To survey the state of the American right—its friends, its enemies, its controversies—is to be nearly convinced we are living in Nietzsche’s nightmare world of “eternal recurrence.”  The current battle for the soul of the “Stupid Party” is an eerie reenactment of the battle that engulfed the GOP in 1963-64, with a different Romney as the chief antagonist of the party’s insurgent right wing.  Back then, it was a Romney named George, denouncing Barry Goldwater and leading the fight at the ’64 convention in favor of a resolution condemning “right-wing extremism.”  The resolution was shouted down by delegates who had had quite enough of the media’s crazed hate campaign.  Taking their cues from incipient neocons like Seymour Martin Lipset and Richard Hofstadter, the media smeared the rising conservative movement as an eruption of racism and neofascism fueled by “status resentment.”

Goldwater wowed his young conservative activist base—of which I was one—with his electrifying inversion of the “extremist” canard into a badge of honor: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!  And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

The crowd went wild—and so did I, a teenaged conservative activist sitting in front of my television set.  My applause unsettled my father, who told me to pipe down.  I barely heard him: I was too busy enjoying the moment.  This was our answer to the Romneys, the Scrantons, and, most of all, the Rockefellers, whose country estate wasn’t far from my tidy suburban enclave in Upstate New York.  My parents would gape at it in wonder as we passed by on one of our Sunday drives through the countryside, the long driveway snaking up to a huge, rather vulgar imitation of a British nobleman’s estate.  Nelson Rockefeller had been the most vicious of the “Stop Goldwater” moderates, whose anti-“extremist” rhetoric was anything but moderate.

Yet if history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as parody, then the current historical reenactment is a Bizarro World version of the 1960’s—a complete reversal of the early days of the organized conservative movement.  Yesterday, it was the “moderates” and “pragmatists” who were organizing a “Stop Goldwater” movement, with a succession of alternative candidates (Romney, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton) rising and soon falling by the wayside.  Today, it is the conservatives who are organizing a “Stop Romney” movement, as one or another ostensibly conservative champion rises to challenge him in the polls—only to implode under scrutiny.

As much as we hear about how far to the right the GOP has traveled, how the Tea Party has taken over and all are bound by its ideological strictures, the truth is that half a century later the old patrician establishment is in the ascendant: The Eternal Romney will haunt us until our dying day.  On the other hand, today’s Romney is far less combative.  No more do we hear stern lectures about the dangers of “extremism,” as in Romney the Elder’s 12-page letter to Goldwater explaining why the ’64 nominee’s strategy aimed at “rural Southern whites” was a racist crime against humanity.  The oddity is that Mitt Romney finds himself constrained by the limits of Republican discourse, and Romneyism is on the defensive intellectually, even as the Current Romney is seemingly triumphant politically.  While the father made a career out of attacking conservatives, the son is masquerading as one.

Why, then, are the ostensibly rightist alternatives to Romney so woefully inadequate?  Why has none caught fire with the conservative base?  Because the state of the conservative movement is the exact opposite of what it was in 1964.  Back then, the American right was united behind a common program, a mélange of free-market economics, social conservatism, and a pledge to roll back the looming menace of “international communism.”  This was the “fusionism” of Frank S. Meyer and the editors of National Review, which sought to reconcile the various schools of conservative thought—traditionalism, libertarianism, and anticommunism—into a common movement.

Today, instead of fusionism, we have tribalism: Every faction and subset of a faction has its own presidential candidate.  Only the “moderates” are united behind Romney, with Jon Huntsman playing stand-in in the wings.  While the serious neoconservatives have placed their bets on Romney—they always gravitate toward power—the populist right-wing base, including the Tea Partiers, have a lot of equally unpalatable choices: Newt Gingrich, the pretentious professor and would-be elder statesman, who can hardly utter a word without referring to his own genius; Michele Bachmann, a poor man’s Sarah Palin, behind whose thousand-mile stare lurks a scary void; Rick Santorum, whose whiny belligerence bespeaks an insipid puerility; Rick Perry, a man who falls easily into a trance; and last but also least, the serial sex offender Herman Cain, whose near total ignorance is excused on account of his skin color, and whose success underscores the utter vapidity of what passes for the conservative movement today.

Goldwater’s doppelganger, circa 2011, is Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and libertarian standard-bearer, whose campaign has mobilized libertarians throughout the country and generated a lot of “buzz,” albeit no real victories so far.  Yet he wades into the fray with none of the advantages enjoyed by his predecessor.  While he resembles Goldwater in the sense of his indisputable personal integrity and commitment to principle, Paul is far too professorial in style—and intent—to gather around him a mass base of supporters.  He is an educator, not a politician, which may be to his credit—but hardly enables us to be optimistic about the prospects for his movement in the short term.

Paul’s own analysis of the crisis we face points to the ineluctable inadequacy of his candidacy and the movement he has created.  We are, he avers, in the midst of a “bubble”—created by the Federal Reserve and the Keynesians’ efforts to keep it inflated—the explosion of which is bound to cause social turmoil and even chaos.  We are seeing the beginnings of that chaos in the “Occupy” movement that is taking over public spaces in the rotting urban cores of our biggest cities, like New York and Oakland, California: an upsurge of public anger that is bound to take a violent turn and cannot fail to bring down the iron fist of repression by the state.  Paul himself seems to acknowledge this when he warns against the prospect of violence in the streets as a consequence of the coming economic apocalypse.

We are, in short, headed for Armageddon—and no purely educational or even electoral effort is going to save us.

The idea that we are gong to audit the Fed and then (eventually) end it, and all in a peaceful, “constitutional” manner, and that we are going to teach Americans to become conversant with “Austrian” economics, and in this way get the bankers off our backs, is charming in its naiveté—or, at least, would have been considered so in an earlier era, when we could all afford the luxury of believing such a fairy tale.

Faced with the reality of a decomposing body politic infested with the maggots of crony “capitalism,” however, we have to acknowledge that that world is dead and gone.  In the grim new world in which we actually live, it is necessary to shed our illusions and get down to the business of destroying our enemies.

Paul almost never attacks his opponents—although they have no such compunction about attacking him, either directly or via proxy.  Instead, he concentrates on spreading the “positive” philosophy of liberty and hoping that abstract discussions of the business cycle, as conceived by Ludwig von Mises, will somehow prove so convincing that his audience will be converted by the sheer overwhelming logic of his position.

It isn’t going to happen.

When the Paulians present themselves as “constitutionalists” and True Conservatives, who seek to restore the Old Republic, either they are misrepresenting themselves or they fail to understand the political and ideological implications of their own economic doctrine.  For if it is indeed true, as they claim, that banks are inherently insolvent institutions which cannot exist in their present form in the free market, and which are, furthermore, engaged in a massive fraud by lending out far more cash than they actually have in reserves—and if, in turn, the financial “bubble” created by these state-privileged corporate entities is the real cause of the business cycle, and the cause of our misery—then no euphemism can mask the Paulian movement’s real goals, and the hidden power that motivates its partisans.  That is the power of resentment—and, yes, real hatred—of these quintessential crony capitalists, whose power and profits are made possible by the economic subjugation of nearly everyone else.

No class of people is more hated at the moment than the bankers.  Both the Tea Partiers and the Occupy Wall Street crowd have this in common.  It is a hatred that has deep roots in American history, beginning with the Jacksonian revolt against the first U.S. central bank, and the “free silver” inflationist movement of the mid-1800’s, and its reappearance as a mass phenomenon today has the ruling elite trembling in their Manhattan penthouses.

The spark that set this prairie fire to burning was the bank bailout, a massive transfer of wealth from the middle and lower classes to the politically connected Shylocks of Wall Street.  As the Crash of ’08 threatened to wreak worldwide economic havoc, and federal officials discussed how to manage emergency food distribution in the wake of violent civil disorder, the “banksters”—a wonderful term used by Paul in his more colorful moments—presented the politicians with an ultimatum: Either bail us out, or we’ll bring down the system.

Their servitor politicians dutifully repeated this threat to the general public, albeit interpreting it as an inevitability rather than the willful result of human intention.  A maelstrom of fear was whipped up in the media and the halls of Congress, and the banksters’ puppets all played their part to the hilt: The entire ruling elite hailed the bailout as the triumph of order over chaos, of reason over the looming new dark age.  Both the “left” and “right” wings of the Establishment united behind the bailout, urging its passage in Congress, and yet a popular outpouring of rage at the very idea made our cautious and frightened solons balk, and the bailout was defeated on the first vote in the House.  A subsequent barrage of panic­mongering by the “respectable” organs of “mainstream” opinion, however, caused them to reconsider, along with other pressures brought to bear.

The bailout went through, the crisis passed—momentarily—and yet the ordinary man in the street smoldered with anger.  That anger soon turned to rage as the economic downturn began to drag him under and he began to realize that, in a world where resources are limited, “too big to fail” implies its corollary: too small to bother with.  When he lost his job, and his house went into foreclosure, while that big house on the hill had a new swimming pool and deck put in, he began to ask questions.

But do conservatives have answers?

On a recent episode of Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch, conservative economist Walter Williams attacked the Occupy Wall Street crowd for singling out bankers—why not, he asked, go after “rich celebrities” as well, because, after all, they’re rich, too, part of the dreaded One Percent.  “Why don’t they go after Oprah Winfrey?”

This kind of rhetoric underscores the utter cluelessness of the conservative response to this movement, as well as the complete inability of “conservatism,” as it has been traditionally understood, to present a coherent solution to the present crisis.  While the difference between a banker and, say, Oprah, may not be readily apparent to an economist—a profession that deals in numbers and graphs, and speaks an increasingly arcane mathematical language—to an ordinary human being the difference is quite stark.  For the banker is no doubt the scion of some privileged family who grew up in the suburbs of Westchester, or the upper reaches of New York City’s east side, while the “celebrity” was born to a single mother in rural Mississippi, and rose to become the most admired and successful woman in America on the strength of sheer willpower.

In the name of “conservatism,” and the “free market,” Williams is defending a system that increasingly restricts the mobility between classes and destroys the very basis of the Horatio Alger “rags to riches” narrative that has, until now, kept the social peace and allowed us to retain such vestiges of economic freedom as are still extant in the modern world.  Yet according to the free-market theories of the Austrian school, the entire banking system is a gigantic fraud, based as it is on fractional reserves, which, combined with the money-creating “magic” of the Federal Reserve, allows the banksters to pyramid their nonexistent “assets” and create “wealth” out of thin air.  The first recipients of this money—the biggest corporations, government agencies, and other members of the TBTF Club—get to spend it at full value.  As it trickles down to the rest of us, however, it loses value—and the result is runaway inflation, the destruction of savings, and the immolation of the middle class.

Banks, as they exist at present, could not exist in a free market.  To defend them is to defend not only statism but the political and cultural degradation of the social order they have come to dominate.  Williams looks at the ominous crowds gathering in the urban centers and trembles: The specter of egalitarianism has scared him into defending a society in which the worst rise to the top.

If politics is the art of identifying the Bad Guys, and convincing the majority you’re one of the Good Guys, then identifying the Bad Guys is a prerequisite for success.  The Paulian movement, the last redoubt of true “conservatism” properly understood, has so far concentrated on communicating its positive program and educating the public in the basic principles of economics.  This is all well and good, but it is very far from enough.  Now is the time to take the next step, to single out the Bad Guys and start naming names: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank—the lords of Finance Capital who have seized the machinery of the state and used it to enslave us all.  In short, what is needed is some good old-fashioned demagoguery—a libertarian version of Huey Long, if you can imagine such a being.

Long was a performer par excellence, a wily and dangerous demagogue whose slogan “Every man a king!” epitomized the longing for a lost security that weighed down the American people in the depths of the Depression.  He proposed the outright expropriation of the rich and the redistribution of wealth, under the delusion that it would lead to the revival of the middle class.  Such a program would not appeal to Americans in ordinary times, but it did in the 1930’s and will again if the riches of the wealthy are widely regarded as ill-gotten gains.  Williams is right to fear the specter of egalitarianism, but he is part of the problem, not of the solution.  Short of pulling up the bramble of kleptocracy by its roots—ending the Fed and instituting a gold standard—the radical redistributionist view will gain currency as a matter of course.

Conservatism as a political ideology no longer has any real meaning or relevance: It is dead.  What is needed is a movement that transcends the obsolete left-right paradigm and channels the righteous anger of a confused and leaderless people into a coalition that can free this country from the banksters’ iron grip.  We need a New Fusionism, one that fuses both “right” and “left” enemies of the plutocratic order into a fighting movement—and leaves the One Percent to suffer an ignominious and well-deserved fate.