The Long View: The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

Rosicrucians

Rosicrucians

The Rosicrucian Order is the kind of thing I couldn't get enough of when I was a teenager and a young man, and now bores me to tears. Accordingly, I'm sympathetic to John's critical reading of what the history of such movements really means.


The Rosicrucian Enlightenment
By Frances Yates
Routledge, 2004
(First Published 1972)
333 Pages, US$14.95
ISBN 0-415-26769-2

 

Did companies of English actors once prowl the capitals of western Germany and Mitteleuropa like Cathar troubadours, providing entertainment to the masses, to be sure, but also heralding to the wise a the impending arrival of an alchemical Millennium? And did the mind of modernity really spring from the Monas Hieroglyphica, John Dee’s dense and enigmatic little book, whose evangel Dee spread during his time in Europe in the 1580s, when he became a figure at the uncanny court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II at Prague? To answer a flat “yes” to either of these questions would be to put the matter more crudely than it appears in this careful classic study of the Rosicrucian moment in European intellectual history. (And actually, in asking those questions, I put in the comparison to the troubadours myself, though the author does make much of the role of Elizabethan drama.) Conspiracy theorists cannot be greatly comforted by this book, since it deals in large part with a public if overambitious political project, though the book does touch on the origins of the Freemasons and the other not-particularly-secret societies that began to flourish in the 17th century. Be that as it may, the real theme of the work is that the origins of the culture of modern science are closely linked with millennialism and a form of neoplatonism.

The centerpiece of the story is brief reign of the Winter King and Queen of Bohemia: Frederick V (1596-1632), Prince-Elector of the Palatinate, and of Princess Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) of England. In 1619, the Kingdom of Bohemia rejected the Catholic Habsburg heir to the throne and chose the Protestant Frederick instead. His marriage in 1613 to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England, had been seen as a great strengthening of the Protestant cause in Europe. The offer of the Bohemian crown raised the possibility of a league of Evangelical princes that would break the hegemony of Habsburg and Spanish power. The supporters of the Bohemian project, as manifested in the literature of those years that purported to issue from an ancient but theretofore secret order of the “Rosy Cross,” also seem to have hoped that Frederick’s move from Heidelberg to Prague, the old capital of Rudolph II (1552-1612), might be the preliminary to Frederick’s ascension to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (an elected position, remember: Frederick was one of the electors). Thus the connection between that ancient federation and the Church of Rome would be broken, and the empire would become the instrument, in the words of the Rosicrucian literature, of “a general reformation of the whole wide world.”

As it happened, few enterprises have ever turned out quite so badly. There had been a long truce in the wars of religion in the decades before the Bohemians chose Frederick. In those days, every state in Germany and Middle Europe seems to have been ruled by Ludwig the Mad, and the recluse Rudolph with his hermetic studies and keen interest in alchemy is usually denounced as the most frivolous of all. In retrospect, though, his absent-minded tolerance was probably the best course. His Habsburg successor (after the brief reign of his brother) refused to accept the loss of Bohemia to the Protestant cause (though it was largely a Protestant country). The Thirty Years War began with the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, when Frederick and Elizabeth were driven from Prague. Frederick simultaneously lost the Palatinate to invading Catholic armies. They then established a long-running but penurious court at the Hague.

The key documents on the Rosicrucian Furore, as it was called in Germany, were the pseudonymously published pamphlets, the Fama (to use the abbreviated title), which appeared in printed form in 1612, and the Confessio, which appeared two years later. To some extent, they were just partisan literature extolling the future of Frederick and his House. However, as we have seen, they also announced the existence of a secret society, an “Invisible College” of long-lived persons founded by one Christian Rosenkreuz, who was said to have acquired his knowledge in the East. This society promised to inaugurate an era of universal enlightenment in the very near future. The recovery of ancient wisdom was to be the foundation of this new reformation, but a crucial feature of it was to be the perfection of natural knowledge gained by experiment and by the consultation of scholars.

These documents and associated publications included the numerological reworking of ancient prophecies to prove that a great change was imminent. The model of history they proposed was not so different from the postmillennialism familiar from later centuries, which holds that the Millennium will be established on Earth by human effort before the Second Coming; this model is not so different from Age of the Holy Spirit forecast by Joachim of Fiore, to which the author of this book tells us the literature actually alluded.

The Christian Rosenkreuz after whom the Rosicrucian fashion was named was not so much a myth as a joke, an imaginary monk who was said to studied in Damascus and Fez. The spirit of the anonymous literature is captured in the work of a “Rosicrucian” whose name we do know, Johann Valentin Andreae. His allegory, written in German but appraently under influence of English drama, is known in English as The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. The work depicts a royal wedding spread over seven days, whose events track in some ways the alchemical process understood as a spiritual exercise. The Wedding ends with the sending out of “missionaries” to spread the new science. It is reasonably clear that this did not describe an actual missionary enterprise, but the spread of a new historical optimism based on the hope for a new synthesis of knowledge.

Persons less astute than Andreae took the Rosicrucian brotherhood literally. In Germany, until the defeat of Fredrick V in 1620 burst the bubble of irrational enthusiasms, there was a flood of literature by people defending and attacking the brotherhood; many sought admittance to it. The echo of in France of the German furore was a sort of witch hunt, occasioned by the appearance in 1623 of posters in Paris announcing the arrival of the invisible Rosicrucians. “Invisibility” was sometimes taken to mean not just “clandestine,” but unable to be seen. Young Rene Descartes, who had actually fought at the Battle of the White Mountain on the Catholic side, was rumored to be a Rosicrucian until his return to Paris proved him to be visible after all.

What was this new science that the Rosicrucian literature claimed to be about to transform the world? It was Renaissance Hermeticism, heavily focused on mathematics but with a keen interest in the mechanical arts developed by the engineers of antiquity. Frederick’s gardens at Heidelberg, for instance, were famous for their automata and other mechanical marvels. “Hermetic” in this context usually meant the theosophy of “Hermes Trismegistus,” who was purported to be a philosopher of ancient Egypt whom Renaissance had identified with Moses, though in fact the writings ascribed to him date from the Greco-Roman period. Like the earlier Renaissance, it included a systematic interest in alchemy, but in the “new” alchemy of Paracelsus (1493-1541), with its heavy focus on medicine and the philosophy of the parallel nature of the macrocosm and microcosm. The novel feature was the Cabala. This, too, had been an element of Renaissance thought since at least the 15th century, but the Rosicrucian Cabala was the new, Lurianic Cabala that developed in the Levant after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It was not just Messianic, it was “reformist,” looking to the reconstruction of a damaged world.

The English element clarifies the story greatly. The order of the Rosy Cross itself, for instance, is plausibly explained as an allegorical reworking of the rose and cross among the symbols of the English Order of the Garter, which James I bestowed on his new son-in-law Frederick, and which had recently been given to the prince of Württemberg. Most significant of all, however, was the role of John Dee (1527-1609).

Dee was a serious mathematician and a notable statesman. He is sometimes credited, perhaps with a measure of exaggeration, with founding the British Secret Service. He was interested in the natural world as such; and to use Francis Bacon’s later phrase, he hoped to use natural knowledge for the relief of man’s estate. He was also quite chatty with angels.

In his Monas Hieroglyphica, Dee tried to unite all these themes in a synthesis whose ambitions are at least as great as, say, Thomism, or the search for a Theory of Everything. Empirical science was an element of what Dee sought to promote, but as a component of a grander structure whose focus was elsewhere. As we read in this history:

To return to the general analysis of the Rosicrucian outlook. magic was a dominating factor, working as a mathematic- mechanics in the lower world, as celestial mechanics in the celestial world, and as angelic conjuration in the supercelestial world. One cannot leave out the angels in this world view, however much it may have been advancing towards the scientific revolution. The religious outlook is bound up with the idea that penetration has been made into higher angelic spheres in which all religions were seen as one; it is the angels who are believed to illuminate man’s intellectual activities.

Readers will note how these ideas reflect the doctrine of Perennialism and anticipate later speculation about the transcendental unity of religions. In connection with ecumenicism, this reviewer notes that Dee’s Hermetic progressivism seems to have been an element of what Paul Johnson later called the Third Force: Johnson’s treatment of the topic in his History of Christianity (1976) is largely a paraphrase of The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. According to Johnson, this Third Force operated in both the Catholic and Protestant regions of Europe before the Thirty Years War to mitigate the friction between Catholic and Protestant, and between the different denominations in the Protestant camp, with a view to eventual reconciliation. The author of this book does note the existence of associations during that period whose members were systematically indifferent to confessional affiliation. They might claim to belong to any church, while adhering to their own version of slightly esoteric Christianity.

Sometimes the esotericism of these years overbalanced the Christianity. That seems to have been the case with Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), yet another familiar of the court of Rudolph II. Unlike the pious Evangelical Dee, Bruno espoused turning to the “Egyptian Religion,” by which he meant the new synthesis of Hermeticism and alchemy.

As for Dee himself, his version of what we must call “Rosicrucianism” (though that is not necessarily a term he would have heard himself) certainly had political dimension. In addition to his still somewhat murky adventures in Prague, during his stay in Europe in the 1580s he seems to have been attempting some such link between England and the Palatinate that the marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth later achieved. This policy was not necessarily anti-Catholic. Dee’s own Anglicanism had not quite gelled yet as a Protestant confession, for one thing. Dee could still talk to the Emperor Rudolph without a strong sense that each was a member of a different confession. The strongest insistence that Catholic and Protestant choose sides, this book suggests, came from the Society of Jesus. Officially recognized as an order in 1540, the Jesuits required some decades to become the ubiquitous, and allegedly omniscient, face of Counter-Reformation Catholicism. Indeed, maybe the phantasm of the Order of the Holy Cross was intended as an image of the Jesuits as they should have been. (We may note that rumors were not lacking that the Rosicrucians actually were the Jesuits, presenting themselves in other guise.) In any case, by the time of the marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth, the Rosicrucian movement had become less generically reformist and more specifically anti-Catholic, or at least anti-Jesuit. At the same time, its focus on the improvement of the secular world had become more emphatic:

The Rosicrucian manifesto may now take a somewhat wider meaning. It calls for a general reformation because the other reformations have failed. The Protestant Reformation is losing strength and is divided. The Catholic Counter Reformation has taken a wrong turning. A new general reformation of the whole wide world is called for, and this third reformation is to find its strength in Evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on brotherly love, in the esoteric Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, and in an accompanying turning towards the works of God in nature in a scientific spirit of exploration, using science or magic, magical science or scientific magic, in the service of man.

The actual outcome of Frederick’s Bohemian adventure was sufficiently appalling to occasion what Richard Landes of Boston University has called “millennial disappointment,” which is what happens when the perfection of the world is promised but does not arrive. This was a key theme in Endless Things, the last novel of John Crowley’s Ægypt series. The series is based on an analogy of the Rosicrucian Enlightenment to the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960s; it tells tales from both eras in parallel. However, as The Rosicrucian Enlightenment reminds us, it is possible to argue that the Rosicrucian Millennium did arrive, though not quite in the manner expected by John Dee or Frederick V.

The later story of the Rosicrucians links in obscure ways to the other obscure beginnings of the 17th century. It had something to do with beginning of the Freemasons (of the real Freemasons, as distinct from the bogus lineage that runs from the Temple of Solomon through the Templars). It also had something to do with the foundation of the Royal Society in 1659. That august institution is, perhaps, the Invisible College made visible, however much its founders sought to distance themselves publicly from all the occult sciences, and especially from any taint of association with John Dee. The important link here is Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the statesman and philosopher who is sometimes credited, not altogether accurately, with the discovery of the scientific method.

Certainly some of Bacon’s ideas were diametrically opposed to those that we have been considering. He had no interest in secret societies or invisible colleges; he was keen, rather, to promote the exchange of scholars and discoveries among the visible colleges of Europe. Though he, too, urged the development of the sciences, mathematics does not seem to have been on his list of disciplines that needed perfection. Mathematics seemed to him to be too close to conjuration. (Some of his contemporaries thought the same, and supported the development of mathematics for just that reason.) No doubt his disinterest in this subject was related to his rejection of the Copernican model of the solar system. Be this all as it may, though, to read Bacon’s New Atlantis is to be confronted with a Rosicrucian utopia, down to the rosy crosses on the turbans of the Christian priest-scholars who benevolently manage the great temple and research institute on the hidden continent with which the story deals. These scholars dispatch secret observers to the rest of the world, to keep abreast of developments in every country. What more could a Rosicrucian ask for?

Bacon was certainly the spiritual founder to whom the first histories of the Royal Society looked back, though this book reminds us that the Society had a pre-history at Oxford before its official founding in London, a prehistory when its membership may have felt less need to be intellectually respectable. Be that as it may, the precautions of the founders to disassociate themselves from subjects that Bacon would have considered questionable was in vain. In its second generation, the world reputation of the society was made by the mathematical attainments of Isaac Newton, who was also an alchemist and a millenarian, though he was discrete about those interests. Unlike John Dee, he did not talk to angels, or at least not that we know of.

This book emphasizes the reciprocal Rosicrucian influences that went back and forth between England and the continent, particularly in the form of refugees from Germany and Bohemia. It may have been that the foundation of the Freemasons was “blowback” (a term the book does not use) from Dee’s sojourn in Europe. The most interesting political figure in this story is Elizabeth, the Winter Queen of Bohemia. She maintained her court-in-exile after the death of her beloved but not particularly useful husband. During the English Civil War and the Protectorate, she contrived to stay on good terms with both Roundheads and Royalists. Meanwhile, intellectuals and persons of a mystical bent flocked to the Netherlands to be near her. (Descartes was devoted to her daughter.) If she had seriously hoped to become empress of a magical transformed Europe, then no doubt she was disappointed. Still, she did live to see her son restored as ruler of at least part of the Palatinate. Much later, her grandson became George I of England.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Demoralization of Society from Victorian Times to Modern Values

This book is probably best read in productive counter-point to Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms. It is not possible to understand the modern world without understanding both genetics and moral reform. Victorian England was the product of at least 1500 years of selection that made the most prudent, hard-working, and law-abiding population on the face of the Earth. However, there is enough slack in the leash biology keeps on culture to allow an oscillation between Regency dissipation, to Victorian prudery, back to yobs, within the space of 200 years. There is no known genetic mechanism that would allow that much change in that time span, so that leaves other causes. Since I haven't completed the demonstrative regress, I cannot claim that the moral revolution of the Victorians was the exclusive cause of the change for the better in the nineteenth century. However, I can claim it to be plausible to be one of the causes.

We do have the Victorians to thank for changing caritas from love in general into alms for the poor. In their eminent practicality and domesticity, the more rarefied meaning was lost, or perhaps discarded. We probably also owe our notion of progress in the Anglosphere to the Victorians. Progressive politics as such was a late Victorian/Edwardian thing, but the ball got rolling much, much earlier than that. 

One of the big differences between the attitude of the early Victorians and anyone who self-described as a "Progressive" at the time, is how they saw the poor. The attitude of the earlier Victorians is echoed in C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man. In a passage describing the difference between a trendy English textbook of the day and what Lewis chose to call the Tao [Natural Law was too Romish]

If they embark on this course the difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely "conditions." The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them this or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda.

The progressive era was also the era of eugenics. Lewis was astute to notice that the attitudes of his social betters tended to see the poor as livestock. It isn't an accident that eugenics and evolutionary theory grew up together among country gentlemen who bred animals for sport.

The other aspect of decadent Victorianism that largely goes unsaid here was the occult revival. John was familiar with this, as a student of the occult. I do think I detect something of this in the last lines of John's essay, but this a topic for another time.


The Demoralization of Society From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values
by Gertrude Himmelfarb
Alfred A. Knopf,1995
ISBN 0-679-43817-3
$24.00

 

Nietzsche's Victory

 

Educated people in England and America around the year 1900 believed in social progress because they had experienced it. In England, where our statistics are best, crime and illegitimacy rates at the time Queen Victoria died in 1901 had fallen by about half from their mid-nineteenth century high. Public drunkenness became rare and alcoholism ceased to be an accepted fact of private life. Literacy became nearly universal, sanitation and diet improved at every level of society. People put great effort into staying clean, and governments built infrastructure that enormously increased the availability of water to common people. Wages nearly doubled in a generation. The entire adult male population was enfranchised. Married women gained control over their own property. All this happened while large towns became sprawling cities and severe financial panics periodically shook the economy. (The term "depression" is a later American euphemism).

This level of civilization was maintained through the first half of the twentieth century, through two world wars. Then, in the 1950s, the statistical indices of social pathology began to creep upwards. In the 1960s, they vastly accelerated. By 1990, crime rates were ten times their nineteenth century high, illegitimacy over four times. (Remember, these former highs had been reached in the most Dickensian years of the Industrial Revolution.) Additionally, in some ways the population was getting appreciably stupider and sicker. As the century neared its end, it had become fashionable to belittle the idea of progress. No wonder.

So what happened? That's the question that Gertrude Himmelfarb, Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York (and wife of neoconservative scholar Irving Kristol) tries to answer in this brief and very readable overview of social history. There is no attempt here to turn the Victorian era into paradise lost. Victorian women may not have been the silent slaves depicted in feminist mythology, but they were sufficiently dissatisfied with their lot that they collectively exerted themselves for almost a century to widen their public role. Society was riddled with class and racial prejudices that most people today would find gruesome. (Curiously, the word "imperialism" does not even appear in the index, though the book treats mostly of England in the last fifty years of the nineteenth century.) Though working people were not as poor as they used to be, they still worked appalling hours for wages not far above subsistence levels. The Victorians were even more familiar with poverty, ignorance and disease than we are. The difference is that they believed these things could be greatly mitigated. Their belief was not irrational; they really knew how to do it.

If you need an example of a society in a state of moral and social collapse, you might do worse than to study England in the second half of the eighteenth century. Cities were growing in an almost unregulated fashion as the impoverished peasantry were driven off the land. The capital was intermittently in the hands of a mob bent on revolution. Crime was so common that the hundreds of capital offenses on the books were no longer considered sufficient deterrent, so the transportation of criminals to Australia was begun. The national government was corrupt to a degree that would have embarrassed Boss Tweed. Parliament was the tool of aristocratic factions. The aristocracy itself was violent, promiscuous and ruthless. The Church of England, though blessed with a few great apologists, served mostly as a source of undemanding careers for less gifted younger sons. The country was obviously in a chaotic condition, but its rulers had no plans to put it back in order, or even any clear idea of what was wrong. Though hardly unprejudiced observers, the American Founding Fathers tended to assume that the British Empire was about to go the way of the later Roman Empire.

It was not the rulers of Britain who saved the nation, but the pious middle class. Led most famously by John Wesley and his Methodists, the English evangelicals and nonconformists (i.e., people belonging to non-Anglican protestant churches) began a program of moral reform that, within a century, had transformed society almost as much as technology had transformed the economy. It was a moral revival. Its mechanism was the dissemination of virtues in churches, in schools, and, where applicable, whenever the state met the citizenry. The revival was a long march through all the institutions of the nation. It took four generations, and it was one of the most successful social enterprises in the history of the world.

This work was not accomplished through social bureaucracies; for the most part, they did not exist until the end of the period. The Victorian era (which for many purposes began before Victoria's actual accession to the throne in 1837) was the great age of private philanthropy. Though philanthropy did involve large financial donations, to a large extent it was a hands-on affair. University graduates and professional people established and worked in settlement houses in poor neighborhoods. They taught adult education classes and provided free health care. Successful businessmen undertook surveys of health and poverty at their own expense. Using skills learned in the business world, they invented empirical social science. More to the point, they were able to craft proposals for reform that could be understood by other practical men in government.

The state helped where it could, for good or ill. The workhouse system under the Poor Laws, which in principle required unemployed able-bodied people to live in a workhouse, was leniently applied in practice. It was cheaper to support the indigent if they lived on their own. However, the system helped to stigmatize poverty, even poverty through ill-fortune. Particularly in the final decades of the century, a series of remarkably strict antipornography laws were passed. The state became concerned with discouraging abortion and contraception (some feminists supported these policies, some opposed them). The state served to promote private morality best, perhaps, through the example of the royal family. Though George III had been popular, neither George IV nor William IV had been especially well-liked, for good reason. In contrast, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, surrounded by their innumerable children, were the very picture of domestic bliss. The wealthy and powerful often led the sort of irregular lives that the wealthy and powerful sometimes do. However, they were at pains to maintain the appearance of propriety. Any history of high society from the period is replete with sham marriages and shocking discoveries found posthumously in the personal diaries of eminent Victorians renowned in life for their moral rectitude. This was not hypocrisy, in the sense that naughty Victorians were pretending to standards in which they did not believe. They did believe in them; they just were unable to live up to them. Their pious impostures, however, gave many lesser contemporaries the strength to succeed where prominent persons failed.

Lists of the "Victorian Virtues" have multiplied since that day in the 1983 when a reporter was so ill-advised as to suggest to Margaret Thatcher that her social ideals were merely Victorian. She immediately took the offensive in the cause of the Victorians, one that this review, perhaps, is continuing. The virtues the Victorians cherished were "domestic" in the general sense of personal, practical, humble. While they were consistent with the noble virtues expounded by Aristotle and the theological virtues as summarized by St. Paul or St. Thomas, they were the versions of these ideals which would appeal to people who had to work for a living. Aristotle endorsed wisdom, justice, magnanimity, temperance and courage. The Victorians, more prosaically, were interested in diligence, cleanliness, honesty, sobriety, civic pride. "Charity" ceased to mean love and came to mean the dutiful support of the deserving poor.

Victorian attitudes toward sex varied, though Ms. Himmelfarb is careful to debunk some of the extreme anecdotes on the subject as later satires. (Victorian matrons did not really put little skirts around the bottoms of their pianos to cover the legs. I, for one, am disappointed.) On the other hand, the Victorians did bowdlerize Shakespeare so that salacious passages might not offend innocent eyes. (Thomas Bowdler was the ingenious publisher who gave us this eponymous verb.) They did the same to Gibbon in order to expunge the impieties from "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." However, throughout the period, they never lost sight of the virtue of chastity itself. It was a positive good, not simply the failure to commit evil.

Victorian virtues were also domestic in the specific sense of being centered on the home and the family. "Respectability" was something that Victorians worried about, particularly the working class. It meant that husbands worked as much as they could, and then they came home and gave their paypackets to their wives, who might then give them some spending money. It meant that the mothers of large families kept her children clean and sent them to school. In a world without washing machines or food that could be stored for more than a few days, this was no small proposition. Perhaps a quarter of Victorian women worked for wages, either at home or in commercial settings. This was "respectable" because it was necessary, but it was not regarded as a good in itself. Women of the professional and upper classes often had what amounted to demanding careers, but these were likely to be volunteer positions in charitable or social service enterprises.

I suspect that Ms. Himmelfarb underestimates the rates of marital breakup and illegitimacy before the nineteenth century and into its first half. She argues, on the basis of selected statistics from parish registers, they such things were rare going back to Tudor times. As Paul Johnson's "The Birth of the Modern" explains, "marriage" in the early years of the century was still a surprisingly slippery notion. Only marriages before a Anglican clergyman were automatically valid. People married in a Baptist chapel might not bother with a license. There was also the ancient and amiable institution of the "common law" marriage. (In common law marriages, the state usually takes no notice of the arrangement until one partner dies and the other claims the departed's property.) There were also popular customs, a sort of common law divorce, for ending these unions. The most picturesque of these was the public "wife sale." (The portrayal in Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is misleading, since these performances were not open auctions.) A full legal divorce in England literally took an act of parliament, but some large percentage of the married population was not "married" in way of which the law took cognizance. The regularization of marriage and divorce laws in England must therefore be included among the century's reforms. It was made easier to get married, and control over marital disputes was removed from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. Popular behavior gradually conformed to the law. The early Victorians, particularly the common people, were rather lax about these matters. The latter ones were not, and divorce was rare.

The Victorians did not exactly invent childhood, but they made it a special stage of life. They created the peculiar culture of children, the literature and the clothes and the toy industry. It was Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic who gave us Christmas trees and "The Night Before Christmas." Maybe more important, they gave us universal compulsory education and the first restrictions on child labor. School became the career of Victorian children, in principle of the children of all ranks. When marriage laws were amended, one of the principle goals was the protection and support of children. Producing children and raising them were unambiguously the chief priorities of both sexes and of all classes. Only at the very end of the period did serious people begin to suggest that maybe career or eugenic factors should play a role in these matters.

Nietzsche did not cause the end of the Victorian era. He was early read and appreciated by people like Shaw, of course, but the fin de siecle had interests other than the German philosopher's aesthetic nihilism. However, he understood what was happening, and what was going to happen, better than anyone else. God had died for a growing fraction of the intellectual class of the West sometime in the middle of the 19th century. Without a theological grounding, he realized, virtues would become "values," social conventions that could be debated and modified as convenience suggested. Nietzsche had only contempt for his contemporaries' comfortable assumption that society would go on much as it had, except that people would no longer go to church. The moral system of Western civilization is founded on Judaism and Christianity. Once this foundation was removed, the superstructure would start to crumble. Although it was not until the 1960s that the effects would be felt on a popular level in the English-speaking world, the moral imagination of the West was becoming visibly unhinged in Nietzsche's lifetime.

The moral revival had succeeded because it was not original. The working classes and the rural poor did not have a system of morality different from that of the reforming middle class. The virtues the reformers sought to encourage were principles that just about everyone acknowledged. There were rare exceptions, such as the Poor Laws turning poverty into a near crime, that could be characterized as social engineering. Even in those cases, however, the state cannot be accused of trying to make up a virtue out of whole cloth. In the second half of the century, in contrast, that is precisely what the increasingly secular intellectual class tried to do. The aesthetes, for instance, tried to develop an ethics of art-for-art's-sake. While the actual art produced by the self-conscious "decadents" of the end of the century is an acquired taste, it was in fact during this period that art became a substitute for religion for many people. Other late Victorian reformers began to promote more intrusive measures to improve public health or fix the economy. Even when some of these measures were plausible ideas, like the total prohibition of alcohol, they were not to most people self-evident moral principles. The new reformers, however, continued to press them with the self-assurance of their pre-Darwinian forebears. They became moralists who had forgotten what morality looked like.

This era also saw the appearance of eugenics, originally one of the enthusiasms of the Fabian socialists. Earlier Victorian social reformers had looked out on the drunken and dirty laboring classes and seen fellow creatures who needed to be lifted from their deplorable state. The term "patronizing" does not quite do justice to this attitude, but at least it was an attitude of one human being regarding another. The Fabians, on the other hand, such as G. B. Shaw and Beatrice Webb, began to regard their countrymen as cattle in need of an intelligent breeding program. The attitude did not change even when their interest in eugenics wavered; thirty years later these people were also enthusiastic supporters for totalitarian experiments on the continent. Shaw and the Webbs (Beatrice and her co-author husband Sidney) were conspicuous for their support of the Soviet Union during the worst phases of Stalin's regime. (Shaw, by the way, was not as ignorant of what was happening in the Soviet Union as he pretended in public.)

The problem with these opinion-maker enthusiasms is not that they are necessarily wicked, though many of them are. The problem is that they are constructs, something that someone made up. They cannot form the basis of a social consensus, because they are alien to all but their makers. Even when, as in totalitarian societies, they can be imposed by the police, the police themselves are likely to lose interest in them after a while. What happened in the twentieth century was that the opinion-makers continued the cottage industry of value-making which the decadent Victorians had founded. They busied themselves concocting what were, in effect, exotic poisons in the arts and politics and the principles of personal relations. For the first half of the twentieth century, the major institutions of society continued along the vector which the Victorian moral revival had imparted. Teachers knew how to teach, the police knew how to keep the streets safe. For that matter, the Post Office knew how to deliver the mail. However, these funds of institutional wisdom were scarcely inexhaustible. By the middle of the twentieth century, it was obvious that some novel thinking was needed about everything from race relations to the control of industrial pollution. So society applied to the opinion-makers for guidance. And the injection of the poisons began.

Today, we live in a time that bears comparison to the eighteenth century. We have a fatuously self-confident upper class, the New Class of information manipulators, who have forgotten the moral law. We have an increasingly feral underclass who have never heard of it. We also have a very lively sense that something is radically wrong. Many people these days look to the Victorian moral revival as a model for us to follow. If the Victorians were able to reconstruct their society, surely we can engineer a revival of our own?

What happened once can happen again, and certainly not all the cultural indices are falling these days. However, we have to remember that the Victorian moral revival was a side-effect of a popular religious movement. Though the political and economic powers of the time frequently manipulated it, they did not originate it or control it. How could they? No one could have conceived where it would lead. The problem with what many people believe to be the incipient moral revival of America is that we are still playing by Nietzsche's rules. We continue to talk about establishing values, not discovering virtues. To every secularist's considerable surprise, religion is back in politics to a degree not seen for a hundred years, but there is something artificial about the phenomenon. The Methodist revival began as a movement for personal reform that only later developed political significance. (The Labor Party, Ms. Himmelfarb notes, was practically born in a nonconformist chapel.) Today, however, one may be forgiven for suspecting that much of the new-found piety of American conservatives is a political tactic to coopt evangelical and conservative Catholic votes. Secular conservatives seem to think that they can conjure up God to be their familiar spirit and serve their interests. They may well succeed in conjuring up something, but maybe not exactly what they expect.

End

This article originally appeared in the July/August 1995 issue of Culture Wars magazine. 

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Little, Big

The book reviewed by John here is now old enough that its fantastical future has become alternative history.


 Little, Big
By John Crowley
Perennial (Harper Collins), 2002
First Published 1981
538 Pages, US$15.95
ISBN 0-06-093793-9

"'Paracelsus is of the opinion,' Dr. Bramble told the theosophists, "that the universe is crowded with powers, spirits, who are not quite immaterial..."

Any novel with sentences like that is likely to have all kinds of remarkable things in it. Certainly "Little, Big" does. In addition to the fairies, there are Upstate New York architectural follies, the return of Frederick Barbarossa, the collapse of the United States, a theory of fiction, and that clockwork perpetual-motion machine in the attic. Perfectly sober social history joins seamlessly with talking animals and a small cottage in the woods that is unaccountably roomy once you get in the door. Like any good fairy story, the book makes the uncanny a present reality, even though the modes in which it is presented are obviously fantastic. Nobody does this better than John Crowley.

"Little, Big" has a plot, though it is obscured by its entanglement with "The Tale," the thread of fairy history that increasingly impinges on human affairs in the 20th and 21st centuries. The novel is built around the marriage and family history, past and future, of Daily Alice Drinkwater and Smokey Barnable. They wed, apparently sometime in the 1970s, at Edgewood, the Drinkwater family's rambling, indeed protean, old mansion. The house shares the name of its community, which is located somewhere in the wilds of northern New York State. There is an actual Edgewood two hours north of New York City, but this house and neighborhood are clearly on the edge of something more esoteric than a tract of the Catskills.

Edgewood was built in the late 19th century by one John Drinkwater, a prominent and ingenious architect specializing in country houses. He married Violet Bramble, the daughter of Reverend Dr. Theodore Bramble, an Anglican priest who theorized about fairies from the pulpit until he lost his rural English parish. Violet, however, really could contact faeries. The Drinkwaters' house (which, among other things, was designed to present different historical styles, depending on the angle of view) soon became the center of a woodland community of genteel mystics.

We get a good measure of fairy lore, and even more lore about the study of fairies. Fairy pictures are much in evidence, as well as speculation about whether fairies have any native form, or any inherent will, or are just occasions for projections of the human mind. Some of the researchers devise complicated descriptions of the fairy realm: Dr. Bramble, for instance, memorably describes the Otherworld as "infundibular." By that he meant, to the slight extent he was willing to be understood, that it consists of worlds nested within worlds; the more deeply a world is nested, the larger it is on the inside. Crowley does not neglect to have a character observe that this is pretty much the way that fiction relates to the common world.

In any case, it is not theory that creates Edgewood, but an attitude toward reality that is perfectly real. We see it in this portrait of two of the Drinkwaters' neighbors, well-to-do people from the City who came to Edgewood to pursue their metaphysical interests:

"They had been members with John of the Theosophical Society; they were both in love with Violet. Like John's, their lives were full of quite drama, full of vague yet thrilling signs that life was not as the common run supposed it to be; they were among those (it surprised Violet how many they were, and how many gravitated toward Edgewood) who watch life as though it were a great drab curtain which they are sure is always about to rise on some terrific and exquisite spectacle, and though it never did quite rise, they were patient, and noted excitedly every small movement of it as the actors took their places, strained to hear the unimaginable setting being lifted."

This sense of expectancy is, perhaps, closely related to what C.S. Lewis called "Joy," and to what the Welsh call the "hiraeth." Something else that is quite real is that it often eventuates in religious conversion. However, in this book Crowley displays the same dismissive distaste for Christianity that marks his later ones. (We are told that the Church has virtually ended for lack of a Second Coming). What does happen is that the teacup religion of 1900 becomes the basis of a new culture. The Mormons are not mentioned in the text, but like them, the increasingly immiserated descendants of the genteel theosophists gradually become a people. At the end of the Tale, also like the Mormons, they set out for a Promised Land.

The process of immiseration is particularly interesting, because we have here yet another instance of a novel set in the future that has become alternative history. To preview the early 21st century, the author simply extended for a generation the economic doldrums and political confusion of the time the book was written. By the time that Auberon, the son of Smokey and Alice, goes to the City to seek his fortune, the City has changed utterly from the day his father left it, because it had ceased to change. We are told that the waves of fashion had become a mere trickle, and the tides of enterprise had become a still bog. New York really was not designed for stasis, and neither was the country as a whole. Nothing works as it once did, and every attempted remedy miscarries.

The real power in the country is exercised, informally, by a group called the Noisy Bridge Rod and Gun Club. They often consult with the greatest magus of the age, who inevitably turns out to be another Drinkwater cousin. They do not take seriously her warnings about the persistence and resurgence of the Holy Roman Empire. We are not told in any detail about the accelerating unraveling of the wider world, but it seems reasonable that exurbanites might turn into peasants under such conditions. Well, almost reasonable.

"Little, Big" manages to bring the Tale to a close without waxing eschatological. This is harder than it sounds, since one of the qualities of fairy stories is that they flow into each other, with no absolute end. Auberon, working in what may be the last days of television, finds himself faced with a similar problem when he has to write the final scripts for a long-running soap opera:

"How does a tale end that was only a promise of no ending? In the same way as a difference comes to inhabit a world that is otherwise the same in all respects; in the same way in which a picture that shows a complex urn alters, as you stare at it, to two faces contemplating each other...He fulfilled the promise, that it wouldn't end: and that was the end. That's all."

What relevance this may have to Crowley's continuing Aegypt series remains to be seen.

"Little, Big" has a wonderful autumnal feel to it. It is infused with a relaxed, whimsical, twilight state of mind that is conducive to entertaining fairies, at least as a hypothesis. This is the kind of book one can't recommend highly enough to the people who like this sort of thing. They are surprisingly numerous, and they don't all live in the neighborhood of Edgewood.  

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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Little, Big
By John Crowley

The Long View: Daemonimania

John major emphasis was millennialism. I think he had a minor emphasis in the occult as well, insofar as these two things have a tendency to overlap. His book reviews of occult fiction are especially good.


Daemonomania

by John Crowley

Bantam Books, 2000

451 Pages, US$24.00

ISBN 0-553-10004-1

This book is the third of the projected four in John Crowley’s major novelistic treatment of gnosticism and hermeticism. As in the two prior books, “Aegypt” (1987) and “Love & Sleep” (1994), “Daemonomania” is held together, rather loosely, through the character of Pierce Moffet, a young historian living on a publisher’s advance. We meet him in the first book as he settles down in the Upstate New York town of Blackbury Jambs in the 1970s, to write a hermetic interpretation of history. (Inevitably, the working title of the manuscript is “Aegypt.”) Through Moffet’s friends and lovers, we are introduced to a local mystery that, in this third volume, builds to a climax of universal significance. His researches link this mystery to a parallel story that encompasses Dr. John Dee (Elizabeth I’s favorite magus), Giordano Bruno and the uncanny Prague of Emperor Rudolph von Habsburg. The series makes use of the latest research about werewolves and witchhunts, ancient and modern. Readers interested in the academic study of the occult will love all this. The author is generous with bibliographical information.  

“Daemonomania” has the distinction of being one of the few books in which the world ends twice, once in 1588 and again in 1979. The author’s notion of apocalypse works like this:   

“When the world ends, it ends somewhat differently for each soul then alive to see it; the end doesn’t come all at once but passes and repasses over the world like the shivers that pass over a horse’s skin. The coming of the end might at first lift and shake just one county, one neighborhood, and not the others around it; might feelably ripple beneath the feet of these churchgoers and not of those tavern-goers down the street, shatter only the peace of this street, this family, this child of this family who at that moment lifts her eyes from the Sunday comics and knows for certain that nothing will ever be the same again.”

A recurring theme is that “there is more than one history of the world.” Each new age not only looks forward to a different future but remembers a different past. The “Aegypt” of hermetic wisdom that was known to the scholars of the Renaissance had only a few points of contact with the “Egypt” of modern archeology. The difference is not just a matter of more and better information, but of distinct conceptual universes. What seems to us to be a continuous history of ideas is really divided into “dispensations” in which people have quite different conceptions about what is reasonable and possible.

This way of looking at history is familiar to us from, for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s notion of successive “scientific revolutions,” and from Michel Foucault’s proposal that different “epistemes” governed different regions of the past. At least for the purposes of this series, however, the author goes beyond intellectual history to suggest that not just the sense of the possible, but the possible itself may change as one age fades into another.

The “Aegypt” series is about an archetypical story that is enacted during such transitions. In 17th century Prague, the Emperor Rudolph hoped to begin a new golden age by acquiring the power to make gold. He subsidized a cottage industry of alchemists, one of whom, in “Daemonomania,” succeeds. In 20th century New York State, there was a wealthy old man, one Boney Rasmussen, who was terrified of death. He subsidized a writer named Fellowes Kraft to ferret out the emperor’s secret, which is also the secret of immortality. Moffet takes up their work after they become unobtrusive ghosts. The closest we come to a resolution of the story so far is this explanation:

“’Well you know the basic idea...Kraft’s idea...[t]hat the world -- you know, reality, all this -- goes through changes. Every now and then it enters a sort of period of indeterminism, anything is possible; and it stays in that passage time until, well, until...a certain thing is found. A certain thing that only exists, or comes to be, in that time. It’s the stone, or the elixir, or the thing that Boney wanted found. If it’s not found the world stops changing, or never stops changing, and dies. But it’s always found so far.”

In the 20th century part of the series, the myth takes the form of the rescue of a little girl with the ability to see dead people. (At the risk of stating the obvious, this rescue recapitulates the gnostic myth of the rescue of the Divine Sophia from the world of matter.) The people the little girl needs to be rescued from belong to a Christian cult called “The Powerhouse,” which specializes in therapy through exorcism.

The whole “Aegypt” series is anti-Christian, but anti-Christian in a way that I have never seen in fiction before. Consider this remarkable passage from “Love and Sleep”:

“Where was it ...said...that in the religious history of the West the old gods are always turning into devils, cast from their thrones into dark undergrounds, to be lords over the dead and the wicked? It had happened to..the Northern gods...who became horned devils for Christians to fear...And now look, the wheel turns, Jehovah becomes the devil. Old Nobadaddy, liver-spotted greasy-bearded jealous God, spread over his hoard of blessings like the Dragon, surrounded by his sycophants singing praises, never enough though...”

In a way, this is an argument from process theology: Christianity may have been true in the past, or at least effective. However, it will not be so in the coming age.

That insight is far from the final truth. In a book as relentlessly post-modern as “Daemonomania,” it is hard to know exactly what we should take as a joke, as metaphor or as the author’s considered opinion. Still, it is fairly clear that the author does take seriously the gnostic hypothesis that the world is a hoax. We come from beyond the world, but are trapped in it by a succession of frauds perpetrated by powers that do not have our best interest at heart:

“O the traps the gods have prepared for us, their worshippers; how long and well they’ve worked. We are older than they, far older than the oldest of them; we have come from farther away, way back beyond where they were born: but we don’t know that, we have forgotten it -- and they know we have forgotten it. And that’s why they can do with us what they like most of the time, especially when we think we have escaped them. That’s why, in other words, the world has lasted so long, and why we are still here.”

Despite the commercials for the Old Time Gnosis, however, the “Aegypt” series is not primarily an indictment of Christianity or an exercise in cosmic paranoia. The Moffet character, a ferociously lapsed Catholic, is suspicious of Christianity in general. However, Crowley uses what he depicts as the provincialism and self-regard of the Powerhouse chiefly as a way to indict Moffet’s own sense of spiritual superiority. Moffet knows that the Powerhouse is right about the nature of magic, because he is a magician himself, in his own small way. (He uses it chiefly on his girl friend.) When this brings disaster, he realizes that “the greater error was the one that had tempted Pierce himself, to believe that we ourselves are the authors of the tales we live within. That’s the ultimate arrogance of power, the arrogance of the gods: for all gods believe themselves self-created, and believe themselves to be issuing their own strong stories, news to us.”

There are some self-referential gimmicks in the series that are more ingenious than entertaining. We have seen, for instance, that the “Aegypt” series is nominally about the writing of a book called “Aegypt.” Crowley even allows himself this authorial soliloquy, put in the mouth of the producer of a failed amateur production of “Faust”:

“I so much wanted to *knit*...[p]ast and present, then and now. The story of the thing lost, and how it was found. More than anything I wanted it to *resolve*. And all it does is *ramify*.”

Indeed it does, so much so that it is not obvious that anything remains to be said after this third volume. The world has already ended twice, after all. Nonetheless, the publisher assures me that a fourth book is planned. Some hints in “Daemonomania” suggest that a further book might deal with the near future, as did Crowley’s novella, “Beasts” (1976).

Despite these criticisms, Crowley’s blend of magic, blasphemy and postmodernism works very well as fiction. He can create uncanny affect better than anyone since Arthur Machen. Unlike Machen, he also has the sense to confine most manifestations of the supernatural to dreams and coincidences. The hermetic twilight has rarely been made to seem so plausible.

Will the series persuade many people to its view of the world? Probably not, but that may be the measure of its success. The merit of these books is that they express the indeterminacy of a time of transition. The nature of twilight, however, is to resolve into either day or night.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of First Things

Nota bene: John reviewed the fourth book in this series, Endless Things, in 2007

 

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The Long View: Dreamer of the Day

Francis Parker YockeyI am astonished that men like Francis Parker Yockey actually exist. Yockey is a reminder that truth is always stranger than fiction. The closest literary analogue that I have read is Tim Power's Declare. Of course, that is a secret history, based on the very real life of Kim Philby. You can't make this stuff up.

For example, Yockey supported himself as a gigolo. I suppose in way he was the dark shadow of James Bond. Yockey really was an international man of mystery. He was certainly a spy, and traveled all over the world in the pursuit of secret goals. Unlike Bond, he was also a man of letters. He had a law degree from Notre Dame and wrote a book that is more cited than read. In the end, Yockey was unmade by a very prosaic method: the airline lost his luggage containing all his fake passports.

Yockey was primarily of interest to John because he was a posthumous prophet of the one twentieth century ideology that never ran a state: Tradition. Tradition is thankfully rather obscure. I had never heard of it until I started reading John's website. You should be glad you've never heard of it, because that means it has not been successful.

It would be easy to paint Yockey as a tool of fascists, but in truth he was a fellow traveler with the communists as well. The movement with which he was associated also influenced the Third World. There are interesting connections between Yockey and his ilk and the modern Islamists that plague the Middle East. He was after something quite different than most of the Nazis, which is why he is so interesting.

John finishes up this review with an aside about Spengler that is most illuminating. John felt that Yockey mis-interpreted Spengler's ideas, but that very mis-interpretation demonstrated a clear flaw in Spengler himself. Toynbee probably understood the nature of universal states better than Spengler, but you had to read a lot more to get there.

Dreamer of the Day:
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
By Kevin Coogan
Autonomedia, 1999
644 Pages, $16.95
ISBN: 1-57027-039-2

 

Francis Parker Yockey was born in Chicago in 1917 and committed suicide in 1960, when the FBI finally caught him. He dedicated his life to reversing the outcome of the Second World War, a project he believed could be accomplished by 2050. From an early age, he identified anti-Americanism with antisemitism and supported both. He opposed early steps toward economic globalization and gave covert assistance to Muslim enemies of the West. He speculated hopefully that an enemy to whom it would be impossible to surrender would eventually attack Americas' cities. He worked to create a pan-European superstate, indeed a Eurasian superstate including Russia, that would displace America's global influence. He expected that the world would someday be ruled by elites for whom hermeticism had replaced Christianity. On the whole, he probably would have been pleased by the state of the world today.

One should not exaggerate the degree to which the recent prominence of Yockey's constellation of enthusiasms is due to his influence. His great ideological tome, "Imperium," has had some currency in fascist and occult circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, though extremists from American Satanists to Russian revanchists may sometimes invoke his name today, they generally do so without much knowledge of his ideas. A few references to Yockey himself turned up in the popular press in the 1950s, as a mystery man somehow linked to both Soviet espionage and the world's neofascist network, but Yockey never even rose to the level of infamy. He remained a denizen of the fringe of the fringe. This does not make Kevin Coogan's treatment of Yockey's life and times any less valuable. Yockey's life intersected with 20th century forces and ideas that were often obscure. That is not to say they were not also powerful, and may be more so in the 21st century.

"Dreamer of the Day" wanders amiably back and forth between high theory and very informed rumor mongering. We get useful pocket summaries of the ideas of some of the chief ideologues of the "Conservative Revolution" of the first half of the 20th century, a "movement" that ranged from Martin Heidegger to Ezra Pound. The book continues through the tangle of small organizations and petty conspiracies that maintained this tradition in the second half of the century, after it was eclipsed by the overthrow of openly fascist governments. You have to read the book to appreciate the full sweep of history between the Thule Society of Munich and the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo of Leonia, New Jersey. The book also treats of matters such as Yockey's posthumous effect on Satanism, as well as the sexual ideologies that percolated among Right and Left in the postwar era. Coogan usually manages to relate all this fascinating material to Yockey, but the connections are often tenuous. This is not the author's fault. Even after exhaustive research, we still know little more about Yockey's life than a disturbing outline.

Yockey's family was of the professional classes, though in somewhat straitened circumstances after the coming of the Depression. His people were German, Irish and French Canadian. Coogan does dangle the rumor of a Jewish grandfather, just for the sake of completeness. In any case, the family was Catholic. Yockey himself later drifted into the theosophical Nietzscheanism that characterized his underground milieu.

He was a small man, about five feet, seven inches. There is one picture of him, on the book's cover. Readers may be reminded of Rod Serling, the somewhat funeral creator and master-of-ceremonies of the original "Twilight Zone" television series. All sources agree that Yockey was highly intelligent. He was a concert-level pianist, though he could only rarely be persuaded to play. All sources also agree that he had a difficult personality. Nonetheless, he was able to support his political interests in part as a gigolo and occasional bigamist. He seems to have appealed to slightly older women who liked to talk about Hitler and to be whipped.

Francis Parker Yockey was involved with organizations of the radical right in the 1930s. This included such groups as William Dudley Perry's Silver Shirts and the various incarnations of the German American Bund. Such connections, however, did not exclude other links, with Stalinists and Trotskyites. His Chicago-area home was a time and place when the semi-fascist followers of Father Coughlin might make common cause with the most radical Progressives. This common front against capitalism was, for radicals like Yockey, also part of the struggle against the Jews.

Yockey for most purposes was a "National Bolshevik," a tendency that in the German Nazi Party was represented by the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor. As the term implies, National Bolsheviks supported radical socialism, but for the preservation of the "Volk," the ethnic and cultural unit of the People, rather than for the proletariat. They also supported a policy of alliance with Russia against the West. "Strasserism," as this tendency was also called, was disfavored: after the Nazis came to power, Gregor was assassinated and Otto escaped to Latin America. Still, it continued to appeal to some leading Nazis, notably Joseph Goebbels. He actually took the opportunity to implement some of the Strasserist program right at the end of the regime, in the WerwolfMovement

Rather like the young Goebbels, Yockey pursued an academic career at so many universities that it is hard to settle on a final count. We know that he finished a law degree at Notre Dame and that he qualified to practice. The most important part of his undergraduate career was probably his stint at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. That was, perhaps, the only place in America where he could have been introduced to the ideas of two leading lights of the Conservative Revolution, Karl Haushofer the proponent of geopolitics and Carl Schmitt the jurist.

Haushofer is best known for the propositions that the key to world dominion is the control of Central Asia and that, as the Strasserists said, the proper role for Germany was as the western wing of a great Eurasian power. Furthermore, he argued that Germany was essentially a "have-not" nation. Its proper allies were not in the liberal West, but among the anti-colonial resistance movements of what would later be called the Third World. In Europe, he hoped, Germany would eventually be the center of a hegemonic system that was not quite an empire, but no longer a system of truly sovereign states.

Schmitt is a famous "anticonstitutionalist," whose ideas are somewhat reminiscent of the pragmatic Legal Realists in America during the 1930s. In his view, the real law was what happened at the "Ernstfall," the point of decision where one party succeeds and another fails. He is best known, perhaps, for his definition of "the sovereign" as the entity that can designate who is an enemy.

Between them, Haushofer and Schmitt disposed of the notion of the rule of law both domestically and internationally. There were no principled norms, but simply the exercise of power, which could be more or less predictable. One may note that the Jesuits of Georgetown studied the theories of these two men chiefly in order to refute them; in those days, the Jesuits were less susceptible to intellectual fashions.

By far the greatest intellectual influence on Yockey, however, was Oswald Spengler. Yockey spent his adult life believing that he was implementing the ideas about the future implied by "The Decline of the West." Yockey was also heavily influenced by "The Hour of Decision," a tract Spengler published at the beginning of the Nazi regime. As we will see, Yockey's interpretation of Spengler was somewhat idiosyncratic.

During World War II, Yockey secured an Army commission. Soon afterward, he briefly deserted. Coogan notes that Yockey had many connections with the German sympathizers who probably aided the famous infiltration of German saboteurs into the United States, and that this happened at just the time that Yockey was missing. Coogan makes a plausible case that Yockey was part of a German-American espionage network that lead to the German Embassy in Mexico City. Plausibility is not proof, however. All we know is that Yockey returned to duty after some weeks. He persuaded the Army that he was suffering from a mental breakdown; he received a medical discharge with little trouble.

Through some appalling oversight in the vetting process for federal employees, Yockey landed a job after the war as an attorney with the war crimes tribunal in Germany charged with prosecuting lesser Nazis. He seems never to have actually function in that position; he was eventually discharged for abandoning his post. He would later do the same thing with a job with the American Red Cross, using it to finance another trip to Europe and then simply deserting. Yockey used these opportunities to make contacts with the growing pan-European fascist network.

In a way, the loss of the war liberated international fascism. As we have noted, it was only when the Nazi regime no longer had much of a country to govern that Goebbels was able to give effect to his revolutionary impulses. The same thing happened in Italy. After the Allied invasion in 1943, the Germans rescued Benito Mussolini. He briefly ruled the "Social Republic" of Salò, a rump state in the north of Italy that finally carried out the radical fascist ambition of nationalizing most of the economy. Fascism after 1945 was entirely free of the responsibility for government, and so could pursue the most radical agenda.

It is really as an ideologue that Yockey's chief significance lies. In 1948, working at Brittas Bay on the Irish coast, Yockey produced his masterpiece, Imperium. The book tried to update "The Decline of the West," but in many ways it stood Spengler on his bald head. Spengler, who died in 1936, had not wanted a war with Russia, but neither was he a Strasserist. He feared that Russia and the "Colored World" would make alliance against the West, in collusion with the radical Left of the Western nations. Spengler believed that the West was headed into a period like the Roman Empire, and that the elites of the West needed to cultivate Nietzschean virtues in order to make the transition. Yockey, in contrast, spoke of the need to create what in effect would be a new race to govern the coming Imperium. This notion, as Coogan points out, has more in common with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's prophecy of the coming Sixth Root Race than with Spengler's concept of "race" as the lineages of cultivated families.

The biggest difference is that anti-Semitism as a major historical force is wholly absent from Spengler's philosophy. For Yockey, modern history was about little more than the cultural distortion caused by the Jews. So great was their effect on the United States in particular, Yockey counseled, that the temporary domination of Europe by the healthy barbarians of Russia was the best short-term goal.

The original two-volume edition of Imperium ran to just 200 copies. There would have been more, but Yockey aliened the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had once expressed an interest in promoting the work. Still, it was not without early admirers. The military historian, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote a favorable review. The hermetic Italian ideologue, Julius Evola, also praised it, though he observed that Yockey had misread Spengler. Yockey's book was more a rumor than a source for the fascist revival in the 1950s. It was not until after Yockey's death, when the radical-right publisher Willis Carto brought out a paperback edition of Imperium that the book began to reach a sizeable readership. Still, Imperiumdoes provide some guide to what important fascists were thinking in those days.

Acting in large part under the inspiration of Evola, postwar fascists cultivated ideas that had existed for decades, but that had become muted during the time of fascism in power. Evola was the chief inspiration for a Swiss-based umbrella-organization called the New European Order, or NEO. The group cultivated his favorite themes. These included government by a Platonic, "solar" hierarchy, the notion of sacred kingship, and myths of Aryan origin in the hyperborean north and in Atlantis. On a more practical level, these people were no longer constrained by Hitler's foreign policy. They could deal with the Soviets to oppose Western interests; they could and did deal with the CIA to give radical-right organizations some breathing room, particularly in Italy. (Carl Gustav Jung, also widely considered a Conservative Revolutionary, was CIA chief Allen Dulles's family psychiatrist.)

They were also able to do business with the Third World. A number of exiled Nazis moved through the Muslim capitals, organizing anti-Zionist propaganda. Notable among them was the Strasserist exile, Johann von Leers, who was an important figure in Nasser's Egypt. The network did not neglect Latin America, where the Red and the Brown made common cause on the question of anti-Americanism. Indeed, Coogan makes a good argument that the original post-revolutionary model for Fidel Castro was the Social Republic of Salò.

Amidst all this devilry, Yockey was a jobbing imp. He may well have acted as a courier for Czech intelligence. He may have spent a substantial blank space during the 1950s behind the Iron Curtain. He did work with Leers in Egypt. He even tried to sell the Egyptian government some bogus Argentine nuclear technology. Back in the United States, he worked briefly as a speechwriter for Senator Joseph McCarthy. He lived in New York City for some time, consorting with a strange section of New York's political bohemia. At least one host among his acquaintances kept a frame with a picture of Hitler on one side and of Stalin on the other, the better to accommodate the tastes of his guests. He attended the salon of the right-wing poet, George Sylvester Viereck, who had worked with Aleister Crowley when Crowley was a propagandist for Germany during the First World War. In that set, Yockey may also have met the sexologist, Alfred Kinsey. We know Yockey spent time in New Orleans, writing propaganda for use in Latin America. Coogan takes care to squelch the rumors of a link between Yockey and Lee Harvey Oswald, whose history was not altogether dissimilar.

As Yockey moved across borders, he acquired a bewildering number of identities. The American authorities realized early in the 1950s that whatever this man was doing, it probably was not good. In 1952 they stopped renewing his passport and the FBI started looking for him. His accumulation of false passports was his downfall. Some of his luggage went astray when he flew into San Francisco; his embarrassment of documents came to light in a lost-and-found center in Texas.

The FBI confronted him in Oakland, California, originally planning to arrest him for failure to register under the Selective Service Act. Yockey had in fact registered and served in the military, but the false identity he was using had no such record. The FBI was spared the embarrassment of using this perfunctory device when Yockey tried to run away, injuring an agent in the process.

Yockey was detained while participating in a series of ever less satisfactory immigration hearings. More of his identities surfaced. The list lengthened of things the FBI wanted to talk to him about. In some way that has never been explained, he obtained potassium cyanide. Like the Nazi leadership he so admired, he died by self-administered poison on June 17, 1960.

For me, "The Dreamer of the Day" clarified the Conservative Revolution as a form of existentialism. It began by valuing the clarity afforded by those situations where existence is at stake; it ended with the determination to wager the world's existence. Schmitt's "Ernstfall," Hitler's death-or-glory foreign policy, Evola's faith in lethal violence as the means to individuation, all of this is part of the same cultural moment as Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. For existentialists of all political persuasions, we can experience reality only at the limit, on the edge of the abyss.

This is a terribly distorting way to think. Now that I can recognize the pattern, I see that it is the chief flaw in Spengler's philososphy of history. I would still argue that his insight about a common morphology of cultural evolution is basically correct. The problem was that his existentialism caused him to read history, and particularly Classical history, through a Nietzschean lens. Spengler came to confuse realism with desperation, political skill with ruthlessness. He extolled the improvident genius of Caesar and belittled Augustus's respect for tradition, though in fact Augustus was arguably the most successful statesman who ever lived. Spengler's taste for politics on the edge made him dismiss constitutional forms and the principles of legitimacy as mere "literature."

This, perhaps, is why Spengler paid relatively little attention to the Roman Empire itself, or to any of the final societies that Toynbee later called "Universal States." Spengler's existentialism required him to view those late civilizations as essentially historyless. For Spengler, the Roman Empire was a paradise of will, where unfettered supermen did as they would. In reality, the history of the Universal States displays a morphology as clear as that of any period in a Culture's life. Except in their final decay, they are marked by piety and convention rather than by the antics of supermen. Artist politicians, the high-stakes gamblers, are creatures of modernity. It is a mistake to project them into the future.

The distortions of twentieth-century existentialism are not confined to political history. Those exhortations we have been hearing all these years to turn our attention to marginal people and liminal situations begin to look like a lethal misdirection. This is the nonsense that anarchism, fascism, and every avant-garde for 150 years have had in common. Let us beware of living on the edge. Francis Parker Yockey could still reach up to drag us over it.

 

 


 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

 


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The Long View: Fascism: A History

Calling one's political opponent a fascist is still a popular political slur, but the actual occurrence of fascist ideas on the Right remains somewhat unclear. John was undubitably correct to note that the rise of popular parties on the right in Europe has mostly been tied to immigration, and also that anti-semitic ideas and Holocaust denial do have genuinely popular appeal nearly everywhere [not only on the Right].

John also notes that the world has in some ways only just returned to the conditions that prevailed before the Great War. International finance, and the relations between nations are beginning to relax again after the extended crisis that started in 1914, and only truly ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The interesting question for us is: how will it be different this time around?

Fascism: A History
By Roger Eatwell
Penguin Books, 1996
$14.95, 404 pages
ISBN: 0-14-025700-4

One More Time?

"Fascism is on the march again. Its style may at times be very different, but the ideological core remains the same -- the attempt to create a HOLISTIC NATIONAL THIRD WAY [Italics in original]...[A]n ideology that places so little emphasis on constitutions and rights, and so much on elite-inspired manipulation, must always be mistrusted. Beware of men -- and women -- wearing smart Italian suits...the aim is still power, and the fantasy of the creation of a radical new culture."

 

----"Fascism," page 361

 

This is the very alarming conclusion of this general history of fascist ideology by Roger Eatwell, a Reader in history at the University of Bath. It is all the more alarming because this is not a very alarmed book. Certainly it is free of "anti-fascism," which in this context often means the sort of Marxist analysis that assumes the whole political spectrum beyond the radical left is fascist in some imprecise but irredeemable way. What we do get is a brief description of the common intellectual heritage of fascism from the late nineteenth century, plus short histories of the fascist movements in Italy, Germany, France and Great Britain. The sections dealing with fascism in these countries after World War II, and especially the more recent New Right, are the most interesting in the book.

Since we are not dealing with a partisan tirade here, it is genuinely disturbing when Eatwell ends the book by suggesting that, though fascism died in a sense in 1945, it may well be about to experience a resurrection in time for a bright future in the 21st century. Whether this hypothesis proves correct or not, still this analysis does illustrate yet another way in which Western civilization at the end of the twentieth century has returned to many of the problems that faced it at the century's beginning.

The ideological component of fascism has often been neglected in favor of psychohistories of fascist leaders and morbid prose poems about national character. This is understandable, since one of the defining features of fascism is ideological syncretism. Usually, this has meant combining "socialism" with some form of nationalism, but even this minimum requires qualification. The study of fascist ideology is made even more difficult by the fact it was most systematically expressed where it had the least influence, in France and Britain. (Eatwell is not an admirer of British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, but he does give him credit for producing the best thought-out fascist party-platform. The best platform so far, that is.) In any case, at the local level, fascism often had little theoretical content, beyond the privilege of beating people up with impunity. Nevertheless, fascism does have an intellectual history, and the phenomenon as a whole is not so diffuse as to defy definition.

Fascism would not have been possible without Friedrich Nietzsche. There has been no lack of anti-theistic philosophers both before and after Nietzsche, but he is almost alone in honestly facing the consequences of living in a world in which everything is permitted. Most thinkers have sought to preserve some fragment of the intellectual structure that depended from the hypothesis of the Christian God, and so they appeal to reason or history or science. Nietzsche would have none of it. If the skies are really empty, then there are no imperatives. There is, however, life, which in the case of human beings expresses itself not just as biology but as the will. Now Nietzsche, unlike Schopenhauer and unlike many of his own followers, recognized the will is itself a composite entity. It is not a primary physical force, and it is not a god. It does, however, actually exist, and its exercise is all the meaning that life can ever have.

The proposition that the meaning of life is the exercise of the will leads to two kinds of conclusions. The most obvious, and the most popular, is the cult of cruelty. Naturally, the street-fighters who normally figure in the public activities of successful fascist parties are rarely well-read in the literature of philosophical nihilism. Nevertheless, even the nihilist violence of the German SA and the Italian "squadristi" chimes with high theory. Fascism promotes ruthlessness for the same reason that it promotes conspiracy theories: for a fascist, nothing is going to happen unless some will makes it happen. One suspects this consideration is also a factor in the usual fascist suspicion of free markets.

The other conclusion to which an ontology of the will leads is the transformation of politics into art. Whole societies become instruments for the expression of the will of elites, or often of a single great individual. In fascist theory, this is all that politics ever was, no matter what purportedly disinterested purposes the ruling elites of the past believed they served. The difference that Nietzsche made was that this reality could become conscious.

Fascism is not quite coincident with the great man theory of history. Since human beings are social animals, the will is to some extent a social phenomenon. Thus, reality is an intersubjective construct, a fable that people make up amongst themselves. The construct is not entirely arbitrary. Most fascists have also posited a strong racial or biological element conditioning the way that leaders and their peoples behave. Still, even in highly racialized forms of fascism, the leader stands to the people as the will stands to the individual. Politics, then, is not an arbitrary art, but an art whereby the leader makes the unconscious will of the people explicit.

In addition to Nietzsche, the other seminal influence on fascism whom Eatwell discusses at length is Georges Sorel. Now Sorel is remembered as the chief theorist of socialist syndicalism, and like Nietzsche his thought has influenced people who are not fascist by any definition. Nevertheless, he seems to have been a primary source of the nuts-and-bolts of practical fascism, which was chiefly concerned with integrating restive populations of industrial workers into fragile national communities. (The widespread use of the word "community" to refer to classes of people who could not possibly know each other is mostly Max Weber's fault, though to me it has long carried fascist undertones. Well, that is another story.)

Sorel's socialism was of the sort that combined plans for the betterment of the masses with considerable contempt for their intelligence, indeed contempt for almost everything about them as they actually existed. Sorel believed that the masses could be integrated into a social force only through slogans and myths. Sorel's favorite myth was that of the "general strike." Actual general strikes, in which the whole of a country's organized labor force walked off the job at the same time, have been tried a few times, with mixed success. The myth of the general strike, however, is like the vision of Judgment Day. It is the goal in whose name organizers organize, it is the reason to pay union dues. It is an ultimate threat, like the strategic doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, that creates a world by defining its limits. It is not entirely dishonest; the leaders may believe it in a heuristic sense. Such subtleties, however, are not for the people they lead.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the political systems of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy was precisely their use of myth and symbol. (As Salvador Dali once remarked, Nazism was essentially surrealism come to power.) The widely-bought if sparsely-read "Myth of the Twentieth Century," by the Nazi Party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, seems to have used "myth" in a Sorelian sense, the myth in this case being the origin of the Aryan race in Atlantis and its leading role in later history. More generally, both the Nazi and the Italian Fascist regimes seemed to be exercises in government by grand opera. (Götterdämmerung and Don Giovanni, no doubt.)

The myths used to organize the elites were not necessarily those provided for the masses. The Nazi leadership in particular cultivated a sort of occultism (though if figures like Julius Evola are any indication, this enthusiasm was not absent from Italy, either). The people, however, were pushed with more conventional forms of nationalist xenophobia and pulled with quite prosaic promises of economic improvement and social welfare (promises on which both regimes could in large measure deliver). This difference of integrative principles was consistent with the fascist notion of society as an organic entity. Organism implies differentiation, so it was only proper that elites and masses be organized through different means.

Was antisemitism an integrating myth for the people? Certainly this was not the case in Italy, where fascism made much of cultural chauvinism but tended to mock biological racism. It was only in the late 1930s that Mussolini promulgated anti-Jewish legislation in order to please Hitler. The legislation was never as harsh as that in Germany, and was in any case ignored by the people and the government with some enthusiasm. (This changed after the Allied invasion of southern Italy in 1943, when Mussolini became a puppet ruling a rump-state under German control.) As for Germany, there is little evidence that antisemitism ever added to the Nazis' popularity. Certainly the Nazis downplayed the Jewish theme when electoral victory became a real possibility after 1929. While it is true that surveys taken after World War II showed high levels of antisemitic feeling in Germany, this is as likely to have been an effect of the Nazi regime as one of its causes. The truth of the matter seems to be that, if antisemitism was a Sorelian myth, it a myth embraced by the elites rather than the masses.

England and France both had proto-fascist and self-consciously fascist movements between the wars. Eatwell notes the many writers with fascist leanings in France during this period, some of whom, such as Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, commanded large popular followings in the 1930s. (Charles Maurras and his Action Française were too traditionally conservative to quite qualify as fascist.) As a serious political movement, French fascism needed the Popular Front politics of the Left to fight against, and so it pretty much collapsed along with the Popular Front government in the mid-'30s. English fascism started off just after the First World War on a disarmingly dotty note, with a tiny party that advocated, among other things, lowering taxes on gentlefolk so they could reduce unemployment by hiring servants. However, the movement was dominated in the 1930s and after the war by Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. Mosley, not unlike Churchill, was a black-sheep establishment figure, an institutional outsider but not quite a mere eccentric. He maintained a measure of credibility quite late into the decade; he was even briefly touted by the press-lord Rothermere. Still, in neither France nor England did any fascist party come within shouting distance of playing a major role in national government, much less of inaugurating a fascist revolution. Eatwell emphasizes two key reasons why they did not go the way of Germany and Italy.

The first major difference was that Britain and France had respectable national right-wing parties during the 1920s and '30s, while Germany and Italy did not. In Italy, a proper conservative establishment never got a chance to form. To a large extent, the Kingdom of Italy had always been something that northern Italians did to southern Italians (and this without the blessing of the Church, which was still annoyed at the way the Papal States had been annexed in 1870). Therefore, the local notables who might have formed the backbone of a conservative party were alienated from the national government. In Germany, of course, the old establishment had been discredited by the war. The lack of responsible right wings meant that irresponsible persons in these countries had a chance to fill the political space such parties normally occupy. The opportunity came when the narrowly-based political establishments appeared to be incapable of dealing with a national crisis.

For France and Britain the interwar years were for the most part dreary decades, but in neither country were they attended by a general sense of social crisis. France, despite the proliferation of socialist theorists of all descriptions and the growing strength of the Communist Party, seems to have been singularly immune to Red Scares. Unemployment was muted even during the Depression, partly because the country was still so rural that unemployed industrial workers simply went back to the land. For England, the '20s was in many ways the more troubled of the two decades, with intractably high unemployment even during good times and the General Strike of 1925. In the '30s, on the other hand, the effect of the worldwide depression was not nearly as severe as in other countries, and for much of the decade the economy was conspicuously innovative and dynamic.

Italy's crisis came early. In the years between the end of the war and Mussolini's March on Rome in 1922, revolution was in the air, particularly in the rural areas of the north. As in Spain during the prelude to that country's civil war in the '30s, local socialist governments were often uninterested in protecting private property from seizure by workers. Right-wing terror squads, usually led by strong-men without any particular ideology, also enjoyed official indulgence in some regions (as well as a measure of popular support). Mussolini, a sophisticated socialist with anti-clerical leanings, came to power by organizing the strong-men and convincing at least a section of the establishment that he could bring social peace. When he first met the king to demand the primiership, Mussolini wore a fascist uniform. For the second meeting, he wore proper morning clothes.

Hitler wore morning clothes, too, when he went to see President Hindenburg to be sworn in as chancellor 11 years later. Germany's crisis was far more a matter of economics than Italy's had been, though exasperated by the fact the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic was even more fragile than that of the Kingdom of Italy. Eatwell takes us through a quick review of the "Who Was To Blame" literature regarding Hitler's final ascension to the chancellorship. He finds little merit in the theory that Hitler (or Mussolini, for that matter) was essentially a tool of big business. What he does suggest is that the acquiescence of a weak establishment was a necessary precondition for such an improbable figure to be appointed head of a government.

Since the early 1930s, there has never been another coincidence of a weak establishment, a crisis, and a group of men with the proper ideological predispositions necessary for the formation of a fascist state. Franco's Spain was not fascist because Franco was not an artist, but a cop (or, as they used to say in my old high school, a "Prefect of Discipline"). The rulers of Vichy France, for all their authoritarian tendencies, were hardly in a position to view themselves as bold supermen. After the war, fascism was an enthusiasm only of cranks everywhere in Europe except in Italy, where the former regime never lacked for a small party of defenders. (Mussolini's widow got a regular ministerial survivor's pension.) Until the end of the Cold War, this looked like it would be the state of things for the foreseeable future. The problem with the end of the Cold War, of course, was that it made the future much less foreseeable.

In the 1990s we have seen a historically fascist party, led by Gianfranco Fini, achieve junior-partner status in an Italian government. (The party he leads changes names. Not long ago it was "The Italian Social Movement." Latterly it has been "The National Alliance." The Communist Party of Italy has undergone similar mutations in nomenclature, and also claims to have mellowed ideologically. Maybe they have.) Jean-Marie Le Pen's "Front National" in France seems to have a lock on from 15% to 20% of the vote. In Germany, in contrast, the party system has rebuffed the attempts to organize New Right sentiment. (This is not the case in Austria, where Jörg Haider's "Austrian Freedom Party" has polled up to 28% of the vote.) Throughout Europe, just as after the First World War, small groups of violent youths with proto-fascist leanings became conspicuous. Perhaps the most alarming thing we have discovered about the German Democratic Republic is that it did not so much extirpate Nazi ideas among the people as preserve them in ice, like dinosaurs in a science fiction movie that wreak havoc when defrosted.

One may, of course, quarrel about whether the European New Right as a whole should be consider proto-fascist, or crypto-fascist, or even fascist at all. Still, the deeper you look into any of these organizations and their leaders, the less comforted you are likely to be.

On a popular level, the issue which has the most resonance for the New Right is immigration. Everywhere in Western Europe (and in much of the United States), ordinary people are spooked by changing demographics. They are also alienated by the tendency of establishment opinion to dismiss this concern as mere reflexive racism. Persistent levels of high unemployment, often seen as a function of the presence of too many foreigners, similarly undermines the credibility of the governments of the major European states. Issues like this, however, are not the stuff of which revolutions are made, fascist or otherwise. Additionally, while right-wing leaders are at pains to keep themselves free of the least taint of racism in general or antisemitism in particular, the fact is that at ground level their organizations are, for the most part, virulently antisemitic. There is a significant public for Holocaust-denial theories. However, in no country are such things electorally useful.

The distinctive thing about fascism, however, is that it has always been a doctrine for masters rather than followers. Eatwell has some very alarming things to say about the growth of "up-scale" fascism, of ideological resources for people who either belong to existing elites or would very much like to start one. This has been made immensely easier, at least in my own view, by the spread of relativist philosophies in the Nietzschean tradition in the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly at the elite schools. No matter the intent of the instructors, it always seemed singularly ill-advised to me to tell young people, who by virtue of native intelligence and social position were going to wind up running a fair slice of the world anyway, that life was really just about power. There is always some danger they might believe it.

A sentiment that seems to find increasing currency is what might be called "Euro-fascism." While fascist parties between the wars built their followings on nationalistic platforms, still from the very beginning fascism has always had a universalizing streak. Nietzsche pronounced himself a "good European." In these days when political theorists speak in terms of the clash of civilizations, New Right theory seems to be moving in the direction, not of renewed hypernationalism, but of an integrating theory for the European Union. Eatwell notes that the EU as it stands is a disedifying entity, run by bland bureaucrats who are most concerned with setting standards for bottled jam. Current plans for future integration will go no further toward turning Europe into a true political community (that word again). Eatwell asks whether anyone is ever going to be willing to die for the Bundesbank. Maybe what Europe needs is a Sorelian myth to hold it together. Work is in progress.

So, are we really just back where we started at the beginning of the 20th century, waiting for some crisis that will delegitimize the existing establishments and start the ball rolling again? One way to look at the 20th century is as one long recoil from the process of globalization. It was only in the 1990s, for instance, that international capital flows again reached the levels relative to the economies of the major countries that they had reached before the First World War. Similarly, it is only recently that international trade in general became as important as it was around 1900. What happened thereafter was that the governments of the leading nations sought to gain unprecedented control of their countries' destinies. Partly this was accomplished by war, partly it was accomplished through the creation of command economies. Stalinism was simply Lloyd George's "War Socialism" made permanent, something that happened in greater or lesser degree throughout the West. In every case, the goal was to replace the power of capital with the power of the will, whether the will was that of an electorate or of a would-be Nietzschean superman. When, starting in the 1980s, the military and economic systems of command began to be relaxed, the world economic system began to look again something like the way it had looked before these measures were implemented. The process of globalization began again. So did the attempts to stop it.

It would be wrong to say that all attempts to stop globalization of economics and communications and culture are fascist. Most resistance to universalism comes from a positive desire to preserve local identities and traditions. Such things may or may not be worth preserving. The balance between the local and the universal is not something that can be dictated categorically. Fascist nationalism, in contrast, was perhaps just an improvisation, made necessary by the fact that nations states were the largest units that fascist elites could hope to control. At a deeper level of fascism is the ideal of the universal empire, of the whole world subject to a single will. The goal is repeatedly deferred only because it is obviously so much harder to achieve.

Fascist statecraft is by its nature manipulative, a game that elites play with deluded masses. The fascists in the '20s and '30s did not come to power by promising to create a society beyond good and evil. They did it by promising people things that really were good, such as safe streets and private property and a country with a culture they could recognize. The opponents to fascism too often fell into the trap of opposing these things simply because the fascists endorsed them. This is an important point for the world's liberals (or progressives, or whatever they call themselves locally) to keep in mind. As for the conservatives, they must beware of the company they keep.



This article originally appeared in the November 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: The Turner Diaries

Like Imperium, The Turner Diaries are a mainstay of the lunatic fringe. It is also a classic millennial text. I have never read this book, and I have no intention to. However, John read and reviewed it because the millennial impulse can and does break out in the real world, and we ought to know how bad it can get.

The Turner Diaries
by "Andrew MacDonald" (William L. Pierce)
The National Alliance, 1978
Approx. 80,000 words


WARNING TO THE READER: This is the most repulsive book I have ever reviewed. Persons offended by descriptions of virulent racism and of the advocacy of genocide may not wish to continue reading.


Bibliographical Note

According to Michael Barkun in Religion and the Racist Right (p. 225 et seq.), the author of "The Turner Diaries" is one William L. Pierce, writing under the pseudonym "Andrew MacDonald." Pierce received a doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado and worked in industry and as a university instructor before becoming involved with Nazi groups in the 1960s. "The Turner Diaries" appeared from 1975 to 1978 as a serial in "Attack!," a publication of the National Alliance, an American Nazi faction led by Pierce. ("Attack" [Der Angriff] was also the name of the paper Josef Goebbels founded in Berlin in the 1920s.) The book was first published as a paperback in 1978, and Barkun cites a second edition, also published by the National Alliance (Washington, DC 1980). The text for this review was found online, without copyright, at http://members.tripod.com/~EdgarS/TurnerD/turner.html in December 1997.



"The Turner Diaries" has been around for about 20 years at this writing. This work has long been of some interest to students of religious and political cults. What made it famous, however, was the destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. (The date was apparently chosen to commemorate the destruction of the compound of the Branch Davidian sect at Waco, Texas, precisely two years earlier.) The crime was committed with a truck bomb using ammonium nitrate fertilizer as an explosive, a weapon system described in some detail in this book. While there is no reason to believe that the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing were working directly from the historical script set out in "The Turner Diaries," nevertheless the book is well-known in the circles with which they associated. Echoes of names and incidents in the story, such as the racist insurgent group known as the "Order" that appeared in the 1980s, continue to turn up from time to time.

The book purports to have been published in the year 100 of the New Era, which is apparently about AD 2100. In form, the book is a commemorative edition of the diaries of one Earl Turner, a 35 year-old electrical engineer who became a hero of the Great Revolution that preceded the New Era. The diaries cover Turner's activities as an insurgent from 1991 to his death in 1993. The revolution was orchestrated by a guerrilla army known simply as "the Organization." (Its opponents are normally referred to collectively as "the System.") The heart of the Organization was a quasi-religious group known as "the Order," into which Turner is inducted. We learn almost nothing about the governance or history of these bodies, though the Order seems to be inspired by the Templar-model of the SS sometimes favored by Heinrich Himmler, under the apparent influence of the apostate Austrian monk Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. (See "The Occult Roots of Nazism" by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, New York University Press, 1992) For that matter, there is no systematic exposition of the beliefs of either the Organization or the Order. The diaries are supposed to provide a ground level view of a great event, interspersed with occasional reflections.

Before proceeding to an analysis, it would be helpful to look at a full chronology of the dates and events named in the text. The story is built around a system of commemorative dates. The major events of the Great Revolution are almost all timed to coincide with such anniversaries as Hitler's ascension to the Chancellorship of Germany (January 30), Hitler's birthday (April 20) and, especially, the Beer Hall Putsch and Kristallnacht (November 9). Some of these dates, as well as the sophisticated weapons the author describes, may unfortunately have relevance in the future.

...

The Long View: Imperium

John's interests in cycles of history and millennial movements sometimes led him down strange alleys. One of those was his study of modern international fascism. It is pretty common to slur someone as a fascist, far less common to actually meet one. They still exist, and probably loom larger in the press than their actual numbers, and have, if anything, gotten weirder as the twentieth century waned and turned into the twenty-first.

Imperium comes up here because Yockey's main source was Spengler. It is not at all clear that Yockey understood Spengler, but nonetheless he appropriated Spengler's vocabulary. John was my main source of knowledge about modern international fascism, and also the reason I see just about any political discourse about how "fascist" something or other is as just so much piffle. There are real fascists. They sound like something out of a convoluted conspiracy theory novel, except that they keep insisting on self-publishing books about what they are up to.

Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics
by Ulick Varange (Francis Parker Yockey)
The Noontide Press, 1962 (First Published 1948)
626 Pages, US$ 7.75
ISBN 0-911038-10-8

 

"Imperium" may be the closest thing that the real world offers to H.P. Lovecraft's fictional "Necronomicon." Though little more than a rumor in the world at large, it is a key text in the underground universe of international fascist ideology, and it seems to have had a significant effect on the development of Traditional Satanism. At the risk of making "Imperium" sound more interesting than it actually is, we may note that the book claims an almost magical essence for itself. By its own account, "Imperium" is "part of a life of action" and "only in form a book at all," so that reading it is more than a merely mental event.

"Imperium" was written in the service of an ambitious cause. The author, Francis Parker Yockey, holds that it is the destiny of the West to found a universal empire, the core of which will be a Nazi Europe. His book promotes European unity and the expulsion of the United States from the continent's affairs, as well as a fascist revolution in the United States itself. "Imperium" is a reprise of history and political theory, designed to show why the outcomes of the world wars of the first half of the 20th century were only temporary setbacks toward the ultimate goal.

If America were a church, Yockey would have been an apostate. Born in Chicago in 1917, he was involved with various right-wing political groups as a young man. He took both a BA and a law degree at Notre Dame University and was commissioned an officer during the Second World War, though he soon received a medical discharge. As a civilian attorney, he served on the staff that helped to prepare war-crimes trials in Germany, but was dismissed for siding with the defendants. (This may have included spying for them.) Yockey retired to Brittas Bay in Ireland to write "Imperium," finishing it in 1948. (January 30 of that year, to be precise: the 15th anniversary of Hitler's accession to the chancellorship of Germany.)

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