The Reactionaries: A Study of the Anti-Democratic Intelligentsia, by John Harrison
In Book v of A Vision, which is dated February, 1925, Yeats wrote:
A civilization is a struggle to keep self-control, and in this it is like some great tragic person, some Niobe who must display an almost superhuman will or the cry will not touch our sympathy. The loss of control over thought comes towards the end; first a sinking in upon the moral being, then the last surrender, the irrational cry, revelation—the scream of Juno’s peacock.
In its syntax it reminds us of “Leda and the Swan”; in its tone it recalls “The Second Coming.” In all its notes it sends the scream of Juno’s peacock through an entire generation. We hear it in Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (1925), in D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent (1926), in Wyndham Lewis’s The Apes of God (1930), in Pound’s Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935), in Yeats’s The Tower (1928). Mr. Harrison’s book is a study of this scream. “It is a strange and disturbing phenomenon,” he says, “that five of the greatest literary figures of this century, Yeats, Lewis, Pound, Eliot, and Lawrence, were attracted by Italian and German Fascism before the Second World War.” This is, to Mr. Harrison, the particular form of the scream. And he asks: “Why is it that great creative artists can totally reject a liberal, democratic, humanitarian society, and prefer a cruel, authoritarian, bellicose society?” Mr. Harrison tends to answer his question by begging it: this is the form his bewilderment takes. Wise after the event, he cannot even conceive the possibility that the event might have been different.
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