ARTICLES & SHORT-ESSAYS
Many of those opposed to the accelerating corrosion of Western civilization see it as a battle between ‘liberalism’ and ‘illiberalism’. Illiberalism seems to be rearing its monstrous head again in a demonic whack-a-mole game, from the ominous ‘democracies’ in places like Turkey and Hungary, to the stifling environment of cultural revolution in Western universities. Freedom of speech, freedom of association, the seemingly fundamental right to walk down the street — in this time of the great plague — have been summarily suspended, and don’t seem to be making a full return soon.
But we hear that liberalism, correctly applied, is here to solve these problems, and we have just the right people to implement the solution. The centrists, the moderates, the people who are privy to the knowledge of the true goldilocks zone of both market and social freedoms are here to guide us. They will use both their keen intuitions and the latest tools of political science to nudge, regulate, and liberate. If only we could get back to true liberalism, they could do their jobs.
Liberalism, like ‘democracy’, has a certain ring to it. It is a mythical value with the gleam of an unalloyed good. It’s the virtuous opposite of illiberalism — a darkness synonymous with constraint and oppression. Suppose we take liberalism at its word. In that case, it stands to reason that the long arc of history is a journey from a sterile illiberal past toward a luminous liberal future. We’re on rails to the promised land, and we just need to liberate a bit harder to get there. But the record of liberalism, in both its market and social variants, is spotty. If we persist in misdiagnosing the problem, our solutions will remain ineffective and may even be destructive.
Liberalism is the water we swim in. It’s permeated the nature of the West so profoundly that it’s become almost undetectable. Liberalism is the idea and the ideal that power both conservative and liberal parties, albeit at different speeds and with varying areas of interest.
The philosophical groundwork for our liberation was prepared a long time ago. In John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, we discover that the individual’s independence from the artificial constraints of custom is necessary for progress. Mill asserted that freedom lies in elevating choice and leaving aside burdensome custom, that the only way to be truly free is to unshackle yourself from the bonds of social mores, into ever freer choice. As he writes, “The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom makes no choice.”
Only in this way, unconstrained by the crusty baggage of social custom and opinion, can the virtuous — the smart and industrious and Mill’s “persons of genius” — rise to the top and assume their role as de facto overlords. The fact that this is what happened in reality, is a testament to Mill’s keen talent as both a philosopher and a prophet. Today, we live in an age where Mill’s righteous meritocracy has taken over the world, drained the brains of the global periphery, and has created a class of overworked and under-reproducing urban royalty. With this trick, we’ll have whittled down this self-selected caste of high intelligence ‘knowledge workers’ in a few generations of barren striving to ‘make partner’. You couldn’t design a better way to annihilate human capital, but yet, freedom finds a way.
Conservatives are nominally congealed in the amber of 1950s social norms – though not really, as they’re typically trailing only a few years behind on the latest facilitation of social freedom favored by the opposition. The freedoms conservatives like even more than those they have to regularly concede are market freedoms. And who can blame them? The market works, and it has been nothing short of miraculous. But it has also led to the despoiling of the planet, the destruction of local communities, and boom and bust cycles of ever-increasing intensity. The technology it birthed is the stuff of both amazement and nightmare, as a good fraction of culture is now a dedicated release valve for our most dystopian fears: Black Mirror, Westworld, The Matrix… One thing is made clear: there is no way back, and the Singularity is almost certainly malignant.
On the Liberal end of liberalism, freedom is just as salient. It’s simply directed at a more intimate area, the body. The Liberal wants to free the individual from the more immediate constraints of life, to move him into an unshackled, transhumanist state. The body itself needs liberation. Its unrealistic proportions and symmetries and ratios become an offense to liberty. Customary constraints on managing its hairs, its dimensions, its surfaces, its color schemes, and even its odors become arbitrary, stifling.
Inhibition becomes another grave societal constraint. Criminality is now a complex socioeconomic problem, passing judgment on it and its ever more permanent denizens — the real crime. To not indulge in any desire that floats into consciousness, be it food, sex, drugs, or mindless consumption, makes you a sucker. You’re judging yourself with the mind of the oppressor.
Women melt into inert puddles of deconstructed identity, only to be recomposed later by capital, in derriere hugging pantsuits, or in the camouflaging moo-moos of the permanently unhappy, harmonizing in a choral whine about representation in Fortune 500 companies.
Sex — then Gender — spiral out into fractals of ever more nuanced and thin-skinned identities. From the shattered cage of heteronormativity emerge a dazzling kaleidoscope of sexual options and identity-worthy kinks, so plentiful that they start to evade classification. Speaking of which, the act of classification itself becomes ‘problematic’, as do many more things that try to tie the individual down to the prosaic. The Liberal conception of freedom is to be let loose, on yourself, on others, on damned society itself.
Where do these developments leave the enlightened centrist, the meter out of liberalism, the stalwart straddler of ‘the extremes’?
He is always on the front lines of ever-shifting moderation but somehow knows that his current position on things like injecting pre-teens with sex hormones, the age of consent, and heck, let’s throw incest in there — is the right one. He reasons from first principles like: “It’s none of my damned business”, and the insights naturally follow.
On an issue like abortion, he presides over Schroedinger’s baby, a creature simultaneously alive and dead, and like the modern-day Solomon he is, cuts more and more to the left with every passing year. Because the point of incision lies with his ever-shifting centrism, every 10-or-so years, the centrist emerges reborn with new, more liberal, and thus good, energies, and reevaluates his previous heresies.
On guidance on how one should run this ten year Phoenix cycle, one can look to the patron saint of the supposed center-left: Barack Obama. He himself recoils at his heresies on things like same-sex marriage now, but he has repented and found himself where he left himself — in the center.
Therefore, to become the mighty individual, liberty means we have to make ourselves free to inhabit the ‘state of nature’. This process involves molting — getting rid of the heavy shackles of the flesh suit, ridding ourselves of our culture’s constraints, our obligations to kin, our community, and our place of origin. It involves freeing ourselves from the paternalistic obligations of moderation, chastity, and other passé virtues that reek of mothballs and the cardinal sin of judgment.
The liberated individual man or woman is a creature free from the constraints of nature, unchained, scrubbed clean, and ready to enjoy freedom in all its forms, to consume — to eat, drink and screw itself into ever truer liberation through ever freer choice.
Cover by: Yuri Zalevski
Alex Kaschuta is a writer and essayist from Romania. She writes on: sortalexout.com. Follow her on Twitter at, @kaschuta.
IM—1776 is a new online magazine of philosophy, cultural, and sociopolitical analysis. Learn more about us and our mission, here.
Among contemporary conservative politics and philosophy, there is a clear lack of consensus on what is and should be the main concern of conservatism: is it to preserve liberty, as Frank Meyer said, or should it be to preserve a certain order and way of life, as Gabriel Kolko proposed?
The truth is that the primary object of those who wish to restore society, to paraphrase Richard M. Weaver, is the “demassing of the masses”. Here, the role of aesthetics is paramount. We like to say the right of beauty is ‘metaphysical’ because it does not depend on any test of social usefulness. This is because aesthetics isn’t like other areas of philosophy, hence often being, indeed, one of the most overlooked. And yet uniforms, paintings, architecture, symbols, flags, colors… they can be used as a powerful driving force for politics — as beauty, explicitly or implicitly shown, is always part of the perception of the reality and dynamics of power. And the quest to achieve power is one the conservative-right, today, admittedly, is losing. Could it be because it isn’t making proper use of aesthetics?
Among the genuine conservative and other analogous schools of thought on the right, few thinkers have been as intense in their study of aesthetics as Sir Roger Scruton was, whose work very often delved into the idea of conservatism as an aesthetic experience of the self and of the world, and on how politics should be used to preserve the beauty of ages past. In a sense, however, Scruton’s approach was not meant to be applied, but to be observed as a rule of good government with an ethical obligation to be inspired by Tradition to maintain the beauty of long-lasting institutions proven functional by history. Yet, despite the great man’s contribution, aesthetics has not been the strongest suit of modern-day conservatives, who in a world focused on the destruction of material beauty as their representation of spiritual decay, are (arguably) nothing but delayed progressives.
The brown scare has been deeply influential in the contemporary Right’s disconnect from the arts and their political meaning. It was by assimilating a particular aesthetic idea promoted by the national variants of Fascism in the ’30s into a representation of all of the symbolic elements of a wider rightist movement, that conservatives surrendered both the study and the practice of aesthetics to the disperse left, which then used them to promote the cultural changes that sparked the identity conflicts we are suffering today. Ideally, philosophers focused on matters of ethics and aesthetics would be the ones ruling our civilization, but since the processes of secularization have separated all spiritual things from politics, a wave of materialistic rationalism and constructivism has taken over and built a society with little to no educated perspective on the political meaning of beauty.
But aesthetics still has a place in secular politics, as it guides the remnants of the Western Christian political theology into higher ends (at least symbolically). As Curtis Yarvin observes in a relatively recent essay for American Mind where he mentions the deep relation art has with revolutionary movements, from artistic ones and schools, to the very metapolitics exposed by the aesthetic adopted by a political party, the symbols and banners it flies, and the monuments it builds once it gets to power — one can observe how art shaped politics. Romanticism promoted the ideas of classical liberalism and the Enlightenment, realism promoted those of revolutionary socialism… futurism those of Fascism. The origins of comic books during World War II, or caricatures to ridicule political leaders both in the years leading to the uprisings of 1848, used the arts for propaganda purposes.
Since the 17th century, the arts have been used as a means to convince both leaders and the masses of adopting and then implementing views of society. A modern example would be the way artistic schools present the current world and its social issues, who are later then taken as truths by political actors and then framed as policies to be promoted.
Liberalism, in fact, transformed aesthetic needs into consumer products by commodification; socialism then transformed those needs into luxuries by scarcity, and fascism then reinvented them into government programs by making the State use them as propaganda. This shows that, in modernity, arts first are economic goods then sold to be used as political tools. They’re never meant for what they should be: which is beauty and transcendence.
This metapolitical understanding of aesthetics was the practical basis of various movements (none of which were liberal nor conservative). The most known of them all, was Antonio Gramsci’s attempt at promoting Marxism as a cultural movement instead of a political one, so institutions could be captured from the inside. Gramsci understood that the Marxist subversion of the culture was meant to twist the aesthetic perception of both individuals and communities so they couldn’t realize the power dialectics of class conflict. If there was no organic promotion of beauty, then collectivized beauty could be easily taken as a cause by revolutionary Marxists.
Then, of course, there’s Fascism: from the Roman Imperial undertones in Mussolini’s speeches to the use of the grandiose Altare della Patria in Rome, or that of the yoke and arrows as a distinguishable, standardized symbol by the Spanish Phalanx, all the way to the universally hated swastika, stolen from Hindu traditional art by the German Nazis, wrapped under military-style uniforms and paramilitary formations… the Fascist wave was masterful in the metapolitical use of aesthetics. Far from a simple revolutionary set of movements, they were aiming at symbolizing the living image of an imperial, traditional, glorious revival of the victories of ages past. If this was a deliberate attempt at creating their own symbolism, or just another lesson learned and adapted from the artistic takes made from conservative movements during the Belle Époque, it sure worked for them, going as far as being recognized as part of a Fascist aesthetic even if the elements, in fact, belonged to a traditional imperial European fashion.
The third movement — and perhaps the most successful at rightly understanding and using aesthetics for a conservative political goal — are the ones spawned from Plinio Correa de Oliveira’s work and activism. These two groups, one that formally belongs to the Catholic Church and the other that works as an association of traditionalist laymen, were highly inspired by one of their founder’s books, The Universe as a Cathedral, to create their movement’s aesthetics based on the idea of pulchrum (a term meaning a higher beauty) and using a brighter image of the Middle Ages, from their own churches and headquarters to their very clothing that looks like the robes of crusader soldier-monks. This can be seen a somewhat extreme, but it creates a pattern to be followed by all conservatives, which can be summarized as the adoption of a distinguishable fashion and set of colors and shapes meant to create a particular sensation in the bystander.
The current conservative-right, however, does not really know what to do with aesthetics. For this reason, analogous movements, elsewhere, have created fashions for themselves. Among such, the controversial adoption of vaporwave as part of their identity stands out.
At first sight, vaporwave would have nothing to do with conservatism, neo-reaction, nor traditionalism. But the continued use of ’80s style neon aesthetics, with classical art and synth music by groups who shared a mutual dislike of consumer society and meaninglessness, made the transition from a post-modern critique of itself to a decentralized uniform and distinguishable standard of beauty for the disperse Right to easily adopt and replicate.
It is now fairly common to see in right-wing and social media posts the use of stereotypic and neon distorted colors; some classical art as part of the scenery; low fidelity synth melodies in the background. Some said this aesthetic creates a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s that could be easily capitalized by ideologues and militant movements. Some believed it to be just another internet meme, one that will disappear after a few months of overuse. Yet, by now, the latter is hardly going to be the case, since such uses of vaporwave by neo-reactionaries and other right-wingers have been ongoing for years: the most well-known of all being the vaporwave-inspired hats of 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang (which enjoyed quite the popularity among young right-wingers), and the use of vaporwave intros and background music for NRx YouTubers such as TrueDilTom and Keith Woods.
Given its capacity to gain popularity by the mere nostalgia it evokes, this particular perception of beauty should be adopted universally by all non-conformist conservatives, and maybe even promoted as a visible political banner for future campaigns. It is true that such an aesthetic can be seen as populist. This is understandable, as part of it is. But its capacity to resonate with people rests on the fact that vaporwave represent all that modern traditional conservatives are fighting for: the return to a simpler, nicer, and more prosperous era; the inspiration and admiration by classical political and cultural artifacts, not to mention a good critique of post-modernity, along with desacralization it carries along.
It is disquieting to realize that, in beauty, survives the last battle Conservatism of any kind can fight. The moral solution, after all, is the distribution of small doses of beauty. They can take the form of catchy melodies; memorable images of bright colors and distinguishable shapes where individual perception gives significance to nostalgia over interpretation. Such perception provides a range of elements through which one can send the full message. And it is precisely the abridgment of this perception, for which conservatives must condemn modernity along with progressivism, and restore the Great Tradition to serve its proper function: that of preserving beauty and transcendence.
Ugo Stornaiolo S. is an Italian-Ecuadorian law student, journalist and policy analyst. He is the head researcher at Resistencia Metapolitica, and the Latin America correspondent for Navarra Confidencial.
IM—1776 is a new online magazine of philosophy, cultural, and sociopolitical analysis. Learn more about us and our mission, here.
Welcome to the end of modernity. After a century of warnings from various conservatives, reactionaries, and other enemies of Progress, the apostles of Progress themselves are now declaring a civilizational crisis. Now that all the authoritative institutions are in the hands of liberals who believe only in Progress, instead of triumph there is catastrophe.
The liberal redefinition of politics has recently been followed by the redefinition of babies, men, women, marriage, and faith. The sure knowledge of our own mortality has been taken from us in the process. Progress indeed promised to redefine our very existence and bring about the End of History. The police power of the therapeutic state as much as the influence of commercial fantasies that delude our children and the technologies that underpin it all encourage an endless quest for meaning, identities, and a solution to the only liberal mystery, choice. And yet the avant-garde of the liberal revolutionary army, the Progressive activists, far from being the happiest people in this new world, are the most miserable and shameless.
The self-destructive character of Progress, now obvious everywhere and to everyone, is a terrible political crisis and a moment of great danger in our ongoing spiritual warfare. We critics of Progress cannot become slaves of Progress. But the man who has no ideas but the Progressive ideas he rejects and no activity but a slavish fixation on Progressive histrionics that drive him mad cannot claim any dignity.
We are critics of Progress only accidentally, because of the influence Progress still has on education and public opinion. We are primarily dedicated to the proposition that politics is essentially education, the education for civilization, or for the combination of political freedom and scientific study that is our unique possession. We have seen the freedom of savages in primeval forests. We see now the sophistication of tyrants and slaves who wield terrible technological powers. We prefer civilization to these alternatives and we will offer you the necessary education for civilization — conversation, friendship, and insight.
It is possible now to tell the ugly truth, since we have a counter-poison to the sickness of soul of our times — an inability to believe in, be moved by, and accomplish the works of human greatness. It is also necessary to tell the ugly truth, because our times are defined by political decadence, an inability to do the required public deeds, and by philistinism, since culture has decayed into worthless fashions, and we are too baffled to admit that it has become impossible to attract talent to the domains of the muses. Every name that once astonished — philosopher, poet, artist — has been debased by flatterers and opportunists.
Thus, it becomes obvious what it means to be conservative. It is not to be a slave to liberals, but to know and thus to love the greatest things accomplished in our history, and to preserve everything that can be good to us now. Conservatism has been liberated from its ideology, if admittedly by complete political defeat. It is possible to return it to its original meaning.
The political crisis we are in teaches us that neither enthusiasm for Progress nor a slavish opposition to it achieves anything good. A new way of thinking about politics is required, a return to prudence, a willingness to see our situation as it is rather than as we wish it to be, and therefore to pursue those things that can now be done. We will do what all journals of opinion should do: offer the knowledge and encourage others to do the practical work required for political health. And we will remind everyone of the need for piety, since even atheists have to learn how limited our powers are, lest more mad attempts at overcoming nature lead us into further catastrophes.
We will also aim to offer an example of moderation. Elegance is our guide in writing — not enthusiasm, rancor, or populism. We will encourage sobriety rather than arrogance or madness. We will encourage friendship among our writers and readers, a conspiracy of decency in a very indecent situation. Love of nobility and love of wisdom will be our answers to these trying times. You’re invited to come along for the ride.
IM—1776 Founding Editor
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