Note: The regular Taki post is up and the topic is our friends at the FBI. Behind the green door is the Sunday news podcast. There is also a review of the book Red Plenty, which is a very interesting book on Soviet central planning. There is also a post about the looming war between the barefaced and the Masketarians.
The great Sam Francis observed that the Buckleyites were doomed to failure, because they not only engaged the Left in practical politics, but they also embraced the rules the Left had imposed on practical politics. As Francis put it, conservatives had accepted the premise of the managerial class, which meant they would eventually be forced to defend it. If the premise of your ideological movement is the permanence of the managerial state, your existence literally depends on its existence.
That is why Buckley’s project was punctuated by rounds of purges, which often seemed designed to remain in good standing with the Left. In reality, the two sides of the political class, embraced the same set of premises, and the same moral framework. It is like a rivalry between two departments in a large corporation. Their differences are completely bounded by the overarching concerns of the corporation. Both sides know that the point of their rivalry is that the corporation always wins at the end.
The problem with the purging of bad-thinkers is two-fold. One is it boils off anything resembling diversity of thought. Instead of an ongoing debate among equals, it becomes an echo chamber. The other consequence, something that appears to be a feature of the managerial class, is smart people get purged. The result is a slow decline in cognitive capital. If you are curious and ask too many questions, inevitably you run into conflict with the system.
That is what you see with National Review. The last interesting guy on staff was Mark Steyn and he was run off years ago. John Derbyshire was hurled into the void half a dozen years ago. The only thing interesting about National Review these days is looking up the long list of people they fired. Otherwise, the site is now just a collection of dullards who repeat what they are told. Like conservatism itself, National Review has been consumed and fully masticated by the system.
This is why Trump was able to win in 2016, but lost in 2020, despite being more popular and facing a vegetable. In 2016 he was facing off against a brittle and pointless right-wing system that shattered when he struck it. The left-wing side was not prepared to take on the role of disciplining the right-wing side, so Trump was able to squeak through and win the election. The left-wing side was fully prepared to deal with Trump in 2020 and made sure there was no way he could win again.
The problem for the system is it still lacks an approved alternative. Despite its many flaws, Buckley-style conservatism was a valuable vessel into which was poured the political aspirations of white America. About 40% of white people called themselves conservative at the peak. Another 25% leaned that way on most issues, but maybe had some objections on other issues. This made the right side of the political system seem like a legitimate alternative to the left side of the system.
Something similar happened in the late-1960’s and early-70’s. The old-line Republican leadership, the Rockefeller Republicans, lost their legitimacy due to their impotence in the face of the culture war waged by the Left. The Goldwater campaign in 1964 was the first shot across the bow of the old guard. The ascent of Nixon masked the problem, but finally the conservatives rose up to supplant the old guard. The Reagan revolution was more about creating a new approved alternative to the Left.
Today there is no out-of-the-box movement ready to push the wreckage of conservatism over the side. The long run of Buckley-style conservatism anathematized anything that looked like a threat from the Right. It is easy to miss, but conservatism became extremely narrow and intolerant after the Cold War. Populism, nationalism, and traditionalism are all forbidden topics in modern politics. The result is alternative thinking is a scattered mess, often polluted with eccentrics.
One strange result of this loss of an approved alternative is the left-side of the political class is in a panic. Progressivism in America is now a fully negative identity that needs an enemy to survive. More important, that enemy needs to be compliant. Over the long Cold War, the left-side of the political class evolved to depend on that compliant right-side as its constraint and raison d’etre. This is why it is desperately flailing about trying to create a new version of the old familiar.
It is also why the Republican party is trying to get a make-over. They dumped the ridiculous Liz Cheney not because they disagreed with her opinions. In fact, most Republicans share her disgust for their voters. It is just that she is screwing up the plan to put Trumpian lipstick on the old pig of right-wing politics. The hope is if they decorate their language with Trump’s rhetoric, white voters will forget how much the party hates them and go back to reflexively voting for the GOP.
The trouble they are having is that white people increasingly distrust the system as a whole, not just the Republican leaders. The Trump wing now defines themselves in opposition to system. They still talk about voting in new people, but their plan is self-contradictory, even though they do not see it. Throwing more people into the “the swamp” just means the creatures in the swamp are well-fed. Another tainted election and that reality becomes clear even to the dimmest of them.
Then there is the dissident wing, much smaller, but growing. These are the people who have come to terms with demographic realty. While lacking a coherent moral philosophy, they have broken free of the prevailing moral framework. They can no longer accept a politics that features two sides of the same. No amount of political marketing is getting this group back in the fold. Not even a return of Trump will bring this group back to liberal democratic politics.
What the political class faces is a choice. They can try to adapt to this reality and become a ruling party like in South America. They win every election, but the opposition parties are allowed to exist as a pressure relief. The other option is to prop up the Republicans and conservatives as a Potemkin alternative, knowing that very few people think they are anything more than yes-men to the oligarchy. Those are the options for the next approved opposition.
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