Since I’m now busily editing an anthology for Cornell University Press on the present conservative movement, my eyes were drawn to two relevant articles in the Sunday New York Post. One was a mocking report on “Poland pol’s LGBT bigotry,” which dwells on how the “leader of Poland’s right wing ruling party” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, continues to oppose same sex marriage. The article quotes Kaczynski, whom we’re told is a “sixty nine year old bachelor” (are we supposed to infer a hidden sex life here?). Kaczynski insists that the Polish government, does not want to punish gays but opposes “same sex unions concerning the unions themselves and the right [of gay couples] to adopt children.” The Post’s less than balanced report ends with a taunt by “the gay leader of the (Polish) Spring Party” in which opponents of gay adoptions in Poland are accused of covering up “pedophilia in the Catholic Church.”
The other material in the Post that I carefully read was an excerpt from a new book The Right Side of History by media conservative superstar Ben Shapiro. This excerpt indicates that Western civilization draws on the ideas of both Jerusalem and Athens. (I recall Russell Kirk saying something similar in more elegant language, although Kirk brought up the legacy of Rome as well.) Those who rejected this synthesis, according to Shapiro, have “collapsed into dust,” and as evidence of their shared fate, he cites the disastrous cases of Nazi Germany and various Communist dictatorships. Apparently the same fate awaits another country that is now very much in the news: “Venezuela rejects Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law and citizens of their oil-rich nation have been reduced to eating dogs.” One might ask whether the failed economic experiment in Venezuela belongs in the same moral category with the Third Reich, which, according to Shapiro, “shoved children into gas ovens.” It may indeed be for the Post, which on March 18 called for an American military invasion of Venezuela in order to protect us from something supposedly even worse.
There is, however one observation offered by Shapiro that “the West has been running on fumes for generations” which applies with particular force to his own movement. Allow me to repeat an argument that I’ve been making for the last thirty years. Although the conservative movement rattles on about “permanent things” and “values” it’s also been all too willing to abandon or change its “values.” This is the price that it pays in order to be “relevant” and in order to attract and hold on to sponsors. “Permanent things” have become an increasingly vague concept in “conservative” discourse, and that has happened for good reason: Conservative media personalities don’t want to seem “intolerant,” for example, by stating that the only form of marriage that they recognize is the heterosexual form and that they are resisting such innovations as gay unions, incestuous unions, or group marriage.
As late as 1996 this was interestingly enough the view of the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party, which voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. Today this view is ascribed to a supposedly contemptible bigot in a newspaper that still describes itself as “conservative.” But what precisely are the ”permanent thing” or “values” that the conservative establishment still clings to and is willing to defend against the Left? My own list of what they seem to be would be exceedingly narrow and stress interests rather than civilizational principles. These interests would be fronting for defense industries, professing unconditional support for the Likud Party in Israel, denouncing anti-Semitism and racism in the Democratic Party, and pushing out of conservative discourse all inconvenient moral questions. Certainly media conservatives who hope to have futures in their line of work avoid bringing up other messier subjects. They typically shun those moral positions that the Left considers no longer open to debate and which Fox-news’s highly paid opposition (e.g., Donna Brazile, Juan Williams and Shepard Smith) may find too uncomfortable to discuss.
A predictable brouhaha in the conservative establishment and one that illustrates my point is the recent dispute over the removal of Judge Jeanine from her perch on Fox-news. Needless to say, the decision to deep-freeze this outspoken judge, at least for the time being, did not come over a deep moral issue, for example expressing DOMA’s view on marriage. Rather the former judge offended a sponsor by getting overly excited over what has become a timely GOP talking point. She had the temerity of going after an outspokenly anti-Zionist Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, first for being anti-Israeli and then for wearing a hijab. One needn’t like the Congresswoman in question, her childish tweets, or her refusal to recognize Muslim intolerance in order to recognize that the GOP is using her as a political football. They are raging over Ilhan Omar in an obvious attempt to peel away Jewish voters from the Dems. This is precisely what Judge Jeanine was enthusiastically engaged in doing, when she seems to have been carried away by her work. And this may be the closest to defending a now controversial moral position that the conservative establishment may care to come.
A young New Orleans novelist Gordon Peter Wilson has published a work Quench the Smoldering Wick that impresses me by its satirical humor and literary fluency. One might have expected a novel of this quality to be put out by a first-rate commercial press, but this may not be possible in today’s Politically Correct publishing industry. Wilson takes liberties with all kinds of sacred cows, a nouveaux riche Jewish business tycoon with an inappropriately young mistress, an unhinged black revolutionary, upscale WASPs (with ancestors, not relatives) who patronize fashionable leftist causes, and a young female do-gooder from a Western Pennsylvania rustbelt town. Although some of these types might pop up in a novel by Philip Roth or Tom Wolfe, it may be harder for a young novelist nowadays to get away with such humor. Even if he succeeded in finding a suitable publisher, instead of having to self-publish, he would likely never be invited to speak at a “book event,” hosted by authorized liberals and conservatives.
Without giving too much of the plot way, which unfold entirely in New Orleans, I may be permitted to repeat some of the details offered by advertisements. The protagonist of sorts is Shale Himmel (quondam Himmelfarb), a food industry tycoon and the owner of the swanky Watercress Hotel in downtown New Orleans. Jupiter Mingo (this seems to be an assumed name) is a black dishwasher at the Watercress and as things turn out, a violent adversary of what he perceives as “systematic” white racism. His girlfriend through most of the novel is Gretchen Sobieski, a naïve comely social justice warrior from a Polish Catholic background and an impoverished Northern town. Mansuel Williams Blackshear is the vain young patrician, who helps himself to Shale’s mistress, although both of them land up being shot at the Watercress, when Jupiter decides to take out his racial resentment at the end of the novel.
Wilson depicts all of his main characters as playing social roles that betray their inauthentic selves. Shale is a self-conscious Ostjude (Eastern European Jew), who no matter how hard he works to rise socially, always imagines himself to be snubbed by the long established German Jewish elite of New Orleans. It was for me impossible to read Wilson’s perceptive characterization of Shale without thinking of the neoconservative “policy advisors” I’ve known. The resemblance is truly remarkable. Gretchen is basically what she is, a Polish Catholic girl from Western Pennsylvania who is assuming the role of social justice warrior. She is delighted to make love to a black revolutionary, as integral to her assumed identity, but only at the end does she realize how psychopathic her lover is. Jupiter is also assuming a role, which lifts him out of his otherwise dismal existence as a very dark black living on the edge of society. Like Shale, his boss at the Watercress, he is full of resentment against those higher up in his own group, in his case, lighter-skinned blacks with French Creole blood. These blacks have not only snubbed him but represent the intermediate command at the hotel where he is destined to perform lowly menial tasks. Although elements of this novel remind one of Wolfe’s Bonfire of Vanities, the conclusion is much darker. The book ends not in racial reconciliation, but in a blood bath that the reader sees coming by the last third of this novel.
One wonders whether, as Wilson explains at the beginning, this is only “a work of fiction.” The author may be offering a not very subtle prediction of the direction in which both his native city and the country are moving.
This is a review of Samuel T. Francis' posthumous book Leviathan and Its Enemies.
The fate of Samuel T. Francis in a conservative movement that has ceased to be in any socially significant sense more than an extension of the Left has been exactly what one might expect. Save for some isolated references (some of them from the Left) to Dr. Francis as a precursor of contemporary American populism and the Trump presidency, he has been conspicuously ignored—or else among neoconservatives, treated as an embarrassing reactionary. Supposedly Sam held unacceptable views about issues on which authorized conservatives have been running to acknowledge their movement’s past insensitivity. To his professional disadvantage, Sam never followed in their direction. He noted ethnic and cultural solidarity in framing his concept of an “historical America.” And he never held back in mocking the virtue-signaling of the “conservative” movement.
Not incidentally, Sam was by far the most brilliant social theorist produced by the American Right; and I say this after having studied and in some cases known other great social theorists on the onetime real Right. His mastery of Western history and the history of both Anglo-American and continental social theory was breath-taking; and as indicated in both my blurb and afterword to this posthumously published collection of papers on the managerial state and its operation, Sam was one “of the few intellectual giants of my acquaintance who could express himself lyrically and forcefully.” He could also sound like a Marxist when he wrote about social structure; and one would have to look to the traditional Left or else to the Southern Agrarians to find a more biting critical analysis of corporate capitalism than the one found in Leviathan and its Enemies.
For those looking for contemporary relevance in this sprawling text of over 700 pages, I would strongly recommend the concluding chapter, “The Prospects of the Soft Managerial Regime.” Here we learn how the managerial elite that “administers” our political affairs and creates and applies “social policy” (yes we are speaking about the Deep State), operates without the overt use of physical coercion. In this chapter Sam focuses on two groups that resist bureaucratic manipulation, one in which public education and more recently the media have come to play key roles. One of these groups are “blacks and other non-white racial groups” that “have largely retained the status of an internal proletariat in a soft managerial regime and exhibit considerable alienation from it, despite their acquisition of political leverage.” Although these groups show “widespread rejection of managerial liberalism” and are attracted to “charismatic racial nationalist leaders,” they are incapable of revolt. That is because of their “continuing dependence on the economic, legal, administrative and political services that the managerial regime provides.”
There is, however, a second, more promising source of resistance to what Sam describes as “soft” tyranny, albeit one that could turn brutal once faced by serious opposition. This is “the postbourgeois proletariat,” representing “an attitudinal cluster that occupies a lower middle class and working class position on the social and economic spectrum.” This group of rebels “was strongly supportive of both the presidential candidacy of George Wallace and various causes of early New Right activism.” Moreover, attitudinally, this second group is “defined by hostility to both the elite and its institutions as well as to the underclass, and by their characteristic belief that elite and underclass are in alliance against their interests.” This white semi-proletariat, for which Sam borrows the designation of the sociologist Donald I. Warren, “Middle American Radicals,” identifies its interests as “national or American” interests. Those who dominate and belittle them, moreover, are not seen as belonging to the “nation.”
One needn’t strain too hard to see in this description of MARS (Middle American Radicals) a foreshadowing of the Deplorables who came together to elevate a New York real estate mogul to the presidency in 2016. It is entirely possible that Sam would not have been satisfied with the result, particularly the tendency of the current administration to give priority at the highest level to neoconservative celebrities and GOP leftovers from earlier Republican administrations. What seems undeniable, as John Judis, Rush Limbaugh, and others have noticed, is the predictive value of Sam’s statements about the explosive potential of MARS voters. And the author, who died in 2003, didn’t make those statements recently. He was working on his magnum opus and developing his ideas when I first met him in the early 1980s.
One of the most illogical historical debates I’ve ever tried to follow concerns the personal religious conviction of our founding father George Washington. Presently there seem to be two opposing schools of propagandists. They can be divided more or less into Beckites and Obamaites, and both seem obsessed with Washington’s theological leanings. The generally leftist historian Joseph Ellis is eager to tell us in his relevant work that Washington was not on the evidence a Trinitarian Christian. Although he dutifully attended Anglican-Episcopalian services with his wife Martha, he avoided taking communion after the American Revolution.
This lack of ritual practice, which was clear to Washington’s minister in Philadelphia (and the local Episcopal bishop), William White, supposedly reveals a great deal about the American founding. Like Jefferson and Franklin, Washington was a free-thinker influenced by the European Enlightenment, and to whatever extent Washington and his fellow founders went along with popular religious enthusiasm, they were simply masking their true feelings. If alive today, they would all no doubt be welcoming the removal of Christian religious symbols from the public square, and in all probability they would be okay with gay marriage and with substituting “holiday greetings” for a “blessed Christmas.”
The other side, following Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and other authorized “conservative” voices, insist that Washington was a pious Christian, who spent his time in solemn religious meditation. The reason his gravestone and his last will and testament are full of references to Christ as well as to God the Father is that George was, in fact, a believing Christian. Presumably, if still around, our first president would by now would be rallying to the GOP. He might even be on the Glenn Beck show, seated next to Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Martin Luther King’s niece. Here he would join the other guests in decrying abortion and calling for “family values.”
In point of fact, the depth of Washington’s Christian beliefs is totally irrelevant to his vision of the country he helped found. It is no more relevant than whether or not Leon Trotsky really believed in Marx’s historical materialism when he led the Red Army. It is only our American obsession with personal authenticity that would cause us to worry about whether Washington was inwardly Christian. This is joined to the equally questionable notion that if Washington did not truly accept the Thirty-Nine Articles of his confession, this lack of faith had profound implications for the republic he helped set up.
Such beliefs tell more about the quality of American journalistic debate than they do about the problem of historical impact. From his statements, Washington intended the American people to be religious Christians and allowing for certain exceptions, he probably hoped they would be Christians of the Protestant variety. The fact that he and other founders include in their addresses stern affirmations on the link between religious faith and social virtue indicate they were not smirking at Christian theology, whatever their private reservations.
These founders were most emphatically not modern secularists, and Washington was not an exponent of modern democracy. Our first president was a man of the eighteenth century, who believed in the benefits of property relations and gender-specific education, and, perhaps above all, as he tells us in his Farewell Address as president, in the public need for religious beliefs. In these respects, he was little different from the English monarch his countrymen broke from during the Revolution.
His proclamation of the first Thanksgiving holiday in October 1789 was most certainly not about celebrating democracy, which is a false connection that U.S. presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have drawn. It was a defense of ordered liberty in a society in which God “would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and the citizens of the United states at large.” We citizens are urged “to demean ourselves with the charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion.”
There is no need to contrast these tempered passages to President Obama’s most recent Thanksgiving dithyramb, with its homage to Native American enrichments and to “our fledgling democracy,” to grasp the utterly transformed public purpose now assigned to Thanksgiving. Since the 1960s this holiday has become closely identified, perhaps most grievously by Bush II, with a democratic liberating mission and with celebrating the democratic progress of our global society.
But the original proclamation, which came from Washington and may have been edited by Bishop White, bears no resemblance to current justifications for Thanksgiving. Moreover, even the decision of Lincoln in October 1863 to establish a yearly commemoration of the Pilgrims’ arrival in New England, an act prompted by the desire to link the nation’s birth to pro-Union New England rather than to Confederate Jamestown, does not really change the significance of Washington’s holiday.
Even in 1863 during a fratricidal war, the U.S. and its leaders continued to view the country in some sense as it had in Washington’s time. (Lincoln too was not a regular churchgoer, but his oratory is bathed in Old Testament phrases and Calvinist laments about the wages of sin.)
But Washington is explicit in calling for citizens to subordinate themselves to others. What he had in mind was probably a local constabulary and not, in any case, a modern welfare state. His language about authority issues straight out of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, while in the second paragraph there is an Old Testament citation from the prophet Micah. Washington also commends “our blessed religion,” which presumably is not an early allusion to Kwanzaa. It is indeed hard to think of how any president today could draft such a proclamation, even transposed in the appropriate gobbledygook, without being attacked for hate speech.
Current attempts to understand the social-religious view of eighteenth-century Virginia gentlemen by relating them to modern-day fixations are an infantile project. The most we can hope to do by making comparative studies is to understand how different the past was from the present. Washington was no more a precursor of our egalitarian, post-Christian times than he was Donald Duck. And he could easily entertain theological doubts without wishing to hand over his country to cultural radicals, and especially not in a government that he would no longer have recognized as his. Equally important, his understanding of religion was anchored in non-modern social concepts, like deference and authority. Washington may have been the commander who finished the work begun with the Tea Party in 1773. But his solution in the end was as stately as the man himself and the holiday he proclaimed.
In at least seven articles published in The Atlantic since 2015, we are given abundant reasons for “sanitizing” Southern urban spaces of Confederate plaques and flags. We also learn from this politically correct publication why Charleston has benefited from being redecorated with statues celebrating black slave revolts. The Atlantic bestows special commendation on a statue commemorating Denmark Vesey, the firebrand who incited a slave insurrection in the 1820s. But one feature article in 2015 finds an overriding reason that The Atlantic’s fans might want to hold back from pulling down all Confederate monuments just yet: “If we do away with monuments like the Calhoun statue, we risk erasing how these memorials reinforced racial inequality in the past. This would constitute a distortion of history, of memory, in its own right. We also risk losing sight of the insidious legacies of these monuments today. “
This then is the justification for keeping those evil statues around, to remind us of exactly how evil the old order was before present leftist elites began changing everything—presumably for the better. Friends tell me that the PC Taliban squads are eager to deface or pull down anything in Charleston pertaining to William Gilmore Simms, one of the most famous American novelists and historians of the antebellum period. The literary figure who was referred to as “the James Fenimore Cooper of the South” but who, unlike Cooper, was also a distinguished American historian, became a plantation owner in the 1840s and lent his support to the War for Southern Independence. Those may be more than enough grounds to trash his memory and to defile anything that is associated with Simm’s life. Or so one might infer from the way The Atlantic treats the ongoing defilement of the Southern past, as a perfectly natural and justified reaction against pure wickedness.
The worst way to approach this defacing and destruction of monuments, plaques and graves is to pretend that they will eventually stop if we just don’t notice. Since these outrages have been accelerating and gaining endorsement from the MSM and, quite predictably, from Republican networks, it is ridiculous to believe they will cease to happen on their own. The “sanitizing” under discussion brings back memories of the razing of the statues of Jewish composers and writers by the Third Reich. Not surprisingly, that outrage also received endorsement from a sympathetic press, represented by the Nazi daily Der Völkische Beobachter. And seeing the constabulary benignly looking on while this destruction goes on as an everyday event reminded me that pro-Nazi or just cowardly police and judges did nothing to punish zealous vandals in interwar Germany. I believe that we too are living through a seizure of cultural and political power by a determined totalitarian enemy of our freedom; and this enemy seems to hate Southern whites with an obsessive passion. Needless to say, those who have monopolized the emotions aroused by Nazi crimes, don’t care a wrap about those who are now behaving like Nazi vandals. After all, these thugs now call themselves “antifascists” and claim that they’re also opposing the “Nazi” in the White House.
As a Northerner, I am appalled by the very limited opposition to this government-sponsored vandalism that has come from Southern whites, many of whose ancestors were involved in the struggle for Southern independence. When I watched the events in Charlottesville unfold last year, I kept asking myself why millions of Southerners had not descended on the Confederate war monument located in the city center to protest its removal, before those with a different agenda took advantage of the protest for their own use. In a commentary, I contrasted the generally weak Southern response to the ongoing extirpation and blackening of their ancestral history to the way Italians in New York City responded to the efforts of the local Taliban to pull down statues of Columbus. The question I addressed is why Italian Americans cared more about Columbus, an Italian who sailed to the New World under a Spanish flag five hundred years ago, than Southerners cared about honoring the memory of a great American hero who was one of their own.
What complicates this matter for me is that the vicious attack on the Southern past is part of something that goes well beyond the states that formed the onetime Confederacy. It is the opening round of what is likely to become a violent struggle for a total Cultural Marxist transformation of this country. Those who engage in politics as usual have tried to dislodge this concern from our minds. But the reconstruction continues to take place, and the defacing and ripping down of Confederate monuments is symptomatic of something much bigger and more ominous. For those who haven’t noticed: our media and educational institutions are inciting this transformation; and our established conservative movement is doing zilch to prevent it from happening.