Liberalism is an increasingly organized, coordinated, and aggressive assault upon human society, even the human race. Its grotesquely perverted, officially imposed, and relentlessly enforced understanding of humanity and what it means to be a human being has sundered over the past half-century the historical connections between traditional societies and contemporary ones to the extent that the break between past civilizations and the modern pseudo ones is very likely irreparable—an accomplishment the destroyers of the classical civilization of the West, whose medieval and early modern successors evolved organically from it as substantially the same civilization raised to a higher power, failed to achieve. If it seems unimaginable today that anything comparable to the former civilizations distinguished by their reverence for tradition, patrician values, standards, and tastes, intellectual and artistic seriousness, sensitivity to the natural harmonies, their idea of leisure as the opportunity for gentlemanly pursuits rather than the playtime of proles rich or poor—all these things given meaning by Christian (or some other) faith and sustained by a coherent social order—can ever be realized again, it is because absolutely nothing in the world of the 21st century offers so much as a hint at such a future, while everything indicates the opposite. The large mass of men today, for whom civilization has no real meaning, nevertheless are conscious, in their vague unconscious way, of a vast, unsettling, and finally unnerving void that can be filled only by the return of the old human realities that liberalism has banished from the world, foremost among them the natural human reality formerly signified by the word class—class, that is, in the healthy, pre-Marxian sense of the word.
For two or three centuries, liberals have been promising to rid the world of a host of supposed evils, among them religious faith, guilt, suffering, sacrifice, inequality of wealth and position, and the class system. The world being what it is, so far as liberalism has succeeded in banishing these things, most of them have managed to return by the back door and under cover of darkness. But, unlike Horace’s nature driven out by the pitchfork, they made their return in grotesque, distorted, and unnatural forms, including materialist superstition, moral relativism, ideology, egalitarianism, socialism, neurosis, and, most recently, a new identitarian system to replace the old class one.
Historically, class distinctions have been the equivalent of original sin for liberals, and even the American founders, who were neither liberals nor levelers, proscribed titles, whether hereditary or for life, from their new republic, though nearly all of them represented the upper levels of society. The French Revolution commenced the same year Washington was inaugurated as president, and what had begun as a convocation of the Estates General became in short order a comprehensive attempt to exterminate the French aristocracy in a program we should call genocide today, if we were honest about it. A half-century later Continental Europe was engulfed by revolution from below, and Marx and Engels explained all of history as the dialectical process of the exploitation of the peasant and the proletarian classes by the owners of the means of production, and the final triumph of the former two over their oppressors. Since the middle of the 19th century the history of the West, and more recently the rest of the world, has been a process of social leveling down to a more or less uniform social topography where what remains of the old aristocracy enjoys no more than celebrity status, and the plutocracy, despite its lavish style of living, remains, socially and culturally, part of the mass society into which much of it was born. In cultural terms the modern liberal world is a classless though economically and educationally differentiated society, in which everybody looks and dresses and thinks and amuses himself like everyone else, no one is servant or master to another (though masters continue to hire servants, and servants continue to work for them), and all are democratic equals (while each citizen secretly considers himself king, as Claude Polin has argued many times in this magazine).
Liberals consider the new classless society one of their major accomplishments, though an unfinished one. (Liberalism is the political agendum that can never be realized, as happiness is the human one.) Nevertheless, the abolition of class distinctions is running up against the ineradicable and insuperable need human beings have for distinctions of one sort or another, and for a sense of identity. These days the term identitarian signifies white nationalists in the United States and in Europe, yet it describes just as well people who identify themselves existentially as “woman,” “black,” “Hispanic,” “mixed race,” “gay,” “transgender,” “Ivy League,” “Ph.D.,” “Democrat,” “Republican,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “radical,” “conservative,” or a member of some other proudly sensitive and defiant category of psychologically damaged or simply incomplete human beings. As “democratic” Americans in the 19th century filled the void left by class, rank, title, aristocratic clubs, and military orders with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Eagles, the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, the Knights of Columbus, and similar grand-sounding organizations, so postdemocratic Americans in an egalitarian society bereft of recognized social distinctions have invented new and even more frivolous and bizarre identities for themselves.
Liberals regard recent forms of self-conscious identity as being infinitely preferable to the old class consciousness, though they have not entirely abandoned the notion of class solidarity they borrowed from Marxism in the 1930’s. So far as their ideal is social equality, cohesiveness, and the brotherhood of men, however, they see falsely. Whatever liberals think, the class system is an associative conceptual arrangement that promotes social integration and social order, while resisting a dissociative and atomizing one. Class is a fundamentally social principle, not an antisocial one, that bonds like people with like while binding them in a functional relationship with subordinate and equally bonded likes arranged hierarchically in an organic social system. The class principle was made for human society, which explains why it has been so widely prevalent in history and why it persisted for so long, and still does in many modern instances. Liberals have always claimed that the class structure suppresses what they call “social consciousness,” or “a social conscience,” and even prevents it from forming. Yet the opposite is actually true. A very good recent book, In Defense of Aristocracy, by the English journalist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, suggests how this works: In addition to encouraging social cohesiveness, aristocracy plays an irreplaceable role in promoting intellectual excellence and coherence, in terms of the present day, and in the sustained continuity between past and present.
Identitarianism, on the other hand, is not a cohesive principle at all; it is a centrifugal agent of social and intellectual fragmentation, self-centeredness, narcissism, selfishness, and aggression that aggravates democracy’s natural tendency to encourage each citizen to conceive himself the center of the democratic universe to whom his democratic “equals” ought rightly to bend the knee. Identitarianism further encourages men and women to pursue single lives characteristic of people who define themselves by race, sexual preference, or some other insignificant or trivial trait—the exact opposite of Walt Whitman, who contained (he thought) worlds. This single life cuts people off not only from each other—from their contemporaries—but from the past and from history, and from the future. Whatever an agglomeration of such-minded people might be, it certainly isn’t a society, since every true society—like the pudding Winston Churchill wasn’t served—must have a theme, and indeed every human society known to history, until now, has had one. But modern, liberal, individualist, relativistic, and classless societies necessarily lack theme, or character, since it is an upper class that provides society with both—to which the lower orders, of course, contribute substantially something of their own. The New Modern Society, lacking thematic principles and the social structure that generates and sustains them, is tautologically “unsustainable,” as liberals say. (How odd that unsustainable should be among their god-terms—like love, whose ubiquity underscores the prevailing absence of the thing it signifies.)Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture SEPTEMBER 08, 2016