From a dissident perspective, the squabbles between the professional conservatives and their critics in what they are calling the New Right is like see something of a proof of dissident critiques of conservatism. Many of the charges levelled at the professional conservatives are borrowed, without attribution, from dissidents. The main charge, that conservatives have conserved nothing, was a mainstay of dissident discussion before Trump arrived to discredit the conservative establishment.
The term “New Right” itself is borrowed from the old alt-right. Back in 2016 when the alt-right was morphing into old school white nationalism, those not interested in going in that direction were labeled the alt-light. Guys like Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobic started calling their thing the New Right as a way to add legitimacy to their activity on social media. Sohrab Ahmari appropriated the term and uses it to describe those criticizing institutional conservatism.
Putting that aside, the back and forth between various groups is useful in understanding what happened with American conservatism. If there is going to be some new force that rises up to challenge the status quo, it will need to avoid the errors made by conservatives in the last century. The debate also provides an avenue for understanding the much larger trends that have led to this point. Ideas matter and it is the ebb and flow of ideas that animates history.
This post in the Claremont publication American Mind by Michael Anton is a good example of how ideas shape actions. Anton is responding to this post by someone calling himself Michael Watson. Those old enough to recall the purging of the paleocons by the National Review crowd will recognize the pattern. Instead of addressing the criticism coming from their right, the conservatives accuse the critics of being anti-Semitic and thus disqualified from the debate.
For his part, Anton responds in the predictable way. He endorses the central claim that any criticism of certain people is off limits, thus his job is to prove that his ideas do not fall into that bucket. The paleos went down this road back in the 1980’s when they insisted that criticizing Israel and Israeli influence in American foreign policy was not an attack on Jews. The neocons were undeterred and paid off enough conservatives, primarily Bill Buckley, to make the charge stick.
For those interested, Bill Buckley produced a special edition of National Review to condemn the paleos. He then turned it into a book. No doubt that American Enterprise, Heritage and other conservative money machines bought skids of the book as a reward for his efforts. Here is a transcript of Buchanan being interviewed on PBS about the charges levelled against him. Thirty years on and we see the same tricks being used by institutional conservatism to guard their right.
Interestingly, Anton makes no mention of the fact that Watson is a member of the neoconservatism cult. He is the associate director of the Center for the Future of Liberal Society at the Hudson Institute. For those interested in the deep state theory of everything, their wiki page is a cornucopia of material. For those interested in anti-Semitism, it reads like something from Kevin MacDonald. It is a good example of how relentless pursuit of group interest can easily look like conspiracy.
Anton has his reasons for avoiding the elephant in the room, but the elephant is at the heart of the debate. Neoconservatism has never made any sense as a subset of Anglo-Conservatism, as its primary focus is international. Conservatism is the elevation of the near over the far, the local over the distant. The singular focus of neoconservatism is the ancient enemies of the Jewish people, both near and far. Given the lack of anti-Semites locally, it is obsessed with distant enemies from the past.
The temptation is to hang all of this on the Jews, but the fact is neoconservatism has become a weird subculture that revolves around the concept of Israel. Many of the biggest neocons are not Jewish. Watson is obviously not Jewish. Bill Buckley was obviously not Jewish. Large swaths of the Evangelical subculture are obsessed with supporting Israel at the expense of everything. Since the Cold War, this subculture has driven conservative politics, right into oblivion.
For this reason, it is easy to see why many on the so-called New Right are loath to take on the neocons. They have a lot of money and they lack a soul. They will say the nastiest things about anyone who crosses them. Taking on a well-heeled collection of sociopaths with institutional power is dangerous. The trouble is, there is no air for a “new right” until the Right is purged of this pestilence. Neoconservatism has to be read out of politics in general, not just right-wing politics.
There are plenty of easy targets in the neocon space. Thirty years ago, neoconservatism was run by smart and clever men. Today it is populated with cranks and crazies who are easy to mock. More important, their schemes have resulted in an evolving economic and political disaster. Pinning the economic war against Russia on the neocons is easy money. The New Right would be wise to borrow a trick from Saul Alinsky and make the neocons own the Ukraine disaster.
Of course, this comes to the other elephant in the room. Conservatism is a business and the neocons have a near lock on the flow of money. They control the billion-dollar think tank racket. They control access to big donors. The reason that First Things continues to publish a nut job like George Weigel is money. His war mongering lunacy and bigotry is out of step with the site, but institutional conservatism likes him so he is tolerated in order to avoid offending the money men.
The golden rule says that the man with the gold makes the rules and that is the problem that any alternative to institutional conservatism faces. Either it accepts poverty as the price for political commitment or it builds a parallel funding mechanism. Whether or not the New Right understands this is unclear. The only way to achieve the latter is to take Alinsky’s advice and focus on the problem, personalize it and then polarize it, forcing people to pick sides, thus neutralizing it.
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