The ironic thing about Michael Malice's book The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics is that it mostly deals with the Left. What unites the Right, argues Malice, is that they all hate the Left. His definition of the New Right reads:
a loosely connected group of individuals united by their opposition to progressivism, which they perceive to be a thinly veiled fundamentalist religion dedicated to egalitarian principles and intent on totalitarian world domination via globalist hegemony.
Everyone from radical conservatives to Murray Rothbard–following anarchists to those whom the press sloppily calls "alt-right," all get lumped into the same category—hence the label. While almost everyone in those groups would strongly object to the affiliation, Malice has found the common denominator among them: they all hate the evangelical left. The New Right, as he sees it, is formed and fueled by this opposition, and so Malice spends page after page describing the progressive power that rules the social, intellectual, and political world.
It works remarkably well, partly, I suspect, because Malice is extraordinarily well versed in the hidden world of internet trolls and the intellectual dark web, as well as more conventional conservative and libertarian ideas. He tells of secret meetings, of invites-only events for trolls and white nationalists, of conversations he’s had, online and offline, with prominent figures of the movement he describes. Skillfully, too, he manages to dissect what it means to be a progressive in America today—a necessary step to even begin to understand this right-wing contramovement.
Malice captures the progressives’ extreme attachment to equity: the dissecting of and the overturning of hierarchies, power, privilege, and, above all, fairness. Elitism and natural hierarchies are inevitable, but the Left won’t have it. Even in the mundane, say, jokes in the locker room or jokes on a stand-up scene, "for the evangelical left, with humor as with everything else, if it’s not for everyone then it’s not for anyone." This idea, institutionalized and universalized, is the core of what it means to be left-wing in America today.
The distinguishing feature of a left-leaning ideologue, as shown in the Jonathan Haidt research that Malice discusses, is a strong focus on fairness and harm to the exclusion of everything else. Malice eloquently shows that fairness isn’t well defined, and that it is mostly devoid of meaning; it "simply means "what I approve of.'" A discussion over fairness is therefore useless.
A person on the left in the late 2010s, and increasingly so in the 2020s, tries to "impose meaning rather than to understand." Picking illustrative examples from Hillary Clinton and those more extreme than her, Malice shows that progressives usually ascribe ideas and values to their opponents, dismiss their words as "hate speech," and then "end the conversation before it has even begun."
The clear religious nature of progressivism that emerges is clear. Replacing God with "the saving grace of progressivism," the Left has found that racism is the default setting of man, and a person "is able to escape that fallen state" only through their leftish repentance. Another key element of progressive beliefs is to feel good rather than do good:
Since the progressive religion is based on salvation through faith and not via works, there are often no positive achievements to demonstrate one’s salvation—either to others or even to oneself. Progressives are thereby forced to "do something" without actually doing anything.
Think pins on your jacket, various in-group messages on bags, or the piercing red X taped across the Apple logo of your computer—since, as a good person, you obviously don’t support Apple but still happily use their products. Jeff Deist’s review of Malice’s book is spot-on:
The Left’s religiosity, complete with canonical texts and an ever-narrowing range of faith based opinions, is a key point of Malice’s argument: debate is passé on the Left, if not verboten. The science is settled, and to hell with those outside the faith. Convert or be cast out.
Echoing Orwell’s classic Politics and the English Language, progressive language use is tremendously important. Not only regarding the sensitivity of those who hear it, but as a measure of signaling that the speaker is on board with the Party program. Malice argues that replacing "black" with "African American" or "people of color" isn’t so much a sign of respect or a more accurate description of the group one is discussing, but an in-group signal that the speaker "is on the correct team."
While clever, it’s easy for outsiders to just say the words: "it costs nothing," writes Malice, "for someone to adopt the correct term in their speech." Instead, it becomes an arms race between those who invent new politically correct terms to signal their progressive goodness and those who merely want to get by without vitriol and accusations of being a "white supremacist" (or want to avoid detection).
The ingenuity of the system is that while it costs an outsider almost nothing to co-opt the latest correct word, to avoid tripping any of the many progressive wires, one must internalize a full language. In time, one supposes, a full ideology.
The Members of the New Right
What sits most odd for someone not involved in the world Malice depicts is how normal it is; filled with internal quibbles and breaks along sectarian lines, with regular people doing regular things up until they reveal some of their controversial opinions. What most stood out to me were Malice’s personal stories, and how utterly polite many New Righters are: at an event with big-time pundit Ann Coulter attending, everyone was mesmerized by her but too shy to approach.
That’s not the kind of aura that New Right events conjure up in your mind. Another time Malice describes how attendees to an "NRx gathering" were tentatively "eyeing one another to see what was safe to say. As thought-criminals, we were used to biting our tongues." This is familiar territory for all of us who hold opinions that diverge even a tiny bit from otherwise allowable opinion.
What emerges is a display of and some in-depth interviews with commonly held crazies—Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jim Goad, Alex Jones—that make them seem surprisingly humane. Indeed, that’s the point of Malice’s book: "to present logical, rational explanations for the New Right's foundational beliefs. They're not crazy. They're not suicidal. They're as American as apple pie."
Most progressives mistakenly think that with the end of Trump, it’ll be the end of the nefarious factions he spawned and justified. With the evil leaders goes the evil tribe and now America is finally back on its divine, progressive track. That couldn’t be further from the truth. To the New Right, politics is downstream from culture, and whoever rules Washington at any given time is unimportant; all that matters is the larger battle, the long-term fight, the wars over culture. Cutting the head of the snake does nothing, as the New Right is more akin to a scattered hydra, growing new heads in new places whenever an old one is severed.
While a delight to read, some chapters of the book are thoroughly odd. You wouldn’t think that Milo, the effective media provocateur and now forgotten New Right troll, has much to do with the founding of the American Economic Association in 1885, or the moral supremacy ("degeneration") of the universities. The connection, Malice asserts briskly before ending the chapter, is Christian social gospel.
No explanation; full confusion. And Malice is often all over the place: Pat Buchanan’s and Murray Rothbard’s political campaigns in the 1990s, the pickup artists of Neil Strauss’s The Game, and human nature as explored by Thomas Sowell’s great A Conflict of Visions. On the same page he then briefly mentions the Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht and calls bitcoin “magic internet money.”
Still, captivating and hard to put down.
Drawing to a close, the book ends with a somber reflection that "nation after nation in Europe is finding it impossible to form consensus on virtually anything." The unstated implication is that if we can’t agree with one another, perhaps we shouldn’t have to…?
The Hoppe-inspired meme to "physically remove" socialists and democrats from a free society might be upside down: perhaps we must not remove deviants, but merely disassociate and self-segregate away from those we cannot stand. After the mad political and cultural fights of 2020, does anyone think that’s such a bad idea?