The need for a traditionalist alternative to liberalism, abridged

Last autumn, VFR had an exceptionally interesting discussion in which readers contributed their thoughts toward a traditionalist alternative to liberalism, the idea being to lead up to some kind of manifesto of traditionalism. In gathering and organizing ideas toward such a statement, I’ve just re-read the thread, and, while doing so, in order to make it easier to form an overall picture of the main ideas, I created an abridged version of the entry, down to 5,000 words, half its original length. The shortened version is posted below. However, I would remind readers that the parts I’ve left out of this abridged version are as good as the parts I’ve left in.

One thing readers should keep in mind when reading either the original or the abridged entry is that while all of it is interesting, much of it focuses on the question of how traditionalists are to persuade liberals or at least not drive them away. Thus the blogger Mencius Moldbug argued that we should seek to defeat liberalism rather than to advance traditionalism, since the latter would only trigger a massive anti-traditionalist reaction on the part of liberals and defeat our purpose. As he paradoxically put it, “If the victory of traditionalism is your minimum goal and this assessment is accurate, traditionalist politics is useless. Or worse than useless, as it’s a great way to motivate liberals.” Several commenters then responded to Mencius’ ideas. But this focus, as Terry Morris pointed out in the concluding comment, was not what the discussion was supposed to be about:

The title of this entry is “The need for a traditionalist alternative to liberalism,” not “The need for a traditionalist strategy for converting liberals.” I thought we were trying, in this thread, to lay down some traditionalist principles as an alternative for liberals once liberalism began to fail them and/or once they became aware of the irrationality, illogic, and the destructiveness of their liberalism.

A reader from Canada who has just read the abridged version has a similar observation:

I believe that the objective of “converting liberals” is not an objective that is worthwhile considering at this time. It is therefore in our best interest to appeal to people who are already “traditionalists” in outlook and to present a real alternative. This should be our main objective in the short term (the next five to ten years).

With those caveats in mind, I offer the discussion for your further thoughts.

The need for a traditionalist alternative to liberalism (abridged)

This is a continuation of the thread, “Do liberals think they won’t be harmed by national suicide?”

Larry G. writes:

This has been a great thread. I think we all agree that a compelling, traditionalist vision needs to be articulated, along with its philosophical foundations. And yet I haven’t seen it, at least not in a form that I can point to. Where is the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the Ten Commandments of Traditionalism?

Therefore let us declare the Republic of Amnation, appoint you first temporary president, and assemble our greatest minds to set forth our Principles of Traditionalism. You and your readers will propose them, and let them be augmented, refined and distilled by argument.

It needs to be a coherent vision that would persuade a liberal to abandon his liberalism in favor of it, therefore it must address in some form or other the questions a liberal would pose, such as:

How would you treat racial minorities? Would segregation and discrimination be legal?
How would you treat immigrants, legal and illegal?
What about the rights of homosexuals?
What is the role of religion, and what happens to non-believers?
Would Islam be outlawed?
Would you outlaw abortion? Embryonic stem cell research? Cloning?
What about the “social safety net”? What happens to the poor?
How will you reduce inequality among men?
What is the role of women?
How do we treat “the Other”?

These are just a few that come to mind, but may have to be kept in mind when formulating the principles, because laws will be derived from those principles. But the most important thing is to state the principles and provide the philosophical foundations to support them.

I think this would be an interesting and useful exercise.

Ralph P. writes:

I second Larry G.’s suggestion for a Principles of Traditionalism charter. I too would like to see a clear mission statement spelled out in one document. We could carry it around in a pocket edition and give it out on street corners.

Mark J. writes:

Larry G. poses important questions that we need to be able to answer coherently. To do that, we need a simple, clear, compelling goal or vision upon which everything else is based, and it needs to answer the question: what are we trying to do?

I propose that our simple, fundamental premise is this: that we Western whites are a people and that we have a natural right to continue to exist as a people as we are—racially and culturally—and to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure our survival and prosperity, consistent with respecting the like rights of other peoples as well.

Finding the answers to Larry G.’s questions then is a matter of determining, based on accumulated human experience (traditionalism), what answers best meet this goal of ensuring the survival of our people.

Liberals deny we ARE a people, or argue that we must stop thinking like that if we are to achieve the liberals’ ultimate vision: universal equality.

So I argue that what we begin with is posing the question to those we are hoping to sway: “Do you want our people to continue to survive? Because if you do, you must choose between liberalism and the survival of our people, because you cannot have both.”

But first they have to see that the question is between survival of our people and universal equality. They are mutually exclusive. Time and again your commenters have pointed out that they only woke up from their liberalism when they realized that the survival of our people was at stake. That is our most powerful argument.

Alan Roebuck writes:

We need to make it clear that if there is no God, then there is no reason why one ought to love anyone other than oneself. In other words (and since we’re referring to Western civilization), if the God of the Bible does not exist, then there is no reason why one ought to obey the traditional moral law, or to love one’s family, religion and nation enough to honor what they really are, or to make sacrifices in order to defend them.

Of course, you can be virtuous if there is no God. You can do any doggone thing you want. But if there is no God, then there is no good reason why you should.

Charles G. writes:

I heartily agree with Larry G. We need to start somewhere. What better place than a simple manifesto of traditionalism? I’ll get the ball rolling by answering the question on immigration. Let’s scrap the 1965 Immigration “Reform” and go back to the one that was crafted in the 1920s to perpetuate the ethnic diversity as it stood then. This explicitly implies that the USA shall remain a European nation.

Simon N. writes:

I think it’s very important to note that many of Larry G.’s questions are phrased in normative cultural-Marxist (“liberal”) terminology [of “rights” and “equality”], and thus frame the debate along cultural Marxist lines. From a properly traditionalist perspective they are therefore NOT questions with which a traditionalist should engage in the way they are posed.

I actually think such an exercise risks liberal capture of the moral high ground for the nascent traditionalist movement. Much better to do what other successful movements do, and set out a coherent platform based upon traditionalist premises, not upon the premises of the cultural Marxist enemy.

David G. writes:

Here’s a slightly different take on the issue. Excellent thread, by the way,

One of liberalism’s great achievements is to have reserved the term “minority” primarily for those politicized “people of color” who come to Western nations. So, a few million Muslims out of a world Muslim population of 1.3 billion comes to the U.S. and they are deemed minorities, as if they were an endangered species. What a distortion of our position as well as theirs.They are minorities here, but only here.

See The World Atlas, here and here.

In terms of population, landmass and number of nations, the West is in the minority in all three areas.

Describing the Western world as a demographic, geographic and political minority is a start, a basic point of reference, toward the reawakening and preservation of Western sensibilities and their uniqueness. Instead of squandering our resources on the cultural and physical transference of Third World to our shores, we should realize that while said resources are extremely deep and strong, they are also limited. Currently, the concept of “minorities” applies only on the receiving end of things, that is, to the host Western nations.That must change.

Michael B. writes from Sweden:

The key would seem to hinge on maintaining a happy medium between constitutional freedoms and strong moral norms. Small scale vs. large scale, regionalism vs. federalism.

- Amoral, Hollywood-style gutter capitalism vs a responsible “traditional” market: How does the Austerian traditionalist society handle the dynamic between amoral, mind-in-the-gutter hyper capitalism vis-a-vis a “responsible” capitalism, without stifling constitutional rights? Is there such a thing as “responsible” capitalism? At what point do things start going off the rails? How does one convince the producers of today’s nasty gutter media to restrain themselves, without resorting to force measures?

- Political pluralism vs. fascism: How does the Austerian traditionalist society handle political pluralism? Openly hostile movements such as sharia-supporting orthodox Muslims aside, are there to be “reasonable” limits placed on political and/or moral movements, and if so, how does one prevent such restraints from turning society into fascism or theocracy?

The future as I see it, lies in a decentralized, state-based, U.S. version of Swiss-style direct democracy. Shifting political power into the hands of the American people could bypass the corporate lobby, special interest system. Traditionalism could then arise quite naturally, as citizens who get to decide the future of their own backyards usually tend to vote more conservative. Look at the Swiss. Those who are forced to face the consequences of their actions usually discard a healthy chunk of those liberal excesses. If those who actually suffer the effects of the Mexican invasion were given a chance to vote for their own cities and futures, that southern border would be up and running in no time.

This, of course, presents a huge challenge in a big business, two-party monopoly, continent-wide nation such as the US, where federal power and corporate lobbying is out of control. How to get from A to B is, obviously, another issue entirely.

Mencius writes:

The key to getting what you want is to find the minimum goal that will satisfy you, and aim for nothing less and nothing more.

As a non-liberal atheist, I wonder if traditionalists aren’t confusing two goals: (1) the victory of traditionalism, and (2) the defeat of liberalism.

My guess is that, considering the power liberals hold in the U.S., and the hate and intolerance they display toward “fundamentalists,” the only realistic path to the victory of traditionalism is a military coup.

Frankly, I think expecting politically significant numbers of liberals voluntarily to convert to traditionalism is like expecting Catholics to become Protestants. It can be done with coercive sovereign power (cuius regio, eius religio), and not otherwise.

If the victory of traditionalism is your minimum goal and this assessment is accurate, traditionalist politics is useless. Or worse than useless, as it’s a great way to motivate liberals.

But suppose your minimum goal is the defeat of liberalism? Suppose all you need is not the victory of traditionalism, but just the defeat of liberalism? That is, suppose traditionalists would consider it acceptable to live under a government which is neither liberal nor traditionalist, but which tolerates both and treats them equally?

In that case, rather than designing a traditionalist attack against liberalism, you can design an anti-liberal attack against liberalism. Your design freedom has increased.

A anti-liberal attack is any political ideology designed to defeat liberalism. Traditionalism is an undesirable ingredient in an effective anti-liberal attack, because an effective anti-liberal attack should be designed to convert liberals to the new ideology. Since liberals are trained to hate and fear traditionalists, you’re charging into the machine gun.

VFR often strikes me as Voltairean, with its deadly mix of reason and mockery. Unless (as obviously with VFR) they can pigeonhole the attack as “conservative,” liberals have no idea what to do when these weapons are turned against them. It forces them to think, and they don’t like that.

The most effective anti-liberal ideology, in my opinion, is just realism. Liberalism contradicts both Christianity and reality. To convert liberals, downplay the latter and emphasize the former. To deprogram them, downplay the former and emphasize the latter.

Your political goal in attacking liberalism is to destroy its institutions. For example, much of liberalism’s power comes from its control of the press and the educational system.

My overall view, which may be too extreme for some, is that the U.S. federal government is so contaminated with liberalism that it’s easier to abolish than reform.

In other words, if the defeat of liberalism is an acceptable minimum goal, I think the political agenda traditionalists should be pursuing is not traditionalism, but decentralism.

I’m not saying it will be easy to liquidate DC through democratic means (or otherwise). But (a) if you can do it, it will stay done; (b) it is not obviously traditionalist, and stands a chance of converting liberals; (c) it would destroy the liberal New Deal state and all its institutions.

Jeff C. writes:

I think this is something that should have been done a long time ago. Actually, I’m surprised that you havn’t done it already Lawrence, considering how invested you are in finding truth, which you do with razor-sharp analysis constantly. Do you not know how important it is to have a “bible” of traditionalism that answers the threat of liberalism wholly instead of peacemeal?

Regarding two of the commentators. Mark J writes: “we Western whites are a people and … we have a natural right to continue to exist as a people as we are.” I would seriously advise keeping the word “white” out of the mission statement. It may be true but the present realities are such that it SCREAMS racism and white supremacy to anyone who doesn’t already buy into it. The liberal media have done a great deal of effective brainwashing and a statement like this will shut down audiences before you can begin.

Alan Roebuck writes: “We need to make it clear that if there is no God, then there is no reason why one ought to love anyone other than oneself. In other words, if the God of the Bible does not exist, then there is no reason why one ought to obey the traditional moral law, or to love one’s family, religion and nation enough to honor what they really are, or to make sacrifices in order to defend them.”

I seriously disagree with this statement. While I am a major advocate for Christian Western Civilization, I don’t believe in organized religion (although I subscribe to the notion of a higher power) at all. I approach it from an entirely different angle:

Human progress (philosophy, morality, technology, governance, etc) has occurred primarily in the Western world, and these accomplishments are worth defending to secure what we have—as well as promote further progress in the future. Liberalism, even though it purports to further these things, is actually a virulently dangerous regression that will endanger everything that has come before.

Secondly, in terms of justice: a government can be morally legitimate and binding in the absence of unanimous, explicit consent only if it incorporates appropriate limitations on government to safeguard individual rights. Such a government in all the history of the world has only occurred once, here in America, and it drew from the wide history and culture of Western Civilization to create it. A government of any other civilization that replaces or modifies what we have here will be a major degradation or destruction of such justice, and our government is worth defending for this reason.

In a world increasingly secular, I would suggest that you broaden your arguments beyond what appeals only to devout Christians, even though it is they on whom Western Civilization rests.

Terry Morris writes:

“Of course, you can be virtuous if there is no God. You can do any doggone thing you want. But if there is no God, then there is no good reason why you should

I believe it is incorrect.

I agree with Alan that people need a reason to be good, and the best reason is God. There are many reasons to be good, but only one perfect reason. But outside the existence of pure goodness (God) it is not possible to be good. Liberals can be good while disbelieving in God’s existence, but only because God exists irrespective of what they believe. God is a necessary being, and therefore has to exist.

Though they often get it backwards, that liberals have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, should be enough to convince them of the existence of God. For, how could mere mortals know the difference between good and evil if we had no sense of what pure goodness is? The answer is we couldn’t; we couldn’t know the difference unless something purely good exists (God). This is because evil is nothing but a privation of something, good.

It cannot be reiterated enough that God is being, we merely have being. Likewise, God is goodness with no potentiality for the deprivation thereof in himself, we merely have goodness with every potentiality for such deprivation.

Jeff C. writes:

Saw a comment Mencius made about you at his site, and thought you’d find it interesting.

Laura W. writes:

I agree with Mencius that the key is regionalism and an attack against liberal principles on their own turf. Laying out a Christian platform would be stirring to us believers, but ineffective. Efforts to convert by institutional fiat does such damage to Christianity, which is best passed mind-to-mind.

Mencius mentioned two areas of challenge, state control of the schools and the power of the liberal press, which both violate some of liberal’s own sacred tenets. Liberals are moved by all movements to protect the land and abhor the Wal-martization of America. They sympathize with the underdog struggling against corporate giants. They could be more easily convinced of their insensitivity to the laid-off factory worker or stressed small-time farmer than to the conservative Christian. The loss of community identity that has altered city, suburb and countryside alike and the rise of the corporate conglomerate is the traditionalist’s enemy as well.

Many become liberals because they fail to identify with any particular place or any particular people. They feel a nameless nostalgia for these things and find a lost community in utopian ideas. When we speak of the white race or Western culture, we all mean very specific things. There is no such thing as a traditionalist who is simply attached to these as grand abstractions. Find the liberal a home, a specific place and a people to whom he can belong, and he will become a traditionalist and very likely a Christian as well.

Mark J. writes:

Jeff C. has valid concerns that using the word “white” to describe our people’s identity will be off-putting to people. That’s true, but at the same time our race is a fundamental part of our identity and what we want to preserve. One of your commenters in an earlier thread wrote that he began to abandon liberalism the day he saw that his newborn baby was the only white baby in the nursery. Race and religious tradition are perhaps the two critical non-negotiable elements of our identity. If we run away from, or try to obfuscate the fact that our racial identity is the major part of the peoplehood that we want to preserve, we won’t be fooling anyone and will only be attacked as “racists” anyway by liberals who understand that our squeamishness about race is where we are most vulnerable.

We can soften it without avoiding it when we discuss this with someone by pointing out that every people on earth has a right to survive and maintain its identity, and begin by listing minority groups that liberals do not deny this right of racial identity to… And then segue into the argument that we Western whites are a people as well, or several groups of closely related peoples, and we have a right to maintain our identity as well. In this way we use ju-jitsu on liberals, by appealing to their highest value—equality—to undercut their objections. Don’t we have an equal right to survive just as they grant to these other ethnic groups? How is it “racist” or “supremacist” to want to survive?

James N. writes:

Absolutely fantastic comment by Mencius on the National Suicide thread. It crystallizes some of my thoughts about presidential politics, among other things. His point that a direct traditionalist assault by forces which are too weak to prevail has the potential to make things worse, rather than better, is in perfect accord with my own view.

Alan Roebuck writes:

The discussion at “The need for a traditionalist alternative to liberalism” may be the most important thing ever posted at VFR.

Mencius’s main point is largely in agreement with my basic position: we need to discredit liberalism first in order to make room for traditionalism. And his observation that we don’t need to defend Christianity is, in many instances, basically sound: many liberals don’t know that their worldview depends on atheism in order to be valid. These people (some of them) can be “de-liberalized” without an overt appeal to Christianity, by appealing to reality and the contradictions within liberalism.

And we are mainly attempting to persuade people of traditionalism, not Christianity. An overt appeal to Christianity will occasionally be necessary, but need not be the main thrust of our campaign.

But thinking people will require a theoretical justification of their worldview, and many of these will not abandon liberalism until they are convinced of Christianity.

We do, of course, need a positive program. Here’s a proposal for the basic appeal we make to people: Traditionalism: to know, love and defend your American nation.

I propose this as an analogy with Christian evangelism: Christian evangelists don’t lead with the entire biblical worldview, which is abstract, dry and intimidating. They don’t tell people they first need to accept the doctrines of the trinity, original sin, substitutionary atonement, and so on. They lead with Jesus, who is for many people an attractive person. Let’s lead with something all Americans claim to honor: America.

LA replies:

Mr. Roebuck writes: “Traditionalism: to know, love and defend your American nation. I propose this as an analogy with Christian evangelism: Christian evangelists don’t lead with the entire biblical worldview….. They don’t tell people they first need to accept the doctrines of the trinity, original sin, substitutionary atonement, and so on. They lead with Jesus…”

That’s a beautiful and true thought. Just as patriotism consists, in the first instance, of a love of the concrete American nation, and Western traditionalism consists, in the first instance, of an instinctive love of European man (as I have said many times), Christianity consists, in the first instance, of the concrete experience of the truth and divinity of Jesus Christ. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” Peter blurted out when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. And Jesus answered that Peter’s direct experience of the divine reality of Jesus was the rock on which the Church was founded.

Christianity is founded on the transcendent truth of concrete particulars. So is traditionalism.

Dimitri K. writes:

It is a wonderful thread, and there are many with whom I agree and some with whom I disagree. But the most important issue to my mind is Mencius’ suggestion that we fight liberalism without actually suggesting any alternative. He claims that it would be easier. That’s true, but the result of such a victory may be completely disastrous… the complete rejection of Christianity.

My point is that we must not forget and must not fail to remind others what is our final aim—a non-liberal society based on Judeo-Christian values. If we don’t want to repel non-believers, we may call it “cultural Christianity,” which does not require a deep faith from everybody, but requires some respect to the fact that our culture is Christian. But traditionalism without naming the specific tradition which it promotes, may be even worse than liberalism.

Gintas J. writes:

Is this credo an internal one, something around which traditionalists can rally? Or is it an attack document, to go after liberalism?

Mencius Moldbug strikes me as a goofy techno-geek libertarian. That is, he does have a very high native intelligence, but it’s not been well-disciplined by superior intellect / character / tradition. In other words, he really sounds nutty (think Christoper Lloyd in Back to the Future), but is not lovably nutty. This is based on looking at his blog.

For example, he suggests in his comment to you.

Is simultaneously entertaining the ideas “abolish rather than reform” the federal government and “an orderly financial process” crazy enough?

Terry Morris writes:

Interesting comments by Mencius. Isn’t the way to defeat liberalism, or to end its dominance in America, a return to balanced constitutional government?

In other words, a return to balanced constitutional government would relegate liberalism to small spheres of operation where (1) its destructiveness would be more clearly exposed for what it is due to its closeness to individual Americans, and (2) it would have no power to organize itself into a dominant national force.

Jacob M. writes:

I agree with Mark J. when he says we shouldn’t shy away from the word “white.” Liberals love to accuse us conservatives of using euphemistic terms like “Western Civilization” in order to obscure our true racial meaning, because in their minds deep down we are all racists but won’t admit it because we know racism is not acceptable. If we come out and say “white,” at least we’re showing them that we won’t be verbally intimidated. Of course, one must be judicious in deciding how far to take this; in our society, there are many settings where speaking this way could cost a man his job.

That said, I wonder how effective Mark’s “survival of an ethnic identity” argument will really be with liberals.

LA replies:

I have always opposed the approach to defending whites as though they were just another oppressed minority group seeking its recognition and rights. To take that position is to accept complete defeat. This is not about preserving whites as a little ethnic group here and there, but about preserving white America, white Western civilization, and the white race. Meaning, in practical terms, that whites must remain the dominant ethnocultural majority of America and the West.

Terry Morris writes:

Here are seven leading principles of Traditional Conservatism:

1. The Principle of Individuality;

2. The Principle of Self-Government;

3. The Historical Character of Americans as our heritage;

4. The property of conscience (meaning a man has a property in his conscience);

5. The original form of our Government;

6. Local self-government;

7. The Principle of American Political Union.

Mencius writes:

As for an orderly financial process, it’s very easy to shut down and sell off chunks of government. It just hasn’t happened much lately. It is also not impossible to restructure an entirely broken financial system. In fact, it is imperative.

Mark J. writes:

In response to Jacob M.: I agree that liberals would argue that whites don’t need a separate nation in order to survive. Then it is our job to make the argument that there has to be some kind of separationism for a people to survive. Since most of the wars in the world are between different peoples competing for control of a shared nation, it isn’t hard to find examples that demonstrate that whites cannot survive by sharing a country with non-whites. We can’t even share a neighborhood with blacks for long before we are driven out.

Regarding Larry’s comment, I too want us to remain the dominant ethnocultural group of the West. My point was not that we should accept being just another protected minority in our own lands, but that we have a right to our own lands, our own nations, just as other peoples do around the world. My point was that we can use liberals’ love of “equality” as an argument that we have an equal right to our own nations, not just an equal right to survive.

As an aside, I don’t think there is a real “right for a people to survive.” A nation belongs to whomever is strong enough to hold it. But when making these arguments in a way that speaks to liberals, I think it is useful to undercut their objections by using the language of equality.

LA writes:

One thing that needs to be a part of a traditonalist alternative to liberalism is a renewed, positive vision of American history. At present, the whole of American history is nothing more than a target for the left to attack (the latest is Ken Burns’s “World War II”), while the “right” has nothing to offer on the subject except our victory over fascism in WWII, our immigration history, and our race-blindness. The actual, historical country, even the standard history of America that was still being taught in public schools as late of the 1960s, is not represented or defended by anyone. So one of the things that traditionalists need to do is restore the substantive, normative history of America, but from a traditionalist angle.

Jeff C. writes (10/13/07):

For the record, I define Western Civilization as Samuel Huntington does: Classical legacy (Greek philosophy and rationalism, Roman law, Latin), Catholocisim and Protestantism, European languages, separation of spiritual and temporal authority, rule of law, social pluralism, representative bodies and individualism. It is these traits that have allowed the West to take the lead in everything from technological innovation to culture (music, art, architecture, etc) to philosophy.

The difficulty lies, of course, in reaching this point, especially in today’s environment where education and the media are controlled by liberalism. Many of VFR’s posters argue for a push to return to traditional Christianity, which has been consistently losing to liberalism for a hundred years or more. It is doubtful that this is possible.

The best way to convert liberals, then, is to appeal to reason. First identify Islam—as Islam—as a fundamental threat to our values that can’t be reasoned or argued with. Then spell out the end-game of liberalism, which is tyrannical dictatorship in the name of the people. Then argue that the only way to survive and keep our values intact is to embrace Christianity’s fundamental role in creating the greatness of our civilization.

Finally, remember that success ultimately depends in numbers. As I state over and over:

In a world increasingly secular, I would suggest that you broaden your arguments beyond what appeals only to devout Christians, even though it is they on whom Western Civilization ultimately rests.

Terry Morris writes:

I think I agree with Jeff C.’s overall strategy for converting liberals to traditionalism. I’ve argued many times that we need to show liberals where the ideology of liberalism is irrational. But it’s important to keep in mind that Jeff is offering us a strategy and not a goal. The title of this entry is “The need for a tradtionalist alternative to liberalism,” not “The need for a traditionalist strategy for converting liberals.” I thought we were trying, in this thread, to lay down some tradionalist principles as an alternative for liberals once liberalism began to fail them and/or once they became aware of the irrationality, illogic, and the destructiveness of their liberalism.

LA writes:

Thanks to Terry for that reminder and keeping the discussion on course.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 04, 2008 05:04 PM | Send

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