September 1, 2023


PODCAST: The century-long war for American conservatism, with Matthew Continetti (Niskanen Center, AUGUST 29, 2023)

In this podcast discussion, Continetti talks about the principal themes of The Right, including the proliferation of different varieties of politics that have appeared in right-wing intellectual and activist circles over the past century, the ongoing struggle for influence between the libertarian and traditionalist factions of conservatism, and the tensions between populist outsiders and governing-minded insiders. He analyzes the present political moment and the intellectual attempt to "reverse-engineer" Donald Trump's impulses and instincts into a coherent ideology through institutions like the Claremont Institute and Hillsdale College as well as the National Conservative movement. Continetti also describes the reasoning behind his decision to begin his account with the 1920s, the end of the Cold War's impact on the conservative movement, and the reasons why he thinks the political center-right and its institutions are following the same pattern of decline that the center-left underwent a decade ago.   [...]

Geoff Kabaservice: It seemed to me in reading your book that there was maybe a refinement on that last binary of more establishment conservatives versus populists. And that was that the "establishment" conservatives, if you can call them that -- that's a loaded term -- were interested in governing. That meant putting forward coherent policies. It meant building up national majorities to approve of their programs, and it meant some level of intellectual respectability as well. And those were not concerns of the opposing populist side, who tended to be anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, maybe even nihilist in their desire for a complete break with the past and a fresh start. Does that sound more or less accurate?

Matthew Continetti: I think another way to characterize it would be to say that the conservative intellectuals were interested in basically playing by the rules of twentieth-century American politics and media, and so they did care about respectability. They did care about being able to go toe-to-toe with the best minds on the Left. They did care about persuasion of the middle that has decided elections in the United States in order to reinforce their governing majorities.

Whereas the outsiders, the populists, they were much more interested always in changing the rules or even substituting a new set of rules for the ones that we have had over the last hundred years. And so that gave them a radical touch that was missing from many of the intellectuals.

Given the hostility of the Deep State (AKA: the American citizenry, our system, and our institutions), it is natural for the Right/Left to be nihilist.  

Posted by at September 1, 2023 6:31 AM