Matthew Rose’s “A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right”: A Review
A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right offers political advice to Christians. The problem is, it’s not good advice. The author, Matthew Rose, ably profiles five Right philosophers of previous generations — but fails to link this past thought in any meaningful manner to today. He instead uses this historical survey to lecture Christians they must anathemize today’s fast-growing post-liberal Right, while ignoring that all present attacks on Christians come from the modern left, the final form of liberalism. Rose can’t bring himself to criticize the left, so his book fails to provide prudent political guidance to Christians.
Rose begins, not by defining liberalism with any precision, although he seems to equate it with the Enlightenment, and thus autonomic individualism and egalitarianism, but by saying that “liberalism is losing its hold on Western minds.” True enough. Rose notes the great diversity among post-liberals, “nationalists, populists, identitarians, futurists, and religious traditionalists,” and he offers a very short, but generally good, thumbnail sketch of this present-day ferment. But then he throws all his insights away, saying “history offers a guide to the destiny of ideas” and “this is not a book about a present generation of radicals, but about a previous one.” Whereupon he retreats a hundred years and only ever views the present through the dead past.
Rose’s premise, never quite made explicit, is that the dividing line between left and Right is whether individual or collective identity should be the core of a society. But while certainly atomized autonomy has always been the touchstone of the left, and no doubt the Right thinkers he profiles regarded societal collective identity as crucial, Rose in practice equates collective identity with race — despite race being very secondary, or wholly unimportant, to nearly all of those he profiles. Rose is trapped and bound within the frames of the left, and the left loves nothing more today than demanding from the Right talks about race, with the sole goal of using it, in Scott Adams’s phrase, as a “linguistic kill shot,” obviating any need for facts and reason. Thus, Rose cites Saint Paul that there is “neither Jew nor Greek […] in Christ Jesus,” but he thinks this means Christians must adopt the left’s definition of racism, i.e. white people are evil and must acknowledge this by hating themselves and handing over power, money, and honors earned to non-white people.
Unfortunately, excessive focus on race is only the most glaring example of Rose’s frequent prostrations before the left (even though I don’t think he’s a man of the left himself). The author offers repeated pre-emptive apologies, such as for daring to actually evaluate Right thinkers objectively. “I hope that in treating them seriously I have done nothing to normalize any of the perennial diseases of the human mind.” When you announce in your Introduction that you regard the thought you are studying as diseased, you undermine your credibility. Equally tiring are Rose’s many other obeisances to the gods of the age, in major ways such as the laughable claim that “Christians must play an essential role in combating racism,” thereby ignoring that if racism is a sin, it is no special sin, merely one of the innumerable manifestations of the cardinal sin of pride, and in minor ways such as by using “CE” instead of “A.D.” I suppose, though, all this may be just the cost of admission to being published by Yale University Press — and, to be fair, this book is susceptible to an esoteric reading, in which this is a smokescreen designed to support an attack on liberalism, though I don’t think that is an accurate reading.
At least Rose admits that the modern left-dominated world has failed the young. “There are human needs that liberalism cannot possibly satisfy — needs that it now struggles to even acknowledge.” Among those are all the core needs of every human and every human society, “needs of the human spirit” he enumerates. Moreover, “To ask people to apologize for what they are right to value, and to be ashamed for what they are right to need, is to tempt political catastrophe.” Then he proceeds to ignore those needs and admonish us what we are right to value and right to need is only what the left tells us we should need and value, or we’re racist.
But let’s not complain too much. As I’ve said, Rose offers competent sketches of five Right thinkers. True, I’m quite sure none of these men are actually any more relevant to today’s post-liberal Right than, say, Thomas Hobbes. Still, Rose is not wrong that talking about what the dead thought is a place to start addressing the questions that matter today.
Rose begins with Oswald Spengler, whose theory of history has indeed been getting attention lately, and who is also the most mainstream of the thinkers Rose profiles. Spengler was the high priest of cultural determinism — both in that the characteristics of a culture determined its history, and that cultures pass through the same stages as all life. For Spengler, the “Faustian” culture of the West, which sprang not from precursor cultures but emerged as a new thing around the turn of the first millennium, is what made it successful, able to dominate the world. It challenged, even broke, the boundaries that other cultures accepted as immutable; it offered heroic self-sacrifice in pursuit of the infinite.
Spengler saw the West as remaking Christianity, from a religion of the weak to one of the strong, and thereby taking ownership of “its” Christianity. The decline of the West resulted from a reversion to an earlier Christianity, focused on leveling and hostile to heroic greatness. For Spengler, the civilizational winter of the West was imminent — meaning conflict, Caesarism, and ultimately, the birth of the new. This vision has a grand pull, whatever its accuracy as history, and no doubt this, combined with the very obvious biting frosts of civilizational winter, is why Spengler has gotten some modest attention on the Right of late.
Next we get Julius Evola, about whom there was some interest a few years ago when Steve Bannon mentioned him in passing, and it was perceived this could be used to attack Donald Trump. The Italian philosopher disliked Mussolini because he wasn’t fascist or aristocratic enough. He spent his career promulgating a doctrine of individualist responsibility within a strong society, and his vision of that ideal society was heavily influenced by the cyclical, Eastern-oriented, pan-religious “Traditionalism” of Rene Guénon. Most of all, Evola complained of the collapse of spiritual meaning in the West, wishing to turn back to a supposed earlier time where everything a man did was touched by meaning, by a spark of the divine. Liberalism disoriented mankind and loosed anarchy upon the world, but Evola also rejected Christianity as an excrescence upon earlier Tradition, as a religion that undermined both authority and enchantment. Return!, he called.
Rose then turns to Francis Parker Yockey, an attorney who committed suicide in 1960, of whom I had never heard, even though I have been a card-carrying member of the farther Right for thirty years. Yockey seems to have been Spengler-lite, with a generous helping of Jew-hatred. His inclusion in the book though appears to be made primarily to buttress Rose’s contention that race is the crucial matter for today’s post-liberals. This section adds nothing to the book; it certainly does not illuminate anything about the future of Christianity or the Right. Nor does the next section add much; it covers Alain de Benoist, leader of the French Nouvelle Droit, a quirky European movement with little relevance for the Anglosphere. De Benoist (the only one of the five thinkers in this book who’s still alive) tried to combine a call for paganism and cultural “identitarianism” while occasionally cozying up to the left, both politically (claiming “anti-racist” bona fides) and philosophically (claiming nominalism as a first principle). What matters is collective identity based upon a culture’s unique, rather than universal, characteristics; for this reason, Christianity, with its claim to universal membership, is his enemy.
Finally, we get the only American-focused writer, Sam Francis, who died relatively young in 2005. Francis’ main claim to fame is that he accurately predicted the America of today. Most of all, he is seen as prophesying the rise of Trump, or rather what is generically called Trumpism. A disciple of James Burnham, he adopted Burnham’s focus on power as the sole prism through which to view politics, notably conveyed in Burnham’s The Machiavellians. He recognized early that the catamite Right of Bill Buckley and National Review was in fact a tool of its putative enemies, and he advocated a political focus on what are today called the Deplorables. Francis’s magnum opus, published after his death, Leviathan and Its Enemies, explained through the lens of managerialism and elite conflict how the left ascended to dominate all the heights of power during the twentieth century.
As with the other men in this book, except perhaps Yockey, race was not a main focus for Francis. He seems to have been only exercised by race to the extent he noted, daringly for his time, that white people were treated as a group for purposes of obloquy but not allowed to be a group for purposes of political action, unlike all other racial groups. This was less a key for him to politics than an early recognition of what is poisonously obvious today. (Despite what their enemies say, most post-liberals of the present simply aren’t hung up on race, except to the extent they’re white and the direct target of the new left religion of anti-white hatred.) Nor did Francis oppose Christianity — merely its modern incarnation as an arm of the left, though Rose accidentally or deliberately blurs this crucial distinction. Most of all, Francis wanted to defenestrate the ruling class wholesale. Rose quotes him, “The issue [is] who in the wrecked vessel of the American Republic, is to be master?” Indeed.
Rose struggles with Francis, unable to find a stable place on which to stand to criticize him, but needing to, given his relevance for today. He settles for two rambling pages complaining that Francis saw conservatives as “beautiful losers rather than ugly winners.” Rose claims, without conviction, that “[conservatives] attempt to do what [Francis] could not: to transform the conversation of our common life, opening it to a vision of the world in which truth, virtue, and the highest good have a privileged and not merely permitted place.” This high-flown cant encapsulates what’s wrong with Rose’s entire approach to the Right — conservatives have, indeed, proven to be losers rather than winners in the acquisition and use of political power. And when you’re a loser, you don’t get to participate in any conversations or unveil any visions, as shown by what has happened to most conservatives of Francis’s day, who have become prison bitches, writing for the Bulwark.
While these sketches are interesting and well-done, after completing these five chapters, the reader can’t help but wonder about the relevance of this to anyone other than Ph.D. students of political history. Rose ignores everything of substance that has happened on the Right in the past twenty-five years. Nowhere does he discuss (although in his Introduction he does mention in passing) mainstream institutions leading today’s creative Right, such as the Claremont Institute. He passes over in silence post-liberal writers with large followings, both non-Christians such as Bronze Age Pervert and Christians such as Rod Dreher. For a book published in 2021, these are all crippling omissions. Instead, Rose obsessively searches for racism. He thus cites Biden supporter, federal snitch, and general clown Richard Spencer as a “leader” of today’s Right, and talks at length about several obscure white racial grifters as if they had any following. Whether this is deliberate misdirection or ignorance, it is hard to say.
Rose pulls it all together in the sixth, and last chapter — “The Christian Question.” What role can Christianity play in our future? He summarizes the occasional indictment of Christianity from the Right — that it weakens society by exalting the individual over communal solidarity, severing the bonds in which the individual was, and should be, enmeshed. Rose rejects this, but rather than pointing out, for example, that communal solidarity is the very essence of Christianity, and wholly compatible with recognizing that one’s own society is important and should be honored and maintained, he instead suggests power should be handed to the left by accepting their vision of what a Christian is allowed to be and how he is allowed to act. Rose ends his book with an explicit call to theosis — divinization. But the path he offers to theosis is a heresy; it lies through Christians prostrating ourselves before our, and God’s, enemies.
Crucially, Rose never says why he believes the actual, future post-Christian Right must end up anti-Christian — other than by referring back to the mostly dead, and frankly largely irrelevant, writers whom he profiles. He’s worried about a pagan post-Christian Right, but he is more worried about a post-Christian Right that “could clothe itself in Christianity,” offering a “false nationalism” that tries to tie Christianity to a society, as did Spengler. One gets the very definite sense Rose is deliberately averting his eyes from the third possibility — a post-Christian Right that is post-Christian only in the sense of rejecting the Enlightenment venom that has falsely passed for Christianity, and has instead returned to a much older, much longer-pedigreed Christianity, that is both universal in its appeal and confident in its civilizational role, but rejects the left entirely.
That Christianity says every person is equal before God implies nothing at all about the vaguely parallel Enlightenment ideas of unlimited emancipation and forced egalitarianism, and merely because our enemies have successfully blurred this basic distinction does not mean we have to blind ourselves. No Christian prior to the Enlightenment (except, perhaps, a few radical Protestant groups) would have found any contradiction between societal stratification, or social coercion to morality, and the equality of men before God. No Christian would have thought the commands of the Beatitudes dictated governmental confiscation and redistribution to parasites, or sexual confusion, or allowing infants to be slain in the womb, or that Christian universalism meant that atheist pedophile globalists should rule us, or that a society must collectively repent for the supposed sins of its ancestors. In short, the modern left is not in any way Christian, in spirit, essence, or practice, and those who tell us it is are liars, whom we should identify publicly as such.
Christianity should reassert itself as a masculine, demanding faith, wholly compatible with a vibrant, achieving society — and also compatible with nationalism (Rose notes John Paul II’s strong endorsement of Polish nationalism, yet refuses to follow this example where it obviously leads). This Christianity will reject the left, and the ground of its being, the Enlightenment, wholesale — together with the myth that the Enlightenment had anything to do with the rule of law, good government, rationality, scientific advancement, or any of the many other achievements of pre-Enlightenment Christendom for which Enlightenment propagandists take credit.
But maybe this will not occur. If we can’t, or can’t yet, bring about a rebirth of Christianity as the steel spine of our society, Christians should not ally with their mortal enemies, the left, who desire nothing more than universal nihilism and the extinction of actual Christianity and Christians, but with the pagans and the atheists on the Right, instead of treating them as boogeymen. For even if they oppose Christianity intellectually, they agree with us on much, and are both no threat to us now nor likely to be one in the future, even if they were to rule. In fact, we should ally with anyone who helps us win, as the Conservative Right has always refused to do, instead eagerly policing our boundaries as the left demands we do but never does itself.
The day is coming, and in many places is already here, in which Christians will have to choose a side in the wars to come, metaphorical or actual. All Christians should be proud to have as their brothers-in-arms men of honor, whatever their religion, who see the world clearly and will work with us to restore human flourishing. What faith will dominate the world after liberalism, remains to be seen, but we can be certain that that world will be more hospitable to Christianity, and more hospitable to mankind, than anything the left has to offer.