Last month’s essay “The Problem of the New Right” caused a small stir. Formal writeups have been authored by Ross Douthat, Eric Levitz, Jordan Bloom, Lars Schonander, Peter Spilakos, and Aaron Ren. On Twitter there was even more chatter about the essay, much of it critical. I have found the critiques of my piece, especially on Twitter, to be somewhat contradictory. Some fault me for being of the backcountry party; others for being too sympathetic to the puritans. I am both too kind to and too critical of the New Right. I am both too much of a history nerd (insert here the phrase Albion’s sneed) and historically uninformed. It is difficult to answer such contradictory charges. Here I will answer a more coherent line of criticism, offered by many but stated most succinctly by Eric Levitz: my essay relies too much on the “conflation of Catholic integralists with center-right reformers, and individualist intuitions with libertarian policies”
One way to restate this point: my critique of the post-liberal right was more successful than my critique of the post-libertarian right. This is more of an accomplishment than Levitz and company might allow: if you swim in these circles you know full well that the integralists are hardly the only post-liberals in the water. The integralists are simply the most coherent and mature of the various post-liberal tribes. They do not hide behind memes and do not play Straussian mind games. This makes them both more interesting but also—as my essay evinces—more amenable to outside critique.
But perhaps this is not the best way to parse the problem I have identified in the New Right program. Like “capitalism,” the words “liberalism” and “libertarianism” carry too much baggage. I fear that by using them I have caused some readers to misconstrue my actual arguments.
Let me restate my central thesis sans these ideologically charged terms: The New Right vision of politics is unapologetically elitist, hierarchical, and communitarian. The right-wing base, in contrast, is rebellious, egalitarian, and individualist. The New Right and the right base are united in their hatred for the meritocratic striver culture of America’s bicoastal elites. But their attitudes towards elite politics are fundamentally different.
The New Right wants to replace America’s failed leadership class with something better (e.g. themselves). The right base does not want a new elite, but less elite. New Right intellectuals deeply care about what is being taught at Yale; the right-wing base wants to live in a world where they never have to care about what is being taught at Yale. The New Right wants to restore or revitalize an “American way of life;” the Trumpy base wants to ban all outsiders from telling them how to live their lives. The New Right smiles on phrases like “we live in a society” and “politics of the common good.” The right-wing base is attracted to slogans like “don’t tread on me” and “I will not be masked, tracked, or tested.”
I am not claiming that the Trumpist base wants to axe Social Security payments, nor that they will light up the streets to bring down a tariff regime. If that is what “folk libertarianism” means then the backcountry voting base is not libertarian. But neither is the median Trump voter an eager communitarian ready to sacrifice their prerogatives for the sake of national “common goods.” To the extent that Levitz’ “center right” post-libertarians wrap their project in the trappings of common good politics, they will be beset with frustration and failure. This is already apparent in some of the favorite policy proposals being shopped about by the American Compass set (I will give an example later in this piece).
In many ways then my critique of the New Right mirrors my earlier criticism of the Reformicons. Where the Reformicons sought to intellectualize and make respectable the Tea Party explosion, the New Right attempts the same feat with the Trumpy masses. In both cases there is acute divergence between the voting base and the would-be leadership class. In both cases these incongruities remained out of sight because the writers, staffers, and think tankers involved in the new movement spend most of their energy trying to convince other people in their own profession and class milieu of their ideas. The Reformicon movement had many mistakes, but none so large as their failure to build out to the grassroots. The New Right, for their part, seems just as disinterested in moving the conversation out of Washington, New York, and California.
I could probably end this post here. If you have actually spent time talking to Joe the Trump voter you know that his concerns rarely match the worries of our would-be vanguard. This was the actual origin of that essay: I spent the first two months of Spring visiting some very Trumpy extended relatives, and was struck by the discrepancy between what they and the New Right hope the GOP might deliver. (For what it is worth, Mathew Walther’s “Rise of the Barstool Conservatives” is perhaps the best statement on where the conservative coalition is actually moving).
Everything else I wrote is ancillary to this observation. But my ancillary points were quite lengthy, weren’t they? In my “New Right” essay I identified the “barstool” voters with an anti-communitarian political tradition that stretches back several centuries. The reason for doing this should be somewhat obvious: if the backcountry voters that make up the Trump base have been committed individualists for centuries, then the newest iteration of folks calling themselves “the New Right” is unlikely to change that.
2. Several have questioned the basic operating assumptions behind that argument. Does it really make sense to analyze 21st century American society through the lens of 17th century demographics? I say yes, with caveats. I am hardly the only one to make this claim. In addition to David Hackett Fisher, we see scholars as varied as Michael Lind, Kevin Phillips, Joel Garreau, Wilbur Zelinsky, Raymond Gastil, Walter Russel Mead, E. Digby Baltzell drawing on the these same cultural categories to help make sense of 20th century and 21st century politics and culture.
Colin Woodard’s American Nations is the most recent attempt to bring the story sketched in Albion’s Seed up to our own time. Here is Woodard’s map of America’s over cultures:
What I called “puritans” and “backcountrymen” (following Hackett Fisher), Woodard labels “Yankeedom” and “Greater Appalachia.” While Woodard is neither as scholarly nor as disinterested as Hackett Fisher, he competently extends Hackett Fisher’s basic schema through the centuries. A key passage concerns the large waves of immigration America experienced at the turn of the last century:
These great immigration waves enriched and empowered these two North American federations [the U.S. and Canada], but they did not displace their pre-existing regional nations. These remained the “dominant cultures” which the 19th and early 20th century immigrants children and grandchildren either assimilated into or reacted against. Immigrant communities might achieve political dominance over a city or state (as the Irish did in Boston or the Italians in New York), but the system they controlled was the product of the regional culture. They might retain, share, and promote their own cultural legacies, introducing foods, religions, fashions, and ideas, but they would find them modified overtime by adaptations to local conditions and mores. They might encounter prejudice and hostility from the “native” population but the nature and manifestation of this opposition varied depending on which nation the natives belong to. Immigrants did not alter “American culture,” they altered Americas respective regional cultures. Indeed, in many ways the immigrants of 1830 to 1924 actually accentuated the differences among them.
Thus Eisenhauers are made into Eisenhowers and Kennedys become shadow-WASPS. I will concede that Woodard’s presentation is a bit too tidy. A century of mass media and national political integration means that there a certain bleeding between the regional nations was unavoidable. In particular, Woodard would have benefited from a closer study of what historian Robert Wiebe called America’s “national class.” This class, created at the turn of the 20th century, was national
both in the sense of transcending local attachments or boundaries and in the sense of holding central, strategic positions in American society. Although members of the new class might care very deeply about their geographical roots, particular places no longer defined them. They fulfilled roles that can be played out just as well in hundreds of alternative locations: public commentator, CPA, physical chemist, movie star, labor economist—roles that only made sense as an interrelated set of skills in a rationalize society. Charles Beard and Ruth Benedict, Henry Luce and Harold Ross, Jane Addams and Margaret Sanger, Herbert Hoover and Bernard Baruch, Walter Lippmann and Henry L. Mencken, W.E.B Dubois and Norman Thomas, John D Rockefeller Jr. and Harvey Firestone, Martha Graham and Eugene O’Neill, J. Walter Thompson and Cecile DeMille, all belonged in this interdependent national scheme of things, and each in turn modeled life for countless others who saw themselves as participants or at least aspirinants in some comparable arena.
Wiebe understands most of the political battles of the 20th century as a contest between the interests and values of America’s numerous “local middle class” elites, whose fortunes, and identities were tied to specific locales, and the rootless and rationalized national class he describes in the quote above. This was a class, not a wealth, distinction: then, as now, poverty and riches can be found on both sides of the local/national divide. What has changed in more recent decades is the scale of the national class: the university sorting machine has expanded the ranks of the rootless to include many millions of Americans who in past eras would have happily championed ‘local middle class’ life.
However, these classes are not unrelated to the older cultural schema outlined by Hackett Fisher, Woodard, and company. The national class’s origins lie in the metastasis of the old WASP aristocrats, themselves the chosen sons of the Yankee and Midlander traditions. There is thus something of the Puritan found throughout America’s nationalist class culture, even in locales far outside traditional Yankee strongholds (like Denver or Austin). Something similar happened on the right: the cultures of localist resistance to national class rule are far less localist than they once were. Over the 20th century a shared set of cultural markers evolved to signify counter-cultural resistance. Thus country music and charismatic evangelicalism, both of whose roots lie solidly in backcountry strongholds, became nationally recognized vessels of anti-national class cultural commitments.
Yet viewing politics purely in terms of national vs. local (or as it is usually glossed today, urban vs. rural) obscures some interesting patterns. Woodard, who is still an active writer, seizes every chance he can to make this point. Consider the following map, created by Woodard to explain the 2016 election:
Compare that map with a more recent one, not created by Woodard yet used by him in a column last year.  It is a county-by-county accounting of who was locking down in early April 2020 and who still roamed free:
Pay special attention to the difference shown between a “Yankeedom” state like Michigan and a “Greater Appalachia” state like Arkansas or Kentucky. Michigan was a competitive Trump state; its rural communities voted for him with fairly overwhelming margins:
Yet these same Trumpy, rural counties locked down without objection—or at least they did at the beginning of the pandemic, before the issue had gone through the polarization machine. Why? Because Michigan, like most of the Great Lake states, was settled by Yankee emigres and leavened by an early wave of German and Scandinavian farmers well disposed towards Yankee communitarian norms. The New England township model was successfully transplanted to this region of America, and later immigrants adapted themselves to the pro-social spirit of the people who lived there.
These things persist. If you have lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Michigan you know that their people—even the second generation of their recent immigrants—are simply more conscientious, civic-minded, and norm-abiding folk than people in the rest of the country. This is visible in their willingness to lock up as the pandemic spread last year.
A fun thought experiment: if all of the country was Michigan, what would have 2020 looked like? We would still have the urban/rural divide. The election contest between Biden and Trump would still have been competitive. But I wager it would have been an election where everyone was happily wearing their mask.
This is a more realistic counterfactual than you might suspect. It is easy to forget that last April Tucker Carlson was castigating the CDC for recommending that Americans do not wear masks. In the two months preceding Tucker’s pro-mask rant, it was frog Twitter and the dissident right, not establishment liberals, who were prepping for a pandemic and urging everyone to stockpile a store of masks as soon as possible. The New Right position was very much what you would expect from a “common good” political movement. But the President himself was noncommittal on the question, and that left the door open for GOP’s backcountry base to rebel against what they saw as elite imposition on their daily life.
This was not the default conservative position—partisan opinion only polarized on these questions in late April and May of last year, as anti-lockdown rhetoric and maskless faces became associated with the Trump base. Soon enough Tucker and the rest changed their tune. Most have trouble admitting such a changed occurred. But it did! The backcountrymen were so successful at imposing their priorities onto the Republican Party and its attached conservative intelligentsia that many people in the movement do not realize they flipped positions! What a clear case study in the consequences of the base’s power to shape outcomes! Sometimes “individualist intuition” and “libertarian policy” are closer than they seem.
3 . I suggested in my last essay but the current GOP was the natural heir to the Jacksonian tradition, both because Jackson’s and Trump’s respective bases draw from the same cultural group, but also because both coalitions represented the parts of America least comfortable with the intrusion of the capitalist marketplace and its depersonalized social logic into their lives. The capitalistic Whigs beautified their project by appealing to the common good–what they called the American people’s “harmony of interests.” Democrats knew better. Cue John Taylor of Caroline:
[The pro-tariff forces] endeavour to hide the effects of their policy to classes and individuals, by kneading up all of them into one mass called a nation; and assuming it for a truth, that the chymist Self-Interest cannot divide it into parts. Having created this imaginary one and indivisible being, more valuable and wonderful than the philosopher’s stone, they conclude that its interest must also be one and indivisible…
[But] as no government can patronize one class but at the expense of others, partialities to its clients beget mutual fears, hopes, and hatreds, and bring grist to those who grind them for toll. Even brothers, whom nature makes friends, are converted into enemies by parental partialities. Will the partialities of a government between different classes promote the harmony and happiness of society? Is not their discord the universal consequence of the fraudulent power assumed by governments, of allotting to classes and individuals indigence or wealth, according to their own pleasure?
What was to become known as the “American System” was largely the creation of warhawk John C. Calhoun, who “turned his back on it,” John Quincy Adams lamented, when “the slave holders of the South discovered it operated against their interests.” Opposition was explicitly sectional. “Should this bill pass,” cried one Virginia senator in an entirely typical objection, “then we, who belong to that unfortunate portion of this confederacy which is south of Mason and Dixon’s line, and east of the Alleghany Mountains, have to make up our mind to perish like so many mice in a receiver of mephitic gas, under the experiments of a set of new political chemists.”  The further South one traveled the angrier the objections became. The frenzied declaration of the citizens of Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, was typical of the emotions the issue generated in the Palmetto State:
That the power assumed and arbitrarily exercised by the tariff states, to appropriate the property of the southern states to the support of northern monopolists, is a tyrunny, dangerous in principle and much more intolerable in practice, than the attempt of the British parliament to impose a tax upon our ancestors when these states were British colonies.
Anxieties over the fate of slavery in a future political economy dominated by northern capitalists drove much of this protest. Slavery was the chief culprit behind South Carolina’s plunge towards nullification a few years later. But the salience of the tariff issue lasted long after slavery had been abolished. American System boosters sometimes struggled to understand this: faced with rising anti-tariff sentiment in 1888, the first response of the Republicans was to wave the bloody shirt and claim that anti-tariff complaints were modern children of the ancient Slave Power. These Republicans were correct in one important sense: there was a unity to 19th century attacks on industrial policy. It was a central issue for the Democracy on both sides of the Civil War, and on both sides of that conflict this opposition was grounded in geography. That opposition was strongest in the South.
Why? Because Democrats—especially, though not exclusively, Southern Democrats—understood that the American System was anything but. In the antebellum era the American System was a thoroughly sectional project. Its benefits would not flow to the average Jacksonian voter, but to the Whig strongholds that were already benefiting from the “market revolution.” Thus the System was only truly implemented when Southern voters had been removed (via secession), giving former Whigs, now styled Republicans, overwhelming control of Congress. Perhaps this second American System can be credited with the industrialization of America and the fantastic growth of her economy in the latter half of the 19th century. But the antebellum critics’ predictions of how industrial policy would unfold were absolutely correct. America did not industrialize—the North industrialized. America did not prosper—the North prospered. The South remained a stagnant economic backwater until the 20th century sunbelt boom.
Conservatives must understand that this is the natural tendency of industrial policy. Industrial policy gives to those already have been given much. It succors the wealthy and protects the prosperous. There are two central reasons for why this is so: once industrial policy is announced, it is easily captured by existing industrialists, who have the money and the influence to push for spending to go their way. Secondly, when the goal of industrial policy is to strengthen specific “strategic” industries for national gain, the quickest and easiest way to achieve that goal is usually to rely on the work forces and infrastructure best adapted to it—that is, the regions of the country that are already pushing against capitalism’s cutting edge.
Consider the front page of the American Compass as it appeared the day that I began this essay:
Here we see what may be the most popular object of industrial policy in contemporary America. There is a strong national security rationale for onshoring semiconductor production. As a notorious China hawk, I agree with this rationale entirely. But understand what is happening here! TSMC and Intel have both announced they will build chip foundries somewhere outside of Phoenix. Just how dire is Phoenix’s economic need?
Another map (click for a larger image):
According to the report from which I pull this graphic, ‘innovation industries’ “generate 6% of the nation’s GDP, a quarter of its exports, and two-thirds of business R&D expenditures” and a disproportionate percentage of America’s national economic growth over the last decade.  After San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and New York, Phoenix is the highest growth location for these industries. This was true before industrial policy was a DC talking point.
We promised a revitalization of the American heartland; we boost an already thriving tech center. There are no new chip foundries heading for Michigan and Ohio. There are no new jobs here for people in Missouri or West Virginia. We neither protect the regions of the country that have been hurt most by globalization, nor do we reward the beleaguered communities of our own coalition.
And that is the problem with the ‘common good’ framing that surrounds all of these endeavors. Industrial policy is never about the common good. Industrial policy is about choosing winners and losers. The winners we choose today are those already winning. We give unto those who have already been given much—and who will not vote for us anyways. What is funneling tax money to the tech industry, after all, but a hand out to one of the bluest workforces in America? Is that really a population you want to increase—in Arizona?
This is where my critique all the post-liberals intersects with my doubts over the post-libertarian project. By adorning itself with the rhetoric of national comity and national goods, the New Right loses sight of what actually brought the right to power in 2016. Trump promised “winning.” The median Trump voter did not understand “winning” in terms of bullet trains or semiconductors. He did not understand “winning” to mean a future more shimmering than Huangpu or more advanced than Zhongguancun. “Winning” was not about foreigners at all. The competition to beat was all at home. Trump was propelled to power by the rage of a people whose social world—be it measured via income, health outcomes, or cultural prestige—was falling, even as other social blocs in America experienced rapid gains. There is no harmony of interests here. America First always meant their America first.
Michael Lind’s recent series of essays for Tablet on FDR, the New Deal, and the Jacksonian tradition are useful reading on this point.  FDR was successful at getting the folk libertarians of the backcountry to embrace large government spending plans. He did not do this by framing these plans as attempts to build a more virtuous political community, nor as a program to achieve a set of nationalist goods. Instead, he framed the New Deal in terms of specific economic boons delivered to specific constituencies. His was an openly adversarial program designed to overthrow the existing economic and cultural hegemony of Northeastern elites.
But this is a dangerous game. FDR’s program might have redistributed wealth and cultural authority from the puritans down to the “white ethnics” and the sunbelt, but this was only a temporary victory. Before long the array of national institutions constructed by FDR was staffed by the very national-class puritans the New Deal was designed to dethrone. FDR may have been a traitor to his class, but he could not assure the next generation of northeastern white-shoe lawyers and diplomats would follow suit.
This is a real potential danger of the New Right approach, one that must be faced squarely. Any administrative machinery the right might build is a ticking time-bomb. It is well and good to have a powerful leviathan at hand, if you can ensure the leviathan rests in your hands. It is a less certain venture when the monster of your making is always one election away from being handed to your enemies.
How the New Right will address this problem is still uncertain. Authoritarianism is one answer, of course; at the New Right’s further fringes, where it blends hazily with the dissident right, that solution is already being offered. The most obvious alternative is to run with the natural impulses of the base instead of against them. This would be an attempt not to consolidate national authority, but to fracture it. Not to build up great corporations or industrial giants, but to level them. Not to take over the Ivy League and its sister institutions but to demolish them—or at least their possible influence on national affairs. What that vision might look like in practical terms is still uncertain. Few thinkers on the right have seriously considered what might be needed to dethrone the national class and bring about an actually decentralized American polity. Perhaps this is simply not possible. But it is hardly less fantastical than this fever dream of leading the Trumpist masses on a pilgrimage towards classical virtue.
 Eric Levitz, “Why the GOP is Ideologically Lost,” New York Magazine (30 April 2021). The full quote:
It’s only persuasive if one defines “libertarian” very loosely, and the New Right, very narrowly: It is surely true that most Trump supporters value personal freedom too much to form a mass base for Catholic integralism, or any illiberal state that sought to impose a traditionalist conception of “the common good” upon them. Trump voters largely support marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. Yet Greer’s analysis conflates two very different questions, namely: “Is the median Trump voter too libertarian to support a literal theocracy?” and “Is the median Trump voter too libertarian to support public investment in manufacturing, collective-bargaining rights, a child allowance — or a Republican Party that endorsed those things?”
 Tanner Greer, “Learning the Wrong Lessons From Reform Conservatism,” National Review (17 March 2020).
 Mathew Walther, “Rise of the Barstool Conservatives,” The Week (1 February 2021).
 Michael Lind, Made In Texas: George W. Bush And The Southern Takeover Of American Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2004); Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority: Updated Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004 [or. ed. 1964]); American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (New York: Viking, 2006); Raymond Gastile, Cultural regions of the United States (Spokane: University of Washington Press, 1975); E. Digby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982); Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (Avon Books, 1983); Wilbur Zelinsky, The Cultural Geography of The United States: A Revised Edition (Pearson: 1992). Zelinsky somewhat modifies this picture in Not Yet a Placeless Land: Tracking an Evolving American Geography (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011).
 Woodward, American Nations: A History of the 11 Rival Regional Cultures of North America. (New York: Penguins Books, 2011), 254-5.
 Robert Wiehbe, Self Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 142.
 ibid., 144.
 A good account of this process is Will Wilkinson, The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization, and Populist Backlash (Washington DC: Niskanen, 2019)
 Colin Woodard, “The Maps That Show That City vs. Country Is Not Our Political Fault Line” New York Times (30 July 2018)
 Colin Woodard, “How America’s Earliest Colonists Dictate Today’s Coronavirus Response,” Washington Monthly (9 April 2021).
 Tucker Carlson show, 30 May 2020, link here.
 Joshua Clinton et al., “Partisan Pandemic: How Partisanship and Public Health Concerns Affect Individuals’ Social Distancing During COVID-19,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, July 9, 2020).
 John Taylor, Tyranny Unmasked | Online Library of Liberty, ed. Thorton Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), 16, 13-4.
 From a diary entry on 25 June 1830, produced in Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, ed. C. E. Adams, 12 vols (1874-7; Freeport, NY: Books For Libraries Press, 1969, original publication), vol. 8, p. 233, and quoted in Songho Ha, The Rise and Fall of the American System: Nationalism and the Development of the American Economy, 1790-1837 (Routledge: 2009), 1.
 John Randolph, Speeches of Mr. Randolph, on the Greek Question, On Internal Improvement; and On the Tariff Bill. Delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington DC: Gales & Seaton, 1824), 31. This source be found on Google Books.
 As reported in the Niles Weekly Register, 20 September 1829, p. 59. This source can be found on Google Books.
 William Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)
 Joanne Reitano, The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888 (Penn State University Press, 1994), 25.
 Robert D Atkinson, Mark Muro, and Jacob Whiton, The Case for Growth Centers, (Washington DC: Brookings, 2019).
 Michael Lind, “Joe Biden’s German Green New Deal,” Tablet (2 May 2021); “Is it Time to Cancel FDR?” Tablet (11 April 2021); “Let Us Honor the Little Magician,” Tablet (14 February 2021); “The New National American Elite,” Tablet (19 January 2021); “Revenge of the Yankees,” Tablet (20 November 2020)