[Editorial comment by George Whale:] At a conference in Washington DC in September 2011 writer, musician and artist Alex Kurtagic delivered a lecture entitled "Masters of the Universe", in which he argued that we must win the cultural war against the Left as a necessary prelude to real political change. The speech, full of original and provocative ideas, fascinated me and I determined to ask Mr Kurtagic for an interview so that I might explore some of his ideas further. Fortunately, he agreed.
George Whale: What are the origins of your bleak view of the contemporary West?
Alex Kurtagic: My view may be critical, but I wouldn't consider it bleak. Bleak suggests it is all hopeless, and I have no time for that kind of morbid pessimism. My message has always been that, yes, a number of current trends are very negative, but fundamental change is possible; the future is what one makes it.
GW: Early in your Washington talk you dismiss the idea of economic collapse bringing about "a great uprising" and political transformation. Have events in Greece since tempered your view?
AK: Events in Greece and elsewhere have confirmed my view. There is anger at the government and a rejection of particular policies, not a rejection of egalitarian liberalism as a valid political philosophy. In fact, faced with austerity, the Greek citizenry are likely to want more equality, in the form of government subsidies, aggressive taxes on the rich, and other redistributive measures. Spain, where youth unemployment is at nearly 60%, has also had protracted protests, going back two years now, and yet the ethical and intellectual bases for liberalism remain intact—it's only the liberal politicians (the agents) who are discredited, not liberalism.
There is a belief, which was probably inspired by a handful of underground fiction, among many on the 'extreme Right', and particularly in the United States, that if conditions become sufficiently grim, there will be a sudden great racial awakening among the whites, and the people will then rise up in revolutionary struggle, depose the liberal order, and replace it with one founded on traditional principles. The idea of an economic collapse is thus conveniently treated as a magical solution. And to my mind, apart from being silly and a psychological coping mechanism for individuals who feel powerless, this is more often than not a justification for doing nothing.
The truth is that, firstly, there are many different classes of collapse, and, within those, different models of collapse, most of which would not be alarming or even recognisable to the observer (except perhaps retrospectively); secondly, while collapses do occur and an economic collapse like the one long anticipated may well occur (given enough time), there is no guarantee that the outcome will be as predicted, let alone desired—if it comes to pass there will be many different groups contesting for power; and thirdly, an economic collapse is more likely to discredit the current leadership than to discredit egalitarianism, which is what would need to be discredited in the public mind before an alternative becomes possible.
GW: Perhaps it's a matter of degree. Guillaume Faye (of the French New Right) writes of a "convergence of catastrophes"—economic, environmental, political, social etc. That should do the trick shouldn't it?
AK: The problem is that collapse is not the end of the story; it is the beginning—in fact, it is before the beginning. Few on the Right are thinking about what happens afterwards; most seem to assume that the collapse will solve everything, and that our part of the world will automatically revert back to the way things were before it all 'went wrong', which translates into an imagined, idealised version of the past. Yet, the part that matters, and therefore the part that we need to be thinking about now, is the period that begins after the collapse, because that is the space where vision translates into a reality, where theory is put into practice. How can anything be built after this magical collapse when the post-collapse vision has not even been theorised?
It is not enough to speak of 'survival' or of 'preserving Western civilisation': if one finds one's thinking counter-propositional to the establishment order, finding moral justifications for one's proposed course of action, one's opinions, and one's aspirations, is an essential part of the nature as a Westerner, and the process of moral justification begins in the abstract.
GW: Many people sense impending disaster, but are strangely reluctant to act. How do you account for this?
AK: Failure to 'act'—whatever that means—in the face of evident discontent, corruption, and failure is a common frustration among dissident observers on the Right side of the spectrum. The reasons, however, are fairly simple: firstly, no comprehensive solution has been enunciated—the vision put forth is usually a nostalgic one, which is immediately recognised as unrealistic, impractical, and impossible; secondly, even if a comprehensive solution had been enunciated, the citizenry has not been provided with any reasons to feel good (i.e. righteous) about it—the dominant moral system remains the liberal one, which delegitimates any anti-egalitarian proposals in advance, and which has yet to be subjected to radical criticism or be challenged by a fully articulated and ethically based alternative; and, lastly, absent the above, people simply fear change, and prefer to carry on trying to patch, or survive within, the existing system rather than risk something they don't know and that could well be far worse. And they are right to feel this way.
GW: Is it prosperity or propaganda that has made Western societies so aimless and disconnected?
AK: Prosperity, miseducation, and misinformation certainly have played a rôle. That may be one reason why the liberal establishment puts so much stock in economic growth, media and 'education'. Yet, these are not the sole sources of its power, because even the most powerful establishment can be brought down if it is discredited, if its legitimacy is questioned, and if there is a credible alternative already available.
You may want to interject here, arguing that the current establishment is already discredited. That may be true, if we think of the credibility of its members. It is not true, however, if we think of the moral bases upon which it rests. Those have not been discredited. In fact, they are stronger than ever. For example, equality continues to be seen as an absolute moral good, even if its proponents are exposed as hypocrites and their science is proven wrong. Belief in the moral goodness of equality is nowadays puritanical and utterly intolerant of deviation or dissent. For change to be possible, we would need to demonstrate not only that the establishment is hostile and corrupt, but also that the ideals they pursue are inherently evil.
GW: You claim that through control of culture and politics the Left have become "masters of our universe". Also that they "use the institutional resources of the state to reconfigure how we see the world and how we think about the world". It's a large claim—can you give concrete examples?
AK: I didn't say the Left; I said the 'equality zealots', which includes the Left and the modern liberals, the latter of whom represent a form of liberalism that incorporates Marxian critiques and is, like Marxism, radically egalitarian. The dominant ideology is modern liberalism, and this includes all mainstream political parties, businesses, and the media. Academia, however, is dominated by the Left and is the main driver behind the still ongoing Leftward drift in contemporary politics. Anyone going through education has his worldview in some way altered or shaped by the ideas of the Left, particularly in, but not limited to, the humanities. In the humanities, culture and society are analysed with analytical frameworks deriving, in their totality, from Freudo-Marxian scholasticism, which involves a handful of theoretically incestuous movements: critical theory, feminism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, etc. These all rest on a common number of assumptions (e.g., the absolute moral goodness of equality, belief in progress, etc.).
Evidently, politicians and media people go through the system, and they then go on to govern and mediate our access to information. The latter involves selection, editing, framing, slanting, emphasis and repetition. So, it is not too much to say that the way we see the world and the way we think about it is pre-configured by the system.
This should not be interpreted to mean it is all a conspiracy, mind you, though conspiracies do occur (such as the one hatched by the Labour governments of 1997-2010 to rapidly multiculturalise this island). This is to say, rather, that the system works in a way designed to legitimise its premises and that the people staffing it proceed on the basis of assumptions and taken-for-granted notions, for the most part genuinely believing they are doing good, otherwise fulfilling their normal job descriptions.
GW: The dominant ideology—of equality, diversity, multiculturalism and globalism—you describe as a "quasi-religious orthodoxy". But isn't that they key to its success, that it replicates the fantasy, 'feel good' aspects of religion? Aren't you in fact advocating a 'feel good far Right' to replace it?
AK: Not in the sense that you imply. When I talk about the importance of making people feel good about themselves, I am not talking about 'fooling' them with fairy tales. I am talking about providing them with a moral justification that enables them to criticise the dominant ideology and feel righteous in the process.
Opponents of egalitarianism have hitherto focused on showing how egalitarians are hypocrites and how the empirical data runs consistently against them. You may have noticed that this approach has proven spectacularly unsuccessful. At most it has attracted proud contrarians, the nothing-to-lose, outsiders, idealistic hyperintellectuals, people with an inborn elitist temperament and combinations of the above. Even the most seasoned among them can be made to feel shame and discomfort when confronted in public or outside their support network. Altering the dynamics will require the ability to articulate an elitist position in the affirmative and without fear, shame or discomfort, in public or among friends and family, and irrespective of whether they agree or disagree. And this is possible if the affirmation comes from an ethical position.
GW: How do you square feel-good with hard-headed realism?
AK: There is nothing to square. It is not about the facts; it is about being able morally to justify one course of action or another in the face of those facts. The moral justification is where the feel-good comes from; it is a feel-good based in a sense of righteousness. Take, for example, an average Western citizen, who is for the most part apolitical. In most cases, he thinks there is too much 'immigration' (i.e., settlers of colour). Yet, he will feel good and righteous in not supporting anti-immigration parties or organisations, and in openly condemning them in conversation, on the basis that they are 'racist'.
Obviously, in a climate where equality is an absolute moral good, 'racism', because it rejects equality, is an absolute evil, and rejecting 'racism', and, more importantly, being seen to reject 'racism', is an act that makes the citizen feel good about himself, even though the act is against his own best interests in the long run. He feels good about himself because (a) his moral code tells him that rejecting 'racism' makes him a good person, which boosts his self-esteem; (b) he receives positive feedback from his family, friends, and social circles, which also boosts his self-esteem; and (c) it puts him in the company of high-profile successful people, all of whom categorically reject racism, which further boosts his self-esteem. It can be easily imagined that many of those who voted for the BNP in protest against government immigration policy in recent years will not admit to it for fear of being thought 'racist' by family and friends; it was probably a guilty secret, which they rationalised in the privacy of their own minds with hard-headed realist arguments.
Dissidents, to survive, must rely on alternative support networks, wherein their views are validated by like-minded individuals. Outside of those networks, many would feel uncomfortable, and may even be made to feel shame, if confronted about their beliefs. Even though the question is, at bottom, about the ethics of difference, the ethics of being oneself, this is the single biggest impediment we face today.
Discredit the moral goodness of equality, challenge it with a moral theory that valorises uniqueness, difference, and excellence, and it becomes necessary to have policy changes.
GW: You claim that "humans are not motivated by rational self-interest" but "by the need for status and self-esteem". Isn't it a demeaning view of our fellow citizens—that they, like small children, need to be bribed and flattered into doing the right thing?
AK: If we thought rationally, television advertisements would give us the straight facts about a product. All you would need is a product image, the specifications, and a comparison table with rival products. An advertisement for Coca-Cola would give us the ingredients, the nutritional content, the health effects, the price, and how it compares with similar beverages. Even better: no advertisement would be needed, because the most rational drink is water.
We humans like to think we are rational. However, while we possess the faculty of reason, that does not mean our motivations or our decisions are rational. In most cases our decisions are made instinctively (irrationally), and we then rationalise the choices we made without thinking, examining all available information, or even understanding a fraction of that information. Most of the time, we are either too busy or simply cannot be bothered to invest the time and effort it takes to make a decision rationally. A lot of the time, too, decisions are made on the basis of immediate need or narrow self-interest. We need only observe the democratic process.
GW: You claim also that most people follow those who are "masterful and powerful", or "dangerous" or who "represent an idea that inspires them". These are different motivators—which are you recommending?
AK: Much of the social and political commentary from the Right relies on the assumption that if only the public can be sufficiently educated with studies detailing population differences in IQ or criminal behaviour, or showing the prohibitive social and economic cost of government-sponsored policies of immigration, diversity, and multiculturalism, or predicting minority status for indigenous Europeans in their own countries, ordinary people will pause, reflect, and change their views accordingly, and either demand policy reversals or overthrow the liberal establishment altogether. This assumes that the public is motivated by facts and reason, and that the reason they don't 'act' is that they are miseducated and misinformed—in other words, that they live immersed in liberal propaganda and are so befuddled by it that they cannot see the obvious.
While it is true that large segments of the public is un- or miseducated and un- or misinformed (cf. Alain de Benoist's The Problem of Democracy), this does not explain everything. Consider that 'the facts' have been out there for over a century, and that much of the public, particularly the part comprising city residents, experiences those facts in the flesh every single day. In some cases, they know full well what the studies show; in many more cases they intuit identical conclusions, even if they have never seen the studies. Yet, conventional attitudes persist.
So what does it take to cause a person to abandon conventional attitudes, and follow an alternative course? I have already talked about the need for an ethical justification—many spend years reading in search for it. A righteous cause is often inspirational, because aspiring to be better than one is and desiring a good reputation is a normal human urge, particularly in the West, where people often form moral communities. Important also is that those offering an alternative be and appear formidable—the kind of people with whom one wants to be associated, or like whom one aspires to be; this can be equally inspirational. Absent these, in times of chaos people look for order, and therefore often seek protection from whomever appears strongest, which in this case tends to be a dangerous person or group. This is a trope in post-apocalyptic fiction, and not without reason, for it is a phenomenon of failed states.
GW: What might be the form of a seductive, inspiring idea to topple the dominant ideology, to "sweep the Left into the landfill of history"?
AK: Classical liberals and libertarians had the idea of individual liberty. Marxists had the idea of equality. I think an alternative has to be reducible to a very simple first principle, from which can be derived everything else, and which offers a comprehensive solution. This must begin by deciding who we are and what we want to be come. What makes life good and worth living? In my view, quality—in terms of both superiority and distinctness—is one thing. Meaning is another. This is, of course, the antithesis of what we have today—mediocrity, sameness, and meaninglessness.
Quality and meaning derive from difference, and are extinguished by sameness or the pursuit of sameness, which is the pursuit of equality, which is synonymous with mediocrity. From positive affirmations of distinctness and uniqueness, from the pursuit of quality in every sense, one should be able to start visualising an alternative that restores meaning and direction.
No doubt this will seem too vague or abstract for the practically minded, and it will need to be heavily mediated because it needs to be articulated in a manner that is user-friendly, but without it all being reducible to a very simple first principle, a coherent movement with a comprehensive vision is unlikely to thrive.
GW: The central theme of your lecture seems to be that popular support must be won primarily by appeals to the senses and emotions rather than by facts and arguments. What led you to this view?
AK: Actually, my point is that popular support for a cause, particularly one that is counter-propositional, cannot be won without understanding people's motivations. My view is that most people lack the time, the energy, the expertise, and even the desire to research the vast amounts of detailed information out there to the degree that is often necessary; that, for the most part, people simply want to feel good about themselves and the world they live in; and that many decisions, particularly the most difficult and important ones, are made irrationally and later rationalised. (This is not to mean that decisions are never made on a rational basis; it is to mean simply that we as humans have a tendency to overestimate our own rationality.)
Why are people so averse to the brand of hard-headed realism promoted by the Right? Because it is very unpleasant: firstly, talking about these matters elicits disapproval and hostility, beginning with family and friends—no one wants that; secondly, it paints a depressing picture of the world, in which things will only get worse and there is no hope of them ever getting better unless through some sort of destructive event—no one wants to believe that; thirdly, because Right-wingers are seen as always angry, always complaining, always miserable, always doom and gloom—who wants to be around that? That's my point. People want to feel good, not bad.
What I criticised in the speech is this unrelenting negativity pouring out from the Right, which begins with the way it defines itself (anti-liberal, anti-modern, anti-urban, anti-equality, etc.). Yes, a radical critique of the status quo is necessary, but beyond that, an affirmative proposition is needed. One also needs to state what one is for, rather than simply what one is against. It is more effective, more inspiring, and certainly more constructive to put a message across with affirmations rather than purely with negations.
GW: There's a strong whiff of evolutionary psychology here—notions of dominance, submission and signifiers thereof. Should we forget political theory and study Dawkins and Pinker instead?
AK: You create a false dichotomy with your question, ascribing to me a form of genetic reductionism. I am against genetic reductionism. My position is that we need to engage with political theory because that is where it all originates from intellectually; and that we need to understand human motivations, because ultimately we want people to listen and support an alternative. Human motivations are complex, and it is a mistake to adopt a one-dimensional approach.
GW: Many artists in the past have supported political movements, but most have been of the far Left—El Lissitsky, John Heartfield, George Grosz, Diego Rivera, to name but a few. Where are the great artist-influencers of the Right?
AK: Kerry Bolton's Artists of the Right offers a sample of coevals from high culture. It includes profiles of D. H. Lawrence, H. P. Lovecraft, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Filippo Marinetti, W. B. Yeats, Knut Hamsun, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Henry Williamson, and Roy Campbell.
GW: From the point of view of propaganda, would you say that so-called 'low art' is more important than 'high art'?
AK: If we consider that marketing is commercial propaganda, then this is a low art medium. Yet low art offers a pre-digested, simplified, user-friendly version of what was previously developed in high art. High art is where the most radical ideas are developed, though, naturally, our egalitarian times have favoured mass culture and mass art, so radical ideas have also thrived in this realm. Similarly, high is not immune from being hijacked by propagandists and neither are consumers of high art immune from being instruments of propaganda: the art can and is consumed for its own sake, but it is and can also be used by consumers to signal membership in a particular elite, characterised by more refined tastes and superior intellection.
GW: Guillaume Faye wrote about melding tradition with modernity, and your "endlessly renewing tradition" echoes that. Do you know of any contemporary writers, artists, designers, architects, digital media developers etc. who are successfully combining traditionalism with cutting-edge creativity?
AK: A liberal hegemony means that counter-propositional creativity is pushed underground and out to the margins, so we end up finding it, quasi-anonymously, in obscure and remote subcultures. It is evident that anyone with a creative compulsion will want to be able to create, and this requires access to resources, so many are working inside the mainstream, in coded fashion.
Probably the most emblematic overt examples I have seen exist in certain forms of underground music—in the Martial Industrial or Folk Metal or Black Metal genres (although the latter can also be very nihilistic), all of which use modern means to reinterpret and renew archaic values, folk traditions and pre-modern themes and sensibilities, in musical, lyrical and visual form. This is possible because the sector is self-sustaining: they have their own labels, their own distribution, their own media, and make extensive use of the Internet; in some cases they also have their own printing and manufacture.
Outside of music, Jonathan Bowden would have mentioned the comic book or graphic novel, his argument being that the archaic, hierarchical, pagan, elitist worldview has become so disprivileged that in our times it can only exist in the most disprivileged areas of popular culture (those with low cultural prestige)—though the status of graphic novels has since changed and they are now considered legitimate forms of art. He would have said the same about H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
Publishing ventures such as mine and similar others (Arktos, Counter-Currents) are designed to create a space in which new literary and artistic talent can emerge.
GW: If you wanted to grow a movement of young artists to create our mythology, envision our future, destroy the dominant ideology—to "transform the culture" as you put it—how would you go about it? Can it be catalysed, or must it emerge spontaneously?
AK: An artistic movement is not something you put together, top-down. It doesn't work that way. However, we can create the conditions in which artists can flourish and in which a movement of like-minded artists could arise. This can be done by providing the space, the platforms, and the ideas.
GW: For such a movement to develop, isn't it necessary that the young first be acquainted with their British and European artistic heritage?
GW: I attended a seminar a month ago of leading academic researchers into the 'far Right' (yes, they allowed me in!). Their consensus was that there exists in Britain a spacious niche for a party of the 'far Right', a niche that UKIP cannot fill. Do you agree with them, or are you adamant that nothing can change politically until we change the culture?
AK: Your question assumes that I see no rôle for party politics, whereas I have written before that there is (see: "The Role of Party Politics in the Culture War"). This rôle, however, is different in the case of a 'counter-cultural' or 'counter-propositional' party. And, yes, if politics is the art of the possible, then, until a counter-proposition can be credibly enunciated, political change will remain impossible. The counter-proposition must first be formulated as an ethical theory, so that it may inform an aesthetic theory, so that it may percolate down to all areas of cultural activity, so that it may percolate down to all areas of social activity, before that counter-proposition can become a viable political option.
GW: Your message of envisioning the future now—of each of us using our God-given talents to work towards the kind of Britain and Europe we want—is positive and inspiring. In what kinds of contexts and communities might that work take place?
AK: That work can take place in every context. In a recent article for Western Spring, titled "The Anatomy of Radical Movements", I stress that there are opportunities for just about anybody, for individuals of all types and levels of skill, and for all levels of involvement.
GW: Finally, I would like to summarise here the five principles of effective action you enumerated in your speech, because I think they're important:
1: Think irrationally. People often have irrational fears, desires and motivations, which they rationalise after the fact.
2: Impress to inform, don't inform to impress. Effective marketing is more about impressions than information, reducing everything to a sound-bite, a slogan, an image or an infectious jingle.
3: Think in pictures. A picture speaks a thousand words, is easier to remember and difficult to argue against because it resonates at an emotional level.
4: Be positive. No one wants to be around doom and gloom. People respond to optimism because they want to feel good. Be positive and focus on the future.
5: Enjoy the struggle. You will be more creative, have more energy and confidence, and get more people interested if you enjoy what you're doing.
It's been 18 months since the Washington lecture. Is there anything you would like to add to the above?
AK: All of the above can be condensed into a single word: axiology. Justify with ethics and inspire with aesthetics.
GW: Alex Kurtagic, thank you very much.