Reactionary RadicalsrnRADICAL REACTIONARIESrnTale of a “Seditionisf’rnThe Story of Lawrence Dennisrnby Justin RaimondornLawrence Dennis was an outsider in a movement of outsiders,rna unique and largely solitan,’ figure whose career asrna writer —and notorious “seditionist” —embodies the tragedyrnand bra er of the Old Right, die pre-World War II “Americarnfirst” generation of consenative intellectuals and activists. Inrnniaiw important wa’s, Dennis is the prototype of modern “paletvrnconseraties.” His career as a controversialist and the leadingrnAmerican uahonalist intellectual of his time charts the rise andrnfall of the Old Right—and, perhaps, holds a lesson for us todav.rnBorn in Atlanta in 1893, Dennis had what historian JustusrnDoenecke describes as “a varied career,” which included a stintrnas a “bo’ eangelist.” In 1901, after die death of his father, therneight- ear-old Dennis traveled to Eiuope with his mother,rnwhere he became conersaut in French and German. Afterrnfour ears, he returned to America, a young cosmopolitan. Hisrnmother envisioned him in the pulpit, but Dennis was meant forrnother diings. He applied to Exeter, an incubator of the elite,rnand w as accepted. “Before that,” he recalled, “I had never beenrnto college; I had neer been to school.” He had no formalrnschooling, “although I had plenh’ of education.” Young Dennisrnentered Harard in 1915. When Eastern bankers and an Anglophilernfifth column succeeded in dragging us into die Europeanrnwar, he joined Hie Armv and was sent to Brest, France,rnwhere he w as put in charge of a company of militan, police. Hernreturned to Harvard and earned his degree in 1920: hvo years ofrnprep school, a litHe over hvo years of college, and he steppedrnreadiU into die elite circles he had somehow penetrated as arnmember of the U.S. diplomatic corps.rnThat Dennis did not really belong in diose circles is onlyrnhinted at in tiie remarkably oblique interview he gave, in 1967,rnto William Keylor for the Cohunbia LIuiversih’ Oral HistoryrnCollecHon. Wdiile die leftist Keylor attempted to indict him forrnsediHon all over again, asking about William Dudley Pelley, FadierrnCoughlin, and the German-American Bund, die subtext ofrnDennis’s recollection of his life is that of an outsider “passing”rnfor an insider—and doing a remarkably good job of it. His answers,rnwhen asked about his early life, and especialK’ his rclahonshiprnwidi his parents, are revealing for what they do not say.rnDennis neer names his parents and never even claims thatrndie’ were married. Wdieu Keylor a.sks him about his mother’srninfluence on his polities, Dennis not only denies any influencernhut declares: “I never had ninch association widi her after Irnpassed fourteen or ecn thirteen.” She lived in Washington,rnD.G., and sent him “about $100 a mondi.” How fOennis hadrnJustin Raimondo writes from San Francisco.rnthe money to attend Exeter and Harvard, widiout any formalrneducahon or family connections, is a mysten,’.rnWlicn the State Department sent Dennis to Haiti, where thernU.S. army of occupahon was enforcing stability’ at gunpoint, hernwas rcalh’ in his element. As the assistant to the minister, an oldrn”New Orleans aristocrat,” he had “die run of die town.” Thisrnmeant he belonged to the American Glub, where he socializedrnvith other diplomats and military- personnel, and he also yvas arnfixture at the Haitian Glub, or Gerele Belle Vue, owned by arnGerman who had married a Haitian —”an octoroon, ofrncourse” —and the whole thing was “a very broadening experience,”rnsaid Dennis. “I was on both sides of the fence.” Thisrnriienie of dualih’, of cultural ambidexterit}’, continued after hernwas assigned to die American legation to Romania: “Therernagain 1 played both sides of flic street. I went to Romanian partiesrnand I also went to Jewish parties. I he Romanians were ver)-rnanti-Jewish and wouldn’t take a Jew into any of their clubs. ButrnI went to the best Jewish club there,” he said. “I played bothrnsides of the street and I got along very happily.”rnIn 1927, Dennis resigned from the diplomatic service inrnprotest against U.S. iiiter’cntion in Nicaragua, and became anrneconomic consultant to various invcshiiciit banking firms withrnLatin American interests. He had served as the American troubleshooterrnin Nicaragua, and flic experience made him a confinnedrnopponent of foreign loans south of flic border and of arnforeign policy in which American gunships were dispatched bvrnNew York banks to make good on flieir bad imestments. Hernburst on the national scene in 1930, in a series of articles for thernNew Republic in which he exposed flic foreign-bond racket andrnpredicted that tiie bubble was about to burst. Dennis’s firstrnbook, h Capitalism Doomed? (1932), established him as arnmuch more acerbic and perceptive critic of capitalism flian anyrnof flie leftist ideologues who flircw their lot in wifli Marxism.rnUnlike the Marxists, Dennis protested that his critique ofrncapitalism wus “not destructive.” In the midst of tiie Great Depression,rnhe sought to “prolong and render more pleasant thernold age of capitalism.” ‘I’he system was caught in a dilemma:rnWith no new worlds to conquer, and no new markets, fliere wasrnno way for die profit motive to lead us out of the crisis. “In itsrnold age, a senile capitalism must be nurtured by tiie state, notrnyyith yyar profits, necessarily, but on an even diet of 2 percentrngruel.” Powerless to create markets for itself decrepit capitalismrnmust depend on the state to keep the masses from idleness.rnIt is citiier tiiat or yvar: “Keeping six to eight million men unemployed,”rnhe warned, “is the best known way to prepare forrnwar. The day a yvar starts somewhere in die yvorld, millions ofrnMAY 2000/19rnrnrn