What happened to Conservative Inc.?
I will try to stick with the silver lining but, look: some outfits aren’t even trying to pivot. They think they will reassert themselves as they used to when things go back to “normal”. Others are trying to appear Trumpy. Whatever you think of Trump (they hate him even as some of you like him and yet you continue to give them money—stop!), few in Conservative Inc. understand that the election just proved that “Trumpism” is the new winner on the Right, as even Andrew Sullivan wrote recently. And even if they do understand that, they do not understand the changes in policy and party that Trump pointed us toward. So, they will either become irrelevant or they will hire (younger) people who truly understand the new landscape and put them in charge.
Much of this could be solved by putting younger people (and by that I mean under 60) of proven competence who understand what is happening in charge ASAP. In any event, the transformation of the old orgs has not yet occurred and we still don’t have the new ones we need. Everyone had four years to change, but none of them really changed in the ways they should have. Half the nation not only now sees them for what they are, but has real needs politically and culturally as people become aware of the dire situation we are now stuck in. Look for new ways of organizing and new organizations to emerge. The grift in both MAGA-world and Conservative Inc. will not go away but it will be pushed to the margins as more competent and savvy leaders and organizations emerge over the next two years. They may not be labeled “conservative” but they will take the place of what conservatism at its best was trying to do. We are about to see a new cast of political leaders rise up, too, especially in the House. They will be part of the new orgs that are soon to rise. Thankfully, Claremont has done its best to rise to the challenge (or we wouldn’t be here) and we look forward to leading in this new landscape.
Conservative Inc. loves invoking principle and retreating to principle because of the middle ground that commitment allows them to occupy—between total soul colonization by the DeepBlob and a harrowing, disruptive risk on a decentralized country and world. It’s no joke that it’s valuable to have a seat at the table, even the kiddie table, if it means getting some firsthand Intel on what DeepBlob is doing, saying, even thinking. The trouble is that so much of Conservative Inc. is barely exercising any other kind of agency today. An additional problem is that, under Biden, they would likely gain big new opportunities to perform busy work weaving an illusion that obscures this weak lack of agency.
I would love to hear from younger people, say, seniors in college who are interested in becoming a “somebody” in the conservative intellectual world. Do they still consider getting their internship cards punched at the big nonprofits a necessity? Do they even read the white papers coming out of these places? Do they look to some of the staff as intellectual touchstones? Or are they looking elsewhere for guidance, for vitality, sensing that these orgs and the lesser stars in the constellation have dimmed? Figure out the answers to these questions and you’re on your way to charting a new path forward.
I will confess that back when Sohrab Ahmari launched his now-infamous attack on “David Frenchism,” I was alarmed—was it really necessary, I wondered, to be so confrontational? So aggressive? So personal? But Ahmari had been around a little longer than I in this particular media space, and he realized what I did not yet: that the performative dynamics of the Left-Right divide in our press were exactly that—performative. Moreover, they were performative in such a way as to benefit the Left, which got a domesticated opposition, while deadening the sensibilities of the most prominent Right-wing commentators, who got exempted (as long as it was convenient) from the dreadful charges of bigotry and evil that more assertive and unblushing conservatives suffer. This is a kind of intellectual death: fear of personal attack leads to moral cowardice and constant compromise. A new Right is rising that doesn’t fear being called nasty names, and we are gathering to ourselves all the energy, all the attention, all the innovation. The old world is dying, and there’s nothing Conservative Inc. can do about it except step aside or cowboy up. This, in my view, is a welcome development.
My contribution today will be to respond directly to David’s questions for young conservatives. I’m not a college senior any longer, but I was less than a year ago. As far as I can tell among the young conservative crowd, the ones who want to have a substantive future in the intellectual world of conservatism do still punch their time cards at big DC nonprofits because they still think it’s a necessity for their academic endeavors. Whether it actually is or not I cannot say. However, those who want to advance conservatism substantively forego the big nonprofit scene at what appears to be an increasing rate. They go elsewhere to cut their teeth. They go to places they think put up a fight. I have a hard time blaming them. For all the money shoveled into those nonprofits, what actual change can they show for it? White papers are interesting, and I’m all for thinking thoroughly through policy intricacies, but conservatism is in straits so dire that this is a luxury we cannot afford right now.
As conservatives writ large see it, conservatism is in an existential battle every single day, and leadership in DC from the government institutions all the way down through the DC nonprofit scene are not actually fighting, they’re stalling. Conservatism needs people who will pick up not only the aegis, but the sword. What we have now is an establishment class content to meekly hold up the shield while it is ground down by wicked blows from all sides. If conservatives never strike back, they will be enveloped and destroyed. It is already a mainstream belief among leftists that “truth and reconciliation commissions” are a good idea to punish Trump supporters. Do you really think they’re going to stop at only Trump supporters and not expand to all conservatives? Young conservatives desperately just want someone in DC to fight. The fact that they haven’t gotten that earnestly explains their move to online personalities who at least try to fight back. We need boots on the ground, not scores of suits holed up in the ivory tower. Young conservatives will leave behind, or eventually commandeer, institutions that at present fail to meet the needs of conservatism.