Counterrevolution in Rockford

From July 19 to 24, 2005, I had the pleasure of attending The Rockford Institute's Eighth Annual Summer School, whose topic was "The Counterrevolution," in Rockford, Illinois. The Rockford Institute is a paleoconservative think tank which publishes Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. The speakers were TRI president Thomas Fleming, theologian, architect, and educator James Patrick of the College of St. Thomas More in Texas, French monarchist professor Claude Polin of the Sorbonne, English writer (and Tolkien fan) Joseph Pearce of Ave Maria University in Florida, and Fr. Hugh Barbour of St. Michael's Abbey in California.

I checked into the hotel, Cliffbreakers, on Tuesday July 19. It was extremely nice, the sort of hotel I would not stay in without a group rate. I was assigned to the "Bavarian Suite" (all the rooms had names like this) with antique furniture that looked like it could have belonged to the Bavarian royal family and a great view of the Rock River.

Dr. Fleming opened the summer school with an excellent lecture on Ivanhoe. I was intrigued to learn that Mark Twain blamed Sir Walter Scott, whose revival of chivalry inspired Southerners, for the Civil War. Most of the "students" were of an older generation, but one of the few participants in my age group turned out to be the assistant (in Kansas City) of Fr. Kenneth Novak whose chapel (in Charlotte) I've been attending. So that was an interesting connection. It was clear immediately that this was a largely Catholic crowd (not surprising given the topic), with monarchism definitely present.

Wednesday was dominated (in my mind, at least), by Dr. Polin, who delivered two fascinating and well-organized lectures on French counterrevolutionary writers, one on De Maistre and one on Bonald. My individual talk with him was pleasant if discouraging. He is a Legitimist, but is not impressed with "Louis XX" (aka Luis Alfonso de Bourbon), who he says is really not interested in being an emblem for traditional monarchists. He told me that a recent French monarchist meeting they voted to basically give up on Louis XX and just focus on keeping the idea of royalism alive in hopes that someday, somehow, a suitable royal champion will emerge. One participant, Regis Moran of Pittsburgh, brought up an excellent quotation from Maurras which I hadn't heard before: "for monarchy to work, one person must be good; for democracy to work, millions of people must be good; which is more likely?" Everyone laughed agreeably.

At dinner Wednesday night I was delighted to discover that Fr. Brian Bovee, the Institute of Christ the King priest who celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass every day at St. Mary's in Rockford with the full support of Bishop Doran, is a kindred spirit with regard to monarchism; we discussed monarchy and royal genealogy extensively along with two other participants. Especially before I started meeting up with traditional Catholics in North Carolina, in all the years I've been interested in these topics I haven't been able to discuss them very often, so that was a real treat. Fr. Bovee, who described the mission of the I.C.K. as being one of restoration of culture in addition to the Latin mass, also fully appreciates the importance of good music. (Fr. Bovee was not the only priest present who understood the appeal of monarchy; Fr. Barbour told me about attending the funeral of Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary in 1989, which sounded like a truly magnificent occasion.) I also discussed classical music with Dr. Fleming, who while not a musician is so learned that, being knowledgeable on every topic, knows more about music than many musicians.

Dr. Fleming's talk on "Romantic Nationalism" Thursday afternoon was excellent. I enjoyed his little digression about how "Wal-Mart is the model for the destruction of the American community." There was a lot of criticism of big business and denunication of free-market orthodoxy in the conversations among "students" as well. I can see why the Rockford Institute's alliance with the paleolibertarians didn't last. Many participants seemed to adhere to Catholic social teaching and the Distributism of Belloc and Chesterton.

Thursday evening we went up to a beautiful lake in Wisconsin for a fish boil. I talked some more with Dr. Polin, who was both the first French monarchist and the first royalist political science professor I'd ever met. He feels that the forces that became the Revolution were taking shape for several centuries previously, as the Bourbon kings (he prefers their medieval predecessors) grew less concerned with spiritual matters. I asked him how his students at the Sorbonne react to his views. "They think I'm from Mars!" After dinner, there were poetry readings, including Lionel Johnson's "By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross." I had a very interesting discussion on Catholicism and music in the van returning to Rockford. One woman, Terry Sullivan, sings in the choir at St. John Cantius in Chicago. She feels very lucky to be there. We talked about having political views different from those of most musicians.

There was more about monarchy on Friday in Dr. Polin's final lecture, on French royalist Charles Maurras. He basically admires Maurras but also had some criticisms, regarding Maurras's support of the Orléans family and his attempt to incorporate certain aspects of Enlightenment and Revolutionary thinking into his rightist ideology rather than rejecting them altogether. While his official topics in 2005 were not quite as close to my heart as Polin's, individually I also really liked British author Joseph Pearce who was the youngest of the speakers and fun to talk to. I bought his book Tolkien: Man and Myth, which he signed for me. He is a staunch Jacobite, but supports the Windsors against the republicans and agrees that Prince Charles has some admirable qualities and interests.

Friday night there was a formal dinner at the hotel. I wore my Monarchist League tie. A few people expressed interest in joining, and I gave out a few of my cards. I was told to bring my cello if I come back. I think next year's topic will be more American oriented, so I don't know about that, though I certainly enjoyed the people there.

Dr. Patrick delivered an outstanding and energetic lecture on De Maistre and Pope Gregory XVI, which fit nicely with Dr. Fleming's subsequent talk (the final one of the week) on Italian unification, Alessandro Manzoni's novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), and Pope Bl. Pius IX. I enjoyed the irony that the "great Italian patriot" Cavour, whose first language was French, never spoke Italian very well and had to have his speeches translated before delivering them to the Parliament.

While the summer school officially ended on Saturday with a cook-out at Dr. Fleming's house (featuring Fr. Bovee's own homemade ice cream), this being a predominantly Catholic (or, in my case, potential future Catholic) group, most participants were reunited for the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Mary's Sunday morning. This was probably the most beautiful church in which I've attended the Latin mass since my first one in New York at St. Ann's (now closed) in January 2002, so it was a pleasure to experience the liturgy in such a splendid setting, though the building is traditional almost to a fault in that it does not have air conditioning. Sadly, St. Mary's pipe organ burned down in 1962, but the electronic replacement was as good as those can be. The Offertory and Communion were enriched respectively by excellent renditions of Mozart's "Alleluia" and Franck's "Panis Angelicus."

I found it difficult to take notes and don't remember all the details of the lectures, so I'm not sure I've done justice to such an interesting and complex week. But the Rockford Institute's summer school was a terrific experience which I would recommend to anyone with similar interests and values. I felt vindicated in my belief that it is worthwhile to keep counterrevolutionary ideals alive no matter how unlikely success may seem, and discovered that American paleoconservatism and European monarchism might be more compatible than I had thought.

Vive le roi!

--Theodore Harvey
July 26, 2005