“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 election polls see Biden leading by a handful of points. Yet mainstream media polls’ unreliability is nothing new; 2016 is still fresh in our memories. Rather than proof of Democrats’ popularity, today’s results could easily be instead a reflection of the terror many hold to publicly display hostility towards progressivism, especially in a time where left-wing orthodoxy threatens the private and professional life of even the most powerful among us. But what is the ‘silent majority’ if there is one? And — besides wanting to see an end to the current civil unrest — what does it want?
Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and William F. Buckley’s National Review’s height of popularity, the GOP has been the party of capitalism, Wall Street, and the infamous libertarian ethos that ‘government is the problem’. But as Park Macdouglad points out for Tablet magazine in February, the GOP hardly stood the test of time not because of their economy, but thanks to ordinary Americans — mostly citizens highly concerned about the radical cultural change their country is 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”, Macdouglad reports. Donald Trump’s 2016 victory was the culmination of America’s growing discontent. The ‘fiscally conservative, socially liberal’ Reaganism of the ‘80s — typical of college-educated Republicans — has been losing appeal among traditionalists and young people, letting room for something new on the rise. The National Conservative conferences held in Washington, D.C. and Rome throughout 2019 and 2020 (the latter which I took part), sponsored by the Edmund Burke Foundation and primarily led by Yoram Hazony, author of the much-discussed The Virtue of Nationalism, were one the first attempt to reunite Western Conservatism under a single umbrella. This isn’t the only significant change occurring within the modern conservative right.
The same demographic shift saw among US college-educated conservative voters in 2016 is being recorded elsewhere across the West. A great example of how the winds are changing in modern politics starkly 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 humiliating defeat of the Labour party was likely the ultimate repudiation by ordinary British people of the PC snobbery that is taking control of much of the Western left. Parties that were supposed to represent working-class people and working-class interests are suddenly composed of pro-EU liberals, woke middle-class voters, cheered by all sorts of celebrities and sponsored by corporations. No wonder the left is losing support. But the crucial question hovering over 10 Downing St. should be this: if it wouldn’t have been for Brexit, would the Tory government still be in power? Would Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson still had the support of most of the British public if Labour’s leaders didn’t run around announcing their pronouns? What’s the actual strength of today’s Western conservative parties?
Unlike Johnson’s, Trump’s popularity among working-class and conservative voters in 2016 was self-explanatory. In the celebrity-obsessed modern American culture — exhausted by political correctness and disaffected by both parties’ economic policies — the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio didn’t stand a chance against the unapologetically rough, masculine profile 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 ran parallel to Christian integralists’ goals in the US. 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. Among those not too hostile to the thought of using Government to achieve social and economic goals we can find the populist-sympathetic journal First Things, led by R. R. Reno, the writers at the Claremont Institute’s the American Mind, and even the young Catholics behind websites like the Josias — a Christian community who wishes to bring faith back into the public square, and, as their ‘about us’ section reads: “resist the tides of liberalism, modernism, and ignorance of tradition” (their podcast series on liberalism is worth a listen). Modern integralists call for the return to a more patriotic, less liberal society, and for the State to promote Catholic social teachings. Nationalists take it a step further, pointing to Christian Europe as the true ideal — back when its power was unsurpassed and its confidence through the roof.
Not everyone is affectionate with President Trump. Rod Dreher, senior editor at the American Conservative and author of The Benedict Option — a book that to counter liberalism’s cultural domination proposes a solution that could be (unfairly) summarized as CGTOW (Christians Go Their Own Way) — was one of the most recent social conservatives to express forthrightly his discontent. After the President pulled his umpteenth and perhaps most bombastic postmodern stunt amid the firsts Floyd riots — when he 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 beloved candidate, 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 even suggesting that that could go down in history as the day Trump lost re-election. “Flashing a Bible like a gang sign to get conservative Christians in line. It is pathetic”, he commented. An evangelic priest equally disgusted told him instead: “He’s standing in front of one of the most theologically liberal churches in America holding a Bible that is not his and that he does not read while appropriating the symbols of a religion that he doesn’t observe. Yeah, I’m really impressed”.
Dreher is not alone. A lot on the new right see Trump as an amusing and occasionally necessary figure to fight PC leftists and power-hungry Democrats. But at the same time, many seem to be getting tired of his demeaning character and conservative shortcomings. His skillful handling of mainstream-media left-wing bias and general showmanship isn’t considered enough for him to be worthy of wearing the mantle of the Great Tradition. His persona as well as its administration’s fellow-traveler TPUSA — which narrows down the philosophy of conservatism to a set of low-resolution talking points and ideological cliches — owes its popularity mostly to its ridiculous ideological counterparts. But Christians know well that criticizing Charlie Kirk and Trump isn’t enough to make Conservatism great again. It’s inaccurate to lay the commercialization of the faith at the President’s feet. The White House using the Bible as a propagandistic social media booster isn’t the worst sign of a declining doctrine. Religion, family formation, and church following have been on a downward trajectory for decades. But there’s hope, even if a twisted one, for Christians; Trump’s quasi-cultish MAGA following on the right and BLM’s ideological fanaticism on the left (just to name two of the clearest phenomena), expose just how deep our religious instinct has sunk in public’s consciousness. Its need for nourishment looks desperate. Despite years of progressive’s domination in education and pop culture, all the signs in the West seem to point to a religious revival.
Conservatives should wait to pop the cork. As English writer Sixsmith points out: “renewed attraction to religion 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 dogmatism is very unlikely to stem from a desire to restore a sense of traditional, spiritual identity. It is rather the missing sense of belonging and a lack of purpose in our societies that is pushing people to channel their spiritual yearning increasingly towards ‘a cause’. Its most clear reflection takes the form of the intersectional, race-obsessed left. Christians (and not only) see their worship of minorities with their countless quasi-religious displays of self-abasement as an obvious attempt to replace God with their cynical, crippled version of Woke anti-racism. America’s fanaticism on the left is growing unchecked. The New Right’s flirtatiousness with traditional religiosity looks in part reactionary.
But adversity to the great tradition also comes in familiar forms. The rise of woke capitalism and market monopolies have made conservatives increasingly skeptical of the free-markets (corporate America’s unanimous endorsement of BLM might turn out be the straw that broke the camel’s back). Furthermore, as I previously pointed out in this article for Areo, 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 thought — prompting them to ask: is capitalism 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. Or as Cain Pinto writes in response to my argument: “If the only thing keeping you from committing adultery is the unavailability of hook-up apps facilitating uncommitted sex with strangers in your vicinity, you aren’t abstinent; you’re a hypocrite.” All of that is beside the point. Yes, the kingdom of God is not of this world. But Christians don’t see consumerism as an obstacle from practicing their faith, but as a force working directly against their vision. The incentive structures in our societies have never been so opposed to the faith and its traditions. When an entire generation gets constantly bombarded with materialistic and hypersexual advertising, it won’t be long before the whole culture turns against and repudiates its religious roots. To wish to put a halt on the hedonistic trend promoted by the corporate world based on one’s faith isn’t contrary to religious teachings.
Most Republicans seem to believe that not much has changed since the dead consensus of the Cold War years. But the modern right seems to have taken a more post-liberal, communitarian route over the last years. 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. Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (also much-cited) lays the societal decadence at classical liberalism’s feet. Modern Straussians on the right reject the Hobbesian/Lockean notion of ‘natural right’ in favor of a return to a more ancient, classical framework: ‘what’s best for human beings in nature?‘. Among the New Right there’re even atheists and agnostics, not everyone is religious. Even weird characters such as Twitter personality and pseudonymous blogger BAP (short for Bronze Age Pervert), straight from the darkest corners of the platform, are often lumped into the club. His viral, short (hard-to-describe) self-published book even made it to the prestigious Claremont Review of Books, where, reviewed by none other than Trumps’ former national security senior and author of the 2016 viral Flight 93 Election article Michael Anton, it was described as a work that “at first glance [looks] to be a simplified pastiche of Friedrich Nietzsche written by an ESL-middle-school-message-board troll”. What most differentiates them from mainstream conservatism is a general rejection of modernity, a desire to preserve the social fabric at all costs, and their calls to adopt policies that appeal to ordinary Americans.
While listening to neoconservatives like Ben Shapiro one could come away with the impression that the future of Republicanism still depends on its defense of economic freedom from the everlasting threat of socialism, ordinary Republican voters have never been more open to using the State to achieve their economic and social goals; a position likely strengthened by the dim reality of post-Covid, post-Floyd America. As for the current cultural revolution in the West — former atheist turned Catholic Sohrab Ahmari (who set off a firestorm in conservative circles last year when First Things published his harsh critique of National Review‘s David French and his ‘too-liberal’ conservatism, also dubbed as ‘David Frenchism’) has rushed to point out that “it isn’t what it looks like”, promptly blaming neoliberalism instead of Maoism. We can summarize Ahmari’s aversion to the dead liberal consensus among the conservative-right 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”.
Given the current chaos on the streets, the racial tension in the air, and the imminent threat of foreign enemies like China (not to mention the post-Covid economic recession), issues like religion and the discussion about traditional morality are very unlikely to play a major role in the upcoming US election. As of today, Republicans have bigger fishes to fry. But if the GOP wants to keep his loyal base it might need to update some of its priorities. A strain of Republican voters made of old-school William F. Buckley’s fusionists and laissez-faire neoconservatives still believe the bells of freedom soon will chime, and America will become great again through tax cuts and even corporate bailouts. But a New Right has emerged: one who believes America can find its way out of the darkness with a more traditionalist approach and an open-minded economy; giving to God what belongs to God and sometimes to God what belongs to the State. Republican’s job will be to understand which of the two makes up the voice of the silent majority.