Yes James Von Brunn Is Right Wing

Written by Kenneth Silber on Sunday June 14, 2009

An unfortunate tendency on the right these days is to attempt to win arguments through tendentious and shallow redefinitions of what constitutes “left” and “right.”

That tendency flared up in recent days with efforts to rebut any notion that the Holocaust Museum shooter was a right-wing extremist and, instead, to rebrand him as a leftist – or “vile leftist monster,” as Rand Simberg put it in one such creative feat of ideological legerdemain at Pajamas Media.

According to Simberg, there’s nothing in James von Brunn’s biography that qualifies as right-wing, “if by that you mean someone who adheres to individualism, the values of the enlightenment and limited government.”

That, however, is an absurdly limited and ahistorical view of what constitutes the right. Historically, “right” and “left” became political affiliations with the French Revolution, when those seeking continuity with the old regime sat on the legislature’s right side and those pressing for change sat on the left. Thus began the longstanding convention of labeling as “right” various efforts to preserve some earlier order (or idealized version of one), and as “left” efforts to bring about some new arrangement (typically presented as breaking away from a benighted past).

By that common understanding, the right includes advocates of limited government and the free market (key elements of the United States since its founding) as well as defenders of traditional religious morality (who may not be enthusiasts of the “enlightenment values” that Simberg doesn’t define). Being a libertarian-leaning conservative, I consider myself part of the right.

But right, like left, is also a broad term, one that includes all sorts of ideas outside the mainstream of American politics. Left-wing extremism would include, say, Maoists or anarchists (at least ones of a collectivist, anti-Starbucks persuasion). What might right-wing extremism include?

To ask such a question threatens to unleash a blog comments debate, heated to the point of sterility, about whether Nazism and fascism sprang from the right or left stretch of the political spectrum. It’s become a common theme of conservatives, particularly since the publication of Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, to emphasize the socialistic aspects of putatively right-wing totalitarian ideologies. Similarly, quite a few conservatives these days like to use the term “fascist” to describe the direction that America is supposedly heading under the current administration.

Such redefinition comes in reaction to a facile and misguided left-wing tendency to throw around “fascist” and even “Nazi” as pejoratives for conservatives. But asserting that these ideologies were simply manifestations of the left is also facile and misguided. Nazism and fascism were very much about restoring an earlier, idealized order – the very definition of the right, as it has long been understood. Mussolini harkened back to the lost grandeur of the Roman Empire. Hitler sought to restore the mythical purity of the Aryan race. The nationalism of these totalitarians was far more extreme than their socialism, and their cultural predilections looked largely backward (build classical columns, ban “degenerate” art). Their appeal to their followers was in no small part that they would reestablish order against modern decay.

Latter-day admirers of the Nazis and fascists, such as James von Brunn, typically emphasize racial or national chauvinism over socialistic economics by a wide margin. They want to recapture a lost (and generally bogus) past, rather than remake the world according to a future vision. As such, they are on the extreme right. It does no credit to current-day conservatives, and adds nothing to understanding, to redefine the extreme right out of existence by claiming that it’s just another bunch of leftists.

Category: News