In recent decades, a rhetorical style, centered on warning us about a “far right” takeover of Western countries, has developed. This has nothing to do with our present situation or with anything that seems about to happen. In the recently concluded French presidential race, Éric Zemmour, head of the French Reconquěte party, was consistently depicted as a far-right danger to French democracy. Perhaps Zemmour, an Algerian Jew who warned against the threat of Muslim immigration to traditional French republican values, belongs to the “French far right,” but only if we stretch that term to utter absurdity. As Geoffroy Lejeune, editor of the French weekly Valeurs actuelles, has forcefully explained,
The party of Jacques Chirac, Rassemblement pour la République, which now is called Les Républicains, represented in the 1980s exactly the same positions as Zemmour. And the French Left in the 1950s was in some significant ways further to the right than Zemmour. In the last few decades there has been such a lurch to the Left in France that Zemmour now appears to be the far Right.
Lejeune has barely touched the surface of this lurch. Marine Le Pen, who ran for the French presidency against Emmanuel Macron (the woke globalist incumbent), has been repeatedly described in The Wall Street Journal as a scary representative of the “far Right.” Our “conservative” press pulled out all the stops to make sure that Macron, Le Pen’s culturally leftist but pro-Atlanticist opponent, won the runoff, even dragging out an 18-year-old embezzlement charge floated among Le Pen’s opponents when she was a French representative at the European Parliament. The charge against her never led to court action but recently resurfaced thanks to the European Union and the American “conservative” media, which seem at least equally determined to preserve the leftist status quo in Western Europe. On the other hand, our conservatives have said nothing disparaging about Macron’s attempts to recruit the woke vote: for example, by promising to insert into the French constitution the right to an abortion and by pledging to promote euthanasia.
Although Le Pen has not been as hostile to Putin’s Russia as the EU and its American “conservative” affiliates, and although she is willing to continue buying energy from the now-pariah nation, she has emphatically condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even if, according to her hawkish American critics, she has not done enough to isolate the Russian leader. So I’m not quite sure what made her campaign look like a far-right crusade. She favored reducing taxes on energy, making wider use of atomic power, and incorporating other measures designed to lessen the economic burdens afflicting French citizens. Unlike Zemmour, who (relatively speaking) ran to her right by stressing immigration control, Le Pen focused on cost-of-living issues and French national independence.
She could easily have run on the same issues as a French Socialist after World War II, just as Zemmour could have run for office in the same era as a French Communist. (The French Communist Party in 1946 opposed Third World immigration because of its harmful effect on the wages of the French working class.) Of course, in the matter of the LGBT agenda, the entire French political left of 1946 and even into the 1990s was well to the right of what is called today, quite comically, the American conservative movement.
Those who lived through the second half or even the last third of the 20th century can grasp to some degree the magnitude of this lurch to the left. First politically and then culturally, the left has been given a free hand for many decades here, in Western Europe, and throughout the Anglosphere. As the left advanced, the opposition grew weaker and more accommodationist. Part of what fueled this development, as I have argued in multiple books, was the fear of being identified with “fascism,” although that term became so freighted with ideological baggage that eventually it lost any connection to what really happened in interwar Europe. In those few instances where one can locate connections between extremist movements, it was the antiwhite, anti-Christian left that looked much more like fascists, and even Nazis, than an increasingly weakened and retreating right.
For those who have no desire to reverse this continuing lurch leftward, there are two effective techniques. First, one can denounce any retreat from the present degree of radicalization as a plunge into Hitlerism. The argument goes like this: “human decency” requires us to accept everything the political and cultural left has achieved in the last 60 to 70 years as the minimal requirement for overcoming “discrimination,” “systemic white racism,” and “social injustice.” If we retreat from this minimal base, we would soon be living in the equivalent of Trump’s America or—what may be the same—the Third Reich.
Of course, Trump’s America was well to the left of Eisenhower’s or even Reagan’s, but that’s another matter. No going back or undoing what the left has done, according to its advocates, must ever be permitted if we wish to remain a society that is working to overcome its irredeemably evil past.
Second, there is a conservative-movement variation on this argument, which may be more interesting. This variation consists of frantically and repeatedly calling attention to “right-wing extremism” while the speaker claims to represent a genuine conservative tradition. Although there are many publicists who pursue this path, one prominent group espousing this fashion are those whom the English professor Jesse Russell characterizes as “Catholic neoconservatives.” These supposed voices of moderation warn against a dangerous neofascist right that is ready to corrupt both Christian humanism and “our liberal democracy.”
One noteworthy example of this technique is Matthew Rose’s book A World After Liberalism, which will be reviewed in a forthcoming Chronicles issue. Suffice it to say that Rose’s polemic against the right-wing “enemies of liberalism” made plangent waves in the conservative policy foundation community. Heritage is still reeling in ecstasy from the book’s message, and recently the Witherspoon Institute posted a long panegyric to Rose, who, we are led to believe, is helping the right out of the fascist, authoritarian fog that may otherwise be engulfing it. Rose’s book is sometimes discussed in conjunction with The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (2018), which features some of the same villains whom Rose takes to task.
There is a cottage industry on the genteel “moderate” right, perhaps going back to George Will and even earlier to Peter Viereck in the 1950s, which specializes in exposing right-wing extremist dangers. Entire careers have been built on this richly rewarding preoccupation.
Longtime Chronicles editor Sam Francis figures prominently in such recent vaticinations about “illiberal” right-wingers, who are apparently threatening our exemplary democracy. My late friend is invariably portrayed as a raging white nationalist, whom our wannabe centrist conservatives denounce as an inexhaustible fount of bigotry. Although one finds appeals to white racial solidarity in Sam’s later political stemwinders, almost all of his published writings place the thematic emphasis elsewhere. They focus on the emergence of the modern managerial society and the paths that remain open to those who would like to give power back to the “people.”
The leftist journalist Michael Lind has borrowed heavily (without acknowledging his obvious debt) from Francis’s conception of interlocking managerial blocs, while Francis in turn borrowed some of his ideas from C. Wright Mills and Antonio Gramsci as well as from James Burnham and Machiavelli. The essential Francis was not an obsessive white nationalist but an outstanding social analyst. And not at all surprisingly, his devotees today include scholars of different ethnicities from different continents. In a word, Sam Francis was too towering a mind to be associated with the careerists who are now railing against his “racism.”
Although there have been bumps in the left’s ascent to dizzying power, these obstacles have been at most temporary, like the hyped up “Reagan Revolution,” the proliferation of GOP think tanks in the DC Beltway, or the supposedly transformative Trump presidency. Almost everything that has been billed as a counterrevolution has not actually stopped the continuing march of LGBTQ, antiwhite racism, a leftist managerial state in alliance with globalist capitalists, and lately a government crusade against the populist right.
In the face of these challenges, the authorized “center right,” in an exceedingly narrow political spectrum, has usually reacted by coming to terms with the cultural left—and thereby attacking true conservatism as far-right extremism—or else by turning the conversation toward building up military defenses and fighting a mostly nonexistent Marxism.
The question is whether there will be a cataclysmic reaction to this leftist hegemony. Will the pendulum swing back, or will things just go on as they have, with a crazier and crazier left doing what it wants, without effective pushback? On the now-marginalized alt-right, one does find genuine interest in interwar revolutionary nationalists and in other antiliberal thinkers of the early 20th century. But most of the long-dead targets of Rose and the Oxford handbook have little relevance in our society. The fact that I produce historical monographs on some of these interwar figures or that members of the alt-right translate their work does not indicate that what little still exists of a serious opposition to the left will assume the character of the interwar European right.
The closest to a still-relevant guide for a populist right in the United States is Sam Francis, but even with him, we are not speaking about a perennial model for change that should be strictly followed. Rather we are referring to someone who predicted what an upsurge of the right might look like in our time.
Equally important, when considering what a reaction to current leftist successes might entail, is the political theorist Carl Schmitt’s stress on the uniqueness of each historical moment. We cannot reproduce the political or cultural past, because “an historical truth is true only once.” But we can absorb the wisdom of thinkers from the past while trying to relate what they said and wrote to the present crisis. Even in uncharted waters, we do still have a map provided by those who came before.
There is also a possibility that the leftist, woke hegemony cannot be broken and that the incalculable social harm it has done may be irreversible. Although this gloomy thought would not remove the need to mobilize against a crazed left, drunk with power, there may be no end to our crisis. Nevertheless, a real reaction can and should be mounted. The warnings against such a reaction and the attempt to relate it to the “critics of liberalism” are part of what Chronicles Senior Writer Pedro Gonzalez describes as “the counterrevolution of the left.” The so-called conservative opposition to the left is allowed to prosper as long as it rails against a supposedly dangerous right.
But the concern about right-wing illiberalism seems exaggerated since the so-called extremists are not attacking a true liberal tradition. Traditional liberalism was the worldview of the 19th-century Western bourgeoisie. It is a thing of the past, which is no longer “our tradition,” as opposed to managerial rule, global capitalism, and government-enforced wokeness. While I profoundly admire that older liberal tradition and wrote a book in its defense, unfortunately it has no influence on our present political class. Perhaps it is now “illiberal” to mourn the passing of liberalism, a worldview that was already dying when Senator Robert A. Taft tried unsuccessfully to defend Anglo-American constitutional traditions and other middle-class decencies. Taft and others of his persuasion were coming to look like liberal dinosaurs already in the 1940s.
By now, liberalism properly understood exemplifies what Sam Francis characterized as “archaic conservatism.” It is an idea and practice that survive in increasingly deformed manifestations. When The New York Times journalist Ezra Klein cites Rose, quite approvingly, about how “liberalism is losing its hold on Western minds,” I have to laugh out loud. Klein is no more of a liberal—as the term has been understood historically—than Adolf Hitler was a German constitutionalist. Klein is a woke leftist, who is happily making war on biological gender identities and who enthusiastically excused a Times editor, Sarah Jeong, who called for the disappearance of white men.
Klein’s gripe of late seems to be that Vladimir Putin is still Russia’s president, which means that “liberalism” (whatever that signifies in Klein’s mind!) is being threatened. Presumably, if leftist journalists want to call themselves “conservative,” we’ll have to concede that term to them as well.
Image: Sugeesh at Malayalam Wikipedia / via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain