Co-optation, rather than marginalization, was always going to be the bigger threat to the New Right—the loose federation of writers and activists that promised to purge the free-market and militaristic brain worms that have long infested institutional conservatism. Today, there are unmistakable signs that the co-optation project is well underway and meeting with some success, forcing a reckoning earlier than some of us perhaps expected: If being on the “New Right” means submitting to the zombies of the old right, its members might wish to brainstorm themselves a different name.
The old (liberal) right tried to maintain a cordon sanitaire against this intellectual ferment during the Trump years. It failed. As Compact contributing editor Adrian Vermeule predicted in these pages in March, the next move was always going to be to reabsorb New Right protagonists into an institutional fold, draining away everything that was interesting or status-quo-threatening about them in the process. From all this sifting and solvation would emerge a consensus scarcely different from the old “fusion” of foreign hawkism and libertarian or neoliberal economics, with religious traditionalists tagging along as junior partners (at best). Only now, it would be garbed in the rhetoric of “the common good” or “nationalism” or whatever the kids are into these days. Call it Fusionism 2.0.
Vermeule focused his analysis on the figure of Ryan Anderson, the Ethics and Public Policy Center boss who loudly embraces the common good but just so happens to reinterpret this ancient concept such that it fits comfortably within the matrix of fusionist or liberal conservatism. An even more disturbing case is the Heritage Foundation, which is winning entrée to supposedly New Right spaces (if you will), though it serves as one of the command centers of the old right and remains fiercely committed to all the decrepit orthodoxies, notwithstanding a rebranding exercise launched by a new president, Kevin Roberts.
As far as I can tell, Roberts has done two things to win himself a strange new respect in New Right circles. One has been to gesture—vaguely—that there may be some theoretical limits to the reign of markets in American society. The other was to publish a short op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May opposing the $40 billion congressional aid package for Ukraine. (I refuse to count the foundation’s apparent switcheroo on Big Tech, which saw it go from defending to opposing the Section 230 status quo that allows Silicon Valley giants to act like censorious publishers, while remaining immune to a traditional publisher’s liabilities; that shift began under Roberts’s predecessor.)
These moves are not only good policy, but good politics. They are in line with the preferences of the GOP’s increasingly downscale base. Roberts should be commended for them, so far as they go. But the fact that mildly rebuking the GOP’s “corporate-friendly positions,” as Roberts did, is considered a great sacrifice only goes to show how irredeemably broken the old institutions are. More to the point: Veiled behind Roberts’s rebranding efforts lurks the same old Heritage. You just have to know where to look.
Consider just two recent hires. In June—that is, under the Roberts regime—Heritage hired as a visiting fellow one Adam Kissel, who recently told me he believes the minimum wage should be “zero,” and that we should “privatize it all” (yes, everything, more or less). Opposing wage floors as such and favoring near-total privatization wouldn’t fly with the median Trump voter, and a New Right worthy of the name should repudiate, not seek to restage, the horrors of 19th-century labor markets. But this is Heritage.
Then there is Richard Reinsch, recently tapped to head American studies at Heritage. Reinsch is the founding editor of Law & Liberty, one of those classically liberal journals floated by the right wing of American capital to uphold a cheery, pre-industrial vision of political economy in a post-industrial world; in a crowded field of such publications, Law & Liberty distinguishes itself for soporific dreariness.
Reinsch, too, seems to question labor-market regulation—any labor-market regulation—on mystical grounds. “Every human,” he has written, “is, by nature, a relational person who exists with others to work, to love, and to pray. These higher ends of humans provide the principles that limit government, precisely because these relational ends cannot be defined by law; they are above the state.” Read that again, carefully: “Work” is a “relational end” that “cannot be defined by law” and is “above the state.” Needless to say, this runs afoul of Christian doctrine, which very much welcomes—indeed, commands—the regulation of labor. It’s also plainly ahistorical: States across time and state have defined and limited labor; indeed, even Reinsch’s beloved early-modern labor markets were created not spontaneously, but through often-violent state action. But again, this is Heritage.
The late Abe Rosenthal reportedly told one of his journalists at The New York Times that you can make love with the elephant, but then you can’t cover the circus. Something similar might be said for the New Right: You can get in bed with Heritage, but then you can’t call yourself a populist or “pro-worker conservative.”