“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?
Ah, Carl Schmitt, Carl Schmitt! No man like him exists today. Political philosophy in our time is, and for many decades past has been, largely the domain of intellectual pygmies and outright morons; the age of gold has degenerated into the age of brass, or of plastic with yellow paint. Schmitt is dead, but his work is not, and this, one of his series of books published during the early Weimar period in Germany, illuminates much of our own present condition. That’s not to say The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is an easy read. Like much of Schmitt’s writing, it is somewhat elliptical, alternating great insight with moments of “where are we going with this?” But the payoff is worth the effort.
What will be the political system of the future, in the lands that are still optimistically, or naively, viewed as containing one American nation? Certainly, the current system is doomed, which necessarily means that an alternative will rise. Some replacements are flashy, full of promise mixed with danger, such as an American Augustus, Michael Anton’s Red Caesar. But other replacements have lower amplitude, and the quiet authoritarian corporatism exemplified by the Portugal of António de Oliveira Salazar is one such. As it happens, I think it would be a bad alternative for America. Nonetheless, Salazar’s creation, which was undoubtedly good for Portugal, deserves to be better known than it is, and to be understood, for the lessons it teaches us.
I recently wrote of the Finnish Civil War, where the Whites defeated the Reds. In the twentieth century, that pattern was unfortunately the exception, with the more common result being seen in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20, where the Russian Reds defeated the Russian Whites. That struggle, though not as forgotten as the Finnish Civil War, does not loom large in modern consciousness, and books on it are rare. This volume, the recently-reprinted war memoir of Pyotr Wrangel, probably the most successful and certainly the most charismatic of the White generals, addresses that gap. It also carries many lessons, including about what might occur in a twenty-first-century ideological civil war in a large country.