For a very long time, there was a zone of acceptable behavior in politics that was bound by both political coalitions. One side of the political class established the right side and the other camp established the left side. Within those two boundaries is where you found acceptable political discourse. If someone on the right side started noticing things, they were thrown over the wall into the void. Similarly, if someone called shenanigans on the liberals, they were marginalized.
Most people noticed the barrier on the right side as it was the tallest. Those gatekeepers also made a big deal out of being gatekeepers. In retrospect, conservatism was nothing more than a gatekeeper’s handbook. On the left side, the grandees did their policing more subtly, with a sense of shame. People like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich were tolerated as long as they knew their place. They got to pretend to be real socialists as long as they never threatened the established order.
The story of the last decade or so is the collapse of both walls. Donald Trump swung a wrecking ball through Conservative Inc. What started as a vanity campaign set off a populist rebellion first aimed at the gatekeepers on conservatism. Forgotten in all of this is the way Trump humiliated the Bush wing of the party. The mediocrities running conservatism did the rest. The whole thing collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity, corruption and perfidy.
Something similar occurred on the left side. The Bernie Sanders challenge to Clinton in the 2016 campaign exposed a massive crack in that foundation. His 2020 run forced Liberal Inc. to blow up it up to prevent Sanders from winning. In retrospect, the 2020 shenanigans should include the rigging of the Democratic primary. The result was a collapse of the gatekeeping on that side. This is an underappreciated part of the whole effort to install Joe Biden as president.
It seems that some of the empire’s rich people have noticed that the walls are down, so they are coming up with solutions. One is a new university in Texas that will gather up various exiles from the establishment into something of a think tank. Their stated claim is they will challenge the orthodoxy of the academy. The money for this is coming from a guy calling himself Joe Lonsdale. He is part of the Peter Thiel network, so it is safe to assume that Thiel money is involved too.
When you look at the list of people involved, it is basically civic nationalism gathering the remaining troops for one last stand. The “left-wing” people involved are the old liberals who never embraced cultural Marxism. The “right-wing” types are mostly people who never had a chance to work at AEI or Heritage. The one thing all of these people have in common is they are exiles from the establishment foundations. This project is an effort to create their own version of Heritage.
The problem with challenging the established orthodoxly is you need to do so from an alternative moral order. Civic nationalism has never had a moral order at its center, so it was never much of a challenge to the ideologues. This is stunningly clear now that cultural Marxism is off its chain and running wild. What does Conservative Inc. say about the corruption of the law we see in the Rittenhouse trial? Their advice is you should throw your guns in the nearest lake and stay home.
Into this moral void is flowing the integralists. These are mostly Catholic revanchists who think the answer to the present is to rewind the clocks. They keep turning up in the pages of the American Conservative. Here is Sohrab Ahmari explaining why he has joined the new university. Here he is explaining their new moral order along with some fellow revanchists, also involved in the new university project. Buchanan’s old publication seems to be part of the new gatekeeper operation.
Interestingly, it appears that Rod Dreher has not got the memo about the new direction of his platform. Here he is reacting to a post by Patrick Deneen, another Catholic revanchist, lumping Dreher in with David French. It is an excellent observation as both men are cafeteria Christians. They pick from the vast menu that is Christianity to create for themselves a religion that suits their needs. Dreher takes issue with it, but he should have read it as a warning. His days are now numbered.
Another interesting fact is the Catholic revanchists are involved with the Yoram Hazony project, which is also funded by Peter Thiel. We have one oligarch and some lesser allies working to fund a new building project. The new walls on the right will be built on a new brand of nationalism, stripped of the icky parts, and a civic nationalism rooted in a desire for the old throne and altar conservatism. It is a do-over of sorts, starting someone in the middle of the last century.
Taken as a whole, the Theil project is an interesting play by one of the most important and ambitious oligarchs. Unlike many of his fellow oligarchs at the table, he seems to get that a storm is brewing. If they wish to avoid the national razor, they better figure out how to create order from the chaos. Unlike the other oligarchs, people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, Thiel is not trying to curry favor with the cultural Marxists. He seems to get that they are the problem.
The trouble, of course, is that this is a rearguard action. In order to rebuild those old walls, there has to be a ruling class consensus to defend. That was always the point critics missed about Conservative Inc. It was created as part of the ruling class consensus that formed up after the Cold War. One reason it is in ruins is the consensus no longer exists. Into that void is flowing the demographically driven identity politics that so frightens the civic nationalists.
That is another thing missed by the civic nationalists. You see it in that Deneen post about his new brand of conservatism. Defense of the liberal order, which is the heart of civic nationalism, was itself a creation of the post-Cold War consensus. Without that political center, civic nationalism is nothing more than armed men defending a city that has already been put to the torch by the radicals. The Rittenhouse story is not just a young man on trial. It is civic nationalism on trial.
While it is wise to assume the worst from these new projects, the fact that they exist should be read as good news. When the oligarchs are sensing that things are heading into very dangerous waters, it means they are ready to stop playing make believe and engage in serious politics. Cultural Marxism poses a greater threat to them than it does the common people. If the oligarchs start to question the prevailing moral orthodoxy, it opens the door for a legitimate challenge.
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