An insurgent intellectual movement is active within the American right. Its political philosophy has been labeled under many terms, from right-wing populism or neo-nationalism, to national conservatism (which members themselves favor). The commentariat refers to it simply as the “New Right,” borrowing the term from William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater’s antithetical conservative coalition that materialized in the mid-20th century. Regardless of its name, this New Right’s central contention is clear: Conservatism as we know it has failed, and the Republican Party must cast it aside.
According to the New Right, free-market orthodoxy is stale and uninspired. Trade protectionism, industrial subsidies and aggressive antitrust enforcement are the future. Conservatives’ obsession with maintaining the “social fabric” has long kept them from pursuing cultural triumph by any means necessary. Therefore, established right-wing values such as politeness and prudence are overrated and denote weakness; winning is far better. Sustained American involvement on the world stage, easing the federal government out of the entitlement business and openness to legal immigration are other outdated notions that need to go. Principally, the New Right aims to mold the general temperament and instincts of Donald Trump into something a bit more refined and a touch more coherent.
Emerging at the helm of the New Right are a few individuals who, while seemingly unconnected at first glance, share a core network of links with Stanford University. Far and away, the movement’s chief financial backer is billionaire tech titan Peter Thiel, the man who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and provided Facebook with its earliest outside investment. His very first entrepreneurial venture, however, was The Stanford Review, a right-wing student publication that exists to this day on our campus, decades after Thiel started the paper as an undergraduate.
One member of Stanford’s class of 2002 who wrote for The Stanford Review is Josh Hawley, who now serves as the junior U.S. senator from Missouri and the New Right’s foremost legislative combatant. Senator Hawley’s various endeavors — leading a charge to challenge the 2020 election results, drafting a bill to break up “Big Tech” and delivering the sole opposing vote in admitting Sweden and Finland to NATO — have made him a darling of the national conservative crusade. For his efforts, the young lawmaker was rewarded with a keynote speech at the faction’s 2021 flagship conference, alongside Thiel.
In early 2022, Thiel announced that he would leave his long-held board seat at Facebook and instead focus on propelling various midterm candidates to victory. By May, he had supplied $10 million each to PACs supporting two swing state Republican Senate candidates, both of whom were experienced venture capitalists, yet complete political newcomers. One is Ohio’s J.D. Vance, previously known as an adamantly anti-Trump, soft-spoken social conservative who wrote a scathing critique of white, working-class America’s victim mentality in his 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. No longer. Backed by Thiel’s funding, Vance has reintroduced himself as a populist firebrand with his regular appearances on Tucker Carlson’s television program and comments lamenting American aid to Ukraine. Fittingly, in an October primary forum, Vance cited Josh Hawley as the sitting senator he would most emulate if elected.
The second beneficiary of Thiel’s financing is Blake Masters of Arizona, the mogul’s longtime protégé, who resigned from his positions as COO of Thiel’s family office and president of his charitable foundation to launch a bid for John McCain’s former seat. Masters — yet another Stanford alumnus — has toed the New Right line to a tee, garnering a reputation as “an America First conservative” and “hard-line nationalist” who promotes minimal foreign engagement, despises globalization and advocates clamping down on legal immigration. Candidates Vance and Masters both quickly received the endorsement of Senator Hawley, whom they will work beside next year, provided they win their respective general elections.
In sum, Stanford has not only produced the New Right’s largest donor and arguably its mastermind in Peter Thiel, but also its most prominent officeholder in Josh Hawley and one of its two leading congressional candidates in Blake Masters.
It’s not as though all elite universities possess the same ideological record on the right side of the aisle. For instance, Harvard has served as the alma mater of four sitting Republican senators, all of whom exemplify the conventional conservatism that champions small government, economic liberty and assertive foreign policy. Dartmouth has contributed two more senators in the same vein. Princeton gave us Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite. Meanwhile, Stanford’s sole alumnus in the Senate Republican Conference is the aforementioned Hawley, whose unorthodox policy convictions starkly contrast those of his Ivy League colleagues.
Why is it that Stanford’s unique flavor of right-wing politics yearns to tear down so much of traditional American conservatism? Perhaps its proponents are simply acting upon the tech industry mantra that best embodies our school’s innovative and restless spirit: “Move fast and break things.” Forged by a cadre of Stanford men, the New Right is attempting to do just that. Silicon Valley, as well as the university that dispenses so many of its finest minds, thrives on the ability to swiftly shake up old institutions with antiquated ways of doing things — and there are few American institutions older than the GOP. If electronic payments, search engines and home entertainment all received their reinventions courtesy of Stanford, it makes sense that conservatism would get the same treatment. And if the revolutionaries are to succeed, the Republican establishment must fall. The New Right is akin to PayPal, Google and Netflix, out to disrupt and dethrone the old right’s Mastercard, AltaVista and Blockbuster Video.
While the question of whether the New Right will eventually command the party is unknowable, the movement’s origins are anything but. Quite the contrary; we’re walking their halls as we speak.
John R. Puri is an undergraduate student studying Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations and Political Economy.