Steve Sailer: The Hidden Figure of the New Right

“If the meritocracy was real, Steve Sailer would be one of the most famous writers in the world,” said Tucker Carlson in hailing Noticing, the recently-released first-ever published anthology of Steve Sailer’s writing. That Carlson, arguably still the leading figure on the right who spans both its intellectual and populist wings, would speak so highly of Sailer speaks of the pervasiveness of his influence on his readers, and, of course, the fact that Carlson has to say this for an audience that may barely know of Sailer’s existence reflects the limits of that influence within so-called “respectable” opinion.

How pervasive is Sailer’s influence? The day I sat down to write this review, I saw arguably the most influential voice in Christian nationalism on X/Twitter writing about “invade the world invite the world.” Another highly influential commentator on Israel-Gaza was tweeting about the high percentage of Gaza marriages between first cousins (extraordinarily high at 30%) and its relationship to lowered IQs and higher disease burden among Gazans.

I have no idea whether either was aware of their intellectual antecedents, but both were riffing off theses first fully explored for mass audiences by Sailer, a man who has arguably had a more esoteric effect on the intellectual dissident right than any figure in the last quarter century. Indeed, indicative of the breadth of Sailer’s influence and it’s extension beyond the right, is that Sailer’s original piece on cousin marriage, in the book’s opening section, was selected by Harvard Professor and liberal public intellectual Steven Pinker for The Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology he edited in 2004.

The extent of that esoteric influence was the first thing that came to mind when I began to read Noticing, a collection of essays written over the last several decades and is the joint brainchild of Sailer and the very promising new right-wing publishing house Passage Press, which, through launching its eponymous Passage Prize and publishing the first books from prominent dissident authors like Sailer and Curtis Yarvin (Mencius Moldbug), alongside forgotten right-wing classics, has carved out a major profile in a very short period of time. Noticing is a collection of columns spanning more than thirty years of Sailer’s journalism, and it represents the first comprehensive collection of his work, allowing us to better evaluate Sailer’s influence in retrospect.

Noticing is an ideal title for the book and a great description of what Sailer has resolutely done daily over the last several decades. And noticing is indeed the key challenge of our intellectually straitened age. As he wrote years ago, “Political correctness [an older version of what we might call “wokeness” today] is a war on noticing.” And Steve Sailer believes in noticing patterns that others don’t see—or refuse to see. A supposedly mild-mannered interlocutor (those who have met him inform me that he is kind, modest, and almost painfully earnest), Sailer’s observations are often pungent, but what distinguishes him from his further right brethren is that he is not a particularly political animal, nor are his observations made with partisan animus in mind.

To be sure, Sailer is a Republican after a fashion, but his politically incorrect observations are not done in obvious service of a political agenda, and he utterly lacks the anger or attendant political commitments that sometimes plague others of his ilk. He is more interested in being right than winning. Yet Trump won the Presidency in 2016 using what Sailer himself referred to as the “Sailer Strategy,” which appears here in essay form and which Sailer had first written about more than fifteen years before. Looking carefully at where actual swing votes were rather than what pundits were saying, Sailer suggested that the GOP should focus on white working-class voters, heterodox economics, and strict immigration policies.

Sailer’s coinages (he has a background in marketing) are ubiquitous throughout the right and throughout this book, though again rarely attributed to him. If you’ve heard phrases like magic dirt, elect a new people, affordable family formation, coalition of the fringes, invade the world invite the world, Human Biodiversity (HBD), World War T, the flight from white, or hate hoax, you’ve absorbed Sailerisms even if you weren’t aware of it.

A 2017 profile in New York Magazine—one of the few regime media profiles of Sailer, called him “the man who invented identity politics for the new right and “one of the most influential figures on the American Right.” Sailer began his career in conservative journalism at National Review under the intellectually committed editorship of former top Thatcher aide John O’Sullivan before being pushed out in 1997, when the more establishment-oriented Rich Lowry took over the editor’s chair.

From that point on, he has plied his trade at various publications of varying respectability, from those on the outer circle of “conservatives in good standing” to very much canceled or marginal outlets. More recently, as the debate has moved closer to issues he has championed for decades, the mainstream has moved towards him, with appearances on The Charlie Kirk Show and other more mainstream fare.

Yet no matter where he published, he was widely read. As Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week has observed, Sailer has exerted “a kind of subliminal influence across much of the right …” David Brooks, Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen are among many others who have cited Sailer. Sailer sees himself as oriented towards American citizens rather than an ethnonationalist or a globalist, and the selection of pieces here reflects that.

Noticing focuses on Sailer’s bread-and-butter sociopolitical writings, but it spans a great deal of terrain. Sailer’s excellent work as a film critic is featured here and reminds everyone that he is very interested in culture and probably would just as soon, if born into a saner society, have avoided politics entirely.

Yet here he is, speaking and writing on a bewildering variety of topics, from Jewish achievement to mass shootings, from abortion and crime to the social implications of golf course architecture, in a total of almost sixty essays spread out over more than 400 pages.

Sailer tells stories that are often completely forgotten by mainstream sources. His fascinating piece on the seemingly esoteric topic of Jewish country clubs and golf courses turns into a fascinating dive into American social history, showing that Jewish country clubs tended to be more discriminatory than gentile clubs and that the supposedly racially and religiously exclusive PGA was playing major tournaments at Jewish clubs 100 years ago. As he takes us deep into the rabbit hole, we see, without him even drawing specific attention to it, how political and intellectual consensus is manufactured.

And he’s still at it, cataloging trends that others might have missed, like the explosion in motor vehicle deaths among African Americans in the months following the George Floyd riots, and making suggestions for what this tells us about our politics.

In various essays here, he discusses “affordable family formation” (the ability of families to afford to get started) and its enormously high correlations with Republican vote share, a topic that was picked up by mainstream political scientists after he popularized it, a trend that continues to this day, and one that explains much of Trump’s support.

Sailer has often been far ahead of the trends. His 2014 piece, “World War T”, anthologized here, identified transgenderism as the left’s next moral panic, years before it became a major public debate. He understood, years before, the underlying moral logic of leftism would make this seemingly “crazy” issue one they would champion.

Even some forgotten gems make an appearance. His exposure of the fake rape story at the University of Virginia a decade or so back that ultimately led to Rolling Stone Magazine paying a multi-million-dollar judgment. And his article “Why Lesbians Aren’t Gay” from 1994 exposed the deep divide between the lesbian and gay communities, slicing through all of the meaningless pride-speak and cant.

Of course, as one reads these essays, the reader sometimes realizes that Sailer is simply telling him things he already “knew”—he just didn’t realize he knew them until Sailer mentioned them.

Steve Sailer has carved out a career somewhere between dissident and mainstream by pervasively breaking the taboo on noticing. This vital, judiciously chosen collection from Passage Press will give one of the most influential yet least publicly heralded conservative intellectuals of the past few decades his day in the sun. It will be welcome addition to the libraries of long-time fans and will serve as an introduction for younger readers who may have grown up in Sailer’s substantial intellectual shadow without ever having previously realized it existed.

Jeremy Carl (@realJeremyCarl) is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute

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About Jeremy Carl

Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. He served as deputy assistant secretary of the interior under President Trump and lives with his family in Montana. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeremycarl4.

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