Monday, May 21, 2012
We are not all Republicans now. The American civil war of 1775-1781 did not abolish human nature, particularly the imaginative faculty of the mass mind which invests a mere human family with the charismatic attraction of a dynasty. Thus, at its worst, the American public exalts a tribe of ambitious bootleggers, the Kennedys, to quasi-royal status. At its best, it finds a genuine royal family, the British, irresistible. First Lady Betty Ford naïvely manifested a typically American attitude when she unintentionally slighted some other nation's sovereign by referring, before the press, to HM Elizabeth II as 'the real queen.' By its Windsorite fervor, of course, America not only reveals its psychological need for a monarchy but also bows to the nation that is the source of its heritage.
Yet, in addition to this phenomenon of unconscious monarchism, there is also a conscious sort. Avowed American monarchists comprise a small élite; they are more or less serious, more or less alienated, sometimes British loyalists by descent or by sentiment, more often champions of all dynasties, though with a legitimist bias—Jacobites, blancs d'Espagne, Carlists. Apparent strangers in their own land, it is a bit difficult for them to find something to do on the Fourth of July, that principal feast of the American civil religion; obligingly, however, many American orchestras, ensconced in their outdoor summer havens, will play 'Wellington's Victory' or the '1812 Overture' on that day, hoping to make sufficient noise to exorcise evil spirits—a more intelligible superstition than the superstition of democracy. Few besides the American monarchist will be conscious of the composers' intent to celebrate the triumph of monarchy.
The manifestations of America's founding myth irritate but do not intimidate its indigenous royalists; the inner contradictions of that myth emotionally repatriate them. The constitution which virtually froze the eighteenth-century British system in the form of an elective monarchy (which faces a quadrennial crisis of dynastic extinction) reverberates with echoes of its original that belie the republican symbolism of the capital's neoclassical architecture; as when Richard Nixon excused himself from the charge of obstruction of justice on grounds that 'the sovereign is above the law.'
Unless he is just an over-sentimental student of history (and there is an urge to follow an antique drum—the Young Pretender's, for example), the American monarchist is an alienated man. Now there are several kinds of alienation, and when they are all rated against the standard of magnanimity, some are rather grand, some inconsequential, others pathological. The political faiths of modernity comprise no small part of the absurdity of contemporary life as the monarchist perceives it; existential monarchism could indeed be the consequence of Christian existentialism. There is the tsarism of the once-radical Dostoevsky to consider, also the non-resistance doctrine of the Non-Jurors in the face of an anti-Anglican king, and, in the realm of ecclesiastical monarchy, the ultramontane infallibilism of the ultra-royalist Joseph de Maistre, whose Pope had made peace with the regicide republic. The spiritually circumscribed 'mathematical' mind of the Enlightenment liberal cannot accept such contradictions. Indeed, the American monarchists who are in the best position to be taken seriously are deeply Christian, and by force of will they have made sense of life as they found it without moving one inch geographically. Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.
It is indeed 'great-souled' to be repelled by the assumptions of democracy and liberalism. Many Americans do not accept Jefferson's proposition on equality; they perceive that majority rule is only a means of evading personal responsibility; they know that human nature does not progress. Monarchism becomes an effective vehicle of protest on all fronts because the monarch is the ultimate unequal, as well as the defender of artificial aristocracy and the arbiter of natural aristocracy, while still the protector of the rights of the commons; because the divine right of kings means the divine responsibility of kings; and because if monarchy is a barbaric anachronism then it is man himself who is the anachronistic barbarian, ignorant and rebellious, whose fallen nature requires the staff of leadership. A cult of aristocracy which looks only to the law and to aristocratic virtue to prevent injustice and restrain class warfare is the unrealistic and self-serving illusion of Whigs, whether English or American. (A revived Whiggism, however, is usually the best available form of conservatism in America.)
A cult of aristocracy that did not appeal to law and virtue would be indistinguishable from a cult of monarchy that did not; of course, there have been Nietzschean monarchists, whosaw the king as Ubermensch or as the instrument of an Übermensch: Maurras, d'Annunzio, Mussolini. Here one enters a veritable morass of morbid emotions: alienation from one's time and place, leading to Utopian nostalgia, and alienation from classes and races, leading to the desire for revenge. In his novel Le vergini delle rocce, d'Annunzio (from whom Mussolini stole the trappings and symbolism of Fascism) championed the often vilified Bourbons of Naples as representatives of a lost age of 'sovereign ideality,' using them as a stick with which to beat the impotent parliamentary democracy of Italy. It would be impossible to take Maurras seriously—the nationalist demagogue whose theory of history revolves around his anti-semitism, the defender of the Church who speaks of purging Christianity of its 'Hebraic element,' the panegyrist of the ancien régime who advocates the regicide House of Orléans. Excommunicated by his Church and repudiated by his prince, at once a positivist and a late Romantic vitalist hard-pressed to dissociate himself from Nietzscheism, Maurras was not at all a spokesman for traditional monarchism. How can one take a political thinker seriously, or respect his intellectual integrity, if he cites Maurras as an authority? Yet that most famous of American monarchists, whose true home was not on this earth, T. S. Eliot, was a persistent Maurrassian, firmly convinced that 'if anything, in another generation or so, is to preserve us from a sentimental Anglo-Fascism, it will be some system of ideas which will have gained much from the study of Maurras.'
Eliot's teacher at Harvard, Irving Babbitt (1865-1933), may have been the greatest American conservative thinker of this century; his profoundly religious philosophy of 'Humanism' glorified the will as a moral force and challenged modern man to accept or reject the ethical task of self-limitation, which is the essence of self-direction or self-definition. Living in a largely self-created hell of spiritual ataxia, as his poetry attests, Eliot sought self-definition on easier terms in a demagogic cult of power: his tripartite pose as classicist, royalist, and Anglo-Catholic was his version of a Maurrassian formula, classique, catholique, monarchique. Babbitt knew the French intellectual scene intimately; yet the vaunted 'classicism' of the Action Française did not interest this arch-classicist in the least. When his most important pupil had gone completely astray, Babbitt was heard grumbling privately at Harvard about the 'sell-out.' But this may not have been only a sign of hurt feelings over the betrayal of his 'movement' or a comment on religious conversion as an easy escape route. Babbitt had talked of 'the affinity of the jellyfish for the rock.' I submit that Babbitt knew the personality of his pupil very well and perceived something of that personality's struggle with its own weakness; that Babbitt may have reserved the right to judge the quality of Eliot's conversion in the light of his allegiance to Maurras; and that Babbitt may have felt his disappointment with Eliot ultimately over the way his pupil shirked the burden of intellectual, and hence spiritual, integrity—regret over the loss of a soul through complacency in its own weakness.
I once spoke with a European-born Maurrassian. The conversation became an intellectual thimblerig; or, to pursue Babbitt's metaphor, as I probed to find the tether that held this intellectual invertebrate to his rock, every tentacle that I tested with a question turned immediately to a loose, limp, wispy rag of a limb, utterly dissociated from the ground where I had supposed it to be attached. At once a thousand arms invisibly reclaimed their ever-varying hold on the shapeless bladder's only source of security. I could see that a hydrozoan has no system of thought, only an affinity, an attraction which fixes him in the vicinity of a political idea, or, in view of all I have said about alienation, a repulsion.
The alienation of Eliot belongs to the realm of what Eric Voegelin would call pneumopathology. A bourgeois intellectual in rebellion against the bourgeoisie, himself playing the eternal bourgeois game of self-invention, Eliot thought that, culturally speaking, to be an American is not to exist; in truth, to be the endlessly mutable, Protean bourgeois is not to exist. The déraciné Eliot became a cultural climber. Had the possibility really been open to him, he would have chosen by taste to be French; nevertheless, his schizoid (n.b., not schizophrenic) personality, threatened by encounters with other people (especially Americans, with their affectation of familiarity?), flew for cover behind a façade of rigid formality and utter dispassion, and so by temperament he found an obvious haven among the restrained and reserved English. To use a metaphor out of The Waste Land, solipsism, demophobia, and fear of indeterminacy were the keys to Eliot's prison. That they should culminate in vicarious power-worship through the study of Maurras inclines one to apply to such a character the adjective effeminate, with all the force of the classical use. If there is actually a direct relation between the character of an Eliot and that of a Maurras, perhaps it was perceived by Plato, who knew that the soul of a slave and the soul of a tyrant are very nearly the same article.
Yet Eliot is the only American-born Maurrassian I have encountered; and, no matter what unwholesome motives lay behind his great declaration of 1927 for classicism, royalism, and Anglo-Catholicism, stolider men have taken it for what it outwardly is, the necessarily total defiance of a society 'worm-eaten with liberalism,' and a last stand of literary dandyism, the tradition of intransigence and colourful gesture. No matter what their real force or importance within the context of his own work, Eliot's three little words have inspired later Americans to make the same stand, with more conviction and more credibility, if only because they stayed in America. However alienated they may be, traditional monarchical theory, with its ideals of justice tempered by mercy, of due process of law, and of responsibility before God, has channelled their frustration into constructive thinking and has psychically repatriated them in reality. I regard them as among those proverbial mad geniuses who are saner than common men.
Because he faces an ideological challenge from the outset, the American monarchist becomes an ideologue—a conservative, but a systematic one. Having no monarchy of his own to conserve, he makes himself into an invaluable critic of his countrymen's illusions, since he can think the unthinkable about democracy. Monarchy is an international institution, and he becomes its international advocate; yet duty turns his attention first to his own country's government, whose foreign policy in this century merits his contempt for the pontifical presumption with which it uncrowned so many crowned heads of Europe in the course of two world wars. Seeking a noble cause, he weighs the merits of each position in every dynastic dispute, and usually ends up choosing the side of the cause well lost; for, as an ideologue, it is uniquely obvious to him why the rules of primogeniture and of the exclusion of regicidal and usurping lines should be obeyed.
Among those Americans with the grace to dissent from America's Whig tradition (a tradition of the relativistic politics of consensus), some do not have the confidence and tenacity to resist the absolutist impulse. Though there is a valid argument for ultramontane Roman Catholicism when it is free of ulterior motives, these Americans, adopting ultramontanism, display the fanaticism of the convert, and seem driven to take the proposition beyond its ultimate conclusion—if such were possible. They are indeed bewitched by what Nietzsche called 'the magic of the extreme.' In keeping with that penchant for seeking vicarious involvement in dynastic disputes and becoming 'more royalist than the king,' some of these persons turned themselves into Spanish Carlists and looked as if they hoped to win the Spanish Civil War a second time in America.
Brent Bozell was William F. Buckley's colleague and conservative co-conspirator in schooldays at Yale; he married Buckley's sister, collaborated in the founding of National Review, and wrote some of the best speeches ever given by Republican politicians. Bozell'sclose friend, Frederick Wilhelmsen, who taught political theory at the University of Dallas and was important in the circle of 'intellectual conservatives,' was a Thomist and a dogmatist wholly intolerant of the classical scepticism of such conservative theorists as Strauss and Voegelin. As the cultural decadence of the late 1960's engulfed the land, Bozell and Wilhelmsen found the libertarian aspect of National Review intolerable, and established a counter-journal, Triumph, and an organisation, the Society for the Christian Commonwealth. Classes in counter-revolutionary ideology were given each summer at the Escorial by Wilhelmsen, who involved himself with the Requetés and the 'Regent of Carlism,' HRH Don Francisco Javier of Bourbon-Parma.
The Triumph party's answer to the radical 'Students for a Democratic Society' was the 'Sons of Thunder,' a band of collegians who wore red berets and demonstrated against abortion by kneeling to say the Rosary in public places. One Saturday in 1970, Bozell, Wilhelmsen, the 'Sons' and other supporters, carrying placards, papal flags, and processional crosses borrowed from churches, rallied outside a Washington, D.C. abortion mill, hoping to 'negotiate' a one-day 'moratorium' on infanticide as a step towards decency; the police, frightened by their cries ofViva Christo Rey!, clubbed and arrested them. The gesture appeared futile—but what is a tiny minority to do in the face of utter indifference to a wholesale practice which it believes to be a deliberate abomination before God and human conscience and which, it also believes, is destined to bring His wrath upon the nation? Notwithstanding that, National Review would have none of this preaching foolishness to the gentiles, and called the movement 'Quixotic,' 'exotic,' and 'parodic'. One professor wrote, 'You will not mend [our society] by dressing up in the rags of Spanish romantic politics and attempting to force a juncture of religion and civil order.'
Triumphstopped publishing in the mid-seventies; in the meantime, however, it had provided a forum for American experimentation with the ideals of monarchy, and may very well have patterned itself after Rob Lyle and Roy Campbell's The Catacomb, which championed another dubious Carlist claimant whose line is now extinct. But there was an hour of glory before the end. In 1975, with the death of Franco impending, the Spanish Carlists were on the rise, though the son and heir of the aged Francisco Javier, Carlos Hugo, was sympathetic to communism. Therefore Wilhelmsen chose Carlos Hugo's younger brother, Sixto Enreique, for his candidate; then he and Bozell flew to France to smuggle this prince over the border illegally for a Carlist rally in Northern Spain. In recognition of his pains, the old pretender, Francisco Javier, made the professor a Caballero de la Gran Cruz de la Legitimidad Proscrita.
This is a chapter in the history of American conservatism that the conservatives would have us forget. Today, Bozell is in seclusion, and Wilhelmsen maintains ties with some Carlist groups in South America, though little is heard from him in this country. Yet, even though years have passed since the year of adventure, Wilhelmsen confesses, 'Carlism has been a way of life and a conclusion to the syllogism of my existence.'
Bv contrast with the affair of the 'Sons,'Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who has a completely formed ideology and in his writings cites Maistre, Bonald, and Donoso Cortés along with Aquinas, circumspectly directs a youth-centered counter-revolutionary organisation active in fifteen countries known as 'Tradition, Family, and Property.' The princes of the Imperial House of Brazil are supporters of his; and though the TFP does not take a monarchist stance per se,it notes more than respectfully that St. Thomas considered monarchy the ideal form of government. In the U.S., the TFP distributes its literature and dons the red beret from time to time in public manifestations. The site of its U.S. headquarters is a great Hudson Valley manor lined with ornamental halberds and swords and portraits of Charlemagne and the Condé along with those of Dr. de Oliveira and of miraculous statues of the Blessed Virgin.
There have been other appearances of monarchism in America. At Yale, the 'Party of the Right' in the collegiate Political Union holds an annual memorial service for King Charles the Martyr. The Order of the Cincinnati, composed of descendants of General Washington's officers, has Louis XVI for its patron. The Constantian Society is an indigenous body of international monarchists, and collaborated with the Monarchist League of Canada and the Order of Russian Imperial Union in holding a 'study conference on monarchy' in 1983 at Durham, New Hampshire in time for the two-thousandth anniversary of the founding of the Roman Empire and the sixty-fifth of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II; it was a publicity coup both in the American press and behind the Iron Curtain, where the Voice of America, Radio Canada, Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Europe provided extensive coverage (leading to a satirical attack in the Soviet magazine Крокодил). The conference elicited a memorable outpouring of royalist fervor, and it will be repeated on Victoria Day 1984 at Toronto, Canada. The nation's art museums offer clandestine monarchist activity of a less serious sort; for example, in my native city of Detroit, it was possible for patrons to attend banquets in the same season honouring the reigning queen of Holland and the de jure king of the Two Sicilies. On an even less serious note, some kilted Scotsmen in America have precipitously pledged their allegiance to a Jacobite pretender claiming to be a descendant of the Cardinal Duke of York by a secret marriage; it is all too reminiscent of the 'Sobieski Stuart' affair of the nineteenth century.
A fellow countryman of mine who studied at a British university became president of his local chapter of the Monarchist League, and thereby hangs a moral. In comparison with their American counterparts, the British in general make rather poor monarchists—and this criticism may be applied all the way to the top. Their insular attitude is reflected in the official policy of according no recognition to foreign titles of any sort: a horror story circulates about a Bourbon prince who wrote to Buckingham Palace for an audience and received a reply addressed to 'Bourbon, Esq.' . . . The British are implicated along with the Americans in the fall of nine European thrones in the course of the world wars; in their place are three proto-socialist regimes and eight communist dictatorships. If the Free World could redeem Eastern Europe from its communist slavemasters, it would be an act of historical penance. But it will take an act of will simply for most people to ask themselves what monarchy is, and why it should exist, and then to begin the crusade by conserving the rôle of monarchy in those nations that still have it.