Luxury Beliefs on the Right
Flexing your contrarian credentials
I’m working on a longer essay about the rise and coming fall of the Contrarian Right. This will span the early days of the Truther movement, the distrust seeded by the Iraq War, the transformation into “Blue-Check Contrarians” in the Trump years, and the coming capitulation as Western values reassert themselves amid a challenge from Russia.
In the midst of this, I came across what can best be described as “luxury beliefs” within this segment of the far right. To those unfamiliar, Luxury Beliefs were first described by Rob Henderson as a belief that members of the cultural elite use to signal their elite status, while not bearing any consequence of that belief’s bad outcomes. This term has traditionally be applied to the left. An example luxury belief is “Defund the Police.” Per this model, a wealthy resident of a gated community may espouse this belief to flex her “woke credentials” and concern for the victims of police misconduct, while those who bear the consequences of a defunded police department are those from underprivileged backgrounds who live in high crime areas. A hallmark characteristic of luxury beliefs is that they end up hurting the group that they are signaling support for.
The Contrarian Right has numerous luxury beliefs. Searching Twitter, I haven’t seen them classified as such by anyone else. A key difference, however, is that rather than liberals signaling elite status, the conservatives are signaling contrarian (or anti-elite) status. Among Contrarian Rightists, willingness to buck the official line has tremendous currency. Sparring with Anthony Fauci on TV, for example, scores points for the Contrarian Rightist regardless of who is correct.
So what are some luxury beliefs on the right?
Luxury belief: Putin apologism
Example: “At least Putin is a strong leader, unlike our leaders. And no wonder he invades his neighbors, NATO is at his doorstep! What if Mexico was aligned with China? The USA would also be angry.”
Signal: by offending the sensibilities of the anti-Putin establishment in the West, sympathizing with Putin signals to the contrarians that you’re not beholden to the elites.
Paradox: Putin oppresses the Russian people and most young Russians do not support Putin. While this luxury belief has a “Pro-Russia” veneer, it doesn’t benefit ordinary Russians at all.
Luxury belief: Covid-19 denial (or anti-mask, anti-vaxx, etc)
Example: “Covid-19 is just a flu and there are smart people on both sides of the vaccine debate”
Signal: The CNN and Dr Fauci establishment would be quite offended by these statements. By making space for these wrong opinions, you are signaling to the contrarian populists that you aren’t beholden to the establishment health authorities.
Paradox: often the people making these claims are themselves vaccinated and have other privileges (like good health, money for hospital bills, etc) that protect them from the consequences of Covid-19. The populists consuming this message often have blue collar backgrounds and would fare much more poorly.
Just as some on the Left like to flex their social justice credentials to signal their elite status, those on the Right like to flex their contrarianism to win over anti-elite populists. Social media is rocket fuel to populism, and Contrarian Rightists have been eager to cash in. As I will show in future essays, Contrarian Rightists have rode the wave of populism to attain their own elite status as “Blue Check Contrarians” on Twitter and cable news. The contrarians have had a good run, but Russia’s war on Ukraine changes everything (more to come).