideal for our purpose of discovering new transcendence.
Out there remains an untamed world with beasts that our ancestors once knew, but which are no less dangerous now. There will be dragons, not as elements of a game, but as menacing predators bringing ruin in their wake. There will be contests with mortal consequences on all sides, demons that can corrupt the body and soul, and treasures that, if won, can secure a new future, and perhaps even a better world.
This new world will require struggle, but our peril is poetic. Because it is only in these wild places that we can accomplish our task to rediscover purpose, since purpose is the possession of a wild God.
However, throughout this all, there is one imperative that I want my readers to remember in their journeys, so long missing in our own society: the imperative of love. Here, I don’t just mean love for each other and our families, but love for higher things, chief among them Truth, the virtue of sincere curiosity. It is exactly this curiosity that the old world forgot and which doomed it to dull ruination. But if we can yet see further into those mysterious places of wonder and danger, and not turn away, that fire may be kindled anew. Because it is only through a Love for the truth, with all its challenges, complexities, and mysteries that real magic may be discovered, and the whole world made enchanted once more.