Also due for some rethinking is the conservative intellectual canon, so dependent as it is on Kirk’s Conservative Mind as well as the “fusionism” (“liberty vs. virtue”) debates of the Cold War. To criticize the “save the world” messianism and leftward drift of much of the putatively “conservative” Religious Right, a non-movement thinker like Mencken is much more useful than Kirk or Meyer. As I mentioned in another context, William F. Buckley began his career planning a book called Revolt Against the Masses, a work based on Nietzsche and Ortega y Gasset. The fact that these two giants would be rejected and ignored, respectively, by the conservative movement reveals a lot about the kind of intellectual narrowing that’s taken place over the past 50 years.
23 February 2017
Old right vs. alt-right
Someone clearly sounded an alarm bell after Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to address CPAC, the big annual conference of movement conservatism. Days before the shindig got under way, Yiannopoulos was disinvited in the wake of the scandal over his recorded comments on the sexuality of 13 year olds. Today a great show was made of just about literally throwing out Richard Spencer, the self-styled "identitarian" nationalist regarded by many as a founding father of the "alt-right." Spencer is also credited with coining the term, though what he wrote in the 2008 article cited by Wikipedia is "alternate Right." Whoever came up with the abbreviated version possibly was clever than he or she knew, since "alt" is also German for "old." That makes sense, though, to the extent that the alt-right is an extension of the "paleoconservative" movement from which Spencer emerged. The "paleos" in turn opposed the "neoconservatives" who had come to dominate the Republican party at the turn of the century. They were distinguished above all by their opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the great neocon project of the George W. Bush administration, and in the 2008 article, which is more a survey of the conservative publishing scene than a declaration of principles, Spencer appears to identify with anti-war conservatism. As an intrigued reader of The American Conservative, a sort of paleo organ, I noted a greater willingness on their part, compared to the Republican mainstream, to question the premises of an ideology that had been shaped if not warped by the Cold War. They anticipated Donald Trump by questioning free-market orthodoxy, and they appeared to appreciate that shouting "freedom" would not solve all problems of society or politics. They certainly saw themselves as more intellectually rigorous than the GOP establishment who were little more than dittoheads. In 2008 Spencer seemed sick and tired of conservative literature that did nothing but denounce the left, and part of his "alternate Right" idea seemed to be to promote a creative right. He called for an overhaul of the conservative intellectual tradition as it stood at the end of the Bush years: