Just in time for the holidays, Pat Buchanan has come along to alert us to the shifting alliances in the conflict between tradition and modernity. While Buchanan’s pugnacity in the culture wars has long since ceased to be news, his latest entry is jaw-dropping nonetheless. Writing last week on a right-wing Web site, he announced he’d found a new star in the paleoconservative firmament: Vladimir Putin.
In the article “Is Putin One of Us?,” Buchanan noted that while a “de-Christianized” United States has been embracing “homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values,” Putin has stood up for the old-time virtues. Indeed, Putin sounds increasingly like Buchanan himself. Tolerance for gay sex, Putin has said, is an “acknowledgement of the equality of good and evil.” This “so-called tolerance,” he continues, “is genderless and infertile.” And the United States, having committed itself to the “destruction of traditional values” and the promotion of “abstract ideas” (Equality? Democracy? The pursuit of happiness?), has set itself against the greater part of humankind and religious orthodoxy everywhere.
Buchanan wasn’t content just to acclaim Putin for his “moral clarity.” In embracing Putin, he suggested that a new global conservative bloc may be, and certainly should be, forming. Though many Americans are “still caught up in a Cold War paradigm,” he wrote, “the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.”
Buchanan has come full circle. Raised in a household marked by fervent support for fascist Francisco Franco in his war against the secular democratic government of Spain, he has turned in his 75th year to the anti-Western authoritarian leader of Russia. The moral arc of Buchanan’s universe may be long, but it keeps plopping him down in the company of thugs.
It’s not Buchanan’s trajectory that’s of interest here, however. It’s his argument that the American Cultural Right should make common cause with enemies of the Enlightenment wherever they may be. He applauds the recent decision of India’s Supreme Court restoring the 1861 law that criminalized gay sex. He notes approvingly that, “in the four dozen nations that are predominantly Muslim, same-sex marriage is not even on the table.”
Buchanan’s epiphany that his brand of nationalism and religious orthodoxy has believers the world over is surely right — but can he convince his permanently enraged American acolytes that some of the people they most fear and despise are actually the people they should be hailing as their comrades? Will “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson embrace non-Christians who are as homophobic as he is? Will Texans maintain their composure when they realize that the only people who go in for capital punishment as much as they do are Chinese communists and Saudi sheiks? Can particularists who believe that their race, religion and nation are threatened by immigrants and nonbelievers, by outsiders and cosmopolitans, form a transnational, cross-cultural alliance? An Intolerant International?
Crazy as it may sound, a European nativist prototype may be in the works. Last month, Jean-Marie Le Pen of France’s National Front and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party — two parties with long histories of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-European-Union demagoguery — announced that they intended to campaign on similar platforms in next year’s European Parliament elections and to form a bloc in the parliament once it convenes. One such bloc formed briefly in 2007 under the banner of “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty,” but it fell apart after a European Parliament member from Italy, Alessandra Mussolini (yes, the granddaughter of that Mussolini), referred to Romanians as habitual lawbreakers.The Romanian members of Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty up and left.
Such are the perils of an Intolerant International, but Buchanan seems to think it’s worth the risk. For Buchanan, Putin’s abhorrence of secularism apparently outweighs his suppression of political dissent. His imprisonment of rock musicians who performed an irreverent concert in a cathedral apparently outweighs — well, his imprisonment of rock musicians who performed an irreverent concert in a cathedral. If it comes down to a fight between democracy and religious orthodoxy, as was true in Franco’s day, so is it true in Putin’s: Orthodoxy must prevail.
The Intolerant International. Bigots of the world, unite.
Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect.