This is the second post in an ongoing series of reports and reflections from abroad by Jeremy Carl. Read the first here.–Eds. Hunter Hearns has offered a grim but accurate assessment of the results of the Flight 93 election. Despite the sincere efforts of many talented people (undermined in part, it should be said, by…
This is the second post in an ongoing series of reports and reflections from abroad by Jeremy Carl. Read the first here.–Eds.
Hunter Hearns has offered a grim but accurate assessment of the results of the Flight 93 election. Despite the sincere efforts of many talented people (undermined in part, it should be said, by a number of GOP establishment hacks and Never Trumpers), the conservative storming of the cockpit has failed to prevent the plane of state from crashing.
Indeed, Hearns indirectly shows the true depth of liberal cultural hegemony in that, even writing for a conservative publication, under the regime of a conservative President, he feels that he must utilize a pseudonym.
As he notes in the article’s damning opening, Republicans have controlled the presidency for 32 out of the last 52 years, appointed 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices, and controlled much of Congress for the last 25 years as well.
“For a party to be so remarkably successful politically while losing on practically every issue requires a deep rethinking of where things have gone wrong.”
Hearns is correct that on virtually every issue, the American Right is in retreat and what is considered “conservative” today would have been considered radical just a decade or two ago. We can imagine, without too much difficulty, an establishment GOP politician or writer penning “The Conservative Case for Transgender Throuples,” just a few years hence in some nominally “conservative” publication.
But Hearns wisely does not simply lay the blame for these defeats at the feet of Trump—instead, he lambasts conservatives’ poor to non-existent efforts to win over the organs of cultural transmission (media, Hollywood, schools and universities, etc.) that influence the preferences of high-status individuals from whom average citizens, too busy to involve themselves with politics, determine their own views. And he points out, correctly, how anomalous this particular affectation of the American Right is, observing that “Practically every significant movement—whether ancient or modern, religious or secular, totalitarian or liberal—knew that to succeed in the long run it needed to gain control of the institutions that manufacture public opinion.”
There are clearly echoes of James Burnham in Hearns’s critique, and even more of Burnham’s disciple Sam Francis, who was one of the Right’s most powerful and prescient theorists (as even mainstream moderates such as David Brooks acknowledged) before his racialist preoccupations ultimately marginalized him. In Francis’ essay Beautiful Losers: The Failure of American Conservatism, written almost three decades ago, he critiqued conservative historian Richard Weaver’s classic work Ideas Have Consequences (1948), taking deadly aim at Weaver’s legions of followers in the mainstream conservative movement who have stressed the primacy of pure ideas over power relations.
Some ideas have more consequences than others, and those that attach themselves to declining social and political forces have the least consequence of all…. If the American right can disengage from the left and its regime, it can assume leadership of a cause that could be right as well as victorious. But it can do so only if it has the wit and the will to disabuse itself of the illusions that have distracted it almost since its birth.
Or, as Hearns notes bluntly:
“The question of why conservatives lose thus becomes a very simple one. Liberals have the megaphone and conservatives do not.”
Consistent with his understanding of the importance of the megaphone, Hearns correctly recognizes online speech as an “existential” (his words) issue for conservatives. In 2016, the Right built its own megaphone online. Conservatives were able to route around and mock the absurdity of discourse-controlling elites, and their efforts played a key role in electing Trump. But since 2016, as Hearns notes, the left, which understands power even as it fails with policy, has worked hand-in-glove with woke tech to smash that megaphone.
None of the foregoing, of course, suggests that the content of conservative ideas is irrelevant or unimportant—merely that conservatives must pay less attention to the pure content of their ideas and much more attention to the social and political context in which those ideas are promulgated.
Beating Back the Hordes
But even if the Flight 93 election has crashed, all is hardly lost.
I recently saw a source of inspiration for what a rebirth might look like in an entirely unexpected location. A few weeks ago, at the behest of my precocious seven-year-old, we drove eight hours from our then “home” in Barcelona to the tiny village of Covadonga tucked in the foothills of the Picos de Europa in Asturias, Spain.
It was here that in approximately the year 722, ten years before Charles Martel won his famous victory in the Battle of Tours that halted the Muslim invasion of France, the Visigothic nobleman Don Pelayo (Pelagius) defeated a much larger Muslim force. It was a tiny battle, seemingly inconsequential at the time, but one that ultimately marked the beginning of what would be an almost 800-year quest to end Muslim rule in Spain. Pelayo’s victory established a small beachhead to which the remains of the Visigothic Christian leadership would flee.
At the beginning of the Battle of Covadonga, the vastly larger Muslim force initially called on Pelayo to surrender, even sending the local Bishop Oppa (The early medieval Never Trump/GOP establishment equivalent) to attempt to convince Pelayo of the futility of standing against the Muslims while promising him prosperity as a Muslim vassal.
Pelayo, according to later chroniclers, said this to the bishop in response:
“Have you not read in the divine scriptures that the church of God is compared to a mustard seed and that it will be raised up again through divine mercy?”
He then forthrightly refused to accept Muslim rule.
His forces fought guerilla warfare from the hills that they knew so well and trounced the Muslim invaders. Inspired by Don Pelayo’s leadership and bravery though badly outmanned, the local Asturian villagers, previously quiescent and seemingly unarmed, emerged with their hidden weapons and killed many of the retreating Muslim fighters. From this victory grew the Kingdom of Asturias, the first Christian kingdom to emerge in Spain after the Muslim conquest in 711.
Today the cave in which Pelayo hid, and in which he was subsequently buried, are a sacred shrine to the Virgin Mary. A massive cathedral rests above it, and tourists and pilgrims come each year to visit both in huge numbers, where they provide spiritual inspiration.
Having lost the commanding heights of culture as Hearns amply documents, The Right needs a cultural Covandonga from which it can emerge to reclaim America. It may spring from a seemingly inconsequential victory, as Pelayo’s seemed at the time. Some on the Right lamenting America’s decline have taken their inspiration from Charles Martel, who drove the infidels back from the gates, but this is a fundamental misreading of the needs of our moment.
Martel merely held off the enemies of the West, preserving what was already won. At Covadonga, Don Pelayo took the first decisive step to reclaim what had been lost. But if conservatives are to win the culture, we must understand that we emerge from the wreckage of the Flight 93 election with the strategic position of Don Pelayo, not Charles Martel.
Or, As Francis observed in Beautiful Losers,
Abandoning the illusion that it represents an establishment to be “conserved,” a new American right must recognize that its values and goals lie outside and against the establishment and that its natural allies are not in Manhattan, New Haven, and Washington but in the increasingly alienated and threatened strata of Middle America.
Indeed, this is true, but one should add that those Americans will need leadership from intellectuals and other leaders within the corridors of power who are brave enough to stand up against the Left’s cultural tyranny. It is to these people that Claremont can speak when it refers to “Recovering the American Idea”—understanding, as Don Pelayo did, that something has been lost and must be recaptured.
There is a saying in Asturias: Asturias es España y lo demás tierra conquistada.
“Asturias is Spain—the rest is conquered territory.” That is to say, the true Spain always existed in Asturias even when it lay only hidden and outnumbered in the remote caves of Covadonga.
Institutions such as Claremont represent this Covadonga in the mountains: perhaps outnumbered and outgunned, but willing to fight smartly and fiercely from our redoubt, picking up allies along the way and targeting our message to talented people marginalized by the increasingly tyrannical and hysterical reign of the left.
But the first real step toward victory requires us to disabuse ourselves of our comforting illusions and acknowledge that America is today a culturally conquered territory.
This is the first post in an ongoing series of reports and reflections from abroad by Jeremy Carl. –Eds.As I type these words, protesters are facing off with police right in front of our apartment. I hear the resounding chants and the wail of sirens. In the distance, from our view on a high floor…
This is the first post in an ongoing series of reports and reflections from abroad by Jeremy Carl. –Eds.
As I type these words, protesters are facing off with police right in front of our apartment. I hear the resounding chants and the wail of sirens. In the distance, from our view on a high floor that shows the full expanse of the city, I observe billows of smoke, mostly from dumpster fires set by protesters to block roads. I am not in an impoverished developing-world dictatorship but in Barcelona, one of the most affluent and touristed cities in the world, a global city one of the E.U.’s major countries.
The events of the past couple of weeks serve as a reminder that even if you think you are running away from politics, in the end, politics always has a way of finding you. When my family arrived in Barcelona two weeks ago, my first feeling was relief. I was finally in a place where I could speak the language reasonably well, having stumbled through our last few destinations with my rudimentary French and Chinese and non-existent German.
Yet speaking Spanish in Barcelona right now feels vaguely imperialist. Barcelona is not just Spain’s second most important city but also the capital of the Catalonia region. Here, just days after we arrived, harsh prison sentences were announced for Catalan Nationalist leaders who held a 2017 independence referendum declared illegal by the Spanish government. Last week, the Spanish courts ordered up to 13 years in prison for each of them. Others have gone into exile.
In Catalonia, public opinion seems fairly evenly split between those who desire independence and those who wish to remain part of Spain, though many of the latter group (up to 80% in some polling) consider the treatment of the Catalan independence leaders to be excessively harsh.
As anyone who has read their Orwell knows, Catalonia has a long tradition of protest and especially left-wing activism. It was one of the last parts of Spain to fall to Francoist forces during the Spanish Civil War. After his victory, Franco did much to tamp down any unique Catalan identity, executing and imprisoning Catalan independence leaders and repressing Catalan culture and language while driving up economic growth. Even in the decades and centuries preceding Franco, Catalan as an identity and nationality distinct from that of Spain would often rear its head.
Pseudo-Events and Real Ennui
I have neither the space nor expertise to dissect all of the ins and outs of the historical relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, of which it has been a part with varying degrees of autonomy and independence since the country’s 15th-century unification. I have no position per se either for or against Catalan independence, nor do I see America’s national interest as particularly implicated in either side of the question. But while I cannot comment authoritatively on the underlying political dispute, there are certain metapolitical elements of the current conflict worth noting.
First, it is hard to square the increasing vociferousness of the Catalan uprisings with the current treatment of Catalonia by the government in Madrid. Since Spain’s 1970’s transition to democracy, Catalan language has received an extensive revival with state support, security forces are largely under local control, and the region has substantial autonomy in areas ranging from tax policy to education. The economy is very strong in comparison to the rest of Spain: arguably, the protestors’ most substantive grievance is that they are economically subsidizing the poorer parts of the country. It seems particularly odd that much of the Catalan independence movement seems eager to embrace the heavy hand of the E.U. while trying to throw off the lighter yoke of Spain. It is also impossible to divorce the resurgent nationalism and secessionism we are seeing in Catalonia from similar efforts in other parts of Europe.
But what is more fascinating is that the Catalan independence movement as a political and media phenomenon has all of the hallmarks of what the American scholar Daniel J. Boorstin referred to as a pseudo-event, one designed and choreographed for the express purpose of attaining publicity that will thus turn it into a “real” event. Few of the many protests that I have observed here seem organic—most of them seem to consist of rallies that are highly scripted for the media, whether attended by young university students or sweet-looking grandmothers from the suburbs who arrive in pre-printed pro-independence T-Shirts. This doesn’t make their cause illegitimate, but it does call into question who the protests are really speaking to.
The events in Barcelona also bring to mind two insights from the gifted writer and polemicist Douglas Murray, whose book The Madness of Crowds I recently reviewed. In both that book and its outstanding predecessor, The Strange Death of Europe, Murray provides the first key insight into what we are seeing in Barcelona—Europeans racing to fill the void left by Christianity with a new “religion” of woke social justice and perpetual protest.
In societies such as modern Britain, we have means and comforts that our forebears could never have dreamed of. But having achieved them, we don’t know what to do with them, and some people are bored. Bored with their jobs, bored with the lack of struggle, bored with the lack of heroism and purpose that security brings.
Caught between the Scylla of religious and family collapse and the Charybdis of state-mandated political correctness, youth, in particular, are lashing out on more peripheral areas that do not address the real and fundamental issues in their societies.
In Catalonia, the birth rate for Spanish-born women is a catastrophically-low 1.19 children per woman, and even lower for those of Catalan ethnic origin. Immigrants make up 14% of Catalonia’s population, a slightly higher percentage than in the US. While the US has historically and ideologically been accepting of immigrants, Spain has not had a similarly large immigrant population until recently. Almost 60,000 illegal immigrants—a record number—crossed the Mediterranean last year, and more than 7,000 adolescent illegal immigrants from North Africa alone have arrived in Catalonia in a four year period. Police estimate that 18% of these arrivals have been involved in criminal activity. Adjusted to the US population basis, it would be the equivalent of more than 300,000 unaccompanied adolescents showing up at the US border in that same time period.
Because of “hate speech” laws in Spain, it can be dangerous to discuss these issues honestly in public. And, as in the US, discussion of these issues has been declared off-limits by major parties and political elites, thus leading to the rise of right-wing parties such as the populist Vox, expected to become the third largest parliamentary party when elections are held on November 10th. Vox, for those unfamiliar with the party, speaks bluntly about the problems that uncontrolled immigration and the rise of Islam are bringing to Spain.
The direct political import of much of what we are seeing in Barcelona, and London, and various other venues in Europe where the theater of social protest seems to be very much active, is likely, when the circus subsides, to be minor. Whether Catalonia at some point attains independence from Spain, the event is unlikely to dramatically transform the lives of Catalans. Absent serious discussion of the real and fundamental problems brought by radical demographic, religious, and social transformations in Catalan society, the independence debate seems most likely to serve as a political distraction, full of sound and fury, but signifying very little.
Without such an epiphany, the political leaders in Catalonia, whether pro or anti-independence, will continue to fiddle while Barcelona burns.