A Frustrating Book

Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West, R. R. Reno

If I could apply only one word to my feelings while reading this book, it would be “frustrating.”  Reno does a reasonably good job of describing the current situation in the West – the dissolving society, the loss of meaning, the ever-increasing extremisms that come with the ever-increasing fragmentation and individualism found in society.

Reno does a less than adequate job of pointing to the causes, looking at the root during a time when the West was already lost, and known to be lost by many thinkers many years before.  He does an even worse job of parsing out the benefits of voluntary and free actions when compared to the purposeful, planned destruction of societal norms.

A few examples of his insight to the current situation with which I agree – demonstrating a little healthy bite along the way: Return of the Strong G... R. R. Reno Best Price: $15.95 Buy New $19.25 (as of 02:40 EST - Details)

… it is a sign of nuance when a member of our chattering class compares Trump to the Spanish strongman Francisco Franco rather than to Hitler. … A uniquely Western anti-Western multiculturalism deprives people of their cultural inheritance. … Borders are porous, even the one that separates men from women.

He finds the roots of this destruction in the post-war period – not post the French Revolution or even post-World War I; Reno’s focus is post-World War II and the work of Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek (among a few others):

…the postwar left fixed its attention on moral freedom and cultural deregulation, seeing them as natural extensions of the antiauthoritarian imperative, while the postwar right focused on economic freedom and market deregulation for similar anti-totalitarian reasons.

And in this one statement, many of my frustrations with Reno’s work are brought to the fore.

Let’s start with the timing: World War II marked the end of a thirty-year war that represented, according to Jacques Barzun, the suicide of the West.  The suicide can be dated to the summer of 1914 – and you can choose your own starting point: the assassination of the Archduke, the shelling of Belgrade by Austria-Hungary, the Russian mobilization, or the German declaration of war.  Of course, none of these were accidental occurrences: many leaders of the West were planning for – and even hoping for – this war.

Yet suicide doesn’t just happen in a day – one doesn’t just wake up one morning and think “today is the day.”  Suicide is the culmination of many years of sickness, illness, tragedy.  Daniel Ajamian examined the roots of this sickness in The Cost of the Enlightenment, pointing to the cost of reason and individualism without God.  To point to the philosophies that came after World War II is to point to the fruit of the tree and not the root of the tree.

That there has been a destruction of cultural norms, there is no doubt.  This has been by design.  Reno gives strong evidence connecting this to the thought of Popper, and one can certainly see this through the fruit of his very wealthy follower, George Soros.

Reno also points to libertarianism as a culprit, although libertarianism as properly understood – not as popularly advertised by (so-called) friends and enemies alike – has nothing to say on such matters.  Lew Rockwell has made this quite clear in his recent book Against the Left: A Rothbardian Libertarianism, when he writes:

If we get rid of the State – and that is a big if – we have accomplished our goal as libertarians.

There is no libertarian goal to mold people to some ideology; it does not view the family as an enemy – in fact, it finds in the family the foundation for a decent society.  Rockwell suggests: “Unfortunately, a number of so-called libertarians ignore these essential points.”

Returning to Reno: here again, one can point to the effects of World War One, and the cultural destruction that was a result of that war.  As Ajamian offered:

…family life broken, careers ended, government allowance in the place of productive work, and a tide of egalitarianism; in other words, the perfect cultural soil for the expansion of monopoly state power.

Further, it is difficult to comment on the cultural destruction of the West without at least mentioning Antonio Gramsci.  He was the one to point to the necessity of destroying the culture of the West if communism was to advance – in other words, the workers of the western world would never violently unite against their proletarian neighbors.

Second, comparing the cultural deregulation to the market deregulation since that time: WHAT MARKET DEREGULATION?  OK, now that I got my yelling out of the way…: the federal register only grows, it doesn’t shrink.  To the extent that there is growing frustration in the masses toward “the market,” the roots of it can be found in central banking and government bailouts, not in any non-existent “deregulation.”

Look at any chart on wealth inequality (I hate the phrase, but can’t think of a better one right now): the lines bend significantly to the favor of the wealthy beginning in the early 1970s – perfectly coincident with Nixon’s closing of the gold window, thereby freeing the Fed from any last hint of monetary discipline.

Yet it isn’t just coincidence, it is also correlation: those connected to the state and the central bank get first access to this fiat.  To develop this further is beyond my purpose in this review.

As to government bailouts: recall the anger in the broad population in 2008 when the government bailed out the banks, passed TARP, etc.  Something like 90%-plus of the letters and calls into congress were against these actions.  And you know the history: they were bailed out and the rich got unfairly richer – this followed by (the healthy manifestation of) The Tea Party, the sit-ins against Wall Street, etc.

Don’t tell me about market deregulation.  It is a tired argument offered by those ignorant of or unwilling to consider the reality of government intervention in the market.

Conclusion

Enough of my venting of frustration.  I do agree with Reno regarding the atomization of society, the loss of cultural norms, the necessity of transcendent and metaphysical values.  Unlike Reno’s portrayal, there are proponents of this to be found in the free-market and libertarian community.  As I mentioned before, Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard wrote often enough about this reality and the necessity of tradition, family, and community when it comes to human liberty.

In my next post on this book, I will examine Reno’s prescription for a cure – within the context of his diagnosis and compared to my diagnosis and prescription.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.