Since the mid-20th century, the U.S. has seen no fewer than three political movements broadly described as the “New Right.” There was the first New Right of William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and conservative student groups, with their right-libertarianism, anti-communism, and emphasis on social values. The second generation to earn the moniker — the New Right of Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, and both George Bushes — leaned harder into conservative Christianity, populism, and free markets.
These New Right waves were different largely in tone and presentation; there was considerable overlap in ideology and even personnel. The high-minded conservatism of a Buckley and the pandering populism of a Bush have never been oppositional approaches, despite attempts to explain them this way. Every version of the New Right has been propelled by more or less explicit white supremacist backlash and robust funding.
Now, in our era of Trumpian reaction, we are seeing reports about a new New Right. Like the New Rights that came before it, it’s a loose constellation of self-identifying anti-establishment, allegedly heterodox reactionaries. The newest of the Rights is similarly fueled by disaffection with liberal progress myths and united by white supremacist backlash — this time, with funding largely from billionaire Peter Thiel.
The new New Right has made headlines in recent weeks. In particular, Vanity Fair published a thoroughly and thoughtfully reported feature detailing the emergence of a rising right-wing circle made up of highly educated Twitter posters, podcasters, artists, and even “online philosophers,” most notably the neo-monarchist blogger Curtis Yarvin. And the New York Times dedicated a fluffy feature to the founding of niche online magazine Compact, which claims to feature heterodox thinking but instead offers predictable contrarianism and tired social conservatism.
Alongside GOP candidates for office like J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, this motley scene follows the ideological weft and warp of Trumpist nationalism, while alluding to greater intellectual and revolutionary ambitions, sometimes wearing cooler clothes, and receiving money from Thiel.
The turn to the New Right is a choice, by people with privilege and options, in favor of white standing, patriarchy, and — crucially — money.
The focus on these groups is all fine and well: Why shouldn’t the media do fair-minded reporting on a burgeoning political trend? Yet there is the risk of reifying a ragtag cohort into a cultural-political force with more power than it would otherwise have.
More crucially, there’s a glaring omission in the coverage. Today’s New Right frames itself as the only force currently willing to fight against the “regime,” as Vance calls it, of liberal capitalism’s establishment power and the narratives that undergird it. “The fundamental premise of liberalism,” Yarvin told Vanity Fair’s James Pogue, “is that there is this inexorable march toward progress. I disagree with that premise.”
The problem is that characters like Yarvin had another choice; the march to the far right is no more inexorable than misplaced faith in liberal progress. There is a whole swath of the contemporary left that also wholly rejects liberal establishment powers, the logic of the capitalist state, and liberalism’s progress myths. Rejection of liberal progress propaganda has been a theme of left-wing writing, including mine, for years, and I’m hardly alone. Such positions are definitive of a radical, antifascist, anti-racist left.
These leftist, liberatory tendencies may not be empowered in the Democratic Party, even on its left flank, but they are still present and active throughout the United States. They exist, they are accessible, and they have raged against the “regime” of contemporary power long before the current New Right came into its embryonic form.
This matters when thinking about the forces of neo-reaction because it clarifies the type of choice members of the New Right are making. While neo-reaction is indeed often based on the rejection of the liberal mainstream and its hollow promises, that rejection alone does not itself push someone into the New Right; moves to the anti-racist far left can begin the exact same way.
So what distinguishes the New Right turn? It’s a choice, by people with privilege and options, in favor of white standing, patriarchy, and — crucially — money. You cannot discount the cash: There’s serious money to be made, so long as your illiberalism upholds all the other oppressive hierarchies. And it’s of note that the key source of funding — Thiel’s fortunes — skyrocketed due to President Donald Trump’s racist immigration policies, which remain almost entirely in place under the Biden administration. Ethnocentrism is central to Vance’s and Masters’s platforms now.
The Vanity Fair piece highlights the irony that these so-called anti-authoritarians of the New Right, obsessed as they are with the dystopianism of the contemporary U.S., wholly overlook “the most dystopian aspects of American life: our vast apparatus of prisons and policing.”
Pogue is far from credulous and has said in interviews that the subjects of his story — however heterogeneous they claim to be — share an investment in authoritarianism. Yet the failure of New Right figures to talk about prisons and policing is no oversight: It is evidence of a white supremacism that need not be explicitly stated to run through this movement. This strain of reaction, after all, comes in the wake of the largest anti-racist uprisings in a generation, one that cannot be dismissed as liberal performance. The timing lays bare how this New Right fits into the country’s unbroken history of white backlash.
The decision of the disaffected to join the forces of reaction might appear understandable when it is presented as the only route for those willing to challenge the yoke of liberal capitalism and its pieties. This is harder to justify on those terms when it is clarified that an anti-capitalist left exists. The difference is that, unlike the New Right, the far left abhors white supremacist patriarchy and rejects the obvious fallacy that there is something pro-worker, or anti-capitalist, about border rule and labor segmentation.
The matter of money should not be understated. Radical left movements, unlike the New Right, are not popular among billionaire funders; that’s what happens when you challenge the actual “regime” of capital. To highlight the path not chosen by the New Right, then, is to show their active desire not for liberation but for domination — which is nothing new on the right at all.
This content originally appeared on The Intercept and was authored by Natasha Lennard.