The cluelessness of the (American?) conservative about Europe’s concerns
I am writing about Mark Steyn, and, of course, Steyn is not an American, he is a Canadian. Or is he? The fact is that Steyn’s nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and name have always been ambiguous—an ambiguity he has deliberately cultivated over the years. His authorial persona as a radically free self, unconnected with any concrete identity or roots, perhaps explains his popularity among today’s rootless, democracy-mad American conservatives, as well as his cluelessness when discussing the ideas of British Europhile Will Hutton. Hutton likes the social contract of European countries, which he feels gives a society a coherence and meaning. But Hutton is at sea in America, of which he says: “In a world that is wholly private, we lose our bearings; deprived of any public anchor, all we have are our individual subjective values to guide us.” Now this seems to me a sincerely felt, on-spot criticism of American culture, the thinness and unrootedness of which famously lead to anomie, self-absorption, and a kind of floating nihilism. But how does Steyn react to Hutton’s comment? “Hutton feels almost physically insecure when he’s in one of the spots on the planet where the virtues of the state religion are questioned,” he sniffs. This is unfair. Hutton may well be a lefty and Europhile statist, and someone we wouldn’t particularly want to ally ourselves with; but it is clear that at the core of his political thought there is a legitimate human longing, the longing to be part of a meaningful whole, a concrete culture. But Steyn sees no validity at all in Hutton’s concerns, mocking everything he says as mere statism and bureaucratism.
Steyn’s contemptuous dismissal of Hutton epitomizes today’s American (or whatever nationality it is that Steyn belongs to) conservatism. Knowing and caring only about the mantra of freedom and individual rights, today’s conservatives have no sense of a society that has its own value above and apart from the rights and desires of the individuals belonging to it. These conservatives turn their country—and themselves—into an abstraction, “individual rights,” and that abstraction then proceeds to dry up all the real qualities of the culture and people that gave birth to it. Is it any wonder the Europeans dislike and fear us? As I pointed out the other day, the French are not rejecting the EU constitution simply because they see it as insufficiently leftist; they are rejecting it because they see it as a threat to their culture. This is something that American “conservatives,” Dantons and Robespierres for universal democracy, cannot understand.