The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Is an American Conservative?

Marine Le Pen, in her glory

Jonah Goldberg has a highly interesting column today about Steve Bannon, the European Right, and conservatism. Recently, Bannon was in France, rallying with the National Front. “History is on our side,” he said.

There are always people, on right and left, who claim that they are on “the right side of history” while others are on the “wrong side.” I wrote an essay about this in 2011 (here).

In his column, Jonah writes that Bannon’s “blood-and-soil nationalism and racially tinged populism” is at odds with “the best and highest ideals of conservatism” and with America.

“Let him stay in Europe and hand out torches,” says Jonah. “His un-American shtick has no place here.”

Standing alongside Marine Le Pen, rallying the National Fronters, Bannon said, “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day, we get stronger and they get weaker.”

To be a conservative is to be called a racist. I know this — I have lived it — and so do all other conservatives. It is one of the most appalling, most painful, and most infuriating things about being a conservative. Probably the most.

I have made a career, virtually, of writing about this. Here is an essay from 2010: “‘Worst People.’” (On his MSNBC show, Keith Olbermann had named me one of “The Worst People in the World.”)

The fact that there are continual false charges of racism does not mean there aren’t true charges, heaven knows. (This is something that makes the false charges all the more damnable.) Here is news from Monday: “A young official of France’s far-right National Front has resigned after he was recorded using a racial slur outside a congress aimed at remaking the party’s identity.”


Yes, the National Front is undergoing a makeover, or at least a name change. They will be the “Rassemblement National,” an echo of the “Rassemblement National Populaire,” a Nazi party back when. That is quite a makeover.

At the moment, there is a struggle over American conservatism — what is it? What ought it to be? How many strains can it accommodate? CPAC invited a Le Pen — Marine’s niece, Jean-Marie’s granddaughter — to speak at its conference. Pat Buchanan and his allies founded a magazine called “The American Conservative.” What is an American conservative? Does he have to be a Buchananite? Is an American conservative different from a European rightist?

Where I live — on the American right — this is probably the question of the age. The word “conservative” cannot, should not, apply to people whose worldviews are dramatically different. On whose shoulders will this word, “conservative,” ultimately rest?

Of course, there is never really an “ultimately.” These things shift, through the centuries.

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