A dead land, a horse with dust in its eyes, the lean look of a man desperate to survive. If it were put on film it would probably be directed by John Ford. Like a lot of kids, I scoffed at Westerns. To a child raised with time-traveling robots and ghost-busting wise crackers, honky-tonk culture seemed too kitschy to be taken seriously. The hats seemed as silly as those bar room brawls where the actors stood waiting to be decked in the jaw or have a bottle of moonshine cracked over their heads. It was not until I was much older and discovered films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Unforgiven that I realized what the genre was capable of achieving. It strikes me as being quite sad that the whole cult of the American West has been lost in our culture.
And then slowly it occurred to me that this rejection wasn’t entirely accidental. The media had long turned men like John Wayne into the stereotype of a clueless old codger, the father figure who was too stiff and too white to ever understand the modern world. Clint Eastwood, although much cooler, was used mostly for parody. The Western simply couldn’t survive; the new media could never let the aesthetic continue on. It was too white, too masculine, and too unapologetic. The cowboy was the white, American hero and his values were the values of the white, American male: self-reliance, grit, enterprise, and everything else the left despises. Our culture went from cowboys to ghetto rats and basketball narcissists. Perhaps someday analysts will look back and conclude that the death of the Western was the beginning of the end for white America.
People want to conform to a pattern. This simple truth, however, would pain any Westerner to admit it. We talk about freedom and individuality but just as how the birds fly south in one great flock for the winter, we are all riding the same winds and drifting in the same direction. We’re not half as unique as we would like to believe. It would be better if we just reconciled ourselves with conformity, like Japan did long ago, and then set about scrutinizing the patterns we’re conforming to, rather than arguing about whether they should exist. Perhaps then the West can start rebuilding its proud old traditions.
The worst part about the Allies winning the Second World War is that it caused our culture to mistake a military victory for an ideological victory. We have forgotten that the war was a triumph of the sword, of one combined army breaking the back of another, and that it was not a triumph of liberalism over nationalism. In fact, time has been quite kind to nationalism, while liberalism has started to look more and more like a clown with awkward shoes and devilish makeup.
There is one notion, long cherished by libertarians, that all taxation is theft. It is an idea with some appeal among otherwise intelligent men and women. These people overlook the fact that the purpose of the state is protection, and that were it not for this protection, the state would have no reason to exist. Protection cannot be carried out by men with their trigger-fingers as empty as their pockets; to reject taxation is to reject the state entirely. This is fine for anarchists, of course, but it is no more believable when a libertarian says it than when an anarchist does. When some Somalian pirates capture a ship with your goods on them, shall you personally man the decks of a warship and sail halfway across the world to recapture your property? What about when barbarians from the steppes invade, shall you convince the Khan that you are a sovereign individual and that the Mongol hordes have no authority over you? In both cases you are going to need protection, which means that in both cases you are going to have to pay.
Puritanism reveals itself in the hate crime. It is not enough for the Puritan that a crime is heinous, or that the criminal’s act is in itself evil. The murderer must hang not just for his murder but also for his motive. It is one sure sign that our laws have passed from punishing criminal activity to punishing criminal thought, which is the jurisdiction of religion, not justice. The Puritan must root out sin in both thought and deed and the totalitarian must crush not only a man’s body but also his soul.
Libertarians resemble at times the old British Empire. They harp on economic issues such as fractional reserve banking, which no matter how legitimate these complaints might be, they miss the political mark entirely. The British granted the American colonists scores of concessions and were then flabbergasted when the Americans demanded more. They would later make the same mistake with the Irish: the British regularly overestimated the importance of economic issues and neglected identitarian issues. Libertarians will likewise have to learn that the tribe is stronger than the purse.
Here is my latest article, a critique of Oscar Wilde’s political and aesthetic philosophy. You can find it at Thermidor Magazine.