If there was one thing that everyone at this year’s National Conservatism conference could agree on, it was that European civilisation has gone badly wrong. (EPA-EFE/OLIVIER MATTHYS)


Europe’s right must think positive if it wants to win


If there was one thing that everyone at this year’s National Conservatism conference could agree on, it was that European civilisation has gone badly wrong.

Speaker after speaker told us that Europe’s elites were contemptuous of the people; that their progressive globalist ideology was a dangerous lie. Mass immigration, especially from the Islamic world, was now an existential threat to a continent that had forgotten its Christian roots. Punitive green policies were crushing European industry and living standards, all as LGBT dogma undermined the traditional family.

The Brussels authorities’ outrageous attempt to shut down the conference, meanwhile, served to confirm the embattled state of the Right in contemporary Europe – and with it the cause of freedom and democracy.

The problems with today’s ruling liberal globalism were clear enough to any attendee, but they also raise questions about the worldview we were there to talk about: national conservatism.

Not the nationalism part – who wouldn’t want to return sovereignty to the nation from this hostile globalist elite?

But conservatism? This Burkean philosophy of caution, incremental change and defending old nostrums comes naturally to the conservative temperament, of course. But the bleak picture of the West painted this week in Brussels would suggest the Right needs something far more radical if it is to arrest Europe’s decline.

One of those to attempt to square this circle was the political theorist NS Lyons. The pseudonymous author of the Upheaval substack would here be unmasked for the first time, and he certainly had much to say.

“Conservatism has failed to conserve anything at all,” he told a panel on the future of conservatism, held late into the conference’s second day. The author said that contesting democratic elections amid a hostile managerial state had done little for the conservative cause. So instead of complaining about its enemies and lamenting a lost past, any resurgent Right would need a positive plan of action. 

Thankfully he had one: ‘parallelism’.

He argued that as social disorder grows in the coming years, the Right should begin to organise at the pre-political level.

Historic examples of this included the ‘Civic Circles’ movement in post-Communist Hungary — a movement which paved the way for Fidesz — as well as the often overlooked RSS movement in India, the precursor to the now politically dominant BJP.

Both began as grassroots civic volunteer organisations, but emerged as broad civil society movements that formed the power base for a rival state.

Such a method of political organisation has the advantage of being scalable, self-legitimising, antifragile and self-reinforcing, Lyons argued. A good example of the latter two was what had happened at NatCon, where the heroic efforts of two lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, already attending the conference, used their expertise to save the event’s second day.

Late on Tuesday night after the first day was stifled by police, Paul Coleman and Jean-Paul Van de Walle succeeded with an emergency appeal to the Brussels courts to strike down the mayoral order banning the conference.

Lyons drew a lesson from this: a dissenting force is always stronger together.

No less significant than the details of Lyons’ battle plan was the simple fact that he even had one. Lyons was not complaining about past losses but looking forward to future victories. In a stirring conclusion, he said that “today in the West there is an abandoned crown lying in the mud” – now was the time to pick it up.

Ralph Schoellhammer, meanwhile, was another voice of welcome energy and positive vision. Like Lyons, Schoellhammer said that the right should aim to be leading, not playing catch-up, when it came to the culture war.

“You cannot beat something with nothing,” he pointed out, arguing that too much intellectualism had led the Right to neglect the vital narrative power of “movies, books, pop culture”.

Schoellhammer noted how leftist narratives often pass unnoticed in our culture today. In James Cameron’s Avatar films, for instance, the audience is expected to sympathise not with the badass, space-faring mining company that takes on the hostile new world of Pandora, but with the blue hunter-gatherer Na’vi living at one with nature.

The protagonist, Jake Sully, who becomes one of the blue aliens, is literally a traitor to his own species. Avatar thus perfectly captures the Thunberg-style doom cult of contemporary environmentalism: refusing to put your own interests first, and believing that modern technology is a sin.

Indeed, the irony of the Avatar films is that for all their anti-modern, anti-human messaging, their stunning visuals are a testament to the genius of cutting-edge CGI – luddite prelapsarian fantasies are a uniquely modern luxury.

Schoellhammer argued that against this pervasive eco-doomerism, the Right needs to lay claim to a positive vision of modern civilisation and the energy production necessary to sustain it. Culture warriors often complain about ‘drag queen story hour’ inculcating LGBT ideology – why not instead have coal-miner, oil-rig worker or farmer story hour, showing the importance of modern industry? It is only because these heroes move Heaven and Earth every day that we have our standard of living today, a fact we forget far too easily.

Instead of complaining that green elites are out of touch, far better to trumpet the magnificence of human endeavour in conquering nature.

A rather simpler reminder of the importance of doing rather than theorising came from Viktor Orbán, keynote speaker on the second day. Here he was, the leading figure for the European right, speaking to a rapt audience. And what did he say?

“I’m a doer,” he pointed out to his interviewer, Yoram Hazony. “My job is not to provide intellectual ideas – that’s your job.”

The most successful right-wing politician of his generation is not a chin-stroker, but a ‘doer’. There is undoubtedly a lesson here for the assembled would-be conservative elites. 

There are many things worth conserving today, of course. The dozens of police outside on the first day, after all, were a stark reminder that the need to defend political freedom in Europe is more urgent than ever. But if conservatism finds itself forever in a reactive posture, this is surely a losing strategy. Merely to conserve is always to be one step behind. If the Right is to make gains in the future, it must think not merely about what has been lost, but what is yet to be won.