The Rise of Traditionalists in a ‘Network Society’

Thanks to social media many leading commentators have built their foundations on organic growth through those platforms rather than in the traditional way. While many of these platforms are home to the denizens of the ultra-progressive postmodernist Left, traditionalists have also thrived on these same platforms and are even striking out with new ones (alt-tech). This parallels the rise of a new Right, the “nationalist populist right.” 

One of the most insightful commentators on this phenomenon is Steve Turley, a writer, classical teacher and musician from Newark, Delaware. Through his video channel on YouTube (his video updates are approaching 200 million views) and his podcast (currently ranked 11th in the “Daily News” category) Turley’s optimistic message and ability to describe the goals both of populism and of its opponents make him a go-to source for information about these world-changing events. 

As the world is embroiled in tumultuous debates over globalism, immigration, and rising political unrest, Turley’s approach may just as easily move to describe the Hindutva revolution happening in India under Narendra Modi as it does to the rise of Christian alternative schooling in Montana. To get a better grasp on some of the issues confronting not just the American political system but also the world, I wrote to Turley to seek his answers to those, as well as to discover how he believes technology is affecting all of these concerns.

RM: The West is obviously not at peace with liberal elitism. In 2019, there was a wave election in favor of the Tories against Jeremy Corbyn, while anti-establishment parties have also swept Italy, Ireland, and other EU member states. But we’ve also seen those same movements buckle in the face of authoritarian tyranny due to COVID-19, as in the case of Boris Johnson in the UK. Will populism need to undergo several waves before its respective goals in each country can truly be pursued?

ST: Yes, definitely. What we’ve seen of late is the advent not so much of populist Right parties as much as we’ve seen populist lite parties. A number of center-right parties in Europe have embraced the rise of nationalist populism by absorbing very successful third-parties, and while reaping the electoral rewards, they still have an establishment leadership which easily digresses back to technocratic globalist norms. 

We saw something comparable with how Reagan’s nascent nationalist populism was eclipsed by both Bushes’ deference to a post-Cold War neocon globalism. So definitely, this is going to take several cycles to work itself out. 

The key here is that because the rising tide of populism is just beginning and promises only to get bigger, it is almost inevitable that populist lite parties will indeed work themselves out into bona fide populist Right parties. 

RM: Angela Merkel has been in office since 2005, and Germany has moved progressively toward more authoritarianism. What do you think it will take to finally end her policies of open borders immigration and speech policing within Germany?

ST: I think we have to appreciate how populism represents a fundamentally different politics than that of establishment globalists, either on the center-Right or center-Left. Populist sentiments are characterized by an antipathy between the people and the political class, the ruled versus the rulers. Populists are deeply suspicious of society’s elites who are seen governing for their own benefit at the expense of those they claim to represent. With a widening gap between the values of the political class and the people, populists believe that the customs, culture, and traditions of a nation are best preserved when taken out of the hands of the ruling elite and placed back in the hands of ordinary citizens. 

This emphasis on the populace requires a different kind of politics. In the politics of the political class, governance operates according to the protocols and norms of a ruling elite. This is why Merkel and (until recently!) France’s Macron seemed to live in a world all their own, where the wishes of the vast majority of Europeans are callously dismissed and disdained. The political class rules according to its own aristocratic values, which are increasingly at odds with the values of the citizens it claims to represent. 

In contrast, populists are driven more by what we might call a ‘redemptive’ vision of politics, or a politics of the people, which restores democratic rule and institutions as compatible with the values of the population, acting congruent with the concerns of the citizens. This is what made the Trump presidency so astonishing for so many; not only was he willing to enact the nationalist, populist, and traditionalist values of the Deplorables, he was willing to fight unwaveringly for them as well. 

The good news is that the refusal of the establishment political class to listen to the concerns of the populace is giving rise to what London scholar Eric Kaufmann calls bootleggers, third-party candidates like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen who have taken up the people’s causes and have shot past the establishment in terms of popularity and increasing political power. So long as the political class ignores the people, there will be bootleggers who step in the gap, ultimately frustrating globalist goals and disrupting the rule of the political class.

RM: As of right now the 2020 presidential election is being awarded to Joe Biden. Trust in the electoral process has been destroyed for up to half of the country, as according to Rasmussen Reports even 30 percent of Democrats believe that the election has been “stolen” from Donald Trump. Much of your content adopts an optimistic tone, so what would you counsel for those who say they may never vote again if there is no legal relief?

ST: It’s a very understandable sentiment for sure, and it’s certainly not uncommon. British scholars Eatwell and Goodwin note that two million people who voted for Brexit didn’t vote in the previous national election, and before Trump’s 2016 campaign, more than half of white Americans without degrees felt that Washington did not represent people like them. So while significant numbers of citizens have felt estranged from the political process before, I would encourage everyone to have a long-term perspective, which reinterprets perceived unassailable walls as mere bumps on the road. The world is becoming more and more nationalist, populist, and traditionalist, and while they can certainly frustrate and forestall, there’s really nothing globalists can do to ultimately stop it.

RM: In 2020 the progressive Left attempted to win control of the Democrats and were rebuffed. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others effectively became pawns of the DNC again. Meanwhile their progressive base seems to be demoralized. What does the future hold for the actual far-Left Bernie movement under Joe Biden? Will they grow or shrink now that Trump is gone and why?

ST: If the trends that we’re seeing in Europe are indicative of what we can expect here in the States, I think we’ll see continued growth for the progressive Left. This is because the old establishment Left is slowly but surely waning. The Tony Blair Institute found that of the 946 European districts that held elections in 2017, the mainstream center-left lost an astonishing 94 percent of the races. The New York Times admitted that center-left parties in Europe are not just in retreat, they have practically ceased to exist. 

However, the pattern that seems to be emerging is that the more the Left drifts towards the progressive wing, the more it alienates the majority of the voting population. And so, the center-right/populist-right has ironically been the main beneficiary of this leftward tilt, Britain’s December 2019 conservative landslide being a case in point. 

So I think this trajectory where politics are being increasingly redefined around populist sentiments, both on the Right and the progressive Left, is not only the new normal for the foreseeable future, but it’s a new normal that inordinately benefits the political Right. 

RM: In the 1990s, when I was growing up there were a number of wedge issues dividing the two main parties: abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and the death penalty. Now there are many pro-choice liberals such as Dave Rubin and Clay Travis who openly voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden. But yet there are still several issues where both the GOP and Democrats cooperate regardless of the will of the voters, particularly on war and peace and immigration. In light of this, what would you say should be the wedge issues for the 2020s since the ones above no longer serve?

ST: I think we need to see wedge issues from a macro/micro perspective. The macro wedge issues for 21st century politics are the ones emerging quite organically, which are the interconnected antitheses of globalism versus nationalism, elitism versus populism, and secularism versus traditionalism. These dichotomies are reflective of the deeper tectonic shift away from the scientific rationalism of 20th century modernity to the cultural pluralism of 21st century post-modernity, a shift that brought down the Soviet Union on Christmas of 1991 and is in the process of shattering Western liberal globalism. As a result, each of these antitheses entail micro wedge issues, such as secure national borders versus open borders, economic nationalism versus corporatist globalism, and a renewal of custom, culture, and tradition versus consumer-based and moral-relativist lifestyle values. 

Interestingly, those who would have been on the political Left regarding cultural issues just a decade or two ago are now very sympathetic to the revival of conservative traditions, particularly religious traditions. Not only should these be the macro/micro wedge issues for the foreseeable future, they are going to be whether we want them to or not. 

RM: I recently wrote about how the new Biden cabinet would include several warhawks like Michèle Flournoy who would fit right in with the Bush Administration. Do you think it is now time for the GOP and conservatives at large to shift to an explicitly anti-war position? Does that mean they should do direct outreach to the anti-war Left of the Glenn Greenwald stream?

ST: Yeah, this is the magic, as it were, of populism. It transcends traditional partisan divides and opens up new political horizons and possibilities. I’ve had very sympathetic press from far-left populist sites who find solidarity with my critique of the globalist elite. Now of course, differences are going to have to get worked out, but the promise of new and powerfully dynamic coalitions is very exciting. 

RM: The Trump Administration, with regrettable exceptions in Syria and Yemen, bucked the trend of recent presidents who engaged in new wars overseas. Do you fear under Joe Biden a more open conflict with Russia or other global rivals, or will it be simply more low intensity endless war as has happened more frequently? 

ST: I’m not sure on that. Given that post-Soviet Russia has largely embraced the emerging post-globalist, post-secular world, it’s not surprising that Putin has become the default villain of Western globalists. So it seems rather predictable that hostilities towards the Russian Federation will continue, not recognizing that any imperialist aims the Putin administration may have will face the same resistance that much of the world is currently mobilizing against the secular-hegemony of Western globalism. The proxy wars too seem to be an outworking of this futile attempt by Western elites to hold on to a waning modernist age. Again, in the end, while it can create substantial instability and tragic loss of life, it’s all for naught.  

RM: In 2016, YouTube creators had a major effect on the election, one that was only magnified come 2020. Meanwhile traditional “legacy” media outlets are hemorrhaging jobs. Do you think that this will lead to a new, viable, and lucrative journalism industry, or rather just one dominated by some major companies like Comcast or NewsCorp that can weather the storm and further narrow the conversation?

ST: I think the key here is we’re seeing the news media becoming increasingly disestablished and decentralized, which means the end of big media. And this is because we’re seeing the end of what’s called mass society, from which big media comes, and we’re moving into what scholars call a network society. 

Mass society was the kind of urbanized industrialized society that developed at the end of the 19th century and flourished in the 20th century, and it was very location-specific. So if I wanted to get into the gambling industry, I’d have to move to Las Vegas, or if I wanted to break into the country music scene, I’d have to move to Nashville. This is the world from which we get big media, like NBC at Rockefeller Center and the CNN building in Atlanta. 

The problem for big media is that mass society is waning, and it’s being rapidly replaced by what scholars call the Network Society, where we’re no longer connected by virtue of our regional proximity to one another, but we’re now connected by virtue of the internet, or what we call networks. And now, if I want to break into country music, all I need is a guitar and a $100 webcam, and I can load my videos up on YouTube or Vimeo and reach perhaps even more people than I could have ever done the traditional way of going through Nashville! What this means is that decentralized content creators are the future of news. As the old age of Big Media gets increasingly replaced with independent content creators, we can only expect to see the likes of CNN and Fox News continue to wane.

RM: In the 2000s, the “new atheists” were able to gain ground on many fronts in part due to the War on Terror and a critical view of organized religion and its abuses. But today some atheists are even acknowledging that spirituality may be necessary in order to give society a moral foundation. As a teacher, what is your advice to educators and parents working within a system that appears to dismiss their belief systems as invalid?

One of the major reactions against globalism is what scholars call retraditionalization: in the face of threats to a sense of place, identity, and security so often posed by globalization, populations tend to reassert historic identity and security markers—religion, custom, and tradition—as mechanisms of resistance against secular globalization’s anti-cultural, anti-traditional dynamics. It’s thus no coincidence that those attracted to the rise of nationalist populism are rediscovering the indispensable role of religion in a flourishing culture. 

Ironically, the public school system is rediscovering religion as well, but it tends to be a selective rediscovery specific to the cultural traditions of ethnic and racial minorities; “Western Christianity” remains largely frowned upon. The good news is that the social dynamics are trending towards the post-secular, post-globalist, which means that religion is making a massive comeback all over the world. If one finds oneself in a dismissive environment, it may prove profitable to acquaint oneself with these trends, as laid out for example in Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Faith, and share the very impressive statistics for a worldwide religious renewal happening right before our very eyes. The school may dismiss the belief system as invalid, but they are demonstrably denying empirically demonstrable reality. 

I would also recommend considering the classical education renewal that’s been happening throughout our nation over the last 30 years. Classical education recovers the kind of education that characterized and built Western Civilization over the course of 2,500 years, cultivating a profound sense of the true, good, and beautiful in students through the great books and the study of Latin and theology. K-12 classical schools now number upwards of 500 in the nation, and are contributing inordinately to the renewal of culture and civic virtue.  

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