In the fullness of time, the most important development in the Trump era will be the collapse of conservatism as a political movement. The official Right had been in crisis for a long time, but the old political dynamic had locked it in place. If you opposed the Left, the only alternative was conservatism. Trump did not usher in a new era, so much as discredit the old. The Left quickly redesigned to self as a defender of the status quo and institutional power, while the Right has collapsed.
Even at this early date, it has become a bit trite to note that American conservatism has collapsed over the last five years. Not only has it collapsed, in terms of its intellectual influence, but it has become a ridiculous joke. Even the jokes about it have started to sound a bit hackneyed, as the absurdity moves beyond satire. When a site calling itself The American Conservative is making “the conservative case” for explicitly anti-white pogroms, the jokes stop being funny.
Even so, it is worth looking at why the American Right has collapsed. The majority of white people in America have at one time or another considered themselves conservative or at least were open to it. There’s never been a majority in favor of Progressive reforms, yet those reformers have always carried the day, despite the opposition of the professional Right. It takes a special skill to lose so much despite having a numerical advantage in a democracy.
One obvious reason for the collapse of conservatism is that it lost all of its intellectual vigor decades ago. We live in an age of pygmies, but nowhere is that more obvious than with the professional Right. Half a century ago, the Right was teaming with serious thinkers. A couple of decades ago, National Review had a half a dozen or more quality thinkers and polemicists. Today, no one can think of a single writer or thinker on the Right that is worth a minute’s time.
That really is the striking thing about what has happened to America in general, but the Right in particular. It is as if anyone with the least bit of curiosity about the world has been driven off and replaced by former postal workers. The distinguishing feature of the American intellectual class is its doctrinaire dreariness. Everyone with anything on the ball and a curiosity about the world operates out on the fringes. The American intellectual class is a as vibrant as the surface of the moon.
Another facet of this, a byproduct of the suffocating dullness, is an inability of conservatives to examine how they came to this dead end. This piece in the American Mind, which is supposed to be the free-thinking outlet for conservatives looking to break free of the old modes of thought, is a good example. On the surface, it is supposed to be an analysis of the administrative state, which should mean the managerial state, but instead it means “big government” in the old hackneyed way.
Note that the writer takes as a given the basic assumptions of the Left. His opposition to what he describes as the administrative state, is that it is anti-democratic, prejudiced and discriminatory. This is the sort of complaint that was popular on the Left a generation ago, when they would attack corporate America. In the hands of conservatives, it becomes a complaint about having to deal with a thicket of bureaucrats down at the local motor vehicle department.
Even more ridiculous, their critique of the administrative state tries to use guilt by association to win over their enemies on the Left. You see, the roots of the administrative state are in the Confederacy! You see that my woke brothers? The thing you now control is every bit as racist and cis-gendered as those statues you are toppling all over the country. It is not just a rhetorical devise. Conservatives truly believe that current crisis is rooted in human preference.
The weird logic of modern conservative thinking is worth noting. Professor Hamburger seems to think the great obstacle to the Progressive dream of an egalitarian paradise are the tools the Left has been using to create that paradise. Not only will they agree to throw down their weapons, they will suddenly stop their aggression. It is a bizarre form of utopian thinking. It is even more bizarre, given that the greatest threat to individual liberty is woke capital, not the government.
What is even more striking about this is just how obtuse this line of thought is, given that within conservative intellectual traditions there are far better critiques. Within living memory, Samuel T. Francis and Paul Gottfried wrote extensively about the managerial state, building off the analysis of James Burnham. Perhaps it is understandable that Francis has been forgotten in conservative circles, but Gottfried is still around and active at publications like the American Conservative.
This gets back to the barren intellectual landscape in general, but the aridity of conservatism in particular. Modern conservatives operate in the lowest tier of intellectual discourse, which is the practical. This is where they debate where to move commas around the tax code and how to tinker with existing structures. The Left operates at the next tier, which focuses on the process. For them, the administrative state is one item in the toolkit they have in the war on the general culture.
What has been lost in this age is anyone that can look down about this dynamic between strategy and tactics and understand the ideas and historical forces that are carrying these combatants along. This should be the role of conservatism. It should be the engine producing a new moral and political paradigm to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, but instead it is just an obstacle in the way of that process. This is why it has collapsed and is headed to the ash heap of history.
While Trump and the people around him are oblivious to his role in this historical period, their anti-intellectualism is the necessary agent to break the old dynamic. Conservatives have no answer for his blunt observations and the Left has had its skin peeled back to reveal its reptilian interior. Trump has been a clarifying event, one that will usher conservatism off the intellectual and political stage. What replaces it is something suited for the demographic age.
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