Thoughts out of season – the future of traditionalism (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
(The earliest drafts of this essay go back to October 1985.)
Confronted with the emerging dystopia towards which Left-liberalism is tending, it might well be asked where is there hope for true change to be found in the world? It may be argued that it is not only found in such places as the churches (or the traditionalist elements therein), which are themselves under severe attack, but also in some rather unlikely places. Indeed, some might argue that the science fiction and fantasy genres, constitute, to a certain extent at least, a possible mode of resistance to Economic Determinist society. There appear to be a series of deep tensions in these genres which go beyond matters of artistic form and convention. Of course, there is the writing of crass Left-liberal or radical Left propaganda tracts, which do nothing but entrench the status-quo of Economic Society. These either present traditionalist or neo-traditionalist societies as grotesquely caricatured dystopias (e.g., Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale) or present societies even more radically anti-traditional than ours as highly-positive (or at least not too bad, and supposedly realistically-possible -- e.g., Samuel Delany's Triton). But in most science fiction and fantasy works, there is a clear tension between generically liberal or socialist positions on the surface, and the deeper level of satisfying the truly natural human desires for archetypal meaning and harmony. (This can be seen even in much of supposedly "feminist-oriented" fantasy, such as that of Marion Zimmer Bradley, which seems to transcend dogmatic latter-day feminism.) A high proportion of works in the sf and fantasy genres seem to totally reject Left-liberal premises. (The Lord of the Rings and Dune being two outstanding examples.) Although the George Lucas Star Wars series clearly contained certain ideational ambiguities, it could nevertheless be fairly safely interpreted as a cheering, heroic series of movies that played not a small part in the renewal of American willingness to resist the Soviet empire in the 1980s.
It may be argued that an overall tension exists in these genres between the shoring up of the Left-liberal status-quo, and the call for something better. Indeed, a similar argument might be advanced for much of the rock music genre, especially as it existed in the 1980s. While rock music is one of the primary means for the "socialization" of youth into liberal "reality," at the same time, it maintains strong Romantic and idealistic themes, however distorted they might sometimes be.
One can also point today to the burgeoning genre of "the lonely, wounded hero," typified by Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera, The Beauty and the Beast television series, Tim Burton's art-deco/gothic re-interpretation of Batman, the first Highlander movie, as well as Ladyhawke (which showed a single knight dressed in black fighting on behalf of the Church of Rome against an evil heretical bishop and sorcerer of seemingly infinite powers).
On the one hand, the sf/fantasy genres offer as their main benefit, a temporary, drug-like escape from the soul-destroying, deadening world of Economic Society and economic values -- thus, paradoxically, helping to maintain the status-quo. On the other hand, there can be discerned a real hope for a better society than one based on brute force and economic power-relations and false ideologies. The new-old society pictured in much of science fiction is often classified as one of "feudal values plus high technology." (Judith Merril indeed was complaining in 1985 that most of popular science fiction was pervaded by such a reactionary typology.) What sort of society could this correspond to in the real world?
It could be seen as a society which combines the deep wisdom and spiritual fulfillment of premodern society with the benefits of technology used for the person, not against him or her. It could be seen as a society where those who seek the Higher Good and Higher Truth are rewarded, yet which integrates all men and women into an overarching harmony full of meaning, satisfying their archetypal desire for what is truly natural.
Science fiction offers us a warning as well. If we do not take this course, there await us a whole series of liberal "utopias," and coercively totalitarian dystopias, or possibly, various technological disasters.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.