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The Four-Legged Unstable Table of the New Right: An Interview With Shikha Dalmia
Exploring an American right that went from striving to uphold to yearning to topple
Last month, The UnPopulist’s founder and editor, Shikha Dalmia, was interviewed for a podcast by Josh Lewis of Saving Elephants: Re-Igniting Conservatism for Millennials, a website dedicated to restoring a pre-Trumpian idea of American conservatism. Their subject was populism and the new right, and the resulting discussion can be heard on the Saving Elephants platform.
A particular focus of the interview was Dalmia’s ground-breaking UnPopulist essay “A Typology of the New Right.” Dalmia and Lewis’ resulting exploration of the topic proved to be a rich and memorable discussion that further distinguished the four major factions of the new right—"the four legs of the new right table”—in relation to each other, traditional conservatism and classical liberalism.
An excerpt from that wide-ranging interview is transcribed below. The text has been slightly condensed and lightly edited for flow and clarity.
Josh Lewis: You have written an article for The UnPopulist titled “A Typology of the New Right.” You start off by acknowledging Ronald Reagan’s famous “three-legged stool.”
There were some others who used the three-legged stool analogy. George Nash in his excellent book The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 identified the three groups, or loose coalitions: a fusionism of the anti-communists (who are not as prominent today, for obvious reasons), the libertarians and the traditionalist conservatives.
Nash’s initial edition was written up to the 1970s. With Reagan, these three came together. We can have endless arguments over whether this was just a political coalition or there was some more fundamental philosophical alliance. That’s a conversation for another day.
Now in your article, you talk about the “new right.” You’re trying to help us sort out this movement by coming up with new categories for these new, varying groups. You have four of them. I’ll just mention the titles: the Flight 93ers, the Integralists, the National Conservatives, and the Red-Pilled Anarcho Bros. [Laughter.] I like that last one.
I’m wondering if—it’s a clunky question—but could we just one by one go through the four and explain them for the benefit of the listener? Then we’ll tease this out. What individuals best represent, or are most emblematic of, these various factions?
Shikha Dalmia: You mentioned Reagan’s three-legged stool analogy. As you said, it was conservatism as we knew it, pre-Trump, a movement that arose in the heyday of the Cold War. These three factions, which were the neoconservatives, who were internationalists; libertarians, who were pro-market; and religious traditionalists, who were opposed to the godlessness of communism—they all came together to fight communism.
There were many, many internal disagreements between the three of them, but they were united against this external communist foe. That was their uniting glue.
Now, that old fusion has completely disintegrated thanks to Trump. That doesn’t exist. The neoconservatives—
Josh: He hasn’t. I’m still here. It hasn’t completely disintegrated, but I agree with you. It’s no longer the force it used to be. [Laughs.]
Shikha: You and three other people.
Josh: I know. I’m one of the last holdouts. [Laughs.]
Shikha: Right. Turn off the lights when you leave the room.
Josh: Yes, exactly.
Shikha: But like Bill Kristol, who was a real partisan soldier even in the Newt Gingrich revolution against Bill Clinton: He’s now in the “Never Trump” faction. He was a neoconservative.
In that sense, Trump came, and he was this gale-force wind. He just toppled this three-legged stool. What I’m saying is, in his stead, nothing really has yet come together, but you can see the contours of what I’m calling a “four-legged table.”
This table is very wobbly, because the four legs are not even, but they have a uniting glue. Just like the old right, the neo-right does too. The old right was against communists, against the external enemy. The neo-right is against the internal leftist enemy. They are motivated against progressivism for various different reasons.
Josh: Do you think it’s fair—and I’m sorry to interrupt, but this thought just occurred to me. I agree with you that the old right was organized against Marxism. But if you read the old conservative founders, the other thing they seemed to suggest was, even in a loose sense, they also had a common veneration of the Founders.
Josh: They’re against this, and they’re for that, whereas it strikes me that the new right doesn’t necessarily equally share that idea.
Shikha: No, you’re right. I think the old conservative movement was still broadly classical liberal—I consider myself a classical liberal—and they took their inspiration from America’s founding. They basically bought the case for liberty and equality before the law and what have you. Bill Buckley was against the Civil Rights Act (that’s another story), but still, he broadly appreciated the American founding and the Declaration of Independence.
That is not the case with neo-right. The neo-right is not classical liberal, and that’s why, in my view, it is so dangerous.
Now, one of the contentions of my piece on the typology of the new right was that it calls itself “post-liberal” as if they have some better system beyond liberalism that they are all cohering around. But actually, that’s not the case. They have a very different relationship to classical liberalism.
The Flight 93ers. Let’s take the first group. Who launched this group? Well, the guy who launched it said 2016 was “the Flight 93 Election.” His name is Mike Anton. He wrote for the Claremont Review of Books this very famous essay. It was written under a pseudonym, “Publius.”
His contention essentially was that the commanding heights of American culture and its institutions have been completely seized by the left. The academy and the entertainment industry, the large newspapers, The New York Times, mainstream media—they have all been seized by the left, which is imposing its will on us.
Now, this is a momentous election. We are at a point of crisis, and either we do something—take over, seize the reins of power, and move America (using the analogy of the plane) in a different, right-wing direction—or we are just going to be lost forever. Everything that the right has been fighting for is going to be gone forever if Hillary Clinton wins.
He acknowledges some of the problems with Trump, but still, he says, Trump is better than the alternative—he’s way better. That was like the negative side of what Anton said. The positive side he saw was, actually, the MAGA agenda, the America First agenda. The anti-immigration, anti-trade agenda did actually resonate with Anton.
The weird thing about Anton was that he wrote for the Claremont Review of Books. Claremont Review of Books was founded by West Coast Straussians—you know all this. You’ve covered all this on your podcast many times. And who was the founder of the West Coast Straussian school of thought? It was Harry Jaffa.
Josh: Yes, Harry Jaffa.
Shikha: Harry Jaffa was a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater, who had said that extremism in the service of liberty is no vice. Harry Jaffa was a huge, huge fan of Abraham Lincoln, and he was a fan of Abraham Lincoln because he felt that Abraham Lincoln had delivered on the promise of equality in the Declaration of Independence while keeping the Union intact.
So Lincoln is a great statesman and the Declaration of Independence is a sacred document for Harry Jaffa. He thinks the declaration combines the Greek emphasis on virtue with the classical emphasis on liberty. He thinks it’s, like, the perfection of politics. It’s the ideal system.
Then the same Claremont Review of Books, heir of Harry Jaffa, throws in its lot with Donald Trump. How does that happen? It’s a real startling development.
The reason is that it became so preoccupied with the leftist enemy. It felt like the only way to return America to the original understanding of the Declaration of Independence was by giving the reins to Donald Trump, but still, what they do want to do is return America to that original founding understanding—in their view, a purer understanding of classical liberalism. You can agree or disagree with that, but at least they understand a certain classical liberalism.
Now, of course, Claremont Review then went on to give a lot of aid and succor to legal scholar John Eastman to help him steal the 2020 presidential election, to form the zany constitutional theories he came up with to justify overturning the election. It’s all really, really startling stuff. You don’t expect it from the Claremont Review, but they’re doing it in the service of returning to an original understanding of America. That is not the case with the next school.
Josh: Thank you for that definition. Let me interject between here and the next group. I want to play devil’s advocate with you for a moment. This is not a view I share. This is not an argument I would share.
I’m just wondering if this is maybe how an individual who has a West Coast Straussian outlook, who sees themselves as a disciple of Jaffa, would justify in their minds their turn to Trump. I’m just wondering here. One could argue that in effect, what Abraham Lincoln did—if you take away the Civil War—would’ve been authoritarian, if not near totalitarian, right? [Chuckles.] He did a lot of things that in ordinary times would’ve been downright evil—certainly not constitutional.
I wonder if there was a sense in which the Jaffaites, the West Coast Straussians, those who fashioned themselves in the mold of Lincoln, would put similar—take Michael Anton’s Flight 93 Election, the planes going down, this is our last shot. If you’re of that mindset, could you justify doing things that in ordinary times would be wrong because it’s the only way we save the republic?
Shikha: I think that is how Michael Anton justifies it, right? He catastrophizes so much in this Flight 93 article. I’ve got a quote somewhere over here where he says, “A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.” It’s like this catastrophizing that he does; they do think it’s a crisis, and in an emergency, anything is justified.
Look at what we did during COVID. It was a pandemic; it was an emergency. Many of the usual rules of liberalism and liberal democracy have to be rethought in an emergency, and that’s one explanation. But that doesn’t make any sense to me because I don’t understand how you can build up the danger of the other side to the extent that they did. It just doesn’t make much sense to me.
Josh: Again, to be clear, I don’t buy the argument. I’m just wondering if that is the argument.
Shikha: Look, Lincoln was demolishing slavery, which was a genuinely brutal system, and the Southern states were ready to secede from the Union in order to keep slavery alive. Are we in any way, shape or form in that situation? It doesn’t pass the laugh test as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve heard another explanation for why the “Claremonsters,” as they are called, went so wrong [laughter], and the reason is that Jaffa actually was very serious about virtue. He was a moralist. The libertine turn in the country, drag queen story hours, gay rights—Jaffa was opposed to gay rights and gay marriage quite vehemently. He was a cultural conservative and like a virtue boy in that sense.
There is that virtue strain in the Claremonsters. They see the country going against certain traditional—they’re not religious, but they are traditionalists—so they see the country, thanks to the progressive left, moving in this libertine direction and at the same time taking away from them, disarming them, of even the basic vocabulary to resist this, right?
Because the minute you start opposing gay rights, you are called homophobic. If you’re against critical race theory, well, then you’re a racist. They were so fed up with that that they felt like, “Look, we can’t defend ourselves. The left is on this path. We can’t stop it till we do something really extreme and radical.” To me, that’s a more plausible explanation for why they went bad.
Josh: Sure. Thank you for that. I interrupted after Flight 93. You were about to say the next group does not, in fact, cherish the founding; it is not trying to reestablish those democratic liberal principles.
Shikha: Right. Yes. This is why this is such a weird kind of a coalition, the Flight 93 with the “Integralists.” Now, the Integralists are essentially represented by Catholic intellectuals, and they are very deeply philosophical and very smart people: Patrick Deneen, Gladden Pappin and Adrian Vermeule. Their main problem with America is not that it’s not living up to its founding commitments; the founding commitments are the problem.
Josh: Yes. [Laughter.]
Shikha: They think that the reason America is going so libertine, in this libertine direction—that’s what they share with the Flight 93ers, I suppose, focusing on this progressive, gender, race, sexual liberation kind of thing—they feel that this is baked into the Declaration of Independence, that Thomas Jefferson’s charge that every individual has the right to pursue their own happiness is what has led to our current breakdown of community. Everybody is launching an “experiment of living,” per John Stuart Mill. There is no cultural capital left to rein in individuals.
You can watch pornography if you want to, you can be promiscuous if you want to. Women now have multiple sex partners, and all of this to them stems directly from the Declaration of Independence and its radical individualism. What they want to do is return America not to 1776, but to when the Puritans first came here, to the 1650s. Their ideal time in America, if there is a halcyon period in America, is when the Puritans set up their colony in Massachusetts.
It was a communitarian system. It was a thickly knit community. And the community was, in this romantic notion, like going back to this pre-modern past when you had self-contained communities that were shielded from external influences, and they could maintain their norms.
Josh: Pre-Enlightenment, it sounds like.
Shikha: Well, it’s definitely pre-Enlightenment. That means 1650. The Enlightenment, John Locke, came a little bit later. Well, John Locke is late 1600s to early 1700s. They have a huge problem with Locke. They have a huge problem with all the Enlightenment thinkers. They are not just opposed to the Enlightenment; they are opposed to modernity, which is the product of the Enlightenment.
Josh: Got you.
Shikha: They want to return America to a pre-modern time when it had thickly knit communities. A community had its norms, which were commonly agreed upon, and they were enforced. They might be oppressively enforced, but they prevented individuals from going astray. That’s their project: to return to that time. They believe that America didn’t go wrong sooner—that we did this for 250 years and lasted that long—because America was drawing on its pre-liberal cultural capital, all the cultural capital that had been formed in the 200 years, or the 100 years, before the founding.
It’s been drawing on that till this experiment of living, like, took on a life of its own, and now you have social breakdown. Now you have fragmentation of communities. You have atomized individuals who are turning to pornography for a certain kind of comfort and solace, because they don’t have sexual partners, because there’s been just a complete breakdown of community. They want to take America back to that time.
The separation of church and state for them is anathema. They don’t believe in America’s—what was actually called the “first freedom,” which is religious freedom. They believe that the state should be able to enforce certain kinds of religious norms, so they believe in a confessional state. The weird thing is that Catholics are, of course, a minority in America, and Integralists are a minority within Catholicism. It’s like a weird project, but that’s what they want to do: take America back to that time.
Josh: If I borrow your analogy of a four-legged table, it strikes me that this is probably the shortest leg of the table. [Laughter.] I had some Catholics on this show and just asked them, “How big a movement is this?” Honestly, unless you’re deeply entrenched in politics—most of my Catholic friends have never even heard of Catholic Integralism. This is an entire conversation for another day with another guest, so I’m not trying to pull us down this rabbit hole, but I will say, I have profited by reading the works of the Integralists.
As you mentioned, they’re very intelligent, and I think they have some very powerful critiques, but I also strongly disagree with a lot of their conclusions. My main takeaway from it is not, “Is their argument valid?” It’s, “Why on earth would we ever think we’d get to Catholic Integralists’ realizing their utopic dream in the United States when they’re a minority within a minority?
Shikha: Yes. Actually, you should read Adrian Vermeule on that. He’s got a plan.
Josh: Admittedly, I haven’t read him yet, so I’ll get to him next.
Shikha: Yes. You should read William Galston’s very succinct and relatively short essay at Persuasion, where he describes who the Integralists are and how they plan to enact their agenda. Here’s the weird thing. One of the big problems that the right-wing populists have with our current system is the deep state. We’ll get to this in our fourth group. But actually, Vermeule thinks that a strong bureaucracy is their friend.
He wants something called “common good constitutionalism.” The idea is that everybody’s lives are not organized around a single telos. We need a common end for society, we need a common goal for society. What you do is you put, not necessarily Catholics, but those who share a certain understanding of what society ought to look like in high positions. You take over the Supreme Court (he himself is a constitutional law scholar). You take over the presidency, and Trump will probably do, because he will give them what Vermeule wants. Then you take over the deep state, and you put your allies there, and they make rule changes.
You turn the ship not by convincing the public, not by convincing the masses, but just by controlling the levers of power. He’s got a worked-out method for all of this.
Josh: Sure. It’s funny, because it strikes me that that sounds like the polar opposite of populism. Here are the elites trying to take over the masses, rather than the masses trying to take over the elites.
Shikha: Right. He thinks that what he wants will have a lot of resonance with ordinary Americans. He believes that ordinary Americans, and especially working-class Americans, are economically liberal but socially conservative. They are not going along with this radical agenda of gay rights and transgender rights and proliferating pronouns and what have you. He thinks there is a revolt brewing among the common people against that, and that this can be mobilized to some extent.
Josh: Sure. So if I say the Integralists are the shortest leg of the table, I’m wondering if the next group, the “National Conservatives”—and maybe the 93ers, I don’t know—but the National Conservatives may be the longest leg. This is one wobbly table, by the way. [Laughter.] Tell me about the National Conservatives.
Shikha: The National Conservatives are in some ways an umbrella group under which all these various groups are coalescing. But, by the way, there is tension between the Integralists and other members of the National Conservatives.
Josh: Yes, I think that if I’m not mistaken, the NatCons in their conference last year kicked out the Integralists.
Shikha: Yes. I think Sohrab Ahmari had a difficulty with them, and I think he was kicked out—one of them, Patrick Deneen or Ahmari, one of them was kicked out. Well, we’ll come to that in a second.
If there is a godfather of this movement, it’s Yoram Hazony, who is an Israeli political theorist, and he wrote a book called The Virtue of Nationalism. Just as the Integralists are against liberal democracy—the very idea of liberal democracy galls them—it’s the same with Yoram Hazony. He doesn’t like liberalism because it’s based on a certain universalistic understanding of human nature.
Locke had this idea that we have a human nature, and he tried to derive his principles for equality from this understanding of human nature: that people need freedom, they need to mix their labor with material and own it, property rights, the separation of church and state—all of that comes from Locke. Because Locke thinks that human nature is universal, he thinks liberal ideas are universal.
To Hazony, this smacks of imperialism. He sees liberalism as an imperialistic doctrine. In his view, it’s not a coincidence that America, George W. Bush, decided he was going to evangelize liberalism at gunpoint in the Iraq war, where Bush wanted to topple an authoritarian regime and replace it with a liberal democratic regime.
Hazony thinks it’s baked into the liberal cake. His contention is that this liberal hegemony should be done away with, and what you need to do is allow different countries to come up with their own principles around which to set up a polity.
Ethno-nationalism, as far as he’s concerned, is just fine. If India, which is a majority Hindu country, wants to declare itself not a liberal democracy but a Hindu country, well, that’s fine. He thinks that’s the dominant majority’s will, and the dominant majority ought to be able to have its way to preserve its customs, its ways and what have you.
Josh: Just to clarify: He’s saying, “I don’t have a problem with liberalism as an organizing national force. I just don’t think it’s the only one that’s legitimate.”
Shikha: That’s right. He says that liberalism would be fine if you had a very diverse country where there were a multiplicity of languages, a multiplicity of religions and a multiplicity of customs and cultures and clans, and the only way to accommodate it was a liberal democracy. That’s fine.
If there is a coherent principle like “France is united by the French language,” so the French want to make French the official language and use the state to require everyone to learn French and not learn any other language, well, then that’s their right. If Israel wants to be a Jewish ethno-state, that’s fine.
Now, what do you do about minorities in these countries? Do you just throw them out? He says that minorities wouldn’t be persecuted, which means you don’t kill them, but they would have to accept their second-class status. If that’s the case, then these countries should not be considered morally unworthy, which is what liberalism does, right? If you don’t defend human rights, if you don’t defend the equal rights of all the people in a polity, well, liberalism judges you morally.
It’s the moral judgment that makes him chafe. In a sense, he accepts liberalism, but only as one among a whole multiplicity of political principles. I don’t know if you would call him more or less radical than the Integralists, but it’s pretty radical to reject that there is even a common way that you can judge various qualities. It’s a pretty radical proposition.
Josh: Yes. It’s interesting you’re saying that Yoram Hazony is the archetype, or is emblematic, of this. I think you would agree with this: National conservatism is such a big tent that it would probably be unfair or impossible to label any one individual as truly emblematic of it in the same way as, say, Patrick Deneen or Michael Anton could be emblematic of Flight 93ers or Integralists. I’m thinking here of Nate Hochman, who’s been on the podcast quite a while back. I think it’d probably be fair to say he’s a NatCon.
Now, he’s very intelligent, he’s a very thoughtful person. I think he had interned with National Review, with The Dispatch. He is very familiar with say the Buckley fusionist camp, and he inhabits both camps in a sense.
It’s interesting because when I think of this national conservatism, here again, I have some sympathies. Now, I feel like I’m mostly not only in disagreement, but even dare I say enmity, oftentimes, with what they’re trying to do. But I do recognize if you read the old founders, Willmoore Kendall straight up said conservatives are the anti-Lockeans. We’re anti-universal principles.
Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk were very clear that we were against abstractions of liberty—well, natural rights. There we go. Just as a universal Lockean principle. Now it’s complicated because some could argue that Burke was pro-Locke. I think they desire to uphold maybe Lockean ends without Lockean means.
Shikha: Or without Rousseauvian means.
Josh: Yes. [Laughter.] Right. I’m not trying to overcomplicate this conversation. I think it’s fair to say if Burke and Kirk had to pick between Rousseau and Locke, they would’ve much preferred Locke’s interpretation, but I think it’s also fair to say they were both against drilling down politics to a kind of “state of nature,” universal principles. That being said, I don’t read Kendall or Burke or Kirk and conclude, “Okay, Yoram Hazony is right in alignment with these views.” Right?
Shikha: Well, it’s such a big and complicated question, Josh. But look, Locke was an Enlightenment figure because he was pushing against the oppression by Christianity, especially the church. The tension between the church and the countries that the church controlled had led to so much religious warfare between Protestants and Catholics in England. One side would come into power and kill the other. He was pushing against that. Locke was very much in favor of the separation of church and state. That is not something that I think Yoram Hazony agrees with.
Shikha: Burke. The weird thing is that Burke was very much in favor of separation of not just church and state, but the political and the religious realm.
Josh: And it needs to be said, Burke was very religious, but was also very clear—
Shikha: Clear. In fact, Burke went so far as to defend Islam, not because he liked some of the tenets of Islam, but Islam recognized the two different realms of politics and spiritual life. He felt that Islam was one of the first religions that separated the two. The political tyrant couldn’t come and tell people what they do ought to do in their daily religious life in a way that the church could. Burke, too, was very, very much in favor of at least some aspects of the Enlightenment.
I think his quarrel with liberalism may have been if it were too quickly spread, like George Bush tried to do—use war, just as the French Revolution was trying to use violence to spread egalitarianism. It’s that very radical reformism that he was opposed to. He was not opposed to kind of like an incremental spread of liberalism and some of the core tenets of liberalism.
I think Hazony goes much, much further than all of them, as best I can understand him. Hazony will deny it, but to me, he sounds like a relativist—that there is no external principle outside of whatever a polity decides to do to judge a polity. It is all relative to what society wants to do, and you simply cannot have an extramoral framework outside of the politics to judge that polity. To me, that sounds like relativism.
Josh: Yes. Burke was not a relativist. Now he was—maybe I’m just inventing this term—a circumstantialist.
Shikha: Right. That’s fair.
Josh: He refused to develop systematic general politics. He said everything had to be considered within the circumstance, but I think a clear reading of Burke would indicate he had deeper abiding principles, and if anything, I think you could clearly say he was anti-arbitrary power, while at the same recognizing the need to acknowledge the complexities of the political situation.
Shikha: Right. I think that’s a fair description of Burke. I’m trying to think if Hazony could try and pass himself off as a Burkean. Well, not really, because Burke, at least, didn’t deny that there were some external principles or standards that were worth trying to reach up to. Whereas Hazony denies that. He thinks ethno-nationalism is just as morally worthy as liberal democracy. It’s like any kind of nationalism, a religious nationalism of some kind—a theocracy, quasi-theocracy.
I guess he would have a floor of morality. For instance, if there was genocide or widespread persecution of minorities, he would set that as a minimal standard against which to set a regime. But short of that, if Muslims are relegated to be second-class citizens in India, so long as they are not thrown into concentration camps, he would say that’s acceptable. Something like that. There’s a standard that forms a floor, but there is no aspirational standard in Hazony. Everything goes after a very basic floor has been met.
Josh: Interesting. Well, obviously we could spend our entire conversation on any one of these four, but let’s hasten to the last of the groups, the “Red-Pilled Anarcho Bros.” Who is that group?
Shikha: It’s a very interesting group, and I think this is a group that stems from—actually is most clearly a reaction to—a certain kind of woke progressivism that we see, especially feminism. It is very male-dominated, and the reason I call it Red-Pilled Anarcho Bros, many of them are techno-geeks, and they are very, very well read in philosophy. The person who most represents them is this man called Mencius Moldbug. He is actually [laughs] Curtis Guy Yarvin. He was a math prodigy. He grew up in Westchester, New York. I think his father’s side had some Jewish heritage, and his mother was just sort of like a progressive WASP.
Mencius Moldbug, who actually started writing eight years before Trump ever arrived on the scene, had become enormously popular in certain male bro circles and had a cult following. He chafed against the progressive orthodoxy of political correctness. Feminism to him is just all wrong. All the alt-right tropes that you see in our pop vocabulary—the concept of being “red pilled,” the “deep state”—all of that actually comes from him. His basic contention was that the progressive orthodoxy has created this false world of right and wrong. He uses the metaphor of this movie The Matrix. If you’ve seen The Matrix, there’s a scene where Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves are sitting, and they live in this simulated reality, except that Laurence Fishburne knows it, but Keanu Reeves doesn’t.
Fishburne gives Keanu this option of having a red pill or a blue pill. If he has the blue pill, then he can live within the current reality and never really know what the truth is, or he can have the red pill and know what the truth is. And the truth that he wants is uncomfortable and discomforting. However, he has this possibility of knowing the truth. Reeves chooses the red pill and then starts to see the light.
Now, this is echoes of Plato’s Cave. That idea that we all live in this life of illusion—falsity, conventional wisdom, pieties that rule our life, but are not actually the truth. That’s the metaphor. It’s a pop version of Plato’s Cave.
What is this uncomfortable truth that is being hidden from us? It goes something like this: There is this complex of progressive elite institutions that run the country, and they form the deep state, and they exercise a control over our minds that is more totalitarian than China’s.
Mencius Moldbug is actually a fan of China’s authoritarianism because he thinks that they give it to you neat. There is no adulteration. It’s like clear that China is an authoritarian country, whereas the progressive elite, they are telling you that the liberal state is ruling in your interest when it is not. It’s telling you that you are free when you are not, because the minute you start challenging some of the orthodoxies of the progressive ideology, they shut you down. They cancel you. There’s a whole regime of political correctness that prevents you from thinking radical thoughts.
And some of the radical thoughts that he wants you to think are as follows: If we had true freedom, and if we had true liberty in this country, both economic and political, there would be a certain class of people that would rise to the top. There would be this hierarchy of the meritocracy, which would, in his view—and he sort of says this clearly, but sometimes not—which would venerate both male strength and male brilliance.
Feminism for him is an archenemy, because feminism’s claim is one of equality—that, “No, you are holding us down by your patriarchal rules and giving us this unequal treatment.” Mencius Moldbug believes that that is all a lie, that feminists don’t want true equality of opportunity, because in a true equality of opportunity, they would lose. The meritocratic principle would mean that the men would rise to the top. The beautiful would rise to the top, the strong would rise to the top, and women would be left behind. What women want is an equality of outcome, but they don’t want to admit that that’s what they want. They prevent you from even calling them out with this elaborate regime of political correctness. His view is that the only way to wake up from this is to smash the system.
He’s actually even weirder than that. All the other schools of thought, they at least want some kind of a state that the people control and that sets the rules of engagement for industry, for the economy, for culture. What he wants is something like an anarcho-state utopia, where private industry actually controls the state.
He’s a big fan of this renegade Austrian economist called Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who believed in radical freedom regardless of where it led. If it led to deep divisions, deep hierarchies, that was just fine. He thinks that in such a world, because private individuals who are truly meritorious would rise to the top, they should be the ones that are controlling the state in some way, shape or form. It’s like the Dutch East India company, but on steroids, where [laughter] the state answers to some other entity that is above the state, and that’s where he’s going with it.
There are many versions of this. There’s another guy called Bronze Age Pervert, who actually has a background amongst Straussians, very well-read political philosophers. He’s like this Nietzschean figure who thinks that we are being ruled by the Last Men, and that what we really need is the good and the strong to take over. There are echoes of all these very weird radical anarchist ideas in them.
Josh: I think of the four groups we’ve talked about, this is probably the one I’m the least familiar with in terms of actually digging into and reading. As you’re describing it, the group sounds, to me, like those I’m familiar with who are very online, probably very young, very intelligent, also—I don’t mean this as a pejorative, I don’t know how else to say it—of the four we’ve talked about, probably the craziest.
Shikha: Yes. Right.
Josh: What’s interesting, though, is as you’re describing this kind of an anti-feminist wave, that in my view is not necessarily to be confused with anti-woman. I’ve known some women who see this as a good thing: that the reassertion of, say, a masculine role, an alpha male role, and men taking their proper place will allow women to be in their proper place; that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a battle between the sexes, but that feminism itself is the problem. Again, I’m not necessarily taking the view. I’m simply saying that maybe it attracts men more, but I definitely know some women on the right [chuckles] who are very attracted to this for that reason.
Shikha: Oh, yes, sure. Look, if you believe that traditional gender roles are biologically ordained rather than environmentally produced, many women do believe that they would then see this as the natural order of things. That’s what the Anarcho Bros are for. They’re not anti-women in the sense that they don’t want to kill women. They want a natural order, and freedom is for sorting out what this natural order is. They have this very strong intuition that if society were to be run purely on principles of freedom, and if natural order were to emerge on its own, men would rule and women wouldn’t, because men are just inherently superior to women in many respects. It’s not like women have no areas of strength, but the areas of strength that make the world run? Those are all masculine.
Josh: I see.
Shikha: It’s not anti-women, but it is a certain superiority of the male that feminism tries to suppress. That’s what they are opposed to. If the Integralists are against the secularism of liberalism, the Anarcho Bros are against the democratic egalitarianism of liberalism. They have a problem with democracy because that is anti-freedom. Democracy means everybody can vote and pick who the rulers are, whereas they want the great people to rule, like Nietzsche and the Übermensch.
Josh: That’s fascinating. All four of these groups I should do an individual podcast about.
The above is a transcription of an excerpt from a podcast interview of The UnPopulist’s Shikha Dalmia by Josh Lewis of Saving Elephants: Re-Igniting Conservatism for Millennials. The transcript has been slightly condensed and lightly edited for flow and clarity.