French Kiss: France’s “New Right” (Nouvelle Droit) and the American National-Populist Movement

France’s Marine Le Pen might be down, but the Le Pen dynasty – now known as the National Rally – is far from out. Indeed, they might be shining a light forward for American conservatives. Marion Maréchal (nee Le Pen) is looking to rebuild the party far from its quasi-fascist roots, orienting it toward an updated form of conservatism.

This conservatism owes far more to Continental conservative thought than it does the Whiggery of Anglo-American conservatism. The latter is little more than a cautious form of liberalism with its single-minded defense of free markets as filtered through the Protestant work ethic.  Continental conservatism, on the other hand, finds its raison d’etre in the stability of organic society. For the Continental conservative, free markets are more like fire than a value in and of themselves. Sometimes they are useful, sometimes they are not.

Mark Lilla, writing for the New York Review of Books, paints a sympathetic picture of this brand of conservatism. A dynamic movement, it does not originate within the National Rally or the Le Pen family, but rather within the Catholic values of the French hoi polloi. The National Rally seeks to harness popular discontent, and pair it with an intellectually robust critique of modernity that’s free of market fetishism. Lilla suggests convincingly that American conservatives stand to benefit from a bit of Continental influence. To wit: Counterposing conservation to eco-Marxist redistribution schemes, investment in social capital as an alternative to neoliberal austerity and moral opposition to the financial economy and a culture of consumerist nihilism.

These ideas aren’t entirely foreign to American conservatism. Pat Buchanan ran three Presidential campaigns on them, albeit unsuccessful ones. Steve Bannon, for his part, was able to put a President Trump into the White House by leveraging a crude and intellectually impoverished version of the Buchanan campaign. Tucker Carlson, the third-highest rated prime-time talk show host on cable (and second in the all-important 25-54 demographic) opines in a manner far closer to Continental conservatism than Whiggery five nights a week. An emerging ideologically Trumpist wing of the Republican Party represented by publications like American Greatness and the Claremont Institute’s American Mind finds sway among young conservative intellectuals.

However, it’s important to remember that the national-populist movement is just that — national. UKIP, the National Rally, the Matteo Salvini movement, the Sweden Democrats and the Alternative for Germany each carry a critique of neoliberal globalism, but with their own national characteristics. UKIP is deeply rooted in the Anglo-American tradition of classical liberalism, whereas their continental equivalents are less apprehensive about bringing to bear the full power of the state.

Still, there’s one massive stumbling block to the wholesale importation of a Continental-style conservatism: The American right’s political culture is fundamentally anarchistic and revolutionary. Ours is a nation born out of rebellion against royal power and taxation without representation, the country that produced both Lysander Spooner and Henry David Thoreau. The West was settled in no small part by pioneers looking to escape the grasp of big government and live life by rules of their own choosing. Compare with Europe and its millennia-long tradition of kings, barons and bishops.

The European state, prior to the Great War, was largely an organic one, built up over hundreds of years and ultimately resting on original acquisition and property rights, philosophies of “divine right of kings” notwithstanding. Before post-war socialist-backed estate taxes financially ruined them, the old nobility and aristocracy of Europe held power largely because they owned land.

Compare to the United States with our Constitution. Regardless of what one might think of the effectiveness of this document in crafting liberty (or, for that matter, European gentry), it is not a document of organic government. Ours is a crafted government. And one must not forget that while it was American settlers who won the West, it is the Bureau of Land Management who currently hold it.

This is not to say, as many intellectually lazy thinkers are wont to do, that Americans are “natural libertarians.” They are not. No one is. But skepticism and hostility toward government are simply a part of the American right’s political DNA in a way that they are not in Europe.

Nor is this hostility toward centralism completely absent from the European national-populist movement. Italy’s celebrated Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, it should be noted, heads a political party advocating for independence of Northern Italy. UKIP was born out of a desire to leave the European Union. Animosity towards Brussels is shared by nearly every national-populist party on the Continent.

Still, in Europe, the phrase “get off my land” is a crude parody of an American. Here in the states, it’s deadly serious — and enforced with two barrels loaded with 12 gauge. Remember the Bundy standoff?

As the American national-populist movement creates its own identity separate from the personality of the President, it will necessarily take on libertarian characteristics. This will not be the Libertarian Party’s centrism of “bake the damn cake,” nor the the Center for a Stateless Society’s free market cultural Marxism. Intellectually, it is the libertarianism of Ron Paul and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Culturally, it is represented by the Gadsden Flag and New Hampshire’s state motto of “Live Free or Die.” Those seeking to strike a blow against centralized power,  creeping socialism and police state will ignore it at the peril of their own irrelevancy.

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