The term “New Right” is one of those phrases that has a long life but has never had much meaning in American politics. Bill Buckley was a member of the New Right when he got going in the middle of the last century. Later, various efforts were made to create a New Right as an alternative to the Buckley Right. As conservatism collapsed over the last decade the term has become a popular one with failed alternatives. Members of the alt-right even tried rebranding as the New Right.
The long life of the term in America, without much meaning, says more about the overall state of politics than the various efforts to create an alternative. In Europe, the term New Right has meaning, because it is a real school that has been trying to create a new politics that reflects the current age. In America, the popularity of New Right reflects the fact that there has never been a genuine Right. What passes for the Right is just a foil for the prevailing orthodoxy of the ruling class.
That reality is clearer now that at any time in the history of the empire, but there are those giving the term another shot. There are several groups competition to be the new Right to replace the rubble that is mainstream conservatism. There is a lot of interest in the mainstream in these projects as the prevailing orthodoxy works best when it has a foil to operate as a gatekeeper. Channeling popular frustration into a sterile alternative is the secret to maintaining order.
The least promising of the alternatives is whatever Curtis Yarvin, known as Moldbug, is calling himself these days. Yarvin got famous blogging as a neo-reactionary who criticized democracy in various ways. He would write awfully long essays criticizing liberal democratic system from the perspective of a royalist. His style was something like a stream of consciousness while playing an on-line role playing game. It was elite condescension for those who imagined themselves elite.
After a break from his Moldbug character, Yarvin is back, but playing himself, a retired software developer, who has a lot to say about the present order. Instead of demanding the creation of a monarchy, he advocates a rejection of politics entirely. According to his analysis, any participation in politics ends up supporting the system, so the only way to oppose the system is to drop out entirely. His approach is not much different from Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, just without the religion.
The basic argument Yarvin makes is that participating within the rules of the system supports the system. If you organize a new party, for example, you are legitimizing the party system and the rules that govern it. On the other hand, if you protest against the system, your protest is either crushed or permitted by the system. Either way, this legitimizes the power of the system, because the system only acts in ways that add to its power and legitimizes its power.
While there are bits of his critique of liberal democracy that are accurate, his alternatives are best described as incoherent label shopping. He has tried out “clear pill”, “grey mirror” and now “deep right” as marketing phrases. None of which mean anything on their own. Instead, they work like insider language for his fans, a way for them to feel like they have special knowledge. Yarvin writes in riddles, so these secret phrases can mean whatever the fan needs them to mean.
A more robust option in the New Right talent contest is the pan-Zionism offered up by the Israeli political scientist Yoram Hazony. He is probably the most complete of the alternatives and has the best financial support. The oligarch Peter Theil has been backing him for a few years, primarily by financing his conferences on nationalism in America and Europe. These have become networking events for the people hoping to win the New Right lottery.
Hazony’s argument, put forth in his book The Virtue of Nationalism, is that the West needs to re-embrace nationalism and reject empire. His argument for nationalism is pretty much the argument for Zionism. In fact, his case seems to be more of a defense of Zionism than a genuine case for European nationalism. In his book, he goes to great lengths to argue that things like fascism and apartheid are not nationalism, which of course are claims made against Zionism.
The problem for all nationalist movements is the elephant in the room. Once you make the claim of exclusivity, that is a people has an exclusive right to determine their composition, it means certain people can be excluded. For European nationalists, this brings obvious comparisons to unfortunate incidents. For Zionists, this offends the donor base which lives primarily in the Global American Empire. The solution is a watered down and exception-riddled nationalism.
In both of these efforts, what plagues them is an unwillingness to address the core defects of liberal democracy directly. The crisis in the West stems directly from the anti-human notions of egalitarianism and the blank slate. This is what underpins multiculturalism, universalism and globalism. Without addressing the twin tap roots of liberal democracy, the critic is left to whack away at the leaves. It means these flavors of the New Right are doomed from the start.
Another entrant in the New Right derby is what is sometimes called common good conservatism and sometimes called integralism. This reflects the two camps that operate within the movement. One camp takes a secular view of politics, primarily focused on the law, while the other camp is explicitly religious. The former seeks to reform the law in order to achieve their ends. The latter is a revival of antidisestablishmentarianism from old Europe.
The secular camp is best represented by Josh Hammer, who is busy creating what he calls common good jurisprudence to replace originalism and textualism. His critique, like many on this subculture, starts with the dissident observation that conservatism has never conserved anything. He repeats the century old observation by Robert Lewis Dabney about conservatism being yesterday’s progressivism. He then proposes an alternative he calls common good jurisprudence.
On the integralism side, the face of that wing is a Harvard academic named Cornelius Adrian Comstock Vermeule. He advocates for a robust state that will act in the best interests of the common good. The common good is largely defined by the teachings of the Catholic Church. He wants a return of throne and later rule, in which the state, however composed, is unconstrained by individual rights. In other words, he wants the current system to be guided by medieval Catholicism.
Like Yarvin and Hazony, the various figures flying the common good conservatism banner have no interest in taking on egalitarianism and the blank slate, even though their hierarchical worldview should demand it. A state that acts in the common good requires someone with the power to decide what is the common good. There is no room for a monarch or an enlightened despot in a world where all men are equal and their equality must be respected by the state.
The problem with all of these attempts to create a New Right is they are limited to a critique of the present order. They refuse to ponder the central questions of all political morality and that is “who decides?” and “by what authority?” The one who comes closest is Hazony and he stops at the water’s edge for obvious reasons. Otherwise, the New Right is pretty much a social club of people who are unhappy with the present order but cannot face the reality of it.
That may be what is preventing a New Right from forming up and taking the place of Buckley-style conservatism on the big stage. The specter haunting the West is demographics, which is animated by those two central questions. There is little need for a New Right unless it is willing speak to demographics and everything that flows from it. When the only question that matters is off the table, everything else is idle chatter that makes for a fun conference, but not much else.
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