And the impossibility of conservatism.
It’s 1964. A stranger approaches and tells you two political movements will arise in the near future, the New Left and the New Right. One of these movements will dominate American politics for a good quarter century. Indeed, political scientists will define the entire period in terms of the ascendancy of this group; historians will write books naming this age after the movement’s most successful leader. Politicians, scholars, and activists on right and left will go so far as to call it a “Revolution.”
Imagine then that you could look at the America (such as it is) of November 5, 2008, at the end of this era.
The election of “the most liberal man in the Senates” is a crowning moment for a federal welfare state that’s grown steadily for over 50 years, regardless of which party was in office. Each individual state is merely an administrative unit for a centralized bureaucracy. All important decisions are made by the Supreme Court. On social issues, conservatives have been in abject retreat even as leftists bemoan the rise of “Christian fascism.” The ban on School prayer, enacted in 1962 with Engel vs. Vitale, has about as much chance of being overturned as the ’64 Civil Right Act. Gay marriage is a reality in several states. Mass immigration from the Third World is not just permitted but hailed as a moral imperative and encouraged by leaders of both political parties. The children of those immigrants receive preferences in education and job placement over Americans whose roots go back to the Founders.
Iconic American corporations such as McDonald’s, General Motors, and Coca-Cola fund far Left groups with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants each year—even as some struggle to make profits. Universities are filled with “ethnic studies” and “women’s studies” majors who are skilled in organizing protests against Western Civilization, but can’t read the books that define it. News articles habitually reference public schools removing the names of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, to be replaced by some community organizer or another who was successful at stealing taxpayer money.
All of the above—and much more, of course—have occurred during and after the “Reagan Revolution” and the mighty deeds of its heroes that are regularly recounted in story and song at the foundations, think-tanks, and non-profits that occupy Northern Virginia. The cadres of Young Americans for Freedom may have gotten elected to office, but we all live in the world of Students for a Democratic Society. During the Age of Reagan and conservative hegemony, the New Left decisively won the culture wars, by largely abolishing, often through state fiat, the previously existing culture.
The American Right won past electoral victories by appealing to Middle America, posing as its defenders against the left-wing radicals who spat on the society that gave them so much privilege. Beyond lip service though, the conservative movement didn’t actually do anything to conserve that society, never mind roll back the gains of the Left.
But appealing to the heroic American past, traditional values, or the need for a strong defense of the American society is no longer a sound election strategy because the “Moral Majority” no longer exists. More than that, it is doubtful an American people, conscious of itself as a people with a particular culture, tradition, and identity, even exists.
In my view, the graying boomers who run and staff the current “conservative movement” probably represent the last generation of the Right that can justifiably call itself conservative. The constitutional and laissez-faire republic is long gone, a victim of the world wars, hot and cold. And the traditional Protestant and upright culture that once characterized American society as a whole, as well as the United States’ identity as a Western nation-state, won’t last much longer if present trends continue.
More than that, at a core level, we should ask ourselves seriously, What is there going to be worth conserving in the America of the next generation?
I’ve often thought that we got here because the conservative movement’s fetish about “the state” and the size of government fatally compromised its ability to challenge the left-wing ruling class. Who is a more important question than what, and a political movement that has as its chief concern what level of bureaucracy should handle policy can not accomplish anything important.
In contrast, Daniel McCarthy has argued, in the September 2008 issue of New Guard, that there is an anti-state Right and a national Right concerned about American identity, virtue, and culture. He points out the stupidity of trying to protect America through the government since, “[t]he state is the indispensable means by which the Left carries out its transformation of the country, and government in 21st century America cannot be turned into an instrument of virtue or nationhood.” I’d first counter that there hasn’t been much of a “national Right” in this country to begin with; those “conservatives” most interested in using the state for their ends have been social gospel types, who are as equally invested as the Left and the neocons in the idea of America as a “universal” nation.
But in the end, this debate actually doesn’t matter much—conservatives lost the battle against the state and the Left. Progress is not possible on either front without dismantling the current managerial regime.
The patriotic leftist and democratic socialist George Orwell once wrote,
It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.
He was dead wrong. Orwell’s England is being eradicated, deliberately, consciously, and with staggering speed—even though Eaton, Harrow, and the stock exchange still stand. The British upper class, which Orwell loathed for its jingoism and self-satisfied nationalism, now champions this dispossession, with the indigenous working and middle classes serving as the only resistance. Much the same is happening here: the once dominant WASP upper crust is about as likely to take back their America as are the Cherokees.
Enoch Powell may have argued that he would fight for his country even if it had a Communist government. At a certain point though, it is no longer a question of a different form of government for a country, but a different country altogether. The position of American conservatives regarding the regime they live under is approaching that of a pagan Roman after the eternal fire of Vesta was extinguished, or a Catholic Frenchmen after the slaughter in the Vendee. An appeal to a shared past will no longer work because that shared past does not exist. The legacy of the Founders can only be defended by incorporating them into a universal progressive history that ignores their actual beliefs. A legalistic identity based on a murky conception of universal human rights has not sufficed to hold together other regimes, and I doubt it will be able to do the same in America.
Such rhetoric seems apocalyptic, but something is happening on the American Right.
Who could have imagined average conservatives even using the kind of rhetoric we hear today? Who would have predicted that a governor would even mention the idea of secession? More to the point, who could have seriously argued even three years ago that the most dynamic movement in American politics—on both left and right—would be headed up by Texas Congressman Ron Paul? Even the Tea Party phenomenon, easily mocked as it is, represents conservatives actually taking the first few tentative steps into something resembling an activist mindset. It may just be a safety valve, as such talk will be easily forgotten when the next Republican is elected. Still, rhetoric has consequences, and you can’t just start throwing words like “revolution” without changing the mindset of the people involved.
The Ron Paul movement must be credited for opening up space for conservatives on ideas such as the Federal Reserve, secession, and the accepted narratives about American history. Even more remarkable is the seeming refusal of the mainstream conservative movement to engage with the emerging liberty movement, even though it is huge potential source of activists, donors, and serious candidates.
Perhaps the reason behind this disconnect is that the Paul movement is the beginning of the post-conservative era for the American Right. If conservatism is about defending established institutions, Paul is not conservative. The liberty movement fundamentally challenges the legitimacy of the state, and implicitly challenges the cultural regime that supports it. A group that can cheer wildly when Abraham Lincoln is denounced as the worst president in American history is certainly a radical departure. The Paul movement’s historical revisionism, anti-state line, overt hostility towards the corporate (as opposed to capitalist) and government establishments, and indifference towards questions of respectability and permissible associations suggest that a decidedly anti-system Right is emerging.
The attacks on the liberty movement from the Left seem oddly divorced from reality. Left-wing sneers at Paul, the Tea Parties, and the Right (such as it is) generally have little to do with inflation, federal power, and government spending. The federal and state governments, with the clear help from the Fed-like, pseudo-private “watchdog” groups, have been issuing warnings about the danger of organizations like the Constitution Party and the Campaign for Liberty morphing into “militias” dedicated to–of course—white supremacy. The inevitable move towards European-style speech codes is justified by similar fears, that cries of “End the Fed” will somehow turn into “Wir müssen die Juden ausrotten!” And of course, we have the claims by innumerable leftists that the Tea Parties are actually white-power rallies. There is no engagement with the Right on the issues that they are actually talking about and organizing around.
But let’s give the Left a little credit, because as usual, the Left understands the Right better than the Right knows itself. As Professor Gottfried wrote at LewRockwell.com (before it was cool),
While the Left rails against the bogus Right ... it knows where its real domestic enemy is to be found. The media Left lurches fitfully into attack mode against the Militia Men as rightwing extremists, a reaction that is never apparent when it discusses the Black Panthers or Hispanic racial nationalists. One likely reason is that, in contrast to designated indignant minorities, ‘rightwing extremists’ are not clients of the administrative state. In fact they would be happy to junk this entity entirely.
Right-wingers mobilizing around economic issues and the Fed may be a threat to the system, and the multiculturalists grasp this. However, it is the war on the West itself that mobilizes the cultural Marxists and provides the real justification for their redistributive economic policies.
The entire Obama presidency seems to be justified purely on cultural grounds, whether redeeming us from our sinful racist past, making us look better in the eyes of the world, or liberating us from the dark Christian theocracy of the Bush years and the “old America.” I have yet to meet an Obama supporter who has tried to tell me how the stimulus plan will really benefit the economy or that the Democrats have better ideas on how to reduce the deficit. On the other hand, I’ve met plenty who think that only Obama stands between them and the vengeful white rednecks waiting to seize power.
Mass immigration and cultural disintegration will continue to exist if the Fed—or the state—magically disappears tomorrow. Even materialists must concede that we can’t even begin to talk about issues like education, health care, crime, poverty, or whether we have a society worth living in without talking about issues of multiculturalism and demographics. These issues need to be confronted by someone, if not by libertarians themselves. The reaction to Tom Tancredo’s visits to the University of North Carolina and Providence College shows how fully the Left becomes unhinged even with a message like Tancredo’s—which is fairly common sense, standard, and maybe even boring stuff about assimilation and the rule of law.
Hence, Youth for Western Civilization, despite mostly being funded out of what’s left of my salary post condo fees, garnered huge headlines and controversy, even though we don’t have a single employee. Thus far, YWC’ers can’t even really be placed on the “Alternative Right,” as we are essentially just echoing standard conservative rhetoric on immigration, multiculturalism, and American identity. (The difference is that we actually back it up.) But even this moderate approach is too much for leftists. Calls to completely transform the structure of the American economy meet far less opposition than suggesting the enforcement of existing immigration laws. I submit this tells us what the real forbidden issues are in America today and where the Left really sees the battle lines falling.
In this environment, “breaking the clock of social democracy” requires not just economic analysis or more tired rhetoric about a liberalism—classical or otherwise—that the West can no longer afford. The Left is the Establishment, the financial and cultural elite of the Western world support them, and all the SDSs, Indymedias, “antifascists,” and the rest are nothing but the managerial state’s militant wing, lackeys of the powerful as surely as were Pinkerton detectives.
To defeat them requires mobilizing those constituencies that are excluded from the current political and social structure, and that means mobilizing the conservative base to fight—for once—in their own defense. The potential possibility that they will do this, whether it’s in the name of stopping mass immigration, ending the Fed, cutting taxes, or whatever, is what really scares the Left.
With the Paul movement, the Tea Parties, and the general shift in rhetoric after President Obama’s election, there are signs that conservatives are finally learning that the Establishment is not something to defend or join. Some are even questioning whether the American system is fatally broken. If conservatives understand that, they cease to be a safety valve and can accomplish something other than tax cuts for left-wing millionaires. A post-conservative and post-national right can maybe be a voice for a “revolution” that isn’t just rhetoric.