Bolton, Kerry. Yockey: A Fascist Odyssey. London: Akrtos, 2018.
Political dissent, particularly the reactionary brand that has become increasingly pervasive since the political poles began to shift in the late 18th century, suffers by necessity from division and self-defeating contests for control. Looking upon the ruins of a sensible reality, the remnant population, like those angels struck from the heavens, look about themselves in a dazed confusion, each with his own understanding and explanation of the disaster he has just witnessed.
What, indeed, if the Devil had won the War in Heaven?
Still reeling from a 150-year-old defeat, Evola would desperately protest that his principles were “only those that, before the French Revolution, every well-born person considered sane and normal.” Few were capable of taking a long enough view to make sense of the implosion – by the late 20th century, Western dissidents still fall into two rival intellectual tribes, neither fully capable of challenging the ascendant Imperial power colonizing our mental landscape. The future belongs to those who can comfortably part with sentiment and grasp onto only those artefacts of true spiritual value. This project has had precious few champions since the West has entered late modernity; the thickest discernible root is doubtlessly Spengler’s corpus, but the first green shoot of real application to political action can be credited only one thinker alone.
Alexander Dugin has drawn great interest and no small amount of praise for his Fourth Political Theory as a way forward for Western Dissent in a post-Western world. His chief critics come from that backward-looking, Russoskeptic camp of dissidents who may still claim the title of true Reactionaries, suspicious of all ideas neither Western nor immediately adjacent, longing for a return to the lost youth of Faustian civilization. Dugin is no resurrectionist. He has therefore become the darling of the rival camp, proposing what for many young dissidents are completely new views of world politics. Dugin is, without a doubt, an original thinker, able to use Asiatic experience to cast Western problems in new light and shift perspectives on established lines of thinking – but he is not the first to propose a path forward that requires the abandonment of 20th century ideologies and their antecedents. Why discuss him at such length, then?
Dugin has made his claims, drawn his conclusions, and attracted his audience from the comfort of the twenty-first century. Francis Parker Yockey, though, did not have, and, more to the point, did not require the benefit of hindsight which has been so important to Dugin’s popularity, underlining the immensity of his intellect and unique genius for long-term analysis and strategy. Readers of Imperium in the 21st century (how many are there, truly?) may look back upon Yockey and wonder why his influence was not greater, his plans more successful, his genius more widely recognized in a post-war Right starved for luminaries of real intellect.
Kerry Bolton gives what is perhaps the most complete answer possible to that pondering in his magnificent biography. Dissent today is so ready to embrace a broad stratum of dissident intellectuals, many have forgotten the confusion and suspicion that reigned in Yockey’s time after the chaos of a three-decade long struggle ending with the utter failure of the movements most dissidents had hoped would finally turn the world right side up.
It is to Bolton’s credit that the great and necessary service he has provided of reminding us of Yockey has been achieved with great equity and far less dismissive critique than the Right likely deserves. Magisterial is a term used with greater frequency than it merits – most works given the appellation are momentary flashes that capture the eye for a season and then pass along. Bolton’s work, though, deserves a place of honour in the library of every scholar in the Dissident Right. It is an exhaustive and piercing examination, and in some places, indictment, of the post-War Right in its early days, and it is the honest evaluation of one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century which, leaving no wart unpainted, nevertheless presents a handsome portrait indeed.
Yockey: A Fascist Odyssey is intended to be a corrective work filling gaps left by the existing treatments of Yockey, which are alternatively sensationalist and poorly researched. It is not intended to be polemic or hagiography, and indeed it is not. Prior to Bolton’s publication, the chief examination of Yockey was Kevin Coogan’s Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International (that Bolton’s work is explicitly responding to this piece is evident in the cover art).
The liner notes for Coogan’s work describe Yockey’s magnum opus as “a huge tome often described as a Mein Kampf for modern-day neo-Nazis”, a statement whose absurdity, redundancy, and alarmism truly encapsulates the spirit and style of Coogan’s entire screed. Myriad other works on Yockey exist from both the left and (far more) the right, but none have Coogan’s credentials or academic style. It has, therefore, been a useful text for those interested in learning about Yockey what they cannot in pamphlets and manifestos, if they were willing to wade through the usual rending of garments meant to remind readers how morally objectionable the subject matter is.
Bolton provides the much-needed alternative, actually accomplishing what Coogan purports to do in examining the “fascist international” and Yockey’s place within it. This, however, is one of the only two complaints this reviewer can make about Bolton’s work: the post-war dissident Right was far too complex and diverse to refer to Yockey’s intellectual travels as merely a fascist odyssey.
Otherwise, the title is perfectly fitted to the book; the reader is conducted on a winding journey through Yockey’s contacts, and learns a great deal about the state of the post-war Right in America and Europe. Indeed, one might say Bolton reveals more about the people around Yockey than about Yockey himself. The book is engrossing in this way, creating an air of mystery that the FBI must have experienced chasing Yockey; as one reads about all of the people Yockey had contact with, and their encounters with him, one is often left with the sense of being just one step shy of the subject of the book – he is always already gone when one gets to the next chapter, and the reader is left speaking with those he had just been with.
This is the only other complaint to be made about the book. For a biography, it reveals precious little about Yockey the man. One expects this, of course, from an intellectual biography, and Bolton’s goal was doubtless to focus on Yockey the theorist and political force. This is useful, but it does leave readers without a human being they can relate to, with foibles and struggles, certainties and doubts, as we all inevitably have, who nevertheless by his own struggle and vision made himself an intellectual giant of the post-War Right. Yockey’s voracious sexual appetite and, paradoxically, his love for his children, are hinted at in the pages of the book, but aside from the rather brief personal “Ecce Homo” chapter, Bolton leaves the reader wishing for more vignettes of Yockey the husband, the father, and the friend.
Admittedly, this absence has much to do with Yockey’s own very private nature, which left associates often guessing at his “true self”, a problem frequently encountered among great intellectual figures – including Yockey’s inspiration, Oswald Spengler. In Spengler’s case, scholars are fortunate to possess a sizeable collection of his own self-reflections as well as the testimony of his surviving relatives. Bolton, writing two generations after Yockey’s death, does not have the benefit of living testimonies that Spengler’s chief biographer, Anton Koktanek, had. Nevertheless, that this personal element is not more prominent is a rare disappointment in an otherwise excellent book.
These minor flaws notwithstanding, Bolton boasts what is perhaps the best critical look in recent years at the times Yockey inhabited, particularly in America, and of the various egos and ideologies vying for dominance in the post-War right, many forgotten in the fog that has descended upon the years in which Yockey was most active. Bolton’s greatest contribution is found in two revelations he makes by clearing away this fog, the first in regards to Yockey’s origin and the other as regards his contemporary audience.
A great deal of ink has been spilled, especially in the last twenty years or so, over the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the rise of Fascism. Ever since Cornwell’s vile and libelous pamphlet Hitler’s Pope hit the shelves of the pop-history section of major bookstores in 1999, dozens of works, some scholarly, some amateurish, have flooded the market. Richard Steigmann-Gall earned the profuse praise of certified academics like Richard Evans with his The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945 in 2004; more recently, Derek Hastings offered what passes for a measured approach to the subject in Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism (2009). Finally, as is only natural, the bludgeon was brought out in full force with Robert Ericksen’s Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany, which reviewers showered in praise after its release in late 2012. While Ericksen trods mit ruhig festem Schritt upon the whole of Christendom for his barely readable diatribe, he joins the other authors assigning particular blame to Roman Catholicism—it is, after all, the faith of both Hitler & Mussolini’s younger years. The authors are no friends of the Roman Church, and are no doubt using the power of guilt-by-association to help dismantle it, but they do provide some valuable insights into the relationship of pre-War Catholic social activism and the dissident Right both during and between the World Wars. They have, to the chagrin of the contemporary Vatican, demonstrated that broad Catholic support for the governments in Austria, Germany, France, Italy & Spain is historically undeniable.
Little, however, is said of Catholicism and post-War Rightist activism. Bolton does much to reveal not only a greater role for individual Catholics in the dissident Right, but also the specific influence of American Catholicism on the post-War Right through the person of Yockey. No brand of Catholicism is more reviled by traditional Catholics than American Catholicism, shot through with all the seeds of the Second Vatican Council, exported to Europe with a whole array of other Americanisms after the War and left to fester in the wounds of Western Christendom. Yockey, though, stands as a testimony to the value of a certain brand of North American Catholicism to the Right, and of the impact of people like Fr. Charles Coughlin, of whom Yockey and his family were enthusiastic followers.
Following the War, left-wing Catholic activists became so emboldened that their traditionalist and radical rightist counterparts often disappear in histories of the era, but Yockey’s extensive network of supporters apparently contained a sizable cross-section of the post-War Catholic Right who, while restricted by the cultural tide, could not be forcibly silenced by a panicked Vatican like Fr. Coughlin. Bolton, though he does not seem to have set out to do this, demonstrates that there were a large number of Roman Catholics heavily involved in post-War dissident politics explicitly because they were Catholic and their faith heavily informed and influenced their political ideology. Indeed, one comes away from this biography with the impression that if Yockey were not Catholic, and did not move in Catholic circles, Imperium, and indeed much of his corpus (especially “What is Behind the Hanging of Twelve Jews at Prague?”), would never have existed at all.
Playing a foil to Catholic Dissent is the warts-and-all portrayal of many secular leaders of the post-War Right. The treatment of Oswald Mosley and the post-war Union Movement paints a particularly unflattering portrait of the aftermath of the BUF, especially Mosley himself. It is refreshing, actually, to encounter a criticism of Mosley from the Right – for none of the critiques from the Left ever seem worthy of respect. Likewise, the critiques of American organizers, some of whom accepted Yockey but most of whom rejected him with a bull-headed Americanism all too common in the American Right, is a illuminating lesson to contemporary activists and organizers not to idolize failures and fall into the traps of the past.
In this regard, the new glimpses Bolton gives into the Union Movement as well as the myriad rightist projects in America is invaluable to contemporary dissidents. The revelations are too numerous to detail here, but it suffices to say that there is no a corner of contemporary Western dissent that could not benefit greatly from Bolton’s findings, and his research has the potential, in the right hands, to prevent many future errors and correct the course of the Dissident Right in the era of tragedy and hope that is being shaped by the likes of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Victor Orban, and Matteo Salvini. Yockey looked to the East; the lessons of his contemporaries suggest he was pointed in the right direction.