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How The Right Fails At Fascism

How The Right Fails At Fascism
Image by Blake Everett

One of the more curious aspects of Trump-era American conservativism has been its utter failure to develop any imaginative cultural and artistic talent that both subtly and persuasively bears the stamp of the Western aesthetic values that movement purports to esteem.  There is no doubt that as a rallying point of courageous philosophical conviction and excellent intellectual talent this activist reinvigoration of the Right has made its mark and that media influence will only continue to grow.  However, as a movement, this conservatism lacks worldliness and sophistication; a whiff of the provincial surrounds it, subverting the cosmopolitan urbanity that naturally comes with a confident world outlook. With wit and flair, the ‘conservatism’ should itself become almost incidental, a seamlessly embedded message within works of art and not a tiresomely repetitive, polemical one. This is the potency, the influence that is missing and we are suffering quite badly for it.  What is most needed at this point is an ambitious literary, film and design and ‘lifestyle’ (for lack of a better term) component that would allow it to compete where it most needs to: with the liberal-left stranglehold on American/Western cultural life.  In fact, Trump-era conservatism, for all its thunder and ballast, is remarkably bland and cookie-cutter. It reacts but has few real Reactionaries.  It condemns but it does not create.  It postures a maverick attitude but consists mostly of recycled Ideas.  Its cultural contribution has produced no aesthetic vision, only the cult of Commentary, endless commentary, and its aspirants seek not to write A Man for All Seasonsor work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Library of Congress or to write for Architectural Digest, etc. but only to become–it appears–You Tube pundits. We need more of these as much as we need more illegals. In a word, we just teach because we do not do

Most embarrassingly, this lack of larger ambition demeans the cerebral heft possessed by the late, great 20thcentury “Man of the Right”– the stylish adversary of the-then more popular ‘Man of the Left’.  Today’s Right is devoid of that earlier generation’s alluirng ideological anarchist: the art-obsessed, cultivated, proto-Fascist who could create raging works of spirit and linguistic grandeur, fusing language and love of beauty with intransigent conviction.  Thiswas revolution and, most likely, its leading lights would have had little if anything at all to do with “conservatives” of today.

Consider that devastating Anglo-American tsunami comprised of Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, T. E. Hulme, W. B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens; the continental literary and art movements known Futurism, Vorticism, and right-wing Expressionism; the poetic dissident class that emerged from Central and Eastern Europe in the second half of the century….These eccentric icons and their fringe institutions gathered around the margins of the Left-ward drift of that totalitarian century, championing either war or strict isolationism, 19thcentury capitalism or free market agrarianism; community democracy or imperial monarchism–but always through the lens of an exalted respect for Western civilization.  

They achieved this with a devil-may-care stubbornness of personality all the while producing works of art that even communist intellectual elites openly admired.  Among the poets, they never wavered in their desire for some prince-tyrant to restore the spirit of the West, and if he appeared in the form of a Mussolini-to-Franco range of dictator, this unapologetic longing for the classical, mythological and radically übermenschlichleader was treated as a natural longing to thwart social and moral decadence. But what one read and remembered was The Wastelandor Canto 81—not merely critique.

The artists among them viewed, Ernst Juncker-like, periodic cycles of civilizational collapse as a means of regeneration in ways unthinkable today:   “We wish to glorify war—the only health of the world”, wrote F.T. Marinetti, founder of the anarcho-industrial art movement known as Futurism, last seen most vibrantly a beautiful exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York in 2014. “Militarism, patriotism, the destructive arm of the anarchist, the Beautiful Idea, the contempt for women…“. This was the movement’s rallying cry and creed. It did not produce Neocons. It just produced masterpieces.  

And here was ‘diversity’ at its finest. The various poets, artists, editors and publishers who made up these diverse “right-wings” coalesced into an  intellectual force that ranged in aesthetic intensity from Hulme, the “mercenary of modernism” and war veteran who famously fought Bertrand Russell on the battlefield of metaphysics, to T.S. Eliot writing his seminal Tradition and Individual Talent in 1919,to Yeats the romantic nationalist defending the ‘racial supremacists’ of the Irish cause, to Wyndham Lewis declaring: “You as a Fascist stand for the small trader against the chain store; the nation against the super-State, the creator against the middleman…”  Whatever the “reprehensibility” of their political views by today’s standards, they fired their salvos from a very weighty arsenal of intellectual artillery aimed at the vacuum of an apocalyptic and terrified age. 

Their literary and art movements were known as Vorticism and Futurism. The latter, formed under the specter of World War I by such Italian artists as Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini and Tullio Crali, was a powerful descendent of Cubism and forerunner of a strain of Expressionist painting and cinematography exalting ‘the Machine’, industry, individualism and military combat in a style that was hard, geometric, violent. Vorticism, led by Pound and Lewis, took root in “Ulster politics, labor unrest and the pending European conflagration”. Its short-lived flagship magazine, Blast, was the subject of New York Times andTimes of London feature coverage for its well-educated fury and star writers.

The aesthetic mood swings of tradition, radicalism, capital-B Beauty; war-lust, anti-Statism; the conformist authenticity of the small town or the glorious chaos of the Industrial Age all constituted the  intellectual personality of that Right.  “Populist”, as that term is understood today, that movement decidedly was not, for it decried the intellectual laziness of the conservative mass.  “My goal”, stated Pound famously, “is to save the public soul by first punching it in the face”.  Pound expresses the core genius of his cultural generation in that blunt quip. In the name of Art, the thinkers of his camp were so far to the Right they ultimately reached around to the outer extreme of the Left. Therewith, they knew they could subvert their polar ideological adversary all the while championing the same need for the power of art in all spheres of life; for individual men to be bound by a higher aesthetic cause and kinship. 

How The Right Fails At Fascism

In this regard, the ultimate contempt of this Right–just as that of its Socialist-Communist counterparts–was directed against the venerated Everyman; against a society lacking vigilance, intellectual rigor and center-stage guts. It is what elevated the worldliness of these cultural icons–leaders such as the “suburban anti-Semite”, as Allen Ginsberg called his later-life friend Ezra Pound, who regularly published the best left-wing writers in Blast: the likes of Sydney Webb and Henri Bergson were featured alongside John Galsworthy, Benedetto Croce and Lytton Strachey.  

The political-cultural enemy was many things, all of it emanating from left-wing causes.  But the real spiritual enemy was the unthinking, uncritical ‘democrat’, the very essence of the Unexamined Life.  

This mindset is what lent their Fascist or “Fascist” leanings a universally attractive bent. The objective of the Vorticist movement, a kind of right-wing Bloomsburg Group, was “to create a definitive force against amorphous thinking” whereby Pound tasked himself to become the prime mover of modern poetry, prompting  the decidedly un-Rightist Carl Sandburg to credit Pound for doing “the most of living men to incite new impulses to poetry”. Pound, for whom Mussolini was a kind of latter-day Sigismondo Malatesta, cuts a sympathetic figure because of his assistance to writers of all political hue. The power of art was placed before that of politics and therefore “the Right” resonated—deeply, emotionally and so memorably. 

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Why is any of this important?  Because it underscores why the Trump-era Right is failing culturally despite the strength of its numbers and the rising tide of its voice: a) there is little to no appeal to Imagination and b) there is not enough ‘highbrow’ intellectual demand placed upon conservatives in general; we are not hard enough on our own. 

As concerns the first, it explains, in part, why the Right has lost the universities. It explains the general drift of the film and television world into lurid, progressive sentiment; why it has no theater, no major literary publishing house, no powerful art magazine, no strong literary journal, no guiding light, no Lewis Lapham, no film festivals, no philosophical influence of high intellectual rank.  Its energies and finances lambaste yet do not lead.  For decades, its political sympathizers have created few works of stirring artistic impact.  A “lack of money” or a “lack of support” is the most absurd attempt at a counter-argument to this that there is.

Regarding the second aspect, Trump-era conservatism has awoken all the best instincts at large, all the best unheard voices and a massive vanguard of sharp, fearless commentary and analyses.  However, as a mass movement it is largely inarticulate:  educated or ‘learned’ polish is lacking; it fears too much being labeled ‘elitist’, a conversant sense of history is thin or non-existent as is the desire to start film companies or television networks or publishing houses that don’t have some shallow family-fun Jesus-Saves! aspect to them.  It is mainly online preaching to the choir with “F” bombs, messy grammar, and borrowed lines about Soviet this and that. There needs to be more.  

In a word, the conservative movement has failed on the cultural for decades because it does not have the moral or intellectual independence of the mad, bad Right of generations past. It has become all grassroots and no bloom.

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3 comments

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James Johnson April 24, 2019 at 1:06 pm

Somewhere is this essay must be an understandable point but it was lost on me. but heck, I’m just a masters-holding, high IQ, well read (and humble) observer. what the hell are you saying?–if you care to change minds, speak directly and jettison the esoterica.

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Schlibiviv April 29, 2019 at 1:05 am

James Johnson doesn’t want to come aboard the Renaissance of the Right, which is taking place in the spaces vacated by the Trump phenomenon. Theodore Dalrymple went into Romania immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, wanting to directly observe the cultural effects of decades of hard core communism. What he saw and documented in his, The Wilder Shores of Marx, was not a pretty sight, nor was it shocking, because we’ve seen other examples of withering consciousness in post communist societies, e.g., East Germany, and increasingly in Western Block societies that have lost their mojo, as Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna has very well noted. Although the USA has only had a decade or two of stifiling communist liberalism, a.k.a., liberal communism, the cultural Right has gone limp in a fit of hopelessness that the American narrative is done and dead.

Not so, for all the elements of our illustrious past are still there, and we need only sharpen our artistic talents, intellectual freedom, and standup wit, and turn upon the beast that has cornered the sweet, human spirit that once reigned culturally supreme. Here’s the foil of all foils: they are really different from us; we can think the way they do because we once did when we were children, but they are truly stuck way back, when playground bullying was great fun, especially teasing the disabled, different, or obviously religious. They, however, cannot think they way we do, because children cannot conceive adulthood, or the idea of legitimate, moral authority. The strategy for deposing liberalism is all about recognizing them as large children and treating them accordingly, an easy way to go for any parent or family oriented adult.

Community reorganizing communists know very well that ridicule is the most vicious and effective weapon other than those made of steel. Therefore, we must immediately grasp the freefall decline of comedy from the elegance and grace of Johnny Carson and the free-for-all gritty-spoof of Don Rickles, to the bad-boy, short-pants, mean and wet humor of Colbert, Kimmell, and Maher. None of the latter trust the English language sans references to bodily fluids, violence, and anti-family, or Christophobic rhetoric. Our current lineup of comedians are out to hurt nice people based upon hallucinated bigotry they perceived in conservatives, whereas their ancestors of the 20th Century were there to get real laffs from making us laugh at ourselves and others we care about, always with intuitive restraints in the name of decency. We all laughed at poop early on, but liberals can’t get over it.

Beasts of ridicule pose as late night and standup comedy. Let us cut their hostile, anti-American, anti-family antics to the bone, and identify them as children, bad children, actually teen monsters stuck in the 1960’s who are still in emotional short pants, trying to kick asses of nice people with shoes that keep falling off because they are too big. They are the new primitives referred to by Ayn Rand in her book by that precient title — angry, crowd-sourced pretenders — drug-alienated children who hate the good just for being the good, and have an unlimited appetite for perversions of history that twists the magnificent into infinite evil, and accidentally shows their collapsed, dog-like sense of time by applying today’s warped morality to ancient and early American history.

Some, like Bill Maher, are entering a phase of life as preposterous as Teen Monster, the Geriatric Adolescent. There were no “teens” prior to the 1950’s in the USA, when nice kids from good families started smoking pot and returning home that evening as newborn, anti-family liberals who soon enough ran away from home, started telling the most imaginative stories of evil about family life, and were easily funneled into the communist street tantrums of the 1960’s. In due time, they limped into the recovery group movement, where they found the serenity of passive, doing-what-comes-naturally lifestyle typical of drug-decerebrates everywhere. Their innocence despite betrayal of their families and society has crept into our entire health and social service systems, where misconduct is increasingly excused as a disease symptom and clinical thought undermines the legitimate, moral authority of the nuclear, human family.

So, thanks for the nice article. It got me working overtime, and may spur many others to realize that the communists are being ousted and our grand republic is entering a new renaissance.

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Luke May 27, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Huh?

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