Goldberg: The Terrible Emergence of Today’s Reactionary Chic

David Brock, a conservative journalist turned Hillary Clinton aide, described how he first became a reactionary in his 2002 book Blinded by the Right. He arrived at UC Berkeley at the dawn of the Reagan era as a Bobby Kennedy-worshipping liberal, but was quickly pushed away by progressive campus piety.

“Instead of being a liberal bastion of intellectual tolerance and academic freedom, the campus was—though the expression had not yet been coined—politically correct, sometimes even suffocating,” he wrote.

A formative experience was a lecture by UN Ambassador Ronald Reagan Jean Kirkpatrick, which was shut down by left-wing protesters. “Wasn’t freedom of speech a liberal value?” he asked. The more Brock challenged the left, the more he was ostracized, and the more his resentment pushed him to the right.

By the time he got to Washington, where he became an influential conservative journalist, he had developed what we might now call an “landlord” sensibility. He went to Chile to write in defense of the bloodthirsty dictator Augusto Pinochet. “I frivolously participated in the extremist prosperity that was characteristic not only of me, but of many young conservatives of that era,” he wrote.

Of course, not only that era. The dynamic extremist superiority described by Brock, designed to shock the hated persecutors of the left, is the main engine of right-wing cultural innovation. That’s why the stories of the American New Right (also called right-wing dissidents, national conservatism, and neo-reactions) feel so familiar, even if the movement’s ideology is a departure from mainstream conservatism.

Last week, Vanity Fair published James Pogue’s compelling look at a constellation of American thinkers, podcasters and politicians, many funded by Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire who once wrote that freedom and democracy are incompatible. It’s hard to generalize the politics of the scene; The medium, which includes both the aggressively anti-cosmopolitan Senate candidate J.D. Vance of Ohio and the trendy hipster podcast Red Scare, has no coherent worldview. What he has is a contempt for social liberalism and a desire for the épater le bourgeoisie.

“This is a project to subvert the desire for progress, at least in the sense that liberals understand the word,” Pogue wrote. One of the movement’s leading intellectuals is Curtis Yarvin, a blogger who sees liberalism as the creation of a Matrix-like totalitarian system and who wants to replace American democracy with a sort of techno-monarchy.

According to Pogue, the movement “has become quite edgy and edgy in new tech outposts like Miami and Austin, and in midtown Manhattan, where the new right-wing politicians reign supreme, and signs like the humble cross necklace have become markers of transgressive chic.” “.

I’ve met a few leftists who enjoy progressive online culture. In novels set in progressive social worlds, Internet leftists tend to be treated with disdain—not as a tyranny, but as an annoyance.

For those who watch most of their politics on the Internet, the left may look like this – a man without a sense of humor, shaking his head in response to the insensitivity of others. As a result, an alliance with the country’s most repressive forces may seem liberating to some.

I suspect that this can only continue as long as the right is not in power in the country. Eventually, the flirting of the avant-garde with reaction will collide with the brutal, philistine reality of conservative rule. (As Brock discovered, being gay in a deeply homophobic movement was not cocky entertainment.)

However, in the short term, it is daunting to think that backlash politics could somehow become fashionable, especially given how stagnant the left seems to be. In a New York magazine, Sam Adler-Bell recently wrote of the depressing lull in the founding of the progressive movement: “From the Democratic side, there is little to be seen of grassroots energy or persistence of any kind.” The only thing the left could count on in recent years was its cultural capital. What happens if it’s wasted?

Michelle Goldberg is a New York Times columnist.