Secular reaction can’t work. As Bruce Charlton pointed out yesterday, secular cultures must tend always leftward – i.e., toward chaos and death – because at bottom they are guided and governed by disordered passions and desires, and so furthermore are careless of their danger. This will be as true of their noblest exponents and leaders as of their common folk. And we won’t be able to persuade a whole people that the first principles of their secular society are insane using only secular arguments. To sway them, we’ll have to put the fear of God into them. And we can’t give them what we don’t ourselves possess.
Utilitarian arguments might work for men like JS Mill, but they cut no ice with fools. Secular reactionaries can rightly show that liberalism just doesn’t work in hedonic terms, and must end with the destruction of the species, and indeed of the mob’s own prospects for a prosperous, comfortable, healthy life. But that won’t suffice to convince their determined libertine interlocutors, because by itself it can furnish no immediately compelling reason why they should care about long term success of any sort, more than they care about their next fix. The distant golden future they might obtain through a present uncomfortable privation is a much less certain bet than the pleasures of the next five minutes. To minds darkened by sin or foolishness, or confused by error, lies, and tempting perversions, virtue seems abstract, threadbare, vague, and relatively unreal.
Nor likewise, however convincing it might seem to moral eagles like Aurelius, can any recondite appeal to a merely secular Natural Law compel the common libertine mind, which can respond to arguments that x is the natural end of y, and that z is therefore perverse, by saying, “so what?”
Libertines may, just may be persuaded by a coherent demonstration that sin is absolutely evil, as well as – i.e., ergo – inutile and perverse. But you can’t effect such a demonstration without recourse to the premise that there is an absolute in the first place, and in the second that he knows and cares what we do, and will exact from us all the full measure of his justice. Unless it can be convinced that the absolute is personal, omniscient, omnipotent, and extremely dangerous, the mob will again respond by saying, “so what?”
Secular reaction can’t work. Reactionary arguments can sway the mob only if they are founded on theism.
Nor is it just that merely secular arguments cannot sway our current depraved mob, and so rescue our patrimony by correcting the course of Western culture. Even if our culture was already so overwhelmingly traditional as to pacify secular reactionaries, if it was nevertheless so untraditional as to be secular then it would be doomed to veer ever leftward. For the option to sin is always open to human nature as we find it, and our concupiscent vulnerability to its temptations is ineradicable. So long as we yet live, the arguments between virtue and wickedness therefore proceed interminably, not just in the agora, but a fortiori in the inner life of every human being. They never stop, never reach final resolution of the question of how best to behave, for this question is opened anew with each new moment, until death – of the polis, or of the person – forecloses the option of further behavior. Human culture per se teeters then always, as a whole and in each of its members, on a slippery slope; so even the most virtuous and rigorously traditional culture is ever liable to a precipitous fall.
If virtue is to prevail among a people, so that they themselves prevail, it must win most arguments within most of them, day after day. And because it seems so high, nebulous and attenuated to most minds, virtue can reliably prevail over the siren songs of vivid immediate temptations only as aided by the tremendous visceral horror we all naturally feel at what is taboo. Taboo makes evil concrete, disgusting, and terrific.
We are so made as to want the good, and to abhor evil. Reaction can win its arguments only insofar as it can show that tradition is good, and its alternatives evil, ergo taboo. And this it can do only insofar as it can show – and believe – that there is in the first place such a thing as absolute good. Only thus may the fact and character and limit of taboo be established, understood, taught, and popularly felt as really and imperatively constraining our scope of action.
The crisis of the modern West is the collapse of taboo. So confused are moderns about right and wrong, and about their bases in metaphysics, and indeed in theology, that the only taboo now effective to sway public opinion is the taboo against taboo. But societies cohere as ordered organisms only as guided and coordinated at the outside limits of conduct by a common understanding of what sorts of acts are improper. No taboo, no social order. If we can’t recover taboo of true wickedness, we can’t recover at all.
We cannot recover taboo under the supposition, ineluctably entailed by atheism, that there is really no such thing as wickedness in the first place. If we take atheism to be true, all we have left against utter moral and cultural chaos is the inbuilt wisdom of the body. That’s a lot, to be sure. Our physiology is truly wonderful, and immensely powerful to keep us alive, healthy, and reproducing. But as the very notion of an acquired taste attests, even visceral disgust and chemical revulsion can be conquered by an intellectual volition to explore. The body alone might suffice to keep man alive, but it cannot suffice to procure civilization. The wisdom of the irreligious body can adequate only to the bare minimum of successful family life, and beyond that to barbarity.
For a culture that coordinates more than a clan – for civilization – you need taboo. And for taboo, you need that power of absolute proscription which only religion can wield.
Under the rigorously Pragmatic epistemological criteria of secularism itself, then, the fact that secular reaction can’t work means that it must be false. Policies founded on false propositions can possibly work out, but only insofar as they are somehow poorly implemented. Falsehoods perfectly carried into practice must result in disaster. This is why liberals are forced by reality to resort to unprincipled exceptions in order to lead acceptably pleasant lives.
In secular reaction’s own Pragmatic terms, then, the only sort of reaction that can possibly be correct is theist. Thus, whatever else it may be, mere reaction, properly so called, must at least be theist; and secular reaction must be an oxymoron. Either reaction is theist, or it is not reaction at all.
Despite what secular reactionaries might wish, then, secular reaction is in effect a form of incipient liberalism.
Modernism is at war with reality. It is insane. So we may be sure that sooner or later, one way or another, it will be abandoned. But as man is religious by nature, the social order that spontaneously arises from the facts of human nature – aye, from the principles that found our very bodies – and that will therefore arise from the ruins of the collapse of modernism, will certainly be theist.
Collapse of a social order is never much fun. Reactionaries are to these days as Jeremiah was to his, proclaiming the profoundly distasteful news that our society is corrupt, and insofarforth doomed. We are not therefore much welcome among our fellows, and are likely to pay soon some personal price for our prophetic office. It behooves us then to ensure that our prophecy earns returns meet to its cost. We may not ourselves survive collapse, but we may hope that our testimony might inform our heirs, and prosper their handiwork. The sooner reactionaries repent of atheism and its ruinous moral stupor, and like Jeremiah proclaim also that the strait and narrow path up and out of the present crisis is in fact the Way of the Lord (this being the source of its goodness and the reason of its success), the more efficacious will our prophecy be, the sooner we’ll get through this business of cultural death and resurrection, and the less agony we’ll all suffer in the process.
This means you, and it means me. As falsehoods perfectly implemented lead straight to Hell, so do truths poorly implemented. The single most effective thing we can do to help man through the Fall and Renascence of the West is to turn and examine our own faith and trust in the Lord, and see whether we might not be able to complete and implement them more fully and truly in our own lives. Anything else is just cheap talk, by comparison. Including this post.