Is the New Right political?

The intellectual patrimony of the contemporary Right was constructed with an eye to avoiding another Hitler. Hayek, Schumpeter, Von Mises, Popper, etc. were all mid-century Austrians who all felt the need to articulate Never Again systems. Their claim -which I’ll simplify to the thesis of “The Road to Serfdom” – was that authoritarianism arises by taking advantage of the sort of centralized systems of governmental control set up by the interwar Left, and so the only way to avoid Hitlers was to dismantle, decentralize, and deregulate. Among Americans this belief dovetailed with a constitutional movement that sympathized with the founding-era suspicion of governmental power, which was part of a larger tradition of classical liberalism that all the Austrians celebrated.

Because of this the contemporary Right saw itself as a third way to either the Right or the Left. It rejected both the collectivism and internationalism of the Left and the Nationalism and racialism of the Right. But this left it without a principle of collective action or identity, making it strangely unable to account for what made it a political movement. The best that Americans could come up with was that we were a “proposition nation” committed to equality, but the proof that no one ever took this seriously is that to do so would be infinitely more intrusive and statist than the Nazism it sought to avoid. It’s very easy and requires minimal invasion into personal life to confirm that someone is, say, German or sufficiently German, and once you determine someone’s level of Germanity it will stay the same throughout his life. But a proposition nation would require ongoing check-ins about our commitments to personal belief under threat of penalty. “Citizen Jones! Convince us you believe in what we call EQUALITY, or else!”

In practice, the contemporary Right turned to the same principle of political order as the New Left did: crass individualism and the pluralism of do your own thing, which is indistinguishable from a rejection of political order.  If I really am to do my own thing, the state is just there as another resource to be fleeced, and everyone else has the same “rights” over me (in scare quotes since the law that ensures such rights is just another resource to be fleeced, not a guarantor of justice. “Right” is just another exercise of raw power, not a claim to a good in justice).

 

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