Travels in Cultural Nihilism: Some Essays
Stephen Pax Leonard
“Many people advised me to write it under a pseudonym, for sailing too close to the wind is a dangerous business these days…It will perhaps mark my ‘swan song,’ academically speaking at least.” Thus begins Travels in Cultural Nihilism, a volume of twelve essays by the Oxford ethnographer Stephen Pax Leonard and one of the most eloquent and refreshing books I’ve had the recent pleasure to read. Perhaps overshadowed by the publication of Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, which touches the same overarching theme – the collapse of the West, Leonard’s book is significantly wider in scale, richer in detail, deeper in analysis, and more impassioned in its deliberations. While several essays concern the morbidity of post-modern Swedish culture (where the author has spent some time living as a fascinated and concerned observer), Leonard also offers robust and at times poignant meditations on Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the nature of the European Union project, same-sex marriage, feminism, Islam, the nature of pathological liberalism, and the insidious spread of Cultural Marxism. The author interacts effortlessly with the thought of Heidegger, Evola, Spengler, Scruton, Nietzsche, and Schmitt, while taking aim at Foucault, Gramsci, and a large cast of contemporary malevolent political actors. Leonard, a Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, is a trained linguist. He has previously published books on Scandinavia and the Arctic regions, including a fascinating Guardian article on his time among the Arctic Inugguit. Possessed of these credentials, Leonard may be considered to have a lot to lose by breaking silence on the matters he discusses in Travels in Cultural Nihilism. As he himself anticipates, the book could represent his ‘swan song.’ He notes that he has already “lost (and made) friends over the views held here.” It is rare and difficult for someone in the belly of the beast to speak out like this, a fact which renders Travels in Cultural Nihilism a work of significant courage as well as one of admirable erudition.
Even in the introduction to his book, Leonard enters the world of forbidden thought not with tentative musings, but with gusto and strength of conviction. Words aren’t minced. Excuses aren’t provided. Apologies are nowhere to be seen. Multiculturalism, declares Leonard, “has been a disaster everywhere.” In Sweden, it has been “forced” on a “kind people that are liberal-managed with the aid of a mendacious, Government-subsidised media.” Its failures there “have been covered up time and again.” The wider implications for the rest of West represent nothing less than “cultural pathology and the regression of humanity.” This cultural pathology is demonstrated best in Germany, where the same “thick crowds of tearful Germans embracing ‘refugees’ on railway platforms were months later dealing with mass rapes, suicide bombers, machete wielding immigrants, lorries being driven into Christmas markets, and an axe-wielding asylum seeker whose actions were inspired by the brutal atrocities in southern France (Nice) a week earlier.” Of particular interest to Leonard, in all of his essays, is the nature of government involvement in enforcing the multicultural narrative, an involvement laid bare in its utter cynicism by the actions of French police in destroying CCTV footage of the Bastille Day massacre in Nice. Aside from government actions, Leonard sets his mind upon the mentality of the masses, and ponders Spengler’s discovery that nihilism is a feature of collapsing societies. The author remarks that European society/culture is now essentially divided between “those who want to preserve historical modalities of belonging, and those who wish to extirpate them; those who want continuity and identity, and those who aspire to Rousseauesque tabula rasa.” Read more