“Conservatism” in Europe
THE FUTURE OF AN IMPORTED WORLDVIEW
In the fall of 1963 the second annual assembly of the “rightist movements of the Western world” was held in Rome, under the presidency of John Dos Passos. This time a delegation from the United States was present: William F. Buckley Jr., Russell Kirk, Willy Schlamm, and a few others. The head of the Italian delegation, Giano Accame, asked me to bring some Americans and Italians together for lunch for a clarification of views and ideologies across the Atlantic. The lunch on a sunny terrace was friendly, but there was no common platform. Afterwards, Accame told me: “The Americans are interested in dollars only” (translate: the free market). And Bill Buckley said: “The Italians are socialists.” Obviously: no dialogue.
This episode can to a large extent be generalized — conceptually, and also over a long period of time. To be sure, there has been such a thing as “conservatism” in Europe, although more in the north than in the south, but the term “Right” is much more widespread and is much better understood. “Conservatism” is largely a post-1945 creation, mostly on American initiative, and thus it is a two-pronged set of ideas: anti-communism and the defense of the free market. If the muscovite threat suddenly ceased, continental conservatism would likely dry up for lack of issues. Certainly it would reassume its old “liberal” label. The Right would hardly be affected since its struggle is not only against Marxism and for private property; it is also, in fact, primarily against democracy, mass culture, and large-scale capitalism. It is a disposition for authoritarian government, for an elite as the apex of society and culture, and for the de-proletarianization of workers and peasants.
In a way, this program (here of course extremely compressed) is a heritage of Plato and the medieval Christian social structure. We find one potent proof of its vitality in the figure of Solzhenitsyn, to whom most continental Rightists rally. And not only to Solzhenitsyn, but also to Maurras, Cardinal Mindszenty, and Konrad Adenauer, but not to Giscard d’Estaing, Margaret Thatcher, or Helmut Kohl. With these names I mean to provide some guidelines for comprehending the Rightist mentality in Europe, a mentality without any substantial political representation today, but culturally very much alive.
In this sense, the Right in Western Europe is the immediate heir to the pre-1945, even pre-1914, system of values which it keeps alive on the political/cultural landscape. In terms of voting power, a potential 25 to 30 percent is not far from a realistic evaluation; in fact, however, most Rightists vote for the Center, for more “useful” parties, which have political clout and an anti-Marxist persuasion. Occasionally, however, when cornered by an issue (schooling, abortion, etc.), the Right’s political presence is felt directly.
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