Intellectuals, Ideas, Action
White nationalists are revolutionaries. Therefore, whatever our ideological beliefs or personal preferences, it behooves us to examine other revolutions not as an abstract exercise but in search of practical lessons and common techniques that we can use and exploit. Recently, we examined the American Revolution. However, in a global context, the most important revolution is undoubtedly that launched by the French. The terms Right and Left, the creation of modern conservatism, words like Jacobins or Thermidorian Reaction and much of the other vocabulary we use to think about social change all come from the French Revolution. The French Revolution also has much to teach us about current debate over the role of ideas and the importance (or unimportance) of intellectuals in creating social change.
Insofar as we think about the French Revolution, we perhaps have a vague image of poverty stricken sans-culottes storming Versailles in righteous fury. The more sophisticated minded might bring up the inevitable conflict between a rising bourgeoisie and a political establishment built around a divine right monarchy, a landed aristocracy, and an ossified clergy. Actually, the situation is more complicated and depressingly familiar.
The Tennis Court oath -- Well, at least they've got the salute right
Steven Schama’s approachable one volume history of the Revolution, Citizens, describes an upper class that we can relate to all too well. The French aristocracy on the eve of revolution resembles nothing so much as the limousine liberals and champagne socialists of today. Aristocrats fawned over plays and operas that ripped their very existence just as rich liberals hosted dinner parties for Black Panthers. A stern code of warrior stoicism was replaced with sentimentality and emotionalism that reminds one of nothing so much as the pampered daughters of millionaires going to film school to “find themselves.” Many aristocrats were not scions of ancient warrior lines, but rich kids whose bourgeois parents had bought a title or married into a noble family.
It has been said that revolutions occur when the governing class loses confidence in itself and its right to rule. The spirit of the aristocracy was sapped by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot. Philosophy was seen by many as a harmless parlor game or trendy fashion, the radical chic of the age. The result was that the aristocrats, through the pursuit of pure intellect, cut themselves off from the living sources of the tradition that ensured their continued existence.
In fact, conservative appeals to tradition, religion, custom, and patriotism are at a huge disadvantage in such abstract debates. Real tradition does not need to be analyzed — duty does not need to be justified to those who must fulfill it. When abstraction becomes the ideology of the elite, the elite loses any real connection to the actually existing society or reason to defend it. In a sense, because of his disconnect to actual life, he becomes a savage. Augustin Cochin, in the invaluable Organizing the Revolution, writes,
The philosophic savage is a very peculiar person. Imagine an eighteenth century Frenchman who posses all the material attainments of the civilization of his time — culture, education, knowledge, and taste — but without any of the real well-springs, the instincts and beliefs that have created and shaped all this, that have given their reason for these customs and their use for these resources. Drop him into this world of which he possess everything except the essential, the spirit, and he will see and know everything but understand nothing. This is Voltaire’s Huron.What we see here is the downside of philosophy. The aristocracy thought itself into extinction. They systematically deconstructed those institutions and beliefs that they were sworn to defend. When conflict actually came, they had no idea what to do because they had been living inside their heads up until the moment the guillotine separated it from their body. One could argue that this is exactly what white elites have done today, gleefully watching their own extermination because they heard an idea at university. The pursuit of ideas instead of duties, intellect instead of tradition, is necessarily a luxury of the upper class. I’d even go so far as to say that this is the key reason any society declines, as a nation becomes rich enough that its aristocracy can indulge the luxury of abstraction, become decadent, and refuse to justify their need to fight.
Man Against Time and Royalist General
Henri de la Rochejaquelein -- Friends, if I advance,
follow me! If I retreat, kill me! If I die, avenge me!
The above shows how abstraction and ideas can undermine an established society. Perhaps it is not surprising that the reactionary Rockford Institute, which prints Chronicles, is the publisher of Cochin’s work.
For many right wingers, this is where analysis should ends, with the French Revolution as the ultimate example of everything going wrong and how not to act or organize society. In my earlier, conservative years, I thought I was quite rebellious for telling people that “as a true conservative,” I was a monarchist. The royalists of the Vendée were early heroes of mine. Julius Evola, for example, famously stated,
I reject everything that, directly or indirectly, derives from the French Revolution and which, in my opinion, has as its extreme consequence bolshevism; to which I oppose the ‘World of Tradition.’…My principles are those that before the French Revolution every well-born person considered sane and normal.
Brilliant and insightful, but doesn't fit our time
Many traditionalists also believe that the idea of forming a revolutionary movement against the Revolution is also mistaken. The greatest of reactionaries, Joseph de Maistre, stated,
This is the great truth with which the French cannot be too greatly impressed: the restoration of the monarchy, what they call the counter-revolution, will not be a contrary revolution, but the contrary of revolution.However, today, I make three arguments in response.
First, it is simply not true that all that came out of the French Revolution is necessarily antithetical to our spirit. While “liberty, equality, fraternity” and the Dictatorship of Reason deserve scorn, the French Revolution also represented the tentative beginnings for a volksgemeinschaft, a real national, folk community. It is the Marseillaise that sings of removing the “impure blood” of foreigners from the nation. The Revolution was directed against the intrigues of sovereigns that cared more about foreign aristocrats than their own people. Sentimental conservatism aside, the monarchies of Europe were not safeguards of their nations but private interests who saw widely diverse peoples and territories as interchangeable property.
Not exactly responsible for liberty and equality
The Revolution also created the concept of a folkish community where service to the Nation, rather than a private family, constituted virtue. The ancient Roman Republic rather than the degenerate, luxurious multinational courts of the 1700’s were the model they looked to. Many revolutionaries were simultaneously egalitarians and nationalists, but the nationalist tendency ultimately outlasted the egalitarian tendency , exemplified by Napoleon building a new nationalist hierarchy of the sword on the ashes of both Louis XVI’s court and the abortive French democracy. Nor, as we have seen above, was this necessarily a defeat for traditionalism — the French aristocracy was hardly a model. I would take the First Empire over Louis XVI any day.
The picture used for Michael
O' Meara's new book --
by French Jacobin Jacques-Louis David
Secondly, we are not fighting in defense of Radical Traditionalism as a universal creed. Nor are we conservatives or reactionaries. We are white nationalists. Our goal is the formation of an ethnostate for our people on the North American continent. What separated National Socialism from the Conservative Revolutionaries of 1920’s Germany was the former’s insistence on engaging the workers and mobilizing the masses. The latter’s scorn for the former’s “populism” and “modernism” doesn’t change the fact the National Socialists won while the Conservative Revolutionaries debated. Even aesthetically, it is telling that Michael O’ Meara’s new book “Toward the White Republic” features a painting by the French revolutionary painter Jacques-Louis David as its cover. We are modernists, as disconcerting as that may seem to some of us.
Third, building off the last point, de Maistre was wrong. de Maistre has many insights, but he fundamentally is a champion of order, built on the foundation of religion. We have no order to preserve, we have no established Church to defend. We are revolutionaries. Therefore, we should look at the French Revolution from a viewpoint many of us are not used to — from the viewpoint of the Jacobins.
The conservative Cochin locates the center of the revolution in the Jacobin societies, as have many others. He mocks,
“The republic of letters was a world in which people talked, but did nothing but talk; where every mind strove to obtain everyone else’s agreement, opinion, just as in real life the mind seeks achievement and results.”It sounds like some of the blog posts from here the past few days. Nonetheless, the chastened Cochin also notes,
“What bothers me, on the contrary, is having to reduce these appalling and diabolical consequences to the minuscule fact — so banal, so tiny — that accounted for them: talking. Yet this was the essential thing.”How? How could abstract rationalizing, speaking for the sake of speaking, be the “essential thing” that overthrew the social order? One obvious point is the subversive ideas that penetrated the aristocracy ultimately weakened the monarchy. This doesn’t really explain why though since TOQ (subscribe now fools) isn’t exactly regular reading among today’s Fortune 500, it also doesn’t do us much good. Cochin also rejects the “conspiratorial” model that many rightists used to explain the French Revolution, in which a small clique used the Freemasons, or the Jacobins, or the Jews, or all of the above to destroy the monarchy.
Instead, Cochin ultimately describes the Revolution as a social product, the outcome of a process of social dynamics. The key is that discussion of these kinds of concepts was not an individual, but a social endeavor. The Jacobin Societies gathered together under a mix of vague ideas, but quickly developed a solid inner core, as with all institutions. Those with rhetorical skill, charisma, and ideological conviction came to dominate a group. Those who had greater ties to other responsibilities drifted away, what Cochin terms “purging.”
These people were the majority, and could be termed either “those with lives” or “those with less dedication,” depending on your interpretation. Either way, the result was that the Societies were dominated by those for whom politics was life, philosophy and organizing were identical, and thought and action were inseparable. The more apathetic majorities continued to follow the more dedicated leaders because they thought, naturally, that the voice of the popular speaker was in fact the voice of the people, a much harder thing to oppose. As societies grew in sophistication and size, debates would resemble today’s political conventions — pure theater. The true action was behind the scenes, as leaders would form alliances, betray each other, or plan shifts in policy before taking them to the masses. However, if their talents failed them before the people — as did Robespierre’s on July 27, 1794 — they could be instantly destroyed.
The Societies were simultaneously a factory for producing ideologically sophisticated thinkers, charismatic speakers, and subtle politicians. They were a crucible for revolutionaries. The emphasis on ideology hardened the members and allowed them to be capable of ruthless action. The social nature of the organization prevented abstract navel gazing. The price for failure ensured only the strong and capable could survive.
Were these perfect? Obviously not ( they eventually destroyed themselves). Nonetheless, I believe looking at the societies provides a plausible example to follow. Intellectualism is dangerous when it is a solitary activity. It is a necessity when it is a social activity. For intellectuals and activists, things like book clubs, discussion groups, and societies dedicated to ideas are moderate first steps that can bring each group out of their comfort zone and eventually spark greater action. They separate the wheat from the chaff, develop leaders and followers (and we need both), and prevent either group taking refuge in a comfort zone. This, again, is something we could do now, in every city where there even a few of us, through private networks without fear of infiltration. They keep intellectuals from hiding in their basement and activists from being reactionary, philistine, and ineffective. It doesn’t sound like much, but then again, neither did a bunch of intellectuals sitting around talking about the rights of man. Look what they did.
The Jacobin Club's HQ -- Imagine a discussion club for us, in the real world, in every city in America