The need for a right-wing avant-garde
This article was published in the July 2020 Edition of Bournbrook Magazine.
I cannot shake the impression that we are living in the rotten husk of a civilisation. The First World War killed the West - if you want proof of this, read the lengthy lists of the dead on Oxbridge war memorials, or look to our art. Before the War we had Pre-Raphaelites, possibly our last intrinsically conservative or reactionary art movement. Afterwards, we had garbage Dadaists and Surrealists. They were all that were left. The next generation of elites, conservatives and patriots were cut down in the Somme or came home demoralised. We are merely the survivors.
But to focus on the subject of art specifically, for the last century it has been dominated, unsurprisingly then, by the left-wing. To some extent this is natural anyway; outcasts, freaks, degenerates and empaths are often inclined to artistry and leftist politics. But after one hundred years it's becoming a little monotonous. The left is built on revolution - left-wing art is now a pantomime rebellion against a conservative establishment that no longer exists. It has outlived its purpose.
Forget politics or the academy, the arts is probably the pillar of our society most thoroughly swamped in "institutional leftism". Fine art is a sham and a cult of the grotesque, cinema (my own art form) has been taken over by childish "realists" who seek to portray the world at its most ugly and demoralising, and the real, scientific Classical tradition of music is neglected in favour of a bizarre cult of bands and pop idols - to name a few examples of this infiltration. Even works which long predate the cultural revolution are "reinterpreted" through a left-wing lens - like Shakespeare, for instance. I have yet to see a Shakespeare production that hasn't tried to be hip and modern - full of obnoxious gender reversals, crude political statements, and garish costumes & set designs.
Why should we carry on this way? In a previous article of mine, "The Need For Something New", I argue for the necessity of a conservative (or more accurately, post-conservative) counter-revolution and "march through the institutions". We are the rebels and outcasts now! And we will never achieve any sort of influence if we focus solely on politics or the academy. Art is the heart of the nation as the academy is its mind, and it is an ancient rule of rhetoric, supported by everyone from David Hume to Jonathan Haidt, that only by convincing the former (pathos) may we thereafter convince the latter (logos).
As touched on previously, the left has a natural advantage over us when it comes to art in that they have a stronger proclivity to empathy (or more accurately, impulsive empathy). Nevertheless, I am a conservative and an artist for the same reasons - I hold passionate, Romantic ideals, and value beauty above all else. I think this could be said of many conservatives; we just need to express it.
We can create our own right-wing avant-garde, steeped in conservative principles of romance, chivalry, heroism, self-sacrifice, spirituality, individualism, agrarianism, social harmony, etc., etc. We have a rich political and philosophical tradition which is begging to be alchemised into art! As well as promoting our ideals and our shining vision of a possible future, as the new counterculture we can use the tools of the left against them - deconstructing and denouncing all that is idiotic, wrong and corrupt in the left-wing liberal order. Just as Un Chien Andalou was intended by Surrealists to subvert Europe's ancien régime, so can our art subvert our present debauched society - except in the opposite direction. Culture jamming, once used to satirise the capitalist West, could be employed in modified form by radical conservatives to satirise and deconstruct all the paradoxes of the woke agenda. The infantile worship of youth culture in the arts, meanwhile, which has bred generations of lonely, unsatisfied eternal teenagers and manchildren, could be toppled like Babel if only an artistic and cultural alternative of adulthood and self-respect could be formulated.
Such an art movement would be shunned at first, but the same could be said of every historical left-wing counterculture.
There is no better time for this than now. The mainstream alt-right of Milo Yiannopoulos ended with Trump's underwhelming Presidency and Charlottesville in 2017 - only irrelevant far-right "Groypers" continue to identify with the label. The intellectual dark web hasn't been doing anything of interest recently, with Jordan Peterson struggling with his antidepressant habit and whatnot. Additionally, as conservatives we cannot rely on relics of the Old Guard like Peter Hitchens to guide us - their responsibility is to preserve the knowledge of what England once was. (We can learn from them, but it's ultimately up to us, the younger generations, to forge something new.) Subsequently, the right is currently dismayed and rudderless. The right-wing zeitgeist of the 2010's was lost (rightly, in many respects) in a flame of scandal. This is why a far-left mob has been allowed to march up and down Western nations, burning down cities, desecrating statues and terrifying authority into its incoherent demands, without any serious cultural or political opposition.
And yet I feel some ineffable potential in the air. At the time of writing we are a bored nation, dizzied by a sweltering Summer spent under house arrest, worried not only for our personal health but oncoming economic woes and a rapidly changing social and international order. Tumult brings opportunity - if only we could seize it as the left have done, and begin our own march through the institutions, among them the arts, which, as it was in the Sixties, will always be the beating heart of any successful revolution.
Postscript: I wrote this article for a conservative magazine, which I much enjoy writing for; nevertheless it requires me to mince my words. As should be clear from my "The Need For Something New" article, I do not believe any conservative movement can achieve cultural hegemony without abandoning the conservative label, and embracing a degree of futurism. Additionally, I'm no longer sure whether we should be infiltrating institutions or outright tearing them down.