A year and a half ago, Umberto Bossi delivered a brilliant speech in t:he Italian parliament. Describing Italy’s political system as organized corruption, the leader of the Lega Nord declared that left and right showed two faces but were joined into one body. A new Italian regime had to be born, but this two-headed monster, he declared, could not make it through the birth canal. Either the heads had to be separated, or the new Italy would have to be born by Caesarian section.
Even though few of the deputies caught the hint that Bossi intended to declare the independence of Northern Italy, they were outraged by his description of right and left as corrupt collaborators in a regime whose only function was to despoil the taxpayers. In plain English, Bossi was saying that either Italy would find a way of breaking up the power cartel established by the responsible left and the respectable right in combination—and therefore liberate both sides to be themselves—or else more drastic means would be necessary.
Italian history parallels our own experience to a large degree. In its most brilliant periods, Italy was a patchwork quilt of city-states, kingdoms, dukedoms, and papal appendages. Between 1859 and 1869, however, the statesmen of tiny Piedmont, through a series of strategic alliances and double-dealing, managed to unify Italy, establishing the kind of unitary state created in France and Prussia and imitated by the Lincoln regime in the United States.
This Italian state, which barely survived World War I and the economic crisis that ensued, was reforged by Mussolini as a nationalist quasi-socialist regime in the 20’s and 30’s, and after World War II, this same national-socialist state was ruled by a revolving door of center-right and center-left politicians backed by the Mafia and the CIA—or is that redundant?—until it reached the point of collapse and exhaustion in the 1990’s.
Americans can tell the same story, of a federal patchwork beaten into the form of a unitary state during the 1860’s, reforged as national socialism in the 1930’s by an admirer of the Duce, and consolidated by corrupt politicians of center right and left in the postwar period. In our own case, this transformation was even more tragic, since it took place not in a country ruled by foreign monarchs, but in a free republic.
But there is one other essential difference. In Italy, the corrupt regime of the partitocrazia is being resisted on several fronts: by the free market liberals in Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia; by the Alleanza Nazionale, which promises to clean the Augean stables of Italian politics; and by the Lega Nord, whose leaders have alternated between calling for a Swiss confederal system and demanding independence for Padania.
Here in the United States, however, where Bossi’s metaphor of the two-headed monster is a perfect description of our own system, there is little effective opposition to the regime. There is a conservative movement, and a conservative wing of the Republican Party, and every four years they ask us to support a corrupt and cynical politician as the lesser of two evils. Since the early 1980’s, the conservative movement has tended increasingly to act as an echo chamber for the left. The voices may be softer and distorted, but the message is the same: more government at higher levels, less freedom for individuals and local communities, and a relentless pursuit of global empire that will end up destroying the liberties of everyone on the planet.
Conservatives are by their nature inclined to nostalgia. They are like the Southerner that Oscar Wilde described. When Oscar admired the beauty of the moon, the old gentleman replied, “Yes, but you should have seen it before the war.” Everything was better in days gone by, we like to believe, and once upon a time there was an organized and principled resistance to the New Deal regime.
The myth of a conservative golden age is comforting but perilous. Apart from businessmen who defended their self-interest (and the journalists they hired), the American experiment in national socialism has, for the most part, gone unopposed, and since December 7, 1941, there has been no organized and determined opposition to the regime, even from those who claimed to be calling a halt to the march of progress.
I am exaggerating somewhat. Here and there in an economics department there were principled defenders of the free market, and there were even a few poets and philosophers who tried to patch some corner of the crumbling edifice of Christendom, but most self-described conservatives and men of the right were reluctant to face the disapproval of their colleagues and neighbors. They could not stare down all the respectable people who control the media and the universities, who write the advice columns, cheap fiction, adventure films, and comic strips that constitute American civilization. Success for conservatives is almost always defined as winning the respect of liberals, and this timidity provides the psychological explanation of Stan Evans’ famous law that whenever one of ours gets in a position where he can do am good, he becomes one of theirs.
The nonthreatening American right lacks the will and the courage to risk unpopularity. Real revolutionaries—Mazzini or Lenin—endure exile and persecution; conservatives cannot even bear a negative review or a snub from Ted Koppel. They dare not challenge the party-state regime.
The regime which the right must find the courage to confront is not the constitutional republic that took shape in the late 18th century, but the Jacobin state knocked together by Wilson and Roosevelt as an analogue to National Socialism in the Third Reich, communism in the Soviet Union, and fascism in Italy. This jacobin state—which is by its very nature revolutionary and despotic—rests on a series of myths and fictions such as the notion of a General Will that exists apart from the individuals and communities that constitute the societies governed by the state and the doctrine of equality that provides government with the occasion for leveling all distinctions and annihilating every community that refuses to collaborate with the armed expression of the General Will.
On an international level, the Jacobins see only necessities of state, if they are pragmatists, “human rights,” if they are leftist idealists, or individual free market liberties, if they are libertine libertarians who recognize no law, no social order beyond the gratification of their appetites. The difficult questions of the Balkans War, then, get reduced to rape camps or ethnic cleansing, because the desire to live with one’s own people is inconceivable for individuals who repudiate both loyalty and friendship.
There are any number of diverse strategics that have been used to oppose Jacobin states. The strategy most frequently employed in the United States is the affirmation of the dignity and liberty of individuals against the General Will embodied in the state. This is obviously the classical liberal position but it derives from an older tradition, from the Christian emphasis on the value and dignity of the individual human life, and from the Greek elevation of the human possibility to a level never again achieved.
Since Jacobins are fond of talking about individual rights—and many libertarians are only Jacobins w ho take money from big business—the classical liberal strategy, by itself, can only hack away at the surface of state despotism. To get down to the foundations requires a more fundamental opposition, namely a counterrevolutionary defense of premodern loyalties of kith and kin, the ties of marriage and family. This was the object of 19th-century reactionaries such as Bonald, when he argued against divorce, and of Sir Walter Scott, when he celebrated the irrational political loyalties of feudalism.
There are vast differences, of course, between Bonald and Scott, Coleridge and Chateaubriand, but, in general, the counterrevolutionary, romantic right defended inherited irrationalities on the grounds that they produce the richness and beauty that give wine its bouquet and life its savour. They also produce (as Burke makes clear in his Reflections) the countervailing forces that check the power of the state. A man who is loyal to his family and his chief, who insists upon keeping up the old ways, simply cannot be absorbed into a new order. He must be tolerated or exterminated, and in the fight to exterminate him, a resistance is created.
In the United States, reactionary movements have always taken the form of opposition to innovation: to the increased national authority granted by the Constitution, to the triumphant liberal industrialism of the Northeast that destroyed the first republic, to the imperialism of Roosevelts I & II, and to the New Deal. There is no linear coherence to these movements, and it is unlikely that Calhoun would have sat down to supper with H.L. Mencken. From the perspective of the present, the most obvious division is between libertarians and conservatives. In one important respect, however, the split is an illusion: the sense of individual worth may seem like a universal ideal, while it is in fact a cultural artifact of European civilization. The individual person is less appreciated in other civilizations and hardly exists among savages. Defending liberty is a senseless commitment in societies where they do not know the meaning of the word—and there are whole continents in this condition.
For a real right to develop, it would require men and women willing to be viewed as virtual criminals in the eyes of everyone supporting—or rather supported by—the system. They would have to give up the centrism so engrained in the American character, and they would have to form an open and valid opposition—instead of the opposizione finta practiced on both left and right. To be genuinely radical, we have to accept the fact of being enemies of the regime, of being criminals, of being outlaws. In the late 1960’s, radical leftists could sing:
We are the outlaws of America
Whatever they say we are, we are.
And we are very proud of ourselves.
They were, of course, nothing more serious than spoiled suburban brats, but the sentiments are admirable.
The left, when it was in opposition, knew its business well: leftists began by constituting a minority counterculture, and little by little they imposed that counterculture on the entire country. Of course, the old-fashioned liberals who controlled the regime between the 30’s and 60’s were incapable of resisting the counterculture, because for the most part both sides were operating on the Jacobin assumptions, and both sides had a dim understanding that their real enemy was the great American Gothic nation of farmers and villagers with their bizarre attachment to place, to kin, and to religion. Oh, there were Wobblies and Progressives who were as American Gothic as Pitchfork Ben Tillman or W.J. Bryan, but that is because, ultimately, even the La Follettes were enemies of both the capitalists who owned the regime and of the socialists who wanted to share power with them.
In constructing their revolution, leftists of every stripe knew that they had to alienate their followers from the mainstream and to construct social and cultural alternatives: not just a few journals and think tanks, but student groups, newspapers, rituals, myths, and martyrs. Unfortunately most conservatives—like most liberals—are children of the Enlightenment; they are uncomfortable with sentiment, with irrational attachment. Like the bloodless and charmless robots who obey the orders of foreign gurus, conservatives have failed or rather refused to construct a counterculture, a countermythology. When George Wallace—a man with many flaws in his character and black marks on his career—when Wallace actually challenged the regime and whipped up crowds in the Midwest and South into a sentimental frenzy, conservatives not only held back, but they stabbed Wallace in the back, preferring the unprincipled Nixon in the same way that they preferred Bush and Dole to Buchanan.
Wallace and Buchanan were both rejected by conservatives, because they represented a fundamental challenge to the regime, and for any practical purpose other than self-aggrandizement, the American right has been an abysmal failure. If we take just the period since the New Deal, it is clear that conservatives proved themselves incapable of slowing, much less reversing the revolution. Every decade sees the state swollen larger after swallowing the liberties and energies of the people: first in the name of charity, then civil rights, then gender equity and sensitivity. Perhaps defeat was inevitable, but at least there might have been an honorable struggle. Instead, the conservatives have consistently and uniformly sold out to a series of window dummies whom the left might have invented: Dewey, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush.
What is worse, by concentrating all their energies on getting moderates—that is collaborators—elected, conservatives never seemed to have time to build their own counterculture. In part, it was cowardice; but conservatives are prone to some very dangerous fantasies, such as the fantasy that we live in a Christian country, or the fantasy that the business class is basically conservative, and in funding the left, big business is mistaking its own interest. If only the Kennedys and Rockefellers and Kochs could be made to understand. Believe me, they understand, and that is why they are funding the two-headed monster, and that is why Senator Dole got the Republican nomination.
What right-wing opposition there is in America always manages to fission itself at key moments. In 1992 and 1996, for example, the Buchanan candidacy should have been the occasion of a great rallying of social conservatives and freemarketeers, but both groups allowed themselves to get distracted. Some right-to-lifers fell for the passionate rhetoric of Alan Keyes, as if there were any other purpose to Keyes’ laughable campaign except to steal votes from Buchanan, while many libertarians turned against Buchanan because of his protectionism.
Antinationalist libertarians did make convincing economic arguments in favor of free markets and, in real terms, free trade—not the free trade jiggered by NAFTA and the WTO, but the free passage of goods across the borders of free countries. There are, however, libertarians who go much further. They dislike the idea of nations and nationality: they repudiate any loyalty that would compel them to sacrifice a single will to the common good. They reject the whole idea of the common good, opposing not just nationalism and nations, but opposing any form of human community that cannot be reduced to contract. Marriage, for them, is just another contract like the deal made between a prostitute and the man she—or he—picks up.
More sober libertarians freely acknowledge the significance of family, community, and even nation, as structures that are essential for human happiness, and the conservatives who arc celebrating the nation see very clearly the importance of free markets and minimal government, and yet they seem unable to cooperate even on the practical level of a political campaign. Is there some magic formula on which they can all agree? Something like Frank Meyer’s Fusionism? I hope not. It is embarrassing to think that independent-minded men and women would accept some new creed like the Boy Scout Oath or the Twelve Step Program. Speaking for myself, I already have a creed—and it was adopted at the Councils of Nicea, Chalcedon, and Constantinople in the fourth and fifth centuries. I do, however, have a few suggestions that might, in the future, serve to redirect discussion in channels that might lead somewhere.
On the most basic levels, I think all of us need to be very clear that our enemy is the Jacobin state—not the State itself, as Albert J. Nock mistakenly believed—but the specific state form that has been imposed since the French Revolution. Anything that builds up the Jacobin state is to be opposed; anyone who would reinforce it is the enemy.
We also need to recognize that radical individualism is just one more Jacobin ploy used to destroy all the communities capable of resisting the state. Human rights, minority rights, and all the other rights are inventions of dictators who designed them to suppress the productive majority that constitutes the real enemy of the state. If Clint Bolick is not the lackey of the regime, then there are no lackeys.
National communities, whether of the size of a city-state or of the extent of Canada and the United States, have the right and necessity to defend the interests of their people from international predators, whether those predators take the form of an opposing nation such as Russia or Germany, a hostile ideology like communism, international agencies like the U.N. and WTO, or parasitic transnational business conglomerates that suck the life out of their hosts and hop off to Mexico or Singapore in search of fresh blood. So long as a nation-state exists, it has the duty to defend its citizens against all these hostile forces, and if this requires certain nationalist economic policies, those policies are not to be condemned out of hand—although they should be subjected to the same cost-benefit critique as any other policy.
The question comes down to one of direction. In which direction is the transfer of power going: from top to bottom—which is where we want it to go, that is from cities to neighborhoods, neighborhoods to families—or bottom to top: from cities to states and states to the nation?
Nationalist policies that effectively transfer wealth and the power to make decisions from states, communities, and enterprises up to the federal level, no matter how well-intentioned, must be resisted. Wage and price controls, national economic planning, minority set-asides—these are socialism, whether they are advocated by Dick Gephardt or by a nationalist conservative. On the other hand, there are nationalist policies, some of them advocated by Sam Francis and Pat Buchanan, which transfer power from international government and transnational business back to the people and governments of the United States. This is a nationalism that opposes, for example, American soldiers being forced to serve under an alien flag, that opposes multilateral trade agreements that override our national, state, and local laws and punish American workers and small businessmen to benefit the global technocrats who fund the Democratic and Republican parties.
Finally, if men and women of the right are willing to walk some distance down the road with Gianfranco Fini and Pat Choate (and his spokesman Ross Perot), with Sir James Goldsmith and Pat Buchanan, they must also recognize the plain fact that national governments, up until very recently, have been the worst agents of oppression, working steadily not only to subjugate historical regional cultures in all parts of Italy, and in the American South and Midwest and West, but also to undermine churches and the moral and spiritual traditions they represent. The nation-state is useful as a shield—if only temporarily—against the international monsters and transnational viruses that threaten to destroy even the nations who created them in their laboratories. A reactionary’s sympathies will always lie with the little communities who continue to defy the Jacobin state and with the movements like the Lega Nord and the Southern League that work for liberation.
These simple principles are not perfect or exhaustive. They are certainly not original. They are, in fact, implicit in much of what has been written and spoken by our friends over the past decade. They are the basis, I believe, of our common resistance to the Jacobin nightmare that has been tormenting the sleep of Western man since the French lawyers murdered Louis and Marie Antoinette, since Lincoln unleashed his jackals on the gallant South, since Roosevelt fought fascism abroad to impose it at home. The phrase belongs to Lawrence Dennis, something of a fascist himself, and they tried him for treason for merely uttering it. Someday, if we are really lucky, we shall prove ourselves so dangerous to this regime that they will declare us all to be criminals and outlaws.
“We must all hang together,” said Ben Franklin to John Hancock, as they were signing the Declaration that could have proved to be their death warrant, “or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” It is time for people on the right to join together, to hang tough, even if it means at the end of a rope.