My Conversations with the New Right (an attempt at a dialogue)
Over the previous seven years I have had numerous encounters, conversations, and some ongoing dialogue with ostensibly conservative leaders and pundits, including those from organizations such as James Dobson Ministries, Moms for Liberty, MamaGrizzly and various journalists and educators. I am going to refer to them as the ‘New Right’, tripling down on some intended and unintended meanings; the sense that these persons and those they claim to represent feel that they in the right morally in terms of what they value, that they are on the right along the usual political spectrum, and that they are newly correct, not morally this time but rather empirically, about their political and cultural sensibilities. The New Right can be said to be comprised of neo-conservative NPOs and NGOs and their attempts to woo whatever politician is willing to risk their career upon them. Yet every person I have spoken with is at a distance from politics proper, and on my side, I have suggested to each that they maintain that distance, simply because politicians seek only support and have no need to truly believe anything they supposedly stand for. The politician should be distinguished from the politics of values, since he himself values only one thing; personal power and the wielding thereof.
What was most interesting about this attempt to love one’s apparent enemies, was that each person – I am going to vouchsafe the anonymity and integrity of these discussions by referencing only organizations and not specific voices – came across as someone who wished to be thought of as one thinks of oneself; in a word, ‘average’ or ‘normal’ people, who are simply concerned about this or that within the wider social scene. The problem for the New Right is not that they cannot state their case, but when asked exactly why they are so concerned about specific topics, their line falters. Indeed, I was the one who often provided responses for them, for which they were quite grateful. But the overarching issue for any subculture on the decline is the same as that of any failing national population demographic, such as that in Russia most extremely, and that is biopower. Foucault’s concept may be applied to any receding shoreline upon which are revealed the once undinal wrecks of what used to be valued. Treasure no longer legal tender, but also in which such coins as may be found are so worn as to be no longer able to hold their value. In short, the values of the bygone subculture are, for the most part, unrecognizable to the rest of us, long used to the currency of contemporary life.
Any dialogue takes place within the hermeneutic arc. If the language of archaic values is disused, then a translation may be salient. Certain distinctions are of great import, like that between distribution and censorship. Organizations dedicated to redistributing certain kinds of materials do not advocate outright bans. The popular but mistaken sense that book banning is the same thing as redistribution is a case in point. There is a great difference between stating that certain media, including books, should not be available to certain age groups through school libraries, and stating that such materials should be banned entirely, not even to appear in public libraries. The former is what the American NPO’s concerned with such materials state, the latter, sadly, can be found for instance, in southern Manitoba, and represents a far more dangerous threat to culture and literacy than anything I have observed south of the border. It is quite reasonable to remove certain graphic sexual materials from elementary school libraries, especially since they remain available everywhere else, and, as the representatives of these specific organizations added, children and parents can decide together when and how to access them. This position by itself seems unproblematic. We have to hold our breaths as to whether or not it is the thin edge of the wedge, as exemplified by De Santis’ bill against sexual education in the schools, at first put forward for only young children, but recently extended to cover all grades. Even so, banning books per se has never been the goal of these NPOs.
Though we cannot assume that media censorship is not an ideal of the New Right, thus far there is no real evidence for it. Politicians cannot be trusted, certainly, and the Florid Floridian spoken by De Santis is perhaps but a gentle version of the development of the T4 program of the Reich, wherein at first, those responsible were very concerned that it would be morally unacceptable to most people, even though they themselves believed in it. Politicians test their waters gingerly, as did De Santis, and when there is little or no recorded pushback, then they take the next step, and perhaps the next after that. Minors are picked on by politicians simply because they cannot vote, and pandering to parents – and by extension, parent’s rights groups – is always a good bet, since these same parents are already weary of their adolescents’ breeching behaviors. Ganging up on youth is a favorite pastime of the schools, of parents, and of politicians hoping to capitalize on the fact that most adults have no control over much of their lives, especially in their workplaces. Giving them more control over their kids is a political no-brainer, as it acts as a temporary salve against adult anomie and plays to the existential resentment all adults feel towards young people.
I was critical of this aspect of the political dynamic in my conversations, and most of my interlocutors agreed that children should not be political footballs. At the same time, the parents of the New Right voiced a panoply of concerns about how their children were being educated. I asked after the evidence that such education, wherever and however it might be taking place, was truly alienating families beyond the usual inter-generational conflict which is a hallmark of Western demographics. In the main, they could not distinguish any additional forces sourced in institutions that added weight to the already tense interactions between adults and youths. But they did mention a reasonable point; that young people would assert their own way in any case, and didn’t need ‘extra’ bidding from media and schools to do so. The content of this ‘extra’ was not necessarily in question, just the general suasion thereof. And this too I can see, given the hyper-reliance on digital media used by young persons in our day. As the CEO of a digital media corporation which seeks to provide healthier options in gaming and wellness apps for all persons, but especially those younger, I am in fullest agreement with those who state that much media in this realm as well as in the older venues of film and TV has no merit and promotes a kind of anti-culture.
And this brings us to the other major bugaboo with which the New Right seems so uncomfortable: alternate gendering. I put it to each person that the sheer numbers of people opting out of the normative binary dynamic was so low as to be insignificant. Admitting this by itself, they replied that this was precisely why these alternate groups appear to proselytize so strongly, coopting schools and even the State to ‘convert’ their children. Certainly, it doesn’t help matters for the alternate side of things to have queer pride parades chanting that ‘we’re coming for your kids’. This in itself seems a rather transparent advertisement for the very event imagined by anxious conservative parents, and perhaps others as well. But the use of ‘your’ betrays the attempted radicality of the non-binary movements. In fact, children do not belong to anyone. On the right, parents are encouraged to own their children as if they were chattel, but their opponents make the same ethical error, whether or not they are actually trying to convert youth to become as they imagine themselves to already be.
Biopower is in action on both sides of this values front. The New Right’s demographics are flagging as are their pastimes, including what the social scientist identifies as ‘religious behavior’, such as attending church. Less than half of the American population now attends regularly, and this for the first time in history. But there are, in reality, so few persons of alternate gender and sexual preference that this motley community also needs more acolytes. In the meanwhile, the rest of us sail on unmolested, as it were. My interlocutors and I also agreed on a related point; that media, kindred with politicians, simply takes advantage of all of this value conflict to sell copy. The loudest and most obnoxious partisans are featured, giving the impression that the New Right, for one, is filled with hatemongering morons – which, in my experience, it is not – and their opponents are simply weirdos or at best, candidates for the Pythonesque Silly Party. But one has to ask, why are adults who enjoy costumes and theatrical performances of gender-bending apparition so keen on sharing this with young children? Who invented drag story hour anyway? And how did it become so widespread? Perhaps, after all, too curious minds don’t want to know.
These and dozens of like questions filled the conversations I have had with the New Right. Part of the motivation for them seemed simply ‘common sense’. Though this is not a conception that the philosopher employs – William James famously exhorts us to question it at every turn in his popular 1906 lecture series ‘Pragmatism’ – at once I was struck with the sense that the New Right was, after a fashion, engaging in reflective questioning of a number of phenomena that much of society seems to take for granted or at least, shrugs off. In this, I encouraged my interlocutors to continue to question fashionable flaneurs while at the same time cautioning them against appearing to front fascism or berate others, especially their own children, with barbarism. In this, there was also room for dialogue. It is important to note that in my experience, conservatives were always willing to listen to argument, even if it pressed them, while their opponents have never once given me the time of day. This is disconcerting in two ways; one, that the New Right will open themselves up, to a point, with someone like myself, someone who looks like them and has the credentials that traditional values respects, but perhaps would look awry if I were not who I was but made the same arguments, and two, that alternative values proponents take one look at myself and reject anything I might have to say to them, closing off dialogue before it even begins. The latter is by far the worse error, and in that, it does not bode well for those who seek liberation from archaic values and subcultures.
Freedom is only available for human beings through culture, ideally, its highest and most noble forms; art, science, religion, philosophy. While the New Right retains a narrow slice of each and all of these, its opponents appear to reject the lot, and to their gravest peril. That such peril is paraded as if it were the condition of any freedom-loving person is nothing more than an outright fraud, and takes its unenviable place to the left of the fascist who proclaims, though with far more culture behind him, the exact same thing.
G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.