Retroculture: Taking America Back
William S. Lind
London: Arktos Media, 2019.
One of the defining characteristics of the Dissident Right has been a scathing critique of American conservatism. The main charge is that mainstream conservatism has failed to conserve much of anything other than plutocratic wealth. For social analyst Brad Griffin of the website Occidental Dissent, “The price of admission [to conventional conservatism] is abandoning all of your beliefs and going along with this disastrous status quo.” He notes that a 2019 Pew Research Center study found that traditional religious beliefs are declining at an accelerating rate further eroding the utility of a conservative approach to our problems. The conventional Right has been steamrolled in the culture wars to the point where transgender access to the public restroom of their choice is now the country’s cause célèbre.
Some argue that despite its deficiencies, conservatism serves as an ideological gateway to more substantive views. Many persons, including major thinkers of the post-1960s racial Right started out as conservatives before becoming radicals.
Revilo Oliver began his activism writing book reviews for William Buckley’s National Review and was a founding member of the John Birch Society. By the mid-1960s he had broken with conservatism. He describes his evolution in America’s Decline: The Education of a Conservative (1981).
William Pierce also served a stint with the JBS during the 1960s. In his well-known essay “Why Conservatives Can’t Win,” Piece writes, “Some of my best friends are conservatives,” but he goes on to state that conservatives do not understand the forces that oppose them, and only a revolutionary counter force can defeat the Left.
In 1960 Wilmot Robertson was a conservative business man. By the time he wrote The Dispossessed Majority (1972) he had come to realize that conservatism was part of the problem, not the solution.
But what about activists who have remained conservatives throughout their careers such as William S. Lind the author of Retroculture, the book under consideration here. Is he a different sort of conservative who deserves our attention?
Lind, a Baby Boomer (b. 1947) and self-described paleoconservative, graduated from Dartmouth and earned a master’s degree from Princeton. He began his career as a staffer for Senator Robert Taft Jr. He is probably best known for developing the concept of Fourth-Generation Warfare back in the 1980s. The basic idea of 4GW is that future wars are likely to involve non-state actors either against states in asymmetrical conflict, or against each other. 4GW is rooted in the crisis of state legitimacy.
In the 1990s Lind helped popularize the term “cultural Marxism.” Lind is also somewhat of a race realist who discusses the issue of Black crime. The Great Replacement is considered an aspect of 4GW.
In 2009 Lind and the late Paul Weyrich co-authored The Next Conservatism, a highly critical look at neo-conservatism. The authors made a number of cogent points such as the primacy of culture over politics. Election victories by so-called conservatives have not stopped the Left’s cultural revolution, nor have they halted demographic replacement. Neoconservative economics favors Wall Street over Main Street, and its foreign policy supports costly military interventions. Unlike most conservatives Lind and Weyrich supported environmental protection and the New Urbanism. Presently Lind writes for the American Conservative and the online journal traditional Right.
More evidence that Lind’s Retroculture might embody a different sort of conservatism is that the book was released by Arktos Media. Founded in 2009, this company quickly established itself as the leading publisher of rightwing thought. With more than 170 titles and publishing in sixteen languages, they have issued works by Guillaume Faye, Alexander Dugin, and Pentti Linkola as well as older works by authors such as Julius Evola.
The theme of Retroculture is established early in a brief Forward by John J. Patrick, professor of education emeritus at Indiana University, who asks: “Why can’t we restore old lifestyles in the same way people are restoring gracious old houses? The answer is we can” (xi). Really?
In the first chapter, “Signs of Change,” Lind lists some indications of an emerging conservative cultural revolution: Old neighborhoods are being restored, new “old towns” such as Seaside, Florida are being built, admen are using the past to market all matter of goods and services, ignoring the displacement of Whites from advertising. “Young people, especially young families, are going to church again” (7). This last statement flies in the face of the Pew study mentioned above. Unfortunately, the author makes a number of unsubstantiated claims using anecdotal evidence at best.
At the end of the chapter Lind asks, “Is it all just nostalgia? Or is something more happening here — something big?” (10). First, this book is saturated with nostalgia, though several times Lind denies indulging in those sentiments. Yet if nostalgia is strong enough and widespread enough, it would indeed be something big. Nostalgia is a form of alienation, and collective alienation can be the first step towards fundamental change.
In Chapter Two Lind defines retroculture, a concept he and Weyrich touched on in The Next Conservatism. “Retroculture rejects the idea that ‘you can’t go back’” (11). Almost every student of history would disagree. As with many paleocons, the author sees the 1960s as the great watershed, so going back means pre 1960.
No matter how radical, all rightwing thought contains some elements of conservatism. Lind mentions that America should not reject its inheritance, but rekindle a healthy national identity. People should respect wisdom received from past ages — the basics of civil nationalism. He decries the “selfism,” the self-centered and self-indulgent ideology associated with the left that gained currency during the 1960s. One problem he does not mention: This selfishness has morphed on the Right into libertarianism, thus occupying two poles of the political spectrum, a two-headed monster.
In Chapter Three, “Getting Started,” Lind seeks historical examples of retrocultural revolutions. He points to the Renaissance as one case. Well, the Renaissance did use earlier classical civilizations as a source of inspiration, but Renaissance Italy was a far different place than ancient Rome. In an American context the author wants to reestablish traditional values, “civility, public spiritedness, charity, craftsmanship and stewardship among others” (27). He advocates for walkable cities. Hard to argue with any of this, especially walking. Walking is great exercise and a form of active meditation. Of course, integrated schools and housing helped create suburban sprawl, an environment not conducive to perambulation.
At this point Lind suddenly asks rhetorically: “But wasn’t the past bad?” A good question because throughout the book the author tends to idealize the past. He answers that retroculture captures the good and eliminates the bad. “No one seeks to return to Jim Crow laws” (32). Permit me to mix metaphors: One cannot cherry pick cultural practices. Culture is a whole loaf. The traditional American way of life was only possible with a significant degree of racial separation.
Chapter Four is about retro-homes. The book is full of good ideas (a few silly ones also) for lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, these individual decisions are not going to bring about the fundamental social change we need. Lind advises buying an older house in an established neighborhood. They “are less expensive” and “have sidewalks and big trees” (40). My own house is 115 years old, so I agree with the author. The problem is that many of these old neighborhoods have changed so demographically as to be uninhabitable, especially for White families.
To his credit Lind is as close to being a renaissance man as you are likely to find these days. He is one of the few persons who can discuss military history and tactics, residential architecture, sartorial issues, as well as classical music with authority.
In Chapter Five Lind decries the decline of domesticity in American culture since the 1950s. Interestingly he does not explicitly criticize feminism, but does write that kids need a mom at home. Strong families produce well socialized children, a worthy goal, but how do you achieve it? That would definitely require a cultural revolution.
When Lind considers education, we see an example of a blanket statement idealizing the good old days. “In the past, parents were careful about what their young children learned. They saw to it that stories taught sound morals, that good conduct was rewarded and bad swiftly though fairly punished, and that manners were inculcated right from the outset” (73). Well, some parents in the past did not do those things, and some today still do. That more parents in the past successfully socialized their kids and fewer do today has less to do with individual parental efforts and more to do with a lack of societal support. Again, we need a cultural revolution.
Optics has been an issue for the Dissident Right, and in Chapter Six Lind offers some sound sartorial advice. The decline in American standards of dress has been precipitous across the board. He recommends buying fewer articles of quality conservative clothes. This will save you time and money in the long run because your apparel will look better and last longer. The author points out that men’s fashions have not changed much in the last three generations. “Lapels shrink and grow, shoulders fatten and thin, and the fashion trade tries to make a big deal of it all. In fact, its piffle” (94). Some shopping advice: “By needing fewer things, you can also frequent better shops when you buy, thus avoiding the degradation of the discount house and the silliness of the boutique.” In a decent men’s shop “you get real value, good American and British stuff, not some wog creation that makes you look like a pimp” (94). One last fashion tip, leave Hawaiian shirts to Hawaiians in Hawaii.
Chapter Seven deals with entertainment. We can all agree that much of contemporary popular entertainment is crass, ugly, and downright offensive, but Lind goes ultra-reactionary when discussing music. Many on the Dissident Right, myself included, love the romantic classical genre of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century composers such, as Wagner and Sibelius. Lind, on the other hand, believes these are much inferior to the eighteenth-century greats such as Bach.
Other notes on entertainment: dinner parties are preferable to cocktail parties “where people surreptitiously try to make a meal of hors d’oeuvres while pretending to enjoy superficial conversation with persons they’ve never met” (109). Lind includes civic engagement as a form of retro entertainment. All too often people on the Dissident Right, especial young people, shun mainstream community involvement believing they will be stigmatized and rejected. This is usually not the case if they possess some people skills and live in a compatible community (i.e., one with few of Edward Dutton’s spiteful mutants). Lind recommends leisure reading to recapture lost worlds. Old National Geographic magazines are excellent in this regard.
Concerning the present lack of civility and good manners, “When did we go wrong? As usual, the answer is in the cultural revolution of the 1960s” (122). That decade was a turning point, and today our society is simply too diverse for a common etiquette. Lind’s solution: “don’t frighten the horses.” Everyone should at least be discreet when engaging in behavior that may offend others. How likely is that to happen? A more practical suggestion by the author: boycott businesses whose practices or advertising is offensive. In the area of public behavior, Pandora’s Box has been opened and we would need a cultural revolution to set things right.
Lind has long been a supporter of train travel so it is no surprise that he advocates that mode of transport, after all. on the Chattanooga Choo Choo, “dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer.” If motoring, the author suggests taking the scenic routes rather than the interstates and having a picnic at a roadside park rather than eating at “fast food joints, those gustatory cesspools of the Interstate Era” (151).
In the chapter on retro business, Lind opines that there is an untapped market for retro furniture and clothing. “Publications are another major market where Retroculture could be good business” (160). Really? It seems as though print media are struggling. “What about the return of the great department stores of the 1920s and 1930s?” (162). Brick and mortar retail is another uphill battle these days. It appears the author’s acumen may not extend to business and economics.
The final chapter, “Retro-America,” sums up Lind’s view of our country: Where are we and where are we headed? He declares that we have lost our confidence. “Americans have become pessimistic. … people are not happy with the way things are or where they seem to be going.” (177). Well, he’s half right. The traditional core demographic of America has lost its confidence. It has allowed its history to be rewritten, its heritage to be denigrated, and its monuments to be torn down with impunity by mobs of punks and thugs. Ethnic minorities, on the other hand, are empowered, culturally and politically ascendant.
Yet the author is sanguine about the future. He believes the counter-revolution has already begun, “it is already happening.” This neo-reactionary movement will pick up steam during the 2020s and largely be accomplished by the late 2030s due to “a great national rediscovery of our past” (182). The end product will be “America as it was: quietly prosperous, well-tended, harmonious and at peace” (190).
Lind’s belief in a great restoration is an illusion. There is no returning to circa 1950. We are a vastly different country now, demographically and culturally. Moreover, what would be the impetus for such a restitution? Research suggests that a revival of fundamentalist faith is unlikely. And increasing numbers of diverse Americans do not share Lind’s reverence for our past. Indeed, the American past is routinely vilified in all the cultural high ground, from the mainstream media to the universities and throughout the educational system.
I began this review by asking what role paleo conservatism might play in our people’s instauration, offering that it may be a useful portal to more radical ideas. It’s certainly true that paleoconservatism can be an ideological halfway house. Unlike neo conservatives who embrace disembodied ideals of a universal propositional nation, paleocons appreciate the primacy of culture over politics in shaping a society. Culture informs politics rather than the other way around. But such an ideology can also be a dead end of wishful thinking and escapism. You can study the past, but you cannot live there. The old common culture America once possessed has been destroyed by the multi-cultural Left. There is no going back. History never moves in reverse.
What many paleo cons have trouble accepting is the racial foundation of culture. Ethnic change within a society will inevitably bring about profound cultural change. You cannot preserve the constitution without preserving the ethnic group who conceived it, nor can you preserve the pre-1960s culture with the ascendant non-White majority. Paleoconservatives have a vision of what they want America to be. Lind lays out that vision at the last chapter, but he, and his ideological fellows, have no realistic route to arrive there. What is more critical — even if by some miracle we could reconstruct 1950s America, it would be insufficient for our project of promoting the welfare and progress of Western peoples and their civilization. We should aspire to do better than simply replicating the past. We can use our science and our aesthetic to create a better world.
Retroculture contains some pithy criticisms of contemporary culture along with a number of useful tips for individual and familial living while waxing nostalgic for times past. It might be a good suggested reading or gift for an older mainstream friend or relative.