But criticism of the marriage between conservatism and populism comes not only from the left. In his bracing new book, “Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred” (Yale), the traditionalist historian John Lukacs-well-known for his elegant histories of the great men and great events of World War II-offers a dark vision of modern democracy being destroyed by nationalist demagogues who gain power by bullying unpopular minorities and pursuing a belligerent foreign policy. Today’s politicians of the right, Lukacs writes, have abandoned the conservative values of stability, order, and tradition and instead learned to bind nationalist majorities together by evoking hatred, directed not just against foreign foes but against fellow citizens who are seen as insufficiently patriotic.

These arguments are all the more striking because they come from a man of the right, albeit an idiosyncratic one. A staunch defender of Catholic social policy, Lukacs in his new book takes aim at “laws approving abortions, mercy killing, cloning, sexual ‘freedoms,’ permissiveness, [and] pornography.” But he has hardly been gentle when it comes to contemporary conservative heroes. Ronald Reagan? “Superficial, lazy, puerile (despite his age), an expansive nationalist.” George W. Bush? Blessed with a “mind and character” that are “often astonishingly lazy.” Even William F. Buckley-hardly the image of a man of the people-Lukacs once wrote, is insufficiently respectful of the past, displaying “hardly any trace of interest in history and only selective references to tradition.”

In both his new book and in his larger career, Lukacs reminds us of a deep fissure that exists between traditional European conservatism and the contemporary American variety. Historically, the great conservative thinkers, from Burke to Tocqueville, have been wary of democracy, let alone populism. In conversation, Lukacs is pessimistic about current American politics, arguing that mass democracy is vulnerable to demagogic manipulation. “The people do not speak, or they very seldom speak,” he observes. “But other people speak in the name of the people.” In his new book, he expresses the fear that we are witnessing “the degeneration of democracy” into an ersatz populism.

The author of more than 25 works of history and countless articles, the Hungarian-born Lukacs has a particularly devoted fan club among conservatives like George Will and Richard Brookhiser, who admire his old-fashioned focus on the role of great men like Churchill and the enduring reality of national character. But while he has frequently contributed to National Review, the American Spectator, and other conservative publications (along with many liberal and nonpartisan ones), Lukacs eschews the label of “conservative,” preferring to describe himself as a “reactionary,” instinctively skeptical of the claims of progress whether made on the left or right. The reactionary “is a patriot but not a nationalist,” Lukacs explained in his 1990 autobiography, ‘Confessions of an Original Sinner.” “He favors conservation rather than conservatism; he defends the ancient blessing of the land and is dubious about the results of technology; he believes in history, not in Evolution.”

Despite the fact that the Republican Party has made populism into a winning ticket, Lukacs reminds us of the intellectual contradiction inherent in today’s American conservatism, which stirs up populist resentment toward the elite even as it extols “traditional” values. ~The Boston Globe

God bless John Lukacs. His book will undoubtedly be able to articulate so much more ably and insightfully all the reactionary sentiments and themes I have attempted to elaborate so far at Eunomia. There is hope so long as real conservatives (or reactionaries, which is really a more accurate description for myself as it is for Mr. Lukacs), however far on the ‘fringe’ we are, continue to have such a great mind confessing eternal verities and refusing to submit to the screeching, incoherent nonsense of the self-appointed rulers of conservatism.