Lilla begins by noting that the nationalist right is on the move across Europe:
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.So Lilla went to France, where he speaks the language, to investigate:
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.Most of these writers identify as Catholic despite little evidence that they have any faith; Lilla suggests that
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).
the relationship between religious and political identification is reversing in Europe—that 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 new rightists long for a more organic alternative to the global society of international neoliberalism, with its worship of the free individual. They are strongly environmentalist and often expound on the need to produce and consume less so that our human and natural heritages can be preserved. Above all they talk and write lovingly of European Civilization, and they argue that it is the mission of a nation to pass on its accumulated wisdom to future generations, "not to serve an agglomeration of autonomous individuals bearing rights."
Lilla concludes with a warning:
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.I see this error of the left all around me, the refusal to take those who disagree with them seriously. The new right is a very powerful force, and it cannot be dismissed by saying that it is "just racism" or "just another way to defend the interests of the powerful."