News & Politics

Civil War on the Right: Nationalist Populists and Establishment Conservatives Take Aim at Each Other

Civil War on the Right: Nationalist Populists and Establishment Conservatives Take Aim at Each Other
Shown at the offices of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is president David French, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/George Widman)

It’s shocking, but Twitter has actually been quite intriguing to me these last few days.

What made the dying and largely irrelevant (let’s be honest, only people with an incredibly large following have somewhat of a use for it) social network suddenly so interesting is a Twitter war between establishment conservatives on the one hand and nationalist populists on the other. The establishment conservative faction is led by several former and present-day editors of National Review—the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley—such as David French, The nationalist populists are led by Raheem Kassam (formerly of, now global editor-in-chief of Human Events) and his business partner (Human Events‘ publisher) Will Chamberlain.


The two sides have had one go at each other after the other. It has been a true hatefest. See, for example, this tweet from David French:

In the article he links to, French basically argues that the “MAGA right” consists out of a bunch of terrible bullies who can’t accept any disagreement. “Cruelty is the point of their interactions,” he writes. “That’s the purpose of their communication.”

In other words, the nationalist-populist movement doesn’t just have different views, they’re downright evil.

This has been his talking point for a while now., Human Events, and other such websites are — in his eyes at least — edited by horrible human beings. These people have to be purged from the right. French and his ilk want to have nothing to do with them.

In fact, if you regularly read his tweets and articles it’s crystal clear that he believes them to pose a bigger threat to what he perceives to be “conservatism” than the leftist wacko’s in charge of the modern Democratic Party.

French’s piece was a response to an article written by Sohrab Ahmari. The title of that article? “Against David French-ism.” Ahmari explains:


What is David French-ism? As Irving Kristol said of neoconservatism, French-ism is more a persuasion or a sensibility than a movement with clear tenets. And that sensibility is, in turn, bound up with the persona of one particular writer, though it reaches beyond him to pervade a wider sphere of conservative Christian thinking and activism.

French prefers a different Christian strategy, and his guileless public mien and strategic preferences bespeak a particular political theology (though he would never use that term), one with which I take issue. Thus, my complaint about his politeness wasn’t a wanton attack; it implicated deeper matters.

Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side. Even if the latter—that is, the libertine and the pagan—predominate in elite institutions, French figures, then at least the former, traditional Christians, should be granted spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe.

Well, it doesn’t work out that way, and it hasn’t been working out that way for a long time—as French well knows, since he has spent a considerable part of his career admirably and passionately advocating for Christians coercively squeezed out of the public square. In that time, he—we—have won discrete victories, but the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us, and I think that French-ian model bears some of the blame.


French apparently considered this critique terrible and thoroughly humiliating, because he didn’t stop tweeting about it for several days. He even responds to it in the piece I linked to above (“The Cruelty Is the Point”).

The aforementioned Raheem Kassam responded in several tweets to French’s diatribe.

And so it goes on and on.

Although the two sides blame each other for the out of control nature of the controversy, a blind man can see that it’s a two-way street. The nationalist populists are undoubtedly quite aggressive while the establishment conservative faction is passive-aggressive. French and his friends pretend to be all righteous and morally superior, but that’s nothing more than an act. They’re at least as insulting as their opponents — and I would wager even more so because they’re hiding behind a veneer of moralism.

In any case, this showdown was a long time in the making. It started with the Tea Party movement — long before Donald Trump even announced he was running for president. The reason for this isn’t merely a disagreement on issues — although the two sides do disagree on a number of them — but the failure of establishment conservatism to deliver on its promises. It hasn’t gotten anything done, and every single time establishment conservatives chose the presidential candidate he lost. Oh, and even when they did win majorities in Congress, they still failed to deliver on their promises.


So, if French and all want to point fingers, perhaps they should start by pointing it squarely at themselves. Without them, without their many failures, broken promises, and their incestual relationship with the powers that be in Washington, there would never even have been a nationalist populist movement… and people like Kassam and Chamberlain would never have felt the need to be this aggressive (or, as French prefers to call it, “cruel”).

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