Evolution of a European conservative
reader sent an e-mail that starts with some over-extravagant praise of me and then moves on to a discussion of his own politics. I’ve left in the praise because it’s relevant to what the correspondent talks about later, namely, his evolution beyond liberalism/neoconservatism, and beyond the various fragmented “little conservatisms”
we have today, toward a broader, deeper, civilizational
The reader writes:
It is always a pleasure to talk to you. And I follow your blog everyday since I found it. You match my interests 100%. Every single piece is highly interesting and written in a clear-sighted and thoughtful way. Spencer, Warraq, Huntington, Goldberg, Steyn, Ali Sina, Hanson, Hitchens, Coulter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali etc. all get their thing right. But you get it all right (i.e. we agree very much). It’s kind of how I would imagine Edmund Burke commenting upon things had he been living today (okay, that last thing was probably an exaggeration). This will seem as if I’m sucking up to you, but I’m just very happy to be able to be honestly and sincerely very positive about the works of a man. I guess it is a Christian thing. I makes me feel good to say it, and you deserve it all.
Inside me today is evolving some sort of European conservatism. The last three years I have been very pro- American, finding sense and balance and identity with your Republican party, neocons, etc. And before that, before 9/11, I was pretty much the ordinary European—well, in my home country Sweden I was a right-winger, which in that context would be like a mainstream Democrat.
But as my thinking has evolved I have become less attached to the U.S. Digging back in history I found how much we are shaped by WWI, and how we since then live under the Wilsonian liberal world order. President Bush is just a heir of Wilson. You are right about the neocons being liberals. But I think the war with Islam will force a change of paradigm in the West into some kind of Clash of the Civilizations view.
Wilson said: “There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.”
But I think the world will go back to the state of “balance of power” in some form. The U.S. will continue its war on “Islamism,” but I expect that the war on Islam will start in Europe (I’m keeping an eye on Australia though). Many things can happen within the Western civilization in this century. America has always been schizophrenic about its role as the empire. At least for what’s going to happen in Europe, Europe itself will have to take the lead. The fight for the Western civilization will start here. And at least initially I will expect the U.S. to turn its back on Europe when things get dirty.
I would like a Western identity to evolve from today’s internationalism and democracy, into “civilizationism” and Christianity. But a cultural concept of Christianity, where it is natural for the Christian believer and the Christian atheist to feel they belong together. Not the phony thing of today when some Christians feel closer to Muslims because they share monotheism.
Thank you very much.
Your evolving point of view is very interesting and promising—from right-wing Swede (the equivalent of a U.S. mainstream Democrat, as you humorously put it), to America-centric neoconservative, to Christian civilizationist. This is exactly the way things need to move.
The reader replies:
I’d like to add that the starting point of my evolution, way back, was Marxism.
Anyway, Europe is Europe, and then we have Sweden. I’m sitting in a country (yes I’m still here) that is virtually cleansed of all kinds of conservatism. So I had to do all the “moving” all alone. I cannot tell anymore what I am in the eyes of a Swede today. I’m not even on the map.
Regarding America. In my previous period I saw America as a symbol for conservatism. A kind of confident conservatism that we do not have in Europe. But then I went deeper, and now I see America as a symbol of liberalism, in fact the symbol of liberalism, its imperial embodiment.
I like the classic liberalism, just as much as did Edmund Burke. It’s the Wilsonian liberal world order I’m critical of.
Regarding Christianity, my relation is complex, or at least unusual. But I already told you. Also I have a special (and kind of personal) relation to Jesus. Bush said he’s the greatest philosopher, but I say he was the greatest rhetorician. Anyway, Christianity is the natural foundation for our civilizational identity.
> a goal of mine has been to articulate a conservatism that goes beyond the various conservative “fragments”
On a personal and social level it still feels strange to me seeing myself as a conservative. And now I have here, with your help, put myself in a position were I need to face the possibility of being a full-blown conservative. Interesting….
My conservative conviction is very profound. Since I started discussing immigration politics seriously with people I found that no other ideologies take it seriously: socialists, liberals and libertarians all the same. And on top of that you get the Orwellian two minutes of hate for being prudent and considerate about your fellow beings and the future of our children. So it all started as simple honesty, coupled with a lot of curiosity. And then I learned about Islam…
What you say about being a conservative in Sweden … I can’t even imagine what that would be like. Since you mentioned Orwell, perhaps being a conservative in today’s Sweden would be like being Winston Smith in 1984—almost completely on one’s own, one is trying to rediscover buried truths and expose the lies among which one lives, without at the same time being “found out.”
The other thing that is so important in what you say is your transition from leftism and liberalism where you started out, to the exciting discovery of “conservatism,” to the discovery that this “conservatism” is itself a type of liberalism, to the search for a deeper conservatism, or traditionalism as I call it.
The reader replies:
How is it to be a conservative in Sweden? The short answer is: Think of it as living your life within the walls of an American univeristy. We shouldn’t take the Orwell analogy too far. I am fine. My sympathy goes to the poor and brave ex-Muslims living in the Middle East. But you have to be careful in Sweden too. If you seriously oppose our immigration policy with political activism, they will destroy you. You might end up “socially dead.” And there are the kind of leftist stormtroopers…
But it’s not so easy to be a conservative in the U.S. either, is it? The leftist and liberals have the upper hand everywhere in the West. But yes, Sweden is harder. It’s a very conformistic culture. That’s an enourmous strength when the leadership is good, but equally bad when the leadership is destructive. It’s seems we excel in whatever is the name of the game in the world. Today the game is self-destruction. Swedish culture is complex. Very loyal and disciplined people. A natural collectivism that has historic roots way before the French Revolution.
So we should not exaggerate. But yes, as a traditionalist conservative you are all alone here (but aren’t you quite alone too, Lawrence?). It is not impossible to find libertarians or even neocons here. With the neocons I might get the chance to sneak in some points of view about Islam while discussing Islamism with them, but the libertarians are often moonbattish. If I want to get the full attention from someone about our immigration policy or Islam it would be someone from our “satanic” brownish abyss [LA: I think this refers to neo-Nazis]. He might listen, but he won’t really get it, since he’ll be on a different frequency alltogether. Which is proven to me every time when we come to the topic of Israel, where his anti-semitic tendencies will have absorbed all the KGB propaganda about Israel there is, and therefore support the Palestinians. So I’m all alone, yes. The closest I get to a political soulmate is a neocon, and indeed there are very few of them. And right now, thinking of Bush hurts my brain.
If the cultural high priests tell people that they will turn into fascists and nazis if they do not stay the party line, this is what they will identify themselves as when they have been pushed all the way into the corner, and have to turn around. It is quite as we see the Aussies turning into hooligans now. In each society there is a mental framework of what positions are possible to take. If people are socialized into believing that those who deflect from the liberal world order will turn into scum, this is also what they will turn into when deflecting.
My opinion doesn’t exist in Sweden.
Also, since you enjoyed my description of a right-wing Swede as a “mainstream Democrat,” there is more! Our Right Party changed its name to The Moderates (Moderaterna) by the end of the 60’s. The consequence is that being a “moderate” is seen as something extremist by many Swedes (cf. “the religious right” in the US). And a Swedish Moderate is to the left of a US moderate. They describe their ideology as liberal-conservatism, but nowadays they are trying to imitate the Social Democrats.
Finally, regarding my evolution from leftist to deeper conservatism. It will be interesting to add that since I’m not a religious believer, that I claim that it is possible to hold the same political views on an atheist basis (for example, a traditionalist position on gay marriage need no religious motivation). This might be important since we cannot expect a mass conversion of secular Europeans into Christian believers. A secular conservatism will even have a nice consistency, since it will apply the principle of evolution both to metaphysical and wordly matters.
So what about the Christian civilizationism then? My concept of Christianity is shaped by Samuel Huntington and Sayyid Qutb, i.e. by smelling the coffee of the fundaments of my existence. I am a Christian. And quite as Derbyshire put it, typical of us Christians is that we have a very relaxed relation to religion. So I avoid referring to myself as an atheist—since that does not reflect a relaxed relation to religion. We should avoid the petty fights such as in Life of Brian, and focus on the real enemy. I am a Christian before I am an atheist.
I think you’re saying that you believe in Christian attitudes and maybe traditions and identity, but not Christ or Christianity. I don’t know if there’s any future, individually or collectively, in being a nominal or cultural “Christian” who doesn’t believe in God. But it would seem to be better than calling oneself an atheist, as it still means aligning oneself with Christianity.
[Here is a letter
from another European conservative.]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 12, 2005 04:45 PM | Send