The Return of Cromwell

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When I was a boy in Hollywood, in the palmy days of the mid-sixties, my father (in addition to his grocery-and-rent-paying engineering job) wrote screenplays. None of these were ever sold, alas. But while I watched Batman and the Green Hornet, and stood bemused at the antics of the hippies, Dad’s fertile imagination ground out tale after tale. One of these, written in 1967, has chilled my marrow ever since, and never more than now.

Entitled The Return of Cromwell, it was set in a future America, sometime after a decade-long war in Asia had ended. The former commander of the Army of the Orient (as our forces in that conflict were called) returns home to a very changed United States. His wife is living with a lad half her age—and women, especially of the mannish variety—were dominant in internal security. The General has several unpleasant misadventures, culminating in his going to his old parish church for comfort, only to find it to be a burned-out wreck, with his former pastor wandering half mad through the ruins. Questioning the cleric, the General discovers it was torched by an irate would-be wedding party when the old priest refused to marry two men. Disgusted by what he has found the country reduced to, the General rallies as much of his old command as he can gather, and they begin a rebellion. Part of the standing army and various other disgruntled folk join him, and eventually they march on Washington and overthrow the government.

Then begins the General’s dictatorship—and it is not a nice, Norman Rockwellesque dictatorship, either. It is a veritable purging of the country, of every element the General and his men find distasteful. The brutality and nastiness of the former regime is paid back with interest, and a grimly Puritanical status quo installed. It can hardly be called a happy ending, so much as a clash of rival dystopias.

In those far-off days, we lived in an apartment house owned and dwelt I as well by Criswell—a television psychic then on the downturn of his career. Perhaps some of Criswell’s prophetic insights somehow traveled through the walls to affect my father’s writing. Or, given the master’s extremely low success rate with his predictions, it may simply be that Dad was both a keen student of history and an astute observer of the human condition. Whichever it was, I cannot help but believe that the next decade shall see much, if not all, of my father’s horrific vision come to pass.

As we have seen, the country is divided into two irreconcilable visions. As I write this, it seems that the “Woke” faction, whose control over America’s intellectual and cultural institutions was made manifest by innumerable declarations of solidarity with BLM as the nation’s cities burned last summer, shall complete their triumph with occupation of the White House. If they succeed in Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff races, they shall take control of the Senate. That accomplished, there have been promises from key elements in that quarter of measures to solidify a permanent majority for themselves, from packing the Supreme Court to getting Statehood for D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Either way, the same diet of radical reconstruction of society in the name of an agenda as vague as it is insane shall continue.

Deprived of any meaningful voice over the course of national affairs, the other half, depending on how much and in what way they are prodded and pushed by the dominant folk, shall in all likelihood react badly. The result, I firmly believe, shall be escalating civil unrest and chaos. It is from the ensuing witch’s cauldron of violence and privation that the Strongman my father feared and predicted shall emerge.

What shall this future ruler of ours be like? Well, one can only hazard a few educated guesses based on history and current events elsewhere. Typically, such figures try to reconcile past and present, while solidifying their dominant position with rewards for their followers and severe punishment for the opposition. Such a man tends to be ruthless—and are often, shall we say, ideologically flexible within certain limits. This latter allows him to unite disparate groups for effective action, with each group believing themselves to be remaining true to their own core beliefs. Francisco Franco was a master at this, binding together Carlists, Alfonsists, and Falangists into a force capable of unseating a Second Spanish Republic that was listing wildly into Communism. Napoleon, in similar fashion, brought together conservative republicans, monarchists, and Catholics to run France. Mussolini likewise brought together nationalists, socialists, and monarchists. But what might an American avatar of this phenomenon look like?

I rather suspect that he shall be wrapped in the flag and carry aloft the Cross, albeit without a Corpus. That is to say, regardless of his personal beliefs or lack thereof, he shall revive the quasi-religious national imagery with which the older Americans among us are familiar, only much more so. The return of school prayer would no more surprise me than the forced disbanding or restaffing of many of our educational institutions. You may expect from such an individual a through purge of the woke from national life.

Doubtless he’ll push a populist economic plan of some sort, coupled with heavy security: sort of Huey Long meets Van Horn Moseley. Don’t be surprised if he borrows heavily from such figures, incidentally. I would not be amazed to see Huey’s song “Every Man a King” make an enforced comeback. This leader shall certainly have an historical backstory created that shall link his regime, whatever its shape, to whatever he considers best from American history. So be assured that he’ll be touted as a worthy successor to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln (or Jeff Davis—or both!), and perhaps Teddy Roosevelt. He might even add FDR, JFK, and Reagan to his assumed political lineage—and all or their stories shall be reinterpreted in the light of the now current regime.

Depending on how the Harris regime deals with its opposition, we shall in all likelihood see that treatment returned—with interest. This shall be the most unpleasant part of the whole thing. Old scores shall be settled; even if one sees them as in some sense just, in these circumstances things often go too far. And in such a situation, how far they go depends on what sort of man is calling the shots. Alas, it is precisely here that the crystal ball goes dark.

The problem with such an occurrence is precisely that it is so personal. Everything depends on the Strongman’s personality. The kind of power he wields is deployed according to his whims. To the degree that he is sane or not, benevolent or not, cultured or not, idealistic or not, and just what sort of idealism he holds. If, for instance, our new ruler is fond of gardening, we’ll all discover an interest in tulips and roses we may never have had before.

While we are finding our feet in the brave new world we shall be entering, our standing as a world power shall probably fade. Our European cousins shall have to figure out their own path with regard to Islam, China, and Russia. Given where they are politically, today, there is a strong likelihood that they, too—either individually or collectively—shall fall under strongmen of their own. However, they do have an alternative (and rather more benevolent) tradition to fall back on.

As mentioned last time, Altar and Throne, subsidiarity and solidarity, are at once the governmental heritage of each European nation and of the whole, in the sense of the “Holy Empire.” For all that revolutions, world wars, and societal decay have covered it up, it yet remains, as embedded in the European landscape as the forests, farms, and cities. We moderns might find such a restoration (or perhaps “instauration”) as unlikely as either the Messianic return of Arthur or Charlemagne or else the apocalyptic advent of a “Great Catholic Monarch.” But then, a year ago, many of us might not have believed in the possibility of having the Mass banned in our parish churches, and ourselves unable to dine at our favorite restaurant! If nothing else, this year has shown that nothing is impossible.

[Photo credit: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images]

Charles Coulombe

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Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine's European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan's Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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