If one could even call them liberal anymore, the Left has become partially conservative, insofar as they want to maintain the status quo, the establishment, as it serves their ideological interests. Unfortunately, that status quo and the establishmentarians that make it up have become corrupt. On the other hand, they are not merely advocating for a creative transformation of society, to replace old institutions with more valuable ones. They are, in the vain of radical liberalism— whereby they desire to set us free from our precursors completely— wielding power to coerce, intimidate, and with the governmental institutions at their disposal, prosecute those that are oppositional to that agenda.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Right has become partially liberal. They want to free themselves from the corruption that has plagued the social and political institutions that demand their conformity. (This ambition, taken to a logical conclusion of radical individualism, makes the conservative, as “paleo” as he might be, libertarian, thereby rejecting government and political institutions beyond mere existence). On the other hand, they remain conservative, insofar as they accept the nation’s history and spirit of their society— they are desperately trying to defend it from the nihilism and its odd accomplice, authoritarianism, that has poisoned the branches of civil society, with the ambition to stop the spread before it gets to the roots.
In reality, the conservative and liberal leanings are not merely temperaments but, because they are, we must be cautious when they manifest into ideological dispositions that judge the world solely by their respective world and philosophical views. The world can become very emotional, very fast, when those sides marginalize to their corners, as enemies.
Totalitarianism is not solely a left or right-wing phenomenon. The history of the past 100 years contains notable examples warning us of the parasitical nature of when a side goes too far.
“Ideology” comes from the Greek idea to mean “form, pattern” and logos, meaning “word, reason and plan”— so, “discourse.” It is through this discourse that we interpret the world and formulate a worldview. When Carl Rogers said that people do not have ideas, but ideas have people, he referred to the coercive effect that a uni-view of the world could have on the human mind. In other words, ideology becomes parasitical; it has the ends that provide its means with the perpetual discourse to justify its actions, beliefs, its existence in connection with the world. It becomes a conclusion to move toward; the heaven to look forward to; the reason to live, but also to die; the recourse of the world.
Of course, ideology is dangerous because it rests on beliefs that we do not need to have a basis for assuming; and it may demand actions that one would see as both immoral and savage— if we are to have any commonality anymore between decent behavior and very indecent behavior. We saw this blind advocacy play out during the Second World War.
Karl Mannheim, a German sociologist who wrote amply on the subject of ideology, witnessed the downfall of the Weimar Republic and its descension into anarchy. Subsequently, in debates with liberal economist F.A. Hayak, he defended his position that state planning would counter the ‘planlessness’ of the liberal order, thereby providing the highest values: freedom and self-determination. Ironically, in 1937 Mannheim fled Nazi Germany for London to avoid sacrificing his intellectual integrity. Since his death in 1947, we can only wonder whether he still maintained his Marxian position.
Nevertheless, Mannheim defined ideology as split into two conceptions: the particular and total. The first was the ‘particular,’ where individuals may be said to disagree and differ on their interpretation of events, but “it is nevertheless assumed that both parties share common criteria of validity.” The second was ‘total’ ideology. This form grows from the Weltanschauung (worldview) seen as an outgrowth of the collective life. In other words, contrary to the particular where individuals may differ on their interpretation of events yet still maintain common footing, ‘total’ ideology refers to fundamentally different thought-systems.
“When we attribute to one historical epoch one intellectual world and to ourselves another one, or if a certain historically determined social stratum thinks in categories other than our own, we refer not to the isolated cases of thought-content, but to fundamentally divergent thought-systems and to widely differing modes of experience and interpretation” (Ideology and Utopia, 57).
Remember the Marxists’ notion of ‘false consciousness,’ the idea that the worker does not recognize his class interests. Mannheim, though with Marxian undertones himself, argued against this ‘particularized’ focus, believing instead that we must work on bringing the ‘general,’ the ‘total,’ into the ‘particular.’ In other words, we must work on the whole thought-system, worldview, to be imposed upon the individual. Again, one could only now speculate where Mannheim would stand on this after World War II.
However, as Mannheim asserts, ideology had existed long before Marx, although it retained socialist and communist significance in English by 1907. Whatever our discursive conception of the word, there is no reason to believe we have somehow grown out of the proclivity to rationalize (that would make us unhuman) and politick ideas in public relations matters. However, we can accept that the social forms through which we politick have varied. In this respect, Mannheim was correct to assert that we can not escape the social construction of the world, that norms and values are not absolute— and indeed in the world of politics, they are not absolute; otherwise, what would the profession of politician entail if not infinite regress? (To avoid the sort of relativism that the conservative cannot withstand if he is to claim any objectivity at all, we will note here that the goal is not to come to some ultimate truth of our world but to instead understand our relation to it through our lenses, i.e., our ideologies).
Accepting the reality of the social construction of the world helps explain why Utopia does not exist. The word comes from the Greek ou “not” and topos “place.” It literally means a place that doesn’t exist.
Utopia may be said to be Ideology’s conclusion, its necessary end. Many will argue that, even despite perfectability, we must always envision a better world; to some extent, that is true. This creative temperament propelled Western Civilization in the last 300 or so years, and to which word we can politically attribute this thought and disposition as liberalism.
The creative flourishment of the West and depths of poverty the world has risen from, from where it had been just 300 years prior, is significantly more comfortable, wealthy, mobile, and extant. Moreover, that does not always mean ‘better,’ but it does mean that the growth potential has never before been as limitless as it seems today. Whether this potential is or is not limitless is where we have had trouble demarcating what is real and is not, true and false, objective/subjective, biological/social, right/wrong, and some conflated mix between them. Put another way, the more progress a civilization makes, the more eclectic words become, where new standards define their meaning and describe their experience.
This problem, formulated this way by the same ‘creative’ temperament that created its conditions, immediately exposes Mannheim’s relativism found in his social constructivism. On the one hand, he is right to say that norms and values are not absolute; on the other, it is practically untenable.
This problem lies at the heart of social conservatism’s core tenet: that the world is constantly changing, human relationships and their institutions are built on fragile networks. When societies are unable to establish normalities and convention and agree on what constitutes the common criteria where both parties share validity, then they have lost discourse within deliberate opposition to the other, as though there must always be the other. They then become susceptible to the ensuing factions that are sure to sprout promising meaning, an end, an ideology to supplement the Utopia it outlines. Maybe it is a convenient coincidence that these factions sprout when the opportunity for power arises, perhaps because of a lack thereof powerful enough to burn it out.
Accepting that the world is in constant flux, Utopia becomes an impossibility. As the totalitarians would have it, history would need to cease to exact the ‘greatest good.’
When the Weimar Republic descended into anarchy with the help of the Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifa), the opportunity to seize power was ripe for the Nazis, whose brownshirts had conspired with Antifa to overthrow the Social Democratic Party. It is no wonder that many of the Antifa Communists left their politics behind to join the Nazis for positions of power. In a speech dating back to 1925, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbel’s said that the difference between the two groups was “very slight.”
What did the Nazis do once they seized power? They killed off their dissidents, burned books; controlled the masses through violence; controlled the youth by nationalizing education; and sustained their influence through indoctrination, fear, and intimidation. They sought to control nature and history, past and future.
Hannah Arendt speaks to this seizure of nature and history as products of human development rather than a “stabilizing source of authority” by which man abides.
“In the interpretation of totalitarianism, all laws have become laws of movement. When the Nazis talked about the law of nature or when the Bolsheviks talk about the law of history, neither nature nor history is any longer the stabilizing source of authority for the actions of mortal men; they are movements in themselves. Underlying the Nazis beliefs in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man, is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human beings, just as under the Bolshevik’s belief in class-struggle as the expression of the law of history lies Marx’s notion of society as the product of a gigantic historical movement which races according to its own law of motion to the end of historical times when it will abolish itself” (The Origins of Totalitarianism, 463).
However, putting an end to the progression of history and confiscating the law of nature, for the pursuit of a Utopia is itself only a “movement” of history. For the tyrannical arbiters to succeed in wielding nature as a product of human development, to impose their own Darwinian selection according to what is and is not fit to live, those categories of “unfit-to-live” must be eliminated, no longer found. Similarly, for the Communists, human history could only cease if new classes did not form. These are two impossibilities.
“The law of killing by which totalitarian movements seize and exercise power would remain a law of the movement even if they ever succeeded in making all of humanity subject to their rule.”
As formulated earlier, the ‘problem’ is that with the limitless potential wrought by the creative temperament of Western Civilization, demarcations between what is a value, truth, and good versus what is not are in a state of tension. Competing ideologies are at work to both aid and obfuscate the (in)distinctions of norm and value.
We accept Mannheim’s social constructivism, that norms and values are not absolute, insofar as we recognize the world to be in constant flux. This flux is also a testament to the struggle of demarcation. Today, the lexicology of our society morphed and divided along ideological lines; so much so that even the differences in anatomy between man and woman, if at once disagreeable with the politically correct, is said to be scientific sexism or unscientific altogether, thereby discrediting the traditional, albeit scientific truths of the human race.
To what ends does ideology justify itself? To whatever end toward which it orients itself. It claims a worldview, proffers meaning, institutes some end, a Utopia; but, for the ideologues to exact this Utopia, nature and history must be conquered: the former must be manipulated, and the latter ceased. However, a constant flux denotes that history cannot be abolished, and if it will always persist, then there is no perfectible end in sight, no Utopia to be attained. In fact, ideologies that acknowledge the fluidity of values, i.e., Marxism, contradict themselves in synthesizing that a perfect good can be achieved. However, they have succeeded in untethering us from our shared values within our society.
While the problem of a world in constant flux looms, we ask for the resolve. How do we practically live in a world in which there are no absolute norms and values? Even if there were, we cannot assume we would live any more harmoniously, lest absolute truths should also imply Utopia on earth. So the ‘problem’ is not as much that there is change at all but, in the context of warring ideologies that aid that change, how we may remain tethered to our society, and all within that we hold and love.
“If one has to choose between the two,” Russell Kirk wrote, “Permanence is more important than Progression.” Michael Oakeshott reverberated this when he said that “The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.”
We must remember that change for the sake of change is not beneficial because it intends to improve our lot. The Communist believes that his politics is the only method toward which true freedom perseveres as he simultaneously appropriates man’s property. To say, then, that no value is absolute is not to say that it cannot be better than another, tenable for a moral people seeking not to infringe nor claim jurisdiction upon another’s life.
A lack of commonality, shared and accepted history, norms, convention, language, spirit— all things characteristic of, and necessary for, a thriving nation— creates a vacuum quickly filled by tribalisms. Anarchy and Communism have become one hybrid that our nation has seen rise to prominence, notably in 2016. The rise of Antifa and its ‘autonomous’ zones are testament to the fact that power can never be abolished.
“When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then a society is in anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable to everyone, and contrary to the inescapable fact that some persons are stronger and cleverer than their neighbors. To anarchy there always succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few” (Russell Kirk).
The danger in unmooring ourselves from the tested and tried is not merely about replacing the old with some updated or modified version of it. Ideologies of the totalitarian kind less replace the old than usurp it and impose the new: This explains why political ideologies that pursue their Utopia can not do so without force and terror.
We must also remember the common refrain amongst Marxists and radicals: “We must create the conditions for revolution.”— the equivalent to the issue of ‘false consciousness:’ we must impose a total worldview upon individuals that they may be taught their oppression.
When a society has no natural incentive to inspire an organic revolution, be wary of the ideologies tribes use to create it.