To get where you want to go, you have to come to grips with the reality of where you are and more importantly what you are. Such must be the starting point of any truly Post-Liberal project. The initial point of embarkation (and central problem) for the American of a reactionary stripe is the realization that he is an American. Thus, he is, by definition, a de facto enemy to his own sensibilities. This is an unpleasant and disquieting truth, yet it is a truth nonetheless.
There is no past (which is not a Liberal past) that the American can romanticize, no holy redoubt to retreat into. America is the only nation without a past; only the future lays before the American. Its ethos is the eschatology of the road, of the continual unfolding and violent conquering of a fertile frontier. When the American seeks the solace of a sacred grove, he finds only the shade of the strip mall. The American Reactionary may set his spade to work in hopes of finding fertile soil somewhere beneath this endless superficiality, but his quest will only yield him asphalt. In America there is no soil to find beneath the asphalt, there is only more asphalt.
The United States itself was founded as an ideological laboratory experiment. The North American Continent, after its original inhabitants had been exterminated, served as the ideal blank canvas upon which to impress the violent fantasies of the European intelligentsia. Its endless natural resources and geographic impregnability served as a kind of blank check to the utopia builders of the Enlightenment, a Zion for the Godless.
Latent in the founders’ vision is the concept of Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s “primitive man”: a creature born free, but everywhere enchained. For Rousseau, Society itself is ultimately evil and an imposition on and degradation of the individual’s inherent freedom. Which this individual had enjoyed in the dreamy, pre-civilizational fantasy Rousseau called “the state of nature.” In order to circumvent the “evils” of traditional society, with all its complicated pre-voluntarist allegiances and bonds, the Social Contract is devised. The Contract served as the framework from which individuals could maintain their personal freedom while also engaging in a new “Society,” one which would be entirely different from the old one.
The Contract is the lubricant which allows individuals to remain, individuals, while still enjoying some level of association. A mechanized caricature of actually existing, organic societies. The decaf coffee of social relations, a “thing” deprived of the very essential traits which constitute its own definition. It is the primary Utopian delusion, the desire for the “Object” (Society) minus the very characteristics (familial bonds of affection, pre-rational loyalties to place, or clan or God) which define the “Object,” in short: magical thinking.
It is this Rousseauian individual, enjoying the pre-fall liberty provided by the “state of nature” which animates all Liberal thinking, and thus by definition all truly American thinking. The individual, the atom, the irreducible remainder, is the prime symbol of American consciousness. The Master-Signifier of the American symbolic order. Whether manifested as Jefferson’s self-sufficient yeoman farmer, the romantic vision of a High Plains Drifter, an isolated prairie homestead, a heroic “up by his bootstraps” Randian entrepreneur, or the existential desperado embodied by James Dean. At bottom, though, it is the ideology of Ferris Bueller, sage philosopher of modern America, who stated that: “A person should not believe in an ‘ism,’ he should believe in himself.” There is no more succinct articulation of the base American ethos than this one.
This individual is the essence of the American project. To think otherwise is to practice self-deception. The virtue exhibited by the American people (chronicled so well by the likes of Alexis de Tocqueville) existed in spite of the American project, not because of it. Leftovers from a deeply ingrained European communitarian culture which tended to fade slowly over each successive generation. The truth, as the Leftist author Morris Berman pointed out while criticizing the self-delusions of his own side, was that:
The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution … when it’s actually the problem. … Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal.
This “American Dream” of ever increasing and unconstrained individual freedom, for which no price is too high to pay, is the heart and soul of American “civilization.” In this sense, the American dream equates to a full embodiment of what Oswald Spengler called “the Faustian prime symbol” of “limitless space.” The utter erasure and eradication of limits of any kind upon the sacred “liberty” of the individual. Is this not the driving force behind so many of our modern American pathologies? Manifested perhaps most clearly today in the Gnostic violence of “Transgenderism.” A movement which finds even the limits of biology itself as being unacceptable, limits it loathes and seeks to annihilate.
Furthermore, going beyond the standard critique of America as an intrinsically “Protestant” nation, is it indeed a coincidence that the only truly and fully “American” form of “Christianity” is not the faith of Martin Luther, John Calvin or the other Reformers, but rather that of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Mormonism’s ultimate Telos isn’t salvation through Christ and unification with the Holy Trinity (which itself is united through bonds of self-giving love), but rather the exaltation of each individual into their own personal and isolated divinity. The eschatological hope of Mormonism is the transformation of each individual entity into an individual divinity, a divinity which knows no limits. In this strict sense, the faith held by the Mormon people explicitly is identical to the one maintained implicitly by the American people.
This Individualism is the asphalt of the American Spirit, which like the turtles of the unmoved mover paradox, go “all the way down.” Thus there is no going back to some pre-Liberal “constitutional republic,” dreamt of by so many naive conservatives. There is no soil beneath the asphalt of the American Spirit, only more asphalt… all the way down. We are, as Spengler so eloquently described us:
The mad Lear between fool and reckless outcast on the heath, in the night and the storm, the unutterably lonely ego lost in space — here is the Faustian life-feeling!
Having arrived at the truth about ourselves which, however, unpleasant and problematic, still remains the truth. We now can begin the task of moving forward with the project of reclaiming and inhabiting a living tradition. Surrendering our vicious Gnostic fantasies of individual transcendence and instead embracing the soil of immanence. This feat can only be accomplished after the negation of its opposite: the American Dream and the Faustian Spirit which dreamt it. Any Reactionary or Post-Liberal future will by necessity, even if it is still geographically located in North America, cease to be truly “American.” To be Post-Liberal is to be de facto Post-American, whether one wishes to be or not. No other way forward is possible. There is no soil beneath the asphalt.
-Editor's note: this article orginally appeared on the website WCR.