Magazine article The American Conservative

Lady Clairvoyant: Nancy Mitford Foresaw American Globalism in the '50S

Magazine article The American Conservative

Lady Clairvoyant: Nancy Mitford Foresaw American Globalism in the '50S

Article excerpt

Was the neoconservative ideology of global-democratic crusades first depicted in the 1951 novel The Blessing, by the English-born but French-resident Nancy Mitford?

Since 9/11, and particularly since the obvious inability of American arms to make Iraq as peace-loving as Iowa--or Libya as laid-back as Louisiana--the question "Who was the first neocon?" has acquired a renewed significance. John Gray, emeritus of the London School of Economics, argues that premonitions of the neocon psyche had already occurred in the Middle Ages.

More recently, Woodrow Wilson and Leo Strauss adumbrated much of the neocon project. Yet however great a game President Wilson talked about the "right to self-determination," he also insisted--to the anger of young Ho Chi Minh--that for this right the Third World need not apply.

For a portrait of the neocon mentality in its purest, most globalized form, you cannot overlook The Blessing. As Minerva sprang fully armed from Jupiter's head, so fully armed from Mitford's head sprang The Blessing's villain, a leather-lunged, gauche apparatchik who rejoices in the utterly apt name of Hector "Heck" Dexter.

In Paris there lies the scene. Grace de Valhubert, married to former Free French soldier Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, is dreading the advent of Dexter, with whose wife Carolyn-mercilessly teased by Charles-Edouard as "la belle lesbienne"--she once went to school. To Grace's assumption that Americans will appreciate Charles-Edouard's wartime loyalty, her husband sadly responds, "The Americans hate the people who were on their side in the war. It's the one thing they can never forgive." And that's the quarrel.

When Dexter arrives, he exceeds all expectations for charmlessness and loquacity. His almost endless sentences are delivered in a patois so uncouth--adjectives like "chlorotic" and "morbose" abound--and so badly pronounced whenever it ventures into foreign terminology (apergu becomes "apercoo") that it resembles a Justice Department position paper. This sort of thing emerges every time Dexter opens his mouth:

   Our visit to London was an integral success. I went to learn about
   the present or peace-time conditions there and to sense the present
   or peace-time mood of you Britishers, and I think that I fully
   achieved both these aims ... I was in London during World War II
   and I will not pause now to say what I felt then about the effort
   which every class of you Britishers was putting forward at that
   time because what I felt then is expressed in my well-known and
   best-selling book Global Vortex.

Dexter does let it be known that he feels a decided repugnance toward homosexuality, the practitioners of which, he announces, exhibit "a political contamination that can, in every case, be traced to Moscow." A young Englishman called Hughie, who dreams of a House of Commons career, interposes at this point: "I say, hold on, Heck. All the old queens I know are terrific old Tories." (But in the very year The Blessing was published, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean defected.) From such perversion, Dexter assures Hughie, America has been saved: "We have no pederasts." (This is not Grace's impression of the American expatriates she has met.)

Nevertheless homosexuals are not, for Dexter, the only problem with Britain. In terms heard from a thousand Robert Kagans and Donald Rumsfelds since, Dexter proclaims:

   I'm afraid I must be perfectly frank, and tell you that in my
   opinion this little island of yours is just like some little old
   grandfather clock that is running down, and if you ask me why is it
   running down I must reply because the machinery is worn out,
   deteriorated, degenerated and decayed, while the men who work this
   machinery are demoralized, vitiated and corrupt, and if you ask me
   why this should be so I will give you my viewpoint on the history
   of Britain during the past 50 years. … 
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