A Long And Festering Madness
The Right is Founded on Racist, Classist Conspiracy Theories Dedicated to Preserving Power For The Wealthy Elite
For years now we’ve been forced to listen to one politician and pundit after another speak of the Right as if they are currently hostage to a fever. As if there is a solid core to the Republican Party, a respectable, principled tradition that has simply…lost its way. Come unmoored. That once Donald Trump and his cadre of supporters and bootlickers were voted out, sufficiently shamed, and taken from power, everything would return to normal.
Whatever principles the GOP once had have sloughed away and revealed a larger project obsessed only with the pursuit of power and profit and the protection of white supremacist aristocracy. We know that recent attempts to attack education are about keeping people in the dark about manipulations and swimming through the stream of altered history. We know that defenses of “Western Civilization” and dismissals of other cultures are a means of hiding centuries’ worth of exploitation, slavery, and genocide that made wealth that white aristocracy. We know that the far Right, in the guise of paramilitary groups and gangs, have partnered with law enforcement since there was law enforcement to contain revolutionary fervor and keep the people oppressed, explaining how and why supporters of “Back The Blue” are so often fine with lawless entities engaging in extralegal violence.
And we know that Donald Trump was a symptom, not the disease, and that the danger he represented has not receded, but it growing with every single day despite the delusions and denials of people who think “normal” is here again.
The truth is these baseless, dangerous conspiracy theories, all of them poison to representative democracy and shared society, and deadly to the individual, are part and parcel of the conservative movement. They are the animating influence, the actual living, breathing worldview of the Right. What we are experiencing isn’t some kind of detachment from the conservative worldview, a blip on the radar of normalcy, but the true and hidden face of the Right, a political movemented founded on antidemocratic ideology and systemic oppression aided by wild-eyed fearmongering.
Dispatches From A Collapsing State is an independent journalism project and the home of Jared Yates Sexton’s political, historical, and cultural writings. It depends on your support to remain free and independent of editorial oversight. If you appreciate Jared’s writings, have learned from them, and wish to support them, please become a subscriber today. Subscribing grants you access to the subscriber-only Dispatches Q&A posts, but also makes possible future features and guarantees this source of information remains open and free to the public.
Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher and member of Parliament, is often cited as the father of modern conservatism. Prior to the French Revolution, Burke was a reformer and outspoken supporter of the American War For Independence, but once the ground shook across the British Channel and the monarchy of Louis XVI was threatened, Burke launched himself into a passionate defense of the status quo.
Burke’s conservatism was rooted in a belief that society depended upon traditions and established hierarchies, including the binding agent of Christianity and existing classes of wealth and power. Dismissing the clamor in France for reform from the stratified, suffering, oppressed people, Burke thundered that “Men should be frequently thwarted, their will controlled,” arguing that the ruling class knew better than their subordinates and the will of the people might often lead to destruction.
In France, Burke saw a “contagion,” a “pestilence,” that if it were to spread might bring the entire established order down. Like William Buckley, the intellectual center of our modern Right, Burke believed it necessary for certain powerful men of conscience to stand athwart history and yell Stop! before the essence of what made the culture great was destroyed.
But that isn’t at all.
Burke’s belief was bolstered by and predicated on a conspiracy theory. He believed that men of the Enlightenment had bound together in secret, under the guise of the Freemasons and the Illuminati, in revolutionary societies, in order to sow the seeds of revolution, overthrow power structures, and ultimately abolish the Christian religion, all in an effort to plunge the world into chaos.
Joining Burke in this belief was Augustin Barruel, a French priest and writer whose work Memoirs Illustrating The History of Jacobinism, published in 1797, constituted the beginnings of modern conspiracy theories. Barruel claimed insider knowledge of bizarre partnerships and rituals that coincided with Burke’s paranoia, and Burke eventually reached out to Barruel through correspondence, praising his Memoirs, confessing that he knew of individuals who had participated in the conspiracy, and confirming that it was all true, that the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the pursuit of liberty, equality, and freedom was a ruse put on for show by a power-mad cabal determined to unseat the rich and powerful.
It should come as no surprise that Barruel would later update his conspiracy theory with more “insider knowledge.” This time, the conspiracy grew in size and scope and inherited a new sinister, directing force: the Jews.
Following Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat, and the collapse of the French Revolution, there existed a perilous power vacuum that the rich and powerful were desperate to fill. An alliance had developed in defiance of Napoleon between the remaining monarchs and kingdoms, all of them terrified by the regicide in France and Bonaparte’s rapid ascent to power. In the wake of their victory they sought a “Concert of Europe,” or a combined, concentrated agreement that might reestablish their power, quell revolutionary ideology, and create a new and stable arrangement.
Guiding this project was a man named Klemens von Metternich, an Austrian diplomat who constructed the Congress of Europe system into a precursor of multinational organizations and coordinated cooperation in establishing what would come to be known as the Conservative Order. Metternich believed that, in order for revolutions to be avoided, liberalism, representative democracy, freedom of expression, and individual rights would need controlled by a firm and omnipresent power. In this effort, a myriad of laws were passed that all but eliminated the freedom of the press, established intelligence agencies that consistently spied on the citizens, and created a dystopian, miserable state at war with its own people.
In this Conservative Order, Metternich and his allies, the ruling elite of Europe, saw conspiracies in every corner. They came to fear the people in totality and believed assassinations and revolts were imminent should they not be crushed. In terms of elections, masses were disenfranchised, results were overturned. The liberalizing and democratization of progress was systematically rolled back. The solution, Metternich maintained, was for politics and culture to stop. For no new innovations to be adopted lest the people come to expect progress, representation, and a state interested in their well-being.
The conspiracy festered, grew in size, scope, and the antisemitic element came to prominence in Russia, where revolutionaries clashed against autocratic policies. In the wake of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, a spate of pogroms broke out that saw Jews killed, beaten, harassed, raped, their businesses and homes reduced to ash. The government embraced conspiracy theories that the Jews had inspired the violence through their “exploitation” and “domination” of Russian culture.
It was only a matter of time before these ignorant suspicions bred something even larger and more sinister. In 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery and plagiarized conspiracy tome, was published and began an era of feverish fearmongering. The Protocols purported to reveal the conspiracy that Barruel had claimed to uncover, a vast Jewish plot to undermine the nations of the world through the lies of liberalism, liberty, and equality. Aristocracy, The Protocols reported, was the only means of staving off certain ruin and worldwide, one-government slavery.
According to these forged documents, Jews controlled the economy, politics, and the media. All facets of existence had come under their power. Wars were directed by them. Policy mandated. There was a sinister plot intended to destroy peoples and nations.
If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the animating conspiracy theory that has inspired countless fascistic movements, including Nazi Germany and Red Scare America, and the basis for the New World Order, Deep State, QAnon, and now the Stop the Steal Big Lie and Critical Race Theory panic. The open antisemitic elements have been hidden, as have the aristocratic, antidemocratic functions, but they are there, directly under the surface of smiling Republican politics.
What we’re seeing on the Right is not novel. It is the fundamental operating system, the way it has always been. In moments of relative consensus, in which the Right controls culture and politics through soft power and intimidation, when the elections are working in their favor, the oppression is sometimes less noticeable. The Right appears “reasonable” even while secretly and quietly appealing to extremists who believe in these conspiracies. When they lose and society shifts, as we’re seeing now, the oppressive means become overt and are “legitimized” through the apocalyptic fearmongering.
This moment, in which the GOP is historically unpopular and losing control, is revealing the ugly existence of these open and hidden features. We must come to understand that this has always been about power, control, and profit, and as long as we deny the sinister aspects of the Right and their obsession with power, the worse the crisis will become.