Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs
by Ted Morgan
W.W. Norton, 768 pages, $18
Society possesses us, both as individuals obligated to do things, and as iconography. William S. Burroughs for example is a “counter-culture icon,” associated with the beats and the hippies, but also the darker side of counterculture which rages against the complacency of society and threatens it with images of apocalyptic discontent and dysfunction: junkies using each other like apes in the jungle, cops predatory like praying mantises, control structures like brain-parasites that take over our will and choice.
Like all things which are touched by mainstream culture, and thus in turn by the lowest common denominator of thought which amounts to wishful thinking and personal adornment, Burroughs gets dumbed-down in the mainstream narrative. To the average chattering smile, Burroughs represents dark things for their own sake, and dropping out of society because it isn’t dark enough. Few have actually looked into the motivation and beliefs of the man, but Ted Morgan’s biography of Burroughs attempts to that in addition to chronicling his complex, circuitous and often obscure path through life.
Morgan’s method is to talk to the actors involved in extensive and probing interviews and to then assemble a mass of details, which he lays out in a roughly linear fashion and correlates wherever possible to moments in Burroughs’ work, including alluding to and quoting passages from Naked Lunch, Junky, Queer and other books. This enables him to tie together the many threads, and Burroughs as a man who wrote in vignettes using symbolic characters like a radio play did nothing if not create many overlapping threads, and from them allow a narrative to emerge which can then be commented on. In the case of the biography, the ongoing narrative is the motivations behind Burroughs’ art and chaotic personal life.
Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs begins with a depiction of the younger years of the author, with extensive probing into childhood incidents that were revelations for him of degrees of his alienation. We hear about childhood sexual abuse, his unhappiness at school, his revelation of homosexuality, and his fascination with all things criminal and drug-related. From this Morgan builds up to his real triumph which is unpacking the years during which Naked Lunch, which is universally acclaimed as Burroughs’ best work, was written including the method of its production and the involvement of others. After this, many biographers would drop off, but what Morgan does is continue following the threads and characters in Burroughs’ life, showing where each one came to an end and contrasting its results with its initial promise. Without being judgmental, it’s a provocative picture of the Beats and of Burroughs himself, because it shows at the end of the day what worked and what didn’t, and what regrets persisted because of bad decisions made long ago.
Grafted onto the Western genre are Burroughs’ usual preoccupations with mutation and space travel. Man is like a fish about to exchange gills for lungs, but for some reason he is stalled and cannot quite make it. Burroughs wants to give him the final push, which he believes will come as the result of infection by a new virus. The antidote to the virus will help forge the new man, who will have thoughts and behavior patterns that are not imprinted or prerecorded. “Everything we have been taught,” says Kim Carsons, “all the conventional feelings, do not apply.” (593)
Those who study our crisis in the West will note similarities to others thinkers. Burroughs identifies the spoken/written word as a “virus,” pointing out how it takes on a meaning unrelated to its referent and that this meaning manipulates our ability to conceptualize it. This is strikingly similar to Nietzsche’s observations in “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense” where he speaks of our interrupted knowing which is reprogrammed by the corrupted definitions of words.
Further, like many in the postmodern era, Burroughs obsesses about control. Who is in control, and how do they control people who are acting through what they believe is free will? Where lesser authors wrote about imaginary totalitarian regimes, Burroughs was busy writing about how the power of human language and manipulation would create an invisible power structure that controls people without them even noticing it. The themes of control, power, addiction and manipulation run throughout all of his works but are most vivid in Naked Lunch, and Morgan picks up on those threads here and expands them.
Morgan also proves an insightful observer of the social backdrop to Burroughs’ experience:
The mutation from Beat to hippie meant a switch from grass to acid, from literature to music, from a small group of writers and artists and jazz musicians to a mass youth movement, from an anti-political stance to a coalition of antiwar, civil rights and environmental movements, a great nest into which flew birds of every feather, from yippies to radical nuns and priests. (365)
Part of the unconscious mission of this book is to set the record straight, and liberate a complex character from the public fiction about him into a space where he can be understood. That requires sacrificing the public image of him as created by industry, social pressures and the need of people to mythologize and impose narrative in a simple form where a more complex truth is actually at work. Morgan does this by tracking his threads in such a way that the actors in them come to face the public opinion of themselves, and then reject it not directly but by acting in such a way that their contrary intentions are revealed.
“All liberals are weaklings, and all weaklings are vindictive, mean and petty.” (164)
Morgan presents the heretical Burroughs in raw form as he was, both offensive to mainstream society and unyielding to the wishful thinking of others in the counter-culture who just wanted to space out and join the great vapid. Burroughs exists in this book in a steely-eyed world where every good deed is actually a manipulation, every positive gesture reveals a hidden fear, and the only game in town is power derived through control of others. While Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs is also an excellent literary biography, its primary purpose may be to explicate the ideas of Burroughs by showing us how they influenced events during the author’s life.
by Generation Identity
Arktos, 45 pages, $13
Generation Identity leapt into the public mind when they occupied the top floor of a mosque in Poitiers and took a number of pictures of normal, healthy and unafraid people who clearly believed they were doing what was right. There was not anger or other denial or compensation behavior, only a clear-eyed attempt to do what needed to be done.
Since reading Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers by Markus Willinger, I have wanted to read more from this interesting movement. They are above all else practical and base their ideas not on restoring the past, but on having a future worth experiencing for those who are currently young. The future and the past dovetail of course because what worked in the past will work in the future and vice-versa, since the really big questions of human life are timeless and independent of technology, but the focus on building a future instead of looking backward to something for inspiration frees the Generation Identity movement from the encumbrances that have bogged other movements in futility.
We are… Generation Identity is an odd collection of documents that maintains the breathless, flyer tossed your way in the street feel that all of their writing has. Whether they agonize over its editing or not, it has the sense of being dashed off in the heat of battle. This book includes articles, letters, propaganda leaflets, interviews and other interactions between Generation Identity and the world in which they state the reasoning behind their viewpoints. Since this group took most of us by surprise and emerged fully organized and with a full complement of members, it’s interesting to see the coalescing of ideas that precede its origin. Equally interesting is seeing the articulation of a newer type of political movement:
As an identitarian, daily life in the Maghred, the Near East or New Guinea is not my problem; they are free to live according to their traditions (and unfortunately, multiculturalism, combined with an overall process of homogeneity, tends to erase cultural particularity). We are young people ‘living amid the world,’ to borrow a religious expression, who have chosen the love of our people and of our neighbors as our vocation. We are secondary school and university students and young working people integrated in this society by force of circumstance. We wish to live together, of course — but without them. (17)
The sentiment is rarely expressed this bluntly, but here it is: without identity, society is pure obligation and control. With identity, the outsiders cannot exist among us. And in the present time, where we cannot face this truth, our society tears itself apart with contortions of moral reasoning and euphemism. Generation Identity commendably avoids trying to play this game and speaks plainly instead about quality of life.
Underneath the skin you will find many of the same ideas shared in the nexus between New Right, archeofuturist, traditionalist, paleoconservative and far-right movements. They desire nationalism and reject internationalism and participation in any empire or at least, any empire but Europe (a term which sometimes includes Eurasia). The point is for a triple identity: first as European, then with conventional nation-states, and then with locality. Thus someone might be European, French and a Parisian at the same time and see all three as integral to his or her identity.
Today again Europe must unite itself in a common act of political construction that respects local identities. Against the Europe of merchants and bankers, against the integration of Turkey in the European Union, let us realise a powerful Europe which can stand up to any and all imperialisms. In friendship with our Slavic brethren and Russia, we must clearly affirm: neither Alla, nor the USA — Europa Nostra! (38)
This reads like something straight out of Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, where Europe is united in a long federal entity from Siberia to Ireland and yet is somehow based on local entities. This faces a challenge from the nature of modern politics, which is that those who do not form federal identities that can field impressive fighting forces soon end up being captives of the Mongols. However, what is important about Generation Identity is that they are not here to solve every problem but one: how to unite people toward a vision in which they can see themselves participating.
Thus the power of this small book is that it isn’t complete. It’s a work in progress that calls for participation, if only someone to shuffle the pages and see how they look from different directions. It’s a call to action for a future which is a thinly disguise now and forevermore, a scream for a solution to the modern problems which have wracked the West and turned it against itself for decades. They don’t need to have all the answers. In fact, it is better if they do not. This is the first step of a new type of journey, and the beauty of it is that its incompleteness draws us in and compels us to push feet forward to the next step.
BOBOS in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There
by David Brooks
Simon & Schuster, 284 pages, $11 (2000)
The maturation of the “Me Generation” who brought us the shift to liberal-leaning regimes across the West received little coherent exposition before this book. However with BOBOS in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, David Brooks explicates the rise of Bobos — “bourgeois bohemians” — as a fusion of 1960s values and 1980s methods.
In exploring this fusion, Brooks carefully and humorously reveals the underpinning of the ideological motivation of these people, which is 1968 itself — albeit tempered with a taste for what we hoped won the Cold War, which is the cornucopia of the fruits of personal liberty and free markets. the “bourgeois bohemians” are actually hybrids of yuppies and hippies.
This group appeared in the 1990s and that is where Brooks centers his book. In his view, they came to power as a replacement for the old WASP hierarchy in America. While that ancient regime operated by knowing the right people, and having the right family, this new regime accelerates those who have the right education, the right careers and the right beliefs and lifestyle choices. Brooks shows us a new elite trying to justify itself with claims that it morally deserves what it has.
As Brooks ably and humorously reveals, however, the downside of being in this new elite is inanity and pretense. Inanity, in that the trends they follow are even more boring than those of the WASP hierarchy before them. Pretense, in that the constant moral posturing by having to play nice with conspicuous consumption creates a useless, posturing and haughty lifestyle that is still just as product-oriented as the lives of the middle classes that its adherents disdain.
Bobos turn out to be the parsons of the pubic region. Nearly gone are 1960s traces of Dionysian wantonness. Instead, “Play Safe” and “Play Responsibly” are the slogans that are repeated again and again in sophisticated sex literature. The practicioners talk so much about how healthy it all is you’d think they were doing jumping jacks…Today’s Marquis de Sades don’t want to create an immoral underground society. They’re not trying to subvert normalcy. They’re trying to join it. They want to win mainstream acceptance and so gain a respectable place in the middle-class world. (192)
BOBOS in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There is a personal favorite of mine because it demonstrates how the individualism of the leftism spectrum — Communism, progressivism, Socialism, anarchy and liberalism are different only as a matter of degree — quickly leads to the type of blind obedience we see in panicked crowds, faddish trends and lynch/witch-hunting mobs. This isn’t deliberate behavior, but defensive behavior designed to justify an inner selfishness arising from a total lack of purpose. Brooks hints at this through numerous satirical examples and tongue-in-cheek comments.
Parts of this read a lot like Tom Wolfe and Bret Easton Ellis fiction that notice in excruciating detail the products that people use to compose their lives. For American Psycho‘s Wall Street bankers, the products are luxury goods and high-performance tools; in BOBOS in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, as in A Man in Full and Bonfire of the Vanities, products are passive-aggression defenses of lifestyle. They aren’t there to be used, but to explain a life. In the case of the Bobos, it’s how they are morally superior and therefore deserve what they have.
Conservatives should read this book because it reveals the nature of what opposes us. Liberalism is after all a social mentality that spreads by threatening people with ostracism. You join the club, and you’re accepted; you don’t need to do anything else. But even liberals hate a flat hierarchy, so soon the club fragments as we see in this book. The “bohemian bourgeois” movement is a postmodern keeping up with the Joneses, where you’re not so much conspicuously consuming as consuming specific things so that a narrative about your lifestyle is created. As a result, it’s more cryptic and twisted like a hipster conversation consisting of namedrops only.
In this spirit we sometimes even reintroduce the old WASP styles into our eclecticism. The WASPs may have been racist and elitist. They may have been the establishment that we Bobos destroyed. But at least they weren’t consumed by ambition. So when we look at those calm beautiful faces in the Ralph Lauren ads, we can’t help feeling that they have something we long for. And so mixed in with our multicultural decor may be an item or two that could have come right out of the New York Yacht Club, maybe a faded leather chair or a dark wooden desk. The WASP Establishment is dead, and irony of ironies, the Protestant Establishment has been transmogrified into one of those extinct cultures destroyed by technology and progress. (97)
Underneath the laughs, BOBOS in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There shows us a society in deep trouble. It has lost its direction, and is trying to fill that void with ideology and lifestyle choices that exhibit that ideology, like Sovietism modulated into a consumerist ideology. Much like the millennials, the “Me Generation” who adopted this philosophy show a radical individualism that consists not of a desire to achieve things oneself, but to be part of the winning social group. This suggests in turn a society so fragmented that it has turned on itself, and people are looking for some reason to justify shutting out the rest and ignoring the certain path to collective doom.
Witty, imaginative and insightful, Brooks’ writing bounces lightly through these otherwise crushingly heavy realizations. Instead, he chooses to help us laugh at the irony of the hippies and the Gordon Gekkos of the world merging into a single voice, attempting to fill the void of a lack of purpose with pretense and purchases, and finding the emptiness of that approach as everpresent as before.
National-Anarchism: A Reader
edited by Troy Southgate
306 pages, Black Front Press (2012), $20
For two centuries people have looked for a way out of the political dichotomy that was created by the French Revolution, which set up the traditionalist party as a necessary opposition to the successful Revolutionaries.
The problem with this split was that it forced people to either adopt the revolutionary ideology or to pick up the mantle not of the ancient regime but of the new ancient-modern hybrid which suspiciously resembled the revolutionary ideal with more national defense and better economists. The problem with conservatism, as it became styled, is thus not that it is ancient, but that it is not ancient enough, and thus many people are trying to escape it alongside leftist.
National-Anarchism: A Reader leaps into the fray by suggesting a certain type of ancient society, namely one from before government became formalized. The National-Anarchist idea is for a society to be formed by bonds of kinship, which is nationalism, and yet to not have a formal State or laws so that it cannot go down the path that led to the French Revolution. It would be an organic society that would not become calcified like others, which become outmaneuvered the instant they formalize any relationships or values.
Southgate’s Reader tackles these subjects head-on and attempts to find a “third way” past the conservative-liberal divide. It does this with varied essays that, while they tackle the same two basic issues — anarchist theory and nationalism — with similar insight, do not get swallowed up by those debates like many other books do in attempting to defend them. Rather pragmatically, these essays explore implementation more than abstract theory, which takes away some of the dullness inherent to political theory, especially on ideological issues.
As you may have guessed from the brief historical introduction to this piece, dear reader, the biggest threat to a mixed ideology is that it may be swallowed up by its liberal elements, in this case anarchism. Southgate and company combat this by making a clear case for nationalism as the basis of community cooperation, or “social glue,” that would keep a society together without a government:
[T]he 1789 French Revolution transformed a nation of monarchical subjects into citizens of a new republic, but aside from the fact that the jingoistic watchwords of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ were never put into practice, it become possible for individuals to become part of the nation through citizenship alone, rather than it being the result of their French ethnicity. This subtle change has now smoothed the way for modern capitalists to bring in economic migrants from the Third World who, allegedly, are just as ‘French’, ‘English’ or ‘German’ as those of us with a blood-lineage stretching back thousands of years. The ‘nations’ of today, therefore, are completely false. By giving credence to these artificial entities, the Right actually reinforces the liberal-democratic myth. (123)
National-Anarchism: A Reader features a wide range of anarchist theory, with Southgate and Keith Preston doing the heavy lifting, but also manages to fully explain the rationale for nationalism as a positive social value. True, there is also some fear of Zionism in here, which seems to this reviewer to contradict the idea of supporting strong national cultures, which Zionism is; it’s Israeli-Jewish nationalism. However, this rhetoric is in the minority and is rational, principled and generally based in a defense of Palestinian nationalism, so it’s hard to conflate it with the rabid Jew-hating that blights both some areas of the right and left at this point.
Highlights include Keith Preston’s “Philosophical Anarchism and the Death of Empire,” which recontextualizes history in terms of human values, and Southgate’s “Revolution.” Readers of this blog may enjoy Wolf Herfurth’s
“The Traditional Left Failed.” One of the more inspiring parts of the book, although short and informal, was Andreas Faust’s “Humour as a Weapon.” While this piece reads as if it were typed up in an afternoon, a thoughtful outlook pervades it, and it’s that outlook and mood more than any specific details that are important to a reader there.
Among the passages marked for further review is this gem which shows how truly “third way” National-Anarchism is, as it levels a devastating critique at its anarchist fellow-travelers who have been assimilated by the left:
Another common these in conventional anarchist thought is an implicit reliance on archaic Marxist and Fabian social democratic economic theory, a set of ideas that have been disastrous in every nation where they have been put into practice. Marxism is a dead faith, except among Western radicals, and the elitist social democratic views advanced by the Fabians have severed to create a permanently entrenched “new class” of bureaucratic parasites that are slowly but surely driving the First World nations toward stagnation, deterioration and eventual collapse. Anarchists are typically the most zealous champions of the cultural ideals of the modern Left — feminism, environmentalism, homosexualism, anti-racism. Yet these ideas are hardly radical in the modern welfare states of the West. (85)
Like many of us, I had horrible experiences with anarchist “theory” back in the chaotic days of college. Generally, it surprised me how people with their mitts on such a radical idea could convert it into the most boring, neutered, don’t-forget-dear-wear-a-sweater type ideology on earth. People would pass around huge tomes of pablum in a competition to see who could lobotomize themselves with the largest dose of this. While I’m not going to claim the anarchist sections are my favorites, this book doesn’t fall into that pitfall, and makes anarchist theory as interesting as possible. It also makes enticing the idea of organic culture taking over where government has failed.
Where this book is essential is informing the modern Westerner of the scope of the political landscape. Like a good introductory textbook, it shows us the topography and differentiates the parts; like a good higher-level textbook, it reveals in depth the reasons for the principles of this movement, instead of baldly stating them and allowing the usual justifications to absorb them through co-opting their purpose. Engagingly written, widely diverse and full of blunt but commonsense approaches, National-Anarchism: A Reader is a good work to adorn any political science bookshelf.
A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind
by Edmund Burke
61 pages, University of Michigan Press, $9
This short volume of Edmund Burke’s is probably not the best introduction to his thought because this small book is a mystery both to its critics and its creator. That is, while it was ostensibly written as a satire, the author’s treatment of it was ambiguous enough to suggest that he had some sympathies with its contents.
After he was caught and outed as the author, Burke updated the introduction to admit his deed, and gave as his reason the following: “The design was to show that, without the exertion of any considerable forces, the same engines which were employed for the destruction of religion, might be employed with equal success for the subversion of government.”
This book, which is a reproduction of the original 1905 plates printed by The Simple Life Press, offers more than satire. Written in the style of Lord Bolingbroke, and in mockery of the form of argument he would make, the treatise nonetheless argues against government and in favor of religion rather persuasively, which explains perhaps why thinkers have had trouble accepting it as completely satirical. And yet it is clear that it has satirical intent. One can imagine a certain kind of genteel but intellectual rage when Burke writes in the preface, “Do they pretend to exalt the mind of man, by proving him no better than a beast?”
With those words he gives us the key to this book. It is both a parody, and in a twisted sense of fair play, a use of the parodied writer’s voice to defend that which the parodied author originally attacked. Burke as a roots conservative sees himself as pursuing the beautiful, true and holy in life, and as such, he finds the moral ambivalence of Bolingbroke’s original works to be appalling. Hence he engages in a literary act which is akin to capturing Bolingbroke’s own fist and using it to beat his face while saying, “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”
We get a glimpse of both the voice of the author and the actual purpose of this manuscript here:
Ask of politicians the end for which laws were originally designed; and they will answer, that the laws were designed as a protection for the poor and weak, against the oppression of the rich and powerful. But surely no pretence can be so ridiculous; a man might as well tell me he has taken off my load, because he has changed the burden. If the poor man is not able to support his suit, according to the vexatious and expensive manner established in civilized countries, has not the rich as great an advantage over him as the strong has over the weak in a state of nature? But we will not place the state of nature, which is the reign of God, in competition with political society, which is the absurd usurpation of man. In a state of nature, it is true that a man of superior force may beat or rob me; but then it is true, that I am at full liberty to defend myself, or make reprisal by surprise or by cunning, or by any other way in which I may be superior to him. But in political society, a rich man may rob me in another way. I cannot defend myself; for money is the only weapon with which we are allowed to fight. And if I attempt to avenge myself the whole force of that society is ready to complete my ruin. (50)
What’s going on here is complex. Both cannot be true that (a) Lord Bolingbroke took a skeptical look at religion and divinity and man and (b) that this satirical document accurately portrays his voice by having him speak up for “natural society” which “is the reign of God” in a positive way. At this point, we have left the satyrical voice of Bolingbroke, and entered upon the voice of the author, Burke. In this paragraph, he states his central thesis which is essential to all conservatives.
This thesis is that while the order of natural society and God is not ordained in orderly central planning and universal forms like the order of humankind, it provides endless options to achieve justice, beauty and goodness, where the order of man provides only one option that is imperfect as it is distant from truth. In other words, mankind’s order is more primitive than God’s/Nature’s, and the result is a sort of “average” result that does not allow the motivated and determined to achieve a better result, including the possibility of beauty and truth.
As he claims in the introduction, much of the work is Burke applying to civilization that same type of charges that were leveled against religion:
In a state of nature, it is an invariable law, that a man’s acquisitions are in proportion to his labors. In a state of artificial society, it is a law as constant and as invariable, that those who labor most enjoy the fewest things; and that those who labor not at all have the greatest number of enjoyments. A constitution of things this, strange and ridiculous beyond expression! We scarce believe a thing when we are told it, which we actually see before our eyes every day without being in the least surprised. (52)
Most of our readers will recognize the above as something we hear frequently from leftists/liberals across the spectrum. Here Burke has dropped back into his satirical voice, and is saying something absurd so that we recognize the absurdity of his method and thus are inoculated against it when it appears in another form, such as a jeremiad against religion.
If you find this confusing, you are not alone. This book has befuddled and delighted people for generations with its mix of parodic mockery of a writer the author considers to be a buffoon, and nuggets of wisdom spoken in the voice of a caricature so that we can’t see them for the naked truths the author believes them to be.
Witty, circuitous and yet cleanly logical, this book shows Burke at a crossroads as he tries to isolate his own thoughts on this subject. The result is probably best read by those who have an interest in politics and enjoy its nooks and crannies, but it motivated this reader to seek out more from Burke and place it on the bedside bookshelf.
Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers
by Markus Willinger
103 pages, Arktos, $16
How do you mobilize a large number of people to act against what they’ve been taught is the only “logical” course of action? First, you appeal to that which is (sensibly) beyond logic, emotion and aesthetics. While this book tackles a great number of political issues, its biggest strength is in its ability to channel emotion.
In particular, it is worth paying attention to the term “68ers” which appears in the subtitle. While this term specifically refers to the hippie wing of the Baby Boomer generation, it also adequately describes any modern progressive. They are a fusion between Social Marxist ideals, eternal liberal values as applied by a modern bureaucracy, and a certain amount of personal desperation.
Against these people “Generation Identity” marshals the formidable forces of desperation, loneliness and alienation and attempts to channel them through hope. Willinger acknowledges the problems that plague millennial generations — alcoholism, promiscuity, drug use, apathy — but points to them as a symptom to be overcome, not a desirable end-state.
Where this book triumphs, as where many great works of literature have triumphed, is in encapsulating a spirit. That entirely vague term refers to the outlook and motivations that combined form a type of life-force. About half of the book is devoted to refuting 1968, but the other half is a call to action for the disillusioned later generations, and a pathfinder for an antidote to their fears and boredom.
The spirit of Generation Identity as Willinger sees it is to entirely reject the quasi-Socialist Utopia of the 68ers, and instead to turn toward things that through time immemorial have sustained human life at a higher level than subsistence. In particular, this manifesto targets multiculturalism, atheism, sexual liberation and the death of the family, and monetarism, which is that focus on commerce first that is shared by both socialist and capitalist systems.
The critical minds among us were the first to see through your smokescreen. We listened sceptically to your hollow phrases about tolerance and emancipation, and yet we didn’t let your wishful thinking throw sand in our eyes. Our gaze penetrated the obscuring fog of your mental confusion and saw things as they are.
We watch as your dead ideas and laughable hallucinations writhe on the ground, gasping for breath, waiting for someone to deal them the mercy blow.
We’re glad to assume the task, and to finally bring peace, to you as well. (33)
Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers uses this targeted response to dismantle the 1968 generation’s ideas by illustrating how the supposed benefits of these Utopian ideals did not come to pass, and instead, what we got was dysfunction. Willinger repeatedly notes how Baby Boomer programs are deep in debt and dysfunctional, leaving a mess for subsequent generations.
Interestingly, this book hints at the cause: a fundamental desperation brought on by post-WWII hopelessness. In my view, it could go farther, and point out how 68ers are fundamentally suicidal in that their programs are not designed to produce Utopia, but to destroy civilization itself so that with the deaths of the 68ers, all else is killed as well. It’s a social murder-suicide.
However, the point of Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers is to bring about this spirit that unites new generations against the bad ideas of the past. Getting lost in theoretical or practical arguments would obliterate the point that is being made, which is that when you look at society as a whole, the experience of it has become miserable under the 68er regimen.
As a result, Generation Identity is a new voice rediscovering old truths but putting them into a new context. This enables understanding by those who otherwise would not see the reason to abandon our bad habits, change our outlook and work toward fixing society. For this reason, Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers is more of a bridge than final destination, and more of an art than a science.
For example, this book talks about democratic values. Most of us by now have seen that democratic values place the individual before truth itself and thus are inherently bankrupt. But a bridge must be made. Similarly, not everyone needs to justify their opinion that multiculturalism has failed. It simply has. However, these are small quibbles.
You attacked the world’s cultures and nations by creating multicultural societies.
You attacked the notion of hometowns by trying to make all cities the same. Homogenisation and standardisation are truly the most powerful weapons in your struggle against identity.
For decades, you attacked all identities and tried to artificially overcome all your own contradictions. You fought this war savagely, with all means, and yet you have lost.
Your struggle against identity was in vain from the very beginning. The desire for one’s own homeland, demarcated by borders, is stronger than everything else. (83)
On the whole, Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the ’68ers succeeds in the way many great books do, which is that it establishes a new direction and purposefully leaves it vague. This allows others to construct their own visions in the house that this book has build. In turn, that process is how we will go from “spirit” to implementation.
Willinger shows us the big picture by using our emotions. What would a new society feel like — what does the old society do to us inside — why we should care. These are the targets of this book, and it not only paints them well, but gives us a new direction in which we can create our own visions for our future.
Fascism Viewed From the Right
by Julius Evola
121 pages, Arktos, $18
Baron Julius Evola is most known for advancing the concept of Traditionalism, or a shared belief in a cosmic order which is perceived in all ancient-style societies, building on the work of Plato, Huxley and Nietzsche. However, this viewpoint inevitably becomes political, because traditional societies are constructed outside the liberal notions of egalitarianism, and through it progress, and through that, pluralism. Traditional societies are created from unison in belief, culture, values, spirit and ideals. That overlaps to a greater degree with heritage than anything else, and this sets off the liberal air-raid siren about the inegalitarian implications of that notion.
Naturally, this squalling is reaching an end, because the 225-year experiment in liberalism is running out of money, has created total social chaos, and is becoming increasing pathological in denial of the failure of its own ideas. The once-Young Turks are now the sickened old men of the world, holding on with liver-spotted hands to the dogma they hope will control future generations in order to sentence them to the same fate the ideologues suffered. At this point, the breath of fresh air is in those who, using Traditionalism as their guide, are designing the society of the next millennium which will merge ancient tradition with ultra-modern design. Evola helped launch all of this.
Before that time, however, he spent some years as an occult writer and philosopher with an affinity for right-wing movements, and in doing so, he as an Italian in the 1930s and 1940s experienced Mussolini’s fascism, and wrote about it. The results included a small volume which is presented here for the first time in English translation with notes by translator E. Christian Kopff and the famously meticulous editing and germaine footnoting of editor John B. Morgan IV.
Fascism Viewed From the Right presents itself to an audience that its writer knew would be hostile to the topic and would have certain preconceptions about fascism dating to the propaganda of the war, which fit in the American Revolutionary paradigm of “us individualists versus the conformist totalitarians.” Much as the colonists saw themselves as rebelling against unjust taxation and rule by a distant sovereign, the Allies of WWII saw themselves as socially independent actors striking out against those who did not permit individualism to express itself fully through ideas like pluralism, internationalism, egalitarianism, social subsidy, freedom and the like.
As a result, this book is a careful analysis that resembles descent into a library of topics that grow more central as the book goes on. Evola carefully defines each aspect of the topic he writes about, and herein is the genius of the book: like an encyclopedia of political terms, it drills down to the core mechanism of each of the viewpoints it analyzes and shows how they clash with each other not just ideologically, but functionally. At the core of this book is the idea that fascism and liberal democracy aim for totally different end goals, and therefore, trying to analyze one from the perspective of another is like trying to make one rule for the sardine and the elephant.
About the principle of representation and the concept of a parliament, today we have grown accustomed to associating them exclusively with the system of absolute democracy, based on universal suffrage and the principle of one man, one vote. This basis is absurd and indicates more than anything else the individualism that, combined with the pure criterion of quantity and number, defines modern democracy. We say individualism in the bad sense, because here we are dealing with the individual as an abstract, atomistic and statistical unity, not as a ‘person,’ because the quality of a person — that is, a being that has specific dignity, a unique quality and differentiated traits — is obviously negated and offended in a system in which one vote is the equal of any other, in which the vote of a great thinker, a prince of the Church, an eminent jurist or sociologist, the commander of an army, and so on has the same weight, measured by counting votes, as the vote of an illiterate butcher’s boy, a halfwit, or the ordinary man in the street who allows himself to be influenced in public meetings, or who votes for whoever pays him. (71)
Throughout the book, Evola consistently re-frames political questions as social ones in this manner. Politics and ideology forms a vocabulary and set of notions that do not necessarily mesh with real-world consequences. For example, how many times do we say “everyone is equal” without realizing that this places the insane, homeless, sociopathic, etc. on par with our best thinkers? Equality is a political notion, but the weight of power given to each person is a practical one. Intelligently, Evola uses Fascism Viewed From the Right to re-contextualize abstract political questions as functional and practical ones.
He tackles the big points of contention, like racism and anti-Semitism, by using a similar technique which is to distill these questions down from binaries (“Are you a racist?”) to inspections of actual doctrine (“What did Mussolini mean by ‘Italians’?”). Not only does he dispel the common myth, which is that the fascist government sought to eliminate such people, but he points out what it wanted instead: the ability to integrate itself as a population, reduce social chaos and from that, forge a new type of human being to create the basis for a future society. This recontextualizes these ventures from being elimination raids to be reorganizational procedures designed to help the majority. In addition, he points out the lack of abuses in this area, especially the lack of fanatical desire to relocate or harm Jews, at least until the pact with Hitler who had more concerns in this area.
One of Evola’s more interesting assertions is that while modern liberal governments are motivated by hedonistic compulsions, the fascist society was motivated by eudemonistic ones, meaning that the goal of its individuals was to do well for the society as a whole and thus to receive reward, not simply to “earn” reward by pursuing self-interest. All of us who have watched citizens pass crimes in progress, toss litter on streets, ignore their children or other commit “little sins” might find this vision appealing. Evola ties this to the reason for fascism’s fascination with order and power by pointing out that if a mission is shared by all citizens, these things are no longer threatening but efficient.
This leads to Evola’s concept of the difference in leadership between fascist and modern states:
The state of the type that we call traditional recognised the representative principle, but in an organic context. It was a question not of representation or of individuals, but of ‘bodies,’ where individuals were significant only insofar as they were part of a differentiated unity, and each individual had a different weight and quality. As a representation of bodies, the parliament, or another analogous institution, had an undoubted value, because it embraced the interests of the nation in all their richness and diversity. Thus, along with the representative principle, the hierarchical principle was affirmed, because the merely numerical force of the groups, bodies or partial unities that had their own representatives in parliament was not taken in account, but instead their function and dignity. (73)
With turns like this, Evola is able to both thoroughly criticize the fascist society but by explaining it, reveal why it exists and where it succeeds that democracy cannot. It is rare to find such an insightful view of the function of a political idea. What we see here is more like a master mechanic explaining the blueprints of a rocket engine than the political writing that explains, in polarized terms, the dogmas and ideologies and what their “essential” traits are in contrast. Instead, we get a vision of how this society worked, and where ours by lacking the same implements is clueless to appreciate it.
All of this fits into a short book with immaculate editing from the Arktos team and a wealth of small observations on the nature of people, government and the values that compel us to act to rise above the lower standards of our time. As a critique of fascism, it is unflinching but also not apologetic; it looks to the reasons for things, not a moral judgment of them. As an investigation of modern liberal democracy, it reveals mainly the gaping holes in what the contemporary state can offer, and gives us hints to the eternal values in all of conservatism that provide a better answer.
Breakfast with the Dirt Cult
by Samuel Finlay
318 pages, William P. Watkins, $12
A chronicle of the adventures of an American soldier in Afghanistan, this book contrasts the social impact of feminism, the emotional and moral consequences of liberalism, and the breakdown of society with the quest for raw Nietzschean survival as embodied in the process of combat and survival.
The action follows the life experiences of Tom Walton, a 20-something American who senses something is not quite right in the world. He is looking for something to hold on to, and to believe in, while he struggles to make sense of the world around him. For most of the book, his reliance falls on a young woman with whom he has found affection.
As time goes on, Walton is deployed to Afghanistan. Most of the action of the book occurs either in training or in action during the Afghan conflict, featuring Walton going from having never had combat to having experienced combat. The description in this area is quite vivid
While the external action goes on in the battlefields, bars and bedrooms of the world, the most important activity of this book goes on in Walton’s mind as he reconciles his experiences with ideas he has learned and been analyzing over time. The disconnect between reality and expectation fuels his examination, which leads him toward many traditionalist, anti-liberal and anti-feminist conclusions.
He knew that on paper he was just a bookish young man from Middle America, but in the Chinook with his platoon of natural-born, pure-bred sons-of-bitches next to him, he felt like he was in a war band of pagan gods out for vengeance and blood. He could barely fathom how this moment compared to a day of life back in the States consisting of eight hours in a cubicle then going home to watch sit-coms, and maybe rub one out to some porn. (107)
Finlay explores many concepts that fit into the nexus of the growing anti-feminist awakening known as the Men’s Rights movement, which combines a fundamental anti-liberalism with a rejection of androgynous roles and a loss of masculinity. The Men’s Rights movement is interesting because it is always at the edge of social conservatism of the most extreme nature, since its diagnosis of feminism reveals how “equality” shatters the unique and complementary beauty of the genders.
As Walton stumbles through a relationship, he notes several painful factors. The lack of exclusivity makes him realize a beauty is missing; the hypergamy of women makes all of his interaction with women seem to be like a game in which they have rehearsed all the right moves. Through Walton’s eyes, we see modern dating as the insincere mutual manipulation sect that it is, and his disgust with it is most profound when he contrasts the beauty of nature, of combat and of self-reliance against the saccharine treacle quagmire of modern dating.
One of the interesting themes of this novel is the shifting of Walton’s analysis. Toward the beginning, he blames the usual suspects for a lack of fun: rules, regulations, sobriety, discipline. Toward the end, having been baptized in fire and blood, he starts to see how the permissiveness and ambiguity of modern society leads to a space of no values in which there’s no point doing anything, and really no point trying for anything above and beyond the norm.
Something was wrong. It wasn’t merely the wounded and the hospital; it was war, and that was to be expected. But the country, the world…the whole spirit of things was shot through with vileness and confusion. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he sensed its presence nonetheless. (221)
Walton is a perfect protagonist-narrator because he is smarter than average but above all else, an innocent. He wants to experience the world, to read great literature, and to have adventures. He is bored and good-hearted, although far from perfect, but his desires are all perfectly normal. He is terrified of life passing in a meaningless blur after which he would have nothing to offer but regrets. However, he feels trapped in time by what he perceives by the end of the book as the complete decline of civilization.
The combat sequences written in this book are not Hollywood. They are instead more like something you would find in an outdoorsy magazine, with the combat part seeming like an incidental event viewed mainly through the eyes of shock. Characters, although sparse and not particularly prone to develop, reveal themselves through what they are willing to endure. Walton’s praise showers on those who are not just intent on surviving, but who have something greater embedded in their soul, even if just a yearning for experience or adventure.
Through Walton as a mouthpiece, Finlay shows us the landscape of a ruined culture. There are the manchild boys who espouse veganism and yet cannot make a single clear assertive statement; the families touched by war and death; the dysfunction of the system, the aimlessness of its people, and above all else, the careless indifference and passivity of the average person. Walton shows us the invisible dystopia that is not yet Blade Runner, but in its heart is already there.
At some point, he had embarked upon his own regime of hedonism in the name of fitting in and “having fun.”…Eventually people in such circumstances grew addicted to novelty. As they did, they lost their edge and devolved into perfect savages…In coming to dominate the planet and achieve widespread affluence on a scale never seen before, [the West] had become a victim of its own success and had embraced self-castration. The rot of imperial fatigue gnawed as its core. The earth stank with it. It had taken something fundamental from its own people, and they had grown soft and decadent in the warmth of learned helplessness, making deals with whatever devil promised them everything without them ever having to pay or bleed for anything. (128)
This book could be a lot shorter, perhaps a hundred pages or more, without losing much. While the language is often beautiful, it also frequently suffers for the condition of being halfway between a memoir and story, such that many words are used to describe mentation but the surrounding events do not exactly demonstrate this. Oftentimes, lengthy descriptions could be replaced by singular evocative events or more compressed scenes. These tendencies contribute to the book having a long middle section and a slightly rushed ending.
Breakfast with the Dirt Cult explores themes of inward value versus social decay through visual examples that are helpful to those who find philosophy not vivid enough. By picking a slightly enlightened everyman protagonist who is more innocent and serendipitous than average, Finlay gives us a powerful lens into the culture he examines and the “inner self” values that contrast it. The result is an insightful commentary on the values of a time, as seen from the deck of the ship as it sinks.
War and Democracy
by Paul Gottfried
170 pages, Arktos, $21
We have always been fighting the Revolution. This is the thesis, in a more complex form, of Paul Gottfried’s War and Democracy, a collection of essays centered on the instability of modern liberal democracy after the “end of history,” and how it has launched us into an unending series of wars for ideological objectives. In exploring that, Gottfried also uncovers the neurotic and confused nature of modern existence.
In doing so, he targets neoconservatism, which could be described as the greatest threat to right-wing beliefs since it incorporates surface characteristics of conservatism but mates it to a fundamentally liberal mission, namely the spreading of liberal democracy in the notion that it is “progress” and will eliminate wars, liberate people and generally bring our species to a more Utopian existence.
Gottfried picks his targets from the abundant myths and confusions of a modern time. He tackles anti-German feelings in “Germany’s War Wounds,” then picks apart the complex relationship between Jews, Israel and liberalism in two essays, and hits topics as diverse as middle east uprisings and cultural decay in between. A consistent thread runs through all of his pieces: criticism of that which, not making logical sense as a continuous thought, has been amalgamated under an aesthetic notion and tied together as Ideology.
The style of these short essays is crisp and yet curving and cynical. Gottfried attacks the insanity directly by revealing its logical contradictions and then extrudes the argument into a question of consequences. What arises from these disaster policies and broken or malformed assumptions? Perhaps this book’s most powerful psychological effect is that it always hints at a truth suspended beneath the surface of reality, and the need to look not at what’s on our desks in terms of politics, but what its presence among those in power will create.
In the ’70s and ’80s, the American left swarmed with despisers of the U.S., which was then engaged in a global struggle against the Soviets and their proxies. The Right by default became America-boosters, in whose ranks coexisted both traditional anti-Communists and neo-Jacobins. But it was the neo-Jacobins who by the end of the Cold War were able to define the moral substance of the struggle against the Soviets, as a global democratic crusade tied to a particular state representing a political creed. Unlike other nation states, neo-Jacobin America is ethnically and racially pluralistic but imagined to rest on a universally applicable proposition, that everyone should be viewed as equal and be empowered to enjoy human rights. (79)
Obviously I disagree with Gottfried on this point in that even his own history shows the origins of internationalism in the French Revolution. Liberalism gradually infiltrates by a method not described here, and when it takes over, even conservatives parrot it and use it as their justification for war. Further, our use of this creed goes back to the first world war (“the war to end all wars”) and the second world war (“the war to liberate Europe”) if not to any of the post-French Revolution European wars by which Napoleon and others tried to fight monarchy and implement equality.
Neoconservatism is a liberal disease and, while Gottfried illustrates this, I think he’s off-base regarding the blame for a single country, and by doing so, is lunging after the wrong target. However, you will not find a more eloquent or fully descriptive description of why the neoconservative crusade for global liberal democracy is a historical artifact elevated to religious status. He is even more insightful as he decimates the fundamental myths and legends of this new religion, specifically in razor-edged essays like “Wrong Revolution” and “Bourgeois Radical,” both of which have a whiff of the same type of socially critical eye that Tom Wolfe wields to great effect.
One thing Gottfried does that is unique in his field is to associate democracy with an inevitable projection into consumerism. While that might seem to contradict his thesis above, where the incorporation of liberal democracy into patriotism and capitalism under the guise of universal human rights is sui generis to the Americans, it explains more of why this “easy” belief system is so pervasive and destructive, and yet invisible to most people because of their unstated assumption that it is morally superior and progressive:
The current version of democracy benefits from consumer capitalism inasmuch as public administration needs the financial resources and consumer goods produced by the market to maintain social control. Consumer societies also serve the goal of democratic socialization — that is, the creation of “democratic,” as opposed to “authoritarian,” personalities — by encouraging a materialistic way of life. As Daniel Bell argues in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, other things being equal, democratic-capitalist societies work against pre-modern institutions and values. (114)
For those of us on the New Right, Gottfried is a vivid and adamant link between criticism of liberalism and criticism of the capitalist-democratic state religion which has become the primary agent of liberalism. When the Soviet Union failed, Marxists stopped fighting directly, but used instead a divide and conquer technique based on hybridizing existing beliefs with their own, and thus promulgating their own DNA amongst that of the enemy.
If you have been wondering what ties together most dissidents from this time who, like myself and Gottfried and many others, feel the West has become Rome II and is falling in the same way, look no further than War and Democracy. If you are an alt.fan.unabomber devotee who thinks industrial society has trashed us, a paleoconservative who feels even Reagan had a bit of the Red in him, or just a modern moderate who wonders how civilization can have become so crass and meaningless, this book introduces the basics and gives you a strong push in other directions you’ll want to explore.
Into the Mirror: The Life of Master Spy Robert P. Hanssen
by Lawrence Schiller
317 Pages, HarperCollins, $10
Useful idiots are sometimes not idiots. Often, they are talented people who become bitter and because of an unwillingness to reason through the picture beyond themselves, they end up making horrible decisions that in retrospect they would see as horribly stupid.
One such case is that of Robert P. Hanssen. The product of a sadistic father, “Bob” was talented and reasonably ambitious, but also strongly conservative and involved with the Catholic group Opus Dei. However, he also had a great deal of anger toward the world.
Feeling that his skills were not being utilized, and that the FBI was wasting his time by promoting lazy and unambitious people instead of proactively solving problems, Hanssen turned in disgust to the exact opposite of his day job as a counterintelligence specialist: he began passing information to the Soviets.
Over 6,000 pages and 27 diskettes were transmitted from Hanssen to first the GRU, next the KGB, and finally after the Soviet fall, the FSB. He blew the cover of at least four double agents working for Western intelligence within the Soviet Union and three were executed. He also compromised a number of counter-intelligence missions.
“Are you trying to tell me,” said the agent, “that you’re not pissed off?”
Jack said, “I think Bob must be crazy.”
“No,” said Jack. “Crazy. If you only knew how much he hates Communism and abortion.” (275)
When he was finally caught, he expressed amazement that it had taken so long. He had been saved by two factors: first, his leak was hidden behind the bigger leak of Aldrich Ames at the CIA, and second, his own tradecraft was better than that the KGB normally employed and made him harder to identify.
Eventually the FBI did identify a second mole within their ranks, and after devastating the career and life of another (non-guilty) agent, they finally bribed a former Soviet intelligence worker to sell them the file on “Ramon Garcia,” Hanssen’s nom-de-plume, which included Hanssen’s fingerprints and a recording of his voice.
Hanssen was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms and now awaits his 70s in a jail he will never escape: the massive Supermax prison which houses America’s worst offenders. Many are still stunned that Hanssen turned on the country he loved so dearly for a fraction of the cost he incurred upon the nation.
How is it that a patriotic, conservative, Christian American decided to sell his country out to the enemy? The money helped, since Hanssen couldn’t control his own finances. But on a more fundamental level, he was motivated by a personal rage at the society that spawned him.
Much like today’s White Nationalists, Robert Hanssen felt like he had answers that other people were too stupid and scared to see. Drugged on this elitism, he eventually came to see the entire country as unworthy of support and needing to be checked by a foreign power before the United States could become abusive.
Also like White Nationalists, Hanssen effectively sat out any chances he had to make changes within the system. It was easier to withdraw and snipe from the sidelines than it was to become fully enmeshed in fighting to alter the stupid and resurrect the wise. Or maybe it could not be done.
Lawrence Schiller’s dramatic retelling, which the cover text tells us is “Based upon an investigation by Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller,” both succeeds and fails in revealing this man.
The biggest problem of this book is that in attempting to make a dramatization, the authors have projected a story of their own invention which has Hanssen speaking to mirrors throughout the book and allowing the megalomania of self-worship to sustain him. While metaphorically correct, the result is ludicrous and contorts the rest of the story, which becomes lead-up to each revelation in the mirror.
The dramatization also attempts to find complex psychological reasons for Hanssen’s bizarre behavior, which requires inventing details the authors admit they do not know. After all, Hanssen himself refuses to say, in most cases, and so the case is pieced back together like a Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) feature.
Unfortunately this distracts from the actual truth, which is simple and comes in two parts. First, Hanssen was a fellow with serious underlying mental health issues brought on by his raging abusive father and doormat of a mother. Second, like White Nationalists, he became resentful and retaliated rather than fixing problems.
“You have to learn to suffer fools in high places,” Shepherd said.
“I don’t agree. In the Bureau, it’s our duty to be bright.”
“No! Stupidity is a choice. Deep down, people choose to be stupid because it gives them power over other people — the power to slow up people who are brighter than themselves. How dare these guys occupy high offices if they aren’t obsessed with being good enough to fulfill their tasks?” (99)
The book is dramatized in part to give it more weight because the truth is so alarmingly simple. Hannah Arendt writes about the “banality of evil,” but we might do better with Immanuel Kant, who posited that evil is not exceptional but everyday and consists of mundane decisions in which we follow the crowd and do not second-guess.
Hanssen’s story would not be interesting at all in a different setting where men were not shot at dawn for his revelations. Imagine a loyal worker at a large firm who becomes bitter and in revenge, sabotages his employer. That’s the mentality that Hanssen, all liberals, all White Nationalists, and most turncoats exhibit.
It’s a universal human failing. The foundation of it may have been Hanssen’s lingering insecurity and pathologies arising from his father’s twisted treatment of him, but the emotion itself was as everyday as any other human failing. Just another ego which rose out of control in response to perceived injustice.
We should all guard against becoming like Robert “Bob” Hanssen, who ultimately betrayed everything he loved in what could be described as a prolonged thirty-year teenage suicide. However, it’s probably best done by reading a book that does not contort itself to wring drama from a straightforward tale.