Big Ideas for Big Books
I have written about the lack of ‘big books’ for a political movement as a symptom of its inability to move beyond previous ideologies, and at the same time ‘big books’ as a means of achieving the very task of original philosophical exploration and expansion.
Now we need a process for creating big books. The way forward I believe can be illuminated by asking this question: What is your big idea?
Before I get into what ‘The Right’s big idea can be, imagine asking this question of the Left. The Left would reply by saying their big idea is ‘Equality’. And having this big idea allows them to approach the whole category of thought fields with a certain focus. The same is true with the liberals who would answer with either ‘Liberty’ or ‘Private Property’ as their big idea.
The contrast becomes stark when this question is asked of the Right. First there will be mental fumbling before a right winger blurts out something hesitatingly like ‘Order’, or ‘Strength’ or ‘Tradition’.
For the left and for the liberals, their ‘big ideas’ are the fountainhead out of which keep coming out new streams of thoughts and policy frameworks. I will examine how this process works for both of them.
First take the liberals. The origins of liberalism as a political philosophy lie in the struggle between Saxon tribes of England and their Norman conquerors starting from the 11th century. And it went on for centuries with freehold farmers advocating for their ‘rights and liberties’ against monarchy, sometimes in alliance with the landlords and sometimes against them as well. But they were never able to win much of a victory till John Locke came along, took the idea of many different and sometimes overlapping and contradictory ‘rights and liberties’ and distilled them into the one big idea of Private Property in his famous book ‘Second Treatise’. The word ‘right’ in old English meant ‘property title’; it was Locke’s defining contribution to replace multiple rights/property titles that proto-liberals believed themselves entitled to and to substitute a general Right to Property in their place.
Then he defined the role of the state as that of protecting private property. From then on the liberals had a simple task of applying the concept of private property to further grow their political philosophy.
The Left had their own big idea in Equality, whose political outburst on the scene was due to the French Revolution. And once left had equality as their guiding compass, they could answer every question of the political by asking what would bring about equality in that context. As history unfolded and put forth new political contexts, the Left was able to respond and take advantage by always having their big idea ready for propagation.
Democracy and Free Market Capitalism are two other political ideologies that have benefited from big ideas. Democracy’s big idea is Majority Rule and to the democratist the answer to the political dilemma is easy: what does the majority want? The Free Market Capitalist big idea is for the markets to be left alone and they too are able to deal with political challenges by again and again turning to the market process. They can ask themselves: how can we enable the market to meet this challenge?
Now compare that with political ideologies that failed to distill themselves into big ideas and you will see political ideologies that failed to win adherence. First we have Plato and his idea of ‘philosopher kings’, however we have no example of a state in history that claims to have been based on this ideology. Then Aristotle who believed in a ‘mixed constitution’ where the king, the nobles and the people would balance each other in tripartite government. His idea of mixed constitution as well failed to capture the imagination of any significant political actors. And in this case, both Plato and Aristotle created big books, The Republic and On Politics, respectively but there was no further growth of either of these two political ideologies.
Ironic it is indeed, because both Plato and Aristotle created their political theories as an alternative to and to critique what they saw as the mob rule of Athenian democracy whose faults were personified vividly in their minds by the mob punishment of Socrates to drink out of the poisoned cup. Yet, it was the ideals of Athenian democracy that triumphed in the future, over that of those two great philosophers, because unlike their complex notions, democracy has a big idea in majority rule.
Same was the case of Constitutional Monarchy, which was at the turn of the century competing with universal suffrage parliamentary democracy as a successful form of government. Germany under constitutional monarchy had actually overtaken the parliamentary democracy of England as the industrial and cultural powerhouse in early 20th century. Yet it too suffered the same problem, no great philosopher distilled the essence of constitutional monarchy into a big idea to compete with majority rule of democracy and no thinkers wrote big books with comprehensive framework examining all its implications and imperatives.
This process of taking the worldview of a broad political movement and distilling it into big ideas and then taking those big ideas, applying them to all facets of civilization, teasing out all the implications and imperatives and framing them into comprehensive big books is how new and original political theories and ideologies are created.
I know many are dying at this stage to know what the right’s big ideas are going to be, but I ask for patience and take another detour through history. I have examined the process of big ideas and big books leading to the creation of a new political philosophy, but now I want to briefly examine how big ideas and big books also serve as fountainheads to further intellectual innovation throwing out a cornucopia of new variations, theories, policies, laws, political institutions and future ambitions.
Let’s start with the liberals again. Once they had their big ideas of liberty and private property and they had their defining books, their political creations just exploded. For theoretical variations they created Whig liberalism, utilitarian liberalism, anarchism, objectivism, neo-liberalism, libertarianism and a few other permutations. For capitalist economics, they created classical economics, neo-classical economics, Chicago school economics, Austrian School economics, free trade theory, efficient market theory and else. For institutions and policies they thought up independent judiciary, civil service bureaucracy, police force, stock and commodity exchanges, gold standard, central bank amongst others.
Egalitarian Left also had this very exponential growth when they had their big idea of equality and their defining books. For political variations, they created socialism, communism, syndicalism, social democratism, environmentalism, animal “rights”, trade unionism, mutualism, internationalism and a myriad of other theories. For institutions they created labor union, welfare state, five year plans, progressive taxation, planning commission, Comintern, universal suffrage, state owned enterprises and on. They created entire states like Soviet Union, worldwide movements, futuristic dreams such as the Soviet ‘New Man’ and art like socialist realism and ‘modern art’.
Not bad for simple ideas like equality, liberty and private property?
Now the point here is not to claim that all of these creations turned out to be beneficial. Especially a lot of Left’s concoctions were massive disasters, and that’s why we are rightists here. But the key is to look at the process that has allowed the liberals and the leftists to create an entire world unto themselves from their big ideas and big books.
Now let us also use this process to create a world to our liking. So, returning to the main question: what are going to be the Right’s big ideas? And what is going to be the Main idea?
Here are ten big ideas that I put forth as representing the worldview of the rightists.
Quiet a list. And not all of them will take center stage; certainly many of these are auxiliary ideas to complement the main idea.
Left and liberals have their auxiliary ideas too. Liberals have Liberty and Private Property as their main idea, but many other ideas supplement it like sanctity of contracts, civil authority, individualism, rule of law, elections, and bourgeoisie virtues like work ethic, self-reliance and enterprise. Left has Equality as their main idea, but then also has social justice, solidarity, collectivism, class conflict and such. For liberals and the left their auxiliary ideas serve to buttress their main ideas and to provide additional sources of philosophical growth.
But they can’t do without the main idea for that is the binding glue that holds the rest together.
The Right must also have one or two main ideas.
Although a certain degree of personal preference is unavoidable, it would be useful to have a criteria to choose the main idea from the ten I have described to avoid arbitrariness.
First the main idea must be romantic and glamorous. Second it must be a source of long lasting growth and expansion. Third it must not be amenable to easy hijacking by villains and malcontents.
The main idea must be romantic because victory for a political movement requires consistent and long term commitment. Can’t expect young, ambitious people to make our political philosophy a significant part of their lives if there is no glory or glamor to it. Equally importantly, the main idea is akin to a ‘Champion’ which will stand in the arena for one on one combat against the main ideas of Left, Liberals and whoever else may throw their hat in the ring. It has to be romantic and glamorous to compete against equality, liberty, majority rule, and property.
The main idea must also be expansionary in nature. It has to be able to continuously provide ideas and implications for a wide range of fields from structure of the state to economic policy to cultural creation to artistic expression. It must be a source like a very deep mine that can be mined again and again to deal with changing political questions.
The main idea finally has to be resilient enough that it cannot be hijacked by malcontents. There will be opportunists in politics that are driven by vile motives but wish to disguise them behind noble sentiments. It must be reasonably difficult for them to attach themselves to the main idea of the Right. This is necessary to prevent alienation and misunderstanding which can dry up new recruits and political expansion.
What idea or ideas fit all three criteria perfectly?
If we consider ‘order and structure’, it is certainly a source of new ideas especially with regards to creating new institutions and procedures; however it is dry and not very attractive to the young and ambitious. Moreover, it can be hijacked by stagnationists and obstructionists as well as by malcontents in power wishing to preserve an unjust order or structure. Certainly Order, Structure and Hierarchy are necessary for well-functioning of a civilization, but they cannot be the main ideas of the Right.
We can look at others like Honour is not very conducive to intellectual expansion; Aggression and Expansion while very useful against an enemy that deserves a good thrashing, can be hijacked by malcontents to aggress against innocents.
Let me come right out and say what should be,
The Right’s Main Idea: Heroism!
Heroism is romantic and glamorous and can do battle against any other big idea for hearts and minds. Heroism is expansionary and can be endlessly extended to create new ideas, institutions, structures, movements, art forms and cultural products. Heroism cannot be easily hijacked by the villains because heroism encompasses the notion of justice within itself.
Heroism can bind the rest of the auxiliary values of the right to itself. Heroism is appealing to both the individualists pursuing their personal victory over a challenge and to collectivists looking to earn glory for the state and society. Heroism can provide multiple and exciting meanings to individual life and it can provide multiple ambitious projects for institutions like state, corporations, military and orders to undertake.
For the futurists in the right, Heroism can provide goals like space expansion, techno-enterprise building, ocean cities, gigantic engineering projects, neuro-bio human enhancements and mega-structure architecture. For the traditionalists in the right it can be a connection to old gods of lightning and thunderstorm, and nostalgic remembrance for Solar, Lunar and Fire dynasties. For young ones, Heroism can be a romance of horsemen and hunters of warrior aristocracies. For the presentists, it can provide inspiration to form political parties, run for offices, read and write mega books and formulate new political institutions, laws and policies.
Heroes will unite us! They will lead us to victory and towards the creation of a glorious future and splendorous civilization.
Remember the Heroes! Remember the Horsemen!