Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Future of the Right?

It was a good time watching Frank debate a populist in defense of libertarianism at the NYYRC's "Future of the Right" event. But going in, I didn't see the NYYRC's former chairman of the Libertarian Caucus as a "libertarian." There were moments where it seemed he tried to wrestle himself out of its ideology—"I am a lowercase 'l' libertarian" he clarified. On the economy, he argued that government involvement in failing industries is not "forward thinking." Troy Olson should have pounced on this to show ideational overlap. During the Q&A section is when he agreed by repeatedly stating that the government should not bail out big banks. Instead, he responded to Frank's bold claim that there was no future in populism. 

"This strain of populism that we have right now with the national conservatives—that's not new either. When Pat Buchanan was challenging George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, and you had the same thing with Ross Perot, there was a little movement there. They were called the Buchanan Brigade. Well, the Buchanan Brigade won New Hampshire. But that's about it. So there's really no future in these movements, and I think just like the past, this national conservative movement will fade away pretty soon."

This was a surprising moment because Frank's libertarianism is not one obsessed with government intervention. As he makes clear later, effectuating change will not come with more government, or a lack thereof, because there needs to be a "spiritual reawakening." And this makes the most sense considering this forum is devoted to community and a re-establishment of traditional moors. The lowercase "l" libertarian is suggesting that the American problem does not lie in a superficial war of identities but the disbandment of community that led to it.  

It is at this point, however, that Frank and Olson are both populists, insofar as populism is defined as a mass movement. Frank is correct that mass movements fade away—but that's obvious because they all do. Nothing remains popular; if it did, the conservative would not exist. The "future of the right" is therefore a misnomer because the most pressing issue that conservatism has today and forever is that the moment it is uttered it is obsolete

This might explain the populist's belief that legislating change is the goal, but that does not make it perfectly possible, at least not with predictable consequences. It also explains the libertarian's already antiquated ideals—he is just not popular, until the pendulum swings back in his direction.  

Nietzsche thought that forms of knowledge and morality were based on the psychology of the philosopher. But it appears that the common thread, or most concrete fact, in conservative thought is that there's a lack of social cohesion but always a prescription for it. As Adrian Vermeule notes, the right is just as guilty of legal positivism because we want to legislate or interpret the perceived good. While yes, there are things that are naturally good, and there are truths (whatever they may be), there is no philosophy grounded in the concrete. Everything is a farce. The populist is just as temporally fleeting as the libertarian is already killed in his stagnant ideology. 

Societies at different times may experience higher legitimacy and deference, where the criteria of sociality is not at the center of a war, but it is a matter of degrees. And legitimacy of any sort of decorum is always undergoing the microscope, legally and socially. Consider how drag shows for children have become the object of both praise and ridicule. 

This suggests that the pendulum of morality, politics, law, etc. swings at various stages of opposition (change is pushed and then internalized; it doesn't just snap into existence).

I believe we're at a moment not so unique from others preceding it, except for the fact that we are living in it and understand it more so that it feels as if everything were ending. And it is, largely. Everything is ending all of the time. That is what makes political discourse today so intolerable. I think there is tacit recognition that meaningful evolution into the future is a frustrating process. Coupled with various other factors in our estrangement as a people, neither side can afford to be diplomatic.

This also suggests that there is no longer a "common good" conceived by a people. But there never truly is anyway. The social conservative is not wrong when he posits that people need bonds to prevent unmooring from society and one another; but that doesn't make it feasible.

Once you recognize this, you see that there is no mystery behind the curtain. Everything is as it is. Best to go have a picnic, drink a beer, smoke weed, settle down, have a family, barbecue with friends. To live as a revolutionary is not noble and neither is being a political commentator. It's not insignificant that noble also means inert. 

Maybe this is the premise of the libertarian do-nothing attitude? Doubtful.

But whatever the case may be, it must be noted that the civic life that vanished did not really go away; it became a larger project of oversaturated democracy thanks to the empowering illusion of voice that social media gave to people. And yet only a few come out on top and the rest the parrots, the useful idiots. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this and sorry I missed this great write-up. To give some insider baseball perspective. Yes, Frank is hardly a libertarian anymore. We have had many scenes throughout the last year and it became clear that our chief challenge this night would be making this a debate at all. Thankfully, the question format, the fact I was very sick this day, and Frank and I finding a few differences made it hopefully more compelling and informative than it might of been. It would have been unfair to the viewers online and people at the event to have 2 hours of Frank and I agreeing with one another. Where I think it comes together in complimentary ways that does give a bright future for the "right" (even though I loathe the spectrum terms) is that Frank and I came to our positions from different journeys and different places. I had one very complimentary line / bone to throw to libertarians that I forgot to include but Frank knows well -- "we need a Teddy Roosevelt in pursuit of Calvin Coolidge." Regardless of the particular future of any political movement or coalition, I stand by in my conviction that this country is in a very tough spot but that succumbing to declinism is not a viable option.