Can conservatives form a new counterculture?

In July, the New York Times posted a job vacancy looking for a reporter-anthropologist to cover an important new trend: infiltrating the “Internet communities and influential personalities that make up the right-wing media ecosystem” and “shedding light on their motivations” for the benefit of the newspaper’s readers. Establishing this “critical listening post” would not be for the faint of heart. The daring candidate would have to be specially “prepared to inhabit the confines of the internet” where “far-right” ideas are discussed, all for the lofty purpose of determining “where and why these ideas take shape.”

One might ask why the paper needs one more reporter to shape the narrative on the right, given its constant focus on Donald Trump and the populist MAGA movement since 2016. But the timing of the announcement seemed to suggest that the paper had something else in mind. It arrived in the midst of an explosion of media interest in this strange new tribe, suddenly discovered not in the wilds of Kansas, but right under our noses.

)In April, an article by James Pogue in Vanity Fair revealed the emergence of a multitude of “podcasters, anonymous twitter brothers, internet philosophers and artists, plus amorphous pirate parrots”, sometimes called “dissidents, neo-reactionaries, post-leftists , or unorthodox fringe, all often lumped together for convenience under the label America’s New Right,” which represented “the coming together of a much larger strange political ferment, bubbling up above all among America’s young, well-educated elite.” demographics of this so-called New Right may have caught the attention of the New York Times But Pogue brought even more striking news: these dissidents, he said , established “a position that has gradually become bold and cool in the outposts of new technology like Miami and Austin, and in suburban Manhattan, where the New Right tone is in vogue, and signs like a modest crucifix have become chic markers of transgression.” This must have been the most alarming news of all for the newspaper: maybe, somehow, traditionalist right-wing conservatism has become cool.

It’s true. And, since it is, how was it possible? For at least a century, this Querda maintained a solid monopoly on “chic transgression”, waging a profitable cultural guerrilla war against society’s hegemonic status quo. For the right to capture something of its youthful energy and rebellious frisson from the left would represent a tectonic political-cultural shift. We shouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

Few things come more naturally to young people than facing the restrictions and norms of their time, even if it’s just to stand out a little bit from the crowd and show independence. A counterculture forms as a reaction against an official or dominant culture. And, today, it is the progressive neoliberal left that occupies this position of US power centers, whether cultural, educational, technological, corporate or bureaucratic. In this culture, the celebration of old, ritualized forms of transgression is not only permitted, it is practically obligatory. Dissent against state-funded transgression is transgression now. Everything that was once revolutionary is now a new orthodoxy, with compliance reinforced by censorship, scientific obscurantism, and avid witch hunters. (They’re middle-aged hunters, hardcore hunters, full of secrets, with NPR bag, rainbow stickers that read “Coexist”, pronouns in the email signature. We all know the uniform.) [A NPR é a rádio pública dos EUA. Se fosse adaptar em vez de traduzir, seria algo como: “ecobag da TV Cultura” e “broche de arco-íris com Marielle”. (N. t.)]

Furthermore, young people living under the current permanent revolution of common culture are often miserable. Their disillusionment opens the door to subversive thinking about dogma concerning the destruction of sexual and gender rules, the replacement of the novel by the Tinder landscape, the general atomized uprooting, the working life that feels like neo-feudal servitude, as well as to the irritating senselessness of consumerism and mass media. In this environment, the most countercultural action is to embrace traditional values ​​and customs — such as the fashion for the Tridentine Mass, adopted by some young people. We shouldn’t be too surprised if at least a portion of young people who want to rebel against Man choose, for example, to listen to Jordan Peterson, or turn to their latent thirst for objective truth and beauty, and step out of the postmodern left.

Meanwhile, much of the genuine energy of American society — intellectual, artistic, and humorous energy, the kind of energy that attracts bright young minds — has migrated to on the right. As populist academic Michael Lind recently argued, “if you are an intelligent, thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today any more than you can be a knight or a silent movie star”, since now “the intellectual life in the American center-left is over.” The spirit of adventure and debate that once drove the left was, he says, “replaced by compulsory assent, and ideas were replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned”, while the common market of ideas is now taken over by “the ritualized jargon of foundation-funded monothematic NGOs, like a pond choked by weeds.”

On the other hand, humor is something that the current ruling class is not quite capable of producing. Real humor tends to play with the gap between expectation and reality, or with the assumptions of social norms and the obvious. Satire, in particular, is a form of transgression that points out the falsities of illegitimate authority. Saul Alinsky may have correctly warned young leftist radicals that “ridiculousness is man’s most powerful weapon” against the establishment; but now the left has itself become the establishment. So-called humorists who, in the manner of the obtuse Soviet state humor magazine called Krokodil, try to “correct with laughter” by mixing the regime’s ideological propaganda with jokes, end up being what boys today call “cringe”. The chains of ideological dogma block the creative inspiration needed to produce interesting art.

In contrast to this oppressive decadence of the common left, the dialectic of The countercultural right is full of irreverence and intellectual possibilities. Amidst a growing ecosystem of YouTube videos, Twitter threads, Substack essays, internet book clubs and three-hour podcasts , exiles from common culture seek to broaden their horizons, not only looking for alternative media, but also getting excited when discovering Christopher Lasch, debating John Locke and speaking about Tito Livio. A hunger for forbidden knowledge and a yearning for genuine answers to political and cultural phenomena, hidden in official gaslighting , produced a legion of autodidacts who Elite guardians were not able to contain. And, finding themselves already outside the window of acceptability, and therefore no longer bound by entrenched ideological orthodoxies, nor the need for self-censorship, many of these dissidents no longer have reason to hesitate to point out when a king of establishment is naked.

Who counts as a member of the countercultural right? The universe extends beyond the traditionalist Catholics, political agents linked to Peter Thiel and dissident internet personalities described by Pogue. It certainly includes a wider range of political subgroups, such as nationalist conservatives, European-influenced “post-liberal” intellectuals, and now reactionary, newly banned “gender-critical” feminists from the left. But they should not be confused with a big political tent: their defining characteristic is not politics, but a shared alienation and dissent from the cultural hegemony of the left. The millions of young people introduced to the validity of learning right-leaning ideas by unorthodox cultural commentators such as Joe Rogan, or even awakened to the value of religious tradition thanks to Jordan Peterson or Jonathan Pageau, form a cultural base that funnels people in a community of active dissidents.

The degree of factionalism and infighting that in some cases is already visible among various niches of this countercultural right (which includes theoretical disputes and petty differences, Twitter squabbles and personal animosities) is therefore largely irrelevant. These subgroups may not always get along, but in much old-left fashion, their factious tantrums represent the vigor of a newborn counterculture, even if they are impediments to cultural and political influence.

The countercultural right is different from the tide of Trump’s political populism, even though the voters and influencers may be the same people. MAGA populism, as an explicit political movement, was largely limited to the mobilization of those who were already outside the stronghold of the ruling elite. And that only consolidated and strengthened the class consciousness of the elite, on the defensive. In contrast, a dissident counterculture is able to resonate across the classes, including among the elite itself.

This is why today’s conservatives do not they should underestimate the potential political advantage that an emerging counterculture could have in the long run. Conservatives sometimes gain political power, but a united monolithic cultural opposition tends to sabotage them. As writer Tanner Greer has argued, culture wars are long and generational; and, as polls tend to indicate, the younger generation tends to seem, today, overwhelmingly embroiled in left-wing cultural politics. But a shift in the values ​​of young Americans is far from impossible.

A transgressive countercultural appeal may prove to be the right’s greatest resource. No official decree can change the minds of a generation ready to rebel against authority. But a countercultural opposition can. The left knows this all too well, of course, as it used the counterculture energy of the years 60 in a long march through the institutions and, finally, , in societal and managerial hegemony.

Comments on the emergence of these new cultural dissidences often miss the point. For example, a much-discussed New York Times opinion article by Julia Yost aptly describes the growing scene young converts to Catholicism concentrated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side Dimes Square neighborhood. She says they have adopted “an ostensible style of traditionalism” more “in defiance of liberal norms”, and because it is the “ultimate expression” of a “contrarian aesthetic” than because its members have any special devotion to the faith. Yost speculates, as do other critics, whether these boys are simply acting. But it is their willingness to adopt traditional customs in order to gain peer approval that is noteworthy, not the authenticity of their belief (which, as Yost concedes, may come later anyway).

Imitation is the process by which the terms of what is cool, attractive and socially beneficial have always been established. These new Catholics (regardless of their sincerity) and other cultural dissidents can change these terms. To use a monetary metaphor: the elite needs to accumulate cultural capital, which is measured and accumulated through a common cultural currency. But if too many people switch to an alternative currency, the old one runs the risk of collapsing, which could lead to a sudden mass conversion to the new reserve currency. And since these cultural dissidents may have started out as a minority, and are sure to continue to do so for some time to come, the exclusivity of minority status may be attractive in yourself. Scarcity generates its own value.

However, if the elite left is to be held back in its pressure to build a total progressive state, a contract developing culture will not suffice. The right and its anti-progressive allies will have to identify, seize, secure and effectively operate the real centers of power and influence. A young countercultural right would help in this regard.

It is worth noting that many of the more politically oriented subgroups within the dissident right are becoming familiar with the works from realist philosophers of power, from Machiavelli and James Burnham [1905 – 1987] to the French Bertrand de Jouvenel [1903 – 1987]. But that shouldn’t come as a big surprise, as the group looks to the past for knowledge and inspiration. As Burnham wrote in his classic The Machiavellians, a time of “revolutionary crisis leaves men, or at least a certain number of men, discontented.” with what in normal times passes for political thought and science, namely: veiled apologies for the status quo or utopian dreams for the future.”

But it is not his choice of readings in itself that can give political importance to the new counterculture. As the Trump administration belatedly discovered, taking nominal control of the government through elections today has little impact on the direction of Leviathan. Even if the ruling party officially changes, the vast, unelected administrative state remains staffed by people trained in the same elite institutions, living in the same elite conclaves, and shaped by the same material incentives to signal acculturation in the same mannerisms, and networks, careers and ideological priorities: what the Italian political theorist Gaetano Mosca [1858 – 1941] would have called the same “political formula”.

The staff is politics. If this entrenched and decidedly non-neutral ruling class does not accept a new political order, it will not happen. Proclaiming a new direction for a government without installing new personnel willing and able to carry it forward only generates revolt and sabotage on the part of the elite. High-ranking political appointments inserted into departments and agencies, in an attempt to direct change, are quickly isolated and rejected by the host bureaucratic body’s immune system, expelled as the external objects they are.


Trump administration veterans seem to have been slow to capture this reality, if true reports of a plan known as “Schedule F”, which is an attempt to replace much of the “civil service ” through executive orders at the beginning of the new presidential administration. But, as Trump’s own officials saw, replacing all those people would be too difficult. In addition to legal obstacles, almost everyone who has the skills and experience to do these jobs is already assimilated members of the same managerial-professional class. In fact, this status quo applies not only to government, but to almost every major influential organization, including corporations, media groups, universities and NGOs. Everyone relies on the recruitment of the professional-management elite to operate, and so in fact organizations are kept in the cultural preferences of that environment.

The only way practicable to advance the populist right, then, is to develop a counter-elite, which operates in parallel under a different political formula and exploits a different cultural currency, from which the new leadership can fill the posts of institutional power. These new elites could, after all, come from anywhere, and from any social or economic class. But conversion from within the existing managerial class (in other words, the cultivation of “class traitors”) would produce results faster. The development of an attractive counterculture among educated young people, the emerging elite, is the best possible means of achieving this. In the end, it’s the way the hippies of the 2022 years went on to seize power. This is the true potential value of a right-wing counterculture.

The privileged young people who pretend to be Catholic in the suburbs of Manhattan are unlikely to be themselves , this counter-elite; but we can think of them as pioneers who react to amplify the same forces in the Zeitgeist that can induce others to join the new counterculture. In this, they can open the gate to subvert and, in time, take the bastion of cultural power from within the elite of society.

It must be That’s what made the New York Times and other prestigious media feel a chill down their spines. A cultural rupture in what Pogue described as “America’s young, educated elite” would present a direct threat to the left’s monolith of institutional power, a far greater threat than the mass populist uprisings that have so far caused them so much anxiety. Still, in the end, the New York Times, which seems unable to resist Trump’s magnetism, chose to fill the vacancy with the reporter from the Buzzfeed focused on populism, the same as the infamous Steele dossier, also called the Trump-Russia dossier. Perhaps they have not yet grasped the extent of the real threat.

©2022 City Journal. Published with permission. Original in English.

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