Nations and Religions Connect Us to Eternity
Dr. Sándor Lénárd interviews Arthur Milikh on the failure of cosmopolitanism.
The Claremont Institute recently launched an interesting project that aims to explore the unique American way of life. You are entrusted with the task of leading this project. Could you shed light on the background of this project?
We are interested in defending the America way of life. The best way to think about why this project is necessary is to look at the broad circumstances in which those who still support the traditional American way of life find themselves today. You will see that nearly every single major American institution with material or propaganda powers, prestige, and money has been almost entirely captured by the Left. This includes universities, K-12, the federal bureaucracy, much of the press, Big Tech, Fortune 500, the government bureaucracy, and now parts of the security state. Many of these institutions have been going left for two generations, but this vast front is finally consolidating itself. The Right finds itself almost completely unarmed, without any serious institutional backing to oppose it.
But the right has the long-established Republican Party…
You may think that the one place the American way of life is strongly defended, even if the circumstances are as bad as I have said, would be through its political party. However, the Republican Party does not do that. It does not promote the needs, desires, and demands of its constituency. You can see this in a handful of very important issues, such as immigration. The base of the Republican Party is overwhelmingly to the right of the elites that represent it.
President Trump represented these people, which is why the Republican Party not only disliked him, but often acted against him. The Republican Party’s elite act this way for a variety of motives: they are afraid of the Left; or they are in moral agreement with the Left, though of course they may deny it publicly; or they benefit from the current dynamics; some, perhaps, even want the Left to fully rule the nation.
What you have just described reveals a sharp divide in the United States in terms of values and worldview. Many say that the country is extremely polarized while other thinkers point out that it has actually two constitutions or at least two versions of it. How do you see this growing divide in America? Against the backdrop of this growing division, is there a single and unique American way of life?
When we talk about an American way of life, what we mean specifically is republican self-government, the habits of mind and character needed to support it, and equality under the law. “Identity politics,” which is the Left’s meaning for existence, is exactly the opposite. Identity politics claims that so-called marginalized groups are superior intellectually and morally to their so-called oppressors. In the American context, the oppressor group is white, which the Left says openly. The Democratic Party is betting its future on anti-whiteness. These so-called marginalized groups, which are its clients, must have more rights, more honor, more influence than the oppressor group—while the oppressor must be relentlessly humiliated and subordinated. Nor should these groups be held accountable to either the moral or intellectual standards of the oppressor’s civilization. This is why, as just one example, these groups demand getting rid of standards—like in admissions to universities, in hiring and firing, and in policing. Filled with fanatical hopes for victory and vengeance, some on the Left do not see that their doctrines point to the destruction of industry, science, and any decent political order. Others on the Left do see this and welcome it.
What values, principles or constitutional rights such as the right to bear firearms or the freedom of religion could be considered as integral parts of the American way of life?
The family is one part of this—andsome of the American right watches Hungary with admiration and curiosity regarding its family policies.
To the point, you cannot make self-governing citizens on a large scale who have been raised without fathers. Fathers are necessary to shape and govern young men’s strong passions and to prevent the creation of these new, bizarre character combinations like insolent willfulness combined with weak, unstable effeminacy, in men. This lesson is as old as time. You need real families with real authority over children—not fake, on paper families. In many ways, feminism has created these problems. Feminism is itself a product of modernity. The West’s family problems will not be solved through slight legal alterations, as most conservatives hope. Feminine women and masculine men are necessary for any civilization to last. Late liberal societies create the inverse.
The freedom of speech is another prerequisite to protecting self-government. The freedom of speech is not for the sake of screaming nonsense or profanities. That is the vulgarized version we inherited from the ‘60s. The political real reason we have this right is to be able to discuss matters of public policy, rationally understand them, and persuade one another of them. The freedom of speech develops habits of character in citizens whereby their minds are open to persuasion, and they are capable of persuading one another. The opposite of that kind of mind is one inclined to use force—to force one’s will onto others. Many countries throughout the world are dominated by such characters. More and more, America is becoming this.
As opposed to most constitutions of Europe, the Constitution of the United States provides for the right to bear firearms. What does it suggest in terms of the character of the country?
Other nations misunderstand how much the right to bear arms brings to America. They sometimes like to mock us for it. But this right means that citizens understand that the ultimate, final safeguard of their rights and property is their hands. This awareness always lives in them. Because of this,America has to some extent avoid softness, weakness, apathy, and naïve optimism.
Of course, citizens rely on the police, but they have a healthy mistrust of authorities, knowing that throughout history political authorities have been betrayers and usurpers. Moreover, the right to bear arms tacitly moderates any would-be tyrant’s desire to forcefully usurp the rights of the public because he must think twice as to whether the opposition would be too costly. The trouble is, however, that those with tyrannical ambitions, knowing an armed citizenry will oppose them, pursue alternative, softer means of usurpation.
How does the American geographical landscape reflect the divide you mentioned? Is it true that rural America is more willing to follow traditions, while large cities especially on the two costs are more willing to break with it?
I would say that’s true to some degree. So as not to romanticize the matter, rural America is in certain ways in bad shape. The levels of drug use, obesity, and other pathologies are high. Yet at the same time, rural America has not been fully infected with the corruption and manias of big cities. Unlike the optical illusions created by cities, rurals still experience the cycles of life (birth, growth, and death), and still see the standards of nature (like maleness and femaleness), which abstract, ever-optimistically naïve big city minds often do not. Rurals also often have real skills, and are as such more immediately connected to some form of virtue; whereas cities are full of frauds and fake professions. Rurals can also often have trust in one another as fellow citizens, which big cities destroy as anonymity, and motives like avarice and vanity, animate most. To some degree, rurals can still form the patriotic, industrious, and manly core of the nation.
In David Goodheart’s formulation, we can witness a rift between the “Somewheres” and the “Anywheres” worldwide but especially in the Western World. Can you shed light on who they are and what is the significance of their opposition in the Western World?
I like this formulation. The entire goal of the EU project is to make all human beings “Anywheres”.
They must not have any attachment to their place of birth or to the broader community and ultimately to their country—except in something meaningless like soccer teams. The implicit argument is that once human beings no longer have traditional loyalties, they no longer have any jealousy or fanatical attachment which cause violence. The project must destroy and replace those loyalties (through amusements, propaganda, and the economic structures) to prevent world wars. No countries, no wars–they imagine. What these new cosmopolitan beings, “citizens of the world,” must live by is some thread-bare morality of being committed to humanity. Since no one can actually live this way, what they are genuinely committed to is incremental economic promotion, amusements, and the satisfaction of private vanity. The entire human personality becomes this. It regrettably produces paper thin, unhappy souls, who must be relentlessly medicated and distracted. It doesn’t end here, however. Dostoyevsky saw with clarity that such a life is unsustainable and becomes consumed with a desire to harm others as the last remaining cause of self-respect. Many contemporary political movements possess this motive.
My view is that this immoderate project is currently failing and may well collapse in the coming generations. Ultimately, nations and religions connect us to eternity: they say that you are Hungarian, Polish or whatever and thus you have a destiny, duties, and some traditional guidance in life.
This is not to say that the old, traditional model of nations doesn’t have its own problems and perversities. There are plenty. But our era may culminate in rebarbarization rather than the completion of the cosmopolitan project, and nations will be again viewed as the stronghold of civilization, stability, and decency.
It is interesting that you brought up European integration where the challenges do not seem to be less significant than in the United States. Besides having doubts and debates about a unique European way of life, Europe went through a decade long crises period throughout the 2010s and the EU lost one of its strategically and economically important Member States. Let alone Brexit, there are still many visible cracks in the EU. The crack is visible between the “old” Europe before the Eastward enlargement and the “new” Europe after the Eastward enlargement. How do you see these cracks from overseas?
I suspect that intelligent people in Central European countries such as Poland or Hungary have seen the weaknesses and the perversities of the cosmopolitan project and think that it will crumble at some point. They do not know when, but they are betting it’s going to end and be disastrous, particularly because of what they have done to those countries through reckless immigration policies. However, they likely say to themselves: the Hungarians, the Poles, and others in Central and Eastern Europe are going to survive this era. In the next era, we are betting that it will be an era of countries, of a return to some kind of decent rootedness.
Europe has been in retreat in terms of its reproduction rate, defense spending as well as its weight in the global economy. What is the underlying reason of this in your view?
The EU project aims to liberate people from national loyalties and national self-understanding that does not spend on the military because this project will eradicate war at some point, at least on the continent. In a sense, this has worked. In their view all nations must consist of “Anywheres.” That is the moral hope underlying mass immigration. All these national distinctions do not matter because we can all live together as merely economic beings seeking utility, pleasures, and amusements together, they hope. I think that has proven to be a failure, which you see in the problems of assimilation, rising violence and hatreds. Many of the immigrants to EU do not want to live for these cosmopolitan ideals, and they also dislike or have contempt for the native populations who live for them. And often their ways of life are stronger, more durable, fiercer than the cosmopolitan one. Therefore, I suspect that in the coming era things are going to get worse and worse for the EU project. The project’s logic is unfolded, and it will have to account for certain necessities but it does not have the power, in its current self-understanding, to do anything about them.
What role might or should the Central European approach play in that Conference especially after the UK left the EU?
What I suspect is thatsome Central European countries will show by some of their examples that over the last 20 years they made the right decisions.
The real question though is how far Central European Countries have become genuinely different. Did they become a little bit different because they passed a couple of laws promoting the family or did they become genuinely different because they have become more and more traditional, ridding themselves of hostile doctrines that lead to all of the pathologies of the EU countries. This, of course, is an open question.
How do you see the role technology and competitiveness in Europe and America?
Part of modernity is the unleashing of the productive powers of science. Not just theoretical sciences, but most importantly technology, and its application in industry. Western European countries against whom you are competing ideologically are in a strange state because they are probably at their peak and at their decline simultaneously. They are at their peak when you look at their industrial and scientific capacity. Germany, for example: it’s powerful, it’s wealthy and it can dominate. Under these circumstances, traditional societies like in Central Europe have a hard time competing in terms of efficiency, innovation, etc. So, the options for Eastern Europe are twofold: wait out Western Europe if your instinct is that they will decline. Or alternatively, somehow try to build up a society that is simultaneously competitive with them but also traditional. That is a very difficult, perhaps impossible, balance to maintain. America did that for a long time, largely thanks to the pervasive influence of Christianity.
Originally published at Precedens.