We all do stupid things in high school. Some play their music too loud, or get into fights, or smoke in the boy’s room. Me? I ate Tofurkey.
In my defense, dear reader, it was only for about three months. I had just watched one of those gory documentaries about corporate slaughterhouses, and I was outraged (with good reason). So, I did what any American teen would do: I took a stand, and an obnoxiously loud one. I wore hemp shoes. I posted Sea Shepherd memes on Facebook. I started listening to a band called MDC, whose lyrics are like something out of Wodehouse. (“I don’t need to eat roast beef or fish / Porky Pig is not my dish.”)
To their credit, my classmates were deeply unsympathetic. One day, my buddy Chris brought a leftover veal sandwich for lunch. I didn’t have to say a word. He just took a bite, smacked his lips, and said, “Tastes like it died screaming.”
Then wrestling season rolled around. Strangely enough, the Tofurkey didn’t sustain me. After nearly passing out at a couple of matches, I decided to revert to my old cheeseburger-based diet.
I could say that my experience gave me a certain grudging respect for Hindus, etc., but that would be a lie. Still, I’m glad I did it. Being a vegetarian, however briefly, taught me an invaluable lesson.
When you come out as an herbivore—especially as a freshman at an all-boys’ prep school—everyone and his mother will try to talk you out of it. Some arguments (like the fact that teenaged boys can’t get all the protein they need from tofu and cheese) are rather compelling. Others are not. There’s one that still makes my blood boil 14 years later: “You’re just one person. You can’t bring down the whole meat industry all by yourself. Why bother?”
Even back then, when I was a literal soy boy, this struck me as quaggy logic. I didn’t stop eating meat just so that others would, too. I stopped because I thought it was wrong. I was trying to do the right thing. I was following my conscience. Granted, it was actually my conscience that was wrong. But that’s beside the point. Reality is not a democracy. The truth is not decided by a majority vote. When a man believes in something, he takes a stand.
As I write these words down, I realize they sound like platitudes. Maybe they are. Yet I don’t think a man really knows what it means to take a stand until he finds himself standing alone.
Now, fast forward ten years. I’m visiting my friend Alexander at his family’s home in Charleston, South Carolina. They live in a beautiful old plantation house (“South of Broad,” as the locals say). It’s five o’clock, and we’re on the third-floor piazza having martinis before supper. Alexander and I have been hitting the G&Ts pretty hard since noon.
Traditionally, cocktail hour is when you do a little verbal sparring before settling down to a civilized meal. That tradition is alive and well in Alexander’s home.
This evening’s prompt is women’s suffrage. Alexander is anti-; the rest of his family, despite being good traditional Catholics, are pro-. (I’m on Alexander’s side, of course, but I hold my peace. If I’ve learned anything from Brideshead, it’s that ignorant poor people should keep quiet when their hosts are getting stuck into it.)
Maybe it’s the bottle of Tanqueray we split at lunch; maybe it’s the fact that his parents both have advanced degrees from Oxford. But for whatever reason, Alexander is losing the argument, and he knows it. His temper starts to flare. His father is stately, yet fierce, like a lion who’s just discovered his favorite cub wants the pride to stop hunting gazelle and start eating Tofurkey sandwiches. His sister is so angry she’s started to cry. His mother shoots me a knowing look. It’s awfully humid.
Desperate, Alexander reaches for his favorite line. “If only Oliver bloody Cromwell hadn’t—”
His father sees it coming a mile away. “Alexander,” he roars, “don’t start going on about how it all goes back to the Jacobites.”
Then, the moment of truth. “But what if it does?” my friend cries.
Those five words have been ringing in my ears ever since. They changed my life. I say that with no exaggeration. They changed my life.
But what if it does?
As every student of history knows, the modern world was born in 1688. For England, the Glorious Revolution meant the final triumph of oligarchy over monarchy, of merchants and bankers over farmers and tradesmen, of radical Protestantism over orthodox Christianity.
The nobility and local democracies lost most of their authority to the plutocrats in Westminster. The English Church, too, was annexed by Parliament. Scotland and Ireland lost their rights and privileges. Soon, the liberals in London would declare a Kulturkampf against their native traditions.
Yeomen and artisans were stripped of their ancient privileges and subjugated to usurers. The slave trade exploded. So did England’s uniquely venal brand of imperialism, which allowed Blighty to export the servile state to all four corners of the Earth.
When the sun finally set on the British Empire, the United States—Britannia’s favorite daughter—quickly transformed the family business into a global monopoly. As I write, news breaks that the Biden Administration is allocating $20,000 to fund drag shows in Ecuador. They are the true heirs of those treasonous Whigs who went to Willem Hendrick van Oranje with hat in hand and begged him to invade their country.
These facts are well-known to everyone, or at least everyone with ears to hear. Except for George Soros and a few elderly Ulstermen, everyone—left, right, and center—has good reason to regret the political, economic, cultural, religious, military, and racial legacies of the Glorious Revolution. Yet anyone who proposes the obvious remedy, a glorious counter-revolution, is immediately written off as a crank. Now, why is that?
Maybe it’s because the truth is so daunting. The world has been succumbing to this disease for over three hundred years now. No doubt the cure would take just as long, if not longer, to do its work. And no doubt the treatment would be almost as painful as the illness. “Anyway,” we say, “it can’t be as bad as that. The rot can’t possibly run that deep.”
But what if it does?
For centuries, we conservatives have tried to cure ourselves of modernity by treating its symptoms. Only the Jacobites dared to cut the cancer out. They failed, of course, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Just the opposite. As Maistre warned a century later, there is no possible answer to revolution except counter-revolution—“the opposite of a revolution.”
From 1689 through 1745, those brave Jacobites poured out their blood and treasure for the sake of that counter-revolution. They fought for a kingdom bound together, not by contracts (social or otherwise), but by loyalty—of the ruled to the ruler, and of the ruler to the ruled, and of neighbor to neighbor, and of man to God.
Theirs was something much more profound than the Jacobites’ “fraternity.” It was Christian charity. The men who overthrew the House of Stuart were not only at war with King James II. They were revolting against Christendom itself. And the Jacobites—with the stout logic of the freeborn—knew that Christendom must be restored along with James’s heirs, or not at all.
For “a sum can be put right,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.” The Jacobites knew that all too well. We know it, too, I think, though we’re afraid to admit it. If we did, the truth of the Jacobite cause would have a claim on our conscience. We would have to stand up for that truth, even if it meant standing alone.
Yet the men of ’45 died with joyful songs on their lips, because they were pure of heart. They were glad to die for their truth, because they refused to live by lies.
The refrain of their most famous battle-hymn asks, “Wha’ll be king but Charlie?” And they weren’t only talking about the Bonnie Prince, the Young Pretender—their rightful, lawful king. They were saying to their countrymen, The Revolution was wrong. It was evil. It was an offense against God and the British people. What can we do, then, but fight against it to our last breath? How can we put the sum right except by going back to the error and working it out afresh?
Charlie was the answer in 1745. He is the answer in 2022. And he’ll still be the answer three centuries from now, unless we have the good sense (and the guts) to go back.
Every revolution begins with just one man. So does every counter-revolution. All of our many foes, from the Williamites to the vegetarians, have taken that lesson to heart. We have not. They’re braver and more cunning than we are. They’re bolder in the pursuit of their errors than we are in the defense of our truth. And unless we demand total victory, as they do, all we’ll get is more lumps.
Nothing will be made right until everything is made right—until the king enjoys his own again.
This sounds like a tall order, because it is. The counter-revolution is a lost cause, we say. It has been dead for 277 years. It can’t come back now.
Ah! But what if it does?