In recent years, a mass movement has sprung up in Istanistan – Neo-Tuvhalianism. Promising an end to foreign cultural encroachment and a way to open the country to the galaxy without losing either the nation’s specificity or its historic mission, this movement has garnered increasing power. Its adherents now occupy many high-level positions, and have begun swaying the politics of the Party of Labour itself. But what is this movement, and what does it hope to achieve?
Before the end of the world, Tuvhalia was the greatest continent of Al’Terra. It stretched for millions of kilometers, embracing vast deserts, rolling fields, deep jungles, and mountains which touched the upper atmosphere. This continent was home to tens, if not hundreds, of billions, and its history spanned ten thousand years. To detail this endless saga would be a near-impossible endeavour. To pinpoint natives of Tuvhalia is difficult, given how frequently its expanses were swept over by migratory masses seeking Eden. The mysterious Ancient Deleks contended with and were broken by by the Radiant Monolith, which ate itself alive after five thousand years and was wiped away by the great Belkan hordes and the Pandoran invaders, who in turn were confronted by the Korahlians. For millennia, great and terrible wars were fought so brutally that little record of them remains. Legends remained of an ancient blood ritual carried out by the Monolith during the course of their wars as a means of total victory– a rite which carved the future of the continent in circular stone and, having set it spinning, condemned the world to an eternal return. It was mutually assured destruction through determinism, and its effectiveness was absolute.
After ages of blood, a hero arrived – the Man from Nowhere, Amran Dov Tuvhalos. This great explorer, along with thousands of soldiers, colonists, sailors, and exiles, claimed to have been exiled from a great Empire of Nodan across the seas. No known record of this place exists. It is known that his people – thereafter known as the Nodanese – were ethnically distinct from both Tuvhalian natives and the Northern conqueror peoples, but beyond that all detail was lost. What is known, however, is that Tuvhalos laid the foundations for an empire. This shining idol, in the span of a single lifetime, reshaped the destiny of a continent. He established a new Viceroyalty of New Nodan, which in time became the great Kasadanian Empire and thereafter the continent-spanning Republic of Telemarcia. His sons founded great cities, beat the wilderness into their image, and settled the coasts. His grandsons marshalled armies and marched outwards, smashing all enemies – the Seraphist legions, the Belkan hordes, the blood-mad degenerate sons of the Delek Imperium and the over-ambitious Pandoran bender-imperialists – beneath their feet. Their sons, in turn, set sail anew to recapture the questing spirit of their half-deified ancestor. Great nations were carved out then – Istanistan, squatting on the blasted ruins of the Monolith and dominated by Nordic raiders and stranded Pandoran slaver-kings, among them.
Thus was born the foundation of the great myth of Istanistan. It was a nation in which all the great peoples of the age arrived and, conquering, tyrannizing, and trading with each other, came to represent the world-continent in the span of a single place. Here was the burning spiritual purity of the Monolith, the questing spirit of the Nodanese who saw God in all and sought, and the boundless tragic heroism of the Nordic peoples. In this island nation, not a melting-pot but never rigid, bountiful in everything but eternally questing for more, was the crucible of a new age. Istanistan was the birthing-point for the great ideals that shook Al’Terra, and its boundless creativity and dynamism sparked vast economic, military, political, and cultural upheavals across the continent. All that Tuvhalia was, Istanistan was most intensely. All a continent’s cruelty, idealism, unease, and restless search for a perfect world was contained inside a single nation. Its peoples, voyaging, spread outwards. Their history is, again, far too complex to meaningfully recount.
What mattered, however, was its end. In the minds of some, Istanistan had been cursed. If it was a historic centre of gravity, it was because the ancient weapon with which the Monolith had shattered itself and the Deleks was still active – except that, as Istanistan was considered one of the two great pillars of Al’Terran power, it would inevitably drive history towards destructive war on a global scale between two powers possessing the most advanced and terrible weapons ever devised by sentients. For others, the nation’s ambition to culturally, economically, and politically reshape half the world was simply insane and bound to lead to bloodshed. Either way, the denouement was well-known – the world was destroyed, and its memory corrupted almost beyond repair.
The Protocol for Continuity of Civilization
During the end days, say the records, a group of Istanistan’s best and brightest were drawn together. This group, known as the Philosophy Council, was tasked with Istanistan’s failing government with protecting what could be salvaged of Istani society. It was they who settled on the formation of a clone-race, they who censored the nation’s history, they who designed the new culture they threw out, alone, into the depths of space, and they who convened the Ethics Council to guard the purity of the Istani ideal. The new colonists were to represent the best, brightest, and noblest elements of Istani civilization. Most conventional accounts of Istanistan’s history cover the general events of this choice. Left mysterious, however, are the details.
Questions remain and riddle the whole enterprise. Who were the Philosophers? Why were they chosen? What exactly did they mean by “continuity of civilization”? What was their intent for the people of Istanistan? What was to be preserved – the people, the ideals, or the institutions? Who are the Ethics Council, and what qualifies them alone to know the intents of the Philosophers? What qualifies “civilization” – did this mean Istani civilization, Tuvhalian civilization, or the concept of a civilized society itself? Were those even considered different categories? There are mysteries enough to occupy lifetimes.
Why Now? Why Tuvhalia?
By nature, any project intended to resurrect an entire dead civilization is bound to be diffuse. Arguments among the neo-Tuvhalian intellectual and political circles are complex, abstruse, and historically conditional. In an effort to create unity, however, a conference was held at the Central Higher University of Errein to come up with a common programme. After much dispute, a document entitled First Principles of the Neo-Tuvhalian Movement was created as a point of common agreement. It was formulated as a series of theses on history, culture, and economics:
-The aspirations of sentient life should properly be oriented towards higher things than economic life – in particular, to the perfection of their cultural ideals and the perfection of their unique virtues.
-The highest virtues are not individual, but – as sentient life is defined by its social nature – communal. The highest question is of political organization, and the highest good for any member of any society is defined in their relation to their community.
-Istanistan’s current economic order is admirable precisely because it has solved the basic questions of exploitation, material scarcity, and alienation, and therefore allows the people space to occupy themselves with higher principles.
-However, the deliberate policy of suppressing high culture has led to a paradoxical weakness – for all of the perfections of Istanistan’s economic system, its lack of orientation towards any definite end makes it weak in the face of reactionary societies and ideals. As Istanistan is preoccupied first and foremost with the struggle between higher and lower ideals, this represents a critical threat.
-Istanistan is not, as some would suggest, without culture. The entire history of Istanistan’s society post-Exodus is not anomalous, and its mode of life is not formless. Instead, Istanistan’s exodus and ascent to a higher stage can only be seen as the continuation of Tuvhalian history.
-Istanistan, in its founding ideals and aspirations, can only be seen as the radical continuation of its previous history. There is nothing inimical in this previous history to Istanistan’s current destiny and ideals.
-It therefore follows, without reserve, that there is no incompatibility between the historic Tuvhalian culture and the present Istanistan. There is also therefore no barrier preventing Istanistan from redeveloping and restoring this culture in a refined, perfected form.
-Indeed, Istanistan can only achieve its destiny – the end of the exploitation of sentient by sentient and the re-ordering of life towards the highest ends – by resolving its own internal contradictions and adopting openly those ideals which fit it so naturally.
-There can be no Istanistan without Tuvhalia, and the current state of self-denial is a form of weakness at best and slow suicide at worst.
In most respects, this manifesto is in line with existing Istani philosophy. It emphasizes the primacy of economic organization over culture. Instead of offering a purely cultural critique of Istanistan’s current order, it argues that the economic problems have already been solved, but that the origin of the economic form and its consequences have been avoided and suppressed. Debates exist between different scholarly factions over whether it was the cultural idealism of the Philosophers that shaped the current economic profile of Istanistan or whether there was some sort of Tuvhalian economic imperative towards outward movement. Either way, there is a strong consensus in favour of turning the current centralized economic system into a weapon by which culture can be rebuilt.
Another key point to note is the usefulness of culture. Istanistan is a society with a strong emphasis on its own destiny and universal purpose. What the neo-Tuvhalians are arguing is that its current stark, austere, and extremely “thin” cultural policy cannot actually provide a definition of what that purpose is. Istanistan is therefore vulnerable to those societies with “thick” identities that are more immediately powerful and attention-grabbing than what Istanistan has to offer. The ideals and ends of other, more barbaric societies might therefore overwhelm Istanistan and pervert its goals. Only by allowing its own specific and particular culture to grow can Istanistan survive and achieve its ends.
This is not to say, however, that neo-Tuvhalians are in any way racist and exclusionist. By most Istani standards, they are far more pluralist and tolerant than the existing mainstream. The choice of Tuvhalia – an entire continent – as their ideal points towards their aim. What they hope to do is not to create a new monoculture, but instead to build up an Istani identity strong enough to deal with others without fragmenting. They argue in favour of immigration, loosened cultural restrictions, increased freedom of expression, and increased value-pluralism precisely because the restored Tuvhalian culture will be durable enough to survive these. The prerequisite of increased liberalism, they argue, is a philosophical and cultural framework strong enough to contain it.
Neo-Tuvhalian thought attempts to rehabilitate, among other things, the gods of old Tuvhalia. Most of its perspective has, in the interest of pluralism, been syncretized. Its central religious tenet suggests the existence of the divinity hypothesized in the ancient Sahmanic traditions – the Monad, so-called “perfect in triplicate”, “that which animates and is not, itself, animated”. This god is seen as “perfect in simplicity”, “perfect in substance”, and “perfect in benevolence”. The system is complex, but ultimately suggests a divinity which is an absolutely simple divinity which is infinite in its good, its creative capacity, and its intentions. Abd Ul-Dostum, Emeritus Doctor of Metaphysics and noted neo-Tuvhalian philosopher, has theorized this divinity as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”. To arrive at the precise nature of this divinity, most neo-Tuvhalian theologists suggest picking a random part of the universe and systematically removing all imperfections until, having transcended reality, one arrives only at what it intends to be. The reflection of the ideal to the real is, by extension, the reflection of the divine to the ideal. Each part of the universe is a pale reflection of the perfected divinity, as a statue is to a man.
All matter, in its own way, therefore is ordered according to its striving towards an aspect of the divine. The essence of a frog is in its striving, consciously or unconsciously, towards the ideal of “frog”, which itself is a striving towards the aspect of the divine. The cosmos is permanently in motion, with each element existing insofar as it strives towards the light of the divine. It would, of course, be paradoxical for any element to actually attain this – to be perfect, after all, would be to replicate the divine, and the divine is defined by being absolutely perfect. By definition, therefore, nothing can actually attain the divine but only perfectly reflect it. Just as the perfect statue is one which perfectly reflects the essence of a man, the perfect being is one which perfectly reflects (but does not replicate) the sempiternal light.
Where did this come from? The neo-Tuvhalian philosophers generally suggest that the Monad, by nature, creates through self-knowledge. It does not think, because to think would imply a progressive evolution impossible in an entity which is beyond both time and progress. Instead, by considering itself, it spins off splinters which reflect, to greater and lesser degrees, its perfections. The entire universe is therefore a massive cloud of glittering half-reflections being permanently cast off by the divine and striving to perfect themselves. The process by which the divine creates the universe is in aiming towards the particular, the differentiated, and the unreal. It therefore follows that the pursuit of truth and virtue is in the opposite – a searching back towards the Monad through abstraction, simplification, and unification.
Most neo-Tuvhalians differentiate between God – the Monad – and “gods”. The former is singular, perfect, absolute, and reachable only by operations of reason and will which an inherently imperfect sentient life cannot complete due to its own nature. By “gods”, the neo-Tuvhalian metaphysicists suggest the perfected images of a particular aspect of reality, of a domain, or of a people. When a person strips away the flawed and gross matter which distances them from the Monad, they become closer to the absolute and therefore attain “godhood”. It is therefore possible for an individual, through a process of abstraction, to reach beyond mortal life – and sentients, being among the closest reflections of the Monad, can will them beyond their mortal coil through this process of abstraction and perfection. This accounts for the elaborate, sprawling, and polyvalent pantheon of the neo-Tuvhalians and their tolerance for ethical, spiritual, and cultural diversity – each element is, in its own way, reflecting its path back towards God.
This raises another question – what is good, and what is evil? God, says Abd Ul-Dostum, is a perfect substance, and proximity to perfection can be measured as “good”. In absolute, abstract terms, it therefore follows that being is “good” and nothingness is “evil”. Evil is therefore not a positive force – that would be a contradiction in terms – but instead the natural consequence of a universe which is imperfect by virtue of being less perfect than perfection, and unreal by virtue of being less real than absolute reality. In ethics, it therefore follows that “good” is that which allows a person to complete their character more perfectly, to become a fuller version of themselves, and to shuffle off matter. Evil is that which diverts them from keeping their eyes fixed on the eternal, which tempts them away from reality, and which ultimately renders them empty. To do evil is therefore to tempt sentients away from the light eternal, and evil is ultimately weak because it is self-defeating. There can be an equal conflict between one good and another, but evil is another thing entirely. For example, the opposite of love is not anger, but dispassion, and the opposite of justice is not mercy, but apathy. There is no sin in two people or peoples pursuing different paths towards perfection, but only in their giving up and – in doing so – giving up on themselves.
Of course, there is nearly endless dispute among the neo-Tuvhalians within this broad tent. Although Abd Ul-Dostum is considered the “dean of neo-Tuvhalian philosophy”, they preside over a fractious, divided, and enthusiastically tendentious flock. Some, for instance, believe that history is a process of different visions of the future working themselves out in monumental struggles until, through their opposition and resolution, sentient life realizes the vision of the Monad. Others still suggest that this is arrogance, that to reach the Ideal is impossible but that life without the striving would be worthless. Some suggest that on the continent of Tuvhalia, among the peoples there and in a time and a place, the Ideal did exist and that all of history after it was simply a wind, pouring out of heaven, and all sentient life was engaged in a permanent and tragic struggle to beat its way back. All flights, all migrations, all new beginnings and higher civilizations, were simply attempts to run not forwards but towards a thing which, through the cruel logic of time and space, could not ever be recaptured. Battered by the wreckage of its dreams, blinded by the light of that which had spawned it, all life drags itself back towards a shattered continent and attempts to pick up and join together the scattered, shattered pieces of what was once real and now remains only as a dream. All utopias, all hopes are little more than a reverie of sunlight on golden plains and ships in a iron-bright sea.
Cynicism and Seriousness
A natural question arises – how serious are the neo-Tuvhalians? The vast, sealed apparatus of neo-Tuvhalian metaphysics, the project of cultural revival, the recollection of a denied history, and the cold, unforgiving logic of cultural continuity all seem divorced. Many critics of the neo-Tuvhalian dream, specifically liberalizers, accuse their leaders of a certain cynicism. It is all very well to propose cultural revival, these critics say. But to what extent do the neo-Tuvhalian intellectuals take their own project seriously, and to what extent are they spinning together a cultural tradition that never has existed for ends beyond its own rightness? These critics are not wrong to ask these questions.
This is not a wrong attitude. Many of the core neo-Tuvhalians – most famously Professor Eir Ali Ahren of the New Tannhauser University and their disciples - hail from cultural-conservative circles who have long been raising alarm about the infiltration of foreign ideas, the dissolution of Istani identity, and the dangers of external intrusion. These circles have long argued that collective belief, more than its particulars, is the prerequisite for society and nationhood. Regardless of the articles of faith, these intellectuals have said, it is faith which allows a society to prosper, continue, endure hardships, and thrive. Istanistan had no such common glue, and in an age where isolation was impractical this spelled doom. Critics therefore accuse Ali Ahren and their students – a secretive, inwardly-turned, and clannish network – of assembling and promulgating a doctrine which was not sincerely believed but instead simply conformed to their demands and needs.
This is, however, a disservice. No merely invented movement would have a following so broad, a metaphysics so firmly believed and so perfectly complete, and a set of aspirations so complete. Tuvhalia, of course, has as much relation to Tuvhalianism as the neo-Tuvhalians do to the original Tuvhalian ideal. It is the philosophy of a vanished continent, the unification of the philosophies and lives of a hundred billion martyred dead. Even if it is being formulated, at the core, by cynical conservatives, the fact remains that there was a great and yawning void in the Istani soul. Few would deny this – and if they cannot respond to this, then what does it say that neo-Tuvhalianism fits that hole so perfectly? In some ways, it is as if the Istani people were always meant to discover a system something like this, which would complete them and set them on a brighter path. There was always a journey, an emanation, and a reaching towards the ideal – what did the neo-Tuvhalian system do but validate these instincts?
Just because Professor Ali Ahren’s students have taken up key positions in the Party of Labour’s dense mesh of think-tanks, policy shops, speechwriting collectives, theory seminars, and educational institutions does not mean that they are not filling a gap. As an ancient Istani sage said, “man may choose freely, but the nature and range of those choices are in the hands of a higher power”. This is what makes the neo-Tuvhalian movement so potent. For all the pretensions of the ultra-secularists, the universalists, the conservatives, and the alien culture fanatics, it cannot be denied that Istanistan was founded on the ideals of old Tuvhalia, and that its mode of thought and being is essentially Tuvhalian. Its idealism (in both the standard and philosophical stances), emphasis on institutions, predilection for grand gestures, and above all militant faith in the transcendence of the particular into the general can only be seen as elements of the Tuvhalian cultural heritage.
For all the endless reams of cultural theory, metaphysical quibbling, and conspiratorial academic meddling, the actual neo-Tuvhalian political program is not particularly shocking by Istani standards and is widely seen as the most pragmatic of the major ideologies of Istanistan. In general, neo-Tuvhalians want to see a strong central government capable of disseminating new cultural ideas, loosened restrictions on research into the old world, a program for Istani emigration into the wider universe, and more space for pluralism. Economically, they argue in favour of greater trade and opening, as they believe the current direction is ultimately doomed to failure. While they appreciate central planning, neo-Tuvhalians would rather see a cooperative federalism in which the central government and local governments work together to jointly administrate the economy.
Most of the neo-Tuvhalian radicalism comes into play in the fields of education and cultural politics. While most adherents to the theory see central planning as an excellent way to disseminate the new metaphysics, reform language, and bring back knowledge of the old culture, this is really just instrumental. They are willing to work with almost anyone who buys into their broad agenda and are extremely tolerant, due to the inherent incoherence of their project, of most any idea that can be worked into their system. The nature of the project is such that it aims not to win a particular political dispute, but to transcend political dispute itself and provide a framework for arguments. Thus, the neo-Tuvhalian program – diffuse as it is – encompasses everything from pro-foreign liberalism to reactionary nationalism and centralist rationalism to Lunar-friendly federalism.