Recently I was blessed to talk with a group of seminarians at Jordanville (via Zoom) in Professor Deacon Andrei Psarev’s history seminar at Holy Trinity Seminary.
In that conversation (linked elsewhere here) I mentioned what I called “overlaps” between aspects of American and Russian cultural paradigms, along with obvious differences. I mentioned these in conversation about how Americans can be touched by Orthodox Christian evangelism and in particular how Americans like myself end up joining the Russian Church (albeit that I am also in a melded Russian-American family).
In that discussion I referred to aspects of American cultural views that are not only often hyper-self-assertive (the kind of Western “rational egoism” that Dostoevsky criticized in his great novels), but that also contrariwise can evoke a Jacobite imaginative community, awaiting “the return of the king” and yearning for a hidden lost faith and country. This echoes through American life from a strange meld of Anglo-Irish-Scottish Appalachian culture, out of sync with mainstream Enlightenment-based norms in the West today. I think that cultural orientation overlaps partly with the monarchist exile history of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, of which I am a member. I mentioned to the class that this is perhaps a weird theory of my own. But I will try to describe it here.
The return of the King
The term Jacobitism links the biblical style of the name of King James of Scotland and England–enduring in the King James or Authorized translation of the Bible–through his son the deposed King James II, to the elder James’ great-grandson Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Legends of the latter’s exile, with the loss of old-style kingship and old faith, and hopes for their return. shaped the Christian monarchist undertones in an American Jacobitism of the imagination. The latter lingers in cultural resistance to establishments of gnostic virtual realities, while preserving hopes for a hidden traditional Christian order to be renewed. J.R.R. Tolkien’s English fantasy mythology offers a reminder of the continuing power of the idea of the return of a lost king and lost faith, evoked in the title of his The Return of the King. Tolkien, according to Guy Davenport, drew on Appalachian American culture for his Shire of Hobbits. The epidemic of loneliness and meaninglessness felt among people in the West today (evidenced in the continued popularity of Tolkien’s classic fantasy, about which I have written here) includes a yearning for hidden and lost meanings that the Orthodox Church fills.
Perhaps the anthem for Jacobitism is the Skye Boat Song, about the disappearance of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and hopes for his return.
Jacobitism strictly speaking involved Scottish, Irish, and English sympathies for restoration of the House of Stuart, which was vanquished in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, in which James II of England (Prince Charlie’s grandfather), was deposed. The Glorious Revolution fully established England’s modern parliamentary democracy, its Whiggish orientation toward secular progress that Dostoevsky criticized in his depictions of London’s Crystal Palace in the Victorian age, and accelerated secularization of English religious culture, seen in Britain’s current “post-Christian” state with its nearly vanished Anglicanism. Jacobitism remained an ongoing tendency toward resistance against modernity, reflected in the literary works of Sir Walter Scott in the 19th century, in the views of some British Romantics, most notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and in the Arts and Crafts movement and efforts to revive folk arts and “High Church” Protestant and Catholic movements.
In America, echoes of this were represented in ongoing and renewed attachment to the King James Bible, even among Scots-Irish believers in America, often not “high church” or liturgical Protestants, but populist in orientation. Yet the seal of the Stuart Monarch authorizing the translation, together with its old-school beauty of language, helped shape a certain aura of Christian kingship around their Bible as well, to fit paradoxically their own restive rebelliousness.
The idea of the monarch having an affinity for the common people, as opposed to grandees oppressing them, helped inform the movement toward the American Revolution, some Federalist thinking, and paradoxically aspects of Jacksonian democracy. So a leading American myth-maker, James Fenimore Cooper, flipped effortlessly from a Federalist background to being a Jacksonian Democrat, and the center of his myth-making, Cooperstown, NY, lies coincidentally near to the Russian Church center of Jordanville, NY, today. Such American tendencies show surprising parallels to the slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” under Tsar Nicholas I in Russia. In America they became associated with a nation “under God” as in the Gettysburg Address, at odds with the more exclusively Enlightenment secular or neo-pagan view, which would seek to disestablish and erase American Christian civil religion over time.
A “Christ-haunted” America
Famously, more U.S. Presidents were of Scots-Irish background than any other, mixed with Anglo backgrounds. That meld of folk cultures was a significant influence in Appalachia as it crosses southern and middle and northern states, including where I now live in central Pennsylvania. Those of Ulster background did not necessarily become American Jacobites, although Protestant Scots-Irish culture lingering in Northern Ireland today remains arguably both more religious and more supportive of monarchy than any other constituency in the fragmenting United Kingdom. Imaginative American Jacobitism, the yearning for a lost king of an old community faith at odds with modern norms, linking populism to absent monarchism in a framework of frontier Christian faith, found broad cultural resonance with those of English, Irish, and other backgrounds. The Stuarts were Catholics, but Scottish Episcopalians in Aberdeenshire, Convenanters in the southwest of Scotland near where you cross to Ulster, as well as “High-Church” English and Anglo-Irish folks, also shared Jacobite tendencies with Highlander Catholics. Scottish Catholics in North Carolina and Scots Covenanters in South Carolina brought their distinct and paradoxically Jacobite (not Jacobine) revolutionary tendencies with them to America, for example. (Thanks to Anglican Fr Peter Anthony Geromel for his help on Protestant historical points here.)
In America, Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, a foundational literary myth for America, illustrates these emphases in a Tory subplot to its key volume The Pioneers. Cooper’s The American Democrat and other writings illustrated his unhappiness with Whiggish business plutocracy in his day and what he saw as ensuing moral corruption of America. Jacobitism of the imagination in American culture went beyond the institutionalized “Anglo-Saxon” or WASP establishment culture, which remains an object of both nostalgia and opprobrium, and often subverted it.
Arguably Jacobite-style themes played a role in literary themes of what the Southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connnor famously called the “Christ-haunted” South. These include Southern Gothic writings like hers, and what has been called “implied nobility” in the tone of Shelby Foote’s epic history The Civil War, backgrounded by critiques of technocracy in Depression-era Southern Agrarianist writings and their modernist-malcontents like the work of Walker Percy, with all their virtues and vices, as well as Southern Black spirituals and spirituality that emerged from slavery, and American gospel-folk and hillbilly music. It echoes on in pop culture in diverse roots of American Country music in English, Irish, Scottish, African folk-music traditions. Kris Kristofferson, for example, after a night out clubbing in Nashville, stumbled unbelieving into a Sunday-morning Protestant worship service. He came out after answering the altar call weeping, to his surprise, and wrote “Why Me Lord.” It became his top-selling single and signature finale. The king is no more, but the Lord is the King Who will return, Jesus Christ.
A Jacobite Constitution
Eric Nelson of Harvard has argued that a “Neo-Stuart” view of royalist privilege informed the U.S. Constitution and the shaping of the Presidency, in his book The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding. “Royalist patriots” had argued for George III to revive monarchical powers in the “spirit of ’75” in defense of the people against moneyed English interests, and carried those views over to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 where the Constitution was drawn up. Even recent voting patterns of the Appalachian region, from the South up through Pennsylvania, still show — in support for President Trump as a kind of mythic figure whose re-election legendarily was stolen and will return — for good or bad, these tendencies, thumbing a nose at “coastal elites” in favor of an unlikely surrogate “king” figure.
More deeply, as historian Nelson has noted, the U.S. Constitution, as it emerged from the Declaration of Independence and was extended by the Bill of Rights and Gettysburg Address, came to involve a remarkably monarchical sense of the central executive, unique among developed constitutional democracies, yet also linked to mysterious layers of federalism and checks-and-balances including the filibuster, Supreme Court, composition of the Senate, First and Second Amendments, and ideas of a civil religion originally based in Christian culture. All of these, I argue in another project, together proximate weirdly aspects of Orthodox Christian culture of conciliarity, sobornost, symphonia, and pre-revolutionary Russian and Byzantine ideas of monarchy, with a commonality of old Christian culture at the base from the Reformation era, however different in forms.
Confusing Jacobinism for Jacobitism
Today the term Jacobitism is easily confused with its near-homophonic Jacobinism, and obscured by it. Jacobinism means radical revolutionary tendencies, originally as named from the French Revolution. Jacobinism in Russia, in the form of Leninist Bolshevism, killed the king and sought to kill the Church. In America, twenty-first-century Jacobinists seek to kill the surrogate working monarchy, the old Constitution, while also looking to erase traditional Christian faith, primarily by making it invisible in the schooling, cyberspace, and careers where many young people today grow up. The revolution will be televised because it is in line with the technocracy we’ve got.
But still imaginative Jacobite yearning for lost faith and king finds resonance in a country with deep religious roots amid rising domination of educational, media, governmental, and corporate realms by Jacobinism increasingly intolerant of imaginative cultural community, Appalachian deplorables, and traditional Christianity. A new poll shows that 43% of millennial Americans don’t know or care or believe in God, a percentage that undoubtedly is higher for up-and-coming Generation Z. Russia today (unbelievably for Americans with Cold War memories) is the pre-eminent major Christian country in the world. Yet even so, “Christ-haunted” America lingers, awaiting a stronger faith than Protestantism or Catholicism can provide.
Russian Orthodoxy in America Today
During the twentieth century and beyond, the Russian Church in exile kept in its culture a spirit of monarchism, anti-Jacobinism, and what the exile Russian Orthodox philosopher S.L. Frank called “strange love” for a homeland that no longer exists. That is acutely the condition of modern human beings, indeed chronically of human nature since the Fall more generally. Hence the continued relevance of this tradition, not in terms of politics, but in terms of cultural contexts in which many Americans convert to Russian Orthodoxy in the twenty-first century, amid efforts to convert America to an Orthodox Christian country over time. Those within the Orthodox Church find fulfillment in desire for the return of the Emperor of Emperors, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This fully Apostolic Christian faith is not lost, if somewhat hidden to worldly thought at large, in places as humble as our small Russian Orthodox mission in northern Appalachia today, because it is in the heart.
The typology of old Anglo-Scottish-Irish Jacobitism of the imagination in America, like that of Tolkien’s kingship, points to the true faith, in contradistinction to modern Jacobinism that would erase it, as long as it is realized as not endpoint but typology. Recognizing this may help with Orthodox evangelism in Appalachian and “heartland” America, in reaching those with such native human longings for God in their hearts of whatever culture or age, in our era of digital wasteland. But that fulfillment remains in the heart, or more properly in the nous or “eye of the soul” coming into the heart, through God’s grace, in the Orthodox Church returning to the West after an exile of centuries that was never complete. This the real “Return of the King.”
A new seven-branched candle stick from Russia on our mission altar (pictured immediately below) reminds us of the old Temple menorah, taken by the Romans during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, memorialized on the Arch of Titus in Rome (second photo below), and re-taken by the Saint-Emperor Justinian from the Vandals who had looted it, to safeguard reverently at Constantinople. But it is the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that it symbolizes, among other meanings, that makes it significant, not the imperial historical associations.