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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Anti-modernism in America

Steve Bannon is not America’s only Catholic anti-modernist. In a new article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Riding the Tiger, Riding the Wave: Christian Conservatives and Radical Anti-Modernism,” Benjamin R. Teitelbaum discusses the recent work of two other prominent American Christians, Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Rod Dreher, an Orthodox Christian and senior editor at The American Conservative. Their anti-modernism does indeed have something in common with the Traditionalism that this blog covers. Teitelbaum himself makes the comparison between their views and Julius Evola’s.

Teitelbaum argues that both Catholics are quite as anti-modernist as Evola, and that both have also adopted Evola's pessimistic “ride the tiger” approach (which he explains nicely in the first part of his article). Both Catholics take the same event—the 2015 court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the US—as representing the irreversible victory of “totalizing liberalism.” Chaput sees this as the triumph of the ideal of the sovereignty of the individual, the idea that our identity should not be constrained by even the most basic fact of birth, our sex. Dreher proposes a radical remedy: that America’s remaining Christians should take inspiration from the separatism of Orthodox Jews.

Teitelbaum does not argue that Chaput or Dreher are actually inspired by Evola (though Dreher’s phrasing at one point does echo Evola's). He argues rather that what he calls “a broad anti-modernism” “poses the most serious threat to global liberalism.” It may indeed be becoming more widespread.

Correction: Rod Dreher was inaccurately described as a Catholic in the original version of this post.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bannon and Guénon explained

An excellent new article by Joshua Green in Vanity Fair finally explains René Guénon's importance for Steve Bannon. According to Green’s “Inside the Secret, Strange Origins of Steve Bannon’s Nationalist Fantasia,” Bannon first read Guénon when he was a young man in the US navy, and Guénon was “a life-changing discovery” for him. But, as Green says, Bannon is “more synthesist than strict adherent.” While at a personal level he may be a Traditionalist, at a political level Traditionalism is something that helps “build an intellectual basis for Trumpism, or what might more accurately be described as an American nationalist-Traditionalism.”

The article explains how Bannon’s Traditionalism fits with the Trump campaign and with some of the Trump administration’s policies. It also explains what readers of this blog know well, but what others may not realize: that not all Traditionalists are alike—that a common interest in Guénon does not mean that Bannon shares all the views of Richard B. Spencer or Julius Evola.

The article is generally excellent, as I say, but goes rather too far in labeling Alexander Dugin as “Vladimir Putin’s chief ideologist.” Unlike Trump, Putin does not have a chief ideologist, and while Putin clearly does not disagree with much that Dugin says, his ideas have other sources.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Evola in the Ukrainian parliament

Ukraine needs to be added to the list of countries where a political party inspired by Julius Evola is represented in parliament. The party in question is the National Corps (Національний корпус) of Andriy Biletsky (Андрій Євгенович Білецький, pictured). It currently has only two seats, but it does have its own militia, the Azov Regiment, a volunteer unit now under the umbrella of the Ukrainian National Guard that operates against pro-Russian forces in the eastern Ukraine.

The National Corps also has an international relations section headed by Elena Semenyaka, a young political scientist whose academic specialization is the Conservative Revolution. Semenyaka was previously identified with Alexander Dugin and the Russian Eurasianists, but since Dugin and his Russian followers support the pro-Russian forces in the eastern Ukraine, Semenyaka and her colleagues are now engaged in trying to steer the European right away from Russia towards an “Intermarium Union” that aims to unite Ukraine with other eastern and central European countries, in effect a rightist version of the Visegrád Group. The Intermarium Union takes its name from a plan developed by the interwar Polish prime minister, Marshal Józef Piłsudski.

Interest in Evola in Ukraine is not restricted to the National Corps. It also includes members of Plomin’ (Пломінь, Flame), a “literary club” in Kiev that meets for lectures on philosophers and political thinkers, notably Evola and the thinkers of the Conservative Revolution.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Political Hesychasm

In a comment to my post on "Alexander Dugin, Bishop Tikhon, and President Putin," Wurmbrand asks for an explanation of the term “Political Hesychasm.”

Hesychasm (ἡσυχασμός) is, of course, the tradition associated with the late Byzantine monk Gregorios Palamas (died 1359) that focuses on the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, a sort of Orthodox dhikr. This was accepted by the Orthodox Church and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

The phrase “political Hesychasm” seems to have been coined by Vladimir Petrunin in Политический исихазм и его традиции в социальной концепции Московского Патриархата (Political Hesychasm and its Traditions in the Social Thought of the Moscow Patriarchate, 2009). It describes an understanding of relations between East and West ascribed to Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), a priest and scientist who did not survive the Great Terror, and the philosopher (and monk) Aleksei Losev (1893-1998), who did survive the Terror.

In Эстетика Возрождения (Esthetics of the Renaissance, 1978) Losev developed a highly original analysis of the Renaissance in terms of the ascendency of “anthropocentric Neoplatonism” and the consequent birth of individualism. He contrasts this in his introduction to Palamas and the Hesychasts, who he sees as central to a parallel Eastern Renaissance that drew on the Orthodox Neoplatonism of Dionysius the Areopagite.

Hesychasm and the Eastern Renaissance were not Losev’s main topic, but his book provides the basis for a view of Eastern Christianity in opposition to Western Christianity and the Renaissance that fits very neatly with Alexander Dugin’s Traditionalism.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Alexander Dugin, Bishop Tikhon, and President Putin

There has been much discussion about how much influence Alexander Dugin really has in the Kremlin. A partial answer is provided by a new article by Michael Hagemeister, “Der ‘Nördliche Katechon’ – ‘Neobyzantismus’ und ’politischer Hesychasmus’ im postsowjetischen Russland” (The Northern Katechon: Neo-Byzantinism and political Hesychasm in Post-Sovet Russia), Erfurter Vorträge zur Kulturgeschichte des Orthodoxen Christentums 15 (2016), pp. 5-36.

Dugin is not Hagemeister’s main topic. This is Bishop Tikhon, Georgy Shevkunov, who is visibly very close to President Putin, and may well be the president’s confessor. The article describes Tikhon’s influence and examines the ideologies that he represents, notably Neo-Byzantinism and political Hesychasm, which Hagemeister traces back to Gelian Prochorov in the mid 1960s.

Political Hesychasm, especially, is easily compatible with Traditionalism, as it sees modernity and the Renaissance in very much the same way as Tradiitonalism does. Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism thus fits very comfortably with two wider and possibly more powerful currents, and the views of the influential Bishop Tikhon. Whatever Dugin’s own influence in the Kremlin, then, others with very similar views clearly have significant influence there.

My thanks to Birgit Menzel for bringing this article to my attention.