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Fortuyn showed different immigration debate angle

By W. James Antle III
web posted May 13, 2002

When Jean-Marie Le Pen was defeated in the May 5 presidential runoff by an even larger margin than was expected - no sober analyst seriously expected him to upset incumbent President Jacques Chirac, but some thought he'd at least break 20 percent of the vote - the establishment seemed to think that the question of whether it was wise for Western nations to continue increasing immigration and diminishing their political self-determination had been conclusively settled in their favor. Within 24 hours, another more shocking event led people to raise these questions anew.

Pim FortuynUp until his brutal murder, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was so frequently mentioned in the same breath as Le Pen and Joerg Haider one could reasonably conclude they were to Europe's nationalist "far right" as Peter, Paul and Mary were to 1960's American folk music. Aside from their populist appeals for immigration restriction, the political lineage of the three men was vastly different, as many observers are now beginning to realize.

Chafing at the constant media references to Fortuyn as the slain leader of an "anti-immigration" (or even "anti-immigrant") political party, one commentator shot back: "By the way, Fortuyn's party is not 'anti-immigration.' It fully supports the right of every immigrant in Holland to stay and be assimilated. All it wants is an end to further immigration in a country the size of Maryland with a population of 16 million."

Who penned this defense of Pim Fortuyn and his Dutch nationalist colleagues? Pat Buchanan? Peter Brimelow of VDARE.com? Actually, it was the former New Republic editor and uberpundit Andrew Sullivan, who only breaks from the mainstream right to shoot to its left on cultural issues, writing in his widely and justifiably celebrated weblog. Other conservatives who do not usually leap to the defense of immigration restrictionists also chimed in, including National Review On-Line senior writer Rod Dreher who boldly published portions of Fortuyn's platform and challenged readers to assess for themselves whether it was in fact extremist.

This reaction stems from people looking at Fortuyn seriously for the first time and realizing he simply does not confirm the stereotypes of those who insist anyone who refuses to evince enthusiasm for open borders must be some goose-stepping fascist eager to resurrect the Third Reich. For starters, Fortuyn's motivations in advocating immigration restriction differed greatly from Le Pen (whom he denounced as an anti-Semite) and Haider's. A former sociology professor - thus the nickname "Professor Pim" - Fortuyn was openly gay and bragged publicly about his sexual experiences with men of many races (imagine Adolf Hitler, who would not shake Jesse Owens' hand at the 1936 Olympics, doing the same). He was a stalwart supporter of the Netherlands' traditions of social tolerance and cultural liberalism, from civil liberties to gay rights to permissive laws and attitudes regarding drug use. He felt this tolerance was threatened by the large-scale immigration of Muslims who were not assimilating but instead bringing along their traditional attitudes regarding women and homosexuality. If anything, Fortuyn was not motivated by any racial identity but rather by his identity as a gay man - something perfectly consistent with the liberal ethos of sexual identity politics.

While Le Pen opposed abortion and same-sex marriage, Fortuyn's positions on these issues were not right-wing in any recognizable sense. Daniel McCarthy described it best in a column for LewRockwell.com: "In one sense then Fortuyn was a conservative, trying to preserve Dutch customs, but the particular customs he had in mind were not the ones usually associated with the political right." Indeed, while Fortuyn used Buchananite rhetoric on immigration, his combination of (relatively) free-market economics and radical cultural liberalism made him qualified to be a member in good standing of the Log Cabin Club.

Le Pen had a history of insensitivity toward minorities and his National Front was frequently probed for baggage left over from Vichy France. But Fortuyn was simply trying to curb immigration patterns he reasonably felt were incompatible with social liberalism. To the Dutch left - which certainly opposed his Thatcherite economic reforms, but with far less venom - even this was too provocative. Are these people daft? How can they possibly fail to understand that the lax social attitudes they so lovingly try to cultivate within the Netherlands are difficult to reconcile with a policy that imports large numbers of people from religious traditions with radically different and much more conservative values?

McCarthy proposes a theory: "Contrary to what conservatives and libertarians tend to think, the Left in fact believes wholeheartedly in assimilation - but not assimilation to any nation's culture, be it that of the Netherlands or of the United States. The assimilation in which the Left believes is to the principles of democratic socialism and multicultural tolerance." Given the durability of national sentiments and religious beliefs, this sort of multiculturalism amounts to a woefully naïve worldview. In any polity made up of imperfect human beings, and we have yet to discover any other kind, the delicate balance between pluralism and unity, diversity and cohesion, tradition and change, must be arrived at carefully. To ride roughshod over this balance and yank at the threads of a nation's social fabric to weave some sort of tapestry that has never before existed is a prescription for conflict rather than harmony.

Of course, this has always been a characteristic of the left. They are constantly trying to coerce the people in whose names they purport to speak, muttering "Workers of the world unite, damn it!" This is why the role of the responsible right is so important and its abdication of this role so shameful. Without it, we are left with no alternative between leftists living in unreality and thugs who play on the animosities between ethnic and religious groups.

Le Pen is vaguely analogous to George Wallace, circa 1968. The responsible right - first through Richard Nixon and then through Ronald Reagan - captured the Wallace vote, co-opted its legitimate issues and weaned it away from racism. There is no reason why center-right parties throughout Europe should not emulate this example and why conservatives in the United States should not preemptively repeat it, while the Le Pen-like elements are still so small.

Open borders and lost national sovereignty are certainly not politically popular, but many fear that to oppose either is to demonstrate intolerance and exclusivity. Whatever flaws Fortuyn may have had - and he had enough of them to doubt the ability to govern the Netherlands if he had lived long enough to attain a parliamentary majority - he showed that the lines of this debate cannot be drawn so simplistically.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The posthumous mugging of Dutch activist Pim Fortuyn by Murray Soupcoff (May 13, 2002)
    If anything, says Murray Soupcoff, the murder of Pim Fortuyn proves that the old order will do anything to keep themselves in power especially since voters are increasingly rejecting collectivism
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