Monday, August 22, 2011

Whittaker Chambers: The Dying West.

For some must at last have eyes to see the plain fact that the revolutionary proletariat in the West (including Russia) is not, and never has been, a factory proletariat. The forces of revolution in the West are an intellectual proletariat, disinherited, not in this world's goods with which they are often incongruously replete, but disinherited in the spirit. The revolt of the intellectuals of the West almost without exception begins (no matter how it ends) as the frantic threshing of those drowning in the materialism of the West, a convulsive struggle against the death of the spirit. This is the answer to the fatuous, reiterated question why men like Arthur Koestler or Whittaker Chambers became Communists. For the differences in background, which the shallow world magnifies, are trifling compared to that convulsion of the drowning spirit which carried us, and men like us (each in his own individual way with his own individual rationalization) into Communism, and which makes a second death for those who, recognizing at last that Communism is itself evil, must burst from that second drowning back into a West which has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Hateful home truths! For they invite the West to stop looking at Communism and look into itself. Hateful home truths! (I said them all in Witness.) "Communism is never stronger than the failure of all other faiths"; "Men are by nature conservative; they become revolutionists only by despair"; "Communism did not attract, it repelled me; I became a Communist to escape the dying West."
Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday

Over the last few days my curiosity has been directed toward the history of Fascism. Wikipaedia has a rather good summary on the subject and more importantly, the article has good summary of the on intellectual atmosphere of the times in which the ideology was in gestation. It's important to note that Fascism, like Communism was a response to the social crises of the time. Its aim was to improve the lot of the proleterait. The proletariat, being who they are, were not able to organise themselves, and as such, the response to the crises was organised by the intellectuals of society. Where the Communists and Fascists differed is on how to implement the improvement. Both parties carried on the tradition of the French Revolution, in that the solution to the problem was through a reorganisation of society. The important point here being that both movements were meant to fix the social problems of times.

Both movements had their intellectual origins in the prevailing fads of the times. The influence of Darwin and Nietzsche molded the Fascists whilst the influence of Marx and Engels and Comte influenced the Communists and Socialists. Both movements had rejected God and consequentially the limits that this places on human action. But to think that the problem of fascism and Communism is solely a problem of atheism is the misdiagnose the pathology.  The birth of both these malignant ideologies were contingent on the festering sore of widespread poverty in traditional society.

Many people wonder how someone like Hitler could sway the German populace. Various idiotic theories are put forward to explain the phenomenon  however it needs to be remembered that Hitler's was a product of the social disintegration of the times (as predicted by Keynes) Hitler's appeal to the Germans lay in the fact that he delivered. He revitalised industry and hence employment, repudiated Versailles, restored national pride, got rid of people that the populace did not like, improved the rights of workers, organised regular holidays for them and generally improved the lot for the average German. For the poor family man, the tradeoff in civil liberties was worth it if his family were not going to starve. After Hitler, the streets were safer, there was work, the nation had a renewed pride and a sense of optimism prevailed. The traditionalist response to Hitler was to turn the clock back, to the way things were.  Faced with a failing old world and the promise of a working new, people abandoned  the old, enthusiastically. Of course, any pact with the devil will end badly, but most people live a day to day existence and only a very few could see the inevitable end of Nazism.

What I'm trying to get at is that is the old world had festering sores and Conservative attempts to turn the clock back to the way things were will re-open those same sores. All was not right in "ye days of old" despite what traditionalists preached. Conservatives then, need to re-appraise traditional society and work out where they went wrong with regard to the management of it. What Conservatism needs, if it is to survive, is to ditch traditionalism and embrace dynamic Conservatism, a Conservatism that does not deny the truth.

A classic example of this was G.K. Chesterton. No man who has ever read Orthodoxy can accuse Chesterton of being anti-Christian or Anti-West. Still, this passage at the end of What's Wrong with the World is hardly traditionalist:

I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.[Ed:]

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.

That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

The old world was sick and needed fixing, despite what the traditionalists said. The few conservatives who were doing some thinking, like Chesterton, were ignored by both  the traditionalists and the radicals. The rest they say is history.