Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Mona Charen At CPAC

Glad she denounced Trump's piggishness to women -- but Marion Maréchal-Le Pen deserved better
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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3S4Z7eJVQw&w=525&h=300]

Everybody’s talking about Mona Charen’s appearance at CPAC; the controversial parts are in the video above. Charen rightly and necessarily called out Trump for his piggishness towards women (she was on a panel about #MeToo), and then attacked CPAC for inviting the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is a fascist (or very, very close to one), and certainly an anti-Semite. Charen was booed by the audience, and then this:


What a revolting development. Agree with her or not, for Mona Charen to have to be escorted out of CPAC being protected by security guards is disgusting. Charen wrote an op-ed about the experience. Excerpt:

There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth. And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.

I spoke to a hostile audience for the sake of every person who has watched this spectacle of mendacity in disbelief and misery for the past two years. Just hearing the words you know are true can serve as ballast, steadying your mind when so much seems unreal.

For traditional conservatives, the past two years have felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Politicians, activists and intellectuals have succumbed with numbing regularity, betraying every principle they once claimed to uphold. But there remains a vigorous remnant of dissenters. I hear from them. There were even some at CPAC.

A substantial number of people applauded. And as I was hustled out of the building by security, various supporters gave me the thumbs up sign.

I’ve been thinking about this all weekend, trying to figure out where to come down on it. Many conservative commentators swiftly came out in support of Charen’s actions. I’m with them … to a point. For example, I am very glad she spoke out against Trump and Moore, and the conservative movement’s hypocrisy on that front. And again, I think it’s rotten that the CPAC audience treats a dissenter like that. You might think that she’s on the wrong side of an issue, but Mona Charen was working in the public square for conservatism before many of those CPAC youngsters were born. She deserved better.

So why don’t I fully endorse Charen’s performance at CPAC? Because of her condemnation of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — who deserved better from Charen — and for what that blanket condemnation says about American conservatism.

To be clear — pay attention here — Jean-Marie Le Pen is an actual fascist, an anti-Semite, and a disgrace. To the extent that she represents his racist, anti-Semitic views, Marion ought to be ashamed. Despite having read Bill Wirtz’s TAC piece about her, it is not clear to me what she believes on race and Judaism.

However, Patrick Deneen captured in a Facebook post why I am not willing to join Charen on the issue of MMLP:

I’ve seen Bill Kristol and my friend Robert P. George praise Mona Charen’s critiques of CPAC. While I might share many of their criticisms, I believe Charen was uninformed about the stances of Marechal-Le Pen, which she identified as indistinguishable from those of her grandfather. I wonder whether she and they disagree with what I have read of Marion Marechal-Le Pen’s address, where she stated:

“Without nation, and without family, the limits of the common good, natural law, and collective morality [disappear] as the reign of egoism continues,” said Maréchal-Le Pen.

“Today, even children have now become merchandise. We hear now, in the public debate, we have the right to order a child [through a] catalogue, we have the right to rent a woman’s womb, we have the right to deprive a child of a mother or father,” she continued. “No, you don’t. A child is not a right.”

“I came here to tell you that there is a youth ready for this fight in Europe today – a youth who believes in hard work, who believe…the flag means something, who wants to defend individual freedom and private property, a conservative youth who wants to protect their children from eugenics and from the gender theory delirium,” she said.

This is “a youth who wants to protect their parents from euthanasia and protect humanity from transhumanism.”

I hope they will reconsider their unqualified endorsements of Charen’s criticisms.

I agree. I posted something the other day approving of her speech, excerpting it, and linking to a video of it.  If you are looking for any French conservative — mainstream or further to the right — to endorse Anglo-Saxon-style free market economics — you will search in vain. (OK, maybe you’ll find Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry; the point is, French right-wing thought is not as “liberal” in the market sense as British and American right-wing thought.)

On matters of social and cultural conservatism, if there were Republicans who thought and spoke like MMLP did the other day, I would be eager to vote for him or her. Where are the Republicans who have the brains and the courage to speak out forcefully against “gender theory delirium,” the destruction of the family, and in favor of the natural law? Why does it take a right-wing French Catholic to say these things coherently among American conservatives? (You might also ask: why did a million people in militantly secular France mass in Paris to protest in favor of preserving traditional marriage, and the traditional family (see Manif Pour Tous), while conservative US politicians and conservative US Christian leaders did nothing?

An Evangelical layman involved in the 2016 fight to protect Christian colleges in California from LGBT rights legislation that would have effectively shut down many of them  told me that campaigners could not interest suburban white Evangelical churches in the fight. They didn’t want to be thought of as bigoted. These Christians did not agree with the legislation, but it was more important for them to maintain middle-class respectability than to fight for the survival of these vulnerable Christian colleges.

I spoke to an Evangelical woman who campaigned in Washington state for a “bathroom bill” initiative (it failed), who said that it was almost impossible to get churches involved — again, not because the people in the churches didn’t believe in the cause, but because they were afraid to be called bigots.

You may recall my telling you here that in October 2015, months after the Obergefell ruling, I met on Capitol Hill with a group of Congressional Republican staffers from both sides of the Hill. I asked what plans the GOP had for shoring up religious liberty in the post-Obergefell world. Answer: none. It wasn’t a priority for the party. That’s when I knew that we Christians are on our own.

We still are. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, like many French Catholics, has a deeper understanding of how marriage and family tie into natural law and the Christian tradition than most American Christians do. In France, which is no longer a religious country, millions of people understand that the family is the bedrock of their civilization — and they also grasp more clearly than American conservatives do the importance of preserving a sense of the common good in the face of atomizing individualism.

I suspect CPAC invited MMLP to speak as an attempt to forge connections with the anti-liberal European right over immigration, not protecting Western Christian tradition. Prudence and skepticism is required. Still, I agree with what a conservative Catholic friend texted me over the weekend, about the conservative commentariat rallying ’round Charen’s condemnation of MMLP:

Conservatism Inc. is in receivership, but they seem not to have gotten the memo.

True. Look at my TAC colleague Emile Doak’s report on a panel discussion recently about the future of conservatism. Among the panelists: George Weigel, representing old-school fusionism, and both Rusty Reno and Joshua Mitchell, who are thinking differently. Excerpts:

The Trump phenomenon has shattered a multitude of political conventions, but perhaps none is more consequential for those on the right than the rapidly unraveling fusionism that has dominated Republican politics (and American conservatism more broadly) for decades. Free-market economics, neoconservative foreign policy hawkishness, and traditional social conservatism were always strange ideological bedfellows, but their philosophical distinctiveness has now reached a tipping point. A concern about the “atomizing effects of modern economic practices…individualism and materialism,” as Reno put it, has led to some uncomfortable self-reflection on the electoral coalition that has long driven movement conservatism.

Questions were asked about the recent rebuke to globalism and the proper role of the state in bringing this reckoning to a head. In his opening remarks, Weigel appeared to double down on at least some of the fusionist mantra, arguing that the current moment doesn’t modify Christian political principles, which are perennial. This means that Christians have the same priorities in the age of Trump as they do “in the age of Obama, Clinton, Bush, Carter, Reagan, whomever.” Among these are a “built-in preference for the limited state,” which leads to a deep skepticism of any “remediating government interaction” for a corrupt culture (at least at the federal level), and a “built-in duty of self defense [based on] a development of the just war way of thinking to address the new forms of war waged against American democracy today.” Weigel appealed to a “global solidarity that expresses itself…for the past half-century in support of human rights and pro-democracy activists around the world.” In essence, free markets, strong national defense, and the promotion of “American values” across the globe.

In contrast, Reno and Mitchell were more prepared to rethink “small-government conservatism.” This is by no means an endorsement of statism—indeed, both Reno and Mitchell are deeply skeptical of the federal government—but rather a recognition that some government action may be needed as an intermediary for our vast cultural deficiency. Instead of the progressive project, which views big government as a substitute for civil society, Mitchell argued that “we have to distinguish between supplement and substitute. The state can supplement for the institutions of society periodically when things are deeply dysfunctional” (emphasis added). Reno also offered some practical implications of the “supplement” view of the state: a type of “Homestead Act for the 21st century” to restore property and wealth to middle-class families, a heavy tax on supersized university endowments, and perhaps even a divorce tax to discourage family breakdown. These novel suggestions are hardly a break from precedent, as government already encourages socially desirable behaviors through things like cigarette taxes and tax-exempt status for churches and charities. The extent to which free-market conservatives and libertarians bristle at Reno’s suggestions shows how entrenched we are in our outdated political orthodoxies.

Amen! Read all of Emile’s report, and you’ll see why the kind of political vision Marion Maréchal-Le Pen put forward in her 10-minute speech finds traction today.

Do not take me as endorsing Marion Maréchal-Le Pen! I honestly don’t know enough about her to do such a thing, and I certainly condemn the racism and anti-Semitism of her grandfather — and, if she espouses it, then her own racism and anti-Semitism. However, I generally don’t trust the US media’s reporting on her, or on the European anti-liberal right.

Still, the ideas she presented at CPAC are ideas that deserve a hearing in the public square. I prefer the flawed attempt of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen to address from the traditionalist right the most pressing problems of our time to the doubling down on the same tired dogmas of the US conservative establishment (including, note well, the Religious Right). As you know, I don’t have any faith that there is a political solution to our problems, but insofar as politics plays a role, it’s the kind of traditionalist conservatism that we heard from Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. If you want to have a more intellectual look at European post-liberal conservatism, the book to read is Ryszard Legutko’s terrific The Demon In Democracy.  It, along with Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, and, if you will allow me to be immodest, my The Benedict Option, are key texts in the emerging right-of-center sensibility.

One big task facing American traditionalists, especially Christian ones, is to wall off the racialism that is baked in the cake with many European iterations of traditionalism. Condemnations like Charen’s (and that of the conservatives who joined her) confirm the left-wing critique that populism is nothing but racism all the way down. In other words, if nothing MMLP had to say in her very interesting CPAC speech matters because her grandfather is a racist cretin, it will actually be more difficult to stigmatize racism and anti-Semitism on the right.

UPDATE: Let me put it another way. The fact that we have Trump has a lot to do with the failures of establishment conservatives — and they still don’t seem to have any real idea why they failed. Is it really the case that the only reason people like Trump and Le Pen find traction on the right is racism and bigotry? The only reason? Does it have nothing to do with the failure of establishment conservatism of the past 40 years? Take a look at TAC’s cover story on Tucker Carlson, especially this part:

Peter Beinart, late of The New Republic, anticipated something conservatives have yet to address but might need to soon. “In his vicious and ad hominem way,” wrote Beinart in The Atlantic, “Carlson is doing something extraordinary: He’s challenging the Republican Party’s hawkish orthodoxy in ways anti-war progressives have been begging cable hosts to do for years [wading into] a debate between the two strands of thinking that have dominated conservative foreign policy for roughly a century.” These two strands, presumably, are the long-dominant hawks and the still outnumbered non-interventionists troubled by the expansion of federal power that goes with those who seem to favor one war after another—often fought simultaneously all over the globe.

This raises a question: Can you be a conservative if you don’t embrace foreign policy interventionism? “Look,’’ Carlson says, “if Bill Kristol is a conservative, I am not.” Further, he suggests he actually isn’t much of a conservative on some economic issues either. “I do not favor cutting tax rates for corporations, and I do not favor invading Iran,” he says. Sometimes, he adds, “the hard left is correct. The biggest problem this country faces is income inequality, and neither the liberals nor the conservatives see it. There is a great social volatility that goes with inequality like we have now. Inequality will work under a dictatorship, maybe, but it does not work in a democracy. It is dangerous in a democracy. In a democracy, when there is inequality like this, the people will rise up and punish their elected representatives.”

In fact, they did rise up, says Carlson, when they elected Trump in 2016. “There was no mystery to why Trump won. He was the only candidate speaking to the collapsing middle class. Conservatives do not understand the social consequences of economic inequality.”




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