I’ve also been reflecting on how much American conservatism has changed.
Just the other day, I pointed out how rapidly American conservatives are forgetting their former ideology and embracing generic nationalism and populism. The applause that was recently showered on the victories of “conservatives” like Giorgia Meloni and the Sweden Democrats was unthinkable in the conservatism of my youth. It is now mainstream to oppose the Great Replacement.
For most of my adult life, I have associated “conservatism” with people like Jonah Goldberg, David Frum, Allahpundit, Kevin Williamson, Bill Kristol and David French. “Conservatism” meant conservative liberalism. It was George W. Bush slaying the evildoers in Iraq. It was John Hagee-style Christian Zionism. It was Goldberg condemning the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys.” It was the routine purges of anyone who had anything interesting to say like Sam Francis, Peter Brimelow and John Derbyshire. It was sanctimonious lectures and groveling apologies about “racism.” The True Cons were in the saddle and ordinary conservatives got their opinions from these people and it was a huge problem.
The “Alt-Right” defined itself against this faction. We backed Trump mainly to get rid of these people and to steer the Right in a more nationalist and populist direction. While Trump largely failed to enact nationalist policies in office, he succeeded in the long term in dislodging and diminishing these people. Those of us who are middle aged still vividly remember the days when they ruled the roost.
In 2022, Donald Trump is no longer the president. The True Cons are no longer relevant or influential and has passed into obscurity. The average Republican voter remembers these people like a bad haircut from the 1980s. MAGA has become the GOP establishment and has radicalized under Joe Biden. Also, the Alt-Right collapsed years ago, but its various grievances and style has gone mainstream. Nearly everything we once had to say has simply been absorbed and rebranded as “conservatism.”
“But since we’re on the subject of Italy, let’s talk about the reaction to the election of Giorgia Meloni, who has roots in some neo-fascist parties. For now, I’m not joining the liberal freakout over her election for a host of reasons we can surely discuss another time. I’ve just heard too many people on MSNBC discuss Mussolini’s fascism—which was very bad—as if it was indistinguishable from Hitler’s Nazism to join that riot of ignorance. Meloni has said things I don’t like and things I agree with. She has troubling associations and reassuring ones. But a Europhilic member of the Aspen Institute who only got 1 in 4 votes in the election and who supports aiding Ukraine, doesn’t exactly scream, “Let’s invade Ethiopia!” to me.
My objection here is simply that the cheering is a sharp break with conservatism as we knew it. I highly doubt all of the people gushing about Meloni’s victory know very much about her, and I’m sure they have even less of an idea of what she’ll actually do. I suspect nearly all that these Republican politicians and Twitter radicals know can be boiled down to a few flimsy facts. She gave a clever speech, she calls herself a conservative, and liberals are freaking out that someone with ominous-sounding ties to fascism has won an election. In short, like so much in right-wing land these days, she’s a hero because the people who hate her are villains. And in us-vs-them world, that’s enough. …
In 1996, Patrick Buchanan was read out of conservatism by Heritage, the American Conservative Union, and other institutions because he represented European conservatism. As David Keene, the then head of the American Conservative Union (which runs CPAC) said, Buchanan is “articulating policies that are more reminiscent of European than American conservatism, who is challenging many of the economic foundations of the conservative movement and philosophy and who, therefore, is a disquieting figure to many traditional conservatives.” Ed Feulner was more succinct: “What he’s been saying is goofy. Huey Long is not one of us.”At the National Conservative conference, which was in part a Buchananist revival meeting, Kevin Roberts reportedly said, “I come not to invite national conservatives to join our conservative movement, but to acknowledge the plain truth that Heritage is already part of yours.”
Don’t tell me I’m the one who’s changed.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty correctly points out that everything Jonah Goldberg is complaining about it is American. The 19th century liberalism than Jonah Goldberg associates with American conservatism was a European import that was imposed on the country during Reconstruction.
“One of George Washington’s first acts as president was to sign into law a tariff schedule. Was he betraying America’s liberal founding by doing so? Of course not. He wouldn’t have understood the founding as “liberal” at all. He was a republican. By the time “liberal” entered the American political lexicon as a noun, American liberals were — wouldn’t you know it? — thrilling to the speeches of a Hungarian nationalist, Lajos Kossuth. …”
The American Founding was republican and federalist and has frustrated liberals down to the present day who resent the Constitution for all the ways in which it thwarts “liberal democracy.”