For anyone thinking the culture wars are bad in Britain and the United States, a couple of little incidents might help in a reappraisal. In France, a group of retired generals recently wrote an open letter signed by thousands of retired soldiers that warns of grave danger to the republic from the forces of division, critical race theory, and Islamism. The generals did not mince words as they warned the ruling betters against “procrastinating” else “tomorrow the civil war will put an end to this growing chaos.”
Elsewhere, Hungary is drafting a bill to give state-funded foundations complete control over the nation’s higher-education sector. Hungary and Poland have already mostly outlawed gender studies and other critical ideologies as anti-national, and are now consolidating conservative ideological foundations in the academy, which they have identified as the most subversive section of society.
This particular bill, drafted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party, says universities need to be nationalistic, as modern society requires a “re-thinking of the role of the state.” In short, this is a “long march through the institutions,” but in reverse, and by a conservative government.
The old continent is churning back to life and returning to form. The idea of “reaction” is complicated to explain with proper nuance, especially in America because it lacks a feudal past and throne and altar conservatism. But it is important in this context to understand just what is happening in Europe.
In an extremely important paper from 2018, Joseph Mackay and Christopher LaRoche asked a remarkable question: Why is there no “reactionary theory” of international relations, when most international relations are currently influenced by old-school political conservatism?
They defined “reaction” as a political phenomenon, a deep aversion to historical change. “Reactionaries,” they write, “neither embrace historical change nor reject the possibility of it. Instead, they understand deep historical transformations as both real and catastrophic. For reactionaries, the world was once better: a past political order, now lost, shows us retrospectively how politics should be ordered, but no longer is.”
After three decades of liberal dogma, European conservatism, with its deep social conservative past, is returning to a more culturally reactionary root. At the same time, American universities are doubling down on critical race theory and other linked ideologies, especially feminism. This is a dangerous moment, as the more the Biden administration doubles down on promoting this idea abroad, the more it will continue to lose allies, which, while nominally democratic and western, have far stronger and more homogenous polities.
It is easy to dismiss disjointed news. But disjointed events indicate patterns. France is an especially interesting case. Throughout the Anglosphere, there is this entrenched idea that the younger people are, the more they will be left-wing, and therefore they should be allowed to vote, to consolidate a left-wing political hegemony.
France has created its own problems by mirroring America, most importantly with its own version of “forever war” and nation-building in Africa, which hollowed out state coffers. But the French government and intellectual class are also increasingly turning away from what they consider American imperialism, influenced by its critical race theory-laced academy.
President Emmanuel Macron, a run-of-the-mill liberal technocrat, had to recently make concessions to the right by blaming the easiest of historic French targets, les Americains, for exporting woke theory that is ripping the fabric of French society. “Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,” Macron said recently, are fueling an existential crises in France as well as self-loathing and secessionism.
He added there’s a “battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities.” This hint of anger, as in Hungary, is towards the subversive and anti-national academy.
Elsewhere, the return to an older form of reactionary conservatism is more direct. Consider this. In Hungary and Poland, there has been a resurgence in state power to channel the countries towards conservatism.
In Poland, nationalists have formed militias to guard statues and churches, especially from abortion advocates and criminals. In Hungary, the government has declared and made a law defining a family as only between a male and female, and are paying couples to have more children, which may have resulted in a slight birth rate increase.
In Britain, the government has lately mandated free speech in universities at the risk of major fines and defunding; legislated laws to counter woke museums and tackle controversial art and statue removers; and has legislated tougher punishment and ten-year jail terms for those participating in mobs and statue and museum desecrators.
Do American policymakers, especially conservatives, have any idea what might happen if most of Europe someday considers American cultural influence to be more toxic than Chinese economic influence? The unification of Europe under American hegemony was a net benefit to U.S. influence across the world. That kind of influence is also easy to lose through repeated attempts to impose American cultural Marxism.
History teaches us that alliances take a long time to build, and only days to end. In an era when great power rivalry is returning, doubling down on critical race theory will result in an unsurpassable loss of influence.