I recently saw a video by a libertarian commentator named TJ Brown, also known as That Guy T, on YouTube making a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment that the liberty movement would do well to consider forging an alliance with fascism to effectively protect Western culture from the left’s violent domination.
I understand he was not being literal and so I am not going to grand stand against fascism. To do so is too easy and obligatory these days. I consider the ideology “small potatoes” as a cultural force. Of course, it is immoral. So is Pharaohism. Neither will be a viable cultural force in the West. Suspending all moral considerations, appeals to pragmatically align with its small band of Internet advocates are a dead-end outreach strategy for liberty.
I agree with Brown’s larger point though: the liberty movement is not a culturally effective force because liberty is never a transcendent end around which to develop culture. Liberty is a means to an end. The end, the driving force of communities, is ultimately virtue. Virtue, values, morals, ethics, these are the domain of systems thinking. Systems thinking is about establishing a common vision that animates and orients human beings’ passion and sacrifice.
An ethic of virtue is what must be the cornerstone of a lasting culture. I’ll go one step further, a common ethic, not rules, is what makes a cultural body antifragile, as Nassim Taleb would say. An antifragile structure is one that gains strength through stress and adversity. Such a body does not simply survive difficulty but becomes better through it.
We need an ethical framework to cultivate an antifragile culture. To establish such a common virtue we must have a common story that binds people together. That’s where we get the word religion: the Latin root means “to bind together.” In much of history, culture and religion were always understood as synonyms. Religion was not, as secular modernism says, a private ideological fancy of faith, but a cultural fact, an animating narrative and future vision of a people.
The West’s cultural narrative is not fascism. It is Christianity. Christianity is the two thousand year old antifragile cultural fact that makes the vision of what is best about the West so beautiful. The elements of Western culture reflective of personhood, property rights, free speech, non-aggression, and mercy are fruits of Christianity.
Fascism, on the otherhand, is faddish and fragile. It only acts as a dependent mirror double of its rival, leftism or what I call victimism. Since its vision can only be seen through the eyes of its twin, it has no firm foundation of itself to stand. It parasitically apes the aesthetic and metaphysics of the local religion of a people, usually Christianity.
All state ideologies are inherently sacrificial in their logic: someone, nonviolent and innocent, must be threatened with physical violence, theft, and shame for the collective to thrive. I rank the victimist denomination of the state, known as political correctness, much more powerful and dangerous in its threat against innocent life. Trump is a throwback “Winners” brand in an epoch of feigned victim-concern for social status. As such, his ilk will continue state violence but their statist denomination will never been entrenched or effective in establishing cultural norms.
There is a paradox to unlocking the meaning of our cultural conundrum. We must understand that behind victimism, the religious power structure moving the West, is a desire to “hide the fingerprints” of our collective murder as a species. For as long as we fight over which ideology, race, gender, or income bracket is the oppressor and which is the oppressed, we are never able to look at the real demon parasitically feeding off of all human conflict: the desire to have your neighbor’s status and property and, ultimately, to be your neighbor. The desire to violently cast out any neighbor that you perceive to be robbing you of cathartic oneness with your tribe. The desire to exploit power over rivals.
Those qualities of humanity are never talked about as universal afflictions to constantly repent of and guard against. Instead, we relish in their obfuscation and weaponize the resulting guilt as a bludgeon against our opponents.
We must see the evil plaguing humanity as violent exploitation of power differentials, not difference itself. Nevertheless, we must be able to honestly assess the power differential at play in our own culture by seeing victimism as the hegemonic power of our time as it parasitically deforms and mutates the deconstruction of the Cross, in its unfolding revelation of collective murder and envy, to create a monstrous license to hunt “deniers, heretics, and bigots” with moral righteousness the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of our pagan ancestors and their human sacrificial slave gathering campaigns.
The apparent paradox is that human evil is universal when the reigning cultural power in the West says it is only particular to current ruling collective groupings they deem the beneficiaries of past differentials. At the same time, the idea that victimism is somehow equal in power with its reactionary right wing echo is absurd. Because of its effective imitation of Christianity’s concern for victims, it is the supreme hegemony of the West. But the way to defeat its power is to not to scapegoat it as an alien other but to continue to expose and defend its victims and all other victims of our collective violence.
Sun light really is the best disinfectant. The cross will continue to haunt and agitate cultures to lo and behold the victims of sacrificial violence consumed for collective cohesion. As such, we can swim with its current or futilely fight against it. Nietzsche and fascism attempted to turn the clock back before the Cross to a pagan golden age when violent sacrifice was unquestioned and reserved as the mostly-exclusive domain of the winners, the excellent, and the powerful.
Victimism is faux-Christianity. In order to preserve the beauty of the West, we must rediscover the roots that made it great: rediscover the power of Christianity to instruct virtue and deconstruct the mythic veil of violence hidden in archaic religions and all modern ideologies.
Because it is not an ideology but a culture, Christianity presents us with a choice and a story.
First, the choice: the hidden structure that glued archaic societies together through violent sacrifice of a common enemy has now been exposed through the telling of the wrongful persecution of Jesus and his subsequent nonviolent vindication. Therefore the old hierarchies, the modern vestige of which is the nation-state, will increasingly erode and breakdown as humanity wrestles with and becomes aware of this revelation.
As the late anthropologist René Girard discovered, human sacrifice or scapegoating as a social ordering mechanism only works if we do not know we are scapegoating. If we do not fully see our victims for what they are. Our choice is to build culture on nonaggression and nonvengeance or to live by the sword and die by the sword. Without the cultural training wheels of sacrificial violence protecting us, we will spiral into never-ending mirror violence cycles. No brakes.
And now the story.
Paul of Tarsus was once named Saul. He was a zealot, a true believer, of his religio-cultural order, what is now called 2nd Temple Judaism. He witnessed the rise of a new upstart movement called the Way and understood if he allowed it to prosper, it could devour and destroy the sacrificial society he cherished. So in his patriotism and commitment to the Temple, he hunted and killed advocates of this new story, one that posited the Temple—the heart and soul of political and social order—was null. That the Temple—the center of power—instead resided in the hearts of all men, regardless of their social status or race.
Saul eventually traveled to Damascus to crush the rebellion’s growth there. On the road to Damascus, something happened. Saul says he encountered a vision of Jesus of Nazareth, the supposedly dead-and-risen founder of this new movement. Saul recounts that he was thrown off his horse as Jesus told him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Saul, now Paul, spent three years in Arabia. What did he consider?
Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” The saying was well-known to Paul’s Greek audience as an idiom about the inescapable power of a god. In fact, as my friend Jerry Bowyer points out, it was most famously uttered by Dionysus in Euripedes’ play The Bacchae. In it, Dionysus, the god of the frenzied crowd, is on trial by King Pentheus.
Pentheus does not believe Dionysus is a true son of a god. Dionysus protests the king’s persecution of his cult followers and warns him of his divine command over his destiny with the reference to an ox being unable to kick the pricks that keep it harnessed to the master’s plough.
Indeed, Dionysus eventually escapes and, at the end of the play, has Pentheus torn to pieces by his followers.
By putting the words of Dionysus in Jesus’s mouth, Paul is drawing a direct contrast between the sacrificial logic of the god of the collective and the God of the victims of the collective. Jesus is challenging Paul to renounce his use of sacrificial violence to persecute his followers in the name of God. However, his ethic is one of true nonviolence: upon conversion, Paul does not seek revenge in the name of Jesus against his former fellow persecutors of Christians. Instead, he offers the same mercy and forgiveness shown by Jesus. He announces a new era in which all-against-one will no longer be the reigning social ordering principle. This is the beginning of the personhood revolution.
It is interesting to note that the zealots persecuting the followers of the Way eventually were consumed by their own sacrificial logic when their insistence on violent resistance to Rome led to their total destruction in 70 AD. Likewise, the Roman culture eventually tore itself to pieces by maintaining a sacrificial ethic of might-makes-right, even after its ostensible conversion to Christianity. But note, these ends are not produced by vengeance perpetrated by those imitating the culture of Jesus. Rather, it is nature taking its course on cultures that refuse to change their minds about the prerogative of collective violence.
In quoting Dionysus through Jesus, Paul is not scapegoating Dionysus as an enemy-other, but redeeming Dionysus with a forgiving end to the cycle of vengeance the old pagan order built. The quote marks a historical shift from virtue being the sacrifice-of-other to self-sacrifice. Being a god, Dionysus was himself a mythic cover-up of human sacrifice. Jesus, too, was a ritual sacrifice but one that exposed its evil logic as the madness of collectivism rather than edicts from the sky.
Fascism tries to resurrect Dionysus and all other sacrificial orders: a vision of peace through selective violence. But since the Cross, the sacrificial cat is out of the bag and such flagrant hiearchies no longer sit well with our consciences. Victimism demands this same redemptive mechanism but tries to shield our eyes to its violence by claiming to use it only in the name of official victims. Such witch hunts only implode into guilt-riddled chaos with the subsequent loss of differentiation.
Christianity offers respect for differences and peace through mercy. Nietzsche understood this:
Dionysus versus the “Crucified”: there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom—it is a difference in the meaning of it. [In Dionysus] Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering—the “Crucified as the innocent one”—counts as an objection to this life, as a formula to its condemnation. (The Will to Power, 542-543.)
For liberty to prosper, we need a culture. We must choose. Dionysus or Christ.