Dr. Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance speaks at the H.L. Mencken Club.
When I was invited to address this gathering on the subject of “The European Right,” I rather think I was expected to bring with me a note of cheer. The various, and mutually hostile movements that may be described as the European Right had just done well in the elections to the European Parliament, and you were living through the fifth year of what you doubtless call the Obama Tyranny. If I could be brought over, to tell you how clean and brave things were turning in the Great European Motherland, what a fine dinner this would be.
Well, that was then, and we are now. Since there are people in this room who were in Budapest earlier this month, and since you have all read at least as much about what happened there as I have, I will spend no time on the details of the conference of the National Policy Institute. I will only say that, of all the countries in Europe, Hungary seemed the most appropriate for this conference. It was still banned by a government that the mainstream media regards as semi-fascist, and disowned by a party that is regarded as fascist without qualification.
Or there is Mr Putin’s Russia. I have no doubt there are people in this room who will argue that this is the last and greatest hope for traditionalist civilisation. Even so, its authorities prevented Alexander Dugin from travelling to Hungary, and joined in the general denunciation of the conference. This, however, should not be a surprise. For about a quarter of a millennium, Western conservatives and anti-conservatives have taken turns at falling in love with Russia. First it was Diderot, then de Maistre. Then it was a whole run of twentieth century leftists who thought the Bolshevik regime was going in broadly the right direction. Nowadays, it is conservatives and nationalists again. All have been, or will be, disappointed. Diderot went looking for enlightened despotism. He found only despotism. De Maistre was put off by the persecutions of Western Christianity, and even by the daily facts of serfdom. The more honest leftists of the last century had to give up first on denying, then on defending, the industrial mass-murders. Mr Putin’s fan club is facing a similar disappointment. I freely admit that he is a useful counterweight to the military and ideological power of our masters. He may have prevented a general war in the Middle East. His interference in the Ukraine may not in itself be unreasonable, and I believe, or hope, that a deal can be struck to prevent further instability on the eastern borders of our civilisation. But, from any Western point of view, there never has been, and never may be, anything positive to be said about Russia.
I turn to my own country, where the UK Independence Party (UKIP) not only won the European elections, but has also now won a seat in our own Parliament. I spoke with someone earlier today who dismissed UKIP as a party of soft-core libertarians. This is broadly right as a description, and, since I am a hard-core libertarian, I take it more as a compliment than a criticism. I will also go back to my opening comments. I said that the European Right is a variety of movements. Each nation has its own traditions. In some of these nations, the local tradition is validly expressed by young men in uniforms who like to recite Friedrich Nietzsche and Julius Evola. The English tradition, on the other hand, is liberalism. You may not like this any more than I like those young men in uniforms. But if, as I do, you want to see a traditionalist revival in England, you cannot despise our taste for trial by jury and freedom of the press and some form of parliamentary government and free market economics, and all the other manifestations of a national turn of thought that can be traced back into the mists of time.
This being said, I do not expect UKIP to continue its present run of good luck. As in America, the British electoral system gives power to whichever party can get a simple majority of the votes in a majority of the constituencies. The present effect of this is that, if we want to avoid being ruled by the party we fear, we must vote for the party we despise. In the European and local elections, I gladly vote UKIP. In next year’s general election, I will almost certainly vote Conservative. There are just enough differences between the Conservative and Labour Parties for me not to want another Labour Government. So it is with many other UKIP supporters. I shall be surprised if UKIP keeps its present seat in Parliament. I shall be astonished if it makes actual gains next year.
So much, then, for the European Right. You may wish to believe that the revolution against the present order of things will begin in Europe, and that you can benefit by the example of our exertions. The truth, however, is that – define it as you will – the centre of power in our civilisation is inside the United States. So long as America remains what it currently is, there can be no meaningful change in Europe. You cannot look to us for salvation. We must look to you.
I do not and cannot have the inside details of what happened earlier this month in Budapest. But I think it reasonable to believe that some kind of American influence was placed on the Hungarian authorities to disrupt the NPI conference. Undoubtedly, the American Government made none of the protests it would have made at the arrest and deportation of American citizens had they been in Budapest to call for the legalisation of homosexual marriage, or for higher welfare spending on the Gypsies.
But, rather than try guessing the motivations of people whose language and culture I do not know, let me say what I believe to be the case in my own country. I and many of my friends in UKIP want radical change in England. We do not want our armed forces sent out to make violent fools of themselves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We want no trouble with Russia. How and when we leave the European Union are matters to be discussed, but we want the laws under which we live to be made in our own country, and by men who are fully accountable to us. We want to legalise all drugs. We want to end the financial police state imposed on us in the name of the war on money laundering. We want a currency based in some degree on gold. We do not want our fellow citizens to be extradited, on the word of a foreign prosecutor, to face charges, in alien and usually corrupt jurisdictions, of offences that do not exist, or ought not to exist, in our own laws. We want to end the lunatic pretence that membership of our nation is something that can be conferred by a sheet of paper issued by the State. Though, in this matter, we do not know exactly how to proceed, we do not look kindly on the growth in our own land of alien and hostile enclaves. In short, we want our country back.
Yet any government we might somehow find that was committed to giving us our country back would face immediate, and perhaps decisive, opposition from the American Government. You may object that the wish list I have just announced is not only shared by large sections of the American people, but is even inspired by the American conservative and libertarian movements. This may be the case. It is also the case that the American Government is neither conservative nor libertarian, and that it presides over a New World Order that it does not wish to see shaken by the defection of its most important foreign satellite.
Your Government may have leaned on the Hungarians to make life hard for Richard Spencer. Undoubtedly, in 1956, it stopped a British invasion of Egypt, because this pursuit of what the British Government regarded as the British national interest was not congruent with the perceived interests of the American Government. In 1982, a British war with Argentina was only allowed to proceed after a furious debate within the American ruling class. In 1979, it is widely believed that the CIA murdered Airey Neave, a British politician whose policy on Ulster did not suit American policy on Ireland. In 2003, David Kelly, a British civil servant who was an expert on Iraq, may have been murdered by the CIA. It is at least in accord with the known facts that, in 2001 and 2005, the Conservative Party was leaned on to lose the general elections of those years – Tony Blair being seen as Washington’s man in London.
When the relevant archives are finally opened, some of my suppositions may be shown to be false. But, considering what is undoubtedly true of relations between the British and American Governments at least since 1940, I have no doubt that other scandalous transactions will come to light. More to the point, I have no doubt that no British Government committed to anything approaching my wish list in its dissent from the New World Order would be tolerated.
I may, so far, have said nothing disagreeable to this audience. Some of you are nodding. Some of you are probably thinking of the wicked Feds in Washington, or the neo-conservatives, or perhaps of some other group that is to be blamed for having made America into the policeman of the New World Order. As an outsider looking in, however, I do not see anything in America’s current status as Evil Empire that is not wholly in keeping with the development of the American mind over the past four centuries. Europe is being smothered not because America has been captured by a sinister minority, but because the self-destruction, during the twentieth century, of every other force that might have opposed it has left America free to remake the world in its own historic image.
The story of America begins in England at the time of the Protestant Reformation. I have said that the English tradition is liberalism. This is a great but a partial truth. The modern world began in England. It was an Englishman who said “The poorest he that is in England hath a live to live as the richest he.” It is in England that limited government under the rule of law first became an established fact. It is in England, indeed, where respect for the Common Law was so unquestioned that slavery could be abolished by a judgment of the courts, and where, at the height of the panic over the French Revolution, suspected and probable traitors had to be let go because a jury, operating under due process of law, could not be persuaded that they had committed any offence known to the law.
But this soft-core libertarian ascendency was always challenged, and was sometimes displaced, by an alternative tradition, which my friend on the Libertarian Alliance Blog, Ian Bland, summarises as “puritanism.” A puritan does not believe in “live and let live.” He does not agree with A.E. Housman:
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
A puritan is someone who believes so passionately in his own rightness and goodness that nothing must stand in the way of his ability to make others dance as he desires. Laws are to restrain the evil. The good need no restraint.
The first notable contest in England between libertarians and puritans took place in the middle decades of the seventeenth century. We should not see this as primarily a religious dispute. Calvinism did not make men into puritans. Puritans became Calvinists because Calvinism, in the mental furniture of that age, was the most appropriate expression of their pre-existing urge to control others. We should also put aside the historical accident of an accompanying dispute over the relative powers of the Crown and Parliament, in which the puritans found themselves arguing against an expanded central government. The key point to be kept in mind is that the puritan victory in the Civil War of the 1640s enabled the brief flowering of a moral totalitarianism that saw Catholics and suspected witches, and anyone else not seen as morally correct hunted down with grim hysteria. During the brief puritan ascendency in England, the theatres were closed, sinful pictures were defaced, Christmas was banned, and adultery carried the death penalty.
The good news for England is that this ascendency collapsed in 1660, and was followed by two centuries of rule by a broadly libertarian aristocracy. The bad news for America is that many of the disappointed puritans came over here to create their Shining City on the Hill.
The idea of American exceptionalism is entirely puritan in its origin. We see it in the strategy followed by the North in the War between the States. Since the United States were an expression of absolute good, anyone who wanted to disunite them was absolutely evil, and therefore deserved neither justice nor common humanity. Therefore, the atrocities that attended the conquest of the South. Therefore, the deviations from the rule of law in the treatment of dissenters in the North. Therefore, the illiberality of the Reconstruction of the South.
Or we see it in the civil politics of America. During the nineteenth century, religion faded here, as everywhere else, as a legitimising ideology. And so religious puritanism was supplemented by various ideologies of “social purity.” In England, this was moderated by the diminished but continuing rule of the aristocracy. Not so in America, where the only check on the puritans was the ability of people to run beyond a frontier that kept chasing them until, in 1896, there was nowhere left to run. This is the country where, before about 1960, the war against licentious books and films and theatrical displays was carried to a degree unknown in England. It is the country where beer was banned, and where, in many States, smoking came close to being banned. It is the country where, in one place, Bizet’s opera Carmen could only be put on after the first act was resited from outside a cigarette factory to outside a dairy. It is the country whose government gave the world its present War on Drugs and money laundering. It is the country where, at least until a time in living memory, there were criminal laws to be found against adultery and “oral sodomy.”
Many conservatives, when they look at the revolutionary changes of the 1960s, confuse two separate forces. The first is the collapse of the old ideologies that had legitimised Anglo-American puritanism. God was either dead or redefined as love. Ideas of social control were falling apart under the combined assault of sex and drugs and orgiastic music. The second force was the growth of a new legitimising ideology for a puritanism that remained inherent in part of the Anglo-American – or mainly now in the American – character, and had only lost its language of control.
Cultural Marxism – that is, the loose bag of ideas put together by men like Gramsci and Adorno and Marcuse and Althusser and Foucault – is largely a Jewish movement. The more sinister commissars of political correctness do tend to be Jewish. But this is not at all to say that America, since the 1960s or before, has been subverted by Jews. In terms of its intellectual cohesion and logical force, Classical Marxism was far more powerful than Cultural Marxism. This also was largely Jewish. But, in England and America, bird watchers and train spotters have probably had more practical influence than the Classical Marxists. What has made Cultural Marxism so hegemonic, first in America, and then in its political and cultural satellites, is that it provides the same ideology of legitimisation to the puritans in our own age as Calvinism did in the seventeenth century.
For the largely Jewish fathers of Cultural Marxism, racism and sexism and the persecution of sexual minorities were products of capitalism. Their Heaven on Earth was to be brought about by the achievement of a socialism that would avoid the compromises that had led them to reject the Soviet experiment as a decayed workers’ state. Actually existing Cultural Marxism has no fixed opinion on who should own the means of production. Undoubtedly, the means of production should be controlled. But the object of control is not to bring about any mistaken idea of economic rationality, or to raise up the working masses. The object of control is twofold. First, it is to make sure that people shall not be allowed to drink or smoke or eat whatever food is currently disapproved. Second, it is to deprive people of any space outside ruling class control in which they can think and speak and live as they please. Let this double object be achieved, and enterprise and profit are almost as much to be celebrated by the politically correct as they are in the works of Ayn Rand.
What I am saying is that the current order of things that all of us in this room variously deplore is nothing but a new puritanism for the twenty first century. Racism and sexism and other “inappropriate speech and conduct” are the modern sins that a ruling class, itself morally pure, is not to be restrained in putting down. And it follows from what I am saying that what happened earlier this month in Budapest, so far as it was encouraged, or merely approved, by the American Government, is as much part of the American Way, as evidenced from the first arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers, as Sherman’s March to the Sea, or the resiting of the first act of Carmen, or the banning, under American pressure, by the French Government of brothels in 1946.
I say, then, that your country is the problem. Though you personally may oppose it, your government is an organic expression of your country as it has developed. So long as your country remains supreme in the world, do not look to a gaggle of European nationalists for any kind of salvation.
Though I could easily say more than I have, there is a time limit to my speech, and I regard it as good manners to keep to that limit. And so the question of how to remove America from its current eminence in the world is not one that I will discuss in the detail that it needs. I will only say that I have no faith in the two main initiatives of the American Right. The first involves a constitutional reaction that will shrink the American State at home and abroad. Since most dissent over Federal policy on gun control and affirmative action and the like takes place against a shared background of belief in American exceptionalism, I see at best only a marginal shift in American control. The second initiative is to break up the United States by establishing a white ethno-state in the north west of your continent. Bearing in mind how your ruling class dealt with the last serious attempt at secession, and bearing in mind the continuing power of the present legitimising ideology, and bearing also in mind the manifest oddity of many of the advocates of this ethno-state, I really see no need here for speaking at length.
If at all in the foreseeable future, the most likely cause of American decline in the world is the policies of your own ruling class. Out of control state spending has already placed a limit to the military projection of American power. It is also making the dollar increasingly useless as an international currency. I could make a joke about how your equal opportunities approach to military recruitment will eventually open the Marines to paraplegic lesbians – only I suspect this is already on the agenda. Above all, displacement levels of immigration from the third world will, sooner or later, weaken the puritan element in American politics. The attendant degradation of the business environment may even bring about a transfer of economic primacy to somewhere else in the world where the ruling class is less immoderate in its urge to make others dance as they desire. On the other hand, I do worry that whichever new power takes over from America will be even worse, if in different ways.
This gathering is named in honour of H.L. Mencken, a man who devoted his career to provoking outrage in his audience. But I fear that even you will think ill of me if I hurry to the logical conclusion of my speech, which is a panegyric on Mr Obama and all his efforts, and those of his friends, in recent years to bring about an end to the United States as we have always known it. Instead, I will end by telling you, once again, not to expect anything you may regard as good news from the European Right.