On the elites – Tyler Cowen:
‘It has become increasingly clear that the political Right in America is not what it used to be. In particular, my own preferred slant of classical liberalism is being replaced. In its stead are rising alternatives that don’t yet have a common name. Some are called “national conservatism,” and some (by no means all) strands are pro-Trump, but I will refer to the New Right. My use of the term covers a broad range of sources, from Curtis Yarvin to J.D. Vance to Adrian Vermeule to Sohrab Ahmari to Rod Dreher to Tucker Carlson, and also a lot of anonymous internet discourse. Most of all I am thinking of the smart young people I meet who in the 1980s might have become libertarians, but these days absorb some mix of these other influences.’
‘A common version of the standard classical liberal view stresses the benefits of capitalism, democracy, civil liberties, free trade (with national security exceptions), and a generally cosmopolitan outlook, which in turn brings sympathy for immigration. The role of government is to provide basic public goods, such as national defense, a non-exorbitant safety net, and protection against pandemics.’
‘That said, classical liberals do not consider the elites to be totally hopeless. After all, someone has to steer the ship and to this day we do indeed have a ship to steer. Most elites are intelligent and also they are as well-meaning as the rest of us, even if the bureaucratic nature of politics hinders their performance. We can entrust them with supplying basic public goods, and indeed we have little choice. Those truths hold even if the DMV will never be as efficient as Amazon, and even if sometimes our elites commit grave errors, for instance when the Johnson administration escalated the Vietnam War, to cite one example of many.
In the classical liberal view, the great failing of elites is that they do not keep society as free as it ought to be.
The New Right thinkers are far more skeptical of elites. They are more likely to see elites as evil and pernicious, and sometimes they (implicitly) see these evil elites as competent enough to actually wreck society. The classical liberals see checks and balances as strong enough to limit the worst outcomes, whereas the New Right sees ideological conformity and indeed collusion within the Establishment. Checks and balances are a paper tiger.’
‘The New Right doesn’t entirely reject the basic principles of free market economics, but it does try to transcend libertarian views with a deeper understanding of the current power structure. In each case there are sociological forces operating that are seen as more important than “mere” free market economics. In this regard the New Right has a more interdisciplinary worldview than do many of the classical liberals. The New Right thinkers regard most power as cultural in nature, rather than rooted in coercive government alone.
Using this kind of contrast, just about every classical liberal view can be redone along New Right lines. The policy emphasis then becomes learning how to use the government to constrain the Left and its cultural agenda, rather than ensuring basic liberties for everyone. The New Right view is that this obsession with basic liberties leads, in reality, to the hegemony of a statist Left, and a Left that will use its power centers of government, media and academia to crush and cancel the New Right.
There is also a self-validating structure to New Right arguments over time. You can’t easily persuade New Right advocates by pointing to mainstream media reports that contradict their main narrative. Mainstream media is one of the least trusted sources. Academic research also has fallen under increasing mistrust, as the academy predominantly hires individuals who support the Democratic Party.’
‘The New Right also tends to see the classical liberals as naïve about power (the same charge classical liberals fling at the establishment), and as standing on the losing side of history. Those aren’t the easiest arguments to refute. Furthermore, the last twenty years have seen 9/11, a failed Iraq War, a major financial crisis and recession, and a major pandemic, mishandled in some critical regards. It doesn’t seem that wrong to become additionally skeptical about American elites, and the New Right wields these points effectively.
While I try my best to understand the New Right, I am far from being persuaded. One worry I have is about how it initially negative emphasis feeds upon itself. Successful societies are based on trust, including trust in leaders, and the New Right doesn’t offer resources for forming that trust or any kind of comparable substitute. As a nation-building project it seems like a dead end. If anything, it may hasten the Brazilianification of the United States rather than avoiding it, Brazil being a paradigmatic example of a low trust society and government.
I also do not see how the New Right stance avoids the risks from an extremely corrupt and self-seeking power elite. Let’s say the New Right description of the rottenness of elites were true – would we really solve that problem by electing more New Right-oriented individuals to government? Under a New Right worldview, there is all the more reason to be cynical about New Right leaders, no matter which ideological side they start on. If elites are so corrupt right now, the force corrupting elites are likely to be truly fundamental.’
‘The New Right also seems bad at coalition building, most of all because it is so polarizing about the elites on the other side. Many of the most beneficial changes in American history have come about through broad coalitions, not just from one political side or the other. Libertarians such as William Lloyd Garrison played a key role an anti-slavery debates, but they would not have gotten very far without support from the more statist Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln. If you so demonize the elites that do not belong to your side, it is more likely we will end up in situations where all elites have to preside over a morally unacceptable status quo.’
‘Perhaps most of all, it is dangerous when “how much can we trust elites?” becomes a major dividing line in society. We’ve already seen the unfairness and cascading negativism of cancel culture. To apply cancel culture to our own elites, as in essence the New Right is proposing to do, is not likely to lead to higher trust and better reputations for those in power, even for those who deserve decent reputations.
Very recently we have seen low trust lead to easily induced skepticism about the 2020 election results, and also easily induced skepticism about vaccines. The best New Right thinkers will avoid those mistakes, but still every political philosophy has to be willing to live with “the stupider version” of its core tenets. I fear that the stupider version of some of the New Right views are very hard to make compatible with political stability or for that matter with public health.
I would readily grant that my opinion of our mainstream elites has fallen over the last five to ten years, and in part from consuming intellectual outputs from the New Right. But I don’t long for tearing down the entire edifice as quickly as possible. That would break the remaining bonds of trust and competence we do have, and lead to reconstituted governments, bureaucracies, and media elites with lower competence yet and even less worthy of trust. If you yank out a tooth, you cannot automatically expect a new and better tooth to grow back.’
Read the article here.
The New Right sounds a bit more benign than the New Right probably is, but alas. I’m afraid that the label neo-fascism won’t help much either.
The analysis that that this political force is mainly driven by deep distrust of or not to say contempt for the elites is accurate.
That this force has no solution for this so-called problem is clear, Cowen points this out as well.
Also, the elite, whoever they are, is probably more ore less as benign or not so benign as all other groups, subgroups, as humanity.
More important, again read Cowen, low-trust societies and failed states or almost failed states go hand in hand. The production of low trust can produce a failed state. I believe that part of the low trust comes from expectations that were simply too high. A government i.e. state that should act like a benign God.
The New Right often sounds like the Old Left, just with different accents.
The Old Left and the New Right often find common causes, think of Putin and Die Linke and AfD in Germany. There are many more examples to be found in many places.
Contempt for the federal state is widespread in the US. The contempt for the EU after Brexit is less popular in Europe. That’s why the New Right in Europe is not so keen anymore on leaving the EU.
Cowen sharply observes that the New Right aims for the destruction of the state. I’m not sure if this destruction is just a side effect of other political ambition and frustrations or that this destruction has been the end game all along. One doesn't exclude the other.
The New Right is not anarchism yet, the New Right wants to replace the state with their own state, a state that might resemble anarchism, because many failed states consist of anarchism, corruption and brute force by militias, criminals, the police and other government agencies.
Low trust, that is where it begins, and where it ends.