Editor's note: Below is a translated interview with Frontpage's Shillman Fellow, Bruce Thornton, with Niram Ferretti in the Italian magazine Controverso Quotidiano.
Ferretti: Professor Thornton, in 1984, French philosopher Pascal Bruckner wrote Le sanglot de l’homme blanc, his essay in which he showed how the West, from the Sixties onwards, has been engulfed in an apotheosis of self-guilt. The bottom line is that Western civilization is nothing more than a tale full of sound and fury, while the Third World is the innocent victim of its rapacity and evil. What are the reasons, according to you, of this cultural landscape?
Thornton: There are three developments behind what we can call Third Worldism. First, increasing contact with the undeveloped world through colonialism exposed Europeans to exotic peoples whom they idealized as superior to their own more developed and repressed lives. Next, Marxism, having been rejected by the European proletariat, turned to the anticolonial revolutionary movements in the Third World to find a substitute revolutionary vanguard. Now the revolution would be spearheaded by Third World peoples rather than the workers. And it made the Third World into a useful club for attacking liberal democratic and capitalist countries. Finally, Romanticism and the cult of sentimentalism in the West, aided by globalized communication media, found the Third World an object of “compassion” and guilt, which mass media turned into a commodity of suffering that Westerners could consume and vicariously enjoy those feelings without any efforts to ameliorate it. The result is cheap sentiment and guilt serving the Marxist ideology of undermining Western culture.
Ferretti: “Oppressor”, “Oppressed”, this seems to be the main dichotomy internal to most of political and cultural discourse, both here in Europe and in the United States. European and American universities, to a great extent, have espoused cultural Marxism. Is the battle lost?
Thornton: We have institutionalized Lenin’s slogan “Who, whom” ––who is the oppressor, who is the victim. This dynamic underlies political correctness, multiculturalism, and identity politics, all of which work to leverage political power from a group’s status as an historically oppressed victim. The battle is lost, for now. These assumptions and attitudes have shaped three generations, and become mental reflexes beyond critical examination. We see it, e.g., in the Republican Party establishment, which alienated the voters who put Donald Trump in office by Republicans’ bad habit of accepting the progressive views on race, sex, homosexuality, etc.
Ferretti: Recently French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, stated that, “Anti-racism is the Communism of the XXI century, do you agree?
Thornton: Absolutely. Marxism has always been a melodrama pitting absolute good against absolute evil. Identity politics, which is predicated on grievances responding to historical crimes, had to inflate racism into the arch crime even though historical change has reduced to a fringe the legal infrastructure of segregation and the brutal violence and petty daily humiliation with which most blacks lived in America before the Sixties. Anti-racism fosters resentment and grievance that provide energy for political action and political leverage for extracting power from the government. So it must be melodramatic: no complexity or nuance, just pure evil continuing to brutalized the noble, righteous oppressed––the anti-racist. Finally, as do Marxists, the nobility and righteousness of the anti-racist justify “any means necessary,” including censorship, assaults on rights like free speech, and violence.
Ferretti: Both in Europe and in the United States, the immigrant, in Europe especially the Muslim immigrant, has become the icon of oppressed humanity. In the name of compassion and multiculturalism we must joyfully let them in as many as we can. How delusional and dangerous is this mental landscape?
Thornton: Delusional and suicidal. It would be so in any case, for a nation cannot survive if it has no internal solidarity predicated on shared principles, and the confidence that your way of life is the best for you and worthy of fighting for. But when the migrants are Muslims, the danger is much greater. From its birth Islam has been a supremacist, intolerant faith. It does not accept the West’s notions of coexistence with infidels, who must convert, die, or if Christian and Jewish, live as second-class subjects without equality under the law, enumerated rights, etc. In the last few decades we have seen the colonization of Europe from within via migration and self-segregation. Coupled with low birth-rates and the decline of faith, this idealization of the migrant if unchecked will become fatal.
Ferretti: Europe has had a very ambivalent attitude towards the United States during the centuries. It has been oscillating constantly between love and hate. In Uncouth Nation. Why Europe dislikes America, Andrei S. Markovits, writes “Anti-Americanism is an integral part of the American Left’s discourse and world view”. In Europe Anti-Americanism puts together both the extreme Left and the extreme Right. What are the main reasons, according to you of this hatred?
Thornton: First, in general European elites have disliked America because it took in the peoples Europe didn’t want–– peasants like my grandfather who came to the U.S. from southern Italy in 1908–– and created the greatest power in history. As such the U.S. is the living repudiation of the social and political orders that still characterize leaders of European states, such as technocratic rule by elites, deference to centralized power and authority, stratified hierarchies based on birth, education, etc. Second, as Raymond Aron pointed out, leftist and socialist European elites hate the U.S. for achieving widely distributed wealth and unprecedented economic development without following the Marxist libretto, or indulging in the orgies of violence and oppression that characterize Marxist regimes. Like Islam, Marxism is a fanatic faith, admitting no rivals to the revealed truth of its founder. America’s success is a daily remind of how wrong the Marxian Moloch has been.
Ferretti: In the final draft of the European Constitution, of 2003, there is no mention to the role that Christianity played in the identity of Europe along the centuries. The late pope John Paul II, pleaded in vain to have it mentioned but instead, a more generic reference to the “cultural, religious and humanistic heredity of Europe”, was chosen. What do you see as the rationale behind this decision and how serious is it according to you?
Thornton: The EU, like all the multinational global institutions, is a creation of the triumph of secularism and the technocratic pretensions of the West now in their second century. A regime predicated on its own assurances of technological mastery not just of nature, but of the human mind and heart, necessarily must reject religious faith as an authority and source of wisdom. For a centralized, concentrated technocratic power to admit rival wisdom and authority is to invite its own weakening. Thus the EU could not acknowledge the fact of Europe’s Judeo-Christian foundations, which are the giants that the EU dwarves stand on to allow them to see farther. This decision to purge faith from its governing document is very serious, for it marks how far Europe’s elites have gone in discarding God and trying to take His place––a hubristic goal we see failing even as we speak. Coupled with the feckless immigration policies that have allowed culturally alien Muslims to settle in Europe, radical secularism, like the failure to create families, is the solvent that is destroying Europe.
Ferretti: Both here in Europe and in the United States, immigration is a big issue. There are of course differences, but all the same it represents an enormous challenge for the future. The United States motto is in pluribus unum, Europe has none. How do you see the future of Europe in this regards?
Thornton: I see increasing social disruption and violence, especially as the fiscal crisis of public debt and unfunded liabilities increasingly worsens. We are seeing a portent in France, where the “yellow vest” movement has united groups from across the political spectrum, and is slipping into anarchic violence. Unchecked immigration and its costs can only worsen these conflicts, leading to more violence, and an illiberal political backlash from fringe extremists. Finally, with European elites having destroyed their own unifying Christian and Classical civilization, and having demonized the idea of the nation that once was the locus of joining peoples into a coherent identity, what can be a unifying principle? What can create the solidarity necessary for defending one’s way of life? No one is going to die for the E.U. flag
Ferretti: Europe seems to have lost track of its unifying stories, of its religious and humanistic tradition. They exist as traces, memories, as a collection of curious objects inside a museum. Do you agree?
Thornton: Yes, Europe has become one vast museum, its cultural heritage reduced to commodities profitable for the tourism industry, warehousing priceless relics Europeans have no clue how to create. But the U.S. is doing the same thing. This problem is a Western one, not just a European one. The U.S. still has an economic vitality and creativity, but man cannot live by bread alone. We need a vital, creative culture that creates art, literature, ideas that teach us what we should live for. Without faith, however, art, literature, ideas degenerate into mere commodities we consume and forget when the next fad comes along.
Ferretti: “America First” has been the slogan of President Donald Trump’s campaign. What does this mean for Europe?
Thornton: That the U.S., or at least some of its citizens, do not accept the rejection of nationalism and the cession of sovereignty to transnational technocratic elites, for national sovereignty is the sine qua non of political freedom. There are no “citizens of the world,” only citizens of sovereign nations. For Europe’s elites this means a hard reckoning of their failure at creating a political order that transcends Europe’s nations and subjects them to top-down rule. But in this country as well, man of our elites, including so-called conservatives, have endorsed globalism and are fighting back against Trump’s efforts. The outlook for both Europe and the U.S. is, I believe, grim.