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Among The New Right Vanguard

The rich and connected people who are planning for the slow-motion decline of the American state
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The thing you should read today is James Pogue's rambling but fascinating Vanity Fair piece about key figures in the New Right, and their vision for a post-American America. You might think when you finish that this is a motley crew of rich gonzo intellectual types that probably won't amount to much. You might be right. But you should also be thinking of Lenin and the early Bolsheviks, in their Siberian exile, meeting to study, build community, and to plan for the future they wanted -- and, alas, that they got.


I was startled to see my name turn up, as well as the names of my friends Paul Kingsnorth (who is apolitical) and Patrick Deneen, as intellectual contributors to the conversation in these circles. Let me cite those passages; I'll tell you why afterward.

The me part:

He’d just bought a run-down country resort and tavern in the tiny town of Story, Wyoming. It was in a beautiful and secluded creekside cove of Ponderosas, a shady island amid the surrounding sagebrush desert. “Pretty good hideout, right?” he asked me, as we had a glass of wine and talked guns, European fiction, and the possibility of civil war. The place was a furious hive of activity. He was paying a couple dozen young members of Christian families to get it ready to open for the public. He was openly conflicted about his role in the churn shaping the West. “My guess,” he said, “in 10 years, there won’t be any blue-collar people left in Story.” A lanky and bearded minister from Iowa had come out with his family to help him work on the place, and there were a dozen or so kids in denim and homemade dresses rushing around, cooking, and doing some light demolition. The scene was a prime example of “crunchy conservatives,” an ecosystem described by the writer Rod Dreher—who champions localism and has long advocated that conservative Christians withdraw as a way of preserving their culture. It’s a process that eventually led Dreher himself to move to Hungary, where he has become a vocal supporter of the country’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán. “I love localism, but there is definitely a point where it can turn into blood and soil,” McNiel said. “I feel like my role is to argue for a localism that doesn’t go off the rails into exclusion.”

Well, Dreher moved to Hungary in part because he loves the country and supports what's happening here, in general, but also because his wife is divorcing him, and complications from that sad event have made family relationships extremely difficult at the moment, so he moved to a place where he could recover. Dreher's older son just finished college, and joined him in Budapest.

The Kingsnorth part:


I drove north toward Montana, where I visited with a man named Paul McNiel, whom I’d first met back during the fervid summer of 2020, at a Fourth of July picnic and anti-government rally headlined “Rage Against the State.” “I think that Livingston has the highest per-capita concentration of contributors to The New Yorker of any city in America,” he’d said when I introduced myself as a writer. McNiel is extraordinarily well read, and friendly with a number of literary types. He is a bit of a prepper, and while he is deeply Christian, he doesn’t consider himself right wing. “I don’t think the division is right-left anymore. It’s us against the machine,” he said, borrowing a phrase from the English writer Paul Kingsnorth—whose writings critiquing the power of tech and money in modern life have become popular among dissident types. He was dismissive of the local armed groups being flooded with new members. “At the end of the day,” he said, “if you’re not willing to shoot federal agents, then you’re not serious about it. They aren’t serious.”

The Deneen part:

I met a man named Jon Stokes, a Harvard Divinity School graduate from small-town Louisiana who’d cofounded and sold the media company Ars Technica to Condé Nast (which owns Vanity Fair), and was a big figure in the online prepper world. Stokes had also helped to found a sophisticated and slightly esoteric pro-gun group called Open Source Defense. And, it turned out, he was a member of Srinivasan’s 1729 group.

“Balaji has a thing with the media,” he said. “So I definitely can’t talk about that to you.” But he was happy to get into why he was interested in prepping. I asked him whether all the chaos it seems we’re experiencing is just part of the usual course of history, no different, except for the hyperspeed of the internet, than the upheavals that had swept the world in the 1960s. “I guess that’s the trillion-dollar question,” he said. “I would be inclined to agree with you that it’s falling apart at a deeper level.”

“One of the things that is fascinating to me about the Network State idea,” he said, “is this idea that a community gets together around a moral premise.” He thought America lacked this now. “If I had to pick one thing, I would say that there’s something about the level of inequality, and I know that’s a very lefty thing to say,” he said. “There is something about the shocking and staggering degree of inequality that feeds a lot of this.”

“I think liberalism has failed,” Stokes said, perhaps echoing the title of the best-known expression of this kind of thinking, Why Liberalism Failed, by the Notre Dame political science professor Patrick Deneen. The book, surprisingly, has even been praised by President Barack Obama, who said he mostly disagreed with its conclusions but noted “an increasing disillusionment with the liberal democratic order” and a worrying “loss of meaning and community” when he recommended it on Facebook in 2018.

“This thing where you could be a civil libertarian and an atheist and I could be a backwoods Pentecostal or a Muslim, but we can all come together and we can adjudicate some of these things and we can live in community,” Stokes told me, “I think that has broken down.”

Now, one thing that's interesting to me about these passages is how far Kingsnorth, Deneen, and I are from the crowd profiled in the piece. (Well, Kingsnorth and I; I haven't been in close touch with Patrick for a long time, but I would be very surprised if he would read this piece and see himself as a natural part of the crowd.) I don't say that in an "ick" way. It's just that I'm a soft-bellied, middle-class writer who is devoted to his Orthodox Christian faith above all, and who emphatically does not want to shoot federal agents, who is not wealthy, who doesn't fancy crypto schemes or violent resistance, or get invited to parties where people smoke hand-rolled cigarettes and retire to the bathroom to do drugs. I just visited Paul Kingsnorth in rural Ireland; it's not hard at all for me to see him as a radical, but it is impossible for me to imagine him at those parties.

I confess that the hedonistic aspect of this crowd does make me question its seriousness in accomplishing its goals. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I guess we'll see. For me, what I want to conserve the most is the Christian faith, and closely aligned to that, the possibility of living decently and raising a family in society. And cultural memory. I am only interested in resisting the regime insofar as it attacks these goods. I'm not saying that I would never side with the folks in the Pogue article -- obviously our interests overlap -- but that I don't see our salvation to be found in armed secessionist movements led by ketamine-and-coke-using crypto billionaires.

But I'm trying to learn from these people, because I concede that they may well see things that I don't. And I learned from talking to Catholic conservative anti-communist dissident Kamila Bendova that when you are hard up against a tyranny, you need allies you can count on -- and the people who share your faith commitment may not be there for you when the secret police come.

I think the main difference between this crowd and me is that I still believe that it is possible to work for meaningful change within the system we have. It will definitely not be solved by politics alone, and in my view, won't be solved at all without a serious, widespread return to religion. But Viktor Orban's Hungary shows what can be accomplished by politics. The problem we Americans of the non-normie Right have is that we have not had a political party that shares our critique of the system, in even a general way, and the only countercultural political leadership we have had has been Trumpian, which was more performative than effective. I keep boosting Orban to American conservatives because he is an example of how much can get done with the right political leadership. But even Orban openly recognizes the limits of politics in social and cultural renewal. Still, it's something, and it's no small thing, either.

That said, I share with that crowd the belief that we cannot go on like this -- that things are falling apart, and that they're not going to be put back together in the customary way. Here's a quote from the Pogue piece:

Their cohort sees the Northern Rockies as one of a few places in America that will be livable in the coming decades, when life in much of the country is likely to be defined by heat waves, floods, storms, and fires. But they were concerned about living through what people in these spheres tend to call “managed decline,” a comedown period from the age of cheap fossil-fuel energy and rapid economic and technological progress, in which America’s so-called “state capacity”—our collective ability to do things—steadily degrades, our “real economy” hollows out, and political divisions worsen. It is a scenario that looks more like the long decline of the Roman Empire than it does cataclysmic collapse. And it’s this scenario—a muddling, unhappy, middle course—that most people in this sphere tend to predict is coming.

Yes, I agree. Think about how hostile the ruling class (both Republicans and Democrats) are to many of us. The Republican Party, which led the way into the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which left so many of our soldiers dead or maimed (physically or mentally, or both), for no good reason, is now cheerleading behind Joe Biden's campaign to drag us closer to a broader conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia. Who does war with Russia benefit? Not you -- and saying so does not make you a Putin simp, despite what our media and the Establishment say. Remember when President George W. Bush convinced us all that we had to fight in Iraq for "freedom"? It was a lie. A friend of mine, a Rush Limbaugh-listening working class conservative who came back from Iraq with a medal on his chest, told me back then that the whole thing was "a waste." Remember when they told us that we had to fight in Afghanistan to turn it into a liberal democracy because Reasons? And now, a trillion dollars later, the Taliban once again runs the country, and the US is represented in Kabul by a nitwit diplomat who tweets out crap like this, as if Afghanistan were an American college campus:

We have a news and entertainment media that constantly propagandize for a worldview that says our sons might actually be girls, and our daughters truly boys -- and that gets inside their heads to try to scramble their natural instincts, to turn our kids against themselves and us. This is not paranoia -- this is really happening, and it's happening in the schools too. We have a news and entertainment media that is dead-set on dividing Americans by race, and as part of that, stigmatizing the half of people in this country who were born non-Latino white. The major capitalist class has embraced this poisonous ideology, and made itself an enemy of many of us Americans. And we have one political party (the Democrats) who have gone all in on normalizing this stuff in law, and another (Republicans) who have either gone along with it, or who have, with some praiseworthy exceptions, mounted only feeble resistance. As long as the Washington GOP gets its business tax cuts and foreign wars, it could not possibly care less about families, churches, schools, and workers.

(We can change that, though! Don't forget it. DeSantis is leading the way, and some GOP state legislatures.)

The conservative commentator Matt Walsh has been tut-tutted by others on the Right for saying mean things about that creepy Dylan Mulvaney. He responds:

And adds, in a clip you should watch, because he's correct:

Walsh speaks, in a sense, to me when he talks about how little good moderation does in the kind of war we find ourselves. I don't like to be combative, not really. But the culture war I would rather fight is not the one we are in. That's why I pay attention to those more radical than I am: because sometimes -- not all the time, but sometimes -- they follow the logic farther than I am willing to do. The frightening part, however, comes when they arrive at a bad place ... and conservatives like me wonder if there can be any middle ground between the bad place we are in now, and the bad place to which the right-wing radicals would take us. This is why they are useful to our thinking harder about these things. The one thing that we really cannot do, though, is assume that these are still normal times. They're not, and they won't be again, ever.

Seriously, though: think about how well within living memory, it was barely conceivable for people of the Right to question the reasonability of military service. Now, though, after the wars of this century, and the lies that sustained them (see the Afghanistan Papers), and given that the US military has embraced the kind of woke ideologies that demonize the kind of people who are most likely to serve in the military, you'd have to be drunk on Kool-Aid not to at least question what you would be fighting for. I've had a number of currently serving military men tell me over the past three years that when their term is up, they're bouncing out of the military, because it has become too politicized for them. They wonder why they should put their lives on the line fighting for a ruling class that hates people like them, and is working to make life harder for them and their children.

See, this is a big freaking deal: when conservatives, people on the Right, come to separate the US ruling class from themselves, and to see that ruling class as not governing the state and private institutions with the common good in mind, but according to an ideology that attacks core social, cultural, and religious values that used to be commonly observed in America ... well, how do you hold the country together, then? As regular readers of mine know, Alasdair MacIntyre and Philip Rieff separately saw that the foundation of our culture -- a shared religion and framework of ultimate value -- had disappeared, long before the starkness of our present cultural polarization made itself manifest.

Paul Kingsnorth is absolutely right about the Machine (see more of his thoughts on it here, but you really should subscribe to his must-read Substack newsletter) -- and if left-wingers who see this can unite with right-wingers who can see this, we might actually get somewhere. But I wouldn't count on that happening. Who knows, though? All principled leftists and rightists ought to be able to see right through the Central Bank Digital Currrencies plan, which would be the greatest blow against liberty in history, as it would give states the ability to control buying and selling of every man and woman in the world. You don't have to be a religious believer to see that this is Mark of the Beast stuff. If this thing comes online in the US, then everybody who values their liberty needs to get to a place where they can participate in a barter economy. Those with foresight are doing so right now.

Well within living memory, the Catholic Church stood as a solid rock, at least in theory. Not anymore. Yesterday, among the many other exciting changes Pope Francis is making to Catholic life, he issued a new decree saying that Rome has to approve every future intention to have the old Latin mass said. So now, this:

I was at dinner last night with some Catholic friends. One of them asked if ever the Catholic and Orthodox churches would re-unite. Sadly, no, I said -- and one reason is that the Orthodox look with profound reservation at the liturgical instability in the Catholic Church. I bring it up in this context to highlight how insane it is that in the Catholic Church today, you can have LGBT masses, but not Latin ones. But this is where we are. The Latin mass people, who, as far as I've been able to discern, really believe what the Catholic Church teaches, are the goats now, but the LGBT Catholics who reject the Church's teachings are its darlings. What sense does that make? I mean, look if you had said in 2004, when the official John Jay Report on the Catholic sex abuse scandal found that something like 80 percent of the victims of abusive priests were males, that in twenty years, gays would be celebrated and privileged in the Catholic Church in ways unthinkable back then, and the most conservative Catholics marginalized, nobody would have believed you. But like I said: here we are. Hard to know how all this holds together.

From the piece:

“This thing where you could be a civil libertarian and an atheist and I could be a backwoods Pentecostal or a Muslim, but we can all come together and we can adjudicate some of these things and we can live in community,” Stokes told me, “I think that has broken down.”

Peter Thiel would agree with this,” he said, referring to Thiel’s interest in the French philosopher René Girard. “There was a sort of quasi-Christian state religion superstructure that set a larger bound around what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And now that’s fallen apart.”

“Balaji says the community has to have a point,” he said. “And it has to be a point that transcends just, we’re gonna make money and get material stuff. Liberalism doesn’t acknowledge a point.”

Well, yes, but liberalism allows you to choose your own point. It can work when everybody is choosing their own point within a pre-defined framework in which nearly everybody recognizes there are limits beyond which the collective cannot go. That's the thing we no longer have. In Scotland right now, Kate Forbes, the brilliantly talented Scottish National Party politician who was the odds-on favorite to replace Nicola Sturgeon, may be out of the race because she is a Christian who does not believe in same-sex marriage, even though she has made it clear that same-sex marriage is a settled business in Scotland, and she wouldn't challenge it. She is now considered tainted, not because she is a threat to same-sex marriage, but because she privately opposes it, as a Christian. Maybe Scottish society will soon be coalescing around hating and rejecting Christianity as the thing that binds it together.

Back to the piece:

“So that’s like to the civil war question, man,” he said. “I think if my middle model is something like the ’70s, which is bombings, political assassinations, that I think is very, very reasonable as an expectation.” But he was, he said, “as prepped as I can get. I don’t even know what other stuff I could buy.” Now, he said, “I honestly think these days about moving to Singapore.” He’d visited recently, and despite the fact that he was a civil libertarian, he’d found it an oddly appealing contrast to America. “I was like, man, this place is actually truly very high functioning and they care about it. They’re involved in a collective thing,” he said. “And they have a kind of benign nationalism.” He shrugged. Could be worse.

The guy saying that is the very rich Jon Stokes. It doesn't occur to people like him that when countries like Singapore and Hungary take in people like him and me, they risk that we carry with us the virus that is destroying America. Well, perhaps not: I'm a stronger supporter of Hungary's current order than many Hungarians, because I have a clear idea of what Viktor Orban is protecting Hungary from. Maybe Jon Stokes would be that kind of Singaporean. I know a young Spaniard who migrated to Hungary because he could no longer bear the hegemony of wokeness in his country, and can live here because he's an EU citizen. He thinks fed-up EU conservatives should move to Hungary, to strengthen its conservatism. I'd love to see that -- but then, I'm not at all sure that native Hungarians would agree.

Along those lines, reading the Pogue piece, and thinking about what it means for outsiders to flee declining social orders for defensible conservative strongholds, makes me wonder if we won't all be in for a nasty surprise if things really go down. In the Pogue piece, you can hear how angry and despairing local working-class people in the American West are over all these rich people fleeing the decadence and decline in their home regions, and making it impossible for working class people to live where they grew up. I'm glad I already own some family land in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, where I'm from, because I'll probably return there and build a retirement cabin, and there's no way I could afford to buy land there now, given how outsiders moving in have jacked the price up through the roof over the past thirty years. Local natives are hospitable and welcoming, for the most part, but it has not escaped their notice that their own children can't afford to live in the rural parish where they were born, and where their family may have been living for generations.

If a revolution kicks off, it might surprise people like us when the locals we thought would welcome us because we broadly share their values turn on us as carpetbaggers. This is one reason why as a conservative, I really, I sincerely, hope we can bring ourselves to manage these changes within the law and politics. One of the most fundamental conservative truths is that anarchy is the worst political evil. Besides, the line between good and evil doesn't pass between the US Government and those opposed to it. We know all too well that some of these prepper-style groups (think Warren Jeffs' fundamentalist Mormon cult) have incubated their own great evils. We cannot afford to be foolishly naive about human nature. I got into it late last year online with a far right essayist who ripped into me while defending a "no enemies to the Right" standpoint -- this, after I sharply criticized the closeted racist former headmaster of my kids' school (he was fired after his secret life was revealed). It's hard for me to see how a society ruled by rage-filled racists is superior to our problematic present order. In any case, I will never support it, because I am a Christian.

One last thing: I hope you do watch the Matt Walsh video above. He's responding to some conservatives who criticized him for being too harsh on the trans advocate Dylan Mulvaney. I haven't seen everything Walsh has said about Mulvaney, but I generally side with Walsh here. What Mulvaney and the very powerful and influential people who support him are doing is creating a world in which they come after our kids, and try to convince them to maim themselves for life. The fact that this is even allowed in our country is a sign of our own decadence. But ... here we are. Don't apologize for hating evil and defending truth -- especially when the lies are targeting your children.

UPDATE: A Catholic priest e-mails:

"... and Catholics marginalized, nobody would have believed you."

That's not true. There were no few of us who took the  modernists teaching us in the 60s, 70s, and 80s at their word. We saw how they operated and how it could work just as it has. Our concern 40 years ago was whether they would get a shot at the top in the 2010s and 2020s as they reached the age when, given that old men govern the Church, the 60s generation might get one last shot before they aged out to irrelevance.

Now we have our answer. A grievous situation, yes. The source of immense harm, certainly. But a surprise, not at all. The inevitable outcome absent a massive purification decades ago that was never widely achieved. 

But there was purification, widely dispersed if not widely achieved. There are those who know Christ, his Gospel, and the machinations of the Enemy and who have paid the price of discipleship over the decades. That's the seed planted that will bear the fruit of faithful witness come what may--even if it leads to figurative or literal gulags.

We'll see what Providence has in store. Does that witness build new life in the West or is snuffed out? If the later, then at least it will have contributed to the ongoing life of the Church elsewhere. For the witness of the Confessors, like the blood of the Martyrs, gives life to the Church.

These are the times given us; we use them as we can and leave the ultimate victory to Him.