by UnHerd
Wednesday, 28
April 2021
Seen Elsewhere
07:00

Does the New Right understand America?

The intellectuals who backed Trump have been fooling themselves for years
by UnHerd
The phrase ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ was most popular than among America’s Scots-Irish migrants

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:

There is no New Right catechism… Yet there is a broad set of shared attitudes and policy prescriptions that draw New Righters in. The New Right likes to think of itself as a band of class warriors. Of tariffs and industrial policy, they are unequivocally in favor. Government economic intervention is to be lauded, if such intervention revitalizes the heartland and secures the dignity of the working-class man. Both tech companies and high finance are viewed with suspicion…. The New Right distrusts capital. This is partly because capital has become woke…  They believe that America’s corporate class has subverted American culture and betrayed the American people… “Globalist” is the favourite epithet for the New Right’s enemies. They hate meritocratic climbers whose motives and mores mirror those of urban professionals in London or Singapore, not those of “normal” Americans in Chattanooga or Cleveland.
- 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 backcountryman honored strength and charisma, but had no respect for rank or hierarchy. Authority was weak in his world, and that is how he liked it. They rejected outsiders. They rejected the learning of the college educated. The backcounty wrapped its patriotism in the imagery of rattlesnakes, hornet nests, and alligators; they did not invent the phrase ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ but nowhere was it more popular than among America’s Scots-Irish migrants.
- Tanner Greer

The political heroes of this group include Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, and Donald Trump. They are far more libertarian than post-liberal:

Trump strongholds… are found in the places Scots-Irish settled; hillbilly country is the reddest place in the nation. The cultural descendants of the backcountymen are the base of the Trump coalition. The New Right faces a fundamental mismatch of means and ends: they hope to build a post-libertarian national order on the backs of the most naturally libertarian demographic in the country!
- Tanner Greer

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:

Spare a prayer for the post-liberal politico who must herd the backcountry crowd. The pillars of the New Right’s rising moral order are the most licentious and rebellious people in the nation. This is an unstable foundation for a post-liberal body politic if there ever was one.
- Tanner Greer

Challenging and provocative, Greer’s essay is a must-read.

Join the discussion


  • Well, the biggest problem facing white men is to stop being terrified of being called racist (whatever that is). Everybody’s “racist.” It’s all insane really. The least “racist” people on the planet are white men. LOL. My advice for white men is to say it’s against their religion to worship humans. POC worship is becoming a kind of bizarre cult where anything POC are offended by is evil – or what virtual signaling whites say POC are supposed to be offended by. It’s literally becoming like offending Mohammed, or fitna. Except it’s much worse because the offense is completely open-ended. POC can literally be offended by anything, including blonde hair and blue eyes. Why not?

  • What a bunch of silly twaddle. Yea, read Dineen (and MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” to understand classic European/Catholic conservativism, but to understand the New Right (an odd label – better, post-Reagan right) read Kessler’s “Crisis of the Two Constitutions” and Caldwell’s “The Age of Entitlement “ –

    Trumpism (without the Trump divisiveness) has been in the works since the Woodrow Wilson progressives became the FDR “liberals” became the LBJ “great society” welfare statists with the administrative state and left-leaning federal judges combining to undo the original constitution with its separation of powers.

  • I don’t see any reason to put the word ‘essay’ in scare-quotes. It’s clearly an essay—what else would it be called?
    It’s also linked so there’s no reason merely to guess that it’s a ‘shallow hit piece’—you can read it and see for yourself. As it happens it’s not a shallow hit piece at all, it’s an intelligent attempt to understand some of the societal and intellectual undercurrents of the New Right movement in America. You may not agree with the analysis, or the schism it claims to identify, but to me that’s the point of Unherd and the articles and essays it highlights—they’re meant to challenge your preconceptions and make you think again. Otherwise this website would become a mere theguardian.com only for those of a different political persuasion—I hope that never happens.

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