Keeping Out the Jacobins

“The French Jacobins selected France as savior of the world. The new Jacobins have anointed the United States.”

Pedro L. Gonzalez.
Aug 25.

“I’ve been reading The New Jacobinism: America as Revolutionary State by Claes G. Ryn, first published in 1991. It’s a short but insightful polemic about the pernicious influence of neoconservatism—the “New Jacobinism”—on American affairs

Here is a brief overview:

This strongly and lucidly argued book gave early warning of a political-intellectual movement that was spreading in the universities, media, think-tanks, and foreign-policy and national security establishment of the United States. That movement claims that America represents universal principles and should establish armed global hegemony. Claes G. Ryn demonstrates that, although this ideology is often called “conservative” or “neoconservative,” it has more in common with the radical Jacobin ideology of the French Revolution of 1789. 

The French Jacobins selected France as savior of the world. The new Jacobins have anointed the United States. The author explains that the new Jacobinism manifests a precipitous decline of American civilization and that it poses a serious threat to traditional American constitutionalism and liberty. The book analyses this and the predictions have proved almost eerily prophetic.

“Prophetic,” indeed, for two reasons. Because the first neoconservatives wanted to spread “socialism.” After their transformation, the missionary impulse remained and switched to promoting “capitalism” and “democracy,” but as Ryn notes: “Capitalism, though cruel, was, in Marx’s view, a highly progressive force” because it undermines old traditions and social structures all the same. Similarly, people like Weiss yearn merely for a liberalism that served as the precursor to the woke ideology they now condemn.

Here is an illustrative lament from a typical Weiss reader commenting “on the ideological takeover of Hollywood” by wokeness:

I have been running the Oscar website since 1999. I was one of the leaders pushing for inclusion and diversity starting back in 2001 when Halle Berry became the first black actress (and since, only black actress) to win in the category. It is hard to overstate just how hard it it [sic] was for actors, writers and directors to penetrate the white wall. I felt it was my moral duty to change that. But then Trump was elected. Then the community and the left became locked in a kind of mass hysteria.

The author goes on to decry the Democratic Party for exploiting identity politics and blasts “outrage culture” for stifling the arts.

Utterly absent, however, is any reflection on the role people like her and Weiss played in bringing us to this point—on their making the “explosion of woke” a certainty when they fashioned dynamite out of “inclusion and diversity” to knock down the “white wall.” Don’t they see that they helped set the stage for this moment? Woke ideology is not an aberration born of hysteria as these people pretend; it is the violent resolution of liberalism’s contradictions, the gunshot that ends the tension between individualism on the one hand and social justice on the other.

The real enemy, moreover, is still the reactionary, who reaches the height of his villainy in holding woke “McCarthy trials,” as the commentor puts it. But McCarthy was the good guy, as any genuine rightist knows.

The conservative insists that an alliance and compromise with these neo-Jacobins is necessary to win the culture war. Access to their audiences justifies the cost because we can “red pill” them. But that, of course, is incorrect. People who thought the main problem with Hollywood until recently was white racism are never going to come around to the right’s point of view, no matter how uncomfortable they are with the left for the moment. And while the conservative is willing to be amenable to change, these castaways are not. Instead, they become more tribal and territorial, convinced that holding the (left-of-) “center” places them on the right side of history.

My takeaway from Ryn’s gloss on the rise of neoconservatism is that the right should strive to be more jealous of its camp. It should want to be as ruthless as neoconservatives in exerting their influence and as willful as the left in asserting its vision. What it shouldn’t be is a refuge for yesterday’s radicals who are frightened by the monsters and maladies they helped create.


Note: For Catholics who are Tradition minded the problem is more complex and acute, despite Dobbs v. Jackson. Being against abortion is an important moral marker — which was obvious to all Christians until the second half of the 20th century. But the overturning of Roe v. Wade does not make the United States a Catholic, or even a “Christian,” nation. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, et al, said America was nothing of the kind. And overturning Roe does not make Catholics immune from this country’s old hatred of Catholicism. There are older more conservative Jacobins we cannot forget, but at bottom they often remain philosophical Jacobins. They may be more moral in some areas than the New Jacobinism, more conservative perhaps — and we happily join them when we can — but ideologically, regarding the dangerous Enlightenment reconceptualization of “freedom,” many share the prejudices and historical lies of their Jacobin forefathers. And Rome’s current naive dalliance with these treacherous philosophical roots is bound to turn on us all in time. We are seeing those philosophical chickens begin to come home to roost now.

Democracy will not save the world. Nor will economics. Only Jesus Christ and his teachings extended through time and application can save the world. Meanwhile we try to do the best we can and walk in peace with all men and women, whenever we can. —SH


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