America Last: The Right's Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators (Hardcover)

America Last: The Right's Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators By Jacob Heilbrunn Cover Image

America Last: The Right's Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators (Hardcover)


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A leading journalist and public intellectual explains the long, disturbing history behind the American Right’s embrace of foreign dictators, from Kaiser Wilhelm and Mussolini to Putin and Orban.

Why do Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and much of the far Right so explicitly admire the murderous and incompetent Russian dictator Vladimir Putin? Why is Ron DeSantis drawing from Victor Orbán’s illiberal politics for his own policies as governor of Florida—a single American state that has more than twice the population of Orbán’s entire nation, Hungary?

In America Last, Jacob Heilbrunn, a highly respected observer of the American Right, demonstrates that the infatuation of American conservatives with foreign dictators—though a striking and seemingly inexplicable fact of our current moment—is not a new phenomenon. It dates to the First World War, when some conservatives, enthralled with Kaiser Wilhelm II, openly rooted for him to defeat the forces of democracy. In the 1920s and 1930s, this affinity became even more pronounced as Hitler and Mussolini attracted a variety of American admirers. Throughout the Cold War, the Right evinced a fondness for autocrats such as Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet, while some conservatives wrote apologias for the Third Reich and for apartheid South Africa. The habit of mind is not really about foreign policy, however. As Heilbrunn argues, the Right is drawn to what it perceives as the impressive strength of foreign dictators, precisely because it sees them as models of how to fight against liberalism and progressivism domestically.

America Last is a guide for the perplexed, identifying and tracing a persuasion—or what one might call the “illiberal imagination”—that has animated conservative politics for a century now. Since the 1940s, the Right has railed against communist fellow travelers in America. Heilbrunn finally corrects the record, showing that dictator worship is an unignorable tradition within modern American conservatism—and what it means for us today.
Jacob Heilbrunn is the editor of the National Interest and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He is the author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons and lives in Washington, DC.

Product Details ISBN: 9781324094661
ISBN-10: 1324094664
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: February 20th, 2024
Pages: 264
Language: English
Heilbrunn isn’t the first to tell the story of the right’s barely submerged affinity for Hitler. Philip Roth’s great counterfactual novel, The Plot Against America, takes this affinity as its premise—and as does Rachel Maddow’s recently published history, Prequel. But it’s always bracing to be reminded of how former President Herbert Hoover made excuses for Hitler before the war and how the press baron William Randolph Hearst commissioned stories by him... Heilbrunn’s book opens with verve... Foreign dictators are now thoroughly attuned to the tendency that America Last describes... What makes Heilbrunn’s history, ultimately, so poignant is that the American right no longer needs to project its displaced desires onto leaders in other countries. It doesn’t have to shop abroad for a tribune who channels the movement’s deepest, most subversive desires. Trump is the foreign dictator that they craved all along.

— Franklin Foer - The Atlantic

America Last provides an alarming list of characters whose enchantment with foreign dictators through the decades exerted real influence on American intellectual life... An impressive and engaging catalog of the right’s long-held fascination with autocracy.

— Parker Henry - New York Times

Not only a corrective to the voluminous (if also accurate) investigations on how communist tyrannies fostered leftist supporters in the U.S., but also an able — and wildly timely — effort to stitch together nominally disparate views.
— Casey Michel - New York Magazine

[T]he book offers much of value to readers interested in overlooked links between the past and present. The discussion of neoconservatism’s rise to dominance and then collapse into discredit on the right during the George W. Bush and Obama years is a particular standout.
— Ed Burmila - New Republic

Heilbrunn’s book provides an essential, eye-opening perspective in which it is clear that Trump’s flirtation with monsters and monstrous policies has deep roots that extend back to the original ‘America First’ movement and Hitler sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh.
— David Rothkopf - The Daily Beast

Those who still think of themselves as conservatives should read this book and learn about what some of the leaders they admire have in store for our country.
— Ronald Radosh - The Bulwark

America Last offers a lively—if grim—historical tour of the American right’s fondness for foreign strongmen... [It] showcases many of the more revolting moments in the right’s history of autocrat worship... A fast-paced and readable book, full of carefully constructed vignettes and telling anecdotes, and Heilbrunn deftly details the many ways in which the right’s admiration for foreign autocrats dovetailed with authoritarian leanings here at home.

— Rosa Brooks - Washington Monthly

Heilbrunn draws on the large body of scholarship documenting the Nazi sympathies of figures like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, and the America Firsters of the late 1930s. And once again, he draws our attention to the elite pedigree of this movement.... If Trump wins and continues to pursue a foreign policy that rewards authoritarians and alienates liberal democracies, Jacob Heilbrunn’s America Last will have provided us with a spirited and clear-eyed warning of how ideas, impulses, and resentments on the American Right can lead to disasters for the United States and the world.

— Jeffrey Herf - Quillette

Trumpism is much bigger, we now know, than Donald Trump himself. But how did the movement come into being? Who are its true founders? And where may it be headed next? Jacob Heilbrunn, our foremost chronicler of the New Right, has the answers--and they are as chilling as they are surprising. America Last is a tour de force of historical investigation written with the verve of a first-rate political thriller.

— Sam Tanenhaus, author of The Death of Conservatism

Jacob Heilbrunn is Washington’s shrewdest and most perceptive neocon-trarian. He now trains his sight on the American Right’s historical bromancing of foreign dictators, a deplorable pageant currently featuring their pin-up, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban, and his number one fanboy, Tucker Carlson. This is an important book, and a warning for what could lie ahead beginning on January 20, 2025.
— Christopher Buckley, "No relation to the William F. Buckley, Jr mentioned on pages 218 and 220."

In America Last, Jacob Heilbrunn examines the convoluted line of thinking that draws so many on the right to the illiberalism of Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin. Heilbrunn brings to this task a talent for illuminating the dark side—and a deep understanding—of his subject acquired over decades of editing such publications as the New Republic, the National Interest, and the Los Angeles Times. In one respect, America Last is an extension of Heilbrunn’s celebrated 2008 book, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, but, more importantly, America Last reveals how a key wing of the conservative movement has become, in effect, anti-American.

— Thomas Edsall, author of The Point of No Return

Jacob Heilbrunn's new book, America Last, is quite simply a must read. Heilbrunn shows that the dangerous love affairs between Donald Trump and the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are not just bizarre quirks of one man's personality but very much in keeping with a long and sorry tradition going back a century or more of mutual admiration between the American right and an array of foreign tyrants. This is history as revelation, and unfortunately it is all too relevant to understanding America's present-day politics.

— Susan Glasser, staff writer for The New Yorker and co-author, The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021

Though they love to wrap themselves in the flag and boast of their patriotism, the ugly truth is that American conservatives have long valorized, and even sought to emulate, dictators and autocrats abroad, from Mussolini to Pinochet down to Viktor Orban today. In this elegantly written history of the right's infatuation with the forces of illiberalism and foes of democracy, Jacob Heilbrunn helps us grasp the full dimensions of the threat today's conservatives, and the political party that represents them, pose to achieving a more decent, humane, and democratic United States.
— Matthew Sitman, co-host of the podcast Know Your Enemy

As we focus on the perilous state of American democracy, Jacob Heilbrunn provides a lucid and original examination of just how the right wing descended to its current antidemocratic depths. Combining a historian’s mastery of the past with vivid storytelling, Heilbrunn traces how a small but ruthlessly determined group silenced the rational center of the Republican Party. Read Heilbrunn’s sobering but urgently important book.
— Kati Marton, author of Enemies of the People and The Chancellor