Current Reading

George Kennan: A Study of Character, by John Lukacs.

The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States, by Gerald Horne. (Read a review, or see here for Justin Raimondo’s account of Dennis.)

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, by Deirdre N. McCloskey.

I should have reviews of the first two in print in a month or two’s time. I’m sure I’ll write about the third sooner or later as well. Also, keep an eye out in Reason for my review of John Patrick Diggins’s Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History. I think it’ll be in the next issue.

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6 thoughts on “Current Reading

  1. Tim April 13, 2007 / 8:33 am

    looks like i stuffed up a HTML closing bracket in the previous post!

  2. Tim April 13, 2007 / 8:34 am

    Dennis first emerged as a whistleblower critic of US gunboat diplomacy in central america (Nicaragua, I think) and the relationship between the gunboats and various Wall Street interests. He was an ally of ’empire critic” General Smedley T Butler. A ‘fascist’ who opposes national imperialism is presumably more of an anomaly than a fascist who’s not caucasian. Alas that seems forgotten!

    If we are to use his 1930s book as a reference point, Dennis saw Italian fascism, German Nazism, Soviet Communism and ‘the coming American fascism’ all as just local manifestations of socialism. He didn’t mind upsetting the socialists of his day by bundling these systems together. He used the terms fascism and socialism interchangeably. He saw socialist ‘egalitarianism’ as a charade. Essentially the ‘machiavellian’ argument later deployed by James Burnham.

    He saw capitalism as coming to it’s end with the depression and the crises of WW1 and WW2. The root cause of these was a kind of end of the frontier.

    In his late 1930s book, he believed the ‘coming American socialism’ would be more ‘fascist’ than ‘communist’ because it would be nationalistic and involve and incorporate members of the old bourgeois ruling class. He also imagined that the revolutionary overthrow of old bourgeois democracy would be driven from the cockpit of the FDR’s then newly created war mobilisation agencies (what we’d later call ‘the military industrial complex’) with ex-servicemen (presumably returned from another war in Europe to a renewed depression back home) as the rank and file of the new revolution. He didn’t imagine the new order in America would be antisemitic but it would be a collectivist state with a planned economy. (Frankly I find his ‘predictions’ here too close for comfort. Had a new depression confronted the returning ‘greatest generation’ well maybe it would have happened.)

    One of James Burnham’s former Trotskyite peers has argued that Dennis was the real and unacknowledged source for James Burnham’s ‘managerial revolution’. (See here).

    Ronald Radosh argues in his Prophets on the Right book, written when Radosh was a new left Vietnik, that Dennis mellowed post-WW2 and became a more run of the mill conservative, if of an incisive anti-cold war / anti-McCarthyite type. Looking at Dennis’s 1969 book i’d have to say I only partly agree with Radosh. He did seem to have moved away from his advocacy of the planned economy but he remained an enthusiastic Keynesian. He even has an appendix debunking Henry Hazlitt’s debunking of Keynes.

    A complex thinker, whether he qualifies as an “old Right” guy I’m not sure, but he never seemed an “old Republic” guy. Hopefully the new book will revive interest in his works and career and not just guffaw at the racial angle.

  3. Charles H. Featherstone April 13, 2007 / 12:33 pm

    The McCloskey book is a good read, if sometimes a bit overwrought. (I have a hard time, however, believing she’s going to make an actual trilogy of this, since one long, tightly edited essay would have been better.) The best part of the whole book is when she states that socialism and nationalism are the twin idolatries (or somesuch) of the 19th century. That statement alone was worth the price of admission.

    Happy reading!

  4. Jack Ross April 13, 2007 / 3:31 pm

    That Guardian review was worse than Horne’s book – Horne is almost certainly a card-carrying Communist (closely aligned as he is with their “Reference Center for Marxist Studies”), above all the book is a stunning illustration of how the right makes sure to study the left and seriously so but the left does not study the right and when it tries does so in the most unserious way imaginable.

    Dennis’ views were entirely in the mainstream of the old right – in addition to the much discussed Burnham connection, the historian Justus Doenecke has cited evidence that his works were the unacknowledged source for much of John Flynn’s As We Go Marching. His discussion of “fascism” suffers the same malady as Malthus and Sam Huntington, i.e., having great difficulty making clear that just because you are predicting something does not mean you are in favor of it. And yes, he was no libertarian, but how much of the old right really was?

    It should also be noted that, as far as “anti-Semitism” goes, what neither Horne nor the Guardian mention is that his second wife was Jewish.

    Full disclosure: I am currently composing my Masters’ Thesis on “The Revisionist Tradition”, beginning with the three major subjects Charles Beard, Harry Elmer Barnes, and Lawrence Dennis, extending through the old right (40s/50s), new left-Wisconsin School, and on to the present. I am also right now focusing on the chapter on Dennis for one of my course papers this term (Economic History).

  5. Daniel McCarthy April 13, 2007 / 3:52 pm

    These are terrific posts about Lawrence Dennis. I should mention that my link to the Guardian piece isn’t intended as an endorsement of its view, just an illustration of what kind of buzz the book is generating.

  6. Tim April 14, 2007 / 11:20 am

    Justus Doenecke, an academic historian who has written widely on the isolationist movement, in his (online) paper “The Isolationist as Collectivist: Lawrence Dennis and the Coming of World War II” says that Lawrence Dennis’s book “The Dynamics of War and Revolution” was “too hot” for Harper Brothers press when it was first released in 1940 forcing Dennis to publish it himself.

    Doenecke has attempted an answer to the question of Dennis’s “fascism”.

    “If fascism combines a one-party state with strident nationalism, continental autarchy, and centralized economic controls that mould private ownership to public will,-in short, a truly corporatist and organic society transcending localized interests-then Dennis’s system might be fascistic. If, however, one defines fascism as involving a clear-cut Fuhrerprinzip, a terror system, and permanent purge so often associated with Nazi Germany, then Dennis was not a fascist. He adhered neither to the racism of an Alfred Rosenberg or a Vidkin Quisling; rather his politics centered on the twin poles of economic corporatism and rigid isolationism.”

    Jack Ross’s thesis sounds like a great read.

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