Doing the Right Thing
An interview with Colin Liddell (Alternative Right)
I started writing as a teenager, when I was drawn to poetry, as many are. I liked the intensity of the medium and also the fact that it was economical with paper. I have also done a few short stories and have even attempted longer forms, but I have had no interest in the marketing side, so I let that wither and die; although I keep thinking, if Andy Nowicki can do it, so can I. Yes, he’s a real inspiration!. My first properly published material was for Riff Raff, a London-based rock magazine that existed from 1989 to around 1995, which was founded by Mark Crampton, initially a friend of my brother. My first piece for them was a live review of the Rolling Stones. Since then I have branched out to cover almost anything – economics, politics, art, philosophy, speculative science, you name it. Over the years I have been quoted by a number of eminent people, from Jack Donovan to Bono.
You seem to have a lot of websites. What are the main ones, and is there a connecting theme between them?
“Websites” sounds rather grand. From around 2009 I started making blogs on Blogger. I wanted to make my writing available on the internet, but I also saw it as a way of archiving and backing up my writing, and as a way of making it easier to search. I also started to add new content, longer articles as well as short blog pieces to sort of “mentally bookmark” interesting themes and ideas I came across. My main blog in terms of effort and hits is Revenge of Riff Raff, which is described as “the sordid internet afterlife of a 90s rock magazine.” There is also “Y’know – interviews with the famous,” where I try to put fully transcribed interviews that I have done with famous and interesting people. I hate to name drop, but over the years I have interviewed people like Ian Astbury of the Cult, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, Herbie Hancock, Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, and photographic legend Nobuyoshi Araki, to name a mere handful. By the way Araki used a photo he sneakily took of me in one of his many photo books, “Tokyo Kinbaku” (Tokyo Bondage).
Can you tell us a bit about your largest project, the New Alternative Right website? What are your future plans for this website? Will you continue to run the site in its current form or do have new ideas on how the site will develop in the future?
There is a real need for something like Alternative Right, which is essentially a space where modern-day heretics, who don’t necessarily agree with each other, can find expression. We live in a very post-Christian world, where, despite the momentous decline of Christianity as a totalitarian force, we still face very Christian attitudes about limiting the narrative and what constitutes legitimate and illegitimate discourse. We have a need to get back to the incredibly free-thinking ways of the ancient Greeks. Often sites like Alternative Right, which operate outside and against the mainstream, have a tendency to narrow their outlook to that of the ideology of the dominant personality. For example, I don’t think a site like Radix would publish anything too critical of Russia at the moment – even if Putin ate a baby. Likewise Counter-Currents or the Occidental Observer, both of which I write for, would be unlikely to give much space to a viewpoint that exonerated Jews for the evils of modernity. At Alt-Right, you have two personalities, Andy Nowicki and myself, as editors, who are actually quite different in our outlooks and interests. Andy is a Catholic, which I can never understand, but we have a fair amount of affection and respect for each other, so you have openness and a belief in intellectual diversity encoded into the DNA of the site. Alas this even-handedness tends to keep donations to a minimum because donors tend to reward partisanship, but partisanship, of course, tends to limit objectivity, breadth of consciousness, insight, and intellectual potency – and we’re all about intellectual potency (and occasional cheap shots!). As someone who has spent many years in Japan, I have learnt that I have a natural Zen outlook in that I try not to become over-focused on one outlook or an idée fixe. In its own way Alt-Right reflects this psychological tendency. In the future, we would like to make the site much slicker, but noodling around with websites is neither Andy’s or my strong point, so we’ll continue to keep it simple and focus mainly on the writing and breaking new talent. When time and funds permit, we will strive to upgrade and improve things (and pay writers), but we prefer to under-promise and over-deliver rather than boast about outlandish schemes that never materialize.
How do feel about Pagan Traditions? Do you think they can be revived or is this just a personal interest?
I actually think they can and should be revived, although it has to be done with extreme care. People will always have a need for religion and where they don’t have a religious outlet, something else will fill that vacuum, often with absurd consequences. Michael Enoch’s article “Finding God Through Your Anus,” which we republished on Alt Right after he ran it on The Right Stuff, contains a good example of how this process works. Also, it’s almost become something of a truism that, in the early 20th century, political ideologies acted as religions. Nowadays we often see people drawn to various causes with an almost fanatical religious ferocity. When you talk about reviving pagan beliefs, it brings to mind New Age idiots, hippy druids, or drugged-up “flower people,” which can be dispiriting, but an authentic non-Abrahamic religious culture in the modern world is certainly possible, as proved by India and Japan, where a perfectly respectable pagan culture – Shintoism – exists side-by-side with ultra-modernity.
Do you see any similarities between the Pagan Traditions of Europe and the Japanese Traditions such as Shinto and animism?
All the time – for example, the local festivals where Japanese citizens carry omikoshis (portable shrines) as a way of spiritually purifying their local area, reminded me very much of the Burryman Festival in Queensferry in Scotland, which I have attended twice. The Burryman Festival, like a lot of our quainter British traditions, is an obvious leftover from pagan culture. The main similarity is the way the procession passes through the neighbourhood and the element of self-inflicted suffering for those at the heart of the ceremony. Also, despite there being many charming Shinto shrines, Shintoism is essentially a churchless religion in that it locates holiness in natural sites, reminiscent of the groves sacred to the Druids and pagan European tribes. While churches are essentially built in population centres, manned by priests, and partially serve a financial purpose, Shinto shrines tend to be placed outside towns, at least historically, and are typically unmanned, unless they are particularly big and famous. On the negative side I also see similarities between Japanese religious fanaticism, on that rare occasion when it existed – in the period leading up to WWII – and our own brand of Christian fanaticism, but that is mainly because I once worked as a translation assistant for a Japanese book 日本人の見出した元神 (Nihonjin no Midashita Kami) that the author, Tokuko Oyama, wanted to translate into English. Unfortunately, apart from a few academic papers published through SOAS, none of her work made it into English. Among other things, the book uses Japanese sources to demonstrate the effect that Catholic fanaticism and the suicidal self-sacrifice of the Christian Shimbara rebels had in stimulating similar absolutist strains in Shintoism.
You contributed an article the second edition of Aristokratia. What is your perspective on aristocracy (or neo-aristocracy) in general?
I see aristocracy not necessarily as a bunch of powered, perfumed fops and ladies in powdered wigs and silk lace, which is what the word seems to evoke for most people. For me, aristocracy is the intellectual and spiritual excess that anybody is able to create above the brute conditions of physical survival. Naturally the rich and well-born have an advantage here, but they certainly don’t have a monopoly, and often have more distractions. For example, a poor farm boy like Thomas Carlyle was obviously more of a natural aristocrat than most, if not all of the lords and ladies of his day. For me, aristocracy is typified by the ancient Greek philosophers, who, because they had a degree of independence from the economic struggle – either through affluence or contempt for affluence (e.g. Diogenes) – could create an intellectual and spiritual excess that we can define as Aristokratia. The same thing is apparent from a study of the Malthusian economics that dominated the period before 1800 as detailed in Gregory Clark’s economic study, “A Farewel to Alms”: Whenever improvements in technology appeared that improved material conditions, they either helped boost the wealth and luxury of the aristocracy or the living conditions of the poor. In the former case, there was usually some benefit to art and science, while in the latter case they were simply absorbed by a pointless rise in the population of the poorest, who were thereby dragged back down to their original level of poverty. Nowadays, because of the democratic ethos, there is a general belief that any gain in a society’s material wealth should be ploughed back into making life more comfortable or pleasurable for the masses, improving hospitals and schools, cutting bus fares, bringing in minimum wages, boosting consumerism, etc. This essentially means reformulating the economic struggle and the conditions of physical survival to include everything, while abolishing the idea of anything higher. This delegitimizing of the intellectual and spiritual excess represents the destruction of society’s aspirational aspect. Demokratia is not only the death of Aristokrati, but also the stagnation and decline of humanity. A perfect example of this is America’s space program, in essence an aristocratic endeavour. From the days NASA could put men on the moon and think about colonizing Mars, this has been pared back to a shrinking affirmative action hiring program that is now earthbound, all because the democratic ethos demands welfare, food stamps, and consumeristic economics over achieving true human mastery over our environment. This policy, which seems to be ‘humanistic,’ is in fact quite the opposite as it leaves us at the mercy of the inhuman forces of the cosmos.
I’ve read some other articles by you on art and music. What is your background in the arts and music? Do you have any artists or musicians you would recommend to the readers?
Thanks to Riff Raff and my brother and our mutual friend Mark Crampton, I got into writing about music, but over the years I have written much more on art. While an impoverished student in London, I made full use of the art galleries there, and often used them as a cheapskate date venue. This led me to quickly develop my understanding of the artworks so that I could ‘hold forth’ on them and explain all their intricacies in a suitably impressive manner. I developed an almost proprietal sense of many of the paintings in the National Gallery, such as Hogarth’s “Marriage à-la-mode,” Holbein’s “The Ambassadors,” and many of the mythological works, like Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne.” As for recommendations, I would point people in the direction of Rembrandt, whose way of lighting a painting is always a wonder. I am also a big fan of the more edgy examples of post-impressionist and expressionist art, although – if you’re not in the right mood – it can be quite ugly, but I am interested in art that combines elements of ugliness and beauty – something of a Gothic sensibility! This can often be found in Art Noveau and some Japanese art, like that of Fuyuko Matsui. As for music, I think that people’s tastes tend to be particularly subjective and generational. I grew up liking a lot of the new wave music of the 80s – Simple Minds, New Order, even U2 – and idealistic Celtic rock bands like Big Country and The Alarm. No doubt the younger generation will sneer. I’m also a big hard rock and metal fan –Priest and AC/DC – and then there’s prog, a mixed bag but definitely one worth exploring, with bands like Marillion (the Fish period) and Porcupine Tree. The one musician I would recommend to anyone with a religious fervour is Mike Scott of the Waterboys, an obvious genius in my book: very spiritual (or is he just emotionally needy in an abstract way?) His lyrics are like poetry, and seem to have a real pagan sense. As for his musical abilities, his recent musicalization of the poetry of W.B. Yeats, “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats,” shows how potent these are on their own.
What are your literary inspirations?
I don’t think of myself as a literary type. I like to think of myself as an ideas man, and tend to think that language should be clear and communicative. So, if I have any literary ambition, it is to have better ideas and the ability to explain them as clearly as possible. I am reminded of something I heard about Yukichi Fukuzawa, one of the Meiji period modernizers, which may or may not be apocryphal. I heard that he used to run everything he wrote past an old peasant woman to make sure that he had expressed himself clearly. In terms of reading, the biggest influence on me has been the ancient Greek writer Plutarch, a copy of whose Parallel Lives, in the appropriate translation (Langhorne), fell into my hands at a tender and impressionable age. I still have the book, which is very closely printed and extremely tattered. I am also influenced by Nikolai Gogol. During my teens I was deeply into Russian literature – the usual suspects: Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, etc., but excluding Tolstoy, whom I didn’t care for. It was Gogol and his wonderful sense of animism and hyperbole that stayed with me the most. Other influential books were Fraser’s “Golden Bough” and the work of the ‘zoo-anthropologist’ Desmond Morris.
Have you any new projects planned and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Rather than concrete plans, I have nebulous ever-mutating aspirations – that’s what makes me so dangerous!