The following guest post is by RepCom1140
Last summer’s second season of True Detective was a disappointment to many. However, the ideology at the heart of this season’s story spoke to me as I happened to be witnessing a burgeoning ideological movement unfold on Twitter. What began as the elitist “neoreaction” was rapidly overshadowed by a populist “alt-right.” While absorbing bits and pieces of the purposes and beliefs of these people, I couldn’t help but see similarities between these Twitterers and the show. A year later, the alt-right having achieved a legitimacy of sorts through its feverish support of Donald Trump’s campaign for the US Presidency, I have to take a sober reassessment of the state of the American far-right.
For the protagonists of True Detective Season 2, society appears to be in steady decline, with death the only certainty in life. The nihilistic overtones and reluctant hope make it the frontrunner for reactionary show of the year. Far-right Twitter crosses paths with the show as most of the characters are obsessed about masculinity, women, and race, often hilariously so.
- Vince Vaughn’s gangster Frank Semyon believes “A good woman mitigates our baser tendencies.”
- Colin Farrell’s corrupt, down’n’out detective Ray Velcoro quips “I support feminism; mostly by having body image issues.”
- While Ray’s father grouses about his past in the LAPD he tells his son today’s world is “No country for white men, boy.”
- Frank one-ups this with a retort to a corrupt city official: “You don’t direct me. Khe Sahn motherf__ker.” “I’m Chinese.” “Well then go stand in front of a tank.”
Detective Paul Woodrugh’s mother is no different, advising her son to leave his pregnant Spanish girlfriend: “You’re a good looking white man. You get in shootouts. You could do anything you like.”
All of the main characters in the show are damaged in some way. Some try to correct their faults or overcome their demons, others simply embrace the darkness, and some never quite figure out what’s going on. One could pick a far-right Twitter account out of a hat and one of these characters would match up to the levels of fear, hatred, and insecurity the anonymous Pepe’s exhibit. Ray Velcoro is obsessed with the idea that he’s been “cucked” by a rapist and that his son may not be his own flesh and blood. That regrettable word doesn’t appear in the show but Ray is a perfect avatar for every deluded soul who thinks racial purity will somehow bring glory to a nation that was never “great.” After his marriage fell apart Ray’s method of dealing with his problems involves rock n roll, whiskey, cocaine, pull ups, beer, and tears – in that order. Though Ray projects a rugged demeanor his unrepentant self is not much different from the pasty would-be assassin (a dead ringer for those “nerd with a katana” image macros) who mumbles “I am the blade and the bullet” before attempting to kill the city’s corrupt police chief. This is all the more funny (or sad) considering the basement dwelling keyboard warriors rubbing digital shoulders with adherents to the “#HarambeMindset.”
An obsession about authenticity and masculinity plagues both Velcoro and Woodrugh. Ray’s father was the image of a tough guy cop who probably very liberal giving out wood shampoos or worse in the days when police could get away with anything. Woodrugh has Clint Eastwood as a father figure, and his assumed taciturn sulking does him no favors either. Sometimes it’s just absurd the things that bother them. Both men comment on different occasions about disliking their fellow detective Ani Bezzerides’ e-cigarette. Adopting an affectation of “manliness” or caring overmuch about your method of nicotine delivery does not make you a more virtuous person and just seems like wasted effort. Yet “authentic masculinity” is one of the fixations of the far-right that is constantly rearing its wimpy balding head.
Even the quasi-intellectual neoreactionaries get their due. A major problem with reaction is its desire for the aesthetics of religion without certain hard teachings. Frank’s desire for revenge expresses this perfectly: “If that’s the kind of thing that keeps you out of heaven… I don’t want to go.” Another significant problem is reaction’s desire for order – any kind really – just so long as undesirables or ideological enemies are kept in their place. This is most clear whenever policing scandals or university unrest makes the news. Even though it means siding with the masters of the liberal order, the far-right never fails to take this position. Finally, reactionary thought goes wrong when it believes that the last good people to be an elite or unhappy few. Amidst the corruption and ambivalence our True Detectives face down there are actual good people around them if they’d only take the time to realize it. Elvis, Ani Bezzerizes’ partner and one-time boyfriend has constantly had her back in the county sheriff’s office and comes through for her one last time when her family’s life is on the line. Frank’s bodyguard “Nails” demonstrates his loyalty, standing by his boss while everyone else plots against him. Felicia, the barkeep at Frank and Ray’s favorite dive looks out for the drunken Velcoro, letting him sleep off his benders in a dingy booth. As the end draws near for him, Frank repays her loyalty by signing over the ownership of the bar to her. This is an action of no small significance as she hails from Venezuela and Frank has grudges against foreigners encroaching on his territory. I’d wager that there are good people to be found in far more instances in the IRL world. Imagine if the far-right could just go to church, talk to the normies leaving the pews after Mass, forget about the absurdities of race war, tumblr, and cuckoldry. They might just become real human beings.
The reason for my concern with reaction in its various forms is similar to my fascination with the characters of True Detective. They’re “on to something,” much like a Walker Percy protagonist, but they don’t possess the whole truth just yet. Frank can abandon an attempt at a IVF pregnancy saying “this whole thing is unnatural” without having taken a course in bioethics. Woodrugh can say and mean “I’m just trying to be a good man.” Ani Bezzerides nonjudgmental hippie father exclaims “Oh God… God damn everything” for her to reply “That’s what I say.” Faint memories of faith and conscience are there for the True Detective just as Twitter reactionaries know modernity is a poison, even if they don’t know how to fix it (or their methods are literally insane).
True Detective should challenge the reactionary mindset. “We get the world we deserve” is a fine place to start one’s political thought, for remembering the wages of sin can often spur one towards a life of virtue. Too often, however, this ends in unrequited longing for the perceived good times of yesteryear. This is particularly troubling when that fondly remembered past actually incubated the current problems of modernity.
True Detective finds its heroes betrayed by the system they swore to uphold and protect. The modern reactionary should realize that the respectability they seek to uphold by law and order cannot correct society’s problems. The vengeful detectives end up shot up and exiled while the respectable politicians who signed off on their death warrants smile for photographs. The corrupt align with both political parties as it suits them – the plastic surgery shrink has a copy of Obama’s Audacity of Hope behind his desk and the mayor of Vinci has a photo of him and President George W Bush. Respectability is a similarly thin veneer that Vince Vaughn’s gangster cannot preserve by honest living – to be respectable is the domain of those who wield power with no thought for morality.
One sees entry-level “trads” whose fondness for respectable Victorian/Southern aristocratic aesthetics excuses the flagrant injustices of those societies. The British aristocracy was created from the sacking of the monasteries and convents by Henry VIII and the distribution of those lands to cronies of the king. The Southern variety (which I’d distinguish from the honest small landowners who made up the majority of the South) built their way of life on that most “peculiar institution” of slavery. Both the Victorian & Southern aesthetic are united under liberalism, that all-encompassing political philosophy borne of the Enlightenment. If we want to correct the problems of modernity, this evil must be traced to the source. Appeals to aesthetics are doomed to failure because those traditions developed as a result of the societal structures that enabled them. Christopher Ferrara has documented the poison of Enlightenment thought in Liberty: the god that failed as the reason why the American dream could never be more than an imagined greatness and why conservatives constantly fail to conserve anything they hold dear.
The alt-right and neoreaction ought to see the subtle minority-blaming of certain depressed paleoconservatives as the wicked and foolish thing it is, not amplify it. The oft-quoted Chesterton has a reminder for those that would not remove the beam from their own eyes. When asked “what’s wrong with the world?” he replied “I am.” It was the “white male” thinkers of Europe that rebelled against the reigning philosophy of the Scholastics. It is their revolution that changed the end of the state from assisting its citizens to reach their Final End of salvation. The favored scapegoats of 20th & 21st century “traditionalists,” such as Freemasons, Jews, & blacks, are not the objects modern reactionaries ought be directing their ire towards, nor are Tumblr-kin or male (and otherwise) feminists all that significant an adversary.
To realign one’s ideological targeting reticle, recall Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the DOMA decision. He has the foresight to realize anyone attempting to maintain the tenets of Christianity must soon be declared hostes humani generis by modern secular liberal society. He stops short of hoisting the black flag – if one takes his conclusion to the obvious conclusion, it makes no sense siding with the establishment, whether it’s universities against protesters, police against blacks, or divorcees against homosexuals. These conflicts are all the fruits of secular liberalism. This is the American Dream the Founders fought for. This is why America can never be “Great” again.