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Angelos Chryssogelos

June 29th, 2024

National conservatism is the new paradigm of conservative politics

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Angelos Chryssogelos

June 29th, 2024

National conservatism is the new paradigm of conservative politics

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

It’s easy to dismiss movements like national conservatism as just another populist, far-right, or even extremist faction of conservative parties struggling to redefine themselves. But Angelos Chryssogelos argues it should be taken seriously as the new global paradigm of conservative politics, focussed on national sovereignty and the power of the state to shape culture. 


National conservatism is back in the news. A conference of high-profile right-wing politicians in Brussels was temporarily blocked by Belgian police in April, a sequel to the first such conference held in London in May 2023. High-profile attendees in both meetings included British politicians like Suella Braverman and Nigel Farage, the prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and ex-prime minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as numerus well-known public intellectuals.

In the UK national conservatism is often seen as an ideological vehicle for the ambitions of politicians like Suella Braverman to lead the Conservative party after its almost assured defeat in the upcoming general elections. In this sense, it can be understood as just another tribe in the increasingly splintered Conservative universe like Liz Truss’ popular conservatives.

And yet there seems to be much more to national conservatism than personal political ambitions and mere opportunism. It’s a term that is consistently cultivated by politicians and intellectuals in an effort to create a new paradigm of conservatism and to redefine the practice of right-wing politics.

National conservatism beyond borders

“NatCon” is also a genuine transnational phenomenon that operates above the electoral calendar of any one country. In Europe national conservatism is branded, as the official announcement of the Brussels conference in April states, as an effort to “preserve the nation-state in Europe”, hinting that its supporters very much appreciate the necessity of international cooperation within an overarching “civilizational” view of Europe and the West as a whole.

As is often the case with conservative politics, its purveyors are often much better at agreeing what they oppose – immigration, multiculturalism and liberalism’s “excesses” – than what they commonly support.

National conservatism also transcends Europe. The first NatCon conference was held in Washington DC in 2019 and it functioned in many ways as an effort to systematize Trumpism in a workable and consistent ideological credo. American conservative talk show host and commentator Tucker Carlson is a fan of the term. With the US and Europe as hubs, national conservatism has the potential to appeal to actors from across the world.

Despite all these meetings however, a clear outline of national conservatism is still missing. As is often the case with conservative politics, its purveyors are often much better at agreeing what they oppose – immigration, multiculturalism and liberalism’s “excesses” – than what they commonly support.

Many of their opponents insist calling them “far right”, “populists” or “extremists”. But as Gorkem Altinors and I recently argued, national-conservatism (which we hyphenate to differentiate the concept as we understand it from the ideological label of its supporters) is indeed a distinct, internally coherent phenomenon: a new paradigm of  conservatism focused on sovereignty and neoliberal economics. National-conservatism is a global phenomenon, with emerging right-wing politicians displaying common characteristics across Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia and the Muslim world. It is also best understood as a form of “conservatism” rather than of “populism”, “far/extreme right” etc. since it describes forces that have become – or are in the process of becoming – the de facto new mainstream right of their respective political systems.

Conservatism after neoliberalism

Our initial observation is that the dominant paradigm of mainstream right-wing politics has been changing for a while across the world. During much of the Cold War and the globalization era, mainstream right parties had an outlook that combined support for neoliberal economics within a globalizing market, multilateral institutions that helped manage this international open system, and a moderate conservative outlook on social issues like national identity that they often approached with high degree of pragmatism.

This conservative paradigm has obviously been on the retreat in the last decade. The fact that this retreat has been happening around the world prompted us to search for a systemic explanation of this change. We argue that this is ultimately a reflection of the changing and strengthening role of the state within a globalized system that has for a long time faced major contradictions and externalities.

National-conservatism can be understood as a post-populist phenomenon.

In a process that started well over 20 years ago, globalization’s successive crises – the “war on terror” of the 2000s, the “global financial crisis” of the 2010s, and today’s shifting geopolitical order defined by the rise of China – created both new demands on the state to abandon many of the shibboleths of an open neoliberal globalized economy, and the need to legitimize this adaptation towards restive domestic populations. The rise of national-conservatism represents by extension both the effort of right-wing politicians to gain or maintain political power, and a new legitimating ideology for state power as it adapts to globalization’s crises.

National-conservatism can be understood as a post-populist phenomenon. The populist ruptures of the previous decade brought about a new equilibrium whereby a fundamentally new form of actor has come to occupy the space and role of the mainstream right in political systems. In some cases, especially the US and the UK, populist actors have taken over from the inside, or fundamentally influence the direction of, formerly (neo)liberal mainstream conservative parties. In other countries these actors fully displace previously dominant parties of the centre-right and usurp their role as the conservative force of their party system.

In the UK the first coherent national-conservative projects in the way we understand the term were the platforms of post-Brexit prime ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson. Both interpreted the result of the 2016 EU referendum as a call by the “people” to strengthen borders and sovereignty while rebalancing a national political economy that was seen as having ‘left behind’ large parts of the society. The vague promise of domestic “levelling up”, in uneasy co-existence with the goal to promote a free-trading “Global Britain” in international markets, captured the national-conservative essence of these transformed Brexit-era conservatives.

Far from espousing the same policy preferences across the board, national-conservative movements are characterized by a common discursive and rhetorical outlook that weaves together often contradicting policy positions. Contrary to most observers’ fixation on migration, we believe that national-conservatives in the Global North and South – from the US and UK to Hungary and Poland and from Turkey and India to Latin America – are characterized primarily by a discourse prioritizing national sovereignty and state authority in economic as well as cultural terms. Domestically, national-conservatives rediscover traditional ideas like religion and family values to infuse their societies with a new hierarchical and authoritarian spirit. Internationally, they often exhibit an assertive and antagonistic foreign policy posture, often against international institutions and “globalist elites”.

In short, national-conservatism emerges as the new right-wing paradigm for the post-globalization and post-liberal era.

While it does not challenge neoliberalism’s fundamental assumptions of capital accumulation and investment attraction, national-conservatism sees a much bigger role of the state in steering the economy towards goals of state security, national sovereignty or ethnic and cultural preference. In Britain this can be viewed for example in the attempted linkage between the goal of reducing migration (explicitly espoused by all Conservative leaders after 2016) and promises to restore the post-war welfare state settlement. At the same, these radicalized conservatives can equally pursue neoliberal policies like tax cuts (like Donald Trump in the US and Liz Truss in the UK did) or intense environmental extraction (like Jair Bolsonaro in the Amazon) if they can legitimize them as part of projects of national renewal and cultural sovereignty against domestic and international institutions captured by agents of a global progressive “establishment”.

In a context of mounting geopolitical tensions and geo-economic competition, national-conservatism in effect territorializes neoliberalism and protects it within new national silos, supported by societies at once disciplined by new conservative and traditional values, and constantly mobilized against domestic and international elites and ethnic and racial others. In short, national-conservatism emerges as the new right-wing paradigm for the post-globalization and post-liberal era.


About the author

Angelos Chryssogelos

Angelos Chryssogelos is Reader in Politics and International Relations at the London Metropolitan University. His work focuses on European party politics and populism, EU politics and policymaking, EU foreign and neighbourhood policy. He was a Jean Monnet Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and a Berggruen-Weatherhead fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.

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