giving his life for an utter masquerade

Reading about the final exploits of “Sky King” Richard Russell, I was reminded of a fad in mid-20th century drama, when existentialism was all the rage, of characters doing crazy things just to prove their freedom, or something like that.  For example, Sartre’s Orestes and Anouilh’s Antigone cause havoc just for the hell of it.  (The myths had to be reworked to make less sense.)  Dostoevsky arguably got there first, but he knew it was foolishness, and Raskolnikov ultimately repents his ultimately pointless murder.  In existentialism’s heyday, it was always assumed that asserting one’s freedom from all socializing and internalized expectations, sticking it to the bourgeois social order, means aligning with the Left.  Indeed, the inspiration is liberal, but there has always been some irony to the pose.  First, the incoherence of determinist materialists fretting about their freedom.  Second, that they thought they could assert their autonomy by aligning themselves with that great impersonal machine, the Direction of History and Progress, and most often with Soviet tyranny as well.

Men of the Right are understandably touchy about accusations of “LARPing” for long-defeated causes.  Still, there is more than a bit of Don Quixote in every true reactionary.  Why deny it?  The knight of La Mancha couldn’t stop history from moving past the age of knight-errantry, but he could resist being carried along in its flow.  He was only crazy because he was serious.

Jean Raspail published The Camp of the Saints in 1973, a story of Western civilization unwilling to defend itself, virtue-signaling itself to death.  It is best known for its cynical portrayal of Leftist humanitarianism, of the hatred and cowardice beneath its facade of compassion.  Raspail does sometimes read like an irate Alt Right blogger of 2018, but that’s not his fault; reality has plagiarized him.  I find, though, that his treatment of the few Right wing characters is what has stuck in my mind.  A Leftist hero may die for the victory of his ideology.  A Rightist hero often lacks an ideology.  He has loyalties, things that he loves, and things he disdains.  And victory is usually not a possibility.  His fighting and dying make no difference in the grand scheme of things.  He is in some ways much more like an existentialist hero than his adversaries.  (Spoilers follow.)

Recall the end of the book.  As the fleet of a million Indians lands in Southern France, resistance collapses; the army deserts; the native population flees North.  Similar incursions begin against whites everywhere on Earth; Western civilization is doomed.  A final twenty Frenchmen remain to fight the invaders.  It’s completely pointless, of course, but their mood is increasingly jovial as, since most of these resisters of the 3rd world only meet each other at the end of the book, they are finally and for the first time experiencing the company of genuine comrades.

The ones who truly love their traditions don’t take them too seriously.  They march to get their heads shot off with a joke on their lips.  And the reason is that they know that they’re going to die for something intangible, something sprung from their fancy, half humor, half humbug.  Or perhaps it’s a little more subtle.  Perhaps hidden away in their fancy is that pride of the blueblood, who refuses to look foolish fighting for an idea, so he cloaks it with bugle calls that tug at the heart, with empty mottoes and useless gold trim, and allows himself the supreme delight of giving his life for an utter masquerade.  That’s something the Left has never understood, and that is why its contempt is so heavy with hate.  When it spits on the flag, or tries to piss out the eternal flame, when it hoots at the old farts loping by in their berets, or yells “Women’s Lib!” outside the church at an old-fashioned wedding (to cite just some basic examples), it does so in such a grim, serious manner–like such “pompous assholes”, as the Left would put it if only it could judge.  The true Right is never so grim.  That’s why the Left hates its guts, the way a hangman must hate the victim who laughs and jokes on his way to the gallows.

Also standing against the invaders are the traditionalist abbot Dom Melchior and his dozen Benedictine monks in procession with the Sacred Host, the only defenders among the clergy of the civilization the Church built.  (In Raspail’s telling, the bishops and pope are shameless virtue-signalers and Leftist twits, and the priests are nearly all radicals.)  Dom Melchior has been an object of hatred both outside and inside the Church for spending lavishly to rebuild his abbey rather than ostentatiously giving it to the poor.  Now, barring the miracle they’re asking for but don’t expect, he will probably be trampled by the million invaders.  But like the twenty fighters, Dom Melchior too is giving his life for a masquerade.  One of his monks suspects as much, asking “How long will you keep up this silly charade?…Well I see through it all.  And I see through you.  Tell me, father, when did you lose your faith?”

“No, I haven’t lost my faith, Brother Paul.  I never really had it.  Like a lot of our finest priests these days.  And even some of our finest popes.  No question, Benedict XVI has faith.  It’s eating him up.  Just look at the havoc he’s wrought in its name.  At least, what passes for faith in his mind.  Because real faith, the kind that moves mountains, I mean, simply doesn’t exist.  It’s all just a pose.  All pretense and sham.  That’s why it’s so strong.  Faith, you say?  No, Brother Paul, I only wish I…”

Naturally, in The Camp of the Saints, only villains make speeches (unless one counts the narrator’s jeremiads).  The characters with whom Raspail sympathizes act for mostly unarticulated attachments.  Not all of these are especially noble, as for him and his characters the “Western way of life” certainly includes foods and comforts, places loved for their familiarity, even just the lack of third world stink.  Are these things so much less worthy than ideas?

The characteristic act of men of the true Right, it would seem, is to orchestrate their own deaths.  The Left, with their teeming masses, cannot be stopped, but reactionaries can choose to be mowed down rather than swept along.  And, since the outcome is not in doubt, strategy doesn’t come into it.  Anyone can choose what hill to die on.  The remnant in The Camp of the Saints choose The Village because one of them likes the look of it, an “appropriate setting” to “finish our little drama”.  Like that Indian fleet, the modern world means to make an end to all of our civilization, so each person might as well make his stand over something he likes.  Except that it would be good to arrange to do so with friends.  The West has so few defenders, each of the few has a remarkable freedom to pick his role, like Dom Melchior who has a fancy to be a martyr even though he doesn’t have faith.

Readers will think to themselves, and justly, that I have no right to speak even of metaphorical dying on a hill while writing behind a pseudonym.  Indeed, the old reasons for anonymity no longer obtain.  When the goal was to win intellectual or cultural battles, a sufficiently high-quality anonymous essay might have done some good.  To strike a blow at the enemy without exposing oneself to risk is a good tactic.  Today, the enemy’s victory is so total that strategy and tactics are beside the point.  There is no hope of winning people over.  Reactionary speech is an existential act, a refusal for its own sake to be swept along the arc of History.  Someday, I must write under my own name, but I do get to choose the manner and the issue, to find a hill that I like, an “appropriate setting”, so long as I don’t wait too long.

I would not say that anyone has a duty to speak out.  It won’t make any difference now, and one should consider what burdens one might be imposing on one’s family.  Safe, anonymous griping and painting a bullseye on oneself are both morally defensible choices.  Each has its appeal.  The choice is a matter of preference, of what one feels one can live with.

16 thoughts on “giving his life for an utter masquerade

  1. Pingback: giving his life for an utter masquerade | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: For An Utter Masquerade | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. Pingback: giving his life for an utter masquerade | Reaction Times

  4. “characters doing crazy things just to prove their freedom”
    It should be obvious by now, after 2,500 years of fruitless debate that “freedom” and “determinism” are empty categories: they cannot be employed to distinguish ANY sequence of events from any other.

  5. First, in defense of anonymity, concealment is the first line of defense. Even Jesus concealed himself at times. People who call it cowardly are talking redneck bravery most of the time.
    Second, we lose because we don’t know what winning means and aren’t interested in it. First, for its own sake, the gospel is the only ultimate priority. It can change men’s hearts more than “reasoned arguments” because it addresses the real problem. You think the left is motivated by reason? Me neither.
    On worldly matters, we don’t even try to win and it’s more possible than we suppose. Our enemies are actually far weaker than we think. We’re not facing the old revolutionaries of Europe, men with cultural memories of fortitude and sacrifice. We’re facing careerists and mobs incapable of throwing even a solid riot.
    What would winning look like and what stands in our way? Is a question no one is asking…

    • I agree that there is much to be said for anonymity. We each have a duty not to assent to falsehood, but the positive duty to speak truth depends on what the effects of such speech would be. There’s nothing dishonorable about writing what one believes behind a pseudonym. There is a spiritual cost, though, and I think this is why Bruce Charlton has been arguing against it. One wants to live an open, unified life. One wants to somehow defy the modern world openly. But one shouldn’t imagine that it will help “the cause”.

  6. This is very interesting, a theory of the quixotic one might say. One finds traces of this in Chesterton’s fiction, although its significance is masked by his cheerfulness. But, as you say, cheerful absurdism is the absurdism of aristocrats. I’m not sure that it is related, but I find a reactionary outlook is bringing out the nihilist in me. Since I do not believe the “theory” that stands behind the modern world, the operation of that world seems arbitrary and irrational. When asked what should be done in a given set of circumstances, my immediate thought nowadays is “anything you like.” That’s the other half of the existentialist “gesture.” One half is an assertion of individual freedom; the other half is unmasking the grim old world.

    As a geographer, I of course sat up when I read about “places loved for their familiarity,” and then thought a bit about your question “Are these things so much less worthy than ideas?” Isn’t a place just an idea realized, an idea made actual, or an idea brought to full maturity? We reactionaries like ideas, we just prefer grown up ideas.

  7. Despair is also a sin. The best response is that of Hardy’s thrush:
    The Darkling Thrush
    By Thomas Hardy
    I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-grey,
    And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
    The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
    And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.
    The land’s sharp features seemed to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
    His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
    The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
    And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.
    At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
    In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
    An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
    Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.
    So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
    Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
    That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
    Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

  8. Jean Raspail has no hope because he has no Christ. He’s an old Frenchman living on the bones of a civilization built by a faith he looks upon fondly but does not even wish to believe in. Thus for him, the only choice is to fancifully throw himself away.

    Contrast the martyrdom of Raspail’s characters with that of St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose blood (given time and the ineluctable ways of God) transformed the Empire.

    It is inarguably true that we cannot influence the movements of politics nor the plans of power. We cannot strike our persecutors, nor wipe them from the face of the Earth. But we can and eventually must win the only war that truly matters: the war for the souls of men. And in winning that war, we will win civilization for our cause as well, as a simple byproduct.

    Sts Ignatius, Linus, Clement, Augustine, and so forth were not fighting for a way of life or a set of politics, but through their work and that of many others they nevertheless turned old pagan Rome into the seat of the Church.

    Have faith, and do not despair, for our work is fruitful.

      • Please forgive my boorish ill breeding in giving my opinion, as no one asked it and it’s doubtful whether it can edify, but, Bonald, your defeatism before the orcs is rather off-putting. I love to read your posts, admiring your honesty and insight, but then you wallow so often in right-wing self-pity. It’s an ugly spectacle. Who am I to judge, though, not knowing what it must be to work among dulled shades of men in the modern shadow of scholarship? I imagine that it can wear you down. Most of us rub shoulders with apostates, but the mass of them is too childish and ignorant to take seriously. That wouldn’t be the case among physicists, I suppose, which must be disheartening . . . Corruptio optimi pessima, as William Vallicella recently reminded us.

        Anyway, I get your point — the technocracy is remarkably strong, and a revolution against the modern way seems impossible. Yet, no one knows the future. I like to remind people to do a simple thought experiment — put yourself (to the extent possible) in the shoes of a man in history before any of our civilization’s moments of crisis and transformation. Think about what he saw — and what he expected. What followed tended to have been a surprise. Yes, of course, there are sages, keen eyed and shrewd planners and profiteers, Cassandras, prophets, and voices crying in the wilderness, but the drama of history mostly has unexpected twists for most (and at least some for all). Sure, you could say that an 18th century philosophe of the salons had a decent notion of the coming revolution — but did he expect Napoleon — or the Council of Vienna? Surely not! History is like that, though we tend to Hegelize it with the advantage of having witnessed the narrative (up to our particular page in the book). After all, we all love a good drama — with intelligible plot arcs.

        So, who knows what is around the corner?!?! A dystopian, transhumanist hell? A restoration of the French throne, perhaps with a wayward cult-Marx pope being carried off to a French prison palace until he sees the light (please, let it come soon!!!)? We don’t know, but I’m not at all trusting of what looks “probable” at any moment in history. We do a poor enough job of predicting how our own lives work out — do we expect to be able to do the same for the Zeitgeistfluss?

        Rhet. stated, “It is inarguably true that we cannot influence the movements of politics nor the plans of power. We cannot strike our persecutors, nor wipe them from the face of the Earth.”

        No, I disagree completely. We have no idea what part we — or those whom we influence — will have in the shaping of the world. Perhaps, that one student who had a chance conversation with you that began to crack the walls of his thought prison might turn out to be instrumental in a (or _the_) counterrevolution. Maybe, he’ll just be a domino in a chain that ends up inspiring a new Constantine, Albertus Magnus, or Ignatius of Loyola. Great oaks from little acorns grow. Especially considering who our forester is.

      • Hi Joseph A,

        Comments are open so you can give your opinion. We are structurally asking for it.

        I would say that the situation where action can do no good and the situation where the good it might do is uncertain, unpredictable, and invisible are very similar for the actor. In neither case is it possible to fashion one’s act to achieve a particular effect. The performance and everything about it must be done for its own sake.

  9. The reactionary is his own man. He lives and dies on his own terms.

    In an age where the masses overcome the individual and the aristocrat, this is suicide. But the masses have lost their steam, and now they’re ripe pickings for men of action.


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