The State Reborn: Abandoning A Liberal Mythology

I recently had the chance to read two essays authored by Giovanni Gentile, one of the philosophical minds of Italian Fascism (kudos to Reactionary Future for making them available). These essays provide an important perspective for a Right long bathed in the doctrines of libertarianism, “small government,” and the belief that the American constitution is holy writ. Of particular interest are his words on the nature of the state:

From three separate quotes in The Doctrine of Fascism, co-written with Mussolini:

“[The State’s] functions cannot therefore be limited to those of enforcing order and keeping the peace, as the liberal doctrine had it. It is no mere mechanical device for defining the sphere within which the individual may duly exercise his supposed rights.

Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life. It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this propose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway. Therefore it has chosen as its emblem the Lictor’s rods, the symbol of unity, strength, and justice.

Fascism has restored to the State its sovereign functions by claiming its absolute ethical meaning, against the egotism of classes and categories; to the Government of the state, which was reduced to a mere instrument of electoral assemblies, it has restored dignity, as representing the personality of the state and its power of Empire.

This conception of the state rejects the fundamental idea of political Liberalism, which is that the state exists in order to protect the rights of citizens from each other and otherwise act as a neutral force in disputes. It does not exist to promote or suppress values or a particular vision of the common good. Each citizen has an equal right to advance their own vision of what is good, provided they do not violate any other citizen’s right to do the same.

However, the Liberal state’s rejection of a common good has resulted in the eradication of a common good from society as a whole. Opposition to political enforcement of religious or social norms became opposition to so-called oppressive norms altogether. The continuing march of secular, “post-religious” values against Christianity in the religious sphere is merely one manifestation of the phenomenon. Large sections of the Right, even the dissident Right, take part in this march when they oppose Islam on the grounds that it attacks the Liberal tradition.  They portray this tradition as being fundamental to Western civilization.

In Gentile’s words, “Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual.” In reacting against Liberalism, Marxism restored the individual to a historic socio-economic class. Gentile sees this criticism as valid; in his eyes, Fascism in turn bested Marxism by restoring the various classes to a cohesive social and national entity with its sovereign political center in the state.

Had Gentile lived in our day, he might have realized that it is possible to take his criticism of Liberalism much further. Gentile was writing at a time when the various abolitionist and moral crusading factions of the 19th century had only recently coalesced into the Progressive movement. In fact, his day saw crossover and mutual admiration between Progressivism and Fascism. In our time, Progressivism has turned into a force for the absolute emancipation of the individual from social roles, duties, hierarchy, judgement, and differentiation.

All political currents within the modern Liberal state take part in this project. One faction champions “muscular liberalism“; another demands that educational institutions must firmly adhere to Progressive social doctrine; indeed, the very bishops of the remaining state churches do not want to be seen as favoring any one religion. If anyone doubts the success of this agenda, the Millennial generation has decisively proved them wrong. We are the most moralistic and puritanical generation since that of the 1950s. The Boomers and Gen X are prone to calling Millennials crybabies. Perhaps they sense that we have abandoned their petty rebellions. But the morality which this generation so fanatically promotes is none other than that which has been inculcated into us by the Cathedral system: the media, the schools, the government, and even the corporate world.

The ideology of Social Progress is the child of Liberalism. But whereas classical Liberalism left judgement of individual goods and desires to social institutions, such as the Church and family, Progressive ideology seeks an active state role in removing judgement of individual goods and desires altogether. The Liberal parent sees the violation of personal consent as the only justification for state intervention; the Social Progressive child sees this violation as the only thing to be judged at all. To this end, it harnesses public education, “hate speech” laws, and so on. The promotion of mass immigration and the resulting multicultural ideology also aids this agenda by increasingly tainting ethical and social judgement with religious and ethnic tribalism.

How did Liberal neutrality become a normative, state-enforced political agenda? Gentile may provide us with an answer:

The authority of the State is absolute. It does not compromise, it does not bargain, it does not surrender any portion of its field to other moral or religious principles which may interfere with the individual conscience. But on the other hand, the State becomes a reality only in the consciousness of its individuals.

When Gentile outlines this view, he presents it as the Fascist answer to the “paradox of liberty and authority.” But this is why Gentile’s analysis does not go far enough. The evolution of Liberalism into the ideology of Social Progress proves that this lack of compromise, this refusal to “surrender any portion of its field,” is in fact a characteristic of the state per se. The statement which Gentile presents as normative is in fact positive.

This same observation is what leads Mencius Moldbug to reject libertarianism:

All schools of libertarianism, whether Rothbardian or Randian or (nearly-stillborn) Nozickian, rest on the idea of limited government. Note the intrinsic absurdity of this concept. If some government is limited by its own volition, it can abandon these limits at any time. (Historical experience suggests that the “sacred-document” trick is of extremely limited utility in preventing it from doing so.) If the government is limited by some external power, it is not a government in the usual sense of the word, and we should direct our attention to the limiting power.

It is at this point that the libertarian typically reveals his inner democrat, and suggests that the sovereign power of the People will preserve liberty. First, this hasn’t exactly worked in practice. Second, true sovereignty demands actual military superiority, which may have existed in 1787 but has certainly gone missing since then. If the military of any modern country faced off against the rest of its population, each side being united, the former would win every time. And third, the State can escape this check quite easily, because it can indoctrinate its subjects to despise rebellion and love its motherly care.

The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors. Note: Social Progress cannot be measured, weighed, or mathematically described. It is a phenomenon unfolding teleologically through human history. It is no less mystical and unempirical than the Hindu Yugas.

The libertarian-anarchist would reply that this is proof of the fundamentally oppressive nature of the state, and that it should therefore be done away with.

This response is based on another sham: the idea that the state arises to due social contract and conscious decision-making and can therefore simply be abolished. The topic has been addressed elsewhere, and we won’t discuss it further in this article. However, it should be stressed that the mere rejection of the fiction of “limited government” doesn’t imply total state domination. It is not only possible but prudent and necessary for rulers to exercise restraint.

Singapore is an excellent example of a state which is often called authoritarian but in practice allows a large measure of personal liberty. What it does not allow is the liberty to subvert the state’s legitimacy and the social order; in this spirit, it differs not a whit from our own democratic polities, where any serious criticism of progressive mores falls on a spectrum from “fired from job” to “jailed for hate speech.”

For us who accept the state as a social and historical necessity – an emergent phenomenon in all large human societies – we must also come to terms with the power of the state to shape public mores and worldviews. Regardless of how liberal and above-the-fray its rulers would like to be, the state must and will promote some vision of a common good by logical necessity.

The question is not whether a state should actively promote a conception of the common good, but rather what conception of the common good that state will promote.

Those who stand with it are rewarded with favors and funding, and those who oppose it are suppressed. This  suppression ranges from mere exclusion from power, influence, and respectable dinner parties, through criminalizing speech, all the way to stake-burning. Most states fluctuate.

In order to overcome the political schizophrenia which birthed the ideology of Social Progress, a different and greater vision of the common good must be advanced. The competition to establish such a vision is what both divides and unites all critics of Liberalism, both from the Right and the Left. One of the fundamental criticisms of Fascism from the Right, including by Julius Evola, was that it did not go beyond the state and nation. Italian Fascism tenuously accepted Catholicism, but never linked its teleological mission to a metaphysical and Divine order of the cosmos. Perhaps this stemmed from its suspicion of both the failed “reactionary” factions and of the intelligentsia which divorced thought from action.

The vision of the common good does not simply promote a set of abstract values, but determines the whole mission, order, and life of a society and the people who comprise it. It unites the social order and gives it purpose.

A worldview which recognizes this rejects the fiction of a neutral, liberal state and embraces the active and formative ethical state. It may be made eloquent in writing and thought, but it is made real and manifest through action and daily life.

That is why Islam is currently on the path to victory over both its Progressive and Rightist opponents. If the West is given an alternative, that order must and will do the same.

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11 Comments

  1. ConantheContrarian March 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I found this phrase very interesting: “…but never linked its teleological mission to a metaphysical and Divine order of the cosmos. ” So let’s say we link it to this phrase: “a different and greater vision of the common good must be advanced.” So what we have is policy or mission seeking a common good for the greater population linked to a metaphysical and Divine order.

    I would love to know how a modern politician in this atheistic age can do this among the nations of Western Civilization. I happen to be a Christian that believes that we live in a world affected by the Fall–each person lives in fallen flesh and has a tendency to wickedness; the world/nature is inimical to life with scarcity and ever present danger; and spiritual enemies wishing to do us harm.
    To me the common good could be a short term policy goal, e.g., structuring a vibrant economy, while the long term strategy would be to provide a vision for a national destiny. But I don’t know. Help.

    1. Cosmos = Order

      In Fascist thinking, there is a lot said about ‘national soul’ – since Fascism (and its weaker forms of nationalism, socialism, etc) have to understand the end to which they are ordering the things that they have taken command of, they need to conceptualize it.

      De Jouvenel notes that the King often becomes his nation – James I is England, not merely its representative in the demographic sense. (Note that symbolic vs. demographic representation is an important distinction.) In the case of conquerors, the link is clear – where the conqueror sends his armies, there the nation goes and its fortunes with it. In those moments there is clear connection between his will and their’s. This is probably part of the reason why Fascist regimes tend to be aggressive, though it’s hard to tell – every powerful regime in the early 20th century was aggressive and conquest-minded, only differing in means. Arguably, inasmuch as all of them were fascistic, they were also socialistic. And this fed a kind of ‘national’ egoism.

      To the point, however, a ‘bully’ – by which we mean a child who, in a disorderly and disruptive fashion, asserts his will against any other child he thinks he can get it with, is often one with a lot of will but weak in self-reflection. Therefore, if one were to rigorously understand one’s ‘national soul’ from the standpoint of the leadership, it might avoid these excesses in aggression. My belief is that since we are formed through action, inchoate but willful entities will tend to be aggressive, but foolishly so.

      I don’t know if Evola would agree with me here, but I think that if National Socialist Germany had a more rigorous and realistic self-conception, they may have done a better job at surviving in the long term. That they had more of a self-conception than say, the USA did, didn’t save them — the USA was a mess of conflicted interests generally looking to get power into the hands of friends and out of those of enemies. But to formalize the state requires thought, and most of the thought ended up being demotic in nature. The Liberal state can avoid such questions for a time, if only because it is presently in a friendly environment (and has been for awhile.)

      Common goods must be defined, I think as a starting point, as concrete commons – an example would be the quality of water in the aquifer in my local area. Another less concrete but real common would be economic; i.e. my ability to acquire quality food, to get quality goods delivered, to have a market for my skills (whether as a laborer or a seller of those services,) etc. A pathway to space for your nation would be another concrete common – whether accessible by all or not – just like having a good port was always (and I think still remains) a goal for many countries.

      As for the vision, mythology is required and the only one we have is the Whig one (which denies being a mythology.) The article above is but another working to expose and cast down these idols of clay.

    2. “I would love to know how a modern politician in this atheistic age can do this among the nations of Western Civilization.”

      Good question. I doubt a politician can. First of all, an actual vision of the common good and values must be forged or re-forged. Christianity is in the position of the blade that was broken. A group (perhaps a Maennerbund) must dedicate themselves to furthering that common vision. In order to restore a common good to the political sphere, that group must attain sovereign power. So we’re back to Moldbug’s Procedure.

      Step 1: Become worthy.

      1. ConantheContrarian March 4, 2016 at 9:47 am

        Become worthy, indeed. A maennerbund is an interesting concept, but it also requires a leader. I have political ambitions. You have inspired me to think in different ways, Christensen.
        One more thing, what does the picture of the man holding the swords and the three men reaching for them? Horatius? Just curious.

        1. I forgot that the captions don’t show with cover photos.

          It’s the Oath of the Horatii. The brothers are swearing to fight and give their lives for the good of Rome in a duel with men from Alba Longa, a rival in the city’s most ancient past.

          The idea of a night watchman state, as opposed to a formative sovereign power for the common good, would be inconceivable for those men.

  2. Since the Von Mises/Rothbardian version of anarchy is a private property anarchy, it inevitably opens up the door to a monarch who, based on private property rights must enforce the principle of the society on the idiots who would ruin everything. If there is no one to do this, then the idiots will gather together, hold elections and/or otherwise just vote to take what they want.

    Besides, I tried calling myself an anarchist for a while, and only an extremely small number of people understood me.

  3. Mark,

    interesting. I knew the form of fascism and how it differs from liberalism, but not how Gentile and Mussolini formulated it. Though not a reason to support fascist forms of state.

    “The promotion of mass immigration and the resulting multicultural ideology also aids this agenda by increasingly tainting ethical and social judgement with religious and ethnic tribalism.”

    – Why should ethical or social judgements be tainted by religious or ethnic tribalism? The present universal ethics amounts metaphorically to a person saying, “I love everybody.” What if tomorrow 10 000 women enter and say, “You said you love me. If you love me, you give me money to support my children and take care of my children, while I am away.” Although these are a vanishingly small fraction of all the people in the world, they are enough to show that this universal love is a fake. Secular universal morality, if it is not mainly voluntary, depends on discipline, law and order, warfare, economic and regulation power, and nearly unlimited resources, and nobody has enough of these to implement such morality. Luckily.

    “Leftist entryism is another phenomenon that is simply too complex for anarcho-capitalism to handle. Physically removing Leftists from Ancapistan is one thing, but given Leftists’ propensity to lie about their motivations and intentions until they acquire the power to enact their agenda, ferreting out hidden Leftists and keeping them out of positions of influence have to be significant concerns for Ancapistan. It does us no good to build a functioning society only for Leftists to swoop in and destroy it.”

    – There was of course hidden leftists, but the leftists mainly didnt come from the outside. The nature of state power has formed bureaucrats interests in such a way, that leftism seems a natural consequence. State has a tendency, when given enough time, to become leftist, whatever is the original political form of the state.

    The problem with liberalism, fascism, nationalism and socialism / communism is that they all see competition as a primary value. They are all based on Darwinian evolutionary competitive model, and progress in them is the victorious competitor or competitors. In liberalism individuals compete against each other, in fascism and nationalism states or nations compete against each other, and in socialism and communism classes compete against each other. Liberalism tries to conceal this competition more than the others, to some extent even pretend that it does not exist, but the competition is so fierce and obvious that anybody can see it, if he wants to. With what the liberal individual competes with? Intelligence, money, power and social status.

    When competition is the primary value, and there is not much to balance it with other concerns, and when the state and other large complex organizations try actively to prevent other concerns, overreach and self-destructive large scale mistakes are inevitable.

    You seem to be awestruck by the state’s power. I would like to moderate that view. It is in many ways illusion that power is over there in the hands of the state. Power is everywhere, it is in how people act, be and think in everyday life, how they go to a workplace and work there, behave in public places, talk in social circles, write in the internet, what kind of networks and social ties they have, etc. Power is not a static position, and the state has to bargain, negotiate and surrender its power all the time, from small scale things to large scale things. Example of small scale bargaining; In New York officials cannot control parking violations much, so New York officials have to accept certain amount of parking law breaking. The daily ‘dances’ of parking officials and car drivers define what the actual law is. New York is not the state, but it is an extension of the state. Examples of large scale bargaining and surrender; the state in many Western countries has to increasingly bargain with rising traditional conservative and immigration critique parties; United States had to in many ways give up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Socialism, communism, nationalism and fascism have already failed. When liberalism fails, the whole progressivism has run its course, the whole progressivism has failed. There is no progressive secular competition left after liberalism. Which is a good thing. The future society consists of more independent citizens, social networks and communities, the state will have less power.

    Progressivism has its origin in bureaucratic dilemma:

    When the first Islamic empire was forming, when the central bureaucracy / large complex organization was taking shape, the first Caliph lamented, “My tribesmen are willful, independent and unruly. When I try to order them, I have to negotiate with them a long time, give them too much from my wealth, and still they have a tendency to do what they want!” To solve this problem the Caliph imported new subjects from far away foreign lands. All their ethnic, familial, religious and cultural ties were cut, and, as they were unfitting and unconnected in their new land, their fate, prosperity, success, status, etc. was totally dependent on the Caliph. If the Caliph would order his new subjects to crush his own people, they would do it without hesitation, without questions and eagerly.

    In this interface between normal and universal conservative human morality and liberal artificial, stunted and machine-like bureaucracy morality we can see what happens; loyalty to own people is cut, local authorities are devalued or made unimportant, and own peoples sanctities and purities (rules, customs, holy things, culture, good self-image, etc.) are passively or actively, implicitly or explicitly defiled. Instead of gradually solving the problems with his tribesmen over several generations, evolving, and developing functioning arrangements, the Caliph is greedy, short termist and power hungry, he is blinded by his high status, he has already cut himself off mentally and socially from his own people, and he wants big empire things to happen within his lifetime, or to be more specific, almost immeadiately. Caliph owed everything he had and was to his own people, but he betrayed them. Caliph had before full human ties to his people, now he had more cold, calculating and technical ties to his new subjects and his tribesmen. When the new subjects start to form too much connections and ties, know more, decide and govern more, become more willful and demand more, the Caliph will throw them like a delicate flower under a horsewagon wheels, as much as he sees necessary, and acquires new cheap and atomized subjects from foreign lands. So a permanent revolution and subversion is formed inside and around the central bureaucracy. And why would the tribesmen always jump, run and swing according to the Caliphs whims? They have their own lives, and they have to take care of important social and business issues, they have their hands full as it is. They have obligations, loyalties and ties in their own communities.

    ***

    An idea: What if Social Matter -people established a ‘Tinkerers tree’ -site, where all the political, moral, ideological, social and economic theories of traditionalist conservatives would be collected? The theories would be arranged to a tree form to make the navigation fairly easy and outlook dashing. In one branch would be all the theories about e.g. socialism, and those theories could be commented, critiqued or complemented in other branches originating from the main branch. The site would be a go to -place of traditionalist conservatives when people want to understand society. The purpose is to improve and complement the theories constantly. From participants a certain good level of commenting is required, before they can add to the tree. Describing the functions, methods, processes and principles is important, naming the names should be avoided. The goal would be that the site develops to a science like description of societies, politics and economies.

    1. >Why should ethical or social judgements be tainted by religious or ethnic tribalism?

      I mean in the sense that ethical discussions end up being guises for more fundamental ethnic and religious conflict. Consider which groups are represented on the sides of the ethical question of what attitude should be taken toward refugees from war zones.

      >State has a tendency, when given enough time, to become leftist, whatever is the original political form of the state.

      Yes.

      >The state, power, permanent revolution

      Competition is a fundamental factor in all societies. I think the proper response is not asking whether competition is taken as a central concept or not, but whether the object of a school of thought is to increase competition or cooperation. Liberalism, Communism, and anti-imperialist Nationalisms seek to increase competition, while more rightist forms of Nationalism, Fascism, and the broader philosophies of the Right attempt to increase cooperation. Right is order, Left is chaos could be reworded as “Right is cooperation and unification, Left is competition and dissolution”. However, that means the Right must accept the competitive nature of power and work to overcome it.

      If I seem awed by the power of the state, I think it’s mainly because of my emphasis on contrasting the central thesis with the Liberal disguising of the state’s power. Regarding parts of the state using revolution as weapons to expand their own power, this is of course one of the core concerns of Moldbug’s work and influences, and I won’t attempt solutions here. Taking the observation that all states drift Leftist, it may be reducible but likely not solvable.

  4. If Islam is on a “path to victory”, it is only because they are having it handed to them on a silver platter by Western elites. On its own, Islamic civilization has probably never had less agency and power, relative to the West. It has been victim of dysgenic fertility for many centuries.

  5. I made some further notes from discussions which were had after I wrote the piece, and I decided to leave them here for readers.

    I made the observation that a political worldview which successfully displaces Liberalism must also displace its vision of the common good with a new and better one. One of the strong criticisms of Fascism from the Right is that it failed to do so. Julius Evola states throughout his work that the Fascist State faced internal contradictions in terms of its spiritual foundations – the force which shapes the vision of the common good. Early Fascism was shaped by ultramodernist, futurist, anticlerical forces. It included Nietzschean attitudes shaped by the war which despised Catholicism as weak and remembered that it had been an obstacle in the uniting of Italy. Evola himself linked these attitudes to a resurgence of pre-Christian values.

    Later on, the Fascist state reached a rapprochement with the Church, and Gentile sets the Fascist state in defense of religion. But the conflict between a Fascist philosophy of state and an independent religious institution like the Church is obvious: “The Fascist state claims its ethical character: it is Catholic but above all it is Fascist, in fact it is exclusively and essentially Fascist. Catholicism completes Fascism, and this we openly declare, but let no one think they can turn the tables on us, under cover of metaphysics or philosophy.”

    From this perspective, one of the core problems of Fascism was that it had been born and formed by forces which were nurtured outside of and even against the religious ethos which formed Italian mores and values. Upon attaining sovereign power, it still did not see itself as fundamentally Catholic and thus in a natural relationship with the Church. Gentile’s “catholicization” of the education system showed that this problem may have been on the road to some kind of resolution, but of course the war and the Fascist state’s ultimate defeat cut this reconciliation short.

    National Socialism’s relationship with Christianity was even more strained; the views of its influential thinkers ranged from “Aryanized” Christianity all the way to the open hostility of the pagan elements of the Party, especially in Himmler’s SS. Hitler himself was a moderate on this spectrum – he seems to have essentially been an atheistic social Darwinist who viewed Germany’s Christian identity as unfortunate, but who also thought that Himmler’s occult and pagan obsessions were nonsensical.

    This has some lessons on the path to a new conception of the common good. Because the value consensus of the state is promoted by the state, if it is formed outside the influence of an existing native religious tradition, then it will face necessary conflicts for influence with that tradition. Therefore, those seeking a new vision for the common good must in essence take a good hard look at the existing traditions around them (even if they exist in remnants, as Christianity) and decide for or against them. If we take a Moldbuggian view of religion as being essentially the normative value-creating Narrative/worldview of the elite, then the common good emerges from the religious ethos of the state. Note that it’s entirely possible to have non-theistic religions like Buddhism in power or a state religious ethos coexisting with non-competitive religions as in Japan or ancient Rome. However, even these states will suppress competitive religions as both of those countries did with Christianity.

  6. The State should be small.

    Not as in mainstream libertarianism / conservatism ‘small’, but organic. By this I mean one of the principles of Carlism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlism). The state should benefit society, not the other way around.

    The centralized state is the first, biggest sponsor of degeneracy and de-civilization. A decentralized set of aristocratic republics / monarchies (Liechtenstein, Early Middle Ages Northwestern Europe) would be absolutely great, and we, as reactionaries, should strive for them

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