The 'Oikophobia' of the Right
As the Ukrainian war shows, some conservatives have come to hate the West
On the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, the Daily Telegraph reported that Britain’s spies were being told to check their white privilege and to stop using sexist words like ‘manpower’; meanwhile the Ministry of Defence was asking people to nominate their favourite LGBT books, and while the tweet was since deleted, I think everyone will share the sentiments of this colourfully-named Twitter user.
These will make amusing little anecdotes for some future chronicler of February 2022, examples of civilisational hubris about to face its nemesis. Or maybe not, as it turns out.
Gay Army book clubs are culture war finery, the sort of thing that gets noticed because it provokes a reaction; to conservatives, elite obsession with sexual identity is seen as a mark of a civilisation in decline, interested only in pleasure and narcissism. Perhaps it might not be important in itself but it’s part of a wider decadence, for a country in which the Army fusses over sexual identity surely is incapable of defending its values, leaving itself vulnerable to more virile and predatory civilisations from outside.
To progressives, freedom, including sexual freedom, is who we are. Indeed, it’s almost why we fight. Soon after the invasion, MI6s head Richard Moore tweeted that: ‘With the tragedy and destruction unfolding so distressingly in Ukraine, we should remember the values and hard-won freedoms that distinguish us from Putin, none more than LGBT+ rights.’
Never mind that Ukraine is also pretty conservative on this issue, that, as a sentiment from one of the British state’s most important figures, illustrates the great divergence of values within Western countries, one not seen since the Reformation — and shows which side of that divide is firmly in control. It also goes some way to explaining the small but significant section of western conservatives who now see no real moral difference between Russia and the West. They represent a new phenomenon, the Oikophobia of the Right.
‘Oikophobia’ was Roger Scruton’s term to describe ‘the repudiation of inheritance and home’, the way that many socialists and progressives are motivated by a loathing for their own country, their own countrymen and often their hometowns, from which they wished to escape and punish its inhabitants. In the case of the early Bolsheviks, in many ways trailblazers of modern progressivism, their radical politics were often motivated by contempt for liberal parents and hatred of the unintellectual imbeciles they grew up around.
Oikophobia has long defined the far-Left’s foreign policy, which is essentially to always side with our enemies. What one socialist site calls ‘campism’. In Britain it dates back to at least 1789, even after it became clear that the revolution was a disaster and with the emergence of Napoleon Bonaparte as a dictator. Leading Whig Charles James Fox called Bonaparte ‘the most stupendous monument of human wisdom’ in the House of Commons; many artists openly sided with France, and when they felt they could no longer justify supporting such a tyranny they backed their own country will ill grace. There was strong opposition to Britain from two particular sects, the Quakers and the Unitarians, members of the latter group a fear years later starting a famous newspaper in Manchester. One Unitarian minister, Ebenezer Aldred, said Britain was the real Beast of Revelation, ‘guilty of imperialism, slave trading and sodomy’ in the words of Robert Tombs. Even if the reality of revolutionary France didn’t match the fantasy, that didn’t really matter because what they were actually against was Britain. Oikophobia.
Germany, both under the Kaiser and especially Hitler, was too repulsive and anti-intellectual to attract many British admirers, but revolutionary Russia found many, often clearly motivated by a certain disgust with England. The pilgrims who lauded Stalin’s grotesque experiment did so in part to express deep contempt for their own homeland.
During the Cold War various politicians, writers and artists were prepared to apply a completely false equivalence between the two superpowers. Indeed, one or two of the USSR’s defenders are still MPs today. In the US, Angela Davis’s career has not been harmed by her open support for America’s enemies; indeed, it seems to have helped. Others went on to bat for various murderous regimes, including even revolutionary Iran, which Foucault praised as ‘the most insane’ (yes it really was, you old paedophile).
So the far-Left’s initial moral equivalence on the Russian invasion is normal and predictable; it would be worrying if they didn’t side with our enemies, or claim that ‘both sides’ were at fault — if only the anti-bully alliance hadn’t provoked the bully into bullying its neighbours, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Were aliens to invade earth next week, in some Independence Day or War of the Worlds-style scenario, you’d get at least 10 Labour backbenchers blaming America for the conflict. Their radio waves provoked them, or something.
It’s not that they particularly like what Putin stands for, it’s just that they can’t envisage a situation where it’s not our fault, a form of narcissism in which America and her allies are all-powerful and morally culpable. But the radical Left also believe that supporting the West means supporting the values they believe to be in control — the forces of conservatism, capitalism and neoliberalism, all of which will be empowered by western victory.
That is a fairly rational calculation, and it’s noticeable how some conservatives now come to a similar conclusion. They don’t hate their inheritance like the radical Left, but they hate what their home has become, where progressives wearing the skin of the civilisation they have killed, like a zombie western civilisation. They also feel that any victory will only further strengthen those in charge.
That perhaps explains why so many populists have badly misjudged this conflict. As Eric Kaufmann wrote this week: ‘I watched as Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance defended Putin, or adopted the Kremlin’s critique of Ukraine’, Carlson calling it a ‘pure client state of the United States State Department’. While there are claims for a realist case ‘tempering Ukrainian demands and accommodating reasonable Russian security concerns, the inability of some to reject the moral equivalence of Ukraine and Russia was glaring.’
Like oikophobes in times gone by, some on the Right have created an imaginary foreign country to reflect on their own society’s shortcomings. ‘The perception that Russia is a masculine, white, Christian country unafraid to stand up for its traditions forms part of its appeal to conservative populist thinkers,’ Kaufmann writes: ‘“Putin ain’t woke,” Steve Bannon said last month. “He’s anti-woke.” The Russian President’s 2019 interview with the Financial Times, when he declared that liberalism has “become obsolete” clearly impressed many Western conservative populists. Against Drag Queen Story Hour and self-flagellation about the sins of the past could be set Putin’s macho, Christian, nationalist Russia. Clearly, some populist elites took the bait.’
None of these beliefs about Russia are really true, as Kaufmann points out, for ‘any honest appraisal of Putin’s Russia would reveal that its religiosity is weak, immigration substantial, and the Eurasianism of Putin and Alexandr Dugin would readily trade cultural homogeneity for more territory… Putin’s Russia is a ramshackle, corrupt, aggressive despotism. It is not “really hot stuff” as Donald Trump put it once. It is not a post-woke paradise.’
But then that doesn’t really matter. Like British radicals praising a French Revolution that was first a bloodbath and then a dictatorship, their real concern is with home — the oikos. And perhaps they fear that any victory by the West in 2022 will further entrench a largely progressive-dominated establishment, including now the military, which has followed the great inversion of the past few decades. That is why, in foreign conflicts as in much else, Right is the new Left.
Some conservatives have come to believe they’re in an existential civilisational battle with progressives. Russia is either a distraction or perhaps, if the Left hate Putin, maybe he’s even to be praised. In trying to justify this basic resort to the logic of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, some even employ the same moral equivalence and lack of perspective we’ve got used to seeing from the radical Left, especially during the Cold War.
Fear of progressive hegemony is not unreasonable. What conservatives (and some liberals) worry about western society is not just that it’s decadent, but that its decadence is inherently intolerant. In this pink police state it is ‘forbidden to forbid’ — sometimes on pain of imprisonment, or at the very least loss of employment.
While the MI6 head’s comments about LGBT rights seem inane at worst, far more telling was the defence made by one member of the intelligence agency, who said: ‘Racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and other forms of bigotry are some of the biggest drivers of nationalist and fascist behaviour which directly lead to wars of aggression. People miss the bigger picture by trying to compartmentalise these issues, it’s all connected.’
‘It's all connected.’ Those are not heartening words, especially if we enter a new cold war with Putinism as the opposition ideology, perhaps treated with more hostility than even communism, because communism was at least credited with beating Hitler (and given a pass for its noble intentions). Already, there is even a hint of the 1950s in the search for alleged Russian assets within.
Western sanctions against Russia have been compared to ‘cancelling’, a disturbing analogy because, as well as losing their job or facing public humiliation, some people in the West viewed as extremists have already had their bank accounts taken away. The global online economy gives the powers-that-be tremendous power to unperson people, or whole states. Woke capital has been weaponised by the Ukrainian war; and while for now we mostly agree it is on the side of the angels, we can’t always be sure in future.
What we’re doing to Russia is not totally unlike what progressive activists did to North Carolina a few years back, over its transgender bathroom bill; admittedly those sanctions were on a far smaller scale, yet that ‘cancelling’ cost the state over $3.5 billion. If such tactics succeed in destroying Russia, there will be the temptation to use smaller-scale pressure on Poland, Hungary or any other corner of the western world that upsets those in charge.
All this has been made more likely by Putin’s war. For while Russia may be brutal, undemocratic and cruel, its greatest gift to western progressives is its incompetence, a point made by Janan Ganesh and Andrew Sullivan. ‘It’s not so much Putin’s trashing of international law, his unhinged rehashing of post-Soviet grievances, his next-level Covid paranoia, the foul murders of his opponents, or his brazen embrace of shelling hospitals that has so deepened the damage to the Putin brand among the West’s new Russophiles,’ Sullivan argues: ‘These atrocities and madnesses they have long found ways to live with. No, it’s Putin’s failure — thus far — to actually win the war he started that’s so damning. It’s one thing for a dictator to be deemed cruel; and quite another — and far more dangerous — thing for him to be seen as incompetent.’
A key argument of the anti-liberal Right is that liberalism makes us vulnerable to outsiders who still possess vigour and self-belief; gay book clubs and tedious debates about pronouns and privilege only weaken us while Russia, China, India and the Islamic world focus on the important things in life.
Yet, at least so far, that doesn’t seem to have panned out. Liberalism does make people more averse to conflicts — on a one-on-one basis, the German soldier in the Second World War was far more effective than his British or American equivalent — but liberal democratic states are able to pour far more money into the fight. Not only could countries like the United States produce huge numbers of tanks and aeroplanes during the war with Nazism, but thanks to the City of London, Britain has always been able to borrow at lower interest rates (an important advantage in 1914-1918).
But even with 21st-century ‘liberalism’, for all its insanity and inanity, the current war has shown western states not only capable of heavily arming the Ukrainians but also crushing the Russian economy into the dust. In contrast, Russia doesn’t appear to be very effective at war, partly because the paranoid nature of the regime has led it to undermine its own army for fear of being overthrown. So far, China looks like it has been intimidated into deserting its ally; in contrast the West is fully united.
So if the excesses of progressivism do not weaken the West, conservatives are forced, like Aesop’s wolf, to admit that this is not the real reason why they object to social change — they just don’t like it. Indeed, they dislike what the West has become altogether; and that’s why many have adopted the oikophobia of the Left.