As things go, tradition should always be honored, respected, and at the very least, considered, before it’s wantonly thrown into a trashcan. Traditionalists do not have a desire to turn back the clock, as so many of their critics seem to assume; rather, traditionalism seeks only to maintain and remind the hollow men of Modernity that things weren’t always as empty and nihilistic as they are today. The nihilist would probably agree, but only inasmuch as the crude masses of the past were simply deluded by opiates like religion or, as is still the case today, work. The philistine, however, would wonder what on Earth you’re talking about. Medicine and technology are better than at any time in recorded history—the Romans, great as they were, couldn’t even watch cat videos on their phones. They didn’t even have phones!
And yet, the philistine still knows that there’s a problem. He recognizes, on some level, the utter vacancy that Modern civilization is built on. He sees all around him the waste generated by a society fueled on impulsiveness, spending, hedonism, and vice. He realizes that the entire financial system within which his money has value simply makes no sense, that he doesn’t really own much of what he’s bought due to the expansion of credit into all levels of his material well-being, and that his job pushing papers around at an insurance firm or a bank or some tech startup means very little in a world overflowing with information. This is not the way we were meant to live cries a voice deep in his soul; the nihilist answers that voice by a conscious denial—“Yes it is,” he tells himself out loud, “the other option is slavery.” The philistine, however, tries to pack that voice away and neglects to answer it; this must be the way were meant to live, he believes, there is simply no other option. Where the irony in the nihilist’s belief is that he cannot already recognize himself in chains, no matter what strain of violent anarchism he may try to espouse, the philistine will do everything in his power to avoid recognizing that chains even exist.
Philistinism and nihilism harp at each other on two sides of a dichotomy that Modernity invented. They are attempts to answer the unasked question at Modernity’s foundations: what the hell is the point to any of this? For nihilists: there isn’t one, so inflict upon the world your own sense of order. For the philistines: we don’t know, and there’s no possible way to know. When given power over other people, the nihilists naturally go mad with its abuse, while the philistines waste it with irreverence and shallow entertainment. It matters very little in the long run who ends up in power; under either one, the destruction of the society is inevitable. The nihilists merely attack the body first, while the philistines attack the soul.
I take this approach to Modernity shamelessly from Alexander Boot, and in particular his book How the West Was Lost, originally published eleven years ago but reprinted last year. I won’t go into detail about that book given that it’s been a little while since I read it, but I certainly recommend checking it out if you’re ever given the chance.
But my point through this is that these two options are not the only two options for contemporary Man. Meaning, though it has been stamped out of much of the workplace, nullified in our entertainment, eradicated in our artwork, and increasingly marginalized in our worship practices, can still be found in spite of the philistine culture’s efforts to ignore it. It simply requires attention, which is something the Modern world wishes it could dispense with entirely. The nihilist has little interest in attention—particularly attention to detail—because it would mean ultimately that his worldview was wrong and that his arguments in favor of his petulant and fraudulent existentialism were based on obvious contradictions.
The philistine, on the other hand, has a distinctive love-hate relationship with attention. In matters of economics and anything pertaining to material wealth, attention is crucial and worthy of praise; for everything else, attention is a pointless frivolity and given equal footing with every distraction under the sun. It is not demanded of anyone to get good at anything, merely good enough, and even then, this is only for the sake of monetary compensation. The creation of art is not pursued as a means by which beauty can enter the world, but rather just an amusing alternative to watching someone else’s kitten play with a cardboard box on your mobile phone. Art is not respected because it’s simply an alternative form of entertainment, and entertainment is not respected, either; it’s just a distraction. Entertainment is generated by people whose audiences want to be them, or know them, or hang out with them; the audience craves the attention of their pop stars and celebrities like they crave chocolate or sex, not the attention of a teacher or the adoration of a loved one. That sort of attention can be harrowing and invasive. That sort of attention would require of the audience a willingness to address themselves as creatures greater than mere flesh and bone. Meanwhile, these same philistines remain intoxicated in a culture that is overmedicated, oversexed, and increasingly psychotic.
The present age is forcing these two factions to battle one another. We see it across the social spheres, the popular culture, and especially in the present political discourse. The philistines want to believe everything will be just fine if these pesky communist-sympathizers will go away and leave them alone. The nihilists, meanwhile, throw burning trashcans across the streets and create sickening displays of spiteful petulance whenever their enemies do things they don’t like. Talk on the right has shifted toward the preservation of culture—any culture, at this rate, that isn’t some Boschian nightmare that Modernity advocates. But they haven’t sorted themselves out, and they probably won’t ever sort themselves out. Not to any meaningful degree.
What the contemporary right—the Alt-Right, the New Right, whatever you want to call this shift—lacks are not leaders, but integrity. They have more figureheads, personalities, and e-celebs than can be counted. And while the generally-agreed upon principles of their various platforms have a lot of merits to them, most tend to miss the point. Identity politics, ethnic substitution, and the role that economics, politics, and culture play in the individual’s life are all important issues to address. But if you play the national socialist game, or the libertarian game, or the anarcho-capitalist game, or the classical liberal game, you’ll just end up right here again in a few years. Reject your traditions, reject your aesthetics, and reject your religion, and you will never have the coherent worldview that a lasting society requires. Hell, forget society; you won’t even have a coherent worldview that your own sanity requires. Your politics will disintegrate and your culture will never recover, because all it will take for it to crumble is the nihilist to stand up again and say to his neighbor, “You know, this is great and all, but why bother?” And the Alt-Right is already feeling that heat.
The way out is to climb up the rope that we descended in on. Do not fall for the poisonous rhetoric which suggests an egalitarianism of pleasures or an equality of merits. Discover the things that you enjoy and be discerning with your taste. Learn why you enjoy what you enjoy. Educate yourself on creative hobbies. Read things that challenge you. You have to do this. No one can do it for you. This is not empty posturing of a feel-good-about-yourself liberal; this is the only pathway to navigate the insanity that Modernity inflicts upon the human soul once it’s been recognized and found out.