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A specter is haunting conservatism — the specter, indeed, of Marx. Those conservatives too young to remember the Cold War are increasingly suspicious of the economic and political prescriptions of the older anticommunism: capitalism as opposed to socialism; individual rights as opposed to collectivism. If they are not sure of Marx’s solutions, they at least share with him a sense of the problems, especially the meaninglessness and atomization of our social order. The alternative right is an alternative to precisely this fading consensus, wagering that race and nation have survived the ravages of liberal capitalism and can be a home again. But they in their own way are only the dark creatures of a broad, Enlightenment liberalism, their whiteness forged in the colonial encounter rather more than in the premodern past. Religious conservatives, in turn, have flitted from the supernatural constitutionalism of the older Christian right, in which America is God’s chosen nation, to an emphasis on natural law, in which our shared sense of right and wrong, of what marriage is and isn’t, can ground a common politics, to finally an unsettled flirtation with premodern forms of Christian polity, in which church and state should be distinct but integrally related in some way. What was solid is melting into air.


Originally published in Marginalia (Los Angeles Review of Books), March 30, 2018.

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