Aquite remarkable book has appeared from a quite remarkable publisher. The former is entitled Degenerate Moderns, by E. Michael Jones. The latter is Ignatius Press, a Roman Catholic house based in the United States and rapidly becoming one of the most successful independent houses in North America. Ignatius is dedicated to reprinting classics that have slipped or been pushed from the libraries and the bookstores, and publishing new works by contemporary writers. Thus its catalogue is a tempting panoply, numbering former giants such as G. K. Chesterton and Cardinal Newman as well as modern masters including Thomas Howard and Peter Kreeft-and if you are unfamiliar with the last pair I strongly advise a keen effort to rectify the situation.
The directors of Ignatius were convinced that there was a large audience for such writing, a readership hungry for sophisticated and challenging literature produced by spiritual men and women with an orthodox foundation. They were more correct than they knew. Ignatius Press has grown exponentially in the last five years and shows no sign of slowing. It receives no government help, relies on individual recommendations or advertising in small-circulation magazines, and tends to avoid the major bookstore chains. Its authors seldom become wealthy but then the purpose of the publisher and everybody concerned with it is not primarily to make a profit. It is to change the world.
E. Michael Jones may have done just that. His primary premise is that many of the seminal thinkers who have shaped the modern world, or the modernist world, were influenced mainly by their sexual proclivities. He takes a step beyond the British historian Paul Johnson's thesis, set forward in his book Intellectuals, that we ought not to separate the private and personal lives of modernist philosophers from their ideological and public stands. Thus, argued Johnson, if Brecht was a misogynist who knifed one of his girlfriends and pushed another down the stairs, then his ostensible feminism was produced by something other than regard for women and must be completely fraudulent. If it was fraudulent in origin, it is necessarily fraudulent in being. Yet people still take it seriously.
E. Michael Jones argues that random acts of brutality, selfishness, and misanthropy may have been bad enough, but that there is a consistent and tangible thread to the major modernists. Notably, in their sexuality. In eleven chapters Jones takes on central characters such as Kinsey, Keynes, Margaret Mead, Picasso, and Jung. His conclusion is that these modern thinkers, and many others, followed a set pattern. After initially indulging in sexual promiscuity or perversion, they then searched for an ideology, an economic or psychological theory, or an art form which, according to Jones, "subordinated reality to the exigencies of their sexual misbehaviour."
The argument can surely be applied to other aspects of human nature, such as self-preservation. Take, for example, the young Americans who in the 1960s came to the not irrational conclusion that if they served in the United States armed forces in Vietnam they would face gross discomfort and possibly death. They were usually white and relatively privileged, and knew how to get across the border into Canada. Unless they were inhumanly insular, they came to experience a certain guilt, if not for their desertion of their country, then for the fact that other Americans, often black, had to take their place. They formed a theory of imperialism, pacificism, and even Canadian nationalism, to justify their actions: We were not physically afraid, we were politically courageous.
The very basis of civil disobedience, of course, consists of remaining behind to face the punishment of the state when it is defied. But now all was changed. Thus all that followed had also to change, to explain the actions of a generation of men.
It was Aristotle, dead and white and male as can be, who said that "men start revolutionary change for reasons connected with their private lives." This may seem axiomatic, but it has been expunged from the political discourse because, well, it is as true as it is damning. Jones believes that, at least until recently, our understanding of economics, of psychology, of art, and of anthropology had been shaped by something as jejune as promiscuity and sexual deviance. He will be marginalized and mocked because of his ideas, because to take them on and challenge them would only validate them and, in so doing, partly invalidate the status quo that they challenge.
I doubt very much that Degenerate Moderns will be reviewed in the mainstream press. It too readily reveals the paradox of literature and politics in the late twentieth century. That is, we apply the terms "revolutionary" and "courageous" to books that celebrate tired anti-family, anti-Christian, and anti-conservative ideas and then condemn as reactionary volumes that eviscerate the entire underpinning of the modern world. Some years ago when a young man was dying of AIDS, he told his friends, "I die happy, because I was infected by Michel Foucault." The liberal universe may well die with a grin on its face, knowing it was infected by the very people described in E. Michael Jones's remarkable book. l
Michael Coren's latest book is a biography, Conan Doyle, published by Stoddart.