Subversive is a podcast that documents the world of the ‘New Right’, a strange development in conservatism. Host Alex Kaschuta, one of the movement’s intellectual leaders, gives a good sense of the New Right’s weirdness.
Trembling minor-key synths play in the theme and Alex purrs that we’re about to hear a two-hour long conversation with ‘Covfefe Anon’. Other guests include ‘Zero HP Lovecraft’ and ‘Yerk.P’. Some are anonymous commentators who have their voices distorted like a drug dealer in a Ross Kemp documentary. Others are known entities: journalists Sohrab Ahmari, Ed West and Louise Perry.
I can’t explain the New Right. Perhaps that’s because it’s more of an aesthetic than a political programme. They like the classical world, the Unabomber, steak. They hate CNN, porn, sunflower oil. The movement should certainly be acknowledged, perhaps respected, because it has energy and popularity as well as money (Peter Thiel seems to be the principal donor). It’s a world that hardly exists in British conservatism, probably because those who might lead it aren’t quite ready to get over Margaret Thatcher.
technically, Subversive is messy. The audio quality is frequently poor and the discussions too often go down intellectual cul-de-sacs that will only make sense to the Very Online. Yet there are insightful moments. A lot of these guests may be bedroom-dwellers, but the ample time they have been well spent, pursuing interests and lines of thought outside of institutional settings (which would have nudged them towards an orthodoxy). Often they give a compelling diagnosis without a prescription. They target Liberalism with such a ferocious blast, and such a deep nihilism, that constructing anything else after feels impossible.
Kaschuta is a Romanian former New Atheist who lived in London and returned to her home country when Covid hit. She now calls herself ‘trad’. She has great taste in books and offers perceptive thoughts: one that stuck with me was her take on the postmodernists being blamed for ‘woke’. It’s too comfortable to blame everything on a cabal of French intellectuals, she says. Ideas spread by mechanisms, and postmodernism – the gradual erosion of universal truth – is the scientific method taken to its logical conclusion. Searching for the rationality in everything is the path to destruction.
The podcast’s deliberately curated underground, smoking-room tone grates. It’s all hush-hush, anonymous, conspiratorial. The online language of ‘normie’ , ‘NPC’ and ‘the Cathedral’ is all taken for granted as part of the listener’s vocabulary. It could try less hard. There’s an earnestness to its relentless reverence of irony. And if it’s a political podcast, it may need to work on what annoying people call ‘reach’.
One podcast that does ‘reach’ very well is Know Your Enemy. Excitedly profiled in the New York Times recently, it describes itself as a ‘leftist’s guide to the conservative movement’. One host is Sam Adler-Bell, an ‘argumentative Jew’ who turns his ire on liberalism as much as on conservatism; the other is Matt Sitman, a converted Catholic and former Baptist ‘Gods-and-guns conservative’. The podcast is great, but it does have that annoying American tendency to feature two people who sound exactly the same. I think Sam’s voice is the slightly more raspy one. Maybe he smokes.
Either way, they take conservatism seriously. Sitman wants to understand the movement as much as criticise it. My favorite episode is one of the first, ‘How Conservatives Argue’, where they pick apart three rhetorical techniques that conservatives use (the left’s goals are ‘risky’, or ‘futile’, or ‘unclear’). Adler-Bell and Sitman examine their own side too: the hosts have lamented that the left fails to reckon with the spiritual yearning that the Church and conservatives have done well to satisfy historically. A frequent guest on the show says the podcast does not see the right as ‘the enemy… [it] see[s] them as brilliant – and maybe smarter’. If the left needs to get smart, and the right wants to have a look at itself, Know Your Enemy isn’t a bad start.