The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Fragility of Civilization

For the last week and a half, I’ve been working at the Salzburg Festival, in Austria. Salzburg is the most beautiful and civilized place imaginable. It breathes peace, order, and delight.

Imagine waking up today. It is a sun-splashed morning. You take a walk on the Mönchsberg. The girls are in their summer dresses. At 11 o’clock, you go to the Vienna Philharmonic concert, with Muti on the podium and Bronfman as piano soloist. Afterward, you attend a luncheon with your friends and enjoy choice food, plus choice views.

What could be more civilized? Nothing. What could possibly go wrong?

My friend and colleague Mona Charen says that one reason she became a conservative, when she was quite young, was that she sensed the fragility of civilization. She realized that, underneath the surface, there were forces that could erupt at any moment. Civilization requires constant, hard work. It does not run on auto-pilot.

I have a friend here in Salzburg who was born and raised here (and who attended the Salzburg Festival for the first time in 1935). Her family owned the candle factory and shop. It had been in her family for hundreds of years.

One day, their foreman came back all cut up and bloody. Dismayed, they cried, “Matthias, what happened?” He was grinning with relish. “Those Jews have had it coming for a long time. We smashed up all their shops.”

Salzburg had a little Kristallnacht of its own. Spirits came out that had been submerged.

In Charlottesville, there were just a handful of neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and neo-Klansmen — a handful relative to our great, glorious country of 320 million. Nothing to get excited about, right? And yet, this kind of thing ought to be nipped in the bud, if I may use a phrase so trite.

In the last couple of days, I’ve heard from a lot of people who say, “What about the Left? What about Antifa? What about the commies? What about, what about?”

Yes. I’ve written about them my entire career. I’m semi-famous for it.

But only semi-. A few weeks ago, I was criticizing Trump for his odd warmth toward Vladimir Putin. Someone tweeted at me, “You NEVER said anything about OBAMA and CASTRO!”

It’s good for the ego, frankly, to realize that no one reads you …

When I was growing up, I regarded the Klan and the Nazis as something historical. I remember an eighth-grade teacher — an old lady — speaking very emotionally about the Klan in her hometown. She was from Kokomo, Ind., I believe. The Klan marched through town at night, with their torches. It had terrified her.

Also, Howell, Mich. — in my home state — was always joked about as a Klan town. I knew it as a place to play golf, basically.

Nazis? Nazis in America? Well, everyone knew about the Skokie march, but that was about it. One lousy march — for a movement that had conquered half of Europe.

The Left always said that the Right was racist and fascist. That the Republican party was. They said this when the GOP was being led by Reagan, Bush 41, Dole, Bush 43, McCain, Romney … It was always a lie, always a smear, an outrage.

In the last couple of years, the fascist Right — a brown or black Right — has come out of the woodwork. Or into the social media. My whole life, I had basically never met a Nazi or a Klansman, and suddenly there they were, flooding my “Notifications” on Twitter and appearing in “comments” sections and so on. They brought their frog, their gas chambers, their striped pajamas — the whole nine yards.

My question: Are we talking about a relative handful of people, who are savvy about social media and loud? Or are their numbers large and significant?

I don’t know.