Home/Rod Dreher/Woke Vs. Loyalism Vs. Authoritarianism

Woke Vs. Loyalism Vs. Authoritarianism

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban (PBS NewsHour)

A reader writes, commenting on my “Radicalizing To The Right” post:

Let me start at the top by saying I agree with Curtis Yarvin — the current regime will probably last for at least a generation more. As long as the U.S. remains the world’s top economy and as long as people’s basic needs are being met and decadence remains (both on the Left and Right), there’s no reason for this country to fall any time soon.
Unless, of course, some sort of calamity strikes.
History is a tale of slow-burns, punctuated by sprints. The election of Donald Trump catalyzed a sprint, as did COVID. It won’t be that long until the next major crisis hits that’ll accelerate the process even further. The operative question is, with respect to your blog post, is what will truly mobilize the Right to take the fight straight to the Left?
Before I address that, it’s crucial to note that the embrace of authoritarianism on the Right is very real. You saw it in Dr. Karlyn Borysenko’s testimony I shared with you concerning some of the stuff she hears and how White nationalism appears to be taking root in some areas on the Right. White nationalism, any kind of racial nationalism, is inherently authoritarian.
But it need not even come in the form of White nationalism. Many conservatives and across the broad right-wing are as exasperated with democracy and liberalism much the same way as the Left, except the Left is much further along the timeline. Those on the Right are loathe to admit it, but many of them share your view that liberalism, even classical liberalism, is a great enabler of what we’ve seen come out of the Left. Given that they’ve lost faith in the country, many of them are turning to examples from history as what they see as preferable societies. Be it Francoist Spain, Chile under Pinochet, or Orban’s Hungary today, even the Right has largely given up on America and would like to see it fundamentally transformed into something a little less exceptional and more in line with what we’ve seen elsewhere in the world throughout history. And, by the way, I hear it on a personal level also, from those I know.
So, at least culturally, I see three, not two camps emerging in the coming rift:
  1. Woke Left: This is a group that needs no introduction.
  2. “Loyalists”: These are the classical liberals, the Eric Weinsteins, Bari Weisses, Damon Linkers, and even you, Rod! I call you all the “loyalists” because you all, despite your diverse views, still believe in the American experiment, the Constitution, and embrace our history, good and bad, and would like to see this country stay together. I’m proudly part of this group.
  3. Authoritarian Right: There’s really no other term to describe them right now. Much the way many of the Left came to embrace dictators or, at least, find something redeemable in them, the Right is also embracing dictators and finding something redeemable in them. I never thought I’d hear an American quote Slobodan Milosevic so approvingly (not merely to prove a point), but here we are. Many within this group also approve of breaking the country up, though they seem oblivious to just how messy this would be, even if done peacefully.
Most Americans won’t swear allegiance to any of these three groups. But their views will fall broadly within these three groups. My hope is that most Americans will choose loyalism, but I’m not sure of that.
As far as what will motivate the Right to finally take the fight to the Left, it’d have to be something like an economic collapse or a total breakdown in law and order, akin to what we recently saw in South Africa. Right now, the Left is just too powerful and the Right far too fractured and, frankly, still too invested in the America they think they know. Much the way the Left’s surge began when they started to make a clean break with America’s ideals and history and began redefining everything, the Right’s surge will begin when they make a clean break in much the same way. They’ll couch their ideology as representing America’s best traditions, of course, much the way the Left occasionally, through spokesmen like Barack Obama and Joe Biden, associate their actions and beliefs as being consistent with America’s best traditions.
But the reality is, both sides want a different country altogether. Concerning the favoritism you find in Viktor Orban, I’d caution against wanting America to become like Hungary, even if the latter isn’t the fascist dictatorship it’s unfairly portrayed as. Sweden may not be a socialist state either, but both countries are the product of unique cultures and histories that have little to no precedent in the U.S. Therefore, we cannot (and probably shouldn’t) become Hungary any more than we should become Sweden.
I could talk about this for hours on end, but I’ll close by saying this – one day, America as we know it will be no more. Whether we end up as a Third World country or we end up as an authoritarian country, it won’t be the country we lived in for most of our lifetimes. I understand why those on the Right want their own Franco. I really do. But there’s a heavy price to pay for it. When it comes right down to it, I want to be on the side that tried to hold it all together when it was falling apart. I won’t live forever and neither will anyone else. I won’t take part in condemning this country, our people, the land where the blood of our ancestors was spilled, to dictators on either side. Protecting myself, my family, and my way of life is what’s worth fighting for, not for an idea of a “better” society.
That’s a good letter. I believe the reader is right to characterize me as a “Loyalist”; in the end, I prefer a world where people on the Left who disagree with me can rely on a public culture of being left alone as much as possible. I don’t do that out of some indifference to evil or somesuch thing. I do that because as best as I can see this is the only way for us to live together amid our differences. Of course there is no utopia in which everyone can have what they want perfectly. Still, I think that respect and affection for those who are very different from me, and plain old self-interest, makes the classically liberal arrangement the best we can hope for in this fallen world.
That said, I believe MacIntyre had it right forty years ago when he observed that the fundamental moral consensus that bound us disparate people together has largely dissolved. (I don’t recall that MacIntyre put it this way, but the decline of Christianity as a shared cultural myth is what did it.) That’s not coming back, not in my lifetime. I am a half-hearted defender of liberal democracy because I really don’t see how it works going forward … but all the actual alternatives seem worse. And by the way, Hungary remains a democracy. If the people don’t like Orban and his party, they can vote them out — and might just do it next year. They’ve voted Orban out before. Funnily enough for a dictator, he abided by the results of the election. He will do it next year if Hungarian voters toss his party out of power.
When I say that the US Right needs an Orban, I don’t mean that I would like to see American conservative politicians lift Orbanism from Budapest and implant it in America. I certainly don’t mean that I want to see the GOP tolerate the corruption around Orban (which, note well, is common in the political culture of the former Communist countries, no matter which party is in power), and I damn sure don’t mean that I want the GOP to accept state surveillance of domestic political opponents, as we know that the Hungarians did with the Pegasus software.
What I mean is that I would like to see American conservative politicians who are:
Anti-globalist. Don’t engage in trade pacts and political arrangements that stand to hurt the national interest, as defined by something broader than GDP.
Pro-national sovereignty. That means allowing countries and states whose customs, laws, and beliefs we conservatives don’t like to have their way, as a general rule)
Pro-family. Defending the traditional family in law and policy, including economic policies. Also, pushing back hard on gender ideology.
Skeptical of Big Business. Which entails ending the privileging of economic actors. For example, in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash, when Hungarians were being forced out of their homes because they were unable to pay mortgages, the new Orban government passed a law saying banks could not expel families from their homes. The Orban government is definitely pro-business, but it doesn’t believe the interests of business are the same thing as the interests of society.
Defending the national idea and culture. Vigorously opposing things like open-borders migration, trade deals that hurt traditional agriculture and customs, and woke attacks on national and civilizational identity, including religious identity. Also, taking seriously the fact that universities are originators and vectors of toxic, society-destroying ideology, and using power to rein them in. It also means that lawmakers should aggressively fight back against the attempts underway now to destroy museums under the banner of “decolonization.” The Left really is dismantling our civilizational heritage — and the Right is sitting back and letting it happen.
Fighting hard — but fighting intelligently. Getting rid of the foolish, self-harming idea that if we have made libs angry, we have done our bit to fight them. Orban takes politics and lawmaking seriously. He fights very hard for the things he believes in, but unlike Donald Trump, he actually has convictions and principles, and he wants actually to fight, and to win — not merely to be seen as fighting.
The reader is right that Hungary is Hungary and America is America — and that’s good! One of the benefits of having lived here this summer is discovering for myself the malign power of US cultural imperialism. It really exists, and I completely understand why people in smaller countries resent it. Nevertheless, the things I’ve outlined above are changes I would like to see come to the conservative movement and the GOP. They can be done within liberal democracy, tailored to American circumstances. They require courage and vision among both leaders and followers. Trump broke the GOP Establishment, for which we should be mostly grateful. But Trump has not the courage, the vision, the character, the discipline, or the skills to be an effective Right-of-center leader. Somebody does.
By the way, on the question of the connection between politics and national history and character, I commend to you this Twitter thread by the Australian conservative commentator Gray Connolly. I don’t want to shift the conversation of this thread to Australia and Covid, but I do want to highlight this as an example of why certain government policies that would not be feasible or wise in one country make sense in another — and why this is something we should respect. The kind of policies followed by the Australian government (or the Hungarian government) might in fact be reasonable within the local political and cultural context. The messianic attitude of Americans, both of the Left and of the Right, which holds that the rest of the world ought to adopt our principles and way of life, is offensive and wrong. It led us from the Right into the foolish cause of turning Iraq and Afghanistan into liberal democracies. It is leading us from the Left to make enemies where America should have none.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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