One of the weird features of current age America is it is kind of like a community theater production of popular Broadway shows. The people on stage are enthusiastic to play the roles and the production people work hard to get everything just as the audience would remember it. The audience will tolerate some changes and revisions, in order to update the show, but otherwise they want to see the original. The culture of this age is like a long re-do of the past, in order to get it right this time.
The most obvious place for this is in movies. There are small independent films that try new things, but the big productions are all rehashes of old material. In many cases they are remakes that deviate in amusing ways from the original. This has become so obvious that there are a bunch of hackneyed jokes about it. As soon as a remake is announced, everyone lets fly with jokes about how it will feature a one-legged trans lesbian of color, rather than the white male star in the original production.
Where this lack of new ideas is most obvious is in the realm of politics. The vast Democratic field, which is up to 22 now, is interesting for the sole reason that it is the wildly boring cast of characters. The front-runners are two near-dead geezers who sound like museum exhibits on the 1970’s. The rest remind everyone of the people you meet at a corporate retreat. They are studies in blandness. The primary is going to be a beauty contest without a talent competition, because no one has any talent.
One of the interesting things to come out of the Ben Shapiro meltdown on the BBC, besides him behaving like a spoiled teenager, was the exchange over which side of the political class has new ideas. Shapiro was right to point out that the new ideas on the Left are just remakes of very old ideas, but he was unable to name a single thing the so-called conservative movement has to offer. The American Left is a post-modern art installation, but the American Right, the official one, is the storage closet.
If you go to National Review Online and search for the word “socialism” you get more than a hundred pieces ranting about socialism this year. The word “automation” generates no hits for this year, despite the fact automation of labor is the most important economic topic of this age. The word “immigration” gets some hits, but all from the two people who focus on it and nothing but political observations. Is there a “conservative case” for or against immigration? They have one for men pretending to be women.
In fairness, those “conservative case for” pieces that dissidents love to mock have dried up of late, in favor of a trip down memory lane. The conservative movement is now committed to fighting socialism. Every day they put out tired essays like this one from Kevin Williamson. National Review is committed to promoting the moronic strategy of the Republican Party, which is desperate to campaign on anything other than what their voters see as important. America has always been at war with abstract ideas!
Of course, they never actually argue against socialism. There’s no conservative case for ending social security. That’s a giant wealth transfer from the young to the old. The same is true of Medicare. They can’t even muster a case against programs like subsidized school lunches. Instead, like Ben Shapiro, they focus all of their energy on attacking the ideas of unstable females like Ocasio-Cortez. American political debate is a bum fight outside a debilitated old bar in a town that has seen better days.
In fairness, there are some people on the permitted Right that understand Buckley Conservatism is dead. This Rod Dreher post about J.D. Vance speaking at the American Conservative dinner touches on it. The thing is though, you see why these guys are hopelessly trapped in an ideological cage built for them by the Left. What Vance imagines is some weird new conservationism that proves once and for all that the Democrats are the real racists. It’s reactionary nostalgia for yesterday men.
The fact is, Buckley style conservatism was always just a wart on the face of American Progressivism, intended to make it less attractive. It was never a fully formed moral philosophy that could stand independently from Progressivism. It’s why it was so easily infiltrated by libertarianism after the Cold War. Both ideologies are dependent on the Left to exist. Libertarianism was a critique of central planning, while conservatism was a defense of Western order in the face of 19th century radicalism.
Whatever comes next is not going to be rooted in middle-aged white guys emoting about black single mothers. That Vance speech is just another version of the same old plea for mercy conservatives have been sending out since they lost the fight on freedom of association in the 1960’s. Cobbling together tribes of losers, hiding out in the jungle long after the war has ended, is not the future of the Right. What comes next is going to be a moral philosophy rooted in biological reality.
In the meantime, both sides of the political order will belt out show tunes from their salad days, while pretending they are having a serious debate. It is, in part, a way to avoid facing up to present reality. Why talk about the inherent instability of a majority-minority society when you can debate climate change? Why talk about the plight of white people in America when you can rant about Venezuelan economic policy? In addition to being a dearth of new ideas, modern political debate is a form of escapism.
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