What The Right Really Wants

Vox recently published an interesting postmortem of the midterm elections, looking to see how right-wing intellectuals (a term which I consider an oxymoron) are responding to the lack of that promised “red wave.”

This New Right “intellectual” movement arose after the 2016 election; its approach to Republican politics is a commitment to relentless, aggressive culture war. (Fortunately–at least in the recent elections–voters have seemed unreceptive.)

The article describes three distinct, albeit overlapping, reactions. One is a call to display what the article calls “some tactical moderation” (most notably by bracketing abortion, which was clearly not a winner for the GOP); another “centers on whether Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis represents the movement’s future, and what reasons there are to prefer one over the other.” The third centers on democracy itself.

A minority of New Right thinkers responded to defeat by suggesting the electorate is too far gone for conservatives to ever triumph — and even questioning the value of democracy itself.

“Democracy did not end slavery, and democracy will not end abortion,” declared Chad Pecknold, a self-described “postliberal” theologian at Catholic University.

The “thinkers” pursuing all-out culture war want to discard the conservative commitment to limited government; they argue that limiting the power of the state “stands in the way of waging an effective counterrevolution.”  They believe that their culture war can only be won “by jettisoning libertarianism and using the levers of policy to roll back the left’s cultural victories. Out with tax cuts, in with bans on critical race theory in schools.”

Abandoning the culture war, on this perspective, is not mere folly but national suicide. For some on the New Right, the idea that their approach to these issues might be unpopular is unthinkable. 

One star of the New Right argues for switching allegiance from Trump to  DeSantis –saying that he “backstops his culture-war agenda with capable governance.” (Granted, no one in his right mind could argue that Trump can even spell governance,  let alone provide it.) This DeSantis partisan believes DeSantis will be more able to deliver on the New Right’s shared goals: “to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers’ unions, and overturn the school boards.”  In other words,  eradicate “woke-ness.”

If the DeSantis contingent doesn’t terrify you sufficiently, there are the New Right “integralists.” These are “Catholic arch-conservatives who believe that the United States government should be replaced with a religious Catholic state.”

Integralists are a part of a broader “postliberal” trend among right-wing intellectuals that traces the cultural decay of American society back to its ruling liberal political philosophy: the doctrine that government should liberate people to pursue their own visions of the good life. Liberalism, they argue, promotes licentiousness and a corrosive individualism…

Postliberals believe that instead of protecting individual freedom, government should aim to promote the “common good” or “highest good”: to create a citizenry where people live good lives as defined by scripture and religious doctrine. This leads them to support an even more active role for the state than even the national conservatives, endorsing not only aggressive efforts to legislate morality but also expansions of the welfare state.

And here we come to the crux of the anti-democratic argument. It isn’t new.

Liberalism–properly defined–rests on a belief that humans are endowed–born with– certain “inalienable” rights that government must protect. The liberal conception of the common good is a society in which government respects those individual liberties to the extent that their expression does not infringe on the rights of others.

A liberal polity will argue–often vigorously–about where that line should be drawn. As I used to tell my students, freedom of religion cannot excuse the ritual sacrifice of your newborn.Figuring out what it can excuse is harder. Every liberty protected by the Bill of Rights has sparked philosophical and legal debate over the extent to which government must respect it–does your freedom of religion allow you to discriminate against people your church considers sinners? Does your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches prevent government from going through the garbage bag you’ve left on the curb for pickup?

What the New Right wants is statism.  

These “thinkers” assume that they will be the ones who decide what the common good looks like–and they want government, under their control, to enforce their vision. (They’re not so different from the Tech moguls who want to impose their beliefs  by remaking society in their own image.) That approach to governance is incompatible with the cultural assumptions of most American citizens–not to mention the U.S. Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

You can call this philosophy a lot of things, but it sure isn’t American. 


  1. Hey, the United States plays Iran today at 2pm… for whom will these “thinkers” be cheering? I think I now know.

  2. If 20% of the RNC selected Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee against the 80% who had other choices; the 80% evidently jumped on the Trump bandwagon and, contrary to their negative comments regarding his continuing White Nationalist MAGA party, who do you believe they will select in 2024? If, and it is looking more like a probability, Herschell Walker is elected to the Georgia U.S. Senate; to what use will Mitch McConnell put him? To what use can anyone put him?

    The “right” is blindly following their system of “speaking softly but carrying a huge stick in the form of an AR-15”; they speak against Trump’s antisemitism (with his own daughter and son-in-law being Jews) and his cohorts invited to Mar-A-Lago (surely no one here believes Trump’s claim that Ye “just showed up there”) but come time to vote they will follow their Judas goat into full Dictatorship. That Judas goat is the only thing resembling religion in their White Nationalist MAGA campaign foundation.

  3. “some tactical moderation” Read, lie about what you believe until you have the power to force your beliefs on people who would never have supported you if you had been honest.

  4. “Statism” is another word for Dictatorship. Think of Orban in Hungary, and Putin in Russia. And I wonder how comfortable those Catholic intellectuals would be to have the Southern Baptist Convention running the country.

  5. Sharon, if my reading of history is correct, the position of segregated schools needed some tactical moderation, and so the Republican’s Pro-life stance was a move to motivate these same voters. It took a long long time to expose only the fallacy in just the position they took up to perform the “tactical moderation”. I still don’t think many people are convinced that at the root of this “moderated position” is flat out racist motivations. Maybe many in the party have forgotten, or never knew what the initial drive to motivate these voters was, but it was successful in motivating voters, and so the lies continue.

    I suspect right up until there is a huge expansion in government to control “undesirable” behavior people will be cheering on those politicians. This kind of stuff makes it so easy to understand why the Nazi’s were ever able to come to power.

  6. If one bothers to do a little research one will find that the Catholic Church does NOT believe in separation of Church and State. Quite contrary, it believes in a theocracy, not a Democracy. The Southern Baptist CULT does not go as far in it’s public pronouncements, but in reality they too do not believe in the separation of Church & State. Just look at their philosophical ancestors, the Puritans, John Calvin and Oliver Cromwell. One also needs to remember the SBC was founded to help the South preserve “states rights” in the form of slavery.

  7. Is this New Right “intellectual” movement a real threat to democracy, or is it just part of the dying whimper of an ancient religion?
    I watched a video of Chad Picknold discussing the recent edict banning the Latin Mass in Washington DC. THE LATIN MASS! He was against the ban, of course, even as he admitted that Church attendance had fallen. What he wants, what the Right wants, is nothing less than a return to the 1950s. It ain’t going to happen.

  8. Dan. Interesting analysis…also shows an example of tactical distraction. Ignore what we’re doing to Blacks, look at what liberals are doing to babies.

  9. What a wholesale mess. The United States is descending into the pit of utter stupidity by showing the rest of the world we can’t govern ourselves either. All this “philosophical” squabbling is nothing more than a battle for power over others…just like any good tribal organism would do.

    The Republicans haven’t had a mind in power since the Eisenhower administration. Since then, as Ike predicted, they have followed the corporate money into abject corruption. Now they want to end the Constitution so their corporate/banking mogul financiers can have their way.

    I hate to keep bringing it up, but Karl Marx predicted something like this would happen back in the mid-19th century. The right-wing is SO out of touch with what works because they’ve been trained that way. Capitalism will indeed destroy itself by its own hand. How utterly stupid.

    I’m glad I’m old.

  10. Stan. I doubt if there is any religion that believes in freedom of religion for anyone but themselves. Individuals, yes, but not organized religion. After all, if you believe RELIGIOUSLY that you are right, why wouldn’t you want your beliefs to trump all others?

  11. “Statism” was the policy cry of the Confederate States. What the Right is trying to do is create a Confederate government in the 21st Century.
    We fought a war over that, I believe.

  12. Under capitalistic American statism, corporations own the the government (instead of vice versa) and create an American Taliban to subjugate the populace and clothe their destructive exploitation of people and the planet in their patriarchal morality.

  13. As near as I can tell, everyone wants freedom. The question is to whom do we trust power to guarantee that freedom, and do we believe that to be freedom at all, it must be freedom for all?

    For liberals, a coalition of interests united by the same aspirations, the answer is: 1) Constitutional government power protecting equal rights for everyone, created and enforced by those elected regularly and reliably by the governed.

    For the right, a coalition of interests united by a belief in the same means, the answer is: power/wealth unequally distributed and limited only by the need to protect the current order.

    Apparently, human culture is the endless struggle between interest groups separated by belief in one or the other protection schemes.

  14. It seems the moral of this story is beware the “true believer.” We all know how dangerous these people are. The only question that remains is how do we get that turned off bloc of citizens who don’t vote to understand how much is riding on every vote and motivate them to finally just VOTE!

  15. Fundamental to our liberal democracy is the acceptance of the long-term power of the Constitution as a design for a government that will always be limited, adequate, and relevant if we the people so choose by our election of temporary representatives to government. The means of government are paramount. The right believes in a more flexible arrangement of power that is necessary to maintain the current order. The ends of government are paramount.

  16. It is unfortunate and sad that many of those under 40 couldn’t care less as long as they can drink cocktails/craft beers, get “likes” and be left alone (free) to do whatever they please.

  17. Jan at 8:55 a.m.; you are so right, I doubt many recognize this move to “the south gonna rise again”! A quote by Rhett Butler in the movie “Gone With The Wind” is coming to pass with electronically equipped Carpetbaggers; “There is as much money to be made in the destruction of a civilization as there is in the creation of one.” Trump has managed to goad the public to action to accomplish the destruction of democracy and haul in billions while in the process.

  18. Perhaps (to wax philosophical) we latter day survivors of the savannahs (or as my old World Politics professor called us, homo saps) would have been better off with a polygod arrangement rather than a monogod arrangement our apparent desire for centralized power dictated, but we’ll never know since this was a road not taken.

    When I think of church and state and all the evil effects associated with their amalgamation or attempted amalgamation on citizens’ civil rights and those Jefferson noted in the Preamble, I am reminded of the role of the gods in the Greek era, and that even in such a polygod arrangement there were upper and lesser gods and a chief god, which suggests to me that we had a monogod arrangement all along in everything but name – and that’s it’s now baked in.

    Leaving the philosophical and to bring things up to date, this mixture of presidents and clergy or their adherents as our governors (the latter unelected) is not the way to go. If clergy or their adherents today, who tomorrow? The Federalist Society? The Southern Baptist Convention? Sound silly? Then consider this > that the Federalist Society in the form of Bill Bass and his religion as AG has already brought the church to bear in matters at the highest level of civil authority (outfront refutation of the Mueller Report to cover Trump’s exposure to impeachment). Also consider the “Moral Majority” of Southern Baptist leaders that became a cover for Republican policy and a handy front for vote getting for a party (as defined by its stand on the issues) composed of an immoral majority.

    So what to do? Continue to preach that the admixture of church and state is oil and water, note Cromwellian examples, and generally agitate for separation.

  19. “The electorate is too far gone?” How about “The electorate does not want a theocracy, fascist, or not.” No,
    they are where they ought to be, based on the recent election, and it is fools like this “minority” that are “too far gone.”
    Anything a fellow at a Catholic university claims, or states, must be viewed through his/her
    jaundiced eyes.
    A DeSantis presidency would give the bonzo right just what they want, “Corporate Theocracy,” I’ll call it.
    BTW, he has been shot down by one judge, citing “1984,” and his firing of an elected official goes to court, today.

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