THE NINTH ANNUAL H.L. MENCKEN CLUB CONFERENCE
THE RIGHT REVISITED
NOVEMBER 4-5, 2016
ON LIBERTARIANISM AND THE RIGHT
February 22, 2017
By Robert Wenzel
When I was first asked to participate here at the H.L. Mencken Club conference I was asked to speak on Libertarianism and the Right.
I wasn’t aware that this was a mere subtopic under the broader title Enemies of the Right. For I am a libertarian but come here as a friend of the right or at least the right that I believe is represented here at this conference. I consider us cousins.
Now before I get any further, I must define my terms. There are many people running around calling themselves libertarians these days that in my view are far from libertarian.
There are two men one by the name of Gary Johnson and the other by the name of William Weld that claim to be libertarians. One of these men, Bill Weld, who is the vice presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, this week essentially told libertarians to vote for Hillary Clinton. Go Figure.
There is a Silicon Valley billionaire who claims to be a libertarian and yet in a speech he delivered this past week in Washington D.C., he raised concerns about free market ideology.
I am not making this up. I quote:
“Voters are tired of hearing conservative politicians say that government never works.”
“[W]e cannot let free market ideology serve as an excuse for decline.”
There are those claiming to be libertarians who would like to slip in some cultural Marxists themes and general social justice themes into libertarianism
I hasten to add that on a personal level I have no problems with gays, those of other races and I have lived in urban centers most of my adult life. I like to interact with those different from me. That said, I do not believe that libertarianism provides any guidance on such matters.
Libertarianism is about the non-aggression principle and a foundational respect for private property. You should be allowed to do whatever you choose to do on your property, ban whomever you want and rent to him whomever you want and refrain from renting from to those you do not want to rent to or be free to not associate with anyone you don’t want to.
As the great libertarian Murray Rothbard put it:
Libertarianism...is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit, except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism...
Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles.
So in other words, if you hold particular views that do not violate the non-aggression principle and respect for private property, you are not going to get flack from libertarians, as libertarians, that you should somehow be coerced by the hand of government to change your views and actions.
To the degree the right incorporates certain cultural values in its worldview, you are not going to see libertarians siccing the government on the right to coerce members of the right to act differently.
Libertarianism is about leaving people alone. It is about total freedom with the exception of objection to physical aggression against person or property.
I understand the views of the right as reflected by those here today as being generally in favor of very limited government. This, of course, does not reflect all of the right. The neo-conservatives, for one, are quite happy with a large government that spreads its military might around the world.
So in a very important way the libertarians and the Right in this room, which Paul Gottfried calls the real right, are on the same road. We stand on this road virtually alone in desiring to shrink government and shrink it a lot, I am not talking about the phony shrinkage that so-called conservatives in Congress propose, what Gottfried calls Conservative Inc.
That libertarians and the real right are very close in our views can be seen even more clearly when we contrast libertarianism and the right versus the left. The left is fully about expanding the state and gaining power in the expanded state.
The action handbook of the left, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals tells the left;
The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the have-nots to take it away.
And they have no qualms about using any method necessary to gain power. From Rules for Radicals again;
In war the end justifies almost any means.
And In action one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind... He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar perception of “personal salvation’;he doesn’t care enough for people to be ‘corrupted’ for them”
It took me sometime to realize how different the current day left is from libertarians and the right. They are truly about gaining power and will say and do pretty much anything to gain it.
Vox Day was very accurate when he titled his book SJWs Always Lie.
This really hit me when I attended a World Affairs Council event in San Francisco some years back. I was sitting next to a woman who was a lefty and the discussion between us somehow turned to Paul Krugman. I said to her that in certain ways he doesn’t understand economics very well and at other times he just outright lies in his New York Times columns..
Her response to me was,”Well. it concerns me if there is something he doesn’t understand but I don’t mind if he lies in his columns.”
This is the Left we are dealing with. It is an end justifies the means Left, and they will say and do anything.
Hayek understood, way before Saul Alinsky put pen to paper to provide tactics to the Left, why this happens. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom in 1944.
The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves "the good of the whole", because the"good of the whole" is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done. The raison d'etat, in which collectivist ethics has found its most explicit formulation, knows no other limit than that set by expediency-the suitability of the particular act for the end in view.
All this said, I see no need for the right here to buy into the no government philosophy of libertarianism. That is a proposition that libertarians need to advance on our own and we have a long way to go to get that advancement.
In my view, there is no Private Property Society magnum opus that is similar to the magnum opus that exists in economics in the form of Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.
Murray Rothbard did heroic work in advancing the concept of anarcho-capitalism but there is much further to go. The theory needs much more development and better descriptions of how a libertarian society could emerge.
I agree with Paul Gottfried when in his 2008 speech to this very group, he said:
It is one thing to deplore the modern welfare state as a vehicle of grotesque social change or for its violations of the U.S. Constitution. It is another matter to believe that all authority structures can be reduced to insurance companies formed to protect the property and lives of anarcho-capitalists. Such a belief goes counter to everything we know about human Nature..
The idea that insurance companies are the answer to a Private Property Society is a stretch to be gentle about it. It ignores, as Gottfried states, how societies develop. It indicates a failure to understand how businesses operate and most remarkably displays a failure to understand the nature of insurance.
I can assure you that no anarcho-capitalist society will ever emerge where you are going to have to show an insurance card to enter Macy’s as some have proposed
I have also heard libertarians suggest that insurance programs would emerge that would protect against a massive global nuclear war.
If there are any libertarians here in the room that support the insurance structure of an anarcho-capitalist society and want to buy insurance against a full out global nuclear war, I will write you the policies during the next break in the back of the room. Give me a check now and I will pay you damages after you and the world are blown to smithereens in a nuclear attack.
We libertarians have a lot of work before us to explain how our type of society would emerge and function.
That said, there is a great giant that must be stopped from growing and the growth must be reversed and that giant is the interventionist mentality that permeates every nook and cranny of this country and the world, including the education system, mainstream media and the masses who have been bombarded with interventionist propaganda.
Here libertarians and the real right can work together. We are far far outnumbered by those who want to see the state grow. There is no reason that we need to promote each other where differences do exist but there is no reason that we shouldn’t work together where we agree.
As an example, the monster cultural Marxism must be defeated. There is absolutely no reason that libertarians can not post on their blogs and websites and otherwise promote the video on the Frankfurt School created by real right thinker William Lind. If you haven’t seen this video I urge you to see it. In a conversation last night with Bill he tells me that there are some serious people who may have interest in promoting the video. This is the kind of work that needs to get out that promotes important understanding that both libertarians and the real right can agree on.
Whenever we can, we should promote each other’s views, where they do not conflict with our basic principles and that has to be at least 70% of the time. We are simply outgunned to such a vast degree that it is important that we support each other when we can.
Political correctness and interventionist views simply permeate now. A business acquaintance recently told me the story about a major Silicon Valley firm, I have been sworn to secrecy to not reveal the name. The CEO of the firm gave a company wide address via a video conference. After he completed his formal remarks, he opened the conference up to questions.
One employee asked about a future earnings report. The CEO talked about corporate earnings but was alleged to have made a microaggression so that he had to send an apology letter out about his comment on earnings!
I believe it is fair to say that the Cultural Marxists have captured the minds of the masses.
Paul Gottfried was correct when he said last night that The Left has been triumphant. They have gained control of the views toward culture and the nature of government.
BUT Not only is cultural Marxism and interventionist schemes in general a problem but we are being directly attacked and plotted against.
I have read about 15% of the Podesta emails released by Wikileaks. While it is noteworthy to see the cooperation between the Clinton campaign and the DOJ and mainstream news media, I found of perhaps greater significance the plotting Hillary people are already planning for a Clinton administration, as revealed in the leaked emails.
One email, in particular, concerning the formation of a secretive time Hillary group in the development stages. The group is the creation of Clinton economic adviser Heather Boushey who is sure to get a major position in a Clinton administration. From the memo on the nature of the group:
[A] standing, but informal, group to engage with and advise us on the policy and political conversations happening at the highest levels in Washington...It will consist of a small group (3-4 people) of permanent members and several others who are rotated in and out of participation depending on the subject of each particular meeting...
Equitable Growth [where Boushey is president] plans to host two meetings in 2016, and in 2017 will begin quarterly meetings of the group. The meetings will be held in Washington, DC, and Equitable Growth will provide dinner, and, when necessary, travel and accommodations for members and/or the expert academic.
The memo lists 8 potential topics, including the taxation of capital, another on inequality. One curiously enough on The Next Recession.
I am not sure if they are expecting a recession or plotting one but it is there on the agenda of potential topics.
But those of you here should find this agenda topic most interesting:
The Rise of Extremely Conservative Politics
They are talking about us, folk, and it is not to create a reach out effort.
It is clear that we will be under active attack in a Clinton administration. The niceties of the differences between libertarianism and the right are not going to matter.
We have to be on high alert for whatever they are plotting here and create a unified front against it.
I spent last week in Washington DC talking to DC insiders and was told that the dynamics are such that the horrific interventionist Elizabeth Warren will be a significant Senate player in a Hillary administration that she will pull Hillary more to the left than she already is.
If Donald Trump does lose, however, his campaign has done wonders in bulldozing the old cozy establishment Republican party. A great vacuum will be created that will have to be filled. It will be an opportunity for us to provide intellectual guidance as Trump followers and other rank and file Republicans look for direction.
Yesterday, I had a discussion with Prof. Stanley Payne and the conversation turned to the radical left of the 1960s that really didn’t have an intellectual foundation at its beginning. It was the Marxists of the Frankfurt School who opportunistically provided the foundation.
We can provide our own intellectual foundation, if Hillary wins, to those who will be anti-Hillary.
There will be many looking for sound arguments to justify their hate of Hillary. We can supply it.
If Trump is elected, given that he appears to not have any strong foundational philosophical thinking behind his views, the opportunity arises once again to provide intellectual guidance.
As best as I can gather, the insiders on Capitol Hill view Trump as being lazy. He is known as a non-reader and is unwilling to even read 2-page briefing papers. They hope, and this really is "their plan," that after being elected Trump will spend most of his time on golf courses so that business continues as usual on The Hill. He may focus on a couple of issues but for the most part they believe (hope) it will be business as usual.
Our role under this scenario would be to be the watchdogs against business as usual and be loud about it so that Trump gets wind of it or the masses object so that Trump can not ignore the objections. But our best attacks during a Trump administration will likely be in the area of political correctness. To the degree we can point to all the areas of influence where cultural Marxism resides, and how to eradicate it, the more influence we will have. Important influence.
Trump may not be able to articulate it in these terms but if he is elected it would be because he rode into office on a reactionary movement that includes reaction against cultural Marxism. We know how to deliver the intellectual heft to justify the destruction of that culture.
And although Trumps isn’t a reader, there are aides of his that are. He has some very bad neocons around him but there are others that I have a more positive view of. In fact, Bill Lind told me last night that the campaign reached out to him to get a copy of his book, The Next Conservatism.
We are in a unique period in history, we should not let it go to waste. We are small in number and in funding and in mainstream support but we are powerful in intellectual depth. We bring flamethrowers to a knife fight. We just need to watch one another’s backs.
We are a tough breed: Those of us that are pure libertarians and the real right represented by those in this room. All of us are sufficiently talented to find cushy jobs within the establishment. We are here because we put principle above it all. This makes us different from leftists and those in the right who can be bought off.
A time of turmoil, which is likely ahead, regardless of who gets elected, is a time when many look for new answers. We have those answers. In this sense, there is a great opportunity ahead.
But we will continue to be attacked viciously from multiple sides.
Cousins we are going to need to stick together to battle the attacks. It is going to be a great battle, an intellectual battle that offers the opportunity to turn the tide away from growing government, cultural Marxist infiltration and a general view that government intervention is somehow a must everywhere.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.
SHOULD THE RIGHT BE PRO-CAPITALIST?: FREE MARKET PHILOSOPHY AS IDEOLOGICAL KUDZU, ROBERT WEISSBERG
November 29, 2016
Let me begin with an obvious point: Logically or empirically, no particular political philosophy can be linked to any specific economic view. The parallel is an all-you-can-eat buffet: every customer will fill his plate uniquely, and who can authoritatively insist on the correct combination? No State Bureau of Philosophy exists to set a “No substitutions” edict when linking politics and economics.
But, inevitable potential disorder acknowledged some combinations of politics and economics are best eschewed as sure-fire indigestion, the gastronomic equivalent of a scoop of chocolate ice cream on macaroni and cheese.
Now, what economic vision should be avoided by “Right Wingers”?
Let me counsel staying away from free-market concoctions of the Milton Friedman variety. Here’s why.
First, as a cosmology the free market orthodoxy resembles the invasive Japanese Kudzu—once planted it is nearly unstoppable and chokes off all other vegetation. No matter what the problem and its complex details, from racial discrimination to the Bubonic Plague, the quick answer never varies—robust markets, minimal regulation, a stable currency, strong property rights, strict rule of law and limited government. The passion and flight from reality can be breathe-taking. At a recent Manhattan Institute lunch I heard a speaker insist that the rampant alcoholism, mental illness, family disorganization and similar pathologies that have afflicted American Indians for some 150 years could be solved by strengthening the property rights of reservation dwellers.
In principle there is nothing inherently wrong with free market solutions; where things go wrong is their almost mechanical, religion-like application. So, for example, if asked for a solution to, say, today’s poverty-mired Detroit, the instant and unthinking response will be the usual off-the-shelf litany of reducing taxes, making it easier to start businesses, more charter schools to attract entrepreneurs, and similar nostrums. That those cities with even less economic freedom than Detroit, e.g., San Francisco, economically thrive while Detroit dies goes unsaid.
Today’s most powerful advantage of free market solutions is that they can never be Politically Incorrect for the simple reason adherents never deal with actual people, only institutional arrangements (I have never seen a free-market analysis of economic development or just about anything else that made distinctions regarding human traits—all people are totally inter-changeable). It is a brand of conservatism therefore totally immune to charges of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and similar career-ending sins. A free market believer can forever publically pontificate on Detroit’s woes and never upset even the most sensitive social justice warrior. Who could be affronted by the suggestion that Detroit’s poor be handed title to their hovels so they can use it as collateral for a small business loan to begin the long march toward a middle-class life? And woe to those who challenge the free market vision--what party pooper might suggest that this loan might be used instead to buy the latest iPhones? Easily rebutted—everybody knows that people are motivated by the desire for economic advancement, so frivolous consumption is dismissed by fiat.
To repeat, it is this tendency to crowd out “controversial” alternatives that makes free market solutions so inimical to serious, honest discussions. To embrace free market solutions is, ultimately, a cost-free one-way ticket to La La Land all the while certifying the speaker as “committed to doing something” while avoiding any controversy. Imagine a public conference on Detroit. What brave soul will insist that economic progress is impossible in a culture that prizes criminality and sloth? Rest assured no matter how foolish their ideas, free-market advocates will rush to the microphone to dominate the discussion while timid disbelievers, especially conservatives with unpopular “controversial” ideas, sit in frustrated silence. In effect, organizations that embrace ubiquitous free-market solution are posting up a sign that declares “Liars Welcome.”
Finally, since embracing free-market solutions is totally ideologically safe, it is a great fund-raising strategy. It is thus no accident that countless thriving “conservative” organizations endorse this philosophy. Alas, the upshot of this gravy train will be self-censorship to keep the funds flowing. Hard to imagine Mr. and Mrs. Respectable Conservative funding an organization that, for example, suddenly announced that pouring yet more money into our public schools was pointless given student IQ’s. In termsorganizational solvency, far more lucrative to organize a grand banquet where speaker after speaker insisted that competing charter schools will surely find the solution to uplifting the very bottom.
In short, nothing can stop conservatives from embracing free-market solutions, but the result would resemble those gardeners who once planted Kudzu as the perfect ornamental tree.
WHY LIBERAL GOVERNING ELITES SEEK TO NEUTRALIZE SOCIAL ISSUES, JAMES KALB
November 29, 2016
This essay is an abbreviated version of a talk delivered at the 2016 Mencken Club conference and published in the Nov. 16, 2016 issue of Crisis Magazine
Social issues are messy. They have to do with basic human connections, orientations, and aspects of identity. These include family, cultural community, religion, and relations between the sexes. So they have to do with basic and very complicated aspects of life that people feel strongly about.
That causes problems for people who run things today. Their ideal of reason and principle of legitimacy means they want to handle everything through supposedly rational, neutral, and transparent institutions like global markets and expert bureaucracies. But personal loyalties, ultimate commitments, and ideas about how best to live can’t be sold, traded, bureaucratized, or turned over to experts. So from the standpoint of liberal institutions they are unmanageable and incomprehensible. They mess things up.
The result is that our rulers refuse to deal with them on their own terms but insist on treating them as private hobbies or consumption choices that shouldn’t be allowed to affect anything. That’s a big reason liberal institutions try to suppress, disrupt, and trivialize arrangements based on such concerns: they want to suppress values and ways of doing things that complicate or compete with their own way of operating. That’s the reason liberalism was backed by the bourgeoisie during the French Revolution and is now backed by bureaucrats, billionaires, and all significant centers of power.
As an example, if you want women to be totally available for use by employers, and you want purchased goods and services—like daycare and fast food—to replace home production, and you want government policy rather than domestic, cultural, or religious influences to determine how children grow up, you won’t be favorable to family and community life. One way of suppressing them is to substitute social service agencies for family and community, disrupt informal traditional arrangements through mass immigration and comprehensive promotion of diversity, and encourage people—through the media, educational system, and culture industry—to concentrate on career, consumption, and other individual pursuits, and view nonliberal arrangements like religion and the family as irrational, oppressive, and morally problematic.
That attitude toward social issues lines up with basic liberal theory. Liberal theory, like liberal practice, wants to keep things simple, comprehensible, and manageable. The social issues are complicated, and the idea of a social contract—which has been basic to liberal theory since Hobbes and Locke—is a way of avoiding them. Instead of basing society on inherited or transcendent loyalties or some conception of the good life, social contract theory tells us to put such things aside and view society as a collection of equal individuals who think they can advance their own goals by establishing a legal order based on neutral standards of equality and personal choice.
The approach sounds good to a lot of people but it has consequences that aren’t pleasing. If we’re all equal independent individuals with our own idiosyncratic goals, then informal authorities like cultural tradition vanish, and the social order is no more than the legal and commercial order. Anything else that becomes influential enough to be worth noticing, like informal expectations regarding behavior, is illegitimate and oppressive if it doesn’t directly support the liberal order. That’s why both Mrs. Clinton and international human rights conventions tell us that if religious and cultural patterns don’t line up with liberal ideals, for example with regard to feminism and abortion, we—meaning those in power—must change them.
So when liberal theory tells us the law must be based on equal freedom, it turns out to mean that all social relations must be based on equal freedom. And from that it follows that a government that exists to protect us from oppression should reorganize the whole of social life, forcibly if need be, so that everyone is equally free, satisfied, respected, and catered to, consistent with the coherence, efficiency, and stability of the system.
That last proviso is a big one, since coherence, efficiency, and stability end up meaning that a small class has to run everything, very large differences in wealth and power are permissible, and the only goals people are allowed to pursue are career, consumer goods, progressive social change, and private indulgences that don’t much affect other people. Unless people are controlled and neutered, human contrariness is going to muck up equal freedom. So it turns out that freedom and equality as standards that trump everything require totalitarian rule by a small class in accordance with a very narrow view of the kind of life people ought to live.
As liberal society has developed, its efforts to transform human life have grown more and more ambitious. It started with traditional religion, saying it respected its importance for people who liked that sort of thing while pushing it out of public life and insisting that everyone could make up his own and get equal respect and treatment. The result, of course, was that no traditional religion could have any influence on anything.
Antidiscrimination law extends the same strategy to cultural community. Inclusiveness, “affirmative action,” multiculturalism, and now the concept of “microagressions” mean cultural community is not allowed to matter. The same applies to sex, sexual differences, and the family. Today you can invent not only your own religion, but your own family arrangements and even your own sex, and everyone has to accept whatever you invent as worthy of equal respect and support. In New York City, for example, you can be fined a quarter of a million dollars for not using someone’s preferred pronouns.
That’s where we are today.
Realities Liberal Theory Can’t Ignore
Naturally, there are problems. The liberal theory of neutrality masks profoundly non-neutral and non-liberal realities. Inconsistencies in the system suggest some of them. We’re required to accept people’s gender identification, but it’s not clear what that means when we’re not allowed to infer anything based on gender. White identity is said to be an oppressive fiction, but if Miley Cyrus twerks that’s cultural appropriation, and she ought to be ashamed, because twerking is black and not white.
The project of creating a society in which arrangements like family, religion, and ethnic ties and culture don’t matter is based on the idea that those things have no legitimate or rational function. Swede or Somali, Christian, Muslim, or Jew, man, woman, or other, however we identify, whatever our preferred pronouns or domestic arrangements, we are all equally consumers, employees, and functionaries in a global society that recognizes only markets and neutral expert bureaucracies as authoritative institutions. That’s where the serious business of life goes on, and everything else should be recognized as freely chosen hobbies, indulgences, fantasies, or personal consumption choices.
That’s the view, but it makes no sense, because sex, religion, and communal membership are ineradicably at the center of people’s understanding of themselves and their connection to others. Sex and sexual dimorphism have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and they have obvious functions that are hard-wired into us no less than other higher animals. Ethnic culture is a web of common habits and understandings that grows up among people who live together for centuries that makes it possible for them to cooperate in ways that take into account the whole range of human concerns. If you try to get rid of it you’ll get rid of inherited social experience, and social relations will become stupid, brutal, and mostly nonfunctional. And religion is a fundamental understanding of what the world and human life are all about that provides the setting for making sense of everything else. Every society and every human being must have something that functions as such to think and act coherently.
Such things can’t possibly be dealt with as a matter of purely private concern. If people try to do so they’ll go on having an effect, but it won’t be possible to deal with them in accordance with what they are. The result will be irrationality, dysfunction, and a regime of lies. Sex will become less a principle of human connection than a mindless combination of license and puritanism that mostly sets people against each other. Communal membership will no longer promote cooperation but instead become a matter of opposing battle flags. And religion will become more absolute than ever, but it will be a religion of content-free default principles like equality that can’t discuss itself, because it can’t recognize what it is, so it will become mindless, fanatical, and utterly intolerant.
These tendencies are all the more serious because they relate to matters that precede normal political life. Politics as a rational activity involves discussion and decision regarding common concerns. As such, it assumes that there are people capable of having and discussing common concerns. If the concept of legitimate particular community is suppressed—because communities have boundaries, boundaries are exclusionary, and exclusion is evil—then what we have won’t be politics as normally understood.
Also, political decisions are explicit, so they have to be limited in number and scope. For that reason politics requires customary arrangements like the family to take care of most basic aspects of life. If those arrangements lose their authority and become nonfunctional, so that the whole of life becomes subject to state policy and administration, then politics disappears because the issues become too complicated and open-ended for public discussion and decision to be possible.
And politics has to do with ways and means of advancing the common good, which means there has to be some generally accepted understanding of man and the world for it to go forward at all. If there is no such thing, or if what we have is radically defective, like the view that equality and doing and getting what we want are the highest goals, then political discussion can’t even get started.
Recent conflicts over social issues have led to a situation in which none of the conditions for normal political life are satisfied. That means that it’s increasingly difficult for politics to exist as anything but a combination of force, fraud, and chaos, or perhaps a truce in what is fundamentally civil war.
How to Deal with the Challenges We Face
So what does the history of attempts to deal with the trends that have put us where we are tell us about all this? Does it show a way out, or does it mostly suggest, through their failure, that barring unforeseeable developments, like a widespread religious reawakening leading to transformation of the principles on which public life are carried on, we will have to wait for the self-demolition of the current system before a new and better world can arise from the ruins?
Unfortunately, the latter seems more likely. When we look at the historical right it’s hard to see much that’s helpful. The original form of Anglo-American conservatism, that of Edmund Burke, explains why the current situation is bad and why we should have avoided it. It tells us that society is extremely complex, it can’t be designed or reduced to a single principle like equal freedom, and it takes a long time to evolve, so if you have a reasonably functional society you shouldn’t wreck it, and if you’ve unsettled an inherited social order you should step back and do what you can so it can re-establish itself. It’s hard to see how any of that can apply in an age of institutionalized revolution symbolized, for example, by an ever more radical and sacralized principle of inclusiveness.
The failure of Burkean conservatism as a program has been obvious for a long time. During the interwar period the result was a variety of more constructivist initiatives on the right. Since social continuity had been radically disrupted a new social order would have to be created by an act of will. The effort failed for reasons Burke could have explained. Social order depends on connections, understandings, and loyalties that precede decision, so you can’t decide to construct it. Attempts to do so either come to nothing or lead to irrational and unsustainable tyranny.
That’s why we’ve been surrounded by all our lives by various non-serious forms of conservatism—constitutional conservatism, values conservatism, and so on. All these would be better than what we have if they could somehow be made effective, but they can’t because they offer no solution for basic problems. We won’t have constitutional conservatism without republican virtues that don’t exist, and we’re not going to have values conservatism without a fundamental reorientation of life that supports functional common values. It seems unlikely that think tanks and journalistic chit-chat are going to give us anything close to that.
Hence the talk about secession, separatism, blowing everything up, and the “Benedict Option,” a sort of religious version of secession. Something of the sort—the collapse of extreme cosmopolitanism into extreme particularism—may indeed result from current trends. If so, it’s likely to be a much longer and messier process than anyone expects, and what happens isn’t likely to happen because someone planned it. So in the absence of a grand strategy it seems that the best we can do is promote understanding of what’s going on, and keep supporting what seems good and opposing what seems bad, given our understanding of what’s good and how the world works. For Catholics, of course, that means developing and holding to their best understanding of the social implications of their faith. History has lots of wild cards, man remains a somewhat social and rational animal, and who knows but that such efforts may yet bear fruit.
“ANARCHO-FASCISM”: AN OVERVIEW OF RIGHT-WING ANARCHIST THOUGHT, KEITH PRESTON
November 29, 2016
The topic that I was given for this presentation is “Anarcho-Fascism” which I am sure on the surface sounds like a contradiction in terms. In popular language, the term “fascism” is normally used as a synonym for the totalitarian state. Indeed, in a speech to the Italian Chamber of Deputies on December 9, 1928 Mussolini describe totalitarianism as an ideology that was characterized by the principle of “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
However, the most commonly recognized ideological meaning of the term “anarchism” implies the abolition of the state, and the term “anarchy” can either be used in the idealistic sense of total freedom, or in the pejorative sense of chaos and disorder.
Anarchism and fascism are both ideologies that I began to develop an interest in about thirty years ago, when I was a young anarchist militant who spent a great deal of time in the university library reading about the history of classical anarchism. It was during this time that I also became interested in understanding the ideology of fascism, mostly from my readings on the Spanish Civil War, including the works of Dr. Payne, whom I am honored to be on this panel with. And I have also looked into some of these ideas a little more since then. One of the things that I find to be the most fascinating about anarchism as a body of political philosophy is the diversity of anarchist thought. And the more that I have studied right-wing political thought, the more I am amazed by the diversity of opinion to be found there as well. It is consequently very interesting to consider the ways in which anarchism and right-wing political ideologies might intersect.
Anarchism is also normally conceived of as an ideology of the far Left, and certainly the most well-known tendencies within anarchism fit that description. The anarchist movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth century was certainly a movement of the revolutionary Left, and shaped by the thought and actions of radicals such as Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, the Ukrainian anarchists, the Spanish anarchists, and others. Anarchism of this kind also involved many different ideological sub-tendencies including anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, collectivist anarchism, and what was known as “propaganda by the deed” which was essentially a euphemism for terrorism, and other forms of anarchism that advocated violent resistance to the state, such as illegalism or insurrectionary anarchism.
There is also a modern anarchist movement that largely functions as a youth subculture within the context of the radical left, and modern anarchism likewise includes many different hyphenated tendencies like “queer anarchism,” “transgender anarchism,” or “anarcha-feminism,” and many of which, as you might guess, maintain a very “politically correct” orientation.
However, there are also ways in which the anarchist tradition overlaps with the extreme right.
The French intellectual historian Francois Richard identified three primary currents within the wider philosophical tradition of anarchism. The first of these is the classical socialist-anarchism that I have previously described that has as its principal focus an orientation towards social justice and uplifting the downtrodden. A second species of anarchism is the radical individualism of Stirner and the English and American libertarians, a perspective that posits individual liberty as the highest good. And still a third tradition is a Nietzsche-influenced aristocratic radicalism, or what the French call “anarchism of the Right” which places its emphasis not only on liberty but on merit, excellence, and the preservation of high culture.
My actual presentation here today is going to be on the wider traditions of anarchism of the Right, right-wing anti-statism, and Left/Right crossover movements which are influenced by the anarchist tradition.
First, it might be helpful to formulate a working definition of “anarcho-fascism.” An "anarcho-fascist" could be characterized as someone that rejects the legitimacy of a particular state, and possibly even uses illegal or extra-legal means of opposing the established political or legal order, even if they prefer a state, even a fascist state, of their own.
There are looser definitions of "anarcho-fascism" as well, and I will touch on some of these in a moment. However, it should also be pointed out that many anarchists of the right were not part of a movement or any kind of political parties or mass organizations. Instead, their affinity for anarchism was more of an attitude or a philosophical stance although, as I will explain shortly, there were also efforts to translate right-wing anarchist ideas into a program for political action.
Anarchists of the Right during the French Revolution and Pre-Revolutionary Era
Left-wing anarchist thought can to some degree trace its roots to tendencies within revolutionary France of the late eighteenth century, as well as the pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods. This is also true, to some degree, of the right-wing anarchist tradition. Once again, to cite Francois Richard:
“Here, at the end of the 18th century, in the later stages of the ancien régime, formed an anarchisme de droite, whose protagonists claimed for themselves a position “beyond good and evil,” a will to live “like the gods,” and who recognised no moral values beyond personal honour and courage. The world-view of these libertins was intimately connected with an aggressive atheism and a pessimistic philosophy of history. Men like Brantôme, Montluc, Béroalde de Verville and Vauquelin de La Fresnaye held absolutism to be a commodity that regrettably opposed the principles of the old feudal system, and that only served the people’s desire for welfare.” –Francois Richard
These intellectual currents that Richard describes mark the beginning of an "anarchism of right" within the French intellectual tradition. As mentioned previously, these thinkers could certainly be considered forerunners to Nietzsche, and later French thinkers in this tradition included some fairly prominent figures. Among them were the following:
-Arthur de Gobineau, a 19th century writer, and early racialist thinker
-Leon Bloy, a novelist in the late 19th century
-Paul Leautaud, a theater critic in the early 20th century
-Louis Ferdinand Celine, a well-known French writer during the interwar period
-George Bernanos, whose political alignments were those of an anti-fascist conservative, monarchist, Catholic, and nationalist
-Henry de Montherlant, a 20th century dramatist, novelist, and essayist
-Jean Anouilh, a French playwright in the postwar era
Among the common ideas that were shared by these writers were an elitist individualism, aristocratic radicalism, disdain for established ideological or ethical norms, and cultural pessimism; disdain for mass democracy, egalitarianism, and the values of mass society; a dismissive attitude towards conventional society as decadent; adherence to the values of merit and excellence; a commitment to the recognition of the superior individual and an emphasis on high culture; an ambiguity about liberty rooted in a disdain for plebian values; and a characterization of government as a conspiracy against the superior individual.
Outside of France
A number of thinkers also emerged outside of France that shared many ideas in common with the French anarchists of the Right. Ironically, considering where we are today, one of these was H. L. Mencken, who was characterized as an “anarchist of the right” by another French intellectual historian, Anne Ollivier-Mellio, in an academic article some years ago. An overlapping tradition is what has sometimes been referred to as “anarcho-monarchism” which included such figures as the famous author J.R.R. Tolkien in England, the artist Salvador Dali in Spain, the Catholic traditionalist Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in Austria, and, perhaps most intriguingly, the English occultist Aleister Crowley, who has been widely mischaracterized as a Satanist.
The traditions associated with right-wing anarchism also overlap considerably with the tendency known as the “Conservative Revolution” which developed among right-wing European intellectuals during the interwar period. Among the most significant of these thinkers were Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Stefan George in Germany, Maurice Barres in France, Gabriele d’Annunzio in Italy, and, considerably later, Yukio Mishima in postwar Japan.
Perhaps the most famous intellectual associated with the Conservative Revolution was Ernst Junger, a veteran of World War One who became famous after publishing his war diaries in Weimar Germany under the title “Storms of Steel.” Much later in life, Junger published a work called “Eumeswil” which postulates the concept of the “Anarch,” a concept that is modeled on Max Stirner’s idea of the “Egoist.” According to Junger’s philosophy, an “Anarch” does not necessarily engage in outward revolt against institutionalized authority. Instead, the revolt occurs on an inward basis, and the individual is able to retain an inner psychic freedom by means of detachment from all external values and an inward retreat into one’s self. In some ways, this is a philosophy that is similar to currents within Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies.
Yet another well-known figure from the Conservative Revolutionary era, and one that is certainly influential among the more radical tendencies on the alternative right today, is Julius Evola. Evola was a proponent of an extreme elitism that characterized the period of the Kali Yuga of Hindu civilization during approximately 800 B.C. as the high point in human development. Indeed, he considered everything that has taken place since then to have been a manifestation of degeneracy. For example, Evola actually criticized fascism and Nazism as having been too egalitarian because of their orientation towards popular mobilization and their appeals to the ethos of mass society. Evola also formulated a concept known as the “absolute individual,” which was very similar to Junger’s notion of the “Anarch,” and which can be described an individual that has achieved a kind of self-overcoming, as Nietzsche would have called it, due to their capacity for rising above the herd instincts of the masses of humankind.
Now, I must emphasize that the points of view that I have outlined thus far were largely attitudes or philosophical stances, not actual programs of political action. However, there have also been actual efforts to combine anarchism or ideas borrowed from anarchism with right-wing ideas, and to translate these into conventional political programs. One of these involves the concept of syndicalism as it was developed by Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a revolutionary doctrine that advocates the seizure of industry and the government by means of a worker insurrection or what is sometimes called a “general strike.” Syndicalism was normally conceived of as an ideology of the extreme left, like anarchism, but a kind of right-wing syndicalism began to develop in the early twentieth century due to the influence of Sorel and the German-Italian Robert Michels, who formulated the so-called “iron law of oligarchy.” Michaels was a former Marxist who came to believe that all organizations of any size are ultimately organized as oligarchies, where the few lead the many, and believed that anti-capitalist revolutionary doctrines would have to be accommodated to this insight.
Out of these intellectual tendencies developed an organization called the “Cercle Proudhon,” which combined the ideas of the early anarchist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, such as mutualist economics and political federalism, with various elitist and right-wing ideas such as French nationalism, monarchism, aristocratic radicalism, and Catholic traditionalism. Cercle Proudhon was also heavily influenced by an earlier movement known as Action France which had been founded by Charles Maurras.
Third Positionism, Distributism and National-Anarchism
Another tendency that is similar to these is what is often called the “Third Position,” a form of revolutionary nationalism that is influenced by the economic theories of Distributism. Distributism was a concept developed by the early 20th century Catholic writers G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, which postulated the idea of smaller property holders, consumer cooperatives, workers councils, local democracy, and village-based agrarian societies, and which in many ways overlaps with tendencies on the radical Left such as syndicalism, guild socialism, cooperativism or individualist anarchism. Interestingly, many third positionists are also admirers of Qaddafi’s “Green Book” which outlines a program for the creation of utopian socialist and quasi-anarchist communities that form the basis for an alternative model of society beyond both Capitalism and Communism.
Within more recent times, a tendency has emerged that is known as National-Anarchism, a term that was formed by a personal friend of mine named Troy Southgate, and which essentially synthesizes anarchism with the notion of ethno-cultural identitarianism.
Right-wing Anarchism, Libertarianism and Anarcho-Capitalism
Certainly, any discourse on right-wing anarchism needs include a discussion of the sets of ideas that are associated with Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism of the kinds that are associated with an array of free-market individualist thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich August von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and, of course, Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard.
In many ways, modern libertarianism has a prototype in the extreme individualism of Max Stirner, and perhaps in thought of Henry David Thoreau as well. The more recent concept of anarcho-capitalism was developed in its most far reaching form by Murray Rothbard and his disciple, Hans Hermann Hoppe. Indeed, Hoppe has developed a critique of modern systems of mass democracy of a kind that closely resembles that of earlier thinkers in the tradition of the French “anarchists of the Right,” Mencken, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
It is also interesting to note that some of the late twentieth century proponents of individualist anarchism such as James J. Martin and Samuel E. Konkin III, the founder of a tendency within libertarianism known as agorism, were also proponents of Holocaust revisionism. Indeed, when I was doing research on the modern libertarian movement, I discovered that Holocaust revisionism was actually popular among libertarians in the 1970s, not on anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi grounds, but out of a desire to defend the original isolationist case against World War Two. Konkin himself was actually associated with the Institute for Historical Review at one point.
There are also various types of conservative Christian anarchism that postulated the concept of parish-based village communities with cooperative or agrarian economies. Such tendencies exist within the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions alike. For example, Father Matthew Raphael Johnson, a former editor of the Barnes Review, is a proponent of such an outlook.
Very similar concepts to conservative Christian anarchism can also be found within neo-pagan tendencies which sometimes advocate a folkish or traditionalist anarchism of their own.
Left/Right Overlaps and Crossover Movements
A fair number of tendencies can be identified that involved left/right overlaps or crossover movements of some particular kind. One of these was formulated by Gustav Landauer, a German anarcho-communist that was killed by the Freikorps during the revolution of 1919. Landauer was also a German nationalist, and proposed a folkish anarchism that recognized the concept of national, regional, local and ethnic identities that existed organically and independently of the state. For example, Landauer once characterized himself as a German, a Bavarian, and a Jew who was also an anarchist.
In the early 1980s, a tendency emerged in England known as the Black Ram, which advocated for an anarcho-nationalism that sought to address the concept of national identity as this related to left-wing anarchism. Black Ram was a conventionally left-wing tendency in the sense of being anti-statist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist, but which understood nationalities to be pre-existing cultural and ethnic expressions that were external to the state as an authoritarian institution.
Dorothy Day was an American radical, a religious pacifist, and advocate of social justice, who combined anarchism and Catholic traditionalism. She was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and considered herself to be a supporter of both the Industrial Workers of the World and the Vatican.
One of the godfathers of classical anarchism was, of course, Mikhail Bakunin, who was himself a pan-Slavic nationalist, and continues to be a peripheral influence on the European New Right. In fact, Alain De Benoist’s concept of “federal populism” owes much to Bakunin’s thought and is remarkably similar to Bakunin’s advocacy of a federation of participatory democracies.
There are a number of left-wing anarchists that have profoundly influenced the ecology movement that have also provided inspiration for various thinkers of the Right. Kirkpatrick Sale, for example, is a neo-Luddite and the originator of a concept known as bioregionalism. Leopold Kohr is best know for his advocacy of the “breakdown of nations” into decentralized, autonomous micro-nations. E.F. Schumacher is, of course, known for his classic work in decentralist economics, “Small is Beautiful.” Each of these thinkers is also referenced in Wilmot Robertson’s white nationalist manifesto, “The Ethnostate.”
Anarchism and Right-Wing Populism
Because American political culture contains strands of both anti-state radicalism and right-wing populism, it is also important to consider the ways in which these overlap or run parallel to each other. For example, there are tendencies among far right political undercurrents that favor a radically decentralized or even anarchic social order, but which also adhere to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories or racial superiority theories. There is actually a tradition like that on the US far right associated with groups like the Posse Comitatus.
There is also a radical right Christian movement that favors county level government organized as an uber-reactionary theocracy (like Saudi Arabia, only Christian). Other tendencies can be observed that favor no government beyond the county level, such as the sovereign citizens, who regard speed limits and drivers’ licensing requirements to be egregious violations of liberty, the proponents of extra-legal common laws courts, and various other trends within the radical patriot movement.
The relationship between the Right and the state in many ways mirrors that of the Left in the sense that both Right and Left have something of a triangular interaction with systems of institutional and legal authority. Both Left and Right can be divided into reformist, libertarian, or totalitarian camps. In the case of the Left, a leftist may be a reform liberal or social democrat, they may be an anarchist or a left-libertarian, or they may be a totalitarian in the tradition of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others. Similarly, a rightist may advocate for reforms of a conservative or rightward leaning nature, they may be an anarchist of the right or a radical anti-statist, or a person of the Right may be a proponent of some kind of right-wing authoritarianism, or a totalitarian in the fascist tradition.
POPULISM AND THE RIGHT: PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES, CARL F. HOROWITZ
November 29, 2016
It’s great to be back here. Once again, I’d like to thank to Paul and Mary for giving me the opportunity to speak at the Mencken Club luncheon.
Today I’m supposed to be talking about “The Populist Right.” The topic suggests the question: Is there a relationship between populism and the Right? And perhaps more to the point: “Should there be a relationship between the two? My answer in each case: Yes there should be. And mindful of the perils, these times require it.
The current context, needless to say, is the distinct possibility that Donald Trump will be elected president. His campaign is that rare phenomenon: an authentic, successful national populism. Too many national populist movements, whether good or bad, follow a pattern: They make noise, point fingers, get press coverage and flame out.
The Tea Party is a textbook case. Back during 2009-10, Tea Party organizations dominated the news cycle. Their rhetoric was populist. A number of their preferred candidates, none of them terribly impressive, were elected to public office in 2010. But for the last several years the Tea Party has been effectively extinct. It has not shifted the terms of debate on any issue. It functions now as a fundraising tool for Republican candidates and fodder for political science dissertations.
The Trump candidacy is different. It is creating the foundation for a permanent shift in our political culture. The shift may not be 180 degrees, but it is significant all the same. And it will continue even if Hillary Clinton is elected. Mrs. Clinton, as much as anyone, knows this. She realizes that if she goes too far, too fast in transforming America’s demographic and cultural identity – and that is the intent of her and her base – she will encounter massive resistance. You can bet your last dollar she will use her powers, wherever possible, to suppress this resistance.
But I digress. For before we can talk about Donald Trump and why his campaign matters, we have to define “populism” – what it is and what it isn’t.
It’s intuitive that populist leaders want to be popular – and believe themselves to be popular. Their rhetoric fairly brims with “bandwagon” appeals. They convey to their audiences that their cause is righteous and their triumph is inevitable. Yet very often neither they nor their followers are popular. Money and publicity don’t necessarily translate into influence.
Let’s put this in reverse. Just as being populist doesn’t automatically make a cause popular, being popular doesn’t automatically make a cause populist. This holds true for prominent public figures as well as for causes.
Exhibit A: Al Sharpton. As you probably remember from my talk a year ago – as if anyone needed any reminders – Reverend Sharpton has been a noxious presence upon our polity for more than 30 years.
Admittedly, the Reverend Al has a large and admiring audience. At times, he resembles a populist. But deep down, he is nothing of the sort. His vision is utterly removed from, and hostile toward, our nation’s historic white-majority identity. Like his ally, President Obama, he represents a black-led coalition of aggrieved minorities. And he’s backed by heavy doses of corporate money. This past April, I traveled to Manhattan to attend the annual convention of his nonprofit group, National Action Network (NAN). Listed co-sponsors included AT&T, Facebook, Master Card, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Time Warner, Verizon and Fox News Channel. During 2014 NAN took in about $7 million from all sources. Some populist!
Many other persons and organizations have a surface populism. Think of Bill Clinton, Glenn Beck, Billy Graham, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Jay Z, Occupy Wall Street, People for the American Way, and the American Association of Retired Persons. Each is popular, yet none truly can be called populist.
In defining populism, then, there is something going on besides popularity. And there is a substantial literature on the subject, particularly as it relates to the American experience. Books such as Michael Kazin’s The Populist Persuasion (1998) and Margaret Canovan’s Populism (1981) are good starting points. America is a natural focus of study. Our very founding was an act of populism, combining guns and fountain pens to resist a distant monarchy.
In combing through the literature, several themes recur which, taken together, form a reasonable working definition of populism.
Resentment of centralized economic and political power. All populism, even of the centrist, Ross Perot-style, “feel good” sort, feeds upon a groundswell of public opinion against remote powerful individuals and institutions. Whether the targets of resentment are actually remote is less important than the widespread perception that they are.
Populism operates on a conviction that “the system” is rigged in favor of an elite few. It seeks major adjustments to return power to the people.
Wealthy businessmen, though not all of them, long have been a ripe target for this impulse. Businessmen tend to be targets of resentment if they appear as cultural outsiders; if they manage finance capital, as opposed to manufacturing capital; and if they receive favors from government to achieve advantage over market competitors, the latter tendency known as “cronyism.” Loathing of “the bankers” is especially ingrained in our character. Thomas Jefferson famously observed: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” He had plenty of company.
Yes, I know. Ross Perot is a multibillionaire. And so is Donald Trump. But by articulating popular grievances against the “system,” they are first among equals as much as they are elites.
Government likewise is a common target of resentment. Everyone across the ideological spectrum hates “politicians” and “special interests,” so long as they are someone else’s. This is part of the populist impulse. But to be effective, such resentment must attach names to chosen targets. Otherwise, elites will amount to nothing more than straw men.
Desire for a forceful leader. Popular discontent requires mobilization by an assertive leader capable of articulating grievances. Audiences crave such a leader. Populist audiences don’t negotiate, but their leaders can.
At the same time, leaders of populist movements know they cannot lead people who don’t want to be led. They can exploit discontent, but they can’t create it. The discontent already must be there. A leader tells his audience what they want to hear. If he doesn’t, the audience is likely to transfer its loyalties to some other charismatic leader. A populist leader and his audience have a symbiotic relationship; each becomes more powerful as the other does.
Appeals to immediate emotions. Populist audiences demand action. They are present-oriented. They thrive on heated speeches, rallies, leaflets, pamphlets, blogs and tweets that promise to “do something” as soon as possible. Such people tend to be impatient with reasoned debate, dialogue, analysis, parliamentary procedure and judicial review. To them, “gridlock” is a dirty word. Winning debates is nice, but that is less important than “sending ‘em a message.”
Attachment to place. This trait is especially true in America. A populist movement typically has a distinct local, statewide or regional identity. This goes a long way in explaining why populists keep re-electing their representatives, even as they deride abstract “politicians.”
The term limits movement promoted itself during the Nineties as an antidote to entrenched congressional interests. Superficially, it was a populist crusade. Real Americans, at last, were Standing Up to Washington. Yet the movement rarely took into account the localist impulse that drove that entrenchment. The movement’s supporters simply could not fathom that a great many voters across the country have no problem with returning their representatives to Congress. Even pork barrel artists often get a free pass. After all, they are delivering pork to us.
European populism, it should be noted, is more focused on nationalism than regionalism or localism. This is understandable. For one thing, the nations of Europe have much smaller land areas and hence reason to develop strong regional identities. For another, almost all European nations over the last quarter-century have had to answer to an increasingly unaccountable supranational body, the European Union. And the fact that the EU, led by Germany, is now pushing mass immigration from virtually unassimilable cultures upon citizens of member nations gives these citizens all the more incentive to fight for their national identity.
Racial/ethnic homogeneity. Multiracial populism in any country may be appealing in the abstract, but it is not sustainable in the real world. To be successful, populism must reflect the identity of a homogenous majority, not those of minorities suspicious of each other as well as of the majority. For people to fight for self-governance – or “empowerment” – they must have consistently high levels of mutual trust. And trust can’t be achieved in a multiracial context, except maybe in “The Fast and the Furious” and its many sequels. I’m a big fan of those movies, by the way. The problem is that their rules of the road don’t apply to the real world of politics.
This, in brief, is a rough template for populism. But can this also be seen as a template for conservatism? For the most part, the answer must be no. The two fitfully overlap, but are not interchangeable. Here is why.
First, populism and conservatism are less about ideology than temperament. And the populist temperament – present-oriented and given to mass incitement against constituted authority – is thoroughly at odds with the conservative temperament. Populists are not the sort of people who read Russell Kirk, Kenneth Minogue, Robert Nisbet or Michael Oakeshott. And if they did read them, they probably would be bored. Populists want action, not reasoned discussions that counsel restraint in making big decisions.
Libertarianism presents more possibilities for a populist Right, but not by much. Its adherents have an almost unshakeable faith in the free market to harmonize conflict. Whatever the social problem, removing government from the picture will fix it.
Mind you, their critique of State overreach is compelling. But rarely can it light a populist fire. That’s why libertarians frame their appeal to a large audience by identifying pro-State “outsider” forces ostensibly keeping the majority down. In other words, populist libertarians don’t rally for “free markets” or “the Constitution”; they rally against the Federal Reserve System and the New World Order.
Unfortunately, this approach is self-limiting. It appeals mainly to disaffected individuals on the far reaches of the Left and Right. The main audience is a coalition of the fringes, not the center. That’s why Ron Paul was never a real threat to win the Republican nomination, much less the general election.
Second, the Left has a long populist tradition of its own, indeed, longer than that of the Right. Red State-style blowhards can’t admit this. They prefer to post angry messages on the Web, often in all-capital letters, caustically denouncing the Enemy Within (e.g., “libtards”) who allegedly “hate America.” The truth is that Leftists very frequently invoke patriotism in putting forth a program. And they’re quite sincere. I’ll grant you, they’re also wrong, often hopelessly wrong, on most things. But for the most part, they do not “hate America.”
Consider the following partial roll call of populist Left (and white) Americans, past and present, in politics, journalism, literature and the performing arts: Ralph Nader, Richard Trumka, John Steinbeck, Eugene Victor Debs, William Jennings Bryan, Mary “Mother” Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbara Mikulski, Woody Guthrie, Jim Hightower, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Garrison Keillor, Tom Laughlin, Thomas Frank, Molly Ivins, John Grisham and Elizabeth Warren. These people spout (or spouted) a lot of sentimental foolishness. Yet calling them anti-American would be a stretch.
As for their man of the hour, Senator Bernie Sanders, he has a pitch-perfect sense of Leftist populism. That’s why his presidential campaign did so well. When he announced his candidacy, many people dismissed him as a mere “protest candidate.” I didn’t. He combined radical populist convictions with an oddball charisma. And he went a long way. His audiences generally were poorly-versed on the issues. But they sensed that Sanders, far from being a crazy old man, was tapping into their frustrations. That’s why they turned out in droves to see him, cheer him and vote for him.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign by comparison seemed stage-managed and spin-doctored. Her rallies seemed like giant Tupperware parties featuring black women and unionized teachers. It didn’t matter that she agreed with Sanders on at least 95 percent of everything. In style, where it really counted, she came off as his opposite. And populists on the Left, like those on the Right, instinctively recognize if a candidate is “one of them.”
Even if Sanders never runs for office again – a prospect that will not cause me any loss of sleep – his 2016 campaign will reverberate for many years. That so many of his supporters are under age 30 guarantees this.
Third, populism is more about preserving economic security for the middle class than asserting a “pure” libertarianism or conservatism. Typically, these movements are driven by small businessmen, skilled blue-collar tradesmen and civil servants insecure about their future. Through the early-20th century, farmers were the leading force of economic populism. But now comprising a very small portion of the U.S. labor force, they don’t exert all that much pressure.
George Wallace, by far the foremost populist of his time, a man who embodied both the best and worst aspects of populism, understood this. Back in 1968, when he was running for president, his stump speech contained this ode to the common man: “This man in the textile mill, this man in the steel mill, this barber, this beautician, the policeman on the beat.” It wasn’t exactly Walt Whitman or Carl Sandburg, but it had a poetic ring. The man knew his audience. And his audience lapped it up. Far more than any animus toward blacks, this explains why Wallace won 13.5 percent of the national popular vote.
Wallace voters didn’t go away after the election. It short order, they were absorbed into the Nixon base. They became part of that clever marketing niche, “the silent majority.” A decade or so later, many among this audience, especially white “ethnics” in and around Northern cities, became Reagan Democrats. They were a major reason why the Republicans won back their governing coalition in 1980 and why they kept it for another dozen years.
Thus, populism and the Right can mix. They just don’t mix that often.
The Right may take advantage of a situation in which large numbers of people feel grievance and loss. But they can’t create that feeling. What they can do is ride the wave and appeal to its better instincts.
Populism can be either good or bad. On one hand, it is a terrific corrective to the abuses of power and a strong reminder of one’s collective identity. On the other hand, it can be a nasty piece of work. When people feel that they are losing their jobs, identity, property and freedom, reason often takes a back seat to emotion. An aggressive “us vs. them” psychology can produce demagogues and mindless mass fawning over them.
Even when level-headed and averse to mob rule, populism may identify the wrong “them.” This is why conservative populism isn’t necessarily conservative or effective. A classic case is California’s Proposition 13, a genuine populist movement.
For those who can remember back that far, Proposition 13 was an initiative placed on the ballot in June 1978 to amend the California state constitution to limit real estate taxes. The wording was complicated, but in essence it said that local property taxes couldn’t go up by more than one percent in any given year without two-thirds voter approval.
This movement generated tremendous attention across the country. Here out of the blue was a pair of aging white men, Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, leading what appeared to be a Bircher-style uprising. Yet Proposition 13 was not a conservative ideological crusade, though it did contain the raw material for one.
The catalyst was a 1971 California State Supreme Court ruling, Serrano v. Priest. Originating in Los Angeles County a few years earlier, this decision ordered the equalization of expenditures across local school districts. The court effectively told middle-class communities that they had to pay the costs of lower-income ones.
Most of the people feeling the pinch were middle-aged and elderly white homeowners. These people were well-off, but hardly wealthy. Their home was their prime asset. Property taxes, the main source of funding for public schools, were increasing rapidly. Many people feared losing what had taken decades to accumulate for the purpose of indirectly subsidizing people receiving public benefits that were way out of proportion to the taxes they contributed.
Proposition 13 passed by a nearly two to one. Opponents filed suit. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court as Nordlinger v. Hahn. In 1992, fully 14 years after passage, the Court ruled that the law was constitutional.
Formally, Proposition 13 has been a success. It limited residential property taxes for large numbers of people. It spawned similar initiatives such as Proposition 2½ in Massachusetts. It was upheld by the Supreme Court. And it’s still on the books. No California legislator has tried to repeal it.
Yet where it mattered most, Proposition 13 didn’t win. It made no effort to slow down, much less halt, the explosive population growth driving home prices skyward. And it was silent about the escalating immigration by low-skilled laborers from Mexico and Central America; i.e., the kinds of people who not only lived in “poor” school districts, but who were making them poorer by moving there.
Proposition 13 was authentic populism. It was made of grass, not Astroturf. Yet it dealt with effects, not causes. As such, it was unable to stem larger social forces giving rise to it. The same can be said of subsequent American populist movements ranging from the Moral Majority to the Tea Party to Ross Perot’s 1992 and 1996 presidential runs.
These examples underscore a reality: Any attempt at achieving a populist-Rightist fusion quickly bumps up against hard limits. To be successful, populism has to go beyond generating a hip-hip-hooray bandwagon illusion. To produce lasting effects, it must run the risk of being unpopular, and even hated, among large numbers of Americans. And unpopularity is something most leaders on the Right, especially in the Republican Party, have been unwilling to risk.
President Reagan’s genial, folksy “straight talk” conservative populism was appealing and often effective. Yet he was also somewhat gun-shy. Maybe he wasn’t aware of what he was up against. Maybe he was aware, but had grown weary of answering his critics. Either way, his populism was only fitfully of the Right.
Put it this way: If Reagan really was a hardcore conservative, would he have signed the 1986 IRCA legislation authorizing amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants? Would he have signed the 1983 legislation creating Martin Luther King Day? No doubt a veto would have been overridden. But he could have made a forceful statement in opposition anyway. If he truly was as popular as his fervid supporters insisted, he would have had very little political downside to worry about.
And this, mind you, was Ronald Reagan, the most successful American conservative statesman of the last 100 years. Less still can be said on behalf of the putative successors to his modest revolution. George Bush the Elder, George Bush the Younger, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jack Kemp in their own way each proved unwilling to bringing opprobrium upon themselves, especially if it meant being tagged a “racist.”
That raises a larger issue: Populism plays well during election time, yet the “populists” of the Right who get elected seem unable to mount a successful challenge to the sources of populist discontent. How, then, can Rightist populists win elections while broadening the boundaries of debate in a constructive way?
I offer three basic rules.
Rule #1 – Put American identity over ideology. Many on the Left will interpret this as “racism.” Fine, let them. It’s an empty charge. And the response should not be the usual Conservatism Inc. response, “Liberals are the real racists.” It should be: What’s so bad about defending American identity? Political office seekers and holders on the Right thus far have been terrified of responding in such a manner. Even Donald Trump has pulled back on this score too often for my liking.
Yes, ideology still matters. But it is not the defining aspect of a populist program. Every modern nation has its own version of Red State vs. Blue State/Left vs. Right schism – France, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Canada, Israel, Austria and many others. The fights can get bitter. But in the end, they are manageable if the vast majority of the people share a common ethnicity, language, and sense of history.
It’s when identity disintegrates – especially when encouraged by unaccountable political leaders – that the Left becomes lethal. Much as I oppose socialism, it is at least possible to halt and reverse its march. I cannot say the same thing about national identity. Once dismantled, it cannot be put back together.
Rule #2 – Engage our nation; don’t disengage from it. For all that is wrong with us, there is still a lot more that is right. There is something reprehensible about giving up on America. Assuming that remaining here is preferable to migrating somewhere else, it is crucial that we keep the nation together despite the political and cultural differences. Populism otherwise is not possible.
Secession, and its close relative, a voluntary breakup, is not an option. No doubt you have come across calls for splitting up the U.S. into two separate countries, one Leftist and the other Rightist. On the surface, it is an attractive solution to seemingly irreconcilable conflict. Yet I believe such a breakup would be disastrous, both for populism and for the Right. Consider:
- No one state is ideologically homogenous nor should it be. The bluest of states have red patches and the reddest of states have blue patches. Would we require a political litmus test for citizenship in order to ensure a permanent political majority? Would we deport residents from the Republic of Conservatia who display nascent liberal tendencies? Would we protest second-class citizenship accorded conservatives who are left behind in the Republic of Egalitaria?
- Once initiated, the process could be self-perpetuating. For starters, our two new nations would not have contiguous land areas, which necessarily would restrict freedom of movement. More to the point, many states could face an internal secession crisis. The Atlanta area, for example, is liberal; the rest of Georgia is conservative. Should metro Atlanta secede from Georgia? Or vice versa? Carried to its ultimate conclusion, the result would not be two countries, but rather a patchwork of mini-countries resembling England’s “rotten boroughs” of the mid-17th century. That led directly to civil war over there. If I recall, a similar situation led to civil war here as well.
- Forcing people to minimize if not cease contact with others on account of political differences – and that is exactly what such an arrangement seeks – far from assuring peace, may well undermine it. The idea carries a whiff of totalitarianism. A functioning nation does not require across-the-board cognitive affirmation. You can learn a lot from someone with a different point of view. As they say in romance: Opposites attract – at least once in a while.
- The history of secessionist governments has shown that secession is an invitation to disaster for people living under its jurisdiction. A breakaway conservative nation in this country would be one whose citizens are highly vulnerable to military invasion and economic isolation. It would face boycotts and other forms of isolation of a magnitude potentially dwarfing that which befallen apartheid-era South Africa.
Advocates of a national breakup no doubt have thought through such possibilities. But I don’t think they understand just how severe the consequences may be. The problems might well do more than impose inconveniences; they could inflict terrible trauma.
There will always be strong differences of opinion in any union – whether of 300 million-plus people or just two, also known as “marriage.” The way to arrive at agreements is through engagement rather than disengagement. Simply by remaining a European-derived and English-speaking majority, we can minimize the possibility of a national breakup. It is a far better route for populism to pursue than assimilating (in vain) large numbers of unassimilable immigrants.
Rule #3 – Elevate an audience; don’t appeal to its base instincts. In addressing an audience, whether in print or the spoken word, use light and not heat to make a point. And be open to criticism. Few things are more depressing these days than reading Web posting boards and social media pages, where posters seek to banish “trolls” from their safe space. Enforced unanimity of opinion is at once tyrannical and boring. And it doesn’t build consensus on the issues.
Populism and anti-intellectualism, regrettably, have a long history of marching hand in hand. In the long run, it’s a partnership to avoid. If populism of the Right is to have a lodestar, let it be Thomas Jefferson, not Sarah Palin.
I will end by coming full circle.
Donald Trump, a genuine populist, may well be our next president. But if he is, the battle for creating a lasting Rightist populism only will have begun. If you think Trump has problems now, wait until he takes office. Here is a partial list of combatants against him: hundreds of members of Congress, including more than a few Republicans; the federal courts; renegades within the executive branch; various news media; and a plague of Social Justice Warrior bloggers. Anarcho-Left street demonstrations will erupt on the slightest pretext, Guy Fawkes masks optional. Opposition researchers will dig ever deeper into Trump’s public and private life in search of smoking guns. Clergymen across the nation will inject anti-Trump references into their Sunday sermons, claiming that if Christ were here today he’d be seeking impeachment. The National Council of La Raza will ramp up its fundraising. Samantha Bee will tell lots of anti-Trump jokes on her TV show – none of them funny.
Yet keep your heads up. A Donald Trump presidency, should it happen, will suffer setbacks. All administrations experience them. Yet it also represents a pivotal moment in American history. It already has set in motion a realignment in our political culture, especially within the ranks of the Right. And this realignment will not be reversed. The end result just might be a recovery of our diminished sense of national identity.
Thank you very much.
Carl F. Horowitz is project director for National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit group dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in American public life. He holds a Ph.D. in urban planning and policy development. The opinions of this presentation are his own and not necessarily those of NLPC.
PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS TO THE H.L. MENCKEN CLUB, NOV. 4, 2016, PAUL GOTTFRIED
November 29, 2016
The topic we’re addressing this year is the future of the Right. A proper treatment of this theme requires that we examine both the current Right and what the Right was in the past. For those who belong to the Western or post-Western present, this task may be especially hard. We are still witnessing the Left’s hour of victory in most contemporary Western societies and the prevalence of a particular Left that suits an administered mass democracy, one that prides itself on planned diversity and a global cultural identity. The ruling classes place a premium on a certain form of equality, which they seek to impose on others. It stresses not so much economic redistribution as the elevation to an honored place of those who in the past would have been considered strange and even off-putting. We are now urged, and sometimes forced, to celebrate what past Western societies would have found distasteful, e.g., the transgendered, or women wrapped up in Burkas. At the same time we’re expected to spurn what until recently were the settled historical traditions and sensibilities of Western peoples.
Those who enforce the new morality warn us against straying from their path. Those who do are decried as fascists, which is a code word for Nazi and by extension, Nazi genocide. Never mind the Devil in the details! Hitler’s Final Solution was not about opposing mandatory transgendered restrooms in public buildings or not forcing merchants with moral objections to cater gay weddings! Anyone who bothers to look must notice how widespread is the practice of linking opposition to what the Left wants to Hitlerian tyranny. One would have thought that a truer description for such opposition is “democracy,” before that term was seized and denatured by our ruling class. They, no less than the now antiquated Communist Left, have made democracy synonymous with being jerked around by social engineers.
Here we are speaking about a domination that in Western countries, thanks to immigration, state controlled education, bureaucratic coercion and manipulated popular culture, can now increasingly claim electoral majorities. Unlike the Nazis and Bolsheviks when they took power, the Cultural Marxists (pardon the use of this term, but none other fits as well) rule with something approaching majority support. This exemplifies Tocqueville’s notion of soft dictatorship, although such control could become harsher if left unchecked.
What exists as a beleaguered Right is for the most part defensive. Many in this room are invested in this battle; and if I tried to name all of you, I’d be guilty of omissions. Our struggle against what John Derbyshire calls the “liars, weasels and commissars,” who have left us “united by disgust,” or against what Peter Brimelow condemns as the “hysterical partisanship of the MSM” has been largely an effort to hold the Left at bay. This effort has been characterized by mockery, which has become a permanent feature of the Altright. In a recent interview in US News and World Report, the tech editor of Breitbart and an upfront homosexual Milo Yiannopoulos went after the PC commissars. According to Yiannopoulos, the “incessant and pathetic whining of the feminists about everything from gender pronouns to this on-line harassment craze” has led to social madness. Milo holds no brief for the “cult of equality” and with those “who struggle with any suggestion that social behavior may be genetically determined.” Scientists now hide their heads in the sand when anyone suggests that there may be something inborn that causes one group to excel in sports and another in mathematics. Yiannopoulos insists that we have to combat the thought police before they reduce all white males to blithering idiots.
Recently I was struck by a commentary of Bob Weissberg, which was posted on American Thinker, which went after the Republican Party establishment for its warped sense of conscience. Bob pilloried an establishment that drools over black race hustlers, while exhibiting scorn for the white working class. This masterpiece of derision may have been occasioned by a notorious screed in National Review by its would-be daring editor Kevin Williamson. A Millennial Conservative, as he fancies himself, Williamson flails away at poor white Americans while never failing to make excuses for politically correct minorities. According to Bob, this double standard indicates the imaginary moral worth of a now superfluous elite.
Others on the defensive Right attack the Christophobia of the anti-Christian media. These “information providers” often work in sync with the Obama administration, which insults traditional Western religion while purposely ignoring the Muslim character of Muslim terrorism. Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks to, among others, LGBT donors that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables” aroused concern on the defensive Right. Pat Buchanan grimly observed that Trump’s candidacy may be the last opportunity for Hillary’s “deplorables” to save their country from the mind-snatching Left.
The “Right” to which I’m referring has little to do with what Peter Brimelow (not I) first referred to as “conservatism, inc.” Typical responses to leftist outrages in NRO, WSJ, and Weekly Standard illustrate what literary critics would call “immanentist” criticism. They are generated by those who share many of the cultural and social assumptions of those they criticize. The establishment conservative immanentist critic thinks highly of George Will’s concept of “civility.” This mode of conduct is applicable when moderate conservatives engage in conversation their fellow- Fox-All-Stars who are situated on the official Left. But the same rules don’t apply when the establishment expresses contempt for a more genuine Right.
Conservatism, inc. has found a champion in the university-hopping Ben Shapiro, who welcomes being booed by leftist students on his carefully staged university visits. This young star of the media conservative galaxy pleads against PC excesses, but demands no less urgently the removal of Confederate names from public places while railing against Donald Trump as a neo-Nazi. Shapiro and his buds complain that popular culture and academic faculties have betrayed the Left’s past achievements, such as passing and enforcing anti-discrimination laws. The Left, I would gather from listening to Shapiro, is excessively zealous in pursuing onetime noble objectives; because of its recent excesses, leftists are now seen as behaving in Shapiro’s words “like fascists.”
Conservatism, inc. understates government involvement in cultural changes. If government bureaucrats get out of hand, we’re supposed to regard this as a minor functional disturbance in the greatest “liberal democracy” of all times. Indeed we should be focused on bringing our current model of government to the rest of humanity, and particularly to those who resist. If some slight tinkering is necessary at home, as I’ve learned from Fox-news, we should be looking to the presidency of George W. Bush for responsible “conservative” management. And for those who want to go back further in time, we have the “Reagan conservative revolution.” This for conservatism, inc. is the gold standard of truly conservative government. (As someone who lived through this alleged transformation as an adviser to the Reagan-administration, I still haven’t figured out what was “revolutionary” about it. My most vivid impression of this event was watching the self-described conservatives who arrived in Washington looking for public service jobs in order to make the government go way.)
Once we’ve dismissed this faux Right, however, the question then becomes what are the prospects for an authentic American Right. Naturally I mean an Alternative Right that is not purely defensive. It is one that stands in bold contrast to the multicultural Left and to its talking partners in conservatism, inc. But there are certain truths that have to be told. A Right that hopes to amount to something on the historical stage, must be able to attract a mass following. It must also be able to appeal to rooted traditions-- and not look like a position paper thrown together by an ad hoc committee while dining on Domino Pizza.
One criterion for defining the Right that has been ascribed to me is rejecting equality as the highest human value. That side of the political spectrum views inequality not only as the natural human condition but according to the Right’s older incarnations, as a desirable, stabilizing condition. As the English journalist Peregrine Worsthorne correctly argues in The Case for Aristocracy, a traditional class structure provides social coherence and historical continuity. A self-assertive Right goes beyond a purely cautionary posture, e.g., warning against the modern state’s inroads into our constitutional liberty. The Right through most of its history affirmed class, gender, national and other human distinctions. It considered hierarchy, or at least human differences, to be essential to a sound social order.
These are not popular ideas. The political and cultural energy in Western societies has been moving in the opposite direction for a very long time. If Donald Trump wins the presidency in a few days, not much will likely change in terms of reversing this direction. We’d still be dealing with elites, no matter what the upshot of the election; and we still wouldn’t be living in a classless society. In contemporary America we have extraordinary elites that never before have been seen in human affairs. They are committed to the destruction of traditional ways of life, such as socially recognized gender distinctions, and they favor flooding us with Third World migrants and affirmative action directives. If Trump does become president, he will have won at least partly by playing the other side’s hand. For example, he scolded the other party as racist and sexist, called for putting Rosa Parks on a ten-dollar bill, promised to provide government fundsfor women taking maternity leave from their jobs, and modified his initial plan to deport illegal residents. And like Hillary, Trump is surrounded by neocon advisors, albeit those of an older generation, and not the ones who counsel his Democratic opponent.
Not that I’m blaming Trump for taking these stands. If I were running for president, I would have acted similarly, if I wanted to win. And even where Trump has seemed “extreme” to the media and party establishments, he is walking in the footsteps of the moderate Left of twenty years ago. Trump began his campaign by taking a signature position on immigration, but it was not original: Bill and Hillary Clinton had more or less embraced it in the 1990s. Let’s remember that dealing sternly with illegals was something Bill had proposed in his State of the Union address in 1996. The Clintons also gave us the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, a piece of legislation that today would lead to hyperventilating at the offices of the SPLC.
Some arrangements once favored on the right have not turned out the way they were supposed to. In 1597 James VI of Scotland (soon to become James I of England) objected to a proposed merger of the Church of England with Scotland’s more egalitarian Calvinist confession, with the words “no bishop, no king.” Although that maxim made perfectly good sense in James’s monarchical age, can we really say that churches with consecrated hierarchies have not been as prone as other churches to radical ideas? Let’s compare today’s Anglican and Episcopal churches to American Fundamentalist and Evangelical congregations, with their democratic organizations. Hierarchies in religion and politics preserve inherited ways of life only when those at the top have an interest in doing so. Conservatives in the nineteenth century were perpetually defending unwritten constitutions against written ones, which were then associated with the French Revolution. Now, however, I would prefer the American Bill of Rights to England’s unwritten constitution in order to be protected against a leftist government, to whatever extent our Bill of Rights operates according to its original sense. Although I fully understand why conservatives believed differently at an earlier time, our historical situation has changed. And so has the situation in which the Right once understandably opposed extending the franchise to the working class. In today’s Western countries it is the native, white working class, certainly not wealthy professionals, who are the backbone of whatever is identifiably anti-globalist and anti-immigration.
This brings me to my final point. Unlike traditional conservatism, which was a nineteenth-century movement rooted in an idealized vision of what was still the remembered past, the Right operates today without an existing vision of order. It is not an extension of the monarchical principles famously embodied by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor who died one hundred years ago in the midst of the Great War. Franz Josef, a selfless traditionalist and protector of his multinational empire, might not have recognized what we in this room identify as the Right. The modern Right’s worldview developed after classical conservatism had ceased to be socially relevant, as an attempt to check the Left while offering a counter-vision that would appeal to a mass base.
Latin fascism, as I have argued elsewhere, was one such attempt to fashion a Right, and although it showed creative genius and resourceful eclecticism, it ended in failure and even disaster. This Right developed when Europeans after the First World War tried to create an alternative to the Left that looked revolutionary. But even this experimental pastiche had historical foundations. Both Italian and Spanish fascists could assume certain advantages that do not apply to the present American Right. They lived within historic nations that exhibited shared religious traditions and a shared ethnic identity. Those trying to build an American Right do not have these advantages at their disposal.
Outside of some isolated examples, our country has to look hard for a “conservative tradition.” With due respect to those who are looking for one, I can’t resist referring to a recent commentary by a disciple of Russel Kirk arguing that Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater were deeply moved by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. There is to my knowledge no evidence that the late Arizona senator ever read Burke (or much of anything else); and from what I remember of his speeches, one of Reagan’s favorite thinkers was the international democratic revolutionary Tom Paine. As is widely known, Burke detested Paine and declaimed against him in the Reflections.
Another closed path for the Right may be trying to build a movement based on the American Constitution. Those who wish to appeal to that document against social engineering and bureaucratic centralization have their work cut out. They cannot for the most part undo how that document has already been stretched to suit progressive social agendas; perhaps the most they can achieve is limiting any further “straying of the Constitution.” But even that may be hard to do. As Angelo Codevilla observes in his commentary “After the Republic” published in Claremont Review:
What goes by the name “constitutional law” has been eclipsing the U.S. Constitution for a long time. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose “discrimination” for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution.
Codevilla notes that the mere citing of constitutional texts in arguing against the government’s overreach may cause people’s eyes to glaze over. The reasons are not simply that the public has become disaccustomed to constitutional government and that the populace wants politicians to give them more stuff. A fuller explanation would take into account Carl Schmitt’s observation that the legality of a regime depends ultimately on its legitimacy. This remains true in our time and place. The reason the Supreme Court can successfully twist the Fourteenth Amendment to impose the legalization of gay marriage on every state and to block any attempt to supersede its will is that the public has been taught to believe that the Court is doing what is just and sensitive.
It makes no difference for most of the public if federal courts devise their own “living Constitution,” providing they act in conformity with those who exercise authority such as the media, public educators, and the entertainment industry. A list of those who exercise that authority in our increasingly rootless society might include Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Christiane Amanpour, Oprah, Michelle Obama and Dr. Phil. These may be the contemporary equivalents of such older models of authority as the Emperor Justinian, Pope Innocent III, and George Washington.
In any case the attempt to move from a defensive Right to a more positive one is fraught with difficulty. Such a project will not likely bear fruit until other conditions are met. Working toward such change should be distinguished from merely exploiting an electoral grievance, say illegal immigration in the current presidential race. Something “big” would have to take place in order for a force that is not merely an extension of the Left to move beyond its present marginalization.
And (oh yes) there’s still the problem of putting together a Right conceptually and programmatically without a plausible appeal to ethnic or cultural continuity. In France Marine Le Pen and her followers can appeal to a national consciousness which for des Francais de souche goes back more than a thousand years. The Polish and Hungarian Rights make similar appeals; and even the Alternative für Deutschland in a country that has been radically reeducated by its conquerors, can celebrate Germany’s illustrious and millennial, non-Nazi past.
Jews, Greeks and Italians still exalt ancient commonwealths that gave birth to their peoples thousands of years ago. But there is no unified majority ethnic consciousness in the US, and certainly not among white Americans. The American Right invokes the “historic American nation” but it is hard for most Americans to imagine themselves in any America but the present one. To be sure, there are exceptions to this generalization, for example, clusters of Southerners descended from Confederate veterans who glory in their ancestry. But their number is diminishing and one may have noticed the tepid, sporadic response of Southern whites when Confederate symbols were removed from their public buildings and when the names of Confederate heroes were replaced by those of Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman. Reverence for the past and rightist identity go together, which may lead us to another reason that it’s hard to build an American Right. Those groups that once represented a historic American nation with roots in the past no longer value their past. Indeed they expend great energy trying to undo it and apologize for their ancestors’ role in creating a society they repudiate. Evidence of this trend is amply present in the Episcopal Church or (for those who have the stomach to notice) in George H.W. Bush and his progeny who’ve made a fetish of “reaching out.”
Beside hierarchy, the Right values particularity, which it opposes to globalism. But here too the Right has been dealt a bad hand. In America nationalism has become a propositional concept linked to a universal creed of equality. What those on the Right have to do in order to reclaim the nationalist label is state first what they don’t mean. They have to explain that they’re not using “nationalism” in the way conservatism, inc. does. The Right means something different by that term, but when its members elaborate on what that difference is, they often lose their listeners or elicit the impression that they’re trying to revive the Third Reich.
I’m listing these obstacles not because I wish to discourage the efforts of those representing the real Right. Rather I am pointing out the roadblocks that will have to be surmounted before their march can move effectively forward. There is of course value in a defensive Right even if that Right is mostly kept out of centers of power. Victories, however modest, can be incremental. This year the Right was successful in helping to make immigration a key electoral issue. An entity called Altright has emerged whose existence unsettles the left-liberal and neocon establishments. The next step in moving toward a Right that is not purely defensive would be to construct a program based on what is possible in the near term. This must be pursued in a sober fashion while resisting the impulse to grandstand or shock. A rightist program that has any chance of succeeding must also be adapted to the American present. It cannot be an attempt to reprise the ideas of the interwar European Right, which have limited purchase, outside of certain websites.
One course that the Right might pursue to its advantage is working toward radically decentralized government. It is foolish to believe that an authentic Right could gain control of the federal government or win a majority of votes in a national election, particularly if HRC emerges triumphant from the presidential race. A more realistic goal may be working toward “safe spaces” that are free from intimidation by federal and state snooping agencies. Likeminded people could gravitate toward what eventually became semi-autonomous regions with shared core convictions. The achievement of this goal is certainly not possible in the near term but it does provide a practical objective toward which an authentic Right could aspire. Leftist inquisitors are on to something when they identify “right-wing extremists” (and for them everyone to the right of Hillary belongs to that group) as decentralists. They fully grasp that the only means by which an active Right can thrive is in localities and communities, in a political system that allows for the distribution of power.
Clearly this is not the preferred model for most European nationalists but then their situation is different from ours. We in the US are faced (to speak in a non-celebratory fashion) by greater diversity than any found in most European countries. It is however possible that even here managerial tyranny with its thought police has only a limited life span. Our apparatus of power with its media and academic priesthood and supportive cultural industry may begin to crack under the impact of internal contradictions. Let’s not abandon the hope that the clients of this system will eventually fall out among themselves. Those who do the manipulating may lose some of their unified control, and possibilities may then present themselves that will benefit the Right.
For those who are looking for another silver lining in this narrative, I would call attention to the mobilization of the working class here and in Europe as part of a rightist counteroffensive. One could not have predicted this development as late as the 1960s, when the working class was still solidly allied to social democratic, socialist or in some cases communist parties. But even then while workers demanded income redistribution and government-provided economic benefits, they clung generally to their guns and religion, as candidate Obama complained in 2008. Later as the Left became identified with mass immigration, antinationalism, feminism and LGBT, the working class gravitated toward the non-establishment Right, which protested fluid immigration and the glorification of alien lifestyles. These changes may ultimately strengthen the authentic Right, which has its own differences with Wall Street and multinationals. A Right that is not on the take from what Trump styles “global corporate interests,” is in a position to make common cause with working class constituents. Only future events will tell whether the Right can use this prospective alliance to challenge our political and cultural elites. How it deals with its gifts and perennial difficulties may determine what kind of future lies before it.