Review: "Right Wing Critics of Conservatism" by George Hawley

Western Civilization, the #TruConservatives tell us, consists of nothing more than classical liberalism. And American conservatism, insofar as we are offered a definition, is a vague belief in “limited government” and “the Constitution.” These are combined with “Judeo-Christian values,” said to be eternal but actually evolving at a stately pace a few years behind the leftist avant-garde. Knowledge is dangerous for any respectable conservative because if you explore the history of one of your heroes before 1965, you’ll find views on race and identity as bad as anything within that gross Alternative Right.

At the same time, even those on the far Right are often unwilling to identify as such. Instead, they (or we) are “beyond Left and Right” and part of some exciting new paradigm, even though we inevitably find ourselves falling back on those old labels from the French Revolution to describe the politics of today.

Do any of these labels matter anymore? And how can we examine an American conservative movement which constantly reinvents its own history and redefines its supposed “principles?”

The invaluable new book from Professor George Hawley, “Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism,” is an indispensable beginning to confronting these questions. Hawley first came to my attention with his research on voting patterns, demographics, and the impact of the immigration issue in elections. His book on the White Vote, that dominant and yet almost unexamined demographic in American elections, is a starting point for anyone interested in Identitarian politics because it provides the hard numbers behind the voting behavior of European-Americans. It also dispels many of the goofy myths propounded by GOP “strategists” entranced by visions of Detroit Republicans.

Hawley takes on a much broader topic here. In so doing, Hawley has to not only describe the history of the American conservative movement, but define what he means by “Left” and “Right.” Hawley easily dismantles classification schemes based on a person’s view of human nature or the old “individualism vs. collectivism” canard. Borrowing from Paul Gottfried, Hawley says, “The political left will be defined as containing all ideological movements that consider equality the highest political value.” In contrast, the Right is defined as: “[E]ncompassing all of those ideologies that, while not necessarily rejecting equality as a social good, do not rank at the top of the hierarchy of values. The right furthermore fights the left in all cases where the push for equality threatens some other value held in higher esteem.”

This largely fits with what I’ve argued in the past, that the Left “refers to those who hold equality as their highest value, whereas the [Right] refers to those who recognize hierarchy.” This System also avoids the trap that American conservatives are constantly stumbling into, where the Left is simply “anything I don’t like” and the Right is “whatever version of post-1965 Republican slogans won’t get me called racist.”

As Hawley notes, this means thinkers as diverse as Murray Rothbard, Wendell Berry, Pat Buchanan and Alain de Benoist can all be meaningfully characterized as on the “Right,” though they have little else in common. It also implies action – you are only on the Right if you are part of something which “fights the left.”

Though Hawley does not say this, this suggests there are many “Rights,” as each right wing movement has its vision of The Good, The Beautiful, and The True it will fight for. We can talk about the Islamic State or Polish nationalists as both being “right-wing,” even though they would gladly slaughter each other. Though every right wing movement will hold its own source of excellence or morality as supreme, in truth there are as many as there are peoples, faiths, and ideologies. The principle of hierarchy (and opposition to degeneracy, however defined) itself is the closest we can come to defining a singular, universal “Right.”

With this framework, we are able to do what “movement conservatives” can’t and see how “the conservative movement” wasn’t some primordial truth handed down from antiquity but an artificial conglomeration clumsily pieced together for temporary political needs. Hawley identifies the prewar “Old Right,” exemplified by figures such as Albert Jay Nock, H.L. Mencken, and others as libertarian, antiwar, and suspicious of egalitarianism, democracy, and Christian religious belief. In contrast, the postwar conservative movement pieced together by William F. Buckley Jr. was a creature of the Cold War, with a diverse group of thinkers lumped together to oppose international communism, even if this meant, in Buckley’s words, “[accepting] Big Government for the duration… [and] a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.”

The ideological coherence (such as it is) of the conservative movement today is an effect, rather than a cause – the conservative movement was a tactical creation, something put together to oppose the Soviet threat. And the work of many of the key thinkers present at the beginning, men like Russell Kirk or Richard Weaver, has been all but ignored despite the occasional rhetorical tribute.

This is critical for the modern American Right because it implies a new crisis and could create a new realignment. It has now been almost two decades since the hammer and sickle fell and insofar as there is any wishful thinking about a global revolution led by Russia it’s one coming from the Right. Though there’s been a half-hearted attempt to substitute “Islamofascism” as a way to get the old band back together, we face utterly new challenges based on identity, not ideology. The brutal demographic realities behind the migration crisis could prove to be the key catalyst for a new movement.

Hawley tells the familiar story of the purges which have defined the American Right, a story many of you are already familiar with. The expulsion of the John Birch Society and Ayn Rand and the Objectivists both served as one-offs. However, the conservative movement’s determination to police itself over race is a continuing, and one suspects, never ending drama.

Hawley observes: “The question is why the conservative movement made this about-face on the issue of race. It is worth remembering that during the pivotal years of the civil rights movement the major voices of American conservatism – including Barry Goldwater and National Review – were openly against legislation such as the Civil Rights Act. Some of the most prominent early conservatives defended the social order of the antebellum south.” Hawley accurately characterizes the conservative acceptance of civil rights as a “surrender” and suggests the opposition to candidates such as David Duke was in many ways driven by “embarrassment.” Even National Review couldn’t find many problems in Duke’s platform, just that he used to be in the Klan.

Even after Duke faded, respectable conservatives are constantly forced to confront dissidents who become a little too vocal about racial realities. The purges of Peter Brimelow, Sam Francis, John Derbyshire, and Jason Richwine are all addressed.

Hawley also recognizes race may not be the only issue the conservative movement will retroactively interpret. He slyly observes, “It is not implausible to imagine that within a few decades the movement will try to disassociate itself from the anti-gay marriage stance it promoted during the Bush years, and perhaps even claim that acceptance of gay marriage represented a victory for conservatives.”

There’s also a great deal of attention given to a story paleoconservatives know well, but the younger Alt Right may have never heard of – the battle between Harry Jaffa and M.E. “Mel” Bradford. Hawley identifies Harry Jaffa, a student of Leo Strauss, as one of the first nominally conservative thinkers to argue “equality” itself was a conservative virtue. This is what allows conservatives today to argue with a straight face that Martin Luther King Jr. was actually a “true conservative,” even though, as Hawley accurately observes, conservatives all but unanimously opposed him while he was alive. Jaffa is thus fondly remembered at outlets like The Federalist for pushing the American Right in a pro-Lincoln direction with “all men are created equal” as the defining idea of the country. We might even call Jaffa the Founding Father of Cuckservatism.

Bradford, a Southerner, rejected Jaffa’s push to reinvent the likes of Abraham Lincoln as a conservative hero and instead attacked the “cult of equality.” Hawley writes: “Bradford was concerned with the issue of rhetoric, and he excoriated conservatives for allowing the left to define and redefine America’s most important political values. In order to remain respectability, conservatives have conceded key points to their ideological opponents.”

Plus ça change…

Bradford was famously prevented from securing a post at the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Reagan Administration, despite support from the President himself and Bradford’s hard work in the election campaign. Though Jaffa himself actually supported him, Bradford was vocally opposed by conservative commentators such as George Will (now a leading figure in the #NeverTrump movement) and was ultimately replaced with pudgy simpleton William Bennett. And these kinds of bureaucratic struggles have a huge impact. Egalitarianism and universalist posturing was boosted within the American Right, Bradford died in relative obscurity, Jaffa was lionized and Bennett gets more money to blow at the casinos. (Hopefully Trump got some of it.)

These kinds of struggles continue today. As this is written, protesters are storming the parliament in Baghdad, the latest episode of our more than decade long disaster in Mesopotamia. As Hawley notes, “The mainstream conservative movement was in nearly complete agreement with these policies [the invasion of Iraq].” Yet the “unpatriotic conservatives” who opposed it, were duly purged and were proven correct by the aftermath still struggle for access to the mainstream media and funding from major institutions. Meanwhile, William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer still scream at me from the telescreen every night about what great foreign policy experts they are.

Hawley profiles a number of castaways from different schools of thought, including localists, mainstream and radical libertarians, atheists, and paleoconservatives. Identitarians and white nationalists are also analyzed, though Hawley does feel the need to virtue signal against us, presumably to avoid suffering the fate of his subjects. Overall though, Hawley is fair and informative and his book serves as an excellent introduction to the various subcultures which have ultimately created what we call the Alt Right.

He also slips through some questions which suggest he’s at least confronting the arguments rather than just pathologizing them like some shitlib at The Daily Beast. “Why, for example, is Zionism generally considered an acceptable political position, but an individual who wanted to create a republic restricted to white Christians would be barred from mainstream debates?” he asks. Why indeed.

Hawley does make some mistakes, but much of this is simply a product of when the book was written, before the Emperor descended from the Golden Throne on the escalator at Trump Tower. A typo in which “Young Americans for Liberty” should have read “Young Americans for Freedom” is actually revealing of the focus, as Hawley devotes far more coverage to libertarian and anti-state activists than nationalists. As he argues in his conclusion, “Moderate and mainstream libertarianism is the right-wing ideology most likely to enjoy greater influence in the coming decades,” citing the triumph of figures like Justin Amash. Hawley also speculates about Rand Paul securing the GOP nomination. But all it took to destroy Paul was a New York real estate developer saying he was having a “hard time tonight,” suggesting the fabled “libertarian moment” was always a pipe dream.

Donald Trump is not even mentioned in the book. But of course, before the “Mexicans are rapists” speech, why would he be?

For many on the Alt Right, libertarianism is a kind of gateway drug, a safe way of attacking egalitarianism, the establishment conservative movement, and “the System” more broadly. Most are gradually redpilled. Eventually, you move on, unless you can find a way to be paid for being part of the “liberty movement.”

Hawley writes, “(M)any, perhaps most, of the energetic young activists on the right are decidedly libertarian in their views, and today’s young activists will eventually take on prominent leadership roles in the conservative movement’s leading institutions and within the GOP.” It is more accurate to say that many energetic young activists start as libertarians, but they don’t stay there. It’s questionable whether libertarianism can ever really be a movement for itself as opposed to either a phase in a person’s ideological progression. After all, groups like Students for Liberty now proudly proclaim they don’t care about freedom of association, because homosexual rights, and fighting nationalism is the most important thing. Meanwhile, many of the same people now fantasizing about building Trump Walls and eventually reclaiming Constantinople were screaming about using shiny rocks as currency only a few years ago.

Hawley quotes SFL’s cofounder Alexander McCobin as saying: “We know what’s up for debate, and so we also know what’s not. The justifications for and limits on intellectual property? Up for debate. Racism? Not up for debate.” But as Richard Spencer argued, libertarianism itself was a kind of mask on white identity for some time. That is being abandoned as we get closer to the real thing. Those libertarians who put egalitarianism first, like Cathy Reisenwitz, eventually just become SJW’s. The majority move in our direction.

Who, after all, has a greater impact these days – Students for Liberty, with its multimillion dollar budget, or The Daily Shoah?

Hawley deserves praise for providing a useful introduction for anyone who wants to familiarize themselves with Radical Traditionalism, the European New Right, or the Conservative Revolution without being completely overwhelmed with jargon and occultism. The chapters “Against Capitalism, Christianity and America” and “Voices of the Radical Right” are required reading for anyone on the Alt Right seeking to understand why American conservatism could never succeed. It’s also sobering reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of the pro-white movement. Richard Spencer and the saga of the First Identitarian Congress in Budapest are also outlined.

Still, one can’t help but wish Hawley had just waited a few more months to write this book. So many of the things he suggests as distant possibilities here are actually occurring. For example, Hawley writes, “If the mainstream conservative movement loses its status as the gatekeeper on the right, white nationalism may be among the greatest beneficiaries, though even in this case it will face serious challenges.” According to the hall monitors of the Beltway Right, that’s precisely what’s happening right now.

And ultimately, Hawley recognizes change, of some kind, is coming. He refers to the “calcified” nature of conservative thought, pointing out the rhetoric has not changed since Goldwater. “Only on the issue of race have we seen a dramatic change in the mainstream conservative movement since the 1960s, at least when it comes to public statements,” Hawley writes. Rhetorical blasts against “elites” have become so predictable and stale they no longer have any meaning. Conservatives are simply running out of things to say.

There are also broader historical patterns conservatives are confronting.

First, the Bush Administration “badly damaged the Republican Party’s brand,” and the legacy of that era is something the Beltway Right still seems utterly unwilling to confront. Hawley also brings up the scandals from the Bush years, including Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, and Tom Delay. (The book was written too early for a reference to the nightmarish case of Dennis Hastert). Bush’s failure to reform Social Security showed conservatives are incapable of meddling with the welfare programs most Americans have grown to accept and rely upon. The Iraq War also fatally discredited the GOP’s perceived foreign policy expertise in the eyes of many Americans.

Second, organized religion is declining in America. The Religious Right is discredited and leaderless. Jerry Falwell is dead and so is D. James Kenned. Ted Haggard is disgraced after a gay prostitution scandal. Homosexual marriage is a reality nationwide. Open borders shill Russell Moore is busy trying to prove Nietzsche right by pushing for more nonwhite immigration. Though Hawley doesn’t go into this, it’s striking how the once powerful Religious Right has been reduced to trying to keep trannies out of bathrooms in the South. (And failing at it.)

Third, and most importantly, is the growing nonwhite population. Hawley argues even if the GOP utterly reversed its position on immigration to try to win Latinos and Asians, “nonwhites are considerably more progressive, on average than whites… even if immigration is completely removed from the table.” Hawley says unless the GOP can create a huge shift in the voting patterns of nonwhites (unlikely given their progressive attitudes) or win a larger share of the white vote, the Republican Party will be unable to credibly contest national elections.

And this is where the Alt Right comes in. This is a reality the conservative movement cannot assimilate. It is an existential threat. The GOP can’t appeal to minorities without entirely abandoning conservative policies. And it can’t appeal to whites as whites without abandoning its universalist pretensions and infantile sloganeering. Though Hawley doesn’t say it, this fact alone is why the American Right’s future lies in Identity. All other alternatives have been exhausted except slow death. And make no mistake – running out the clock while squeezing out a few more shekels is what passes for a strategy within Conservatism Inc.

Reading and studying what Professor Hawley has written is an important first step for all of us. With the rise of Trump, the explosion of interest in the Alt Right online, and the flood of recent mainstream media coverage, there’s a real sense momentum is on our side. Yet we should not be deceived. Dissident forces on the Right have risen in the past and reached levels of power and influence far exceeding what we have today. All have been crushed.

We must understand their ideas, their history, their successes and their mistakes so we can avoid their fate. We don’t want to just end up as footnotes in some future edition.