For a New Narrative,
An essay written against the left-right paradigm
By E. K.
An essay written against the left-right paradigm
By E. K.
"By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanised or brutalised control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos." – T. S. Eliot
The Birth of the Left
WHO ARE THE LEFT?
How can they be so hostile to their own country? How can they be so firmly
convinced that they are standing on the right side of history? Some say they are puppets of the
Jews, others say they are mentally ill; many say they are both. But it seems
any criticism, whether it’s directed against their shady patrons or mental conditions,
just passes through the leftist mind like a bullet shot at a ghost.
The arrogance of the political Left is manifest. Their lies are exposed and being pointed out. Still, some questions do remain: Why do they do this? Where are they headed for? Where do they derive their power from? We see the illusions on the screen but don't know where the projector is; we see cables and extension leads everywhere but don't know where the generator is.
To answer these questions, I believe it is not absurd to start by remembering where the Left was born because the Left, like each one of us, was born only once.
The birth of the Left is well known. The Left was born during the French Revolution: the radical French politicians sitting on the left side in les États-Généraux during the Revolutionary era were the original Left, their ideologies being republicanism, secularism, abolitionism, etc. And the monarchists who happened to be sitting on the opposite side became the original Right. Prior to this, there was neither Left nor Right. Supporting the monarch was normal. Believing in God was common. People talk about Spartacus as if, perhaps partially because of Marx’s high estimation of him, he were a left-wing revolutionary, but I’m sure Spartacus himself had no idea about this left-right paradigm. The only thing we can be sure of is that he hated being a slave.
But where did those ideologies, which divided the body politics into the Left and the Right, come from? Though most of the philosophical or political ideas can be ultimately traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, there was an important philosophical movement that directly inspired the French Revolution: the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason. Had the Enlightenment thinkers, such as Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau, stayed silent at home, playing chess or something, the French Revolution, as well as the American Revolution, wouldn’t have taken place. The original Left were the advocates of the Enlightenment ideas. They saw their opponents as the enemy of the Enlightenment, that is to say, the enemy of Reason.
The word "enlightenment" is I think the key. Because it seems to me that the so-called leftist narrative depicts the history of the world as warfare between the “enlightened” and the “unenlightened”, just as in antiquity Augustine of Hippo depicted it as warfare between God and the Devil. Needless to say, in the leftist narrative, the unenlightened belong to the Devil’s party, therefore need to be eradicated in the name of Reason.
The sense of being enlightened can make people blind to their own faults. Voltaire criticises the religious intolerance of French Catholics in his Dictionnaire philosophique, stating, “The most detestable example of fanaticism is that of the bourgeois in Paris that ran around assassinating, beheading, throwing out of windows, tearing to pieces, on the night of the St. Bartholomew's Day, their fellow citizens who didn’t go to Mass." (264) But when Robespierre and Saint-Just seized power, they did the same to their fellow citizens who didn’t hold the same political beliefs as them, firmly convinced that they were fighting against tyrants, unaware of the irony.
Such fanaticism, I suppose, is not completely alien to the modern Left, since they seem to identify themselves as revolutionaries fighting against the Establishment even though they have already established their political power.
Remember Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four,
where the forbidden book explains the social structure of the State: “In
principle, membership of these three groups is not hereditary. The child of
Inner Party parents is in theory not born into the Inner Party. … Nor is there
any racial discrimination, or any marked domination of one province by another.
… Its rulers are not held together by blood-ties but by adherence to a common
doctrine.” (238-239) Replace the words “a common doctrine” with the more
specific words “the ideas of the Enlightenment”. Though the Left presents
themselves as anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, judging the citizens by their
adherence to the Enlightenment ideas seems to be what the State is doing these
days: newspapers are meant to enlighten readers; universities are meant to
enlighten students; only the enlightened are to hold high office, while the unenlightened
are expected to be repairing broken pipes or cleaning dirty floors; the State
permits its citizens to enjoy any kind of degeneracy inasmuch as they express
their support for the Enlightenment ideas. When race, gender and religion don’t
matter, the notion that they don’t matter becomes itself a belief to share. To believers
in multiculturalism, unbelievers are damnable pagans.
Then, what is enlightenment? If being enlightened or not determines a person’s position in society, it must be beneficial to have a simple answer. Conveniently, I have here a slim pamphlet written by the pre-eminent Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, aptly titled An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? Let’s take a look.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! [Dare to be wise!] Have courage to use your own understanding!” (1)
Interesting. The author here encourages the reader to think independently, claiming that it is enlightenment. So, must it be “anti-enlightenment” to have the courage to use one’s own understanding without, for instance, the guidance of the mainstream media? No, according to Kant. That’s what enlightenment is.
On other pages, he also writes:
“I hear on all sides the cry: Don’t argue! The officer says: Don’t argue, get on parade! The tax-official: Don’t argue, pay! The clergyman: Don’t argue, believe! … All this means restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which sort of restriction prevents enlightenment, and which, instead of hindering it, can actually promote it? I reply: The public use of man’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men”. (3-4)
Reason is the power of the human mind to think logically: using it, Newton and Leibniz developed calculus; using it, Nelson directed his ships against the French; using it, a child solves a jigsaw puzzle. Without it, we’ll be pigs, monkeys, beasts in the field.
Then, I must wonder, is having doubts about the promoted benefits of multiculturalism irrational? Is being sceptical about the validity of smiling politicians’ promise of a rainbow land of fairies and unicorns a sign of madness? I do not think so. If an agitated man with the sandwich board declaring “The End Is Nigh” starts creating havoc in the town square, the police should stop him. But when a sensible citizen tries to start a discussion, or publish his opinions based on observation or logical thinking, the State must not, even if his standpoint disturbs the consensus of the time, thwart him. If it does, we can deem it an anti-enlightenment State.
“Hey, but look at his wording! Kant talks about only ‘man’s emergence’ and ‘man’s reason’! It’s all about men!” says a voice in my head. But the Enlightenment was actually not all about men because it produced at least one brave heroine: Mary Wollstonecraft, the controversial mother of feminism. In her famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she writes against the popular view that women are emotional, rather than rational, creatures that are meant to evoke tenderness and affection but not to reason:
"beauty, gentleness, &c. &c. may gain a heart; but esteem, the only lasting affection, can alone be obtained by virtue supported by reason. It is respect for the understanding that keeps alive tenderness for the person." (121)
Her words remind us that when feminism was conceived, its principal concern was neither abortion law nor repressed sexual desire but women’s rationality. Nor did she attack family values; on the contrary, she starts her discourse by criticising male educators for having been “more anxious to make [women] alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers.” (11) De Beauvoir must have raised an eyebrow reading the phrase “affectionate wives and rational mothers”.
Back then Wollstonecraft’s views were unusual, but after the works of Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Rosalind Franklin and many other illustrious women all over the world, now there’s no point in disputing women’s rationality. Therefore, when Kant’s definition of enlightenment is considered, the exact same must apply to women: when a sensible woman has something to say, the enlightened State must let her speak.
Since the original Left were more or less revolutionaries, the so-called leftist narrative can be specified as the “revolutionary narrative”. It associates enlightenment with the oppressed, the young and the progressive, and ignorance and tyranny with the Establishment, the old and the conservative; and it, with the world view revolving around warfare between the enlightened and the unenlightened, gives moral justification for a permanent revolution against the unenlightened. Thanks to the narrative, the Left never identify themselves as the Establishment; it is possible for a leftist person to perceive a 70 years old wealthy left-winger as “still young and radical” and a middle-aged working-class man with a modest income as “old and privileged”. People today argue that we have no grand narrative any more, but to me the revolutionary narrative seems very much alive. If anything, the notion that there is no grand narrative any more is itself part of the true grand narrative, i.e. the revolutionary narrative.
To interpret the leftist narrative as the revolutionary narrative may make some things clear. For example, some people wonder why only American people have been allowed to publicly express their patriotic sentiments in the post-war West. A possible answer is that it’s because the USA prevailed over Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But I think it can also be said that the victory of the USA over other powerful nations meant the victory of the original revolutionary narrative born of the Enlightenment over other competing revolutionary narratives such as the nationalist revolutionary narrative and the communist revolutionary narrative.
Let’s have a quick examination of the history of the United States. George Washington, while his treatment of indigenous peoples has attracted criticisms from the Left, has been an idol of the American Right for obvious reasons. But when seeing him from a British perspective, one can remember that he was a radical revolutionary who revolted against a Christian king with his progressive comrades from France, such as Lafayette, with whom he shared the Enlightenment ideals. Also, Thomas Paine, a champion of the Patriots’ cause, was indicted by the British government for being too radical. When America stood up on her own feet the first time, she was, both politically and geographically, situated on the furthest left of Western civilisation.
Considering this, it may be inferred that the reason why only the American people have been allowed to publicly express their patriotic sentiments in the Western world is that the United States is the only country in the West whose founders were enlightened revolutionaries rather than Christian kings. That is, when an American patriot praises the founding principles of his country, he is de facto praising the ideas of the Enlightenment, therefore he can be classified, in the context of the French Revolution, as left-wing; whereas the French, no matter how spectacularly they celebrate Bastille Day, can never change the fact that the first king of the Franks was Clovis I, a Christian king whose sword was dripping with the pagan blood. The revolutionary narrative does not allow Europeans to be proud of their countries like the Americans because the names of Clovis I, Alfred the Great, Henry the Fowler, Mieszko I, Olaf II, etc. are tied with the very authority that the Revolutions denied and overthrew.
Calling the Founding Fathers enlightened revolutionaries may annoy some American Christians, but I am not denying that the Christian faith was present in the hearts of the Americans when the revolutionary war broke out. The Enlightenment ideals that the Founding Fathers held firm were not in conflict with the Christian faith the common people had, when there was the common enemy, i.e. the British.
They came in conflict, however, when the Civil War broke out. I do not think Lincoln was an atheist, as his personal note says, “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party … Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day”, (359) nor do I believe General Lee was a racist scoundrel. But talking of the narrative, it is clear to me that the moment Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union turned into the army of the enlightened, and the Confederacy that of the unenlightened; that is to say, (if it is not too obvious to say,) it was de facto the war between the Enlightened America and the Christian America. And when the war concluded with the former’s victory, the authority of the Constitution, or some peculiar interpretations of it, may well have helped the Union redefine the United States as, rather than a Christian country, the land of the enlightened, cementing the general direction of the revolutionary narrative.
The Revolutions made a deep rift in Western history. The independence was declared, the king and the queen were guillotined, and steam engines were installed in the dark satanic mills, but the revolution did not stop there. For better or for worse, the revolutionary narrative incentivised the coming generations to further revolutionise the Western world – art, industry, philosophy, the ways of living and thinking, everything was to be revolutionised, and every taboo was to be broken; the revolutionary mind entered so many heads that now a revolution against European culture itself began. I term what happened to Europe at this time “the Great Reversal”, because from this time around on, piecemeal, what had been ugly became beautiful, what had been immoral became moral, what had been irrational became rational, and what had been rubbish became treasure; and vice versa. Not only that politics lost kings and queens but towards the dawn of the World War II, poetry lost rhyme and metre, music lost tonality, art lost form, science lost determinism, and philosophy lost God.
It is no mystery, then, that forward-looking, abyss-staring progressives of the 19th century started dismissing some of the core tenets of the Enlightenment ideas after the Revolutions, since most of the Enlightenment thinkers were, after all, people of the pre-revolutionary world; their ideas were still bound up with traditional values. Liberals took Kant’s Copernican Revolution seriously because it was, obviously, revolutionary (and also, later, turned out to fit certain scientific theories), but ignored his defence of the idea of monotheism because it conformed to the old world view; they assented to Wollstonecraft’s request to “snap our chains”, but only to have, instead of “more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers”(186), more alluring mistresses. And of course, as new theories and ideas from post-Enlightenment thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin and Marx spread through universities rather than farms and factories, the materialistic or atheistic world view with which educated people became more and more familiar started to conflict with the world view of common people, whose majority still went to church and believed the simple goodness of traditional values. And after the World War II, eventually new generations of progressive intellectuals, having seen the fall of reactionary dictators, adopted the complete negation of the Enlightenment – postmodernism.
As much as the 18th century was the Age of Enlightenment, the latter half of the 20th century and at least the first two decades of the 21st century have been the age of postmodernism. It is therefore too naïve to dismiss this prevailing philosophical trend as ineffective mumbo-jumbo of pseudo-intellectuals. Rather, it is more likely that Europe, where many of mankind’s most remarkable achievements were made, has sunk to this low because their mumbo-jumbo actually worked and the Devil it summoned has successfully instilled some pernicious convictions into the educated class.
First of all, I criticise postmodernism for its negative dogmatism. Criticising postmodernism for dogmatism may sound strange since it is known for its sceptical attitudes. But when compared with a healthier kind of scepticism, its façade crumbles off.
Then what is this healthier kind of scepticism? Though the tradition of Western scepticism began with Pyrrho in ancient Greece, by saying “a healthier kind of scepticism” I refer to the scepticism introduced by Montaigne. His scepticism is demonstrated in his Essays:
“It is an act of God’s Providence to allow his Holy Church to be, as we can see she now is, shaken by so many disturbances and tempests, in order by this opposition to awaken the souls of the pious and to bring them back from the idleness and torpor in which so long a period of calm had immersed them. If we weigh the loss we have suffered by the numbers of those who have been led into error against the gain which accrues to us from our having been brought back into fighting trim, with our zeal and our strength restored to new life for the battle, I am not sure whether the benefit does not outweigh the loss.” (698)
Here, his intended audience were his fellow Frenchmen who were having a very difficult time fighting the then-ongoing French Civil Wars of Religion, and he encouraged them to be sceptical about the sense of loss, claiming God’s Providence might bring the eventual gain. The view he offers here is surprisingly optimistic, and throughout the book, the basic mode of his scepticism is consistent: we should be sceptical about our assumptions, because we can never see the truth as clearly as we hope. “Not to believe too rashly: not to disbelieve too easily.” (202)
The starkest difference between the scepticism of Montaigne and that of postmodernists is that whereas the former advises us to doubt our own assumptions in order to keep ourselves from false hope and evitable despair, the latter sternly affirms, “There is no such thing as the truth, that is the only truth.” That there is no such thing as the truth, however, is just an assumption, a poetic fancy one would conceive on the road home. And they are not a bit sceptical of this assumption; rather, they have blithely constructed their whole theories upon it.
To clarify the definition of scepticism, I’d like to quote a passage from Berkeley’s First Dialogue, because he makes the point really well:
“PHILONOUS. Pray, Hylas, what do you mean by a sceptic?
HYLAS. I mean what all men mean, one that doubts of everything.
PHILONOUS. He then who entertains no doubt concerning some particular point, with regard to that point cannot be thought a sceptic.
HYLAS. I agree with you.
PHILONOUS. Whether doth doubting consist in embracing the affirmative or negative side of a question?
HYLAS. In neither; for whoever understands English, cannot but know that doubting signifies a suspense between both.
PHILONOUS. He then that denieth any point, can no more be said to doubt of it, than he who affirmeth it with the same degree of assurance.
PHILONOUS. And consequently, for such his denial is no more to be esteemed a sceptic than the other.
HYLAS. I acknowledge it.” (109)
It is true that postmodernists are sceptical about the affirmative truth. But on the other hand, they are completely certain about the negative truth; their world view is so dependent on the negative truth that they cannot tolerate the tiniest speck of criticism about it. Hence, the term “negative dogmatism”.
And if you look out over the world and see what’s happening now, you cannot but agree with me that somehow this negative dogmatism exclusively disadvantages Europe. I’ll explain why.
When the word “truth” is used in a philosophical context, it deals with the concepts of truth rather than the truth itself. And since postmodernism works in the context of Western philosophy, when a postmodernist says there is no truth, what he is actually denying is not the truth itself but the Western concept of truth.
Think about Zen Buddhists, who have long been denying both the shadows on the wall and the sun outside the cave. For them, the notion that there is no truth (and that that is the only truth) is nothing new. Had they believed there was some truth, they would have stood up and gone out to seek it instead of meditating in the lotus position. It cannot, then, be the rejection of an old belief for them since it just reconfirms their long-held concept of truth. They would say, when hearing of the postmodern world view, “Oh, that’s what our masters have been teaching for centuries!” What sounds like the rejection of an old belief to Westerners can be a mere reconfirmation of an old belief to Zen Buddhists. In practice, it cannot mean there is no truth. It simply means the Western concept of truth was wrong.
This Janus-faced effect of the postmodernist rejection of the Western concept of truth has had some serious repercussions. Imagine what would happen in the mind of a non-European when he heard that Western civilisation, whose glory may have once felt overwhelming to him, was actually built upon a wrong belief, and the one upon which his country’s culture was based was the right one. “What?” he would think, “Were they wrong?” He would remember what he had been taught in school – the religious wars, witch-hunts, colonisation, slavery – and hit upon a thought that Europeans had done those things for nothing but a spurious belief. His adoration of Western culture might turn into envy and resentment.
It may be true that the churches will always be beautiful even if there is no truth – but what would be the point in admiring them if all of them symbolised a wrong belief? Though beautiful they may appear to the eye, now it is just the external beauty, works of some skilful hands and nothing more, since they reflect no spiritual truth. A crushed can of coke can show more truth than a cathedral because it reminds us how ugly and meaningless the world we live in really is. Rejection of the Western concept of truth hollows out European culture.
And next, I criticise another product of postmodernism that has brought death, lunacy and perversion into the West and abroad. It is none other than deconstruction, a postmodern method of linguistic analysis gratuitously devised by one of the worst Frenchmen in the 20th century, Jacques Derrida.
Deconstruction is based on a premise that human society involves many binary oppositions, such as speech and the written word, male and female, logic and intuition, etc., and thanks to logocentrism (that is, the Platonic way of thinking that regards words and language as an expression of the logos, the absolute truth), these oppositions have always one side occupying the dominant position over the other – speech over the written word, male over female, logic over intuition, etc. Followers of Derrida, firmly convinced that that there is no absolute truth is the absolute truth, challenge this assumed hierarchy of binary oppositions by countering what they believe to be the logocentric bias. They vigorously insist that their aim is never to reverse oppositions but to expose contradictions and paradoxes underlying simple definitions of words and discover new possibilities and structures.
Challenging the hierarchy, countering the bias, discovering new possibilities… That may sound promising. But if you look closely, you’ll realise what deconstruction suggests is in fact far more sinister than it initially seems. Logos, for example, is a synonym for God. To counter the logocentric bias, then, is to counter everything traditionally associated with the idea of God – the traditional notions of justice, of truth, of beauty, etc. Since postmodernists take the nonexistence of God as an absolute certainty, they simple-mindedly think, “Oh, we’ve been deceived by the worst of delusions. We’ve been deluded for so long. But look, now quantum mechanics reveals us that there are inexplicable contradictions and paradoxes underlying our reality. Let’s apply this new knowledge to everything.” One possible explanation of the purpose of deconstruction is therefore to surgically remove the idea of God from Western culture and reinterpret the world with the knowledge of the negative truth. It may sound like a dry, mechanical act, but in fact, its charm lies in its connexion to romanticism, though this time it is nihilistic romanticism, that is, to continue an endless search of something unknown while knowing that there is nothing there (contrasting with the original romantics, who believed that there must be something beyond there). Deconstruction allures nihilists by providing the joy and wonder of exploring the unknown in a godless world.
The rise and stagnation of postmodernism perfectly correspond with those of pop culture. And deconstruction was introduced to the world in 1967, when pop culture was reaching its high water mark. I cannot write down all of my thoughts on pop culture here as it requires the length of another essay, but to explain the origin of pop culture, I think it is not so far from the truth to say that pop culture began as a revolution against classical European culture. Back in the days, court and church were instrumental in the cultural development of the West: without the court of Elizabeth I, the world would never have had Shakespeare; without the Lutheran Church, the world would never have had Bach. But now that the Revolutions happened, the masses got richer, and democracy gave them political power. Unlike the old times where monarchs and priests exercised their authority to judge whether an artistic work was appropriate for their courts or faithful to the doctrines, now the masses have the authority to decide what is fun. And if it is fun to the masses, it is sacred. Just as politicians can do anything as long as they can obtain enough votes, pop culture can sell anything – extreme violence, explicit language, pornography, etc. – as long as the masses judge it fun.
And I think deconstruction has sometimes been used for justifying the vulgarity of pop culture – it would be no surprise since both deconstruction and pop culture belong to the revolutionary side in the narrative. It is easy, once the binary dichotomy between classical culture and pop culture is recognised, to make pop culture, through the marvellous art of deconstruction, seem nobler, sincerer, more human and more profound than classical culture. But this time, I want to talk about how deconstruction has corrupted not only traditional Western culture but any culture that it touched, and how deconstructed non-traditional cultures become part of pop culture.
As a clear and familiar example, I take black music. Today, the most popular branch of black music is perhaps rap music. It glorifies violence, objectifies women, and involves a lot of swearing; it is arguably the most obscene music genre of our age and gives the impression that African-American people are inherently violent, licentious and animalistic. No one really likes it, except many people do.
However, we can remember that some decades ago, what African-American people played was jazz music. If we put an old jazz record, be it Thelonious Monk or Kenny Dorham, on the player, the speakers sing rather sweeter melodies. Surely, many jazz musicians abused drugs, and old blues singers sang bawdy songs, but in comparison with the extreme debauchery of today’s rap music, old black music doesn’t feel that obscene. We can assume, then, somehow the moral character of black music has degenerated under the reign of postmodernism. And if my saying black music has degenerated irritates postmodernists, who altogether deny any fixed notion of morality, then I can change my words, to sound less offensive: black music has become more postmodern.
In the 1940s, when postmodernism had yet to be on the scene though signs of its arrival were everywhere, many African-American people were, I suppose, dreaming of becoming a professional jazz musician. For example, Malcolm X recalls his old friend Shorty, who were then working for a local pool hall, in his Autobiography: “A couple of years before, he’d hit the numbers and bought a saxophone. ‘Got it right in there in the closet now, for my lesson tonight.’ Shorty was taking lessons ‘with some other studs,’ and he intended one day to organize his own small band.” (47) And later, when Malcolm X had a reunion with him after their times in jail, Shorty “was rightfully very proud that in prison he had studied music.” (218) Throughout the book, jazz musician is recognised as a much nobler occupation than shoe-shiner and drug dealer. And that’s understandable. No one questions whether or not selling reefers on the street is nobler than playing the saxophone in a band. For the African-American people in the 1940s, to strive to be a jazz musician could be to strive to be nobler.
When seen from a white perspective, however, jazz music has an utterly different meaning. In the 1940s, the greats like Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Stravinsky were still alive. A cultured white gentleman would attend a classical concert at the weekend rather than sneak into the ghetto to listen to some jazz. For educated white people, jazz music was not noble in a traditional sense. Its charm was liveliness, noisiness and raw emotion, contrasting with classical music’s exquisiteness, virtuosity and grandeur. It would not be surprising if a white gentleman at the time saw jazz music as more degenerate than classical music.
Here is the binary dichotomy between classical music and jazz music, and it is clear which is more revolutionary. The problem is, for postmodernists, the merit of jazz music depends not on the passion of musicians but on its difference from traditional European culture. When there is a dichotomy between something traditional and something revolutionary, postmodernists are quick to apply any term that has traditionally been considered bad to the latter, only to call out how traditional views on morality are wrong. On the surface, it may seem to benefit those whom postmodernists regard as the oppressed, but on the contrary, it actually damages them because what postmodernists attach them are always bad terms; when postmodernists say something is good, what they actually mean is “it is good in a postmodern sense because it is bad in a traditional sense.” And since their deconstruction is always based on their initial impression, as deconstruction progresses the stereotypes they created in the beginning only strengthen. If a group of people are deceived by postmodernists’ hollow praise into associating their culture with postmodern values, their core identity will be detached from traditional values, that is to say, if a group of people accept the postmodern form of their culture without reservation, their behaviour becomes more stereotypical, and their culture more degenerate.
Look at pride parades. You may think homosexual people must have a different sense of beauty. But do they? Frederick the Great was homosexual, and his favourite pastime was playing music with C. P. E. Bach; I find David Hockney’s paintings aesthetically pleasing, and he is outright homosexual. If pride parades seem like an attack on the traditional notion of beauty, that is not because participants are homosexual, but because those are postmodern parades; what today’s so-called “gay culture” is defending by grotesquely exaggerating queer behaviour is the legacy of the 1960s New York culture rather than homosexuality itself. Postmodernists never allow those whom they regard as the oppressed to pursuit the same ideals as normal people; when they say to those whom they regard as the oppressed, “Be yourself,” what they really mean is “Be different than what is good in a traditional sense.” As a result, postmodernists exclude those whom they regard as the oppressed from the traditional notions of justice, truth, beauty, etc.
Thus, encouraged by postmodernists to “Be yourself”, and believing the immoral aspects of their cultures are what make them greater than the straight Christian white man, the African-American man raps about his criminal activity; the Japanese man draws pornographic pictures of blonde girls; the gay man walks naked on the street. But what they believe to be their own distinct cultures are in fact mere subdivisions of a larger culture which is of course pop culture. When you listen to rap music, German techno and Polish metal, read American SF novels, Canadian graphic novels and Japanese manga, get an ink from an Italian tattoo artist, play French video games, and go watching independent films, you may feel as if you experienced many different cultures, but the truth is what you have seen are just different faces of the same many-faced monster that is pop culture. You are trapped in a labyrinth where every time you turn around a corner the same monster pops up with a different face. And this pop culture, whatever mask it wears, is still at its core a revolution against traditional European culture and values. So now that pop culture has infected virtually the whole civilised world, today the whole world, including Europe herself, is against traditional European culture and values.
Speaking of non-European cultures, I think there is no need for Europeans to accept their immoral elements as “cultural differences”, as I believe all mankind, no matter what culture each one belongs, should share not only scientific facts but also faith in universal justice. And it seems this opinion, though it could enrage postmodernists, does not contradict the spirit of the Enlightenment. I would like to cite, as proof, a passage from another chapter of Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique, in which the author recounts his vision of the heavenly court where he saw people of different races and religions plead their positions to the judges in many different ways, and:
“When all these proceedings were cleared out, I heard this decree promulgated: ‘By the Eternal Creator, Preserver, Rewarder, Avenger, Forgiver, etc., be it known to all the inhabitants of the hundred thousand millions of billions of worlds we were pleased to form, that we will never judge any of the aforesaid inhabitants by their hollow opinions, but only by their deeds; for such is our justice.’” (238)
The point is not to condone bad behaviours as cultural differences but to judge everyone equally by their deeds. But such a vision cannot be realized, of course, when justice itself is deconstructed. Modern leftists and Voltaire, though they share certain political stances, seem to disagree on fundamental philosophical issues.
The Western elite support postmodernism because it is the destination of their revolutionary narrative. Non-Europeans, on the other hand, love it because its undermining of European culture flatters their pride. Imagine what if the whole educated class believes embracing postmodernism proves one’s intelligence. To save Western civilisation, postmodernism, all the rubbish it has produced and all the questionable legacies of its advocates must be thrown in an incinerator.
If the Renaissance was the glorious dawn of a golden age, I think, the 19th century was the beautiful sunset of it. And after the sun sank below the horizon, and the twilight faded from the evening sky, there fell the night on Europe: ever since the lamps went out in 1914, Europe has been going through the Second Dark Ages, where life is more miserable but dreams are sweeter. And it is probably the dead of the night right now.
To end these Second Dark Ages, I think the end of the First Dark Ages (though today’s historians don’t use the term) will give a helpful example.
The beginning of the First Dark Ages is marked by the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, but I want to emphasise the historical importance of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity because I think this change of religion, like the two Revolutions, made a deep rift in Western history. It is undisputable that one major reason medieval Europeans let Plato and Lucretius sink into oblivion was that they considered those writers simply pagans. After the Christianisation, the history of Europe divided into the Christian era and the pagan era, and everything that came before the Christianisation had to be judged by the Christian perspectives. Christianity severed the Western world from the pagan past.
What happened in Europe when Byzantine scholars fleeing from Constantinople arrived in Italy with boxfuls of forgotten Greek classics was, then, not merely the transference of useful information but the reconnexion of two separated worlds. When the old rift was bridged, and the broken strings were tied again, Western history regained its integrity.
Now that there is a new rift that the Revolutions made, what Europe must reconnect herself to is, I think, the Enlightenment. As the rift the Christianisation made could be bridged only by the rediscovery of forgotten pre-Christian ideas, the new rift that the Revolutions made may be bridged only by the rediscovery of forgotten pre-revolutionary ideas.
I am worried however, having read many online comments blaming the Enlightenment for leading the West into destruction, that there might be a hatred of the Enlightenment among right-wing people. But if there really is such a hatred, I think it is what has been trapping the Right in the loser position: the Left can virtually be invincible as long as the Right is rummaging for an antidote to the Enlightenment ideas. Right-wing people should not reject the Enlightenment as a movement of “their side” because it is always “their side”, in this game of “their side” and “our side”, that wins.
It would not have been so destructive if being a right-wing had simply meant taking certain political stances, but the dualism of the left-right paradigm runs deeper. The worst feature of the left-right paradigm is that it affects people’s self-identification by attaching tags. For example, the paradigm attaches the tags such as “Rational”, “Progressive”, “Revolutionary”, “Scientific” and “Humanitarian” to the Left, and the tags such as “Emotional”, “Bigoted”, “Authoritarian”, “Religious” and “Racist” to the Right. The moment when you identify as right-wing, the paradigm automatically attaches these tags to you, and the curse of these tags immediately begins to pull your thoughts towards a certain direction from which victory is unattainable. The left-right paradigm is designed to keep the Right stuck in the loser position.
And this explains why left-wing people are always considered rational even though they more often than not act irrationally, and right-wing people are always accused of being irrational even when they try to reason: it’s always “what tags are attached to you”, and never “who you really are”, that matters in the modern world. And since the paradigm always blindly defines the Left as “the rational side” and the Right as “the emotional side”, when a left-wing person’s political activity involves some emotional campaign, it is always interpreted as a daring attempt at defending rationality; right-wing people, on the other hand, are always automatically considered to be conniving to defend irrational religious beliefs even if they are living rationally as individuals. When those who employ emotion for a rational cause and those who employ reason for an emotional cause fight each other, it is still the former who are fighting for reason; there will never be a chance to win for the latter. So don’t let the tags define who you are because if you absorb these bad tags into your soul you will become exactly what your opponents accuse you of being: an emotional, bigoted, authoritarian and religious racist raging against rational humanitarians. To resist the gravity of the paradigm, right-wing people must break free from the curse of the tags.
Moreover, rejecting the Enlightenment can severely impair the pro-European culture movement because it is the Enlightenment ideas that have been legitimising the political (or even cultural) power of the Establishment since the Revolutions: to be legitimate, today’s rulers must inherit, instead of the divine right of kings from Adam, the rationalist right of politicians from the primal enlightened rulers. To make a political leader of an anti-Enlightenment politician in the modern world is like to crown a pagan king in Medieval Europe. That’s why the Left considers a certain democratically elected president illegitimate: they believe the red-hatted president is against the Enlightenment ideas. In the matter of legitimacy, the will of the people is only given a passive role. To legitimise a new policy against the current ones, therefore, one must claim not only to be supported by the silent majority but more importantly, to be a truer successor to the Enlightenment.
I am not suggesting, by recommending reconnecting with the Enlightenment, that you surrender to the authority of the Enlightenment ideas. It’s quite the contrary: if the Enlightenment is the projector that has been throwing depressing illusions on the screen, and you can find neither a better projector nor the hammer to destroy it, why don’t you try replacing the current reel with that of your favourite film? If the Enlightenment is the generator from which the detractors of European culture have been deriving their power to maintain the machine, why shouldn’t you pull out their plug and connect your plug to it instead? The same gun that shot the hero can also shoot the villain if there is still a bullet in it. That’s what I’m suggesting. As I tried to show it in the previous chapters, the connexion between the original Enlightenment ideas and modern leftism is very fragile. The Left’s claim that they are the legitimate heirs to the primal enlightened rulers relies entirely on the notion that every single enlightened person must always belong to “their side” without an exception. They are blindly pushing radical political agendas while trampling the spirit of the Enlightenment under their feet. It is true that Voltaire was critical of slavery, and he was justly so, but if the Left believes he would approve of today’s mass immigration with a big smile, now that’s too much of an imagination; Wollstonecraft fought for women’s rights, and she justly did so, but if the Left believes she would approve of today’s porn industry as liberating women from sexual oppression, they are mad. Provided that everything is open to various interpretations these days, you have the right to wonder if their currently accepted interpretations of the Enlightenment ideas are really the only possible ones.
The glory of Western civilisation was so immense in her heyday that it is depressing to see her making a travesty of her former self. But maybe the current political chaos is, just as Montaigne saw the sense of loss in the Religious Wars as such, just a momentary fog of deceit which, once cleared, might reveal a restored, more dignified Europe with regained sanity, to amaze and inspire the world. People must be deluded if they believe that the great epic of European history ended with World War II. It is just a different chapter of the same book – maybe one of the darker chapters, but certainly not the last chapter. The great epic of Europe, in which the best of heroes, the worst of villains, and farmers, artisans, artists, geniuses and fools, lived, fought and died, has not concluded yet. It is still the middle of the story, and there must be mirth, laughter and tears of joy when the curtain falls.
The problem is not that peaceful revolution is made impossible but the violent revolution has gone too far. What Europe needs now is not another revolution, since she has had enough of it, but the termination of the left-wing revolution and the re-establishment of Western culture, values and world view. And the only thing that has the power to stop the left-wing revolution is, in my view, the very thing that triggered it.
What the Left advertises as the Enlightenment ideas now are their postmodern interpretations, not the original ones. They rejected a large portion of the Enlightenment ideas at least in the 1960s. If Europe restores her faith in reason, virtue and the consciences of common people by connecting herself to the Enlightenment in a different way, the rejected ideas of the past may become the cornerstones of a new, brighter era.
Berkeley, George. Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues. OUP, 1996.
Eliot, T. S. Christianity & Culture. Harcourt, 1960. 12.
Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question: “What Is Enlightenment?” Translated by H. B. Nisbet, Penguin, 2009.
Lincoln, Abraham. Speeches and Writings 1859-1865. Edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher, Library of America, 1989.
Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays. Translated by M. A. Screech, Penguin, 2003.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Penguin, 2013.
Voltaire. Dictionnaire philosophique. Gallimard, 1994.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Penguin, 2004.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley. Ballantine, 2015.