Arms & Being
A propos of . . .
Frontier Pistols and Revolvers
Edison, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1996
Le coeur rebelle
Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994
Of the 50 or so books written by the now world-famous Dominique Venner, Frontier Pistols and Revolvers is the sole one to have been translated into English. This is what led me to it. But unlike his other works, it is a “coffee-table book,” laid-out with lavish photos of old American revolvers, accompanied by small blocks of text describing the historical context that shaped their origins and development.
At one level, Frontier Pistols and Revolvers is a photographic chronology of Samuel Colt’s invention and the legacy it left 19th-century America. The book’s appeal is thus seemingly to gun lovers and the distracted – not to “nationalists” interested in the ideas of Europe’s foremost “identitarian” thinker.
Despite the “superficiality” of its coffee-table format, Frontier Pistols and Revolvers nevertheless exudes something of Venner’s more consequential works, especially in its references to “arms and being.”
Not unlike Ernst Jünger, Venner was a figure whose force of arms and force of words were a rebuke to the modern bourgeoisie and its assault on Europe’s tradition and identity.
We know very little about this grand Français. Even the “biographical” Le Coeur rebelle, Venner’s memoir of the Algerian War and of the coup that sought to overturn De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic, tells us little (in the conventional sense) about his family background and early formation.
From other sources, for instance, we know his mother died when he was ten and that he was one of five children, but there is no mention of her or them in his memoir. The most basic facts of his early years are similarly concealed. His father, an architect and, more interestingly, a Doriotiste, is mentioned twice in his memoir, but apparently only for the sake of comparing him to someone of greater significance: Venner’s maternal grandmother, another rebel heart.
This “impish and not very charitable old lady” — whose husband, a career officer, had died in the first battle of 1914, gallantly charging Maxim guns and Mausers, as if he were at Austerlitz – was largely responsible for imbuing the young Venner with the “martial culture” that would later shield him from the infamies of bourgeois France.
Women, he held, are responsible for transmitting tradition in the family and his grandmother seems to have played this role in his life.
In the late 1940s, at the tender age of 14, Venner (bored with school and perhaps unhappy with his family) ran off to join the Foreign Legion. After jumping a train to Marseille and then storing away on a ship to Ajaccio, he was apprehended by French authorities once he reached North Africa. He would spend the next two days and nights in the central commissariat of Ajaccio, before being escorted home. Throughout this adventure, he tells us in his memoir, his grandmother’s revolver, which filled him with “a heady sense of freedom” and obviously emboldened him in his daunting enterprise, remained strapped to his chest, hidden under his clothing.
He had discovered the revolver in her house almost accidentally. But it had an immediate and consequential effect on him. Though small and fitted for a woman’s hand, the weapon was a serious one. “Marvelously heavy,” it unbalanced him at first, struck as he was by its evident power and “aesthetic perfection.”
Aesthetics was indeed fundamental to Venner. In Le Coeur rebelle he says beauty, not ideas, had formed, at a very early age, “the heart of his heart.” (His few years at college – after a decade as a paratrooper in French Algeria; after numerous ideological and street battles at the head of the Parisian droite révolutionnaire in the late 1950s and ‘60s; and after becoming a hunted member of the outlawed OAS, a prisoner of De Gaulle, and a founder of the ENR – were spent studying art history.)
The aesthetics Venner embraced in his youth held that beauty, in its harmony with the cosmic order, trumps ugliness; that tragedy is the basis of all redeeming art; that the form of a state (republic, monarchy, etc.) matters less than the type of man who dominates its society; and that it is never the law that guarantees the good behavior of a man, but the quality of a man that insures the integrity of the law.
Venner’s aesthetic experience of his grandmother’s revolver was simultaneously a moment of awakening (in an “existential” sense). For an arm, he immediately understood, is more than an arm. “It is something that defies despair, appeals to courage, breaks with fatality.”
Little wonder he admired the early American occupation with firearms, along with the history of conquest that made every white man an armed citizen.
In Frontier Revolvers and Pistols, he writes: “To conquer and create what they believed to be a land of liberty – the land of the Americans – they [the country’s early Anglo-European settlers] . . . took up arms and waged war – not as soldiers defending a state, but as free citizens of an independent republic.” Rifle in one hand and pistol in the other, Americans overturned Britain’s evil empire, overcame the threat of savage Indians, and tamed their wilderness empire.
In building this new country, where “Colt’s Law” ruled, individual bravery and initiative inevitably took the lead. The result: “A new conception of civic responsibility [took] root here, one born of necessity but also tied to the ancient Celtic and Germanic concepts of the free man distinguished above all by his right and responsibility to bear arms.”
Historically, the conquest of the American West corresponds to the development of the revolver. “Ever present, ever ready, it provided comfort to a man in solitude – [for it was] a pioneer’s all-risk insurance plan, his ‘equalizer.’” A gun in the hand of an Indian or a criminal might pose a threat, but “in the hand of a responsible citizen it is a means to stand up to that threat. A gun is the only defense against the misuse of a gun and therefore an invaluable instrument of justice and fair play.”
The bloody reputation of the American West, Venner claims, was an invention of journalists and filmmakers. With its numerous well-armed men, the West was qualitatively more peaceful and less violent than many American cities. (Between 1865 and 1900 there were 600 gun-related murders in the West; in New York City, where the court system ruled, there were 800 such murders in a single year ).
Unlike New Rightists contemptuous of America’s counter-civilization, the judgment of this modern Spartan is less categorically negative, for an armed people, he knew, was a free people. In retaining something of its cult of arms for so long, he thought Americans had been spared many of the emasculating effects that would otherwise have come with their endlessly expanding capitalism.
The right to bear arms is not, however, simply a requisite to freedom. It is also the guarantor of whatever peace and sweetness – whatever beauty – man comes to possess. For Venner, this realm of possession is the realm of women – who are responsible for the love in man’s world, for the laughter in his children, and the replenishing of his life. Such a world, with its comforts and gifts, exists, though, only through man’s determination to defend it. Without Mars, no Venus.
Most people in the late 1950s and early ’60s lacked this determination, for they lived in a bubble of material wellbeing, unconscious of the violence, hunger, and desperation of the surrounding world. The sex, fun, and money of their consumer society simply couldn’t be bothered with these unpleasant realities.
During the Algerian War (1954-62), Venner came face to face with the civilization-destroying implications of such indifference.
Several generations of Frenchmen and Europeans had made Algeria (which was as French as 19th-century California was American) into a garden land. But once France’s willingness to defend her possession ceased (under the inglorious Fourth Republic), Algeria was lost. Basking in the postwar “economic miracle,” the Metropolis was more concerned with enjoying the fruits of France’s recent prosperity than with defending Frenchmen being butchered by Muslim “freedom fighters.” (The two previous generations, we should remember, had nearly exterminated themselves in their two world civil wars.)
In step with America’s postwar demonization of the European world – and by implication the white man’s world — the French Left, the media, the institutions, and schools depicted every effort to defend French Algeria (i.e., the white European colons, their farms, vineyards, enterprises, and cities) as an act of racism or imperialism, and every act of FLN savagery as justifiable in the name of liberation and self-determination.
Refusing to uphold the virile side of existence, Metropolitan France (whose GNP doubled in the 1950s) ended up – influenced by left-wing, alien, and capitalist interests (by definition anti-national and often Jewish) — allowing thousands of French Algerian whites to be slaughtered and more than a million of them to flee – with child in hand — the land of their cradles and graves.
In abandoning Europe’s southern frontier, France would go on to abandon herself, her destiny, and any prospect of defending her people from the Third World’s impending invasion. For once the sovereign assertion of national authority, along with the war-making powers to uphold it, were deemed antiquated – then the market, the reign of money, and mass consumption would alone define French “destiny.” Hence also the maniacal imposition of everything promoting the economization and denaturalization of European life.
As for Algeria, it has become another failed Third World regime, a wretched, ugly place, poor and dysfunctional; worse, millions of Algerian Muslims continue to carry on their ancestral war against the French (the “Gauloises”), but now in the suburbs of Paris and other large cities. (“France lost Algeria but kept the Algerians.”) Decolonization was suppose to bring “peace, justice, and democracy” to the world, but, of course, it failed, for it was essentially an anti-white phenomenon, premised on the fiction that all right and justice was on the non-European side.
The subsequent Cultural Revolution of May 1968 (whose tenets were liberal and American, not Russian and Soviet) would destroy the last obstacles to bourgeois dominance in France, as Eros and Dionysius banished the warrior spirit that once secured European freedoms.
The human and moral bankruptcy of the Algerian War and the ensuing inauguration of money’s unmitigated reign would hereafter anathematize Europe’s ancient cult of arms.
The virile, anti-bourgeois, anti-utilitarian, and masculine structure of Greco-European being has since given way to the feminist, homophile, egalitarian, and anti-white principles promising Europe’s extinction.
Frontier Pistols and Revolvers offers a glimpse of an age when white men stood upright before the dangers threatening them – just as Le Coeur rebelle represents a period when a handful of soldiers, the future pioneers of European identitarianism, sought to reverse the fate of their besotted countrymen. Explicitly or otherwise, both works suggest that the proscription of “armed being” leaves Europe defenseless before the dangers threatening her.
But this is no cause for despair. Venner, the champion of Sam Colt, reminds us that there is nothing written in stone — that the gods and heroes can always return. To regain their homes, white men need only resume Ulysses’s epic odyssey, as they heed the force of arms and the force of words that are the incomparable legacy of Dominique Venner.