American Troops at Ready, 1917
The reactionary-traditionalist historical view tends to correlate the ascendancy of the ideological dictatorships with the degrading tumult of World War II, making of the Nazi-Communist rivalry in the 1930s the tense build-up to that war while interpreting the conflict itself as a paroxysmatic re-ordering of world politics. The regulation of the re-ordered world would be technocratic and autocratic – it would be ideological – whether the victorious global hegemon was the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A type of elective étatisme hung in the air in 1945. The British majority, for example, voted socialist immediately the conflict ended, contemptuously booting the architect of the victory, Winston Churchill, from office. France and Italy contended with large, well-organized Communist Parties and likewise embarked on the nationalization of their economies and the provision of generous welfare guarantees to the citizenry. The liberal colonization of institutions begins in this period, to become implacable and irreversible about the time that the Soviet Union dissolves in 1990. Quite apart from historical discussion, many non-scholars who think of themselves as conservatives nourish the notion that the “soft” totalitarianism of the contemporary politically correct regime in the West has only a short pedigree and that, but a few decades ago, as in the 1950s, perhaps, tradition still reigned and things were in their proper proportion and arrangement. Of course such a view ignores the “enlightened” managerialism of Woodrow Wilson and the socialist quasi-dictatorial style of Franklin D. Roosevelt, just as it ignores the mobilized character of such phenomena as Suffragism and Prohibitionism, early phases of the liberal project that confusingly coincided with the anti-immigration and anti-Communist movements. Then again the anti-immigration and anti-Communist movements only became a reality because of immigration and Communism.
The most famous literary dystopia, George Orwell’s 1984, sees publication in 1948, but the most plausible literary dystopia, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, sees publication in 1932. The 1920s and 30s see a flood in spate of critical anti-modern discourse, not least, and quite ironically, in the single most definitive, formally modernist, text of all, T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land (1922); but also in philosophical works by Oswald Spengler, Nicolas Berdyaev, Herman Keyserling, René Guénon, Paul Valéry, Christopher Dawson, and Jacques Maritain, and in novels and short stories by, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pär Lagerkvist, Thomas Mann, Huxley himself, and two American contemporaries of Fitzgerald, E. E. Cummings (1894 – 1962) and John Dos Passos (1896 – 1970). Cummings and Dos Passos attended Harvard as undergraduates at the same time, studied there with George Santayana, and absorbed their teacher’s skepticism about modernity. The two classmates decided, before Wilson took America to war, to see the front first-hand by joining the volunteer ambulance corps. Cummings and Dos Passos served in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps as volunteers. In The Enormous Room (1922), an experimental non-fiction novel, and in Three Soldiers (1923), a novelistic panorama of America at war, Cummings and Dos Passos respectively and decisively break ranks with what they have come by convergence to regard as the claptrap of war talk and the enlistment of whole societies in a project of total conflict.