Robert N. Taylor has played an active and influential role on the outsider Right for decades. In the 1960s, he was closely involved with “The Minutemen,” a grassroots anti-communist group headed by Robert Bolivar DePugh. Due to a variety of factors, including pressure from the FBI and other organizations, the paramilitary group widely known for its “Traitors Beware!” stickers eventually disbanded; but a template for many future militia groups had been formed. After leaving The Minutemen, Taylor turned to other interests and founded the first incarnation of his folk band Changes with cousin Nicholas Tesluk. In the ‘70s, Taylor helped pioneer the growing Odinist/ Ásatrú movement and remains involved with various organizations. In the late ‘90s, Michael Moynihan—an editor of the radical traditionalist journal TYR –rediscovered Changes and worked to release old and new material by the duo. Taylor continues to record and tour.
Some years ago I remember being introduced to you briefly and then hanging around during a group discussion on the street outside of Optic Nerve Arts in Portland. The topic turned to ritual and coming of age and manhood. You spoke about raising your own son and shared a moving story about how you helped him make the transition from boyhood to manhood through a heathen rite. If I recall correctly, it involved a shield. That was probably one of my first exposures to anyone who actually practiced Ásatrú in a meaningful way, and I was wondering if you could recount the story of that ritual for readers of Alternative Right.
Robert Taylor: It was the opening night of Optic Nerve's Heathen Art Show, and the following night Changes did a performance at a local Irish pub there. The incident I was describing to you occurred at an Althing of the Ásatrú Alliance (of which I was one of the founders and was for a long time a member and supporter). It was a rite of passage into manhood for my older son, Thor. He had turned 16 years old about a month previous to the event. The physical nature of the event is that we formed a large circle. About 82 Ásatrúars were present who composed the circle. On one side of the Circle stood my former wife Karen with my son Thor before her. I stood directly across from them in the circle. Karen was carrying a round Viking style shield made of steel and suede leather. She handed the shield to Thor with an admonition similar to the following:
Here, take this shield and carry it bravely. Never return from battle without it in your hand, or lying on it.
(In other words, come back victorious or dead; don't toss your shield aside so that you can run away faster from the battle.)
Then, with force of her front arms, she pushed Thor into the circle, telling him to go stand with his father and be a man. Thor was visibly surprised by her move and walked across the center of the circle and came by my side. I gifted him a spear telling him to bare it with honor in defense of family and folk. Simple as the rite was, I could see tears brimming on the eyes of many of those in attendance. It resonated with all there, including (most importantly) Thor. From that day onward he never asked for anything from my wife or me. He worked summers to save to purchase his pickup truck and paid his own gas and insurance. And so he was to be right up until the present. He spent four and a half years in the U.S. Military, with a tour of duty in Iraq and is now attending a university, has his own home and is expecting his first child later this year. He recently turned 30 years old. As a father I had no real problems with him. Since he is grown I can praise his attributes. He is industrious, truthful and brave by nature. He has excellent carpentry and building skills, is a good auto and motorcycle mechanic, and lives a clean life and stays in tip-top physical condition. Perhaps he would have been no different minus the rite we did that day. Perhaps all of his virtues are innate, but I myself feel the rite drew a demarcation line between childhood and adulthood in no uncertain terms. The rite we conducted was fashioned from similar rites of passage employed among the Spartans but is perfect for any warrior religion, for that matter.
A footnote to the rite was that I had hoped to have Thor also complete his rite to manhood with an actual physical challenge as well. I had hoped to take him sky-diving or something physically challenging and somewhat dangerous. Unfortunately I could not find a sky-diving service that would take anyone under 18 years old. There was some talk about a boar hunt with spears, but that never materialized due to human factors not worthy of mention here. But as soon as Thor turned 18, he went off with a buddy and they did four parachute jumps one weekend. He never told me he was going, but when he returned, he proudly handed me the certificate he had gotten establishing his jumps. I was doubly proud of him. Not only had he taken on the other part of the rite of passage on his own, but he had not even mentioned to me that he was going to do it until it was done.
The reason I thought it requisite to have both a rite as well as an actual physical challenge goes with my basic ethic that words and gestures are fine in themselves but concrete proof on a physical material plain gives substance to words. Let us say you do me a favor or some gratuity. I thank you for your act of generosity or thoughtfulness. Then to underline my sincerity: I do something for you or gift something to you in appreciation. That in effect makes my words flesh, so to speak, or tangible.
This ethic can be applied in reverse as well. I had at one time hired a contractor to do some work on my house. At some point he simply did not show up for work or even bother to phone and let me know. So, I waited for four or five days before he came by profuse with apologies and excuses. I told him he had put me in the position of waiting on him, and I did not appreciate it, but I accepted his apology as such and asked him point blank. “So, what are you going to do to make it up to me?” He was a bit startled by my question. He cautiously asked what I thought I had coming for the inconvenience. I said lets knock $500 off the total cost. He agreed and the work went on to completion without further absences.
That’s precisely the story I had in mind. I think a lot of people see something like Ásatrú, and they assume it is just another hipster subculture, another superficial way for people to get attention and differentiate themselves as this increasingly inane and meaningless global monoculture washes over everything. But your story brought across for me how profound, symbolic, and transformative a rite like this could be in a young man’s life.
Ásatrú is not simplistic or superficial. There is nothing of hipsterism about it. It is a return to one’s own way of feeling, thinking and doing. It is a means of finding one’s own soul. Certainly in part it is a reaction to the “monoculture”—which, practically, means no culture at all. Contemporary America has, in essence, a cartoon culture, shallow in the extreme, and without roots or any grand meaning aside from base materialism. And materialism is an unending treadmill pursuit. There’s always something else that is needed to be acquired. It is a pursuit that is only satisfied till the next bauble looms in sight and life becomes not worth living without it.
In a recent piece, you wrote that after your involvement with the Minutemen ended, you determined that “the primary problems of the Western world were not political, per se, but spiritual.” Political and spiritual problems exist in many aspects of Western life, certainly. At the moment, I want to focus specifically on men.
The spiritual which I spoke of can be a real factor in building character. Certainly when we speak of manhood we are speaking of character in the main. Character is that which defines a man. It is a part of his ethics. Ethics begin on the inner plane of a human being. They are not superficial. They inform the actions of an individual and how they perform in the larger world around them. The building blocks of character are the same today as they were in archaic times. They include courage, fortitude, perseverance, loyalty, the ironclad keeping of oaths. They are those traits which we apply to real life. Character can carry one through the greatest of adversity, lending the ability to surmount what might seem to be impossible. There is no substitute for character and the ethics that underlie them (the downside being that there is little in modern civilization which effectively builds character). We live in an age of corruption and lies and manipulation. Few, if any of our politicians, our movie stars, and other high-profile individuals serve as valid role models for the young in helping to give direction as to how one should be.
I had the benefit while still a boy, 10 or 11 years old, to sit and talk with many old soldiers who fought in the trenches of Europe in World War I. They were an absolutely masculine generation of “take charge” men, not afraid to dirty their hands or bend their backs to whatever task presented itself. They were a get up and go group of people. Most of them had worked at many different professions in their lives. No narrow specialists. Their lives were not easy and lazy. Every board they cut for building was sawn by hand. Every hole they drilled was done with a bit and brace. There were no electric tools. Lumberjacks of the era were formidable men. When one views photos of the cords of wood they cut with hand saws and axes in a day, contemporary men stand humbled by comparison. They were the last generation of American men who still had a connection with the spirit of the American frontier and its values. And each succeeding generation seemed to be less than the one that preceded it.
It’s a commonplace in the media and in various academic circles that there is a "crisis" in American masculinity. However, when one digs a little deeper, it seems as though the “crisis” they perceive is that masculinity continues to exist in some recognizable form, despite their best efforts to neuter us all. Sociologists and psychologists blame the media and pastimes like video games and mixed martial arts for connecting masculinity with violence and dominance—as if those associations were a somehow a modern phenomenon. People shrug their shoulders when they are told that men have lost something like 70 percent of the jobs lost during the current recession, but they are celebrating the fact that women now make up over 50 percent of the work force. The Atlantic recently got a lot of attention for an article that asked if this was “The End of Men.” Men seem to be falling behind in many areas and even the Atlantic piece acknowledged that these shifts will have long term effects that could snowball.
Women in the work place really began in the wake of World War II. There was a paucity of workers in the war industries due to men being off at war. Such a shift will probably continue.
Do you perceive a “crisis in masculinity?” And if so, how would you characterize it? What are some of the spiritual problems that Western men face right now? What do men need that they aren’t getting from modern life, and is there a way back—or a way forward to something better?
I do realize about the media and their war on masculinity. That is something I will return to in this answer.
Basically, starting at ground zero on the theme, we must recognize that there are Alpha and Beta males. Alpha males are by nature aggressive, energized, possessive, acquisitive, and often violent. Beta males are less aggressive, satisfied with a lesser role or pace in the pecking order of life.
But simply dividing men into these two categories would not be altogether fair or accurate. Environmental factors, circumstances and situations sometimes conjure the unexpected in human beings.
Paramount to the problem of masculinity in the Western world at large is that so many of the alpha males and the best of breed have been wasted on battlefields in two major world wars and then a succession of lesser wars like Korea, Vietnam, and the crusade in Arabia being conducted today. Generally the casualties are young and have not even reproduced, compounding the effect, so one begins to see the results in dysgenics, a lowering of type in a nation. Countries like Britain not only wasted some of their best on battlefields, but in addition, many of their best men emigrated or stayed in colonies they had established elsewhere. I recall being in England for the annual moot of the Odinic Rite. We went to a pub for lunch one day and one of the folks I was with called my attention to the people in the pub, pointing out that there was not one person there who was more then 5’6” in height and that they all where very thin and not a one of them showed anything of a robust physical nature. He went on to say that this was what was left of what had once been an empire building nation. Now it had become a nation of small shop keepers. I could not disagree, looking around me.
Then there is the problem with male role models. It used to be that boys had fathers as role models. Today, with the vast number of divorced parents and broken homes, the chief role model is Mom, not Dad. If there are male role models, they are television fathers, the ineffectual bumpkins that the media promotes from sitcoms to MTV. There are many lost souls among males today. One day many of them will find that father-figure in some political leader.
Then there is technology which makes life an easy and lazy affair. Instant everything. No one has to develop any patience or fortitude, and hence no real character. There is little real struggle on a physical plane. The computer above all has robbed males of physical challenges and endeavors. About the only areas where these things can be found today are on a battlefield or prison: two areas in which one must stand on their own two feet and face life and death challenges.
Many suburban children don’t play physical games. They don’t box, wrestle, climb, and run much, if at all. They are like old sedate people before they even become adults, so whatever advantages technology has wrought, there are major downsides to it.
As a boy growing up in a working class area of Chicago, there was little tolerance for the weak and fearful. The pecking order was fierce. My friends and I spent most of our time playing games like ringolevio, which was a violent game of tag, essentially. No bars hold. One could punch, kick, and wrestle down, or by whatever means to capture an opponent. The chase went on over roof tops, jumping from one roof top to another, two or three stories high. That was just one of the violent games we played. We spent lots of time flipping freight trains, bare-fisted boxing matches and gang warfare. Such endeavors build up courage and confidence and toughness. I don’t think many feminists would have survived playing with us. So, we all knew the difference between a girl and a boy. It was axiomatic. Our goal was always adventure to break the boredom. We raised a lot of hell as they say. But that is what a normal teenager should do, short of serious crime. If young men don’t get that out of their system, it may arise later in life and be of a very unsavory nature.
A good example is the typical Christian preacher like Jim Baker. Most preachers are not rigorous and aggressive young guys. These are men who spend too much time with their mother and the blue-haired ladies that visit. It gives them an advantage later in their profession. They know how to beguile and con aging women for their own economic purpose. But being the goody-goody two-shoes that they are, they never raise any hell like the other boys and sometimes their devilry comes out in adulthood—generally in sexual scandals and such; like Jimmy Swaggart’s voyeurism with prostitutes.
The digital age has, I think, a real soul-destroying and dehumanizing effect on young people. It is a surrogate reality. Some folks are still playing digital games into their forties and beyond. Most sit there eating junk food and growing fat and lazy, myopic and unhealthy, and comfortably numb and out of touch with reality.
Yes, men have an unfortunate knack for inventing things that seem to render manliness obsolete. The Spartans came up earlier, and your comments here bring to mind the Spartan disregard for “womanly” arrows. Now we have machine guns and snipers and missiles. Men invent all of these things to make their lives easier, but it is a little ironic that now men and boys sit around playing war games with their thumbs, jiggling little joysticks and fantasizing about the dangerous, vigorous lives men used to lead. Lethargy and physical decay seem to be the price of civilization and physical security.
Yes, well stated. It leads to a surrogate existence—one in which the stakes are zero in effect.
Seeking “security” seems sensible enough, and the task of the modern state—any state, really—is to provide a certain amount of it. But near complete freedom from danger is a kind of soul cancer for many men. The polite, protected, courtly world of the shopkeeper and the bureaucrat—what people keep telling us is “the future”—seems completely dystopian to me and really fails to bring out what is best in the best men. So we get these medicated, depressed, aimless boys who become lost, spiritually adolescent men, and no one wants to do anything about it, because the answers expose the lies and failures of the established order.
One experience I found that contrasted with what you are saying was our [Changes] tour of Russia several years ago. It was like stepping back in time for me. The men were masculine and the women were feminine. They seemed emotionally and physically vibrant compared with our current crop of medicated people in America. Russia has never been an easy and comfortable place to live for the majority of its people. As Pericles so aptly put it: “Superior is he who is reared in the severest of schools.”
So, would you say that it is this coddling culture that throws out safety nets and protects men and boys from risk and danger that is at the root of Western man’s spiritual crisis?
Yes, it is one of the many elements. Many of the safety nets are the result of passive aggression. This is the sort of dictatorial method that claims such things are for our own good: seat belt laws, mandatory helmets and armor for motorcycle and bicycle riders, etc. All of this paternalistic concern is the product of the Federal government. Even though these laws seem locally passed, they are the result of funds for roads, etc. that the Federal government bestows to the states, and once they do so, they begin to dictate what the states must do in order to continue to receive these funds. Same with the schools. As soon as they give funds for education, then they begin to decide and dictate the curriculum. The states then become puppets attached to the Federal purse strings. Even unpopular laws that would be outright rejected by the population are passed, with a grace period of, say, four or five years before the law is actually enforced. They then watch to see how many of the sheep comply, and when it seems a majority, they begin to enforce the law with a self-righteous vehemence. All of these things also serve as obedience training for the subject population.
Returning to the subject of women taking over in the workplace, there are some interesting statements written in Oswald Spengler’s Man and Technics. This brief book was sort of an updating or addendum to his epic history treatment in The Decline of the West. In it, Spengler mentions in passing that in the later phases of Faustian civilization (Western civilization), the brains and talent of the civilization will begin to desert the world cities and abandon the machines and return to a simpler life in the countryside. I recall re-reading this and thinking how much Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) fit this basic demographic of Spengler. And today there are many individuals who have deserted the corporations and the tech world in order to return to a simpler agrarian-like existence off the grid. This may have something to do with the vacancies being filled by women in the workplace.
Another factor in the de-masculinization in the West is the product of the “Cold War,” a phrase coined by British novelist George Orwell. The 1960s were to witness a heightening in this Cold War tension. Most of us living in that period did so with the ominous threat of nuclear destruction hanging over our heads. Certainly human history as we know it is a long, monotonous series of wars, invasions, and annihilations. The qualitative difference in the nuclear age is that it leaves the individual at mercies beyond his control. In the past, one could depend on personal strength and wits to survive. But suddenly, a generation was confronted with a threat for which the only answer, at best, was to dig a hole in the ground, cower, pray, and don’t come up till they tell you the coast is clear! How powerless. How dependent upon forces outside one’s control. How emasculating, in effect. Nuclear warfare, for all its technological wizardry and wonder, relegates warfare to a level of abject nihilism. Absent is any sense of heroism, courage, or honor. Even dying and sacrifice have lost meaning.
I mentioned this and the other factors here to hopefully balance some of the thinking on the political right that ascribes all the problems that exist as the product of subversion, conspiracy and forces manipulating behind the scenes. Not to say that these things do not in fact exist. They do—but they would have very little effect or currency among a healthy and vibrant people. Much of their success is predicated upon the inner rot and degeneracy of our people at large. None of this would have effected the generation of World War I. It would never have gotten a foothold among them. They were far too strong and vibrant a people—a generation rooted in reality and hands-on experience and struggle.
The Changes song that sticks with me is “Waiting for the Fall.” I think its themes will appeal to many of Alternative Right’s readers.
Perhaps they would. It has been a pretty popular song everywhere we play and is generally requested by the audience.
Earlier, you mentioned “alpha” and “beta” males. I agree with you that these two categories are too simple, and not always accurate, but they do provide a frame of reference. I prefer to think of men in terms of being more or less alpha. What we think of as alpha is archetypal masculinity. I think every male has some kind of internalized relationship with that archetype—it’s part of who we are. Alphas are men who, for a variety of reasons, are especially good at being men.
That sounds like a reasonable opinion.
It may be my own sampling bias, but the men I know who are truly alpha in my eyes all seem to be “waiting for the fall.” They see a world that is upside-down, a world where men “win” through capitulation, a world where the qualities that used to define the best men and great men are treated like symptoms of a psychological disease. A desire to increase strength, compete, and dominate is regarded as “overcompensation.” Bravery is treated as mere foolishness. Traditional male honor is mocked by ironic hipsters who see it as a special kind of male gullibility. To the alphas I know, this modern world seems as though it is sure to collapse because it values all of the wrong things. They growl at our grand sham, under their breath, like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. They are biding their time. They are “waiting for the fall.”
I am sure the fall will come. The precise form it will take is still a mutable matter, as the future always is.
Tell our readers a bit about the song itself and, to wrap up, do you think we’re headed for some kind of fall, some kind of massive reset? Is a Western Ragnarok nigh?
No one can truly predict the future course of events. That includes those active in manipulating the events. Often, something truly unexpected occurs. The recent right-wing victories in the past election point in that direction. Even though those victories are not the end all and be all answer, they do show a growing awareness of what is being done to our nation by leftist radicals in power. I’ve been waiting for many decades wondering if any appreciable number of citizens would wake up. Apparently, some have.
“Waiting for the Fall” was written almost as a generic revolutionary ballad. I suppose its theme and message could apply to anywhere there is political oppression and reaction to it. I have always admired the vast treasure trove of revolutionary ballads that came out of Ireland in its unending struggle for independence. I wanted to try writing a revolutionary ballad just to see if I could rise to the occasion as an artist. As I recall, I was speaking on the phone to my good friend Michael Moynihan (author, translator, and musician). We were sort of ruminating on the state of the nation. We both agreed that in the final analysis, so flawed a system as ours has become could not stand forever before it would unravel in something in the way the Soviet system had. A top-heavy bureaucracy cannot remain erect beyond the point where the base cannot hold the weight of it. That evening after our conversation, I penned the lyrics to the song and set it to a simple three-chord progression. I suppose my feeling that it’s a generic revolutionary ballad was on the mark since it seemed to be popular in many different countries where we played. The audiences of Russia, Hungary, Austria and other places, including the USA, seemed to feel the same identification with the song for similar reasons. So I guess it works in the sense it was intended. I’ve yet to hear any feedback from any Irishmen who have heard it (after all, they seem the penultimate practitioners of the genre).
Also, in reference to those young men biding their time and waiting for the fall, I am aware of an increasing number of them who already have their “go-bags” in the closet waiting in anticipation of a time when they feel it is the moment to spring into action. Many of these young men are former military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I get the feeling that there are more of these types out there than the membership numbers in the militias and similar groups—that means truly grassroots and not very vulnerable to informants and government agents. I think there is already a sort of phantom army organically forming, preparing and waiting in the wings for the fall. We shall in time see.
For more on Robert N. Taylor and Changes:
Changes recordings are available through Tesco Distribution.