Viewers weren’t supposed to root for Archie Bunker. This is the perennial blindness of liberals and progressives.
Ever since the election of Donald Trump, the usual smugness of the left has turned bitter. The unwashed have stormed the cathedral, and now it’s up to the deep state in order to extricate history or at least the very Whiggish and Marxian view of history as a nonstop train ride towards big state bliss.
In his brilliant book "Reactionary Liberty," paleolibertarian writer Robert Taylor channels Hans-Herman Hoppe in declaring that “physical removal,” or the violent suppression of leftist actors, is desirable. Since libertarian, conservative, and reactionary societies have to have self-enforcement mechanisms in order to exist in modern times, physical removal (or the Physical Removal Principle) calls for offensive action against the culturally destructive forces of Cultural Marxism. Rather than weakly shout “NAP!” or some other such nonsense, Taylor claims that the PRP “gives us a defensive tool to eliminate…threats to a libertarian society.”
For those prone to laughing at “lolibertarians,” you should know that the PRP and Taylor himself are rather fond of the Alt-Right, Pinochet, and Franco. After all, the best way to fight cultural rot is to actually fight back.
The American Right, fortunately, has a pugnacious past, both in terms of real world application and culture. In terms of the former, the Hard Hat Riot of 1970 saw approximately two hundred construction workers affiliated with the AFL-CIO beat the living snot out of hippie anti-war protestors. At the time, the largest labor union in America was led by George Meany, an Irish Catholic from Harlem who could have easily been Archie Bunker’s brother. The riot is often seen as the moment when the Old Left, with its labor unions and its antipathy to Soviet-style communism, aggressively detached itself from the New Left, with its “repressive tolerance,” bourgeoise effeteness, and love for the Third World. Whether true or not, the Hard Hat Riot represented a pissed-off working class taking back the street from the long hairs and other punks.
A few years earlier, another unusual coalition of American reaction joined forces as the Berkeley police and members of the Hells Angels colluded in order to beat the guts out of anti-war protestors. The hard-left journalist Hunter S. Thompson tried to take the starch out of the Hells Angels by calling the outlaw biker gang “retrograde” patriots with affinities for “the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan, and the American Nazi Party.”
Culture followed closely behind these real world developments. In the same year as the Hard Hat Riot, the film “Joe” ended with a cinematic bloodbath wherein a commune of drug-addled hippies are killed by a blue collar worker (Peter Boyle’s Joe) and a wealthy ad executive (Dennis Patrick’s Bill). Director John G. Avildsen and screenwriter Norman Wexler clearly wanted “Joe” to be a horror show about the intolerance of both the working class and the upper middle class. To their horror, audiences cheered with excitement as Joe and Bill gunned down the radicals. One crowd’s jubilant reaction so terrified Boyle that he swore off violent movies for a while. Ironically, Boyle’s other hit in the 1970s, “Taxi Driver,” is also a portrait of an unintentionally heroic vigilante.
Progressives continued to fear the rise of populist fascism thanks to a slew of vigilante movies and the Nazi flirtations of the early punk rock movement. A decade later, even though punk still mostly belonged to quasi daring progs like Dead Kennedys and Crass, a punk-derived offshoot known as hardcore produced several bands that openly embraced the Right. Most of these acts tended to come from Democratic strongholds like Boston and New York. As the typical punk rock kid drew anarchy symbols on the walls of his high school bathroom, The F.U.’ s screamed “Love it or leave it” without any hint of irony. Even more confrontational politics can be found in one of the most hated songs in hardcore history—Agnostic Front’s “Public Assistance.” Written by Carnivore and Type O Negative leader Peter Steele, “Public Assistance” lambasts not only lazy immigrants who use welfare to buy drugs, but also those “minorities” who constantly harp about supposedly tough times. The song has a decidedly authoritarian solution: “I say make them clean the sewers/ Don't take no resistance/ If they don’t like it go to hell/ And cut their public assistance.”
Both The F.U.’s and Agnostic Front took serious thrashings from the standard litany of left-wing rags, including “Maximumrockandroll,” Tim Yohannan’s “bible” of filth, degeneracy, and predictably Marxist politics. No matter; the fact that the established punk rock press hated them made right-wing bands that much more rebellious.
The same paradigm held true for the world of comic books. Thanks to self-imposed censorship since the 1950s, the “funny books” had become mostly dull by the mid-1980s. The few exceptions to this rule either came from England or from the pen of Frank Miller. The British artists, like the clueless American leftists that came before them, attempted to mock and ridicule the Right through their work. As such, men like John Wagner and Alan Moore created authoritarian heroes meant to act as stand-ins for the supposedly repressive state run by Margaret Thatcher. As with Archie and Joe, Judge Dredd and Rorschach are supposed to be the bad guys. Dredd’s “I am the law” ethos and his reliance on violence is meant to warn readers about the dangers of a police state. Few got the message, and now Dredd is a figure beloved in the same way that Dirty Harry is. The same goes for Rorschach, the moral absolutist of Moore’s popular “Watchmen” graphic novel. Again, the masked vigilante Rorschach is Moore’s ham-fisted attempt at portraying the psychopathy of reactionary thought. In truth, Rorschach is the most popular character in the whole book because of his adherence to stated moral principles and his willingness to use force to enforce them.
The pinnacle of popular fascism in 1980s comics is Frank Miller’s “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” Radix writer Zachary O. Ray perfectly summarizes Miller’s dystopian vision as “an Alt Right hero’s journey” wherein the aged billionaire Bruce Wayne fully becomes Batman in order to obliterate the status quo. As part of this, Batman’s war with Superman symbolically represents Batman’s turn away from liberal democracy. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” is discarded in order to remake the world. Tellingly, Batman’s allies in this remaking are former criminal gangsters called Mutants.
Miller’s other gems from the 1980s, including “Ronin,” “Batman: Year One,” and “Daredevil: Born Again” similarly utilize the theme of cultural decline in order to showcase how heroism can reverse said devolution. In “Year One,” Wayne/Batman makes his first alliance with Lieutenant Jim Gordon as a means towards ending endemic corruption within Gotham City. Reactionary writer Jonathan Bowden called such storytelling “pulp fascism,” explaining that comics are either “metapolitically Right-wing” or are “subliminally Rightist” because comics rely on the use of force and the Western ethos of masculinity in order to create or reestablish order. The more comics deviate from this foundation (which has been happening more and more lately with transgender superheroes, gay superheroes, Muslim superheroes, etc.), the more the industry ghettoizes itself among a small circle of hard-left readers. This proves Bowden main conceit: popular culture contains more than a passing trace of reactionary thought.
Ultimately, one must beg the question, where does all of this lead us? What can the history of counterrevolutionary comics, movies, and music tell us about our current predicament? Simple: Leviathan is in a weak moment. The state, by which is meant the liberal-democratic-progressive order, has been cracked because of its consistent inability to foresee the true sympathies of the common man. The average American was supposed to be horrified of Donald Trump. The citizenry, especially the white working and middle classes which have been demonized by the state since the 1960s, voted for him anyway. They have grown tired of lawlessness propagated by Islamic immigrants and their jihadi children and they are angry over the state’s loving embrace of the clearly terroristic Black Lives Matter movement. The citizenry want something done—they want physical removal.
This is where culture comes in. A rebellion in letters has already started, but more could always be done. A true coalition of high-and-low, like the union of Batman and the Mutants and hardcore and Ronald Reagan, should be pursued on paper, on the screen, and in public policy. The necessity of physical removal requires action. Let us be both creators and destroyers; let us be both Frank Miller and the Hard Hats.