To My Critics: My Own Peculiar Albatross

Under different circumstances, I would not have brought this issue up so early in my blog, and perhaps would never have brought it up, but the recent mention of me on The Solecast has made me think it is necessary to lay this issue to rest once and for all. My hope is that I will never have to comment on it again, but will be able to reference this blog entry and the podcast links associated with it to any and all future critics.

I was alerted to the mention of my publication Backwoods in the December 13th, 2019, episode of Solecast entitled “A Conversation about Desert w/ Alfredo of Occupied Southwest Distro” by a frequent correspondent of mine who expressed amusement at the continuing unfolding (over five years now) of subcultural micro-drama over statements I have made related to the ITS/RS (usually translated from Spanish to English as Individualists Tending Toward the Wild/Wild Reaction) phenomena and the way these are usually taken with a total lack of nuance or sympathy.

To be clear, I have no ill-will toward Sole. In fact, we have lightly corresponded in a friendly manner and have friends in common – from what little I know of him, he seems by all accounts to be a solid guy. I am not familiar with his oeuvre but have no reason currently to think he is a bad faith actor, and I do not believe he maliciously threw me under the bus. In fact, he has invited me to speak on his show, and I will probably soon take him up on the offer. Even so, I had to sardonically grin at the fact that he apparently felt it necessary, even as he positively referenced my writing, to disavow me as a human in a circumspect manner, which I assume is all but obligatory in the It’s Going Down/CrimethInc./Submedia/Channel Zero milieux. I will unpack this in the following entry, though I will save his apparent grievances with my use of the term “slavery” for a future entry, since it needs its own, full discussion.

To further ensure clarity and good faith communication, I will clarify here that Sole made no explicit mention of ITS/RS in carefully distancing himself from me, but his vague referral to the fact that I was a somehow controversial figure leaves little doubt in my mind that that is, at minimum, to what he is referring.

I feel I already have made my position on the ITS/RS phenomenon exhaustively, even ridiculously clear, but I am a creature of the Eternal Present, who lives in a world of five-second talking points, mass illiteracy, and thoroughgoing lack of nuance. Thus, I have been heavily criticized for supposedly endorsing or at least apologizing for ITS/RS and their policy of “indiscriminate attack,” not only by goofball anonymous Internet commenters but by well-known personalities in the subculture like the anarcho-primitivists John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker as well as William Gillis of Center for a Stateless Society. None of these absurd claims could ever meet my simple, oft-repeated challenge of ‘Find me one, single quote from anything I have podcasted or written that can justify the claim that I endorsed eco-extremism or championed their policy of indiscriminate attack.’ Not one of my critics could ever do this, but that did not stop them from persisting in manufacturing pointless, fractious drama – whether this was motivated by purity spiraling, Manichaeism, pointless scene-feuding, or la drama pour la drama is unclear to me.

Zerzan, who was the most frequent high-profile critic, and I have since made amends, and I have no quarrel with him – in fact, we had a recent productive conversation on the audiozine Oak, which I understand will be published soon. That said, I responded to Zerzan’s criticisms of me exhaustively in episode 91 of The Brilliant. Tucker has (as far as I know) assiduously avoided discussing me since I published my small-book-length critique of anarcho-primitivism, Corrosive Consciousness, after having previously personally informed me that his strategy of dealing with critics is to entirely avoid discussing them. I address the eco-extremist issue within the book as well as offer other criticisms (I since completely disagree with the nihilist-existentialist positive view put forward by me the book, see my previous blog post opening this blog). The worst and most dishonest critic, however, has been Gillis, whom I will address in a moment.

By episode 41, January 2017 of The Brilliant, I unequivocally said that eco-extremism was not an anarchist tendency – this was on top of previous instances of Free Radical Radio in which I had criticized the tendency and had, again, never endorsed it. My great and terrible crime had been to say two things, which I will reiterate here, and with which I still agree:

  1. Given that the eco-extremists were previously green anarchists, it is interesting, relevant, and valuable for current anarchists to learn about them and to understand why they shifted to a terroristic, misanthropic mode of being.
  2. The anarchists with Marxist and/or insurrectionary tendencies – that is, those who advocate for an abrupt, violent overturning of the current order – are, depending on their particular political orientation, more or less hypocritical for condemning a set of groups who have committed violence that has injured or killed a relatively small number of persons when the sudden insurrection-cum-revolution advocated by these anarcho-communists or insurrectionary anarchists would almost certainly result in the death and injury of enormous numbers of people. I suggested that they consider what their ethics around violence really are.

None of my critics has specifically responded to either of these claims with the exception of #2 being addressed by Gills, who, as a brief aside in condemning me in a full-length feature on his defunct podcast, vaguely referenced a partial admittance of the fact that perhaps some people during his fantasized revolution would not be reached by medical first-responders in time, as though only some small number of unfortunates would unintentionally be allowed to die by all those involved in overthrowing the existent, a response so shallow, cursory, and unserious that I find it difficult to believe that he himself could truly think what he is saying without considerable cognitive dissonance.

In episode 50 of The Brilliant, in June 2017, I responded with neurasthenic exhaustiveness to the meandering-yet-malicious critique given on episode #4 of Gillis’ podcast Horizontal Hostility, no mean feat given that it was 92 minutes almost entirely devoted to how apparently awful Aragorn! and I are. By then, I had already written a piece called “Revolutionary Dissonance” for Black Seed #5, which would be published a few weeks later, which reiterates in detail the two points made above while also specifying, yet again, that I in no way endorsed ITS/RS’s analysis or actions.

As I emphasized in my podcast response, these critics from Horizontal Hostility, quote literally nothing, not one single line of writing or podcast episode or timestamp is referenced. Instead, strawman after strawman is erected and knocked down. I find this kind of citationless critique not only dishonest and cowardly in that it evades a real intellectual clash in favor of battling one’s own sockpuppet, but also incredibly disrespectful to one’s audience. The audience is not only misled and kept from the real debate, but they are further denied the opportunity to look up the original sources themselves without having to do some digging. There is nothing either intellectually or morally honest about behaving this way.

Indeed, this criticism was so goofballish and hackneyed that, within the same episode, William Gillis claimed both that Aragorn and I had previously claimed that we had problems with the exo-extremist analysis but applauded the fact that they were at least doing something actively, and that we were for the eco-extremism analysis and yet against their actions, separated by about 45 minutes in the podcast. You cannot make up this sort of nonsense. This obvious self-contradiction, both arms of which are false (since I have clearly critiqued and rejected both the analysis and the actions of the eco-extremists, both in writing and in speech), demonstrates that Gillis is either sufficiently incompetent as to not actually know what I believe or even notice what he himself says across the space of 45 minutes and is instead merely hyperventilating in public, or that he is a bad faith actor who is deliberately throwing shrapnel to see what sticks – or, perhaps, some combination is the case. Does he really disrespect his own audience so much that he thinks they are too foolish or ideological to notice this contradiction, or does he not notice it himself for the same reasons?

Moreover, I have shown throughout everything I have done in media that I am obviously against the commonplace shut up and do something approach to anarchism – indeed, the most consistent criticism of The Brilliant podcast during my stay there was that Aragorn! and I were armchair intellectuals who lambasted everyone who was attempting real action – so the idea that I would cheerlead eco-extremists because At Least They’re Doin’ Somethin’ is laughable.  My consistent refrain since the Free Radical Radio days has been, as opinion polls in the U.S. clearly show, that there is plenty of discontent toward the status quo, but that people are very misguided and confused in how they express it.

To put icing on the cake, the Horizontal Hostility cast of pseudo-liberationists engaged in reprehensible smearing. They attempted to associate Aragorn! and me both with an apparent schizophrenic who, among a whole hodgepodge of ideologies, called himself a nihilist and also committed a random stabbing incident against people who intervened in his alleged harassment of Muslim women on public transportation – after all, the absurdity of these slanderers goes, we all advocated nihilism. They further connected us with a then-recent communiqué by ITS advocating indiscriminate attack and therefore, de facto, random murder. They implied Aragorn! and I would somehow support both of these actions, and they even had the audacity to call us straight-up quasi-psychopaths in the last statement of their show.

How either Aragorn or I could possibly be seen to endorse random stabbing (ostensibly racially/religiously motivated, but it is hard to say since this person appeared to have no coherent ideology whatsoever, probably due to his schizophrenia) or indiscriminate attack is left entirely unexplained, precisely because it is entirely inexplicable; it was not an intellectually sincere critique aimed at bettering anarchism, but only a moronic slur directed at a worldview that they either struggle to understand or are intentionally misrepresenting. 

I have never had either the gall or desire to claim any theoretical opponent of mine is depraved, murderous, or psychopathic, even when I think their ideologies necessarily imply oppression and violence, both because I do not claim to have the ability to read minds and because I believe in the realism and importance of logical fallacies and therefore the fact that personal smearing is a fallacious distraction from the issue of whether a given idea is good or bad. I actually believe that logical coherence and intellectual honesty matter, and I bellieve my record of engaging with critique and critics shows this fact. I don’t viciously smear people whom I have never met simply because I disagree with them, because I consider doing so to be dishonest, cowardly, malicious, and generally destructive to human decency and intellectual discourse. I don’t avoid citing people and strawman them. When you cannot honestly debate, when you cannot cite or quote your opponents, and when you cannot even keep your own arguments straight across the course of an hour, you resort to vile, dishonest, incoherent slander.

Predictably, the same personage of William Gillis had occasion to outdo himself around the same time in writing with his essay On No Platform and ITS. Gillis slightly lessened his previous ambiguous dishonesty and/or incompetence by at least quoting one brief passage of my piece, but he failed (deliberately or not) to even remotely display my main points with his extremely decontextualized quotation. Gillis is untroubled by any scholarly concerns of trying to honestly steelman your opponent before critiquing them. 

Worse yet, in a remarkably slimy manner, he followed my decontextualized quotation immediately with an entirely imaginary, hypothetical quotation of mine (complete with quotation marks) referring to people criticizing opponents of ITS as “cucks.” He then momentarily self-identifies as a “cuck” a few sentences later in positioning himself as opposing me. Gillis appears much more concerned with cuckery than I, as someone who has never used that word in even one single instance of my hundreds of hours of podcasting and many thousands of words of published writing. To be fair, Gillis never explicitly claims that I used this language, but by engaging in this mind-reading in which he imaginatively put words in my mouth, using quotation marks immediately following an actual quotation by me, a careless or gullible reader might come away with the impression that I actually referred to, or might believably hypothetically refer to, critics of ITS with the alt-right shibboleth of “cucks.” I can reasonably confidently speculate that it was precisely Gillis’ intention to indirectly associate me with the alt-right by using this language, which he must know is tantamount to unpersoning someone in post-2010, heavily Woke/Antifa-influenced anarchism in which moral panics and denunciations are common. 

When Gillis posted his essay on the forum anarchistnews.org, I responded exhaustively in the comments section (now lost to time on anarchistnews.org). The response was largely similar to the above and so does not bear repeating in what is already a long post about petty drama from either ideologically blind or dishonest people with whom I already lament having to deal. I cited the fact that he had not responded in any way to my systematic response to his previous podcast criticism. He similarly responded not at all to my lengthy comment. In spite of his willful unaccountability to engagement, this essay of Gillis’ is still available in full form on his website. Given that Gillis chose not to respond to either my critical response to his podcast or his writing – in both of which I pointed out his bad faith misquotes or misinterpretations of me – I have to conclude (in spite of not knowing him at all personally) that he is an unserious critic motivated by brute, realpolitik ideological concerns and pointless scene-infighting rather than intellectual and ethical concerns of improving American anarchism and moving us all toward freedom and dignity.

Having considered this issue now at length, I do not see anything that should leave room for lingering doubts here regarding either my personal ethics as regards eco-extremism or my circumspection in responding to my critics.

The Miseducation of Bellamy Fitzpatrick: On Social Constructionism

I (probably) will not do this often, but I spent way too much time on a school assignment today that also happened to align with views relevant to this blog. I am in grad school for psychotherapy in a program that is so heavy-handedly pro-postmodernism and pro-Woke, and I was assigned to respond to an essay and a TedTalk on the subject of social constructionism. I predictably ranted and went way beyond the word count minimum and brought in extra sources. Here is what I wrote, citations and all.

In paraphrasing Rory O’Carroll’s (2016) principles, we arrive at the following description of Social Constructionism (SC):

  1. Taking a critical stance toward commonly-held knowledge
  2. Positing that all ways of understanding are contextually relative
  3. Positing that everyday reality is constructed by language, rather than merely described by language
  4. Holding that whatever is the dominant discourse becomes the reigning ideology (basically Marx’s definition of ‘ideology’)

O’Carroll’s first principle is almost synonymous with Gergen’s (2009, p. 12) fifth principle of “Reflection on our taken-for-granted worlds […]”, O’Carroll’s second principle is highly similar to Gergen’s first principle in that both deny the possibility of objectivity, and O’Carroll’s third principle is essentially a combination of Gergen’s second, third, and fourth principles in that they point toward the idea of a linguistically-constructed, relativized view of reality. And, finally, O’Carroll’s fourth point about dominant ideologies is discussed at length in Gergen’s concerns of cultural and epistemic imperialism. 

Both presenters, therefore, are good representatives of a relativist/constructionist tendency in the contemporary Neo-Marxist and Postmodern intellectual Left-wing whose modern origins are in Kant and Hume’s empiricist skepticism, which developed later into the 19th-century ‘Hermeneutics of Suspicion’ (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud), but which did not really find its stride until the French Postmodernist turn in post-war era, when a group of frustrated post-communists (Foucault, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, etc.) were so discouraged by the abject worldwide failure of their utopian political project and the horror of the world wars that they began to doubt that any modern tenets of knowledge or value could be taken for granted. The perspectives of the latter group had a massive influence in the social sciences and literary theory in the West, as is seen in the laudatory tone with which they are addressed in Gehart (2018, p. 57-58), among many others.

Although often motivated by humane concerns, social constructionism (SC) is a regressive, authoritarian tendency masquerading as avant-garde liberation. The simple premise that each of us filters our perceptions through a value schema, so that what we see is not ‘what there is’ simpliciter but instead a field of meaning is of course true, but social constructionism makes an unwarranted leap from this premise to deny any sort of objectivity altogether. Rather than saying there is one Truth that is experienced relatively (as, say, in the Indian Buddhist parable of the blind men and the elephant), the SCist unjustifiably jumps to saying that there is simply no truth whatsoever (“The way in which we understand the world is not required by “what there is”.” (Gergen, 2009, p. 5), but instead only convention, consensus, and collectively-produced symbolic constructs.

To begin with, SC is internally incoherent. It claims on the one hand that one cannot truly rise above convention, indoctrination, and relativity in order to attempt (however partially) a sober, universal, trans-historical and cross-cultural perspective. Yet it at the same time makes a sweeping and universal claim about what kind of knowledge is ever possible, and it bolsters its case through cross-cultural comparisons. It assumes the very privileged epistemic position that it claims does not exist!

Second, Gergen’s retreat to pragmatism, in which “Constructions gain their significance from their social utility,” (2009, p. 9) is a tacit admittance of the inadequacy of this worldview. Constructions are said to gain traction through “Successful functioning within the relational ritual”, meaning they allow subjects to accomplish pragmatic goals. Clearly, this only moves the question of objectivity one step back through linguistic obfuscation – one can simply ask, “Okay, but why are some methods, ideas, or values more socially useful than others?” Is the outcome simply random, or does it, in fact, relate to correspondence to a shared reality? If Gergen perhaps does not even believe his own philosophy, but instead has to sneak a hidden form of objectivity back into his own philosophy in order to rehabilitate it, one has to wonder what motivates dispensing with objectivity in the first place.

Of course, many people are attracted to relativist/constructivist views because of intuitively-felt sentiments that doing so means adhering to tolerance, mutual respect, and peacefulness – indeed, Rory O’Carroll mentions social oppression as being among his concerns and champions SC as a way out of it. Superficially it seems this way, but the implications of really taking SC seriously are endless, irresolvable conflict.

Resolving conflict means being able to appeal to shared facts and moral principles of some kind, even if there is not complete agreement on either of these. Even appealing to principles of 1.) tolerance, 2.) respect for different ways of life, and 3.) giving everyone’s opinion some consideration are themselves appeals to moral qualities that are usually felt to be more than mere subjective opinion. But, if, as Foucault (1980) claimed, all knowledge paradigms, be they moral or factual, are really just projections of power (as relative group consensuses motivated politically and scholastically), there is no real basis for solving disputes. Every descriptive or prescriptive claim by an opponent is just their arbitrary projection of power, no better or worse than any other – and, moreover, actually understanding your opponent’s point of view is difficult if not impossible, since every relative point of view is incommensurable with every other, such that linguistic terms may not even refer to the same referent (and individual subjects may not even experience similar referents). We therefore may never understand one another, have no way of knowing whether we do understand one another at any given time, and have no general principles for describing or prescribing anything – all we have is projections of naked power. 

Why, then, is there any reason to do anything other than try to make one’s own beliefs the “dominant discourse” described by O’Carroll, by whatever means necessary? If one does not do it oneself, someone else will, and each overturning of a knowledge paradigm is just another projection of power, no better or worse than another. What I am describing was in fact Foucault’s (1980) pessimistic conclusion about how reality works. Gergen (2009, p. 5) sounds not so far from this when he writes “For the constructionist, our actions are not constrained by anything traditionally accepted as true, rational, or right”; another way of saying this is “I will act however I wish irrespective of morality, reason, or truth” – is this really in any way liberatory? Gergen (2009, p. 27) wants to use social constructionism to end “cultural imperialism”, but there does not under SC appear to be any way to resolve conflict between cultures, or even within them.

If morals are relative and culturally contingent, why should we care about quashing political dissent within a society, since there is no clear framework for critiquing a culture internally? As for cross-cultural communication, is it Western “cultural imperialism” to suggest that clitorectomy is abusive mutilation of women? Is it Islamic “cultural imperialism” to suggest the West is a decadent consumerist society? Can we really not appeal to any universal principles to say that both of these criticisms are obviously true, and then work together to resolve these issues?   

Gergen (2009, p. 11) writes “In the name of universal truth, the world has witnessed oppression, torture, murder, and genocide,” and here he commits an obvious Slippery Slope Fallacy: there is no logical connection to believing in objective truth and believing that it ought to be forced on others violently. Moreover, there is no reason to believe promoting relativism will not lead to oppression, torture, murder, and genocide, since it historically has led to those in some cases.

In spite of Marx’s insistence that his methodology was scientific, the general Marxist view has been that objective truth is a ‘bourgeois concept’ and only a reflection of ruling class ideology, thus Foucault famously argued against Chomsky that there was really no such thing as human nature, justice, and so forth outside of a particular ruling paradigm (withDefiance, 2013). Stalin and Mao took this sentiment to heart and went to war against human nature and economic law in the greatest disasters of the 20th century – these people really believed they could reconstruct human nature and reality essentially through force of will and top-down political power, and their results were abject failures morally, socially, and politically. Even Foucault admitted near the end of his life that his obsession with relativism and deconstructionism was motivated by wanting to realize his socially anomalous sexual desires. My point here is that, in practice, social constructionism is almost invariably more a rhetorical/political strategy than a deeply-held philosophical commitment, and its practitioners use relativistic and skeptical arguments to undermine their opponents’ views while promoting their preferred values (“the New Soviet Man”) as somehow implicitly superior, even though this is a contradiction within their own framework.

The alternative to postmodernist social constructionism is not only and simply modernist materialism, as it is often framed. Reflecting on the astounding implications of the quantum physics revolution – which has revealed that ‘matter’ as we typically think of it does not exist ‘out there’ before we go to look for it – the great physicist Werner Heisenberg (1981, p. 34) declared in 1967, “I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language. [emphasis mine]” 

He and many of his colleagues became intrigued by the ancient metaphysical idealist/nondualist spiritual traditions of Neoplatonism, Vedanta, Sufism, Taoism, and others, which hold that the world is (speaking very loosely) fundamentally mental/spiritual, but not in an incoherent, ‘standpoint epistemology’-based, undecidable way in which each of us is hermetically sealed off in our little bubble of relativity. Instead, reality is seen as more akin to a shared dream in an objective, universal mind. And therefore there is no danger of “cultural imperialism,” because, as the Traditionalist/Perennialist School of religious studies (itself usually hated by SCists) has demonstrated, the esoteric, nondual tendencies of various religious/spiritual traditions the world over have come to largely agree on the final, real nature of reality (in spite of considerable geographical and cultural separation), and the ultimate outcome of the natural sciences has led to essentially the same conclusion! This amazing result that reconciles modernist science with traditional spirituality, and which reconciles the extremely objective (science) sources of knowledge with the extremely subjective (mystical experience) sources of knowledge should be being shouted from the rooftops, but currently the SCs are hegemonic in academia and high-profile philosophical lightweights like Richard Dawkins enjoy the public spotlight in terms of describing ‘science’ – thus, only people with niche interests are able to learn that there actually is a well-developed philosophical framework capable of reconciling science and spirituality, subjectivity and objectivity, and cultural particularism with epistemic universalism.

Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Penguin/Random House.

Gehart, D. (2018). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning.

Gergen, K. (2009). Social construction: Revolution in the making. In Gergen, K. An invitation to social construction (pp. 1-30). Sage.

Heisenberg, Werner. (1981) Natural Law and the Structure of Matter. Warm Wind Books.

TedXTalks [screen name]. (2016, January 28). We construct our reality | Rory O’Carroll | TedxYouth@TheSpire. [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTB-TG62BNM

withDefiance [screen name]. (2013, March 13). Debate Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault – On human nature [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfNl2L0Gf8

What ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Really Mean

Invocations of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are extremely common in political discussions. Typically, they are deployed as hopelessly vague terms of abuse or goofy indications of team loyalty, unfortunately including among anarchists, libertarians, and other radicals.

I have argued for years that these terms are so broad and multifarious in their usage that they have been bleached of almost any meaning and should be abandoned by sensible people interested in coherent dialogue in favor of a multi-dimensional political grid. Naturally, this objection is rarely heard, and I am often nonetheless pressed to answer where I stand on Left versus Right.

My usual response is to say that the Left versus Right spectrum is not merely accidentally incoherent, but deliberately so, in that its constant usage in mainstream discourse is a form of divide et impera by the power elite that is simply the next level up from the Democrat versus Republican binary. Many people recognize the latter as a bullshit choice, but nonetheless maintain that Left versus Right is a real and natural split – in my view, it is instead meant to get the politically active masses to play team sports that the power elite can regulate and broker, making all of the Little People compete with, direct invective at, and even physically assault one another rather than their wise overlords. Divide et impera is the oldest power game the elite have, and it has worked extremely well for millennia.

If I am pressed further, perhaps with a “Yes, that’s fine and well, but we all know there are real differences among these people all the same – they aren’t fighting over nothing, even if they are encouraged to fight.” There are indeed differences, but why should those be mapped with a division based on 18th-century French politics? The etymology of Left and Right is literally a reference to the French Revolution, during which attendees of the National Assembly gathered to the right of the president to indicate their support for the ancien regime, while those on the president’s left indicated their support of the Revolution. Is there really anything consistent in these groupings from that very specific time and place to today, anywhere on the planet where these terms are used?

Perhaps, but it is not usually what it is said to be. It is sometimes said (even on Wikipedia today, which can be taken as an indication of pseudo-democratic, establishment consensus opinion) that being on the Left is about valuing egalitarianism, while the Right necessarily values one or more forms of hierarchy that are seen as legitimate. This is sometimes true but ultimately points at changeable surface qualities rather than fundamentals – and it is hence easy to find counterexamples: the various State Communist regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries were or are assuredly ‘Left’ in some broad form, yet it would be ridiculous to claim that these did or do not possess crushing, parasitic hierarchies. And the various strands of Right-libertarianism or Right-anarchism are far less hierarchical than almost all forms of Leftism, even if they almost always maintain the legitimacy of meritocratic “natural elites” (Hoppe) or certain more or less voluntary or organic traditional hierarchical structures like the family or religious organizations.

Another frequent false claim is that the Left/Right spectrum really measures the ineradicable tension between equality and liberty. There are again immediately apparent problems with this notion, the most obvious being that, while certainly sometimes in tension, equality and liberty are not necessarily always at odds with one another: the cancerous growth of a State on a human population tends to decrease both equality and liberty, as it produces a rapacious power elite who hoard wealth to enrich themselves while removing civil liberties to squelch dissidents. Secondly, just as the Left is not ultimately but only circumstantially about politico-economic equality, so it is the case with the Right and liberty. Many moderate conservatives in the modern West are willing to legislate against personal liberties in favor of protecting traditional moral values. And the Fascist regimes of the 20th century enormously subordinated individual liberty to State and Nation (it is sometimes argued that Fascism is actually an oddball offshoot of Marxism and therefore more appropriately placed on the Left – I think this contention has considerable merit, but in my view it is best to consider Fascism a Left/Right hybrid and thus still exemplary of certain Rightist values. I will write more on this in the future).

If we grant that this distinction has any meaning, then, what is it? Having dismissed the above politico-ethical distinctions, I believe we can now show that the real differences between Left and Right, and the reason that people tend to group themselves in these camps across widely differing times and places, is the disagreements are not in political or ethical views per se, but in ontological and metaphysical views. These differences are at least three-fold. 

The first and second differences concern questions of human nature. The paleoconservative scholar Paul Gottfried has suggested – correctly, in my view – that a core tenet of Leftism, whether held consciously or not by any given adherent, is that the differences we observe among human beings (in abilities, in quality of life outcomes, in beliefs, etc.) are primarily (or even, at the outer limits of Leftist ideology, entirely) the result of social and environmental conditioning rather than inborn constitution of some kind. Right-wingers, correspondingly, tend to believe that the inborn character of people (be it conceived of in material, spiritual, volitional, or other terms) matters more in whom they ultimately become. This elegantly simple observation of Gottfried’s is sufficient to explain how vastly different views like an anarcho-capitalism that wants to abolish all States and a Neo-Reactionism that wants to restore hereditary monarchies are both recognizably ‘Right-wing’ – one justifies difference on nothing but merit, the other on royal blood or divine right, but both believe different people are entitled to different social outcomes because difference is real, natural, and just. Gottfried’s point also helps to illuminate, as another example, why so many Left-wing people, no matter how much they may disagree with each other about political or economic questions, will unite in being averse to the concept of heritable IQ, since it suggests the existence of potentially ineradicable, socially important, and objectively measurable natural differences in ability.

The second question of human nature, related to but nonetheless separate from the first, is what the Chicago School economist Thomas Sowell called the “constrained” versus “unconstrained” visions of humanity, which he outlined in detail in his 1987 book A Conflict of Visions. The “unconstrained” vision is utopian, believes in the essential good of humanity, and strives for the perfectibility of the human creature and the social order. Thus, Rousseau believed man was born free but chained by society, the Soviet ideologues postulated the coming of the morally perfect “New Soviet Man”, and John Zerzan maintains we need only throw off all domestication in order to arrive at an Edenic communion with nature and one another that is our natural birthright. Conversely, the “constrained” vision is essentially tragic, views the human as a fallen creature who irremediably tends toward corruption, and believes society can never be perfected, but only carefully steered to keep the worst at bay. Thus, Hobbes referenced the Roman proverb homo homini lupus (“Man is wolf to man”) in describing human attitudes toward strangers and foreigners, René Guénon lamented that all of the efforts of ‘progress’ in technology and democratization were Icarian misadventures, and Murray Rothbard excoriated the legitimacy of the State primarily in terms of moral hypocrisy relative to natural law. The widely divergent conclusions of these thinkers are rooted in a common premise on a single issue.

The third and final difference, I will contend, is purely metaphysical and often unarticulated. Consciously or not, every person has to answer essential questions that implicitly undergird the answers to all more derivative questions: What is the relationship between the human mind and the world it seems to encounter? Are the boundaries between ideas clear and objective, or are they fuzzy and indeterminate? Do transcendental entities inform the world, or are we making it up as we go? 

Roughly speaking, one can be a realist or a subjectivist on a number of core issues. On the one hand, we have moral realism, a teleological Nature, a Platonic view of concepts as actually-existing things, and an epistemic optimism that sees human beings as essentially capable of knowing the world. And, on the other hand, we have moral relativism or nihilism of some kind, a belief in Nature as aimless and accidental, an instrumental view of concepts as personal or social constructs, and an epistemological skepticism that doubts whether so-called knowledge is more than a set of pragmatic fictions. Again, roughly speaking, we have a Traditional metaphysical view on the one end, a Modernist view in the middle, and a Postmodern or nihilistic view at the other extreme. 

As an aside, it is worth noting in case it is not obvious that none of the above are fully binary choices. We thus have phenomena like the famous (but frankly rather dull) Chomsky-Foucault debate in which two Leftists’ argument turned on the fact that Chomsky was a moral realist and an essentialist about certain aspects of human nature, whereas Foucault indulged in the nihilistic epistemic and moral conclusions of postmodern deconstructionism. And of course there are hybrid characters like Renzo Novatore, who very obviously had an unconstrained Rousseauvian desire to destroy all social chains as quickly as possible, but who also maintained a Nietzschean personal elitism that scorned the avolitional slavishness of the NPCs of his day, be they bourgeois or proletarian. 

It has been a personal irony for me, as someone who considered himself to be on the far-Left beginning as a teenager, to have realized in the past few years that I actually come down decidedly on the Right on all three of these questions. This three-fold schema also helped me to understand why the ‘Post-Left’ tendency in anarchism, in spite of breaking with anarcho-leftism on so many ethical and strategic questions, nonetheless has a dyed-in-the-wool leftism about it when it comes to certain questions.