The neoreactionaries are a distinctly ’00s and ’10s phenomenon, but they draw on the racialist and traditionalist arguments of a much older movement: paleoconservatism.
The term “paleoconservatism” is a retronym coined in the 1980s to characterize a brand of conservatism that was by then going extinct, a brand exemplified by Robert Taft, the Ohio senator and legendary isolationist who lost the 1952 Republican nomination to Dwight Eisenhower, and by Pat Buchanan in his 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential runs.
Paleocons agree with mainstream conservatism on social issues — they tend to be stridently anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ rights, pro-school prayer, and disproportionately traditionalist Catholic — and on the evils of the welfare state, but part ways on international affairs, including immigration, trade, and warfare.
Paleocons are largely isolationist, warning America against foreign entanglements and dismissing neocon attempts at democracy promotion as hubristic and doomed to failure. They were overwhelmingly against the Iraq War, and tend to be heavily critical of Israel. They’re also more fervently nationalist than mainstream Republicans. That translates into a very negative view of immigration, both due to its perceived economic harm to Americans and because of the “damage” it does to American culture, and into more support for tariffs and trade protection.
But since Buchanan, the movement hasn’t had a loud national voice. After 9/11, paleocon isolationism became anathema among conservative intellectuals and politicians. Mainstream conservatives like George W. Bush and Marco Rubio embraced immigration reform that offered unauthorized immigrants citizenship. Free trade opposition within the GOP went extinct.
There are a number of reasons the paleocons lost ground, but a big one was that the movement had a huge racism problem. In particular, skepticism of foreign entanglements and of the alliance with Israel specifically would occasionally bleed into overt anti-Semitism.
The saga of Joseph Sobran is a case in point. A longtime columnist at National Review, he was fired by William F. Buckley in 1993 following years of open clashes about his attitude toward Israel and Jewish people in general. In 1991, Buckley had dedicated an entire issue of the magazine to a 40,000-word essay he wrote, “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” in which he condemned Buchanan (then challenging President George H.W. Bush in the GOP primaries) and his employee Sobran for anti-Jewish prejudice. Buckley had a point. Sobran really was a world-class anti-Semite, writing in one National Review column , “If Christians were sometimes hostile to Jews, that worked two ways. Some rabbinical authorities held that it was permissible to cheat and even kill Gentiles.”
After leaving NR, Sobran’s writing, in the words of fellow paleocon and American Conservative editor Scott McConnell, “deteriorated into the indefensible.” He started speaking at conferences organized by famed Holocaust denier David Irving and the denial group Institute for Historical Review, asking at the latter, “Why on earth is it ‘anti-Jewish’ to conclude from the evidence that the standard numbers of Jews murdered are inaccurate, or that the Hitler regime, bad as it was in many ways, was not, in fact, intent on racial extermination?”
He wasn’t alone. John Derbyshire, perhaps the last real paleocon left at National Review, was canned in 2012 after writing a piece addressed to children full of advice like, “Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally,” “Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods,” and, “If planning a trip to a beach of amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date.”
After that, Derbyshire started writing at VDARE, an anti-immigration white nationalist site named after Virginia Dare, the first white Christian born in British North America. The article that got him fired wasn’t actually posted at National Review but at Taki’s Magazine, an outlet run by millionaire paleocon Taki Theodoracopulos that was formerly edited by outspoken white supremacist Richard B. Spencer and has run articles by Theodoracopulos in support of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
This has been the trend for paleoconservative writing in the past decade or two. It’s largely turned from mainstream conservative outfits to openly racist venues like VDARE, Taki’s, American Renaissance, and the Occidental Observer. Admirably, the American Conservative has held the line and resisted crossing over into open white nationalism, but they’re basically alone in that.
Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan, the paleocons’ great political hope, has more or less always been this openly bigoted. In 1990 he infamously insisted that 850,000 Jews couldn’t have died at Treblinka from diesel fumes. In 2007 he declared, “If you want to know ethnicity and power in the United States Senate, 13 members of the Senate are Jewish folks who are from 2 percent of the population. That is where real power is at.” In 2008, he wrote an entire book arguing that the Second World War was basically Britain’s fault and Hitler was largely blameless. So it’s no surprise that he, too, has been increasingly marginalized, losing his MSNBC position in 2012.
The neoreactionaries are not simply heirs to the paleoconservatives. The paleocons are ultimately more religious, and more loyal to the US Constitution and basic small-r republican ideals. But the neoreactionaries share with the paleocons a belief in tribalism and racial difference, and a deep sense that the mainstream is trying to crush them. Joseph Sobran didn’t use the term “Cathedral,” but he’d surely think it to blame for his marginalization.
* This represents the normalization of White Nationalism and the Alt-Right and hence its acceptance and eventual victory–and the elites are terrified.
The folks at Radix are doing the right thing. It’s working.