Marco Malaguti:  The crisis of progress is also the sunset of the West’s spiritual adolescence

We continue our interview series on the conservative revolution with Marco Malaguti from Italy. Malaguti works as a researcher at the Machiavelli Centro Studi Politici e Strategici . He is interested in the theme of the re-evaluation of nihilism and the great German Romantic philosophy, and runs the website .He writes about philosophy, culture and geopolitics for various newspapers and blogs, including Progetto Prometeo. With the coming to power of the Meloni government and the rising right-wing in Europe, Italy has been back on the agenda for a while. We talked to Malaguti about the concepts of the West, wokism and the right.

Can you tell us about your think tank organisation?

The Machiavelli Centro Studi Politici e Strategici has a purpose, which could be summarized in its Latin motto “Suadere atque agere“, to persuade and act. Our work consists in putting our ideas and our thoughts, which are first of all intellectual and research work, at the service of conservative politics in Italy (but not only). However, being at the service of politics means, for us, acting in two directions, on the one hand certainly informing and providing food for thought to politicians and people in the institutions, but on the other hand addressing the same reflections also to public opinion, which to be actively part of a political community it must be able to enjoy excellent information and cultural products.

Do you think history is calling the Prince back? How should the Prince be in today’s politics?

In front of to this question, it comes natural to ask “Where?”. I believe that the Prince, understood as the regulating principle of a Realpolitik, has abandoned the West only. He has never left the other corners of the world. Speaking of the new post-war course of Western politics, Carl Schmitt spoke about a context of “tyranny of values”. What did he mean? Exactly what we are talking about in regards to the West, the eclipse of the Prince and realism, therefore of compromise, from our way of conceiving politics. Once the axial value of transcendent religious principles has lapsed, Western politics has needed to find another compass and believes it has found it in values, which however, unlike religious principles, are questionable and prophaneable by anyone, as they are transitory and passing works of men like any other. It is therefore clear that to continue to act as a compass these values must necessarily become tyrannical. Schmitt knew neither political correctness nor what we today define with the Anglo-Saxon neologism of wokism, but he foresaw what he was preparing for. To establish itself as theology and cosmology, a value cannot be content to remain as such (the term in fact presupposes the existence of an evaluating subject, who can evaluate a specific value as important, but also as little or not at all important), it must become a paradigm, a cornerstone and axis, a specific theology of values must in short free itself from its prospective value to acquire an objective one. The powers that rely on values become, in short, time bombs and tend to unload their belligerent potential externally, especially on those who are defined as blind to the values themselves (Wertblind). While the powers governed by the Prince are content to serve reason of State in a realistic compromise key, those governed by the theology of values must impose themselves on the others, under penalty of decadence, in the face of the rest of the international arena and of their own public opinions, of their own legitimacy. To deactivate this potentially belligerent danger we must always remember what a value is. The term value comes from the jargon of economics and commerce, and can be considered a synonym of the term price. A price, however, has no objective value, except on the basis of the importance that the buyer attributes to it for himself. To deactivate the bomb we must, in short, depreciate values, make them unattractive, and instead rediscover the importance of objectivity, permanence and the principle of transcendence as the cornerstone of political constitutions. Only in this way the can Prince return, otherwise only the fanatical and secularized bad copies of the missionaries, the tyrants of values, will remain.

Your field of study is nihilism and German romantics. What did the discussions on German romantics and nihilism teach you, why did you turn to these topics and what would you say about the topicality of these topics. What is the nihilist image of our age? Do we need a romantic spirit again?

The conclusion of the answer to the previous question inaugurates, in some respects, the answer to this one. Among conservatives the word nihilism has taken on, in my opinion unfairly, an almost insulting meaning. Despite this, the depreciation of values I spoke of above is precisely the advancement and making room for nihilism, which historically proceeds towards its unveiling and affirmation. Conservatives can perhaps wrongly slow down this process, but they cannot prevent and stop it. It is a shame that most conservatives are unable to understand how this march works in their favor. The current values are those of progressivism, not conservative ones. The true conservative, among other things, should defend objective realities (such as the essential needs of man, natural laws in their spontaneous unfolding etc.), not the arbitrariness of the various subjects evaluating more or less strong in a given historical period. It is socialism, and more generally the daughter ideas of the French Revolution (including fascism) that are correctly considered immanent to historical processes, thus binding themselves to the sentences of history. 

True conservative thought should refer to meta-history, that is, to myth, to religion, to poetic concept, the latter, which unites the other two. Earlier I spoke about the need to defend the level of concrete realities and at first glance it might seem that the discussion is spiraling into a contradiction, but this is not the case. In a truly mythical vision, even in a traditional perspective, it is the word that gives shape to concepts, and therefore to the human mind which, as a whole, places the world through its systematizations. Those are the topoi of myth that establish the world; even today’s technocratic Western world is, in turn, the son of the myth of the omnipotence of technology and science, whose status has been erroneously altered from that of a means to that of an end. The great discovery of philosophical romanticism, attributable mostly to Schiller (who also did not like to define himself as romantic) and Herder and later to Schelling, was the proactive and creative capacity of the word. God creates and places the world with the will and the word (Logos), man can modify and shape the world, as a potter does, according to the same methods: this is the great change of pace implemented by romantic philosophy and then brought completed by Schopenhauer and the first Nietzsche. 

Nihilism and romanticization of politics proceed in order: the first deals with clearing away the rubble of old values that have now collapsed, the second with the construction of a new creative narrative. Something of the kind is already happening, but with the roles reversed: hegemonic progressivism, represented mostly by philosophical postmodernism, which draws heavily from Herder and Schiller, has understood, through the contribution of the philosophy of language, the cardinal value of word and its dominion, but in order not to lose its utopian, irenic and falsely supportive essence, it was unable to do without the rubble of the old values, recycling them in a secular key and thus temporarily securing its nature of artificial substitution on the headquarters vacancy of religion. This is why the tyranny of values fears nihilism more than anything else. Only in the barren silence of the desert of nihilism can one perceive the essence of reality, which I am not ashamed to call God. It is an imposture that cannot last. Whether it is the apostatization of science or the new Christless Christianity that the religion of human rights claims to embody, nothing can be built with rubble. It is necessary to rebuild, but to rebuild the rubble must be cleared away, and from a conservative perspective only a transcendent principle can act as a cornerstone and architrave. God can only be perceived in silence and in proximity to Nothingness. It is in this condition of Nothingness (Nihil) that new things come into being, it is in this condition of “apparent death” (Sloterdijk) that the disclosure (Erschlossenheit) occurs which makes it possible for new realities to come into being much stronger than mere value judgments.

The 21st century seems to be more skeptical about progress than previous centuries. The idea of progress does not mark our age as much as it did in the 19th century. What would you say about the state of the idea of progress in our time? Is there progress or regression, what are the ideas and beliefs that characterize our age?

There is no doubt that after the great Enlightenment intoxication of the eighteenth century and the positivist one of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century violently collided with the true essence of progress. The 21st century is that of the awareness that, following the trauma, begins to piece together memories and understand what has happened and is still happening. As I mentioned in the previous answer, progressivism had to save the waste, the rubble of the old values. This is something that is increasingly clear even to the progressives themselves, who, often agreeing with equally progressive popes and priests, argue that the great promises of the Enlightenment and positivism were nothing other than the promises of religion from which, however, God and the mystique were expelled, considered relics of the past. Nietzsche, if he were alive, would say, wrongly, that today’s progressives are hiding among the bones of the dead God. Skepticism towards progress increases because the questions and anxieties that progress and the Enlightenment attempted, from secular positions, to answer were questions and anxieties of an eminently theological and existential nature. Enlightenment, positivism and progressivism intended to respond and solve these problems in a scientific and rational way, Marx loudly asked to stop criticizing the sky and start criticizing the earth. However, the problems have not been solved: reason and the scientific method are excellent tools for solving problems here and now, on earth. For the anguish and needs of the soul, they simply don’t work. The old religious thought, received from the fathers, has been thrown to the winds by an adolescent West that is refractory to the precepts, often received with arbitrary harshness from the fathers, but as the West matures, the West will also understand, like every teenager, that in the end the parents they were right. The crisis of progress is also the sunset of the West’s spiritual adolescence and marks the step towards its access towards philosophical and spiritual maturity, in any case, it will arrive after a long ordeal.

Are the political movements that characterize Europe today coming from the right or is the left still able to exert its influence? Is Europe now the right? It is said that the right is rising in Europe, what do you think about this? What do right and left mean today? Is there still a right and a left, as Norberto Bobbio once claimed?

I will answer this question starting from the end. What does the Right mean today? What does it mean to be right-wing? For Norberto Bobbio the distinction fell around the notion of equality. For progressivism, which is the son of the French Revolution, Égalité is an objective to be achieved, for liberal thought it is a condition to be guaranteed at the start but upon arrival we will be rewarded according to our skills and ability to compete, for the Right instead equality is, at least on the political level, a deviation, a perversion, a contradiction in terms. In short, the left and liberalism both contain a positive value of equality. Here Bobbio seems to agree with Adriano Romualdi who stated bluntly that “Being Right-wing means, first of all, recognizing the subversive character of the movements resulting from the French Revolution, be they liberalism, democracy or socialism“. The word “subversive”, used by Romualdi, is in my opinion correct. You can only subvert something that is already in the essence of things: right-wing thinking, as I have already mentioned before, defends and preserves reality. In this sense, answering the question backwards, I would say that there are no authentically right-wing political parties and forces in Europe at the moment. There are certainly political forces in which, karstically, some elements of right-wing thought re-emerge and sink underground, but we are far from being able to define any European political force as purely right-wing. I attribute the situation, rather than to the strength of the progressives, which is still notable, mainly to the lack of familiarity of the conservatives themselves with the new nihilistic perspective that awaits us. We have filled our mouths full of values for too many decades to now give them up so lightly.

What do you think about woke culture, which is increasingly challenging all national cultures? Will nationalist-conservative movements succeed in their struggle against woke culture? Is there a Kulturkampf in the West today between rising identitarian movements and woke culture?

At the beginning of the winter just ended, in a conference I held in Bratislava on this very topic, I compared so-called Wokism to what was the Cultural Revolution in China. Unlike orthodox Marxism, Wokism that is spreading in the Western world is a progressivism fully integrated into the mechanisms of liberal society. It inherits from Mao the concept of permanent revolution and the stubborn anti-religious fury, both concepts that can be perfectly combined, at least in the short term, with a liberal orientation of the economy. At the unlikely, but verified, confluence of these strange and very different rivers, we find Wokism, which is nothing other than the condensed and summarized version (as the little red book for Maoism was at the time) of the neocon doctrine of the so-called “Creative Chaos“, made of continuous destruction and reassembly of history. From this perspective, the relationship between the destruction of Chinese monuments and statues dedicated to Confucius, Laozi or Tibetan lamas and those involving the statues of Christopher Columbus and General Lee appears evident. It’s the same thing. Personally, I don’t know how to answer the question of who will win the culture war that exists between conservative movements and woke thought centers, but I can say with certainty that the latter has no future and is destined for an inglorious end. In China the Cultural Revolution ended because it was going to erode the very foundations of the existence of the state and families, leading the regime to devour itself, thus weakening itself in the international arena of powers. I believe wokism will end in retirement for the same reasons. Wokism is configured as a belligerent and aggressive table of values, but the acid it secretes ends up washing away the foundations of the very societies and powers that make use of it. We see this very well today where the West seems incapable of giving up its hedonism in the name of a crusade against Russia which would call people to the duties of an austere life aimed at aggressive patriotism. But you can’t have everything, either you are woke or you are a soldier and patriot, the two things are antithetical to each other. By choosing Wokism the West chooses weakness; when the generation of current Western politicians, i.e. people who attended university at the time of the Cultural Revolution and student struggles, has retired, I believe we will also see the end of current Wokism, it will be a sunset dictated by necessity rather than by an outcome of a philosophical and cultural battle.

Today, the perception of normality in societies has been shaken considerably. It is difficult to find general, objective rules, norms and values that apply in society. Especially activist minority groups are fighting hard to make their norms the norm of the general public. I would like to know your opinion on these developments.

In part I believe that the considerations expressed above are valid now too. The lack of normality, the decadence of the concept of norms and the rise of a “fluid” perspective for everything concerning social identity (both personal and group) and relationships between people are the products of a concluded historical period. The fall of all these principles is the result of the post-historical and economistic horizon imagined by Francis Fukuyama at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Men and women raised in societies of this kind are excellent consumers but terrible citizens and soldiers. This would not be a problem if we were still living in the US-led unipolar moment with no dangers on the horizon, but the West now has a long list of enemies on its borders. Pretending not to see all this won’t change the situation. When it comes to defending the West, the latter will need soldiers more than consumers, citizens united by mobilizing ideas and large families rather than atoms dedicated only to the attainment of momentary physical pleasures. When we realize all this, the concept of limits and norms will also return to reign in the West, but first it is necessary for the old political caste, daughter of student protests and which then cemented itself in power during the unipolar moment, to retire. It is a gang of politicians and technicians now incapable of framing the world in its new complexity and who believe they can respond to the new challenges of the present with the slogans of their university days or with the diktats of economics manuals, a madness at a time when the entire globe, from Israel to Muslim countries, from China to India, passing through Russia and African countries, is rediscovering the identity and religious roots of its civilizations. I don’t think the fact that the West is the only civilization without God and without identity and that at the same time it is also the only civilization in decline can be attributed to chance.

It is generally thought that the left has a hegemony in the fields of culture and arts, while the right does not invest in these fields as much as the economy and politics. Do you think so?

Here we return to the discussion discussed previously. The Right, which would also be the designated heir of philosophical and political romanticism, seems to have forgotten her status. Paradoxically he has instead internalized the dictates and dogmas typical of liberalism. The idea that everything is measured on the basis of its economic value, the profession as a litmus test of a given man’s position in society, social Darwinism cynically flaunted in front of the less fortunate, are all elements that have taken root on the right but which they do not constitute its essence, they are extraneous encrustations that have nothing to do with the true communitarian and metapolitical matrix of the conservative right. Faced with this perspective, culture, art, philosophy, and in general everything related to the field of thought appears to many men of today’s “right” as a waste of time, as a cowardly abdication in the face of material needs of the economy and money. This creates the funny paradox whereby the right-wing parents does not have the ability to culturally educate their children, who will thus be indoctrinated by the progressive school. We need to overturn this paradigm. Everything passes through the word, and consequently through thought.

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