A Typology of the New Right
The glue that holds together this disparate movement is the hatred of the left
Shutterstock. Photo ContributorDiy13.
The conservative movement as we knew it pre-Trump arose in the heyday of the Cold War when the threat of Soviet communism loomed large in the American political consciousness. The movement was famously described by Ronald Reagan as a three-legged stool with each leg representing a different faction, to wit: religious/social conservatives, foreign policy hawks and fiscal conservatives/libertarians.
It has always been obvious that there was a lot of inner tension between these three factions that needed to be assiduously ignored to prevent the movement from collapsing. Libertarians, for example, had little in common with social conservatives and vice versa. Meanwhile, neo-conservatives’ internationalism clashed with Pat Buchanan-style paleo-isolationism. And the libertarian commitment to laissez faire economics—opposition to state interventionism in the economy or using economic policy as a tool to advance foreign policy objectives—was a problem for both paleos and neos.
What kept the stool together, however, was the fear of an external leftist enemy that each side feared for its own unique reasons. This is not to deny that there was also some genuine common ground between them. Indeed, to the extent that they all took America’s founding project seriously, none of these factions were fundamentally illiberal—or whatever streak of illiberalism they might have had was kept in check by the competing commitment to this project.
Trump’s arrival changed all that. The new right, which started taking shape even before Trump, is in a different mood altogether. Its unifying force is not the leftist enemy abroad, but the leftist enemy within. And it doesn’t just fear this enemy, it hates it. Indeed, the new right’s dislike of the domestic left is so great that it is rethinking America’s historic foreign policy commitments in light of it. If you have been puzzled by the post-Trump right’s love fest with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin despite his invasion of the liberal democratic and pro-West Ukraine, it is because Putin has declared himself the enemy of the woke left that he claims is destroying Western civilization of which he is now the self-avowed champion.
In contrast to the previous one, this has four identifiable factions. It is, if you like, more a table than a stool. But not, for all that, more stable because the four legs are uneven. In fact, were it not for the various factions’ joint hatred of their common leftist enemy, there would be less to keep the coalition standing than with the previous conservative movement.
I would label the four factions as follows: Flight 93ers, the Integralists, National Conservatives and Red-Pilled Anarcho Bros. It has become fashionable to club them all together under the term post-liberal right because they all oppose liberalism—but this is misleading because they oppose it in different ways. The Flight 93ers, for example, consider themselves the true liberals, in contrast to the left. The Integralists are really pre-liberals. The other two—NatCons and the redpillers— might more legitimately be considered post-liberals— given that they want to replace liberalism with some order that has not existed previously.
This faction is named after the infamous Flight 93 essay that Michael Anton wrote in the Claremont Review of Books under the pseudonym of Publius shortly after Trump landed the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Claremont Review is the premier publication of the Claremont Institute, the flagship of the West Coast Straussian school of political philosophy. In contrast to East Coast Straussians, many of whom broke away from Trump, the Claremonsters, as they had long been called, went the other way. They weren’t without qualms about Trump but still submitted to him enthusiastically. Anton’s Flight 93 essay played an important role in convincing the Claremont Institute and the broader conservative establishment, at a time that it was still in shock over Trump’s primary win, that it needs to abandon its squeamishness and rally around him. Four years later when Trump launched his Big Lie, the Claremonsters supplied him with not just bogus arguments to justify his claims but also the notorious John Eastman, the legal brains behind the scheme to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject Biden state electors so that they could be subsequently switched with Trump state electors.
To understand how odd these machinations were, consider that Claremont Straussians have long regarded the American Constitution as a sacred document, a crowning accomplishment of humanity that managed to combine both the concern for virtue characteristic of the ancient thinkers like Plato and Aristotle and the emphasis on liberty and prosperity found among modern Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, David Hume and others. Just like their leader and founder, the late Harry Jaffa, they consider America’s Founding Fathers as gods among men. They also worship Abraham Lincoln whose statesmanship abolished slavery—and fully delivered on the Constitution’s promise of liberty for all—while keeping the Union intact.
So how did Lincoln lovers end up embracing Trump?
It is unclear, actually, if Jaffa, a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater, would have ever gone along with his institution’s pro-Trump turn; his son insists that he would not have. But his Claremont heirs’ annoyance with what they see as the anti-Americanism of the progressive left has grown into a burning rage over the years. They consider the left’s depiction of America as a racist, sexist, and homophobic country—despite the heroic efforts that have been made to abolish slavery and Jim Crow—as intolerable blasphemy. They have always seen the left’s demands for special privileges for minorities and women as a perversion of the constitution’s promise of equal rights. Then, on top of this, when the leftist elites who control the media, academia, the government bureaucracy, Hollywood and other commanding heights of the culture use their power not just to press their anti-American agenda but, in their woke arrogance, silence objectors like them through a regime of censorship, political correctness and cancellation, they are incensed. Denying the left control of the state, arguably the last remaining bastion of power, became a paramount concern for them.
Whatever Trump’s character and other flaws, they paled in comparison to his big virtue, namely, his unapologetic and no-holds-barred willingness to take on the left and obliterate it. So letting him charge the cockpit as the passengers of that ill-fated 9/11 plane did and take control of the plane from a Hillary or a Biden was all that mattered. Sure, Trump might run the country into the ground but from its rubble a true liberalism could once again emerge.
What distinguishes Claremonsters from the other factions of the new right is that they alone see themselves not as anti-liberals but adherents of the true liberalism. The illiberal subversion of elections to install a strongman like Trump, in their book, is a temporary measure to crush the left and return America to a true, originalist commitment to individual liberty and limited government.
Defending any kind of liberalism is emphatically not the integralist project, however. Whereas Claremonsters see progressive leftism—its attacks on institutions of ordered liberty such as the family, churches and schools—as a perversion of liberalism, integralists see it as a natural outgrowth of the political individualism enshrined in the Constitution.
So whereas the Claremonsters eventually want to restore limited government, integralists have no such plans. If Patrick Deneen, a professor at University of Notre Dame and a leading integralist, is to be believed, the source of America’s current travails, its communal and moral breakdown, lies in the Declaration of Independence itself. In it, Jefferson officially renounced the goal of a single “telos” or political end for the country and granted each individual the “liberty” to pursue his or her own happiness in their own way. This meant untethering individuals from communal and religious moral constraints to launch their own “experiments in living”—to use the language of John Stuart Mill—and find their own bliss. Nothing irritates them more than Justice Anthony Kennedy’s famous quote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992): “At the heart of liberty, is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” As far as they are concerned, one can draw a direct through line between this kind of thinking and the rise of sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion and radical demands for gender self-authorship of the woke movement. And like the other three factions, integralists hate the progressive elite that advances and defends transgender surgeries and multiple pronouns.
Integralists are all Catholic and integralism is a very old doctrine that authorizes the state to promote the earthly common good as ordained by God. In pre-18th Century Catholic Europe, it meant the state would act to ensure that the faithful baptized their children—and came down hard against heretics and apostates. Just as in Islamic sharia states currently, Biblical tenets were the basis of civil law then.
Of course, Catholics are a minority in America and so Catholic Europe can’t really be a model for this country. But the integralists do aspire to a return to some kind of a pan-Christian confessional state that uses its muscle to ban abortion, gay marriage and other progressive aims and that allows preferential expression of Christianity in the public square. Other religions wouldn’t be prohibited but they would not enjoy state support. Their role model in this is Hungary’s Viktor Orban who is taking affirmative steps to restore Christian domination in his country by barring Muslim immigration and embracing natalist policies to encourage Christians to have more babies and boost their demographic footprint.
If integralists could turn back the clock to some halcyon period in America, it would be 17th and 18th Century Puritan New England where a thick and unified community used a muscular government to impose widely shared religious norms or understanding of the common good. Deneen, along with his fellow integralists Gladen Pappin and Adrian Vermeule, has started a Substack publication called The Postliberal Order to develop their integralist critique of modernity and liberalism. But for the sake of truth in advertising, they should have called it the Pre-Liberal Order given that what they are really hankering for is pre-modern 18th Century Puritan New England (the closest thing in America to Catholic Europe).
(To understand the nuttiness of these Catholic intellectuals using bad boy Trump, the very embodiment of the ruggedly atomistic spirit of Appalachian “backcountry” Scottish-Irish settlers, to return America to a communal New England Puritan Protestant order, read this fascinating account by Tanner Greer, “The Problem of the New Right.”)
NatCons have become a kind of umbrella organization under which all the other anti-liberal ideologies have coalesced. It started off as a global ideological movement entertaining a wide variety of critiques of liberalism but in America it has morphed into something of a MAGA organ, workshopping an anti-immigration, anti-market, and anti-woke agenda. Specifically, American NatCons want to break up tech companies, defund the left, impose trade barriers, build a border wall, increase the size of the child tax credit and put God back in schools.
In their third annual convention held in Miami in September, they had speakers uttering sentences like: "Wokeism is not a fever that will pass but a cancer that must be eradicated." Their dream is to elect a contingent of Republicans who are committed to using state power to, as Hillsdale College's David Azerrad, declared, “defund and humiliate the institutional centers of power of the left...and reward friends and punish enemies."
National Conservatives held their first conference five years ago. If one is going to pick one figure and one moment that launched this movement it would be Israeli political theorist Yoram Hazony with his 2018 book The Virtue of Nationalism. Its central aim is to discredit liberal internationalism and make the moral case for nationalism.
His rap against liberalism is that it is a fundamentally imperialistic ideology because it claims to be founded on universally applicable political doctrines. That, he says, leads to a crusading moral universalism that denies the validity of alternative principles of national self-determination based on local, cultural commitments. Liberalism judges every polity by whether it respects individual rights and allows religious pluralism. That bars the state from using its power to protect indigenous ways and customs. Instead of nurturing citizens of a nation with strong local blood, soil and cultural attachments, liberalism encourages individuals to see themselves as citizens of the world. Cosmopolitanism is a dirty word for him—as it had become for many on the MAGA right. Ironically, Hazony’s critique of liberalism is a warmed over version of the anti-globalization left’s slams against capitalism which, it alleged, obliterated local ways and homogenized every country in the image of the West.
Hazony does not reject liberalism out of hand. He thinks it might be suitable when local conditions warrant—for example in a naturally diverse and multicultural community. But in Hazony’s post-liberal world, liberalism is merely one legitimate possibility among many. When a dominant majority exists, it should be allowed free rein to determine its destiny. It can choose a religious, linguistic, ethnic or cultural principle around which to order itself depending on the self-understanding of the majority. So if India’s dominant Hindu population chooses to jettison its liberal commitments and become an explicitly Hindu nation, that is fine. Also kosher is America declaring itself a Christian country with English as its only official language—as is Israel remaining a Jewish nation without pressure to accord equal rights to non-Jews. Hazony says that in such regimes, minorities wouldn’t be persecuted. They would be tolerated—but not awarded equal rights. In other words, they’d have to accept their second-class status.
Hazony’s project is to create the moral space for a variety of nationalisms in which nation-states are allowed to organize themselves around the dominant will. And he dismisses as “elitist” liberals who insist that the rights of minorities and immigrants be respected in a polity. His streak of populism is pretty evident.
Red-Pilled Anarcho Bros
If Hazony is the godfather of the NatCon movement, then a long-haired dude called Curtis Guy Yarvin— who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug—is the godfather of this movement. He was a math prodigy growing up, embarked on his PhD in computer science at a young age but dropped out. While working in Silicon Valley, he started writing a blog called Unqualified Reservations under his pseudonym in 2007, so fully eight years before Trump’s arrival.* He had a regular upbringing by secular liberal parents—his father had Jewish roots and his mother was a Westchester WASP. Many of the terms and concepts that gained popularity in the alt-right and then entered the political bloodstream along with Trump were coined by him.
Yarvin believes that a complex of progressive elite institutions—the press, academia and the federal bureaucracy or the Deep State—run the country and exercise control more totalitarian than authoritarian China—a country that he admires precisely because it is so openly authoritarian in contrast to liberal states that mask their true intentions behind mind-numbing pieties. He calls this complex of institutions “The Cathedral” and he believes that their ideology permeates everyone and everything. Just like the computer-generated dream world in the movie Matrix, the power of The Cathedral is invisible because it is ubiquitous; it controls the psyche by penetrating it. And like in Matrix, those who are willing to swallow a bitter “red pill” can see the unsettling reality that The Cathedral is trying to keep hidden from them.
The Cathedral is his sinister, pop version of Plato’s cave, but what is this deep dark truth that one discovers after being red pilled? That progressive elites use the language of equality and justice to give special privileges to women and minorities to keep themselves in business while robbing men, especially white men, of even the vocabulary to protest their loss of freedom or the unfairness they are forced to endure. It’s all an elaborate ruse to keep the truly good subservient to a false progressive ideology. Mencius Moldbug believes that democracy and freedom are inherently at odds because democracy is based on notions of equality—while freedom would lead to the emergence of natural hierarchies based on physical and mental strength. Democracy, with all its talk of equality of individuals and equal rights, is a leveling force designed specifically to subjugate the masculine and the meritorious. Instead of valorizing their strength and virtue, democracy renders such people—aka men—impotent and defenseless, forcing them to submit to the utter mediocrity of The Cathedral. Nothing incenses the Tech Bros more than the spectacle of Senate geriatrics that get not the first thing about digital technology raking, say, Mark Zuckerberg over the coals on camera at a Congressional hearing. (Not that Zuckerberg is their big hero; that distinction would go to Elon Musk.)
Mencius Moldbug, who has made an hour-long appearance on Tucker Carlson, has had a deep influence on Peter Thiel and was even rumored to have a line to Steve Bannon, wants to tear down the whole liberal edifice and replace it with a techno-state in which corporations run the country like their private holding. In other words, he wants a kind of Dutch East India Company on steroids. So if, under fascism, the state directs private industry toward its ends, in the Moldbug world private industry directs the state towards its goals.
Moldbug was deeply influenced by Hans-Herman Hoppe, who subscribes to a perverted version of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. This would be comical if it were not so dangerous given that key figures of this school like Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek (who has been a deep intellectual influence on me) are among the most eloquent defenders of liberalism—and ardent opponents of authoritarianism, having witnessed the rise of the twin evils of communism and fascism.
Moldbug is an autodidact. But a crop of anarcho bros that popped up in his wake have had formal training in political philosophy from top schools around the country. Damon Linker athas written extensively about some of them, but the most prominent perhaps is Yale PhD Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) who has developed a huge following among young, white men of the reactionary bent. Just like Moldbug, BAP’s animus is directed at those whom he calls “bugmen”—reminiscent of Nietzsche’s last men—because they are filled with ressentiment against those who are more beautiful, powerful and stronger than them and therefore want to tear them down. In a calculated bid to provoke fear against the left, BAP has gone so far as to compare the anti-male and anti-white rhetoric of the new left to the “extermination”-level anti-Tutsi propaganda that the shorter, phenotypically African Hutus in Rwanda deployed before massacring the more European-featured, taller Tutsis (never mind that the extermination of the Tutsis was possible only because they were a reviled minority in an illiberal state that did not offer them protections from the depredations of the Hutu majority, precisely the kind of polity that BAP disses.)
If integralists have a problem with liberal secularism, the anarcho bros are upset with liberalism’s democratic egalitarianism. They don’t have a beef with religious pluralism like the intergralists—or even gays (Thiel, their fan and benefactor, is gay, after all!). They have an obsession with biology and natural differences and are far more concerned with feminist—and to a lesser extent, racial—demands for equality. They are at core Neitzcheans who believe that a good society is one that is ruled by the principle of meritocracy in all its forms—not equality, a creed for losers.
For them, as some of their other New Right partners, liberalism is a degraded and degrading system that empowers the wrong people.
* The innumeracy in the original sentence has been fixed!
My impression is that much of the "new right" in it's glorification of masculinity, hard line Christianity, Donald Trump, and "the triumph of the will, and support of the January 6th insurrection, is inevitably heading for Fascism. Evidence is the deadly increase in mass murders in the U.S., which are inspired by right-wing rhetoric, and the creeping introduction of anti-semitism, white supremacist memes, such as "the great replacement theory", Trump's embrace of fascist militias, the wholesale acceptance of Trump's stolen election lie by the Republican party, and the list goes on. The thing about fascism is that violence, intimidation, and the spreading of conspiracy theories tend to crowd out the liberal order in favour of more violence, civil war and eventually Gotterdammerung. As for any kind of libertarianism, including Hayek, global warming, increasing inequality and the destructive populism that feeds on it, and the great biodiversity crisis have decisively refuted that train of thought. You don't have to be a Marxist to realize that letting capitalists do their thing without regulating them is driving humanity off a cliff.
Very well said. There is much to admire about each of these factions.