Nihilism and the Crisis of Tradition: Arendt and Contemporary Radical Conservatism

Alexey Zhavoronkov
2018 Sociologičeskoe Obozrenie  
The present paper is a preliminary approach to the question of the applicability of Hannah Arendt's ideas on tradition and nihilism to the analysis of contemporary radical conservatism. For this purpose, I examine Arendt's essays of the 1940s and 1950s which shed light on the origins of the European conservatism crisis, and the difference between traditionalist and anti-traditionalist thinking. These arguments on the nihilistic aspects of radical conservatism, which legitimizes itself by
more » ... es itself by appealing to a crisis of tradition, illustrate the shortcomings of Karl Mannheim's analysis of conservatism and traditionalism. In order to complement Arendt's rather fragmentary concept of conservatism, I use the definitions of adjectival and nominal conservatism to define the key differences between genuine conservatism and radical conservatism (pseudo-conservatism). Based on the analysis of the past, I address the question of why Arendt is important to the understanding of contemporary pseudo-conservatism, including its historical origins, self-description, and key instruments. Lastly, I explain why, together with Arendt, we should choose a broader perspective by focusing on analyzing the crisis of judgement in the public sphere and the resulting distortion of the ideas of tradition and dialogue, rather than simply describing contemporary radical conservatism as the spiritual successor to National Socialism. The rise of right-wing, national-conservative movements and parties in Europe and across the world over the past decade has been accompanied by the new popularity of pseudo-conservative strategies. The idea of a political, economic, and social crisis pertaining to a certain cultural tradition is used as a pretext for unexpected, situational decisions. The rhetoric around preserving values has transformed into political revisionism and aggressive claims against both real and imaginary, internal and external opponents. Pseudo-conservatism feels perfectly at home under the conditions of the constant hastening of the social and political processes of decision-making, toying with incompatible arguments, and not shying away from direct confrontation or the risks associated with the alleged necessity of an immediate rescue of traditional values. My paper will examine some key aspects of this phenomenon, traditionally called radical conservatism (or ultraconservatism), from the perspective of Hannah Arendt's thought as a theoretical
doi:10.17323/1728-192x-2018-4-144-157 fatcat:gtmzxxu6tncmdnoqjkn4bb4sru