List making can be infectious. The Observer Music Monthly has made a list the top 10 right-wing rockers. It’s a rather motley crew and the definition of “right-wing” is somewhat elastic. Eric Clapton is on the list for drunkenly yelling out “Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!” Ted Nugent is quoted as saying about the war in Iraq, “Our failure has been not to Nagasaki them.” These sentiments seem to me as less right-wing and more pure and simple neanderthalism.
Still, if we accept a broad definition of right-wing, it’s an interesting list: 1. Elvis Presley 2. Tony Hadley 3. Ted Nugent 4. Eric Clapton 5. 50 Cent 6. Geri Halliwell 7. Kid Rock 8. Johnny Ramone 9. Phil Collins 10. Ian Curtis.
Any number of variations can be played on this list. Here are a few:
Top ten right-wing novelists (highbrow): 1. Fyodor Dostoevsky 2. Vladimir Nabokov 3. William Faulkner 4. Wyndham Lewis 5. Yukio Mishima 6. Ernst Jünger 7. Louis-Ferdinand Céline 8. James Gould Cozzens 9. V.S. Naipaul 10. Evelyn Waugh.
Top ten right-wing novelist (popular fiction): 1. Ayn Rand 2. Agatha Christie 3. J.R.R. Tolkien 4. Robert Heinlein 5. Tom Clancy 6. Robert E. Howard 7. Jeffrey Archer 8. P.D. James 9. Michael Crichton 10. Barbara Cartland.
Top ten right-wing poets who wrote primarily in English: 1. T.S. Eliot 2. Ezra Pound 3. W.B. Yeats 4. Robert Frost 5. Wallace Stevens 6. Philip Larkin 7. Marianne Moore 8. Rudyard Kipling 9. Basil Bunting 10. Allen Tate.
Top ten right-wing philosophers: 1. Martin Heidegger 2. Carl Schmitt 3. Leo Strauss 4. Willard Van Orman Quine 5. Hans-Georg Gadamer 6. Eric Voegelin 7. Michael Oakeshott 8. Willmoore Kendall 9. Richard M. Weaver 10. George Grant.
Top ten right-wing cartoonists (these names won’t be familiar to everyone so I’ve put in some identifying titles): 1. Charles Schulz (Peanuts) 2. Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie) 3. Chester Brown (Louis Riel, I Never Liked You) 4. Chester Gould (Dick Tracy) 5. Peter Bagge (Hate) 6. Percy Crosby (Skippy) 7. Steve Ditko (Spider-man, Dr. Strange, Mr. A) 8. Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge) 9. Herge (Tintin) 10. Dave Sim (Cerebus).
Top ten right-wing film makers (includes influential actors as well as directors and producers): 1. Leni Riefenstahl 2. Ronald Reagan 3. John Ford 4. Walt Disney 5. John Wayne 6. Arnold Schwarzenegger 7. John Milius 8. Mel Gibson 9. Whit Stillman 10. Jimmy Stewart.
As with all lists, these are open to all sorts of criticism. Some will bridle at the inclusion of national socialists and fascists but I do think there is a continuum of attitudes and ideas that links them to more respectable rightists (as can be seen by the intellectual exchanges that Ezra Pound and Carl Schmitt had with some conservatives).
And of course, all these choices can be tweaked or challenged. Was Nabokov, for example, really a right-winger? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say he was a nineteenth century liberal with an aristocratic attitude born of his elite Russian heritage? I’m willing to strike him from the list and replace him with D.H. Lawrence. And it’s possible that Hayek should be on the list of philosophers, although he’s better known as an economist and he resisted being called a conservative. I’ve only included English language poets because I don’t think it’s fair to judge poetry in translation. I’ve tried to be as international as I can, but language is a real barrier.
But all quibbling and provisos aside, I’ll stand by these lists as fair approximations. If we taking them as a starting point, some interesting patterns begin to emerge.
First of all, right-wingers are unexpectedly strong in poetry. The list of the top ten right-wing poets is very close to the list of the top ten 20th century English-language poets period. By contrast, in every other category the right includes distinguished names but wouldn’t necessarily be a list of nearly all the top achievers.
Secondly, women are strongest in the category of popular fiction but otherwise marginal.
Thirdly, the highbrow artists listed here include quite a few that tended to lean towards national socialism and fascism. By contrast, the popular artists tended to be populists or libertarians. To put it another way, Ayn Rand might have been a nut job but at least she wasn’t an Ezra Pound or a Céline.
In effect, what these lists reveal is that popular artists can’t be too extreme in taking up explicitly elitist or authoritarian political philosophies. In order to keep in touch with the wide swath of their audience, their ideas have to be more inclusive or broadly pitched. That’s a reassuring thought.