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.