We continue where we left off last week, analyzing Nicolás Gómez Dávila’s wonderful essay ‘The Authentic Reactionary’, published in 1995. For those who missed the first part of this companion commentary, you can find it here.
“If liberty is the creative act of history, if each free act produces a new history, the free creative act is cast upon the world in an irrevocable process. Liberty secretes history as a metaphysical spider secretes the geometry of its web. Liberty is, in fact, alienated from itself in the same gesture in which it is assumed, because free action possesses a coherent structure, an internal organization, a regular proliferation of sequelae. The act unfolds, opens up, and expands into necessary consequences, in a manner compatible with its intimate character and with its intelligible nature. Every act submits a piece of the world to a specific configuration.”
Channeling the now very popular concept of ‘Gnon‘, this explanation of history tells us of a world in which acts of will are secondary interacting agents with brute, inescapable realities. Each act of free will, each act of free choice, opens up an unfolding and resplendently boundless web of shooting conditions which rebound off of an unseen reality, that which has ultimately been in control all along, the genesis of all physical things. To Dávila, the Liberal obsession with the will of man is an ignorant approach to history, for the will can only do what nature can allow, however lofty its goals may become. Every shade of Progressive must ignore this very obvious fact, because his entire ideology rests on its supposed irrelevance in the face of man’s glorious independence.
“History, therefore, is an assemblage of freedoms hardened in dialectical processes. The deeper the layer whence free action gushes forth, the more varied are the zones of activity that the process determines, and the greater its duration. The superficial, peripheral act is expended in biographical episodes, while the central, profound act can create an epoch for an entire society. History is articulated, thus, in instants and epochs: in free acts and in dialectical processes. Instants are its fleeting soul, epochs its tangible body. Epochs stretch out like distances between two instants: its seminal instant, and the instant when the inchoate act of a new life brings it to a close. Upon hinges of freedom swing gates of bronze. Epochs do not have an irrevocable duration: the encounter with processes looming up from a greater depth can interrupt them; inertia of the will can prolong them. Conversion is possible, passivity ordinary. History is a necessity that freedom produces and chance destroys.”
Dávila uses the term ‘epoch’ in the same way Evola uses it, to represent very deep-seated changes in structure rather than simply superficial alterations working around the same skeleton idea. A state coming into existence is not an epoch, but an instant. Flimsy and brittle, it is a plaything in the hands of even weak forces, both internal and external, which can bring it to ruin. An entire mode of society coming into existence is an epoch, which takes deeper root, right down into the unseen movements of the invisible world, the great shifting of what the Ancient Hindus called ‘Cosmic Cycles’. However, though megalithic, even epochs are not limitless in duration. By cyclical change they were brought into reality, and by the same deep method they can and inevitably must be put to the flame.
“Collective epochs are the result of an active complicity in an identical decision, or of the passive contamination of inert wills; but while the dialectical process in which freedoms have been poured out lasts, the freedom of the nonconformist is twisted into an ineffectual rebellion. Social freedom is not a permanent option, but rather an unforeseen auspiciousness in the conjunction of affairs. The exercise of freedom supposes an intelligence responsive to history because confronting an entire society alienated from liberty, man can only lie in wait for the noisy crackup of necessity. Every intention is thwarted if it is not introduced into the principal fissures of a life.
In the face of history ethical obligation to take action only arises when the conscience consents to a purpose that momentarily prevails, or when circumstances culminate in a conjunction propitious to our freedom. The man whom destiny positions in an epoch without a foreseeable end, the character of which wounds the deepest fibers of his being, cannot heedlessly sacrifice his repugnance to his boldness, nor his intelligence to his vanity. The spectacular, empty gesture earns public applause, but the disdain of those governed by reflection. In the shadowlands of history, man ought to resign himself to patiently undermining human presumption. Man is able, thus, to condemn necessity without contradicting himself, although he is unable to take action except when necessity collapses.”
Those with the rightist mind are chained in the epoch when placed there by the hand of fate. The epoch harms them, acting as a painful, corrosive agent upon their spirit. The token resistance, that of perhaps the Conservative is something of an unsavory sight to the Reactionary because he sees the game from the outside looking in. Recusing himself from the meaningless, endless, yet ultimately false battle between the necessity of more and more Progress, and the paradisaical virtue of human freedom, the Reactionary works to undermine presumption, the very foundations of this black principle that the purveyors of lies dare to call ‘Enlightenment’. Nothing it has done has been necessary in the true sense of the word, but slave to a false necessity, that of Fukuyama’s mythical ‘end of history’. When these foundations crumble, only then will the Reactionary begin his work in earnest, that which up until now only the preparatory stages in pragmatism and spirit of which have been carried out.
“If the reactionary concedes the fruitlessness of his principles and the uselessness of his censures, it is not because the spectacle of human confusion suffices for him. The reactionary does not refrain from taking action because the risk frightens him, but rather because he judges that the forces of society are at the moment rushing headlong toward a goal that he disdains. Within the current process social forces have carved their channel in bedrock, and nothing will turn their course so long as they have not emptied into the expanse of an unknown plain. The gesticulation of castaways only makes their bodies float along the further bank. But if the reactionary is powerless in our time, his condition obliges him to bear witness to his revulsion. Freedom, for the reactionary, is submission to a mandate.”
The Rightist submission to history’s mandate is a recognition of greater things than himself, that forces beyond his control shape the reality of his predicament, and that resistance is manifest in the constitution of one’s soul rather than his mocked condemnations and ignored prophesying. He knows where the course leads, and he has no illusions that we won’t see its end, diverting down imaginary byways along which history has not destined us to traverse. However, he also knows by sight the process of degradation and defilement, and is compelled only to report that which he sees. Things do not get better, but instead inevitably get worse.
laugh while you can, for your precious arc of history
“In fact, even though it be neither necessity nor caprice, history, for the reactionary, is not, for all that, an interior dialectic of the immanent will, but rather a temporal adventure between man and that which transcends him. His labors are traces, on the disturbed sand, of the body of a man and the body of an angel. History for the reactionary is a tatter, torn from man’s freedom, fluttering in the breath of destiny. The reactionary cannot be silent because his liberty is not merely a sanctuary where man escapes from deadening routine and takes refuge in order to be his own master. In the free act the reactionary does not just take possession of his essence. Liberty is not an abstract possibility of choosing among known goods, but rather the concrete condition in which we are granted the possession of new goods. Freedom is not a momentary judgment between conflicting instincts, but rather the summit from which man contemplates the ascent of new stars among the luminous dust of the starry sky. Liberty places man among prohibitions that are not physical and imperatives that are not vital. The free moment dispels the unreal brightness of the day, in order that the motionless universe that slides its fleeting lights over the shuddering of our flesh, might rise up on the horizon of the soul.”
Liberty is limited by the scope of natural order and boundary, but it is still the vehicle that carries us, by which each new course is charted, each man either subscribed or unsubscribed to its aims and outworkings. The Reactionary can value liberty for what it is rather than what it is commonly co-opted for, as a device which must be idolized for the gift of ‘choice’ which it brings to us. Liberty for the Reactionary is far more important, serving as a guidance heading whereby we secure the future for good or ill, we acquire the new experience of venture into unknown territories. With liberty, the prohibitions are those beyond our control, but the imperatives are left up to us. We may decide what we value and what we chase, and this represents the beauty that liberty does in fact hold, the ability to by volition entangle our own strivings with the great cosmic order, to insert our own souls into the equation.
“If the progressive casts himself into the future, and the conservative into the past, the reactionary does not measure his anxieties with the history of yesterday or with the history of tomorrow. The reactionary does not extol what the next dawn must bring, nor is he terrified by the last shadows of the night. His dwelling rises up in that luminous space where the essential accosts him with its immortal presence. The reactionary escapes the slavery of history because he pursues in the human wilderness the trace of divine footsteps. Man and his deeds are, for the reactionary, a servile and mortal flesh that breathes gusts from beyond the mountains. To be reactionary is to champion causes that do not turn up on the notice board of history, causes where losing does not matter. To be reactionary is to know that we only discover what we think we invent; it is to admit that our imagination does not create, but only lays bares smooth bodies. To be reactionary is not to espouse settled cases, nor to plead for determined conclusions, but rather to submit our will to the necessity that does not constrain, to surrender our freedom to the exigency that does not compel; it is to find sleeping certainties that guide us to the edge of ancient pools. The reactionary is not a nostalgic dreamer of a canceled past, but rather a hunter of sacred shades upon the eternal hills.”
While the basis of the Progressive worldview is their swirling occult vision of an imagined utopia and the Conservative shambles along some way behind, pausing to reflect upon the value of the Progressive’s discarded trash, the Reactionary has no use for these fleeting, temporal concerns. He binds himself to higher principles, whatever may come tomorrow or what has already come yesterday. The essential thing accosting us on this higher plane of concern is the Divine Realm, at its head the Creator of all that has been, is, and ever will be. This influence is always illusive in the physical life. Few gifted men ever have direct contact with it, and so we are a company in the wilderness of forms, simply trying to do our best with what we have. Since our causes occupy this higher plane, historical particularisms become trivial in the grand design. We know we are right even when every voice tells us we are wrong, because these voices are informed by token victories on battlefields and in courtrooms, while the true victory of the higher principle is already etched upon every atom of reality. We’ve already won in the sense that truly matters. We defer to that which is greater than ourselves, greater than our caprice, and greater than history. Our enemies ought to take note that we do not wax nostalgic for the kingdoms and empires of bygone eras, for the great leaders and monuments that attested the glory of nations. What is there to be nostalgic for? All that built these wonders is still here, it is still in existence and can never be destroyed because it is woven into the very fabric of reality. All of the principles that the Reactionary holds dear endure and in fact prove ultimately inescapable even for their most perverse detractors.
Bricks and crowns may crumble and disappear, but what made their crafting worthwhile in the first place is Tradition itself, and unlike everything the Progressive believes in, Tradition never dies.
and on we go
And so ends my companion commentary to this most poetic and wonderfully constructed essay by Nicolás Gómez Dávila. He left this world in 1994, in Bogotá, in his home’s library. Through we, the disciples of our rich intellectual school, his words live on to this day. Rest in peace, Don Colacho, the torch is carried forward.
(For the essential collection of Dávila’s famous aphorisms, visit this lovingly built website)