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mercredi, 25 novembre 2020

Kondylis on Conservatism with Notes on Conservative Revolution


Kondylis on Conservatism with Notes on Conservative Revolution

Fergus Cullen

Ex: https://ferguscullen.blogspot.com

Notes on Panagiotis Kondylis, “Conservatism as a Historical Phenomenon.” This is to my knowledge the only substantial excerpt from Kondylis’ Konservativismus (Stuttgart, 1986) available in English. The translation is by “C.F.” from “Ὁ συντηρητισμὸς ὡς ἱστορικὸ φαινόμενο,” Λεβιάθαν, 15 (1994), pp. 51–67, and remains unpublished, but discoverable in PDF format online. Page references below are to that PDF. I have altered the translation very slightly in some places.

Kondylis aims to understand conservatism not as a “historical” or “anthropological constant,” but as a “concrete historical phenomenon” bound to, and thus coterminous with, a time and a place (pp. 1–2). But even such historicist scholarship often takes too narrow a view, according to which conservatism is a reaction against, and thus “derivative” of, the Revolution, or, at best, against Enlightenment rationalism (pp. 2–3).

Kondylis disputes the conception, often a conservative self-conception, of conservatism as an expression of the “natural […] psychological-anthropological predisposition” of “conservative man” to be “peace-loving and conciliatory” (pp. 5–6). On the contrary, conservatism and “activism” are perfectly compatible, as the “feudal right of resistance and ‘tyrannicide,’ the uprising and rebellion of aristocrats against the throne” shows (pp. 7–8). This is a point against the claim by Klemperer and others that the activism of Conservative Revolutionists is fundamentally unconservative.

“[L]ove and cultivation of tradition” as a “legitimation” of noble privileges is an expression of those nobles’ will to self-preservation and “sense of superiority.” Kondylis posits such a universal will, in place of a conservative disposition at war with a revolutionary “urge to overthrow” (at least as concerns the history of ideas: pp. 8–9).


Kondylis also disputes the self-conception (“idealised image”) of the conservative as uncritically traditionalist and sceptical of “intellectual constructions,” based upon “the erroneous impression that pre-revolutionary societas civilis did not know of ideas and ideologies, both as systematic intellectual constructions and as weapons” (pp. 9–10). Mediaeval “theological” systems are the equals of modern ideologies in “argumentative refinement,” “systematic multilateralism” and “pretension to universal” (or “catholic”) “validity” (p. 10). Conservatism consists in the “reformulation” of the “legitimising ideology of societas civilis” into an “answer” to the Enlightenment and Revolution (pp. 10–1).

Modernity, for Kondylis, comes about, in part through “lively ideological activity,” not as a result of the “anthropological constitution” of certain persons (intellectual disposition), but as an expression of their basic will to self-preservation, which, given their “lack of weighty social power had to be counterbalanced by their pre-eminence on the intellectual front”; and so conservatives responded in kind (polemic, theory, etc.). The partisans of modernity (“foes of the social dominance of the hereditary aristocracy”) made the first crucial step into political discourse in the modern sense, and were thus “much more intensively reflexive,” just as conservatism is generally purported to be (pp. 11–2).

This, “the importance of theory among the foe’s weaponry,” is also the origin of conservatism’s “purely polemical abhorrence” for intellectuality (p. 12). Not only should conservatism’s professed anti-intellectualism be taken as suspect; but in certain intriguing cases, it should be understood as a sort of demonstration of a theoretical understanding of theory’s (intellectuality’s) role in “Progress” (“Decline”). As Kondylis says: “only theoretically could the idealised description of a ‘healthy’ and ‘organic’ society be made which is not created by abstract theories, nor does it need them” (p. 13).

This “vacillation and indecisiveness” of conservatism re. intellectuality, “Reason,” etc. (i.e. this apparent performative—if not contradiction then—tension, ambiguity), mirrors the tension in the intense ratiocination by Mediaeval theology to show the limits of man’s reason, or by Enlightenment sentimentalism or modern Lebensphilosophie to set instinct above intellect (p. 13). This “indecisiveness” (a telling word, when one recalls Kondylis’ contributions to décisionnisme) and the accompanying unsystematicity and proliferous variety of conservative thought is “natural” to “all the great political—and not only political—ideologies” (pp. 13–4; see part 2 here).

49210108._SX318_.jpg“[C]ommonplaces of conservative self-understanding and self-presentation have crept […] into the scientific discussion,” such as “the coquettish enmity of conservatives towards theory.” The prioritization of the “concrete” over the “abstract” is itself, or relies upon, an abstraction (p. 15).

Kondylis dichotomizes “conservative” and “revolutionary” politics (p. 17).

“Prudent and sagacious adaptation to circumstances and conditions, of which conservatives are so proud, is carried out as a rule under the foe’s pressure”; the foe “pushes conservatives to adopt a defensive or good-natured and easy-going stance”; “conservatives discover their sympathy for ‘true’ progress, and […] talk of the dynamic organic development […] of society and of history” (p. 18). Conservatives are compelled to make certain concessions to modernity. To anticipate my own arguments a bit: revolutionary conservatism is a concession, but, loosely speaking, to the form and not the content of modernity. That is, the conservative revolutionary accepts, must accept, industrialisation, the dissolution of “organic society,” the instrumentalisation of man, secular discourse as the space of (even religious) political discourse, “mediatisation,” mass communication, etc., and wishes to put these at the service of “conservative,” “rightist” principles: that is, abstractions from the concrete expressions that gave birth to conservatism.

Sometimes conservative principles are, or seem to be, expressed concretely without conservative effort, or as a result of “the foe’s” effort, who, “by struggling for the consolidation of his own domination, cares for, or is concerned with, compliance with law, with hierarchy and with property (legally or in actual reality safeguarded and protected)—of course, with different signs and with different content” (p. 20). A liberal or democratic, bourgeois or proletarian “conservatism” can form on this basis, opposed, it would seem as a general rule, by conservative revolution (the bifurcation of C.R. and “mere conservatism”).

Both conservatives and revolutionaries posit “natural” laws or a “natural” condition of man; but both struggle to answer, in the conservative case, the apparently natural development of unnatural conditions (Revolution, “Progress,” “Decline”), or, in the revolutionary case, the apparent primordiality of unnatural conditions (inequality, exploitation, etc.: p. 21). We might add that the revolutionary also struggles to answer how, as suggested in the previous paragraph, his own efforts seem to not only lead to such conditions but instantiate, express concretely, his enemy’s, the conservative’s, principles. Here we approach theodicy.

On Kondylis’ model, conservatism is the ideological expression of noble privilege and of “the resistance of societas civilis against its own decomposition”: against the rise of the bourgeoisie, Enlightenment rationalism, democratisation, etc., apparently ending with “the sidelining of the primacy of agriculture by the primacy of industry”; thereafter “there can be talk of conservatism only metaphorically or with polemical-apologetic intent” (pp. 22–3). Schema: conservatism — liberalism — socialism, in which each overcomes the prior term to culminate in a questionable postmodernity in which “every [concept] passes over into, or merges with, another, and none of them are precise,” indicating “that the end of that historical epoch, from whose social-political and intellectual life they partially or wholly drew their content, is, in part, near and approaching, and has, in part, already come” (p. 23).

The reason to posit a conservative-revolutionary current within this categorially confused, and thus not yet quite navigable, postmodernity is that something, a new (proto-) category, does emerge out of and in tandem with the first warning tremors postmodernity (industrialisation and mass democracy: the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the Great War as the first in a series of watersheds). To wit, a conscious or subconscious radicalisation and abstraction of conservative principles, at whose service certain aspects of late modernity are put (see above).

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