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.

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Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

Greer’s essay is a bit pseuds-corner stuck in “Puritan settlements”.
The New Right isn’t grounded in intellectualism. It is more of a grass-roots reaction against globalist ‘progressive’ ideas that have unified social justice activists with neolibs and neocons with a ‘no-other-option’ statist view.
A world where big money chases the lowest labour costs – so off-shoring and illegal immigration are good things – and cheers for pork barrel-deals and subsidies from government a la Tesla. And where NGOs try to ‘flip’ countries ostensibly for social justice reasons, but with full support of defence and energy pipeline industries.
Instead the pro-Trump right carries echoes of the past – isolationism, belief in self-help, a desire for fair process, belief in small government and it’s-the-economy-stupid for jobs and work – get out of our hair and let us live the American dream. Instinctive, not intellectual, deriving its energy from a sense of powerlessness and disdain, instead of some pseudo ‘Big Idea’.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

I agree, what an utter wa* kf est the above article and the one it linked to, and copied, are.

Because the sort who generate the above drek are so removed from what has always been ‘Normal Western Ideals’ they cannot even understand the concepts of Morality, Ethics, Decency, Self reliance, Patriotism, Nobility, Duty, and Good/Evil.
Morality is cultural: to a headhubter it is moral to kill strangers, to a Liberal it is moral to enable university students to work in the sex industry to subsidize their lifestyle. Moral to kill a fetus as it may interfere with your lifestyle, but immoral to kill someone convicted of the most heinous crime. To Liberals all Ethics are Relative and morality is situational. Patriotism is a dirty word, decency is a mix of enabling, pandering, and pure licentiousness depending on what pleasure matters to you. Correct and incorrect has replaced good and evil as they believe in nothing but nihialist Secularism, noting of ultimate value can exist in their empty hearts and pig satisfied brains.

Thus they cannot even grasp the idea of Conservative, which is Patriotic, Decent, honorable, people who love good and despise evil, the ideals which built the West under the 10 commandments and Christ’s teachings..

You can no more explain decency to a Liberal than you can explain a lawnmower to a dog, their brains just cannot grasp it; and so they make up the above rambling word salad to try to explain what a conservative is.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Greer’s ‘essay’ sounds like another shallow hit piece. Meanwhile, gun sales to first time buyers hit a new record in March as more and more people wake up to the fact that the defunded and demoralised police will not be allowed to protect them. I think the New Right understands at least half of America, and the other half of America will increasingly come to understand the New Right.

B Luck
B Luck
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

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.

Richard E
Richard E
1 year ago

The New Right is about the Nation State, and is a rejection of Globalist SupraNational Institutions that attempt to take power away from the state and therefore the electorate.
As always, the natural supporters of the Right are the working and lower/mid middle classes, who support democracy, equal rights, the nation state, a relatively free but fair economic system, healthy self sufficiency, the rights of the individual and equal opportunities for all. They want power to be with the people and that their will should be expressed through free and fair elections, that enable the people to wield power.
What they don’t support is losing control to Globalist Institutions, rule by Expertocracy, unlimited and uncontrolled immigration, nor identity/victim politics.
The Globalists want reduce the power of the electorate and give powers away through international treaties and to international organisations.
What the left fail to understand is that Trump is rich but he is well outside the Establishment, especially the political establishment. To them he was the outsider who should never have been ‘allowed’ to take power. That’s why the establishment hate him so much, they were happy with power going back and forward between the Democrats and Republicans in their little club.
Trump is also rich, but blue collar through and through, so he instinctively understood the issues that concern the average person in the street. He is also one of the few people to enter politics without the aim of coming out richer than when he went in.
He achieved a record 75 million votes, so his appeal is widespread and not reliant on the ‘hillbilly’ vote as you imply. It is even likely that he was cheated out of the election through voter fraud. Until he appeared on the scene many people thought that the Republicans would not be able to win elections in the near future.
During the next 4 years I expect him to work to reform the Republicans in his image, ensure candidates for Congress and Senate are true Trump Republicans while attracting more working calls and middle class voters from all sectors of society and then be a strong contender to take the Presidency in 2024, with both Houses.

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard E
Gorgia Verolini-Wright
Gorgia Verolini-Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard E

Astonishing that a rich (& extremely privleged) kid who made it to the Presidency by tapping into a support base through clever use of social media, could be described as “.. blue collar through and through”.. Not true at all .. he cleverly motivated the blue collar vote but his “philosophy” & instincts appear to be driven entirely by the me, me, me principle.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

Indeed, he was probably all those things you say. My voted was one of negative participation. I didn’t vote so much for Trump as against a party that hates me because of the color of my skin.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard E

What you are saying is indeed what a lot of people want.
The problem is when Catholic integralists or blood-and-soil nationalists think that ordinary people will want to give up their relative improvement in living conditions over the last 100 years for a more ‘authentic’ society where they will get placed in an arbitray social class and forced to live as serfs – but it will be good for their them spiritually. This is no more realistic than libertarians a few years ago thinking that the average person would want to live in an anarcho-capitalist Mad Max world, the socialists 100 years ago who though bizarrely people wanted command economies, the neoliberals who thought people wanted full on globalization, or Islamic fundamentalists who think we should all be subjected on a global basis to an Islamic caliphate.
Sorry to break it to the tribes of ideologically driven young people on the internet but none of these intellectual fantasies is going to come true… and if someone attempts to do so in real life it will get perverted out of all recognisable form by that wily old tendency called human nature. This is why I have always seen a Burkean liberal conservatism as the only realistic way to manage society.

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
1 year ago

I don’t think Trump would ever be described by anyone as too intellectual! Many policies were simple and effective, cut regulation, simplify and reduce taxation. The ideologues are the ‘progressive’ ( I really don’t like that description!) left. There is nothing progressive about them and intellectual vigour escapes them in the name of their ideology.

barbara neil
barbara neil
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

well said. The amount of projection, when it comes to Trump, is astounding.Was he only a mirror?

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

True, but Trump isn’t who is being called too intellectual here, it’s the thinkers of the new right that hitched themselves to Trump without really understanding one of the core parts of his appeal.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago

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.

Alex Sydnes
Alex Sydnes
1 year ago

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?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

Unherd needs to invest in some quality control.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

A simple test, give the article to a bright 20 year old with a normal amount of education and see if they can write a summation of the article which indicates they understood the basis. This sort of mess would never make it pass the editor’s desk – I could not make head of tail of it, and I am pretty educated. I suppose it is Liberal Political/academia speak or something, but unless you understand all the code words and names it flows no where.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
1 year ago

The problem here is that you believe the woke or the liberal elite have anything to do with meritocracy. Its all jobs for the (woke) boys/girls/non binaries etc. it has zero to do with how good they are at a job. If the wokesters were actually any good, people might listen. Woke corporations are woke cos its a very useful mainly cheap barrier to entry for say a small talented startup and helps keep the monopolies and cartels going.

Kat L
Kat L
1 year ago

honestly i have no idea what the author is talking about. i’ve been around a long time and can tell you that the middle of the country have always been financial moderates and social conservatives. when the dems offered this they voted for them but once they stopped they had to vote for the republicans no matter how little they represented them because they were a bulwark against the odious social engineering of the dems.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

I got thorough Greer’s paper. So much was simply against my understanding. I struggled with the notion that the migration path for many Scots-Irish coursed down Appalachia but the history related isn’t close to reality. “reputation for savagery” more for excessive drinking that made more settled areas uneasy. “cabins miles apart” mainly because farming required space. Late arrivals forced beyond Pennsylvania in search of land, they ended up in difficult places where self-sufficiency was paramount. But that was 200 years ago! Not exactly true now except some cultural residuals.
The formation of elected representative government early in VA in 1619 become the beginning of citizen control laying the seeds for the eventual revolution. But we are 400 years later with multiple political pendulum changes. Seemingly all societies end up with the battle between conservative and liberal philosophies and within those broad lines there exist disagreements. I’m not even sure who the New Right even are. I am sure that progressive schemes of division are unhealthy because resultant societies collapse as history observes.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

Myth and counter-myth. Wokeism is the New Right, using social justice as moral justification for its avarice and power lust instead of Christianity. America never cared about freedom, only freedom from Great Britain, which was and is freer.

Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
1 year ago

Greers essay is very compelling – the conservative movement in America is indeed in deep trouble. Having pillaged the treasury through tax-cuts for plutocrats, and played to the “backwoods libertarian” instinct of the core of the Trump coalition, it seems the Right in America now has nothing to say about how to fix things. Espousing communitarianism from the Right, as Boris is successfully doing in the UK, is seen as the intellectually bankrupt move it essentially is, notwithstanding that the Trump coalition doesn’t see communitarianism as a solution in any case!

What’s the key difference between Redcar and Allentown ? The folkways of both places are utterly different. In the former, and throughout the Red Wall in the UK, the communitarian instinct is deeply rooted, through the trade unions, Provident societies, Nonconformist Chapels etc. These people may have some of the cultural mores of Trump country (immigration, suspicion of metropolitanism, love of country etc), but in the UK, communitarian solutions from the Right are being welcomed.

In America, not so much – partly because their folkways are different, as detailed by Greer, but partly also, because the Republican Party has absolutely no credibility as a vehicle for communitarian solutions.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

 because the Republican Party has absolutely no credibility as a vehicle for communitarian solutions.
I’d probably be looking for distractions, too, when people notice that every major US city, the ones besieged by rioting, are run by Dems. Or that public education, long a province of the left, has become a laughingstock.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

Although that “communitarian instinct” is, I’d argue, as rare in the south of England as in the USA, not just recently either. Like the US, places such as Kent or Essex, or even the West Country have traditionally been made up of self-sufficient yeomen not hive-minded miners or factory workers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit