Tag Archives: modernism

Marxist Conservatism

One ought to recognize in the Marxist critique of capitalism a covert loyalty to an antecapitalist community. Marx was too sophisticated, too urbane to throw in his lot with those he dismissed as utopian socialists, yet, as his early writings show, his animus against capitalism derived, like theirs, from a reaction against capitalism’s desecration–desacralization–of traditional, patriarchal norms. He was, at heart a romantic reactionary, but forced by intellectual vanity to give his anticapitalism an avant-garde “progressive” cover, a project facilitated by the mental suppleness he absorbed from Hegelian dialectics.

If this covert nostalgia for the predeluvian past at the heart of Marxism is acknowledged, then the tendency of communist revolutions to bring to power archly paternal figures like the Man of Steel and the Great Helmsman can be appreciated as preservative of an ancient notion of regality. In effect, communism was able to give an absolutism threatened by the encroaching democratic corruption a new lease on life, thus safeguarding in distorted but still recognizable form the authority of the Great Father. Insofar as masculinity and what today is disparaged as “authoritarianism” are essentially the same thing, communism can be credited with having found a way to reinvent heroic virility as a modern virtue. This is why the monuments and edifices that remain from the Stalinist era, despite efforts to dismiss them as bombastic anachronisms or icons of “totalitarianism,” are paragons of aesthetic probity compared to the hysterically performative structures to which the postmodern cult of lameness has accustomed us.

Communism ultimately failed because, like modernism in general, it could not sustain the contradiction of attempting a modern, secular, humanist revival of a world that modernity, secularism, and humanism had destroyed. Nonetheless, the passing of modernism has left a void because modernism, for all its paradoxes, was the last heroic gesture that a senescent Western civilization was capable of before it completely surrendered to flaccidity.


The monochrome testifies to a recognition of  painting as an action, i.e. as coverage, as work, as performance. It is a repudiation of painting’s pictorial relevance after the medium cedes representational primacy to photography. The monochrome proletarianizes painting by making the production of a painted canvas all but indistinguishable from the craft production of a painted wall. And yet, with repetition, the meaning of this gesture, so radical in its implications,  is inverted, and the monochrome becomes instead the sign of an extreme aestheticism. In this, I think one glimpses how modernism failed: it was meant to be a transitional aesthetic, a bridge to a future in which art would no longer be distinguished from the productive activity of the emancipated worker, but this future never came, and with repetition modernism’s radical gestures became mannerisms. And its products,  profane receptacles for the ill-gotten gains of oligarchs.