Sentiments are at the root of all politics, and consequently at the root of all political divisions. Vast labor is expended to bury this fact under mountains of rebarbative reasoning, but a very little honest reflection will excavate the truth that politics begins in the heart. In the heart of the Right, dread, love and disgust are the essential and defining sentiments. This is not to say that these sentiments are absent on the Left, only that they are neither essential nor defining.
The Right is a decidedly motley assembly of people who, in one fashion or another, oppose, deplore or dislike the Revolution. The Revolution comprises all those changes in which modernization has turned the old order on its head. The Right does not oppose, deplore or dislike every change that has taken place since the seventeenth century, only the radical innovations and satanic transvaluations that cause modernists to boast of a novus ordo seclorum.
To the Right, any novus ordo seclorum is a dreadful thing because it is nonsense to speak of a novus ordo seclorum. The world and humans are essentially what they are, and to pretend that either could be otherwise is to set one’s foot on the road that leads to the Vale of Tears. That road may be short or long, but at its end stands a Day of Reckoning, and it is this Day of Reckoning that the Right dreads. On the Day of Reckoning we will pay the bill for the follies of the Revolution and its novus ordo seclorum, and that bill will not be small.
This is what John Derbyshire has in mind when he says, “we are doomed.” The Right is frightened by the tale of Prometheus, not inspired.
When this dread comes over a man, he will at first look round at everything that stands to be destroyed by the Revolution, or on the Day of Reckoning. Doing so, he will naturally feel a great tenderness for some things that are doomed, perhaps everything. A man becomes aware that he loves something when that thing is threatened and he feels the impulse to protect it. For instance, I am hardly aware of my love for a grove of trees until I see the trunks wrapped in yellow tape and hear the chainsaw’s growl. I am hardly aware of my love for an old, familiar custom until a mob of abolitionists howls for it to be pulled down. I am hardly aware of my love for a friend until I hear he is under sentence of death.
The first fruit of dread is, therefore, love, a sentiment inseparable from the impulse to protect. When a man sees that the Revolution is a dreadful thing, he will feel a great and anxious tenderness for things that are doomed. Seldom all things, but certainly those that are close to his heart. And his first impulse will be to protect those things. In other words he will feel an impulse to conserve them, the word conserve meaning to protect or defend. This is why there was no conservation movement until industrial revolution threatened the natural order. This is why there was no conservative movement until the English, American and French revolutions threatened the political, social and moral order.
A conservative is, essentially, a White Knight. I am aware that this title has become the very opposite of an encomium for a great many men on the Right, and appreciate the grounds of their cynical scorn for this much abused ideal. A White Knight is a man who saves a damsel from a dragon; a “white knight” takes the side of a banshee in her quarrels with her demon lover. But the problem with the “white knight” is not his impulse to defend damsels, but his inability to tell the difference between damsels and banshees, or between demon lovers and dragons.
It is always honorable for a man to defend a damsel, provided she is a damsel. It is always honorable for a man to conserve something he loves, provided it is lovely. But when there are no more damsels and nothing lovely remains, there is no need for a White Knight. The conservative was brought into being by the Revolution, and he has been rendered redundant by the triumph of the Revolution. When (heaven forefend) every woman in the world is a banshee, every White Knight will be a “white knight.”
And thus disgust. A Reactionary does not, after all, simply react to the novus ordo seclorum. Leftists do that. Leftists react with applause and tears of joy. The reaction of the Reactionary is disgust at foulness, filth and destruction. When he surveys the world from the back of his champing charger, he feels no impulse to lower his lance and clamp his spurs, since nothing he loves remains to be distressed by the slouching dragons. There is naught but shrieking banshees and leering demon lovers.
In Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy, Guy Crouchback is a man of the Right. When we first meet him, he feels the sentiment of dread at the sight of the devouring Revolution. In an oft-quoted line from the first volume, he thinks, “the enemy was at last in plain view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast of. It was the Modern Age in arms.”
Crouchback is, at first, a conservative who fights to defend the old order; but he finds in time that this old order is already dead, rotten to its core. The bulk of the three books is the story of Guy “white knighting” the clapped out banshee of the British Empire, and being, in a sense, cuckolded by the likes of Julia Stitch and Ivor Claire. Thus, so far as the Empire is concerned, Guy is left by the third volume—The End of the Battle—in a wasteland of Reactionary disgust.
This is at least partly redeemed by the fact that he has also “white knighted” his divorced wife Virginia, a true banshee, whom he remarries after she has been impregnated by another man, and then seemingly saves from eternal damnation before she is obliterated by a V1 bomb. Guy’s “white knighting” of Virginia is divinely redeemed and made into the work of a true White Knight. (God also has the charity to kill Virginia and thus spare Guy the trials of living with her.)
The primary sentiment of the Right is, therefore, dread aroused by the Revolution and its novus ordo seclorum. Dread naturally and necessarily gives birth to love, as this threat arouses an impulse to protect, or conserve. But, as the Revolution rolls forward, leaving less and less that is worthy of conservation, the White Knight becomes a “white knight.” Those who understand this are filled with Reactionary disgust. Religious reactionaries can hope to redeem this in the manner of Guy Crouchback, by helping to save at least one soul. I don’t know what consolations there are for the others.