Mark Granza is the founder and editor of IM-1776, a small magazine focusing on art, culture, and socio-political from the Right—though Granza is not keen to identify the magazine with politics, which he believes is a problem among many contemporary conservatives. The magazine exists mostly online, at im1776.com, but not long ago published its first print edition. Though he was living in Italy when he launched the magazine, Granza recently relocated to Budapest. I met him at a café on Múzeum körút, where we talked about his background, his concept for the magazine, and why Budapest stands to become a magnet for the intellectual Right. (Editor’s note: The interview was conducted in 2022.)
Who are you?
I’m 31 years old, grew up in Verona, Northern Italy, then started travelling very young. I wasn’t really into politics until well into my twenties; politics was never a topic at the dinner table. Although I was raised Catholic and I’ve always been a bit of a social conservative at heart, I never really called myself a ‘conservative’. The only constant in my life has been being anti-establishment—distrust in institutions, distrust in the mainstream media, and everything related to power really. I always thought that made me a leftist.
But then 2016 happened. I was living in London at the time and Brexit and Trump essentially made me realise every sector of power throughout the West had gone to the Left, or perhaps always was, and that’s when I understood I was on the Right. I started getting more interested in politics and shortly after, coming across conservative writers like Roger Scruton made a difference—especially his writings on beauty. I’ve always been more interested in culture than politics.
By 2020 though, I was very disillusioned with the mainstream conservative movement. It seemed to me it wasn’t willing to recognise the extent of corruption and evil of the modern Left, so I was looking for alternatives. Eventually I came across what is known, for lack of a better term, the ‘Dissident Right’. What these (mostly online) people were saying resonated a lot more with me than the mainstream. That’s when I decided to launch the publication.
Who are these people in the conservative movement who aren’t awake to the reality?
I’d say the mainstream conservative types who are basically defending whatever liberalism was ten years ago. They promote themselves as Rightists, but really, they’re just classical liberals, and in the worse sense. A lot of them are trying to slow down Progress without really opposing it.
As the saying goes, ‘Conservatism is Progressivism driving the speed limit.’
I don’t really have a problem with how the Left does what it does; I have a problem with what the Left does. I actually believe we ought to be somewhat like the Left, without losing our souls and humanity, in terms of their determination to win, at least.
Take cancel culture. It is bad because there seems to be a psychopathic and fanatic element among the people who push it, and of course, it goes too far in many ways. But the idea that people on our side should feel ostracized or pressured because they don’t share your beliefs as much as they should, that’s something I share myself. I also believe in the necessity of using power, unlike most conservatives who are essentially libertarians. The power-phobia that’s part of the right-wing liberal mindset is our biggest obstacle today. You’re not going to win this in the public square, if there even is such a thing anymore. As my South African friend Ernst van Zyl says, this is not a time for debate, it is a time to dig trenches.
How would you distinguish your brand of right-wing politics from right-liberalism? In the US, the conservative tradition is right-liberalism.
Yes, traditionally the American Right has always been keen on defending liberty. But let’s consider the following thought experiment for a minute: If you were to transport the Founders to 2022, and ask them to write a new Constitution, would they write it exactly as they did 250 years ago? I strongly doubt that.
The truth is that the composition of the American people changed to a degree beyond anything the Founders would recognise.
They wrote the Constitution within a shared moral universe and a homogeneous culture that allowed for a lot of individual freedom. But America doesn’t have that anymore.
Yes, John Adams famously wrote that the US Constitution works only for ‘a moral and religious people.’ Without that, he said, human passions would tear through it like a whale caught in a net.
Exactly. So I believe are way beyond that point. Furthermore, this idea—shared by both centre-right and centre-left people alike—that America suffers from an excess of tribalism and ideology, I think it’s just wrong. I believe it is the opposite. Marshall McLuhan believed that weak identities produce violence to prove to themselves that they exist. This is what we have today. A multitude of weak identities turn violent to prove to themselves they exist. So the solution is not more liberalism or individualism, but strengthening our identity.
We published a really good article on this called ‘True Believers in the Dark’, essentially a critique of the Intellectual Dark Web types using Shakespeare’s Coriolanus to make the point. To quote the latter, ‘Only a power can overcome another power, only a tribe another tribe.’ The issue is not too much identity, or too much ideology, but too little, and of little quality.
You have talked about how important it is to have a strong sense of identification with one’s native land, but you’re not living in Italy. How do you reconcile this?
Yes, I’m essentially a nationalist without a nation now. I left when I was very young and I ended up travelling for most of my twenties. Eventually, I returned to Italy, and I intended to stay there and ‘contribute to society’. But then Covid happened, and I had to leave because I refused to get vaccinated. So I had no choice, not if I wanted to work at least. I moved back to London and, at first, I couldn’t believe it felt like a return to normality—London, of all places!—to walk inside a place without wearing a mask, or being shouted at or looked the wrong way by someone. But it was complicated for me to stay there for various reasons, and I eventually left again.
So yes, I will admit that I can’t exactly function as an example to others when it comes to this, because you can say to some degree that I have ‘abandoned’ my own country. At the same time though, it’s part of my project to travel and understand the situation in the West, and try to identify whatever solution might be best in general, not just for my country. So I don’t necessarily see a contradiction.
So why did you move to Budapest earlier this fall?
Well, my visa application got rejected in the UK, so Brexit made it impossible for me to stay in Britain without breaking the law. Plus, it was too expensive, too crazy, and too chaotic. So I wanted to move somewhere cheaper which allowed for a more decent life. And somewhere beautiful, too—as an Italian, that matters a lot.
I had heard a lot of great things about Hungary, a lot of great things about the way Orbán is governing this country,
and since the Hungarian project seems to have become very relevant for the Right in the West, I thought it made sense for me to be here. Maybe there’s something that can be learned here and applied to my own country. It also seems like a good place to form networks of people outside London or the US. My first impression of the city was great. It felt like a return to civilisation. I do not regret moving one bit.
What do you think there is to be learned from Hungary?
It’s too early for me to say. It seems to me that Hungary, unlike most other Western countries, has managed to keep a certain core identity and cultural homogeneity, so I wouldn’t be quick to assume the same solutions and policies can be implemented in the West with the same results. I don’t think you can’t just take Hungary’s model and plug it into America, for instance.
Immigration is one that comes to mind. I remember watching Tucker Carlson’s report on Hungary. When Tucker went to the border and asked how they managed to make the latter function the Hungarian he interviewed answered, ‘Well, this is the border. When they come across it, we catch them, and we put them out.’ It struck me there how powerful something like the Deep State is in America, which essentially makes sure this common sense approach is impossible. So I don’t know yet how much can be learned from Hungary, at least from a policy perspective.
I’ve found that the Fidesz people are far more aware of how power works than American conservatives, and far more willing to use that power in ways that American conservatives shy away from. American conservatives still believe in the myth of liberal neutrality. In theory, I agree: I don’t think the state should be imposing itself on civil institutions. But in practice, it doesn’t work that way, which is why the Left controls everything.
Yes, right-wing liberals are naïve when it comes to ideology. They defend abstract ideals like freedom of speech and the free market, but they conflate them as ends in themselves. Look at what happened to the Left in the ‘60s. Did it stop once they got free speech? No, they understood that free speech, like any other principle (not to be confused with morality), is a tool, not an end in itself.
Today enforcing free speech isn’t useful to the Left, so they try to censure you—and again, more power to them!
If you believe that you’re right, why shouldn’t you enforce your beliefs? This is one of the reasons I like someone like [the American conservative anti-woke activist] Christopher Rufo. He doesn’t care about convincing the other side, or battling in the ‘marketplace of ideas’. He’s going to tell you what he’s going to do, and then do it, whether you agree with him or not. That’s what I believe conservatives should do: use whatever power they have or can get and impose their views onto society.
Viktor Orbán has said that he would like to see Budapest become an international capital of conservative intellectuals. Do you think that’s realistic?
I think it’s possible. I certainly can’t think of a better place than Budapest in Europe for something like that at the moment. Hungary seemed to have managed to promote itself quite nicely and also network very well internationally. I’ve been here less than two months and I’ve already met so many people in the conservative movement. I definitely look forward to seeing where this project is going.
Here’s what Hungary’s foreign critics don’t get: if you are on the Left here, you can say whatever you like, and nobody will bother you. Budapest is not a right-wing version of San Francisco. Peter Boghossian is an anti-woke, left-wing atheist who came to MCC earlier this year on an invitation. He was nervous because of what he had heard about Hungary, but now he loves it here, because he discovered that it’s possible to have far more open conversations here than back in his woke home state of Oregon.
Yes, but I have a theory about that. I believe Hungary feels comfortable allowing this sort of dissent because the Left doesn’t dominate the discourse here. If they did, seeing what the Left has done to every other country and institution where it dominates, would Hungary be this tolerant? I believe it wouldn’t, if only to save itself. Again, we go back to the myth of liberal neutrality. We can see the Left only pretends to favor neutrality and tolerance until it gets itself into a position of dominance. This is just how it works, and, frankly, how it should.
What does IM—1776 mean?
‘I’ and ‘M’ used to be the initials of my previous blog. I was struggling to come up with a name and then realized if I put those together ‘IM’ sounds like ‘I am’, so there’s an identity play there, and I thought it was quite fitting given we live in a time of uncertainty in many ways. As for 1776, the truth might be disappointing, but I just wanted a number in the name. And what year is more relevant today than 1776?
This isn’t to say that I identify necessarily with the American Revolution or the Founders’ project, but I do believe to this day that’s the most important event of the past three centuries.
Can Americans still draw on that energy and revolt against their rulers? To what degree is the Enlightenment aspect of the Founders’ project responsible for the problems we face today? Did 1776 always carry the kernel of the horrors that the West is experiencing today? Those are questions very central to our project.
It’s very difficult to get the American Right to understand that politics and law are not enough, that culture matters even more.
Absolutely. Politics is downstream from culture. I wasn’t aware of how central this idea was to the publication until I interviewed Michael Anton a year ago and asked him about the Right’s inability to produce art. We talked about all sorts of things: the Founders’ project and the Left, mostly focused on politics and philosophy—it was a very popular interview. But then that little segment about art and patronage got more attention than anything else discussed, and basically triggered a debate on the Right. That’s when we got the idea to dedicate our first print edition to this problem, ‘Art & Literature for Dissidents’, or ‘on the Right’, if you like.
It’s pretty clear to me our problems go much deeper than politics. What the Right suffers from is an incapacity to dream and a lack of imagination—which shouldn’t be confused with the Left’s excess of imagination, essentially downstream of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. What I mean is: we’re not in touch with God, with Nature, with our humanity, with creating something that can inspire people. Mainstream Conservatism over the last few decades has only been able to produce bow-tied, institutionally-obsessed, policy-making types. We said this when we launched the magazine in September of 2020:
It’s not that the conservative movement is failing; the conservative movement has failed. It has failed to reach out to the younger generations.
It has failed to preserve the institutions.
It has lost every culture war issue since the 1960s. And that’s because it has completely given up on the idea of coming up with a vision.
You told me earlier that you don’t think Wokeness is a religion, but I think it’s closer to one than you realize. It provides young people with a sense of meaning, of purpose, and solidarity. It’s a pseudo-religion, yes, but we can better understand how it works on the minds of its adherents if we think of it in religious terms more than political terms.
Yes, I agree. The people who threw themselves into political activism are definitely trying to fill a spiritual hole. But the fact that theirs is a false God is actually quite relevant. Their ideology is so detached from reality and human nature that it can’t possibly inspire them on its own. That’s why they turn the movement into a cult, which I still believe shouldn’t be mistaken for a religion.
Are you a religious man?
I believe in God. But let’s just say my relationship with Christianity is complex. I don’t think I can give a straight answer to that.
I can date the start of my Christianity and the beginning of my conservatism to wandering into the Chartres cathedral with a tour group at age 17. Nothing had prepared me for that experience of awe. Today, I think that that experience of awe, of an awareness of the greatness of the past, is something to build on. You don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas to understand that there was something valuable here, something to build a future on. This is why I feel so strongly attracted to Europe.
Yes, there is nothing like an old cathedral or a great classical painting that can give you that sense of awe. But I’d argue that works for us because we share a more sophisticated, historical awareness—
Are you sure about that? I had no historical awareness when I walked into Chartres.
Well, I see young people walking around Venice, around Verona, or Budapest, next to great architecture and great monuments. They don’t give a damn! They’re on their phones. Why is that? I believe it’s because there’s essentially an ocean between them and the sort of state of mind and beliefs that can make you understand the value of such things.
People have got to be able to see.
Absolutely. But I wasn’t able myself for a long time. It took me four years in London, one in Barcelona, and three more traveling to other countries before I came home to Verona and was able to see it with new eyes. I was like, why didn’t I appreciate it before? It wasn’t only because I left, but because I grew up a lot, and came to understand the value of beauty more, mostly through educating myself. My point is simply that you can’t take the Old Masters, or the Great Books, and put them in front of young people and expect them to respond or feel a sense of awe. There needs to be a bridge of some kind.
I want to ask you about an essay in the first print edition, by Alex Perez, about the danger of being too black pilled—that is, being too impacted by pessimism. It’s about the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, who is a peerless diagnostician of the spiritual emptiness of our time. But the essay points out that we need more than diagnosis. There’s also another essay in that issue by Lola Salem about the need for wealthy patrons on the Right to support young conservative writers.
Yes, I tend to agree with Alex Perez’s argument. Not every single aspect of it, but the idea that young fiction writers on the Right today are too pessimistic and that that reflects in their writing is true. You ought to connect with the masses, but the masses aren’t ready to accept the darkest truth of our time, so you have to find another way. As for Lola’s argument: How many conservatives are actually hunting for artists today? None. They can’t be bothered and that’s because mainstream Conservatism, again, lacks a vision. What kind of art are you going to produce if you lack a vision? They do not bother to answer that question because they’re just focused on preserving instead of producing.
In the US, they’re giving their money to right-wing think tanks and to the Republican Party.
Exactly. But you can’t solve everything on a policy level.
You say IM—1776 is ‘art and literature for dissidents’. How do you define dissident?
We used the word ‘dissident’ in the issue because the term ‘Right’ when it comes to art is obviously inappropriate. It implies that a work of art can be explicitly political. Usually when someone tries that it just devolves into propaganda, so we wanted to find a better term that did not imply we were trying to politicize art. As for how I’d define being a dissident today: Have you ever been in danger of losing your job for your political views? Are you scared of what might happen to you if you express your views in public? If yes, it’s probably because you hold views that are radically opposed to the status quo. So that might function as a modern definition. That said, we rarely use the term itself. I am not Solzhenitsyn and don’t pretend to be.
Whenever we talk about the non-mainstream right, the question of fascism always comes up, fair or not. I noticed in the print issue, you featured a photo of some Mussolini-era architecture. Do you sympathize with fascism?
Terms like fascism are anachronistic. They belong to an era. So the first mistake people make when they accuse you of being one is assuming the challenges we face in 2022 are the same as the Italy of Mussolini was facing in the 1920s.
That said, while I recognise fascism took things too far, especially as implemented in Germany, I don’t think that every single thing that can possibly be accurately associated with fascism can be dismissed, simply because of the historical association. This idea that any form of politics that emphasizes strength, or the return of the hand of the state, or a strong attachment to land and culture is bad because shared by the fascists is a problem on the Right today.
I believe that people should dedicate their life to something larger than themselves, beyond their families.
I believe in God, Family and Country, but also Greatness.
So why are you not a fascist?
Because I recognise there is a point where it goes too far.
What would that point be?
Well, when you start to take sadistic pleasure in punishing your political opponents for instance. When you’re not doing what’s necessary for the good of the country anymore, but out of a sort of desire for revenge or gaining power. That’s going too far. Attachment to land and culture and beauty can be implemented politically without devolving into Nazi Germany. Classical Liberals are wrong when they say that there’s no stopping authoritarianism once it starts. That’s fundamentally their mistaken assumption at the bottom of their free speech or free market absolutism for instance.
I defend the classical liberal position in part because it’s the only way I see that conservatives like me will be able to talk in an America that’s so divided. One thing I like about Budapest is that it’s very tolerant, but that has limits. You can see gay people walking hand in hand, but you don’t see the rainbow flag all over everything, like a new religion being shoved down our throats. I don’t want to be the guy who tells gay people you can’t walk down the street.
Yes, but we go back to the Founders’ question: Hungary has—though also to a much lesser degree of course—the kind of cultural homogeneity and shared moral universe America has had for the past 200 years or so, arguably up until the post-world War period, which allows for some kind of dissent. So their challenge consists in preserving the current status quo. But that’s not the challenge most Western countries are facing.
It’s not a matter of preserving something anymore in America, it’s a matter of subverting the current status quo.
Do you think you can do this peacefully, politely, and through discourse alone, as the classical liberals believe? Well, the only thing I can say to that is this: good luck.