The Future Past

Archeofuturism, a concept that arose on the French New Right in the 1970s, was given definitive expression by Guillaume Faye (1949-2019), a French man of letters and conservative nationalist. Faye’s landmark book, Archeofuturism, which appeared in 1998, laid out a sweeping and memorable vision. Here we are led into a future convulsed by wars, natural catastrophes, and the fall of modern society. But it is also a future that will ultimately bring about a new order of things.

Clearly the archeofuturist view of the end times borrows from biblical prophecy, even if Faye and his colleagues favor the neopagan strain of the European right that now prevails in Latin countries. This distant future reveals hierarchical and feudal elements and is meant to recall some aspects of the Middle Ages. What distinguishes Faye’s ideal society from any past one, however, is that it belongs to the future, shows signs of modern technical advances, and is plainly no longer Christian.

As an ideology, Faye’s vision represents a compromise between those elements of the revolutionary right that call for a radical break from the antiquated past and those that seek to restore a premodern society. Archeofuturism seems designed to give both sides a bit of what they want. It depicts a future that offers in some sense a return to the past. But the age to which we are returning is marked by modern and late modern features. Thus, one moves forward to go back to a more stable time, one that corresponds to the traditional rightist emphasis on hierarchy and authority.

This vision is recognizably that of Faye, who was a leader of the mouvance identitaire (identitarian orbit) in his own country. An impassioned man of the right, Faye famously broke from the French New Right in 1987, when its leaders tried to make an alliance with pro-Islamic groups. Faye would have none of this alliance-building with those he considered to be fundamentally anti-Western and alien to the historic French nation. And Western for him had nothing to do with natural rights or the notion of equality. For Faye, egalitarianism was the great evil of the modern era that was leading to the self-dissolution of the European world and its essential institutions. Faye was also among the first to speak in his country of the danger of “ethnomasochisme”—hatred of one’s own ethnicity—and may even have coined that term.

His relationship to France’s Catholic heritage was actually quite complicated, which was also true of his neopagan contemporary Dominique Venner, who in 2013 committed suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral to protest the Islamicization of France. Although suspicious of Christianity because he rejected its egalitarian aspect, Faye worshipped the Middle Ages and pointed to the cathedral at Rheims as the crowning architectural achievement of European man. His archeofuturist vision would naturally integrate medieval features because Faye never stopped admiring that period for laying the groundwork of Western, and more specifically European, identity.

Like the German philosopher of history Oswald Spengler, Faye associated the Middle Ages with the “springtime of Western man.” Also, like Spengler, he identified this human type with boundless, creative striving and deep inner strength. But in the modern era, those positive characteristics had become warped because of Europe’s subordination to American imperialism and consumerism. Like most of the French New Right, Faye feared American influence even more than Soviet rule or Islamic expansion. He viewed the U.S. as the great leveler and homogenizer, whose post-Christian religion of rights and its cult of diversity were destroying French identity. What Faye regarded as truly French was not born of the French Revolution but was something more deeply rooted in the French past. It was this essentialism
that was both French and more widely European and which would supposedly reemerge in the archaic future toward which history, according to Faye, was steadily moving.

This process would go forward because the crises and upheavals of the present time favored its unfolding. Although Faye was clearly on the right, he also illustrated the curious situation of revolutionary Marxists who bestirred themselves to fight for a cause that will inevitably triumph. The believer in both cases is being exhorted to fight for what is supposed to win with or without his activism. In Faye’s case, however, the delineation of the future might have been more an effort to make sense of where we are going than a playing out of iron historical laws. Faye may have been proposing a possible outcome of present and future tribulations, not necessarily what he thought was predestined to happen.

Another expression of archeofuturism in a lugubrious form can be found in Walter M. Miller Jr.’s award-winning futurist novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which first saw day in 1959. In this intriguing book prepared by a devotee of medieval history, the reader is transported to a Catholic monastery in America’s Southwest Lands, after an atomic conflagration has wasted most of the planet. The monks who are copying and illuminating the texts left from before the nuclear conflagration of the 20th century, also known as the “Flame Deluge,” belong to the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz. The Leibowitz in question was Isaac Edward Leibowitz, a Jewish weapons scientist who survives the Flame Deluge. After searching in vain for his wife who died in the conflagration, Leibowitz takes holy orders in the Catholic Church and dedicates the remainder of his life to founding a new monastic order and helping other monks copy works that survived the Flame Deluge.

This is an exceedingly dangerous task since Leibowitz and his order have to avoid the vengeance of the “Mob of Simplification” which is trying to destroy valuable records of the past. Eventually Leibowitz falls into the hands of his enemies and is martyred. Soon afterwards the revived Catholic Church proceeds to canonize him. Fortunately, the Albertian monks continue their work for 600 years, diligently copying the extant writings of the 20th century known as “Memorabilia.” Throughout this period there is a civilizational revival and scientific rediscovery, but these accomplishments unfortunately don’t last. There is a further Flame Deluge that reduces the world once again to the condition from which St. Leibowitz and his fellow monks started their work of transmission.

Miller may have written this novel partly as an expiatory act. During World War II, he was involved in the American bombing of the medieval monastery at Monte Cassino, founded by St. Benedict and his fellow monks in the late sixth century. During the war the monastic buildings were occupied by German troops and became an Allied target. Miller’s novel underscores the dutiful repetition of the actions of early medieval monks in Italy, Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere in Western Europe who worked to preserve ancient texts. These monks ended up preserving much of the legacy of pagan antiquity as well as biblical and Christian theological works.

The post-conflagration monks are acting in a similar way, copying whatever is left to them from the past. They also treat those texts and their authors reverentially, as divine gifts that it is their duty to make available to succeeding generations. Leibowitz is venerated because of his association with a lost world that the monks are trying to revive as a literary inheritance. And he and his fellow monks are working in the face of the constant danger of being wiped out by “Simpletons” mobs that pop up everywhere, burn books, and kill those who try to preserve them.

The last example of archeofuturism that might be considered here is the novel by William Lind, who contributes to this month’s issue. Lind’s work bears the ponderous but interesting title Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War. It is written under the pen name Thomas Hobbes, which may indicate the author’s appreciation of the English philosopher who thought that war was the normal state of human affairs without the strong hand of civil society. Lind’s novel, which came out in 2014, was predictably mocked by woke journalists as the maunderings of a right-wing extremist. In my view, it is a brilliant example of archeofuturism, which has become a form of right-wing art for which the left has zero tolerance. The reason should be obvious. Defiant archeofuturists are telegraphing their reactionary fantasies through futurist visions that they present as literature. Beside these apostles of restored order, Fox News millennials celebrating the arrival of transgendered Republicans seem to be nothing more than run-of-the-mill late modernists.

In reading Lind’s novel, one has to suspend belief about certain givens in today’s America and its European and Canadian counterparts. Guerilla partisan forces,
representing Lind’s fourth-generation warfare, would not likely crush the far better equipped American armed forces as they do in the concluding part of the novel; nor would a powerful resistance force against the leftist regime in Washington be centered around Boston, which is the hub of the “retro-cultural” Northeast Confederation in Lind’s novel. Moreover, the sectional and ideological division of the U.S., as depicted in the book, would not be possible, given the likelihood that the leftist Deep State and its forces would have crushed any breakaway movement that tried to take over any section of their subject country. It is finally pure fantasy that Russian and German monarchists (one may doubt that many of these rarities are still around) would join hands in reenforcing the conservative forces in the Northeastern Confederation fighting the combined armies of the left, supplied by Muslim invaders, the United Nations, and the usual domestic suspects.

Let me not hide my sentiments: I adored Victoria when I read it, and above all the ending, the extended tribute to “England’s longest reigning monarch Good Queen Victoria” and the affirmation of the “new Zeitgeist,” which is really a new Victorian age adapted to changed historical circumstance. I also enjoyed Lind’s entirely fitting ridicule of our academic class and the casual way in which the book’s protagonist announces that right-wing partisan forces have just shot dead the entire faculty of Dartmouth College.

This fictional event occurs after the same armies had executed raging Muslim jihadists who had taken over Boston and proceeded to kill the city’s professing Christians. Lind’s view of the escalating struggle between the woke left and its targets is not “consensus-building” but may be realistic. There is no reason to think our present conflicts won’t grow more bitter or that the right won’t strike back at some point in large numbers. But I’m not sure that after the left has taken over so much real estate, the right will be in a position to prevail, let alone that this ideologically driven conflict will end with the victory of “retroculture.”

As in the case of Faye’s fascinating work, Lind is leaving us with a possible happy outcome for the right after a period of tribulations. This is in keeping with the mindset of the more sanguine archeofuturists, who do not believe the left will conclusively triumph and who see some hope at least ultimately for their side. Miller, who presents darker thoughts about the cyclical character of human events, is on a different page. He is telling us that even the selfless heroism of some cannot prevent other human beings from acting disastrously again and again.

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