Monday 3 September 2012

Four barriers to being a reactionary: atheism, democracy, kindness, and the sexual revolution


There are very few real, solid reactionaries, very few indeed; perhaps the most recent I can think of was Fr Seraphim Rose - who fully lived and deeply understood modernity/ secular Leftism/ nihilism - and wholly rejected it.

Many things hold people back from being a reactionary, and keep them in the incoherent and impotent state of being 'conservatives'.

1. Atheism: The most obvious barrier is lack of religion, more exactly not being a traditional Christian or Moslem (being the only two open religions of reaction).

2. A belief in democracy, the validity of committees, and voting in general. Theory and experience confirm that these are intrinsically anti-reactionary beliefs.

3. An ethic of kindness, which sees suffering in this world as the worst thing - and to be avoided at all costs. This is utterly destructive of meaning and purpose in life, indeed leads to a culture of death - since death is (for those who think that death is the end) the only sure cure of suffering.

(Note: kindness is of course a virtue, and a desirable trait - however, it cannot become the highest virtue, and should not be regarded as the primary value, or else this will lead to multiple terrible outcomes.)

4. Those who adhere to the tenets of the sexual revolution cannot be reactionaries. The sexual revolution must be rejected, pretty much in its entirely, as a normative value, goal or ideal.

For many/ most people refusal to give-up the gratifications and hopes of sexual 'liberation' is the single biggest and most resistant barrier to becoming a reactionary - a cage trapping them within the Leftist world view.

The hippies were therefore absolutely correct that the sexual revolution was the most potent of all subversive strategies.

We are a culture addicted (literally so) to the dreams (not the actuality) of un-constrained/ evolving and self-defined/ self-policed sexual identity and relations.

For so long as this continues, for so long will The West continue its willed descent into destruction and damnation. 



Wurmbrand said...

You often write well, but this seems to me exceptionally good as a concise statement. Of course it's always the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Matthew C. said...

I agree with this entire post, for the most part. Just curious why you picked Christianity and Islam versus - say - traditionalist Judaism, Hinduism, Baha'i and the like (I am assuming you include Mormonism under Christianity)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - Why thank you Sir!

The Crow said...

You speak of being 'reactionary' as if it were some very desirable state. I find it difficult to understand that.
To react to something is to react to it. In this context, I assume, to react against it. Surely it would be preferable to remain unmoved by whatever it is, thereby leaving options open, and retaining the ability to adapt. To do only what is necessary, in the face of whatever it is.
My one-time pastor once asked me:
"Don't you want to be apostolic?"
I considered this, and decided whatever that was, it sounded rather toxic. I said I didn't, which vexed him, no end.
So it is with 'reactionary'.
No. Don't think so.
I guess I prefer being 'incoherent and impotent' :)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - "You speak of being 'reactionary' as if it were some very desirable state. "

Do I? Ultimately, yes - but not here and now in the short term.

baduin said...

Obviously. Those things are absolutely necessary.

But those are only basic requirements; passing them by itself is useless, or even counterproductive (from the political point of view) because it allows one to try to go backward. But what we need is not to go backward, but to go forward - in the right direction, which must be first discovered.

Going backward, however enticing it may seem in the current situation, will not work. It was Toynbee who observed that going backward won't help, because we were there already, from there the road leads to present situation.

That is why, although I agree with you in many aspects, I am not a reactionary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@baduin - The reactionary position (e.g. Chesterton, Lewis) is that this means we made wrong/ evil choices, took a wrong path which led us further and further astray - and we MUST therefore GO BACK to where we were BEFORE the wrong choice was made.

baduin said...

The problem with that is that the original wrong choice happened in Eden - and we cannot go back to redo it. In fact, most of the problems of the West are caused by the utopian attempts to go back - which always fail and end going forward - and always in the wrong direction.

In other words, after the expulsion from Paradise, there was never a time where things were "correct", to which we could return.

If I remember correctly, you asserted that nobody reads Conrad. You are probably right; anyway, there is a very fine story by his, called "The Duel", in which there is expressed a somewhat different opinion on the repairing of mistakes.

"In his young days, Armand D'Hubert, the reflective, promising officer, had emitted the opinion that in warfare one should "never cast back on the lines of a mistake." This idea, defended and developed in many discussions, had settled into one of the stock notions of his brain, had become a part of his mental individuality. Whether it had gone so inconceivably deep as to affect the dictates of his instinct, or simply because, as he himself declared afterwards, he was "too scared to remember the confounded pistols," the fact is that General D'Hubert never attempted to stoop for them. Instead of going back on his mistake, he seized the rough trunk with both hands, and swung himself behind it with such impetuosity that, going right round in the very flash and report of the pistol-shot, he reappeared on the other side of the tree face to face with General Feraud."

Wurmbrand said...

With reference to your comment above, Dr. Charlton --

I understand; but we need to be careful of an assumption that "we" used to be right, then went wrong, so need to get back to being right.

Were "we" in fact ever right? I would say that, in some ways, society in England and in America were relatively more right than they are now, but they were never simply right. Always society has been corrupt, because always men were sinners.

I am rereading Sir Thomas Malory. Here is reflected a Christian and hierarchical understanding of life. And yet at least three ethical codes jostle together: the warrior's shame/honor code (in which an affront must be avenged and one can never rest from maintaining the deference due to one); the courtly love code; and Christian ethics. This a a work of the imagination, of course, but it perhaps does as a good a job as any literary work of showing that inevitable impurity of any human society.

So I would say that the going-back of which Lewis writes is really a matter of going back to a better way of things with reference to some particular matters, but never a wholesale going back.

Had we again a greater social regard for Christian revelation, had we again more self-respect than now, etc. we would not be free of dreadful faults.

Here we have no -- and never have had any -- abiding city (Hebrews 13:14). "My Kingdom is not of this world."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin and Dale - Of course I wasn't meaning to imply human perfection at any point, that would be unChristian nonsense; I was referring to specific wrong turns.

Baduin points up a very big difference between modernity and tradition - modernity always deals with emerging problems on the basis that more of the same will provide the answers.

As an example: Democracy/ committees/ voting. This has led to, is leading to, vast societal problems at every level. Do we regard democracy as a mistake, and undo that mistake? Or do we continue to deal with the problems of democracy by expanding democracy/ committees/ voting into ever more domains of life?

Or functional specialization? Or the sexual revolution? (etc.).

JP said...

@The Crow,

PC (political correctness) is the current status quo that has invaded every sphere of human endeavor and relationship. Therefore, the first task of the reactionary is, indeed, to react, i.e., to get the PC notions out of one's head. If you try to "remain unmoved" then you will simply remain mired in PC thought like almost everyone else.

The other problem with trying to "remain unmoved" is that PC is a relentless, all-consuming force. If you do not actively struggle against it, then you will drown in it. As a practical matter, the average person cannot "remain unmoved" by PC because PC suffuses daily life. (You'd have to be a monk completely isolated from the world to "remain unmoved" by PC.) Because PC constantly surrounds you and is constantly pushing at you, you have to react against it constantly.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - (You'd have to be a monk completely isolated from the world to "remain unmoved" by PC.)

Yes, and many monks (and, more so, friars) are far from isolated - consequently many are (seemingly, as far as I can tell, very disappointingly) extremely PC. So even they are not exempt.

The Crow said...

JP: PC no longer affects me in the least, and hasn't for some considerable time. I instantly recognize madness when I see it.
I am, I suppose, in a way, a monk. But one who does not subscribe to any pattern. It is this patternless existence, probably, that renders me immune, and thus not in need of reaction against the patterns of others.
Thank you for the explanation, though. I hadn't understood the concept of 'reaction' in this context.

FHL said...

post 1 of 2

I don't think sheer reaction will work though (but I also don't think that's what anyone was implying here, but just to throw my 2 cents in...). If you can tell that they are wrong, it doesn't imply you know what is right. Simply telling people why PC is wrong will cause a vacuum to appear in their hearts which they will try to fill with anything else that comes up- and it may not be something good. They'll be "rebels without a cause," constantly seeking to destroy but unable to rebuild.

I have heard of (and these are rare cases, but they are illustrative of what I mean) liberal Christians who upon noticing that something is amiss with the PC attitudes of their liberal churches end up embracing Islam, telling themselves and others: "this is so much deeper and truer than when I used to be christian!" I used to feel angry at them when I heard this, but when I hear their explanations of why they converted to Islam from Christianity, I find myself being more angry at the churches themselves (but don't get me wrong- they are still responsible for their spiritual lives and their departure from the Lord is to their discredit).

I think I am in somewhat of a unique situation. Despite what Dr. Charlton says about no churches being unaffected by PC, I would say the Coptic church which I was born into is one of them. Truth be told, however, I think it may be trying to sneak into certain churches and through some clergy members in a very veiled and "benign" form- one that could turn malignant at any moment. But the only reason I know this is because it has been brought up in public conversation with other Copts, who are also concerned. Most of the time they don't have a name for it such as PC or liberalism but they simply say "it's bad theology and not orthodoxy. Focuses too much on the people and not on God." And so far as I know, even in the American diocese, homosexuality is still universally preached as a sin, adultery is a sin, authority is respected, only men can be priests (and to my knowledge, the women have never asked to be, nor anyone ever given a defense of why they should be allowed to), only priests and male deacons can preach and teach from the pulpit, and the sacraments still carry awe and respect. Plus, our monks still live in the desert and seek shelter in caves.

And so I found myself naturally rejecting the majority of PC ideas when I decided, after a long time of absence filled with foolishness and folly, to return to church. I spent a great deal of time reading articles and books by current Coptic bishops as well as reading the writings of the church fathers (who don't differ from one local jurisdiction and geographical church to the next, such as St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, and St. Clement of Alexandria).

(once again, I think even your spell-check mechanism has been thoroughly influenced by PC- now it's telling me to replace "Athanasius" with "euthanasia"!)

But we are not a "western church," and it would be too much to ask a white/black American/Brit/etc. to join a historically Egyptian church, even if all of our liturgies throughout the American diocese are spoken and sung in English. And many of you, as evidenced by the Orthosphere and reactionary websites, have already found the heart of truth, hence why you are writing about it and why I keep reading it and finding it very useful. Plus, I do feel that loyalty is a virtue, so I think, as a very general comment on something I know little about and not any specific advice to specific persons, westerners who see but the faintest glimmer of hope should stay in their churches and try to bring a change about, even if all that means is praying a quick prayer every night for your church, her clergy, and her people, rather than to abandon it and assume her people lost.

FHL said...

post 2 of 2

As to The Crow, I don't know your situation and I don't mean to claim I know, I will just tell you what I think. I think you may indeed be one of those people who is unaffected by PC. Perhaps you are like a Nietzsche-sort of fellow, one who doesn't really agree with anyone and rebels against everything, seeing any and all order and meaning as artificial and a hindrance. But Nietzsche was a complete nihilist, and had a social and spiritual view that, while it certainly wasn't PC, was also certainly not Good.

And I wouldn't say Nietzsche was completely unaffected by the spirit of the world either...

The way I see it, our situation is much like this: PC is all around us. It's kind of like we've been thrown into an a turbulent sea. The waves move us this way and that, pushing us where we did not choose or want to go. No one can predict where it will go or where it will push you; it is chaotic, random, and it does not concern itself with your well-being in the least- you are simply there to be tossed about and, in the end, drowned in its fury. Some claim that, by their own power and their own strength, they are really swimming against the current. But really, anyone who has even been in a sea or ocean knows that when the current pulls you in one direction, you almost never feel it, and even though it seemed to you that you traveling in one direction it's only when you look back at a stable landmark and find it's location unexpected and puzzling that you begin to realize how little control over your trajectory you had. You can't stay unaffected by your own power, so what do you do? You hold on something stable, like that landmark, a rock, a secure piece of land, something not floating in the water that goes deeper than the water, or better yet, a lighthouse! That lighthouse would be the church, the rock would be the Lord Jesus Christ, and the light circling above, cutting through the night sky and reflecting off of the rebellious waves, would be the Holy Scriptures guiding you to safety.

Or, you can be like the third group, the Nietzsches of the world, who upon finding themselves lost and confused in the open sea find it fit to immediately declare: "Nah, I'm not lost. I'm surfing the waves! That's what it is, that's what I'm doing- I meant to travel out here! I'm not afraid of any water, I'll turn back when I want, these waves can't hold me, you'll see! All you there clinging to that rock- you're all pussies!"

FHL said...

edit: in the previous metaphor, the lighthouse is on the rock, if that wasn't clear. Not that the lighthouse is better than the rock, but that the lighthouse ON the rock is a better example to use since I can use all three symbols to identify the three most important things in a meaningful manner. With the Rock being the most important, of course.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - thanks for that. Wise words.

I gave the Nietzsche attitude (as you describe it) a really strong try, as can be seen from my writings pre-c2007.

But I simply could not make myself give up all of natural law - probably for no better reason than a feeble constitution.

I was attempting what Pascal describes when he said: "They give free reign to concupiscence and check scruples, whereas they ought to do the opposite."

JP said...


"If you can tell that they are wrong, it doesn't imply you know what is right."

I think BGC has been pretty specific about what he thinks is right.

"Simply telling people why PC is wrong will cause a vacuum to appear in their hearts which they will try to fill with anything else that comes up- and it may not be something good. They'll be "rebels without a cause," constantly seeking to destroy but unable to rebuild."

BGC has not been doing this. I believe he would describe someone who constantly seeks to destroy but not to build as an exemplar of political correctness. Destruction is what the modern Left does, and if you do this, then you are a Leftist not a reactionary. That some people might fall into this error does not invalidate the necessity of reaction against political correctness.

To advocate that truth, beauty, and virtue are real, and that people should act accordingly, does not create a vacuum, but fills the vacuum deliberately created by nihilism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I think FHL was actually directing his remarks to The Crow (who is Forest Johnson, a fascinating writer, ex down-and-out who now lives on an island and sometimes blogs true-and-poetic memoirs at

The Crow said...

How dare, you, sir!
I go to no end of trouble to continue to be so.
Riches and land notwithstanding, an egg remains an egg, whether it is boiled, fried, scrambled or sucked.
So there.

FHL said...


"BGC has not been doing this... That some people might fall into this error does not invalidate the necessity of reaction against political correctness.

To advocate that truth, beauty, and virtue are real, and that people should act accordingly, does not create a vacuum, but fills the vacuum deliberately created by nihilism."

I completely agree! Dr. Charlton is one of the few people whom I do not think I could ever accuse of providing empty rhetoric, and I did not mean to sound as if I was accusing him of the errors that I mentioned, and apologize if that's the way it sounded.

JP said...

Yes I did think FHL was addressing BGC. My mistake, silly me, never mind...

Anonymous said...

"1. Atheism"

What has been learned, cannot be unlearned. I'm an atheist, but not by choice. My knowledge of the world tells me that the odds of Christianity being true are so close to 0 as to be irrelevant. The only way to change that is to wipe my brain clean. I cannot stop being an atheist any more than I can stop being White.

I wish I could believe in Christianity though, even though it's false. Many times I find it very hard to do the right things and delay gratification. Atheism brings a certain attachment to the present moment once the fact that there is no afterlife, and that all of your loved ones who have died are gone for good, becomes apparent.

"4. Those who adhere to the tenets of the sexual revolution cannot be reactionaries."

In the ongoing absence of arranged marriages, learning Game and exploiting the sexual marketplace with the end-goal of securing a mate with good genes (and keeping her) is a better alternative to being a genetic dead-end. I think the best way to pass on niche ideologies like reactionism is through having smart children. Good luck finding a Reactionary, non-sexually liberated, high-IQ Western woman.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - please use a pseudonym to identify yourself when commenting here.

If you sincerely wish to believe in Christianity, and are making a genuine effort in this - then you are in fact 'saved' (i.e. you will achieve salvation) according to the Biblical statement of seek and ye will find, and clarified by Blaise Pascal in his superb Pensees.

But you must NOT defend or advocate behaviours you know to be sinful, such as 'exploiting the sexual marketplace'. To sin is inevitable - but to defend and advocate sin is voluntary and culpable.

Continue genuinely to seek, and try your best to live by and promote what you know is right, and you will be okay before the end.

Anonymous said...

"They give free rein to concupiscence and check scruples, whereas they ought to do the opposite."
OK, concupiscence has won in the sixties. But what is PC but hideously hypertrophied scruples? Judging from the results, Pascal was wrong about scruples.

Bruce Charlton said...

@candide - modern PC is insane - therefore cannot be characterized briefly, nor indeed summarized accurately in terms of its outputs. There certainly are elements of checking scruples in PC - in the sense of reversing natural morality. But to do this requires coercion. What you get is a joyless, dull, officially sanctioned kind of evil.