The Politics of Resentment

JEANE KIRKPATRICK

November 16, 1991|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- We know David Duke less by what he says than by what he is. His language has been cleansed of explicit racism and anti-Semitism. His personal style is quiet and non-threatening. But the threat remains.

Among both supporters and opponents of his bid to become Louisiana's governor, there are many who understand that the man is the message. And the man, now speaking the language of the mainstream, has only recently been an outspoken neo-Nazi, anti-Semite and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Duke's infatuation with Adolf Hitler, his denial of the Holocaust, his genetic theories of white supremacy reflect a kind of real fascism rare in American politics. His personal record makes clear what his words deny: That this soft-spoken young man who handled himself so smoothly on national television is no standard Southern populist. He is not a 1990s Huey Long.

Mr. Duke purveys a more cosmopolitan politics of resentment -- a new politics of extremism which can be observed in neo-Nazi Germans who express their views on immigration by beating foreigners, and in the resurgent anti-Semitism in some Central and Eastern European ethnic groups.

Mr. Duke's brand of politics can be clearly heard in the rhetoric of France's Jean Marie Le Pen which, like Mr. Duke's, is redolent with resentment and barely concealed racism and anti-Semitism.

Neither Mr. Duke nor Mr. Le Pen frankly claims superiority for himself or his people. Instead both purvey a politics of victimization. They present themselves, their followers, their society, their civilization and their values as victims -- victims of muggers, welfare cheats, unfair competition, permissive laws, discriminatory quotas, illegal immigrants. And, of course, victims the liberal media.

Both Mr. Le Pen and Mr. Duke speak of bringing power to people who feel powerless, of safeguarding basic values for people who feel marginal, and of protecting order for people who feel nearly overwhelmed by change.

Mr. Duke is a young man relatively new to mainstream American politics. But Mr. Le Pen, whose following is still growing, has shown that such a leader can make himself felt in a Western democracy. Mr. Le Pen's National Front movement has already upset the balance of power among French parties and has seriously affected the discussion of immigration, and of law and order in French politics. He has been most unsettling to France's mainstream conservatives.

Men like Mr. Duke and Mr. Le Pen constitute a permanent problem for democratic societies because the anxieties and fears to which they appeal are present in all modern democracies.

A leading French intellectual, Andre Glucksman, believes such men and movements are a permanent feature of our societies and our century and are most dangerous when they take us unaware.

Mr. Glucksman issued a timely warning against anti-modern, anti-democratic politics in his new book ''The Eleventh Commandment.'' He calls this politics ''integrism,'' which he describes as ''a system of thought, a way of life, a theory and a practice. It advocates a closed society. It reinforces barriers -- the Berlin Wall, the Muslim Veil -- against the free circulation of ideas, of lifestyles, of goods.''

Integrists deliberately isolate themselves, much as Saddam Hussein isolated himself against contact with the world outside the Middle East. In Mr. Glucksman's view, Nazism, fascism, communism, fundamentalism are all varieties of integrism born in reaction against modern, Western democratic ideas in society. Other varieties will emerge.

We are not at the end of history or ideology, Mr. Glucksman insists, but at the beginning of a new era. It is 1914 all over again. But this time we know in advance that all is not necessarily for the best. This time we know that there are varieties of totalitarianism that threaten even enlightened civilizations. This time we know we must struggle -- even within ourselves -- against the attractions of a closed mind and closed ++ society.

David Duke's invitation to intolerance is only the most recent reminder that the struggle against the temptations of totalitarianism goes on in all societies, including our own.

8.Jeane Kirkpatrick writes a syndicated column.

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