It’s Turtles All The Way Down

In yesterday’s post, I wrote:

It’s foolish to romanticize the past, to yearn for a Golden Age that in many ways was never so golden at all, and anyway can never return. But it is equally foolish — indeed, far more so — to revile and reject and discard it all, to imagine that in the world’s long history, the present, radically disruptive era is the first and only flowering of understanding and moral truth. This juvenile and hubristic presentism, this temporal solipsism, it seems to me, is obviously and utterly false, yet it is now hegemonic in our cultural institutions.

I posed this question as the most important of all for serious reactionaries:

How do we harmonize the wisdom of the past with the unprecedented human context of the present, and of the accelerating and onrushing future? What do we keep, what do we discard, and what must we create?

A day later, over the transom came a link to a new item from Thomas Barghest, over at Social Matter. In a long walk backward through time, he finds evidence of prior decay in every era of history (and I mean every era). It’s as if the history of life on Earth were a narrative version of the famous (and unspeakably gloomy) Shepard Tone.

Mr. Barghest’s conclusion:

The poor history above, far from being ‘more rigorously’ reactionary, is a parody of progressives’ frequent inability to recognize that reaction is not simply a belief in contemporary degeneration and a hatred of everything too new.

Reactionaries must be, rather, good judges of both past and present: we know that most mutations are deleterious and that innovation is not an unalloyed good, but also that mutation is the engine of evolution and that even our oldest, fondest traditions were once innovations far back in forgotten time.

As I’ve written before, reaction is also not a celebration of stasis; reactionary order is organic harmony, adaptation, and civilization. Stasis is in conflict with the God or Nature of the world and therefore disordered, just as surely as pessimism is. So we do not long for fixed, historical, perfect Golden Age societies, only aspirational, mythical ones or ones that we’re willing to acknowledge had foundations destined to crumble. If we model the myths after our ancestors—well, we remember how to love what is best in our fathers without denying their faults.

In the meantime, we have no illusions that history is either endless progress, endless decay, or an endless cycle. It is not just a long rise followed by a recent fall. And God forbid we satisfy ourselves, instead, with a sophomoric spiral! The histories of civilizations and institutions show progress, decay, stagnation, and cycles, but also branching, collision, annihilation, hybridization, and much more. There are more dimensions, edges, and twists to history than there are grains of sand on the beaches of Normandy, Hispaniola, and Lake Kinneret.

We study history, we learn from it, we judge the good and bad. And when there is degeneration, we condemn it, but when there is glory, we praise that also.

Amen. Read the whole thing here.

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