To change the culture I: the case of the mediocre reactionary

The following series of posts (I have written five and will post two tomorrow and two Saturday) is not directly inspired by the recent spat with our Romantic Christian friends, but there is a connection. As far as specifics go, I am probably in sharper disagreement with the RCs than the rest of the Orthosphere, in that I think the path forward is not in intuition but in rigorous analysis, not in discarding the corporate and sacramental aspects of religion, but in reclaiming and highlighting them. However, the Romantics are to be praised for appreciating the magnitude of the intellectual and imaginative task before us. A revolution of thought is needed for Christianity to make sense to and be attractive for contemporary men. Simply reiterating past thought, even true past thought, will not be enough. Not that we have spiritually advanced, but too much that was taken for granted has now become conscious and disputable; too many vague ideas must confront the more precise language we have inherited.

Hence we hear that we must change the culture–ideally that of wider society, hopefully that of a saved remnant, at the very least that in our own heads. This is a large task. What exactly is being asked of us? And first of all, who precisely is to accomplish the revolution? What should the individual reader feel called to do?

Comparing myself to my coworkers, I seem to be less productive and creative, and yet I am also unable to maintain intensive hobbies (sports participation, musical instrument playing, book writing) like many of them do. I suspect this mostly comes down to my lower general intelligence. They also seem to have more agreeable personalities: I cannot imagine them sharing my inclination to swearing and short temper, and their greater extroversion makes them more willing to proactively offer help to others. On the other hand, I do not seem to be abnormally stupid, selfish, or cruel. I am a mediocrity, which is what I should a priori expect to find myself. Call it the “Copernican principle”: because perspective effects are so common, be suspicious of any indication that the observer is special. If I struck myself as particularly brilliant or imbecilic, this would probably be vanity or insecurity.

And yet, in another sense, I am definitely exceptional, in being a reactionary Christian. It is difficult to estimate the faction of the educated American public who explicitly reject the Enlightenment and its liberal and Leftist sequels. (I do not consider the opinions of “educated” people to have more inherent value, by the way, but a reactionary who has been to graduate school in the last half century is acutely conscious of rejecting the overwhelming consensus of his society, and so he tends to hold his beliefs with a defensive fanaticism.) Let us say it is somewhere between one in a thousand and one in a hundred thousand. That would make me quite remarkable, would it not? I am perhaps the only reactionary Christian in my profession in my and adjacent states.

Now, one might object that any holder of crackpot theories might say the same; a flat-earther could make the same unenviable boast. However, society is not organized against flat-earthers, does not define itself by contrast to them. Of the whole universe of kooky ideas, America and Western civilization have chosen to mobilize itself entirely against mine. The government, media, and academia considers its highest goal to fight beliefs that almost no one but me holds. Furthermore, the world and I agree that my dissent is no minor eccentricity. Even ten years ago it might have been, when people could maintain some sort of loyalty to Christianity and Western civilization while also vaguely accepting mainstream slogans about freedom, equality, and civil rights. Now the Left is becoming powerful enough to demand full renunciation of our inheritance, and no one will be able to refuse without consciously defying his entire society, including all its authorities and most non-negotiable moral assertions. Without becoming a religious reactionary, that is.

Hence the paradox. I am at once utterly mediocre and undeniably exceptional. My readers, except the very talented ones, are presumably instances of the same combination.

To be clear, the paradox is not how someone without exceptional intellectual or moral qualities came to have exceptional beliefs. There’s no mystery in that. The most common way to make a reactionary, I imagine, is for a kid from a rural, Christian background to acquire a fascination with some academic field, go to college, not find it immediately inhospitable (so he doesn’t drop out) but gradually realize that he and his kind are demon figures for all around him. In such a situation, most would adapt their beliefs to win the approval of their colleagues, but a non-negligible minority are temperamentally stubborn and radicalize in the opposite direction. That’s more or less what happened to me.

No, the paradox is a matter of divine providence. Given that so few have not gone over to the Enemy, it would seem that each one is important, so why did God create me instead of a more devoted Christian with more exceptional skills?

The ways of providence are inscrutable to me. I suppose our job is not to ask why God does what He does, but to ask what He would have us do. Answers come in two types. The first is that we are called to do only the same things that Christians have always been called to do. Pray, fast, grow in holiness. Protect your children; teach them, and prepare them to maintain the faith in a hostile world. Do not initiate confrontations, but do not go along with sinful actions or add your voice to wicked statements even if you are punished for refusing.

Given that there are so, so few of us, and the Church is under extraordinary assault, are we not called to do more? Doesn’t our duty to protect our children include making the world slightly less horrible for believers than we anticipate it becoming? Hence the second answer to what God wants us to do. I have often heard conservatives criticized from the Right for concerning ourselves only with politics, when what we really need to do is change the culture. The accusation is unfair in that it presumes this “change the culture” strategy was actually within our power. “Change the culture” may be good advice for a Goethe, a Hegel, a Beethoven, but hardly for a mediocrity. How am I personally supposed to change the culture? How am I supposed to even contribute to such a project?

Some say that doing all that usual good Christian stuff will automatically change the culture, at least some local culture. Absent a critical mass of good Christians, I don’t think that’s true. By all means, be a good Christian and raise your family well, but I want to focus on how we are to contest social spaces outside the family.

Second, I’ve heard it said that we need to “march through the institutions” just like the Left did. It’s worth trying–by all means, advance in your career–but Gramsci’s strategy relied on the assumption that the capitalist-liberal-Christian-fascist society would be sufficiently fair-minded and meritocratic to allow itself to be supplanted by hostile talent. He turned out to be right, but it takes a certain kind of (remarkably short-sighted) adversary to pull off this trick. We must be discreet in our Reaction to ascend in rank, but sufficiently indiscreet to change the culture. Quite a trick, but by all means try. One needn’t be a genius to march through an institution, but one must be skilled enough to rise to a position of influence. Remember, you will be competing for advancement with Leftists who live for their careers and advancing their cause and who don’t have kids to distract them.

Third, there are collective action strategies. The nice thing about these is that one doesn’t have to be a genius or even particularly skilled to participate. An example would be boycotting woke corporations. I’m not sure if that one would work, though, because aren’t they all woke? Now, one could say that if all the soda companies are pro-gay and anti-white, then one should just not drink soda. Tell yourself that soda is gross anyway. But that doesn’t generalize. I honestly doubt one can buy necessities anymore without financing evil. I guess one could look for the company whose woke protestations seemed the most pro forma, the least sincere, and support them. But then the activists will get word of this, turn the screws, and get that company to profess harder. Still, I’d like someone to look into the details of this strategy, see if there are enough neutral businesses for it to work, and make lists for the rest of us.

Fourth, one may feel a duty to “speak out”. This will be the subject of part 2.

Fifth, one may feel called to change the culture by challenging its false assumptions and offering something in their place, the sort of thing the Romantics and Orthosphere writers attempt to do on our blogs. Most of us lack the brainpower and creativity to be guides to the world, but each of us must at least formulate an understanding of the world for our own personal use, so I’ll devote parts 3 to 5 to what I believe are the three core pieces of this revolution and why the hardest work remains to be done.

15 thoughts on “To change the culture I: the case of the mediocre reactionary

  1. One definition of genius is someone who has a permanent large-scale cultural influence. The rest of us are mediocrities. I remember reading the phrase (in translation) from “Madame Bovary,” “bourgeois mediocrity” when I was 16 and thinking, ‘Bugger, “C’est moi.”’ But then, as I say, we all are. And how many 16-year-olds were reading Madame Bovary in the first place! Emma was comparing her husband to figures in fictional romance novels and surprise, surprise, he came up short. Modernity subjects every institution and cultural practice to similar utopian dismissal.

    I agree that it is weird to be singled out for exceptional disdain. We are, apparently, morally delinquent in a most uncommon way. But, I just want two parent families where the parents are of the opposite sex (among other things). Neanderthal! they say.

    Our elites are exceptionally suicidal and dysfunctional, willing to virtue signal their way to administrative roles in business or academia, by throwing white conservative Christian men under the bus. I lack the imaginative ability and the true interest in politics to be some new Napoleon. (No kidding!) I’m the “I just want to be left alone to think my thoughts, but also to express them occasionally” type. On the other hand, the end of the united USA is alarming.

    I am used to being an anathema. When I see how a New Zealander or liberal reacts to being criticized it is hilarious. My family just about disowned me for republishing an article titled something like, “New Zealand Might Not Be the Paradise You Think It Is.” Worse still, the extreme lock down policies NZ pursued meant I could not visit my father before he died. My sisters, when I complained, told me off. How could I possibly exist if I were as thin-skinned as that?

  2. In the life of every reactionary, a day arrives when he wakes up and see that all the people in the world has gone insane. One feels in the role of the king in the poem:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/58702/the-wise-king

    What to do? Drink the poisoned water and become one with the world? Or prefer the truth and prepare for a life of suffering and loneliness? We chose the latter but I don’t know if I would want a life like this for a child of mine. Every day brings a new bitterness and a new insanity you didn’t imagine.

    Today’s bitterness was the San Diego School District teaching queer theory to children to produce a generation of non-heteronormative children. My sister, a high school teacher in a small town in Spain, says that many of their children are “trans”. In the college I work, in Central America, they want to teach students gender ideology. I am still able to express my opposition (which won’t have any effect) . Some years from now, I will not be able to. There is no place to hide. And I sudder thinking what are going to see during the next decades.

    What about trying to hide your thoughts? I cannot say 100% of what I think, not even to my sister, which is close to being a reactionary. If somebody in the street knew 10% of what I think, he would feel like calling the police. And it is the same for every reactionary. We love the truth but the truth is a jealous lover and don’t want us to be loved by anybody else. You become more and more isolated.

    Some of you will be comforted by religion. Although I am a Roman Catholic and I try to do my best (and I fail miserably), religious experience or comforts experienced by me go from zero to nil. My faith is weak and dry. There are crimes (such as the castration of children and teenagers) that cry out to the heaven for vengeance but the heaven does nothing.

    I don’t know why God has chosen me (or you). I am Nobody. I don’t think I do any difference.

    Excuse me for opening my heart but you are one of the few that can understand me.

    • God bless and keep you, Imnobody. You are somebody to him. And he is not absent; though it be night, he is with you right now, in the darkness. Remember Gethsemane, and stay awake. Courage, dear heart. And: Onward, brother!

  3. “I am a mediocrity.”

    I’m pretty confident that no physics professor or researcher (save, perhaps, token “DIE” hires) is a mediocrity, unless you mean, of course, among the kind of people who use advanced mathematics to understand the hidden behavior of nature. Just as Robert E. Lee is a mediocrity within the pantheon of military genius, or Ingres is a mediocrity among painters who defined Western art.

    “I am perhaps the only reactionary Christian in my profession in my and adjacent states.”

    Seriously? I’d say about half of the physics majors I knew from undergrad. were then already or have since become reactionary Christians. In some cases, they made the full (Kristoresque) transition from hedonist, Marxist atheists to family men, each married with their happy trad. couple home-schooling their half dozen children, worshiping at Latin mass, still harboring belief in the classical American project while truly monarchist at heart (the last two years, though!), and generally being Orthospheric.

    Say what you will about the corrupting influences of Jesuits . . . the insistence on reading primary sources frees minds. Maybe, some devilish academic administrators have since started plugging such leaky holes in the modern university’s hellish dikes (the DIE curriculum, of course, furnishes workable dike-plugs) . . . but for a spell, though, the old Jesuits’ commitment to knowledge provided windows to the sea . . . to transcendence. Smart boys allowed to read the greats freely . . . well, you never know what may happen. Come sail away . . .

    • Hello Joseph A. I was indeed comparing myself to my colleagues. Physicists are extraordinary in their ability to do physics, but other people are extraordinary in analogous ways. I’ve taught many physics undergraduates and graduates, and their average brilliance seems to have been overstated. A century ago, it might have been different.

      Your anecdotal information about physics majors is very interesting. Of course it’s very hard to know how many reactionaries there are in a given profession, since we keep our heads down. My 0.1% upper limit came from the assumption that we are a right-wing tail, that the number of mainstream conservatives must be at least ten times the number of reactionaries, and conservatives of any stripe are maybe a percent in academia. Against that, I have met a few hard-core Catholics even in the tiny world of numerical relativity. They tend to get diverted from working toward faculty jobs by pursuing religious vocations or family duties. Maybe I made it where I am because I was a less serious Catholic who lives like a liberal. I would be very happy to learn that I am not exceptional at all, that say ten percent of scientists are right-wing Christians, but I think that’s very unlikely.

    • Slight correction: I was never really an atheist, just a Christian who had not yet seen how to reconcile the faith with the Standard Model. Nor have I ever been a hedonist. Unless you count this mere little dram of whiskey here …

      Actually, re hedonism, it is a running joke with my kids that Dad always says to himself, “Which way is harder? That’s the one for me.”

      • I apologize for besmirching the reputation of our brave protagonist in the Sorrows of Young Kristor. I didn’t know the details of your previous commitments — I just remember that you had an interesting and surprising transition. If Kristoresque doesn’t capture that, maybe Kristorish??? Kristorian is definitely out, though perhaps such a fellow would be well prepared to give us the proper Kristoric details.

  4. One thing folks like us can do is stroke each other’s egos. I know our he-man stoicism militates against this, but men under bombardment in a foxhole ought to talk each other up and not put each other down. You are not a mediocrity. You may be the only physics professor at an R1 university who can also write knowledgably about scholastic theology, Church history, and the insidious workings of Gramscism. And you must do this covertly, with fear of reprisals and no hope of praise. This last part is extremely important. You would not feel like a mediocrity if your colleagues admired and praised you for being “a trailblazer working at the intersection of physics, Catholicism, and reactionary politics.” You would feel like a very big banana.

    We do not have the resources to fly you halfway round the world so you can deliver the keynote address to the International Congress of Reactionary Physicists, but we should understand the psychological effect of lacking those resources, never taking those flights, never giving those addresses, and not having such a Congress. People who hold unpopular opinions will be either demoralized or dangerous cranks. You don’t have the dangerous crank gene (as your writing on priests and prophets shows). You have a family. So your fate is to be demoralized and our job is to buck you up.

    But never forget, as I type this there are many, many leftists, who are far more mediocre than you, who are nevertheless flying long distances to give keynote addresses that have less value than this blog post. There are big name academics whose impressive CV’s list a body of work that is less impressive than your old Throne and Altar blog. You would have a very different conception of yourself if you had won awards for T&A rather than having to hide the fact that you are its author.

    Your point with respect to Gramsci is excellent. Gramsci discerned that the peculiar weakness of liberalism is that it cannot resist meritocratic (or at least credentialed) infiltration from the left. Liberalism believes that there should be no barriers to talent, accepts credentials as certifications of talent, and really wants to believe that leftists are just zealous liberals. The meritocratic weakness also opens a much smaller door for anti-liberals from the right, but the right is not good at forging fraudulent credentials and rightists will never be excused as zealous liberals.

    But the point is that “the long march through the institutions” only works when the marchers are leftists and the institutions are liberal. We cannot copy the left because we are not leftists and the institutions are no longer liberal. Our immediate problem is professional and psychological survival in this hostile environment, and this means development of an underground catacomb culture of mutual support. Once we have secured our position, we should probably use the Marxist tactic of “sharpening (or heightening) the contradictions.” One ludicrous weakness of conservatives is that they will work for the survival of institutions that exist to destroy them.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    • “Your point with respect to Gramsci is excellent. Gramsci discerned that the peculiar weakness of liberalism is that it cannot resist meritocratic (or at least credentialed) infiltration from the left.”

      Its the weakness of our current meritocracy. But we know that even God is himself meritocratic:

      1 Samuel 16:7
      “6When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and said, “Surely here before the LORD is His anointed.” 7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him; the LORD does not see as man does. For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.”

      Luke 19:16-19
      15When he returned from procuring his kingship, he summoned the servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what each one had earned.

      16The first servant came forward and said, ‘Master, your mina has produced ten more minas.’

      17His master replied, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you shall have authority over ten cities.’

      18The second servant came and said, ‘Master, your mina has made five minas.’

      19And to this one he said, ‘You shall have authority over five cities.’”

      And the Judgment Seat of Christ where our “income” and “Rank” is determined:
      https://bible.org/seriespage/9-judgment-seat-christ

      The problem of credentials is how narrow its definition of meritocracy is. And the ease by which it can be frauded.

      • When choosing a general during wartime, you want the best leader and strategist *who is on your side*. Telling your soldiers to just obey the enemy’s brilliant general so we too can gain from his brilliance is not a good idea. Would you say this is meritocratic?

    • Thanks for the encouragement, JMSmith. I actually think that “mediocrity” is misused as an insult. Most people are average and unexceptional and shouldn’t be ashamed to recognize it.

      It’s a good point that how we feel about our accomplishments is very dependent on how the world sees them. Sometimes I’ll read about some twenty five year old ditz publishing her second book on white privilege and reproach myself for being forty five, one of the last reactionaries (as I fancy myself in my dour moods), and haven’t written a single book. I should remember that this world makes it much easier to publish books from certain perspectives.

  5. “[Liberals] really want to believe that leftists are just zealous liberals.”

    They believe it because it is true. Leftists take the premises of liberalism to their ultimate consequences. Like the socialist that tells his liberal father: “We are only putting in practice what you preached for longtime” in Dostoyevsky’s “The Demons”

    The two last centuries have been a logical development of the absurd premises of liberalism (freedom, equality and progress) , which was the official religion since it conquered the power in the bourgeois revolutions (including American independence). Every generation discovers some unprincipled exceptions (Auster) to the logic of liberalism (for example, marriage equality), which previous generations adimitted that it is an absurdity. Then it makes a sacred cause to remove this exceptions. The woke are the n iteration of this process, who takes the absurd premises of liberalism to its absurd logical conclusions.

    In academy, each generation makes these sacred causes the way to infiltrate the academia. The n-1 iteration of liberalism cannot argue about the infiltrating n iteration, because it shares the same premises and cannot argue about the logical conclusions.

    If you think all human groups have the same abilities and black people have a lower socioeconomic status, the only explanation is racism. If all the laws are non-racist, this means that there is an invisible systemic racism that impregnates culture. Then you see English literature and see all white people. So the logical conclusion is to ban Shakespeare and put Maya Angelou.

    From absurd premises (equality) to absurd conclusions. If my father is a truck, why don’t you give him gasoline to drink?

    The penultimate iteration of liberalism cannot do anything against the last iteration of liberalism that infiltrates academua. They did the same to the previous generation and so on and so forth. Karma is a b*tch.

  6. You know God has given us such a challenge in having to deal with subverters and infiltrators. So insidious are those people. That I wish God would expose them far more easily as they are.

    And destroy them in Judgment in this life.

    The people wearing the skinsuit of Christian whilst not being repentant is the most challenging thing about being a real Christian.

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