The young American right is not like the conservatism of 20 years ago – it is both more reactionary and radical, more pessimistic and perhaps more dangerous. That’s the message of a pair of recent anthropologies of young conservative intelligentsia: one by Sam Adler-Bell in The New Republic and one by my colleague David Brooks in The Atlantic.
The essays focus on the ways in which the newer and younger right is uncomfortable in contemporary America, with its psychology defined more by alienation than by basic patriotic comfort (albeit threatened by the Communists and Liberals) that Ronald Reagan successfully embodied.
This insistence is understandable, but there is another way of looking at the place of the New Right in American politics. Its vibe is alienated and radical, to be sure – but at the same time, its analysis of our situation seems more current, more current, than many alternative programs on the right, left or center.
Suppose you have made a list of what each trend in American politics considers our greatest challenges right now. For the new right, the list might look like this.
Abroad, the double failure of our post-9/11 nation-building efforts and our open door to China, which requires either recalibration to contain the Chinese regime or a general withdrawal from an empire too extended.
At home, the threat to the freedom of the Silicon Valley monopolies applying progressive orthodoxy and the threat to human happiness from the addictive nature of social media, online pornography and online life in general. The collapse of birth rates, the dissolution of institutional religion and the decline of bourgeois normality are manifested in the failure of the younger generation to mate, marry, and raise families. The âgreat stagnationâ after the 1960s, both in living standards and in technological innovation. The costs of cultural libertarianism, increased unhappiness, and high rates of depression and addiction in a more individualistic society.
Then finally, how the technocratic response to the pandemic, the shift away from virtual living suited only to a “class of laptops” (and maybe not even to them), can compound these problems.
Now you can criticize this list and doubt its diagnoses. But still, if you look at reality through the insane view of the New Right, you can see the eerie world of 2021 more clearly than through other eyes. It responds to the developments of the 21st century (the Chinese shock, the post-September 11 wars), to trends which have accelerated (religious disaffiliation, shortage of births) or have become more pronounced (the great stagnation) since the turn of the century. millennium, and the institutions and technologies (the tech giants, social media) that barely emerged a generation ago.
I do not see the same opportunity in the rivals of the new right. The sclerotic Reaganism that the young conservatives intend to supplant is locked in the world of 1980.
Meanwhile, the left and center-left are currently worried about Donald Trump. But if you ask them what they really want to do, what problems they intend to solve, their answers usually involve projects that date back to the 1960s and 1970s: the completion of a Scandinavian-style welfare state for the economic left, the deconstruction of male Christian heteronormativity for awakened progressivism.
The plans are not misguided simply because they have been around for a long time, and the center and left have answers to some of the issues driving the new right – there are critics of the monopoly within the Democratic Party, Chinese hawks from across the country. center-left, Bernie Sanders supporters who see social democracy as a response to the growing social ills of the 21st century. Moreover, critics of the new right would probably say that it devalues ââthe threat of climate change in the entire 21st century by adding it to a list of unmet technological challenges, while the left offers a more direct response, the Green New. Deal.
But still, if you were to ask what worldview has mostly organized around things that have changed in the world since 1999, I don’t think you would choose progressivism. When the Biden administration is criticized by the left for its poverty of vision, the missing vision still sounds primarily like a restoration of Hubert Humphrey. And the supposed social radicalism of awakened progressivism, where racism and patriarchy are seen as constant enemies, seems strangely anachronistic in a world where cultural conservatism is a besieged subculture and cultural liberalism a flaw.
Being more timely, of course, does not mean that the younger right is destined for power or wise governance. His prescriptions lag behind his diagnoses and may never gain popular support, and although he has been reinforced in some way by Trumpism, this entanglement may make him an intellectual adjunct to some form of politics. essentially destructive right. (None of the challenges identified by the new right will be resolved if Trump draws us into a constitutional crisis in 2024.)
But still, if you look at reality through the insane view of the New Right, you can see the eerie world of 2021 more clearly than through other eyes.
Douthat writes for the New York Times.