By their fundamental cult a people understand what their society and its coordinate activities are ultimately about – what they and their doings are for, and what they are against. Thus only may they understand who they are, and who they are not; where is their source, their end, and their true home; who are their friends, or enemies, and how they ought to behave toward them.
So is there always a state religion. But sometimes it is weak, and many cults compete for the attention and credence of a people. Where men are confused about which is ultimate, and ultimately true, there is radical confusion of cults, and thus of culture. Cults then interpenetrate chaotically, each borrowing from another this doctrine or that, and compiling a murky melange. It becomes difficult to tell who is who, and what is what. Ordinary men, who have no inclination or training for the project, and whose efforts in it are therefore wasted, are then forced to figure out all by themselves, and from nothing more than native wit and the urges of their bodies, what is true, and what they ought therefore to do. Nothing is then made easy; every single enterprise is fraught, even to the opening or closing of a door.
A confused society doesn’t quite know what it is about. This confusion leads to nagging anxiety and conflict within men, and among them – to marginal increase of friction suffered at every interaction from subtle and obscure disagreements about meanings. People then worry much about language, and spend great effort trying to make themselves clear to each other, and to understand each other. They get tetchy with each other about linguistic minutiae. Their effort to achieve agreement about meanings and significances is itself confused, for it cannot be carried on other than by the use of terms that are themselves implicated in the controversy.
A confusion of cults is therefore ipso facto a confusion of tongues. Disagreement about First Things *just is* disagreement about where language properly terminates, completely and rightly terminates upon reality.
We now know very well what it was like to live in Babylon after the collapse of her Great Ziggurat, when the Assyrians, the Hittites, and sundry other peoples, sucked into her ambit by her very prosperity and power, sapped her and brought her down, scattering her people – among them, our forefather Abraham – far and wide.
The confusion of cults is apprehended always as an important problem, albeit not always urgent; and in confused societies public discourse is more or less obsessed with the problem and its solution. All other problems are related back to that fundamental problem. Conversations among the adherents of a particular cult focus on what is wrong with the other cults, and what is to be done about them. The orthosphere is just such a domain of conversation within the wider discourse.
Until the confusion of cults is resolved, and a particular cult selected as superordinate for the society as a whole, so that all other cults must conform themselves thereto and people may relax about the subject and turn to other things, it will rankle and itch, enflaming and irritating every party of every transaction, at least a little. If the confusion cannot be resolved by polite conversation, men will grow irate, and eventually violent. In the limit, uncivil diplomacy among cults will give way to civil war.
History is a record of the conflict among cults – usually between societies, often within them. So long as men keep coming up with new ideas, and are not humble to admit to the Truth, it cannot end.
The West has long sought to recuse itself from all conflict about cults, so as to avoid wars of religion. But there is no such recusal. To recuse from a debate is implicitly to tender and advocate a proposition within it, to the effect that the debate is not worth having. In the case of the debate over our proper common cult, it is an effectual proposal that everyone agree to the notion that, as unimportant, the selection of a superordinate cult is simply not relevant to common social life as lived; and the only way that this could be so is if cults as such were not possible to carry into practice, or therefore true.
Only doctrines that are possibly true can be implemented in policy, or affect what we experience as a consequence of our behavior. If you’ve got hold of a truth, why then you can do something with and about it. If not, you’ve got hold of nothing at all, and can’t do anything with or about whatever it is you’ve got hold of.
The fundamental cult of the West has for several centuries been that there are no cults that are True, or therefore worth arguing about; and the basic public policy of the West has been that we ought all to just leave each other alone.
It should hardly surprise us then that we now find ourselves more and more alone, each of us an atom alienated from our fellows, or likewise that we are now more and more dispirited, discouraged, and lost, disoriented, with no well-understood way to be good; so that we are more and more anxious, depressed, and angry. A society that is about nothing in particular, such as ours endeavors to be, is in the final analysis about nothingness itself. It aims at nothing, so to nothingness will it more and more work its way.
And the cult of nothing in particular is therefore always eventually implemented as a cult of Moloch. It will devour its own young, and seek its own destruction.
Because people naturally hunger and thirst for an operable understanding of the order of being and their station and function within it, so that they may behave properly, the culture of nothing in particular will give constant rise to new cults of its own devising, and easy ingress to those of foreign lands, that can furnish to men some jot of meaning – some mean or medium of coordination – within and among them, which may then foster their common loyalties. The confusion of cults will compound, in a proliferation of sects living in close and uneasy proximity. Of these, the most aggressive, extreme and violent will generally tend to prevail, making hot wars among them more and more likely.
A nihilist culture thus weakened and as it were diseased is easy prey for any other society that is relatively more coherent in its commitment to a common cult, so that it is – and knows that it is – about something definite, positive, and important. Compared to a society that is about nothing in particular, or that is confused, the morale of the coherent society will be much greater, and its warriors far more committed, fierce, and courageous (the Iraqi government forces who turned and ran from the ISIS in the recent fall of Ramadi outnumbered their assailants ten to one; unlike their rabid Mohammedan enemies, they were fighting for … nothing in particular).
Societies are of course aware of their vulnerabilities to adversaries, and rightly uncomfortable about them. This discomfort amplifies their worry about their own cultic confusions, and sharpens their motivation to find a resolution – any resolution – that can settle it. So it is that sometimes a whole people can go mad for a strange cult – whether or not it is quite sane – that can then quickly vanquish all competitors. Mass conversions, huge rituals, the public sacrifice of scapegoats by the thousand, and vast military mobilizations can then result. When the pervasive excess marginal costs of negotiating transactions under the strain of a confusion of cultic meanings is lifted by a mass conversion to a common cult, tremendous social energies are released by the concomitant increase in efficiency. Social resources appear as from nowhere. As anxiety evaporates, it is replaced by joyful relief and infectious enthusiasm that entrains more and more of the people. Morale soars, and a formerly languid, fissiparous and dissipated people newly united in a common enterprise can quickly achieve prodigies, not uncommonly involving wars of invasion – viz., Napoleon.
The new cult, again, need not make much sense, either empirically or philosophically. So long as it is so workable as to avoid immediate practical disaster, and nimble and flexible enough to adapt to subsequent difficulties without a revision of its doctrines so radical as to sap its internal coherence, and thus its cogency and confidence, it may take root and flourish.
When theories compete, get ready for a shift of paradigms, that renders most of them risible in retrospect.
We now stand ripe for just such a phase change. Our culture has liquesced along with its former basic cult. All that had been solid has melted. Everything is now up for grabs. Alien and violent cults pose an immediate existential threat to our civilization, because of the profound and bewildering confusion of cults that now afflict us each with their conflicting claims, and the utter impotence of modern epistemological skepticism as itself a positive proposal about real meanings and significances. We desperately want to collapse into some new and compelling certainty, that explains everything to us.
But by that very same token are we ripe for a Great Awakening of our own, and a renewal of our own ancient principles regarding First Things. Such a renascence of the ancient West, the pre-Modern, Classical West reconfigured aptly to our new day, could again unleash the wonted energy and enterprise of our folk, so that once again we conquered all the other cults of the planet, as we are used to do.
Things could go well for us, or badly (albeit not without great difficulty, labor and suffering, either way). The crisis of the West cannot in any case be resolved until we can prevalently agree on a common superordinate cult. And that cannot happen until we can agree to the objective truth of a system of principles relating First Things. It cannot happen, that is, until we first reject modernism itself, root and branch and nut, as incapable of operable truth. Only then may we even begin a fruitful joint search for the cult with heart, the true cult that compels our allegiance and our mutual loyalty.