The Long View: Imperium

The Long View: Imperium
Imperium by Francis P. Yockey

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.)

The pseudonym that appears on the cover, "Ulick Varange," is supposed to illustrate the author's pan-European sympathies. "Ulick" is allegedly a Danish-Irish name, while "Varange" refers to the Norsemen who roamed early-medieval Russia. Readers of "Prince Valiant" will no doubt recall the Byzantine Emperor's "Varangian Guard," who were recruited from such people.

We know that Yockey soon published "Imperium" himself, in a very limited edition, but the rest of his biography after 1948 quickly becomes crepuscular. He worked for the Red Cross for a time, but he also seems to have acted as a courier for Communist Block countries during the coldest part of the Cold War. He was probably involved with Odessa, the legendary international network of postwar Nazis and fascists. In any case, it is clear that the US State Department stopped renewing his passport: he was arrested in Oakland, California, in 1960 for having entered the country without a valid one. He was visited while in jail by W.A. Carto, one of the key figures in American Neo-Nazism, who contributed a brief introduction to the Noontide Press editions of "Imperium." While still incarcerated, Yockey probably killed himself, though his admirers suggest he was murdered by the authorities.

Yockey begins "Imperium" with the sentence, "This book is different from other books," but readers will be reminded of other authors. Yockey often seems to be actually trying to match the gassy, abstract style that Hitler uses in the non-autobiographical passages of "Mein Kampf." ("Imperium" is dedicated "To the hero of the Second World War," about whose identity we need not speculate.) Yockey fails to write as badly as Hitler, though it is hard to imagine anyone getting very far into this book simply to enjoy the prose. The most important single source for "Imperium" is "The Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler. Yockey purports to be developing Spengler's cyclical interpretation of Western history, and many passages of "Imperium" are near paraphrases of Spengler's famous book.

What "Imperium" most resembles, though, is "The Hour of Decision," a short work that Spengler published in 1934. Some evidence, if any were needed, that Spengler was not an infallible prophet is provided by his suggestion in that book that the US would respond to the crisis of the 1930s by breaking up along ethnic lines, with the largest fragment a Communist regime based in Chicago. Still, as is often the case in intellectual history, "The Hour of Decision" (and, I suppose, "Imperium") have become less anachronistic with the passage of time. Their formulation of geopolitics as the "clash of cultures" is formally similar to the arguments put forward in recent years by Samuel Huntington, though of course with quite different content and policy recommendations.

A more recent book that "Imperium" brings to mind is Patrick J. Buchanan's "A Republic, Not an Empire." That work restates the old "America First" argument that America had no business in either world war, a position Yockey shares. They also both assume that the natural form of interstate relations is opportunistic predation.

Finally, one may recall that, in "The Turner Diaries," William L. Pierce's infamous novel promoting a Nazi revolution in the US, the protagonist's life is changed by reading a semi-sacred ideological text called simply "The Book." It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that "The Book" may have been suggested by "Imperium," or at least by its cult.

My own reason for reading "Imperium" is that I am prepared to go quite a long way with Spengler's cyclical model of history, and I am always curious to see what other people make of it. Since I actually have a short book on the subject available online (Spengler's Future), it was inevitable that "Imperium" would be brought to my attention. Having read it, I now see that it is not in any serious sense Spenglerian, though it appropriates some of Spengler's vocabulary. "Imperium" is most significant as the missing link that connects the more esoteric features of Nazism from the 1920s to the 1990s.

Now Spengler was indeed a "fellow traveler" with the Nazi Party. However, as his defenders must inevitably point out, his support was opportunistic. He thought that the Party was the only hope for Germany in a world that, he believed, was in the midst of a prolonged crisis that could be negotiated successfully only with a high degree of national cohesion. Spengler, as a citizen, was just another conservative nitwit who thought that the Nazis could be used to preserve the Prussian virtues for the future.

Spengler was not much interested in race. Actually, like the postmodernists of the later 20th century, he thought that race was pretty much a construct. His ideas about nationhood and peoplehood were conspicuously sensible. A nation, he argued, was just the more or less variegated population of a given area whom historical events had organized to march in the same direction. (William Strauss and Neil Howe's idea of a formative generational "crisis" is not so different.) Nations are thus not primordial entities. Their effective life-spans are just a few centuries long, after which they collapse back into mere populations.

Spengler was also not much interested in the Jews, though his account of Jewish history in "The Decline of the West" is both sympathetic and acute. One may take or leave his notion of the origin of the Jews as a confessional "nation," not different in kind from the Muslims or the Parsees or even the Byzantine Greeks, within what he called "Magian Culture." In any case, Spengler suggested that Western antisemitism had been largely the result of the fact the older Magian societies had been "out of phase" with the Culture of the younger West, and forecast that the phenomenon would disappear as the West approached its final form.

Spengler's vision for the future of the West is really about completion and exhaustion. Intellectual life would become a self-referential glass-bead game, satisfying in its own terms, that will gradually be abandoned for personal religious experience. Politics would eventually pass into the hands of powerful individuals as traditional institutions lose legitimacy, a process whose distant end is the return of dynastic politics. He did forecast a future "universal state" (the phrase is Toynbee's), which would at least encompass Europe, and possibly the whole planet. However, he said it would occur primarily because the members of the international system would find it more convenient to cede most of their sovereignty to the most prestigious member of the system. This was, pretty much, what happened to the nations of the ancient Mediterranean world: the Roman Empire was, formally, a system of alliances. Spengler clearly hoped that Germany would be the Rome of the future, though he recognized this meant that the Germany he knew would dissolve into Europe. His support for German nationalism was based on the belief that, for Germany to play the role he hoped for, Germany would have to be the last nation to dissolve.

Yockey saw things differently. He saw the future empire, the Imperium of his title, as the outcome of a great act of will. The next century or so, he said, will see a phenomenon he calls the Resurgence of Authority. This will be based on the activity of a dedicated international minority with a clear vision of where the world is supposed to go. This sounds like a traditional 20th-century revolutionary vanguard, with perhaps some overlay of Nietzsche's ideal of the "artist politician," but Yockey takes it a step further. He does not aim for just the creation of a new class, but of a new race, a pan-European one that would be the ethnic basis of the Imperium. Hitler talked about ideas like this to Otto Wagoner in the 1920s, and to Hermann Rauschning in the 1930s. It is a feature of the historical scenario promoted today by some Satanists. (Incidentally, an essay I wrote on this subject, The Dark Imperium, was written long before I read Yockey's book, though I had almost certainly run across his title by then.) These notions have some origin other than Spengler: a good candidate is the Theosophical forecast of the Sixth Root Race.

Spengler is often criticized for his vitalist approach to history, and in fact taking him altogether seriously probably requires finding some more respectable mechanism for his historical cycles. He spoke of the small set of civilization-producing Cultures (the noun is usually capitalized in the Atkinson translation of Spengler's "Decline") as organisms of some sort. His use of the term may have been more than metaphorical, but it is reasonably clear that he did not think they were actually alive. For Yockey, however, Cultures become a whole new order of life. They exercise a subtle force upon the members of a Culture, and they fight with other Cultures. Though the terminology is not quite the same, Yockey's Cultures seem to be metaphysical entities of the same order as the Aeons of more recent right-wing occultists. There is nothing in "Imperium" like the "Aeonic Magic" employed by certain Satanist groups that have clearly been influenced by the book, but it is not hard to see how Yockey's idea might have been developed in that direction.

Yockey is also taken by other crank ideas which I have not seen elsewhere, but which I suspect are probably not original with him. For instance, in explaining the deleterious effects of the bout of immigration to the US from about 1900 to 1920, he states the remarkable principle that immigration has never actually increased the total population. Rather, there is some ideal figure toward which the population is tending. Immigration simply causes the birthrate of earlier arrivals to fall. Thus, he says, the immigration of the first two decades of the 20th century simply replaced Western people with Slavs and Jews and Asians.

Something that Yockey has in common with Nazism as it is generally understood is the designation of trends he dislikes as pathologies, which in Yockey's system become pathologies of Culture. Spengler, who held that Cultures never affect each other in anything essential, gave the name "pseudomorphosis" to the process whereby one Culture affects the superficial features of another. His great example was the Byzantine Empire, which he said had been part of the Magian Culture along with its Sassanid neighbor, but which maintained a misleading Greco-Roman veneer after the death of the Greco-Roman Culture, whose territory it partially occupied. Yockey takes this unremarkable idea and turns it into "cultural distortion," which is what he says happens whenever members of one Culture influence the development of another. For Yockey, "culture distortion" is not just an accident, but a disease. Although the idea is stated in neutral terms, it soon becomes evident that the chief cultural distorter of the last two centuries is the Jews, and that almost the whole of 20th-century art and politics has been one, long Jewish distortion. While he does allow that some of the problems of the modern West, such as democracy and capitalism, are "autopathic," nonetheless he leaves no doubt that the overthrow of the Jews is the precondition for the Imperium.

Yockey identifies two great 20th-century revolutions. One was the American Revolution of 1933, whereby the cultural distorter took full control of the United States, and the other the European Revolution of 1933, when Europe first began to organize itself against the Slavic threat from the East. Yockey really does use terminology like this. If the words "Nazi" or "National Socialist" occur in "Imperium," I do not remember seeing them. The Nazi hierarchy become simply the "European leaders." The US, because of its high level of cultural distortion, is simply written out of the West. As for the Russians and the Slavs in general, he held that they were assimilable to the West, but only as individuals. There is, it seems, no alternative to the Germanization of eastern Europe. However, in a remark that may shed significant light on Yockey's later career, he notes that Russian occupation policy after the Second World War was, to some extent, preferable to that of the Western Allies. The Russians did not persecute the "European leadership" as a class, but worked with those who were useful.

Yockey does not argue that the Holocaust did not occur. Rather, he dismisses the question out of hand, referring to it as "the concentration-camp propaganda." The only slaughter of innocents in the 1940s that concerns him was the suffering inflicted on the German population during the dual occupation by the barbarian Russians and the distorter Americans. Both of these, he believes, must be driven from Europe. At a later stage, something of the United States might be salvaged through a national uprising that would overthrow the Jewish government.

One could lengthen the list of odd things about this very odd book. I suppose that an author who thinks of slavery primarily as a benevolent social-welfare program might be expected to think that Abraham Lincoln was a "charlatan." On the other hand, it is a mystery to me how anyone, Nazi or otherwise, could characterize the professorial Woodrow Wilson as an "adventurer." Specific points like these simply underline the fundamental weirdness of a 30-year-old American sitting on the Irish coast in 1948 and arguing that his country had actually lost the recent European war.

Still, the oddest thing of all may be the persistent and variegated nature of the audience for "Imperium." It took a few weeks to shake down a copy from an American Neo-Nazi publishing house for me, but it is apparently not very hard to come by. It is known, not just to fascist-leaning people in the US, but, it would seem, in Russia and Europe. The book has never been famous, and to my knowledge it has never been a big seller, but it has not gone away, even after 50 years. This is very disconcerting.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site