A critique of the destinarian political
philosophy of Francis Parker Yockey.
The phenomenon of what is sometimes called the “Alternative Right” has been in the news now for a number of years, perhaps peaking around the time of the election of President Trump. The coining of the particular phrase “Alt Right” has been traced back to the editor of this magazine, paleoconservative commentator Paul Gottfried, who should know what he is talking about, given his deep familiarity with right-of-center thought, of which he has made a special study. But there is another individual who has acted as a conduit to a wider English-speaking audience of the old European rightist tradition—especially in connection with the thought of Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, and Friedrich Nietzsche—and that is Francis Parker Yockey (1917-1960).
Yockey was a product of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and held an honors law degree from the University of Notre Dame. In due course, he found himself a civilian employee of the war-crimes tribunal in Wiesbaden, in 1945. At some point in his tenure there, he arrived at the conclusion that what was driving the legal process was not so much the true love of justice as the desire for vengeance. Subsequently, he had some brief association with the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley and wandered the world making contact with various dissident minds in various countries, hoping to network with elements of the subterranean fascist world. At the time of his arrest in 1960 in Oakland, California, for passport violations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Yockey to be “as important a figure in World fascism as we now know.” But by that time, the wandering dissident had come to the end of his strange journey, as he decided to do a “Hermann Goring 2.0” and took a lethal dose of potassium cyanide in his prison cell. The extraordinary circumstances of his passing led to his becoming something of a martyr for the American far right.
The origins of Yockey’s standing as a political philosopher go back to his moving to a little hamlet in Ireland after his time in Germany. There he wrote his magnum opus—which journalist Anthony Mostrom has called “America’s Mein Kampf”—titled Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics. This work, which was published in 1948 under the nom de plume Ulick Varange, sought to present Yockey’s unique interpretation of the great events of European history. Despite its small first run of 200 copies, the arrival of Imperium allowed Yockey to take on the mantle of what author Matthew Rose calls “America’s preeminent fascist theorist.”
In his book A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, Rose titles his chapter on Yockey “The Anti-Semite” and argues that Yockey’s influence is all the more astonishing given that he has “never been the subject of an academic monograph.” Rose notes that even if Imperium is a book that “cannot be read for recreation or for pleasure,” considering its “speculatively dubious, morally grotesque, and historically simplistic” content, and even if Yockey’s arguments reveal him to be a thinker about whom it is “difficult to write with any intellectual charity” and who is “guilty of bigotry and worse,” he is, nevertheless, a writer whose ideas possess a “bizarre timeliness” which bids fair “to make [of him] the author of the future that he always insisted he was.”
Rose further explains that although Yockey well
understood that his arguments might sound absurd in 1950, he nevertheless had a supreme confidence that they “would be unassailable in 2050.” Rose also finds that he can admire Yockey for his complete “innocen[ce] of shallowness,” for his “living a life of daring fidelity in the pursuit of an ideal,” and for displaying a “deadly sincerity” in accepting his destiny “to die for dangerous truths.”
Yockey, then, is a writer who undertook to straightforwardly deal with great subjects, and for Rose, at least, this means he “cannot be refuted without being understood, as both a thinker and as a man.” We should therefore “read and ponder” Yockey’s arguments, especially if we would understand the mentality of those citizens who might be attracted to his message.
At one point in his Imperium, Yockey states that the Western soul “was always esoteric.” He then explains Western esotericism in terms of the “high refinement of our Western arts,” which necessarily makes them accessible only to an “elite.” During the period of Western art’s highest development—in which time frame Yockey includes such figures as Calderon, Rembrandt, Meister Erwin von Steinbach, Gottfried von Strassburg, Shakespeare, Bach, Leonardo, Mozart—the full appreciation of what had been accomplished was expected only on the part of the few. The Collected Works of Goethe, which reached a “minimal market” of only 600 copies “were enough for his fame over all Europe.” And as with Goethe, “Buxtehude [and] Orlando Gibbons wrote for a small public … [while] Napoleon’s policy was understood in its last ramifications by few persons in his contemporary Europe.”
Yockey, then, is sure that the realm of ideas, which is the inner expression of cultural development, is necessarily the province of a comparatively small group. “But any Culture … is restricted for its full expression, in whatever direction, to certain levels of the populations in its area. Culture is by its very nature selective, exclusive.” The West, then, is in possession of a grand tradition of the “Few and the Many,” which is intertwined with its endless striving to maintain high culture. But what strikes us here first and foremost is that in his vindication of the West’s tradition of esotericism, all of Yockey’s examples are from the modern centuries.
When Yockey turns to antiquity, he asserts of all things that the ideas sustained by classical culture were “one and all exoteric”! It is only when Yockey moves from the ancients to the moderns, or the great minds of the Enlightenment, that he puts the spotlight on esotericism. So after having stated forthrightly that the Western soul “was always esoteric,” Yockey argues that precisely the opposite orientation subsisted in classical times. Socrates was, in fact, part of an exoteric classical culture. Yockey insists that it “would be ludicrous in the extreme” to regard Leibniz or Descartes as carrying on in the exoteric manner, like Socrates did. This is because, unlike Socrates, they understood that “Western philosophy is the possession of a very few.” So the difference between classical and modern philosophy by Yockey’s lights consists in the fact that the Socratic, or ancient, approach was more or less democratic or even populist, expatiating on all and sundry subjects within the public’s hearing, while the moderns, such as Leibniz and Descartes, were more esoteric in their understanding of philosophy as the “possession of very few.”
But was it not the Greeks, or ancients, who were so frequently accused of practicing esotericism or the “Double Doctrine,” since they wrote for the elite and mass audiences in one and the same text? Was it not the Greeks and Romans who rejected the notion of the general enlightenment of the masses and reserved philosophic or scientific knowledge for the few who were somehow by nature destined for it? And was it not the modern philosophers—such as Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza and others—who suggested it was time for a change in the traditional esoteric attitude and time to make the discoveries of the philosophers more freely available to the broader population? Yockey rejects this argument completely. He is fully convinced that the historical record shows an opposite development, whereby modern times saw a shift away from the old exotericism towards the higher plane of esotericist philosophizing.
What all this comes down to is that Yockey is guilty of simply identifying the Western mind with the spirit of modernity, even as he seems to hearken back to the ancients as the deepest font of the great Western legacy.
According to Yockey, “No one has ever said politics should be immoral,” but at the same time, “all political thinkers have said that politics is politics.” What Yockey means by this tautology is that “Questions of should are on the other side of the soul” from politics and thus will “not be treated here.” So Yockey’s fundamental claim is that theory and practice, or ethics and politics, do not belong together. Ethics deals with “truths,” and politics deals with “facts.” Something can be ethically truthful but factually unsubstantiated and something can be factually substantiated and ethically untrue. Indeed, “the two spheres of abstract thought and action, truths and facts, do not intersect.” Yockey finds “any attempt to describe politics in terms of morals as grotesque as it would be to describe chemistry in terms of theology.” For him, a truly “20th century outlook on politics is necessarily purely factual” and the fact that “there is here no moral content in this formula” means that “all pre-conceptions whatever” must be put aside “as a prerequisite to acting upon the realities.”
So in Yockey’s understanding, the real world of politics is without morals or ethical standards, just as Thrasymachus, Callicles, and the Athenian ambassadors to Melos (who threatened them with utter destruction if they didn’t join the Athenian alliance) had insisted. Yockey understands expressions of moral approval or disapproval as located outside the scope of political science. Standing on this particular ground, Yockey interprets liberalism as an expression of the same lust of power that animates any other cause. The only difference is that liberalism hypocritically covers up its amorality with the sweet-sounding rhetoric of moralistic ideals.
Yockey provides us with no in-depth discussion of how facts are to be distinguished from values. Rather, he simply refers to the historical phenomenon of World War II as proof positive to all but the most obtuse observers that the realms of politics and morality “do not intersect.” Yockey is so powerfully influenced by the sheer magnitude of the horrors of the 20th century that he interprets them as having established the final truth of the heterogeneity of ethics and politics. This pivotal moment when the light of radical political amoralism has shone through on Western man comes after centuries of comparative darkness during which it was simply assumed within the longstanding Platonic, Aristotelian, Ciceronian, and Burkean traditions (to mention only a few) that political science would always be absorbed with questions of morality.
Yockey, then, stands at odds with the whole tradition, which posits that politics occupies a kind of “middle ground” that is located roughly halfway between the affairs of the city and the life of philosophy. There is no place in Yockey for the tradition of the statesman-gentleman, to whom Plutarch referred when he said, “I regard those as perfect men who are able to mingle and fuse political capacity with philosophy.” How this fundamental standpoint affects Yockey’s historical understanding can be seen when he characterizes the 20th century as the “Age of Absolute Politics.” For Yockey, this simply means that we live in “an age of action.” So it is not surprising that he has a view of the greatest philosopher of action: Niccolò Machiavelli.
As Yockey assesses the history of thought, the 19th century saw Fichte and Hegel restore Machiavelli’s honor as a “noble Pagan” rather than a “teacher of evil.” Machiavelli was converted from the “murd’rous Machiavel” of Richard III to the grand proponent of political heroism. The Florentine’s simple goal was to “portray the anatomy of politics with its peculiar problems and tensions, inner and outer.” His “cold eye” enabled him to play the role of what Carl Schmitt called “the intellectual originator of a political era.”
Convinced that Machiavelli was treated unfairly in the past, Yockey swims strongly upstream against the likes of Shakespeare, Frederick the Great, and Leo Strauss, who allowed that the “Satanic” portrait of Machiavelli indeed had something to it. Yockey concludes that the older view of Machiavelli must at bottom have stemmed from a naïve sense that there is something more to politics than the lust for power and “Imperium.” So it is that Yockey’s interpretation of Machiavelli lines up with that of Lord Macaulay, who sought to explain away Machiavelli’s wickedness by situating him in the historical context of Renaissance Italy. What Yockey might make of the Machiavelli, which the labors of scholars have uncovered since he wrote his Imperium, is open to speculation.
Yockey does adhere to a metaphysic, which he allows to appear at certain moments in the course of his discussion. His ultimate principle is that, in the infinite expanses of time, all things must pass. The great rhythms of the “Cosmos” roll on throughout all eternity. This means that however important history may be, it cannot supply the absolutely first principle. Thus it would not be entirely accurate to characterize Yockey as a 24-karat historicist.
But Yockey’s occasional cosmo-centrism should not be allowed to obscure the fact of his being enthralled by the power of historicism. Indeed, he says directly that “Rationalism is anti-historical” and that “political thinking is applied history.” Political theory, for example, “seeks to find from history the limits of the politically possible.” These limits cannot be learned by directly reflecting on the nature of things. It is rather historical review—and not the natural order as we can intuitively experience it—that should be the finally authoritative philosophical consideration. Only the careful observation of actual human behavior over time can reveal to us the needed knowledge that is absent from “the domain of Reason.” To be sure we must study the thoughts of philosophers in order that we may acquire a science of politics, but what we discover in them will ultimately be a disposition of “History” with a capital “H” and not the product of a timeless dialogue between sovereign minds.
Whatever his historicist premises, Yockey concludes that the logic of Western development has brought about the liquidation of “the pathological individualism and feebleness of will” that was characteristic of the 19th-century mind. Indeed, writing in 1948, Yockey argues that scientists and philosophers are falling away from the previously prevailing rationalism that had become a “pale and emaciated” shadow of its former self. Rationalist materialism, in fact, has been “vanquished in every realm [including] physics, cosmogony, biology, psychology, philosophy, belles lettres.” The West is, according to Yockey,
shedding the skin of Materialism [and] returning to the purity of its own soul for its last great inner task [which is] the creation of the Culture-State-Nation-People-Race-Empire unity of the West, which will be the basis for the fulfillment of the Inner Imperative of Absolute Imperialism.
Yockey further makes clear that he conceives of Western society as having inherited a “Cultural Mission” in the carrying out of which it must not flag or fail. This is the case even though the cultured man will understand that anyone attempting to impose his will on the millennially remote future would only provide “a tribute to his pride of intellect, but no compliment to his wisdom.”
Whatever the ultimate temporality of that which is achieved by the “Yockean” as he labors under the canopy of rhythms of the cosmos, he will always be seen “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” propelled as he is by Nietzsche’s “will to power.” Because he is among the higher organisms of the earth, the Yockean will, in John Stuart Mill’s words, rejoice in the fact that, after having persevered in the highest order of a virtuous life and been a “combatant in the great strife,” he has thus enjoyed the best that the world can give and will repose in the comforting thought that the highest reward will be his in the form of total personal annihilation. He will embrace oblivion in the confidence that he has served as “a fellow-laborer with the Highest” in the cause of ensuring “triumph of good over evil, to which history points.”
At this point in history, the political status quo of the modern West consists for Yockey in a “Liberalism complicated with alien-poisoning.” What he means is that the forces of rising irrationalism and postmodernism have blended with persisting liberalism to produce a “crisis of the West,” or the prevailing crisis of modern reason. The only task remaining for serious minds under these conditions is to inter the “corpse of Liberalism,” which is lying there finally to be buried. This will involve
the complete cleansing of the Western soul from every form of Materialism, from Rationalism, Equality, social chaos, Communism, Bolshevism, liberalism, Leftism of every variety, Money-worship, democracy, financecapitalism, the domination of Trade, nationalism, parliamentarism, feminism.
Once this “inner [cleansing] imperative” has broken in on the individual’s understanding, “its mantle of strength descends upon those in its service.” It is then “not a shirking or evading of duty to say that only the historical Mission matters, but the highest possible affirmation of Duty.” The rhythms of the Cosmos can well look after themselves.
One can definitely hear an echo of Heidegger in Yockey here as well as in his comment that the Europe of his day is being pressured by “Culturally alien,” traitorous and “formless powers” that tend to “strangulation of the young, living tendencies of the New Europe.” Is this not the same sentiment expressed by Heidegger when he famously noted that “Europe lies in the pincers between Russia and America, which are metaphysically the same in regard to their world-character and their relation to the spirit”?
The unusual nature of Yockey’s book should be evident from the above discussion. Yockey’s indulgence in Nostrodamic prophesying will lead some to conclude that his was a mind unhinged. But despite, or because of, Yockey’s out-of-the-ordinariness he has found an audience in our day. For those attracted to Yockey’s message, it makes perfect sense that there should be some kind of “Yockey revival” in our time. This is because Yockey holds out hope with a capital H to those who are drawn to the prospect of a revitalization of the West. This prospective revitalization will involve the rejection of the “weak ideals of ‘happiness’ [and] of every form of class war,” along with a welcoming of the arrival of a “strong” and “manly” “Age of Absolute Politics.” Is not Yockey here simply seeking to extend the appeal of Nietzsche’s earlier prophecy that someday the lazy peace of the “Last Man” will give way to an age when the Yockeans, who will have been transformed by a totally postmodern education, will be setting the agenda for the world?
What all this adds up to, in the words of Matthew Rose, is that Yockey poses an “enduring problem for liberalism.” What Rose is indicating here is best summed up by George Orwell in his review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Orwell explains that it was Hitler’s genius to “grasp the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life,” which he argues has distinguished nearly all Western thought since World War I. All “progressive” thought, Orwell claims, has blithely assumed “that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain” and “there is no room for patriotism and the military virtues.” But Hitler fully understood “that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice.” For this reason, Orwell is sure that an ideology that appeals to this agonistic human tendency is “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.” Either capitalism or socialism might say to the people, “I offer you a good time,” but for his part, Hitler said, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and the German nation duly flung itself at his feet.
Orwell’s point is that one should never underrate the emotional appeal of a “Churchillian” call on the people to “brace themselves to their duties.” These duties, as Yockey defines them, are to the principles of “Authority, Discipline, Faith, Responsibility, Duty, Ethical Socialism, Fertility, Order, State, Hierarchy.” Deploying Churchill again, Yockey is saying that if the movement of which he is a harbinger should succeed in its goal of creating a glorious, hierarchical, millennial “Empire of the West,” “men will still say, that Yockey’s passion was [that empire’s] finest hour.”