Volume > Issue > “Conservatism” in Europe

“Conservatism” in Europe


By Thomas Molnar | May 1986
Thomas Molnar is Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at the City University of New York, and in addition regular¬ly teaches a philosophy of religion class at Yale University. The author of numerous books, he was born in Budapest in 1921 and left Hungary in early 1946; since then he has been a frequent traveler to Europe.

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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