“The future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers.”G.K. Chesterton
In the wake of the killing of a black man by an American police officer, the Western world was left aghast in seeing the irrationality of choice of targets by the new iconoclasts. When rioters vandalized monuments such as the likes of All-black regiments of Union fighters or slavery abolitionists, most attempts to make sense of the rioters’ behavior were along the lines of you can’t possibly expect the mob to behave rationally, as if it is all just the natural consequence of the mob’s tendency to act out its stupider member’s ideas. Tucker Carlson, for example—whom I respect a lot—was a bit more straightforward, visibly amused in calling them “idiots”. It’s political fanaticism’s fault, or Carl Jung’s famous observation that “people don’t have ideas, ideas have people”, were also trending in various circles.
But as much as I agree with the latter, it’d to naive to look at today’s iconoclasm and blame ignorance and ideology alone for its irrationality. There are other reasons why no statue is ever good enough for the mob. For the time being, I’ll borrow a definition of ‘ideology’ from this Quillette essay by Conor Barnes, when: “its adherents learn to see themselves as guardians rather than seekers of the truth”.
THE IDEOLOGUE PHASE
In my late teens and early twenties, back when I used to live in London, I was somewhat of an anarchic revolutionary type. Once, I even took part in the annual Million Mask Mach in the city’s center (The MMM is an annual protest organized by Anonymous hacktivists in major cities across the world, fueled by anti-establishment sentiment, and known, mostly, for requiring that its participants wear a Guy Fawkes’ ‘mask). But like any good modern virtue-signalling activist, politics was little more than an attitude — a hobby, and an opportunistic one at that. My political stances were, mostly, just a badge to shove on people’s faces when trying to look either cool or morally superior. At other times, instead, they were just a tool to win arguments, or a good excuse to get into one, always my favorite among activities. Furthermore, beyond my anarchic tendencies, it’d be even hard to determine exactly where I stood, not without dealing first with the many instances pointing to cognitive dissonance. So , if I was an ideologue, a “guardian of the truth”, that truth was very weak, hence not the main source of my motivations.
My grievances (thank God) were substantially different from those coming out of the intersectional left, let alone supported by prominent politicians such as today’s defund-the-police-Democrats in the US. There wasn’t an inch of political correctness in me. But like any SJW, all I needed to feel like I was on the ‘right side of history’, was to project the perfect stereotype onto everything and everyone who stood in my path. Whether it was the uniform of a law enforcement agent, the steady eyes of the police officers guarding number 10 and Her Majesty the Queen, or whether it was a statue commemorating someone’s past achievements. It didn’t really matter. As Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson often says, “an ideal is also simultaneously a judge”; and so as long as whatever I was looking at represented achievement, an enemy was created out of it. Its mere existence cast a shadow on my own shortcomings.
Not much came about from that 5th of November (Bonfire Night in the UK). A few arrests were made, a couple of police automobiles were set ablaze, but no statue was thrown into the river and the city and I went business as usual before the sun rose. In the next years, I’d even come to my senses, abandon my radical stances, and officially join the center-right side of the spectrum. I’m only mentioning this because I believe there was something about me then (and most of the protesters) that goes beyond ideology itself, and that is crucial for understanding the irrational, iconoclastic aspect of today’s far-left rioters. For one thing, there was so much pride and self-confidence emanating from all of us that it seemed to extend to the point that we clearly thought of ourselves as the first and only real force for positive change in the world. Logically so, if we were nothing but slaves of the current structure of society, that could only mean that our ancestors had done nothing but to contribute to shaping the very rigged system we were meant to rebel against! Thus, in the intoxication of youthful pride and juvenile disobedience, no statue — hypothetically — would have been spared, no matter to whom it was dedicated.
As a decent psychoanalyst might point out, with all of that projecting in motion, somewhere beneath the surface, in our prig little minds, must have lurked the knowledge that it was all mostly make-believe — that the ‘downtrodden’ we were claiming to fight for didn’t want to be rescued. Nevertheless, unlike most people, we were red-pilled, woke, if you like. And naturally, once we’d have paved the way for the utopia (or whatever better system was going to replace the current one) we believed the world was going to thank us. We were delusional. Like Sir Roger Scruton once said of the May ’68 rioters: “they were enacting out a lie, a self-scripted drama, one in which the central character was themselves.”
Despite the fair amount of self-deprecation, it’d be unfair to be totally cynical and assume that we had all of our fingers pointed in the wrong direction. Most people I’ve met had some of it figured out already; either zero trusts in the mainstream media, or an aversion to the patronizing elitism of the political establishment—myself included. Quite the prescient types? What if I tell you we even opposed racism? If the latter doesn’t provoke any esteem from the reader, it’s because it was designed not to. Why should anyone be revered for something as common sense as treating people the same way regardless of their skin color?
Waving your anti-racists stances has become the new ‘social justice’ trend. As all of that happens, now-social conservatives such as myself often point out that it’s been a while since we talked about other virtues; honor, loyalty, courage, love for one’s country. Today’s political pundits seldom stand up for traditional values. One could say, that the reason is that ad hominems from the left are so ubiquitous nowadays that many conservatives are too busy trying to convince those who’ll still continue to despise them that — when it comes down to it — they’re actually ‘quite liberal on most issues’, as their opponents succeed in destroying everything conservatism ever stood for—until, likely, there will be nothing left to it but a mere reactionary impulse.
Former Republican nominee Mitt Romney is perhaps the best example. The outspoken ‘Never Trumper’ was one of the first to kowtow to the far-left, marching through D.C. along with BLM protesters as the first violent riots broke out in the US. Maybe he felt the calling, or maybe it’s because, as the great (and lately super-cool I must say) Peter Hitchens said: “Selfishness needs to attack things that demand self-sacrifice—family, marriage, duty, patriotism, and faith. And above all, it needs weakness and confusion among those in charge.”
Is not being racist the best a man can get? Was turning normal into the highest virtue the only real goal of radical-progressives? Maybe. After all, how else could weak people get the public admiration they think they deserve? For sure, one way to receive it, rioters know (as well as I used to), is to turn childish disobedience into a virtue, and to make a regime-change revolution gleefully led by moral relativists and resentful nihilists look like the only real hope for the well-being of the human race (take a look at the first US riots back in May). Hey, who knows, maybe you even get lucky and end up having the support of most of your country’s major institutions and companies who call you righteous, peaceful fighters!
How did we get here?
It’s hard to tell where all of this comes from. How did rioting, looting, and tearing down monuments become a synonym of ‘progress’? What’s Wrong with the World? asked Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton’s in his 1910 book. Back then, the English poet’s answer could be summarized with the legendary chauvinist meme: hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times. I’m no chauvinist, but if there’s something to the proverb at all, I believe we must now be entering the last stage. For he said:
“There are so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate; so many great efforts of monumental building or of military glory which seem to us at once sublime and pathetic…”
No philosopher in 20th-century history (with the possible exception of the recently deceased Roger Scruton) has stressed the necessity to emulate our predecessors more than Chesterton. Our ancestors are certainly not without their faults, but in the years following my anarchic phase, both him and Scruton were crucial in making me realize how much of the modern-left cultural obsession in demonizing our past in the name of ‘progress’, actually reveals how deep the instinct to carry the burden of civilization is in all of us.
Societies aren’t created thinking short-term. Sooner or later, they demand a sacrifice from each of us. As of now, the average conservative (along with a few disaffected liberals) says the violence we’re witnessing on the streets is the inevitable consequence of decades of post-colonial / neo-Marxist propaganda. All of those theories have merit, of course. But perhaps there’s more than ideology to the iconoclasm of the far-left. Some men just want to watch the world burn (as the wise Alfred said), just as it is true that often ideas have people and not the other way around. But people are people, and people feel. And are especially emotions like fear and denial that can give birth to the irrationality reflected in much of today’s extreme activism. As G.K. Chesterton puts it: “Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back”. I know I was. I’m glad I’m not anymore. But as the fire against our heritage continues to rise, I can’t say I’m surprised to see progressives keep staring far into the future yet never once into the past; rioters smashing what they don’t want to build as weak people continue to fear what they’re not willing to become.