Lenin to Oriana Fallaci

The virus of neo-conservatism is spreading all over the world. I do not merely refer to the ideology, even if it is true that the bizarre idea of a  "conservative welfare state" (in Irving Kristol’s words) is gaining currency.  Indeed, the notion that such a chimera might come into existence is becoming popular everywhere (among English conservatives as well as among Italian right-wingers, for example). But I'm also referring to the distinctive "flavor" of neo-conservatism, which seems to me the typical output of a standard human experience.

"Neo-conservatism," properly speaking, is supposed to be an almost completely American phenomenon: other countries did not have an "Old Right" to take a distance from (no necessity for the adjective "new"), nor did they see the same expansion and growth of "conservative" publications, think-tanks, and reviews that the U.S. has been experiencing since the fifties. Essentially, most European countries lacked even a "right-wing intelligentsia" until very recently.

Moreover, there has been no mass conversion of former communist thinkers to quasi-market ideas in the years since 1989. That came later on. People who were quite prominent in making a case for the socialization of private companies, abolition of property rights, free love, atheism, and the canonization of Che Guevara, suddenly discovered that all this was no way to make a living in the post-communist era.

They started to shift, making some concessions towards a free-market economy and the Catholic Church. So far so good. But they immediately understood something more was needed to preserve their prestige as intellectuals. The old sacred cow, planning, was easily substituted with a newer one, democracy. And everything else followed. In particular, the kind of imperialism once advocated in the name of the expansion of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and world socialism became the candid willingness to enforce democracy everywhere in the world. In the process, what was usually regarded as the evil empire, namely the United States of America, became a benevolent hero and the outspoken guardian of world peace.

Once they wanted to aid Cuba, now they would like to bomb it. At any rate, the idea of leaving it alone never crossed their minds.

It may sound paradoxical to an American reader, but those European professors, journalists and scholars who discovered one night that they had always been centre right (or, in PC parlance, “liberal democrat”) are taking exactly these kinds of positions. Some of them may be more stylish about it, some of them may be more aggressive in their attempt to get rid of their ideological record. But this is the path they are following. If Justin Raimondo once described the way taken by people like James Burnham and his fellow neo-cons as a road  "from Trotsky to Machiavelli," these European neo-cons have come from Lenin to Oriana Fallaci.

Oriana Fallaci's name may mean something to the American reader. Fallaci is the self-proclaimed most important living Italian journalist and author. She has been widely published and translated. Good for her. But she is not as famous as, say, Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose), Giovannino Guareschi (the creator of Don Camillo), or Vittorio Messori (the Pope's interviewer) are. Just an other proof that the market works quite well.

And now comes The Rage and the Pride, which has been translated into English a year after its publication in Italian, having been released by the same publisher, Rizzoli. The book, a 160 page pamphlet, originated from an article Fallaci published on "Il Corriere della Sera" right after September 11th. It was, by any standard, the most uterine and hydrophobic reaction to the Twin Towers collapse seen in the world's press. That may be understandable: the death of all those innocent people, of all those Jameses, Johns, Maries and Giovannas, was such a shock for all of us.

But Miss Fallaci pays little attention to those who were sacrificed, though she inflates the numbers: "We will never know the number of dead. (forty thousand? Fifty thousand?)"*. She wants more.

I think the American reader will be as disgusted as I was by her total absence of respect for human life. She asks herself, and then answers: "What do I feel for the kamikaze that died with them? No respect. No pity. No, not even pity. I, who in every case, end up with giving in to pity. I have always found kamikaze unlikable." Ok. But then she goes on, saying that "I have never considered them soldiers, and even less do I consider them martyrs or heroes, as Mr. Arafat, hollering and spitting saliva, defined them to me in 1972." I suppose that it would make a huge difference to your family and friends, Miss Fallaci, whether you were killed in a kamikaze attack in Jerusalem, or under the bombs supplied by Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

Whether or not there are uniforms involved seems to be an essential detail, for Fallaci. This reminds me of an episode that Herbert Spencer recalls in his Facts and Comments:

"Some years ago I gave expression to my own feeling – anti-patriotic feeling, it will doubtless be called – in a somewhat startling way. It was at the time of the second Afghan war, when, in pursuance of what were thought to be "our interests," we were invading Afghanistan. News had come that some of our troops were in danger. At the Athenaeum Club a well-known military man drew my attention to a telegram containing this news, and read it to me in a manner implying the belief that I should share his anxiety. I astounded him by replying: "when men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves."

Oriana Fallaci is just another one of the people who don't care about the justice of cause. It is of no importance if thousands of properly dressed soldiers committed crimes as horrible as the kamikaze attack on the World Trade Center. It is not even the old "my country, right or wrong." It is a meaningless "an army (any army), right or wrong"  a principle that, if taken seriously, will bring us to say that since England had a "proper" army, and young America didn't, King George's cause was far more acceptable than that of the Founding Fathers.

But Miss Fallaci wouldn't go that far, especially since she claims to be the best fan of America abroad (though living in New York, she can't be defined as anything other than an European intellectual). "Which are the symbols of the strength, the richness, the power, the modernity of America? Not certainly jazz, not rock and roll, chewing gum and hamburgers, Broadway or Hollywood. It is its skyscrapers. Its science, technology." Nonetheless, "its Pentagon." I suppose that is America at its best. Down with McDonald's, up with the Tomahawks. Is this what Patrick Henry had in mind when he said, "give me liberty or give me death"?

Miss Fallaci also stresses that "America’s vulnerability is born from its strength, its riches, its might, its modernity. It is also born from its multi-ethnic essence, its freedom, its respect for the citizens and for its guests. Example: approximately 24 million Americans are Arab Muslims. (This figure is overblown. The actual number m ay be as low as 3-4 million, if we subtract Christian Arabs from the total of 6-7 million Arabs in the US.) When a Mustafa or a Muhammed comes let's say from Afghanistan to visit his uncle, no one prohibits him from taking courses in a school to learn to pilot a 757. No one stops him from taking university courses to study chemistry and biology (I hope this will stop). No one, not even if the government fears that that son of Allah may hijack a 757 or throw a vial of bacteria in the water reservoir and unleash a massacre." Too bad the government's action is bound by things like the First Amendment: let's get rid of it.

As far as the failure of the multicultural experiment is concerned, Miss Fallaci doesn't take a clear stand: partly she cheers American multi-ethnic freedom ("its strength"), partly she shows, elsewhere  in the book, an utter intolerance. But she actually does not seem that concerned about the prospect of immigration restrictions: like most of the neo-cons (who still favor open borders), she is much keener to annihilate any form of Muslim civilization abroad than to close the doors to Muslim immigrants.

A former leftist, Miss Fallaci couldn't help making a plea for a revival of nationalism. She spends her two cheers on Rudy Giuliani: "speaking of heroic efficiency let me sing the praises of the Mayor of New York. That Rudolph Giuliani, whom we Italians should thank on our knees. Because he has an Italian last name, he is of Italian extraction, and he makes us look good in the entire world. He is a great, in fact a very great mayor. This is coming from someone who is never happy about anything or anyone, starting with herself. He is a mayor worthy of another great mayor with an Italian last name, Fiorello La Guardia, and many of our mayors should go to be schooled by him." Burt Blumert sometime ago expressed a different, more articulate opinion on Mr Giuliani.

But Rudy Giuliani is but one example of what Miss Fallaci admires in the US: "Besides France, I cannot imagine a more patriotic country than America. I was so moved to see those workers with their fists clenched waving the little American flags and roaring u2018USA! USA! USA!' without anyone having ordered them to."

Indeed, she feels "a kind of humiliation. Because I am incapable of even imagining Italian workers that wave the tri-color and roaring  u2018ITALY, ITALY'." Fallaci openly denounces her own compatriots: "u2018I am a Lombard, I am a Lombard' is their cry. They would bring us back to the war between Florence and Siena. The result of all this is that the Italian flag today is only seen at the Olympics if by chance you win a medal. Even worse, you see it only in the stadiums when there is an international soccer game."

I always thought that it was quite clear to anyone approaching the study of Italian history than Italy is not a nation at all, but instead a complex of different local communities artificially unified by an arrogant monarchy such as the House of Savoy was. Perhaps I was wrong. There is little doubt about whether Miss Fallaci has an ill-conceived vision of how the world works, after one ponders her inklings on American history.

According to her, the core principle of America is "in fact liberty wed to equality. It is so special also because at the time, the idea of liberty was not fashionable. Neither was equality. The only ones who spoke of these concepts where the philosophers known as u2018illuminists'. The only place you found these concepts were in enormous and extremely costly serial volumes called l'Encyclopedie. Besides writers or other intellectuals, princes and lords that had the money to buy them, who else had ever heard of Enlightenment? It was not something to eat, not even the French revolutionaries spoke of it. Seeing as the French Revolution began in 1789 or rather thirteen years after the American Revolution, which began in 1776." All the scholars who have emphasized the importance of John Locke's writings, of Cato's letters, of the teachings of the Glorious Revolution in shaping the minds of American founding fathers were, well, all wrong. America's secession war was nothing but the twin brother of the French Revolution, shaped by the Encyclopedists' writings. Why didn't Edmund Burke see this? Thanks, Miss Fallaci, for setting us straight.

Later on, Fallaci slightly corrects herself. "Notwithstanding rifles and gun powder and the cost of lives that every war exacts, they did not do it with the rivers of blood of the future French Revolution. They did not do it with the Guillotine and with the massacres of Vandea." Sounds like serious thinking.

But Fallaci comes then to praise "the ransomed masses" as the pride of the US. "In this world there is nothing stronger, more powerful than the ransomed masses. You always break your horns butting heads with the ransomed masses. With America everyone has gotten their horns broken, England, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Nazi, Fascist, Communist. Lastly even the Vietnamese, who after the victory had to come to terms with them so that when an ex-president of the United States goes to visit them, they touch the heavens with a finger. u2018Welcome, Mr. President, welcome'. The problem is that the Vietnamese don't pray to Allah. With the sons of Allah the matter will be difficult. Very long and very difficult. Unless the rest of the Western world stops shitting in its pants and starts reasoning a little and lends it a hand."

And here we are at the climax. "I am speaking to the people who although they are not stupid or bad, they are still rocking themselves in prudence and doubt. To them I say: wake up, people, wake up! Intimidated as you are by the fear of going against the mainstream, that is to appear racist (a word inappropriate here because we are not discussing race, but religion), you do not understand or don’t want to understand that what is underway here is a reversed Crusade. You don't understand or don’t want to understand that if it is not opposed now, if we don’t defend ourselves, if we don’t fight, the Jihad will win. Don’t you care not even about this, idiots? I am an atheist, thank God. I don’t have any intention to let someone kill me because of it."

Again, "I am not afraid, as you can see. Christ! I don’t deny anyone the right to be afraid. The one who is not afraid of war is an idiot. However, in life and history there are cases in which it is not permissible to be ruled by fear. Cases in which to be afraid is immoral and uncivilized. Those who, out of weakness or lack of courage or used to having a foot in each camp, come less in this tragedy, in my opinion they are masochists."

Oriana goes on and on explaining why war is the only means we have to defend our civilization. As is typical of people who enjoy chatting about "Western civilization," it seems she has forgotten that Western civilization has been – yes, the Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence, but also the rise of Hitler and the massacre of the kulaks. John Locke, as well as Robespierre. Perhaps she likes the latter better. It would be no surprise. Any conscious reader of The Rage and the Pride will understand that Miss Fallaci perfectly represents, in Robert Nisbet's words, "the special kind of intellectual who loves to sit at the right hand of power" and "cannot help but love war."

The best description of Oriana Fallaci has perhaps been supplied by an Italian pop singer, Lorenzo Jovanotti. He defined her as "la giornalista scrittrice che ama la guerra/ perché le ricorda quand’era giovane e bella." The journalist  author who loves the war, because it reminds her of the time she was young and beautiful. It is true that she spent part of her youth together with the Italian  communist partisans, and apparently liked it.

So sad. There's only one thing worse than having passed through a war. Having passed through a war and enjoyed it.

*All Miss Fallaci’s quotations are my translations from Italian.

October 19, 2002