John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. He’s a Christian Nationalist and a fascist. I wonder, though, if he’d feel quite so confident in his convictions if he spent some time studying the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and the resulting regime that ruled Spain until 1975.
To begin, Davidson’s provocative essay argues that the “conservative” project is over.
…you cannot preserve or defend something that is dead. Perhaps you can retain a memory of it or knowledge of it. But that is not what conservatism was purportedly about. It was about maintaining traditions and preserving Western civilization as a living and vibrant thing.
Well, too late. Western civilization is dying. The traditions and practices that conservatives champion are, at best, being preserved only in an ever-shrinking private sphere. At worst, they are being trampled to dust. They certainly do not form the basis of our common culture or civic life, as they did for most of our nation’s history.
With nothing worthwhile remaining to conserve, the right should move on with the aim of creating something new. Of course, Davidson’s aim is still to go back to the way things were in some important respects, but he’s ready to jettison the first two-thirds of the conservatives’ traditional three-legged stool of small government, strong national defense and traditional social values.
The fusionism of past decades, in which conservatives made common cause with market-obsessed libertarians and foreign policy neocons, is finished. So too is Conservatism Inc. and the establishment GOP it enabled, whose first priority was always tax cuts for big business at the expense of everything else. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 heralded a populist wave and the end of Republican politics as we knew it, and now we are in uncharted waters.
I agree that the election of Trump heralded a new era for the Republican Party, but so far it seems less like a clear move to populism and more like an outbreak of multiple personality disorder. Davidson wants more clarity, and that means traditional social values are the sole focus. He thinks the party can be electorally successful without support from national defense hawks and big business by “claim[ing] ownership of a pro-worker, even pro-union political agenda.” If this were possible it might take a small measure of sting out of the fascist brew he’s cooking up.
Put bluntly, if conservatives want to save the country they are going to have to rebuild and in a sense re-found it, and that means getting used to the idea of wielding power, not despising it…
…To stop universities from spreading poisonous ideologies will require state legislatures to starve them of public funds. To stop the disintegration of the family might require reversing the travesty of no-fault divorce, combined with generous subsidies for families with small children…
…wielding government power will mean a dramatic expansion of the criminal code. It will not be enough, for example, to reach an accommodation with the abortion regime…
…if they want to stay in office, [Republicans] had better have an answer ready when they are asked what reasonable limits to abortion restrictions they would support. The answer is: none, for the same reason they would not support reasonable limits to restrictions on premeditated murder…
…parents who take their kids to drag shows should be arrested and charged with child abuse…doctors who perform so-called “gender-affirming” interventions should be thrown in prison and have their medical licenses revoked…teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted.
Aside from the concern about what universities are teaching, everything else on that list is an effort to restore Victorian Era sexual ethics and put men back in the driver’s seat. He wants to make it very difficult to get a divorce and impossible to get a safe abortion. He wants traditional gender roles restored and rigorously enforced. To accomplish this, he’s ready to use a lot of government resources and coercion.
His motivation is his belief that by “maintaining traditions and preserving Western civilization as a living and vibrant thing,” conservatives can prevent the left from “transform[ing] America into a woke dystopia.”
Davidson is self-aware enough to realize that he’s making radical proposals that fly in the face of traditional conservative concern about slippery slopes and too move governmental power, but he has an answer for that.
To those who worry that power corrupts, and that once the right seizes power it too will be corrupted, they certainly have a point. If conservatives manage to save the country and rebuild our institutions, will they ever relinquish power and go the way of Cincinnatus? It is a fair question, and we should attend to it with care after we have won the war.
For now, there are only two paths open to conservatives. Either they awake from decades of slumber to reclaim and re-found what has been lost, or they will watch our civilization die. There is no third road.
I don’t see the the same crises in American society and culture that Davidson sees, but I do understand that there’s a lot of discomfort about how the politics of human sexuality have changed, and about how the racial and religious composition of the country has become more diverse and less centered on white Christian values.
It’s a lot clearer to me why the right revolted against the Spanish Republic in 1936. After the right won elections in 1933, the left attempted to invalidate the results. Soon there was widespread disorder, including massive worker strikes, attacks on police, murder of clerics, destruction of churches and convents. The country became so split between right and left that it was ungovernable. Then, in 1936, the left won the elections and went on a bit of a rampage.
Because, unusually, the first round produced an outright majority of deputies elected on a single list of campaign pledges, the results were treated as granting an unprecedented mandate to the winning coalition: some socialists took to the streets to free political prisoners…In the thirty-six hours following the election, sixteen people were killed (mostly by police officers attempting to maintain order or intervene in violent clashes) and thirty-nine were seriously injured, while fifty churches and seventy conservative political centres were attacked or set ablaze.
This was the context in which a substantial part of the military concluded that a coup was necessary to protect the right and restore order.
To be clear, the left in 1930’s Spain bears little resemblance to the left in present day America. The Democrats are not overrun with Communists and anarchists, for example, and President Biden recently resolved what could have been a crippling national railroad strike. While American conservatives may feel besieged in a cultural (and sometimes legal) sense, the left is not trying to invalidate elections or killing religious leaders and destroying churches and right-wing political centers. But if Davidson’s call for fascism has less justification, that doesn’t mean it would not suffer from some of the same consequences.
Under the leadership of Generalísimo Francisco Franco, the left in Spain was crushed by 1939, and democracy was not restored for more than three and a half decades. People were rounded up into concentration camps and tens if not hundreds of thousands were put to death. In other words, the right did not “relinquish power and go the way of Cincinnatus.”
I’ll be the first to admit that there were serious problems with the Spanish left in the 1930’s and that the right, from business and land owners to religious Catholics, had plenty of legitimate fears and grievances. Far more, in fact, than anything that gay wedding cakes, drag queen reading time, and Black Lives Matters protestors can conjure up in the American right’s imagination. But, even if the situations were equivalent, the solution pursued by Spanish fascists is not one that America should emulate.
I wish that American conservatives had learned this lesson from the experience of fighting German and Italian fascism, but it’s not a lesson they’ve typically understood.
The American conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr was an admirer of Franco, and praised him effusively in his magazine, National Review, where the staff were also ardent admirers of the dictator. In 1957, Buckley called him “an authentic national hero”, who “above others”, had the qualities needed to wrest Spain from “the hands of the visionaries, ideologues, Marxists and nihilists.”
Again, even if I were generous enough to grant Buckley’s point, in no way does the left present the same kind of threat today that it did in Spain in the 1930’s. Pretending otherwise, is mainly a racket that gets attention, pays well and has political advantages. If it’s a serious belief, backed by action, it’s fascist sedition.