A Book of Lamentations

— David Finkel

The Death of the West
How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions
Imperil Our Country and Civilization
by Patrick J. Buchanan
(New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2002)
308 pages. $25.95 (hardcover).

AMERICA'S HOME-GROWN wannabee Jean-Marie Le Pen, Patrick Buchanan is always an entertaining read, if not entirely coherent. This breezy semi-fascist manifesto, his latest contribution to the public discourse, offers many cases in point, as well as introducing a surprise guest villain I'll get to later.

Here is Buchanan on page 118, warning of the death of Christianity:

“In Europe, Christian congregations are dying, churches are emptying out, and mosques are filling up. There are five million Muslims in France, and between twelve and fifteen million in the European Union. There are fifteen hundred mosques in Germany. Islam has replaced Judaism as the second religion of Europe. As the Christian tide goes out in Europe, an Islamic tide comes in. In 2000, for the first time there were more Muslims in the world than Catholics.”

“It is taken for granted that this is a Terrible Thing, yet in the very next paragraph Buchanan lectures that despite its technological and political failures, <169>the Islamic world retains something the West has lost: a desire to have children and the will to carry on their civilization, culture, families, and faith . . . Islam remembers what the West has forgot: `There is no vision but by faith.'” (118)

If this sounds like the sermonizing of some conservative Muslim cleric, it is not by accident. Much earlier on, Buchanan has identified the cause of the death of the West, “this tectonic shift in attitude of American and Western women away from having children.” (28)

Connect the dots and translate: Western (meaning white European) civilization committed demographic suicide by giving women choices beyond a lifetime of breeding. Its survival depends on taking those freedoms away.

When it comes to the U.S. scene, however, Buchanan presents a different nightmare scenario, having nothing to do with Muslims:

“With one hundred thousand Anglos leaving California every year, with the Asian population soaring 42 percent in a single decade, with 43 percent of all Californians under eighteen Hispanic, America's largest state is on its way to becoming a predominantly Third World state . . . California could become another Quebec, with demands for recognition of its separate and unique Hispanic culture and identity . . . `In the near future,' says (California Governor Gray) Davis, `people will look at California and Mexico as one magnificent region.'”

“Perhaps,” Buchanan sneers, “we can call it Aztlan,” referring to a Mexican nationalist tradition that seeks the reincorporation of lands lost to the U.S. westward expansion. (140-41)

There are multiple contradictions here. Buchanan does not explain why a California “with the Asian population soaring 42 percent in a single decade” would seek a formal political association with Mexico. Nor does he seem to notice that it is precisely the immigration of Mexican and other Latino populations that represents the best hope for the revival of Buchanan's own church, U.S. Catholicism.

For Buchanan, however -- and here the affinity with Le Pen comes through -- the greatest enemy of national culture is multiculturalism itself. Buchanan rapturously quotes John Jay's statement in Federalist 2 that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people,” a celebration of American nationhood in which neither Jay in 1787 nor Buchanan 215 years later notes the presence of African slaves or Native American peoples.

Buchanan then laments:

“(C)an anyone say today that we Americans are `one united people'? We are not descended from the same ancestors. We no longer speak the same language. We do not profess the same religion. We are no longer simply Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, as sociologist Will Herberg described us in his Essay in American Religious Sociology in 1955. We are now Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Shintoist, Santeria, New Age, voodoo, agnostic,
humanist, Rastafarian, and Wiccan.” (144)

Sounds good! Let's be grateful to Buchanan for reminding us of what is best about our society. But there is a glaring opportunist omission in this discussion.

I do not believe for a moment that Buchanan is so ignorant of U.S. history that he doesn't understand the meaning of John Jay's phrase “one united people.” Jay was obviously well aware of Black and indigenous people, but these were respectively subhumans and enemies and therefore simply didn't count.

“One united people” unmistakably meant there were practically no Catholics, especially not those dangerously fast-breeding lower orders. This does not fit neatly into Buchanan's celebration of the American Golden Age.

Certainly neither John Jay or most of the other Framers of the Constitution expected their enterprise to be so successful that within seventy-five years it would attract Catholic peasants from southern Europe and Ireland like Buchanan's ancestors, followed by masses of Eastern European Jews like mine, let alone that men without property, or Blacks, or women, would actually get to vote.

Somehow, for Buchanan, yesterday's immigrants built this country while today's are to be seen as tearing its culture apart. Yet if there is one big difference between those earlier waves of immigration and the present one from Latin America, it would be this:

The United States cannot be held responsible for the Irish famines and crises in 19th century Europe that brought millions to flee here. U.S. capitalism with its neoliberal global project is directly responsible for the destruction of Mexican agriculture and the ruin of Latin America that is bringing today's immigrant wave. We owe them a lot more solidarity and reparations than the America of 1900 owed to our great-grandparents.

How Dangerous is This?

There is plenty of standard-issue appeal to soft-core fascism in this book-length tract, but that is not what gives it interest.

To review briefly: Republican elites are pilloried for giving tax cuts and the stock market priority over abortion and pornography. Global free trade, the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund are deadly assaults on national sovereignty and American workers. Corporate America is condemned for wiping out the (male) family wage in the pursuit of cold profit.

As in previous works, Buchanan promotes a right-wing version of anti-interventionism: “The Founding Fathers would have been ashamed of what Clinton and Albright did to the Serbs . . . we smashed Serbia as horribly as Hitler had, for defying our demand for an unrestricted right of passage through their land, to tear off the cradle of their country, Kosovo.” (242)

Needless to say, homoexuality is a major target: “Those who believe the gay rights movement is the twenty-first century's civil rights movement miss a basic difference. The civil rights cause could successfully invoke the Bible, natural law, and Thomas Jefferson on behalf of equal justice under law. Gay rights cannot. Jefferson considered homosexuality worse than bestiality . . . The Bible, Catholic doctrine and natural law hold the practice to be abhorrent and a society that embraces it to be decadent. Christians are to reform such societies or separate from them.” (197)

But if all this stuff and more sounds a bit chilling, it falls into perspective considering this decisive fact: Buchanan's attempt to turn this mess into a hard-right political force fell on its face. What Le Pen, Pim Fortuyn and Jorg Haider accomplished by immigrant-bashing in Western Europe, Buchanan utterly failed to do here.

He succeeded in capturing the Reform Party for his 2000 presidential run; but aside from turning a campaign profit (Buchanan's electoral efforts are structured to leverage matching funds to maximum effect), all he did was to flush the formerly radical-center Reform Party (founded by Ross Perot as an anti-free-trade, but not immigrant-bashing, gay-baiting or anti-choice party) down the political toilet.

This failure may have to do partly with Buchanan's attempt to promote an overtly religious-fundamentalist ethos in a highly pluralistic society. As an obedient Catholic, Buchanan will not openly dissent from the tolerant spirit promoted by Vatican II, but he's not necessarily in love with it either:

“Militancy, martyrdoms, and, yes, intolerance are the marks of rising religions and conquering causes. Early Christians who had accepted death rather than burn incense to Roman gods were soon smashing those Roman gods -- no equality for them. Baptizing Clovis, the bishop of Rheims admonished the king of the Franks, `Bend your neck. Burn what you worship, worship what you burn!' Not very ecumenical, Your Grace. Protestant monarchs and Catholic kings alike did not flinch at burning heretics or drawing and quartering them at the Tyburn tree. The Christianity that conquered the world was not a milquetoast faith . . .” (120-121)

Let us admit at once that these examples demonstrate the unquestionable superiority of Christian civilization. Still, so far has the multicultural rot spread, even within the churches, that it is difficult to imagine a successful right wing in America using this as its main line of argument.

Marxist Failure

How did such a moral and cultural collapse overtake us (or them, depending on your perspective)? One critical component was mentioned at the outset: White women in America and Europe got freedom and the pill, and the demographic rout was on.

Still, it should require only a limited imagination (such as that possessed, say, by Thomas Friedman) to notice the possibility that immigrant populations into the wealthy western countries will themselves be substantially “westernized” (for better or worse or both).

That is to say, if western culture represents the very apogee of the struggle for human freedom -- if, as Buchanan lectures us, it was Africa that invented modern human slavery and the west that abolished it(!) -- then why is that culture inherently the monopoly of people with white skins and Euro/American origins?

For Buchanan, however, the collapse comes from within even before the (non-white) immigrant tidal waves. You may presume here that Buchanan will naturally cast the blame on the evil class struggle doctrines of revolutionary Marxism, which tore apart the organic unity of the nation to promote the idol of working class solidarity.

You would be completely wrong. The only thing deader than the West is the proletarian revolution:

“On August 4, 1914, the [German] Social Democrats stood in the Reichstag and, to a man, voted the kaiser's war credits, joining the orgy of patriotism as the armies of the Reich smashed into Belgium . . . . (E)ven Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme, where hundreds of thousands of British soldiers went to their deaths over a few yards of mud, did not cause the workers to rise up in the homeland of the Industrial Revolution. Neither the French nor the German working
class broke at Verdun . . .

“[Following the failed Soviet invasion of Poland] Nothing the Marxists had predicted had come to pass. Their hour had come and gone.” (74-75)

Point well taken. Once again, World War I demonstrated the innate superiority of patriotic-religious national cultures over atheist-humanist class struggle doctrines.

What then happened to disintegrate a beautiful civilization that led workers in uniform to slaughter each other over those few yards of mud? What force could have brought us (or them, if you like) down from such heights?

The Villain Revealed

Buchanan knows. It began with two “dissident disciples” of Marx, who identified “Christianity and western culture, the immune system of capitalism,” which must be “uprooted from the soul of Western Man” for the revolution to take hold.

Toward this end, “cultural terrorism,” radical sex education, destruction of family codes, monogamy and a “long march through the institutions” of Christian culture, to destroy them from within, would replace the failed scheme of proletarian insurrection. (75, 77)

The first disciple was Georg Lukacs; the second, if you have not already guessed, was Antonio Gramsci. The institution they inspired, and carried the revolution through to near completion, was not the Communist International, or a party, or a secret society.

It was -- the Frankfurt School. Max Horkheimer. Theodor Adorno. Wilhelm Reich. Herbert Marcuse. Guys (they're all guys) you probably never read outside of a Critical Theory college course.

It's true that Marcuse was known in the 1960s for a useful book on Hegel (Reason and Revolution) and some of the most elitist long-forgotten political writing this side of Chairman Mao. And Reich, for example, contributed much to an understanding of sexuality and even some revolutionary insight.

But for the most part we're looking at figures who have remained pretty obscure as public intellectuals, especially when it comes to the theory or practice of social change.

Yet collectively, says Buchanan, the Frankfurt School implanted into western culture an ethos of morbid self-hatred, childhood revolt, sexual freedom, “the strategy and the tactics of a successful Marxist revolution in the West, and the culture they set out to destroy is no longer the dominant culture in America or the West. They began their lives as outcasts and may end on the winning side of history.” (92)

This excursion into some of the shallower tidepools of academic Western Marxism, it must be said, imparts a certain weird originality to Buchanan's effort at moral regeneration. It is as if Buchanan got a second-hand high from the most reformist new-left interpreters of Lukacs' and Gramsci's writings, and their representation of gradualist cultural change as the revolution incarnate.

I can attest, however, that it was the Black freedom struggle -- and that includes the music of Coltrane and Shepp, not the writings of Adorno -- that inspired many of us. What happened to the good old days when raving right-wingers, instead of pretending after the fact to love the 1960s civil rights movement, showed purported pictures of Martin Luther King at the “Communist” Highlander School?

While we're at it, how about giving the Vietnam War, a little more than Marcuse, the credit for teaching a generation of us lessons about the meaning of “United States imperialism” that we could never forget, much less learn from cultural critiques?

No Summer Warrior

Give Patrick Buchanan credit, though, for standing on principle. Not for him the Irving Kristols, Gertrude Himmelfarbs and Norman Podhoretzes, “the summertime soldiers of the culture war” (256) who in Himmelfarb's words pronounce themselves “content with the knowledge that the two cultures are living together with some degree of tension and dissension but without civil strife or anarchy.” (Quoted 255)

Against such tepid neoconservatism, Buchanan proposes “men and women of more kidney, spleen and heart,” to stand up against the globalizers and the immigrants, the abortion and gay rights crowd, those who would take down the Ten Commandments and the Confederate flag from public spaces, even if “the struggle for the soul of America” and the West is more likely to be lost than won.

A loathsome message maybe, but it's not inspiring fascist gangs, it's not getting many votes, it's good for a few laughs and it seems to sell books but not party memberships. If you want to know the truth, it's not half as scary as John Ashcroft.

ATC 100, September-October 2002