Chronicles, December 2010

Lawrence Dennis and his foster mother circa 1908, when he toured England as "the boy evangelist"

I never quite finished my notes on the December 2010 issue of far-right Chronicles magazine, but it includes several notable pieces.  So I’ll mention them now, months late though I may be.

Justin Raimondo brings up one of his favorite writers, Lawrence Dennis.  Dennis is also one of my favorites, though I think it is rather stretching matters for Raimondo to call Dennis an “African-American intellectual.”  Certainly Dennis’ background was African-American; when the 12 year old Dennis toured England as “the boy evangelist” in 1908, his ethnicity gave him an exotic appeal.  And he was undoubtedly an intellectual.  When he was on trial for sedition in 1944, government witness Hermann Rauschning startled the prosecutor by testifying that Dennis was not a tool of the Nazis, but was a thinker fit to be compared with Oswald Spengler.  Dennis was conducting his own defense; when time came for him to cross-examine Rauschning, he rose and thanked him.   Yet Dennis was hardly the spokesman for the African American experience that we’ve come to expect when we hear the phrase “African American intellectual.”  He said little about the African American experience, and never presented himself as a representative of African Americans.  Indeed, the only book-length study of Dennis is titled The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right Wing Extremism in the United States, and interprets Dennis’ writings and political behavior as symptoms of a life spent passing for white.  As Robert Nedelkoff put it in a sympathetic piece about Dennis that he contributed to issue #13 of The Baffler (published in October 1999,) “when he spoke of race relations he made no reference to his being of a particular race” (page 99.)  Nedelkoff’s piece, covering pages 93-100 in that issue of The Baffler, was the second place I’d read of Dennis; the first was the chapter on Dennis in Ronald Radosh’s 1975 book Prophets on the Right.  Between them, these pieces convinced me that Dennis was more interesting than his onetime embrace of the label “fascist” would indicate.  In a series of books published between 1933 and 1941, Dennis predicted that the USA would eventually adopt an economic system similar to those prevailing in Italy and Germany at that time; that this new system would be promoted as a triumph of America’s traditional system; and that he himself would be prosecuted for sedition for saying that free speech was obsolete.  Looking back in his final book, Operational Thinking for Survival (1969,) Dennis concluded that all of his predictions had been vindicated.

Chilton Williamson shares fond memories of the time when he and the late Joseph Sobran worked together at National Review.   I always looked forward to Sobran’s columns because of the witty remarks that so often appeared there, though I can’t say I ever found a well-constructed argument in any of them.  I must mention a grievance I have against Sobran.  One of the statements he made that got him fired from National Review and driven to the fringes of society was praise for the magazine Instauration.  Because I found much to admire in Sobran’s work, I looked for Instauration.  When the magazine became available online, I read several issues.  I’d expected an intellectual magazine marked by a hard-headed conservatism, with some pieces that crossed the line into racial prejudice.  In other words, I was braced for something rather like Chronicles, only more extreme.  Imagine my disappointment when instead I found a racist tract containing article after article dismissing the Holocaust as a hoax (in the first issue the editors express great satisfaction in putting the word “Holohoax” into print.)

George McCartney reviews the movie The Social Network, by Aaron Sorkin.  Sorkin’s grand project seems to be showing groups of aggressive, self-indulgent people clashing with each other in the course of work that creates a benign product.  The difficulty with such works as The Social Network and The West Wing is that the real-life counterparts of Sorkin’s characters seem to be far more quietly efficient and their products far more problematic than he allows.  So Mark Zuckerberg is rumored to be rather a pleasant sort of chap; Facebook has unnerving features that lead me to call its administrators “the Zuckforce.”  Actual staffers in the White House probably spend less time dashing about the corridors and snarling at each other than they do showing friendliness and good manners; but the US presidency, as they help to constitute it, may well be the single most destructive institution in the world today.  Someone like Lawrence Dennis, were he to see a society with a surveillance network like Facebook and a political leader who starts a war every year or two, would likely show little interest in whether the people administering that network and staffing that leader observed the social graces.  In the popularity of Facebook, he might see a people who had become so thoroughly inured to surveillance that they can enjoy themselves only in an environment structured to record their every move; in The West Wing, a people so inured to war that they expect to enjoy a cozy relationship with the chief warlord.

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