Lit Crit

The Melancholy Roar of Retreat

October 20, 2011

Multiple Pages
The Melancholy Roar of Retreat

One of the schoolmasters in charge of my Anglican religious instruction used to say that a good hymn is one that leaves you feeling absolutely terrible.

I feel the same way about Pat Buchanan’s books. By this measure, Suicide of a Superpower is a very good Buchanan book. With chapter headings such as “Demographic Winter,” “The Triumph of Tribalism,” and “The Long Retreat,” you can practically hear the bugles calling from sad shires.

If you read Pat’s books or columns (or mine, for that matter: I’m quoted a generous four times in Suicide of a Superpower, way more gratifying than the one lousy passing mention I get in this fall’s other nonfiction bestseller), you’ll know the themes:

• Bloated government financed by trillions of debt.

• Tens of millions of unproductive citizens—net tax-eaters—parasitic on a dwindling number of wealth-creators.

• The melancholy, long, withdrawing roar of Christianity in retreat.

• The denial of human nature, and of normal, harmless human affinities.

• Collapsing birthrates in civilized nations.

• Social disaggregation—the big sort.

• Ethnonationalism’s worldwide persistence.

• Incomes stagnant for the middle class and cratering for the working class.

“Buchanan is as bold as it is possible to be if you don’t want to be relegated to the commentariat’s outermost fringes.”

• The Republican Party vote swamped by waves of immigrants.

And so on. It’s all true. Is there any hope? Not much. Pat:

The crises that afflict us—culture wars, race division, record deficits, unpayable debt, waves of immigration, legal and illegal, of peoples never before assimilated, gridlock in the capital, and possible defeat in war—may prove too much for our democracy to cope with. They surely will, if we do not act now.

Then what must we do to be saved? Pat offers some suggestions, none of them surprising: Stop garrisoning the world, downsize the federal government, bring back the tariff, and overhaul immigration.

Will any of this actually happen? I suppose some of it might, but only from sheer necessity; there is no will to make any of it happen.

It is possible that at some point, with gas at twelve hundred dollars a gallon, Hoovervilles on the National Mall, and family pets vanishing into cooking pots, we shall draw down the 9,779 troops we have stationed in Italy, defund the NEA, and stop giving public assistance to illegal immigrants

We shall have been forced to those dire extremes, though. Nobody of importance actually wants change on that terrifying scale. Of the politicians currently vying for the Republican presidential nomination, only Ron Paul has dared to propose such radical measures, and as everyone knows, Ron Paul is crazy.

Buchanan is as bold as it is possible to be if you don’t want to be relegated to the commentariat’s outermost fringes. A little bolder than that, perhaps: One of his chapters is titled “The End of White America.” At age 72, Pat may feel tempted to succumb to Elderly Tourette’s Syndrome.

Even that limited degree of frankness is too much for the younger generation’s delicate stomachs. Sean Hannity, interviewing Pat on his Fox News show, could barely summon up a vocabulary with which to discuss that particular chapter. “Are you saying,” he stammered nervously, “that America is only a great country if it’s white?”

Pat hedged nimbly. Sure, he said, blacks and Hispanics vote heavily Democrat, but so did Italians and the Irish a hundred years ago. With an immigration moratorium and a few decades of assimilation, we could be one nation again, with our old conservative ideals of self-support and patriotism revived.

Does Pat believe it? It would be impertinent to speculate. Certainly it is possible that he does. For real despair about our civilization’s future, you need to have a grasp of some science, most especially biology, as applied to our species’ history. Pat’s having none of that. Modern biology—“Darwinism”—is the work of Satan, he has told us elsewhere.

Pat is a great reactionary. He came of age in the late 1950s, the very peak of the USA’s Golden Age. In the world at large, our nation was undisputed Top Dog. Our navies patrolled the seas unhindered. Our armies guarded the frontiers of what we unashamedly called—because it was—the “free world.” Our nuclear forces threatened utter destruction to any challenger. Our culture, from movies and novels to pop songs and comic strips, was eagerly consumed everywhere it was allowed entry. When my family in provincial England acquired our first TV set in 1957, the first thing to emerge from the screen snow, after half an hour of dad’s fiddling and muttered cursing, was an imported episode of Adventures of Superman—“truth, justice, and the American way!”

The USA was unified as never before. Thirty-five years of very limited immigration, mostly from Europe, with an assist from economic depression and war’s shared hardships, had thoroughly “cooked” us into a coherent nation with a single language and culture. Demographically we were 90 percent white and 10 percent black, with other races at trace-element levels. Racial persecution was declining fast, capable black citizens were rising into the middle class, and equality of opportunity seemed to be just over the horizon. There was well-paid work for anyone willing to punch a time clock.

It is hard enough for any of us to progress in outlook from the viewpoint of our salad days—how much harder for someone such as Pat, whose social and political awareness emerged into daylight at high noon in that glorious summer!

Alas, change and decay are the laws of existence. By hubris, folly, and a kind of crazed utopianism, we have expelled ourselves from that Eden. An angel with a flaming sword now guards its gate. We cannot go back; we must trudge forward into the unknowable future “with wand’ring steps and slow,” our limbs no longer supple, our eyes no longer bright, our will no longer blithe. There is no use complaining; it’s the way things are.


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