One of the themes I hope to pursue on this substack is the nature and limits of the political imagination, which seems to me chronically impoverished among our intellectual class, especially among those who claim to be the most knowledgeable and realistic about politics. I have come to believe that our political world is far more fluid, far more malleable and susceptible to shaping through intentional action, especially the action of committed political minorities, than the putative realists can conceive at any given time. Today let me illustrate by mentioning a central dogma or rhetorical trope of right-liberalism — of the wing of liberalism that is also called “conservative liberalism,” that spreads its insights across the pages of the National Review, and that takes itself to be opposed to “woke-ism” and identity politics. (At least for now. The history of right-liberalism suggests that within a very few years, if that, the right-liberal will be defending identity politics against all challengers).
I find myself highly aligned with the "New Right", if only because I've been cast out for the Church of Liberalism, when in reality I am "politically homeless" (to coin Bridget Phetasy's term). I'm also not conservative, religious, or nationalist per se except – as you said – in understanding how these frameworks are helpful in standing opposition to a homogenizing global cultural and and social totalism.
The New Right is the only place where any visions of possibility is being put forward. Furthermore, I don't consider myself a culture warrior, but I think I've de facto become one, because the New Right is only place I can identify with a real cultural dynamism. It's an added plus they are integrating that with a sensible economic message; and a smart move in a stupid world that's somehow decided that economics and culture are fundamentally separate but housed within a suffocatingly restrictive political proceduralism.
I campaigned for Bernie Sanders in 2015 because I resonated with his left-populist message on economics. After he suspended his campaign and endorsed Hillary, I lost all interest. I stand by that decision more steadfastly than ever because Senator Sanders has demonstrated that he is not serious: about his candidacy nor wielding any real power ("grassroots revolution") toward concrete aims. Bernie chose to lean into identity politics the second time around – look at all the woke-humanities-PhD types he hired! – to placate his critics.
Also, his recent testimony on the Senate floor (in regards to his Twitter spat with Elon Musk) shows how even more unserious he is. He can't even articulate the difference between consumption taxes, taxes on capital allocation, and taxes for regulatory purposes. Someone who doesn't have even these basics down can't be expected to actually stand up for the working class and bring back the age of roaring trade unions with high wages and good benefits.
Contrast that with Chris Rufo, for example, and you see someone who unabashedly pursues using state power to effect substantive good in society. And not only that – he is even 100% transparent about it! He is not even trying to hide his goals and strategy. He is perfectly capable of explaining what he wants and open about how he plans to achieve it. How much more ethical can you get? And he's still winning. Because he is focused and forward-looking.
If you're young, thoughtful, and ambitious and you see how the USA is rapidly unraveling, and you want to do something to help – which side makes the most sense to take? The Old Left of Bernie Sanders which has been steamrolled by the Progressive Clerisy? The Old Right which does nothing more than conserve the institutions captured and desecrated by this same Progressive Clerisy? Or something entirely new, which actually wants to win? The choice is obvious.
As a last thought, I want to add that on a personal level that I've been surprised by the genuine catholicity of the New Right. I would have expected to face much more exclusion in this movement based on judgments about my political leanings (liberal), religion (Hindu), orientation and lifestyle (gay and not celibate), etc. Instead, I've been warmly embraced by various groups who accept anyone who is willing to think for themselves, work hard to generate results, and more importantly, maneuver around a stagnating, gerontocratic American gentry toward an optimistic future.
This essay reminded me of Maurras' words: despair in politics is foolishness. I am amazed that the most interesting thinkers in the West today are American Catholics. Day by day I am convinced that Catholicism will be one of the major forces that will lead us out of decadence and stagnation.
I’m not sure if it is a lack of imagination or an unfortunate, shared with the left, egalitarian assumption that limits their will.
I wonder if part of the problem is that progressives seem to focus on what they want now, not necessarily an actual just political society, and are willing to burn down any traditional structure in their way. Such tearing up of foundations will likely hurt themselves in the long run as well, but they aren’t thinking that far ahead and are focused on the immediate. Meanwhile, some of us want a just society in actuality and are trying to figure things out for the long run and for future generations, and not our immediate wants. That’s a harder “sell” (for lack of a better term).
Do have any thoughts on something like that?
From the futility of being a "realist," free my mind, O Lord!
This is very good. Thanks for writing, AV.
I get your point, Dr. Vermeule, I really do. That consummate "realist" Machiavelli was mostly just too clever by half. But...
Which Catholicism are we talking about here? The faux version perpetrated by that braying donkey of a Fool in the Vatican? The version exemplified by those manly upstanding Bishops who took and still take refuge in management-speak when faced with the reality of serious sexual sin in the ranks? I'd like to convert to Catholicism, and when I can find a church that even remotely practices what it also largely fails to preach (and I'm allowing for the inevitable problem of fallenness here), I'll do that.
I look forward to a future essay, in which you argue that your sense of wide-open possibility includes a Church that presently manages to proclaim that Christ has risen and then do everything it can to convince people that it doesn't really believe it.
I simply can't agree with you, that we should be looking for top-down solutions here. Neuhaus said that the solution to the sex abuse crisis was fidelity, fidelity, and fidelity. He was right, and until more of us individuals get our houses in order, I think we're just spitting in the wind, talking about top-down ideas. Dreher's writings seem to lean that direction, and I think he's right.
Change my mind,
If Jesus is Lord of the Universe then it would follow that bringing about a transformative change to American (or worldwide) governance that increased truth, justice and Worship of the One True God would be completely conceivable and not really hard to imagine at all...
Small minority or even a single person can become a catalyst of cataclysmic change not because of magic qualities, but rather because they are able to clearly express what unconsciousness of enormous masses of people feel. And they feel that something is wrong, something is not working for them, something is shifting under their feet but they cannot point at what exactly is it. If someone comes at that moment and verbalize all these ambiguity and uncertainty into a clear idea, this might well explode into a collective action of a huge proportion and crystallize into a political and social movement.
It might be more correct to say that the right-liberal "realists" tried to convince us that Hispanics would never vote Republican unless Republicans signed on amnesty, whereas in reality, Trump's border wall flipped Hispanic precincts all along the southern border to the Republicans.
I didn’t take all those other things as unchangeable. I was able to imagine the collapse of communist regimes, the adoption of same-sex marriage, the election of Trump, and Hispanic defection from the Democratic Party. I’m not saying I was betting on those things long before they happened, but they certainly didn’t seem to me beyond the realm of possibility. I could lay out a plausible series of steps that could lead from here to there.
But a Catholic political order in the U.S.? Sorry, that gets the wacky buzzer. We’re more likely to adopt French, to use Vermeule’s example. Beyond “You may call me a dreamer/But I’m not the only one,” does Vermeule explain anywhere how we might get there?
American reactionaries fight for a restoration while American conservatives intend to conserve a revolution as it now is. Reactionaries and revolutionaries both fight for what could be. Both have a vision of a potentiality that ought to be. Conservatives fight for what is. Conservatives can only see a reality that is. Conservatives define themselves by a lack of vision for the future. They only see what now is. They assume that what now is will be in the future. Reactionaries and conservatives will never share the same end if revolutionaries have power. Conservatives will oppose a restoration. If reactionaries have power, then conservatives will share their end of destroying the revolution. Conservatives have no vision and no morality other than what is ought to be. Conservatives brake any movement either forward or reverse. Conservatives hate all change both good and bad. Those who wish to change the world must be the enemies of conservatives. I seek the restoration. I seek to destroy the revolution. The conservative will oppose my creative destruction with his last breath.
Conservatives are the apathetic majority. Revolutionaries and Reactionaries are the thumotic minority around which the wheel of history turns.
“The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look.”