The dangers of the right-wing lifestyle

It’s the beginning of a new year, a season of personal resolutions. For many American conservatives, especially younger ones, resolutions may include lifting more, eating healthy foods, saying goodbye to harmful vices like smoking, embracing moderation all around, cutting back on screen time, reading Scripture and the classics, and passing them on to children, perhaps even moving across the country if it means a more culturally hospitable climate.

If you are going to fulfill such resolutions, I wish you the best of luck. And I also ask for your best wishes as I try to get better on some of these fronts. But as we pursue these noble goals, there’s one crucial fact to keep in mind: None of these things are substitutes for political action to improve our communities. Pretending otherwise risks reinforcing an unhelpful recent trend that might be called “lifestyle rightism.”

To understand the right lifestyle, it can be useful to discuss a lifestyle of leftism. The term was coined by Sahra Wagenknecht, former leader of the German Left Party, in her 2021 memoir, Die Selbstgerechten (“Self-Managing”). In it, Wagenknecht railed against what she sees as the decline of the left, from a movement that sought to empower workers in relation to capital, to a movement that too often lectures and disciplines workers.

Today’s leftists, she wrote, “no longer place social and political-economic problems at the center of left-wing politics. In place of these concerns, they advance issues of lifestyle, consumption habits, and moral attitudes.” Progressives once sought to make life more abundant and easier for the working class. Today they also often do the opposite, either by shutting down nuclear power, because it is also effective or, in the case of Extinction Rebellion protesters blocking traffic, literally preventing workers from commuting. Meanwhile, the left’s ever-changing dictates of identity about language are a boon to management. They constantly create “separate and distinct groups,” Wagenknecht noted, and “undermine solidarity in the workplace.”

A left-wing lifestyle that forces endless conversations about melanin content and genitalia leaves intact the skewed distribution of income and power by social class. It only creates the illusion of change and radicalism.

On the other hand, the lifestyle of rightism is not nearly as sinister. First, due to the relative cultural and institutional marginalization of the right, it is often found on the fringes of the Internet. The HR department does not hear the right to lifestyle. In fact, quite the opposite. Yet its message is often strikingly similar: namely, that political change can be achieved through better personal, investment and consumer choices. In this way, it misdirects its adherents, diverting them from collective action and the shared pursuit of common goods to essentially private goods (some of which are not good at all).

Consider a few examples:

Naturally, a movement has sprung up around former kickboxer and online personality Andrew Tate. Whatever his alleged crimes, Tate spoke clearly to the frustrations of many young men amid declining marriage and family formation rates. Yet rather than politically mobilizing against the politico-economic and cultural forces behind their discontent, Tate taught his followers to pursue individual wealth and female supremacy—in his own case, through a seedy webcam business. As Emily Vermeule has noted, the “worship of the philandering upper class” “did not improve the lot of men”. And it never will be. Lifestyle rightism transforms political alienation and feeling riots – a feeling you too can enjoy for the low price of just $99 a year.

The cryptosphere and the ideology that constitutes it share similar characteristics. As I have written on these pages and repeated by antitrust author Matt Stoller, the cryptocurrency market is driven by the righteous antipathy of the younger generation of investors to the mainstream financial industry. After watching Big Finance burn the economy with dangerous speculation and escape penniless, they turned to an asset class even more speculative and dangerously underregulated than any of the Lehman mortgage-backed securities. And here again the promise of escape from politics and institutions beckons, another anti-political gesture masquerading as political rebellion.

And finally, there’s what I call New Frontier-ism (to avoid offending mostly anonymous accounts, I’m editing actual tweets that speak to a broader sentimentality): “Accept the reality that the current landscape is irredeemably corrupted; find a like-minded community, fight for individual solutions that work for your family, and if you have to, move.” Or: “A hundred years ago, it was possible to just go somewhere, start your own farm, and live cleanly. You can still do it if you fight for it.” The apparent error here is historical. The American frontier closed long ago, and before then the American serf was not a serf at all; rather he lived at the mercy of the “money power”—the credit system. improved dramatically by reforms demanded by agrarian populists in the late 19th century and later adopted by the New Dealers.

The larger point is this: historical reveries—ahistorical dreams, to be precise – they are no answer to the crises caused by complex economies and societies for individual and family life. Law reform and better governance are. Lifestyle rightism is a fundamentally romantic tendency that resists this harsh reality.

To criticize what I call the right-wing lifestyle is not to dismiss the importance of self-improvement on an individual level: Every movement should want healthy and sane individual members; that is why the labor movement placed such emphasis on the education of workers. Even in this criticism, I am not wallowing in pessimism about the intractability of major social problems. On the contrary, the lesson of the successful movements of the past – labor populists, progressive farmers and the like – is precisely that Yippee possible to solve collective problems by applying power. Either way, lift and eat clean, gather power over the lazy self. But don’t confuse these things with politics.

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