Call me "Reactionary"
The perfect book for 2022
I noticed as I approached the end of the book I just finished that I’d bee using a Pope Pius X prayer card as a bookmark. My first reaction was a mild amusement which immediately morphed into gratitude that I should even have a Pius X prayer card to use as a bookmark.
The source of the card, no doubt, was a pre-1955 Daily Missal I received from my sisters after my father passed away in January. I am the only one of my siblings to retain the Old Rite, perhaps because I was born in a less iconoclastic generation long after them. Again, deep gratitude for such a gift, the most treasured article my father left this world.
The book I marked is The Reactionary Mind: Why “Conservative” Isn’t Enough by Michael Warren Davis. I felt as if I were reading my own blog, only written by a much more talented writer. If there’s ever been a book that should be marked with a Pope Pius X prayer card, this is the one. (With the possible exception of a pre-1955 Daily Missal, that is.)
In The Reactionary Mind, Davis makes the case for a return to something akin to feudalism. Before you surf away, let me assure you Mr. Davis is not a crackpot or a loon. He is a distinguished Catholic writer and, as you’ll realize very early in your reading of the book, a profound and witty thinker. He knows his history, both past and present. Anyone who knows history knows the present isn’t working—by historical standards. My own farewell to the year 2021 tells you all you need to about my bearishness on America.
When studying the so-called Dark Ages in school, I learned that serfs worked only about half the days of the year. They could not be required to work on any holy day, and the Church’s calendar is full of holy days. In fact, our professor liked to remind us, serfs probably had it better than the vast majority of moderns.
Davis begins by confirming Dr. Manley’s lessons. He describes the life of the serf honestly, which is to say without the lies and myths invented by Enlightenment writers to vilify the Church and the monarchy. In Davis’s mind, the Middle Ages were a time of happiness for the lowest of men, the serfs, especially compared us moderns.
The pursuit of happiness was at the center of the medieval world-view. They understood (as every Christian does) that we cannot be happy without God—that God is our happiness. “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in thee,” as Saint Augustine said. There’s no better word for the condition of modern man: restless. He is oppressed by his own false freedom, tortured by his inflamed appetites, and humiliated by his own ignorance. The things that might make him truly happy—gratitude and simplicity, peace and quiet—are kept forever out of his reach.
As a rules-for-living book, I couldn’t agree more. I often caught myself shouting out my endorsement of Davis’s critiques of modernism and salutes to antiquity. For example,
Feudalism—as an economic, political, religious, and cultural order—survived for so long because people believed in it; they believed in its values of faithfulness, service, charity, honor, duty, sacrifice, and, most of all, chivalry. They fell short of these values, they fought over them, but they always labored to restore them.
Some of Davis’s other rules for living delight me. “Also,” he tells us, “if you’re a man, get punched in the face at some point in your life.” And, “Speaking of violence, hunting is another great way to get outside and exercise your body and wit.”
In fact, the chapter titles, alone, should attract best-seller numbers of readers. Here are my favorites:
The Reactionary’s Code: Loyal and Joyful
Why Reactionaries Don’t “Follow the Science”
Why Reactionaries Don’t Worship Reason
Why a Reactionary Would Like to Abolish Politics
A Humane Economy: The View from Nazareth
The Strenuous Life
With chapters like these, each page is a surprising delight. I found myself putting the book down too often, only to share an inspiration with my wife or a friend. Still, I read the book in two sittings. I also found myself daydreaming about what what the book portends for my future and yours.