Enoch Powell never quite fits, even in some alternate history, as the leader of a British nationalist movement. A faithful soldier of the Empire, a creature of the Establishment, an idiosyncratic scholar of the classics, an unpredictable and careful student of policy, Powell was no right wing radical. He was a conservative to the core, in his own words, “born a Tory . . . a person who regards authority as immanent in institutions. I had always been, as far back as I could remember in my existence, a respecter of institutions, a respecter of monarchy, a respecter of the deposit of history, a respecter of everything in which authority was capable of being embodied, and that must surely be what the Conservative Party was about, the Conservative Party as the party of the maintenance of acknowledged prescriptive authority.”
Conservatism is a philosophy of pessimism, from Joseph de Maistre to John Derbyshire. At its core, that is because it is a philosophy of maintenance. The work of establishing institutions, nations, and peoples has been done – the task that remains is to hold the line.
The problem is that in the Kali Yuga, in the era of dissolution, any Western institution, no matter how moderate, venerable, or long established, is suspect and vulnerable to destruction. In fact, the longer something has been around and the more enmeshed in a nation’s social life, the more frantically the culture distorters strive to subvert it or destroy it. The justifiable paranoia of the enemy drives them to rip out everything that gives a Western nation its identity, down to the last root and branch.
Most modern conservatives, having accepted the universalistic and liberal premises of their foes, pose no obstacle. A few of the more reactionary specimens may dig in for a few years, even winning temporary triumphs, but never seem to retake lost ground. There is a third type, which constantly creates headlines familiar to us today. An established “respectable” figure will occasionally utter a forbidden truth, at which point all the forces of democratic society will combine to destroy him. Yet, for one brief shining moment, the very pillars of the system will tremble.
It’s easy to mock establishment conservatives and console ourselves with the thought that we can build an intellectual vanguard from the outside which will somehow root the System’s functionaries out of their keeps. However, the hard truth is that all we are all too often talking to ourselves. The outside world only tends to take notice when some establishment politician or intellectual suddenly breaks through into the territory of white racial advocacy and the possibility of a genuinely anti-system movement emerges. The problem is that the very characteristics that allow a successful politician to obtain a platform are the same ones that prevent him from following up at the critical moment. When the time has come for revolutionary thought, the conservative, the politician, remains trapped in the patterns of the past.
Powell is a case in point. He was an exemplar of a truly British identity. Born in England, he enlisted in the British Army in World War II as an Australian. His great frustrated ambition was to be viceroy of India and he was fluent in Urdu. Even during World War II he identified the United States as Britain’s “terrible enemy” and was a Cold War skeptic, believing (correctly) that the United States wanted to dismantle the British Empire. The symbol of English patriotism ended his career as an MP from Northern Ireland, representing the Ulster Unionists. Powell himself thought that his greatest speech was given in 1953, when he spoke against the Royal Style and Titles Act which he believed permitted the divisibility of the British Crown.
Like the National Front and British National Party, which grew at least partially out of the League of Empire Loyalists, Powell was a product of the British Imperial past. He viewed with astonishment the managed collapse of the Empire and the demographic besiegement of the home isles. While a member of the Mont Pelerin society, a staple of Anglo-American “movement conservatism,” Powell never confused conservatism with classical liberalism, as both modern Republicans and Tories do today. One is reminded of his comment that he would serve as a soldier for Britain even if it was under a Communist government. He once rendered Margaret Thatcher speechless with his declaration that fighting for “principle” was nonsensical. To Powell, only the real existing country with its real existing institutions mattered. In words oft quoted but less practiced by Anglo-American conservatives, Powell’s conservatism was the negation of ideology.
This was true Toryism, and it was from this impulse to defend the concrete that Powell’s gave his famous speech of “Rivers of Blood.” What is remarkable in retrospect is how simple and elegant the language actually is. He states he does not have the right to ignore his constituents. He comments that mass immigration, obviously, “is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.” He trembles with indignation and incredulous anger at what they are doing to his Britain. Watching his delivery, we are hit with the shock that this is what all speeches would sound like if politicians were trying to educate or persuade their audience, rather than deliberately mislead and confuse them. The “Rivers of Blood” had the effect of an appeal to populism, but contains within it the radical critique of democracy.
The results were predictable. Workers – in class conscious Britain no less – demonstrated spontaneously in support of a Tory politician. Polls showed he was the most popular political figure in the country. Needless to say, the Conservative Leader Ted Heath, whose name surely echoes in the halls of Valhalla, swiftly dismissed him from the Shadow Cabinet. The Conservatives would continue to flail and fail throughout the ’70s until being rescued by Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher borrowed many of her economic ideas from Powell, and her electoral appeal derived in part from a supposed hard line on immigration. Thatcher broke the unions, but as a good modern conservative, ignored the national question. The result was when Tony Blair’s New Labor took power, there was no ideological force to stop its war on the indigenous inhabitants of the sceptered isle.
Powell went on to give noteworthy and prophetic speeches on the issues of the day, including American foreign policy, European integration, and monetary policy. He was essentially right on all of these questions. Where he failed was in thinking that the Britain he served still existed – that it was natural for all concerned to realize that the state should be ruled by a responsible elite and that the political class cared about the interests of “their” country. What Powell didn’t get was that the political class didn’t support non-white immigration because they lacked understanding of how it hurt the country. They supported it precisely because they understood exactly how it hurt the country.
Powell did not grasp the singular importance of race. He rejected any association with the National Front and could not conceive of a genuinely anti-system opposition. His mistake was that of all conservatives – he thought that established institutions and states had a life of their own, rather than themselves existing as products of a particular ethnic group. While he correctly rejected the role of abstract ideology, he didn’t take the next necessary step. He thought that the British Constitution, the British Crown, and the British state had a greater importance than the racial group that gave it shape, content, and meaning.
In this, he exemplified the difference between a conservative and a Traditionalist. While conservatives fight to hold on to products of tradition, Traditionalists serve the forces that first created them, that can carry them forward, and can hasten the upward development of the folk that built them. While the conservative seeks to save the coldest of the cold monsters, Traditionalists know “it was creators who created peoples and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.”
Powell was a genius, a statesmen, and a patriot, but as he said himself, “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” This is only true if the mission of the politician is regarded as one of static defense. The great lesson of Enoch Powell is that conservatism, no matter how faithful or intelligent, can never triumph. Institutions cannot endure apart from the peoples that give them meaning, and it is that root which must be defended, not a flag, a crown, or a constitution.
Enoch Powell wasn’t just the last Tory. He was the last Briton. Enoch was Right. And he was wrong.