Radix Journal has posted a Chronicles article by Samuel Francis from A.D. 1998, “Into the Dustbin.” Francis laments the incessant infighting of the Right and attempts to find the origin of its dysfunction. He concludes that the Right is by definition the losing side of history—championed by losers. I am not convinced by his argument. “Reaction” or counterrevolution has had quite a few “successful” periods, though the leftward trajectory of the modern era is obvious enough. The strength of the essay is Francis’ recognition of the importance of conserving a concrete social order:
In the United States, prior to the 1930s, it was not so [that the Right was a band of dysfunctional losers]. The Right back then was the organized political expression of a dominant social and political class, a class that sported at its top families like the DuPonts and at its bottom such happy warriors as Sinclair Lewis’ George Babbitt and his friends. It was a class that dictated the tastes and manners of the day, was determined to keep immigrants out of the country, maintain the Constitution and the Free Enterprise System, put America First, preserve the white, Christian, Republican character of the nation, and crush the Bolsheviks and labor agitators wherever you could find them. As a ruling class, it was an amalgam of the Old Stock Protestant Establishment and the plutocracy that rose to national power after the Civil War. However poorly defined its ideas and however vapidly expressed its ethic, it was nevertheless a real class that really had something to conserve, and it generally knew that it could not conserve it unless it also conserved the social and cultural fabric through which it exercised social power.
In the Great Depression and New Deal, this bourgeois ruling class was effectively dislodged from social and political power. Its top ranks, if they survived at all, soon allied with the emerging managerial elites in state and corporation, and its bottom ranks, stripped of any real prospect of preserving or restoring the social order in which they had played a significant part, simply drifted. It was mainly those middle and bottom ranks of the old bourgeois elite that for the next forty years would effectively define “conservatism” and the Right as they were known to the generation between Herbert Hoover and Barry Goldwater. Unable to articulate its own ideas and values very effectively, it welcomed ideological allies in journalism and the academy that could express them, but the journalists and the academics were not for the most part of the same class or culture. Hence, the “conservatism” they defined displayed all the symptoms of rootless intellectualism and attracted all the odd and awkward personality types that could not fit anywhere else and would not fit with each other.
Once “conservatism” is decoupled from the social order and the social class that it naturally represents, it becomes simply one more ideological ghetto, angrily hunting down and kicking out those who deviate from its sectarian commandments and every now and then hurling a few mudballs at whoever passes by, and the kinds of personality it tends to attract are precisely those that are unable to work together for any serious purpose. It ceases to defend authentic tradition because authentic tradition has ceased to exist in a coherent form, and what it defends is “traditionalism.” It ceases to defend authentic liberty because the rooted liberty that once pertained in the defunct social order is no longer meaningful, and what it defends is “libertarianism.” It ceases to defend the people, culture, and institutions of the old order because they too have ceased to exist coherently as a fabric or have been conscripted into the new order, and what it defends is simply a pallid ghost of what was once a living civilization.
Wise words there, but the essay does not explore the vulnerability of that social order. Why did it crumble so swiftly? Was it inherently weak or contradictory, or was the fall of Old America an unhappy accident of history? Such questions are for those loser-ish intellectuals to answer, I suppose.
In surveying the past, we find that some societies disappeared through internal or external destruction, while others transformed so completely as to become something different. They all, however, came and went. One could thus argue that any previous civilization was a failure because it ceased to exist, but that is misleading because it does not provide useful distinctions between, say, the Roman polity (even given its significant evolution) and the Third Reich. One could argue that the former endured, in one way or another, for over two thousand years while the second barely made it to its second decade. Human political achievements are frail and, it seems, universally mortal. Yet, some have greater success—in temporal endurance, in human flourishing, in influence—than others. So, political study should be able to analyze the advantages and arrangements of regimes in order to distill some general political principles. With such knowledge, we might be better prepared to evaluate history’s winners and losers—and to chart future paths while keeping in mind that any planned venture depends, to some extent, on fortune. But that’s the sort of thing that a loser would say.