Mises Daily

The Folly of National Unity

The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and CivilizationBy Patrick J. Buchanan. (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) 308 pages.

Pat Buchanan’s remarkable book expresses a distinctively nationalist thesis; and, as a conscientious reviewer in good standing, I shall of course say something about it. But it is on a subordinate part of this thesis that I propose to concentrate. Mr. Buchanan maintains that traditional Western values have been undermined by a concerted campaign. In this ideological war, the notorious Frankfurt School has acted as the General Staff of the anti-Western forces. 

Twentieth-century Marxists, especially in Western Europe, radically shifted the main focus of revolutionary doctrine. The Bolshevik Revolution succeeded in Russia, but elsewhere in Europe, armed violence against the existing order failed. “Nothing the Marxists had predicted had come to pass. Their hour had come and gone. The workers of the west, the mythical proletariat, had refused to play the role history had assigned them” (p. 74).

What was to be done? According to the great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, Communism must inevitably fail so long as people retained their faith in traditional Christian values. “‘The civilized world has been saturated with Christianity for 2000 years,’ Gramsci wrote; and a regime grounded in Judeo-Christian beliefs and values could not be overthrown until these roots were cut” (p. 76, quoting Gramsci).

The task for revolutionaries is then obvious: they must undermine traditional values. To do so--and here precisely lies Gramsci’s greatest originality--revolutionaries should not “seize power first and impose a cultural revolution from above” (p. 77). Rather, they must first change the culture. Through a “long march through the institutions”, Christian values would be undermined. “Then the people could be slowly educated to understand and even welcome the revolution” (p. 77, quoting Gramsci).

Mr. Buchanan assigns a comparable role to another famous Marxist intellectual, the Hungarian Georg Lukacs, but here I am unable entirely to follow him. Lukacs stressed the role in revolution of a vanguard elite party. Though Lukacs assigned intellectuals, himself not least among them, a principal role in the party, he did not stress a cultural strategy in the style of Gramsci. His revolution is very much a matter of force and violence.

But this is by the way. Gramsci led the way to cultural revolution, but, like Moses, he did not see the Promised Land. Another Marxist group, set up at Frankfurt University in 1923, carried out the detailed attack on the values of the West. 1  The members of this group included its director, Max Horkheimer; Theodor Adorno; and, a younger figure who became notorious as an inspiration of the 1960s New Left, Herbert Marcuse.

Our author focuses on the central doctrine of the group, Critical Theory. He rightly notes that this involves destructive criticism of Western civilization. “Under Critical Theory, one repeats and repeats that Western societies are history’s greatest repositories of racism, sexism, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism fascism, and Nazism” (p. 80).

Buchanan’s concise summary in fact understates the destructive character of the Frankfurt School approach. As Horkheimer and Adorno made clear in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, logical thought and science are the principal enemies. They enslave people by confining them to the fixed patterns of the actual world. Instead, dialectical thought, termed by Marcuse the Power of Negative Thinking, must replace totalitarian rationality. Those in search of particulars about the New Rationality may encounter difficulties in their quest. Marcuse, e.g., endlessly tells us that true thought must be negative but offers little beyond this slogan.

A particular aspect of the Frankfurt School’s destructive criticism especially concerns our author. The Authoritarian Personality, which Buchanan terms “by far the most influential book the Frankfurt School ever published,” subjected traditional families to withering attack. “If a family is deeply Christian and capitalist, ruled by an authoritarian father, you may expect the children to grow up racist and fascist. . . . Where Marx criminalizes the capitalist class, the Frankfurt School criminalized the middle class” (p.81).

Here we at last approach the central thesis of Buchanan’s book, and we shall very soon see why attacks on the traditional family concern him even more than other criticisms of Western values. But how successful is he in his contention that the ideas of the Frankfurt School have helped materially to bring about the changes he deplores? At the very least, he has arrived at a very promising hypothesis.

On one or two points, though, I think Buchanan’s picture of the Frankfurt School needs to be modified. Adorno and Horkheimer, in their later years, became much more conservative than before; Buchanan could readily have taken over unchanged, e.g., Horkheimer’s warnings against an Oriental invasion of the West. Their rightward turn led them to reject the New Left, a stance that embroiled them in conflict with their one-time disciple Marcuse.

Further, I think Buchanan misses an irony in his discussion of The Authoritarian Personality. In spite of its criticisms of the Western family, the book was by no means radical in its method of investigation. Quite the contrary, Adorno here embraced the scientistic views he was so anxious elsewhere to deplore. The book, with its pretentious “F-scale” et hoc genus omne, expressed the purest positivism. 2

Now at last to Buchanan’s primary concern in the book. He of course believes that the traditional values subject to Frankfurt School attack are true; but his concern extends beyond the fact that many people have been induced to abandon correct doctrine. If traditional values no longer control behavior, women will be reluctant to bear children. Married families with only one or two children will be common, and some couples will have no children at all. Some women may decide against marriage altogether. Here disaster threatens. If the people of the United States and Western Europe fail adequately to reproduce, they will in the near future find themselves swamped by other nations.

Already the situation is dire:

While world population had doubled to six billion in forty years, the European peoples had stopped reproducing. Their populations had begun to stagnate and, in many countries, had already begun to fall. . . . In 1960, people of European ancestry were one-fourth of the world’s population; in 2000, they were one-sixth; in 2050, they will be one-tenth. These are the statistics of a vanishing race. (pp. 11-12)

A related danger makes the situation even worse, from the perspective of the European peoples. Massive immigration of non-Europeans threatens to make the peoples of the West minorities in their own countries. “America is no longer the biracial society of 1960 that struggled to erase divisions and close gaps in a nation 90 percent white. Today we juggle the rancorous and rival claims of a multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural country” (p. 141).

One of these rancorous claims especially disturbs our author. He contends, following the distinguished Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, that Mexican immigration poses a direct threat to national survival. Many Mexican immigrants view themselves as continuing citizens of their mother country; and they wish to detach California and large sections of the Southwest from the United States.

[T]he demographic sea change, especially in California, where a fourth of the population are foreign-born and almost a third are Latino, has spawned a new ethnic chauvinism. . . . Census 2000 revealed what many sensed. For the first time since statehood, whites in California are a minority. (pp.128, 139)

One might object to Buchanan’s line of thought in this way. Suppose he is entirely right in his depiction of population trends. Why does any of this matter? Is it not blatant racism to be preoccupied with whether European whites prevail over others?

Here we reach the essence of Mr. Buchanan’s political worldview. As he sees matters, a nation must be unified in order to exist at all. “Some define a nation as one people of common ancestry, language, literature, history, heritage, heroes, traditions, customs, mores, and faith who have lived together over time on the same land under the same rulers” (p. 143). Although Buchanan does not embrace explicitly what he terms the “blood-and-soil-idea,” his sympathies lie with it.

Given this definition, the response to our questions is apparent. A nation that allows alien groups entry has committed suicide. But is not the next step in the thrust and parry of argument equally obvious? Why does a nation need so all-embracing a unity as Buchanan has set forward? Is not America a country founded on common beliefs alone, not on ethnic unity?

Our author is not so easily put aside. He doubts that America meets even this less stringent criterion of unity: “We live in the same country, we are governed by the same leaders, but can we truly say we are still one nation and one people?” (p.146).

Suppose that Mr. Buchanan is right: absent at least some degree of unity, a nation must split apart. Why should we care about this? As classical liberals, are we not concerned with the liberties of individuals rather than the well-being of nations? If nations cannot cope with disunity, what is that to us?

As usual, our author is ahead of us there. He suggests, following John Stuart Mill, that free institutions are “next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities” (p. 146).3  Thus Buchanan says in effect to libertarians who spurn his nationalism, “You had better care about national unity. Without it you cannot have the kind of society you want.”

Even if Mill is right, I do not think his point goes quite in the direction Buchanan wishes. Buchanan takes as given the United States in its existing scope and asks, what can be done to keep our nation together, given its extreme diversity? One might derive from Mill’s view, though, a contrasting prescription: perhaps the United States should be divided into smaller, more homogeneous units.

No doubt our vehemently nationalist author would recoil from this alternative; he is convinced that in history, the battle goes to the large and powerful. (But need the powerful be large?) The argument is unlikely soon to end, and I close with a cautionary note.

Those inclined to nationalism should avoid a trap that has to some degree ensnared Buchanan. He sees capitalism as an obstacle to traditional values. “Many conservatives have succumbed to the heresy of Economism, a mirror-Marxism that holds that man is an economic animal, that free trade and free markets are the path to peace, prosperity, and happiness. . .” (p. 37).

But why should belief in the free market lead one to abandon conservative values for what Buchanan, following Orestes Brownson, calls “Mammon worship”? Certainly Mises and Rothbard, the two foremost twentieth-century defenders of capitalism, knew as well as Buchanan that man is more than an economic animal.

Is not the actual situation the reverse of that imagined by Buchanan? Only a policy of complete free enterprise permits a society fully to embrace conservative values. A society mired in problems caused by interventionist and socialist measures cannot devote full attention to the pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Buchanan might respond with an objection: Does not capitalism encourage unlimited immigration, since employers wish to drive down wages? Such mass movements of peoples, Buchanan has been at pains to argue, overthrow tradition. Whatever the interests of certain capitalists, it is by no means the case that advocates of economic freedom must embrace open borders.

Hans Hoppe has made an excellent case to the contrary in his Democracy: The God That Failed. I venture to suggest that he is a sounder guide to economics than Brownson or Whittaker Chambers (p. 38). Pat Buchanan ably defends conservative values, but he needs to study further the works of the great Austrian School masters.


  • 1Buchanan incorrectly claims that Lukacs helped found the Frankfurt School (p. 78). Also, Wilhelm Reich, who was a dissident psychoanalyst rather than a sociologist, was not a member of the Frankfurt School (p. 79).
  • 2Adorno’s embrace of positivism proved temporary, and he soon reverted to his former opposition to mainstream social science.
  • 3The context makes clear that Buchanan adopts Mill’s view as his own
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