Right and Left as twin responses to social crisis
It’s pretty commonplace on the Left to acknowledge that both the far Left and far Right emerge and grow as evil twins of each other in situations of economic and social crisis. In Weimar Germany you didn’t just have the Nazis, you also had Communists and Social Democrats, and they fought it out, and in the USA you didn’t just have Trump, you had Bernie too, etc.
So the seeming inherently fascistic tendencies of the West toward imperialism, white supremacy, sexism, Crusader Christian Islamophobia and religious conservatism, have their equal drive toward social progressivism, socialism, revolution, and it’s all equally driven by the same economic and social crisis, and if you actually look closely at any society in or outside the West they have their own analogous dynamics driven by the same root cause – it is, after all, one interlocked global economy.
So every culture has its own reactionary aesthetics; in the USA/West we’re just most familiar with themes of European feudalism, European fascism, Christianity, American Revolution nostalgia. Other cultures have other symbols, their fixation with the ancient.
But why do we obsess over them in the first place?
The subconscious draw and power of right-wing aesthetics
Right-wing politics connects to a dimmer, darker, less conscious side of life than rational, liberal, socialist politics. It uses symbols, invokes the spiritual, demands rigidity, imposes discipline, gives purpose, demands sacrifice.
Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.
–George Orwell, reviewing Mein Kampf
For this reason, while it makes sense to hold marches that are nonviolent for the sake of allowing the largest and broadest possible level of participation, it also makes sense to sometimes escalate to more “adventurist” tactics because, well, frankly people need some adventure in their lives! After all, all tactics strengthen the social fabric.
Fascism, for example, connects to aesthetics, which again, are not rational, but sensory. Paradoxically fascism was both futurist and traditionalist. It celebrated the intense dynamism of new industrialization and technologies, of militarism — planes, tanks, explosives.
At the same time, there is a beauty in old things. The right wing draws heavily on tradition, whether invoking ancient cultures or more recent tradition. The knowledge that countless people have communed through a thing, is what makes it a tradition, and that liberates the individual from the shell of their individuality. It also means that tradition embodies many generations of accumulated aesthetic and cultural labor, in the same way that infrastructure, technology, and the means of production embody accumulated generations of technical labor. The new stuff is flashy, but the old stuff always has a quality workmanship and an evocative authenticity of organic materials that the new stuff can’t compare to.
The radicalism of right-wing aesthetics
Reactionaries sense the crisis of society precisely because they are the most radical. As right-wing radicals, they are the mirror opposites of left-wing radicals. They, too, realize that something is going on in society, and their art reflects the deep crisis, even if their understanding of it is exactly contrary to ours. Often it is expressed as a nostalgia for things past.
Furthermore, their analysis of life is equally as systemic as ours. They are expansive, and this is one of the defining elements of black metal. Philosophers like Hegel, Evola, Heidegger are beautiful to read if for no other reason than that they beautifully tie the entire world together into gorgeous systems, all parts connecting together like the stained-glass window of a church.
Can we steal the energy of right-wing aesthetics for the Left?
It’s an intensely risky thing; it may seem like right-wing aesthetics are inherently politically right-wing, and any attempt to steal the energy may result in absorbing the politics.
But the cultural capital is too intense that we actually have no choice and we are obligated to try. We have to learn from their methods at the very least and integrate whatever they’re doing right into what we do.
And it’s not any one cool item within reactionary aesthetics which can be cherrypicked out and separated. It is reactionary energy itself — to separate the item from its reactionary would be to neutralize it from the energy that makes it vibrant. The challenge is to harness reactionary energy and to somehow invert it and make it revolutionary.
Obviously there is a liberatory energy, too, and that’s central as well.
What is reaction? Pragmatism. Distrust. Absoluteness. Strength. Nature. Materiality, physicality. At the same time, sublime spirituality. The tried and true. Internal consistency. Sub-rationality and the accompanying spiritual depth.
These are not things that are for any reason beyond the grasp of the Left to achieve or synthesize with its own characteristics.
Maybe it’s an operation that requires a genius level of surgical precision to pull off without screwing it up.
And maybe we just have to be geniuses with surgical precision.
We need to be revolutionary romantics. And our romanticism needs to be something beyond ultramodernism, something beyond “fully automated bisexual luxury space libertarian communism.”
I mean Romantic in the ugly sense of the word, the anti-rationalist sense of the word: not only the Wordsworthian “powerful overflow of spontaneous feelings,” but the Germanic boundless, lawless, self-expansion, the acknowledgment that the full life may involve one’s own unhappiness and the destruction of one’s neighbors.
It has to be something that includes brutality.
Can we imagine the radiating power and energy of military pageantry in a society with guaranteed minimum income and extreme direct democracy? Maybe our little leftist activist minority has psychologically stripped all the red blood out of itself to be into that kind of thing, but for whatever reason that still seems to resonate with enough ordinary people to attract the crowds. And maybe if we stopped repressing our inner basicness long enough to let ourselves be moved by something that some hipster wouldn’t scoff at us for, we would admit that actually we think it’s pretty awesome too.
Something not merely gender-fluid, but actually also quite celebratory of the beauty inherent of the deep cultural fabric of the gender binary, celebrating that the traditional man and woman are deep cultural constructs, and extraordinarily beautiful ones, embodying literally millennia of inherited aesthetic labor. It can be tolerant of the ways people except themselves from tradition, too – tolerant of everyone, and celebrant of inherited cultural beauty, simultaneously.
The Left is losing because we cede this ground to the Right
I often bitch and moan that the Left is losing because it focuses on identity politics instead of economics, but that’s not the only thing. The Left fails to connect with the culture of ordinary people.
That doesn’t mean we have to be reactionaries, but it does mean we have to speak people’s language. People aren’t familiar with being pro-trans, pro-black, pro-Arab, pro-feminism, etc. We have to translate it into normie. And that means undoing the extreme severance and separation that the Left has psychologically committed and inflicted on itself, and allowing itself to reaccommodate itself to being comfortable with the heritage of social and cultural connections with the mainstream, the ordinary, the community, and evenly the deeply, spiritually reactionary elements present in our lives which every human being possesses if we merely allow ourselves.
We can be politically left and spiritually, aesthetically right — or spiritually, aesthetically left AND right. The entire spectrum of human emotion, the entire palette of various aesthetics, is compatible with socialism, and we are doing socialism a disservice if we do not utilize every single one of them in its name.
And we can retain all the radical politics positions, not just the economic ones but even the anti-oppression ones, and learn to communicate them tactfully and diplomatically, to ordinary people to whom this all appears quite fearsome and strange, and learn to inhabit both worlds.
In fact, we can take up the symbols of the folk as our own, hypercharge our cause as theirs, their cause as ours. Then we will truly have learned how to speak with power.