Thermidor

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Who's In Charge Here?

During the Clinton presidency, it was joked that The New Republic was the “in-flight magazine of Air Force One.” While it had always been an influential outlet on the left, having published many of the godfathers of American progressivism like John Dewey, The New Republic reached its peak in influence in the 1990s. At that time it was considered the sober, policy-minded, pragmatic, center of leftist thought, just as Bill Clinton himself was seen. Both the magazine and the president did away with many prized shibboleths on the American left: a focus on labor unions, and a rapid expansion of the welfare and regulatory state. In foreign policy, the far-left mix of isolationism and interventionism only on behalf of Marxist or anti-colonial causes was dropped, as was the Truman-LBJ Cold War posturing.

Instead there was a focus on cosmopolitan social issues, especially gay rights, a newfound respect for the global, and only lightly regulated, market, and a foreign policy focused on upholding those cosmopolitan values and that global market. Whereas for decades the left had viewed the world in terms of class, both Bill Clinton and The New Republic instead saw the world in terms of “democracy.” But “democracy,” for them, was not so much procedural, as it was a set of values: expanding rights to homosexuals was a question of “democratic rights,” expanding the global market made for more “democratic” economies. In foreign policy, rogue actors were no longer bourgeois or aristocratic despots who mercilessly exploited the proletariat or peasant classes, they were tyrants with no respect for democracy, and all the “rights” the term implied.

Both the president and his magazine did a great deal to narrow the range of acceptable politics. Socialist-inclined candidates on the left like Henry Wallace and Eugene McCarthy, popular in their day, were unthinkable by the close of the century. On the right, nationalist and religious figures, despite their popularity between the coasts, came to be seen as unserious dolts who clung to unscientific notions of identity and spirituality.

Everyone involved in this new crowd, called “neoliberal,” from intern to President, saw themselves as heralding a new age of expertise and empathy. They concluded that the great lessons of the 20th century had been learned: socialism had failed, regulated capitalism was the solution; nationalism was ignorant, humans must see themselves as a global species; the successes and failures of government could be measured empirically, rationally assessed, and agreed upon. The neoliberals firmly believed all it would take to bring about a new period of glorious modernity was a few young, eloquent, rational experts to calmly explain how things should be — and they considered themselves to be those experts. In politics, baby-boomers like Mr. Clinton were pushing out the Greatest Generation (he did beat two WWII veteran rivals) and in punditry, Generation X was pushing out the boomers. For those of you more familiar with the history of America’s political right, in many ways neoliberals are analogous to neoconservatives, perhaps unsurprising given their prefixes — and indeed, the two neos fraternized plenty.

The number of writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who made a name for themselves because of The New Republic in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and went on to shape the political dialogue of the country for the next two decades is astounding. Just a few include: Charles Lane, Fred Barnes, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Lind, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Jonathan Chait, Jonathan Cohn, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Niall Ferguson, Franklin Foer, John Judis, Dana Milbank, Andrew Sullivan, Jamie Kirchick, Leon Wieseltier, Peter Beinart, and Amartya Sen.

Their positions came to define the American establishment’s political center. They defended President Clinton against the Christian Coalition, supported NAFTA, derided Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan as buffoons, endorsed Clinton’s welfare reform, championed the War on Terror, applauded the invasion of Iraq, and scoffed at attempts to slow the march of “gay rights.” The New Republic led the charge in making the left into a politics for socially enlightened yuppies instead of heartland laborers, and the right into a politics of defending international finance and international war instead domestic culture and national greatness.

The neoliberals, and their partners, the neocons, largely set the agenda for national politics between 1990 and 2010 — and almost entirely set it between 1995 and 2005.

Yet today, their politics, when relevant, are universally despised.

Outside of the most partisan Republican outlets, no one thinks the War on Terror or the invasion of Iraq were anything but colossal failures. The Christian Coalition is a spent political force, and gay rights irreversible, opposition to either no longer meaningful. NAFTA and similar trade deals are regularly attacked from both the left and the right. The recent electoral ups and downs of the left across the Anglosphere show that socialism and a robust welfare state have returned to the left and are here to stay. Those rising forces in the left bemoan the loss of the very electorate The New Republic was proud to shed: “the white working class.” Furthermore, they despise Bill Clinton’s initiatives on welfare and crime. Meanwhile, the right, again, across the Anglosphere, is quite happy to talk once more of national pride and sovereignty — not war or tax cuts.

The “vital center” The New Republic and its fellow travelers saw itself as upholding, while not entirely gone, is receding and despised. As Vilfredo Pareto said, “history is the graveyard of elites.” Indeed, even The New Republic of today in no way represents The New Republic of a decade ago — but more on that later.

So what happened? Why did the neoliberals fall?

It boils down to four forces. First was mass immigration and the demographic shifts it brought. Second was the rise of the “social justice warrior” (SJW). Third and fourth were the reactions against the demographic shifts and the reactions against the SJWs.

Immigration is “meta-political” in that all other politics are impacted by it. When the 1880s and 1890s brought millions of political radicals from eastern Europe to America, unions and strikes became more common — and we even had a president assassinated by an anarchist because of it. When the upper-Midwest received millions of Scandinavians, those states swung decidedly to left and set-up generous public school and welfare systems, just like their mother countries — which they still have.

In our times, we are learning that tens of millions of Latin Americans, Somalis, and Hmong do not much care about establishing democracies in the Middle East or arguing the finer points of managerial government programs. Certainly no country in southeast Asia, east Africa, or South America has ever set out to establish a democracy in the Middle East on their own. And presumably, if large numbers of these third-worlders were interested in debating policy papers to achieve the most efficient yet equitable welfare system, their own countries would have enviable welfare systems.

The kind of politics discussed by The New Republic were as white as it gets. It is impossible to imagine a similar magazine becoming popular in Cambodia, Ethiopia, or Honduras. So as our country came to resemble those countries more and more, the waning influence of such a wonky magazine was guaranteed.

As these demographic shifts were playing out, the segments of the left that had been largely ousted from journalism and politics by the neoliberals set up shop in the universities. What remained of the revolutionary leftists in the West in the last quarter of the 20th century largely stopped running grimy newsletters and making bombs and instead settled in to humanities departments across the country. Old school Marxists, anti-colonialists, feminists, anti-white sociologists, and utopian anarchists were all sneered at by neoliberals for their lack of empirical methods, falsifiable theories, and authoritarian impulses — but impressionable college kids were quite taken by them.

While the politics of the neoliberals and President Clinton may not be your cup of tea, and may even strike you as radical in their departure from Christian ethics or national identity, they truly were well to the right of the academic left. In the 1990s and 2000s, no organ of influence or prominent politician would imply that Americans deserved the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or boldly declare that whites were the cancer of humanity. That sort of position was isolated to professors (Ward Churchill and Susan Sontag, respectively) who only influenced students, not policy makers. Staunch leftist opposition to WTO, NAFTA, and the Iraq War were likewise limited to marginal radical groups, publications with tiny readerships, and the academy. Neoliberals regarded these forces with dismissive hostility, considering them sophomoric and unimportant.

Although these two forces, mass third-world immigration and the far-left presence in the college system were at first unrelated, they steadily began to intertwine. The old Marxists found receptive ears more frequently in their new non-white students. The non-white students, in turn, saw in the theories of their radical professors as roads, and justifications, to more power for themselves.

Whereas smart white students from stable homes in Cleveland dream of writing best-sellers, curing cancer, or untangling the mess that is the Department of Education, smart Third-Worlders dream of becoming powerful caudillos or key advisers to those caudillos. What your culture values, and what your dad’s war stories consist of, matter a lot when you daydream as a thirteen-year-old — just ask all the American black teens set on becoming rappers. If you want power, not respect or regard, no technocratic debate on healthcare policy is ever going to give you what you want — not even if you win the debate. A lot more power is yours for the taking if you reassert the legitimacy of seizing the means of production. And a lot of power can be taken away from your enemies and potential rivals if you convince them they need to atone for their white privilege.

Not only were the politics of The New Republic uninteresting to America’s new non-whites, they were unappealing in that they were politics that assigned power to people fundamentally unlike themselves: lawyers, bureaucrats, statisticians, department heads, etc. This was true for the white students indoctrinated by the radical professors as well. The future The New Republic promised was one where people like themselves: sociologists, poets, Marxist historians, cultural anthropologists — were not very useful, or even much respected.

A new politics, a new vision, promised a better future for both the white radicals, and the new population groups. This was the base for the surge in the left’s new cultural and political obsessions: white privilege, white fragility, safe spaces, cultural appropriation, transsexuals, open borders, a revamped feminism, a revamped socialism, anti-Americanism, etc.

What use do druggie white hipsters trying to become professional photographers and resentful Mexicans raised in poverty have for policy papers about Social Security? A new order, with a different set of people in charge and a blanket promise of more money for the people on the bottom certainly sounds better to them.

The neoliberals, just like the neoconservatives, never saw it coming. Hubris comes before the fall, after all. They did nothing to stop the dramatic slide to the left the universities took, dismissing all warnings as just so much pearl-clutching on the part of Middle American rubes. Likewise, the fairy tales they told themselves about every new immigrant being the next JFK so enraptured them, that they never took a closer look at the new arrivals.

The forces on the right that did take seriously, and did try and confront, these new leftist forces were likewise dismissed by the neoliberals. The Paul family, the Tea Party, the alt-right, and Donald Trump were uniformly dismissed as cranks, bigots, imbeciles, and passing fads of rage. As clumsy and incoherent as most of these movements (arguably all) were, they represented a very genuine outrage at the changes on America’s horizon. The neoliberals dismissed the outrage because they dismissed the threat.

In both cases, the neoliberals thought that through what they assumed to be their unique gifts of rationality and reason, their graphs, their statistics, their charts, and their appeal to higher ideals of efficiency and conviviality, all parties would eventually come around to their way of seeing things. What the neoliberals failed to ever understand was that as rational as their beliefs seemed to them, those beliefs justified and maintained their own status and their own power. Any rising force that sought to take power for themselves was going to have to develop a new set of beliefs that would justify them taking power, and subsequently maintain their new status. If your country is run by a bloodline aristocracy, outsiders do not try and reach the top of the heap by convolutedly claiming they have the right blood. They find a way of delegitimizing the idea that the aristocrats have the right blood, or that there is “right blood” at all. Likewise, if you want to displace the technocrats, you do not come up with better charts; you find a way of delegitimizing the charts. Maybe it is that the charts just make capitalist oppression more bearable, but we need to think bigger. Maybe it is that the charts betray a white privilege in thinking that must be “unpacked” before we get to the numbers themselves.

Today, the struggle for genuine national power is between the renewed identitarian right and the renewed socialist, and newly third-worldist, left. The fight between the two is happening over the decaying corpse of neoliberalism.

A good example of this is Jamie Kirchick. A fierce Zionist, Mr. Kirchick is a ferocious critic of: Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Brexit, Vladimir Putin, Jeremy Corbyn, Hugo Chavéz, Bernie Sanders, and the alt-right. As mentioned earlier, he got his start at The New Republic. After the results of the British election, he tweeted:

“Britons should feel just as ashamed about Jeremy Corbyn's rise as I do about Trump's”

Leftists on Twitter promptly eviscerated him. As I write this, the tweet has nearly 500 hundred replies, uniformly negative, and plenty as erudite as “fuck off.”

The next day, he wrote an op-ed for the very milquetoast and centrist Los Angeles Times titled “The British election is a reminder of the perils of too much democracy,” with the subtitle, “Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn show the perils of too much democracy.” He tweeted it:

As I write, it had a grand total of sixteen “likes” and seven retweets. However, it got 115 “replies.” Again, they were almost uniformly leftists telling him to fuck off, and informing him that he looks like an ugly pedophile.

If you are thinking, “Well, that is just jerks on Twitter,” that's just looking at the tip of the iceberg. It is not Twitter foolishness, it is tens of millions of people who voted for candidates and policies completely beyond the pale to Mr. Kirchick. Throughout the 2016 election in the US, he was regularly slimed by Trump supporters, Sanders supporters, and the alt-right. Right now, he has about half the number of followers on Twitter as Jared Taylor.

But Mr. Kirchick is far from the only New Republic alumnus suffering popular disgust despite maintaining a prominent place in the Beltway media. All of its most hawkish contributors from its heyday became #NeverTrump Republicans who were completely aghast at the rise of socialists like Corbyn and Sanders. They have not had a political home since the 2016 election, and all are tied to the increasingly unpopular neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard. That publication, it should be noted, was founded in 1995 by Fred Barnes, a New Republic contributor, and Bill Kristol, the son of two New Republic contributors. While in tone the two magazines differed greatly, one had a progressive background and a centrist vibe while the other endlessly quoted Edmund Burke, the policy positions were not so different. Both magazines: could not get enough of globalization, were bellicose on foreign policy, wanted to just tinker with the welfare-state, and were in love with immigration. When George W. Bush became president, The Weekly Standard replaced The New Republic as the outlet of influence in the Oval Office. Bill Kristol, its current editor, is now the frequent subject of smears by more popular, pro-Trump, outlets like the Daily Caller and Breitbart. He is attacked even more regularly on Twitter by alt-right trolls and deplorables.

Andrew Sullivan—the editor of The New Republic from 1991 to 1996, at the height of its popularity and influence—is similarly politically homeless. A cheerleader of George W. Bush and then of Barack Obama, he ran his own extremely popular blog for a number of years. Now he writes occasionally for New York Magazine. There he bemoans the evils of Donald Trump, the alt-right, and social justice warriors. All his writing is unmistakably lachrymose, like that of an old man pining for his lost youth. He is largely ignored by all sections of the right, while the left constantly and fervently counter-attacks against any of his claims that today’s left has become too prickly and too focused on purity. No ill will is ever directed at him on Twitter because he doesn’t use it. After running one of the country’s most popular blogs for years, he now tries to use the internet sparingly, as he believes our internet-saturated world is too harsh and alienating.

Jonathan Chait is another liberal and former star of The New Republic. He is a great admirer of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and not a fan at all of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Despite being a regular critic of Republican “racism,” he believes that political correctness has gone too far, and has a very low opinion of socialists and SJWs. Those two groups, in turn, regularly attack him both in polemical articles and on Twitter. Some of his Twitter jousts with Sanders supporters have been so vitriolic, articles have been written about them.

If you think all of this is just clucking on the internet and in the pages of opinion journals, you are wrong. The clucking is centered around elections, and those elections have consequences.

On the right, Donald Trump took over the Republican Party and outlets with strong nationalist, even identitarian leanings, like the aforementioned Breitbart and Daily Caller, dominate the media landscape. Anti-Trump publications have older, dying, readerships, and are becoming less and less popular. Even if Mr. Trump’s presidency ends in disgrace or outright impeachment, it will be because of his own immense personal failures. “Trumpism” will not stop being popular. The now dominant outlets that trumpet Trumpism will champion nationalistic candidates seeking to imitate Trump’s successful electoral coalition, and Weekly Standard-endorsed warmongers with checks from Goldman Sachs will still have an uphill primary battle ahead of them.

On the left, it is important to remember that in the race for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders won 70 percent of voters under 30. 70 percent. College kids who supported Mrs. Clinton complained that in terms of campus atmosphere, they may as well be Pat Buchanan supporters. The millennial support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK was also overwhelming, at about two thirds. The radicalism of the young left is also apparent in the up-and-coming leftist publications. Circa 2003, no popular liberal outlet like The New Republic, The Atlantic, or The American Prospect would have praised Hugo Chavéz. In America, only a few stray cranky Marxist professors would have done so. But the seeds of those cranks have been sown, and today pro-Sanders publications largely praise the legacy of the late Chavéz — while they pile scorn on the liberals of the last decade like Jonathan Chait, and its contributors are almost all PhD or Masters accredited products of our university system; in fact, most of them work, at least part-time, as professors or research assistants. To date, outlets of that kind of opinion have not overtaken their neoliberal enemies the way the Trumpian websites have overtaken their rivals — but they keep getting more and more popular, and demography is on their side.

Today, even The New Republic is largely a part of this new, younger, socialistic, anti-white left (just take a look at it). After several changes of ownership and considerable editorial chaos in the last few years, the magazine has finally settled once again on a stable identity. Its senior editor is Jeet Heer, a subcontinental Indian who lives in Canada. He adores Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, and finds racism in most everything. When Andrew Sullivan was editor twenty years ago, the magazine had a robust, albeit tense, debate about the merits of The Bell Curve. Today, Mr. Heer tweets at Charles Murray that he is a vile racist, and publishes articles in The New Republic lambasting Andrew Sullivan as an old, closet bigot who just does not get it.

On both the right and the left, the old guard is largely guffawing at their displacement. In both cases, the old cannot wrap their heads around why their arguments, with their sterling rationality and impeccable mathematical precision, never win over the newcomers. As with so many elites on their way out the door, these ones are blind to their own power and the fact that power is a zero sum game — if they have it, others do not. Few leftists, in the face of 60 grand in college debt, are going to demure that the country cannot afford to make it free when a charismatic leader tells them it can be. On the right, no Cold Warrior is going to convince a young frat boy, jaded by a lifetime of multicultural commissars, feminist preaching, and mandatory anti-racist training, that electing Donald Trump would not be delicious vengeance, no matter the cost in national prestige.

In the face of all of this, as a millennial on the alt-right, part of me is inclined to say: let it burn. After all, I will pay for the errors of the neoliberals more than they will. On some level, I just want to see them see the guillotine before I do.

But this is really my thinking only when I am at my worst. America deserves better than to turn to be ruled by a cross between Hugo Chavéz and Robert Mugabe. As bad as Jamie Kirchick and Jonathan Chait are, they are better than what looks to be coming next. The alt-right by itself, even with Mr. Trump in the White House, is not powerful enough to keep America’s political atmosphere from becoming like South Africa’s.

So neoliberals, neoconservatives, and fellow travelers: If you are out there, it is time to bite your tongue, swallow your pride, and work with the alt-right. The political order on the horizon will destroy us all.

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