There are different right-wing tribes, with distinct values.

While the two-party system in the united states encourages us to treat them as a block, the right is no less fractious than the left, and we forget this at our peril. Any political party is a tenuous marginal cease-fire between groups that would otherwise be at each other’s throats.

Just within the republican party’s core mainstream (not counting the more rare and elaborate forms whose flowering during the Obama administration made them news items), we have several breeds.

There’s ivy-league conservatives, who are wealthy *and* educated. Generally, they make decisions based on a free-market ideology and a sense that they live in a meritocracy — after all, the system as it exists has elevated them and their family, so it can’t be that wrong. Randian objectivism became a hit with this group way back in the 50s and 60s. Some of the people currently in this group are former hippies who embraced capitalism later in life; others are people who were Birchers in the 60s. Hillary Clinton would be of this group. The unifying attributes of this group are wealth, education, and a belief in the moral good of the free market; secularism varies here but is almost entirely irrelevant, because public shows of faith are in poor taste.

Then, there’s new-wealth conservatives — people with a blue-collar background who subscribe to the same belief in free-market ideology and meritocracy, but without most of the cultural and intellectual trappings as the ivy-league conservatives. The first generation of any lineage in this group would, generally, be someone who worked up from a lower-middle-class background and became wealthy, and believes themselves to have become wealthy due to Horatio Alger style preserverence rather than through luck. Objectivism landed here in the 70s and 80s, where it cast off some of its anti-religious aspects. The children of the lineage can become ivy-league conservatives if they are taught to respect tradition and ettiquite, but otherwise remain new-wealth conservatives. Donald Trump is of this group. The unifying attributes of this group are wealth, a focus on the idea of meritocracy, a lack of “taste” and “subtlety”, and a distain for people who they see as “cheating”.

You also have the rural poor, who may be one or the other but are often both. They work off a model of the new-wealth conservatives, and are often explicitly against the ivy-league conservatives. The religious sentiment and anti-intellectuallism usually is focused in this group. Objectivism came to this group via the prosperity gospel in the 80s and 90s, and this group doesn’t generally associate it with anti-theism.

Among the new types (which are not necessarily new, but are instead newly important), we have:

Accelerationists — marxists who believe that the best way to bring about a communist utopia is to be as capitalist as possible, so as to hasten the inevitable breakdown. They may consider themselves leftists, but they behave in a way that is indistinguishable from the far-right.

Neoreactionaries — people with a nostalgia for an idealized version of centralized absolute power. A lot of them think that the best way to bring about the emergence of a global centralized power is to make democracy & capitalism collapse by exploiting the flaws in the existing structure, so as a result neoreactionaries and accelerationists are in alignment in working together in acting economically far-right despite not believing in economic far-right policies.

The ‘alt-right’ — a mix of various smaller groups, mostly dominated by people who subscribe to a dumbed-down version of the neoreactionary ideology, with some of the anti-capitalist stuff removed. The alt-right is neither intellectual nor anti-intellectual but pseudo-intellectual; as a result, they are at odds with both the anti-intellectuals (because they consider themselves intellectual) and the intellectuals (because they’re resistant to examining their beliefs). They circulate material from neoreactionaries without having a clear understanding of it. Often they have a perspective that combines objectivism in its anti-theistic dimension with social darwinism and scientific racism. They are not neo-nazis, because they don’t really have an interest in tradition. There are lots of engineers in this group.

Right-libertarians — a mix of objectivists of various stripes, people whose fully justified paranoia about government (as the best-armed group in their vicinity) can be easily overwhelmed with invented paranoia about foreign invaders, and people who simply have a much greater faith in free markets than in other social constructions. This group was part of ground zero for objectivism in the 50s and 60s, when libertarianism was mostly undifferentiated, and starting in the 90s this group had an influx of people from the much more religious “rural poor” group. I classify anarchocapitalists under this banner, no matter how much they might complain. Sole unifying attribute: distrust of power.

Actual neo-nazis — these guys never went away. Social darwinism, traditionalism, and pretty explicit anti-intellectualism, with a strong racial & xenophobic component, characterize this group. They haven’t been part of mainstream discourse or a large block for a long time, but some of their ideas get circulation via other groups.

Right now, you can’t win an election by targetting only one of these groups. To win, you need to at least get the big three older groups. Some of the newer groups are gaining numbers and power, particularly in places like California.

If you go to a university, the conservatives around you will generally not be of the rural poor variety: a university education would be expensive and of dubious value to that group. All other groups (with the exception of the neoreactionaries, who consider universities to be a propaganda outlet for democracy and capitalism, and neo-nazis, who consider universities to be smearing the good name of Hitler) would be well-represented at universities; accelerationists would actually be overrepresented — there aren’t many of them, but they are all university-educated and most have been university-employed.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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