On the Failure of Conservatives to Mount Effective Opposition to the Most Insane Policies Ever Visited Upon Mankind
Remarks inspired by Manfred Kleine-Hartlage's 'Invective against Conservatives'
Corona is the latest chapter in a long parade of insanity by Western governments.
I was first summoned from inattentive normie sleep in 2015, when Angela Merkel opened the German borders to mass third-world immigration. It was an intensely strange moment. Weeks upon weeks of clearly manufactured media hysteria culminated in people of all political persuasions donating money and clothes to notional Syrian refugees and joining welcome parties at train stations. There they encountered primarily fighting-age men from across the Middle East and Africa, a far cry from the crowds of Syrian women and children and “doctors” that the media had promised. These refugees, supported by taxpayers and unleashed upon the indigenous population of Europe, behaved after the pattern of invaders across history. The press and government officials studiously hid the details of their conduct until the mass sexual assaults perpetrated at Cologne on Silvesternacht 2015/16 overwhelmed even the propaganda capacities of German state media.
By the end of 2016, an astounding 1.3 million migrants had entered the Federal Republic of Germany – a massive incursion overseen not by a leftist government, but by the nominally conservative Christian Democrats. It was also the CDU, under Merkel’s leadership, who developed the genius plan to phase out nuclear energy and close our coal-fired power plants at the same time, and who masterminded some of the harshest and most destructive Corona containment measures in all of Europe. You elect allegedly prudent, far-sighted centrist conservatives, you get mass immigration, deindustrialisation, and nationwide hygiene house arrests.
How does that happen?
I’ve tried not to make right-wing politics a focus of this blog, mostly because I’m not even sure what it means to be on the right, in a world where there’s no operative political identity beyond establishment leftism. Everyone who opposes the leftist program, whatever his specific views, will find himself bearing the right-wing label. Nor do I consider myself in any real sense a conservative. Nevertheless, the complicity of conservative politicians in enacting lunatic leftist policy prescriptions is a very deep problem, and one that characterises politics not just in Germany but across the West.
It’s also the theme of a little book from 2020 by Manfred Kleine-Hartlage called Konservativenbeschimpfung, that I’ve found myself rereading these past few days.
The title might be translated Invective against Conservatives, or merely Against Conservatives, but it’s not so much an attack as it is an explanation of conservative complicity in the leftist political program. As such it explains a great deal about our current moment, and in what follows I’ll venture to summarise some of its central ideas.
The Americans I know are fond of explaining conservative failures via the thesis of controlled opposition. The US Republican Party and also many nominally right-wing mouthpieces, so the line goes, have been co-opted either by the leftist establishment or by related special interests, and function merely as conduits to direct ideological energies towards ineffective or counter-productive ends. This thesis is not so much wrong as it is incomplete: The success of empty, transparent strategies like these itself requires explanation, as does the continued inability of many right-leaning politicians to develop a clear critique of the left or even defend the most moderate of their own positions. Instead, conservatives repeatedly embrace the principles of their opponents, while rejecting nationalists and traditionalists to their right as filthy populists, in chorus with leftist activists themselves.
The conservatives of MKH’s title include the members of mainstream parties, like Tories or the CDU, but also elements of the populist-trending opposition, such as Alternative für Deutschland or even some of the MAGA movement behind Donald Trump in America. Fundamental to conservatism in its establishment and establishment-adjacent oppositional forms are the same kinds of people, namely middle-class traditionalists – “a character-type that finds itself inherently opposed to [...] rebellion,” and which “is therefore to be found in every culture and society” (p. 22). This archetypal conservative shares a great part of his ideology with the populist right; it is only his social and cultural orientation, and his attitude towards the reigning elite, that sets him apart. “The right-dissident can be an enemy of the state; the conservative, at most, a member of the opposition” (p. 27). Above all, the conservative has the aims and instincts of a middle-class striver; he is “status-conscious” (p. 30) and eager to ingratiate himself with elites, whoever they may be.
Thus MKH detects an important asymmetry between establishment leftism and the conservatives who appear to oppose it. The conservative is an instinctive defender of traditional, organic structures, “which function precisely because of their organic nature, that is to say because nobody planned them consciously or with intent” (p. 15f). The leftist, meanwhile, is an innovator, who deploys his theories and utopian hopes against the received tradition. Like many organic things, our traditional institutions have an intuitive appeal that is nevertheless difficult to articulate and entirely foreign to leftist theory. Things like marriage and the family, religious communities, and even the human immune system, are organic solutions to ancient problems, worked out over millennia of cultural and biological evolution. Not even their most ardent defenders understand their purposes or functions fully. Conservatives are therefore rhetorically disadvantaged: “The only conclusive proof that these structures are irreplaceable comes when one has destroyed them, and realised that no replacements are in sight. But then it is too late.” The leftist critique of traditional institutions, meanwhile, undermines the functioning of traditional society. By destroying solidarity and common-feeling, these tactics come to reinforce, perversely, the leftist critique itself. As natural social and cultural structures are destroyed by leftist propaganda and social engineering, churches, schools and governments indeed come to seem – as the left has always told us – “non-existent, irrelevant, repressive, reactionary” (p. 17).
In a rightly ordered society, the conservative would find himself among the elite or its most enthusiastic supporters. There his conformist impulses would serve him well and align with his own interests. The primary source of innovation and criticism in traditionalist social structures would come from the non-conformist, anti-establishment element – in other words, precisely those people we call leftists today. The problem is that we live in an inverted order. The leftist opposition has taken charge; the conservative conformists have been driven into the opposition. The left sustains this inversion through its permanent revolution, its constant and ever-renewed assaults on the stability of society. The conservative, who remembers only his former position in the ruling class and remains fixated on returning to the halls of power, neglects populist solutions and seeks only to ingratiate himself with the leftists who hold the keys.
Neglect is too mild a word, in fact. The conservative only truly opposes the populists to his right. In denouncing right-wing populist opposition, the conservative both distances himself from the plebeian movements he considers beneath him, and hopes to ingratiate himself with the leftists in power:
Conservatives believe that by hiding their central beliefs they can gain access to elites and thereby achieve a wider public hearing. Apart from the fact that this strategy resembles an attempt to access a harem on the condition of one’s own castration (which, even if it worked, would be pointless), it fails anyway: For the witch-hunters of the opposition it is child’s play to produce proof that the conservative actually does hold these hidden opinions (and by analogy: that he still has, or at least had, contact with those people and organisations from which he had lately distanced himself). Insofar as the conservative has tabooed ... his very own political views, he tarnishes them both with the odium of the immoral and indecent. (p. 47)
This “three-fold own goal – to fail to advocate for your own position, to make yourself responsible for it nevertheless, and to vilify it on top of that” is central to a broader cultural process, via which traditionalist political positions are condemned as heresy by left- and right-wing parties alike, banished from polite company, and finally censored and even criminalised.
MKH sees this broken approach as a misbegotten attempt to appropriate the left’s Gramscian march through the institutions. “[T]o learn from one’s opponents does not mean, necessarily, that it is a good idea to copy them” (p. 51); the ideological asymmetries of left and right confound conservative hopes of reverse infiltration. To begin with, leftists got into power by playing to the sense of fairness that prevailed within the twentieth-century liberal establishment. This older guard of elites were prepared to concede access and even power to their political opponents; in their minds this largesse confirmed their own legitimacy. The left knows no such fairness; as soon as they took charge, they set about bricking up all the passages via which they came to power themselves. Today, the establishment left demands nothing so much as absolute conformity to its views, and admits mostly yes-men and careerists to its circles. There will be no equivalent institutional march for the right.
Personally, I would go even further than this, as I’m tempted to see the alleged leftist seizure of liberal democratic institutions as an illusion. What we’re really seeing, I think, is the inevitable degeneration of liberal norms and ideals, as they are replaced one after the other by leftist simulacra that present themselves as the perfected form of liberalism. Equality of outcome coming to replace equality of opportunity is only the most trite example to mention here; the phenomenon is evident across a wide array of issues, including Corona and mass containment, where the liberal ideals of public health were reworked by the leftist transmogrifier to become the overtly inhumane project of eradicating a virus.
Whereas MKH constructs the conservative primarily as an individual, the left appears in his pages as an ideology – one which holds that society is a human construct; that traditional social structures are repressive; that denies man’s biological nature; and that is ultimately hostile to western civilisation, which it seeks to replace in the future with socialist utopia. “One can either entirely reject this system of patent insanity, or not at all” (p. 69). The conservative’s belief that he can adopt some leftist principles for pragmatic purposes, or in a spirit of compromise, are therefore mistaken. The system he opposes demands absolute submission; anything less makes him an enemy regardless.
For centuries, liberal European polities fended off all manner of political opponents, and if the states themselves did not always survive, liberalism itself demonstrated remarkable stability. It was a great filter that excluded all rivals, until it found one it could not sort out. Marxism and its successor movements proliferated as the one disease that liberalism could not defeat, in much the same way that antibiotic-resistant MRSA emerges from the antiseptic environments of hospitals. It is an opposition politics uniquely suited to liberalism, for it exploits the liberal impulses for equality and freedom in favour of a quite different, and far more terrible, project. In Western countries, the leftists took aim at the traditional institutions and culture of the European middle classes. There, they still struggle to impose not a socialist utopia, but a never-ending industrial and financial serfdom.
What I remember most from my time in Marxist circles was the pervasive sentiment that the right is always winning. By “the right,” of course, we meant some variation upon Global Capital, whose agenda the political process always seemed to favour, and before whom our politicians always gave way. Later on, particularly after 2015, I found myself thinking precisely the same thing from the opposite direction – the left is always winning. By “the left,” of course, I realise that I mean not only the leftist establishment, but the selfsame managerial, bureaucratic and market forces whose interests they represent.
The leftist system is not meant to produce political stability or prosperity, and it feels a lot like it’s entering a death spiral. Getting these lunatics out of power, before they crash the entire West with no survivors, is the most urgent problem we face. Here MKH has the right idea: Respectable conservative politicians have failed above all, in neglecting those people who have suffered the most at the hands of globalisation, renewable energy, immigration, lockdowns and all the rest of it. We must defeat the leftist elite, not win them over; and to do this we must deprive them steadily of popular support, beginning among the lower classes and at the periphery, where the greatest gains are to be made, and working inwards. From the hysterical, crazed opposition men like Trump, Orbán and Salvini have inspired, you can measure the power of this approach.
If Corona restrictions return in the fall, populist political upsets will become our only hope.
The above is (heavily) adapted from a piece I wrote two years ago on a defunct platform, back when I had no audience. I spent the weekend re-reading Kleine-Hartlage’s work (partly on the advice of a friend), and thought it might be worth trying to bring some of his central ideas into English.