Forty years ago, I wasn’t even born. Joe Biden still had his own hair. Scott Hahn was a Presbyterian. And I know this is hard to believe, but the Republican Party in Washington was focused on tax cuts, inflation, and fighting proxy wars against Russia.
That’s the first lesson in conservative politics. The more things change, the more the GOP establishment stays the same. So one answer to the question, “What’s new on the New Right?” is simply, “The times.”
Frankly, I’m not even sure “New Right” is an accurate description of the populist, nationalist energy now driving the conservative movement. Republican leaders of Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney’s vintage may be disoriented by a grassroots base skeptical of free trade, hostile to concentrated power in the public or private sector, and suspicious of globalist utopianism and military adventurism. But Calvin Coolidge and Robert Taft would be perfectly comfortable in such a coalition.
Don’t forget that the Moral Majority, Laffer curve, Cold Warrior, fusionist conservatism of the 1970s itself was once called the New Right, as it should have been. Ronald Reagan was different from previous conservative leaders and succeeded mostly because he answered his moment in history. He updated conservatism to meet the Soviet aggression, stagflation, and malaise that defined Jimmy Carter’s America.
But fusionism, for all its successes, isn’t holy writ. It was simply a pragmatic clustering of interests to form a political coalition in its time.
Update Your Agenda, People
The problem conservatives face today isn’t necessarily Reaganism, or the old fusionism. It’s the Republican Party and the conservative movement’s refusal to move on from it. One need not condemn post-Reagan Republicans as soulless, unpatriotic, corporate stooges to say, simply, that they were wrong and naive about the world and America after the Cold War.
They supported George H.W. Bush’s New World Order, Bill Clinton’s push for the North American Free Trade Agreement and trade with China, and George W. Bush’s grandiose fantasies at home and abroad. They high-fived each other for economic booms that turned out to be bubbles. And they ignored what was happening all over the country.
Family breakdown. A slow-motion border invasion. The China shock. Corporate consolidation. Outsourcing and deindustrialization. The retreat from religion and rise of pornography and opioids. Also, all along, the slow but relentless cultic radicalization of the elite left.
Every institution in American life — from marriage and the family to the church to corporations and labor unions to media and academia to government — is fundamentally different than it was the last time Washington conservatives were in touch with reality. In fact, most of those institutions have been seized and weaponized by the elite left to bully un-woke heretics not rich or connected enough to insulate themselves from cancel culture.
Snap Back to Reality, Oops There Goes Gravity
This is why grassroots conservatives today are less interested in the issues that defined the Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Bush, or even the Tea Party eras. More urgent and frightening issues demand their attention. For instance:
- The FBI arrested a pro-life activist — for two felonies — for defending his son from the foul-mouthed harassment of an abortion-facility escort. Now they’ve indicted 11 more pro-life activists.
- Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration would give hurricane relief resources based not on need, but racial and gender “equity.”
- The proudly woke Pentagon just announced the U.S. Army’s first openly trans officer turns out to have been a Russian spy.
- PayPal, the world’s biggest non-bank lender, announced they would fine user accounts $2,500 if a user violated their policy on “misinformation.” (They’ve walked it back since this speech was given, following public outcry.)
- California passed a law stripping parental rights of moms and dads who won’t let doctors mutilate their kids for “gender-affirming surgery.”
This hasn’t been in just the last few months or the last few years. This is just in the last few days.
Across the country and around the world, the woke progressives running elite institutions are wielding de facto state power, criminalizing and punishing dissent with totalitarian ferocity. People are being threatened not just with losing their social media accounts, but their jobs, their children, and their freedom.
Leading leftist politicians — not fringe characters but media darlings — are already talking about stripping the tax-exempt status of churches that oppose gay marriage. The Justice Department still considers parents who oppose the 1619 Project and Covid closures as “domestic terrorists.”
Nothing in the last 30 years suggests the left’s fascist orgy is going to abate. No one knows what lunacy will be next, but we all know what’s eventually coming: throuples’ rights, normalized pederasty, forcible euthanasia, post-natal abortion, the persecution of dissident faiths, and the disqualification of religious traditionalists and political conservatives from banking, property rights, and public benefits. In this environment, things like tax extenders, military procurement, and drug reimbursement formulae really don’t matter.
Toto, There’s No Longer a Kansas Anymore
That’s why, for instance, former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s famously wonky “Roadmap” plan for fiscal reform fell on deaf ears outside Washington and a few other elite enclaves. Ryan, to his credit, wanted to make sure America was still solvent 40 years from now.
What he and his fans never grasped was that the modern left doesn’t intend for America to still be America 40 years from now. We are also much further down their “roadmap” than most professional Republicans prefer to acknowledge.
Woke activists and their enablers — the rich, white privileged liberals terrified of being canceled themselves — now control most Americans’ ability to communicate and share information. They control our education and health care systems. They control almost all large corporations, including those that make small business and mortgage loans.
They control access to our electoral process and economic markets. They are using their power to slowly narrow the opportunities of social conservatives and religious traditionalists to access these institutions.
Forty years ago, the great threats to the permanent things, in the United States and across the West, were Soviet communism and Western socialism. Today, it is the axis of Big Tech, Chinese, and corporate totalitarianism: what I call the Woke Industrial Complex.
Conservatism Turned Up to 11
Defeating it — rescuing America from it — will not require conservatives to abandon our principles, but to double down on them. Properly considered, populist, nationalist “new” conservatism is in many ways just conservatism turned up to 11.
It’s not half-hearted slogans about de-regulation and free enterprise. It is a radical commitment to defending the family from the relentless assault of technology, anti-human ideology, and economic exploitation.
Yes, prioritizing the family in this moment absolutely means de-prioritizing the financialization and globalization of our economy, which has done so much damage to the “little platoons” that protect individuals, families, and communities from the elite ambitions always at their throats.
But today as always, conservatism stands for freedom against both license and oppression. For sovereignty against both xenophobia and globalism. For the family against both statism and atomization. For “we the people” against the elite and the mob.
Divest, Boycott, Sanction Washington D.C.
No true conservative would disagree. But nor would any conservative seriously contend that those unchanging principles could only ever be reflected by open borders, free trade with enemies, economic corporatization, and an Amazon warehouse in every town.
New times bring new challenges, which call for new political coalitions and new policy priorities. Some of that will require, as my friend Russ Vought recently argued, a “radical constitutionalism” divesting power from Washington and federal funding from woke-weaponized public institutions.
Some of it will require more activist intervention in the economy than Republicans have supported in recent decades: antitrust enforcement, forcibly divesting our financial sector from China, and applying a regulatory structure to new technologies.
Americans today are at the mercy of distant forces, our livelihoods dependent upon the arbitrary whims of power. Our problems, once localized enough to be addressed by the little platoons or by the so-called “mediating institutions,” are now vast and globalized, and the tools the conservative right has always relied upon are dismantled — because we’ve allowed them to be.
We can no longer tell communities to “solve problems locally” and have “neighbors take care of neighbors” when our communities have been cratered by de-industrialization, opioids, and globalism. We can’t tell families to do the work of raising emotionally secure, competent, and educated citizens when it is the policy of our government to tax marriage and make having children a luxury good. And we can’t tell our churches and synagogues to fix our spiritual crises when the political right trembles and crumbles before every attempt by the left to banish virtue from public spaces while using the government to persecute people of faith.
The Old Right Was Wrong
I want to be very clear about something. The moment we now find ourselves in is, in some ways, simply the consequence of progress, the slow creep of modernity. But it is also the result of a specific set of policy choices made and endorsed by the political right. If the “New Right” is to mean anything at all, it must be the humble acknowledgment that the right, as a matter of policy, has sometimes been wrong.
It has been wrong about engagement with China, wrong about consequence-free free trade, wrong that “corporate monopolies are good, actually,” wrong that unfettered immigration benefits U.S. workers, and wrong about the idea that the market would somehow correct for the left’s slow march through the cultural, educational, and political institutions.
A recognition of this fact does not call for arrogance. It does not call for spiking the football or gotcha politics. It also doesn’t mean we should dump centuries of philosophical tradition overboard. Rather, re-orienting the political right calls first for humility, skepticism, and creativity. Most of all, it calls for hard work.
Today, the right must understand that the things we cherish, the permanent things that make life worth living — family, faith, community, nation, and human dignity — do not just happen. They must be actively defended — at times against the government, and at times with the government working to create the space for a free people to flourish.
Freedom, after all, is not a negative good. It is not simply enough, at this juncture, to “get out of the way.” Rather, freedom is a positive set of conditions that must be pursued, promoted, defended, and achieved for a meaningfully free life to follow.
So maybe what’s new about the New Right is our willingness to see that fact — and to do something about it.
This article is an edited version of the author’s remarks to the Restoring a Nation conference on Oct. 8, 2022.