Despite appearances, the Right in California is actually the closest to offering a solution to the Left’s war on civilization. Of course, I do not mean the GOP when I say “the Right.” The GOP is more or less nonexistent in the Golden State. But perhaps this is also why almost all of the most vibrant, confident, and influential writers on the Right today are from California.
The strongest institutions on the Right, inoculated as they have been against the disease of wokeness—institutions like this magazine and the Claremont Institute—originated in California. Californian writers like Victor Davis Hanson and Angelo Codevilla were the first to describe the defining political struggle of our time between the ruling class and the country class, the great oligarchy and the plebs, the bicoastal masters and the great servant interior, as all of these national struggles were present in California decades ago. California native Michael Anton was the first to describe the actual parameters and ramifications of the 2016 presidential election. Sadly, the Californian with perhaps the most exemplary attitude towards the Left is no longer with us. Andrew Breitbart knew wokeness was best combated with confidence and laughter.
California is the capital of the new Right, and the rest of the country will have to get to where we are before anything constructive can be done. Because we don’t have to guess about how bad things can get. We know.
The Left, no longer the party of the common man, the little man, or the forgotten man, is now a party entirely for the made man. Those already among the rich and powerful are automatically accepted, and the Left graciously allows plebs to join and minister unto them, so long as they attend the proper institutions, perform the proper induction ceremonies, and devote their lives to the bureaucracy or mechanism of the state.
The lowest rung of the leftist coalition is composed of the sainted hordes, which—as is obvious to every Californian not currently making money or gaining influence by servicing the Left’s one-percenters—is defined roughly as any group of disadvantaged people likely to vote for leftists. Much of the time the sainted hordes are synonymous with immigrants, but not always. The Left is very meticulous in its support for the lowly. Only those likely to be made useful in further empowering the made Left are welcome. Cubans, Eastern Europeans, and those who (like the California Right) might properly be called “dissidents” are wise to the game and are, therefore, unwelcome.
This new Left, which bears almost no resemblance to the party of FDR and blue-collar unions, squeezes every possible drop of power and cultural significance out of industries and institutions built long ago by parties and individuals long dead. Critical race theory is only the latest iteration of their signature move—critical theory—which essentially takes something worthwhile and critiques the living shit out of it for power and profit. The more shrill and bitter the criticisms, the better—for the tacit premise of the modern Left is that those who critique loudest deserve to rule.
Like everything else prevalent on the Left, critical deconstruction started in academia and eventually spread into government bureaucracy and popular culture. As the size and influence of the state expanded following World War II, the party of deconstruction infiltrated society as the managerial class. Its influence now is so great that its origins in academia and bureaucracy are obscured, so it appears endemic. But this is an illusion.
The political rule of those who critique the loudest or those who harbor the most exquisite sensitivity to slights can thrive only within the mostly talentless, enervated, and hollowed out wastelands that academia, Hollywood, and our large bureaucracies have become. Were it not for the inherent postmodern weakness of these institutions, such people would not have gained a foothold. They would have been mocked and discarded. They would have been among the unemployable.
It was all well and good to dismiss California’s fruits and nuts accepting the yoke of such people. But white rural voters, the military, the police, those with no political connections and no obvious fidelity to either Left or Right are experiencing critical deconstruction right now, and they don’t know how to process it. Until recently, most have preferred not to believe it. The professional grifters must think there is enough weakness and lack of confidence in these institutions that their “only I see how bad this is, and therefore I should rule over it” routine just might work.
The Plague of the Locusts
Today’s made men of the Left are closer to locusts than they are to the big union or party bosses of mid-century America, because the woke Left does not concern itself with the interests of anyone outside its top two rungs: the “haves” and their priestly class of handmaidens that minister the massive state apparatus.
The old Left concerned itself somewhat with the results or fruits of its power—it was interested in whether Democratic Party victories brought jobs, influence, happiness, or wealth to its voters. Today’s made Left does not have to concern itself with what it provides for the lowly or unconnected. It needs only to critique what others, theoretically, have failed to provide. It is entirely a theoretical or mental exercise divorced from reality.
This racket has been going on in California for decades, and it is the main reason political dissidents in California are clear-eyed about the general rules of the game in post-woke America.
Compromise, moderation, coming together across the aisle, gangs of eight and all the rest might have been laudable efforts a half-century ago because the underlying assumption of such politicking was that a true statesman is able to find some common ground, some way to scratch the backs of his constituency while also giving something of value to his political opponents. Politicians in this mold could be very successful in mid-century America.
But this is all folly now. If the woke Left exists only to promote, flatter, and enrich its made men by critiquing and pulling down the institutions and leaders of the past, what can possibly be gained by compromising with it? Or, to put it more bluntly, what would be the difference between doing this and being one of those grifters who buy into the Left’s nonsense just enough to make a living off of it? The only compromise with this kind of self-interested rule would be to go along with some or all of it in order to get a piece of the pie for ourselves. And it seems like we have had enough people step forward to fill that role on the Right already.
If the basis of rule in America 2021 is that those who are the most exquisitely offended on behalf of an insulted class or ecosystem are the rightful rulers, how is compromise or moderation possible? How can anyone not in on the scheme behave “reasonably” according to the Left and hold their ground? We reach out, compromise, and end up renouncing only half of our heroes and cherished institutions?
Beyond Nostalgia and Faux Reasonableness
Despite en vogue calls to move to red states to conserve “what’s left of America,” California remains the locus of the intellectual Right simply because Californians are more savvy to this game, having played it all of their lives. Almost no one alive remembers a California that was anything but silly. The reason the California Right has a hard time identifying with the word “conservative” is that there is nothing left to conserve in California.
What we have instead is an abundance of malignant nonsense to uproot and cast out. The new Left came to power convincing voters to let it run the state on behalf of multiple imagined victims and social inequities, but it has been so long since their leftist politics delivered anything of actual use to anyone that no honest person in the state can be ignorant of the actual political system and its objective anymore. California is now composed of an enormous priestly class of state and municipal workers, together with myriad quasi-independent contractors and semi-private companies which are essentially dependent upon state government contracts and largesse for their economic survival, united with extremely profitable nonprofit activists and the already fantastically wealthy using the sympathetic story of the state’s enormous homeless, poor, and immigrant population to ensure perpetual rule for themselves.
It doesn’t matter that nothing ever gets better for this last group—that homelessness increases exponentially, or that the poor are increasingly without decent housing, energy, education, or healthcare. The Left rules on the basis of its argument that it sees these unfortunates in a more meaningful way than those who would actually try to improve their lot. It’s a ridiculous argument and the only reason it has worked so well for so long is that California has enough money to spread around to all the Left’s allies who require buying off, while also boasting the largest collection of fantastically naïve and stupid people in the country.
Those who have managed to stay in the state without the benefit of the Left’s financial or social remunerations comprise the country’s largest bloc of Trump voters, and the largest collection of radicalized political dissidents. They know that there is no middle ground to be found with what is essentially mafia-like rule of their state. They hate the Republican party even more than the Democrats do, if only because its deception of and uselessness to the people it was supposed to represent adds a dead animal stench to what is mostly a comically inept artifice of a once-useful organization.
California’s dissident Right also knows there can be no cultural or social response to the Left other than derision and contempt. The problem with much of the American Right is that it is not yet confident enough to make fun of the ridiculous fraud that is the modern Left. Too many of us still desperately want to be the reasonable people the Left knows we can become. We remember that feeling, but we find it cringe-inducing now.
The only way forward is to engage with a near-obsessive focus on the goal, which is not nostalgia or a return to a more conservative era: it is striving for civilization, now, among the ruins of chaos, fear, selfishness, and deception that are a constant throughout human history. The differences between the Right and the Left don’t have to do with race, class, or privilege. They are separated by a fundamental disagreement on reality.
One side gains power by selling a lie that life is destined to be a beautiful, organized, triumphant, and shining commune that can only be taken away by selfish, racist retrogrades. They don’t even have to deliver utopia! They just have to convince you that their political enemies have taken utopia from you.
The other side believes that civilization is incredibly difficult to achieve, perpetually fragile, and constantly threatened by various forces of chaos and disorder. This second side is now coming around to the realization that there aren’t enough fumes of Western Civilization to coast comfortably anymore. We can’t continue to cling desperately to the ashes of formerly civilized and civilizing institutions while leftists lecture us about our past injustices and further weaken our confidence.
California dissidents lead the intellectual Right because they have turned away from the futile task of critiquing the Left’s deconstructionist critique, and have begun building the alternative institutions and culture necessary for survival. Everything from alternative education and medical insurance to socializing and working with like-minded people are already part of the California culture. Now, after COVID lockdowns and the rapid acceleration of woke leftism, the rest of the country increasingly finds itself similarly cut off and cast out from “polite” American society. The difference is that it’s still fresh and painful for them. Californians no longer waste their energy fretting about it.
We must have some new font of culture that produces something. There cannot be anything new while we are constantly responding and reacting to the Left’s latest critical deconstruction of some formerly strong aspect of American life. We don’t have to answer these people. And we have to stop thinking that there must be some red state out there where we can buy an affordable house and move back to 1986. It doesn’t exist.
The more we cling to our nostalgia for what we have lost, the more our instinct is to conserve or reconnect with the past rather than move forward into the unknown future, the more we empower the new Left to control our culture, harnessing this very nostalgia to continue empowering itself. Nostalgia will rule the day until the Right develops its own culture and institutions capable of presenting a viable alternative to woke American life.
California’s Dissident Right Has the Confidence to Build
In the meantime, there is nothing to be gained by attempts to appear reasonable to the Left. Their objective is to continue to enrich and empower the few made men at the top, and the Left’s signature appearance of empathy for the downtrodden remains their golden ticket to power. But the total destruction of our great cities in the last 70 years by monopolistic leftist rule should immediately put the lie to their faux concern. They don’t care about the poor. They don’t care about immigrants. They don’t care about the abysmal schools poor kids have to attend. If they did, they would do something to make things better for these groups. They would do something with all that power. They would be scandalized by their own lack of advocacy.
No—the faux sympathy is a show for us: to make us lose confidence in ourselves, to make us question our motives, and to make us think wow, they care so much more than I do. They should probably be in charge.
A confident Right would see these people for what they are: a circus of talentless hacks incapable of building anything, singing for their bread with a tune of constant mockery for the genius of others who came before them. No one is remaking “An Inconvenient Truth,” raking in money while deconstructing it to oblivion. No one is updating “The Day After Tomorrow” with an all-LGTBQ cast, challenging the leftism of the early aughts. Leftism cannot bear that kind of criticism; the cultural products of the woke Left are so devoid of inherent artistic worth they are useless to deconstructionists.
But they will remake “Superman” 850 times, with increasingly ridiculous far-Left tropes pasted onto its classic themes, because that is the closest they can ever get to genius.
Any reasonably confident student of Shakespeare should be able to laugh a critical deconstructionist right out of the classroom. Any decent student of economics should be able to laugh the Green New Deal off the pages of our most important newspapers. It should be a thing of derision. It’s a joke. But we lack the confidence to laugh. For some insane reason, we believe what these grifters say.
The state of play in America 2021 is reminiscent of Kenneth Clark’s description of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire:
The late antique world was full of meaningless rituals, mystery religions, that destroyed self-confidence. And then exhaustion, the feeling of hopelessness which can overtake people even with a high degree of material prosperity. There is a poem by the modern Greek poet, Cavafy, in which he imagines the people of an antique town like Alexandria waiting every day for the barbarians to come and sack the city. Finally the barbarians move off somewhere else and the city is saved; but the people are disappointed—it would have been better than nothing.
Clark’s contention that a civilization’s confidence is the key factor for survival suggests that there is more to deconstructionism than the swindle itself. It is designed to defeat cultures by robbing them of their confidence.
The Right’s habituated response to the Left’s critique of Western Civilization is so many levels removed from anything constructive that it’s almost completely useless. The proper response is disregard, mockery, and eventual indifference to woke claims. The proper response is a quiet confidence.
Throughout the pandemic, California offered two examples of life going forward: the almost complete conformity, fear, and slavery of the locked-down coastal cities, and the near-total freedom of the hidden places in the red California interior. Despite the blue politics of the state, life in some conservative areas of California remained relatively normal. This was not because we appealed to our overlords for exemption and were granted leniency. It is because people in the deep red areas of California together with our local law enforcement, have recaptured the idea of self-government and we confidently refused to comply.
When COVID cases spiked in December 2020, people masked up and quarantined themselves. Businesses that had been quietly open, closed. We isolated our elderly to minimize their risk. Several of the young families chose to move freely, determining that they were better off contracting the virus and inoculating themselves. When the outbreak was over and case numbers fell four weeks later, most people unmasked and resumed their lives. No one asked for permission. A quiet confidence in two essential facts ruled the day: first, that we are capable of self-rule and do not need to be taken care of by our nanny state, and two, that the bonds between ourselves and our local businesses, churches, law enforcement, and schools were strong enough to support us.
Throughout the pandemic, I was in contact with several friends and family in Idaho, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona. At one point we took a poll: how many Sundays were you unable to attend Mass in person? Are your kids attending school in person? Are businesses open, do they make you mask up, are restaurants open? Are your kids participating in extracurricular activities? Are you comfortable spending time outside in your community? None of these other places were more free than California’s conservative interior in 2020. I am convinced the reason for this is because, together as a small society, we were confident enough to live as free people. Because of California’s hostile political climate, we had already established alternative institutions for ourselves that we retained control over and were able to open and close as we deemed necessary.
The great hope for the Right is not in escapism or nostalgia, but rather in a renewed confidence that the principles of civilization have not changed. We have hope in a consistent, fixed human nature and therefore in the centuries of good political theory exploring how to build institutions and societies conducive to self-rule and flourishing. We have a handful of institutions with integrity enough to aid us in our quest to replace what is lost in this country and we can build more. Many of our laws and much of our political system and culture remain salvageable. But we cannot continue to fall for this ridiculous claim to rule put forth by the exquisitely offended. An overly sensitive and critical soul is not synonymous with political legitimacy. It is time to start asking ourselves how on earth such a weak, ridiculous political philosophy was ever allowed to escape the padded halls of our academic institutions and run rampant in our country.
In California, we are outnumbered and surrounded—but we are not defeated. The mistakes others have made in our collective past are not our own. We arrive on this earth with the same privilege every other generation has had before us, and that is to assess ourselves and our culture in the here and now, free from both the guilt and the assurance of our forebears.
Our old institutions, that we neither conceived nor built, are at present largely useless and in some cases destructive to society. But we are not hidebound by our great-grandfathers’ institutions or by what they have become. We can build something else, something new. We are alive in this time for a reason, and its challenges are not beyond us.