Towards a Theology of NETTR
One of the ideas emergent in the dissident right is the tactic of having "No Enemies to the Right." Many are troubled by this. Should they be? Is this something Christians can embrace?
“No enemies to the right.”
Perhaps this is you first time hearing this phrase. If so, you may be in for a bit of a culture shock. This is not “nice” discourse. It gets into the category of doing hard things and facing the tough realities of resisting the regime, successfully, and not just in theory. So what is “No enemies to the right” (NETTR, for short)?
It is primarily a calculated tactical political decision to cease policing our “right wing” boundaries. It is the choice not to react to regime attacks, to their bully attacks against our political allies, to their attempts to smear us as evil and outside the boundaries of civil discourse. It a choice to not continually throw our people under the bus because the regime has slapped a label on them, using their own categories, their own rules. There is an impulse among conservatives to desire a politics of morality, that we take the high road. But when you allow your opponent to determine the content of that morality, you can guarantee that he does so to punish you politically, to hammer you with your own mantle of integrity, rendering you neutered, ineffectual and hypocritical.
So how should conservatives, traditionalists and rightists respond, especially if Christian? Should we abandon our principles? Should we become as ruthless as our opponents? Should we pursue power, paying no attention to the cost, to ethical concerns? Do the ends justify the means? Should we be willing to get down in the gutter and get dirty in order to win? Should we be willing to shelter disagreeable and unpleasant people, those who, in more settled times, would obviously be considered beyond the pale? I would argue, as I have done elsewhere, there can be no hard and fast rule either “yes” or “no.” It depends upon the situation. You won’t know until you get there. But, it must be said, defeating the regime likely cannot be done without opening ourselves to a range of political ideas, actions and actors that many today who live in the realm of “polite company,” even if that polite company is conservative and Christian, would consider out of bounds.
So, let’s walk ourselves through a practical, realpolitik, Christian understanding of “no enemies to the right.”
Where does this NETTR idea come from? It is a based on a reciprocal principle —NETTL— which can be traced all the way back to the French Revolution. In his 1928 classic, The French Revolution: A Monarchist History, Pierre Gaxotte describes the inexorable logic of revolutionary “progress”:
The revolutionary period was characterized by allowing successive avant-garde parties or factions to take political power while riots and disturbances in the streets dictated the actual government policies that were adopted. Against the royal court and the privileged classes, the members of the National Assembly appealed to the turbulent sectors of the capital. Even while privately deploring the excesses committed from July 13 on, they closed their eyes to them because they wanted to hold in reserve the power of the clubs and of the streets. Thus they became prisoners of the alliance they had made; they became prisoners of the formula “no enemies to the left” (pas d’ennemis à gauche). 1
This notion gained real fixedness in the consciousness of the left when the phrase was cemented in their lexicon by Alexander Kerensky in the period leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution. The idea is pretty simple actually. You cultivate, maintain and protect radical activists aligned with the broad direction of your movement. “Movement” is itself an interesting word. With the notion of human progress working in the background, the very idea of a “movement” is then tied to this concept that we are ever moving “forwards” towards an ever better future. You really only need a “movement” on the progressive left. Today’s radical, manning the front lines of the movement, producing what seems like far out crazy ideas, become tomorrow’s policy prescriptions and laws. The left does not worry about setbacks or hurdles because they know that there is a ready supply of radicals who will continue to push the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse and policy ever leftward towards the progressive future.
There is no true pendulum swing. Even if for a time there are roadblocks, they just re-group and try again later. If you think that things have gone too far the movement will leave you behind. We hear again and again people who say that the they did not leave the left, the left left them. They still see themselves as progressives, but just not “that” progressive. The left does police its boundaries, just not its radical left wing boundary. They police their right wing boundaries. There can be no going back. There can be no standing still. If you remain in one place and the movement moves on, you very quickly discover that yesterday’s radical left position is now considered too right wing for polite company. You must be cut loose, or even cancelled. There can be no stopping the movement of progress.
At the same time that the left encourages and harbors its radicals while being willing to jettison those who are now insufficiently progressive, conservatives and the right typically engage in a similar action. They tend to embrace those who are newly disaffected by and jettisoned from the “mainstream” left while at the same time policing their right wing boundary, making sure that they continually condemn those whose ideas are considered too radically right wing. The biggest bugaboos are those surrounding race, gender and sexuality. Excuses are given that we need to have a “big tent” or that we need to win over the “moderates.” The moderates typically fall into the category of leftists who couldn’t embrace the current radicalism and have now been left behind. But they are never asked to convert to a more rigorous and doctrinaire conservative position. Thus, you end up with weird groups like “gay conservatives.” In practice, when these newly embraced, not quite as radically left, leftists begin taking up positions of influence —and they are often given positions of favor and influence because they are seen as “converts” when they are nothing of the sort— they begin to exert pressure to police the right wing boundary of conservatism, setting lines of demarcation that move ever more leftward. Thus you get arguments for the “conservative case for transgenderism” and the like. Especially in regards to social issues, drawing a strictly conservative, let alone a Christian position is never, ever on the table in any serious policy discussion. You have to keep quiet about your desire to criminalize abortion because such talk, we are told, hinders the debate.
Why does this happen? Why does the political right in the West, but especially in America, seem incapable of drawing clear ideological boundaries, insisting that people either convert, or that they keep their less than 100% conservative ideas to themselves? Sure, absolute ideological rigidity is probably not tactically wise —we do need to be able to deal with the world practically as it is— but why do we seem incapable of drawing a clear line of demarcation. The left has its overarching principles of progress, equality and freedom from all unchosen bonds. Why does the right not have a similar set of core principles? In large part, it is cultural. All of the core ideas of our culture since at least the Enlightenment have been built around this grand idea of “human progress.” Whether it is in terms of science, technology, the market, politics or social conditions, we have this grand unifying principle of “progress.” The group that we think of as “the left” are generally oriented around the idea of social progress, whereas those who are on “the right” have generally oriented themselves around economic progress. Both share in the same pool of Enlightenment ideas of which Jacques Ellul says this:
“These common presuppositions of bourgeois and proletarian are that man’s aim in life is happiness, that man is basically good, that history develops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.”
This cultural impulse is expressed through a number of myths upon which most of our society is built, including our politics:
“In our society the two great fundamental myths on which all the other myths rest are Science and History [that is, Progress]. And based on them are the collective myths that are [technical] man’s principle orientations: the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the presumption of happiness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of the Hero.”
The fundamental orientation of this great movement and these myths means that there is a strong cultural pull towards that which is seen to participate in the grand movement of human progress. Everything must be made to seem like it advances human progress. Thus, there was a time not too long ago that the “conservative” position on the environment and global warming was that we must resist all the efforts of the environmentalist movement to restrict our economy or our standard of life in any way. What we needed to do was to unleash the power of science and the market, letting our smartest and brightest figure out a way to make commercially viable products that would then clean the environment while increasing our wealth and prosperity. It is why Ellul would say in regards to propaganda messaging:
“Propaganda is forced to build on these propositions and to express these myths, for without them nobody would listen to it. And in so building it must always go in the same direction as society. A propaganda that stresses virtue over happiness and presents man’s future as one dominated by austerity and complication would have no audience at all.”
What this means in practice is that the messages which resonate in our culture are those which stress progress, prosperity, and ease. You are going to enjoy a bigger, brighter, better, more humane and prosperous future all without any cost to you. Conservatives and the right, if they wish to find receptive ears, must cast their political vision in terms that respect the fundamental progressive nature of society:
“[because of the myth of Progress, propaganda] must be associated with all economic, administrative, political and educational development…thus…the general trend toward socialization can neither be questioned nor overridden. The political left is respectable; the Right has to justify itself before the ideology of the Left (in which the Rightists participate). All propaganda must contain and evoke the principle elements of the ideology of the Left in order to be successful.”
What this means in practice is that any truly conservative, traditional or right wing politics is simply out of bounds in our culture. At best it is considered “backwards.” As a conservative, you are essentially an opponent of progress. So if you wish your so-called “conservatism” to find a listening ear, you must present it in a fashion that makes it seem progressive and “forward thinking.” Because of the fundamentally progressive nature of western society and its core myths, conservatives can easily be propagandized as “the enemy” of society, the reason why it is failing to progress sufficiently. This dynamic is a big contributor as to why Conquest’s Second Law remains in force in the west:
“Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.”
In a society dominated by images, narratives and propaganda, the political left broadly defined, aligned with the core narratives, the core myths of our society, is able to easily use this underlying cultural dynamic as a method of control, a way to silence and neuter any who might resist the regime and the pull of the broad culture upon which its power rests. Conservatives, and others on the right, may not like to hear this, but liberalism conceived of broadly, including the “we need to be faithful to the intents of the Founders” variety of liberalism, is the “will of the people.” Before it can fully understand its place and role in society, conservatives, and the right, must see that the current regime governs in line with the will of the people. The broad spectrum of mainstream politics in America ranges from slow and cautious liberal to radical liberal. The political views and agenda of true conservatives, true members of the right, has been set out of bounds axiomatically. This allows the regime to control the discourse, forcing those who occupy the position of cautious liberal to always be policing their rightwing boundary to ensure that no meaningful threat to the regime, broadly conceived, will emerge. This is the role of the cautious liberal who often takes for himself the label “conservative.” As this leftward drift continues, ever pursuing progress, more and more groups that used to be tolerated as part of mainstream political discourse, such as traditionally minded practicing Christians, will sooner or later be considered outside the Overton Window of “acceptable” views.
So, what is to be done? How do you resist this dynamic? How do you resist as Christians?
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