By now many of you have heard of Dimes Square, that segment of New York City filled with art hoes, hipsters, influencers…most of whom are Traditional Catholics. At the intersection of Ludlow and Canal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a segment of town named after the Dimes restaurant has become the subject of numerous articles. Why? While I am sure the bars are good, the interest is in the cultural phenomenon rather than the physical place. Russel Kirk had a good label for this phenomenon: the Tory Bohemian. While seemingly contradictory, most the great men of the right were such a type: T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Henry Adams, and Ernst Junger. Before these men, the “Republic of Letters” was a good example of the larger phenomenon.
What is a “Tory Bohemian?” In the words of Kirk, “A Tory, according to Samuel Johnson, is a man attached to orthodoxy in church and state. A bohemian is a wandering and often impecunious man of letters or arts, indifferent to the demands of bourgeois fad and foible… Tory and bohemian go not ill together: it is quite possible to abide by the norms of civilized existence, what Mr. T.S. Eliot calls ‘the permanent things’: and yet to set at defiance the soft securities and sham conventionalities of twentieth-century sociability.” In an age like ours, where there is nothing more bourgeois than flying a Black Lives Matter or Ukrainian flag from your porch, and where the artistic mainstream praises nihilism, the bohemian almost has to be a tory. An appreciation of beauty, to frame the same thing differently, will lead an artist to reject the prevailing political orthodoxy, an orthodoxy which says beauty is in the eye of the beholder and must be used as a political tool for “liberation”, and embrace the naturally tory position that beauty is real, that if we do not like a work of beauty (be it Rilke or Handel) then we have bad taste, not that Rilke or Handel are “simply not for me”, and that art should not be weaponized for political gain.
Some Tory Bohemians produce art, as did Eliot and Pound, while others are appreciators and patrons of art, like Adams and Kirk. For those unfamiliar with the poems of Eliot or Pound, and I am still shocked that there exist men on the right who are, let’s look at Ezra Pound’s first Canto:
Canto I by Ezra Pound
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
“Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”
And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe’s ingle.
“Going down the long ladder unguarded,
“I fell against the buttress,
“Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
“But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
“Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
“A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
“And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”
And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
“Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
“Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
“Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
“Lose all companions.” And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
In the Cretan’s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:
Not all Tory Bohemians are poets, some are painters, others musicians. Still others are art collectors like Henry Adams was, or patrons of art, like Russel Kirk was. Some were conservatives, and some were fascists, Pound being the most (in)famous. Eliot was a devout Anglican, Kirk a Catholic, and Adams someone who always had an interesting relationship with God, never quite an orthodox Christian, but never quite an atheist.
Before the emergence of the Tory Bohemian proper, there was the Republic of Letters: those men who wrote for The Federalist and The Anti-Federalist. Madison, Hamilton and Jay were not artists, but they lived what could properly be called the bohemian life. Men who read Greek and Latin, who were cultured in the great works of art, spending their day penning works of oratory while drinking cocktails and smoking tobacco. Whether you are partial to the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists, both sets of pamphleteers were, undoubtedly, men of culture. I have had the privilege of visiting some of the bars and inns that they stayed in, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting one of them.
Okay, why are we sketching out this particular type? Why do we care that there are right-wing hipsters and art hoes? Does it really matter that Ezra Pound wrote poetry? Or that Junger tripped out on LSD while he wrote Eumeswil? Yes, quite a bit actually. I like to keep a pulse on what the left cares about. Two things the left is scared of right now are local elites, and Dimes Square. We explained why the left should be scared of local elites a bit ago, so now the question is why they care about Dimes Square.
A friend of mine once said that the right does not need culture warriors, but, instead, a cultural vanguard. Political struggle in the 20th century was, in large part, between artists. On the right there were T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Ernst Junger, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis (among others), and on the left there were Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Miller, George Orwell, Dr. Seuss, and James Joyce. Why? Why were artists at the center of 20th century political struggle? Because politics is more than just policy proposal, elections or even violent struggle. Politics is, above all else, a competition between visions. Art is not constrained by hegemonic structures…Frodo does not have to submit to the IRS or use proper pronouns! Middle Earth is outside the grasp of any government dictate, and Aslan can tread wherever he pleases. Free of dictate, art can open up possibilities, new futures, and give access to something outside the hegemony. Dimes Square is scary because it is dangerous; it is dangerous because it is artistic; it is artistic because it is bohemian; it is bohemian because it eschews the political orthodoxy; it is tory because it eschews the political orthodoxy.
What makes Tory Bohemianism so dangerous is that, unlike the left, tories believe that there are standards of beauty that all artists should strive to conform to. If you do not think beauty is anything more than your personal preferences, if you think that calling a waterfall sublime (to use an example from Lewis) is actually a statement about your psychology (you find the waterfall sublime), and says nothing about the waterfall, then there is nothing to strive towards, there is no perfection towards which art should aim. If there is nothing to strive for, if beauty is simply a matter of preferences, which means that there is nothing truly more beautiful than something else, then it becomes increasingly hard to make beautiful things, for how can you hit a target if you do not even believe there is a target in the first place? Tory art will win the culture because people desire good art, and only the tory, since he believes in the reality of beauty, can produce good art. Maybe the left is trying to trick us, but I think they are genuinely spooked by Dimes Square. What is spooky is that it brings to mind the greatest men of the right, the Tory Bohemians. For the right to win, we do not need another podcast, another Youtube channel, and definitely not another substack regurgitating the same talking points that have been around for decades. Yes, analysis is still important, and it is better if it is fresh. Yet, what the right needs most, on the intellectual front, is art.
I get uneasy asking the right something I have not tried to do myself, so I will post two amateur poems of mine in the same spirit that I post policy proposals whenever I ask the right to offer concrete solutions. Ultimately, my wish is that, in both cases, one of you produces something better.
Loss, by Withered Rose
You had all the same faces you had not long ago
They remind me of what we once had
And what I wish we could still know
Mother and Father, city and state
Even my beloved Gretchen has left me as of late
I spoke to Aristotle and he said all that is natural is subject to change
Because of its loyalty, Nietzsche gave the name “dog” to his pain
Whatever my school masters say, I can’t bear my family estranged,
Why, my Gretchen, why did you leave me?
Forever in love we were to be
My escape from familial discord, my comfort in the storm
But your own family needed you, and neglecting them you could not afford
Places once of gladness, now remain only sadness.
The family I had, the Gretchen I held, the town I once knew,
Only now makes me mad.
Pain accompanies every joy and inseparable as though weld,
What I once had is through.
Freedom, by Withered Rose
When life’s paths lead astray
So too do you depart
From that right royal way.
To enter the mire
Easier than to change
Swifter into the fire.
The Prodigal you hate
For fear of the Warm Sun
I might insinuate.
Quicker you ever flee
At the first known misstep
Terrified to be free.
Freedom be damned I say!
From it springs every sin
Upon it guilt I lay.
No freedom no sin, but
Neither would virtue be.
Words that come from a slut.
What do you, Man, maintain
Rape? Lies? Or genocide?
Is freedom worth this gain?
Is it the “gift”, or us?
One of these be accursed,
Both, surely, end in lust.
7 Comments Add yours
“Traditional Catholic” art hoes
What a strange and vulgar term, but Good for them being Catholic.
Nice article. Thanks.
Like Chesterton said: “Keep the Commandments, break the conventions.”
Read the book “Manalive” by Chesterton for a tour de force of what is discussed here.