Radix Journal

Radix Journal

A radical journal

Tag: Modernity

Why I Can’t Stand St. Patrick’s Day

I’ve always instinctively disliked St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was inured to the multicultural calendar of ethnic holidays I didn’t resonate with or understand….

I’ve always instinctively disliked St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was inured to the multicultural calendar of ethnic holidays I didn’t resonate with or understand. But no one ever expected me to actually celebrate Rosh Hashanah—or wear T-shirts that read “I’ve got a little Jewish in me” or pinch anyone not donning a yarmulke. At one point, I started wearing Orange on March 17 . . . though the message was seemingly lost on most everyone I encountered.

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Mad Men and Selective Censorship

“You can show a woman’s breast being cut off, but you cannot show her breastfeeding.”

Creator of Mad Men Matthew Weiner was recently in Paris to participate in a kind of yearly world fair of TV series.

(Unfortunately, I got wind of it only one week before the event, and tickets were long sold out.)

Weiner appeared on two panels, the first one to talk about Mad Men‘s coming finale (I’ll post an update to the review I wrote last year once the show is over), the second one on his cinematic influences.

In the latter, Weiner talked about the hypocrisy of his own network, AMC, which had no compunction in displaying very violent scenes in its show Breaking Bad, but deleted Mad Men scenes in which characters could be seen getting high or laid.

The fair was hosted by Paris’s city council, which might explain why the image and sound are mismatched in the second video. (In my libertarian days, I would have blamed it on public workers.)

I thus decided to extract the audio and repost it on YouTube with a static picture of Weiner. I also transcribed his statements.

It’s all below.

N.B.: Before you remind me: yes, I know that Weiner is not allowed to cook bagels on Saturdays. That doesn’t make his point wrong, nor does it prevent Mad Men from being high culture.

“I hated the control of language, and I hated the hypocrisy of the network.

They have their other show, Breaking Bad, which you’ve all seen and loved. They would shoot people in the face, and I couldn’t show somebody grabbing a boob!

They would tell me things like: ‘He’s squeezing her butt. Could you just have it happen outside the frame? Could he just reach to the frame?’

And of course, the minute you see that, you realise it’s so much dirtier! Because he’s squeezing her butt and she’s reacting to it with pleasure, and now that I can’t see it I don’t know where his hand is. And it just got a little bit dirtier.

They were doing someone teaching people how to make crystal meth, and I couldn’t show Peggy Olson inhaling a joint! We’re on the same network at the same time. Because people weren’t using the drug, they were just making it.

I don’t even know how to explain you the bullshit of American censorship. You have your own problems here, but we love violence, and we hate sex. You can show a woman’s breast being cut off, but you cannot show her breastfeeding! It’s really messed up.

[…]

Part of the story of Mad Men was the crudeness of the culture happening. You’ll see how much more explicit people become as the show goes on. The first time you hear the F-word — and it has to be bleeped in the United States — is around Season 5. These gentlemen were all in the Navy and the Army, and they know how to swear, and they swear a lot. They did not swear in the office, they tried not to. I had people tell me anecdotes about the first time someone swore in a meeting, and everybody just sort of being like: “Oh my God!”.

There’s a certain decorum, and as you watch the show go on, you will see it becomes cruder, louder, more explicit, less poetic. All of it was a deliberate journey into the modern world.”

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Keep Calm and Ride the Tiger

Islamic terrorism is the mirror image of liberal Modernity. Jihad advances on the rubble of the Post-Western Experiment, and the Post-Western Experiment needs formidable enemies like radical Islam to keep everyone in line.

This morning, when I left my hip Parisian studio to go to work, there was a parcel waiting for me at the lobby.

It wasn’t ticking, and it wasn’t a surprise either. I had been waiting for it for weeks. It was Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Soumission (Submission), which was released today. Soumission takes place in 2022 France. After Marine Le Pen’s close defeat in the 2017 presidential election, a vast coalition, including all mainstream parties, yet led by a French Muslim, Mohamed Ben Abbes, puts the last nail in Front National’s coffin. Now France’s Islamization will be allowed to proceed, unchallenged. (For once, I won’t make my usual — and yet never disproved… — point that Marine’s FN is not challenging it in any meaningful way.)

This was enough for the chattering class to complain for weeks that the book might be offensive and lack sensitivity, even if they couldn’t possibly have read it then. In our Age of Tweet, literary controversy, an old French tradition, doesn’t even require that one reads the book they criticize. One just has to comment on the book’s topic, or, in this case, title. As we know, the Arabic word for “submission” is… Islam.

I was reflecting on all that on my way to work, and I was already thinking about the mighty review I would post at Radix.

Later in the morning, one of my colleagues came to me and asked: “Have you seen what happened at Charlie Hebdo? There’s been a shooting. At least ten people have died.” The satirical weekly magazine’s headquarters being only 2,500 meters from where I work, my first reaction was one of surprise. I had been hearing no police or ambulance sirens. The neighborhood was quiet, at least as can be in Paris.

Once I realized what had happened, one of my first thoughts was that this shooting coincided with Houellebecq’s novel release. Another quick thought was that in Plateforme (Platform), published only days before 9/11, the story ended with an Islamic terrorist attack against a sex resort in Thailand. Houellebecq’s prophecy was that Islamic terrorists would make their last stand against Post-Western Modernity before the Islamic world, like Southeast Asia, would be absorbed and neutered in our Brave New World Order. Four years later, in La Possibilité d’une Île (The Possibility of an Island) Houellebecq developed this point and predicted that Islamism would be, much like the Beatnik or Hippie movements, a fad, waiting to be swallowed and reframed by Modernity.

I still believe this point to be correct, though there might be some upheavals in the meantime. And that’s what happened today at Charlie Hebdo.

And before I write negative things about this publication, I should state the obvious:

  • Yes, what happened today is atrocious; any decent Westerner should express solidarity with the twelve victims and their families;
  • Yes, Charlie Hebdo is free to criticize Islam, however it might upset the terrorists’ sensitivities;
  • Yes, said terrorists should be hunted down, shot dead, and turned into compost so they can be useful at last.

But have I said anything interesting here? Should I feel “brave” just because Charlie Hebdo‘s headquarters are only blocks away from where I live? Should I seek professional support to help me get over my grief?

When faced with such tragedies, the normal reaction should be the Walter White way. In the AMC series Breaking Bad, the chemistry teacher/methamphetamine “cook” unsuccesfully tries to call everyone to reason after the collision of two planes over Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A wrong analysis of this Breaking Bad scene would be that Walter White, being a sociopath, lacks empathy towards the victims and their loved ones. I would argue the exact reverse. The real sociopaths are the attention-seeking students and teachers who want to get the same sympathy as the plane crash casualties.

I am never comfortable with the inevitable public mourning when such tragedies happen. My feeling is that decency should force us to show restraint and discretion in front of the actual suffering of the victims’ families.

Instead, what we have is an outburst of sentimentalism that not only clouds the mind but also, in my opinion, is disrespectful to the people who died. The crocodile tears shed on Facebook and Twitter are not meant for the assasinated journalists and policemen. Rather, people who post “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) memes want others to look at them cry. Am I the only one to find this wrong?

Symetrical to this feminine self-obsessed digital weeping is the macho posturing political over-reaction. On Identitarian pages I stumbled across, there were guys, comfortably hidden behind their pseudonyms, who were already talking about civil war while the bodies were still warm. Drawing on their Carl Schmitt for Dummies quote collections, they were calling everyone to transcend their ideological differences, however fundamental, to defeat “the Enemy.” As if Schmitt’s analysis still applied to an atomized, disintegrated world where there are not two sides but, at the very least, three.

From the fact that everyone shall express solidarity towards the victims, it does not follow that we should seek an alliance with the likes of Charlie Hebdo.

— The Pope is pushing it too far! [pun intended] — — The Pope is pushing it too far! [pun intended] — “This is my body!”

For one cartoon criticizing Islam, Charlie Hebdo has been publishing dozens outright insulting Christians, Whites, conservatives, and men. It’s perfectly possible to defend Charlie Hebdo‘s right to publish such material without dreaming of a united “side” fighting against Islamic terrorism. Actually, it could even be argued that the latter is the mirror image of liberal Modernity. Jihad advances on the rubble of the Post-Western Experiment, and the Post-Western Experiment needs formidable enemies (Al-Qaeda and ISIS being more credible than the much-maligned “Far Right”) to keep everyone in line. It’s not our hill to die on, on either side of it.

Rather, what we should do is put our Julius Evola for Dummies manuals down and start applying to ourselves the slogans we drew from them. We are Men Among the Ruins who endeavor to Ride the Tiger, right? Then let’s see today’s West as it really is, i.e. a heap of rubble in the midst of which we must survive and whose dangers we need to overcome to create an alternative future for ourselves. There will be many tribes struggling for survival in these here ruins. The time for preservation and grand alliances is over.

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A Case for the English Landed Aristocracy

The following was delivered as a speech to the Britain-based Libertarian Alliance on February 10th.

 

The following was delivered as a speech to the Britain-based Libertarian Alliance on February 10th. You can listen to the speech there.

To understand the rubbish heap that England has become, it is useful to look at the circumstances that prompted the emergence of the modern State in Europe.

Around the end of the thirteenth century, the world entered one of its cooling phases. In a world of limited technology, this lowered the Malthusian ceiling – by which I mean the limit to which population was always tending, and beyond which it could not for any long time rise. Populations that could just about feed themselves during the warm period were now too large.

In the middle of the fourteenth century, this pressure was suddenly relieved by the Black Death, which seems to have killed about a third of the English population, and probably about a third of the human race as a whole. The result was a collapse of population somewhat below the Malthusian ceiling. In turn, this led – in England and Western Europe, at least – to an age of plenty for ordinary people.

However, continued cooling and a recovery of population led, by the beginning of the sixteenth century, to renewed contact with the Malthusian ceiling. So far as we can tell from the English statistics – which are the most complete and generally accurate – ordinary living standards fell rapidly throughout that century. With mild variations, they continued to fall until the last third of the eighteenth century. While the ceiling tended to rise during this period, the corresponding tendency to higher average living standards was offset by rising population. Living standards began to recover strongly only after the middle of the nineteenth century, when renewed warming, joined by the Industrial Revolution, lifted the ceiling out of sight. Even so, living standards in England did not recover their fifteenth century levels till about the 1880s. It was later elsewhere in Western Europe.

I think these natural forces go far to explaining the sudden emergence of religious mania and political unrest in Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Reformation and Wars of Religion can be explained partly in terms of an unfolding intellectual change. Ideas are an autonomous force. At the same time, the force of the explosion we date from 1517 has its origin in perturbations of the Sun, or whatever other natural cause drives changes in the climate.

One of the responses of the governing classes to the spreading wave of instability was to centralise and greatly to strengthen power. Most notably in France, but in Western Europe generally, kings were exalted far above their mediaeval status. Because they were unreliable members of the new order, nobilities were brought under control, and power was shared with humble officials, who might collectively grow powerful, but who individually could be made or broken as kings found convenient. The various divine right theories of this age were the legitimising ideology of the new order.

In France, the King withdrew to Versailles. The leading nobles were required to live with him, thereby breaking their connection with the land from which they were allowed to continue drawing their wealth. Much government was given to a class of office holders, who multiplied their functions and arrested much tendency to economic improvement in ways that I do not need to describe.

I turn now to England. In some degree, there was a growth of absolutism here during the sixteenth century. The Tudor Kings ended the civil wars, and made themselves supreme and unchallenged. Because England was an island with only one land border – and Scotland was easily managed – there was no need for a standing army; and standing armies, and the consequent arms race between states with land borders, were a secondary cause of the growth of absolutism. Even so, the Tudor Monarchy ruled England through a strong administration centred on London.

This growth was arrested and reversed in 1641, by the abolition of nearly every body of state unknown to the Common Law. The Privy Council remained, but its subordinate institutions – Star Chamber, for example, and the Council of the North – were swept away. The immediate result was civil war, followed by a republic run by religious maniacs. But this soon collapsed, and the Monarchy was restored in 1660.

However, the Restoration was of the Monarchy in name only. It is best seen as an aristocratic coup. The Restoration Parliament finished the work of 1641, by abolishing the feudal tenures, by which the Monarchy had kept control over the nobility. The landed aristocracy gained something like absolute title over their estates, untouchable by the King. The network of fights and obligations that tied them to those who worked the land was simplified to a relationship of landlord and tenant.

From the 1660s, we can see the emergence of an aristocratic ruling class checked only at the margins by the Crown. Before then, Members of Parliament were often humble men from their localities, who needed to look to their localities for expenses and even salaries. Very soon, the Commons was flooded with the younger sons of peers and aristocratic nominees. Andrew Marvell was one of the last of the last Members of Parliament who needed to draw a salary. The commons became an aristocratic club. This process was hastened by the decay of many boroughs and the growth of the more or less unrepresentative system that was ended only after 1832.

There was one attempt at reaction by the Crown. Charles II presided over the growth of a new official class. Samuel Pepys is the most famous representative of this class. But there is also Leolyn Jenkins, the son of a Welsh farm labourer, who was educated in the Roman Law – not the Common Law – and who led the parliamentary resistance to the Exclusion Bills by which the aristocracy in effect tried to seize control over who could be King of England.

But James II overplayed his hand, and was deposed and exiled in 1688. Thereafter, the aristocracy did control appointment to the Crown, and was able to monopolise every institution of state – allowing those that failed to serve its interest to atrophy.

During the eighteenth century, the internal administration in England became largely a matter of obedience to the Common Law. History was written backwards, so that it became a narrative of struggle to maintain or to restore a set of ancient liberties that were usually over-stressed, or even mythical. I suspect that any educated man brought forward from 1500 to 1750 would have failed to recognise his own England in the standard histories. The tension between competing institutions and legal systems that shaped his life had been reduced to a set of struggles over a Common Law that was only one element in what he considered the legitimate order of things.

I repeat that ideas are an autonomous force. The whiggish ideologies that dominated the century were strongly believed by the ruling class, and were beneficial to the people as a whole. Opposition to Walpole’s excise, and the Theatres Bill cannot be simply explained as the play of sectional interests, or the work of politicians hungry for office. There was an almost paranoid suspicion of government within the ruling class, and a corresponding exaltation of the liberties of the people. But English liberty was also a collateral benefit of the aristocratic coups of 1660 and 1688. Self-help and a high degree of personal freedom were allowed to flourish ultimately because the enlightened self-interest of those who ruled England maintained a strong bias against any growth of an administrative state – the sort of state that would be able to challenge aristocratic dominance. People were left alone – often in vicious pursuits – because any regulation would have endangered the settlements of 1660-88.

Our understanding of English history in the nineteenth century is shaped by the beliefs of the contending parties in that century. The liberals and early socialists demanded an enlarged franchise and administrative reform, because they claimed this would give ordinary people a controlling voice in government. The conservatives claimed that extending the franchise would lead to the election of demagogues and levellers by a stupid electorate.

This does not explain what happened. Liberal democracy was a legitimising ideology for the establishment of a new ruling class – a ruling class of officials and associated commercial interests that drew power and status from an enlarged state. The British State was not enlarged for the welfare of ordinary people. The alleged welfare of ordinary people was merely an excuse for the enlargement of the British State. The real beneficiaries were the sort of people who thought highly of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

If this analysis is correct, men like John Stuart Mill and even Richard Cobden were at best useful idiots for the bad side in a struggle over which group of special interests should rule England. The real heroes for libertarians were men like Lord Eldon and Colonel Sibthorp, who resisted all change, or men like Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, who, after the battle for “reform” was lost, found ways to moderate and, in the short term, to neutralise the movement of power from one group to another. Or the greatest hero of all was Lord Elcho, who kept the Liberty and Property League going until he nearly and hundred, and who fought a bitter rearguard action for an aristocratic ascendency that was intimately connected with the rights to life, liberty and property of ordinary people.

This is not to romanticise the aristocratic ascendency. Eighteenth century England was a brutal place filled with injustice – the game laws, the press gang, a chaotic civil and criminal law, pervasive corruption. All the same, utopia has never been on offer. I will end by addressing myself to left-libertarians like Kevin Carson and Keith Preston. Their critique of the corporate elites and the plutocracy that are hurrying us into tyranny is fundamentally correct. But they are wrong to denounce the aristocratic ascendency that preceded the system under which we now live. It would have been nice for England to emerge into the modern world as a land of masterless men – of yeomen farmers and independent craftsmen and tradesmen. But this was never on offer. By the time the eighteenth century radicals found their voice, the only alternatives on offer were aristocratic ascendency and middle class bureaucracy. Old Lord Fartleigh had his faults. He hated the Papists, and thought nothing of hanging poachers. But he would never have thought it his business to tell us what lightbulbs we could buy, or whether we could smoke in the local pub.

Let it never be forgotten that the demolition of aristocratic rule was largely completed by the Liberal Government elected in 1906. This was the Government that also got us into the Great War, and kept us in it to the bitter end. The kind of people who formed it had already given us most of the moral regulation that we think of as Victorian – regulation that was usually resisted in the Lords. Since then, these people have taken up one legitimising ideology after another – national efficiency, the welfare of the working classes, multiculturalism, environmentalism, supranational government. The common thread in all these ideologies has been their usefulness as a figleaf behind which ordinary people could be taxed and regulated and conscripted, and generally made to dance as their rulers desire. Perhaps the main reason why Classical Marxism never became important in England was that, just when it was very big in the world, Keynesian demand management emerged as a more suitable legitimising ideology for the ruling class we now had.

I therefore commend the English landed aristocracy. If I am now, in middle age, an increasingly radical libertarian, it is only because I have realised that the system raised up by that class can no more be restored than the class itself can be made supreme again.

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