Reaction Time: Radical Cultural Conservatism after World War II

Venue: House of Sciences and Letters, Helsinki. Date: June 4–5, 2015

Official page at the University of Jyväskylä

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Radical cultural conservatism is one of the most significant, yet also most overlooked, intellectual trends in 20th-century Western political thought. It gained its classic contours in the work of Oswald Spengler, Charles Maurras, Edgar Jung, Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, Julius Evola, Mircea Eliade and others, and is again resurfacing as a salient force in 21st-century discourses. Radical cultural conservatism is not to be neglected if we wish to understand the historical background of late modern political fluctuations, such as the rise of a particular type of far-right ideology. This ideology cannot be traced back to National Socialism and classical fascism alone. Nazism and fascism were largely wiped out in WWII; radical cultural conservatism underwent a crisis, too, but nevertheless survived, first in the European academic community and later in European political life.

Many radical conservatives, such as Eliade, Heidegger, Jünger, and Schmitt as well as their younger followers, continued to write and publish after the war. They inspired new generations of intellectuals and politicians in Europe and also in the United States, where the heritage of radical conservatism is visible in authors such as Leo Strauss, Friedrich A. Hayek, and Hans Morgenthau. In the 1960s, also proponents of the intellectual left adopted ideas developed by radical conservatives at the beginning of the century, first in Italy and subsequently in Germany, France, and the US. Even today, a number of those notions and concepts circulate in the academic world, including the ideas of violence as the origin of order, of conflict as the irreducible fact of human life, of sacrifice as the condition of meaning, and of universalism as a mask for imperialism.

Despite such continuities, the post-WWII heritage of radical cultural conservatism is a relatively unexplored page in modern intellectual history. The aim of the conference is to contribute to the filling of this lacuna and to critically examine the intellectual heritage of the radical conservative ideology by focusing on the ways in which this ideology was preserved, affirmed, reappropriated, and transformed in Western intellectual and political life since the 1940s. This will help to uncover the roots and developmental origins of contemporary radical conservative movements such as the Nouvelle Droite in France and Neo-Eurasianism in Russia, most prominently theorized by Alain de Benoist and Alexander Dugin, respectively.

The two-day conference is organized by the research project The Intellectual Heritage of Radical Cultural Conservatism (funded by the Academy of Finland) in collaboration with the Finnish Association of Researchers.

Keynote lecture by Prof. Richard Wolin. (City University of New York)

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