Commentary: Reagan Reed
“Right-wing socialism?” Isn’t that an oxymoron? That’s what I once thought. I used to think that the further left one went on the political spectrum, the bigger the government, while the further right one moved, the smaller the government. As someone who is very much an advocate of limited government, I placed myself very much to the right. However, I’ve come to realize that rather than being a line from authoritarianism to anarchy, the political spectrum is much more like a horse-shoe.
President Ronald Reagan once said that the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
However, there is a new movement in American politics that begs to differ with the conservative orthodoxy summed up in Reagan’s maxim. Can anyone guess who recently said the following quote?
“We must conclude that the new ‘most terrifying words’ are, ‘I’m from the ruling class, and I’m here to subjugate you.'”
While you may be forgiven for thinking the call to class warfare above came from Bernie Sanders or AOC, it was actually uttered by right-wing commentator Josh Hammer at the recent “National Conservatism Conference”.
Referring to the conservative orthodoxy of free markets, limited government, and constitutional originalism as, “effete, limp, and unmasculine,” Hammer called for a, “more muscular, assertive, and masculine vision of conservatism.” Who knew that economic theories or political ideologies had genders?
“We need a vision of conservatism that prioritizes not zombie free-market idolatry, but a vigorous political agenda dedicated, to quote a popular 2019 essay, to ‘fight[ing] the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils'”. [quoting Sohrab Ahmari’s polemic against David French] The only way for the American right to accomplish this, once regaining power, is to prudentially wield that power in the service of pursuing our ideal of the substantive good, and to reward friends of our just regime and punish enemies of our just regime within the confines of the rule of law.”
The above quote is the essence of the so called National Conservatism, a small but burgeoning movement on the political right that is attempting to mold the organic populism unleashed by Donald Trump into a coherent ideology. National Conservatism differs from traditional American conservatism in that rather than seeing big government as the problem, they see it as the solution. The National Conservatives have abandoned limited government, classical liberalism, and free market economics and instead want to wield the power of the state to “reward friends and punish enemies”, restructure the economy, and reorganize society according to their preferences. Jettisoning ideas about federalism and states’ rights that have been championed by conservatives for so long, the National Conservatives are all about using the federal government for their ends.
In responding to the concerning rise of woke authoritarianism on the progressive left, the National Conservatives have, by embracing authoritarian illiberalism themselves, become the mirror image of the leftists they so despise.
Although the National Conservative movement traces its resurgence to Trump’s populist movement of the last several years, in reality, the policies advocated by the National Conservatives look almost nothing like the policies of the Trump administration. With a few exceptions, such a trade protectionism and some aspects of foreign policy, the policies produced by the Trump administration looked like any other Republican administration: tax cuts, originalist judges, and deregulation. In fact, most National Conservative types I know personally don’t think very highly of Trump, who they believe was co-opted by “Conservative Inc”, and they view his presidency as a ‘uge missed opportunity.
However, they are attempting to brand themselves as the ideological successor to Trumpism, and want to hijack the unwieldy populist movement instigated by the former president. Appealing to the resentments of the working class and inciting class warfare in a manner that would make Karl Marx proud, the National Conservatives want to mobilize the proletariat against the “ruling elites”. Riding a wave of populist rage into power, they want to use the heavy hand of the state to impose their ideology on the nation.
Already, the National Conservatives are building a farm team of candidates to run in the 2022 midterms and beyond. The most prominent of these is J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy turned populist demagogue, who is now running for U.S. Senate in Ohio.
In a recent interview, Vance advocated for the government to, “seize the assets of the Ford Foundation, tax their assets, and give it to the people who’ve had their lives destroyed by their radical open borders agenda.”
Besides the fact that this would be a blatantly unconstitutional violation of property rights, it is notable just how far detached Vance and the National Conservatives have become from conservative principles. Seizing the assets and redistributing them among the working class sounds an awful lot like socialism.
The logical end of National Conservatism is manifested in their sycophantic stanning of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Under Orban, Hungary has turned towards authoritarianism, with the government essentially now controlling the media. Orban has used the Covid-19 pandemic to cement his power, imposing draconian lockdowns that make Blue States look like libertarian paradises by comparison. Many of the National Conservatives view Hungary as a model for what their movement wants to do in the United States, and Orban actually spoke at one of their conferences. “Make America Great Again” has become “Make America Hungary”.
So what’s next for National Conservatism? The good news for liberty-minded conservatives like myself is that the true National Conservative ideologues are a very small minority. Even though the GOP is currently consumed by populism, and the Republican base, it now seems, is far more comfortable with big government than I would personally have liked to think, there are very few rank-and-file Republicans who actually ascribe to the ideological tenants of National Conservatism. Indeed, I would bet that if you gathered 10,000 GOP primary voters in a room, not a single one could define “post-liberal Catholic integralism”. The political ideology of the average Republican voters is probably far more akin to a mishmash of sound bites from FOX News and talk radio than to position papers from the Edmund Burke Foundation or NatCon lectures.
The bad news is that the right (as well as the left) is currently trending towards illiberalism. In its current populist iteration, the GOP has strayed further away from the principles of liberty and limited government. The right-wing base seems to care far more about fighting their political enemies than about fighting for actual principles. The National Conservatives put an emphasis on fighting and advertise themselves as the final solution to attain victory in the culture wars. National Conservatism has taken root in a number of conservative intellectual institutions, most notably the Claremont Institute, which was once a highly regarded conservative think tank. Most concerning, National Conservatism seems to be especially popular among conservative youth.
At first, this article’s title of “Right-Wing Socialism” might seem like an oxymoron. However, right-wing, nationalistic, socialism is not a concept altogether foreign to history. The world has already seen a National Socialist Workers’ Party. It didn’t end well.
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