All my life I have had a certain idea of Britain. A sense of patriotism that is derived from the instinct to defend and preserve one’s own home. But what happens if the prospect of owning your own home is merely a dream of generations gone by?
Last week I attended my third Conservative Party conference: I encountered many energetic and optimistic Young Conservatives (YCs) who shared my once glowing optimism. I also encountered many older, veteran Tory members who didn’t share that level of enthusiasm but rather stubbornness to defend the tired, mediocre and boring status-quo of conservatism. Dislike some aspects of Tory policy? Lib Dem Labour leftwaffe loony. Want more houses built? Not in my borough you’re not. Want a better Britain? Woke. This is not an environment in which young conservatives’ interests are welcomed.
The biggest barrier to any centre-right young person voting Tory is the lack of commitment to homeownership by the government and by local associations. This can be divided by examining the demand side and supply side aspects of this issue. On the demand side, the government has failed to lower net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ since 2017, inevitably resulting in more homes being occupied and thus shooting up house prices. On the supply side, the government consistently promises a bold target of housing that mysteriously fails to come to fruition. Why? Partially the threat of Lib Dems sucking up the core Tory vote of older, relatively wealthy voters on the local council level that run on the platform of NIMBYism. Also, however, a shared generational trait of stubbornness and disdain for the future generation, that cannot be denied. Some may be aware of a certain Vox Pop of a Somerset Conservative councillor by Times Radio urging young people to be ‘more realistic’ on homeownership. Help-to-Buy is not good enough: if the government is failing to meet housing targets, betraying their promise to cut immigration and local councillors/backbench MPs actively opposing housing development then what is there for the next generation to achieve in society and thus conserve?
On this theme of holding a stake in society, young people want to see a vision resulting in them reaching personal milestones along the same trajectory as their parents. They want to choose life. They want to choose a career, choose a family, choose a starter home. These facets are the fundamentals to sustaining conservatism and thus the Conservative vote for generations to come.
To quote Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People speech ‘Now, what is the value of this middle class, so defined and described? First, it has a “stake in the country”. It has responsibility for homes – homes material, homes human, and homes spiritual.’ Look to those nostalgic Conservative election posters championing ‘New homes for a million folk last year’ from decades gone by. The solution is there: Homes for Britons and Make Every Briton a King. Combine populist messaging to deliver basic conservative policies and the Zoomer vote can be tapped into and thus sustain the long-held notion that people gradually become more conservative as they get older.
What is to be Done?
To view the Corbynite Momentum movement, despite however left-wing this organisation is, serves as a good example of how the youth can be energised and organised. Momentum serves as a hub for welcoming radical policy proposals that can be relatively easily pitched to MPs and thus become party policy. Let us not forget that the Monday Club essentially was a right-wing Momentum in the 1980s advocating for ‘radical’ policies such as curbing immigration, ‘cancelling’ left wing agitators such as Ken Livingstone and Gerry Adams, and condemning the European Economic Community. God forbid those things ever happened today.
The Conservatives have become too scared of radicalism in the present day. The conference agenda is tightly controlled and so is the Conservative Policy Forum and, too, the Young Conservatives organisation. Margaret Thatcher is consistently idolised at conference yet in a caricature manner, rather than understanding that it was her radicalism and commitment to the strong state and free economy that energised a generation of conservatives. Sadly, the Labour Party is much better at listening to its youth grassroots. Young Labour members feel more welcome, their ideas are welcomed by the party leadership, and they are energised. The CCHQ led organisation of the Young Conservatives’ only function in the present day is to connect YCs to campaigning opportunities and little beyond that. Treating YCs merely as free labour to campaign for policies which do not directly benefit them is not a sustainable strategy for future elections.
What is the alternative? Ignore the next generation of conservatives and the Tory Party will find its vote share steadily declining as years go on. Real wages have stagnated since the 2008 Financial Crisis and today’s average house prices are between 12 and 24 times the average workplace-based earnings in 23% of local authority areas. This gives today’s youth no reason to vote Conservative but rather to destroy the system (the free market) which has failed them. Recall that 42% of 18–24-year-olds voted Tory in 1979 and 1983. Today that number is less than 10%. My generation are not ‘woke’ en masse, my generation is more attracted to a bold, hopeful and alternative vision – as consistently hammered by the idolised Jeremy Corbyn. Look to Hungary and Poland, who have eliminated income tax for under 25s, and 26s in Poland respectively, and you will discover an attractive and successful environment for young conservatives to emerge from.
The conservative future is real and must be transmitted from the grassroots membership, moulded by the philosophy of conservatism itself. The Conservative Party must move beyond the repetitive ‘Same Old Labour’ attack lines and adapt by offering a principled and optimistic Conservative future if it wants to survive beyond the 2020s.
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By Max Stevens — 2 weeks ago
The Australian Labor Party’s victory in Australia marks the end of almost a decade of Liberal Party rule. Indeed, the Liberal Party bears many similarities and its philosophy and ideology derived from the Conservative Party in their mother country. Having just scraped a majority in 2019, Scott Morrison has led the Liberal Party to its worst defeat since 1944. This claim however isn’t based on losing government but more critically losing its affluent seats like Goldstein, Higgins, North Sydney, Mackeller and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah failing to be won by the Liberals again. But with the shock victory of independent Dr Monique Ryan in Kooyong suggests a worrying foreshadowing of what is yet to come in Britain.
Poor Leadership, Good Results
Firstly, the presumptive narrative that ‘Keir Starmer is an awful leader, so we’ll get back in’ is to be questioned due to the Australian election. Net satisfaction with Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s performance fell to a record low of minus 14 per cent – the worst for an opposition leader since Bill Shorten – just in mid-April. Starmer too shares an abysmal rating with 53 per cent of respondents to a YouGov poll in April judging him to be ‘doing badly’ as Labour leader in Britain. Nevertheless, with a shared cost of living crisis due to high inflation and rampant house price increases, both conservative parties have failed on their perceived core mission of safeguarding the economy.
The Wavering Middle-Classes
May’s local election results in the UK display signs of dissatisfaction with the current Tory government. The Liberal Democrats (not to be confused with the Australian Liberal Party) exploited the dissatisfaction among middle-class Tory voters in historically safe Tory areas. Australian Labor too exploited this dissatisfaction with middle-class Liberal voters. Being dubbed the ‘teal independents’, predominantly female, middle-class, wealthy, small-l liberal and climate-conscious candidates swept through solid Liberal seats. Teal itself being a mixture of green and blue (the Liberal Party’s colour) displays similarities with NIMBY-minded candidates in solid Tory wards during the UK May election. England’s results saw a net increase of 194 councillors for the Lib Dems and 63 for the Green Party with Labour seeing an increase of only 22 councillors at the expense of a loss of over 336 councillors for the Tories.
Forget the ‘Red Wall’ concept in Britain and in Australia, the Tory Party and the Liberal Party are seeing their core base desert them before their very eyes.
Repercussions for Australia and Dangers for Britain
Republicanism is strong in Australia and the return of the Labor Party with outspoken republican Albanese at the helm, coupled with the culture war heating up over trans rights during the election, this presents danger to the future of the monarchy in Australia once again. For Britain, the story is already well understood since Blair that a Labour government (no matter how appealing to traditional middle-class Conservative voters) will irrevocably vandalise the British constitution once more.
One key lesson learned from this election is that it is a massive challenge to hold onto the prosperous middle classes (which are a core rightist constituency) without compromising on conservative social values. Values of ambition and enterprise have been consistently championed by each Tory government since around the 1860s, yet this current Tory government is the first to not encourage – or even boldly talk – about these values. To fight the culture war without a sound handling of the economy risks losing both to left wing manipulation and thus conservatives are once again in opposition dominated by a left-wing hegemony in economy and culture.
The implication of defending traditional values by the Liberal Party and – supposedly – by the Tory Party without the confidence of the middle-classes on the economy is to pave the way for a leftist victory. Due to the shared Anglo traditions of parliamentary sovereignty, this leaves Australia’s institutions open to vandalism and destruction.
With the end of almost a decade of Liberal rule in Australia marks the beginning of a new era of Labor government. The recriminations inside the Liberal-National Coalition will begin as the moderates seek to flex their dwindling muscle to make the case that the 2022 electoral strategy of chasing ‘Red Wall’ voters cost them their heartlands. Right wing Liberals who protested Scott Morrison’s party by voting for the United Australia Party or Pauline Hanson’s One Nation may return home, but this election has marked the end of solid conservative dominance in Australia.
The Conservative Party in Britain should be worrying. The long-held belief that the Tories will stay in government due to Labour being unable to produce a competent-enough leader has been proven wrong. Ineptitude in optics over Partygate and 40-year high inflation (the highest among G7 countries, currently) is cutting away the Tory Party’s electoral backbone. Forget the insipid ping-pong of which party leaders held illegal gatherings during lockdown and focus on the disastrous state of the economy. If the awful May local election results weren’t a warning of what is yet to come for the Tories, this Australian election result should scare the Tories to death beyond the years of Brexit.
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By themallard — 3 weeks ago
When faced with the utter treachery of progressive intellectuals, there are times when one is tempted to go back to the old ways. Show up to their threshold, give them a slap with your glove and then hopefully grant them eternal peace from their nightmarish debility in a duel at the next daybreak. Peace would then return and one would tread home with the gratifying thought of having served mankind. But alas, the time of blood feuds is spent, and the resting lion who could once easily crush the hyenas troubling his sleep is now constrained to articulate his maw into words; explaining to them why it is uncourteous and inappropriate to come to his dwelling and trouble his sleep.
So be it. Let us contend defamation with apology, caricature with truth, and cede the arma to the togae; after all, we have no army at our disposal to cross the Rubicon.
An anglophile, and an admirer of Anglo-Saxon famed freedom of speech and liberalism, I must say I have been rather disappointed by how sententious the analysis of British and American newspapers of Mr Zemmour’s political position has been. After having observed now for two months or so the unceasing manhunt of the candidate by mainstream British media, I thought that one should not let this monochord blabber follow its course without a single objection. For example, let us take a look at this stereotypical leftist hit piece from The Guardian.
Written by what many would call an academic demigod, Didier Fassin, professor in anthropology at the Collège de France, one could have expected this article to be a dense synthesis of a profound analysis of French society and politics. How mighty was my astonishment when I found that the author’s main source regarding Zemmour’s ideas was one pamphlet from the junk information website Slate. I can easily guess that Professor Fassin never thought it worthy of his rank to listen to Mr Zemmour with his ears once in the past decade. Here is the only grounded and meaningful paragraph extractable from Professor Fassin’s article about Mr Zemmour:
“Indeed, he [Mr Zemmour] has said that parents should only be allowed to give their children ‘traditional’ French names, approvingly referred to people comparing Nazism with Islam, propagated the so-called ‘great replacement’ theory and argued that employers have a right to turn down black or Arab candidates. He believes that political power should belong to men and that women’s role should be to have and raise children. He has claimed to be on the side of General Bugeaud, who massacred Muslims during the colonisation of Algeria, has contended that Marshal Petain saved Jews during the second world war, and would like the death penalty to be reinstated. His overarching narrative is reversing France’s supposed national decline, which featured again in the video announcing his candidacy.”
Let us dissect these eight claims, in which the author restitutes eight of Zemmour views that he thinks should be problematic and let us try to display to the reasonable and discerning Anglo-Saxon reader how Zemmour’s real positions are not as grossly fascistic and vulgar as Professor Fassin wishes to make it seem.
1. “He has said that parents should only be allowed to give their children ‘traditional’ French names.”
Zemmour argues that the civility under which French citizens are recognised in the public space should be a French traditional first name. That is either from the calendar of Saints or prior traditions such as Greco-Latin history. Let us be clear, he does not speak of the use of a foreign name in private life. He does say that one’s ID and passport are not of the private but of the public domain, which is true.
Indeed, the elites of the now frighteningly multicultural city of London might be revolted by this proposal. These “enlightened divines”, as Burke would call them, would also be edified to know that this was a French law, passed by Napoleon. It was only repelled in 1993 when it was stated that parents had the right to freely choose their children’s names. Still to this date judges may forbid names that are judged disadvantageous to one’s future, such as: ‘Borat Miller’ or ‘Mr Bean Smith’. Anglo-American progressives are prompt to project their multicultural conceptions on France, but our histories differ.
At any rate, for most great societies until the twentieth century, the adaptation of foreign names or their outright changing, especially between Western nations, was the rule. In particular, virtually all French Jews between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, adopted French names as they were finally integrated into French society after centuries of rejection.
“We must give the Jews everything as individuals, but nothing as a nation” is a quote from the revolutionary nobleman Clermont-Tonnerre, often uttered by Zemmour, for it matches entirely his own family’s choices and trajectory, that of Jewish France. This cultural assimilation was the way of integrating migrants in France for the past 200 years, since the founding of the Republic and before.
2. “[Zemmour] approvingly referred to people comparing Nazism with Islam.”
Muslim people do not share this tradition of adapting names and they never have. After all, Muslims seldom moved to a country outside of the context of invasion and this wasn’t to change until the 20th century when Muslims immigrated to countries for other reasons. Like Judaism, Islam is a religion of law but even more so. Islam requires not only material compliance of its followers but sets a legal and political order of which they are a part. Thus, the historical distinctions of Muslim countries (Caliph, Sultan, Emir, Sheik) are both religious and feudal titles.
Islam also took from Christianity its universal purpose. Islam sought to establish a universal caliphate. But the lector knows of this, as recent history does not cease to recall us that fundamental difference.
In that aspect, Islam is of all religions the closest one to modern totalitarian ideologies, because it seeks to change every detail of private life in a codified manner, and seeks to bring about these changes universally, willingly or by legitimate force. In short, Islam seeks to transform the individual and the world in their totality.
Hitler himself was an admirer of Islamic values, and said, quoted by Albert Speer:
“Theirs [mahomedans] was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to their faith. The Germanic people would have become heirs to that religion. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament.”
The comparison of Islam and Nazism has at least this much relevance but, of course, it does not aim at saying that Muslims are Nazis, nor that Imams are Gestapo officers.
3. “[Zemmour] propagated the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory”
Here, there is no need even for discussion, let alone debate, but just for a brief word.
The ‘Great Replacement’ is but the junction of two simple facts. Firstly, contrary to America, which is based upon no ethnicity, France, as most nations or peoples in the Old World, is very much based upon ethnicity, although not limited by it. France emerged as a nation of people who had shared the same land, history, culture and even religion for 2000 years. In terms of ethnology, France is much closer to the Iroquoian confederation than to the USA. As General Charles De Gaulle famously said to an American diplomat telling him “I know France well, I have lived here for 10 years”, De Gaulle answered, “Well, we have for 2000 years!”
Now, the second idea is even more genuine: The fact that several hundred thousand migrants enter France each year, mainly from African and/or Muslim countries, and that the birthrate of women from these countries is on average twice that of white French women, mathematical law implies that there is a demographic landslide, or “Grand Remplacement” of “European” descendants. Whether it is desirable or not, whether it is even worth discussing, is a question begging to be answered.
So there isn’t anything for Mr Zemmour to propagate but a trivial collection of facts. Most of the people who are willing to vote for him would consider this a major issue independently of his candidacy. Someone ignorant of the ethnic change that France is going through was either in hibernation and has only just woken up, or a very biased leftist who would rather point out the risk of alien invasion than the risk of Islamisation.
4. “[He] argued that employers have a right to turn down black or Arab candidates.”
Zemmour indeed argues that it is an employer’s right to refuse or grant someone a position for any reason he should see fit, whether it is competence, character or skin colour. To discriminate is to choose. It is a most rational and simple argument: an employer is not a public service and refusing to give someone a job, lease him a car or a property cannot be earnestly considered as harm done to this person.
Let’s be clear, a crime committed for any reason related to race, sex, sexual orientation, colour, religion or even competence, regardless of the reason, is a crime and should be punished as such. But rejecting an application is not a crime. How could an act that is not a crime in itself, be called a crime once the intention underlying it is known? In the end, this is nothing but an impugnation of motives. Undoubtedly, society should in any way possible facilitate the life of those who suffer from objective physical and mental handicaps. I ask Professor Fassin and his Londoner friends: Is Muslim religion a mental illness? Is dark skin a physical handicap? Is sexual orientation an objective deficiency?
No, will they will inevitably answer, but it is perceived as such, and this law should be in effect until all prejudice has been removed from society. Should law have a curative purpose? Justice is absolute, and so are good and evil. Crime is a crime, regardless of the time and context. The circumstance may affect the gravity of it, but not the nature of the act. Therefore, by mindlessly stuffing everything they find disagreeable into the criminal category, the left yields to the reproach made to it by conservatives for two centuries: the progressive idea of justice a contingent one, they ultimately subscribe to sophism, that is believe in nothing except themselves.
The proof that recruitment discrimination cannot be called a crime or an offence, is that it is in practice undetectable. How do you prove that someone was hired or rejected based on their ethnicity rather than on their competence? In most cases, you cannot. How do you prove an organisation has a hiring bias? You have to organise tests, which is akin to pursuing a fly with a sledgehammer.
5. “He believes that political power should belong to men and that women’s role should be to have and raise children.’’
The French candidate says some qualities are more closely related to one or the other gender. He states that political power belongs by default to manhood. A clear example of this is the traditional virtue of virilitas so cherished by Republican Rome. For biological reasons, the functions of power, war, and political decision making were, for dozens of millennia, by default masculine functions. Those of education, housekeeping, cooking and, even I dare say, finance were by default feminine ones.
He is right. Of all the folks and communities of mankind ever known on this planet, there was never a single matriarchal society. Some societies are more matriarchal than others, but it is only relative and never absolute. Processor Fassin knows this perfectly well, for he is himself an anthropologist, and in order to disagree with Mr Zemmour, he would have to go against the scientific consensus in his own field.
This again should not be an inspiration for fixed laws in a Republic founded upon the principle of equality between individuals regardless of their sex, and it would be absurd for a patriot of the nation of Joan of Arc to try and relegate women to the household. But that it is not in any way part of Zemmour’s agenda, even by extrapolation.
6. “He has claimed to be on the side of General Bugeaud, who massacred Muslims during the colonisation of Algeria.”
None will disagree that the massacre of innocents can be excused or even explained. But then again, this is not what Zemmour did: Zemmour lauded a military man’s uncompromising patriotism. He did not excuse this particular command of Bugeaud to suffocate an entire tribe into the cave where they had taken refuge.
Being coherent with my own words, I believe that statues of General Lee should not be taken down in the US, because despite fighting for an evil cause, he was still a great military leader, a patriot, and even freed slaves that he should have received has inheritance, before the war. Alas, few heroes of American, French or British history were saints, and fewer even by modern standards of sanctity. If Lee is taken down, how long before Nelson, Napoleon, Churchill and De Gaulle receive the same fate?
To remind Anglo-Saxon readers of the historical context, one of the casuum belli of the French conquest of Algeria from 1830 onwards was to put an end to slave raids that had plagued the Mediterranean for a millennium. And this was far from being a pretext, as some historians like to put it. When the French expedition took Algiers it immediately freed several hundreds of French slaves – thousands of European slaves altogether. This excuses nothing but explains how the struggle between the Western and Muslim worlds is not a recent, superficial or arbitrary one, and how the situation cannot be naively diagnosed in all abstraction of history.
7. “[Zemmour] has contended that Marshal Pétain saved Jews.”
Marshal Pétain and the regime of Vichy generally speaking – despite being regimes founded upon the treason of the French nation, forsaking the alliance with Britain, and collaboration with Nazi Germany – spared France from total defeat. Fighting to the end would have meant that the whole of France would have been conquered and placed under direct German governance, like Poland, Czechia or Greece. One knows that in the latter countries, the proportion of Jews who died in the Holocaust reached 90%, in the case of Greece or the Netherlands. In France, it was around 10%. Vichy leaders still instinctively rejected Nazi racist axioms. In France, in Italy, in Spain, Jews undeniably found a better shelter from hatred and deportation than under direct German rule.
This does not mean that Mr Zemmour ignores the existence of the Vel d’Hiv deportation, of the Lois Juives, or of the militia’s massacres, and general servility of Vichy towards Germany. He acknowledged it and maintained his position all the same.
Be that as it may, this historical thesis was not at all invented by him. It was generally accepted in France, even defended by Jewish and Israeli historians, until the publication of Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France which condemned Vichy as altogether evil. Recently, an Israeli historian has published sources that demonstrate the active role of Vichy in attempting to protect French citizens, regardless of their religion, from the Gestapo and the SS.
I think that Pétain was a traitor to France, but history is complex. This matter is still an area of academic debate, and I believe it will forever remain a matter of opinion. Only the party that wants to censor the other one will truly be wrong.
8. “[He] would like the death penalty to be reinstated.”
One can reasonably disagree with Mr Zemmour, and join the liberals who believe, like Victor Hugo, that “Vengeance is human, Justice is divine. The State is in between, its role is to heal, to better the men.”
Nevertheless, support for the re-establishment of capital punishment is widespread among French people. Some months ago, the Rwandese refugee who burned the cathedral of Nantes, that had been left to roam about by the police because “He was not subject to detention under European laws of asylum” said the French interior Minister Darmanin, eventually found the primary target of his arson, the vicar of the cathedral, and stabbed him to death, in the Vendée. Most of the perpetrators of the past ten years were known to be dangerous by the intelligence services but were still left free because of lack of space in prisons or EU legal restrictions.
But there again, Mr Zemmour’s support for the death penalty is anecdotical in the greater picture of his battles and it is certainly not something he would have the leisure and popularity margin to reinstate if he managed to beat Le Pen and Macron.
As a way of conclusion, I will say that it matters greatly for foreign conservatives or reactionaries to understand their French comrades and comprehend the hope we put in Mr Zemmour. For every new decay brought by progressivism in any one of our nations inevitably ends up plaguing the other ones, and we have a common interest in vanquishing deconstructivism in the West as a whole. One could not forget how the French theory (it is a shame in itself that such devilry should be characterised as French) crept from the intellectual boroughs of Paris, insidiously wrecking itself on the shores of New England, and eventually mutated into the notorious, dreadful and destructive cancel culture that scourges our time.
The fact that a member of the Collège de France, pretty much the equivalent of Cambridge Trinity College in England, should write a derogatory article about a French presidential candidate in the British media demonstrates what is wrong with France’s establishment. The establishment of my country lives in an enclosed penthouse, more concerned about what foreign elites think of them than about what their own people think about them. Sound familiar?
Where their fate might be worse than that of Britain’s establishment, is that their minds and their logos are colonised by Anglo-Saxon structures, and they play the role of New-England progressives more readily than that of French scholars. Professor Fassin is probably eminent in his field, but in this particular case, he blatantly used his position and network at The Guardian to cast a stone at My Zemmour, because of political enmity. Even in the case that The Guardian did ask him for his contribution, he could have passed, quite obviously not being an expert in the matter.
I will also indulge in begging The Guardian, or any British media outlet, that if they should wonder about Mr Zemmour’s views they should simply ask him directly and let Professor Fassin return to his studies, by which he is certainly much beguiled so that he has no spare time to come down from Mount St Genevieve and seek quarrel in the political arena.
One last sting: The Guardian seems to gather and spread information about France only through those with whom they are in ideological communion; the same way that the American or Soviets informed themselves about the countries they invaded or ‘freed’, only with the local communists, pro-West or Shia Muslims. I think I am fair to call this a colonial method.
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By Ryszard L Legutko — 2 weeks ago
A rarely remarked upon effect of Covid-19 has been the neglect of works that would have ordinarily garnered broader acclaim. Thus, as we’ve been distracted by the medical events, an assortment of commendable offerings have largely escaped public attention. One such work is ‘The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies’ by Polish academic and European Parliament member, Ryszard Legutko. Originally published in 2012 as Triumf Człowieka Pospolitego (Triumph of the Common Man), then edited and first appearing in English in 2016, Legutko’s book is a rare recent work of real import. A decade on from its original publication, Legutko’s book is still one of the best indictments yet of our liberal age
In a similar vein to the works of Christopher Lasch and John Gray, Legutko’s is an account that is tepid towards the Thatcherite consensus that has come to define the right whilst resisting the easy overtures of our dominant left-liberalism. It’s a book that illuminates the errors of the age as it rejects the pieties that our epoch demands.
Like Ed West, Michael Anton and Christopher Caldwell, Legutko is one of few contemporary writers willing to provide an honest account of the liberal status quo. By not succumbing to our assorted unrealities, Legutko is able to articulate the inadequacies of liberal democracy without the pusillanimous equivocation that’s sadly all too prevalent. The book is thus a welcome addition to what is an otherwise bleak scene for the conservatively inclined, entrapped as we are in the all-pervasive mould of liberalism.
Such commendations aren’t restricted to this reviewer, however. Figures such as Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule and Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen have been equally effusive. For as Vermeule wrote:
“Legutko has written the indispensable book about the current crisis of liberalism and the relationship of liberalism to democracy”, while for Deneen the book is a “work of scintillating brilliance. [With] every page…brimming with insights.”
High praise, undoubtedly, yet it’s well vindicated upon reading. The central thesis is that despite an outward appearance of difference, communism and liberal democracy share a range of similarities. An observation that appears prima facie preposterous, yet after 180-odd pages of tightly-packed prose the reader is unable to avoid this unsettling insight.
The rationale for this claim is as such: both are inorganic systems that involve unnatural impositions and coercive zeal in their pursuit of illusory utopias. Utopias that are to be achieved practically through technology and ‘modernisation’ and buttressed theoretically by the purported fact of human equality. The two are thus historicist projects, seeking to ground human affairs in delusions of ‘progress’ in lieu of any underlying nature.
Both platforms are thus mere dogma. They are, as Legutko states:
“Nourished by the belief that the world cannot be tolerated as it is and that it should be changed: that the old should be replaced with the new. Both systems strongly and – so to speak – impatiently intrude into the social fabric and both justify their intrusion with the argument that it leads to the improvement of the state of affairs by ‘modernizing’ it.”
The two systems are hence unable to accept human beings and political affairs as they actually are: man and the polis must be remoulded along the lines of each respective ideology. For the communists, this involves the denial of man’s natural egotism and the subordination of his individual efforts towards an ostensible communal good. That this requires extreme coercion in implementation, unfathomable violence in practice, and has been deemed a delusion since at least Plato’s Republic, is a tragedy that’s all too commonly known.
So far, nothing new. Yet it’s the author’s elucidation of the unsavoury aspects of liberal democracy that is of particular note, especially for us here at the so-called ‘end of history’ and in light of the easy-going liberalism that permeates our societies, even as they slip further and further into evident decay. As Legutko suggests, liberal democracy shares a proselytising urge akin to that of Leninist communism, yet it’s as equally blind to its theoretical errors and its evangelical impulses as was its communist forebear.
As Legutko sees it, a liberal-democratic man can’t rest until the world has been vouched safe for liberal democracy. Never mind that this liberal-democratic delusion requires a tyranny over the individual soul – we’re neither wholly liberal nor democratic – and entire groups of people. An emblematic example is the recent US-led failure to impose either democracy or liberalism (terms that Legutko fuses and distinguishes, as appropriate) on the largely tribal peoples of Afghanistan.
The justification for this liberal-democratic ‘imperialism’ is, of course, its final and glorious end. Once there’s a left-liberal telos insight, then all means to its achievement are henceforth valid. For the communists, their failures are now common lore. Yet for our liberal-democrats, their – still largely unacknowledged – fantasies continue apace, aided as they are by their patina of ‘enlightened improvement’ and by the imperial patron that enables them.
That the effects of all this liberalising are unnatural, usually unwanted and often utterly repulsive to the recipients tends not to matter. Like all movements of ‘true believers’, there is no room for the heretic: forever onward one must plough.
The ideological spell cast by liberalism is thus as strong as any other. As Legutko observes:
“The liberal-democratic mind, just as the mind of a true communist, feels as inner compulsion to manifest its pious loyalty to the doctrine. Public life is [thus] full of mandatory rituals…[in which all] must prove that their liberal-democratic creed springs spontaneously from the depth of their hearts.”
With the afflicted “expected to give one’s approving opinion about the rights of homosexuals and women and to condemn the usual villains such as domestic violence, racism, xenophobia, or discrimination, or to find some other means of kowtowing to the ideological gods.”
A stance that is not only evident in our rhetoric, but by material phenomena as well. One need only think of the now-ubiquitous rainbow flags, the cosmopolitan billboards and adverts, the ‘opt-in’ birth certificates, the gender-neutral bathrooms, the Pride parades, the gender-transition surgeries, the biological males in female events and so on to confirm the legitimacy of Legutko’s claims and our outright denial of physiological reality.
Indeed, here’s Legutko again: [the above] “has practically monopolized the public space and invaded schools, popular culture, academic life and advertising. Today it is no longer enough simply to advertise a product; the companies feel an irresistible need to attach it to a message that is ideologically correct. Even if this message does not have any commercial function – and it hardly ever does – any occasion is good to prove oneself to be a proponent of the brotherhood of races, a critic of the Church, and a supporter of homosexual marriage.”
This sycophantic wheedling is practised by journalists, TV morons, pornographers, athletes, professors, artists, professional groups, and young people already infected with the ideological mass culture. Today’s ideology is so powerful that almost everyone desires to join the great camp of progress”.
Thus whilst the tenets of liberal democracy clearly differ from those of 20th Century communism, both systems are akin in their propagandistic essence, as he writes:
“To be sure, there are different actors in both cases, and yet they perform similar roles: a proletarian was replaced by a homosexual, a capitalist by a fundamentalist, exploitation by discrimination, a communist revolutionary by a feminist, and a red flag by a vagina”.
Variations on this theme inform the entirety of the book and are developed throughout its five chapters: History, Utopia, Politics, Ideology, and Religion. Whilst there is some overlap, the book is written with a philosophical depth reflective of Legutko’s status and which only a few contemporary writers can muster. As Deenen remarks:
“I underlined most of the book upon first reading, and have underlined nearly all the rest during several re-readings. It is the most insightful work of political philosophy during this still young, but troubled century”.
Yet the book isn’t exclusively an arcane tome. Aside from Legutko’s evident learnings, what further enhances the work is the author’s ability to draw upon his own experience. Born in the wake of the Second World War, raised in the ambit of Soviet communism, and employed in the European Parliament in adulthood, Legutko’s is a life that has witnessed the workings of both regimes at first hand.
The author recalls that the transition from communism to liberal democracy was greeted with an early enthusiasm that soon devolved into disenchantment. As he states, any initial exuberance steadily subsided, with Legutko sensing early on that “liberal democracy significantly narrowed the area of what was permissible – [with the] sense of having many doors open and many possibilities to pursue [soon evaporating], subdued by the new rhetoric of necessity that the liberal democratic system brought with itself.”
An insight which deepened the longer he worked within that most emblematic of our institutions of modern-day liberalism: the European Parliament. He writes:
“Whilst there, I saw up close what…escapes the attention of many observers. If the European Parliament is supposed to be the emanation of the spirit of today’s liberal democracy, then this spirit is certainly neither good nor beautiful: it has many bad and ugly features, some of which, unfortunately, it shares with communism.”
Even a preliminary contact…allows one to feel a stifling atmosphere typical of a political monopoly, to see the destruction of language turning into a new form of Newspeak, to observe the creation of a surreality, mostly ideological, that obfuscates the real world, to witness an uncompromising hostility against all dissidents, and to perceive many other things only too familiar to anyone who remembers the world governed by the Communist Party”.
And it is this tyrannical aspect of liberal democracy to which Legutko ultimately inveighs. After some brief remarks on the eclipse of the old religion (Christianity) at the hands of the new, Legutko’s parting words are an understandable lament that liberal-democratic man – “more stubborn, more narrow-minded, and…less willing to learn from others” – has vanquished all-comers. As he adds:
“With Christianity being driven out of the main tract, the liberal-democratic man – unchallenged and totally secure in his rule – will become a sole master of today’s imagination, apodictically determining the boundaries of human nature and, at the very outset, disavowing everything that dares to reach beyond his narrow perspective.” A sad state whereby “the liberal democrat will reign over human aspirations like a tyrant”.
In this regard, Legutko’s remarks echo the German proto-fascist-democratic-dissident, Ernst Junger, who ‘hated democracy like the plague’ and saw the triumph of America-led liberalism as an utter catastrophe. A posture which is also evident in Junger’s compatriot and near contemporary, Martin Heidegger, and in his notion of the ‘darkening of the world.’
Yet it’s perhaps the most famous German theorist of all, Friedrich Nietzsche, to whom we should finally turn and in whose light Legutko ends the book. Largely accepting the popularised Hegelianism of Fukuyama – that there’s no alternative to liberal democracy – Legutko nevertheless muses over whether our current status as Zaruthustrian ‘Last Men’ is a concession we must make to live in this best of all possible worlds or an indictment of our political and spiritual poverty.
As he concludes, the perpetuation of liberal democracy “would be, for some, a comforting testimony that man finally learned to live in sustainable harmony with his nature. For others, it will be a final confirmation that his mediocrity is inveterate.”
A more accurate precis of our current situation I’ve yet to see, and one of many such reasons to read this most wonderful of books.
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