Listing to the Right

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.

11 thoughts on “Listing to the Right

  1. Hayek’s economics were of such a philosophical sort, I’d put him with the philosophers. I would also put Alasdair MacIntyre in the philosophy top ten.

    Right-wingers have also thrived in the journalism category. What might their top-ten list be? I came up with the following:

    1. H. L. Menken (for sheer verbal facility)
    2. Walter Lippmann (he founded The New Republic, and his 1922 book on public opinion book is still in print)
    3. Tom Wolfe (for his New Journalism)
    4. William F. Buckley (for sheer influence)
    5. Joan Didion (for her literary and political essays of the 60s and 70s)
    6. Renata Adler (ditto)
    7. Milton Friedman (for his columns in Newsweek)
    8. Philip Marchand (for his supurb biography of Marshall McLuhan and his literary journalism)
    9. Andrew Coyne (for his newspaper columns)
    10. Jospeph Epstein (for his familiar essays in Commentary and elsewhere)

    I don’t read U.K. journalism so there are no Brits on my list, even though there perhaps should be. Marchand and Coyne may only be familiar to Canadian readers. But these things are always a little bit biased.

  2. Hayek’s economics were of such a philosophical sort, I’d put him with the philosophers. I would also put Alasdair MacIntyre in the philosophy top ten.

    Right-wingers have also thrived in the journalism category. What might their top-ten list be? I came up with the following:

    1. H. L. Menken (for sheer verbal facility)
    2. Walter Lippmann (he founded The New Republic, and his 1922 book on public opinion book is still in print)
    3. Tom Wolfe (for his New Journalism)
    4. William F. Buckley (for sheer influence)
    5. Joan Didion (for her literary and political essays of the 60s and 70s)
    6. Renata Adler (ditto)
    7. Milton Friedman (for his columns in Newsweek)
    8. Philip Marchand (for his supurb biography of Marshall McLuhan and his literary journalism)
    9. Andrew Coyne (for his newspaper columns)
    10. Joseph Epstein (for his familiar essays in Commentary and elsewhere)

    I don’t read U.K. journalism so there are no Brits on my list, even though there perhaps should be. Marchand and Coyne may only be familiar to Canadian readers. But these things are always a little bit biased.

  3. Okay, I’m willing to take out Richard Weaver and George Grant from the philosophers and put in Hayek and Alasdair MacIntyre.

    The journalism list is good. I wonder though if either Marchand or Adler would consider themselves conservatives (or for that matter Joan Didion after around 1966). I think Adler describes herself as a centrist.

    I’d put in some long-forgotten names that were very influential in their day: Westbrook Pegler and Albert Jay Nock. Also Malcolm Muggeridge and Peregrine Worsthorne, for the Brits. Worsthorne should be honoured simply for having the best and most appropriate name ever given to Tory journalist. It sounds like something invented by Dickens or Evelyn Waugh.

  4. I know what you mean about Adler and Didion. I’m going a bit by reputation there. Marchand’s conservatism is subtle but still detectable, I’d say.

    I’d forgotten about Muggeridge. Peregrine Wosthorne is awesome.

  5. Wait! Let me try! Let’s see: top-ten right-wing cartoon characters:

    1. Malificent (Cheney-ite through and through)
    2. Elmer Fudd (bourgeouis traditionalist)
    3. Bugs Bunny (libertarian wing)
    4. Tweety Bird (Victorian prude)
    5. Fred Flintstone (Reagan democrat)
    6. Mufasa (monarchist)
    7. Scar (Franco-ist)
    8. Jock (retired militarist)
    9. The Selfish Giant (obviously)
    10. Foghorn Leghorn (old Dixie patrician)

  6. Go read PAULO FREIRE and get over with that right-wing philosophy crap.
    Philosophy was ‘born’ in Greece in a period where right-wing ideology was non-existent so it’s an OXYMORON to say right-wing people have their own philosophical intelligentsia. On the other hand, Hegel took his theory from Aristotle and Plato, Marx was influenced by Hegel and Aristotle, Horkheimer was infuenced by Marx and Hegel, and Freire was influenced by ALL of them.
    Since philosophy starts from Greece I find it very difficult to take seriously any person that calls himself a philosopher and does not embrace Greek philosophy.
    BTW Heidegger? (LOL!)Look at The Frankfurt School and Max’s Critical Theory if you want to read something useful…
    Another thing, did ALL these people you mention on this blog affiliate themselves with any right-wing ‘groups’ or parties?Or is it something you people infer by looking @ the way they lived? You know Engels was filthy rich…He actually supported Marx economically for quite a long time.

  7. Hi there.

    Keep in mind that literary/cultural criticism tends to be dominated by hardline leftists who prefer to ignore the politics of major authors who do not toe the line. Except in cases where an artist was particularly outspoken about his views, like Pound, Céline, and Waugh were, the right-leaning politics of an artist will often go unmentioned. How many Ethnic Studies professors do you think will confess to their students that Zora Neale Hurston was a hardcore Republican?

    Limiting ourselves to the twentienth-century, major writers who held or sympathized with right-wing or conservative views include: Joseph Conrad, Jorge Luis Borges, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Anthony Powell, Henry Green, Knut Hamsun, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Paul Valéry, Stefan George, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, John Betjeman, John Crowe Ransom, Guy Davenport, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Luigi Pirandello, Zora Neale Hurston, Robinson Jeffers, Jean Giraudoux, Anthony Burgess, Jean Anouilh, Geoffrey Hill, Tom Stoppard, and Cormac McCarthy.

    And then there are also the Catholic conservatives: Sigrid Undset, Francois Mauriac, Paul Claudel, G.K. Chesterton, Hilare Belloc, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Charles Péguy, Roy Campbell, Georges Bernanos, Grazia Deledda, and Flann O’Brien.
    Non-Catholic religious conservatives include Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Willa Cather, and Miguel de Unamuno.

    And if we’re including authors who shifted heavily to the right after flirting with left-wing politics, there’s also Saul Bellow, E.E. Cummings, Mario Vargas Llosa, Kingsley Amis, Eugene Ionesco, and John Dos Passos.

    As you can see, until the last few decades, the left/right divide in the arts was not so wide as often assumed. Also consider that many big names (Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Beckett, to name several)shunned politics for most of their lives; they might have opposed the Nazis, but opposing the Nazis hardly bespeaks left-wing politics since many conservatives (Churchill, de Gaulle) also led the opposition.

  8. Willie,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. One proviso: I think both Joyce and Beckett were more sympathetic to the left than your account makes clear. Although they were largely apolitical, the few comments on politics they made were definately on the left, and not just because they were anti-Nazi. Richard Ellman talks about this a little in one of his essay collections, Ulysses on the Liffey.

  9. The great thing about the internet is that it allows us to destroy 50+ years of left-wing propaganda without even publishing a book.

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