How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity: A Metamodern Economic Reform Proposal
by Justin Carmien
Manticore Press, 2022; 272 pp.
Neither I nor Justin Carmien, the author of How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity, is an economist. Carmien’s book, however, is not a work of economics but a philosophical attempt to apply Heideggerian metaphysics to practical statesmanship and political economy. Nor is it an academic book: it is written with naïve yet deep insight, a result of the author’s self-taught knowledge of philosophy, years of experience in the creative industry, and work in political consultancy. As such, even if serious scholars of political economy do not find value in this book, statesmen who apply proposals in local government may be inspired by its ideas.
Carmien begins with a long and confusing explanation of esoteric philosophy, focusing on Greek concepts and their equivalents in Latin and Germanic languages, but eventually the argument comes together as both a critique of modern, liberal governance (and its consequences in our economy) and a proposal for reform. He applies first principles, combining classical philosophy (his references to Plato and Aristotle are numerous but not overwhelming) and modern ideas that seem drawn from the German Conservative Revolution but are more subtle and nuanced than expected.
His opuscule, as Carmien calls his work, is arranged in two roughly equal divisions, one devoted almost exclusively to his theoretical perspective on what he christens the “economy of truth,” a concept that uses the word economy, in the original Greek sense of administration, and that delves into how a metaphysics of truth underlies the forms and objectives of each successive model of governance in the West. He explores in particular the Greek polis and the Roman Republic and Empire in contrast with the post–New Deal United States and the current state of the Western world.
If it is not clear from this summary, Carmien is not a libertarian in his politics or his economics. His book tends to view harshly the political and economic consequences of liberalism, which he argues lost its proper essence due to the expansion of materialism that came with the advent of the Enlightenment and liberal modernity.
However, a reader educated in Austrian economics might be inclined to compare the interesting ideas proposed in this book to the work of Murray Rothbard—not because of their complexity or their allusions to organizational forms that would allow for a greater expression of human individuality, but because in their naïveté they might form an unexpected bridge that connects Austrolibertarianism with other schools of thought on the contemporary right.
This may, of course, be wishful thinking. Carmien tends to be more interested in using Heidegger’s concept of Dasein to propose practical reforms for reorganizing the American government and economy, much as the Russian ideologue Aleksandr Dugin did in The Fourth Political Theory. But as Carmien elaborates his “first economics” theory by exploring issues of rootlessness and alienation from philosophical, social, political and, ultimately, economic perspectives, he combines ideas proposed by other Western thinkers and pushes his approach closer to the unexplored realm of metamodernism.
Carmien’s work is Heideggerian: it reincorporates classical Greek philosophy into contemporary metaphysics and treats the idea of being as truth as the central object of first economics. But it is also libertarian, albeit naïvely, insofar as it does not reject the idea of individual freedoms and alternative forms of political organization when it reframes the current political system as one better suited to the human experience of truth and being.
This is also what makes How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity an interesting read for anyone who is neither a philosopher nor an economist: Carmien does not shy away from exploring topics outside the normal scopes of metaphysics, political philosophy, and political economy. He tries to make sense of the current problems of modern society from his own first economics framework, linking some of the messier aspects of political economy to more abstract areas of philosophy, such as aesthetics and epistemology.
The naïve libertarianism, however, is entangled in a mix of eclectic ideas that cannot be ideologically categorized. While the aesthetics derived from Heideggerian metaphysics places Carmien closer to traditional conservatives like Roger Scruton (the word truth in the book’s subtitle is a dead giveaway), Carmien’s ideas on political and economic reform could put him anywhere on the political spectrum.
I define Carmien’s particular stance as Heideggerian libertarianism. Many of his concerns are close to those held by figures associated with Austrolibertarianism, such that the book could be part of this canon if it were explicitly inspired by the tenets of Mises, Rothbard, and, to a lesser extent, Hoppe.
Take, for instance, the last three chapters of the first half, “Epistemology, the Metaphysics of Colonialism,” “Fallen Empires,” and “The Liberal Solution, Metamodernism”: in these, Carmien approaches, from his Heideggerian perspective, ideas expressed by Ron Paul, Rothbard, and Hoppe in foreign policy and reactionary politics. Or take chapters eleven to thirteen, “Societas as the Barometer of Truth,” “Drawing New Definitions for Governance,” and “Localizing the Horizons of Projection,” where he channels ideas similar to those of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (minus the Catholicism) and again of Rothbard and Hoppe, with extreme localism as an endgame.
In a little less than three hundred pages, Carmien takes shots at the failures of a diverted doctrine and tries to correct it by returning it to its classical roots, all the while taking our current circumstances into account. The endgame he proposes is a form of localism, with reduced government intervention, under which communities can develop and thrive organically without being hindered by an artificially inflated state. He also argues that without the dishonesties of “corporate neoliberalism,” society could become “authentic” once again.
I think many readers in libertarian circles would agree with such a goal, but few seem willing to explore ideas and authors outside their purview. I am not claiming that Carmien is a libertarian, but I recommend reading him for the same reasons I would Joseph Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful (one of the influences behind this book): Carmien is close enough to be read with the interest and enthusiasm one would grant a fellow traveler.