For two years, I had the honor of editing a column written by my old friend Austin Ruse. Before his glorious invectives reached the public square, they had to go through me. I think I only refused to publish one of them; as always, Austin was a gentleman about it. I can count every decent person I’ve met in journalism I can count on one hand, and Austin’s at least three of them.
So, I was pleased as punch to crack his new book Under Siege and find that—at last!—he’d turned his pen on me. Granted, it’s more a shout-out than a broadside. He names me, along with our friend Charles Coulombe, as representatives of those “modern-day monarchists” who “must know in their hearts that their musings are fanciful.”
Austin says I’m a “delight.” Not what I’d expected from Ruse the Bruiser, but it’s nice to see one’s name in print. Still, I’d like to offer Austin something by way of reply.
It’s true that I’m a monarchist. Even Wikipedia says so, listing me among the “notable supporters” of an American monarchy. Now, that’s not quite right. So far as the U.S. of A. is concerned, I prefer the term “monarchical republican” a la John Adams. But when it comes to Old World, and especially the United Kingdom: yes, I’m a staunch royalist.
More specifically, I’m a Jacobite. I fly the Tandem Triumphans flag. I have a portrait of the Young Pretender hanging over my desk. And, if you like, I’ll explain why.
A very dear friend of mine lives in a palatial old house in Charleston, South Carolina—”South of Broad,” as they say. About four years ago I was visiting him and his family. We were all sitting on the third floor piazza, drinking gin and tonics and listening to jazz, when a political debate erupted. I can’t remember what it was about; I think it was women’s suffrage.
Anyway, my buddy—we’ll call him Peter—was a one-man opposition. His mother, father, and sister were all against him. The Tanqueray and the hot, Southern sun were getting to Peter; at one point, he made his sister cry. The man was flustered. Then, finally, he thundered: “None of this would…”
His father threw up his hands. “Peter, don’t say, ‘None of this would matter if the Jacobites had won the English Civil War.’ I don’t want to get into this again.”
My friend gripped down on his G&T. “But what if it’s true?”
You know, there are moments in life where an offhand remark can change the way you see the world. For me, this was one of them. Those words rang in my ears like the bells of Notre Dame. But what if it’s true?
My new book The Reactionary Mind contains a lengthy defense of the Jacobite cause. In short, I argue that the fall of the House of Stuart signaled the end of Merrie England. The Catholic Church was routed in favor of the Anglican state church. Local government gave way to centralized administration in London. The English Constitution gave way to an all-powerful Parliament. Wealth and property were concentrated into the hands of a small, plutocratic elite—just as they had under Henry VIII. William of Orange gave official sanction to the Atlantic Slave Trade. He also dragged the United Kingdom into a series of Continental wars: the Dutch usurper sent English soldiers to die for his petty old squabbles. And I could go on.
That’s the absurdity of progressivism. We’re told that it was “progress” to deprive the peasant of his farm; now it’s “progress” to put him on the dole. It was “progress” to make England into an empire, and then it was “progress” to tear that empire down. It was “progress” to enslave the African, and then “progress” to free him.
So, I say that the world would be in much better shape if the Jacobites had won the English Civil War. And unless you buy into Marx’s idea of dialectical materialism—that all of history’s evils, which we call “progress,” will somehow magically lead to a Greater Good—you must agree with me.
“I grant you that,” Mr. Ruse might say. “Still, the fact remains that we’re not going to restore the House of Stuart anytime soon. There’s no point in trying to argue that the Jacobites were in the right.” Ah, but what if it’s true? What’s the statute of limitations on treason, regicide, and tyranny? What’s the expiration date on a righteous cause? Do martyrs cease to be martyrs because we’ve forgotten their names? And what’s the “point” of arguing anything, if not to get at the truth?
To be clear, I don’t expect the Stuarts to be restored anytime soon. I don’t suggest that we spend much time trying to revive the Jacobite claim. But just because a cause is lost doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.
Fully half the evils that plague the West today stem from our refusal to honor dead heroes and their righteous causes. And, contrary to what you read in the papers, this is even truer of the Right than it is of the Left.
For instance, our progressive friends are still rehashing the Civil War. The issue of Confederate monuments is one that paralyzes conservatives. But why? I think it’s because, deep down, most conservatives really believe that history is on the Left’s side. They think that history’s “conservatives” have always been the bad guys, and that they’ll someday be remembered as bad guys, too. The truth is that 1619 would have been an aberration, were it not for 1688. Had the “conservatives” triumphed in the English Civil War, the “progressives” wouldn’t have been able to expand the Slave Trade a hundredfold.
Now, who on the Right would think to make that argument today?
We don’t need any more “progress,” which inevitably makes things even worse. But we also don’t need any more conservatives who are afraid of lost causes. In fact, don’t need conservatives at all.
Let’s stick with the slavery issue. William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, was a supporter of segregation and a staunch defender of the Confederate flag. (The former, at least, is a monstrous position to hold.) Yet his successor, Rich Lowry, is no less staunchly opposed to the Stars and Bars. He also cheers on the mobs who tear down statues of Confederate generals, who owed slaves… but begs them not to tear down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who also owned slaves. Because, uh, reasons.
I have no doubt that, when my children are in their late twenties, the editor of National Review will be cheering on mobs that tear down statues of Washington and Jefferson… but begging them not to tear down statues of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Because, uh, other reasons.
This is why I say that every conservative is a progressive-in-training. They allow the Left to decide when their cause is officially lost; of course, someday, that will someday include their own cause. Conservatives spend their whole lives digging their father’s grave and raise their sons to do the same.
Only the reactionary can ever hope to stop the Left. Conservatism is a controlled opposition.
But, again, the point isn’t just to “own the libs”—i.e.,
The point is stop historically illiterate progressives from making things worse than they already are—from turning a 1619 into a 1688. And in order to do that, we need to smash the false god of Progress. This is what Chesterton meant when he said that, “For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.”
That’s why I’m a reactionary. I want to save progress from the progressives. I want to save history from the conservatives. I long for that revolution that will, in time, prove itself to be a restoration.
And that’s why I’m a Jacobite: because the Glorious Revolution is perhaps the single most obvious example of false progress. It’s the single most obvious instance of degeneration being passed off as evolution. We call it “Glorious,” not because it was fought by valiant men (actually, it wasn’t fought at all) or because the outcomes were pleasant (they manifestly were not). No: we call it “Glorious” because it happened, and hasn’t been “canceled.”
At least, not yet. It’s possible that the progressives and their conservative handmaids will someday reject the Glorious Revolution. No doubt the issue of slavery would be a factor. But it won’t be rejected in favor of Jacobitism. That would be unconscionable. It would mean admitting that progress is not infallible.
No: they will reject the Glorious Revolution in favor of some more extreme version of itself. Most likely, it will be some kind of plutocratic-technocratic socialism, where everyone—black, and white, gay and straight—has an equal opportunity to be enslaved. (“Attention, Prime citizen: return to your Prime cube for your Prime meal!”)
But while the Left may admit that the Williamites were wrong, they will never admit that the Jacobites were right. Why? Because they would have to abandon the idol of Progress. Because then they would cease to be progressives and become reactionaries. And, of course, conservatives won’t force their hand. They’ll be too busy patting themselves on the back for being morally superior to Confederate generals/the Founding Fathers/the previous editor of National Review.
That’s a stupid game, and I refuse to play it.
So I say that we who refuse to pay homage to the great god Progress have a duty to identify with lost causes, so long as the cause is just, because justice itself ought to be our cause. Whether it’s Thomas More or Teddy Roosevelt, we should go out of our way to keep their memory alive.
One thing’s for certain: the Left would like nothing more than for us to go on inventing a new “conservatism” to counter every new iteration of “progress.” That’s why the Right has never been able to standard athwart history yelling “Stop,” as William F. Buckley proposed to do. We only manage to jog alongside history crying, “Please, for the love of God, slow down.”
So, the reactionary isn’t interested in “Golden-Age Thinking,” as my friend Austin suggests. On the contrary. The reactionary—and only the reactionary—refuses let calendars (much less historians) tell him right from wrong. He’s proud to claim the mantle of history’s most valiant losers, from the Jacobites to the Jeffersonians. Whenever he finds a righteous man with a just cause, he calls him brother.
The progressive will ask, “But what if it’s old-fashioned?” The conservative will ask, “But what if it’s unpopular?” To which reactionary will reply, “But what if it’s true?”