Note from the Editors: The following written exchange is part of our experimental dialogues series, which aims at bringing together the best minds to analyze and debate controversial issues in depth.
Daniel Miller and Charles Haywood debate how to win the Culture War
Daniel Miller: You recently initiated a polemic with the American Conservative writer Rod Dreher over the slogan “no enemies to the Right.” How do you understand this phrase, and how would you characterize the differences between your positions?
Charles Haywood: Stephen Covey wrote a once-famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Six of the habits are forgettable, and should be forgotten. But the seventh — that is everything! “Begin with the end in mind.”
What is our end? That is easy — winning. What is the winning condition? It is the total, permanent defeat of the Left, of the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment, with its two core principles of total emancipation from all bonds not continuously chosen, and of total forced equality of all people. When this defeat is accomplished, Right principles, those based in reality and recognizing the nature of man, his limitations, and his capabilities, can again become ascendant.
Winning does not mean electoral victory such that Right principles may be voted into law, and then nullified or voted out again. It means the total, permanent elimination of all Left power, and, even more importantly, the total discrediting, both on a moral and practical basis, of all Left ideology. What is Left should be seen for what it is, evil, and it should be seen as not only destructive in practice, but laughable, the ideology of losers and idiots, or at most something from the discredited past, viewed with vague curiosity, as the cult of Mithras is today.
If we begin with the end in mind, we see that any firepower directed at the Right is necessarily antithetical to the goal of destroying the Left. Any contentious discussion with those on the Right, wherever exactly they may fall on the spectrum of “not Left,” should instead be done privately and be strictly tactical, to agree on how may we cooperate to achieve our joint ends. We may occasionally choose to ignore some on the Right, as charlatans, simpletons, or fools, or simply too different, even malevolent, in their beliefs, but attacking them publicly only serves to make it harder to reach our end.
The phrase “no enemies to the Right” is merely the expression of this approach. It is the sound adoption of a universal Left tactical principle, first enunciated by Alexander Kerensky before the Bolshevik Revolution. Yes, it turned out to be an unwise principle for him personally, but he was entirely correct that the principle was crucial for Left domination. It has been a key component of Left success for a hundred years, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Why, then, do many putatively on the Right, such as Dreher, save their fiercest attacks for those on the Right? They complain, endlessly complain, about the Left and its evils, but never do they wield actual power against the individuals about whose behavior they complain, which could advance their claimed goals. Instead, they only wield what power they have against individuals whose beliefs they regard as to their own right. These are the same individuals as those targeted by the Left, and the more so they show any tendency to become leaders or network nodes on the Right. (In this case I have made no effort whatsoever to find out exactly of what Dreher accuses his target, because it does not matter. At all.)
Dreher is a prime example of this tendency on the supposed Right. He always talks lovingly about his friends on the Left, notably the odious David Brooks, and defends them to the last gasp. He does not seem to realize, or will not admit to himself, that his “friends” would gladly throw him to the wolves if he ever did anything such as, say, use a “slur” to refer to homosexuals, or state the obvious, especially in light of his obsession with the scandals surrounding Catholic clergy, that many homosexuals are created by homosexual abuse of children, and that homosexuals abuse children at a vastly greater rate than normal people. Yet never, ever, does he say anyone to his right is a friend. He runs from them in horror and hurts them when he can. In fact, the absolute limits of all acceptable rightward behavior for Dreher is set by reference to Dreher himself; anything to his right is ipso facto unconscionable, disgusting, evil, or all three.
In his (quite good, if very incomplete) book Live Not by Lies, Dreher gushes endlessly over dissidents in Eastern Europe who were Left, even anti-Christian, but worked with Christians to oppose Communism. You can be sure if there had been any individuals “too far Right” under Communism, Dreher would note approvingly if they were excluded from joint action to overthrow Communism. After all, better Red than unacceptably Right.
This necrotic tendency has, I think, several explanations. One is the strange attraction on the English-speaking Right to what I call Scrutonism, after the late Roger Scruton — the intense desire to be a beautiful loser, nostalgic and fearful, to muse in decayed English churchyards about the people who once lived there, leaving nice gravestones, and to comment on the spectacular sunset, while just up the road Muslim invaders are raping your daughters with the cooperation of the authorities, about which you do nothing, much less what should be done. Scrutonism actually began with William F. Buckley, that Judas, who in hindsight we can see deliberately led the American Right into a box canyon, swiftly spiking any gun that seemed as if it might be effective in the war waged by the Left on decent America for over a hundred years.
Another reason is unmanliness. Attacking only to the Right is a refusal to man up and fight against someone who might fight back successfully. Related symptoms of unmanliness appear among others on the eunuch Right, such as Jordan Peterson 2.0, after his breakdown, who now cries all the damn time, because he is so deeply affected by what the tastemakers of society say about him, if it is negative, because he craves their good opinion. Dreher, similarly, nearly every day offers maudlin commentary on his personal life, when a man should be a strong outward-facing pillar of society, silent to strangers about his personal troubles. Why prominent men on the Right are unmanly is not really clear to me. Maybe it is because on the reservation in which the Left has successfully penned the Right, talking is allowed, and doing is not, so those who like to talk, rather than fight, become prominent, even though excessive talk is antithetical to masculinity.
A third reason is a misguided attempt to be “ethical,” “moral,” and “just,” by positing moral equivalency between Left and Right. Of course, this does not explain why individuals on the Right are always those selected for the most aggressive attacks by Dreher and his ilk, but in the distorted and fearful mind of such a man, he is a new Solon, and what he does is directed at hastening the apocatastasis, the universal reconciliation, for which he thinks he should be praised. In truth, this is merely a form of self-aggrandizing preening.
A fourth reason is simply fear and cupidity. It’s easy, when the Left controls, as Michael Anton says, the Narrative, Megaphone, and Muzzle, to know that you will sleep soundly when you comply with Left dictates. Few men, especially those with a family to support, can really stand strong against the powers of the earth.
It is also important to note that this Right-punching behavior is even worse in practice than in the abstract, because individuals on the Left are not similarly situated to those on the Right. Someone on the Left can frequently escape any consequences for his actions, including for reprehensible crimes, because “respectable,” meaning Left, media must join the hue and cry for him to even notice. If he is, by some mischance, forced from a position, after detailed proof of some extremely nasty behavior, he will immediately be offered another by some tentacle of the Left leviathan, and continue on his merry way. Someone on the Right against whom a Dreher-esque witch hunt is launched is immediately subject to massive attacks not only by Left media, but by others supposedly on the Right who aim to thereby signal to their Left masters what good toadies they are. Usually the mere publication of his name and vague description of a supposed thoughtcrime is enough. And if he loses his job, he will struggle to get any employment at all. One of these things is not like the other.
Dreher, in his attack on me, like a modern-day Pharisee, also tries to wrap himself in the mantle of Christianity. Among other claims, he didactically and stuffily instructs us a Christian must immediately cut himself off totally from anyone who holds Right beliefs Dreher deems un-Christian. If he does not, he “indulges” those beliefs, “accepts hatred,” and thereby sins gravely. This is not a bilateral principle for Dreher. If the Left embraces an un-Christian belief, we may not like it, and we may complain vigorously, if ineffectively, about it, but we should be very sure we always first prioritize “charity,” “love,” and “prudence” in our reaction.
We can see the results of his compliance with Left dictates in the arc of Dreher’s career. Dreher is never substantively attacked by the Left, because he is regarded as not a threat, despite his notable prominence on the Right. His defenders respond that his contribution is converting the normies. This is false; if he were converting the normies, he would be regarded as a threat and targeted. Rather, he is lecturing the already-converted who are unhappy about Left victories surging ever higher, advising them to be angry about the Left, but never, never to take any determined action against the Left, and always, always, to police your mind and speech to purify it of anything that the Left might find too objectionable. If Dreher were honest, and he looked at himself, he would realize that his actions show that, for him, beginning with the end in mind means seeking the eternal domination of the Left. By their fruits, ye shall know them.
Daniel Miller: Perhaps it is useful to first introduce some historical context. As I’ve argued before and as I’m sure you know, the terms “Left” and “Right” emerge as a political dyad after the French Revolution from the seating plan of the French Revolutionary Assembly, and only emerge as political concepts with the Dreyfus Affair. They correspond basically to the two wings of Liberalism, with the Right tending to show greater respect towards traditional forms of authority while still accepting the liberal rules of the game. Accordingly to speak of the Left as “the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment” is ahistorical and therefore mythologizing as opposed to precise.
Self-identified Leftists of course endorse this same vision: Francois Furet’s book The Passing of an Illusion explores this dynamic with respect to the self-presentation of twentieth-century Communism and so-called antifascism in great detail. But it is more rhetorical than true. To designate the “two core principles” of the Enlightenment as “total emancipation from all bonds not continuously chosen, and of total forced equality of all people” is really a retroactive invention of totalitarian propaganda as an alibi for murder and slavery. I am not aware of any Enlightenment thinker who would affirm these principles. I cite for the record Kant’s famous declaration from What is Enlightenment: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it…”
Here we can identify three core principles: courage, understanding, and authority, which are also at the heart of your argument. You place all these principles on the side of the Right against an (evil) utopian Left, which you say must be destroyed. This objective is itself utopian and therefore, in a sense, Leftist. Evil, which is part of human nature, cannot be destroyed. At best it can be restrained. Every historical effort to eradicate evil has accordingly reliably generated catastrophes, whether under the name of the Left or the Right, or some other name. This is the meaning of the famous line from Matthew 5:39: “Resist not evil.” Not: “Do not resist.” But: “Do not resist evil”. The political enemy shouldn’t be demonized.
Dreher, I think, conceives his own position first and foremost in terms of a concern to avoid a repetition of totalitarianism from the Right. One could argue that his priorities are misplaced but to insist that political action is subject to ethical principles seems to me necessary given that the alternative is nihilism. A movement that abandons all principles for the sake of political victory, as you appear to be urging, ultimately wins nothing; it simply puts more criminals to power. The issue here is not the presence or absence of ethical principles but the question of which principles are necessary for victory.
The phrase “no enemies to the Right” lacks ethical principles and also substantive political content. It refers to a theoretical political front, in a zero-sum game. From this perspective, the question of who is actually “more” or “less” Right is very hard to define. Despite being generally identified with the far-right, for example, Italian fascism and German National Socialism both clearly incorporated Leftist elements.
It seems to me that this slogan is not really workable as a political principle. Obviously not everyone who identifies with the Right is a friend automatically. Dreher, for instance, identifies himself with the Right but the thrust of your argument is that he is an unreliable ally at best. Clearly there needs to be some criterion for distinguishing between true and false friends beyond a simple point of self-affirmation of the identity “Right.”
That said, I agree there is an important political point here concerning the rhetorical use of the idea of the Right from the Left. The term “far-right” in particular is a polemical concept, and also an etic concept (I am not aware of anyone who defines their own position in these terms) used to delegitimize opposition according to the principle of guilt by association. The historical analogy is the notorious “sausage strategy” pursued by Rákosi in Hungary. By portraying his opponents as fascists, or fascist sympathizers, Rákosi was able to get the opposition to slice off its own right-wing, then its center, then most of its left-wing, so that only sympathizers willing to collaborate with the Communist Party remained. This kind of blackmail clearly must be resisted. But we also face a different, and I think more complex situation. Rákosi was systematically marginalizing political parties arranged across an ideological spectrum. We are dealing with a more anarchic process, in which individuals and organizations are stigmatized for various ideological and non-ideological reasons. The legions of the canceled don’t obviously constitute a coalition.
Charles Haywood: This framing is merely a sophisticated form of relativism, and more importantly, another tactical error. Relativism, the refusal to call a spade a spade and to act on the truth, is the garden of intellectuals, but the grave of civilizations.
Suggesting that the injunction no enemies to the Right “lacks ethical principles” joins Dreher in begging the question. What is to be decided is whether that is the core matter at hand. It is not. My injunction is not meant to have “substantive political content.” Why would it have any such? It is meant to be a tactical principle, to achieve identified ends that are objectively good. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Determining who is friend and who is enemy is usually easy in our present struggle, as is typically the case in existential political battles. (Carl Schmitt’s subtle analysis should not be tritely abused, but friend/enemy is nonetheless the fundamental dividing line in all politics.) By definition, anyone not Left is a friend. It may be that certain people on the Left, such as the members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, might become friends if properly catechized; they are not friends now, because never do they threaten the Left in any way, nor do they wish to, but only the Right. Dreher is a friend; he’s just not a very useful friend. Once the Left has entered history permanently and irrevocably, many disagreements will remain, and some who are now friends will become enemies, as the new order comes into focus. This is inevitable. But it does not change what our end should be today.
Left and Right are not concepts that originate in historical time. We should not mistake nomenclature for substance. The key precepts of the Left, which I identified (although I stole their summary from Roger Scruton), are timeless; they are what the Serpent sold to Adam and Eve. “Ye shall be as gods” — you will not be bound to anything you do not choose, and none shall be higher than you.
Yes, Left and Right are correctly associated with the French Revolution, but not because of where men sat in the assembly. Rather, it was in the Revolution that for the first time these principles became reified in actual politics, by the choice of men who held this to be desirable. This wrong turn was the direct result of Enlightenment thought in the preceding century. The Dreyfus Affair is completely irrelevant; what set the Left on its trajectory of destruction that we see all around us today was its philosophy’s irruption, for the first time, into actual human political life in the Revolution.
It is important to note what is not the Enlightenment, because we have been propagandized into believing that anything good in the modern world is somehow derived from the Enlightenment, by the descendants of the same liars who gave us the term “Enlightenment” (not rescued by the self-congratulatory babbling that apparently came out of Kant’s mouth, yet another reason I will not be reading Kant). The Enlightenment is merely an ideology, a system of relatively narrow, but enormously harmful, political and philosophical principles, the core of which are the two I list. The Enlightenment has nothing whatsoever to do with the Scientific Revolution, the rule of law, natural rights, or any other good thing to which its propagandists often lay claim.
How one can say that, for example, Rousseau, Voltaire, or John Stuart Mill would not “affirm those [two core] principles” is beyond me. Certainly, even those regarded as less ideological Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke, were focused on emancipation and equality. No doubt they (unlike the others I name) were unaware of the demons they were thereby unleashing, but the core of their project is entirely clear, and we are left to pay the bill.
It is false that seeking the destruction of the Left is utopian. Escaping a prison does not promise anything but release from bondage; it does not, in any way, implicate utopia. You may starve the next day; it is on you what to do when made free. When the Left is gone, evil will remain, because as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. What will have disappeared however is the chief agent of evil in the world today, which will be all to the good, but does not absolve us of the ongoing struggle to maximize human flourishing.
Dragging in tendentious personal interpretations of Scripture to support relativism does not improve its flavor. We are commanded to return good for evil in our personal lives, but to claim that society and the state should not resist evil is false under any orthodox interpretation of Christianity. This principle is closely tied to the crucial distinction in the New Testament between hostis, the public enemy, and inimicus, the private enemy, something Carl Schmitt discussed in The Concept of the Political. The Vulgate exclusively uses inimicus to translate what we translate as “enemy,” in the New Testament, thereby providing an early judgment on how the more ambiguous Greek terms were understood. The public enemy, hostis, is not to be viewed the same as the private enemy. As Schmitt says, “Never in the thousand-year struggle between Christians and Moslems did it occur to a Christian to surrender rather than defend Europe out of love toward the Saracens or Turks… [Christ’s command] certainly does not mean that one should love and support the enemies of one’s own people.” In like manner, Christ’s commands do not militate against the destruction of the evil of the Left. Our society is commanded to excise the limitless, satanic evils brought on us by the Left. This does not imply nihilism, or the abandonment of “ethics” (a word that should never be used; the correct word is either “morals,” or if not that, “opinion” — ethics is a word used, again, to import relativism, because it has no objective foundation). It implies a cleansing, hopefully followed by a return to the rich, two-thousand-year tapestry of Christian morals.
Daniel Miller: Evidently you are convinced that your position is correct. I remain unconvinced. We already conducted on this platform a long dialogue on the meaning (or the lack thereof) of the terms Left and Right. Your position seems to me identical to my opponent on that occasion so I don’t think it is worth fighting this battle again. You argue that Left and Right are not historical concepts and that their historical determinations are irrelevant. They are cosmological principles that have been revealed to you, and reveal themselves to you in all places and times. It seems to me we are dealing here with a political Manicheanism.
You trace the birth of the Left to the serpent in Genesis. Of course, God himself put the serpent in Eden, in his infinite wisdom, so by your own logic it would be Leftist to question that. But the project of deification is clearly not confined to the Left. Julius Evola, for example, who has been accused of many things but never Leftism, affirms it explicitly. So does Nietzsche.
Evola also notes the difference between Christian and pagan treatments of this theme. Whereas the pagan hero who attempts to “storm heaven” is rewarded for his daring, the Christian rebel is punished for his hubris. For both Nietzsche and Evola of course Christianity itself was a kind of ur-Leftism, an “ideology of losers and idiots” to borrow your phrase. This irreconcilable tension, and sometimes open warfare between secular and Christian morality has fundamentally defined the history of Western culture, and, in a distorted, or perhaps perverted form, persists today.
With respect to Voltaire, Rousseau, and Mill, I invite you to find in their writings the very radical doctrines you claim for them: “total emancipation from all bonds not continuously chosen, and of total forced equality of all people.” The consensus concerning the core Enlightenment project was that it consisted of the replacement of the authority of revelation by the authority of reason. This project was at the center of the Scientific Revolution: hence the maxim of the Royal Society: “Nullius in Verba,” or “Take no man’s word for it.” Voltaire, amongst other things, was Newton’s chief French apologist. I note also Joseph de Maistre’s polemic against Francis Bacon.
With respect to your rejection of ethics, and your preference for injunctions, I’m struck by the parallels of your position to Leninism. As Peter Sloterdijk puts it: “The absolute idealism of revolutionary engagement unleashed total instrumentalism in the elimination of obstacles hindering the new. For both Lenin and Lukács it was clear that the revolution was assigned a purgatorial mission.” In your case, the idealism is counter-revolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary, but it comes to the same point: the political suspension of ethics for the sake of “cleansing” humanity.
Your invocation of Carl Schmitt for support on this point is also interesting because it seems to me that the thrust of his arguments points precisely the opposite way. Schmitt was concerned in particular, and also as a Catholic himself, to avoid dehumanizing the enemy. His critique of the Nuremberg Trials and the ideology of human rights it articulated was that it destroyed the consensus of the jus europeum publicum and opened the gate to a total war of extermination and terror. By “denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity,” wrote Schmitt, “a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity.” This is the implication of your position.
I will leave the final word to you.
Charles Haywood: We began this dialogue by attempting to understand the principle “no enemies to the Right.” Understanding that principle is impossible if Left and Right are merely labels of convenience. He who claims that what is Right and what is Left have no objective content, but are neutral, historically-contingent vessels containing a ferment of ever-shifting pseudo-principles, dominated by greed and self-dealing rather than ideology, has absorbed more relativism and less history than is healthy.
You say my view leads to Manichaeism. The error Mani made was not that he falsely claimed that the Earth is a battleground, the site of a titanic struggle between light and dark. That claim is the truth. His error was that he identified these powers as equal, two sides of the same coin. They are not. Dualism is only bad if it implies indifference between good and evil, or if it is applied too broadly, outside of good and evil.
But this is warmup to what I take as your main claim — that my approach leads to dehumanizing the Left, or more precisely, the human beings who make up the Left. This is undoubtedly a problem in any political struggle, and in fact it is a danger I myself have repeatedly identified in the past, in both my several analyses of the works of Carl Schmitt and elsewhere. Schmitt made the statement you quote in 1932, in The Concept of the Political, and he also noted at the same time, summarizing Hobbes, that he “recognized correctly that the conviction of each side that it possesses the truth, the good, and the just bring about the worst enmities, finally the war of all against all.” We on the Right must guard against this tendency, at least to the extent we are Christians, and fear the judgment of Christ on a day not too far removed from today.
However, we should not take this moral demand too far, and falsely claim that recognizing any man or opposing group as enemy is inherently dehumanizing. Schmitt’s most famous thoughts revolved around the absolute necessity of defining one’s enemy, after all. He expressed no concern this was inherently dehumanizing — quite the contrary. For Schmitt, what leads to dehumanization is man’s attempts to reach utopia. Ideological claims, those derived from abstractions and offering self-contained systems, tend in that direction. Recognition of the friend/enemy distinction, which is grounded in objective reality, without moral content, the opposite of an attempt to build heaven on earth, does not tend in that direction.
The larger context of Schmitt’s words is his claim that no war can be waged on behalf of humanity, “because [humanity] has no enemy, at least not on this planet.” A claim to be fighting on behalf of humanity is therefore pure lie. “At the expense of its opponent, [such a state] tries to identify itself with humanity in the same way as one can misuse peace, justice, progress, and civilization in order to claim these as one’s own and to deny the same to the enemy.” And who, in history, has so misused such terms? Those who have a utopian vision of how humanity can and must be perfected, who do not accept the reality of human limitations, who demand emancipation and egalitarianism, which we are told will unleash the perfection of humanity. That is, the Left. And we are back where we started.
No doubt a future ascendant Right will face great temptations to return to a pre-Christian morality and repay evil for evil. It will be a major challenge for us to levy justice to individuals, rather than the stock-in-trade of the Left, punishment of groups (although it has been competently done, by Francisco Franco, for example). The temptation will be even greater if the Right adopts some of the utopian impulses of the Left, which is entirely possible, though undesirable. All this is, however, a problem for the Future Right, not today’s Right, which lacks any power whatsoever.
We should recognize, however, that most claims of “dehumanization” aimed at the Right today are merely tools of Left aggression, an attempt to discombobulate the Right and to demand internal policing by the Right to benefit the Left. As we navel-gaze and debate far away from the halls of power, the Left, as it always has, uses its power to engage in dehumanization and mass murder. Certainly, tens of millions of slaughtered unborn children, tagged as “fetuses” or “products of conception,” feel dehumanized, or they would, if they weren’t, you know, dead. This cycle of Left dehumanization, of those who would block the utopia just over the horizon, followed by mass murder is, before our eyes, building again, as it has many times since the Enlightenment reified the Left’s principles. We should understand this as malicious farce, and not obey the Left’s commands to make ourselves ever purer, with purity defined as forever more compliance with their dictates. We should not dance like a monkey to their organ grinder’s tune. No enemies to the Right.