Another Post Paleo Post

Paul Gottfried extends and revises his remarks on the “post paleo” generation of the Right here. Helen Rittelmeyer of the Cigarette Smoking Blog comments on Paul’s original thread and some of the reactions it elicited.

Both Gottfried and Rittelmeyer note the Nietzschean interests of the postpaleos. Paul suggests that these, along with fewer inhibitions about “discussing topics which for the paleos have been clearly off the table since the death of Sam Francis,” are a defining trait. Rittelmeyer agrees: “‘constitutionalism, decentralism, immigration restriction and rejection of democratist hegemony’ — remain the same,” she writes, “but the tone is more postmodern than pre-modern (or, if you prefer, more rock ‘n’ roll).”

I don’t know about “rock ‘n’ roll.” And I’m not sure whether the philosophical distinctions between paleos and postpaleos are as pronounced as they might seem at first blush. For one thing, the paleos of the 1980s were quite different philosophically from the paleos of today. Twenty years ago paleos took a much greater interest in sociolobiology and German philosophy — although Curtis Cate published an important volume on Nietzsche as recently as 2005. The philosophical complexion of paleoconservatism has changed over the past two decades as the ranks have thinned (with the deaths of Cate, Sam Francis, and others) and as many of the first generation paleocons have converted to Catholicism — this, by the way, is part of the background to Paul’s remarks about Catholic-Protestant tensions among the paleos.

Paleos have become more pre-modern and less postmodern over the years, and the postpaleos might follow a similar trajectory. Furthermore, it is not clear just how Nietzschean the postpaleos really are. Of the postpaleos I know — and since the paleo and postpaleo universes encompass only about a hundred people, I think I know most of them — just one is a serious student of Nietzsche. Others take a passing interest, as I do. That might not disprove Paul’s point, however, since he suggests that an interest in the pre-war Old Right is also characteristic of the postpaleos, and one can argue that there’s a broadly Nietzschean undertone to the libertarian Old Right. Certainly there is in Mencken, though Mencken has a peculiar take on Nietzsche.

I suspect there are many young rightists — budding postpaleos whom I don’t yet know — who like Nietzsche for the wrong reasons. I remember in high school attending conventions of the Junior Classical League — Latin geeks — and not infrequently encountering bookish types whose version of teenage rebellion was wearing Nietzsche t-shirts, typically with one or another of his more cliched aphorisms (“That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger,” “God Is Dead”) emblazoned upon them. Slightly older specimens of the same genus were much in evidence in my undergraduate days, only they added to their catchphrase Nietzsche a sophomoric veneer of sophistication. Nietzsche was death metal for nerds.

Nietzsche appeals to smart, cynical (or cynical-posing) young men, and even quite sound conservatives are not necessarily immune to the temptations of bastardized Nietzscheanism or clever-dick postmodernism. I wrote in an earlier post on a related topic that I had doubts about whether the postpaleo generation was applying itself seriously enough to education. Especially with the temptations of blogging, we’re in danger of becoming a generation of Bill Buckleys, spurning rigorous, long-form grappling with ideas and instead spouting off shallow quips and impressing ourselves with rhetoric. That can be a quick path to Internet fame, but it won’t produce work of lasting significance. The postpaleo generation doesn’t necessarily have to go back to graduate school — but even its brightest lights ought to apprentice themselves to older, wiser thinkers, and not get too intoxicated with potent but cheap ideas.

(I’m referring, of course, to cod Nietzscheanism, not the genuine, and more elusive, article.)


5 thoughts on “Another Post Paleo Post

  1. Casey Khan April 17, 2008 / 3:03 am

    Excellent points Dan. I’ve moved myself beyond the rights based slumber that I found in libertarianism. Not that I reject libertarianism, it’s just too often seen as sufficient for living the “good life.” I recently picked up Alasdair Macintyre, and he’s hit me like a ton of bricks. Is the Enlightenment essentially a failure? We are left with the choice between Nietzsche or Aristotle with no middle way? Or was Macintyre just watching this:

  2. Daniel April 18, 2008 / 6:28 pm

    Daniels on post ?

  3. briankoontz September 12, 2008 / 2:36 am

    Nietzsche has serious flaws. One is that he is abusive – he’s an intellectual bully which killed his morality and led to him being (rightfully) claimed by the full spectrum of ideologies, including Nazism. Probably the most serious flaw in his philosophy is that it’s entirely personalized – he focuses on psychology, linguistics, and psychohistory. The complete absence of any structural analysis (analysis of the state, for example) meant he ultimately is just writing bourgeois and pro-status quo nonsense. Nietzsche is the last of the individualists – no meaningful philosophy can possibly be derived in modern times absent structural analysis.

    Nietzsche is utterly naive, and believes in the triumph or failure of the individual will. He offers a romantic vision for the Libertarian Right, those people who have no attachment to reality.

    Orwell killed Nietzsche not only because of his profound understanding of the meaninglessness of the individual but because of his destruction of Nietzsche’s romanticization of schizophrenia. For Nietzsche, schizophrenia was a sign of strength, of the individual fighting himself (after all, what does not kill me only makes me stronger). For Orwell, schizophrenia was a sign of weakness, a fundamental break from access to objective reality (Nietzsche denies objective reality) and a kind of self-serving departure from the world.

    Nietzsche is not only himself immature but he has left a devastated world in his wake – a world where adults have the minds and aspirations of children, a world of “parallel worlds”, “inner worlds”, and “trips to the other side”, a world where debate is impossible because culture no longer believes in the objective reality that makes debate meaningful. “To each his own”, “you believe what you want to and I’ll beileve what I want to” are derived from Nietzsche.

    Nietzsche is a terrible error, and the world may never recover. If it does it will find other philosophers, other ways to follow.

    Nietzsche is dead.

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