Milo, nihilism, and conservatism’s decayed soul (revised)

Recently, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) withdrew their offer to Milo Yiannapolous to speak at their event. They withdrew their offer after a video was found that showed him explaining how sex between an older man and a 13yr old boy could be good for the boy. In the furore that followed, Milo lost the CPAC invite, his book deal with Simon & Schuster, and his job with Breitbart. It also forced Milo to apologize for what he had said.

Milo, who had built his recent career as a fearless advocate for free speech, reached the limit of free speech. We should not be surprised that he arrived at this point for he has always been less interested in the defence of free speech, as free speech, and more interested in it as a method to provoke others. As a provocateur, he was quite successful. The angrier the targeted group became, the more attention he attracted, the more he succeeded. He would say whatever he thought, or others told him was not being said, in the public domain, the university, or the home. He would say it and justify it as defending free speech. The targets for his “free speech” were often those associated with the political things that American society, and by extension Western society, held in esteem. In particular, he would speak on Islam, Feminism, Racism, and Homosexuality to attack the accepted opinions about what Harry Neumann, in a different context, called liberalism’s “gods”. These “gods” are the accepted opinions that order the public domain and thereby tell people how to live.[1] You should be tolerant of other religions. You should respect women as politically and socially equal. You should tolerate people on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or sexuality. In his attacks on these opinions and those that held them, he was less concerned with; exploring their meaning, how they fit within American regime, or what would replace them, than he was concerned to attract publicity. Yet, these attacks served a deeper purpose; a purpose Milo may not have even understood.

Milo appeared to give voice to those who hated those “gods” and those that appeared to defend them, identify with them or support their role in society. His attacks appeared to serve those who would depose these “gods” or at least change the opinions about them. To his supporters, he appeared to speak the truth they wanted to hear about these opinions. He was not just saying outrageous things, he was speaking the “Truth”. If he was not speaking the “Truth” he was at least speaking the truth that his audience wanted to hear or could understand. Like rhetoricians of old, he understood the audience better than they understood themselves for he was able to appeal to what would convince them, confirm their views, make them feel better about it. At the same time, he would rile up those who held those opinions so he understood them, in that sense, better than they understood themselves. Islam wants to rape women and kill all Westerners. Feminism hurts men. Homosexuality is not persecuted. Racism is just minorities who whine. All of these claims confirmed what many conservatives believed or wanted to believe was what weakened America and the West. In a sense, they became like an intellectual eunuch watching someone else do what they dared not or could not do. They still feared public rebuke or the power of the gods to rule their lives.

What remains uncertain is the basis of Milo’s appeal to conservatives. Was it that conservatives are so corrupted by liberalism that they no longer possess the intellectual resources to offer an alternative to liberalism? Have they been conditioned by liberalism so they cannot offer a coherent alternative? As they no longer offer an alternative, they play their role within the political contests that decide who gets access to the patronage from the new Caesar. It would appear to explain why they desire someone like Milo or Trump who will “punch back” in the “culture war”. The culture war does not exist so much as it is a device to decide which Caesar rules. For those conservatives habituated and conditioned by liberalism they will tell stories of a 1000 year liberal progressive Reich that will destroy them which they narrowly and only temporarily avoided when Trump was elected.[2] The story teller knows this is not true yet like a good rhetorician he knows he needs a deliberative speech to excite his audience to believe it to be true since it would be too difficult and dangerous to admit they are simply liberals [3]with a different tax shelter preference. Thus, the promise to “punch back” and defeat the 1000-year liberal progressivist Reich appears to offers an alternative, or at least keeps them from having to think about an alternative. Instead, the deeper truth is darker for it is not conservativism to which Milo appealed. Instead, he pandered to a secret desire held by those conservatives who embrace Trump, but dared not speak aloud.

Once upon a time, a conservative scholar claimed that equality was a conservative principle. Today that is an inconvenient reminder that conservativism seeks to offer an alternative within liberalism. To accept such an idea, we are told by a famous Roman general would mean conservatives would lose the election and be exterminated. With such febrile language mind, to talk of equality is to talk of surrender and surrender=death. If conservatives accept equality as a conservative principle, they might be forced to rebuild the American common good, but this seems to be too much hard work. The effort would require the intellectual honesty, and effort, to understand and develop an alternative within liberalism that reminds people what self-government requires. Instead, it appears conservatives now understand self-government to mean that welfare is cut and the size of government reduced to force people to fend for themselves in the market. In such an outlook, we hear and echo of Thucydides who wrote “The strong do what they want; the weak do as they must”. The market is only concerned with an equality that can be enforced and if you subvert the rules there is no equality. If there is no equality, there is no justice. Without justice, we find the common good becomes a particular good that benefits the few at the expense of the many. With this approach to the common good, we can see why conservatives would rather celebrate people like Milo for his ability to punish those who speak of a belief in equality, than they would celebrate those who seek to build a common good based on equality. Yet, it was not these people that caused his downfall.

Milo did not fall because of free speech or being caught out by “social justice warriors” defending liberalism, or following liberalism to its logical conclusion. Instead he chose a topic that showed the limit of free speech within any community. He crossed the liberal divide between public and private spheres, when he decided to talk of a translegal desire.

“Translegal desires”, “are desires that violate the fundamental requirements of the city and acknowledge fully the fiction of the city.”[4]

By talking of pederasty, Milo undermined the core element of the family, society, and most fundamentally the political opinion which animates America. In this he had reached more than the limits of free speech; he reached the end of the political community. He was not simply attacking a political opinion or the opinions that act as “gods” within America, he was attacking an opinion derived from nature and nature’s god. At that moment, he and his brand were revealed both as something popularly unpalatable, pederasty, and something politically unpalatable. Even as he apologised, he undermined what had been his unique selling point. In that moment, his brand collapsed. For someone who was willing to talk about anything to demonstrate “political correctness” had taken over society, schools, the media, and the family, he demonstrated why the limits to free speech exist.

Milo revealed that what many had suspected, he was simply an outrage hustler who prostituted himself for the powerful all the while claiming to defend the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless. Like a modern day sophist he found that free speech was a profitable business. Yet, Milo’s success was more than his “exoteric” message. Instead, it is his other message, his “esoteric” message, that resonated with people, in particular certain conservatives, who resented liberalism. His esoteric message is supremacism. He may not believe his own message, but Milo’s profound emptiness, unceasing desire for approval, constant claims that his “success” validates him, result from a disordered eros similar to what animates a tyrant. His disordered eros reflects a deeper disordered eros within American conservatism that Trump has excited–the appeal to supremacism. Milo shared the translegal desire, the esoteric message, with another provocateur–Richard Spencer.

Milo and Richard Spencer are closer in their outlook than either would admit publicly or to themselves in their appeal to the same translegal desire. They are both “political catamites” kept for the shock value who are desired to the extent that the conservative movement wants to shake off Lincoln and the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as a burden or barrier to their electoral success. The past shackles these conservatives as Milo and Richard Spencer say publicly what they often only thought or said privately. To those imbued with the founding principles and Lincoln’s re-founding, Milo and Richard Spencer are politically unnatural.

Both Milo and Richard Spencer appeal to the translegal desire of tyranny—the danger coeval with politics. They express and excite the deep-seated desire to dominate others. Richard Spencer is explicit in this desire. He knows who and what he is. He does not want to ridicule liberals for fun and profit. He has no desire to reform liberalism. He will not spend his time in political debate over the limits of equality within liberal democracy. He wants one thing-supremacy. The strong will rule the weak; the weak will suffer as they must. By contrast, Milo does not know who he is or what he wants. Yet, he shares the same outlook even as he tries to hide it by proclaiming his virtue as free speech defender.[5] When he spoke of how a grown man seducing a young boy could be good for the boy, he reiterated a situation described in Plato’s Symposium. In that dialogue, Pausanias talks of the benefits of an older man seducing a young boy where the older man imparts wisdom in return for sexual favours. We hear the same logic and language that Milo used. It is good for the boy, he gains virtue or wisdom, and it is good for the older man who satisfies his erotic longings. Milo though is not concerned with imparting wisdom for what is valued today is to develop a sexual identity which is what defines you and is more important than wisdom or virtue. In political terms, Pausanias’s homosexual pederasty indicates tyranny not democracy. His claim to virtue (free speech and it is for the boy’s own good) only masks his vice (the stronger to rule the weak).[6] In much the same way that a child ruling an adult is unnatural, so an adult “seducing” a child is unnatural. To conservatives imbued with a belief in nature and nature’s god, such an approach is politically unnatural. They would see that Milo and Richard Spencer for what they are. However, to the extent that they can gain attention if not acceptance within the public domain shows how far America political thought, in particular American conservative thought, if not its soul, has decayed.

The decay is unsurprising. America is the midst of its 15th year of its imperial war. America conservativism, seduced by an imperial ethos, serves the imperial purpose both home and abroad. How else to explain that it would embrace, celebrate, defend and most importantly serve a president who most embodies the disordered eros[7] of a tyrant.[8] It is as if On Tyranny is a forgotten text and Tacitus is a forgotten author for conservatives. Perhaps On Tyranny is only read or understood for the forceful critique of Kojeve as if by dispelling, or embracing, the end of history proves that conservatives have succeeded in the “big ideas”. Yet even that should have given conservatives pause. Do they avoid the threat of a world state when they embracing an alternative that rejects Lincoln?

Instead of Lincoln, one hears Heidegger as conservative scholars have embraced Trump. No, Trump is not Hitler. However, he is a harbinger. Perhaps more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt, he expresses the institutional and personal problem coeval with American politics. The problem, though, is not simply an imperial presidency or academics gleefully prostituting themselves to him as they sell their virtue to be bask in the political glow of their “Daddy”. America and the West faces a crisis for liberalism has run its course and they are intellectually bereft as they focus on “punching back” in the “culture war”. What Heidegger embraced or propounded is slowly emerging from its long sleep as the preferred alternative within conservatism. Conservatives appear unaware they are embracing it. Heidegger may have withdrawn from politics and never again engaged with political philosophy, without ever having disavowed being a Nazi, but his single political philosophical message, what he proposed, is not dead for its spectre now emerges within the West in liberalism’s wreckage.

The West, and conservatives in particular, no longer have an answer to Heidegger for they believed that what defeated his politics defeated what his political philosophy supported. In the unfolding wreckage of the American republic, we have to ask whether the life of virtue is possible. Is it even worth living? Americans, and conservatives in particular, have willingly become the standing reserve. They blindly blunder into Heidegger’s alternative to the West’s technological fate. Is this a life of virtue, the basis for the public life, simply to hustle for outrage, “punch back” in the culture war, and pander to the powerful? Milo appears to embody what American conservatives want the regime to encourage if not produce.

We see someone who jettison’s any principles to become a tool for the powerful, someone who appears to do the bidding of his powerful mentors, such as Steve Bannon. Such a role suggests that for all his talk to defend free speech, to say what others will not say, he simply conforms to the expected role. In reality he and conservatives only seek to promote what satisfies those who will give them fame, wealth, or the appearance of political power. His unique selling point, what differentiates him, is that he appears to be the lack of dignity, restraint or moderation, the characteristics of the tyrant or those that would nurture the tyrant. The disordered eros that marks Milo and the tyrant was once considered antithetical to virtues that animated conservatism where moderation based on a politics that can harness consent and wisdom to act as an antidote to the twin threats of tyranny or political utopianism.

Milo will not speak truth to power nor will he force power to speak the truth for he will not challenge the powerful. He wants to serve. He wants to be used. He is the standing reserve. As long as he can reassure himself, among his adoring entourage, that he is relevant, he will behave as required. He will do as they ask for they appear to treat him with approval. Like a trained pet, he reacts to their praise for that tells him he is “ok”. Perhaps he realizes all of this and does not care for he has what passes for success today-celebrity, infamy, and name recognition simply masks nihilism. What he lacks, restraint, gravitas, honour used to be what defined conservatism. Instead what he does have, a belief in nothing, his nihilism now seems to be what animates conservatism. Heidegger’s question has returned and neither Trump nor Milo have the answer. Does conservativism have an answer? Does it even recognize the question? Or is it content to become the standing reserve so long as it wins elections? Perhaps it is time for conservatism to confront technology and tyranny if still retains any intellectual dignity, rigour or what was once considered virtue.[9]

[1] Harry Neumann’s _Liberalism_ Carolina Academic Press 1991)

[2] This essay is simply a job application posed as a critical essay. Had Trump failed, the author could simply point out “Hey, look, I *told you* he was not going to win.” Now that he has won and the author is serving the administration, it has served its other purpose. Perhaps Claremont no longer teaches political philosophy, but it certainly teaches the rhetorician’s art. One wonders if the Gorgias is studied at Claremont.

[3]I am leaving aside the obvious point that the speech existed to show the author would be a loyal servant for Trump which means the author endorses Trump to secure a job even though he gives a knowing wink to his friends that he isn’t really endorsing him.

[4] Seth Benardete Plato’s Second Sailing 1989 p. 205

[5] “Even his preference for Athenian customs arises from a desire to use culture and civilization as a cloak for his vice.” Harry Neumann On the Sophistry of Plato’s Pausanias, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 95 (1964), pp. 261-267 Accessed: 25-02-2017

[6] “Given the concealed antinomian character of pederasty and its close association not with democratic public spiritedness but a tyrant and a private dispute, one is compelled to entertain the suggestion that at the core of homosexual pederasty as Pausanias understands it is not democracy and law, but tyranny. “ Eros and the intoxications of enlightenment On Plato’s Symposium Steven Berg 2010 p32


[8] In the 15th year of the Peloponnesian War, we find the Melian Dialogue.

[9] I doubt it does for we are told that all that ails conservatism in America is 1. The media are against it so the people are against it. 2 Self-censorship keeps us from convincing people of conservativism’s virtue or policies. 3. Foreigners who come and dilute America and make it democratic. (Which begs the strange question that most Muslims are conservatives by nature so we are simply importing the wrong immigrants and should welcome fundamentalist Muslims for they are truly “conservative”. Yes, this is where the logic leads.)

What is simply embarrassing is that not one conservative has yet to muster anything publicly that is more coherent than name calling in response to such analysis. What is simply embarrassing is that not one conservative has yet to muster anything publicly that is more coherent than name calling in response to such analysis or beyond reiterating their policy preferences as if a “Yeah, but…” or a “No, but…”. The merry-go-round continues to enrich the essay’s author and his “interlocutors” without offering a response that addresses the core problem.

No, this essay is not a response to that essay.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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