A Blaze through the Gloom; an Interview with Arktos Media’s John Morgan by Nathan Leonard
Introductory Note: One of the byproducts of living in this highly technological age is that we are so constantly flooded with information from such a variety of media around us that we often become confused. Although our ability to communicate ideas has developed a phenomenal reach, when we stop to examine much of the information that takes up our time, we find that it is composed of fleeting ideas which are designed for short-term consumption of passing fads in which we get caught up for a short time and then remember later with nostalgia and a dash of ironic disdain. Much of what is promoted to us is a commercial transaction in some form or another. This is why it doesn’t last. Yet, part of our identity becomes intrinsically tangled in every shallow trend that sweeps us away.
John Morgan is Editor-in-Chief of Arktos Media, which publishes books that ask deeper questions about our identity and that challenge us to think differently about our role in history. Arktos has utilized innovations of globalism to provide information much different than what usually bombards us on a daily basis; ideas that cannot be blown away by winds of change for they are established in the very nature of life itself. We were fortunate to conduct the following interview with Mr. Morgan by way of email correspondence. – Nathan Leonard (from Heathen Harvest), 7 July 2014.
Heathen Harvest: Thank you for accepting this interview, John. To start, what does the name “Arktos” mean, and how does it relate to the types of books Arktos publishes?
John Morgan: Arktos is a centaur in Greek mythology. It is also the Greek word for bear, and was additionally the Greek name for the constellation of Ursa Major (Ursa is Latin for bear), which contains the Big Dipper, and which can guide one toward the North Star. Arktos was also the root of the word “arctic”. We wanted a name that was evocative of the ancient European tradition and also of “northernness”, to borrow a term coined by C. S. Lewis to describe Wagnerian art. While in Arktos we are interested in all traditional cultures, we do see ourselves as being primarily rooted in our own European heritage, and we could think of nothing more poetic than Arktos to convey that. Also, it is much less of a mouthful than Integral Tradition Publishing, which was the name of the company some of my colleagues and I had previously! As one can see from perusing the sorts of books we have published to date, many of them deal with aspects of myth and tradition, both European and otherwise.
HH: Arktos will be co-sponsoring the 2014 Identitarian Congress in Budapest this October. What is this event going to be about?
JM: We’re still working on the overall theme, as we haven’t confirmed all the speakers and participants yet. Essentially, we want to discuss the issues that unite all traditionalists, nationalists and identitarians across North America and Europe. There are so many groups, movements and thinkers across the world that are pursuing similar goals, but they rarely have the opportunity to gather in one place to compare notes and ideas, and simply to network. So, our event will be an attempt to fill that need. We also want to explore the idea of Europe as something beyond the petty nationalisms of the past, which led to the tragedy of 1914 (among others), the consequences of which are still being seen today, and also beyond the type of liberalism that has been imported here from the United States. All of our speakers will be addressing these issues, albeit in very different and unique ways.
HH: Why is Budapest the location for the conference? Is it related to your living there? Is there a movement toward traditional thinking there?
JM: The fact that Arktos is now based here was certainly a factor, yes, since it means that my colleagues and I can take care of some of the advance logistical work involved. However, on a broader level, Budapest, and Hungary more generally, is an ideal location for a gathering of traditionalists and nationalists, since Hungary is probably the country with the most vitality in relation to those fields at the present time, and certainly in Europe. Ideas that are often dismissed out of turn in other Western countries are still being openly discussed and taken seriously here. Not to mention the fact that Budapest is one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe. So, in every way, this was really the ideal location for an event of this nature.
HH: How did you first get into publishing?
JM: For a long time, I had realized that there was a great need for someone to provide an outlet for ideas such as those of the European New Right, the Conservative Revolution, and traditionalism, among others, in English. Prior to Arktos, such resources were few and far between, and often hard to find. In 2006, some friends who felt the same need managed to raise some capital, which allowed us to start our first venture, the aforementioned Integral Tradition Publishing, at the end of that year. We merged Integral Tradition Publishing into Arktos at the end of 2009, as part of a continuation of our goals. It wasn’t really something I had imagined happening, much less being a part of, prior to that time, so the fact that we were able to get this project off the ground and make it work, and that I’ve been able to dedicate most of my time to it over the past five years, is something I’m quite proud of.
HH: Are there any specific writers that inspired you in the establishment of Integral Tradition Publishing or Arktos, perhaps because you wanted them to have a wider exposure or to be introduced to English language audiences?
JM: Certainly. Going into it, we very much wanted to see more of Julius Evola’s works in English, as well as books by Alain de Benoist (only one of his books had been translated prior to Arktos), Guillaume Faye, and Alexander Dugin (the latter two of which were completely untranslated before we started). All of those authors are now in our catalog. There was already quite a bit of Evola in English before Arktos, but there was still a great deal of material left to do, particularly his political writings, which were largely unavailable before we went to work. As for Benoist, Faye and the other thinkers of the European New Right, I find it unbelievable that no one had attempted to translate them before. Benoist in particular – he’s been writing for half a century, and it’s amazing that no one got to him before us. I strongly suspect it’s due to him being called a “Rightist” (a label he rejects). If he had been a French Marxist, I’m sure everything down to his grocery lists would have been translated long ago.
HH: Are you personally a writer? If so, do you plan to publish any books in the future?
JM: I sometimes enjoy writing, although I haven’t published much apart from a short story that I wrote many years ago. I’ve occasionally written essays for Counter-Currents and a few other websites. I would like to write something more substantial in the future, yes, although my Arktos work takes up a lot of my time and energy as it is. But one of these days, yes, I would like to do something of my own.
HH: The recent election results of Members of European Parliament were described as “a political earthquake” because some members of nationalist or “Euroskeptic” parties gained seats. Do you think this represents a major shift in European thinking? What will the impact of the elections be?
JM: It’s a positive sign, to be sure, but no, I don’t think this indicates a “major shift”. If you look at most of the parties that did well – the National Front in France, Wilder’s Freedom Party, UKIP – these are liberal parties that merely have a degree of “acceptable” nationalism and anti-immigrationism as part of their platform. They don’t represent the values of the “true Right”, as Evola phrased it. Plus, as others have observed, Euroskeptic parties have a tendency to do better in the European elections than they do in the national ones, since everyone knows that the European Parliament has little in the way of real power, so they feel more comfortable doing “protest voting” in it. It’s doubtful you will see these parties do as well in their respective national elections. A French friend of mine told me that he is sure that most of the people who voted for the National Front did so as a protest vote rather than out of a real passion for their platform. So, yes, it’s good that Europeans decided to send a message of discontent to Brussels, but I’m wary of getting too excited about this just yet.
The party I find the most relatable to my own perspective in Europe today is Jobbik. They did manage to get 15% of the vote here in Hungary, but that’s actually down from the 20% they got in the national elections just last month, no doubt because part of their platform is to get Hungary out of the EU and thus many of their supporters don’t bother voting. But still, they will be sending three MEPs to parliament again, which is good.
HH: Along these same lines, are you aware of any emerging artistic movements in Europe (literary, musical, visual, or otherwise) characterized by traditionalist, nationalist, or identitarian sentiments?
JM: Unfortunately, no, not many, although that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any, but just that I don’t know of any. If there’s something in a language other than English, I may just not know about it. There certainly isn’t much in English, as I’ve looked. The Mjolnir magazine from the UK, which just released its inaugural issue, which contains fiction, poetry and art consistent with our principles, is a step in that direction. Apart from that, no, I can’t think of anything. There are some individual artists and bands working here and there, of course, like Michael Moynihan and Annabel Lee in the U.S., but I wouldn’t call that a movement, and I think that’s a problem. People on the Right are very good at complaining, and of coming up with brilliant critiques of the world as it is, but they aren’t very good at proposing alternatives or of describing exactly what it is they want. A thriving alternative culture could provide that. I always find it discomforting when I go to a Rightist Website and find photos of the “great White men” of the past, which usually includes people such as Goethe and Beethoven, but it always consists entirely of people who are dead. Where are the great artists of our movement today? They are few and far between, and those that there are are shrouded in obscurity. (The American novelist Tito Perdue, who has been published by Arktos, is one of them, in my opinion.) We shouldn’t seek to turn our culture into a museum piece, where we just talk about how great our forefathers were. We need to get creative and produce new and original visions, and that’s something I hope to continue to provide an outlet for through Arktos.
HH: Liberalism controls the arts. I have met some artists who downplay their non-liberal political or philosophical leanings for fear of potential negative consequences. To what extent do you think a traditionalist art movement is stifled by the dominant ideologies of today? Do you think there are historical examples comparable to the present situation that may be instructive in undermining these systems of control?
JM: It depends on what you mean by “traditionalist”. If you’re using it in the sense of the school of Guénon and Evola, then no, I see nothing obstructing artists from utilizing those forms, ideas and symbols. The recently-deceased Sir John Tavener, who produced several works of music openly based on the writings of Frithjof Schuon and René Guénon, as well as works derived from the Orthodox Christian tradition, and who is one of the most highly regarded modern composers in the world, indicates that there is no inherent bias in the “establishment” against that sort of traditionalism. However, if you’re using the word “traditionalist” in the broader sense which also includes things related to conservatism (in the best sense of that term) and the political Right, then yes, I don’t think it’s news to anyone that there is a strong bias against them in the mainstream artistic establishment.
The recent debacle involving the artist Charles Krafft is a reminder of that, as if we needed one. But my response to that is, so what? We’re living in an age in which putting up a website or self-publishing a book are only a few mouse-clicks away. It’s obvious that, because of innovations in technology, everything is becoming much more decentralized and that the “authorities” in the various fields have become much less important in deciding what gets disseminated or what becomes popular. There’s no reason why anyone who has a particular idea or vision can’t get it out there somehow. That’s one of the few advantages, for people of our mentality, in living in a time like this. You can put just about anything out there and find an audience. Even the aforementioned Charles Krafft has said that his business has actually gone up since the “scandal” erupted, since his new-found notoriety has gotten him a customer base he never would have had otherwise. So, no, you may not see million-dollar grants from foundations going to artists who embrace unpopular forms and ideas anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many, many other avenues and opportunities for expression open to people, if they only want to make use of them. I think the only problem is a lack of creative people in “the movement”, such as it is, or at least of creative people willing to engage with it in a substantive manner. There are some exceptions, of course. If you want to “undermine the systems of control”, there’s nothing stopping you. Technology has already given us that ability.
HH: Can you explain more fully the distinction between traditionalism as a school of Guénon and Evola versus traditionalism in the broader sense of conservatism and the political Right? For instance, you mentioned earlier that Alain de Benoist rejects his characterization as a Rightest, so how is he to be classified? On the other hand, in what sense should we understand Evola’s “Fascism Viewed from the Right”?
JM: This is something that should be readily apparent to anyone who has read either Guénon or Evola, but I’ll attempt to summarize. There can be no connection between modern-day party politics and Tradition in the sense in which Guénon and Evola understood it. For a traditionalist, only one form of government can be traditional: a monarchy in tandem with a traditional priesthood (traditional meaning from a legitimately revealed source). This, of course, was how all civilizations everywhere in the world were governed prior to 1789, but there can be nothing traditional about any other form of politics, even if elements of it can be utilized. So, conservatism, as it’s understood in the United States today, has no connection to traditionalism, even if here and there we might find some overlap, such as in a concern over certain values. As for the Right, it depends on which Right we’re talking about. When it comes to the “Right” of Republicans and libertarians, of course not, since they are the opposite of everything traditional. Even the European New Right is in no way a “traditionalist” movement, even though its thinkers have derived some inspiration from the traditionalists.
Evola himself sometimes used the term “true Right” to describe his own views, which he once defined as being those principles which were considered correct and normal everywhere in the world before 1789. Guénon, for his part, was completely uninterested in the politics of his day, and there’s no indication that he ever engaged with politics in any way, since he regarded everything of modern extraction to be unworthy of anything apart from rejection to the furthest extent possible. Evola, as is well-known, was a critic of Italian Fascism during its reign, although he himself was never a Fascist, and both during and after the Fascist period he always said that he had only ever supported Fascism insofar as it represented traditional principles – which he felt it largely failed to do. In Evola’s later life, of course, he held that apoliteia was the only sensible course – complete disengagement from the political world, except insofar as how it might be beneficial to an individual’s self-development, by engaging in a manner that was disinterested in any result that might follow from such activity. So, in Evola titling his book Fascism Viewed from the Right, he was making it clear that he was analyzing Fascism from the perspective of the “true Right”, not from that of the Right of our time – a point he makes quite clear in the book itself.
I myself am not advocating this position, as I don’t consider myself to be a traditionalist in the same sense as I described above. However, I always make this distinction because I think there is a lot of confusion about the term, and people often use it in a muddled or confused way these days. There are other perfectly valid uses of the word “traditionalism”, of course, but if one is attempting to use it in the sense that Guénon or Evola did, one must keep what I have just reiterated in mind in doing so.
As for Benoist rejecting the Rightist label, it is factual that the name “New Right” has never been applied by Benoist’s Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne to itself, but was foisted upon them by hostile French journalists during the 1970s. Benoist himself has written that he regards himself as being, not neither Left nor Right, but rather both Left and Right. Which makes sense, because he has derived a great deal of inspiration from Marxist and other Leftist intellectuals, as well as from the Rightist tradition. I think it’s important for those who oppose civilization as it is currently constituted to bear in mind that there is just as much opposition to liberalism on the radical Left – among some Marxists, anarchists, ecologists, and postmodernists – as on the radical Right. One shouldn’t limit oneself by imposing artificial barriers to thought and ideas based solely on labels.
HH: Earlier you mentioned Charles Krafft as an artist affiliated with the Right, yet Krafft’s style could be called Pop Art or Post-modern, which seems contradictory to the ideals of traditionalism. Another example might be the paintings of the late Jonathan Bowden. Similarly, I’ve thought it paradoxical that industrial music and noise seem to open a door to martial imagery and “old” values like courage and honor. Do you have an opinion about how this almost hypermodern art relates to the “New Right” and anti-modernism? How would you define great art?
JM: I would agree about Charlie’s style, although to my knowledge he’s never called himself a traditionalist. I don’t even know if he would call himself a “Rightist”, for that matter. I cited him as an example since what happened to him shows what can happen if you use themes or motifs in your art that are not officially sanctioned by the establishment’s critics (unless “ironically”, of course), and most especially if you have disapproved friends or affiliations, as Charlie does. But no, it would be ridiculous to call Charlie’s art “traditionalist”, although he does sometimes incorporate traditional elements into his work, from Buddhism and Hinduism in particular. The same goes for Bowden’s art (and I like some of it). At the same time, personally I am not someone who thinks that we have to see Tradition as a static thing that has to be constantly reiterated in the same way and in the same style as it has before. Artistic forms, like reality itself, are constantly evolving and changing, and we shouldn’t always fear the new (although neither should we accept it unreservedly). For example, two of the greatest traditionalist (in a non-doctrinal sense) artists of recent decades for me would be the filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. They were operating in a medium which is entirely a product of modernity in every way, and which, let’s face it, 99% of the time is used for degenerative purposes. And both of them, Syberberg in particular, are not only filmmakers, but avant-garde filmmakers who used highly unorthodox methods of a style that were often similar to that of the heights of “liberal” cinema (Surrealism, the French New Wave, and so forth). And yet for me, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Nostalgia, and The Sacrifice, as well as Syberberg’s Parsifal, rank as some of the most spiritual works of art I have ever experienced. I think they communicate the essence of what Tradition is, even though they are entirely modern in conception and assume a form that is non-traditional. If something can convey such an experience of meaning, or open up new vistas of meaning and new ways of viewing reality, then it’s good in my judgment, even if it may be unorthodox. The modern itself can be used to undo, or perhaps alter is more accurate, itself.
HH: What types of books has Arktos been publishing recently? Are there any that you believe to be particularly noteworthy?
JM: Arktos has been a bit slow the past few months, although that’s about to pick up dramatically. Of recent titles, The Dharma Manifesto is quite interesting. This is an attempt to apply Vedic principles to the political situation in America today by a noted Hindu teacher, Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, and is unique of its kind. We also reprinted the complete run of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Conservative, a political and cultural journal he edited and contributed to that’s not very well-known and has been unavailable for a long time. We’ve been issuing editions of Markus Willinger’s Generation Identity in other languages, as that was one of our most popular books in English and German last year. We also have published a number of books by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar through an agreement with his Art of Living Foundation. Sri Sri is one of the most popular gurus in India at present, and we are pleased to be able to make his books more accessible in the West. Also, my friend Brian’s book Zombology: Zombies and the Decline of the West (and Guns) will be out soon. That’s a study of the sociopolitical implications of the zombie phenomenon, what it says about our contemporary culture and how it has manifested, particularly in relation to American gun culture. We also have new books by Alexander Dugin (Putin vs. Putin, his critique of Putin as a leader), Alain de Benoist (On the Brink of the Abyss, his book on the 2008 financial crisis), Guillaume Faye (Sex and Perversion, his study of modern sexuality), and some titles by the well-known writer on Paganism, Richard Rudgley, among many others, coming out soon.
HH: We look forward to reading some of those. Thank you for the interview.
JM: Thanks for having me. We’re doing this work for people like you!
Morgan, John B. “A Blaze through the Gloom; an Interview with Arktos Media’s John Morgan.” Interview by Nathan Leonard. Heathen Harvest Periodical, 7 July 2014. <http://heathenharvest.org/2014/07/07/a-blaze-through-the-gloom-an-interview-with-arktos-medias-john-morgan/ >.