I was reading a piece this morning entitled Crisis of the Conservative Intellectual by a Matthew Continetti at the Free Beacon. By appearances the author is primed to enter puberty at any moment, though his bio states he is already 35 years old. Which would make him an unaccompanied minor under British migration doctrine. Though for so many seasons to have traipsed across a man’s face without leaving a track is impressive. Perhaps it was his conversion to Judaism that arrested the weathering process. Or maybe his marriage to William Kristol’s daughter. It could be that an abundance of Ancient Friends keeps one from looking ancient. Whatever his technique, Mr. Continetti would be a good wager to greet the trillionth African in 2350.
I found the article interesting because he is a capable writer, and one not utterly obliged to the flailing hysterics of his father-in-law. Of course interesting is not a synonym for insightful and, as a stock conservative ideologue, his offerings are as bare in the latter as we have all come to appreciate. What he does for the former though is trace the recent lineage of populist revolts, focusing mostly on the Republican Party. And to his credit, the lengthy exploration concludes (just barely) without a single invocation of Hitler. Here is his identification of right/populism’s modern genesis…
Beginning with the Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater (whom Buckley supported) in 1964, however, and accelerating in the tumultuous 1970s, the National Review crowd found itself challenged by a group of activists, journalists, and politicians whose criticism of the elite was populist, vehement, bipartisan, and anti-corporate. The question of how these anti-Establishment newcomers from the south and West fit into the conservative movement and the Republican Party, the question of where to strike the balance between populism and conservatism, has bedeviled conservative intellectuals and pro-business GOP officials ever since.
But that hasn’t really been the question at all. The only “balance” that “Conservative intellectuals and pro-business GOP officials” have sought with their nationalist/populist counterparts is the one attained right before pushing them over the windowsill. These are vehement voices of dissent because they have been vote-farmed for generations, not because they have been greeted as partners. And Continetti sees sparing returns from the union regardless…
But there also have been signs, on the presidential level most clearly, that the alliance with populism is bringing diminishing returns. The GOP is on the brink of losing the popular vote in six out of seven presidential elections despite its current nominee running precisely the type of campaign the New Right has wanted to see for years.
That is to say, populism has been found politically wanting since its opposite–neoconservatism–has lost five of the last six popular votes. See, once a man masters the art of clever sophistry there’s no claim beyond his reach. And resolutely unmentioned is that the GOP roosts on 2016’s losing brink in no small measure as a result of its own efforts. There’s little precedent for the electoral fratricide by donors, pilotfish, and apparatchiks in sabotaging the party’s nominee. They burn down their own house and complain it’s never going to sell. But that’s just because the Trumpkins have no plan or purpose. They are simply the id in control of the personality. Rage in the form of a sprinkler head: dousing everything dumbly. That’s the line, at least. Continetti cites an earlier passage approvingly…
wrote Kirkpatrick Sale in his 1975 book Power Shift. “But more potent still is a broad adversarianism, a being-against. Wallace has no real policies, plans, or platforms, and no one expects them of him; it is sufficient that he is against and gathers unto him others who are against, against the blacks, the intellectuals, the bureaucrats, the students, the journalists, the liberals, the outsiders, the Communists, the changers, above all, against the Yankee establishment.”
If a man accomplished nothing else in life but to thwart the Yankee establishment, he should be memorialized in statuary. For generations longer than anyone should have to count, its American countrymen can be assured that every initiative detrimental to their welfare will blossom in the northern soil.
But since the sum of those initiatives have put us all in the same pot, it’s worth pointing out that being against something is not the absence of policy. It is merely the recognition of antagonists and the lines that separate us. And because that idea doesn’t appear in the Constitution, it remains invisible to conservative ideologues.
But because the opposition/alt right has been voicing the same concerns for so many years, they can’t possibly be valid…
It is the same discourse, the same methods, the same antinomianism, the same reaction to demographic change and liberal overreach that we encountered in the 1970s. The difference is that Donald Trump is so noxious, so unhinged, so extremist in his rejection of democratic norms and political convention and basic manners that he has untethered the New Right politics he embodies from the descendants of William F. Buckley Jr.
See, if you had just mentioned immigration once back in 1976 we would have taken you seriously. But now you’re just repeating yourself and so how many new chicken helots was Tyson Co. needing? More importantly, Trump is noxious, unhinged, extremist and COMPLETELY UNTETHERED FROM BILL BUCKLEY (very close to Hitler). I hardly think employment and a safe, high social capital neighborhood are worth living with a non Buckley-tethered president.
It’s all so depressing there’s nothing left to do but conclude with some patronizing…
This is the crisis of the conservative intellectual. After years of aligning with, trying to explain, sympathizing with the causes, and occasionally ignoring the worst aspects of populism, he finds that populism has exiled him from his political home.
Ahh well, at least you still have your actual homes. Which is more than you are inclined to grant the blue collar populists who can’t afford those same Good Schools in the DC suburbs. Though that’s just the sort of “worst aspect” of populist thought we’ll need to keep ignoring.
What I find most useless about such thinkers is the failure to ever look outside the windows of their own theory. The left’s intelligentsia, and its dull constituent groups, rightfully see political parties as a vehicle for the interests of specific people. Whereas bow-tied conservatives see people as a vehicle for specific parties and ideology. Thus blacks ask democrats “what have you done for blacks?” as the GOP asks its voters “what have you done for conservatism?”
One of these questions has a future in petri-dish politics…and the other does not. Conservatives, the crisis is all yours.