Trickle-Down Tolerance

Trickle-Down Tolerance
By Wade Lee Hudson

A review
Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America
John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck

Princeton University Press, 2018
352 p., $29.95

Human beings are a bundle of contradictions. Multiple instincts compete. Then, from time to time, external factors trigger particular inner experiences and the national mood fluctuates. Politicians, especially the President, amplify one human potential or another. To garner support, new leaders contrast themselves to old leaders. The pendulum swings.

In Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck examine this dynamic. They argue:

Simply being a member of a group is not the same thing as identifying or sympathizing with that group. The key is whether people feel a psychological attachment to a group….

The…power of group identities…depends on context. One part of the context is the possibility of gains and losses for the group…,[which] can be tangible…or symbolic, such as psychological status….

Another and arguably even more important element of the context is political actors. They help articulate the content of a group identity, or what it means to be part of a group. Political actors also identify, and sometimes exaggerate or even invent, threats to a group. Political actors can then make group identities and attitudes more salient and elevate them as criteria for decision-making.

Group loyalties “can and often do” create hostility toward other groups. But relationships to other groups “do not have to be competitive.

Prior to the 2016 election

several high-profile incidents between the police and communities of color made Americans more pessimistic about race relations than they had been in decades…. Moreover, there was no recession or major war, either of which tends to dominate an election-year landscape…. This created more room for different issues to matter….

Another crucial part of the context: even before 2016, group identities and attitudes were becoming more aligned with partisanship…. The party coalitions were increasingly “racialized….”

Because Trump, Clinton, and the other candidates focused so much on issues tied to racial and ethnic identities, it is no surprise that those identities and issues mattered to voters….

Economic and political dissatisfaction…was powerfully shaped by political identities. With a Democrat in the White House, Republicans had much less favorable opinions about conditions in the country. But dissatisfaction also reflected racial attitudes: under Obama, white Americans’ feelings about blacks became associated with many things, including whether and how they felt about the economy. “Racial anxiety” was arguably driving economic anxiety…..

Since the election, many commentators have analyzed whether race or class was most important in tipping the election to Trump. As I take Identity Politics, the answer is both, with each interwoven with the other.

Republicans who said that “both their personal finances and the national economy had gotten worse over the past year” were more likely to support Trump during the primary campaign.

But “their actual income” was not the key factor. Rather, it was “how people felt…. Trump’s support was tied more to people’s economic dissatisfaction.” A sense of “competition with minority groups” was key. As Arlie Russell Hochschild reported in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, many on the hard-right are very concerned about others “cutting in line” and getting more public support than they are.

The importance of economic insecurity was most apparent when economic sentiments were refracted through group identities. Worries about losing a job were less strongly associated with Trump support than were concerns about losing jobs to minorities…. This idea…predated Trump. He just leveraged it to his advantage.

With many Trump supporters, their hostility toward minorities may not be rooted in racism. According to Identity Crisis, that issue “remains a hotly debated topic in the social science literature. People may be hostile without being “racist.” They may not consider certain groups to be genetically inferior.

Regardless, “perceptions of deservingness” is critical. Many believe

African Americans no longer face much discrimination and are receiving unearned special favors. Indeed, whites who hold these beliefs often cite “reverse discrimination” as being a more serious problem…. [That sense] increases whites’ solidarity with other whites and opposition to minority groups….

Consistent with a long line of research showing that group interests are more potent politically than self-interest, economic anxiety was channeled more through white identity politics than it was through Trump supporters’ concern for their own well-being…. This is  “racialized economics”: the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while your group is left behind….

Economic insecurity was connected to partisan choices when it was refracted through racial grievances…. The dividing line between Clinton and Trump…was whether a racial minority deserved help….

After the election, Clinton acknowledged that her campaign “likely contributed to heightened racial consciousness.” “As a result,” she wrote,” some white voters may have decided I wasn’t on their side.” This is a tidy summary of what happened…. The campaign magnified this polarization…. It was also remarkable for how it crystallized the country’s identity crisis: sharp divisions on what America has become, and what it should be.

While reading about the backlash among Trump supporters to the ascendance of an African-American to the White House, I kept thinking about Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s work on Reconstruction’s attempt to promote racial justice by restructuring Southern society. White backlash led to Jim Crow and the restoration of white supremacy. Then, decades later, the civil rights movement, a Second Reconstruction, reversed some of that injustice and the election of Obama. That led to a second backlash, Trumpism.

Now, Trump has provoked another backlash, which Identity Politics identifies as “trickle-down tolerance.” Trump has exposed ugly sides of the American character and most Americans don’t like it. They want America to live up to its highest ideals. Trump’s statements “may have emboldened some people to act on their prejudice.” But overall

Trump was actually having the exact opposite effect on public opinion…. It is common for public opinion to shift against the president in what the political scientist Christopher Wlezien has call a “thermostatic” fashion…. From late 2015 through 2017, {compared to previously] more Americans rated Muslims favorably, thought that discrimination was a major cause of racial inequality, supported athletes kneeling, and thought gender discrimination and sexual harassment were serious problems.

And only distinct minorities of Americans support Trump’s signature border wall, perceive immigrants to be a burden, and want to decrease immigration.

But that shift has come at a cost. These changing attitudes on race, immigration, Islam, and gender were driven primarily by Democrats. The result has been accelerated partisan polarization over the same identity-inflected issues that helped make the 2016 election so divisive…. These growing divisions…threaten to make political conflict less about what the government should do and more about what it means to be an American.

In the American public writ large, there is also a definition of “acting like an American” that is inclusive. It defines American identity by values  — such as believing in the country’s ideals, working hard to achieve success, and contributing to your community — rather than by race, nationality, religion, or partisanship…. Political leaders…can also ask us to welcome others, to find common ground, and even to heal the country.

So far, it seems Democratic candidates for President may nurture this healing by leading with a focus on American values, rather than focusing on technocratic policy solutions. Policy is important, but values come first.

The New Age Gets (Somewhat) Political

The New Age Gets (Somewhat) Political
By Wade Lee Hudson

A review
A New Republic of the Heart:
An Ethos for Revolutionaries
Terry Patten

North Atlantic Books, 2018
384 p., $17.95

Only a few political people are becoming more spiritual, but many spiritual people are becoming more political, aiming to integrate the personal, social, cultural and political dimensions of human experience. This development is encouraging.

The Shift Network, a clearinghouse of information about such integrative projects founded by Stephen Dinan, is “a transformative education company” that aims to “work together to create a better world…[by] shifting toward a planet that is healthy, sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous for all.” Their offerings do not “focus solely on your personal transformation but also on how we can shift our world.”

Marianne Williamson, an American spiritual teacher, activist, and author of 13 books, including four New York Times best sellers, is a candidate for President. Her new book, A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution will be released April 23. She declares:

Corporatocracy has replaced democracy as our primary organizing principle, our government has become little more than a system of legalized bribery, and politicians too often advocate for short-term corporate profit maximization before the health and well-being of people and planet.

And Terry Patten’s 2018 magnum opus, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, rooted in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, has received strong praise from many New Age thinkers as well as Joan Blades, MoveOn.org co-founder. Presented as “a guide to inner work for holistic change,” Patten’s 384-page book includes many valuable insights, especially with regard to personal and spiritual growth, often presented with poetic passion. Unfortunately, his political perspective is weak, and the book is redundant, contradictory, and inconsistent with its logic.

His website presents summaries of and excerpts from the book and includes links to some of his other work. He reports that he grew up on a pacifist commune, became a student activist in the 60s and early 70s, lived as a monastic with a guru, Adi Da, and became an author and teacher of Integral Spiritual Practice.

His overview of the book states:

Humanity is now confronting “super wicked” problems that combine an ecological crisis with a sociocultural crisis. And new technologies are reverse-engineering our neurological hardwiring, distracting and hypnotizing us, shrinking our attention spans, trapping us by our aversion to what we fear, and making it almost impossible for us to see what is in front of our faces. This tipping point implies the necessity of Whole System Change….I critique and reject inner work that doesn’t also express itself in outer work. And I critique those who focus on outer work without recognizing that inner transformation is also necessary.

He aims to reunite

transcendental spirituality with the spirituality of the soul, the spirituality of human relationships, and with sacred activism…. Our practice aspires to co-create an awakened community of practice that can stand, like Gandhi or Dr. King, as the moral center of a movement of social transformation. Thich Naht Hanh famously said that “the next Buddha may very well be a Sangha,” one that we co-create by becoming friends and fellow citizens of a “new republic of the heart.”

His recommendation for the development of small “communities of practice” whose members support one another with their spiritual development and activism is laudable. That approach addresses a void most activists ignore.

A major weakness in his argument is that it’s too future-oriented. He proposes preparing for future “disasters and calamities” that create “critical windows of opportunity for more fundamental systems redesign.” At times, he qualifies his predictions, as when he writes, “Realistically, most well-informed observers believe that big disruptions are probably inevitable.” But generally he’s more definitive, as when he uses “will” in: “These crises will punctuate our current deadlock and stuckness. Each will present ‘windows of opportunity’…” (emphases added).

The overall thrust of the book is apocalyptic, which leads to his conclusion: “Preparation is everything…. Some of the most powerful change will come after it’s ‘too late’!” He often refers favorably to Charles Eisenstein, who aims to “animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble.”

Patten’s excessive focus on the unpredictable future stokes unnecessary fear. Current crises should be sufficient to motivate political action. If crises worsen severely, as he envisions, calamities could lead to more authoritarianism and militarism, not liberation.

Despite his frequent praise for Gandhi and King, Patten does not really embrace their methods. He does not envision massive grassroots movements that initiate confrontations with decision-makers by presenting winnable demands for immediate improvements in public policy. Rather, he opposes “becoming agents of escalating and dangerous conflict.” He generally casts confrontation in a negative light and doesn’t see that presenting strong demands can be productive — especially if those demands are presented with an attitude that consistently seeks reconciliation.

Given that perspective, Patten’s hope to co-create another Gandhi-King-like community that serves as “the moral center of a movement of social transformation” seems audacious, to say the least. Rather, it feels like an effort to appropriate popular icons while neglecting the substance of their convictions.

As a way to advance their long-term goals, Gandhi and King focused on “incremental” demands, which led many of their comrades to criticize them for being too willing to compromise. Patten often adopts a similar hyper-critical stance toward reform. He writes:

It can often seem that we face challenges that are so urgent that there’s no way they’ll be met by the slow process of cultural, social and political reform. (Notice that this is the unstated subtext of many anxious “progressive” political communications!)

Once again, in this passage he obscures his real belief with a qualifier. But elsewhere he often states his conviction clearly, as when he says: “A system, culture, or civilization built on this [our current] model will eventually fall apart.”

He incorrectly frames his perspective as “evolutionary” and “transformative.” In fact, it’s neither. Evolution is “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.” And “to transform” means to change structure, character, function, and appearance — as in “A little creativity can transform an ordinary meal into a special event, [and] the old factory has been transformed into an art gallery.” Evolution can lead to transformation, but neither involves collapse, or a complete break down.

Patten contradicts his denigration of reform when he writes “efforts to enact enlightened reforms are necessary and laudable,” and acknowledges “win-win solutions are not always possible; sometimes it is necessary to fight for a single position against others.” But overall the book reflects the anticipation of, if not the hope for, total catastrophe.

His cursory attention to politics contributes to this confusion. Less than five pages in his enormous tome are devoted to “in-the-system” politics. In fact, he disparages politics: “The integral revolution of our time is no so much political (although the political implications are important) as it is a change in our way of being with ourselves, each other, and with all of life….The center of battle is a nonviolent revolution in every heart.” He declares “healthy politics is the uplift of human relationships.” That statement reflects his primary interest, inner work, and distorts the real meaning of politics: the art or science of government.

His considerations of “consequential outer work” generally fail to include political activism aimed at impacting public policy. He devotes most of his attention to “outside-the-system” projects that build counter-institutions as models for the future.

His lack of concern about pressing political issues such as economic inequality and regressive taxation is disturbing. And he fails to offer a clear vision of the society he envisions. None of the seven largely utopian “radical changes” in public policy he briefly affirms address economic justice. Citing his former guru, Adi Da, he advocates a “politics of love [that] doesn’t focus on political ‘issues’ but on the self-regulating integrity and authority of ‘everybody-all-at-once.’” That is hardly a viable political strategy.

Patten fails to envision communities that simultaneously integrate “in-the-system,” “against-the-system,” and “outside-the-system” efforts. Alternative communities can work in the system and against the system — with a long-term vision to transform the system. It’s frustrating and unfortunate that one immersed in Integral Theory did not integrate those dimensions.

Rather than massive grassroots movements, Patten relies on elitist thought leaders influencing leading decision-makers:

  • Reach the decision-makers and supply the white papers that built a carefully-reasoned argument for dramatic policy decisions….
  • Getting buy-in from influential political players.
  • It is especially consequential to consort with the powerful. We want wisdom to gain access and influence….
  • Gaining the ear of the emperor.

His perspective on personal change also falls short. He disagrees with the idea of becoming “better” human beings, without explaining why he objects to that word, which he disparages by placing it in quotes. I can only assume he supports the New Age notion that we’re already “perfect” or “good enough.”

Nowhere does Patten consider the need to acknowledge mistakes and resolve not to repeat them, and face weaknesses and work to address them. Nor does he discuss how peer support can enhance self-improvement, or that peer learning is the most fruitful form of learning. In these ways, Patten, in his understanding of the “whole system,” leaves out essential elements of being human. Self-improvement and mutual support are natural parts of being human.

Patten’s persistent insistence about the “illusion of separation” is overstated. Individuals are interwoven with all of life, but we are also distinct and separate. Contrary to Patten’s belief, we do experience the objective world “out there.” It’s not either/or, but both/and. We are both at-one and separate. To deny the reality of the distinct self is to undermine the potential for self-development.

Despite these weaknesses, A New Republic of the Heart offers many valuable insights with regard to self-development. The fact that the book has received considerable attention is encouraging. Perhaps Patten will soon write a clear, concise, and more logical new book without so many ambiguities and inconsistencies.

But to do so Patten will need to sharpen his understanding of the potential of partnership as an alternative to the drive to dominate and the willingness to submit — which is reflected in the work of most gurus, spiritual teachers, and political activists. He’s close. He could do it. He’s an excellent writer. If he does, it could be a very useful tool that would help us transform our society from one based on elitism and domination into one based on partnership and greater democracy.

Two Roads for the New French Right

Two Roads for the New French Right

New York Review of Books

Marion Maréchal-Le PenMarion Maréchal-Le Pen; drawing by James FergusonNew York Review of Books

Last February the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held its convention in Washington, D.C. This annual gathering is a kind of right-wing Davos where insiders and wannabes come to see what’s new. The opening speaker, not so new, was Vice President Mike Pence. The next speaker, very new, was a stylish Frenchwoman still in her twenties named Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

Marion, as she is widely called in France, is a granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front party, and a niece of Marine Le Pen, its current president. The French first encountered Marion as a child, beaming in her grandfather’s arms in his campaign posters (see illustration on page 46), and she has never disappeared from the public scene. In 2012, at the age of twenty-two, she entered Parliament as the youngest deputy since the French Revolution. But she decided not to run for reelection in 2017, on the pretext that she wanted to spend more time with her family. Instead she’s been making big plans.1

Her performance at CPAC was unusual, and one wonders what the early morning audience made of her. Unlike her hotheaded grandfather and aunt, Marion is always calm and collected, sounds sincere, and is intellectually inclined. In a slight, charming French accent she began by contrasting the independence of the United States with France’s “subjection” to the EU, as a member of which, she claimed, it is unable to set its own economic and foreign policy or to defend its borders against illegal immigration and the presence of an Islamic “counter-society” on its territory.

But then she set out in a surprising direction. Before a Republican audience of private property absolutists and gun rights fanatics she attacked the principle of individualism, proclaiming that the “reign of egoism” was at the bottom of all our social ills. As an example she pointed to a global economy that turns foreign workers into slaves and throws domestic workers out of jobs. She then closed by extolling the virtues of tradition, invoking a maxim often attributed to Gustav Mahler: “Tradition is not the cult of ashes, it is the transmission of fire.” Needless to say, this was the only reference by a CPAC speaker to a nineteenth-century German composer.

Something new is happening on the European right, and it involves more than xenophobic populist outbursts. Ideas are being developed, and transnational networks for disseminating them are being established. Journalists have treated as a mere vanity project Steve Bannon’s efforts to bring European populist parties and thinkers together under the umbrella of what he calls The Movement. But his instincts, as in American politics, are in tune with the times. (Indeed, one month after Marion’s appearance at CPAC, Bannon addressed the annual convention of the National Front.) In countries as diverse as France, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Italy, efforts are underway to develop a coherent ideology that would mobilize Europeans angry about immigration, economic dislocation, the European Union, and social liberalization, and then use that ideology to govern. Now is the time to start paying attention to the ideas of what seems to be an evolving right-wing Popular Front. France is a good place to start.

The French left, attached to republican secularism, has never had much feel for Catholic life and is often caught unawares when a line has been crossed. In early 1984 the government of François Mitterrand proposed a law that would have brought Catholic schools under greater government control and pressured their teachers to become public employees. That June nearly a million Catholics marched in Paris in protest, and many more throughout the country. Mitterrand’s prime minister, Pierre Mauroy, was forced to resign, and the proposal was withdrawn. It was an important moment for lay Catholics, who discovered that despite the official secularism of the French state they remained a cultural force, and sometimes could be a political one.

In 1999 the government of Gaullist president Jacques Chirac passed legislation creating a new legal status, dubbed a pacte civil de solidarité (civil solidarity pact, or PACS), for long-term couples who required legal protections regarding inheritance and other end-of-life issues but did not want to get married. Coming not long after the HIV/AIDSepidemic, the PACS was largely conceived to help the gay community but soon became popular with heterosexual couples wanting a more easily dissolved bond. The number of straight couples pacsés annually is now approaching the number of those getting married, and the arrangement for gays and lesbians is uncontroversial.

To build on that success, during his campaign for the French presidency in 2012 the Socialist candidate François Hollande promised to legalize same-sex marriage and open up adoption and additional rights to gay and lesbian couples. Mariage Pour Tous—marriage for everyone—was the slogan. Once in office Hollande moved to fulfill his campaign promise, but he repeated Mitterrand’s mistake by failing to anticipate the strong right-wing reaction against it. Shortly after his inauguration, a network of laypeople drawn heavily from Catholic Pentecostal prayer groups began to form. They called themselves La Manif Pour Tous—the Demonstration for Everyone.

By January 2013, just before Parliament approved gay marriage, La Manif was able to draw over 300,000 people to a demonstration opposing it in Paris, stunning the government and the media. What especially surprised them was the ludic atmosphere of the protest, which was more like a gay pride parade than a pilgrimage to Compostela. There were lots of young people marching, but rather than rainbow banners they waved pink and blue ones representing boys and girls. Slogans on the placards had a May ’68 lilt: François resist, prove you exist. To top it off, the spokeswoman for La Manif was a flamboyantly dressed comedienne and performance artist who goes by the name Frigide Barjot and played in a band called the Dead Pompidous.

Where did these people come from? After all, France is no longer a Catholic country, or so we’re told. While it’s true that fewer and fewer French people baptize their children and attend mass, nearly two thirds still identify as Catholic, and roughly 40 percent of those declare themselves to be “practicing,” whatever that means. More importantly, as a Pew study found last year, those French who do identify as Catholicespecially those who attend Mass regularlyare significantly more right-wing in their political views than those who do not.

This is consistent with trends in Eastern Europe, where Pew found that Orthodox Christian self-identification has actually been rising, along with nationalism, confounding post-1989 expectations. That may indicate that the relationship between religious and political identification is reversing in Europethat it is no longer religious affiliation that helps determine one’s political views, but one’s political views that help determine whether one self-identifies as religious. The prerequisites for a European Christian nationalist movement may be falling into place, as Hungarian president Viktor Orbán has long been predicting.

Whatever motivated the many thousands of Catholics who participated in the original Manif and similar demonstrations across France, it soon bore political fruit.2 Some of its leaders quickly formed a political action group called Sens Commun, which, though small, nearly helped to elect a president in 2017. Its preferred candidate was François Fillon, a straitlaced former prime minister and practicing conservative Catholic who vocally supported La Manif and had close ties to Sens Commun. He was explicit about his religious views during the primary of his party, the Republicans, at the end of 2016—opposing marriage, adoption, and surrogacy for gay and lesbian couples—and surprised everyone by winning. Fillon came out of the primary with very high poll numbers, and given the Socialists’ deep unpopularity after the Hollande years and the inability of the National Front to gain the support of more than one third of the French electorate, many considered him the front-runner.

But just as Fillon began his national campaign, Le Canard enchaîné, a newspaper that mixes satire with investigative journalism, revealed that his wife had received over half a million euros for no-show jobs over the years, and that he had accepted a number of favors from businessmen, includingPaul Manafort–stylesuits costing tens of thousands of euros. For a man running on the slogan “the courage of truth,” it was a disaster. He was indicted, staff abandoned him, but he refused to drop out of the race. This provided an opening for the eventual victor, the centrist Emmanuel Macron. But we should bear in mind that despite the scandal, Fillon won 20 percent of the first-round votes, compared to Macron’s 24 and Marine Le Pen’s 21 percent. Had he not imploded, there is a good chance that he would be president and we would be telling ourselves very different stories about what’s really going on in Europe today.

The Catholic right’s campaign against same-sex marriage was doomed to fail, and it did. A large majority of the French support same-sex marriage, although only about seven thousand couples avail themselves of it each year. Yet there are reasons to think that the experience of La Manif could affect French politics for some time to come.

The first reason is that it revealed an unoccupied ideological space between the mainstream Republicans and the National Front. Journalists tend to present an overly simple picture of populism in contemporary European politics. They imagine there is a clear line separating legacy conservative parties like the Republicans, which have made their peace with the neoliberal European order, from xenophobic populist ones like the National Front, which would bring down the EU, destroy liberal institutions, and drive out as many immigrants and especially Muslims as possible.

These journalists have had trouble imagining that there might be a third force on the right that is not represented by either the establishment parties or the xenophobic populists. This narrowness of vision has made it difficult for even seasoned observers to understand the supporters of La Manif, who mobilized around what Americans call social issues and feel they have no real political home today. The Republicans have no governing ideology apart from globalist economics and worship of the state, and in keeping with their Gaullist secular heritage have traditionally treated moral and religious issues as strictly personal, at least until Fillon’s anomalous candidacy. The National Front is nearly as secular and even less ideologically coherent, having served more as a refuge for history’s detritusVichy collaborators, resentful pieds noirs driven out of Algeria, Joan of Arc romantics, Jew- and Muslim-haters, skinheadsthan as a party with a positive program for France’s future. A mayor once close to it now aptly calls it the “Dien Bien Phu right.”

The other reason La Manif might continue to matter is that it proved to be a consciousness-raising experience for a group of sharp young intellectuals, mainly Catholic conservatives, who see themselves as the avant-garde of this third force. In the last five years they have become a media presence, writing in newspapers like Le Figaro and newsweeklies like Le Point and Valeurs actuelles (Contemporary Values), founding new magazines and websites (LimiteL’Incorrect), publishing books, and making regular television appearances. People are paying attention, and a sound, impartial book on them has just appeared.3

Whether anything politically significant will come out of this activity is difficult to know, given that intellectual fashions in France change about as quickly as the plat du jour. This past summer I spent some time reading and meeting these young writers in Paris and discovered more of an ecosystem than a cohesive, disciplined movement. Still, it was striking how serious they are and how they differ from American conservatives. They share two convictions: that a robust conservatism is the only coherent alternative to what they call the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of our time, and that resources for such a conservatism can be found on both sides of the traditional left–right divide. More surprising still, they are all fans of Bernie Sanders.

The intellectual ecumenism of these writers is apparent in their articles, which come peppered with references to George Orwell, the mystical writer-activist Simone Weil, the nineteenth-century anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, the young Marx, the ex-Marxist Catholic philosopher Alasdair Macintyre, and especially the politically leftist, culturally conservative American historian Christopher Lasch, whose bons mots“uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots”get repeated like mantras. They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism, and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft).

That mélange may sound odd to our ears, but it is far more consistent than the positions of contemporary American conservatives. Continental conservatism going back to the nineteenth century has always rested on an organic conception of society. It sees Europe as a single Christian civilization composed of different nations with distinct languages and customs. These nations are composed of families, which are organisms, too, with differing but complementary roles and duties for mothers, fathers, and children. On this view, the fundamental task of society is to transmit knowledge, morality, and culture to future generations, perpetuating the life of the civilizational organism. It is not to serve an agglomeration of autonomous individuals bearing rights.

Most of these young French conservatives’ arguments presume this organic conception. Why do they consider the European Union a danger? Because it rejects the cultural-religious foundation of Europe and tries to found it instead on the economic self-interest of individuals. To make matters worse, they suggest, the EU has encouraged the immigration of people from a different and incompatible civilization (Islam), stretching old bonds even further. Then, rather than fostering self-determination and a healthy diversity among nations, the EU has been conducting a slow coup d’état in the name of economic efficiency and homogenization, centralizing power in Brussels. Finally, in putting pressure on countries to conform to onerous fiscal policies that only benefit the rich, the EU has prevented them from taking care of their most vulnerable citizens and maintaining social solidarity. Now, in their view, the family must fend for itself in an economic world without borders, in a culture that willfully ignores its needs. Unlike their American counterparts, who celebrate the economic forces that most put “the family” they idealize under strain, the young French conservatives apply their organic vision to the economy as well, arguing that it must be subordinate to social needs.

Most surprising for an American reader is the strong environmentalism of these young writers, who entertain the notion that conservatives should, well, conserve. Their best journal is the colorful, well-designed quarterly Limite, which is subtitled “a review of integral ecology” and publishes criticism of neoliberal economics and environmental degradation as severe as anything one finds on the American left. (No climate denial here.) Some writers are no-growth advocates; others are reading Proudhon and pushing for a decentralized economy of local collectives. Others still have left the city and write about their experiences running organic farms, while denouncing agribusiness, genetically modified crops, and suburbanization along the way. They all seem inspired by Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ (2015), a comprehensive statement of Catholic social teaching on the environment and economic justice.

Coming out of La Manif, these young conservatives’ views on family and sexuality are traditionalist Catholic. But the arguments they make for them are strictly secular. In making the case for a return to older norms they point to real problems: dropping rates of family formation, delayed child-bearing, rising rates of single parenthood, adolescents steeped in porn and confused about their sexuality, and harried parents and children eating separately while checking their phones. All this, they argue, is the result of our radical individualism, which blinds us to the social need for strong, stable families. What these young Catholics can’t see is that gay couples wanting to wed and have children are looking to create such families and to transmit their values to another generation. There is no more conservative instinct.

A number of young women have been promoting what they call an “alter-feminism” that rejects what they see as the “career fetishism” of contemporary feminism, which unwittingly reinforces the capitalist ideology that slaving for a boss is freedom. They are in no way arguing that women should stay home if they don’t want to; rather they think women need a more realistic image of themselves than contemporary capitalism and feminism give them. Marianne Durano, in her recent book Mon corps ne vous appartient pas (My Body Does Not Belong to You), puts it this way:

We are the victims of a worldview in which we are supposed to live it up until the age of 25, then work like fiends from 25 to 40 (the age when you’re at the bottom of the professional scrap heap), avoid commitments and having children before 30. All of this goes completely against the rhythm of women’s lives.

Eugénie Bastié, another alter-feminist, takes on Simone de Beauvoir in her book Adieu mademoiselle. She praises the first-wave feminist struggle for achieving equal legal rights for women, but criticizes Beauvoir and subsequent French feminists for “disembodying” women, treating them as thinking and desiring creatures but not as reproducing ones who, by and large, eventually want husbands and families.

Whatever one thinks of these conservative ideas about society and the economy, they form a coherent worldview. The same cannot really be said about the establishment left and right in Europe today. The left opposes the uncontrolled fluidity of the global economy and wants to rein it in on behalf of workers, while it celebrates immigration, multiculturalism, and fluid gender roles that large numbers of workers reject. The establishment right reverses those positions, denouncing the free circulation of people for destabilizing society, while promoting the free circulation of capital, which does exactly that. These French conservatives criticize uncontrolled fluidity in both its neoliberal and cosmopolitan forms.

But what exactly do they propose instead? Like Marxists in the past who were vague about what communism would actually entail, they seem less concerned with defining the order they have in mind than with working to establish it. Though they are only a small group with no popular following, they are already asking themselves grand strategic questions. (The point of little magazines is to think big in them.) Could one restore organic connections between individuals and families, families and nations, nations and civilization? If so, how? Through direct political action? By seeking political power directly? Or by finding a way to slowly transform Western culture from within, as a prelude to establishing a new politics? Most of these writers think they need to change minds first. That is why they can’t seem to get through an article, or even a meal, without mentioning Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, died in 1937 after a long imprisonment in Mussolini’s jails, and left behind mounds of notebooks with fertile thoughts on politics and culture. He is best remembered today for the concept of “cultural hegemony”the idea that capitalism is not only sustained by the relation of forces of production, as Marx thought, but also by cultural assumptions that serve as enablers, weakening the will to resist. His experience with Italian workers convinced him that unless they were freed from Catholic beliefs about sin, fate, and authority, they would never rise up and make revolution. That necessitated a new class of engaged intellectuals who would work as a counter-hegemonic force to undermine the dominant culture and to shape an alternative one that the working class could migrate to.

I don’t have the impression that these young writers have made their way through Gramsci’s multivolume Prison Notebooks. Instead he’s invoked as a kind of conversational talisman to signal that the person writing or speaking is a cultural activist, not just an observer. But what would counter-hegemony actually require? Up until this point I have portrayed these young conservatives, perhaps a little too neatly, as sharing a general outlook and set of principles. But as soon as Lenin’s old question comes up—What is to be done?—important and consequential divergences among them become apparent. Two styles of conservative engagement seem to be developing.

If you read a magazine like Limite, you get the impression that conservative counter-hegemony would involve leaving the city for a small town or village, getting involved in local schools, parishes, and environmental associations, and especially raising children with conservative values—in other words, becoming an example of an alternative way of living. This ecological conservativism appears open, generous, and rooted in everyday life, as well as in traditional Catholic social teachings.

But if you read publications like the daily FigaroValeurs actuelles, and especially the confrontational L’Incorrect, you get another impression altogether. There the conservatism is aggressive, dismissive of contemporary culture, and focused on waging a Kulturkampf against the 1968 generation, a particular obsession. As Jacques de Guillebon, the thirty-nine-year-old editor of L’Incorrect, put it in his magazine, “The legitimate heirs of ’68…will end collapsing into the latrines of post-cisgender, transracial, blue-haired boredom…. The end is near.” To bring it about, another writer suggested, “we need a right with a real project that is revolutionary, identitarian, and reactionary, capable of attracting the working and middle classes.” This group, though not overtly racist, is deeply suspicious of Islam, which the Limite writers never mention. Not just of radical Islamism, or Muslim men’s treatment of women, or the refusal of some Muslim students to study evolutionall genuine issuesbut even of moderate, assimilated Islam.4

All this grand talk of an open culture war would hardly be worth taking seriously except for the fact that the combative wing of this group now has the ear of Marion Maréchal. Marion used to be difficult to place ideologically. She was more socially conservative than the National Front leadership but more neoliberal in economics. That’s changed. In her speech at CPAC she spoke in culture war terms, giving La Manifas an example of the readiness of young French conservatives to “take back their country.” And she described their aims in the language of social organicism:

Without the nation, without the family, without the limits of the common good, natural law and collective morality disappear as the reign of egoism continues. Today even children have become merchandise. We hear in public debates that we have the right to order a child from a catalogue, we have the right to rent a woman’s womb…. Is this the freedom that we want? No. We don’t want this atomized world of individuals without gender, without fathers, without mothers, and without nation.

She then continued in a Gramscian vein:

Our fight cannot only take place in elections. We need to convey our ideas through the media, culture, and education to stop the domination of the liberals and socialists. We have to train leaders of tomorrow, those who will have courage, the determination, and the skills to defend the interests of their people.

Then she surprised everyone in France by announcing to an American audience that she was starting a private graduate school to do just that. Three months later her Institute of Social, Economic, and Political Sciences (ISSEP) opened in Lyon, with the aim, Marion said, of displacing the culture that dominates our “nomadic, globalized, deracinated liberal system.” It is basically a business school but will supposedly offer great books courses in philosophy, literature, history, and rhetoric, as well as practical ones on management and “political and cultural combat.” The person responsible for establishing the curriculum is Jacques de Guillebon.

Not many of the French writers and journalists I know are taking these intellectual developments very seriously. They prefer to cast the young conservatives and their magazines as witting and unwitting soldiers in Marine Le Pen’s campaign to “de-demonize” the National Front, rather than as a potential third force. I think they are wrong not to pay attention, much as they were wrong not to take the free-market ideology of Reagan and Thatcher seriously back in the 1980s. The left has an old, bad habit of underestimating its adversaries and explaining away their ideas as mere camouflage for despicable attitudes and passions. Such attitudes and passions may be there, but ideas have an autonomous power to shape and channel, to moderate or inflame them.

And these conservative ideas could have repercussions beyond France’s borders. One possibility is that a renewed, more classical organic conservatism could serve as a moderating force in European democracies currently under stress. There are many who feel buffeted by the forces of the global economy, frustrated by the inability of governments to control the flow of illegal immigration, resentful of EU rules, and uncomfortable with rapidly changing moral codes regarding matters like sexuality. Until now these concerns have only been addressed, and then exploited, by far-right populist demagogues. If there is a part of the electorate that simply dreams of living in a more stable, less fluid world, economically and culturally—people who are not primarily driven by xenophobic anti-elitism—then a moderate conservative movement might serve as a bulwark against the alt-right furies by stressing tradition, solidarity, and care for the earth.

A different scenario is that the aggressive form of conservatism that one also sees in France would serve instead as a powerful tool for building a pan-European reactionary Christian nationalism along the lines laid out in the early twentieth century by Charles Maurras, the French anti-Semitic champion of “integral nationalism” who became the master thinker of Vichy. It is one thing to convince populist leaders in Western and Eastern Europe today that they have common practical interests and should work together, as Steve Bannon is trying to do. It is quite another, more threatening thing to imagine those leaders having a developed ideology at their disposal for recruiting young cadres and cultural elites and connecting them at the Continental level for joint political action.

If all French eyes are not on Marion, they should be. Marion is not her grandfather, though within the soap-operatic Le Pen family she defends him. Nor is she her aunt, who is crude and corrupt, and whose efforts to put new lipstick on the family party have failed. Nor, I think, will her fortunes be tied to those of the Rassemblement National Front National. Emmanuel Macron has shown that a “movement” disdaining mainline parties can win elections in France (though perhaps not govern and get reelected). If Marion were to launch such a movement and make it revolve around herself as Macron has done, she could very well gather the right together while seeming personally to transcend it. Then she would be poised to work in concert with governing right-wing parties in other countries.

Modern history has taught us that ideas promoted by obscure intellectuals writing in little magazines have a way of escaping the often benign intentions of their champions. There are two lessons we might draw from that history when reading the new young French intellectuals on the right. First, distrust conservatives in a hurry. Second, brush up your Gramsci.

  1. 1This past summer both she and the National Front changed their names. She has dropped Le Pen and insists on being called simply Marion Maréchal. Meanwhile her aunt has officially rebranded her party as the Rassemblement National (RN). Rassembler is French political jargon for bringing in and unifying people for a common cause, something like “big tent” in American English. 
  2. 2It also inspired the spectacular Mishima-like suicide of one of its supporters, the nationalist historian Dominique Venner, who a few days after passage of the gay marriage law left a suicide note on the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral and then blew his brains out in front of over a thousand tourists and worshipers. 
  3. 3Pascale Tournier, Le vieux monde est de retour: Enquête sur les nouveaux conservateurs (The Old World Is Back: A Study of the New Conservatives) (Paris: Stock, 2018). 
  4. 4One night I attended a dinner with some young writers in a bistro whose owner, obviously a National Front supporter, was complaining loudly that a public television station was about to run a special for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Curious, I watched the show when I got home. It was utterly banal, an extravaganza that resembled a wedding, with tables of guests watching pop performers. The hostess went around asking those guests what Ramadan meant to them, and one young woman’s response was typical: “I want to live my life, as a woman, and succeed.” A self-made Muslim businesswoman, obviously quite successful, was also interviewed and spoke of her faith…in herself. It was an assimilationist’s dream. 

Self Care

By Penn Garvin
Originally posted in the Broadsheet, a rural PA newsletter

There is self care of oneself and there is also self care of the movement.  Self care of the movement means that we look closely at (1) how we treat each other (2) how we support each other (3) how we give each other permission to rest, relax and have fun (4) how we hold each other accountable for saying what we do and doing what we say (5) how we model a movement that those not presently involved are drawn to be a part of and (6) how we come through this difficult period of time better and not bitter. With all else we have to do it may seem difficult to also do this work of self care.  However, in order to build a strong and lasting movement, it is critical to all the other work we do.  

Keep tuned for more information about self care in the upcoming Broadsheets. We will look at each of the topics listed above with questions that you can use for discussion in your organizations and groups. For more information and to have someone come to your group, please contact Penn.

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As I wrote above we are going to look at each of these topics individually.  I would suggest that you think of your own reactions to what is written below and then ask for time at your next meeting (if you are a part of an organization or group) and share this information and have a discussion.This is part of a larger article written by a friend of mine who lives and works politically in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is hoping that folks will sign on to a declaration called “Americans for Humanity.”  If you want more information, please contact me and I will send you the 8-page document. What follows can seem rather harsh but please dig deep inside yourself and see where there are grains of truth and then talk with others. The first step to making change is always to be honest and name the problem.

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Cooperative Learning Institute

The Cooperative Learning Institute is an innovative nonprofit Institute established in 1987 to advance the understanding and practice of cooperation and constructive conflict resolution.  We have two missions.  The first is to advance the theory and research on social interdependence (i.e., cooperative, competitive, individualistic efforts) and constructive conflict among individuals, groups, organizations, communities, cultures, and countries.  The second is to educate individuals in the nature of cooperation and constructive conflict resolution through the use of cooperative learning (formal cooperative learning, informal cooperative learning, and cooperative base groups), cooperative schools (cooperative teaching teams, school-based decision-making, cooperative faculty meeting), constructive controversy (academic controversy to increase quality of learning and decision controversy to increase quality of decision making), and peacemaking (problem-solving negotiations, peer mediation, violence prevention).  Our dual missions closely links theory and research with practice.  We are committed to conducting basic and applied research on social interdependence and constructive conflict resolution.  We are committed to developing, evaluating, and implementing state-of-the-art methods for cooperating, competing appropriately, engaging in constructive controversy, and using integrative negotiations and peer mediation to resolute conflicts constructively.  We emphasize making our conceptual and practical models and methods easily accessible to interested parties throughout the world.  The Institute is organized into two divisions.