The consequences of a watershed election continue to unfold.
National Conservatism II: Which Way, Wonky Man?
The dos and don’ts when talking to the New Right
In the bowels of online chat rooms, and then 4chan, and then Twitter, the New Right emerged around one basic realization: we were lied to. Whether it was the Iraq War, the Great Recession, the opioid crisis, student loans, or even sex differences and dating, all of the various online bubbles that converge over the label “New Right” share in a fundamentally skeptical orientation toward establishment narratives. The anti-neocons, free market skeptics, naturopaths, and pick up artists once believed pretty lies in a big way, over and over again, with deadly costs. And they know it. If you exist in any part of the New Right Venn Diagram, you know that participating in this political realm is mostly about parsing these various false narratives. Seasoned online dissidents can smell a manufactured line a mile away; to debunk them in granular detail is a hallmark of neoreactionary online culture. It’s why Trump appealed to so many various factions of the New Right during his 2016 campaign. When Trump hoisted the “Fake News” media on their own petard, he broke the matrix.
This distinctly online character and origin of the New Right means that it’s simply not easy to lie to its denizens.
A great deal has already been written about the limits of the Nationalism Conservatism II conference, hosted last week in Orlando by the Edmund Burke Foundation. So it hardly needs repeating that a great plurality of conference attendees, young and very online men whom Mary Harrington has dubbed “Conservatism Ink,” walked out of the plenary where Ted Cruz declared, apparently unaware of the meme, that Democrats are and have always been the real racists. Similarly, there’s no need to mention that when Marco Rubio began his own greasy virtual monologue shortly thereafter, the crowd thinned further still.
The exodus of baby gym bros, and the snickers of those who remained while our Republican Senators (with the exception of Hawley) waxed poetic about cancel culture and several other pundit-favored talking points tell us something about the reality of the National Conservative movement. Inauthenticity, as ill-defined as it sounds, will not satisfy the base of the grassroots New Right. The aesthetics of Ted Cruz Republicanism are repulsive to the most energetic, interested and interesting members under the tent.
The energy of the young and online is the engine of the National Conservative movement. What they think matters both practically and substantively. The grassroots element of the New Right will not support what they perceive as vintage political games; on the other hand, the topics they favor indicate precisely where there is room for meaningful political action. Whether they know it or not, Cruz and Rubio have been taking cues from the New Right for the past few years. But to the degree they have adapted to a new environment driven by this energy, it is a superficial change. Cruz, Rubio, and many more have shifted their language and commodified memes, while offering zero substantive policy changes to match.
Neocon rebranding doesn’t pass the sniff test, especially since, as Sumatra Maitra writes, “non-intervention and troop retrenchment from semi-feudal backwaters” remains “the biggest issue that animated reactionaries for at least the better part of the last half-decade.” The biggest danger for the institutionalization of the New Right is just this: that the existing conservative establishment, having seen that the dissident vanguard has all the energy and wit, will co-opt their ideas, but then simply continue the habitual grifty pattern of complaining about the Left, this time in a fresh, “based” way in order to collect votes and donations. This will mean a loss of vigor, integrity, curiosity, and authenticity: everything that made the online right such a powerful force in the first place. It will simply mean loss. Loss, as a business model. Conservatism, Inc., rebranded.
The zoomers (and spiritual zoomers) know. The moments where the conference began to feel Reagan-y were the moments they made their way to the bar.
In the same way we can learn about what simply won’t work from the least successful aspects of the conference, we can learn about what will and what does from its highlights.
In a breakout session on the topic of the family, Mary Harrington offered a vision of true alliance between social conservatives and radical feminists (the honest, pro-social, pro-human ones that apparently exist in greater numbers in England). The danger we face as society, she argued, is not women working, per se, but what “women” and “work” have come to mean within the context of postmodern society, in other words, the total commodification of the human body and the total dissolution of interpersonal bonds and social meaning on the altar of “Meat Lego Mindset.”
Yoram Hazony, an Orthodox Jew, organizer of the conference, raised eyebrows when he called for the re-Christianization of the public square in America, with charitable carve-outs for non-Christians to live in peace—which, in a historically literate understanding of Christendom, is understood as a given.
Nate Fischer and Matt Peterson, in different breakouts, offered highly detailed plans for the construction of new credentialing systems, business alliances, and social networks, based on a shared, explicitly Christian, vision of the common good.
Radical honesty stands out in a sea of hackneyed truisms. Why? There is a level of personal risk attached to the kind of forthrightness seen clearly here that is not only endearing, but actually enhances the legitimacy of the entire project. Harrington comes from the Left, where to oppose transgenderism as a former feminist is worse than opposing from an external position (see: Kathleen Stock). One can imagine that Yoram Hazony, who is not a Christian and emerges from a tradition that is sometimes skeptical of Christianity, assumes some personal risk when he says explicitly that the Christian society is the heart of the Western world, rather than some nebulous masonic liberalism that permits all and castrates all. Fischer comes from Big Tech, a source of great power and great evil, and openly plans to subvert and break away from them. We know what happened to Parler. It’s a relatively dangerous proposition.
Aristotle describes the basic difference between a good and bad regime as whether or not those who rule do it for their own benefit or for the common good. This is the essential distinction that the online right uniquely understands—the essential lie that they can see through easily. Unlike our sitting senators who yammer on about cancel culture without saying or doing anything that can be understood as a personal or professional risk, the aforementioned speakers at NatCon2, and a few more, were willing to posit political solutions with a high level of detail, at great potential personal cost. This was an implicit demonstration of selflessness. It was an implicit rebuke of the big careerism, of Republicans and Democrats alike, that has brought the regime to its current, pathetic status. If national conservatism as a movement wishes to survive, it must lean into courage. Its leaders must be willing to embrace cancellation and stand together with anons when the dox comes.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.