The intellectuals who backed Trump have been fooling themselves for years
Donald Trump’s descent down that gold escalator in June 2016 marked the beginning of a new intellectual era on the American Right.
Critics called it populism, or even fascism. To those at the forefront of these changes — whether they were politicians like Trump himself or Senator Josh Hawley, memoirists like J.D. Vance, journalists like Tucker Carlson, Daniel McCarthy, Sohrab Ahmari and Julius Krein, political philosophers like Patrick Deneen and Yoram Hazony, Catholic Integralists like Adrian Vermeule, billionaire investors like Peter Thiel, and even the digital sports media impresario Dave Portnoy — this was a new politics.
This was National Conservatism, a post-liberal break with the ‘zombie Reaganism’ that dominated Republican thinking since the days of the USSR. Their ‘New Right’ outlook is summarised, and then scrupulously critiqued in an essay by the academic Tanner Greer:
But the New Right has a problem. They are too intellectual, argues Greer, and too concerned with ideas. The New Right, in books like Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (2018) attacks figures like Locke, Jefferson, and Hayek for their liberalism. For Deneen and many others on the New Right, America has always been less liberal than the philosophers and statesmen who founded the country thought it was.
This focus on philosophical ideas blinds the New Right them to the true forces of history. Greer points to the folk traditions and customs, which are more inexact than ideas. They include clothing, housing, sports, sexual practices, symbols and metaphors.
These, argues Greer, completely upend the New Right’s picture of America as a country that had liberalism, and libertarian ideas forced upon it by ideologues. America’s libertarian philosophy was really “an attempt to articulate in the language of philosophy the common-sense attitudes and practices long embedded in the customs of the people themselves.”
Everything the New Right rails against, like the “detachment of the suburban home, the egoism of individualist striving, over-rationalist notions of social contract, the ceaseless whirring of the capitalist machine — all have clear antecedents in English society, many reaching back to the 1200s.”
Of all the groups in America that was the most libertarian were, and still are, “backcountry” Scots-Irish immigrants:
The political heroes of this group include Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, and Donald Trump. They are far more libertarian than post-liberal:
How are we to understand the New Right then? They are more like the Puritan founders of America than the Hillbilly masses they seek to lead. They want to build “common good” conservatism from a base that is suspicious of all forms of collective politics:
Challenging and provocative, Greer’s essay is a must-read.