The following text is excerpted from chapter 5 of James J. O’Meara’s book The Homo and the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics and Popular Culture, forthcoming from Counter-Currents.
Many of today’s “alternative” Rightists aspire to a pre-modern, even Traditional worldview that they hope will return us to the vital sources of our civilization. But that is just a castle on a distant hill. In the meantime, we still live in the subdivisions of bourgeois conservatism, where all intellectual progress can be undone with a single wrong turn in a labyrinth of mental cul-de-sacs.
Issues touching on sexuality, family life, and economics particularly seem to set us off, for most American conservatives inherit their ideas of healthy Traditional society from the profoundly modern and anti-traditional heresy of Calvinism, which imprisoned eros within marriage and formerly free men, women, and even children in mines, factories, and workhouses.
When one looks through these lenses, the real sources of our civilization become invisible, for civilization begins not with the nuclear family, but the Männerbund; not with work, but with play; not with necessity but with luxury; not with modesty but with display. Thus I wish to deploy the phenomenon of dandyism to shock the bourgeois blinders off would-be Traditionalists.
I. Are We Middle Class Conservatives?
At The Occidental Observer, Elizabeth Whitcombe in “The Difficult Class” lauds the supposed “strength” of the middle class, epitomized by its supposed “individualism,” and laments how global elites have tried to undermine it. Of course, one might question how “individualist” the middle class is, or whether, if so, that is a strength. Kevin MacDonald, for one, argues that the alien elites (you know who They are) are precisely promoting individualism itself to undermine White societies.
Whitcombe, however, has an odd idea of “individualism” since she thinks that, “In his Republic Plato recognized the power of middle class principles. Family loyalty, community participation, self-reliance, and prizing education are all things that help the individual resist the will of the State. Plato knew that a class of virtuous citizens needed these qualities in order to prevent the state from slipping into tyranny.”
I’m not sure any of this is particularly “individualist” or “middle class” as opposed to archaic Greek warrior virtue, promoted by pederasty and represented in public art by statutes of invincible male friends who resisted tyranny to the death, but whatever; at least she seems to admit that Plato must be pretty smart, since she wants to draft him for her cause.
Alas, our trust is misplaced; apparently, Plato is an untrustworthy ally, and reveals himself as . . . wait for it . . . “naïve”: “Plato naïvely thought that he could get rid of internecine conflict by extending the family relationship across an entire class—in other words, communal property and no nuclear family.”
Somebody is “naïve” here, but I don’t think it is Plato. Rather, Plato is quite aware of what he is about. In this “class” of Guardians, he is attempting to recreate the features, and thus the benefits, of a Männerbund, the male warrior groups that split away from exactly the “nuclear family” Whitcombe naïvely eulogizes, in order to create the higher institutions of the state and culture.
Ironically, many of the institutions that one thinks of as “middle class,” such as the Boy Scouts, the Little League, the Armed Forces, and the Church, etc., are in fact vestiges of such bands; that’s why women are obsessed with “gaining entrance” or, like Ms. Whitcombe, naïvely ignoring them and promoting the female cults of Family Values. That’s also why they are subject to Christian-inspired witch hunts for “homos.” (Why there, rather than in banks or hardware stores?)
At one time, Rightists from Hans Blüher to Julius Evola knew of such things, but today it’s all about Judaic Family Values.
These are the Wild Boys that William S. Burroughs mythologized, which I have taken as my blog’s emblem; indeed, Burroughs’ mythology will crop up again in our examination of the next offending article.
II. Kurtagić’s “Hard Men”
The very next day at TOO, Alex Kurtagić contributed “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To.”Here Alex treats us to a visit to a local exhibition, where photographs of some Olde Tyme factory workers (a pencil factory, if you will) produce an odd effect on our correspondent. Whitcombe’s middle class likely leaves him cold, but these filthy old codgers set his mind athinking in odd, unwholesome ways. He calls the Wife over and she concurs; these chaps, with their “hostile frowns, ice-cold blue eyes, and troglodytic beards and angrily scowling moustaches” are Real Men, and are sadly lacking today. In another article, Kurtagić pays tribute to the industrious Quakers, who played a prominent role in creating the kinds of factories that produced pencils, matches, and “Hard Men.”
Right off, I have some questions here. For all their beards and stares, these are after all pencil factory workers, not coal miners. Secondly, would these Hard Men be spending their precious “free time” gazing nostalgically at old photographs, and even if so, would the Wife be along? It seems to me that when Men were Men, Women were Wives, and stayed home mending and birthing and boiling tripe.
Unhindered by such negativity, Kurtagić continues to drift in his reverie about the days when factory labor made men Hard, and even waxes nostalgic for the “muscular Christianity” and the Cult of Work that served as ideological cover for the mechanized enslavement of the English yeomanry.
Orwell already made similar observations on the degeneracy of British manhood in The Road to Wigan Pier, but formed a rather different, and more plausible, diagnosis. Observing the sorry specimens arrayed under a dreary sky for the funeral of King George (the only color supplied by the pink bald heads revealed when hats were doffed), he lays it first to the sacrifice of the physical best of a generation in the Great War, and thus the loss of their progeny; and moreover, the appalling conditions (filth, hard work, poor nutrition, overcrowding) of the Industrial Revolution that Kurtagić lauds!
The futile evil of WWI, and the evils of the factory system: more evidence that Orwell and Waugh were, as a recent dual biography argues, The Same Man? Certainly he’s more of a “conservative” here than Kurtagić.
III. Traditionalism versus Capitalism
Is this what the Right has become? Eulogizing Victorian factory slavery and the twisted troglodytes it produced? At one time, English Traditionalists saw these men as “a ruined race” (Tolkien), and thundered against the system that produced it. That Christianity produced and defended it is hardly a positive feature of the religion, as Kurtagić thinks, and most English Traditionalists who stayed Christian (Chesterton, Belloc, Gill, Eliot, etc.) fobbed it off on the Protestant deviation.
The medieval Church, steeped in Aristotle, was part of a continuous Western tradition, going back to the Greeks, which condemned work and promoted leisure as “The Basis of Culture,” in the words of Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper, whose Leisure: The Basis of Culture, was a surprise bestseller in the 1950s when T. S. Eliot prompted his publisher Faber & Faber to put it out. Imagine, a Catholic bestseller!
Non-English, non-Christian Traditionalists such as René Guénon and Julius Evola were even more scathing. And why not? Modern “work” is the satanic parody of traditional craft, which, before it was destroyed by Protestant “work,” was an integral part of traditional society, each vocation appropriate to elicit the perfection of the laborer’s own nature (hence, caste) as well as to serve as a “support” for metaphysical and initiatory knowledge. The factory system, by contrast, treated “all men as ‘equal’” and interchangeable units to be worked at the stupidest tasks until the last ounce of strength was gone, and then tossed on the scrap heap.
Evola devoted two chapters of his post-war manifesto, Men Among the Ruins, to “the demonic nature of the economy” and its tin idol, work. As Troy Southgate summarizes it in his book Tradition and Revolution:
The emergence of capitalism has often been equated with the Protestant work ethic, and is here dismissed by Evola for the simple reason that labor has been transformed from a means of subsistence to an end in itself. It is not only the Right who are obsessed with work, of course, it is the Left too. One thinks of endless marches organized by the likes of Militant Labour and the Socialist Workers Party, during which the only objective is to enslave the proletariat to the employment system: “The most peculiar thing is that this superstitious and insolent cult of work is proclaimed in an era in which the irreversible and relentless mechanization eliminates from the main varieties of work whatever in them still had a character of quality, art, and the spontaneous unfoldment of a vocation, turning it into something inanimate and devoid of even an immanent meaning.” Evola sees this process as the very proletarianization of life itself.
But what is all this to Kurtagić? Who cares for waxing airy-fairy about medieval crafts and vocations? Protestantism and Capitalism (the original “PC”?) produced these deracinated pencil-making Hard Men. Chesterton, Eliot, Guénon, Evola; not a beard among them! Nothing to tickle his fancy here!
IV. The Wilde Wilde West
Many Rightist are surprised to learn that Evola admired the works of Oscar Wilde, at least in his youth, but it’s not hard to see why. Evola despised Whitcombe’s bourgeoisie, and Wilde was their great tormentor. And Wilde’s social thought, as epitomized in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” was part of the same “work should ennoble or not be done at all” tradition that would later be mined by such Traditionalists as Ananda Coomaraswamy and Guénon as well as Evola himself.
As someone once said about Ayn Rand’s idealized portraits of industrialists, “she writes about industrialists as if she had never met one,” so with Kurtagić and his Hard Men, whom he only knows from photographs; one can only imagine what he would think of Wilde’s idea that work must be abolished because it is ugly and makes men ugly.
Interestingly, Wilde, unlike Kurtagić, actually met with miners, along with cowboys and other Hard Men of the West during his famous American tour. A fascinating article by Jan Wellington gives an account of the remarkable encounters, where “Wilde both advertised and embodied the aesthetic movement with its scorn for middle-class Victorian life and the uglier effects of the Industrial Revolution,” a perfect summary of what Evola hated, while also summarizing what Whitcombe and Kurtagić want to preserve in the name of the Right.
Since Kurtagić extends his admiration to “the frontiersmen of American Old West,” let’s see what happened when The Aesthete met The Hard Men.
From the time Wilde disembarked in New York, Americans were surprised to observe that, despite his elegant hands and languid gestures, the Aesthete was a strapping young man who, offstage, ate and drank with gusto and spoke with genial frankness. They learned that even his oft-ridiculed stage dress of black velvet jacket, lace cravat, silk knee breeches, and patent leather pumps could be understood in terms of pragmatics. As Wilde explained, “When a man is going to walk or row, or perform feats which require a display of strength and muscle, the trousers are done away with and knee breeches are worn.”
The Hard Men or Wild Boys of the West were not bowed down under the twin curses of work and muscular Christianity that Kurtagić wants to press down on our brows. Indeed:
[T]hat quintessential westerner, the cowboy, enjoyed freedoms unique in Victorian America: intimacy with women outside of marriage, intimate (though not necessarily sexual) relationships with men, and even the playful donning of women’s garb. To this alternative masculine subculture, their eccentric trans-Atlantic visitor would have seemed uncannily familiar, and thus it is no surprise that at least some Westerners found space in their tradition of individualism for one whose masculinity was complicated by a “feminine” aesthetic and appearance.
This, of course, is the West that served William Burroughs as the basis for his Dead Roads trilogy. These Wild Westerners sound like they could just as well be called the Mötley Crüe or the Guns N’ Roses Gang.
Indeed, one aspect of that free Hard Man culture that Kurtagić, and his Victorians, might have found hard to swallow: the men took Leif Garrett (a relation to Pat Garrett?) as their model, not Thomas Arnold:
In truth, Wilde’s long tresses and outsized hats were not all that eccentric, for Americans had come to associate long hair on men with boldness and adventure. In the West, long hair distinguished masculine men like Wild Bill Hickok, George Armstrong Custer, and Buffalo Bill Cody. . . . The Denver Republican declared approvingly “that if placed in a mining camp dance hall, [the Aesthete] would pass for a real bold, bad man.
Wellington notes that the Hard Men placed value on three things, and they were not high in the value system Kurtagić promotes: fighting, drinking, and cards. This allows us to get an idea of how Wilde would score on the Hard Man meter (I suggest we designate the units as Kurtagićs, or Ks).
Fighting? Wilde? Sure, he was huge man in real life, although later some described him as resembling a “fat, white slug.” The lecture tour did not give any opportunities for fisticuffs, although he did make “a promising impression”: a reporter noted that he “stumbled onto the stage with a stride more becoming a giant backwoodsman than an aesthete.”
Drinking? “In San Francisco, he foiled an attempt by the Bohemian Club to ply him with liquor and prove him a ‘Nancy boy’; after out-drinking (and out-talking) them all, he was given a proud place in a group photograph of the club.”
Cards? “In the same city, he thwarted another attempt on his manhood by professing his ignorance of poker, bluffing bafflement, and then beating all challengers at the game.”
In short, “when I lit a long cigar,” he reports, “they cheered till the silver fell in dust from the roof . . . and when I quaffed a cocktail without flinching, they unanimously pronounced me in their grand simple way a bully boy with no glass eye—artless and spontaneous praise which touched me more than the pompous panegyrics of literary critics ever did or could.”
As for the miners’ own opinions, the Leadville miners “cheered as Wilde drove a silver spike into the lode that would bear his name. Years after his visit, they recalled their guest with affection, one reportedly declaring, ‘[t]hat Oscar Wilde is some art guy, but he can drink any of us under the table and afterwards carry us home two at a time.’”
Driving a spike? That’s some real work there, Alex; I doubt your beloved pencil factory workers would find that an easy task. Twenty years making the same tiny motions with your hands is likely to leave you with a mean, suspicious visage, but isn’t really good for developing the biceps. No wonder they wore long pants; breeches would have revealed their pitiful shins!
What was the basis of this evident kinship of Oscar Wilde, the dandy and aesthete, with these Wild Boys of the Wild West? Simple: no matter how hard they may have worked, they did not allow their souls to be subjected to bourgeois economic necessity. Instead, their lives were dedicated to ideals and actions that transcended economic necessity: aesthetic appreciation and display, games and contests, chivalrous behavior, the unfettered imagination—in short, the wellsprings of real culture. The West is where the freest spirits in America escaped from the creeping blight of factories and tenements—until they hit the West coast, and modernity finally caught up with and consumed them in the end.
2. For the real history, see the works of Alisdair Clarke and Wulf Grimmson cited above in Chapters One and Two, as well as Wulf Grimmson, Male Mysteries and the Secret of the Männerbund, available at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/lokisway.
5. Troy Southgate, Tradition and Revolution (Aarhus, Denmark: Integral Tradition Publishing, 2007), p. 209.
6. Jan Wellington, “Oscar Wilde’s West,” Literary Traveler Aug. 2007; available online at http://www.literarytraveler.com/authors/wilde_west.aspx