The New York Avant-Garde and Vitalism

Where did America go off the rails?

You could make a plausible case for a number of different periods.

Was it 1619 when the first black slaves arrived in Virginia? Was it 1776 when Thomas Jefferson inserted the line “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence? Was it 1865 when the North won the War Between the States? Was it 1919 when the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified? Was it the American victory in World War II? Was it the Civil Rights Movement and the counter-culture of the 1960s?

After giving this subject a considerable amount of thought for the past twenty years, I have concluded that it really comes down to three causes. The first is liberalism which elevates the autonomous individual over the community and which makes it impossible to maintain cultural norms and boundaries necessary to maintain a healthy culture in a free society. The second is modernism which elevates the interior world of the subjective self and its liberation, expression and realization above anything objective or external to the self. The third is the Jewish Question which was made possible by liberalism and modernism.

What about capitalism? Capitalism is liberalism applied to economics. What about feminism? Feminism is liberalism and modernism applied to sex and gender. What about antiracism and civil rights? It is liberalism applied to race relations. What about atheism? It is liberalism applied to religion. What about the counter-culture of the 1960s and the Sexual Revolution? It was the second wave of modernism. What about critical theory and postmodernism? The former was made possible by liberalism and the Jewish Question. The latter is simply a more extreme form of modernism rather than any kind of break with it.

While there are multiple threads with various different origins in time that came together to contribute to America’s racial and cultural decline, they converged in the culture of the New York avant-garde which became what we call the “mainstream” in the 1920s and 1930s. America’s racial and cultural decline is largely the story of how New York became the cultural capital of America and how its poisonous culture became hegemonic and began to trickle down and negatively impact the rest of the country.

In the 19th century, Americans had mostly lived in small towns and rural areas in communities based on shared values. Culture was local and regional. The development of film, radio, mass circulation news magazines and television in that order changed this, set the tone of a new national culture and created a vertical pyramid of culture which was imposed from the top down by metropolitan elites on the masses. Before this could happen though, the Genteel culture of 19th century New York symbolized by the tastes and values of The Century Magazine had to be eclipsed by the modernist avant-garde.

All roads lead to New York and how the modernist avant-garde captured New York in the early 20th century. This leads back to the Great Wave between the 1880s and 1920s when Eastern European Jews like Emma Goldman began swarming into New York and settling in their beachhead on the Lower East Side in which they imported the café scene and radical leftwing politics of Europe. It would be intellectually dishonest though to lay it all at the feet of the Jews as it was really this combination of alienated Jewish radicals and alienated WASP and European ethnic radicals who got modernism started in Greenwich Village in the 1910s and who went on to take over New York culture in the 1920s and 1930s.

The following excerpt comes from Christine Stansell’s book American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century:

“Around 1910, the diffuse elements of turn-of-the-century bohemia collected at one stop on the old circuit, Greenwich Village. Suddenly, it seemed, New York’s avant-garde emerged as a coherent community, visible and audible not just to its protagonists but to the whole city – and the country. To the participants, the change seemed to occur in the modern manner – that is, instantaneously, irrevocably, as a rupture that severed everything that came before and all that came after. They were a much larger group than the drifting bands of the 1890s, and their claims to importance – social and artistic – soared. Bohemia had always been self-aggrandizing but now it was millennial. “Life was ready to take a new form of some kind and many people felt a common urge to shape it,” proposed one of the enthusiasts, the impresario Mabel Dodge. “The most that anyone knew was the old ways were about over and the new ways all to create. The city was teeming with possibilities.” …

Greenwich Village, as it came to be celebrated, did not refer to an actual neighborhood so much as to a fictive community. It was a selective vision of city life that installed some people in the foreground as protagonists and shunted others to the background or offstage altogether. The notion of the “Village” enhanced the mutual awareness of newcomers but not that of longtime residents; in situ, artists and journalists, New Men and New Women, could recognize one another but seldom their working-class neighbors …

The newcomers saw themselves as bohemians. But they also viewed themselves as intellectuals. The word itself was new, one of several keywords generated by the political left (“feminist” was another); it denoted professionals who supported themselves through some vocation in arts and letters. Originating as a self-designation of the Dreyfusards in France in 1898, “intellectual” had oppositional connotations; the term nodded toward men (women were problematic) of modest social backgrounds, not the gentlemen of property and standing who had devoted themselves to culture since the nation’s founding …

“Vital contact,” a phrase used by Harvard rebels in the 1910s, distills a sensibility of dissent formed from the general agreement that privileged youth – especially, but not exclusively men – were enervated by overeducation and overrefinement and that they could revivify themselves through contact with supposedly simpler, hardier, more spirited people. The notion suggested a form of elite renewal that could foster amity and shared goals across class lines. …

Vital contact was bleached of religious impulses. Not the search for “God” but the search for “life,” not the indwelling of “grace” but “experience” shaped its imperatives, thereby separating its adherents from Christian do-gooders. Not in the first decades of the century or thereafter would these moderns go to church, pray, or even debate the existence of God; agnosticism was in the urban air they breathed. Occasionally, much later, some Villager under a cloud of misfortune sought solace in religion, though seldom in Christianity but rather in theosophy, Oriental mysticism, Gurdijieff, peyote. In this as in much else they found fellow spirits among the Jewish radicals. Secularists by virtue of throwing in their lot with socialism and anarchism, the Jewish moderns turned their backs on religious observance as archaic. This meant, for one thing, that varieties of anti-Semitism that required a Christian subsoil did not take root among left-leaning settlement residents.

The excitement of vital contact helped cast downtown New York, especially the Lower East Side, as a free-spirited, convivial quarter rather than the fetid bog of tubercular paupers that conventional reformers saw. The cafés never closed, marveled one settlement house resident, contrasting them favorably with the gentlemen’s clubs with which he was also familiar …

The political and social breaches of the wall in the early years of the century would, in time, lead to the crossover of immigrant Jews into the American intelligentsia in the 1930s, when the offspring of the first wave of immigrants became famous as writers, critics, and editors. But it was in the 1910s that a particular American chemistry had first gone to work, as if a dash of the “other,” whether the Jew or the New Woman, was necessary to distill the modern from the cultural solvent.”

To recap, Eastern European Jews flooded into New York through the wide open door of American immigration laws thanks to liberalism and capitalism and settled in the Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century. Once there, they recreated the lively intellectual atmosphere of the café scene of Europe and brought with them their radical socialist and anarchist politics to America. Leon Trotsky spent three months there in early 1917 before the October Revolution.

Around 1910, a bunch of alienated WASPs and European ethnics mainly from the small town Midwest via Chicago and from the East via Harvard or Columbia University began pooling in Greenwich Village. The neighborhood became a bohemian modernist enclave like Montmartre in Paris which had been the site of the 1871 Paris Commune. The Young Intellectuals as they came to be known were influenced by Nietzsche, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Bergson and H.G. Wells. They were into modernist art. The shared secularism, modernism and socialist and anarchist politics of the Greenwich Villagers and the Jewish radicals in the Lower East Side brought them into contact and they gelled and created the roots of what became “mainstream” culture from a variety of different influences.

“Vital contact” was one of the doctrines that brought the Harvard radicals into contact with the Jewish radicals of the Lower East Side. It led to hedonism and novelty chasing. Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and especially William James had pumped their minds full of vitalist philosophy. From these influences, they had learned that truth is relative and useful. Morality is bullshit and gets in the way of “life” and society can easily get along fine without it. Religion is only a practical aid that helps you get through life. Art is also a great stimulant to life. Life is also the “experience” of the stream-of-consciousness.

About Hunter Wallace 12366 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. I was in NYC about two years ago transferring flights out of Philadelphia. As we were approaching LaGuardia I was looking out the window. Buildings everywhere like the picture above.

    I used to live there and just being there gave me a sense of dread. I got off the plane and the airport was packed with foreigners. Packed. That city is gone. It was bad when I used to live there but it’s completely gone now.

    I was in Arizona last week and saw a lot of New York and California license plates. People are really flooding out of California and New York. White Americans are going rural.

    • Whites are going to suburbia first. They want the shopping and restaurants, all the conveniences, without having to give up anything. Which partially explains why they bring their f-ed up politics with them when they move. They’re not willing to make any sacrifices, or accept responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. There’s not a lot of reflection going on, from what I’ve seen. If there was any deep thought among Whites in general, CivNat would already be dead, and “in-group preferences” would once again be either celebrated, or at least widely accepted.

      • Yes, they’re moving to suburbia to enjoy the comfortable conveniences, excellent money-making (and taking) opportunities and easy satisfaction of vanities and vices that were once limited to cities, and also because nearly all non-public land has been developed, or is surrounded or permeated by development. Nearly all available living space that is not strictly urban is mixed with and dominated by urban now, so that Whites who are fleeing cities really cannot “go rural” even if they wanted to. Truly rural places that are untouched by any form of development and urban influence that can be purchased to live in have become very rare, almost mythical – and the root cause of this rigid separation of the people from the land is the love of money, as the Bible says. The people SHOULD go rural. We do need a real back-to-the-land movement, a new agrarian cultural revolution (NOT a “movement” of individualistic preppers trying to hide in the woods) but that will never be allowed by the plutocracy.

    • Yes. NYC is like Escape From New York at the moment. It is is kinda funny. How is that state still voting for the Democratic Party after Cuomo and De Blasio wrecked it.

  2. Feminism is the idea that we ought to make life more difficult and more miserable for 95% of women so that the 5% of women with abnormally high testosterone can fulfill their dream of becoming manager of a citibank branch.

  3. After completing my MBA at Mississippi State University having quit the football team on a full scholarship in August of my Junior year because I didn’t like the Scout team or Emory Bellard (I would have never quit had Sprayberry and Sharp not been fired), I departed for Paris, France without a place to live but to study French at the Sorbonne. I ended up living with a French family in their chambre de service at 6 Rue de l’Abbaye, just behind église St. Germain in the 6th arrondissement of Paris or on the Left Bank where I could hear the bells of Notre Dame and the screams of French women during sex at night. The café scene was a cornerstone of the arrondisment, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots close by. Hemingway haunts where I enjoyed the café scene, big-time.

    It has all been downhill for me since my one year in Paris. However, while well traveled with lots of experience, I have no children and I am now a lonely old man. I wonder what would have happened had I studied honey bees at State and stayed at home. BTW, given my age and single status I have frequently been hit upon by homosexuals. Simply remarkable that such an abnormal and deviant behavior has become so widespread. Others have pondered my long-term single status. Try being a white supremacist strictly legal political candidate living in a trailer in the woods with Parisian/European standards and experiences and see how that works out for you. So too my best and longest ‘friends’ since I began 20 years ago have pondered my many criminal prosecutions without conviction. The point being, I am strictly heterosexual and I am not a fed. To the contrary, my life remains threatened by unlawful police conduct.

    I left Paris and went to New York without a job, living in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and working with the Irish at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan as a security guard until I landed my job with IBM at 590 Madison Avenue just next door to Trump Tower. I would later go to Germany to live where I saw the Berlin Wall come down and Eastern Europe go free.

    I played football with future NFL players. I lived among the elite in Paris and New York. I married a beautiful Swedish woman in New York who broke my heart. Few men are tougher than me or as well traveled or experienced. My intellect is average. I look forward to drawing Social Security next year as I will be opting to receive benefits at 62.

    A friend with a genius intellect once promised to write the history of my political career which he was going to entitle The Political Persecution of Jim Giles. He never did. Another friend commented recently, “Something opaque has followed you.” And while you may think you are famous, or infamous, have you ever had a sorry stinking Jew fly from Australia or wherever he was from to try and accuse you of murder?
    Speaking of David Duck, I became friends with his attorney who called him a piece of shit and who was one of the best criminal defense attorneys in America. This man was instrumental in me getting one of my best interviews with Jim Neal of Watergate fame and that mob figure I can’t think of right now. Jimmy Hoffa was his name. I interviewed Jim Neal who prosecuted Richard Nixon and Jimmy Hoffa. Reminds me of a scene from The Hunt for Red October, Have you ever met Captain Ramius, General?! Moreover, what have you ever done other than make anonymous posts on the Internet???????????? Having a wife and children does count a lot. Survival depends upon it but I don’t think it’s enough. Vote for the GOP no matter what . . . It would be interesting to travel in time and see where we stand 10, 50, 100, 1,000 years from now. At this point even one more day or one more election may be the stuff of dreams or nightmares. Who knows. I have no idea. It seems to me the State is too powerful to be challenged by anyone. It fascinates me as to which outcome awaits us. Who do the oligarchs want to win?

    What I marvel at given my experiences is the lack of genuine leadership given the size of the population. My genius friend attributed it to ‘Without followers you will have no leaders.’ But still, given the circumstances you would think someone would rise and meet the challenges. I once uttered to my genius friend ‘Follow me.’ He pointed out as a special forces Army vet that the line was inscribed, I think he said at Fort Benning in Georgia.

    I am rambling but think aloud as I enjoy my classical music with a cup of coffee. PLE? Something else? As Col. Moore once told me, ‘There’s always one more thing you can do.’

    However, I concur 100% with Hunter’s advice to not engage the enemy in the streets. Stay away from all of that. Moreover, I believe Hunter’s work is brilliant. It’s not enough though. More is needed. It may not be coming but what we need is real leadership not just brilliant analysis. Maybe that brilliant leadership would say do nothing. That’s what I’m going to do, NOTHING. People have let me down too many times having tried too many times to represent them.

    Alas, we probably have no leaders because we have not followers.

    Lastly, I cannot get this dig in to those who feel brave and who are clearly super smart, your anonymity is pathetic and while I am embarrassed about my low IQ, you should be embarrassed by your cowardly anonymity. No amount of brilliance overcomes lack of courage in simply using your real name. That brings up the Internet and what a disaster it has been for our culture. Reminds me VNN Forum.

    P.S. Were it not for dynamic silence I might have been a better successful David Duke who I once spoke with while he was living in Europe. I asked him for his endorsement for my campaign for congress. He turned me down because he thought it would hurt him. I recall him wanting to set up a fundraising effort in my district.

    • Fascinating jumble of personal anecdotes, Jimmy. I don’t know what brought all that on, but I appreciate anyone sharing some part of who they are with me.

      You mention the bravery of not being anonymous. Originally, I did use my actual name here. I didn’t change it out of fear, but a desire for some more privacy. Not that I was being persecuted or feared the possibility; I like to keep different parts of my life separate from each other. I’m not just who I am here, and don’t give all of myself to strangers when I’m in public elsewhere, like at a restaurant. With my handle, I’m mocking Malcolm X, the generic superficiality I’m given through the “boomer” label, and (not a little) myself. I’m not in a position where having my “controversial” thoughts made public can hurt me, anyway. My perspective is, I have no control over how others see me, so why get all bothered about it? (Not that I don’t enjoy getting into it sometimes, of course. That can be both fun and challenging.)

      • Esprit de corps depends upon the individual honor of each member of the team. Anonymity is bad for esprit de corps. Using your real name inspires confidence and much more.

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