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What Yukio Mishima Teaches Traditionalists

Tim Stanley writes a lyrical reflection on the anti-modern ethos and suicide of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, a favorite of Justin Raimondo as well. Tim naturally finds much of Mishima’s life, especially how it ended, at odds with his own English Catholicism, but Mishima’s devotion to art inspires him:

I’ve reached the conclusion that traditionalists should reject politics and focus on art. We should take back control of the cultural institutions—universities, academies, churches, periodicals—and use them to promote beauty. We should try to live charitably, fully and well—to be examples and trend setters. We mustn’t turn our backs on the people we disagree with, but embrace and cherish them (please, do not conflate traditionalism with snobbery—Yukio wrote, “The highest point at which human life and art meet is in the ordinary. To look down on the ordinary is to despise what you can’t have.”) And we should not accept our fate as mere critics of civilisation (the figurative version of Mishima’s suicide) but instead become the architects of a new one. For we traditionalists don’t contribute nearly enough to our society. Helping to improve it could mean anything from blogging to writing a symphony. My favourite way to keep the flame burning is to attend the Old Rite Catholic Mass. There is the real synergy of art and action: an ancient ritual, unchanged, unchanging that represents a communion with the past. And, of course, to God.

I’m reminded of the impeccably Bill Kauffman line in “Copperhead” (spoken by Esther), “Maybe poetry is more important than politics.”

On the flipside, one of the problems with “anti-modernists” has been precisely their preference for romantic feelings over political realities. It’s not a problem as long as you know what genre you’re working in—whether you’re writing, say, political essays or literary ones. But it becomes a source of self-delusion when you habitually measure an actual society, with its necessarily sordid economy and politics, against a literary ideal. That delusion drove Yukio Mishima to his doom. It’s driven some American anti-modernists to futile action in politics and unwholesome resentments in social life. Tim’s counsel is wise, however, for calling on traditionalists to contribute something real and beautiful, even to a social order they find thoroughly ugly and false.

about the author

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review, and Editor-at-Large of The American Conservative. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, The Spectator, The National Interest, Reason, and many other publications. Outside of journalism he has worked as internet communications coordinator for the Ron Paul 2008 presidential campaign and as senior editor of ISI Books. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied classics. Follow him on Twitter.

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