I truly wish that Americans would learn to stop caring about whether foreigners like them. What has happened to this once-proud people? Of all the reasons to dislike George Bush, one of the worst was that he was hated in Europe. The Americans who said this didn’t notice, or acknowledge, that Bush was most hated precisely when he stood up for American sovereignty and national security, or appeared to. The same thing was true for Bush Sr., and Reagan before him. Being disliked by the French was, more often than not, a sign that you were on the right track.
Nevertheless, we can feel happy when someone we like and respect, likes and respects us back. I feel this way about people from Eastern Europe who are pro-American – a couple of whom are part of my family by marriage. One of my favorite such figures is the late Balint Vazsonyi, whose book America’s 30 Years War: Who Is Winning? (1) is a good introduction to an American conservative perspective to people who may be leaning in that direction. Not having read the book in some time, I will not review it here. His basic contention, that America, founded on “English” ideals of liberty, rule of law, and so forth, is being destroyed by “Franco-German” notions of the supremacy of human reason – embodied in ideologies like Communism, Nazism, and so forth, is pretty standard conservative stuff (but is at least genuinely conservative, not neo-conservative). From the perspective of this blog, as my regular readers know, this view is inadequate in its failure to engage the racial and immigration-related aspects of our crisis. But I am interested here in the spirit of what Vazsonyi says.
When I learned about Balint Vazsonyi, he had only recently passed away of cancer (in 2003). It saddens me to think I will never be able to meet him or see him speak, because he conveys a real warmth and humanity – and love for America – in his writing. A concert pianist, Vazsonyi arrived in the United States in 1959 as a refugee from Hungary after the failed revolt against Soviet occupation, and became a U.S. citizen in 1964. I do not know much about his career as a pianist, but at some point he decided to devote himself to the American conservative cause and became one of its most devoted advocates.
Older people from formerly Communist states like Hungary and the Czech Republic, having experienced Communism very recently, are one group of Europeans who are relatively free of anti-Americanism. And among those who have immigrated here, many seem to be reliably conservative, often more so than “conservative” Americans. Of course, the obvious explanation for this, given by Vazsonyi himself, is that they have experienced Communism first-hand and therefore are not fooled by socialism and other collectivist causes as they appear in America.
Yet this cannot be the whole story. It is not anti-Communism per se, since Eastern Europeans are quite willing to say that some things under Communism worked fairly well for them. And in some other ways, the affinity of people like Vazsonyi to American culture is puzzling, or at least intriguing. The strong Catholicism, the sense of social class, the strong provincial identities, the particularity about food and clothing, and other cultural factors do not seem to add up to a strong affinity to American Anglo-Protestant culture. And yet something is there, some kind of earthiness and work ethic, that seems to work well between us in many cases.
The deeper issue, it seems to me, is that unlike the people of Western Europe, the majority (?) of the people of Eastern Europe seem not to have succumbed to the mind-destroying powers of modern liberalism. (I am sure that it has taken root to some extent among the younger generations.) I cannot prove this myself but it is asserted by the writer Takuan Seiyo, who despite his Japanese pen (brush?) name is a Polish cosmopolitan with a strong attachment to America. Why have the Eastern Europeans not been taken over by the “pods”? Why do they remain comfortable and secure in their identity as white Christians when Western Europe and the English-speaking nations have descended into full collective madness? (I am not sure it is a deep religiosity – the Czechs, at least, seem very secularized.) One could, no doubt, cite their history, religion, and other concrete factors in explanation. But in nations there is also something intangible called character, and that is what I would like to know more about.
I believe we could do worse than to listen to the voices of East Europeans. Czech president Václav Klaus is another public figure from whom Americans and other Westerners have much to learn. When I watched this interview on YouTube I actually felt ashamed for my country, that we should be sternly lectured by this foreign leader on our own founding principles. And, mind you, it is not as if someone like Havel has any sort of inferiority complex with regards to America or any other country. He simply understands the virtue of America’s founding principles, in a sober way, free of the hubris and utopianism that continues to pervade American conservative discourse – to say nothing of the liberal craziness.
What can we learn from the people of these smaller European nations, rarely in the center stage in the history we learn, more distant from us culturally and linguistically than the countries of Western Europe? I remain intrigued by the thought that they have got something right that we, here, just don’t get. If my readers have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.
Balint Vazsonyi, America’s 30 Years War: Who is Winning?, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1998.