By Kalev Pehme
Today’s radical conservative is frequently a capitalist apologist, although it must be said that not all capitalists are radically right. In fact, very few capitalists are that conservative. Yet, the capitalist and the radical rightist have many common social and individual traits. We must remember that what we believe has a profound affect on our character and soul. What I find very odd is that there is not analysis around about what kind of soul the radical conservative want us to have.
We know that the radical right of this country has a deep hatred of government. But it goes even further than just a hatred of government. Today’s radical conservatives are attempting, in fact, to depoliticize man by destroying whatever is left of a public life in this country. The radical conservatives today want to “privatize” everything that is public and politics itself, i.e., they want to make the satisfaction of man to be solely his private economic interest and his own pleasures. Government is to be as limited as possible to national security and picking up the garbage and all economic activity is to be protected in the sense that it cannot be regulated in any way. At the same time, what is critical is that capitalism and the radical right conservative movement make a claim to absolute wisdom. Just as the capitalist makes the historicist claim that capitalism alone is the best way to distribute the good, writ large, to man, the radical conservative overall does not recognize any other form of politics to be legitimate except itself. All other politics is simply stupid, as the radical right’s politics is an expression of absolute wisdom, writ large. Moreover, this claim to wisdom is universal and homogeneous. Globalism is nothing more than the homogeneity of capitalism throughout the world. It is that claim to wisdom to legitimate the universal rule of capitalism and that radical right ideology.
What is critical about the radical right and the capitalism is that it is a completely atheistic movement. Although there are many radical conservatives who say, for example, that they are Christians or even the most conservative of Christians, their belief is a delusion, because there is nothing transcendental in this movement. The end of man is strictly materialistic. The Catholic Church’s opposition to capitalism, for example, is based not only on the manifest injustice of capitalism, but against this materialism that implicitly denies transcendence or any kind of spiritual life. When there is a recognized transcendence of any kind, there is, of necessity, a proper cause to limit and moderate materiality in all its forms in favor of the transcendent principle or spirituality. The spiritual side of life is in complete opposition to the notion that the joyless quest for joy (Leo Strauss’s characterization) that is capitalism, i.e., that an infinite quest is in fact the truth of man. The radical conservative who says he is a Christian and a follower of Hayak, for example, is living a self-deluded life.
The second problem of eliminating transcendence is that it also destroys public life. Because the radical conservative capitalist makes man’s most private pleasures and his economic activity as the end of man, this privatization of human life cannot be implemented if there is any transcendence. When there is a belief that there is something more than a material end to man, the question of justice, the common good par excellence, requires a public life where all people or some part of the people must have a political life where a man can find fulfillment in serving others, not himself. Of course, in an aristocracy this fulfillment is limited to a few, while theoretically speaking in our republic it is given to all, based on the notion that there are unalienable rights that belong to man. These rights are based on a form of transcendence. But this transcendence is at odds with the tendency of the US to materialize happiness and to minimize the public life for the sake of peace.
Tocqueville saw this problem vividly in his second volume of Democracy in America. He wrote: “Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of all the others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may mix among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but does not feel for them; he exist only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in his mind a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society.” Politics is not simply radical right patriotism. One could say that politics was invented in ancient Greece in the polis, the city. The Greeks were very aware that they were innovating and creating something new. In an oriental monarchy, the king technically speaking owns the regime and hence there is no politics. In the polis, public life and politics required men to be free and to exercise the arts involved in politics, including the arts of persuasion and compromise. Private life was distinct from public life in the sense that one has one’s own mind and in the sense that private life encompasses the pleasures of man, his family life, and his household.
Yet, this private life was not an end itself. Nor did the ancient Greek or Roman soul have a distinction between an inner and outer life (see my previous posting on the inner and outer life). There was a public life and a private life, but they existed as an integral whole of the polis or city where political life was directed not to private gain alone, but to the greatness of one’s city. The city represented the spiritual transcendence of man whether it was for the glory of the individual or the sense of fulfillment that comes with living in a great city. In ancient Rome, there were two types of men: They were either very political or they were epicureans. It was the epicurean who denied political and spiritual life, because political and spiritual life causes pain and curtails pleasure. The current radical conservative is also an epicurean whose hedonism is rooted in being selfish. Ancient Roman epicureans seek to remove the person from this world, the Ivory Tower, while the current radical conservatives and capitalists proselytize and, in truth, attempt to coerce everyone in their belief. At the same time, the morality is that of Ayn Rand who attempts to make selfishness into a kind of virtue. If everyone simply kept their own material interests, their selfish interests would coalesce with everyone else’s selfishness and it would be arranging, like the invisible hand of the free market, the souls of all so each can live in himself without the constraints of others, especially that of politics and government.
There is only one way to consider such a life: It is self-absorbed and it cannot know itself, because its self-absorption is obsessed with a sense of self that is detached from all others. It is inherently alienated from all others and alienated from any transcendence of the self. The radical conservative soul is directed against the very notion of the soul. Its chief emotions are anger and envy. It is also bourgeois, in the non-Marxist sense, i.e., when the bourgeois thinks of himself, he can only think of others, while when the bourgeois thinks of others he thinks only of himself. But the radical right and the capitalist takes this bourgeois sense even further. It is narcissistic in the sense that everything the radical rightist and capitalist believes relates only to himself, but it is puny self. Because there is no transcendence, because there is no public and thus no means to attach oneself to others, it becomes exceptionally hard to express any emotional range. The radical rightist of today lives a very unpoetic life with very little emotional quality.
That is not the case with anger, however. The radical rightist in this country is morally indignant all the time. Its moral indignation is seen in everything from the support of the death sentence to the hatred of women’s rights to abortion. The radical rightist is a man without mercy and sees justice as punishment, and never as acquittal or mercy. The foundation of the anger is a belief that the radical rightist has an absolute morality, a morality so absolute that any violation of that morality must be punished. The problem with the radical rightist’s morality, however, is that its apolitical and materialist ends are on conflict with it. One cannot have a view that all economic activity must be protected by a lack of political regulation and at the same time have a moral consciousness. Morality must place constraints of economic activity. Part of all moralities in the world is a sense that man must be moderate and have good sense. Capitalism is an infinite of more and more and more. As such, it must be worldwide; it must apply to all men; and nothing can limit it, including morality. In effect, economic activity is also amoral as it is apolitical in the radical right’s ideology.
The other emotion that infects the radical rightists and capitalists is envy. In a totally material world without any transcendence, happiness must be measured in material terms. This soul is one of keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. If Jones has a new BMD, his neighbor has to have one. Inevitably, two things come out, envy and conformity. The radical rightist and capitalist hates diversity because he is a conformist and a radical one at that.
Moreover, the radical rightist ultimately wants the rule of the very few over the rest. It has to be that way, because, first, their morality demands it, while, second, economic activity directed by capitalism favors hierarchical corporations and monopolies or near monopolies. As there is no real politics at work in capitalism, the rule of capitalism is the rule of the few who ultimately have against those who have not. This rule is subsists on propaganda and another form of envy, the hope that anyone can have as much as any rich man. Thus, in the capitalist world people must conform to the material reality that some people are simply better than the rest, because they have more money and those who have capital are to be given privileges, because, after all, they are better. It is not a true elite, but a false elite, in the end, because entry into the elite is not based on hard work or virtue, but on luck. No one makes money, because he works for it. If that were the case, the poorest people who work the hardest would be rich. No, one becomes wealthy through luck. The capitalist world is a vast casino. In the radical rightist’s capitalist world, chance rules, although most rightists imagine that there are ways to conquer chance. They can rig the roulette wheel. Because the rich are the best people, they are not expected to pay taxes. They are to be supported by those who are not rich and their lives are to be regulated by anything except their own morality, a morality that is amoral.
The radical rightist and the capitalist live in a world where politics is actually translated into a class war where the rich are to have all the weapons and the rest must conform to the desires of the rich. No unions and no political unity for those who have not. The radical right in this country have taken politics which lives on rationality and compromise, and made into us against them propaganda war where it is a constant battle between extremes. The lack of moderation in the radical rightist’s soul translates into a social and individual psychology where everyone is truly at war with everyone else. The radical rightist is at heart a radical Hobbesian who paradoxically truly believes in Marx’s view of class warfare and historicity, only he is on the wrong side, on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
In the end, the radical rightist lives in constant fear, because he has made the world fearful. One cannot live in a world where extremes rule and not have a world of conflict, and when there is war there is no true order and chance rules as to who will win and who will survive. Without any form of transcendence, the radical rightist cannot find peace and denigrates a world at peace with moderate individuals ruling as a cowardly world. Thus, the radical rightist does not see his own cowardice and translates his own vices into virtue. At the same time, he cannot see that he is quite mad and wants the world to be as mad as he is.