A major topic of discussion among conservative and/or non-Left thinkers, bloggers, and political theorists is what exactly makes one a “conservative” (or, perhaps more accurately, what combination of values and axiomatic beliefs constitute “conservatism”). For the philosophically-minded, it’s an intriguing and edifying activity that forces one to examine one’s convictions, and the sources thereof.
I’ve written extensively about the Left and what motivates it. To summarize broadly: the modern progressive Left is motivated, at bottom, by a lust for power (the more cynical of Leftists) and a zealous nihilism. These motivations take on a Puritan cultural totalitarianism that cannot tolerate even the mildest of dissent. Witness the many examples of how Leftists across time and nations have devoured their own.
That said, I haven’t written too much lately about what it means to be a conservative. One reason, I’m sure, is that it’s always more difficult to engage in the oft-painful exercise of self-reflection. Another is that the lines of conservative thought have been shifting dramatically ever since Trump’s ascendancy in 2015-2016, and the cementing of his control over the Republican Party—the ostensible vehicle for conservative ideology—since then.
As such, in the kind of serendipitous moment that is quite common in blogging, today’s post shares two pieces on the lay of the conservative landscape, and the various factions within the broader conservative movement (and, politically, the Republican Party).
One is, by the standards of the Internet, an old essay by Gavin McInnes, “An Idiot’s Guide to the Right.” Written in 2014, one month before Republicans would win control of the US Senate, McInnes’s breakdown of the Right is still fairly prescient, although it’s always interesting reading discussions of the conservative movement pre-Trump (McInnes, like many conservatives, hoped and believed that Ted Cruz was the last, best hope of the movement; that was certainly my view well into 2016).
The other is a post from Tax Day, “What’s Right,” by an upcoming blogger, my e-friend photog of Orion’s Cold Fire. He gives a detailed breakdown of the shifting coalition of the Right at present, and his own “red-pilling” is very similar to my own (indeed, photog and I both fall somewhat on the fringes of the “civic nationlist” camp, with toes cautiously dipped into the parts of the “Dissident Right,” a term itself coined by VDARE.com‘s John Derbyshire).
Traditionally (since the end of the Second World War, that is), the old Republican coalition was a three-legged stool, bringing together economic/fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives. In the wake of the Cold War, the first two legs ceded more ground to the national security conservatives, some whom consisted of the much maligned “neoconservatives,” themselves reformed progressives who had been “mugged by reality.”
The neocons would enjoy their ascendancy during the George W. Bush administration, and they tend to be the major proponents of the dying Never Trump movement. Their vehement hatred of Trump (see also: Bill Kristol, Senator Mitt Romney, and George Will) has largely discredited them, and they’ve shown that their true loyalty is to frosty globalism, not the United States. They also pine for a mythical form of “decorum” in politics that never truly existed outside of the immediate postwar decades.
photog characterizes this group as essentially less strident Leftists, a group that “doesn’t shrink or grow.” They were the “we need decorum” crowd that went big for the Never Trumpers, but who have largely made an unsteady cease-fire with the president—for now. Bill Kristol and Max Boot, the extreme of this group, have essentially become full-fledged Leftists (making Kristol’s latest project, The Bulwark—to protect “conservatism,” ostensibly—all the more laughable).
These are the people that don’t want to vote for Trump, but might anyway, because he’s “morally reprehensible,” which is just their way of saying they think he’s icky and boorish. These are the upper-middle class white women of the Republican Party, the ones I constantly implore to get over their neo-Victorian sensibilities and stop destroying the Republic from their fainting couches.
The biggest group, per photog, are the Conservative Civic Nationalists. These are the people that love God and country, and like Trump because he represents the best hope to defend those very things. McInnes, less perceptively, just calls this groups “Republicans,” although his “Libertarians” might fall into this group, too. To quote photog at length:
The next big class of people are the Conservative Civic Nationalists. This is the bulk of the Non-Left. These are the normal people who have always believed in God and Country and that America was the land of freedom, opportunity and fairness. They believed that all Americans were lucky to be living in the greatest country on God’s green earth. They believed that the rule of law under the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights is what made this the closest thing to heaven on earth and anyone living here should be supremely grateful to the Founding Fathers for inventing it and his own ancestors for coming here. This is the group that has had the biggest change occur in the last couple of years. But to define the change let’s break this group into two sub-divisions. Let’s call them Sleepwalkers and the Red-Pilled. Back in the early 2000s all the Civic Nationalists (including myself) were Sleepwalkers.
The “Red-Pilled” and “Sleepwalkers” dichotomy is one of the most interesting interpretations I’ve read about the Right lately, and it’s certainly true. Trump awoke a large group of these Civic Nationalists, people that were disgruntled with the government overreach of the Obama era, but weren’t certain about the way forward.
Like myself, photog is cautiously optimistic that these folks will continue to wake up, bringing along non-political Centrists—the squishy, non-ideological middle—to bolster Trump’s reelection in 2020. The Left’s relentless push for socialism and transgender bathrooms have done much to red-pill these folks, who find themselves struggling to articulate values that they just implicitly know are good, but which the Left insists on destroying.
There’s still much to be said about the current state of the Right, and I will be delving into it in more depth as the weeks progress. For now, read these two essays—particularly photog’s—and begin digesting their ideas. American politics are undergoing a major realignment, and we need people of good faith and values to stand for our nation. Understanding the state of play is an important part of arming ourselves for the struggle.