If you know anything about Oliver Cromwell—and few do nowadays— you probably have an opinion about the man. Some vilify him; “A curse upon you, Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our Motherland,” the Irish rock band The Pogues sang. Others praise him as an enemy of arbitrary rule and a proto-republican. Ronald Hutton’s new biography of Cromwell’s early life and his climb to prominence makes no final judgment on the man, but it does offer a nuanced view of this complex historical figure. From Hutton’s excellent book we get not just history but the realization, in this desiccated age, that men such as Cromwell always emerge during great turmoil, rising as if from sown dragon’s teeth.
This is a disappointing book. Not awful, but not good. The Man from the Future manages to take the life of the polymath John von Neumann and to make it dull, never giving us any real sense of the man, although we do get some sense of his accomplishments. Beyond that, it’s filled with bad history about ancillary matters, making the reader wonder about the veracity of core biographical matters. And worst of all, the author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, wastes our time by endlessly trying to shoehorn into von Neumann’s story fantasy contributions by supposedly marginalized people, who are unknown because they did nothing worth noting. All this turns what might have been an excellent book into a chore.
If, as Carl Schmitt asserted in Political Theology, “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” what does that imply for political forms? This book, written immediately after Political Theology, addresses that question. Schmitt analyzes a political form that originated as theological but has adopted many different secular roles—the Roman Catholic Church. I have to say that Roman Catholicism and Political Form, even by Schmittian standards, is a difficult read. Nonetheless, it rewards close attention and thought, because what Schmitt says is, as all things Schmitt are, surprisingly relevant to our situation today.
“Sovereign is he who decides the exception.” Among serious students of political philosophy, at least on the Right, these may be the most famous words of the twentieth century. That sentence opens this work, Political Theology, which consists of four linked essays, bound by the theme that most exercised Carl Schmitt in the early 1920s—the edge cases of sovereignty. In the post-World War II decades, such questions seemed very remote and theoretical, part of the turmoil of a benighted age we had left behind. But we were wrong, about all of it, and Schmitt was right, that this topic is universal and timeless. Thus, from Schmitt we can learn much that we can be sure will be directly applicable to the 2020s.
We are not a serious society. Our ruling class are men of no substance, lacking all knowledge and incapable of competent action on any front. The masses, while they sense a great deal is very wrong, are distracted by propaganda and ephemera. We feel we can afford to be unserious, because all of us lead lives of unprecedented material comfort. Any lack is eased by speedy delivery of sedatives designed to mask and hold down chthonic spiritual despair. To be sure, we do not lack for heralds of the coming storm—but we, high and low, have forgotten what a storm looks like. Read this book and you will remember, and you will also know what it is to live in a serious society.
Dictatorship, in the form of Caesarism, is in the American air. I have recently written on what, in practical terms, an American Caesar would do; I will soon tell you how likely our Caesar is, and why. As it happens, I am at the same time working my way through all the books of Carl Schmitt, in their order of original publication, and his next book up, Dictatorship, published in 1921, clarifies the historical and legal-analytical part of what is unspooling before our eyes. We cannot be better informed, analytically at least, than by pondering this work of the peerless German, whose book, as always, puts to shame today’s mostly insipid political and constitutional analysis.
Symbology is a key element of any successful modern political movement. Animals are rarely modern political symbols; certainly modern mass ideologies, from Communism to National Socialism, have eschewed such symbology. Living creatures, whose exalted metaphorical political use was once widespread, are now usually mere lowbrow holdovers from the more distant past—elephants and donkeys, for example. Yet America, when it was America, used the majestic bald eagle with great success, and I think that when we seize the future, we need outstanding symbology. In this light, I am working on the symbology of Foundationalism, and this interesting book helped me focus my thoughts.
The American Right, like all outsider political movements, has long been susceptible to Gnosticism. This usually manifests as the belief that a small group of wise initiates can see through rationales for political action and find hidden knowledge, of the real reasons men and societies act as they do. Sometimes those reasons are the machinations of the Illuminati, or the Freemasons, or the Lizard Men. More often, they are prosaic, and although economic Gnosticism is the most frequent type, another common gnostic belief is that power is the only real driver of the actions of men, and all other rationales in politics mere epiphenomena, lies designed to conceal the hidden centrality of power. The Machiavellians is James Burnham’s exposition of this latter Gnosticism.
My goal is winning the future, and to win, we must utterly and permanently defeat the Left. In this effort, we can learn many lessons from Spain in the years from 1930 to 1940 (and in the years beyond, but that is a discussion for another day). These lessons are not just about war, or just about kinetic politics. As The Victorious Counterrevolution demonstrates, winning requires those who lead a struggle for dominance to maintain a functioning economy that satisfies the average man. Nobody can go hungry, and to avoid that, ample production, orderly markets, and fiscal stability must be maintained. It is to Nationalist success, and Republican failures, in these areas that Michael Seidman ascribes Franco’s victory, and he makes a compelling and instructive case.
I have long admired Hernán Cortes, conqueror of the Aztecs. He may not have gotten to Heaven, though who can say, but he exemplified the spirit of the West, that which from Charlemagne to Frémont drove the world forward. Fifth Sun would have us stop and shed a tear for the Aztecs, considering them on their own terms. It’s a modest request, and when done is modestly interesting. But we should remember that unlike the Spanish, the Aztecs never accomplished anything notable, and never would have accomplished anything notable. Which raises the question—what price glory?