I hope everyone enjoyed my discussion with Jon Miller on Roy Beck’s Back of the Hiring Line. If you missed it, get full access by joining the Book Club today. It was a lot of fun.
What I’m doing next isn’t just going to be for entertainment and enlightenment.
It’s time to start building cadres. I hope you all are ready to become political soldiers. It starts here.
If I could tell political activists to read one book, it would be this one. James Burnham’s The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom is a jewel because it presents perhaps the only prominent modernist analytical framework that has been created for the Right. By modernist, I mean something that doesn’t rely on appeals to the divine, abstractions like “freedom,” or naïve faith that “the Truth” will simply prevail by being exposed.
If there was one small essay I could get political activists to read, it would be Sam Francis’s The Other Side of Modernism: James Burnham and His Legacy. Francis’s essay explains that conservatives have largely failed to make use of Burnham’s analytical framework, thus leaving the movement forever flat-footed when seemingly radical leftist demands triumph with ease. Instead of building coalitions and looking for ways to build concrete centers of power that can check leftist hegemony, conservatives take refuge in castles in the sky, bemoaning inevitable decline and consoling themselves with the thought that there will never be the likes of us again.
Burnham’s framework is not sufficient, of course. It can come off as cold. In his work, Burnham, drawing on Georges Sorel, is quite aware of the need for a Political Myth to inspire concrete action. Yet even talking about it in such terms deconstructs it.
It’s hard for a political activist to deconstruct his own beliefs; it would be akin to a biblical scholar deconstructing Scripture and expecting to come out on the other side with his dogma unshaken. The mystery of politics is that practical, realistic action also requires an absolute, impossible Ideal —a worldview, a creed, a faith that burns like fire in the blood—for people to act.
Burnham arguably falls short in recognizing that. The great Catholic convert Whittaker Chambers expressed this in a particularly striking way: “The Fire Bird is glimpsed living or not at all. In other words, realists have a way of missing truth which is not invariably realistic.”
[For more on this, see Remembering Sam Francis: Francis & The Fire Bird, by Gregory Hood, Counter-Currents, April 28, 2021]
It may seem difficult to both objectively (some would say cynically) analyze politics and yet hold to an unshakeable faith. However, that old devil Saul Alinsky noted in Rules for Radicals that organizers must possess this ability. He may have been the spawn of hell, but when he was right, he was right.
That’s why we must begin with Burnham. What the Right needs more than ever before is an analytical framework, a way of viewing the field of battle and not simply complaining that things aren’t going our way.
Building this is going to be the theme of the Book Club going forward. Thought must lead to action.
I’m really excited about this and look forward to engaging with everyone. We’re just getting started, so please join if you haven’t already.