Every society in the world has a collective consciousness, a set of shared beliefs, attitudes, and ideas, which every individual member of that society takes for granted and “finds already formed” when they are born: “collective ways of acting or thinking [that] have a reality outside the individuals who, at any moment of time, conform to it” [Selected Writings, p. 71]. This collective consciousness is what provides individuals with a sense of belonging and identity, what’s right and wrong, acceptable and deviant. It was Émile Durkheim, who came from a long lineage of devout French Jews, who developed this concept of “collective consciousness” to explain how societies are bound together, how individuals with conflicting personal and family interests reach consensual values and avoid the Hobbesian “war of all against all”.
Peculiar Collective Conscience of White Individualists
Marx was wrong in believing that societies were held together through the coercive powers of the ruling class in control of the means of production. Utilitarian liberals were wrong in believing that the individual had been emancipated from the collective consciousness of society with the growth of individual liberties, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state. According to Durkheim, the emergence of individualism, and the spread of capitalist economic ties based on personal interests, did not bring about a “weakening but a transformation of the social bonds”. The “progressive emancipation” of the individual did not mean that the individual had “separated himself from society”. It meant that individuals were now joined to society “in a new manner” [Selected Writings, p. 115].
Durkheim drew a distinction between the “mechanical solidarity” of traditional societies and the “organic solidarity” of modern European societies. He did not call it “mechanical” because the solidarity that exists in traditional cultures is “produced by mechanical and artificial means,” but because the individuals in such a society are linked together similarly to the way the homogeneous molecules of inorganic bodies are linked, in contrast to the unity of organic bodies where each part has “greater individualization” and autonomy of functions. In traditional cultures, the collective consciousness “completely envelops” the consciousness of its members. The individual “does not belong to himself” but is “literally a thing at the disposal of society”. The collective conscience consists of a rigid set of beliefs with very little opportunity for each member to develop particular personality characteristics [Division of Labor, pp. 84-5].
The beliefs and values inhering in the collective conscience of organic societies stress the dignity and worth of the human individual. Modern European societies encourage each individual to develop their own talents, happiness and inclinations. But this does not mean that the individual has been extricated from society. Rather, the individual becomes the supreme principle of the collective consciousness. This modern European collective consciousness affords the individual with “a sphere of action that is peculiarly his own, and consequently a personality”. “The human person…is considered as sacred”.
Whoever makes an attempt on a man’s life, on a man’s liberty…inspires us with a feeling of revulsion, in everyway comparable to that which the believer experiences when he sees his idol profaned…Nowhere are the rights of man affirmed more energetically, since the individuals is here placed on the level of sacrosanct objects [Selected Writings, p. 149].
The collective consciousness of modern whites is thus very peculiar in that it “leaves uncovered a part of the individual consciousness” [Division of Labor, p. 85]. It does not demand the subordination of the individual to any religion, custom, or tradition, but encourages each person to affirm his right to freedom of association and expression and to “form ideas about the world that seem to him most fitting and to freely develop his own nature” [Selected Writings, p. 195]. Humans in this type of society become more aware of themselves as distinct personalities.
this physical resemblance among natives arises essentially from the absence of any strong psychological individuality and from the inferior state of intellectual culture in general…The homogeneity of characters within a Negro tribe is indisputable…Differences between individuals of the same tribe are insignificant [Division of Labor, p. 89].
It is true that the spread of modernization in Europe, liberal institutions and national identities, broke down distinctive dialects, reduced local characteristics and coalesced separate ethnic groupings within one nation. But this “does not prevent Frenchmen today from being much more different from one another than they were once.” “There are no longer as many differences as there are large regions, but there are almost as many differences as there are individuals” [Division of Labor, p. 91].
For all these observations, however, Durkheim believed that modern Europeans were facing a problem never seen before in history: Anomie. The discrediting of traditionally mandated values, the erosion of the authority of patriarchal relations, the loosening of individuals from communal economic ties, along with the liberation of markets, the emphasis on the pursuit of unlimited wealth — were creating individuals who were no longer morally constrained but were instead encouraged to give free reign to the satisfaction of their unlimited desires and appetites.
Humans need to be guided and restrained by society. “Men’s passions are only stayed by a moral presence they respect” [Division of Labor, p. xxxii]. They cannot decide on their own what is the meaning of life without direction, without a sense of responsibility and connectedness to others. Durkheim observed that the reason suicide rates were higher among Protestants than Catholics was their lack of communal ties, smaller families, and their emphasis on individuals developing a personal relationship with God without relying on common religious authorities. Catholic individuals were more connected to society through their greater reliance on ritualistic practices, stronger family ties, and a collective credo interpreted through the authority of priests [Selected Writings, p. 242].
Durkheim thus came to the conclusion that in order to overcome the anomic tendencies of modern societies, individuals should be encouraged to create “secondary groupings” or “occupational corporations” for the purpose of representing their interests as members of distinct classes and for the purpose of nurturing a sense of belonging and meaning beyond the sphere of their private existences. In writing about these “occupational corporations” Durkheim was thinking about the capitalist societies of his day, the hostility and conflicts between labor and capital, the commercial crises and the associated bankruptcies. He believed that the state was too distant from the lives of individuals; only corporations that were intermediate between the mass of the population and the government could provide a direct collegial life, mutual obligations and responsibilities, to ameliorate anomic feelings.
These corporations would be organized on the basis of values and norms decided upon by individuals, not on the basis of pre-established kinship ties. But what Durkheim may not have fully articulated is that, since individuals and classes are not equal in power and abilities, the norms of these corporations would come to be heavily determined by those in control of the means of propagating values and producing norms. In the modern world, the values people decide to share are no longer pre-established or handed over from the millennial past. The collective values are produced by individuals and classes in a conscious manner, and they are open for debate and control by those who come to exercise the greatest ideological power.
Ideological Collectivism of Whites
The classical Marxists thought that with the elimination of the economic power of the bourgeoisie, and the imposition of communism, a new collective consciousness would emerged. But the experiences of failed revolutionary actions taught them that the best way to impose a new collective consciousness was to attack directly the culture of individualism and the remnants of traditionalism prevailing in patriarchal families, in school curriculums, and the churches. For decades they would carry a long march through all the institutions of Western societies until they erected a whole new collective consciousness founded on feminism, equality of the races, and the replacement of white identity with postmodern identities. The West is still capitalistic, and it still adheres formally to the principles of individual rights, which the right defends but without much influence over the young who are now completely indoctrinated with the collective values of cultural Marxists in control of almost all the institutions and occupations.
The Dissident Right is mistaken when it identifies the West as individualistic without realizing that the left is now in charge of the collective consciousness of whites. Durkheim observed that wherever you find a religion you find the sacred. The left is now in almost total control of what we consider to be sacred, the civil rights movement, the holocaust, black lives matter, the rainbow flag, equality of the races, multiculturalism, human rights, diversity is our strength. All these movements and ideologies have been sacralized by the left. They offer young individuals a sense of social solidarity. Those who question these values are identified as evil to be punished accordingly.
The question then is: how can the Dissident Right construct a new collective consciousness that will bind whites together, offer them a strong identity and a meaningful existence, without pretending that one can return to the past and that one can get away from the rational individualism that is intrinsic to the West?
Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (The Free Press, 1984).
Emile Durkheim, Selected Writings (Cambridge UP, 1983).