If you wanted to locate a point on the timeline as to when America began its descent into the current crisis, a good candidate would be when the Right decided to focus on economics over culture. While there is no specific day on which they made the shift, it happened somewhere during the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, largely in response to that culture war. When the Right embraced fusionism, the die was cast and events would inevitably lead to the current crisis we see today.
Fusionism was the work of Frank Meyer, a 20th century political thinker, who was one of the founding members of National Review. In the book, In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo, Meyer sought to unite libertarian ideas with traditionalism, into a new conservative ideology to oppose the Left. Instead of defending culture and tradition on their own terms, the New Right would use libertarian arguments to show that traditional culture was economically superior to socialism.
What happened to the American Right is it embraced the materialism of the Left, but sought to use those arguments to arrive at traditional ends. Rather than reject the hollow materialism of socialism and communism, the New Right would embrace it and celebrate it. Man was no longer a spiritual being operating in a material world, but a narrowly self-interested economic unit, who pursued his subjectively-defined ends in the most efficient way possible. Culture now took a back seat to economics.
Of course, what they were doing, even if they did not understand it at the time, was conceding the culture war to the Left. By shifting from a defense of culture and tradition on their own terms, the Right was no longer going to challenge the moral claims made by the Left. Instead of disputing the morality of Progressive reforms, the Right would put on the green eye shade and explain why those reforms were too expensive or upsetting to the economy. The Right became the accounting department of the Left.
Again, at the time, this probably seemed like a clever strategy. Post-war America was concerned about peace and prosperity. If you wanted political power, thus control of the culture, so the argument went, you had to win the argument over how best to achieve peace and prosperity. A political platform that promised economic growth and a foreign policy that promised peace through strength was the winning ticket. The Reagan Revolution of the 1980’s looked like a proof of concept.
The trouble was this could work as long as the general culture remained intact, ready to simply say no to the latest Progressive innovations. It turned out that 20th century conservatism was a free rider, living off the cultural surplus of post-war society. Like the Left, the New Right consumed this cultural surplus, but never contributed anything back to the cultural stock of society. More important, it allowed to atrophy the tools a people need to defend their culture and traditions from the Left.
By elevating economics over culture, the Right could just as easily justify left-wing assaults on civil society. The destruction of small-town America, for example, is largely a right-wing project. They are the ones defending oligarchical operations like Amazon and Walmart, that convert social capital into profits, draining the life from small town America. As long as it can be justified economically, the Right is happy to see these economic pirates raid your town and your neighborhood.
Think of it this way. For generations, social organizations relied upon local businessmen to underwrite them. The local church relied about its wealthy members to pay for the upkeep of the church and bankroll church activities. Local youth sports leagues were sponsored by local small business. Google is not going to pay for the repairs to the church’s pipe organ. Amazon is not going to sponsor your kid’s ball team. The price of cheap goods from Walmart was the spirit of your community.
This is why the cultural decline is accelerating. In the 1990’s, the mainstream of the Left snickered at homosexual marriage. A generation later and you get fired from your job if you are insufficiently enthusiastic for the guy in accounting, who recently started pretending to be a woman. The political Right has no answer for why this madness is intolerable, as they cannot find an economic argument suggesting it is too expensive or bad for global finance. They don’t know why transvestite story time is wrong.
When it all comes down to money, it means every man has a price. More important, it means his price will be at wherever the cheapest seller is at the moment. That’s been the story of the Buckley Right for the past thirty years. They are always ready to sellout to the lowest bidder, thus the culture war turned into a race to the bottom. The wreckage of Buckley conservatism is the result of a political strategy based on knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
If there is to be a revival of the American Right, it must be a cultural revolution, not an economic one. An authentic alternative not only says Bob from accounting cannot wear a dress, but Bob cannot be in our town, as he is not one of us. We don’t tolerate men who wear dresses, because that’s who we are. An authentic alternative rejects economic man and embraces the whole man, who is defined by is community and his role in that community. Spiritual man must reign over economic man.
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