We all know the story.
In 1492, Columbus discovered the New World. By the seventeenth century, British North America had become a refuge for Englishmen fleeing religious persecution and tyrannical government, where colonists like the Pilgrims and the Puritans sought to create a wholly new society, a “City on a Hill,” serving as a beacon of liberty in a world of monarchical absolutism. In the late eighteenth century, the tyranny of King George III became intolerable and the colonists bound together to throw off the yoke of British oppression, rallying around the Declaration of Independence and its proclamation of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Upon attaining independence, the United States of America became the first country in the history of the world to be dedicated wholly to liberty and opportunity, irrespective of religious creed or national origin. At first these rights were unfortunately restricted to landowning white males, but over the years this circle of rights was gradually, inevitably expanded; a terrible civil war even had to be fought in order to secure these liberties for all. By the twentieth century America had become a refuge for the world’s oppressed and defender of democracy and freedom across the globe. There is still much work to be done at home, of course, as the promise of American liberty and equality has still not been fulfilled, but its ideals are surely the noblest to have ever been proclaimed on Earth.
This is the textbook interpretation of American history, memorized by schoolchildren and promulgated by civil proclamations from Maine to California. Different aspects of this story have been emphasized at one time or another – nowadays the emphasis is on the unfulfilled promise of American egalitarianism, for instance – but the creed remains the dominant one.
And as every reactionary knows, it is hopelessly incomplete.
In order to grasp how this came to pass, I shall take it as a axiom that America is an empire. Not simply with reference to its foreign adventures, either. Merely restricting ourselves to the territory between the Atlantic to the Pacific, the American mainland is comprised of many groups who are not in it by choice – Indians, Africans, Southerners – plus many who came here not out of attachment to the nation itself but for the opportunities, liberty, and safety it provided. The version of the American story described above is the one that has been propagated for 150 years by the northeastern elite, apostates from their ancestral Puritan religion who converted in latter days to progressive humanitarianism and neoliberal capitalism. The textbook story is therefore the self-congratulatory myth of the Yankee, who benefits the most economically and personally from the empire and has an interest in downplaying its essentially hostile nature. History is written by the winners, and their success at disseminating it is only further evidence of their power.
The reactionary is, by nature, a patriot, motivated by love of his land and its people. This must be carefully distinguished from its government and its ruling ideology; one may still be a patriot and harbor little love for these institutions. The America we love is not the United States of corporate capitalism and color television sets, not the materialistic proposition nation heralded by the Declaration and Lincoln’s addresses and the Fourteenth Amendment, baptized in blood by the Civil War and reinforced in subsequent years with every factory built, every regional culture brought beneath the federal heel, every strip mall constructed. I will not belabor the point, obvious to readers of this essay, that the noble American ideals of democracy, egalitarianism, and liberal capitalism – unfettered from any loyalty to the land or its people – have as their natural end result the contemporary horrors of progressive totalitarianism. The challenge for the American Restorationist is to recover and articulate an alternative understanding of our national founding.
As many others have observed, the American reactionary finds himself in a paradoxical position. Conservatism in the United States, even in its most radical form, represents a desire to conserve the classical liberal tradition of the Founders. While the Founding stock had many admirable virtues – rugged independence, self-reliance, piety, a love of freedom combined with a sense of civic duty – the Founders themselves ultimately erred in dissociating these virtues from the people and civic culture from whence they came and turning them into intellectual propositions. Any project founded upon these suppositions therefore contains the seeds of its own destruction. Despite valiant efforts conservatism has proven incapable of preventing the nation’s gradual leftward drift and is therefore complicit in all the sins of the present regime: corporate capitalism, missionary democracy, throwaway consumer culture, moral turpitude, rampant infanticide, feckless ecological destruction – in short, everything that the reactionary abhors now has defenders among the so-called conservatives of this country. However, much as the culture of Europe should not be reduced to the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, American culture should not be reduced to the lowest common denominator pseudo-culture of Hollywood and New York. If this is all there was to America, it would be a wonder that anyone could love it, pledge fealty to it, or die in its defense.
Is there an alternative America to which the Restorationist can pledge his loyalty? American history is rife with roads not traveled, paths not taken: the Puritan’s City on a Hill, the Jeffersonian republic of yeoman farmers, the counter-cultural utopianism preached by the New England Transcendentalists and put into practice by the communes of the 1850s and 1960s. However, these social visions were simply more radical versions of the same classical liberal impulses that inspired the Founding Fathers. Their widespread acceptance is therefore unlikely to produce a significantly different outcome.
One genuine alternative, typically overlooked in the perception of America as a modernist nation par excellence, is the neo-feudal tradition of the Old South. Here we may discern a golden thread reaching back to the last truly traditional society of the West, that of the Catholic Middle Ages. This may be traced from medieval England to the Anglo-Catholic Stuart monarchs. Their Cavalier supporters, once defeated in the English Civil War, fled to the North America and established a version of their feudal society in the Tidewater and Deep South. While some remained loyal to the Crown during our War of Independence , the majority joined in the struggle to sever the colonies from their heavy-handed governors and restore good government in a decidedly un-democratic form. This hierarchical, agrarian, classically republican society persisted intact until the War Between the States, when it was destroyed by a rapidly industrializing and oligarchical North. However, despite the decline of its planter aristocracy, the South remained fundamentally rural, religious, and traditionalist in orientation even after Reconstruction. This lasted until the 1960s, when a second Reconstruction radically altered Southern social relations and economy. It is now questionable whether or not this society even exists anymore, though the culture of independence, gentility, strong Christian faith, and conservative morality still appears to subsist in some form among the native Southrons.
So we do have a link to the traditional world in this country, though its history has been one of continual defeat by the forces of modernity. Regardless, this just goes to show that Catholicism (Anglo or Roman), monarchy, hierarchy, and tradition are not foreign imports, but submerged aspects of our own tradition. America is a colony of European culture, specifically the British Isles of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. It therefore carries the torch of Europe, and all the history that entails, to the New World. This ideal is embodied in the Cavalier and the Southern soldier, archetypes of the American warrior, the last stand of traditional hierarchical society against the tide of egalitarianism and mass democracy.
Of course, this story recognizes only the European aspect of the historic American nation – highly important to be sure, as it was the source of the nation’s laws and civic culture, but not the only one that was present at the founding. The benighted Indian tribes have a rightful claim to a place in the historic American nation, as do the descendants of the African slaves. It is true that they have historically existed in an adversarial position to the dominant Anglo-American culture, but the preservation of their culture and ethnic enclaves is not inimical to the continuation of the historic American nation – provided the supremacy of Anglo-American values is maintained. The current victim-oriented model of identity politics has naturally soured many reactionaries on the presence of ethnic minorities on the American stage (hence the growth of “white nationalism”) but it is a matter of history, justice, and prudence to acknowledge the legitimate place of these races in the history of the American nation. What is necessary is to move away from the present language of victimhood, “white privilege,” and reparations and move towards a more communitarian model in which all of America’s native peoples can express pride in their heritage and work to improve themselves and their respective communities.
Whatever the case, these European, Indian, and African components of American culture pertain primarily to our historical inheritance. Is there anything about the American nation that particularly distinguishes us from the country whence we came?
What most distinguishes America from Europe is its wilderness, and relatedly the frontier mentality that animated its earliest settlers. While Europe’s heritage is preserved in its castles and cathedrals, its aristocracies and Church and high culture, America lacks a long history of human settlement (the indigenous population was sparse and did not extensively cultivate or affect their surroundings to the same degree). Wilderness is thus our national heritage, to which we have long attributed a patriotic and religious significance. One finds nature-feeling among the Puritans and their transcendentalist heirs, among the Southern agrarians, and among the American Indians. America is wilderness. This is embodied in the gunslinger, the high plains drifter – this is the quintessential American aristocrat after the fall of the Southern nation. He embodies the chivalric qualities of the knight and rugged independence of the outlaw, sometimes fighting in service of a lost cause. He is the definition of bravery, grit, indifference to pain and fear and lucre, martial valor, a lean and solitary force of nature like the wolf or mountain lion. He emerges spiritually from the American encounter with the wilderness. It is also embodied in the wilderness sage that figures so strongly in our national myths, the Thoreaus and Muirs, the Indian shamans, the wanderers, the WASP elite that strove to combat the degeneracy of America and preserve the wilderness as a bastion for martial values.
In addition to this more anarchic and primitivist wilderness orientation, we also have the settler mentality, the frontier spirit so firmly embedded in our national DNA. The American settler is heir to the European conquerors – imperious, adventurous, often religiously motivated, expressing a love of the wilds and fierce independence. This sense of America was embodied in the pioneer and the frontiersman, who sought to make a home for themselves out of the wilderness. In what does the frontier spirit consist? Boldness, self-reliance, strength, fortitude. Closeness to nature, which despite the sometimes adversarial attitudes towards wilderness nevertheless inculcated a degree of respect and love for the wild. We also find a religious sense of mission and disdain for the cities and over-civilized.
What unites these three aspects of the alternative American heritage – the Southern Cavalier, the wilderness wanderer, and the frontiersman – is a rejection of liberal America. All three value hardiness and vigor and independence; all three are a species of aristocratism distinct from the plebeianism of the American mass culture. It is also worth noting that these three correspond to the three castes of traditional society, respectively the warrior (Kshatriya), sage (Brahmin), and merchant/artisan (Vaisya). This is in stark contrast to the current corrupted caste distribution, consisting of academia/media/journalism (Brahmin), career politicians and bureaucrats (Kshatriya), and finance capitalists (Vaisya), all of which are in one way or another motivated or justified by liberal ideology.
Whatever their caste, the people who constituted the early American nation left their homelands for a number of reasons – dissent against a corrupt Church, rebellion against the regicidal Protectorate, the search for a better life. The Englishmen that sailed to Massachusetts and Virginia were perhaps not the highest specimens that English society had to offer; mostly burghers, second sons, middling nobility, seeking the opportunity that conditions in England at that time denied them. Nevertheless, those that survived were of a hardy nature and fiercely independent, and these qualities have been passed along to their descendants and form the basis of the contemporary cultural ethos. Unfortunately, this rebellious and individualistic nature has been subverted. Rather than being a source of strength, it has become a liability, leading contemporary WASPS to turn a blind eye to the destruction of their culture and their own dispossession, and leading non-whites down the blind alley of ressentiment and grievance politics.
It is the responsibility of the Restorationist to embody what is best in his heritage. We are, for better or for worse, natives of the American continent, heirs of its early settlers. Having identified what is noblest in the historic American culture, how do we become the exemplars of that America that was, that might be again?
- Embrace, know, and love our heritage. Do not succumb to the atomism, individualism, and victim mentality that animates current politics; focus on improving ourselves and our people, honoring our ancestors and carrying on their ways for our children.
- Embrace the Christian faith that has animated our people.
- Know the history and folk tales and literature of the American continent. Learn Indian and regional folklore, read Hawthorne and London, Melville and Lovecraft, Poe and Jeffers, Emerson and Thoreau, Faulkner and the Southern Agrarians. Know the political thinkers of the old America: Calhoun, Fitzhugh, John Taylor of Caroline, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, the anti-Federalists, Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard.
- Reject the global consumerist culture of the cities in favor of the folk culture. Reject mass media, Hollywood, television, pop music, materialism, fashion, throwaway consumerism. Learn to love the indigenous music of the North American continent, whether it be bluegrass, folk, country, gospel, etc.
- Love the wilds, spend time in wild nature as often as possible, and retain a connection to the land. Work to preserve the wilderness and support local agriculture.
- Learn the skills necessary for independence and self-reliance. Remain physically fit, in fighting shape. We are descended from Cavaliers and conquerors and frontiersmen, and should strive to live up to their example.
- Inculcate these values in our children.
The most important thing to take away is that the essence of America is not its governing ideology, nor its economic system. It is the land and the people who settled that land. It is these people and the soil from which they emerged, not some piece of paper in a museum, not some trite phrases scribbled by an Enlightenment era politician, that form the core of the historic American nation. It is these that are worth preserving.
However, as opposed to the current propositional nation story, this account is highly exclusionary. Any authentically rooted cultural conception of this country is likely to appeal only to European Americans, and possibly American Indians and African Americans if they can overcome their longstanding resentment towards the country’s ruling culture. More recent immigrants to this country, beginning in the twentieth century, have been at most indifferent to this heritage and are increasingly hostile; they came to America for its economic opportunities and would often rather be elsewhere. This forms a significant obstacle to the formulation of a Restorationist civic culture. In order for any sense of authentic historically-grounded culture – true nationhood – to be restored to these United States, it will be necessary to severely constrain the amount of newcomers as well as the influence they are permitted to have in modifying the nation’s civic culture.
1. While some American reactionaries might be predisposed to support the Loyalists/Tories in the War of Independence, viewing the entire history of the independent United States as a mistake, this is a political dead end. Moreover, identification with the rapidly degenerating regime of the British Isles is not particularly desirable at this point in history. As a man of Jacobite sentiments, I cannot say that I feel any particular remorse about our ancestors’ rebellion against a decadent clan of Hanoverian usurpers. I will leave you with the words of Ralph Adams Cram, American Prior of the Jacobite Order of the White Rose: “While we owe our existence to the [Jacobite] Order in Great Britain and are honored in the intimate connection that exists between us, we are yet established in a distant land, surrounded by different conditions, with new problems confronting us. In the fundamental principles for the defense of which we are constituted, we are at one with the Order throughout the world: loyalty, chivalry, honour, the defense of lawful government and legitimate Princes, denial of the heresy of popular sovereignty, the upholding of the Divine source of power, belief in a monarchical system of government at having Divine sanction and as being the best guarantee of liberty; devotion to the memory of our martyred King and the Royal House of Stuart […] But in the matter of practical action, the action that is for to-day, that is taken towards the amelioration of local and contemporary conditions, here we must act as the peculiar circumstances may demand […] The [American] revolution is an accomplished fact and must be so accepted. Erected in accordance with all civil laws the United States most surely is; it is for us to strive that its foundation be made more consonant with Divine law and with the eternal principles that should govern human society.” Cram advises American Jacobites to support monarchical governments throughout the world and to pray and work for the restoration of the Stuarts in Great Britain, while recognizing the impossibility of restoring a hereditary monarchical government in the United States at present. He recommends that American Jacobites strive to reformulate the foundations of American sovereignty away from its democratic and rights-oriented basis, and combat its corruption, inefficiency, and demoralizing influence upon civilization.