Some books are valuable for what they don’t say. They describe the state of the culture and inadvertently indicate where society is headed even while trying to prove the opposite.
The small book, A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, is one such work. Author Matthew Rose constructs a defense of classical liberalism by attacking the illiberal philosophers of the so-called far-right. His approach is objective and balanced; his description captivating and flawless.
Hidden in its texts, however, are hints of where a world after liberalism might lead.
Targeting the Illiberals
The target of Rose’s broadside is that faction of the so-called right, which many now label the illiberals. These illiberals have no set body of principles. They are not part of the mainstream conservative movement, which operates inside the liberal framework. What unites them is their hatred of liberalism.
The illiberals criticize liberalism because it is materialistic, individualistic and secular. They crave community, subsidiarity and solidarity. They lament today’s desacralized, demythified and anti-hierarchical world that does not satisfy the spiritual appetites of the human soul.
This illiberal animosity has entered the political debate. Its rhetoric is now part of the national discourse. It contributes to discontent with the postmodern world that calls for imagining a world after liberalism.
Dr. Rose felt the need to write his report by observing the growing popularity of illiberal literature, especially among young people. His method of countering this trend is to expose the political thought of the five key figures of illiberal ideas—Oswald Spengler, Julius Evola, Alain de Benoist, Francis Parker Yockey and Samuel Francis. By revealing their strange teachings and even stranger lives, the author hopes to keep his classical liberalism secure.
Who They Are
The author does a great service in his description of these radical philosophers. They might easily deceive Christians attracted by the themes they raise. People might be tempted to imagine the illiberal world after liberalism as a return to Christian order based on a superficial understanding of their thought.
Dr. Rose makes it clear that the lives of these five figures were anything but Christian. Several of them self-identify as pagans. One, Alain de Benoist, is an occultist and sexologist. Another, Francis Yockey, dabbled in writing pornographic literature. All were anti-Christian.
Their disordered and often tragic lives can hardly be models for imitation. Their example is not the stuff from which a return to Christian order will come.
What They Taught
However, the author also manages to untangle the convoluted theories of the illiberal philosophers. Their criticism of modernity is often valid, but their views reveal an unknown, mystic and irrational world contrary to Christian civilization.
Most of these writers, for example, cry out against an empty “desacralized” world where “work, family, leisure, and citizenship are no longer saturated with spiritual importance, but are understood in functionally secular terms.” However, this desire to return to a sacral world quickly evolves into a primitive pantheism. Its world of mystery and myth enters into fantasy.
The works of the philosophers tend to show admiration for customs, myths, rituals and other themes that cement an organic Christian society together. However, there is no development of the principles upon which culture is based. Instead, they tend to divinize these things and turn them into a vital force that evolves in history.
The most disturbing aspect of illiberalism is its anti-Catholic and anti-Christian position. Dr. Rose shows how Oswald Spengler, for example, “did not argue that there is no Western civilization without Christianity. He argued that there is no Christianity without Western civilization.” Others argue that the Church is contrary to the illiberal world after liberalism.
The illiberal five see the Church as the problem, not the solution. A personal and omnipotent God is not even part of the equation. At best, religion is an element of a culture that should be respected as part of tradition and folklore. It should be subservient to the state, not unlike Russian Orthodoxy.
This is the kind of criticism found in A World After Liberalism. Most readers will see little more than a synopsis that discusses bizarre ideas by bizarre figures. Such criticisms are helpful but not that useful.
However, there are two things that the book does not explicitly say that give it value.
In Defense of Liberal Mediocrity
The first is to show that liberalism is in crisis. People are no longer attracted to its comforts. They want something more and something higher.
Indeed, Dr. Rose’s dispassionate presentation of illiberal thought is interrupted by a surprisingly passionate and almost violent defense of liberal mediocrity, which he sees as threatened.
He suddenly becomes unscholarly and unliberal. He denies the historical foundations of the West and embraces the liberal myths and shallow black legends that condemn all things pre-liberal.
“What comes after liberalism?” he asks. “We know what came before it: oppression, ignorance, violence, and superstition. The myth of our political origins is the story of how we learned to build societies on the values of freedom and equality, rather than the accidents of birth and the cruelties of power.”
From this denial of the enormous Christian pre-liberal advances, he concludes that it is far better to forego the heroic world of times past than to lose “the comforts and mediocrity of our own.”
He complains that people “imagine the courage and gallantry that it [this heroic world] inspired, and prompt us to wonder what has been lost in exchanging its noble codes for greater security…. It might have inspired braver men and greater deeds, but there is no going back. The frontier is closed.”
Thus, Dr. Rose slams shut the door of any restoration of Christendom with all the force of the illiberal five. He joins them in saying that there is no going back. There is no explanation why there can be no return. Don’t even think about it. It is a liberal decree that must not be questioned.
Taking the Hint
The book shows that liberalism is in crisis and that large sectors of the public are attracted to arguments outside the liberal box. They long to hear about topics like sacrality, honor and metaphysics. That is to say, the terms of the debate are changing.
These same pilgrims will be attracted to the Christian order. To those who dare to take the hint, they might open the door the author slammed shut. For the heroic, the frontier out of the liberal wasteland might be breached. The inevitable disillusionment of illiberal thought could lead the persistent to explore the rational, sublime and supernatural world that the Church proposes and in which they will find great joy.
The world after liberalism cannot be more liberalism. It must be a return to Christian order.
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