After the astonishing election of Donald Trump and the rise of the new Right that followed in its wake, the principles which for decades had held the conservative movement together lay in ruin. Trump redrew the electoral map and transfigured the political imaginations of an entire generation. On the morning of November 9th, 2016, at least for those on the Right, anything seemed possible. With the old, moribund Republican orthodoxy defeated, the only real question that remained was what would take its place.
It is now clear that this optimism was misplaced. Trump has been utterly anti-ideological and has done nothing to fill the profound void his triumph created.
Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum. But the only forces that have attempted to fill it, aside from the solitary and long-suffering Michael Anton, have largely been a poisonous fringe of grifters, eugenicists, conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and libertarians.
The latter two, in particular, have had an outsized impact. No ideological consensus has emerged. As Francis Fukuyama has correctly pointed out, no serious intellectuals, aside from the aforementioned Anton, have emerged as an intellectual vanguard. Instead, we have been treated to a chaotic and fragile coalition whose cohesiveness is based largely upon what it mutually opposes: liberals, immigration, and restrictions on free speech.
The harsh truth is that the Trump phenomenon is a movement that is almost entirely reactionary, in the most literal and negative sense of the term. It has little actual ideological content of its own that is likely to outlast the political fortunes and charisma of its embattled, erratic, and aging leader.
Thus, it is not at all contradictory to hold that the Presidential contest of 2016 was indeed the Flight 93 Election, while also seeing Trump as, at best, a necessary agent of chaos who has bought one’s cause valuable time—almost entirely in the form of important judicial appointments, for which we can indeed give thanks—but not as any kind of serious long term solution.
In July of this year, Michael Anton gave a speech at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington D.C. entitled: “The End of Conservatism and the Rebirth of Modern Politics.” Aside from declaring the obvious—that the 1980’s inspired ideology of the establishment GOP is dead—he also declared the return of “politics.”
By “politics” Anton meant not electoral or party politics but rather the return of conflict over the fundamental philosophical and theological questions which liberalism has, since at least the end of the Cold War, declared irrelevant or non-existent. Questions such as “what is the good?” hold to a truer sense of necessary first principles than the mostly procedural, questions that preoccupy the custodians of the liberal order.
The specter haunting Anton’s entire speech, however, which tragically went unmentioned, was that of Carl Schmitt. Schmitt holds that all genuinely “political” actions and identities require the drawing of a firm distinction between friend and enemy. This distinction, as Schmitt explains in The Concept Of The Political, ultimately is an existential one:
“The friend and enemy concepts are to be understood in their concrete and existential sense…They are neither normative nor pure spiritual antitheses. Liberalism in one of its typical dilemmas of intellect and economics has attempted to transform the enemy from the viewpoint of economics into a competitor and from the intellectual point into a debating adversary. In the domain of economics there are no enemies, only competitors, and in a thoroughly moral and ethical world perhaps only debating adversaries.”
The primary ideological conceit of liberalism rests on the willed assertion that there are no enemies, rather there are only “economic competitors” or “debating adversaries.” Such was the opinion of the Weimar State, the object of many of Schmitt’s critiques during the 1930s.
Schmitt perceived the Weimar Republic as a state headed for ideological suicide; determined in its quest to maintain liberal neutrality, it saw fit to hand the keys of power to whoever could proceed through and capture power in the system legally. This, of course, tragically resulted in the triumph of National Socialism, the horror of the Holocaust, and the complete annihilation of the historic German nation on both the material and moral levels.
In light of this return of the political, there seem to be two primary decisions now facing the American Right.
The first decision is similar to that which faced the Weimar republic some 90 years ago: namely whether to embrace the reality of the political and draw hard friend/enemy distinctions or cease to exist entirely. The second decision is on what basis this friend/enemy distinction should be drawn.
In order to properly answer this question, one must first address the question raised by Michael Anton’s “politics:” What exactly constitutes “the good” for those on the American Right? And it is here then that we see our friend/enemy distinction begin to take shape.
When one surveys the various factions of the American Right and their metaphysical premises one primary distinction becomes clear: The distinction between those who work within the Christian intellectual tradition and those who do not.
The latter is primarily made up of libertarians, Silicon Valley technocrats and transhumanists, “Blood and Soil” paleoconservatives like Ann Coulter and the late Sam Francis, as well as the White nationalists who comprise the “Alt Right.”
Though superficially differentiated by their divergent emphasis on the importance of the individual and other minor issues, they remain united by their shared dedication to the same kind of simple-minded and morally repugnant social Darwinism.
This social Darwinism expresses itself as a crude form of Nietzschean nihilism that emphasizes extreme competition, domination, the desirability of rigid social hierarchies for their own sake, and a fetish for hero worship directed toward the Carlyean “great men of history.”
Atheism also tends to be a defining feature, though not always expressed in the same style as the kind espoused by such famous intellectual bimbos as Ayn Rand and the ever be-leathered Nick Gillespie. Rather, this tedious atheism now tends to manifest as a parody of religious faith itself, in the style of Charles Maurras. Maurras, an important figure in 20th-century fascism and the founder of Action Francaise, though himself agnostic, saw religious faith primarily as a useful and necessary instrument of social control and cohesion (in much the same manner as Auguste Comte, a man he deeply admired) as well as a cynical vehicle for French ethno-nationalism.
For Maurras, the rigid hierarchy of the Catholic Church provided a useful corrective to what, in his view, was the dangerous egalitarianism of early Christianity as well as its “uneuropean” origins in Judaism. (Maurras once famously, and contemptuously referred to the authors of the Christian Gospels as “four obscure Jews.”)
While most of those operating within the Non-Christian, or Anti-Christian, tradition on the American Right have now reconciled themselves to the usefulness or necessity of “religion” they remain forever incapable of real faith itself.
Faith implies trust in a metaphysical reality that is beyond one’s own knowledge and control, a possibility which is completely unacceptable to individuals who have dedicated their lives to an ethos of will-to-power and domination. This sadomasochistic impulse of domination, of creating rigid and clear ranks of Masters and Slaves, of exploiters and those who deserve to be exploited and victimized, is the essence of true fascism in the technical and precise sense of the term.
Eric Fromm, in his work The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness laid out what is to date the best and most concise explication of the genuinely fascistic/sadistic impulse:
For the sadistic character everything living is to be controllable; living beings become things. Or, still more accurately, living beings are transformed into living, quivering, pulsating objects of control. Their responses are forced by the one who controls them. The sadist wants to become the master of life, and hence the quality of life should be maintained in his victim. This is, in fact, what distinguishes him from the destroying person. The destroyer wants to do away with a person, to eliminate him, to destroy life itself; the sadist wants the sensation of controlling and choking life. …For the sadistic character there is only one admirable quality, and that is power. He admires, loves, and submits to those who have power, and he despises and wants to control those who are powerless and cannot fight back.
The sadistic character is afraid of everything that is not certain and predictable, that offers surprises which would force him to spontaneous and original reactions. For this reason, he is afraid of life. Life frightens him precisely because it is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. It is structured but it is not orderly; there is only one certainty in life: that all men die. Love is equally uncertain. To be loved requires a capacity to be loving oneself, to arouse love, and it implies always a risk of rejection and failure. This is why the sadistic character can “love” only when he controls, i.e., when he has power over the object of his love.
One can observe this impulse throughout the intellectual currents of our contemporary right-wing Anti-Christian Coalition. You can see it in the Libertarian insistence on the reduction of all human relationships to the level of commodities which can be traded and exchanged based on rationally determined self interest. You can see it in the futuristic fantasies of Silicon Valley billionaires and their retinue of sycophants and hangers on who imagine themselves as budding aristocrats destined to usher in a glorious new era of techno-feudalism and slavery. You can see it in the claims and assertions of the crypto-eugenist IQ fetishists and “Socio-biologists” who seek to reduce the total value of human life down to a standardized test score. Finally, you can see it in the incoherent rantings of American White nationalists who seek to reduce the living tradition of the European continent and its peoples down into such farcical and reified concepts as “whiteness” or “western civilization,” which can then be cast into pagan idols and worshipped as gods.
These men claim to defend “the West.” They don’t know what the West is. They claim to reject secular modernity, but their measure of the good is a utilitarian measure: the material benefit of the white race, the social and economic benefits of a high-IQ population for a nation. This is not a rejection of secularism, but its enshrinement. And ultimately, their embrace of “whiteness” or its proxy, “high IQ,” as the measure of the political “us” is yet another dodge of the political conversation, yet another attempt to avoid talking about what is good, what is just, what is to be loved.
This is the ideology of the Anti-Christian Right in America. It is a belief system created by and for spiritual insects, or to slightly repurpose a popular online colloquialism, for “bugmen.”
Standing opposite this grotesque impulse are those men who are the bearers of the Christian political and theological tradition which, though diverse and ranging from the practitioners of Natural Law theory like Michael Anton and Francis Hittinger to integralists like Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule, and even open reactionaries like Joseph De Maistre stands united by a singular unifying principle: that of the Imago Dei. It is a principle which states absolutely that all human beings—regardless of race, sex, intelligence or social class—share in the same divine image and are of equal worth, regardless of how much this image may be temporarily obscured in any particular case by sin.
This foundational principle alters how the Christian tradition understands authority and hierarchy themselves and represents a complete and irreconcilable break with the old hierarchies of the pagan world which the Anti-Christian Right has, consciously or not, attempted to ape. In this perverse conception of authority there are masters and there are slaves, ubermensch and untermensch, lions and lambs, and the latter are but natural prey to feed the virility and advance the will to power of the former.
By contrast the Christian tradition holds that those in positions of authority and power have been granted their positions by providence to advance the common good. The strong are called to help and protect the weak, not to exploit them or reduce them into inanimate objects to serve their own depraved desires.
It is here, finally, that we find the hard point on which the Schmittian friend/enemy distinction must be made, between those who work within and submit to the Christian tradition concerning the foundational issue of Imago Dei—whether or not they are actual believers themselves—and those who reject it.
This distinction is necessary and ultimately unavoidable.
This means that we must begin to make distinctions. To say that some ideas are good and some are bad is of the essence of actual political discussion. Thus the American Right cannot, particularly in our present moment, afford to double down on free speech absolutism. To continue to call for free speech for Nazis would mean the relegation of the Right to the position of a purely reactionary force. A force which, by its very nature, has no coherent and uniting ideology beyond opposing the one put forward by modern liberalism. But the distinctive thing that we have and which the liberals do not is the ability to recognize and name the good, to distinguish between speech that is good and speech which degrades.
We’re the only ones who can consistently explain why the speech of White Nationalists is not on par with the speech of saints: the liberals, though they know it to be true, do not know why; the anti-Christian alt-right does not think that it is the case. To be able to explain why White Nationalism is wrong—why there can be no neutrality with regard to the good—is precisely what we can do. And it is precisely why a thoughtless alliance on the basis of shared aversion to liberalism would destroy us. “Damn our souls to own the libs” is not a sensible plan. And to refuse to make these distinctions—to call for free speech above all else, as many in the anti-Christian right do—is, ironically and paradoxically, to re-inscribe liberalism.
If the American Right chooses to pursue this course, this refusal to talk about the good, this embrace of racialized secularism, it will cede the initiative to its enemies on the Left, who will then become the sole moral authority within American society. A moral authority which, contra the inane pretensions of those who still, even at this late hour, somehow remain on the libertarian spectrum, inevitably exists in all societies.
If the Right in America wishes to avoid this fate it must create a new ideological consensus that transcends both the moribund orthodoxies of antiquated Reganism, as well as the chaos and incoherence of the Trump era. An unavoidable part of this process will be the necessity of drawing a Schmittian friend/enemy distinction, not only with regards to the those on the Left but also, and more importantly, within the contemporary American Right itself.
There is also a deeper and more important impetus which urges us toward this necessity. As weak, tottering, incoherent and in need of replacement as our present liberal system is, it is still far preferable to the world dreamt of by the anti-Christian Right—which is depraved, repulsive, and deeply evil. We may—and rightly—long for reenchantment. But not all reenchantment is good.
Liberals and progressives have long insisted that the only choice that lays before modern man is between “socialism and barbarism.” If we refuse to act, and let the anti-Christian Right metastasize in the midst of the chaos created by Trump, then we will run the risk of ultimately having them proven right.
But this false choice need not be inevitable.
A post-liberal world need not be one defined by the psycho-sexual fascist compulsion toward cruelty and domination for their own sake, but only if we make the choice to act now. We must recognize that the anti-Christian Right and its enablers are not merely debating partners or competitors in the marketplace of ideas. They are enemies. And must be destroyed. By whatever means available.
In their narcissism and self delusion, the forces of the Anti-Christian Right have attempted to substitute control and cruelty for strength. But they have forgotten that this attempt was bound to fail because no weakling becomes strong merely by being cruel.
True civilization is only possible once the forces of barbarism have been confronted and destroyed, as Charlemagne illustrated when he rendered his edict at Verden. A righteous act we must all now find the strength to emulate.