No, says Paul Gottfried.
By Paul Gottfried
The American Conservative
During last year’s election season, we were treated to multiple comments about how Donald J. Trump was no Edmund Burke. As a historian and political observer I find such put-downs ridiculous. No Western politician today is following in the footsteps of Edmund Burke; nor can he.
His associates didn’t care what his views were on “women’s issues,” gay marriage or transgendered restrooms; and he developed a reputation as a reformer because he favored home rule under the Crown for Ireland, a gradual emancipation of slaves in the West Indies, and an end to the mercantile policies supported by his Tory opposition. Burke held extremely critical views about democracy and ridiculed the notion of “human rights,” which has become a pillar of American liberal internationalism. I for one agree with much of what Burke said on many subjects, particularly the French Revolution, but then I’m a septuagenarian political dinosaur who doesn’t belong to any significant political movement or party.
Of course it is possible to claim Burke, Aristotle, Kant or anyone whom a journalist or politician cares to invoke for any cause. One can attribute moderation or favorable intentions to anyone who is no longer on Earth and then maintain that if so-and-so were around, he’d be for Hillary, Obamacare, John Kasich, or sending weapons to Israel or Poland. People in the public eye do this all the time; and when they do, I find myself reciting the biblical passage about letting the dead bury the dead.
A related bad habit that I pound mercilessly in my anthology, Revisions and Dissents, is attaching obsolete labels and associations to contemporary movements and personalities. “Fascism,” “conservative,” and “liberal” are three terms that I would like to retire, since I don’t think they apply any longer to our politics. “Right” and “left” may still have relevance since they seem to me to be existential reference points that can exist independently of passing parties and movements. “Conservative” and “liberal” came out of the nineteenth-century and were centered on the struggle between the landed classes and the rising urban bourgeoisie. (A similar dialectic played itself out in this country in the clash between the Union and Confederacy in the Civil War.)
By contrast Right and Left can be easily recognized even if the social and political battles of nineteenth-century Europe are no longer with us. The Deplorables who backed Trump or the French ploucs who supported the FN, clearly represent the Right. They are rooted in a particular place, oppose globalist ventures and what we in the US call the deep state, and hold relatively traditional views about gender and family relations. The globalist, pro-immigration class, which is situated mostly in large cities, and which energetically backs progressive lifestyles, exemplifies our version of the Left. Describing the current Left as “socialist” or “Marxist” is ridiculous and usually dishonest, because the lines of division between Right and Left are now found elsewhere.
I’ve noticed that our authorized conservatives don’t say much about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s cultural radicalism. Instead they berate her and former president Obama as “socialists” and even “Marxists.” What such figures once in power did or would do in pursuing feminist, gay, or transgendered agendas hardly rates a mention from our Republican spokespersons and Fox News All Stars. Far more worrisome for them is how a Democratic president might affect the GNP, or whether Senator Warren if she became president would have the government pay more toward college tuitions.
Although I’m by no means in favor of these policies, they hardly fit the classical criteria of socialism, like nationalizing the forces of production. A really intrusive side of the current (post-Marxist) Left, namely, their drastic social engineering projects intended to overcome “prejudice,” makes little impression on most of the authorized Right. Could it be that these critics are at least partly in agreement with or mostly indifferent to this undertaking? Perhaps they also sense that the Left has already won the cultural battle, and it might be best to limit partisan campaigning to pocketbook issues.