"We've known that when there isn't American leadership in Europe things go to hell pretty quickly and we get sucked into horrible wars whether or not we originally wanted to or not," says journalist James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. In the wake of Brexit, renewed nativism across the continent, and Putin's Russia grumbling to the east, Kirchick's thesis may well be tested in the coming years.
In a wide-ranging and at times combative conversation with Nick Gillespie, the 33-year-old Kirchick talks about why the Enlightenment values of liberalism, free enterprise, and pluralism have come under attack in the very part of the world that created them and why it's in the United States' best interest to help maintain a politically stable and economically productive European Union. He also discusses how he came to write his bombshell 2008 New Republic story bringing to light former Rep. Ron Paul's controversial and racially charged newsletters, the changing meaning of Jewish identity in post-war America, and how the failure of the Iraq War affected his views on foreign policy.
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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Jamie, thanks for talking.
James Kirchick: Thanks for having me.
Nick Gillespie: You write that we're on the cusp of witnessing the end of Europe as we have known it for the past seven decades, a place of peace, prosperity, stability, cooperation, democracy, and social harmony. Give a sense of what's happening in Europe and why.
James Kirchick: Yeah. 1989 was this momentous year, and you can say there are maybe three narratives that came out of that. One was perpetual peace in terms of security. WE had the triumph of democracy. There was regulated capitalism and potential and ongoing economic growth. We'd assume that these three ideals had really taken ahold in Europe. I think on all three, you see that they're being seriously challenged. On the first front from security, we see Russia is coming back as a aggressive force. On the question of democracy, we have the rise of illiberal populism, or illiberal democracy, as the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, calls it. Then, on the economic question, we've had hardly any growth in the Euro-zone countries since the financial crisis of 2008. I think these three ideals that we all believed had triumphed are now being seriously challenged across the continent.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, and it's worth thinking about between '89 and '91, where the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's pretty staggering to think that Europe, which had been at … The countries in Europe had been at each other's throats for centuries. From 1945 on, there was a Cold War, and then a real thaw. You've written that the European Union is threatened by almost ten years of zero economic growth, a resurgent Russia, rising Islamic extremism, and the greatest mass movement of humanity since the late 40s. Are these issues intertwined? If so, how?
James Kirchick: I think so in the sense that Europe needs to think of itself more as a geo-strategic power. This is why I'm going to talk about European integration. I'm less concerned about these sort of internal questions about how much power we give to Brussels about regulating certain business markets or what not, and the powers of the European parliament versus the commission. I see Europe is in a precariously geographic position where it's positioned right above North Africa, the Middle East, and then Russia. There are multiple threats. From the Russians, it's a conventional military threat, and then you have instability along the Southern periphery. It's very easy for people to travel to Europe, as we've seen, they've come by their millions over the past couple of years. I think the lack of a common foreign policy to deal with these matters, whether it's the Russians in the East or migrant flows in the South. The inability to project power in that sense, I think has been the root cause of the inabilities to deal with these problems.
Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about foreign policy first, and then we'll talk about economic prosperity and either the roots of stagnation, or possible areas of growth. Is part of that, in the book, you talk about how it probably doesn't make sense for Europe to go along with Brussels as much as other aspects of the EU in terms of setting internal policies. How problematic is it that the EU is effectively more of an economic and kind of cultural organization than a defense entity. Europe's defense is still primarily kind of a work through NATO. Obviously for particular reasons, we didn't want the Germans to be re-arming in 1945. What's going on there? Is there a way for Europe to take over it's own defense without the US, or without NATO, that you think would be more effective?
James Kirchick: Well, this is a really good question because really since the end of the second world war. As you said, it was security was largely to the instruments of NATO, and that was because America was always committed to having a military presence in Europe. There have been debates over the past 25 years, say since the end of the Cold War, should the European Union have it's own army? Should the Europeans think more about their own defense. You had always had … The Americans obviously weren't very pleased with this because they wanted to maintain their role in Europe. Then you also had many, not necessarily pro-American leaders in various European countries. They were resistant to this as well, because they wanted America to also play as basically a sort of buffer between the various European countries. It was only-
Nick Gillespie: I guess there are particularly in places like Central and Eastern Europe, there's still, for obvious reasons, as much as they dislike the Soviets that might have been occupying them, they also were very scared of the Germans and even of the French, which has a formidable army. In that sense, it makes … It's not simply, as you were saying, that the Americans wanted to have presence there because of the Cold War, which we obviously did. It's also some of the newer members of NATO, or of the free world also wanted Americans in the mix.
James Kirchick: Yeah, and I think also because they admired America. They had fond memories of Ronald Reagan, and Radio for Europe, and the Voice of America when they were behind the Iron Curtain. There was sort of romanticized version of the role that America could play. These debates have gone on, and they were never really serious; because most people understood the US would have this predominant military position in Europe. I have to say, now that Donald Trump has been elected president, and all these remarks that he's made about NATO being obsolete. He just seems to depart entirely from the bipartisan consensus about the US role in upholding the liberal world order; in particular in Europe. Not to mention the kind of bizarre affection he has for Vladimir Putin.
In Russia, you're now seeing these debates really become serious about should Europe pursue it's own security policy independent of the United States. There's even been, on the fringes in German, there's been speculation about Germany potentially getting a nuclear weapon; because they had always been able to depend on the US nuclear deterrent. Now with Trump, there are people worried that that might no longer be the case. Again, that's sort of on the-
Nick Gillespie: No, yeah it's on the periphery, but it might be moving towards the center. Also, I guess when you talk about Germany, which is clearly the economic powerhouse of post-war Europe, and has been at least since the 60s. They have a migrant policy which I'm sure Merkel, assuming she survives much longer, will probably moderate or change. It would make sense, wouldn't it, for Europe to come to some kind of … Or the EU, rather, to come to some kind of determination about what kind of migrant flow it's going to allow, and under what terms.
James Kirchick: Absolutely, and this is, again, the example of why a more common foreign policy is required because when you had all these migrants streaming into Europe, you basically Merkel make a unilateral decision that she was going to let them into Germany. Once you're in the Schengen Zone, which is the border free zone within Europe, you can go anywhere. She was basically making a decision on behalf of Europe by herself. She was put into a difficult spot, so I'm not trying to castigate her. This again, shows that you can't … One country can't be making these decisions, and that a migrant policy is something that will affect all the countries within the European Union. They do need to come together on a common policy towards migrants, absolutely.
Nick Gillespie: I think it's partly a function of the distance from America. When you talking about how close North Africa is to Europe, and the Middle East, I know I always think of it as, 'Oh, well it's a … ' The Mediterranean Sea is gigantic and everything, but it is really just a hop, skip, and a jump. What about the economic issues? I have to say, as a libertarian, and I realize Jamie, you're not, and we'll talk a little bit about your journalist past and your ideology more. I like the idea of how you're talking about Europe as being a zone unto itself. What about the economic interests of Europe, because this is something where … and just a few years ago, we were constantly talking about Greece and how Greece was a basket case, and maybe the pigs, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, and I guess Ireland as well sometimes gets thrown in there; or Spain, rather. What is going on there and is this the nightmare scenario of just having too much government interference and regulation of the economy? Then, when you put it up to the whole of Europe, everything slows down.
James Kirchick: I've always seen the EU as being a libertarian's dream. It's a border-less zone of countries with free trade, free movement of people, free capital. There's-
Nick Gillespie: I agree. Yeah, I agree. Within the zone, it's pretty fantastic. Again, it's just unbelievable to think that 60, 70 years ago, this was a continent that was … The rubble was still burning from World War II and World War I.
James Kirchick: I think a lot of the economic criticism that gets thrown at the Euro zone, and the Euro, I think a lot of it should really be directed at the national governments. In my mind, and I have a chapter on Greece. In my mind, Greece's problems are largely the fault of the Greeks. It's a sclerotic clientelist, almost kind of third-world political and economic system. That's what I see as being the main problems that Greece has. It's not German bankers. Obviously German bankers may have played a role in giving out these loans that they shouldn't have been giving, but ultimately at the end of the day, it's the Greek economy that gets reform and needs to adopt market liberal labor reforms.
The same for France. The reason why France has high unemployment, or Spain has something like 40 to 50 percent youth unemployment. I don't think that that's problem necessarily with the Euro Zone, I think it's the domestic economic policies that these successive governments have pursued that tend to be more statist. That's where I stand.
Nick Gillespie: I agree with you on a certain level, and there's a lot of … particularly among American libertarians who tend to be kind of knee jerk reactioners towards anything coming from Europe.
James Kirchick: Yeah.
Nick Gillespie: Except maybe the word 'entrepreneur.' Within the EU, it's just incredible. In many, many ways, and on actually on a larger scale, they've mimicked what we have in the United States where you're not getting stopped on the border between Ohio and Indiana. By the same token, one of … Let's talk about Brexit a little bit, because in the book as you mentioned, you devote chapters to Greece, and France, Hungary, Ukraine and other countries. I think the discussion of Brexit's really interesting. One of the criticisms that somebody like Daniel Hannan, the member of the European Parliament from England said part of … The EU never negotiated a free trade agreement with anyone outside of the EU; and that that was part of the problem. Do you think that that's a legitimate criticism, or when it comes to Brexit, are there good reasons for the English to be upset at the EU?
James Kirchick: EU is definitely trying to negotiate free trade agreements. We obviously have the TPP, which was unfortunately rejected and certainly now by Donald Trump. It has no possibility of going forward. I believe they may have just negotiated or they're very close to negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada. That said, I think as far Dan Hannan's point goes, I think it's going to be more difficult for the UK to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries than if it were in the EU itself. The EU is able to punch at a higher weight than the UK would alone. Also, by extricating itself from the EU, it's now going to have to negotiate trade agreements with 27 other members of that body.
From the economic standpoint, I just don't really understand the argument. I always thought that the argument for Brexit was more of a ideological, almost. It was this belief in sovereignty, which I understand is an important concept. When you really boil it down, the percentage of legislation that Great Britain had to adapt that came from Brussels, that was EU legislation. It was only something like 13 or 14 percent of all the laws in Britain; and that number was vastly exaggerated, I think during the campaign.
Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about that concept of sovereignty, because you hear a lot of that coming in the US as well; about if a country doesn't have a border, it can't be a country. We need to have our sovereignty. In England, and you write pretty pointedly and memorably about Nigel Farage, who is one of the leaders of the Brexit vote; who was kind of in the position … It seemed sort of a Donald Trump after the Brexit vote when his way, he basically gave up and tried to go back to his farm or something. He seems totally unprepared for the reality of what comes next.
James Kirchick: You got a contract, and it goes to CPAC.
Nick Gillespie: Do you think that he … Was it primarily is this talk of sovereignty and of national borders, and of course, England as an island nation, going back to Henry the Eighth and before … Actually, I guess going back to the Norman Conquest, has always been hell-bent on not being violated by the Danes, and the Vikings, and everybody else. Is it primarily a nativist reaction to the idea that the continent, or somebody else, was calling the shots? Is it racist? Is it simply that they're tired, the English are tired of bringing people from their old Commonwealth, as well as potential Muslim fanatics from Europe?
James Kirchick: It's interesting you say that. The Commonwealth immigration is something that has nothing to do whatsoever with the EU. I think a lot of people were … That's something, if they wanted to limit Commonwealth immigration, that's something that they can do on their own. I think a lot of people were conflating the different types of immigration with the EU. If there are British people who don't like the fact that there are so many Pakistanis and Indians in their neighborhoods, then that's not something that they need to complain to Brussels about. That's something that they need to deal with on the national level. I think the immigrants who are being scapegoated in the UK tended to be the ones who came from the new EU member states that had joined 2007, like Poland, Bulgaria, Romania. They were coming to the UK.
Like immigrants to the US, they were working at higher levels than native Britons. They were working for less. They were less of a drain on public services. Actually, I think then native Britons, they were using less public services. I'm hesitant to label the entire movement as being as a xenophobic racist reaction. I think that there was, however, a large degree of that. I think a lot of, if you look at the rhetoric that was being directed Polish immigrants, and at Bulgarians, it was a very hostile climate. I would distinguish the kind of Farage-type Brexit supporters from the Daniel Hannans, who I think are the more intellectual sovereigntists, you could say. I'm afraid to say that I think most of the people who voted for Brexit fell into the Farage category. I don't think there were that many who were doing it on this Daniel Hannan, 'Free market, free trade. We want to be the Singapore of the North' kind of attitude.
Nick Gillespie: What happens, I mean this stuff is breaking out all over Europe to various degrees. You mentioned, it's in much more toxic forms in places like Hungary. It's clear in a way, and I guess here to bring in my t35 years of schooling in English and literary, and cultural studies. There's a modernism question here, like the EU on a certain level is kind of this grand edifice of stitching together of a high modernism where we're going to take a lot of different things and we're going to put them all together. Then, we'll have people work out all of the things at a high level.
In a way, the failure of the EU seems to me to be part in parcel of post-modernism of the idea that it's really hard to maintain anything large anymore. -talks about the end of power and how it's hard for big corporations, like big governments, and even big churches, to keep it together. Everybody seems empowered to go their own way. Is that part of what's going on here? Certainly when you look at countries like France and England, their economic might is not what it was even 50 or 60 years ago. Germany is doing well, but it's a relatively small player in the world's stage. Is it just that the center will not hold, and that activity is moving to the periphery, and that it's a fool's dream to think that you can have these grand organizations anymore.
James Kirchick: Well, it seems that way. Yesterday, the Scottish Nationalist Party just announced that they want another referendum, and the Catalonian Independence Movement is moving forward. You have these sorts of all-over Europe. You mentioned earlier, you said the 'failure of the EU.' I'm not really sure, it's too soon to say that. I would say failure compared to what? If we look at all the other ways in which Europe has been governed over the past thousands of years, like you said, it's been bloodshed, and wars, and imperial conquests. I see the EU, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's maybe the worst form of governing Europe, but it's better than all the rest.
There's constant refrain of more Europe, more Europe, that you have a lot of European elites say. I might just advocate a break, or a pause. I think, like I said before, I think what's less important than the deeper integration is the wider integration, and as the projection of values, and the protection of what Europe and the EU already has from outside threats that really want to hurt it and destroy it from within. That's the question-
Nick Gillespie: Now, is that … Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
James Kirchick: I was going to say, it's what says about power and becoming more local, and what not. That may be true, but I don't see how Europe can compete in the world if it reverts back to this nation state basis. I think with a rising china, and a rising India, and a rising Brazil, and Latin America; I think if Europe wants to maintain an influence and the power that it has in the world, it's currently the second largest economy collectively after the US. If it wants to maintain that, it is going to have to have some form of integration.
Nick Gillespie: I was thinking about this in the context of America and immigration, because Steve King, the idiot representative from Iowa recently said that, "Look, we can't reclaim American civilization with somebody else's babies." Meaning that we need to start growing more American babies. The context of my own family, my grandparents were all immigrants from Ireland and Italy. I realized partly in writing something about that, that one of the ways that my families or my parents became, … who were all born in the 20s … they became American by fighting in World War II and Korea.
Is there a way for Europe to create a common identity short of something like that, where they're fighting an enemy from with that, whether it's Russia, or whether it is Islamic Jihad. Are there antecedents for where loose aggregations of people that are geographically and somewhat demographically intertwined, where they really become a unified force. When you talk about Europe, it is … that's kind of a change from … I mean in the Middle Ages, Europe was everything that Turkey was not, or that Turk was the opposite, and that's how they defined themselves, the way that the US defined itself as not Russian during the Cold War. Can that happen without some cataclysmic enemy that really binds the Dutch and the Slovenians, and the Slovaks together.
James Kirchick: They still are, in some sense, defining themselves against the Turks. If you look at what Turkey was doing just the past couple days in the Netherlands, where there's a big election tomorrow, sending these ministers to go rile up ethnic Turks who are living in that country, to vote in this referendum to help back home. I fear, actually, that there may be this reaction against Islam, and that is sort of increasingly becoming the way by which Europeans are trying to define themselves. Whereas I would prefer, and I'm assuming you would prefer, something along the lines of liberal values, and that that's …
Nick Gillespie: Right.
James Kirchick: A Spaniard and a Pol, is that they have the same appreciation for liberal values in the same way that a Californian citizen and someone from Massachusetts can swear allegiance to the Constitution. You have the German philosopher…
Nick Gillespie: Habermas, yes.
James Kirchick: He talks about constitutional patriotism after World War II that the Germans have created … had committed all these horrors, and that they could … How could a German be prideful and proud of his country, … as well as the Constitution is this piece of paper that we have that proclaims liberal values. What I worry is that the liberal cause is being hijacked by the likes of Geert Wilders, or the Marine Le Pens, that these are the people who are cynically asserting that they are the ones who believe in liberal values.
There's a great piece that our mutual friends, Flemming Rose, just published, about how Geert Wilders, … for your listeners that don't know, Flemming Rose is a heroic Danish newspaper editor who published the Muhammad cartoons, and has had to live under 24 police protection ever since. He obviously appreciates free speech. He wrote a piece saying Geert Wilders is not a friend of free speech. He pretends to be. This is a man who wants to ban the Quran. He wants to shut down mosques. He wants to prevent the growth of Muslim schools. He clearly believes in freedom for me, but not for you. That's his sort of attitude. You see these sorts of leaders all over the continent who are stealing liberalism from the true liberals.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, and it's amazing, too, that in an increasingly or an almost … unexceptionally secular Europe that Islam becomes the threat in the name of Western values, or something, as opposed to toleration or liberal values. Before we go further with your book, and there's a couple more points that I want to talk about, let's talk about your career more broadly as a journalist. I know the book is published by Yale University Press. You went to Yale as an undergrad. How old are you and how did you come to find yourself in Europe? One of the … I think even people who disagree with you will love the book for it's reporting. You really traversed the continent, and there's a lot of great passages in there from your reporting. Why were you drawn to Europe as a subject, and how do you define yourself ideologically?
James Kirchick: I'm 33. I started my journalism career at 'The New Republic.' My first big piece was one that I'm sure many 'Reason' readers will be familiar with.
Nick Gillespie: Yes.
James Kirchick: It was the expose of the Ron Paul newsletters. I got a job opportunity to work at Radio For Europe, which is based in Prague. I was ashamed to say, did not even know still existed; which was obviously the Cold War news information outlet that the US founded in 1950 to broadcast accurate news and information behind the Iron Curtain. Unfortunately, still needs to exist because so much of that part of the world is still living in darkness when it comes to free media and what not. I got to travel all over the former Soviet space. I did that for about two years, and then I moved to Germany and lived there for about a year and a half on a fellowship; and really became interested in Germany, and German politics, and German history.
Politically, I would say center-right, definitely [hoppish 00:25:22] on foreign policy. I believe that America has a indispensable role as the upholder of the liberal world order; which is now in threat, now that Donald Trump has been elected. What else? I guess right of center of foreign policy. I'm kind of libertarian. I'm not a doctrinaire libertarian, but I believe in free markets and free people.
Nick Gillespie: What do you think about the relative demise of 'The New Republic?' It's kind of amazing, isn't it?
James Kirchick: It is.
Nick Gillespie: I know I started at 'Reason' in '93, late '93. When I showed up at 'Reason,' 'The New Republic' and 'Harper's' were the two magazines I kind of … They were the most long-lived … Maybe not. The 'Nation' is long-lived as well. It's bizarre that 'The New Republic' really seems to have foundered. How does that hit you as a former worker there?
James Kirchick: Yeah, it's sad. I grew up loving it. I left right before this Chris Hughes character bought the magazine, and has basically destroyed it through his own uberous. I wonder how much is the fact that 'The New Republic,' it still exists, we should say. I don't know if anyone reads it that's still there.
Nick Gillespie: Yes.
James Kirchick: But how much of it's fall is attributable to the maybe decline of it's constituency? I always thought 'The New Republic' was heterodox, but it had a particular view of American power in the world. It was almost like it was a Reagan democrat magazine, maybe. It was socially liberal, foreign policy honk-ish, but always willing to challenge orthodoxies. I wonder just with the decline of the conservative democrat as a voter, as a constituency in America. Maybe that's part of the reason why the magazine declined. I'm not sure-
Nick Gillespie: I know you're also writing for 'The Daily Beast,' and 'Tablet,' and other places. Overall, do you find the market for thoughtful journalism or think journalism is still pretty robust, even if the outlets have changed?
James Kirchick: Yeah. I write for 'Tablet' a lot, which I think is … and not just because I write for it. I'm columnist there, but only because I've been … I think it's really one of the top intellectual cultural outlets on the web. I think they just publish such great stuff. It's officially a Jewish-themed website, but there's all sorts of content on there. Paul Berman, who's a former TNR alum as well. He also writes there. I think it's great. There's a lot of crap on the internet, too, though. I think there's a lot of good stuff, but there's a lot of …
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
James Kirchick: There is a lot of crap.
Nick Gillespie: How do you think the Jewish identity in America has changed? I realize that's a huge question. I guess what I mean is 'The New Republic,' even though many of it's founders were … They were as WASP as WASP gets. It certainly had a long run as having a Jewish pedigree as well. It's interesting that as ethnicity has changed, and identity politics have changed, being Jewish is not what it used to be. What is the … I feel like I'm veering into dangerous waters here.
James Kirchick: No, no.
Nick Gillespie: What is the essential Jewish … Is there an essential Jewish take, and that's the wrong word for it. Is the Jew the outsider in American society now, or are they insider, or are they the Cosmopolite? One of the things that is interesting in American intellectual thought when you think of whatever we might say about the 'National Review' when it was being edited by Bill Buckley, it was at least Cosmopolitant in some sense. Now it seems to be very, almost anti-intellectual and very nativist. Where does … The Jew is the wandering Jew. It belongs-
James Kirchick: The wandering Jew.
Nick Gillespie: -To no nation, but belongs to the world. Is that the function of a Jewish identity in American culture now?
James Kirchick: Well, Henry [Fairley 00:29:42], who was a very famous British journalist who used to write for 'The New Republic.' I think he once called it, "A Jewish commentary magazine." That was sort of his joke about how Jewish it was. I actually think that the rise of Trump and the simultaneous, really hard left-wing, anti-Israel that almost borders on anti-Semitism, that they've come up recently in the past couple years. Trump, there are a lot of … It's not Trump himself who's an anti-Semite.
There's this debate, is Trump an anti-Semite? I respond, I think Trump is too selfish and unthinking of a person to be an anti-Semite. I think he's too lazy. I think to be an anti-Semite, you have to really think long and hard about these things. You have to read lots of book, and you have to have theories about how the world works. You have to call in to CSPAN and lecture people about the [Ross Files 00:30:37]. I don't think Trump has the patience for that. Clearly around the Trump phenomenon, there was a lot of nasty anti-Semitism, and the whole alt-right, and what not.
There have been some people who have said that maybe we're leaving this golden era of Jewish life in America, that it was great for the past 50, 60 years. Jews were the most successful minority. They're the most admired religious group, I think in the country. It seems that something has sort of changed in the tenor of the conversation in the past couple years, both with the left and the democratic party even becoming increasingly hostile to Israel. You can see that in the rise of someone like Keith Ellison. Also, this whole Trump nativist movement.
I said I wrote early on in the Trump phenomenon that Donald Trump is the candidate with the mob, and the mob always comes after the Jews. It didn't really matter that Donald Trump has a Jewish daughter, or that he says he loves Israel, and all these things. It was the ugly nativist passions … just watching his rallies, I have to say. Watching his rallies on TV, there were almost all white. He's screaming about foreigners, and immigrants. He didn't have to say the word 'Jew,' but it was … a shiver went down my spine, as a Jew, just watching these events. It was like Philip Roth's novel, 'The Plot Against America.' I'm not forecasting. This is not the Third Reich. It was not the 1930s. It's nothing like that, but something has changed I think in the tenor of our conversation that I think is making Jews slightly uncomfortable.
Nick Gillespie: Now that we've pushed away from the shore, and we are in deep waters. What about the Ron Paul phenomenon? I say this as somebody who, I like a lot of what Ron Paul talks about. I like the idea of a smaller government, and a stripped down government, and all of that. There's no question. In the reporting that you did on his newsletters from the late 80s and early 90s, there's a lot of both coded and pretty open anti-Semitism. There's certainly a definite strain in American libertarianism that is explicitly or virtual explicitly anti-Semitic; which is particularly ironic since Jewishness and capitalism have historically been linked. People will even talk about it. I think Ludwig von Mises has talked about this, that being anti-Semitic was a form of being anti-capitalist and vice versa. What is the … Is there a overlap between the Trump phenomenon and a Ron Paul phenomenon, as you saw it.
James Kirchick: I absolutely think so. I have to say, my first encounter or knowledge of Alex Jones was when I was doing the Ron Paul story. This is almost ten years ago. He was just this obscure guy with an internet radio show in Austin. I called him up and he ranted and raved for an hour, and that was it. Fast forward ten years, where now this guy who … When I did the Ron Paul story, I was never concerned that Ron Paul was actually going to be president; and that I was the only thing standing in the way between this … candidate who I didn't like and the presidency. It was always a special interest story.
Now we have a guy in the White House who is a conspiracy theorist. It makes Ron Paul look like an amateur when it comes to conspiracy theories. Alex Jones has the ear of the president's, and is now opening a bureau in Washington. It was like my nightmares of these Ron Paul newsletters are now have come true in a way. I think there is a lot of overlap. I think the main difference is that, as you said, Ron Paul is a pretty doctrinaire libertarian when it comes to the size of the state; whereas Donald Trump clearly is a big government populist. There are many similarities.
Ron Paul's attack on internationalism and international institutions, and this sort of 'new world order,' black helicopters, constituency of these folk, too; almost kind of a John Bircher type. That I see a lot of similarities between that and Trump. The racial resentment, the white racial resentment that Ron Paul was definitely appealing to in those newsletters. It was probably Murray Rothbard, or Lew Rockwell, who was writing them. Whoever it was that was writing them, clearly there was a lot of racial resentment, and I definitely … I don't know you deny the enormous racial resentment that was a part of Trump's message as well. I think there's definitely … It's the paleo-conservatism, that is the link. The extent to which Paul had paleo-conservative believes and advisors, and was appealing to those sorts of … people. Pat Buchanan, I think, is maybe the bridge between the two of them.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. No, it's fascinating that Pat Buchanan, in a lot of ways, is the [potter familious 00:35:45] here of … The books that he wrote throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s seem to really … I don't know that anybody directly associated with Trump has read them, but they're filled with Buchanan-isms. Let's bring it back to your book. Your concluding chapter opens with a scene from the funeral of the great Czech statesman, Vaclav Havel, who was the president of post Cold War Czechoslovakia. What's Havel's importance to you and how is his memory either being respected or disrespected in contemporary Europe?
James Kirchick: Well, with your colleague, Matt Welch, I share a real admiration for Vaclav Havel, who either saw … I unfortunately never had the chance to meet him. It was one of my great regrets living in the Czech Republic. He was pretty old and sick by then. This was someone who just seemed very down to earth, and that he was not like other political figures. He was just a good and decent person. You look at his remarks or his beliefs on really any sort of political issue, and it was always driven by a sense of humanism, of liberalism in the classical sense of the word, of concern for other people. He was not an egomaniac. He had a real vision of what Europe could be, and should be, and his country's place within it. I think being the leader of a small country that had been overrun, first by the Nazis, then by the Soviets, I think he had a real understanding and appreciation for freedom, in it's most basic form.
He might have been a little bit too much of a big government liberal for libertarian tastes; but these days, I think there's so few leaders in Europe who seem to have any understanding of really the basic values of what Europe is supposed to be about. That it's hard not to feel a little wistful for someone like Vaclav Havel in particular, when you look at the people who have followed him in that country.
Vaclav Klaus, who I know is very popular in some libertarian circles … In fact, he had a fellowship at the Cato Institute who pursued this sort of rapid privatization of the country … is basically a Putin-ist, and is a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin, has defended him in Ukraine. It really puts into question, how can you be a libertarian, or someone who claims to believe in freedom while constantly defending Putin? Then, the current Czech president is this guy, Milos Zeman, who nominally comes from the other side of the political spectrum, more from the left; but who also has this affinity for strong men and Putin in particular.
That image that I leave with the funeral of Havel, it came at this moment in European history where we seem to be moving toward in the wrong direction. Where the dreams that Havel expressed of Europe, whole, free, and at peace, is becoming more elusive.
Nick Gillespie: Talk a bit about how … One of the things that I find stunning about Havel, and I agree. As a person, as an artist, as somebody who put himself in jail, essentially, and he knew what he was doing when he defended the rights of people for free expression. He seemed, to me, that for me, the important legacy of him is that he also oversaw the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which is a kind of post World War I invention, effectively, into two separate countries that remained linked by history and sociology … but in a way that very few people are willing to talk about. He was clearly a Czech patriot, but also a citizen of the world. It doesn't seem to me that it should be that hard to occupy both of those positions, but he seems quite rare in being able to do that.
James Kirchick: Yeah. He was. I should say, I don't … He did not want to see the dissolution. I think he opposed it, actually. It was Klaus who I mentioned earlier who was the prime minister at the time, who was really advocating it. Yes, he was someone who could simultaneously balance being a Czech and being a patriot of your country, but also seeing that this is not necessarily antagonist or contradictory with also being a European, and seeing that your country has a place in a broader political community. I think unfortunately now, with the demagogues, in the subtitle of my book, they refuse to embrace this duality and this belief that you can be both.
I think Donald Trump is the same. It's his zero sum view of the world. It's the notion that every relationship that America has, we have to be getting cheated out of it. It can't be mutually beneficial to both countries, or to both parties that we have trading relationships. We have to be getting screwed, or if we're not getting screwed, then we got to be the ones doing the screwing. I just think this is almost a fundamentally illiberal, anti-libertarian view of the world; which is that at the heart of John Locke is that consensual agreements and volunteerism is the best way of arranging human affairs. I think that works on an individual level between individuals or between businesses, and also on the state level.
I think that's ultimately what the liberal world order is about. It's about democratic countries cooperating and working together in ways that are mutually beneficial. I think that view of the world is one that, for instance, Putin, doesn't agree with and that he probably shares with Trump. I think that's why we're having such a problem in dealing with the Russians, because they don't accept this notion that we can both mutually benefit from our relationship, that it has to be one side gaming the other. I don't see the world that way.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, and obviously to bring it back to 'The Plot Against America,' the Roth book, which is about Charles Lindbergh. The slogan of 'America First,' Lindbergh was obviously one of the figureheads of the 'America First' movement, and Trump has brought that back as a slogan. To wrap up, here's my question for you. Everything that you're saying about Europe, I tend to agree with, and I agree with in a profound way. The EU in particular has created this incredible free trade zone and free movement zone of goods and people. It's amazing, and it really … I am always disappointed when we take for granted such massive advances in history. Who would have … In 1945, who would have thought that something like that was possible?
Then my question, and this is where my doctrinaire libertarianism tends to raise it's head a little bit more. Why should America worry that much about the fate of Europe? I say this as the son of somebody who fought in World War II, the grandson of people who left Europe because it treated them like shit, and my ancestors, for centuries. I agree with you. I'm not a Putin fan, and I don't understand …
I can understand why people might say, "You know, what Putin does, you know, that's his business and Europe's business." I don't understand the idea of people affirmatively saying that Putin is a great leader, or is a moral equivalent of the leaders of England or France, or Germany. What would you say are the stakes for America in the continuance of Europe as it put itself together over the past quarter century or so.
James Kirchick: Yeah. Well, this is my opportunity to convince libertarians of the-
Nick Gillespie: Yes.
James Kirchick: -Assertive American role in the world.
Nick Gillespie: Give it your best shot. Yes. Yeah, give it your best shot.
James Kirchick: Well, I'm going to say, looking at history, we've known that when there isn't American leadership in Europe, that things go to hell pretty quickly and we get sucked into horrible wars whether or not we originally wanted to or not. The 'America First' movement that you mentioned, eventually they dissolved because it became untenable in the United States to advocate that position. That's just the pure self interest point that we know that the way Europe works, and we've seen it, that maintaining a Europe whole, free, into peace, is fundamentally in the interests of the United States. Not only because of our values, it's not only because we're nice people who are willing to sacrifice for others.
It's in our interest. Europe is our biggest trading partner. Germany alone, … Chancellor Merkel's visiting Donald Trump this week. Germany alone employs 600,000 Americans. That can be said about lots of other … Sorry, German companies employ 600,000 Americans in the United States. There's a massive trading relationship, but I would think more fundamentally, it's shared values. As much as we may disagree with Europeans on all sorts of things from the size of government to whether we use air conditioning, I think at the end of the day, there's no other part of the world where we have more in common, where our values are more similar, than Europe.
It is Europe that allows us to uphold this liberal world order that has existed since the end of World War II … and that has allowed for the greatest peace and prosperity that human kind has ever seen. All these advances that we've had in medicine and technology, and all this. I think it's undergirded by an international system that allows for free trade, and that allows for the free movement of goods, and people, and ideas. That we have to understand, this is not the natural state of things. It requires effort and work, and military resources, and diplomatic resources, and leadership to maintain it and to keep it flowing. That's why I think Donald Trump represents such a threat to all these amazing accomplishments that human kind has made, because he threatens to basically withdraw America from it's role in upholding that world order.
I hope that was able to convince you somewhat.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. Let me ask you, in terms of … It's a beautiful dream, and I don't even discount it out of hand. How do you do that without, for instance, when we talk about the migrant crisis in Europe? A huge part of that is coming out of the Middle East because of the American war effort in Iraq, certainly did not go as planned. Whatever we can say about the quickness with which we gained a military victory, we totally fucked up the occupation. That bled over into Syria, which … and we somehow came out of 15 years of war with Iraq where we took out Iran's largest regional opponent. Is there a way that the US … or do you think in your world view, is there a way that the US can actually help maintain a liberal order without it being predicated upon military adventurism, because it's clear-
James Kirchick: Absolutely, and I say this as someone who did support the Iraq war; but I don't think that supporting the Iraq war is synonymous with being supporter of the liberal world order. These are not the same things. I think basic … What does it mean to support the liberal world order? It means supporting institutions like NATO. It means supporting institutions like the EU. It means having a military presence, but that doesn't mean you go off and invade countries; but it does mean, I think defending your allies.
When a country like Russia behaves the way it does against Ukraine, which again, is not a NATO ally. However, when they commit the first armed annexation of territory on the European continent since World War II, which they did by annexing Crimea, they need to be punished for it. I think that, the instruments we use as countries to uphold the rules of the game, those are crucial elements of the liberal world order. I don't think military adventurism, as you might call it, that is not a precondition for being a believer in upholding the liberal world order.
Nick Gillespie: Well, we will leave it there. Jamie Kirchick, thanks for talking to Reason.
James Kirchick: Thank you.