where good is wrong
A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, by Matthew Rose (Yale University Press, £20.00/€25.00)
Samuel Francis was a highly respected voice in conservative circles in the United States. He won several national awards for his column in the right-wing Washington Times. Until 1995, when he went too far in his racist remarks on slavery. He lost his spine.
Now pushed to the outer margins of conservatism, his audience dwindled to small groups and his writing was limited to low-circulation newsletters. He died in 2005 with his masterpiece, an eight-hundred-page study of United States politics and society, unpublished. Until 2016. Why was he now taken seriously? The answer: Trump.
Francis had argued that the conservative Republican mainstream conceded far too much to the views of mainstream liberal elites. Politics was about power, and conservatives had to stop arguing and find the power to overthrow the elite.
There was, he pointed out, a significant constituency of middle- and lower-middle-class white citizens, those without a college education, who worked in manufacturing. Neither Republicans nor Democrats expressed their resentments as their incomes stagnated and fell and the values that bound them together in families and communities were decried.
Conservatives should give them a voice with a nationalism strongly mixed with racism. Trump mobilized this constituency. Those who wanted to understand its success and decode its message turned to Francis’ analysis.
Trump’s victory is of course not the only example of the once-rock-solid Liberal Democratic consensus weakening. Populisms on the left and right challenge it, and the success of the autocratic Chinese model that has so quickly brought economic prosperity to so many is seen as a viable alternative.
Matthew Rose’s study of five radical right-wing thinkers is therefore timely. Rose guides us through the works of Oswald Spengler, Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey, Alain de Benoist and Samuel Francis.
He is an excellent guide to the different routes they take to arrive at the same conclusion. The liberal democratic order, which emphasizes individuals and their autonomy, ignores our equally important need to belong.
Their different versions of belonging have two things in common: they are based on the identification of an enemy as the source of unity and they denounce Christianity whose universalism undermines the borders they would draw. As Trump’s prophet, Francis wrote, “Christianity today is the enemy of the West and the race that created it.”
Time is running out for a liberalism suited to the needs of a globalizing capitalism that reduces citizens to consumers while governments entrust their work to technocrats. The center disappears as radical left and right populisms take over the scene.
Catholics are wary of the radical left, rightly given its traditional militant atheism. Perhaps that is why some look favorably on the radical right.
Moreover, the emphasis on belonging rather than autonomy corresponds to Catholic social teaching. [CST]. Rose’s study warns against this temptation.
As his lucid narrative teaches us, right-wing analyzes attack central tenets of Catholic social teaching. They reject the universalism that sees us all equal before God, all promised to salvation. They don’t have time for an “option for the poor”.
The Catholic tradition has its own understanding of how belonging can be balanced with autonomy, which is grounded in the Eucharist. It discourages us from turning our backs on the world, united by hatred and fear, to find safety in a well-guarded enclave. Its global project is much richer than the impoverished globalization that reduces everything to economic calculation. A gift to the world is not a “takeover” program. It is stated in Fratelli Tutti by another Frenchman.