25 Apr 2016

Douthat Suddenly Feels a Need for Some Reactionary Dignity

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Nicolás Gómez Dávila: “The reactionary today is merely a traveler who suffers shipwreck with dignity.”

The New York Times tame house-conservative Ross Douthat finds himself yearning these days, as the gods of establishment Progressivism and Conservatism seem to be failing, for a higher-proof version of right-wing inspiration. Of course, being Ross Douthat, he is careful to stipulate that the Reactionary philosophy he yearns for should be violative of left-wing shibboleths but, please! not too transgressive.

[W]hile reactionary thought is prone to real wickedness, it also contains real insights. … Reactionary assumptions about human nature — the intractability of tribe and culture, the fragility of order, the evils that come in with capital-P Progress, the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion — are not always vindicated. But sometimes? Yes, sometimes. Often? Maybe even often.

Both liberalism and conservatism can incorporate some of these insights. But both have an optimism that blinds them to inconvenient truths. The liberal sees that conservatives were foolish to imagine Iraq remade as a democracy; the conservative sees that liberals were foolish to imagine Europe remade as a post-national utopia with its borders open to the Muslim world. But only the reactionary sees both.

Is there a way to make room for the reactionary mind in our intellectual life, though, without making room for racialist obsessions and fantasies of enlightened despotism? So far the evidence from neoreaction is not exactly encouraging.

Yet its strange viral appeal is also evidence that ideas can’t be permanently repressed when something in them still seems true.

Maybe one answer is to avoid systemization, to welcome a reactionary style that’s artistic, aphoristic and religious, while rejecting the idea of a reactionary blueprint for our politics. From Eliot and Waugh and Kipling to Michel Houellebecq, there’s a reactionary canon waiting to be celebrated as such, rather than just read through a lens of grudging aesthetic respect but ideological disapproval.

A phrase from the right-wing Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila could serve as such a movement’s mission statement. His goal, he wrote, was not a comprehensive political schema but a “reactionary patchwork.” Which might be the best way for reaction to become something genuinely new: to offer itself, not as ideological rival to liberalism and conservatism, but as a vision as strange and motley as reality itself.

By “reactionary,” of course, Ross Douthat is referring to beyond-the-pale forms of anti-Progressive, anti-Liberal political thought which reject such core principles of democratic modernism as Democracy, Pacifism, Internationalism, and Egalitarianism.

One Feedback on "Douthat Suddenly Feels a Need for Some Reactionary Dignity"


When did it become reactionary to point out that Utopians always leave destruction in the wake of their pursuit?


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