Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century

Three Way Fight


Paleoconservatives don’t have a mass following or much in the way of institutional power these days, but they do have a fairly lively intellectual scene. The defenders of Western civilization offer a number of competently written, well-produced journals, websites, and blogs, and a whole cohort of younger writers along with older, more established figures. Some of what they have to say is the same old predictable poison, but there is also some genuine political ferment going on, with ideas from other sources (tribalism and national anarchism, the European New Right, black conservatism, even the Left) contributing to comradely debate.

To get a sense of this discussion, a good place to start is the new website Launched in March 2010, AltRight describes itself as “an online magazine of radical traditionalism, [which] marks an attempt to forge a new intellectual right-wing that is independent and outside the ‘conservative’ establishment.” AltRight‘s founder and executive editor Richard Spencer comes to the project from editing gigs at The American Conservative and Taki’s Magazine, both influential paleocon organs. Like Spencer, several of the contributing editors are in their early thirties or younger, but there are also two “senior contributing editors”: Peter Brimelow (editor of the anti-immigrant and Paul Gottfried (one of paleoconservatism’s founders and one of the movement’s few Jews). In look and feel, AltRight‘s website is more professional than but less academic than The Occidental Quarterly, another important paleocon publication.

Background on Paleoconservatism
Paleoconservatism’s ideological lineage goes back to the anti-New Deal rightists of the 1930s and the America First isolationists who tried to keep the U.S. from joining the Allies in World War II. Paleoconservatism began to take shape in the 1980s as a reaction to the rise of the neoconservatives, who included many Jewish and Catholic intellectuals rooted in Cold War liberalism. Neocons, who gained many influential posts in and around the Reagan administration, emphasized an aggressive foreign policy to defeat communism and spread American “democracy” worldwide, coupled with limited social welfare programs and nonrestrictive immigration policies. Paleocons, who regarded the neoconservatives as usurpers and closet leftists, saw no-safety-net capitalism and the continued dominance of native-born white Christian men as vital for the health of the nation.

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991, the anticommunist glue that had held together different rightist factions began to fail. Paleoconservatives increasingly voiced sharp criticisms of U.S. military interventionism, free trade agreements, and support for Israel. Many paleocons also gravitated with increasing openness toward white nationalism, which advocates some form of distinct nationhood for white people based on claims that they are biologically distinct from and superior to people of color. These positions isolated paleocons from most ruling-class backing and put them at odds with the dominant trends in U.S. conservatism.

Nevertheless, during the 1990s paleoconservatism found significant popular support. It spoke to fears and resentments among a broad sector of white Americans, who were angered both by the power of economic and political elites above and the erosion of their own privileges over traditionally oppressed groups below. The paleocons expressed a backlash against recent social liberation movements, growing state power, and economic dislocations connected to capitalist globalization. Paleocons helped generate a resurgence of mass-based racial nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant campaigns and the neo-Confederate movement. They also influenced the Patriot/citizens militia movement, which exploded briefly in the mid-nineties around fears that secret globalist elites were plotting to impose tyrannical world government on the United States. Paleocon Patrick Buchanan ran for president in 1992 and 1996 and made a strong showing in many Republican primaries.

After the late 1990s, paleoconservatism lost some of its support and visibility as a result of several factors, such as the decline of the Patriot movement, Buchanan’s 2000 decision to run for president on the Reform Party ticket instead of as a Republican, and the George W. Bush administration’s close relationship with the neoconservatives. But the underlying dynamics that had helped paleocons connect with a popular base have remained strong, and the movement has continued to attract young intellectuals, as indicates.

An intellectual crossroads
Like the paleoconservative movement in general, occupies a sort of gray zone between those conservatives who want to intensify traditional oppressive structures within the existing political/economic framework and revolutionary rightists who want to sweep away the established order by force. As a result, while contributors sometimes call for profound changes to the U.S. social order, they are generally vague as to concrete goals and means. At the same time, blurring political boundaries enables AltRight to function as an intellectual crossroads, where a variety of rightist currents converge and interact. AltRight has published articles by national anarchist Andrew Yeoman advocating “a new Tribal America,” black conservative Elizabeth Wright castigating the Tea Party movement for remaining “captive to PC,” and French New Right founder Alain de Benoist advocating a revival of paganism against the “totalitarian” universalism of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Paleocon scholar E. Christian Kopff has written glowingly about Italian far right philosopher Julius Evola. Keith Preston’s role as an AltRight contributing editor is significant in itself. A former Love and Rage member who still calls himself an anarchist, Preston advocates a revolutionary alliance of rightist and leftist libertarians against the U.S. empire and writes prolifically through his blog, Attack the System, and other rightist outlets such as Taki’s Magazine.

On race and ethnicity
Some of the pieces in AltRight are more interesting and politically innovative than others. Consider the following two articles. In “Mind the Gaps: Why the Government Should and Can Not Make Us Equal,” John Derbyshire argues that “racial differences in education and unemployment have their origin in biological differences between the human races…. They can’t be legislated out of existence; nor can they be ‘eliminated’ by social or political action.” To Derbyshire, “intractable differences between the human races” are simple, natural facts, grounded in both elementary rules of evolutionary biology and straightforward empirical evidence, such as disparities in test scores or “the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans.” Essentially this is a rehash of “scientific” claims that racist intellectuals have been making since the nineteenth century. The only thing new and different about Derbyshire’s argument is that he presented it on a panel organized by the Black Law Students’ Association at the University of Pennsylvania.

Compare this with Richard Hoste’s “Eurabia in Perspective,” which reconfigures ethnocentrism in genuinely new ways. Countering the Islamophobia that is standard among conservatives (including many paleoconservatives), Hoste declares that “there is no Muslim threat in America, from the position of either terrorism or a building up of institutional power… [T]he West’s problem is non-whites and enforced diversity, not Islam qua Islam…” And rather than try to expel Muslims from Europe, he argues, “we have to understand that the hostile minority in the heart of Europe is there to stay.” In fact:

“more Europeans may convert to Islam as times goes by and the religion gains power… But most of them would be converting from Secular Humanism, not anything that can be called Christianity. It would be a mistake to believe that whites would be Muslims in the same way Pakistanis or Saudis are; the faith would be molded to conform with the biological characteristics of its adopters, or ‘Europeanized’ as Christianity was in the first place. I don’t know what a Swedish Islam would look like, but it probably wouldn’t be half as ugly as the feminist-communist dystopia that the country is today. The culture of that Nordic state repulses me a lot more than that of, say, Turkey.”

Hoste’s argument here represents a classic paleocon approach: a seemingly progressive position (rejection of Islamophobia) that’s based on reactionary principles (biological racism plus hatred of Western liberalism).

A number of AltRight contributors also take issue with white nationalism as an ideological framework, while endorsing its racist premises. In “The Myth of the Old Republic,” Andrew Fraser calls for abandoning not only “constitutional patriotism” but also white identity as too broad a loyalty. In this post-modern era, Fraser urges American WASPs to instead revive an Anglo-Saxon ethno-nationalism and — borrowing a concept promoted by John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog — to “reconstitute themselves as local, resilient communities.” “The fact is that all ‘white Americans,’ of whatever ethnicity, will be better off if their own kith and kin manage to reconstitute themselves into socially cohesive tribal networks.”

Coming at the same issue from a different angle, Keith Preston argues in “White Nationalism Is Not Enough” that “a resistance movement that defines itself exclusively, or even primarily, under the banner of race will be unnecessarily self-limiting.” As an alternative, he proposes Conservative Revolution, a term which originally referred to a far right (but non-Nazi) intellectual movement in Weimar Germany. “‘Conservative Revolution’ is conceptually broad enough to accommodate an array of anti-liberal forces within a framework of respect for natural hierarchies… [I]t can accommodate tendencies ranging from fervent white nationalists to religious conservatives who are indifferent to race issues per se but oppose Cultural Marxist attacks on their faith and traditions to Jews and African-Americans who oppose mass immigration from the Third World.”

On women
AltRight authors (almost all of whom are male) also vary significantly in their attitudes toward women. Scott Locklin typifies a type of old school conservative anti-feminism, which pretty much only pays attention to women in terms of how attractive and obedient they are to men. For example, his article “The Case For Open Borders: Foreign Replacements for American Women” complains that, compared with foreign women, most American women are unfeminine, overweight, acquisitive, and have a “weird relationship with sex.” Further, “foreign women… rarely try to cut your metaphorical testicles off with ridiculous shaming language. American women, by contrast, don’t seem capable of communication without bagging on some poor man.” Citing “beautiful, feminine” movie stars of an earlier era such as Hedy Lamarr and Lilian Gish, Locklin jokes (sort of) that “they used to make them right here in America, back when Americans actually made things. Now we must make do with imports.”

What is interesting is that AltRight also publishes pieces that reflect feminist influence. Andrew Yeoman, for example, lists “kryptonite to women” among the alternative right movement’s eight major weaknesses. “Many women won’t associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. …nothing says ‘you’re not important to us’ [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it.”

Keith Preston, in an interview about “Feminism, Women, & National-Anarchism” that received feature citation on one of the AltRight blogs, criticizes feminism on some counts but applauds it on others. “On the positive side historic feminist movements have gained greater legal, political, and economic rights for women, and greater opportunities in the professions and education, and have raised serious issues that were sometimes ignored or overlooked in the past. The problem has not been feminism per se…, but the particular form that Western feminism has taken since at least the 1960s,… where it has become aligned with Marxism, anti-Western and anti-European ethno-masochism, racism against whites, misandry, and its alliance with the state.” In addition, “by seeking to eliminate sexual differentiation [feminism] has not only sought to defy basic biological science, but to devalue social and cultural roles traditionally occupied by women.”

Preston advocates an “aristocracy of merit where everyone rises according to their efforts and abilities, including women, of course. I’d be very much in favor of a National-Anarchist movement where women were heavily represented among its leadership and public figures.” While claiming that “women are naturally more drawn to helping professions and charitable activities than men,” Preston argues that the movement should make such activities a major focus, as part of a move to replace the welfare state with a decentralized network of social institutions. In addition, “I think there’s little doubt that women can often perform so-called ”man’s work’ like soldiering with a great deal of skill and talent.”

On Jews
Recognizing that paleoconservatism’s relationship with Jews has been a hot-button issue, AltRight invited three prominent paleocons to contribute to a “symposium” on the question, “Is the Alt Right Anti-Semitic?” Taki Theodoracopulos sums up the consensus with the first sentence of his response: “Yes, the traditional Right does have some anti-Semitic tinges, as it should.” He and fellow respondent Srdja Trifkovic hold Jews as a group responsible for a number of “sins”: Zionist attacks on anyone who criticizes Israeli policies, “Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on Jews’ racial uniqueness,” and Jews’ “disproportionate impact” on a number of political and intellectual movements harmful to Western civilization: “Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc.”

It is left to Paul Gottfried, the only Jew among the respondents, to “add some shading to Srdja’s and Taki’s spirited and courageous assessment” of his ethnic group: Not all Jews everywhere have behaved badly, Jews’ destructive actions are rooted in genuine if irrational fear of Christian society, and these actions succeeded only because many non-Jews cooperated. At the same time, Gottfried draws on historically antisemitic motifs in criticizing the neocons, describing them as a group of Jews who “poison the wells” for ideological rivals and who control the mainstream conservative movement through non-Jewish front-men. Even a major figure such as Bill Bennett (who is Catholic) is described not as a neocon but rather “a tool of neocon dominance.”

Nevertheless, the type of antisemitism that AltRight promotes is more qualified and less manichean than the neonazi variety. It is ethnic bigotry, but not portrayal of Jews as the embodiment of absolute evil. Thus, in AltRight’s antisemitism symposium, Srdja suggests that “the survival of the West, which is recognizably Christian in spirit and European in genes, is ‘objectively’ becoming the optimal survival strategy for the Jewish community as a whole, Israel included,” and so Jews will in the long run increasingly support the traditionalist Right.

AltRight executive editor Spencer picks up on this in a follow-up piece entitled “An Alliance with the Jews.” Spencer argues that Black and Latino politicians unsympathetic to Zionism will become increasingly powerful in the U.S., and that this may drive Israeli hardliners to seek a partnership with U.S. paleocons. Unlike “the ever-meddling Democrats and Republicans,” a paleocon-led U.S. government would “extricate the U.S. military from the Middle East” and give Israel “a free hand” in the region. Spencer cites “Israel’s fruitful relationship with the South African Apartheid government” as a model for such an alliance, and speculates that Israeli nationalists might even help finance the traditionalist Right in Europe and North America.

Since the collapse of Patrick Buchanan’s presidential prospects a decade ago, paleoconservatism as a distinct political current has largely faded from public view. All too often, paleocons are either ignored, mislabeled as fascists, or subsumed under the nebulous category of “hate groups.” But despite their small numbers, paleocons have important ties with the anti-immigrant movement — one of the most dynamic sectors of the Right at present — as well as Ron Paul libertarians, Patriot movement groups, and others. And as this brief sampling of writings from shows, some paleocons are also listening to other movements and rethinking old ideas. The fact that many AltRight contributors are involved in a range of other publications and political initiatives indicates that this is not an isolated development. To varying degrees, this same political ferment can be seen on other paleocon websites such as Taki’s Magazine and The Occidental Quarterly. More broadly, a dynamic interplay between paleocon and revolutionary forms of white nationalism can be seen on sites such as Attack the System, Occidental Dissent and American Third Position.

Why is this happening now? Although I’m not really in a position to answer this question, I’d like to suggest two broad factors — one internal, the other external — for further exploration. First, rightist movements sometimes experience ideological breakthroughs during periods of relative isolation, as they struggle to learn from past defeats and develop new strategies. Examples include the rise of fusionism among U.S. conservatives in the mid 1950s (uniting libertarian, cultural traditionalist, and anticommunist threads into one cohesive ideology), and the development of French New Right doctrine in the 1970s among former members of the traditional racist Right (offering a sophisticated new intellectual basis for fascist politics). It may be useful to compare current intellectual developments among U.S. paleocons with these and other historical examples.

Another factor to consider, of course, is the dramatic transformation that the capitalist world has been experiencing over the past few decades, with the end of the Cold War and collapse of Soviet-type socialism coupled with the rise of corporate globalization (a buzz-word that encompasses many forms of upheaval, restructuring, increased fluidity and movement, etc.). Political movements on both the Left and the Right have struggled to adapt to these changing circumstances, and paleoconservatives are no exception. The question is how to translate this generality into meaningful specifics.

AltRight’s mixture of old and new ideas is significant here. Claims that rightists are trying to turn back the clock and reject modernity are usually oversimplified. As I wrote two years ago in “Two Ways of Looking at Fascism”:

“In Europe and elsewhere, far-right politics is indeed largely a response to capitalist globalization, but this response is more complex than a simple backlash. For example, the Patriot/militia movement in the United States denounced ‘global elites,’ the ‘new world order,’ the United Nations, international bankers, etc. But their attack on government regulation, as People Against Racist Terror has pointed out, dovetailed with ‘the actual globalist strategy of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to end all environmental and labor codes that restrict untrammeled exploitation.’ In India, Hindu nationalists have denounced multinational capital and globalized culture, but the movement’s dominant approach has been to seek a stronger role for India within the context of global capitalism. The BJP-led coalition government of 1998-2004 promoted privatization, deregulation, foreign investment, consumer credit growth, and expansion of the information technology sector. These policies are tailored to India’s rising upper and middle classes, eager to participate more effectively in the global economy — not historical ‘losers’ trying to gain back their old status by attacking the forces of change.”[See original article for citations.]

Whatever the reasons that drive them, the discussions on and related organs merit close attention. To assume that the traditionalist Right is isolated, intellectually stagnant, or stuck in the past would be a dangerous mistake.

4 thoughts on “ Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century”

  1. Keith Preston blogged about my review of a few weeks ago in Attack the System. His comments about the differences between AltRight and paleoconservatism, and between Attack the System and white nationalism, are worth reading. Also, he corrects a factual error in my review: Although Preston attended the founding conference of Love and Rage, he did not become a member.


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