Principles of the deep right
"If someone sent you this link, someone thinks you are looking for something."
If you don’t know why someone sent you this link, here is an essay about me in Tablet, and another about me (and my fiancee!) in Vanity Fair. I have not read these articles. (I think writers should avoid reading about themselves.) Friends assure me they are not perfect, but pretty good—“I mean, considering.”
But if, to you, they make me and/or my ideas seem boring or weird or dangerous or something—this stuff is probably not for you. That’s fine. It’s not for most people. And there are many senses in which it is dangerous! Most people are what they are: imperfect beautiful mere human beings who should stick to the airport bookstore.
If someone sent you this link, someone thinks you are looking for something. It may look like you have found a part or two of it yourself. Would you like to know more?
The deep right
The first question about anything is what to call it.
The essays above (I am told) use “new right.” This label has some merits—principally that it is a neutral label in connotation, neither aggrandizing (like “modern monetary theory”) or pejorative (like “terrorist”). From a marketing perspective, there is a case for both aggrandizing and (ironically) pejorative labels—but not, I think, in this case.
I am certainly not prominent enough to own “new right,” which is a big tent—with more intellectual variety, in one corner of the groundsheet, than the whole Ivy League. To say nothing of its hilarious historical ambiguity!
But I want to stake claim on my favorite little micro-label, “deep right.” By the power of SEO, I decree as follows: anyone who calls themselves this, but doesn’t, like, agree with me, is a phony. Ban him or something.
I like “deep right” because: (a) it is not aggrandizing but mildly positive—with a hint of risk, as in “deep end”; (b) it mirrors “deep state”; (c) it has a little bit of flavor, but not so much as to be cringe.
And the brand is mine, so I get to make its rules. As a philosophy of politics, the deep right has five principles: it is timeless, neutral, absolute, vital and realist.
Many speak of the current thing and the current year. But no current year is an island. We are all within the current period—at every timescale, from week to millennium.
The deep right is timeless: it knows that the current period is not in any way inherently better or special than all other periods. “All ages stand equal before God.”
What historians call Whig history or presentism is a parochial and chauvinistic belief in the superiority of the current period—we could call it a paleophobia. Whig history is an erroneous attribution of the progress of physical science into the political. Also, it displays a remarkable ignorance of the historical pattern of regime evolution, which outside the current period is never monotonic and always cyclic. Maybe the current period is different—or maybe it is just part of yet another cycle.
If disproving worked, the 20th century would have disproved Whig history. Actually, we have no reason to think that Barack Obama (or the sages of his age) understands political philosophy any better (or worse) than Henry Tudor (or the sages of his age). We do not even know that Obama’s fiscal and monetary policies are superior.
The deep right knows that new ideas are not necessarily superior to old ones—nor are old ideas necessarily superior to new ones. Timelessness is a special case of neutrality. The linguistic analogy of “presentism” to “racism” is crude, but conscious.
All ages stand equal before God—but only before God judges them. History, too, must judge—but judge without prejudice.
Which side are you on? “Leave it for children,” wrote Robinson Jeffers, “or the emotional rabble of the streets, to back their horse or support a brawler.”
The deep right is neutral. It has no dog in any fight—not even the current conflict in the current period. It knows that there is no advantage in taking any side in any struggle.
Not only does the deep right have no position in the red-state/blue-state American culture war, its members are (like me) more likely to have a blue-state background. If we define the indigenous core right as the core right, the deep right has a Coriolanus vibe. We are (mostly) defecting from our own tribe to defend our hereditary enemies.
But we are not submitting to these Volscians. The purpose of the deep right is not to follow the core right, but to lead it. The pattern of history will not be altered—and in this pattern, the productive classes are always governed by unproductive aristocrats. Every true revolution is the replacement of an old aristocracy by a new one. Since the core right is the party of the productive classes, it is desperately in need of leadership.
In principle, like the early 20th-century Progressives (remember that before Woodrow Wilson, the Democrats were America’s conservative party), the deep right could take power through either party. After all, the closest, most recent thing to an American regime change was the New Deal. DC today is essentially the bureaucratic successor of FDR’s personal dictatorship.
Of course, for a prospective new regime, it is not necessary to have the support of any one side or party. It is only necessary to win. But a new regime will have to govern the whole country—so drawing support from all cultures is a test of its future strength.
It is not necessary for drawing support from all cultures to imply some compromise between all cultures—some beige blend of pureed Americana. There is no American culture and there never should be. Rather, peace in the cold civil war will be assured when each culture learns to, and is forced to, respect all others and leave them alone—red or blue no more feel the right to rule another, than the Amish to rule Philadelphia.
And needless to say, the deep right has no interest in overseas conflicts. Its foreign policy is to shut down the empire. Stories of foreign wars are of human interest only. While these wars are often sad, and sometimes even monstrous, John Quincy Adams had something to say about the subject. The deep right thinks Adams was right—and being timeless, we do not dismiss him for being 200 years old.
In war, neutrality is the highest form of pacifism. In an example from the current year: the deep right is not rootin’ for Putin, nor does it have Ukraine on the brain. When we see an “antiwar rally” whose platform is shipping more guns, bombs and tanks to one side of a war, or we hear a phrase like “no justice, no peace,” we laugh sadly. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Neutrality is the only nonaggressive way to make peace. Unfortunately, when most people talk about peace, what they actually mean is victory. We cannot all agree on victory; we can all agree on neutrality.
For instance, one ingredient of the neutral style of peace is the resolution of conflicts uti possidetis: the war ends, and everyone keeps exactly the territory they have now. The new border is the current front.
Scholars of the law of nations used to consider a war as a sort of lawsuit—engaged in to redress some grievance by the ultima ratio regum, the last argument of kings. In this frame, the “aggressor” in a 20th-century model becomes a sort of plaintiff—the party that considers the uti possidetis unjust, and wants more; the “victim” in the theology of democratic international relations is a sort of defendant, who accepts the status quo.
While this model does not tell us who is wrong or right, it lets us explain wars as more than the sick crimes of the evil demons, villains and madmen who are our enemies. Again we pass from the frame of a child to the frame of an adult.
What is the purpose of life? Is it pleasure? Whatever said purpose may be, the purpose of government is surely to promote that individual purpose across the population.
Americans today certainly seem to believe that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. The sincerity of this belief, however, does not make them right. Certainly most societies in history, certainly including most of their ancestors, would disagree.
The deep right is vitalist: it believes that the purpose of life is vitality, and the purpose of good government is the promotion of general and immeasurable human vitality.
Unlike pleasure, which can be “measured” statistically (with the model that consumer dollars spent is a rough proxy for pleasure, or so-called “utility”), human vitality is immeasurable in principle. Some aspects of vitality can be measured—physique is an important part of vitality, and there are many excellent metrics of physique—but the problem of vitality as a whole will never submit to any kind of political statistics.
Thomas Carlyle called this the “condition of England question”—the problem that the health of a nation, the salus populi whose preservation and improvement is the purpose of government, cannot be measured. The craze for “government by steam,” for some scientific or mechanical process of decision-making above mere human frailty, was just beginning. Carlyle saw right through it:
A witty statesman once said, you might prove anything by figures. We have looked into various statistic works, Statistic-Society Reports, Poor-Law Reports, Reports and Pamphlets not a few, with a sedulous eye to this question of the Working Classes and their general condition in England; we grieve to say, with as good as no result whatever.
Tables are abstractions, and the object a most concrete one, so difficult to read the essence of. There are innumerable circumstances; and one circumstance left out may be the vital one on which all turned. Statistics is a science which ought to be honourable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are; a wise head is requisite for carrying it on. Conclusive facts are inseparable from inconclusive except by a head that already understands and knows.
One thing the deep right knows is that the condition of a nation is the condition of the humans in it, and that condition (the “common good,” if you like) can never be measured in dry numbers—only assessed by human wisdom.
A vital human being is operating at their full human potential. Even this potential varies between humans, and between groups of humans. When we look at America today, do we feel that most people we see are living up to their full human potential?
You would have to be, like, high. The condition of America is terrible. Yet if you are not convinced of this, it would be folly for me to try to prove it.
The deep right is the faction of truth. It knows that the great intellectual institutions of our era do not deserve our unconditional trust.
And it knows that their conclusions cannot be accepted universally at face value. To act in any serious way requires an accurate assessment of objective reality. To act in unreality can produce arbitrarily bad results, irrespective of intention. Therefore, the deep right must be realist in every possible way.
But the old regime is not reliable. So all its ideas and ideals must be revised. Often they are good, and will prove good. But in general, realism implies revision.
While these old institutions—older than anyone living—are still populated by very talented human beings, their marketplace of ideas has become corrupted by power. One clear symptom of this corruption is their increasing ideological synchronization.
Only one product is on sale in the marketplace of ideas—or at least, only one flavor. Unfortunately, everything contaminated with this flavor must be recalled and revised.
We trust these polycentric institutions because they are redundant: since there are many of them, all the universities and all the publishers could could not all go wrong at once. Then we see them all agreeing with each other. What is up with that?
We trust the marketplace of ideas because, structurally, it is a multipolar bazaar of every possible idea. In our bazaar, we trust that good ideas will outcompete bad ideas. But when we open our eyes, we do not see a bazaar at all—but a unipolar cathedral.
The American university does not have a pope. It might as well have a pope. It is as ideologically uniform as the College of Cardinals—at last. Yet its local branches, at every tier of prestige, are independently owned and operated. What is up with that?
Refusing absolute trust to the professors does not mean refusing all trust. It means that all trust is conditional. It means treating Western postwar scholarship as we treat Eastern postwar scholarship: as unevenly trustworthy.
Soviet chemistry was excellent; Soviet psychology was pretty much worthless; Soviet history was hit or miss. But no one can prove anything by a mere reference to the Soviet literature. Such a reference must be accompanied by an argument which explains why that area of Soviet academia was sound.
And if an area of Western academia is unsound, the new regime must find and replace it. Realism is revision. In principle, any new regime must think from scratch.
In principle, thinking from scratch does not involve skepticism of math or physics or even chemistry, because it is quite easy to validate the hard sciences from scratch. For every field softer than chemistry, though, the skeptic must tread carefully.
In principle, the deep right claims the right to investigate, judge and revise any area of artifice or endeavor. Thinking from scratch is merely intellectual sovereignty. Of course, no truly new regime can arise without claiming its intellectual sovereignty.
With this sovereignty must come seriousness. In any way in which the new regime takes issue with the conclusions of the old regime, the superior depth and incisiveness of its thought must be palpable. Even its art must be better and more striking. Every true revolution in power is accompanied by a corresponding revolution in the arts.
Cheap revisionism must always be avoided. It is always tempting to simply invert the consensus of the cathedral—as if it was not infallible, but the inverse of infallible, like the Cretan in the parable who always lies.
This is an error which by definition cannot escape the cathedral’s frame. If it always lied, from mere perversity, our job would be easy. Actually, the cathedral almost never lies—and when it lies, it has no idea that it is lying. But a few lies can do a lot of work.
Usually the conclusions that these cheap revisionists prefer are the most striking and dramatic. Therefore, striking and dramatic revisions are especially to be distrusted. The truth usually has a subtle smell. The deep right is the faction of truth.
The scale of careful, professional work involved in a serious program of intellectual revision is almost beyond belief. All scholarship from the last two centuries, at least, needs to be reevaluated on the basis of its relationship to power.
The comprehensive revision of the intellectual record is a task on the scale of a state. Fortunately, not only is it a task for a state, it is a task any new state needs—because the new regime will need many job opportunities for its unemployed intellectuals. Some of this work can even be done while the old regime remains in power, though private actors probably cannot raise enough money to finish the job properly.
The most important field to revise is political science, since political science dictates the purpose and organization of the new regime. All other revisions will be performed by an organization founded on sound political science: Aristotle, Hume, Mosca, etc.
Does anyone really still believe in “limited government”? Limited by who—exactly? What is up with all this passive voice?
The deep right knows that all government is absolute. Because of this, the deep right is only interested in paths to absolute power. It treats all other paths as traps, since they are by definition dead ends. The more attractive the first steps into a trap, the deadlier the trap in the end—and political traps can last decades.
Not all paths to power go from zero to one in a single step. Incremental victories are plausible and probably necessary. But to an absolutist, an incremental victory is not an end but only a means. There can even be incremental sacrifice—few paths uphill go straight up.
The political goal of the deep right is straightforward: replace the regime. This end creates a set of paths which have nothing that looks even remotely like incremental victory. Rather, the first step toward absolutism is to create a credible backup regime.
Any process—from a military coup to a normal election—that can replace regime A must replace it with some regime B. If regime B has to be built on the spot during the replacement process, that process is much more dangerous and unlikely to work. Any head start on the job makes your revolution much safer.
So in most regime changes, something like the next regime has been built—either as an organ of the old regime, or as a party or network in the private sector, or even as a foreign regime—before the revolution even starts.
Revolutions are hard and need every head start they can get. Often, no revolution is possible at all. And if there is no practical way for the people to replace the regime, by definition the people live not in a democracy but an autocracy.
If the citizens do not have the power to change the government, they are not in power. If they are in power, they can change not just the politicians, but the policies; not just the policies, but the staff; not just the staff, but the structures; not just the structures, but the very form of government itself. If the citizens are in power, they even have the power to give up their power irreversibly, turning themselves from citizens to subjects.
But their lack of power could come from two causes. One, some force prevents them from exercising the power. Two, there is no such force—but they have no way to use their power. For example, if the people do have the sovereignty to replace the regime, but do not have a backup regime to replace it with, they do not have this sovereignty in practice—only in theory.
Creating a credible backup regime, even a partially-constructed one, disambiguates the question of popular sovereignty. Do the people support the regime? If they have no option but to support the regime, there is no way to know. One might as well poll them, to see if they preferred A to A.
Inasmuch as there exists any credible B, even the outline of a B, the poll becomes live. Thus, creating a credible backup regime asks the citizens a question which they have never been asked before.
Until this question can be asked in a credible way, no one knows what the answer would even be. The mere existence of a B may create a preference defalsification cascade across society; or the problem might be much harder. But it sure can’t hurt.
This essay seems so clearly stated that I worry I’ve misunderstood it somehow. It’s also remarkably brief. Is our host feeling OK? :)
love this combo: "timeless, neutral, absolute, vital and realist," but is disrespecting the Oxford comma the American way?