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So, yesterday, I wrote about a recent article in the New York Review of Books (NYRB) about the newest European “New” Right. (We get a new New Right about once each twenty to thirty years or so. Last time it was the “libertarian” New Right of Reagan and Thatcher.)
Anyway, I wrote about the newest New Right sort of admiringly given it has some resemblance to progressivism. Sadly, though, (I said), that French New Right has almost nothing to do with the one we’ve got here in America. Theirs is a intellectual right, with scholars and philosophers and writers. Ours is …an anti-intellectual right, where the possession of brains is regarded as a serious sign of moral failing.
However, a short time after I wrote that, I discovered that I could be wrong. Specifically, I ran across a piece by John A. Burtka IV (“…the executive director of the American Conservative magazine”). Ostensibly, the piece was about the demise of the Neo-Conservative periodical, The Weekly Standard, which was recently closed down by its billionaire owners for the sin of not being Trumpist enough.
The piece, which was in (ironically) the very liberal Washington Post, argued that while the Weekly might be gone, conservatism was just getting up to speed. However, said Mr. Burtka, that conservatism would be a new conservatism…a New Right…uncontaminated by Neo-Conservatism. It would be, he said, a Right that would “… stand up to the crony capitalism that has protected big banks and defense contractors, and revisit antitrust enforcement to prevent corporate monopolies from stamping out competition and entrepreneurship. And finally, conservatives should adopt a cultural platform with a renewed focus on civic education; implementing economic and social policies that strengthen families, such as paid family leave and an increase in the child tax credit; promoting vocational training as a dignified alternative to traditional universities; and working toward an immigration policy that better balances economic and cultural concerns.”
I was startled by that statement, as well as others Mr. Burtka made in his article, because it sounds almost exactly like the European New Right that was referenced in the NYRB piece. There is the same faintly anti-capitalist (or, rather, anti-global capitalist) tinge to it, the same focus on society as a means of transmitting values, the same organic metaphors for the larger culture…
I was startled. Could it be, I wondered, that I completely misread the situation and a European-style New Right actually exists here? But, no. I went and checked and American Conservative Magazine doesn’t feel particularly different from most of the other right-wing publications out there. And Mr. Burtka himself might have a European New Right bent, but that may be because he has a bit of a French connection. He is a graduate of the “Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, France.”
So, I’m guessing, that, alas, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, Burtka and his oped piece are the exception to the rule, and that the American, populist Right remains the Trumpian Right…that is to say, a place where guns and ammo are sacraments, college degrees anathema or at least highly suspect, and Ayn Rand’s John Galt frankly and willfully confused with George Washington and Christ.
Which makes me wonder two things. First, how on earth does Mr. Burtka survive there, on the Right, given who he is and what he wants…?
If he really believes in what he says he does, then why is he bothering himself with the American Right? Why undertake the massive, but perhaps masochistic task of remaining there, in our reactionary conservatism, when it will give him nothing, and respect him not at all?
If what he wants is what he says, then why not do the obvious thing? Why not abandon the Right, and join us…we, who want what he wants, and say what he says?
Maybe, then, it is up to us…we Progressives…to woo him and other Conservative intellectuals, to remind that we exist, that we are not left wing fanatics…
And that, most of all, we are the reasonable people he seems to want so badly to discover…
In an age otherwise full of madness, and rage.