There seems to be some confusion about the election of incoming Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and the post-Great Recession rise of a more populist, nationalist conservative politics across the West. Specifically, many right-of-center (and formerly right-of-center) pundits fear American conservatism is trading away its traditional, Reaganite, “fusionist” principles for a mess of European, throne-and-altar pottage.
But the truth is closer to the opposite.
American conservatives aren’t cheering on phenomena like Brexit, Viktor Orban’s enduring popularity in Hungary, and Meloni’s victory in Italy because we are becoming more like European conservatives, but because the European right is becoming more like us. A center component of British and Continental conservatism was aristocratic. The cultural inheritances they sought to conserve were based on institutional privilege and social hierarchy.
The U.S. Constitution was, in many ways, a radical innovation. For the Framers asserted universal human equality not just in our endowment of God-given rights (the hypocrisy of slavery notwithstanding) but in our equal capacity for evil as well. The Constitution is a wholesale rejection of the idea that any class of people could be trusted with power. That’s why America has a Bill of Rights and federalism, and regular elections, and an oath of office, and a ban on titles of nobility, etc.
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American conservatism has always sought to recommit our national life to the founding principles of freedom, equality before the law, and constitutionalism—principles native to us, foreign to many Europeans, and utterly hostile to centralizing elitists of all stripes.
What are Brexit, Orbanism, and Meloni but national rejections of the same globalist elitism Americans’ fought at Bunker Hill and Yorktown?
Pundits who long for a lost (or rather, reordered) consensus of libertarianism at home and adventurism abroad and bemoan the rise of “Us versus Them” conservatism misunderstand both.
In the first place, it was not patriots, working families, or middle Americans who created today’s “us” versus “them” dichotomy: it was the ruling elites. Whatever the root causes of the “Great Awokening,” the last several years exposed the deep, almost psychotic contempt in which the Left’s “coalition of the ascendant” hold their countrymen. They see us as the “them” in this morality tale, and used their control of taste-making institutions to “other” the vast majority of western nations' people.
It cannot be overlooked that this globalist, woke-capital elite is not just greedy, obnoxious, and abusive. It is also laughably incompetent.
Reaganite fusionism absolutely helped win the Cold War in the 1980s, and the Heritage Foundation is proud of the role we played in developing and supporting it. But 30 years on, it’s not the grassroots politicians or populist talk-show hosts who have discredited the establishment consensus of globalist capitalism at home and hawkish interventionism abroad. The establishment accomplished this by its own failures.
In the generation since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the global elite oversaw and cheered the rise of communist China, open borders in the name of the “free market,” repeated intelligence and foreign policy disasters, a financial crisis and ever-rising debt, an opioid crisis, deindustrialization and “learn-to-code” outsourcing, and now, a civilization-threatening campaign of culture war against family, faith, and patriotism.
And now, in response to nationalist, populist objections to those failures, the leaders of the antiquated liberal world order are doubling and tripling down on their unaccountable institutional power. The day after Meloni’s party won at the Italian polls, video of her 2019 speech to the World Congress of Families went viral on social media. “We will defend God, country, and family,” she said, while attacking globalist corporations and woke ideology.
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Instead of asking themselves why country after country is rejecting their overlordship, Big Tech executives took down the video, and pundits around the world insulted Meloni—and by extension the Italian people.
Is it really unreasonable in this environment for the sovereign people of western nations to, shall we say, declare their independence from a failed and abusive elite? No. In fact, it strikes me as proudly, defiantly American.
Populist, nationalist conservatism in Europe reflects American conservatism. The U.S. Constitution remains the greatest victory for the “little guy” in human history. And globalist elitism—whether expressed domestically in woke culture warring or internationally by corporate subservience to the Chinese Communist Party—is the existential political threat of our age, driven by a cabal already savvier and more powerful than the Soviet Union ever was.
The long-standing internationalist bipartisan foreign policy consensus does not reflect the heart of American conservatives. It never did. The harmonization and rise of populist, nationalist, patriotic conservatism here at home and around the world is not a betrayal of American conservatism, but its triumph.
This piece originally appeared in The American Conservative