Being a European I hadn’t come across the term Paleoconservative until Mr. Roach a fellow blogger on WordPress, took me to task over comments I made about Terry Jones, the Florida Pastor who caused such a stir because he wanted to burn copies of the Koran to “wake up” America to the dangers of Islam. Mr. Roach is a self-proclaimed Paleocon and as such I thought I would find out what Paleoconservativism is and what its observants believe.
One tenet is that the European belief system used by the Founding Fathers when establishing the American constitution cannot be re-exported to non-European regions because of those people’s existing cultural heritages. As a consequence, it is wrong-headed of the United States to become involves in conflicts overseas to bring them democracy and the other fruits of Western liberalism.
They feel that the basic mores and beliefs of the majority of Americans are under fire from many quarters particularly from non-european immigrants to the States, from black americans and from muslims. Sam Francis an American journalist and prolific writer on paleoconservatism said amongst other things that “we believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime”.
Although the term was not invented until the 1980’s, adherents claim that Paleoconservatism has roots that connect it to that strain of American thought that opposed the United States joining the League of Nations in 1919, who opposed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and supported the 1924 Immigration Act that substantially reduced immigration into the country. They support traditional family life, traditional behaviour, traditional religious observance and traditional good manners. Many Paleocons are anti gay marriage, anti-abortion but pro gun ownership and capital punishment.
From a European perspective, Paleoconservatives seem a rather strange bunch. They seem to forget that traditions come from somewhere. What is now seen as traditional was once cutting edge. The religion of the Pilgrim Fathers was newly minted, that’s why they got into trouble with the established church in the first place and they ended up having to leave England. There is an old joke in England that you only have to do something three years running for it to become “tradition”. As the basis of a belief system, it seems superficial and shallow.
In the past two-hundred years Europe has moved on. It has been stricken by wars and political strife leading to the deaths of millions of people and since 1957 has been striving for that “ever closer Union” that lies at the heart of the project that is the European Union. Europe will come as a surprise to most Paleocons because it is for the most part secular, multicultural and liberal. The mythical European tradition that Paleoconservatives believe was the base-plate upon which America was built, never really existed. Americans often think of Europe as a single place but it’s not. The culture and traditions of Bulgaria are as different from those of Finland as those of a Southern Baptist from a Harlem homeboy. The difference in Europe is that cultural difference is [for the most part] valued and considered of equal moral worth.
By the way, there have always been black people living in Europe, at least since the time of the Roman Empire and yes you can be black and European. Arguably Britain’s best poet at this time is Lemn Sissay, a black man born to Ethiopian parents who grew up the North of England. Britain’s funniest comedian Lenny Henry is a black man, one of Britain’s best tailors is Ozwald Boateng a black man and there are any number of black politicians, black business people etc. I was looking at a poster in the Goethe Centre [an international German cultural organisation supported by the German government] recently; it said “Black Man, White Man, Yellow Man, Red Man, German”. Even European national governments accept that the world is multicultural and that it is something to be celebrated.
I think that Paleoconservatives have some things right however. The United States should not try to be the world’s policeman, imposing a very American form of democracy on other cultures. The cultural imperialism of Coca-Cola is wrong. The world is not divided into those who aspire to be just like Americans and those who hate what America stands for. The real world is much more complex than that.
The world is amazingly complex and simple beliefs like a return to traditional values won’t solve the problems of the modern world. Moreover, it dismisses one of the greatest strengths of the United States, the multicultural people drawn from all over the world. It is that which gives the country its special vitality.
America is not Europe, it is not even vaguely European as any visitor to the States realises as soon as he or she gets off the plane. The attitudes, the mores, the mental map of the world most Americans hold in their heads is perfectly alien to all Europeans. It isn’t a wrong view of the world but it is different and as distinct from Europe as it is from Africa or Asia.
Traditional religious practice combined with an ethnocentric world view will not help Paleoconcervatives address the social, economic and spiritual problems of contemporary America because their only solution seems to be an exaltation for everyone to be like them. Black americans, Hispanic people, Chinese americans, Native american people, people from Asia and Muslim countries as just as American as them, indeed in some cases more American. These people hold the keys to solving America’s problems and must be fully involved in the political process.
America does not exist in isolation and the days of pretending it does died on 9/11.