Of all the dumb schisms in the DR, Christian versus pagan is by far the most persistent. What’s dumb about it is the longing for a static attachment to creed, which is very Christian but negates paganism entirely. The unnamable is the eternally real. Religion is just an abstraction; a mature man recognizes truth wherever he finds it.
But while I feel strongly (and, over the years, pretty consistently) that in its broad strokes Christian metaphysics is sound and perhaps superlative, as for this alt-right schism, I have to say that Christianity carries a great deal of wistful baggage that paganism does not, and I think the one question that puts the lie to the devotion of alt-right Christians is to ask whether they could worship Christ if they knew for certain he’d been a black man.
On Easter Eve I had a vision, a kind of night-reverie, where I saw an image of the living Christ, all sparkly and bedecked in golden light. But when I dared to gaze more closely I began to realize—like the lookout in Blazing Saddles—that the Lord is a nigger. In a split second the part of me that was perturbed by this—and it was deeply perturbed—welled up, and then burst. All of a sudden I began laughing maniacally. Imagine my relief—if that is Christ, then all debts truly are forgiven.
Could an alt-right Christian have reached such a conclusion from this experience? Of course not. He’d have to fall on his face and fellate this Jobu, right alongside all the rainbow-flag Episcopalians and George Floyd mourners, because the widening-gyre god of Christianity and that of the liberals is one and the same. He is small, this Christian god. The true Christ has not given us leave to examine him so closely. And if the DR stands for anything, it is the first ecstatic stirring of something well and truly beyond, something nameless and timeless and sufficient unto itself, that inhabits a part of us that we’ve forgotten.
After visiting the village of Leukerbad in the Swiss Alps, James Baldwin wrote:
For this village, even if it were incomparably more remote and incredibly more primitive, is the West, the West onto which I have been so strangely grafted. These people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modern world, in effect, even if they do not know it. The most illiterate among them is related, in a way that I am not, to Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Aeschylus, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Racine; the cathedral at Chartres says something to them which it cannot say to me, as indeed would New York’s Empire State building, should anyone here ever see it. Out of their hymns and dances come Beethoven and Bach. Go back a few centuries and they are in their full glory—but I am in Africa, watching the conquerors arrive.
Baldwin is one of my favorite authors, a writer’s writer whose talents were sharpened against the lifelong deficit that came into focus for him so dramatically in that village in Switzerland. To say Another Country lies outside the Western cannon is just false. But in our day you’ll never meet a black man so self-deprecating, because the West—which Baldwin frankly acknowledges is something racial—is dead.
In The Rebel, Camus posits that rebellion can only have meaning in Western civilization, “where a theoretical equality conceals great factual inequalities.” (If you don’t believe him, try thinking of a counter-example. It’s like rhymes with orange.) What’s bemusing about this remark is that it applies equally well today in the inimical context: whereas Camus was writing as a leftist and, essentially, an egalitarian, bemoaning the inequalities in western civilization and supposing that rebellion is always aimed in the direction of greater equality—that type of thinking is precisely how western civilization’s egalitarianism today covers over the great factual inequalities of nature, and it is in favor of that natural inequality that today’s rebel asserts himself. Stripped of Camus’s obvious intent, the statement that rebellion can only have meaning in the context of western civilization is profoundly racist and authoritarian.
That is why American pop culture’s association of rebellion with blacks over the past century is so deeply unsatisfying. Despite periodically having to defend myself in school from non-white terror, by a complex system of mental canal locks I was never allowed to view this problem directly. The whole culture around me awarded these people a kind of animal authenticity that it forbade me, as a white boy, because my parents’ generation had traded it for easy living. From a very young age I recall perceiving the post-industrial domestic hedonism, the corporate pop-psychology and consolidation of ownership of the Clinton-era boom years with foreboding. I remember when Office Space and American Psycho belonged to the left. Contrarianism itself was something liberal, and it was from that perspective that I first understood the whole edifice of modern comfort and convenience as a kind of facade, sclerotic, doomed to expend itself utterly, its dying energies devoted to an endless capacity to rationalize—and here we are. Yet this clarity was obscured by the cataract of a saccharine and fanatical egalitarianism, so that rebellion meant rejecting the possibility of order and dominance utterly.
It was seeped in that weltanschauung that I came of age right around 9/11. The widespread anti-war sentiment of the Bush II aughts was characterized by a masochistic rectitude, something vegan, estrogenic, and dogmatically unreconciled to the Jungian shadow, and it seemed to me that this ideology correlated more closely with the lithe nihilism and having-it-both-ways of bourgeois corporatism than its purveyors were ever likely to admit. Zionism became a way for me to reject all this. In 2002, Israel had narrative. America’s then-narrative was that a man who cohabits with a goat and sounds like Noam Chomsky incinerated the World Trade Center because he hated consumerism, but that God was thankfully on the side of Spencer’s and Hot Dog on a Stick. Israel’s narrative, on the other hand, was that the plucky little Dwarves had persevered against odds and fought their way back to Erebor. Israel was the Joker to First World campus liberalism—unabashedly militarist, colonialist and racial (at the street level, if not always the diplomatic one) with none of the false motives that came to characterize America’s foray into the middle east. For example: because Jews believe that the soul of a person whose corpse is scattered in pieces can have no rest in the afterlife, when a Palestinian IED destroyed a tank in the early 2000s, the IDF sent a massive force into Gaza and cordoned off the area so that infantrymen under rabbinic supervision, crawling on hands and knees, could recover every last scrap of human flesh for identification. Make of this superstition what you will: what other modern country would ever deploy its armed forces to protect the souls of the dead?
But when you drink Zionism to the bottom of the glass you find exactly the kind of alienation that Baldwin experienced in the Alps. It’s not just bad mustache man and the Arch of Titus. It’s the cathedral at Chartres, Shakespeare, Beethoven, the Hermitage, the fucking Pyramids—for Jews these are all just symbols of persecution. The reason why Jew of Malta is long forgotten while The Merchant of Venice will never be forgiven (despite Marlowe being a thousand times more anti-semitic) is because Merchant is accurate.
For a long time, the Indo-European world understood itself intrinsically as something distinctive, unitary, imbued with special destiny and incontestably superior to any given runner-up. The swastika, for example, can be found all over the place in late 19th century America. It was still emblazoned on the leather binding of the yearbooks at my alma mater as recently as 1932. So it’s silly to trace the decline of the West to Plato or St. Peter or the French Revolution. The West wasn’t even getting started back then. It wasn’t until the period circa 1880-1945 that the transcontinental railways were built, the British Empire spanned the globe, Shackleton and Hedin made their expeditions, and Siberia, the Yukon, the southern capes and the heights of the Himalaya were all finally conquered.
Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia is a remarkable travelogue of Argentina in the 70s, that memorializes this outpouring in the form of anecdotes from elderly British and German settlers living at that time in the southern Andes, who still remembered the influx of Europeans three-quarters of a century earlier, their conquest of the remotest lands, and the Odyssean sailors who transported its wool to market in London and Seattle, following nigh to the heels of Tennyson’s ancient mariner. Kipling, Jack London, the pre-Raphaelites, the Beaux Arts, and especially the children’s literature of that period all testify to the self-awareness of the West as something unitary and incomparably dynamic. The decline begins around the same period: the cynicism and malaise portrayed in Chekhov and Oscar Wilde, the banker’s coup of 1913, and the Great War, which precipitated maudlin Nazism, Wickard v. Filburn, the Stalinist purges, and the unseemly domestication of the American 1950s.
No literature encapsulates the awareness of a constricting malaise during this time better than the Lost Generation. When I was in high school in the 90s, back when reading was mandatory, The Great Gatsby was still mandatory reading. Tom Buchanan was taught as anti-racist satire, Meyer Wolfsheim shrugged off as a product of the book’s time. But Gatsby is incredibly based and prescient: not only is the portrayal of Jews there (and their relationship to the kind of arrivism revealed in Gatsby’s fawning remark over lunch about the criminal Wolfsheim’s superior intelligence) exactly what it seems, but Tom Buchanan is not being smeared as a racist—he’s being smeared as a degenerate. Call of Cthulu was contemporaneous and its message is likewise deeply racial.
The Sun Also Rises is also incredibly based, with the capricious and overcompensating Jew, Robert Cohn, too googly-eyed and childish to ever be loved; the lapsed Catholic narrator, Jake, who’s too cynical to ever love again; and the bankrupt and cuckolded aristocrat, Michael, drowning in debt and drink. Likewise the ruined old nobles of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, overtaken by the merchant Lopakhin, of peasant origin, and played off by a Jewish orchestra. Lady Chatterley (and Forster’s Maurice) are altogether cast from the same mold.
I once read somewhere that The Big Lebowski is about the death of God, with each of the characters representing one of the several inadequate, cookie-cutter responses that Western culture has been acting out ever since, trying to cope and compensate. And yet the one personality the film seems to have left out entirely is that of the fascist. There are nihilists and a neocon, yes—but no Nazis. Or are there?
It’s always dark in The Big Lebowski. Most of the action takes place at night. It seems to me that the various characters do indeed represent the empty masks we cling to like buoys of fake meaning on a sea of dread, as we navigate a dark night. The nihilists’ mask is simply the pretense of not wearing any. And this pretense may have many analogues, but fascism is certainly one, because it is pathos-laden and purely vindictive. It cannot resurrect an age of martial valor. It can only lower itself to the challenge of bestiality and dementia.
Consider the recent demonstrations by operatives of the so-called Rise Above movement, and their slogan, “white lives matter”:
Perhaps the principal conceptual shift that occurred during the 2010s was the passing of the torch of (advocating for) consumerist creature-comfort to the liberal class and its orcs from the withered hand of (more or less) conservative middle America, whose vanguard now takes to the streets to annunciate exactly the same kind of simpering and pathos-laden victimology the blacks once did. Indeed, this is the entire tendency of right-wing politics today. Does a virile and forward-gazing people need to debase itself in this manner? The unnamable is the eternally real, and true dominance is always implicit.
For everyone else, there’s the so-called dissident right.