Among the Reactionary Vanguards
A new chapter opens for the National Conservative movement with a massive conference in Britain.
The first National Conservative Conference in Britain, where I was in attendance and chaired the only foreign policy panel, has already resulted in more debates, columns, newsprints, and accusations than the last Tory party conference. In fact, from all the rage and coverage, it appeared that nothing of this scale has happened for decades in Westminster. There were the British postliberal nerds snapping at ankles from the Twitter sidelines. There was the serial activist named, perhaps in a case of extreme nominative determinism, Steve Bray, who played loud music and shouted “fascist” at a few minority security guards outside a conference organized by an aged Israeli-American academic. The underlying sentiment seemed to be startled fear.
Returning to London after a few years, the relatively few homeless crazies on the road were equally startling to me. But much was the same. There were the eccentric #FBPE lost causers calling every biped in sight a Nazi. There were the Ukrainian flag and LGBT flags flying high next to Whitehall—the crusading cause and the state religion.
One protester, after buying an expensive ticket to the conference in what could be only explained by some sort of abnormal financial masochism, also managed to enter and call perhaps the most rabid laissez-faire free-marketeer present, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, a fascist. He was immediately booted out.
Another man, unusually rotund and pink for a land mammal, called the diminutive Indian-British home secretary prejudiced against “brown people” for her controversial view that national borders are inviolable. He was also kicked out in front of a bemused audience. The protesters outside shouted, “Stop the Tories.” If they had listened for a bit, they would have found that that exact sentiment was very prevalent within the halls of the Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Westminster.
Also remarkable was the number of Twitter sophisticates deliberately obfuscating the National Conservative Conference, a venue and platform for debate, with the National Conservative ethos and movement, a somewhat new but increasingly coherent ideology proposing a national identity opposed to racial essentialism of all forms in favor of values and geography, a pro-family economy, social organization rooted in order, merit, and hierarchy, and non-interventionism and balance of power abroad. It is the new right that is dissident, falling in love with ideas, and debating data about crimes, schools, and thought criminals in school systems.
That is why one could hear Miriam Cates MP saying that liberalism teaches that all boundaries are tyranny almost immediately before Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed (without citation) that Thomas Aquinas was a Brexiteer. Douglas Murray started a speech with a land acknowledgment to Lord Grosvenor and His Majesty the King. Referring to the massive overhanging whale skeleton in the National History Museum, Tim Stanley quipped in what was one of the finest speeches of the conference that he could already predict the headlines: “Fossils Lectured By Cavemen.” But as James Orr, the U.K. chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, mentioned, just over forty percent of the attendees were under thirty years of age, a surprising statistic in both England and America for a conservative conference of ideas.
Race essentialism and woke politics, as well as family and transgenderism, were repeated themes of the conference. I saw a bunch of animated young people discussing racial quotas and CRT, as well as gender fluidity, pedophilia, forced vaccination, and mastectomy in the outer hall. “It’s hard to specify what threatens to consume the entire West. Is it ‘wokeism'? Is it the media? Is it the administrative state? Is it the university-NGO-international busybody complex?” Michael Anton asked in the panel I was moderating. (“Nazis”, shouted Bray outside, as if answering Anton’s question.)
Meanwhile, hegemonic cultural liberals—both the nominally conservative but ethically progressive proceduralists on the right and progressive accelerationists on the left—now fall in line. “Why are 60% of people in this country afraid to say what they really think? Why do more than half of us think neither left nor right speaks for us? And why have so many people desperately been trying to find something else?” Matthew Goodwin asked.
Purely by being dissident, the NatCons parked a figurative tank in Parliament Square, and that made the sclerotic city elite take note. In one jolt it returned politics from the domain of management to one of governance and sovereignty. And the current “management” is terrified of the appeal. “Conservatism is order. Or it is nothing. That means orderly streets. And orderly borders,” Suella Braverman thundered. This statement, if polled correctly, will have overwhelming majority support among the same electorate that would also support a return to the death penalty as well as accountability for activist judges and civil service: a statement that, to Labour, Tory, and Liberal Democrat, is like strychnine to rats.
Vanguardism works, in both revolution and reaction. A movement can change, reorder, and push with only a handful of dedicated leadership aided by a vocal grassroots campaign. The sheer momentum of the organization is sometimes impossible to ignore. No one in the Tories likes to do anything. Naturally, when someone organizes something, and people flock to it, it changes the debate overnight. Thirteen years of relentless social liberalism under a conservative banner is leading to a rout, so this lament by self-professed liberals about why British conservatives are moving toward a more populist and NatCon direction is absurd. You cannot have conservatism when there is nothing left to conserve. The aim of the movement is restoration.
The two big criticisms of the conference were that it was light on policy and that it risked the alienation of moderates. The simple answer is you can only have a policy-oriented conference in an ideally free regime. If that were the case, there would not be a need for a reactionary vanguard. This is the formation of a brain trust, a reactionary vanguard under an already existing revolutionary edifice. Policies are a domain of the inner circles.
Hegemonic structures are perpetually worried about the rise of small, vocal, and powerful counter-elites. The prohibition of discussion about any uncomfortable social questions left “conservatism” without any room for navigation. The new right is unmoored from any such burden. And that’s why saying that one is a NatCon is now far more countercultural and risky in bourgeois circles than flying the pride flag.
The reply to the second argument is simpler. Liberals, of course, like “concern trolling” as a strategy, lecturing one about how to be a conservative even when they themselves will never vote for genuine conservatism. But anyone who seeks to “do something” in order to change the current order and impose any form of “authority” will eventually be called a “far-right reactionary.” Those words have no meaning anymore. Order, authority, borders, boundaries, hierarchy, anything that demarcates and distinguishes, anything that goes against egalitarian orthodoxy, anything that notices patterns, anything that feels both natural and beautiful, will be considered illiberal and therefore reactionary and evil.
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Performative centrism, taking the mindlessly median position of every issue just for giggles without any idea of what is qualitatively good or bad, is an intellectual curse, mostly taken up by those who couldn’t grow out of their Lebowski phase and are now perpetually stuck not understanding what time it is. But one can fetishize centrism and sit on the fence till one is impaled like an Ottoman soldier in 16th-century Romania. The other side will still see them as a useful virtue-signaling idiot.
And the NatCons seem to be grasping that instinctively. “Too many conservatives opt out of conflict and seek the approval of those who wish to grind them to dust,” Sir John Hayes MP said.