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Dennis Wheatley's Pulp Reaction

Staid and stodgy. Drab and dreary. These are just some common adjectives for reactionaries. In the particularly narrow view of the left, the right, because it is close-minded and full of rage, never has any fun.

In truth, all one has to do is start using a dating app in order to just see how boring the left truly is. For their talk of sexual openness and their much-vaunted thirst for immersive experiences, every single Leftist girl and boy on Tinder say the same thing: I like to travel, I am a “foodie,” I like (insert redundant cultural reference here). This is the conformity of the liberal mind. They sincerely believe that changing one sky for another means something, even when they do the same thing in Rome as they do in New York City. Really, they are the ones wholly missing in life’s adventure, even if they are ostensibly more active or at least more engaged in the trivial expectations of a consumerist life.

This inanity is mirrored in the type of fiction that the left praises the most. Crack open a Pushcart Prize winner or thumb through an indie book review website—you’re guaranteed to see the pedestrian praised and the unexciting illuminated. Broken relationships, bourgeoisie identity politics, and the search for life’s “meaning.” That's a popular, well-received American novel in a nutshell.

Unfortunately, the right does not yet have a major platform to stand on and bark insults at leftist writers. While the reactionary underground is clearly moving forward by creating literary works on their own (a practice that we have extensively covered), most outwardly conservative fiction is pretty terrible. Sure, there’s a handful of thriller writers that are the exception to the rule (Andrew Klavan, for instance), but most self-consciously right-wing works are pulp polemics.

This is no mere snobbery, mind you. The late Jonathan Bowden correctly noted that certain strands of popular culture, from the comic books of Frank Miller to the “Dirty Harry” films, maintain a reactionary ethos that points out just how tenuous our love of democracy is. This applies not just to American popular culture, but to British pop as well. Specifically, in the later stages of the British Empire, an entire generation of British scribes used mass market literature as a way to preserve something worth preserving—the spirit of the gentleman adventurer.

The two greatest practitioners of the late imperial thriller are Ian Fleming and Dennis Wheatley. Most know the name Ian Fleming simply because he created James Bond, the swaggering Lothario with a license to kill from Her Majesty. Dennis Wheatley’s name is a little less well-known.

Wheatley grew up the son of a middle class family involved in the wine business. After being kicked out of Dulwich College (apparently for forming a “secret society” with other students), he entered the Merchant Navy then the Royal Field Artillery during World War I.

Like fellow British writer Herman Cyril McNeile, better known as Sapper, Wheatley imbued his novels with the type of male heroism and brotherhood that military veterans know so intimately. In a way, Wheatley and the much later Fleming created a British equivalent to the “Kasernenleben” or “barracks life” ideal of Ernst Jünger. At first, Wheatley drafted virile and anti-Communist espionage thrillers like “The Forbidden Territory.” However, Wheatley’s most famous creation is 1934’s “The Devil Rides Out.”

A novel about a black magic cult headed by the Aleister Crowley lookalike Mocata, “The Devil Rides Out” depicts the London elite of the 1930s as captivated by the strange, the un-Christian, and the foreign. Lucifer himself makes an appearance in the novel during a witch’s sabbath on Salisbury Plain.

The novel’s heroes represent an ideal male society as envisioned by Wheatley. Headed by the Franco-Russian aristocrat and white magician the Duc de Richleau, this circle includes the earthy American airman Rex Van Ryn and the British-Jewish financier Simon Aron. Noticeably, in “The Devil Rides Out,” it is Aron, the son of the nouveau riche, who falls under the spell of Mocata and his well-heeled Luciferians. Some have pointed to this novel as a window into Wheatley’s anti-Semitism. Others have argued that Wheatley, for a time, supported both the National Socialists in Germany and the British Fascists led by Oswald Mosley.

After death, Wheatley left a “Letter to Posterity” that laid open his political ideals clearly. The man best known for penning potboilers about black magic believed in tradition, authority, and inequality.

In writing about the “electro-machine age,” Wheatley groused that the voice of the people, once “pregnant with both justice and common sense,” had been perverted by advanced technologies. New inventions like the radio and the telegraph enabled “professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote.” Rather than use these capabilities for open dialogue, the liberal elite gave their subjects “ready made” opinions and thought patterns. Quiet contemplation and reasoned discussion, Wheatley noted, were casualties in this transformation.

Like the great adventurer writer John Buchan, a Scotsman-turned-Canadian politician whose “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is the archetypal imperial spy story, Wheatley used his fiction to expand on the notion of a gifted and heroic elite. Governments do not solve the problems described in Wheatley’s novels; a small ring of elite men do. The idea that “‘all men are equal’” is complete hogwash to Wheatley the writer. Wheatley the man agreed: “The aristocracies of Egypt, Greece and Rome, clearly had no doubts at all that they were better fitted to govern than any committee composed of representatives of the common people.” Even Wheatley’s beloved English realized that power had to rest first with the King, then with the Lords and Commons.

Wheatley composed his letter to posterity in 1947 (he would die thirty years later). At that time, Labour politician Clement Attlee began the process of turning Great Britain, the former imperial power of the Western world and the great exporter of mercantile capitalism, into a social democratic state with healthy welfare benefits. The U.K. has yet to fully recover. Long gone is the prestige of the British nobles. Now the U.K. is synonymous with generational poverty, the dominance of far-left cultural politics, and the urban terrorism of Muslim hordes who gang rape white and Sikh girls in between mass explosions and targeted killings. Wheatley’s England is dead.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond supposedly represents this new, more republican Britain. In terms of sexual mores, the playboy Bond is nothing but a libertine whose opinion of sex predates the 1960s and the popular acceptance of “free love.” The cult of Bond has also produced gross consumerism, with watches, car brands, and alcohol linked forever in the minds of the public with Agent 007.

But Bond has a different side. An elitist with a love for England and the British Empire, this Bond is underplayed in the movies, but well-represented in Fleming’s novels. At the time of their composition, the British Empire stood on its last legs. Post-colonial theory was being taught at Oxford and Cambridge, while racial radicals were busy dismantling British colonies in Kenya, Nigeria, and in the Caribbean. The birth of Bond coincided with the Mau Mau Uprising, the Commonwealth’s successful fight against Communist insurgents in British Malaya, and the Suez Crisis, which many regard as the final nail in the coffin of British hegemony. The decline of Britain’s fortunes in the real-world may explain why, in the Bond universe, the U.K. seems to be the leading power in the West, with America playing second fiddle.

This obvious wish fulfillment aside, the characters in Fleming’s novels seem well-aware of the U.K.’s falling reputation. "In You Only Live Twice,: which is one of the more horrific Bond novels, the Japanese spymaster Tiger Tanaka taunts his British counterpart by saying: “Britain has not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands.” Subtly agreeing that British power was undermined by cowardly Labourites from within, Bond, in a fit of pique, retorts: “England may have been bled pretty thin by a couple of world wars…But there’s nothing wrong with the British people—although there are only fifty million of them.”

While Bond purports to defend the interests of the British people from the scourge of Soviet Communism, the books tell a quite different story. Bond, the epitome of “snobbery, sex, and sadism,” is an elite man mostly fighting for his name and his friends. His enemies are similarly situated, with many trying to play London, Washington, and Moscow against one another for their own ends. Bond’s villains often represent a motley crew of foreigners—a Greek-Polish aristocrat, a Chinese-German scientist who is protected by mixed-race workers, a former Nazi who poses as a Liverpudlian millionaire, American gangsters connected to African diamond mines, and a Neapolitan blackmailer who once served in Mussolini’s navy.

This criminal melange recognizes no borders nor national cultures. Their aim is to make money. Read from a certain perspective, Bond, a proud Englishman who mostly fights and kills for private reasons, has antagonists who operate like multinational corporations.

In "You Only Live Twice," a third alternative is proffered by Richard “Dikko” Henderson, an Australian agent. Although he is tasked with teaching Bond the basics about Japanese culture, Henderson spends most of his time highlighting the great differences between the West and the East. “…the Japanese are a separate human species. They’ve only been operating as a civilized people, in the debased sense we talk about it in the West, for fifty, at the most a hundred years. Scratch a Japanese and you’ll find a samurai—or what he thinks is a samurai.” Henderson further adds that “Most of this samurai stuff is a myth, like the Wild West bunk the Americans are brought up on…” Henderson’s comments are meant to connect Bond and himself as Englishmen and as white men. The latter attempt may have failed given Bond’s well-known distaste for American middle-class supremacy—the female drivers, the shoddy food, and the cultural populism. However, if Dennis Wheatley wanted the world to recognize the superiority of elite men, then Fleming wanted the world to acknowledge the superiority of the British Commonwealth, from London to Canberra and Wellington.

In today’s world, neither conclusion is supported within polite society. The 1960s society that James Bond helped to create has produced monstrous offspring. The London Satanists of “The Devil Rides Out” have won the culture wars. Now being a prude is the most damning thing someone can be. Even American presidential candidates have fooled around with chic devil worship. As for the Blofeld’s of the world, they remain well-positioned on top of the wealth that they accumulated at the cost of fracturing the communities of the Western world. These late imperial thrillers do not depict the world as it was, but as it still is.

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