On the birth of a new right from the ashes of conservatism’s failures
“A neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. A neoliberal is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality but has refused to press charges.”
― Irving Kristol
Donald Trump’s hopes for re-election in November will lie with the so-called ‘silent majority’. As of today, most polls see Biden leading by a handful of points. Yet mainstream media polls’ unreliability is well known; 2016 is very fresh in our memories. Rather than proof of Democrats’ popularity, for example, poll’s results could easily be a reflection of the fear many hold to publicly display hostility towards progressivism — especially in a time where the religion of Progress threatens to ‘cancel’ even the most powerful among us. But is there such thing as a ‘silent majority’? And if there is, what does it want?
The ‘fiscally conservative, socially liberal’ Reaganism of the ‘80s, typical of college-educated Republicans, has been losing appeal among traditionalists and young people — hence the National Conservative conferences held in Washington, D.C. and Rome throughout 2019 and 2020 (the latter in which I took part), sponsored by the Edmund Burke Foundation and led by the author of the much-discussed The Virtue of Nationalism, Yoram Hazony. Both a symptom of the discontent and a reaction to the threat pose by the Left, the conferences, which saw participating prominent figures such as Tucker Carlson and Douglas Murray, but also Viktor Orban and Giorgia Meloni (among others), were perhaps one of the first attempts to reconcile Western Conservatism with its voter base.
Things are changing on the Right. As Park Macdougald writes for Tablet in February, since William F. Buckley’s National Review’s height of popularity, “the GOP has been the party of capitalism—of Wall Street, Walmart, and Ronald Reagan’s famous quip that government is the problem.” Though to say that that is what is still keeping the American party afloat to this day would be a mistake. As he further points out, the GOP mantained support over the years not because of their economic policies, but thanks to ordinary American citizens, mostly concerned about the radical cultural change their country has been subjected to. “[Republicans] keep thinking they’re winning because of their economic policy and losing because of their cultural policy, when really it’s the opposite,” American Mind‘s Founding Editor Matthew J. Peterson told Macdougald.
A great example of how conservative winds are blowing in unexpected directions recently displayed itself in the UK. When the ‘unbreachable’ Red Wall — a set of northern constituencies historically associated with Labour votes — came crumbling down for the first time in 50 years during the 2019 election, the British establishment was almost as shocked as the US media were to find out America preferred a TV show host to the ‘predestined’ Hillary Clinton. The humiliating defeat of the Labour party in left-wing districts was interpreted by conservative pundits (and classical liberal alike) as the ultimate repudiation by ordinary British people of the PC snobbery that is taking control of much of the Western left. After all, parties that were supposed to represent working-class people and working-class interests are now composed of Pro-EU, upper-middle-class woke liberals, at the same time as they’re cheered by celebrities and often even sponsored by corporations. Yet Political Correctness and cultural wokeism aren’t the only reason for the demographic shifts occuring among Western conservative voters.
Unlike Johnson’s, Trump’s popularity among social conservative, working-class people in 2016 was self-explanatory. The likes of Ted Cruz and Senator Rubio never stood a chance against the unapologetically rough, masculine profile of a TV Show host who promised to ‘bring the industry back’ and run the country like one of his multibillion-dollar businesses. But there were other forces at work: his willingness to use the power of the State to Make America Great Again, contrary to dominant GOP’s libertarian orthodoxy, attracted additional support. Trump’s isolationist policies along with his promise of revoking trade deals — a refreshing break from Republican fusionism — appealed to workers as much as various strands of ‘post-liberal’ Catholicism. Catholic integralists, led by Harvard Law school professor Adrian Vermeule, also call for the State to use its power to affect society and, more specifically, aim at promoting Catholic social teachings — thus hoping to bring the faith back into the public square (hence their sympathy to the idea of returning to a more patriotic, less cosmopolitan society reflected during the Trump’s 2016 MAGA, ‘Build the Wall’ campaign).
Among those not too hostile to the thought of using the Government to achieve social and economic goals, we can find the populist-sympathetic outlet First Things, led by R. R. Reno. In early 2019, its editors published a collections of signatures declaring war to the ‘dead consensus’:
“The old conservative consensus paid lip service to traditional values, but it failed to retard, much less reverse, the eclipse of permanent truths, family stability, communal solidarity, and much else. It surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness.”
The statement, among others, was signed by the Straussians writers and editors of the Claremont Institute’s The American Mind, a publication faithful to the school of thought of political theorist and classicist Leo Strauss, and another of those who have detached itself from the old fusionist framework of mainstream conservatism.
Not everyone on the ‘Anti-Liberal Right’ supports President Trump’s populism, however. Senior editor at the American Conservative and author of The Benedict Option Rod Dreher — a book that to counter liberalism’s cultural domination proposes a solution that could be (unfairly) summarized as CGTOW (Christians Go Their Own Way) — is a good example. After Trump (supposedly) cleared the streets of protesters to walk out of the White House and pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church — while many Trumpists praised the gesture, seeing it as a sign of loyalty from their candidate — various Christian-conservative quarters were far from impressed. Dreher decried the episode as a sign of the President’s fake religiosity, calling it pure “propaganda”, and going as far as to suggest the day could go down in history as the one Trump lost re-election. “Flashing a Bible like a gang sign to get conservative Christians in line. It is pathetic,” he commented.
Dreher is not alone. Despite a lot on the New Right see Trump as an amusing and (occasionally) necessary figure to combat the establishment, at the same time, his conservative shortcomings are often impossible to ignore — even for them. But criticizing Trump’s persona isn’t enough to make Conservatism great again, as such conservatives are well aware. Blaming the failure of the Christian faith to establish itself once again among the US population in recent years on stunts such as the POTUS posing for the cameras, would be unfair. Religion, family formation, and church following have been on a downward trajectory for decades, and it’s unlikely that having Trump (with his 80 plus million followers) standing with a bible for self-publicity is going to make that any worse.
In fact, some believe, it might even be Trump’s quasi-cultish MAGA following on the right (and even BLM’s ideological fanaticism on the left, to some degree), the phenomena that should give hope to religious conservatives, as it clearly exposes just how deep religious instinct has sunk in public’s consciousness and how desperate for nourishment it has become. Despite years of progressive’s domination in education and pop culture, all the signs in the West seem to indeed point to a religious revival.
Yet it is true that conservatives should wait to pop the cork. As Ben Sixsmith points out: “renewed attraction to religion [on the Right] could be a negation, not an affirmation, of the modern West. It is to escape atomizing, shallow materialism — with less marriage, less childbirth, more loneliness and more addiction — that many have been drawn to religion more broadly.” Modern ideological fanaticism is very unlikely to stem from a desire to restore a sense of traditional, spiritual identity. The missing sense of belonging and a lack of purpose in our societies, along with the declining trust in religious institutions and authority figures on the Right, inherently carries the danger of pulling the conservative movement in dangerous territories.
Wishing to return to tradition isn’t universal among the New Right. A most ‘extreme’ fraction of the movement, often referred as the ‘Dissident Right’, has grown from the so-called ‘Frog’ corners of social media. The most prominent member is pseudonymous blogger and Twitter personality Bronze Age Pervert. BAP, a self-described “aspiring Nudist Bodybuilder / Free speech and anti-xenoestrogen activist”, has managed to develop a devoted following on the platform — mostly thanks to his viral, short (and hard-to-describe) self-published book Bronze Age Mindset. The latter earned not only somewhat of a cult-like status online, but also attracted considerable attention from prestigious figures on the Right. Michael Anton, former national security senior advisor of the Trump administration (and author of the 2016 viral Flight 93 Election essay), reviewing the work for the Claremont Review of Books, described it as a book that “at first glance [looks] to be a simplified pastiche of Friedrich Nietzsche written by an ESL-middle-school-message-board troll.” Maintaining skepticism throughout the review, he writes:
“[The book] speaks directly to a youthful dissatisfaction (especially among white males) with equality as propagandized and imposed in our day: a hectoring, vindictive, resentful, leveling, hypocritical equality that punishes excellence and publicly denies all difference while at the same time elevating and enriching a decadent, incompetent, and corrupt elite... The talented kids who’ve found this book aren’t listening to us [conservatives]… All our earnest explanations of the true meaning of equality, how it comports with nature, how it can answer their dissatisfactions, and how it’s been corrupted—none of that has made a dent… In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.”
Adversity to the GOP also comes in unexpected forms. Perhaps the most uniting factor among the New Right is its distrust of untrammeled, global Capitalism. The rise of ‘woke capitalism‘ and market monopolies (especially Big Tech) have made them increasingly skeptical of the role of the free markets in furthering the Right’s goals. (Corporate America’s unanimous endorsement of BLM might turn out be the straw that broke the camel’s back). Furthermore, as I’ve previously pointed out in this article, its proclivity to turn every single human desire available into a product has revealed capitalism to be a lot more hostile to conservatism than many on the right ever thought possible — prompting them to ask: is capitalism really conservative-friendly?
A libertarian like Ben Shapiro might justly say that if what is stopping you from living a Christian life are the material temptations surrounding you, you’ve already missed the point. Yet for many on the NR, such is beside the point. Yes, the kingdom of God is not of this world; but what social conservatives are doing is warning against a force (consumerism) working directly against the conservative view of a good and harmonious society, which is not the same as claiming such represents an obstacle from practicing their faith. The incentive structures in Western societies have never been so opposed to the faith and its traditions; and when an entire generation gets constantly bombarded with materialistic and hyper-sexual advertising, it’s not hard to imagine a time when the whole culture finally turns against and repudiates its religious roots. None of the opposition to materialism and hedonism promoted by the corporate world, based on one’s faith, should be seen as contrary to religious teachings.
Another common factor among the people so far mentioned in this article is a rejection of the idea that ‘Marxism’ (or Communism) is behind the cultural revolution happening in America. Commenting on the current riots spreading across the West, New York Post‘s EIC Sohrab Ahmari (who set off a firestorm in conservative circles last year when First Things published his harsh critique of David French’s ‘too-liberal’ conservatism, also dubbed as ‘David Frenchism’) recently pointed out that “[this] isn’t what it looks like,” promptly blaming neoliberalism instead of Maoism (or indeed, Marxism). Ahmari — a former atheist turned Catholic who pushes for State implementation of the Faith — is one of the many unapologetic traditionalists on the New Right calling for the GOP to abandon its Reagan, libertarian roots. We can summarize his and his followers’ aversion to the dead liberal consensus when, on First Things, he asks: “what is ‘liberal conservatism?”, and answers quoting Irving Kristol: “more a persuasion or a sensibility than a movement with clear tenets.”
What most differentiates the New Right from mainstream conservatism — beyond a general rejection of modernity, distrust of liberalism, opposition to immigration, a desire to preserve the social fabric at all costs and their calls to adopt policies that appeal to ordinary people — is a rejection of the idea that liberalism and ‘Progress’ (supposedly hijacked by Marxism or post-modernism) is the solution to the threat posed by the modern Left. As Patrick Deneen’s writes in Why Liberalism Failed: “Liberalism failed because it succeeded.” The “common good capitalism” promoted by Sen. Marco Rubio as well the new politic of highly popular figures like Tucker Carlson represents a strain of modern conservatism not only more aware of class-struggle (one often-cited intellectual is former neo-Marxist turned socially conservative Christopher Lasch) but also willing to look past the classical liberal consensus of our time. The various factions of the New Right, with either their calls to return to Tradition or develop a vision past the latter, share a common theory: tyranny coming from the Left is a feature of liberalism, not a bug.
While most Republicans seem to believe that not much has changed since the dead consensus of the Cold War era, the modern right has increasingly embraced a post-liberal view of society over the years, taking a more communitarian route and rejecting the neoliberal order. Listening to neoconservatives like Ben Shapiro one could come away with the impression that the future and survival of Republicanism still depends on its defense of ‘small government’ and economic freedom from the everlasting threat of Socialism; yet ordinary Republican voters have never been more open to using the State to achieve both economic and social goals as they are today.
In most Western conservative parties, the philosophy of liberalism still dominates, and trust in its capacity to solve our many societal ills enjoys widespread support. Across modern America and the West more broadly, a strain of Republican voters made of old-school William F. Buckley’s fusionists and laissez-faire neocons still believe the bells of freedom soon will chime, and our civilization will become great again through tax cuts and even corporate bailouts. But amplified by the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and several other phenomena, a new movement has emerged from the ashes of Western conservatism’s failure: one who believes the West can — and must — find its way out of the darkness with a traditionalist approach and an open-minded economy; giving to God what belongs to God and sometimes to God what belongs to the State. Moving forward, Republican’s job (and conservatives parties alike) will be to understand which of those views makes up the true voice of the silent majority.
Mark Granza is an Italian freelance writer and the founding Editor of IM—1776.
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