Reactionary solitude

OneSTDV and Dennis Mangan has some thoughts on reactionary solitude, pessimism and nihilism while I was not blogging last week.

I do not share their dour outlook. I think the reactionary should enjoy the folly around him. I have two writers to thank for this outlook: H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock. Who was more pessimistic about humanity than Mencken? Who seemed to have more fun than Mencken? Very few people, would seem to be the answer to both questions. Nock is admirable for having appropriate expectations – for understanding the goal of reactionary thought and writing. (To a lesser extent, and to cite a living example, I’ve always thought Tom Wolfe had a particularly good attitude. He criticizes but seems to rise above the rabble in the same way that Mencken and Nock did. He sees predictable folly and stupidity and laughs).

The reactionary is not a leftist. We do not expect to change the world, to enlighten the masses, or to solve the worlds’ problems. These endeavors – of course! – fail and the leftist becomes cranky in his old age.

The reactionary sits back with a strong drink and chuckles to himself when people continue to fail in predictable ways. We write only for the select group of people who have a chance of understanding our beliefs and who will hopefully continue to preserve civilization. It’s likely that – at some point – they’ll fail. We, however, know better than to expect that anything different could happen.

Mencken makes these two points better I could:

I am very suspicious of all remedies for the major ills of life, and believe that most of them are incurable.

and:

What all this amounts to is that the human race is divided into two sharply differentiated and mutually antagonistic classes, almost two genera — a small minority that plays with ideas and is capable of taking them in, and a vast majority that finds them painful, and is thus arrayed against them, and against all who have traffic with them. The intellectual heritage of the race belongs to the minority, and to the minority only. The majority has no more to do with it than it has to do with ecclesiastic politics on Mars.

The reactionary is a member of the minority ("the Remnant" as Nock put it). I’ll let Mencken have the last word, since he’s so good with words:

What, then, remains for me? Let me try to describe it to you. It is the close of a busy and vexatious day–say half past five or six o’clock of a winter afternoon. I have had a cocktail or two, and am stretched out on a divan in front of a fire, smoking. At the edge of the divan, close enough for me to reach her with my hand, sits a woman not too young, but still good-looking and well-dressed–above all, a woman with a soft, low-pitched, agreeable voice. As I snooze she talks–of anything, everything, all the things that women talk of: books, music, the play, men, other women. No politics. No business. No religion. No metaphysics. Nothing challenging and vexatious–but remember, she is intelligent; what she says is clearly expressed, and often picturesquely. I observe the fine sheen of her hair, the pretty cut of her frock, the glint of her white teeth, the arch of her eye-brow, the graceful curve of her arm. I listen to the exquisite murmur of her voice. Gradually I fall asleep–but only for an instant. At once, observing it, she raises her voice ever so little, and I am awake. Then to sleep again–slowly and charmingly down that slippery hill of dreams. And then awake again, and then asleep again, and so on. I ask you seriously: could anything be more unutterably beautiful?

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3 Responses to Reactionary solitude

  1. Stephen says:

    Cf. Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito II (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2005), p. 31:

    Los reaccionarios contemplamos las claudicaciones de la izquierda con la misma fruición malévola que los anticlericales de pueblo los deslices del cura.

    My quick and dirty translation:

    “We reactionaries contemplate the left’s limping with the same Schadenfreude as small-town anticlericals contemplate the priest’s slip-ups.”

    There’s a play on words here that is hard to replicate in English. In Spanish, desliz literally means “slip” and figuratively “mistake.” That can be conveyed in English. But, claudicación can mean, literally, “limp” or, figuratively, “failure” and there’s no easy way to keep the double entendre in English.

  2. Bruce Charlton says:

    While I agree that Mencken is a brilliant and very funny writer – his philosophy is nasty: selfish, smug, sadistic, pride-full.

    He avoids despair and energizes himself – but at the cost of despising almost everyone else and indulging hatred.

    His positive motivations are self-indulgent: desire, intoxication, food, favoured arts and crafts… but he has no *reason* to prefer them to the motivation he despises: he simply says they are better and mocks to extinction those who disagree.

    He has no grounds for favoring poetry over push-pin (to use the example from Bentham).

    No – Mencken won’t do… As recreational reading yes; as a philosopher, no way.

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