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The President America Needs

Nothing wrong with this country that proper theology and geometry couldn't fix

Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy kindly asked Self to participate in a fun pre-election symposium. Dan asked us which character from creative literature would make an ideal president. Here are the answers various writers gave.  I bet I was the first one to turn in his bit, because they answer for me is so obvious that I can’t believe anybody had to ask:

Ignatius J. Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces

Verily, things look bad for America now, but as an unjustly neglected prophet has averred, “Even when Fortuna spins us downward, the wheel sometimes halts for a moment, and we find ourselves in a good, small cycle within the larger bad cycle.” This annus horribilis of 2020 has delivered us a glimmer of hope amid Fortune’s failings: America may now finally be ready to heed that prophet’s political message. I speak, of course, of Ignatius J. Reilly of Constantinople Street in New Orleans.

Ignatius, the crusading hero of John Kennedy Toole’s comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces, is an arch-medievalist who considers himself in a permanent state of war with the modern world. “I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss,” he mused about America. What was Ignatius’s solution? “What I want is a good strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king who has some knowledge of theology and geometry, and to cultivate a Rich Inner Life.”

Well, yes, why not? No short-fingered Manhattan vulgarians or mush-brained Delaware levelers. There are Habsburgs extant, you know.

More seriously, Ignatius’s quest to restore the degraded social order has a serious philosophical point. A society built outside of the Divine—and the transcendent order rooted in it (and made immanently manifest in mathematics and architecture)—cannot help but be tasteless, indecent, and chaotic. It inevitably leads to devaluing contemplation, creating a world of sensual chaos—like, say, the French Quarter, into which our stout and gassy Don Quixote waddles to defend chivalric virtues against the forces of capitalism, sensualism, and ideology.

We cannot expect a man of genius like Ignatius to arise to lead us in this woebegone age, but as an amateur gastronome whose last two books concern the decline and fall of our political and social order, I regard I.J. Reilly as my muse. “I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century,” the great man confided. “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.” Scorn not the cheese dip, you villeins! It’s all part of building a Rich Inner Life, which this fall may be the only consolation left to us Kirkean reactionaries.

Read the entire symposium here.