Read: Russia’s twin nostalgias
In his landmark 1981 book, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, Paul Hollander wrote of the hospitality showered on sympathetic Western visitors to the Communist world: the banquets in Moscow thrown for George Bernard Shaw, the feasts laid out for Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag in North Vietnam. But his conclusion was that these performances were not the key to explaining why some Western intellectuals became enamored of communism. Far more important was their estrangement and alienation from their own cultures: “Intellectuals critical of their own society proved highly susceptible to the claims put forward by the leaders and spokesmen of the societies they inspected in the course of these travels.”
Hollander was writing about left-wing intellectuals in the 20th century, and many such people are still around, paying court to left-wing dictators in Venezuela or Bolivia who dislike America. There are also, in our society as in most others, quite a few people who are paid to help America’s enemies, or to spread their propaganda. There always have been.
But in the 21st century, we must also contend with a new phenomenon: right-wing intellectuals, now deeply critical of their own societies, who have begun paying court to right-wing dictators who dislike America. And their motives are curiously familiar. All around them, they see degeneracy, racial mixing, demographic change, “political correctness,” same-sex marriage, religious decline. The America that they actually inhabit no longer matches the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America that they remember, or think they remember. And so they have begun to look abroad, seeking to find the spiritually unified, ethnically pure nations that, they imagine, are morally stronger than their own. Nations, for example, such as Russia.
The pioneer of this search was Patrick Buchanan, the godfather of the modern so-called alt-right, whose feelings about foreign authoritarians shifted right about the time he started writing books with titles such as The Death of the West and Suicide of a Superpower. His columns pour scorn on modern America, a place he once described, with disgust, as a “multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial, multilingual ‘universal nation’ whose avatar is Barack Obama.” Buchanan’s America is in demographic decline, has been swamped by beige and brown people, and has lost its virtue. The West, he has written, has succumbed to “a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide—the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.”
This litany of horrors isn’t much different from what can be heard most nights on Fox News. Listen to Tucker Carlson. “The American dream is dying,” Carlson declared one recent evening, in a monologue that also referred to “the dark age that we are living through.” Carlson has also spent a lot of time on air reminiscing about how the United States “was a better country than it is now in a lot of ways,” back when it was “more cohesive.” And no wonder: Immigrants have “plundered” America, thanks to “decadent and narcissistic” politicians who refuse to “defend the nation.” You can read worse on the white-supremacist websites of the alt-right—do pick up a copy of Ann Coulter’s Adios America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole—or hear more extreme sentiments in some evangelical churches. Franklin Graham has declared, for example, that America “is in deep trouble and on the verge of total moral and spiritual collapse.”