Where did all the reactionaries go?

Here’s a far from exhaustive list of things George Kennan, the great US diplomat, feared: cars, hot dogs, moving pictures, the universal franchise, advertising, Los Angeles, “national distribution chains”, women working, Men screaming “modern hygiene”, artificial fertilizers and jeans. What he liked was the pre-industrial Russia of Anton Chekhov. He used the verb “re-primitivist” and meant well. “I hate the ‘Peepul,'” he once wrote to his sister.

After reading Frank Costigliola’s new book about the old grouch, I come back with a question: where have all the reactionaries gone? Where is the elitist, pessimistic, anti-modern mindset otherwise known as “paleoconservative” in the US? where are the foeys

The right as we know it today glorifies the peepul. It gives them referendums. It supports them against the “establishment” (a word no reactionary would use pejoratively). Even the traditionalist alt-right speaks in a haze of sci-fi references that a Kennan would consider cultural trash. In Donald Trump, it honors a man he would have seen as the distillate of all modernity. No movement centered on Palm Beach has a tragic view of life and history.

If anything, it is the left, with its concerns about economic growth, that harbors a tinge of reaction. But only a trace. It would not join the belief in eternal hierarchies. Or the taste for ethnic homogeneity. Or the aversion to any visual art after 1900.

And so the Anglophone intelligentsia lost a whole worldview. I think that’s the definitive reactionary view: Britain should have left the EU, but there should never have been a referendum. I can only name one commentator, Peter Hitchens, who inclines to this view. In fact, reactionary thinking is so marginal that even the word itself is changing in common parlance. It now appears to mean something like “overreactive.” Anyone who wants to fire a soccer coach after a few bad results is reactionary.

Kennan’s legacy is not the “long telegram” he wrote from Moscow in 1946. It was, in the end, and in his own estimation, a kind of failure. What he recommended in that document was constant vigilance and counter-pressure against the Soviets. What he got was a moral crusade and the militarization of much of the world. In the face of the West’s ultimate triumph, hundreds of millions brought into the democratic herd from Kiev to Seoul, he cannot even claim to have been confirmed. Once dazzling in Washington, his reputation in his later decades was that of an amiable weirdo.

No, his importance is that he was the last great reactionary. A man who never quite adjusted to the 20th century managed to live in our lives long after Evelyn Waugh died and Margaret Thatcher cast the mists of The Spectator and The Telegraph on the destructive beauty of commerce . The closest thing to the reactionary at the top end of Anglo-American public life is King Charles III. And I’m basing this on old rumors about glass buildings and industrial agriculture, most of which he’s kept under his guard for years.

I should make myself a hot dog and celebrate. Reaction is the geometric opposite not only of my perspective, but of my life, which is based on immigration, social mobility, big cities and romantic freedom. I find modernist LA more beautiful than baroque Rome. The sound of traffic is my birdsong.

But no civilized society can do without reactionaries. It has something to do with their occasional wisdom: many of them opposed the Iraq war. It has a lot more to do with the style they bring to public life. Those I know tend to be tongue-in-cheek, gregarious, and casual with ambiguity. (Kennan was both a moral traditionalist and, as they say, a tough dog to keep on the porch.) Precisely because they don’t see politics as being as important alongside eternal human nature, they get drawn into aesthetics and other issues lively. A modern right-winger would ban TikTok to push back China in the epic struggle for world domination. A reactionary would ban TikTok because it’s ghastly.

Email Janan janan.ganesh@ft.com

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https://www.ft.com/content/5ed324cd-8581-4fc0-900b-3d058d689148 Where did all the reactionaries go?

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing russellfalcon@ustimespost.com.

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