Home/Daniel Larison/The Reactionary Imperative

The Reactionary Imperative

In a struggle against a revolutionary idea, it is only possible to use ideological elements which are a thousand times more radical, or adapt principles which represent a total reaction against them.

~ Francis Stuart Campbell (a.k.a., Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn), The Menace of the Herd

This quote from the mid-twentieth century book, The Menace of the Herd, by the late, learned Austrian Catholic philosopher and early National Review contributor, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, is indicative of the basic theme of all his writings, which was his persistent and unremitting opposition to the French Revolution and its heirs in all their forms. His writings were a revelation and an inspiration for my early political thinking, especially in clarifying the differences between those lamentable, but sometimes unavoidable, post-revolutionary political classifications of Right and Left.

He was perhaps the first author I read who thoroughly debunked the popular myth that nationalism, militarism and fascism were in any sense properly ‘rightist’ impulses. Like so many failed ideologies, these were the truncated, distorted and lifeless expressions of legitimate and honourable sentiments and convictions, but they were taken up or tolerated by so many otherwise genuine rightists in various times and places because they seemed to be the only widely available modern expressions of ideas that rightists found worthwhile but could no longer express in their traditional forms in a way that would appeal to the mass man.

K-L’s quote helps to explain why these half-way houses for defenders of traditional societies and established social and political orders have consistently failed to endure or produce anything much better than crude bellicism, reductionist and hollow definitions of national and cultural identity and a dreary subordination to the government as the last vestige of anything representing an authority. It is also part of the reason why American conservatism, always compromised at some level by sympathies with Enlightenment thought, has consistently failed to check the revolutionary idea and does not usually express itself in any language but that of its mortal foe.

The failure to embrace what Mel Bradford called the “reactionary imperative,” the vital response when there is no longer anything of the old and desirable order to be conserved, leaves those who should be hostile to the revolutionary idea and its implications to resort to sterile collaboration with the assumptions and principles of that idea.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles