The West In Upheaval
I was supposed to be in Paris tonight, but the Hungarian lab that did my PCR test on Friday screwed up, and failed to deliver results. I cancelled my flight, booked one for tomorrow, and went to a different lab. Let me tell you, the Magyars do not play with these tests. After the invasive one on Friday, I told the nurse that as a matter of honor, he owed me a marriage proposal. This morning’s was not nasal, but at the back of my mouth. Six times he provoked my gag reflex such that I made that yacking sound you make when you have dry heaves. Good times, good times. I’m telling you, those results damn well better come in overnight.
Longtime readers know that I really love France, so it is deeply disturbing to me to read this long, thoughtful essay about France’s troubles by N.S. Lyons, on The Upheaval, his Substack newsletter.
He begins by talking about the recent letter signed by retired French generals, urging the leadership class to gain control of the country before civil war breaks out between the radical Muslims of the banlieues (suburbs) and everyone else. Most French elites dismissed it, but then came a letter signed by over 2,000 active duty soldiers, and then by almost 300,000 French citizens, saying that the generals were right, and the country is falling apart. More from Lyons:
But perhaps my favorite example was that of (retired) General Jérôme Pellistrandi, chief editor at the magazine Revue Défense Nationale, who prefaced his otherwise sharp criticism of the outspoken soldiers with: “Everyone agrees that society is breaking up, it’s a known fact, but…”
What was going on here? Since when do government officials reflexively agree that their country is falling apart? Well, it turns out that a rather shockingly high proportion of the French public seems to agree with the sentiments the letters expressed. The following chart, created from the results of a Harris Interactive opinion poll taken April 29, after the first letter, is in my view one of the most striking statements about the political mood in a Western country that you’re likely to see for some time:
I can’t post that graphic because it’s copyrighted by the Financial Times, which created it. The results say that most French people support the soldiers lamenting the country’s “disintegration.” You can see the graphic on Lyons’s essay. More Lyons:
So, to break this down, not only do 58% of the French public agree with the first letter’s sentiments about the country facing disintegration, but so do nearly half of Macron’s own governing party, the centrist En Marche. Awkward. Nor are those sentiments limited to any one part of the political spectrum, even if the right is more sympathetic overall. Far-left party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon may have quickly declared that the “mutinous and cowardly” soldiers who signed the letter and would all be purged from the army if he were elected, but 43% of his party seem to share their concerns.
But that’s not even the whole of it – an amazing 74% of poll respondents said they thought French society was collapsing, while no less than 45% agreed that France “will soon have a civil war.”
Lyons talks about the many ways both France and the US mirror each other in decline and disintegration, though France is farther along than we are. Lyons goes on:
And, in short, both countries are clearly facing at least one of the defining characteristics of the Upheaval: the collapse of any agreed upon and consistently accepted authority. It is notable that, in both countries (at least until recently) there is only one institution that still garners relatively widespread respect: the military. (And French generals aren’t the only ones trying to capitalize on this with controversial open letters.)
Second, there is the key detail – almost entirely skipped over in the English-language press in favor of focusing on the anti-immigration angle, as far as I’ve seen – of the “anti-racism,” “decolonialism,” and “communitarianism” decried in the two letters as contributing to national dissolution. This is rather unmistakably a reference to the amalgamated, zealously anti-traditional and anti-liberal ideology of the “New Faith” – alternately referred to as Anti-Racism, the Social Justice movement, Critical Theory, identity politics, neo-Marxism, or Wokeness, among other synonymous infamies – that I’ve previously identified as one of the key revolutionary dynamics of our present era.
Let me repeat this proposition again: no revolution has ever remained contained by national borders. The New Faith is a trans-national ideological movement, which can no more remain confined to the United States than it remained confined within the American academy where it matured (it was arguably born in, well… France). And it is more than capable of rapidly adapting itself to and flourishing within whatever national context it penetrates. But, wherever it goes, it’s just as disruptive to the foundations of social and political order.
Read the whole thing. Lyons goes on to say that President Macron and other members of the French Establishment, sensing the mortal dangers to an already fractured Republic from wokeness, have begun to push back. But can they stop it?
Here in Budapest, as I wrote last week, the anti-Orban Left recently erected a mock-up of the Statue of Liberty, holding a table that read BLACK LIVES MATTER, and colored in the rainbow flag. This was sponsored by the city government, which is in the hands of the opposition. Some right-wing men tore it down soon after it was put up. What is so striking about this, at least from my point of view, is how the Left in this small Central European country adopted the symbols and themes of the American culture war to launch their own attack on the government. There are very, very few black people in Hungary. The point of the gesture was to unite the local Left with the global Grand March of Progressivism.
Earlier today I spoke by phone to a British source who was talking about a situation in his country in which the radical cultural Left has taken over an influential institution (I’ll be writing about it later, so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag). He spoke in great detail about how thoroughly demoralizing the infiltration has been, and how profound the effect is likely to be on the UK. The same dynamic is happening in the US, of course, in our elite institutions. Something very, very bad is going on.
As I’ve been writing here, the current Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, is increasingly orienting the country away from the West and towards China and Russia. Back in 2014, Orban made his famous “illiberal democracy” speech. Excerpts:
Yet there is an even more important race. I would articulate this as a race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful. As the state is nothing else but a method of organizing a community, a community which in our case sometimes coincides with our country’s borders, sometimes not, but I will get back to that, the defining aspect of today’s world can be articulated as a race to figure out a way of organizing communities, a state that is most capable of making a nation competitive. This is why, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, a trending topic in thinking is understanding systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, and yet making nations successful. Today, the stars of international analyses are Singapore, China, India, Turkey, Russia. And I believe that our political community rightly anticipated this challenge. And if we think back on what we did in the last four years, and what we are going to do in the following four years, then it really can be interpreted from this angle. We are searching for (and we are doing our best to find, ways of parting with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them) the form of organizing a community, that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race.
I don’t want this blog post to go into a detailed analysis of the Orban speech; you can read the whole thing and decide for yourself what he meant, and how you feel about it. The graf I’ve highlighted above shows the core of his question: which form of government will make a state most successful? Liberal democracy is not an end (he says), but the means to an end, which is national success. Well, what is “success”? If I read the speech correctly, Orban is saying that in some key areas, the liberal model — defined as maximal individual liberty, bounded only by the principle of avoiding harm to others — has failed to produce nations capable of thriving in the world today.
What, then, should a country like Hungary do? Where is the model it should follow? It looks to the West and sees chaos and strife that is the result of liberalism’s own policies. I wrote in this space recently about how concerned I am that the Hungarians are welcoming the Chinese construction of a European outpost of their Fudan University. But I spoke the other day to a Hungarian-born professor who has spent his life teaching in US and British universities, and he told me that the Chinese, whatever their failings, will not export cultural pathology through Fudan University. A Budapest branch of any leading Western university would, he said.
Of course he’s right about that. Seriously, would you really want to invite into your country a vector for the kind of crackpot ideology that is tearing apart American institutions, psychologically harming kids with gender theories, turning races against each other, and dismantling the ability of once-great universities to do what universities are supposed to do? Would you want your country to adopt education policies that punish gifted and talented kids for the sake of “equity,” as California is now doing? Do the people of Hungary, or any other nation that hasn’t already swallowed the poison, really want their children to be taught in school that there are scores of genders, and that they can decide for themselves what their gender really is? The Democrats are trying to write gender ideology into the US Constitution via the Equality Act, which won’t pass this year, or next year, but it will eventually pass. Once that happens, and once objecting to transgender ideology is regarded in constitutional law as the equivalent of racism, there will be no coming back from that.
France is facing the prospect of civil war because it allowed in massive numbers of Islamic immigrants, which it has not been able to assimilate. Back in 2015, in the midst of the migration crisis, the Hungarian PM gave a speech:
Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has claimed Europe is in the grip of madness over immigration and refugees, and argued that he was defending European Christianity against a Muslim influx.
Orbán’s incendiary remarks came as he arrived in Brussels for a confrontation with EU leaders over his hardline policies in Europe’s biggest migration emergency since the second world war.
“Everything which is now taking place before our eyes threatens to have explosive consequences for the whole of Europe,” Orbán wrote in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Europe’s response is madness. We must acknowledge that the European Union’s misguided immigration policy is responsible for this situation.
“Irresponsibility is the mark of every European politician who holds out the promise of a better life to immigrants and encourages them to leave everything behind and risk their lives in setting out for Europe. If Europe does not return to the path of common sense, it will find itself laid low in a battle for its fate.”
Orbán said the razor-wire fence erected on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia was essential to defending the Schengen zone’s external borders. He denied that the emergency was a refugee crisis, but one of mass migration.
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” he said. “This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.
“Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
This is total anathema to liberals and progressives. But Orban was right then, and is right today.
I am new here, and don’t know enough about this government’s policies to say whether or not it has found an answer, or part of the answer. What I can say with confidence is that to step slightly outside of the West — Hungary is a Western, Christian country, but has not (yet) drunk the woke Kool-Aid — and to look at what’s happening at home is to realize that the West is not the future. The West has been the future since the discovery of the New World, but it’s hard to believe that it remains so today. I don’t believe that it is primarily because of liberal democracy. I believe that it is primarily because of its decadent, narcissistic culture, including its abandoning of Christianity. As I see it, the real question Viktor Orban posed in 2014 is whether or not to save the things that made our civilization not only great, but that make it work, requires turning from liberal democracy to illiberal democracy. What would that mean in practice — for the Hungarians, and for us? Is liberal democracy a collective suicide pact?
Near the core of this political and cultural crisis is the fact that we cannot even talk across ideological lines about it. Look at this. Jay Rosen is a major professor of journalism and media critic at NYU; “Sulliview” is Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist at the Washington Post:
The US is going to become “functionally an authoritarian White Christian nationalist state in the very near future”?! Jay Rosen thinks so too, and so, it would seem, does Margaret Sullivan?! Good God. The left controls nearly every major institution of civil society in this country, and corporate America; even the CIA and the US military are going woke. This claim is deranged — but it’s what they are going to keep telling themselves to justify tightening the soft totalitarian grip. The amazing thing I’m seeing after this month in Hungary is that despite its self-serving pretensions, the US is in key ways less liberal and less democratic than Hungary. But that’s a story for another post. As is the question of whether political measures can ultimately keep this Cultural Revolution out of Hungary, or any other country in the world.
UPDATE: The culture war is just a figment of fevered right-wing imagination. Also, here’s the current cover of one of Italy’s two leading newsmagazines. The slogan says, “Diversity Is Richness.” Men cannot have babies. A culture that believes so is morally insane, and deserves what it gets.