The Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville recently hosted a two-day conference with some of the most outspoken voices of the burgeoning “New Right” of conservatism. Speakers at the conference called for a government-funded revival of the nuclear family and working-class America.
Conference organizer and keynote speaker Sohrab Ahmari touted the event, dubbed the Restoring a Nation conference, as the largest academic conference the university has ever hosted. With a combined Twitter following of over 652,000 (without factoring in potential overlap), the speaker roster reads like a who’s-who of the conservative intellectual sphere.
Headliners included Dr. Patrick Deneen, esteemed scholar and Notre Dame professor; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine; Dr. Adrian Vermeule, law professor at Harvard University; Dr. Chad Pecknold of the Catholic University of America; Dr. Anne Hendershott, professor at Franciscan and Director of the Veritas Center; and J.D. Vance, Ohio senatorial candidate and author of Hillbilly Elegy.
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Needless to say, many eyes were turned toward Franciscan for the event.
In making their case for the values of the New Right, the speakers pointed to decades of failed Neo-Conservative policy that sought to establish a blissful era of international democracy and laissez-faire liberty but instead, they argued, led to the decay of the traditional family and the blight of working-class America.
It is contrarian conservatives like the New Right who would readily find fault with Bill Buckley Jr.’s summation of the principal motive of conservatism (often credited as the mantra of the movement) that “a conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop.”
In the eyes of the New Right, Buckley is also holding a white flag as he shouts in the defense posture while bracing for the oncoming progressive onslaught.
These conservatives are angry—angry that the Left is winning the culture war, angry that families are suffering, and, most of all, angry that the Old Right let it happen.
The New Right demands a new mantra, one that stakes out the political high ground and takes meaningful, ambitious steps toward reinstituting so-called traditional values back into society. Because apparently two Reagan terms, a Bush dynasty, a Newt majority, and a 2010 red wave weren’t enough to get the job done.
Newsweek opinion editor and speaker Josh Hammer described the New Right’s agenda as nationalist, populist, and pro-family. He said the New Right is “invested in helping cultivate and advance the material conditions of real people who lead real lives.”
“We recognize that the institution around which all our economic policy ought to be crafted is the nuclear family,” added Hammer.
An essential tenet of the New Right is reintroducing religion to the public square. Hammer argued that in America Christianity is our best hope of defeating what he called the new civic religion of wokism.
“Wokism…functions as a pseudo religion with all the pieties, sacraments, rituals, and excommunications that one might expect from a more traditional and authentic religion,” said Hammer.
“The so-called culture war issues, in short, are the very heart and soul of the New Right movement,” he explained.
Onto the pyre of failed GOP initiatives, this vanguard of the New Right also chucked the GOP’s policy of nearly unlimited support for big corporations.
Ahmari called the present economic system in America the tyranny of the private sector, wistfully reflecting back on the halcyon days of post-New Deal “collective action,” when employees enjoyed more legal protection from the overreach of their bosses. Fittingly enough, his upcoming book is titled Tyranny Incorporated.
Capitalism, Ahmari argued, does not have the “edenic origins” that the laissez-faire economists of the Old Right would have us believe. Referring to the age of British imperialism, Ahmari painted a stark picture of unchecked corporate greed and power unjustly wielded against the lower classes.
Ahmari wasn’t alone in his support of the New Deal economic policies. Most of the speakers favored FDR’s programs, and some even dovetailed their theology with a full-throated defense of the New Deal.
“Those who saw the New Deal as a kind of apotheosis of Catholic social teaching—were right,” conference speaker and University of Dallas professor Gladden Pappin tweeted, summarizing Dr. Adrian Vermeule’s support of the New Deal.
Vermeule argued that “the point is to create a more just society in which the elderly don’t have to worry about sleeping in the street and workers don’t have to worry about excessive price competition. A society with more communal sharing of risk. In this, the New Deal was a spectacular success.”
Other panelists used Catholic social teaching on capitalism and the family as a bludgeon against modern materialism and big-box tyranny, often citing Pope Leo XIII’s controversial encyclical Rerum Novarum. In this encyclical, Pope Leo famously advocated for workers’ rights and condemned unfettered capitalism.
Many conservatives reject some of the key tenets of the encyclical, arguing that its policy recommendations are too progressive. But not at Steubenville. Paid maternity leave, income tax breaks, living wages—these were all policies that many speakers advocated for as means to alleviate the sufferings of the working class and promote long-term familial growth and happiness.
Dr. Anne Hendershott said that studies suggest that amidst the breakdown of the nuclear family, the newest generation, “Gen Z,” is more amenable to marriage than the previous generation. This could suggest that the state-sponsored, pro-family policies that the New Right supports could win favor with the up-and-coming generation of voters.
In the vein of aiding the working class came perhaps the most stirring presentation of the conference. Addressing the topic of the hour, “The Post-Liberal Promise: Another World is Possible,” Dr. Patrick Deneen presented a disturbing visual of the destruction of unfettered capitalism.
On the projector screen above the panel, Deneen pulled up side-by-side pictures of small contemporary American cities beside images of other small European cities that had been nearly carpet-bombed out of existence during World War II.
There were images of European cities restored to pristine condition, replete with elegant Gothic spires breaking the horizon, contrasted with similarly-sized ramshackle American cities, ghosts of their former pre-war flourishing and economic glory.
Monotone, dingy, deserted—overall a depressing visual of what the American Dream has become for thousands of Americans once revered as the backbone of American success.
Deneen argued that post-war political policies and investments favored the elites “who ended up strip-mining this nation…to concentrate value in a few places and among a few people.”
Instead of propping up big industry, he argues that government resources can and should be reallocated to help rebuild these towns in the same way U.S. money through the Marshall Plan resurrected some European cities from the ashes after the war.
“There is another way,” he emphasized.
J.D. Vance’s keynote address supported Deneen’s prognosis that the elite have benefitted from the death of the manufacturing class. He echoed the conference’s call to resuscitate America’s heartland.
In his speech given at the end of the conference, Vance argued that it’s time to erect new institutions that support traditional, pro-family, and pro-worker values.
Vance told the Washington Examiner:
I think there’s a very direct line between the decline of the manufacturing economy, the decline of family stability, and then some deeper structural issues that moved in like a rise in domestic violence and drug use.
It’s pretty clear when the local economy and the community supported by that local economy falls apart, people really suffer. In a lot of ways, our generation is picking up the pieces from a generation of Americans that had a lot of manufacturing capacity, a lot of family stability, and a lot of social harmony.
Speakers such as Vance tapped into the vast pool of frustration toward the Establishment Right’s inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to drive forward meaningful change in both the political and cultural realms of the nation.
The New Right is motivated by an unflagging dedication to traditional family and populist values, which they see as a means for promoting a flourishing society. They aim to reel in corporatism, fund familial growth through new government policies, and decentralize power from the radical elites.
Such populist policies may be more amenable to the Generation Z cohort that is more willing to look favorably on government intervention, is ripe for spiritual rejuvenation in the midst of high rates of depression and suicide, and is seeking stable family life.
Could this promise to restore American society, this culture project of the New Right, be the GOP’s saving grace?
[Photo Credit: Sohrab Ahmari Twitter]