Ship Of Fools

When I linked to Andrew Sullivan’s New York article about neoreaction last week, I hadn’t realized that it was just one piece of a much larger Festschrift the magazine had thrown together for its April 30th edition. I’ve just had a look at the rest of it.

The collection is, like the modern West itself, large and weak; it is really nothing more than an extended “point-‘n’-splutter”, with scarcely an attempt at rebuttal. The editors clearly think that the core tenets of reactionary thought — e.g., that the West is in serious trouble, and that central aspects of modernity such as democracy, secularism, universalism (and the doctrine if human uniformity that universalism entails), and radical skepsis regarding every tradition and natural category, are at the root of the problem — are so obviously absurd that mere mention of them suffices to discredit the movement. The shallowness, and smug confidence, on display here are impressive; that an editor of a major publication could, for example, completely dismiss the profoundly cultured and erudite Julius Evola with the sentence fragment “Quasi-fascist esoteric weirdo who pretended to be a baron and sported a monocle” betrays a blithe and unreflective ignorance so stupendous that it startles even me.

Imagine, readers, that the West is the Titanic. On the one hand, you have a group of passengers who felt a heavy impact in the night, and have noticed the deck beginning to tilt. They have realized that the situation is dire, and are trying to wake the others.

Among these vigilantes are sailors and engineers with expertise in both the ship’s design and the particularities of the local waters. While calling for the lifeboats, they have also arrived at some well-informed opinions about how this slow-moving disaster happened, and how such things might be avoided in future. They will point out that this part of the North Atlantic is full of icebergs in April, and that the ship had been moving too fast to be able to see its way ahead. They will also point out issues with the design of the ship (below-decks compartments that can fill with water like an ice-tray), and with insufficient caution on the part of the captain and crew (leaving watertight doors open that ought to have been sealed). Those who survive will also remark upon the overweening confidence of the ship’s designers, and of the owners of the White Star Line, in the vessel’s “unsinkability”. As we all know now, the Titanic was very sinkable indeed.

On the other hand, you have the editors of New York magazine, munching hors d’oeuvres and enjoying the band. Their comments are here, if you’re inclined to bother.


  1. Dave says

    I find the prestige media to be both nauseating and insufferable. How you managed to make it through that garbage without quitting in disgust is a testament to your powers of endurance.
    At this point the ship is half submerged and the cold, icy water is chin deep for those of us on the lower decks.
    I don’t think even drowning will wake our betters up.
    They cannot and will not see what is staring them in the face.

    Posted May 10, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  2. In my experience, humans behave this way any time there is a crisis that is not immediate and tangible. Pearl Harbor, they can handle; the Great Depression, sort of; civilization decline baffles them. The traditional process mirrors the seven stages of grief, including denial, scapegoating, mockery, rage and finally acceptance (usually after nothing can be done). This is consistent at the civilizational level as well as the local; if you have ever watched a church or business go bankrupt because it could not adapt, you have witnessed this same psychology in action.

    Those in the mainstream have been naturally selected to avoid any with awareness beyond the System and the ideology behind it. We will get no other response because those capable of thinking beyond the surface were eliminated long ago.

    Posted May 10, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Agreed, Brett. In particular, one thing that renders gradual decline all but invisible is the brevity of human life itself. Only the old, and those who read old books, are in a position to perceive the progress — or even the existence — of a wasting cultural disease whose effect spans generations.

    Posted May 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Whitewall says

    So then…

    Posted May 10, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  5. colinhutton says

    Brett’s comment is very apposite in relation to Andrew Sullivan’s incoherent article. It’s all there. Some quite perceptive understandings, but then denial and lashing out at Yarvin and Trump. Introspection/mourning, but blind to Obama’s feet of clay. Band-aid measures advocated to soothe the pain of his cognitive dissonance. All jumbled up. Acceptance? – not there yet. Whitewall’s brief comment on that post pretty much summed up the article’s content.

    I like the Titanic analogy, Malcolm. (I commented to my rather liberal inclined and shocked London-based son after Brexit that early abandonment was the best chance of surviving a sinking ship. He has since come around as it becomes clear, even to him, that the EU is doomed).

    As for the US – I think you have been overly pessimistic in your last few posts. Support the man at the wheel and you may yet scrape past the iceberg.

    Whitewall your comment (link to BV’s aphorism) is not confidence-inspiring unless historical rates of disillusionment can be accelerated. We can hope. Mind you, it again satisfies another of BV’s aphorisms (which I remember from a few years back), “brevity is the soul of blog”!

    Posted May 11, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says


    As for the US – I think you have been overly pessimistic in your last few posts. Support the man at the wheel and you may yet scrape past the iceberg.

    Am I? Might we? I really don’t think so. The only thing that could even begin to achieve that would be a major draining of Federal power back to the states and local communities, which would entail Washington surrendering a very great deal of power and money. Who ever surrenders power and money when they don’t have to?

    No, I’m afraid the U.S. is simply too big, and too diverse, for Washington to govern well. It will either come apart, or will descend into a suffocating tyranny — one that, armed with 21st-century technology, will have more supervisory power than any despotism in in history.

    Perhaps it’s time to quote Tocqueville again:

    I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest – his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not – he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances – what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

    After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

    Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  7. colinhutton says


    Persuasively argued by Tocqueville and a dystopian vision (but see* below).

    This week (nearly over) I decided should be an optimistic week. So I will attempt a quick defence of my contention. Consider the following points. (Pursuing brevity, I omit qualifiers):

    If Tocqueville were granted a vision of US society covering the 25 years to 2015 he might reasonably claim that what he had foreseen as possible, “even … under the wing of the sovereignty of the people”, had in fact come to pass. Bring that vision up to date, however, and he might admit to pleased surprise that the people had been so quick to demonstrate restlessness under an oppressive yoke.

    I think it is likely that a number of left/Liberal foundational shibboleths will be undermined in the near-term (within, say, a 2-term T presidency):

    The rapidly accelerating pace of genetic research will severely challenge the ‘race is a social construct’ thesis. What then with ‘equal outcomes’, ‘affirmative action’ etc. – designer babies? – see China.

    Technological change will continue to displace manpower. It will become more apparent, even to illegal ‘immigrants’ themselves, that anything greater than small highly selective immigration numbers is a negative for US society.

    Developments in Europe (possibly also the US) will undermine the leftist fallacy that ‘Islam is not, of itself, the problem’.

    My attempt at an aphorism to encompass the foregoing:

    Niceness, naivety and leftyness are positively correlated. The correlations break down, in that order, when society is subjected to stress.

    *Harking back to Tocqueville. He makes it clear that he sees his imagined possible outcome as a dystopia. It strikes me, however, that this envisaged outcome closely parallels aspects of Christian utopias, pending heaven. Consider, for example, the parable of the black sheep and English translations of Bach’s ‘sheep may safely graze’. I was inclined to limit the parallel to elements of Christianity. Depressingly, however, it is likely that it is simply that it accords with a large chunk of homo sapiens’ idea of utopia (Antoinette’s ‘bread and circuses’). Next week (the ‘optimistic one’ safely behind me) I may amuse myself by estimating how few of T’s words need to be expurgated to allow that passage to pass as a description of such a ‘utopia’.

    Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says


    Thanks for your thoughtful comments on this thread.

    I have those flashes of optimism from time to time also, though they rarely last a week. As for the possibilities you suggest — the theme being that reality will finally become too obtrusive to be ignored, even by the most committed adherents of our new religion, and so it will lose its grip on power, and we will gradually “scrape past the iceberg” — all I can say is that I hope you’re right.

    I do think, though, that the problem of the ungovernability of the United States as presently constituted remains, and that the two options I described — a significant move toward subsidiarianism, or a descent into Tocqueville’s “servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind” — are the only likely futures.

    As for the latter, there is a critical difference between it and the Christian utopia under which “sheep may safely graze”: the identity of the shepherd.

    But you are right: the Tocquevillean endpoint is, perhaps, not an unattractive one, for those whose aim is to crawl back into the womb.

    Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

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