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Impaling the Left: What a Right-Wing Appeal to Vlad Dracula Shows Us About the Nature of the Culture War
The American Conservative encourages us to let the right one in
America’s far right is fond of deploying messy historical analogies in defense of its culture war posture. These often appeal to Ancient Greece and Rome, the decades around America’s founding, or a rose-tinted view of the post-WWII glory days. But over at The American Conservative, a new reference point has emerged: 15th century Romania.
In a bizarre, historically faulty, and not-so-subtly Islamophobic piece, Auguste Meyrat—who once likened Tucker Carlson to a modern day G. K. Chesteron—argues that Americans need “a champion who is willing to be the bad guy” and someone who will enact all manner of—obviously metaphorical—violence on the liberal elites. Meyrat writes:
They need a champion who will not sell them out, fight the good fight, and do the dirty work of (figuratively) impaling some bad guys.
I’ll leave Meyrat’s historiographical missteps to the historians who have commented on the essay and the book by Raymond Ibrahim that Meyrat says inspired him. For Meyrat, the comparison is simple: Vlad rebelled against Ottoman rule the same way that conservatives must now overthrow America’s overbearing liberal hegemons. And he did it with style and brutality, a mode that the right should copy—not literally, mind you!—and that has found its best expression thus far in the form of Donald Trump.
Like other conservatives, he was supposed to comply with the elite class’ agenda while making superficial gestures to placate his working-class base. Instead, he immediately ripped up trade agreements, closed down military bases, secured the border, and told the foreign policy establishment to take a hike—the policy equivalent of creating Vlad’s ‘Forest of the Impaled.’
The bloodlust is figuratively overwhelming.
Much as Meyrat might insist to the contrary, it’s hard not to see the essay as a thinly veiled fantasy about physically dominating his political opponents. This kind of rhetoric has been pronounced throughout the Trump era, with speeches and ads peppered with violent imagery alongside occasional—and literal—calls for force.
It’s genuinely bizarre how so many of these culture war fever dreams imagine the right as prostrate, defeated, and in need of being roused to combat. This is strange considering just how much fighting—and, frankly, winning—the right is already doing. Even Meyrat’s premise that the right needs to embrace a bad guy seems oddly blind to the last near-decade of American politics. As Brent Orrell remarked, “Are we short on bad guys? It doesn’t seem like we are.”
But the tragic nature of far-right culture war politics puts this thinking in clearer terms. Defeat is taken as the starting position, and revenge is really the motivation for engagement.
Hungary, Romania’s neighbor, and another power that ruled Transylvania on and off through the centuries, appeals to the American right precisely because so much of its modern nationalism is rooted in tragedy and loss. It was the Treaty of Trianon that formally stripped modern Hungary of two-thirds of its territory, including the region of Transylvania, and left large communities of ethnic Hungarians living in present-day Romania and other neighboring countries.
Meyrat is taken in by his caricatured understanding of a ruthless 15th-century Wallachian noble because he sees the culture war as one of reconquest, repulsion, and revenge. By using an analogy that puts today’s “left” in the place of both an expansionist Ottoman Empire and corrupt Romanian nobility, Meyrat sets up his fantasy as a war of national liberation in which brutality is justified by the wickedness of his foes. He says it himself:
Much like the Ottoman Turks dominated their day’s politics and culture, leftist globalist elites dominate the politics and culture of today. … And much like the Romanian nobility demonized the populist Dracula at the behest of the sultan, today’s institutions demonize the populist Trump at the behest of the leftist elites.
Meyrat isn’t alone in this mixture of defeatism and vengefulness. Many of his fellow right-wingers share this posture. I’m reminded in particular of John Daniel Davidson’s essay over at The Federalist last year, in which he argues the term conservative is no longer fit for purpose because there is little left to conserve. Davidson’s view is elegiac. He claims that
Western civilization is dying. The traditions and practices that conservatives champion are, at best, being preserved only in an ever-shrinking private sphere.
I’m not alone in noting the way in which the right, both in America and elsewhere, continues to think of itself as a David facing down global, menacing Goliaths.
It’s worth remembering that the David and Goliath story is quite gruesome. David beheads Goliath, as a lot of great art reminds us. And the far right’s most enthusiastic culture warriors can barely conceal their thirst for blood and gore. Take Jesse Kelly’s breathless description of what winning the fight against the terrible leftists will feel like:
You killed him, won the day, carved off the top of his skull, and now you’re standing over him victorious on the now-quiet field of battle, with a quiet breeze blowing through your hair.
[I]f conservatives want to save the country they are going to have to rebuild and in a sense re-found it, and that means getting used to the idea of wielding power, not despising it.
As with Meyrat’s call for a bad guy, one wonders when in the last few years the right has seemed unaccustomed to the idea of wielding power.
Meyrat’s piece has been met with a fair amount of derision. But many have also noted the dangerous, bloody, and combustible themes of the argument. We shouldn’t see the far right’s self pity and alienation as entirely mockable. The sense of defeat is the basis for the fantasies of reconquest.
The feeling, manufactured or not, of being dominated helps to fuel their desire to dominate. And when it comes to how to deal with the liberals at whose hands they feel they have been humiliated, they want—figuratively, mind you—heads on spikes.