A Dying Light: What Opposes the New Orthodoxy?

The successor ideology, or the new orthodoxy, represents an evolution of liberalism rather than its replacement[1]. What then contests it must understand this evolutionary nature, recognising that the fruits of the new orthodoxy grew from the liberal tree. Sullivan identifies moral clarity as the clarion call of this movement[2]. This means the removal of objectivity or neutrality as values of a governing consensus, instead characterising nations or the Western ethico-legal order as intrinsically racist and subjective. Sullivan thereby reveals the flaw of his argument, that the liberal order was genuinely objective, whether in its governing apparatuses or in its media complexes.

The Schmittian dilemma of liberalism is encountered, whereby a veil of neutrality is held over a reality of ideological and power-driven decision-making. There is no neutrality, only the power of definition. In this sense the critique is correct. But in replacing this with a new arbiter, that of moral clarity, we encounter the same attempt at objectivity. What is defined as moral is entirely undefined, revealing its arbitrariness and thus its need of a powerbase to provide that definition.

At the heart of liberalism is this problem, and its spawn will continue to encounter it. Whether under the neutral veil or the position of moral clarity, the issue is that defining of the ingroup and the outgroup i.e. who lacks objectivity and is therefore unfit to govern or who lacks morality and is therefore unworthy to judge. Mill set this out clearly when he stated “despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end”[3]. The question then becomes who are the barbarians? It is the ungovernable, those who hold onto reactionary principles of warriorship or martial power. Those who are not subsumable to the abstract principles of the law. Under the new orthodoxy it appears to be the white working and middle classes, and any remaining vestiges of nationalist or tribal feeling they may hold.

Under this the expansion of the harm principle as a mechanism for determining coercive authority is unlimitable. The harm of an outgroup requires an extreme response. The capability to resist liberal diktat is to maintain one’s power through an equally extreme campaign of struggle, or to otherwise escape the expanse of authority. That is the story of American origin and its expansion into the frontier – a number of religious sects, cranks and cults founding their own settlements for ideological promulgation. But more fundamentally, using the frontier as a means of re-founding liberty itself through escaping debt peonage and property laws. Now the frontier is closed, and areas of ungovernability are backwaters and ghettoes.

The success of a successor ideology and the troubled relatives that spawn from its success will emerge not from ideological contestation so much as from ignorance and apathy. The essence of liberty is self-government as encapsulated by the story of Levi Preston at the Battle of Concord[4]. The capability to maintain such a liberty is held in the men willing to fight and die to preserve it. And in this sense, the level of ungovernability relates to the level of liberty one’s group can attain. As we’ve seen in the COVID crisis and the inflationary environment that has come from it, no one is seemingly willing to do this. Outside of limited protests with indefinite aims, most are happy to go along with the destruction of “life-long liberties”, thereby revealing their contingency. The same appears to be happening with the extension of identity politics into non-political arenas. So long as one can get hired, earn a salary and rent a home (with occasional indulgences) then they will attend training courses and DEI workshops and keep their mouths shut. Those who don’t may constitute the new orthodoxy’s opposition, but then what will this mean? If it’s anything to go by, it will be an incoherent mess harking to a liberal era as if it were reactionary.

The stories that Greer uses to suggest the subaltern nature of liberty also strike at the contradiction of liberalism, that between managerialism/bureaucratism – which is required for markets and free exchange to function, as well as the integration of a corpus of identities within a liberal polity – and the aberrative forms of identity and exchange which warp these very principles. The new orthodoxy is merely trying to square the circle i.e. legislatively and culturally integrating the rabble into a controlled, defined radicalism. However, all that’s emerging so far is managerial anarcho-tyranny.

“They overcame the throne and the altar above all by demanding freedom for the passion of greed; yet now they demand restraint on the freedom of other passions, for the sake of the protection or the comfortable exercise of their property”[5]. Aberrations are only tolerable when they go in the right direction. Such reveals the perniciousness of the liberal polity. The expansion of liberty abuts the interests of the new elite. Hobbes’ dictum, “in cases where the Soveraign has prescribed no rule, there the Subject hath the liberty to do, or forbeare, according to his own discretion. And therefore such Liberty is in some places more, and in some lesse; and in some times more, in other times lesse, according as they that have the Soveraignty shall think most convenient”[6], has a double meaning, as it both entrenches the liberal doctrine of prescribed powers while also allowing for their arbitrary expansion. What is lawful may not be permitted, and what is allowable may not be tolerable. Liberalism’s “lack of concrete instantiation”[7] inheres this, as liberty and rights remain floating signifiers at the behest of established (or establishing) powers.

Yet this is inescapable as this is also the dynamic of political expansion and ruling cycles. The necessity of elites to deliver or maintain political projects is ever present. The new orthodoxy has recognised this and tackled it directly, co-opting various cultural and corporate institutions into using their definitions and orienting them toward new abstract goals, whether those be moral clarity or diversity, to sit alongside existing abstract commitments of consumer choice and market competition.

Any opposition to liberalism’s evolution must understand this. The cultivation of a power bloc that can sit across institutions, whether those be economic, cultural or political, is paramount for the development of counter-institutions and alternative political praxes. However many of the emerging alternatives are caught within the liberal paradox. Take post-liberalism, a nominally conservative backlash to liberal modernity. Adrian Pabst, one of its main theoreticians, states “it begins with a sense of the limits of the liberal project: the damage done by individualism; liberty reduced to the removal of constraints on private choice; individual rights disconnected from mutual obligations; the erosion of intermediary institutions by the combined power of the free market aided by the centralised state; global disorder based on coercion, trade deficits and permanent war”[8].

Post-liberalism starts from the limits of liberalism, yet Pabst’s main critiques fit well within the liberal tradition. Invoking Mill, what Pabst is identifying is the need for a prescription of an ethico-legal order that expands the harm principle to civilise the barbarians. The proponents of identity politics, the military-industrial complex and neoliberal capitalism are to be integrated into this order, adding obligations that are based on what the sovereign deems convenient (or moral or ideological). Is this post-liberal? What is post- about it? Liberalism, despite its abstractions, has always existed within and on top of the bonds and complexes of orders that precede or even undergird it. The civilising mission of liberalism is not to destroy the barbarian but to bring them into the fold, adding their traditions into the milieu of choice and connection that define the institutions of markets and civil societies. It is a process of quasi-abstraction rather outright destruction.

This is revealed when Pabst writes “to protect people from the pressures of state and market power, we need to strengthen all the intermediary institutions that help constitute society: trade unions, universities, local authorities, business associations, faith communities, as well as all other components of our social fabric”[9]. Why would you want to strengthen these? They have been fully captured by the left, particularly universities. Is there anything worth saving in these things? Shouldn’t the aim of a post-liberal movement be to supersede these institutions, and let them rot where they are unnecessary? Universities are now outlets for cultural destitution and a training ground for consultancies and NGOs. Faith associations are advocates for liberal welfarism. There is no social fabric here. If anything these institutions have been at the forefront of the destruction of the family and the diminution of nationalism.

“Everywhere that the Right is successful, it is shifting toward a postliberal political stance to reintegrate society, economy, and the state. To do so, it must begin with a base of socially conservative voters, since voters split more strongly on social issues than on economic ones. Instead of trying to turn these voters into economic liberals, the Right should give them what they want: an economy oriented toward the nation by employing the means of state, and a society that is supportive of family life”[10]. But where has it been successful? The only achievements of Trump or Brexit are the galvanisation of their opponents and the revealing of sovereignty’s real limits, found in financial markets and the blob. Discounting this idea of success, I don’t think Pappin has reckoned with what an economic realignment of the kind he is recommending would entail. This would be a foundational transformation of the American economy toward an industrial-agricultural base that moved away from coastal firms. This has not happened so far, and the challenge it presents is as difficult as taking on the deep state. The answers post-liberalism presents are little more than ameliorative reforms.

Similar deficiencies exist in other responses to managerial liberalism and the new orthodoxy. In response to the crisis of Western nations swamped by immigration with dying economies and fragmented societies, many figures have raised support for previously reviled movements like Powellism as a spectre for national renewal. However, what we see with Powellism is the worst combination of liberal revivalism – economic and cultural liberalism combined with strong rhetoric on immigration and nationalism. The two are practically incompatible without a strong state to intervene in market affairs when these contradict a nationally-defined good. Indeed the myth of Enoch Powell is that he was the last great conservative figure. Yet his primary influence was in introducing economic liberalism into the British political lexicon where corporatism was in vogue. For all his speeches on immigration, as eloquent and correct as they were, they achieved nothing. Since Powell’s death, immigration has increased substantially into 100,000s per year.

There is nothing to be gained from a liberalism which contradicts the strength or autonomy of a nation. Britain has become a paragon of this paradox. It’s politicians have variously called for reductions in immigration through limiting asylum claims, creating a hostile environment, moving processing to outside UK borders, etc. It’s all been for naught as the non-white population has exploded to the point where its two largest cities are majority non-white. Meaningful avenues to tackle this, such as repatriation, were already anathema in the 1970s so there’s no prospect of them now. At the same time, even with the so-called independence of Brexit, British sovereignty is non-existent as governments are entirely reliant on markets for borrowing. As Truss’s short-lived government showed, if policies aren’t favourable to financial interests, then those policies cannot happen. With a nation whose national savings (through pensions and bonds) and private debts (mortgages and loans) are entirely wrapped up in the international marketplace, there is no sovereignty if these are impacted. The Powellite doctrine has nothing to say here as the outcomes of the market are sacrosanct in such economic liberalism.

“In our era it is not necessary to emphasize the limitations of being oriented to the traditional. The story has been told over and over again of the impossibility of tradition in an age when the dominant tradition is orientation to the future. How can there be tradition when the tradition is the tradition of the new? How can there be reverence when the dominant religion is the religion of progress? What has been handed down to us has not been the ancestral or the customary; what has been handed down is that we must change”[11].

This being the case, maintenance of institutions becomes meaningless. They are defined by their capacity to adapt and integrate change. Powellism or post-liberalism define themselves as protectors of the very same institutions. To move forward, we must move beyond the attachment to liberalism, aiming for destruction or supersession of these institutions and the preservation of culture and ethnicity in opposition to the new orthodoxy’s minoritarian politics.

How does this look in practice? The DeSantis strategy of removing university endowments and state tax breaks is a good start to damaging the corporate and cultural complexes that have emerged in higher education and media. It also means the formation of industrial strategies for directed investment that remove the power of degree-holding by pivoting jobs toward apprenticeship and guild arrangements. Such power exists in degrees at the level of local government, specifically in the UK through local-enterprise partnerships which are more easily capturable compared to national equivalents. These have existing apprenticeship strategies linked with colleges and local businesses. Similarly, local authorities have powers around business rates and land usage which can be used to favour particular economic and cultural developments. This means the development of a local class of business owners and political entrepreneurs who can cultivate a shared class conscience and form patronage networks, akin to Francis’s idea[12] of an authoritarian populism emerging amongst the white middle and working classes in opposition to managerial liberalism. However, in the current structures of power, these moves will remain limited. What is being constructed is not Nietzsche’s party of life. Rather this is akin to the Book of Ruth, where faith is preserved in a hostile environment, integrating disaffected classes into a collective will (both religious and cultural).

Coercive power where it is capturable must be used, rather than striking an imaginary balance with existing elites. A desire for balance or the toeing of a centred line mean nothing more than acquiescence as minoritarian interests that coagulate into a governing blob are left unchallenged. “What is fundamental to a convivial society is not the total absence of manipulative institutions and addictive goods and services, but the balance between those tools which create the specific demands they are specialized to satisfy and those complementary, enabling tools which foster self-realization. The first set of tools produces according to abstract plans for men in general; the other set enhances the ability of people to pursue their own goals in their unique way”[13]. How is this balance struck? Illich’s solutions are voluntaristic in nature. But the requirements of the new orthodoxy suggest the need for authoritarian solutions and a strong bulwark, not a hopeless waiting for utopia.

In challenging these monsters of liberalism, defined by abstractions like the new orthodoxy or successor ideology, there must be a reckoning with the ultimate component of these emergences, that of power. An endless dithering in binaries of state vs. market or naïve refutations like a focus on society move away from what a community is, a homogeneous entity centred around a sovereign. To maintain homogeneity and limit infiltration or a deluge of outsiders, coercive authority must remain as a core component of a sovereign. There is no society without a ruler, just as there is no ruler without something to rule over. The question becomes who these rulers are, and what do they define as the essence of their societies. Whatever a successor ideology looks like, it will use coercive power to set parameters and enforce judgments. What then challenges it must do likewise.

[1] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2023/01/30/troubled-relations-defining-the-successor-ideology/

[2] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/andrew-sullivan-is-there-still-room-for-debate.html

[3] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

[4] https://scholars-stage.org/the-problem-of-the-new-right/

[5] https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442687677.8

[6] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

[7] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/12/politics-after-liberalism

[8] https://www.abc.net.au/religion/adrian-pabst-promise-of-post-liberal-politics/13635960

[9] https://www.abc.net.au/religion/adrian-pabst-promise-of-post-liberal-politics/13635960

[10] https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2020/08/from-conservatism-to-postliberalism-the-right-after-2020/

[11] https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442687677.8

[12] Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan & Its Enemies

[13] Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

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