Class Contradictions – The American Conservative
Whether one supports or opposes the various ideas offered by the new right, it would be foolish to dismiss them.
A guerrilla war has broken out on the right. One side has institutional support; the other, intellectual energy. At stake is the future of the Republican Party and perhaps the country.
The institutional right controls the largest think tanks, funding organizations and magazines. It gives sinecures to some and denies them to others, punishing dissent and rewarding loyalty. Their network is extensive, their ideas sophisticated, their internal divisions regulated. It has every obvious advantage – and it can lose.
The insurgent new right has magazines and think tanks, but they tend to be smaller and more recent. You certainly have a more subversive spirit. The institutionalists extol free markets, individual freedom and civil society in sober, lofty and comforting terms. The insurgents issue sharp polemics and harsh remarks while championing post-liberalism, integralism, national conservatism and other strange new notions.
The movements these words represent diverge and often clash, but the diverse elements of the new right share more than a common enemy. They all emphasize consolidation rather than dispersal, coercion rather than persuasion, community affiliation – national or religious – rather than individual autonomy.
Although the new right has garnered a lot of attention, some have questioned its relevance. Paint on Albion’s seed, David Hackett Fischer’s study of American folkways, Tanner Greer argues that the new right suffers from a contradiction that will cripple it politically. In their habits and beliefs, Greer says, the leaders of the New Right follow in the tradition of the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay, who emphasized the common good and social authority. But the voters she hopes to attract to her project — the kind of people who voted for Trump in the Republican primary — are a very different breed of American, often descended from Scottish-Irish cross-border commuters, who share a love of freedom . As Greer puts it, the new right is “hope[s] build a post-libertarian national order on the backs of the country’s most natural libertarian population.”
A similar argument was recently made by Sam Adler-Bell in the New Republic. He describes the Republican Party’s electoral base as “fratty libertines whose primary concern is to scandalize arrogant liberties and disregard their social norms and niceties”—likely not foot soldiers for integralism or other attempts to advance the common good. He therefore concludes that the new right can only be anti-democratic.
Inevitably, in any political formation, there are sometimes very large distances between the masses and the elites. But Greer and Adler-Bell exaggerate the contradictions of the new right and underestimate its potential appeal. It has a deep and abiding base of popular support from what Sam Francis called the “post-bourgeois proletariat,” people who live in, but are not fully part of, our managerial regime. Their perspective – described by Francis as “working-class anti-liberalism” – is consistent with emerging right-wing issues.
Post-bourgeois proletarians hate political correctness, not because they are principled defenders of free speech, but because they resent the managerial class that creates and enforces the current codes of speech. They are angry about the trust of the HR manager. They do not reject all piety.
Like all classes, this one has distinctive habits and beliefs. A regime that reflects its preferences will impose certain orthodoxies. (Key commentators who present “right-wing political correctness” as a threat equal and opposite to “left-wing political correctness” fully understand this.) Post-bourgeois proletarians prefer demonstrations of power to subtle forms of manipulation. They are Jacksonians on foreign policy and law-and-order voters on crime. They probably don’t read the Bible or consult the catechism, but they honor the flag, faith, and family.
Francis described the beliefs of the post-bourgeois proletariat in a way that will be familiar to any adherent of fanciful debates on postliberalism, integralism, and the like. They show “little appeal to bourgeois conservatism and its emphasis on laissez-faire economics, property rights, [and] the minimal state.” These ideas were supported and supported by a bourgeois order that the rise of large organizations – the so-called management revolution – has supplanted.
There are scattered remnants of the bourgeois order – small businesses, family businesses. I grew up amidst these ruins and cherish their memories. But America’s remaining owner-operator class cannot hold its own against the managerial class. Those who champion classical liberalism today are like the post-revolutionary monarchists who hoped to restore liberalism ancien regive. Your quest, no matter how noble, is unlikely to be successful.
The much larger and more powerful source of resistance consists of wage earners who depend on corporate organizations but do not conform to the fantasies of corporate management. In contrast to bourgeois conservatives, these post-bourgeois proletarians want to preserve the managerial state. Unlike the ruling elite, they want to steer it in solidarity. As Francis put it, “post-bourgeois needs for economic security, as well as post-bourgeois attraction to compulsive patterns of thought and behavior … point to a political organization that is colossal, centralized, and active in protecting and enforcing post-bourgeois economic interests and cultural ambitions.”
That is why the health of the right depends on the victory of the insurgents. Bourgeois fantasies do not correspond to the reality of life in a managerial regime. Opponents of managerialism must give working-class anti-liberalism a voice and mobilize their support base, or they will be no more effective than Don Quixote.
Regardless of whether one supports or rejects the various ideas that the new right offers – and it is impossible to support them all, for their internal divisions are real and deep – it would be foolish to reject them outright. Theories like integralism and post-liberalism may sometimes take fantastic forms, but they follow the movements of real bodies. Like shadows in a film noir, they are distillations and exaggerations that express truths otherwise unseen.