Monty Python’s competing factions—the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front, and the Judean Popular People’s Front—are funny not only because they cannot keep themselves straight, but also because they lampoon a very real phenomenon within political movements. People and organizations in broad agreement often fight with greater zeal amongst themselves than against their true opponents. Inventing and accentuating differences becomes a self-defeating prerequisite to asserting power.

Equally unhelpful, though, are efforts to preserve through sheer inertia a coalition whose organizing rationale has vanished. Ideas matter, and sometimes they conflict—about what we want and why, and how and when to pursue it. Progress comes when those conflicts are aired and resolved, not suppressed. The right side of the American political spectrum stands at such a juncture, with the obsolete “fusionism” of economic libertarians, social conservatives, and Cold War hawks fraying but its successor unclear. Terms like “liberaltarian,” “state-capacity libertarian,” “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” “reformocon,” and “national conservative” seem to convey mood more than substance and can be delivered, depending on the speaker, with pride or a sneer. Among outside observers, confusion reigns.

As an active participant in this melee, I can hardly claim objectivity. But my proximity has both allowed and forced me to scrutinize the various ideological strands with all the care I can muster, searching for areas of common ground and disagreements in need of debate. From this work has come a taxonomy that might help to make sense of what we are all arguing about.

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Oren Cass
Oren Cass is the executive director at American Compass.
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