Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Conservative vs. the Zombie

A year ago this weekend, I ended my seemingly interminable series "What is the monster of the twenty-first century?" with the conclusion that zombies, representing mass man and his desire to dehumanize, consume, and ultimately eradicate the individual human being, are the monsters of our time. Today (Oct. 3, 2015) I read an opinion piece more or less along those lines. (Like I've said before, it's nice when your theorizing is confirmed by others.) The piece is called "In the Zombie World, Only the Conservative Survive." It's by David French, an attorney and staff writer at the National Review. You can find it by clicking here.

Mr. French's essay opens with these words:
          The Obama era is the era of the zombie. It is a strange irony that the politician of "hope and change" has presided over a pop-culture world dominated by shuffling, moaning, undead cannibals who mindlessly rule a post-government apocalyptic landscape.
I might argue that it's no irony at all, being that our current president is the leader and apotheosis of mass man. In any case, the angle of the essay is skepticism towards government and faith in the individual, especially in the the well-armed individual living out what can only be called conservative principles. Mr. French writes: "In zombieland, there are three kinds of people: those who know how to use guns, those who learn how to use guns, and zombies." It's strange that he would include zombies in the category of people, but if zombies don't represent monsters or disease or some alien force so much as they represent mass man or simply the fallen state of man, then they should probably be included in that category.

In my essay of last year, I wondered whether the zombie-like people among us see themselves as such, just like I wondered in the 1980s whether the creeps among us saw themselves as the creeps in the high school movies of the time. The answer then was probably the same as the answer now: No, probably not. Another quote to that point from "In the Zombie World, Only the Conservative Survive":
Yet despite these [conservative-minded] premises, the Left loves this show [The Walking Dead or TWD]. Read Huffington Post or Salon or virtually any other lefty site that follows pop culture, and they’re dissecting TWD, breaking down and analyzing episodes with loving care. 
So the answer appears to be no, period. That leads to the conclusion I have made, and that Mr. French seems to make as well, that ultimately all people are conservative in that conservatism is simply a fact of life. It's the way people live when they are free.

That got me thinking about another point I left out of my series from last year (as if I left anything out). The heroes of our literature and popular culture embody conservative values: courage, strength, self-reliance, self-actuation, individual character, love of freedom, pursuit of justice, and so on. Odysseus doesn't try to understand his enemies. He kills them. The men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits of Middle Earth don't take an invasion of their world by masses simply by lying down, nor do they wish to surrender their rights or freedoms to a prevailing force. They resist. Daryl on The Walking Dead doesn't believe in a democracy in which the dehumanizing and all-consuming mass man has his way. Instead he pierces their brains with bolts from his crossbow. The leftist hero on the other hand--Che Guevara, Mao, Lenin--is a thug, a criminal, a mass murderer, in short a mass man who wishes to strip his fellow human beings of their rights, freedoms, property, and lives, more importantly, of their individual identity, dignity, and humanity. Again, we are Winston and Julia, the leftist hero is O'Brien. Like O'Brien--and like Number 2 in The Prisoner--he wants not so much to kill us as to make us one of him, to get us to conform. He wants us no longer to be individuals. So can the Leftist identify in any way with Winston or Number 6? I would say no, for the Leftist doesn't value freedom or individuality. If that's so, then how can the Leftist identify with the human beings in The Walking Dead against the zombies, whose sole desire is to render the individual one of the mindless masses? Again, I would argue that he can't. If you call yourself a leftist--or in the parlance of our times, a liberal--and you identify with human beings over zombies, you are a traitor to your beliefs--and loyal to the inescapable fact of your humanity.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Interesting Terence. So those who hold different views than you do are to be denied the status of human beings, stripped of all those elements that qualify us as human, our individuality, our volition, our values (shared or no)? At least in your attempted reading of the world. This doesn't sound like conservatism to me. Conservatism used to mean skepticism towards all ideologies and their claims to omniscience. You sound more like a totalitarian to me than anything else, the last iteration of the those twentieth century European ideologies that gave us fascism and stalinism, systems that denied actual individuals (not the notional Individual you construct in your chosen image) any value when they found themselves in the way of these political dreams. And you love guns, war. Great, I think we can see where this is going... BTW, the critique of "mass man" was borrowed from a bunch of leftist Frankfurt School types. I'm a conservative in the Burkean mode as it happens - I can't see how nihilistic, libertarian anarchism came to regard itself as the advance guard of conservatism, I find it puerile and intellectually adrift as well as politically and culturally clueless.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I'm not sure where I said that those who hold different views than I do "are to be denied the status of human beings" or that they be "stripped of all those elements that qualify us as human." (As an aside, I would say that there is nothing that "qualifies" us as human beings. We ARE human beings by the fact of our existence.) I'm also not sure what you mean by my "attempted reading of the world." If you mean that I think zombies should be denied status as human beings, you're right. My analogy here is that zombies are a mindless, dehumanizing, and entirely conformist mass that wishes to recruit us into their ranks by stripping from us our individual identity, dignity, and humanity. In that they are like the mob or mass man, the engine of leftist revolutions since 1789. That's why I have interpreted them as the monster of our times. I may be wrong in that interpretation. I invite others.

      Alternatively, the apocalyptic story is a common fantasy in which people get to test themselves against primitive conditions. My point is that leftist ideas aren't going to get you anywhere in a world that demands that you respond to the harshest of realities. If you try to understand zombies or sympathize with their struggle or excuse them for their actions because they are helpless victims of an imperfect society, you're going to end up as one of them--and pretty quickly.

      We can differ in our definitions of "conservative" and "liberal." In a country in which there are "conservatives" who want to expand the power and scope of government, and "liberals" who want to silence those who disagree with them, those words have become practically meaningless. I would agree with you, though, that conservatism includes skepticism towards ideology, or what one book I read called a priori reasoning. I think that conservatism is essentially non-ideological or even anti-ideological. Like I said in my posting, I think conservatism is basically the way people live when they are free.

      I'm not sure why I would sound like a totalitarian to you. To me, totalitarianism is about the theory and practice of controlling all aspects of a person's life. I have no desire to control anyone's life and I have never advocated for that. Your accusation seems odd and out of place to me. It's certainly unsupported.

      I also don't understand the term "notional Individual." Please explain. Please explain also how you came to the conclusion that I love guns and war. I can tell you I don't love either, as one is a physical object and the other is a kind of insanity and absurdity. You wrote, "Great, I can see where this is going . . ." I'm afraid I can't. Can you explain what you mean?

      As for the idea of "mass man": as I understand it, Jacob Burckhardt and Friedrich Nietzsche, two nineteenth-century European conservatives, were first to describe mass man. José Ortega y Gasset, another European conservative, expanded on the idea in the twentieth century. They were not sympathetic to the idea. Their descriptions were warnings.

      Part two below.

    2. In the real world, the eradication of the individual and the nurturing of mass man are, I think, essential for the implementation of totalitarian systems. Totalitarian systems, based as they are in ideology or a priori reasoning, tend to be leftist in orientation. One exception I can think of is in the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. But then that's a parable. It's almost impossible for me to imagine a right-wing or conservative totalitarian system in the real world. The slander is that Nazis were right-wing or conservative. (A slander towards conservatism.) They may have been reactionary in their opposition to Bolshevism, but they also despised western liberal values, including capitalism, and they oppressed and imprisoned religious leaders, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was executed by them as their system was crumbling around them. Let's not forget that they also self-identified as socialists. They were as enamored of the idea of the conformist masses as were the communists. I take them at their word.

      I don't know what the Frankfurt School had to say about mass man. I would be interested to read more.

      I consider myself a constitutional conservative. I guess that means more or less the same thing as a Burkean conservative. So in that we can agree. If that's so, I'm not sure where the misunderstanding lays. Maybe I haven't been as clear as I should have been in my writing.

      Finally, I don't really understand libertarianism, so there's no way I can understand what you mean by "nihilistic, libertarian anarchism." Capital "N" Nihilism is a leftist ideology, as is capital "A" Anarchism. I'm not sure where how that fits in with libertarianism. To me libertarians are Republicans who like to smoke pot. What a philosophy.

      Like you, I don't know how libertarianism has come to be conflated with conservatism. Maybe reading Ayn Rand has something to do with it. I don't know because I have never read anything by her. My feeling is that Ayn Rand is superfluous to conservatism. There is really nothing to be gained by reading her. The founding fathers knew whereof they spoke. They had abundant experience with tyranny, and they fashioned for us a system of government in which tyranny might not gain a foothold. Our constitution has worked. It's the oldest in the world. Its safeguards against tyranny have been weakened, but it still holds. Anyway, you don't need Ayn Rand to be a conservative. Besides being unnecessary, she was probably a whacko.

      Thanks for writing.