The Battle for ‘Based’ – The Spectator World
Earlier this week, two libertarian right-wing journalists announced the launch of their new site, BASEDPolitics. All hell broke loose quickly on right-wing Twitter.
In the first editorial for their new site, co-founders Brad Polumbo and Hannah Cox define “based” as “direct, on point, or rooted in true principles.” That pretty much fits my understanding of the term, but it leaves out something.
This “something” explains the repel they received from the post-liberal national conservative crowd. According to them, libertarians like Polumbo and Cox are nothing more than Koch-funded accomplices fighting for tax cuts and weaker antitrust laws while drag queens read to our children. They are not “based” and do not have the right to designate themselves as such.
‘Our culture is not your suit’, popular right-wing Twitter personality joked. Sohrab Ahmari, a American Conservative editor-in-chief who advocates “political Catholicism”, tweeted “I’ll never use ‘based’ again, now that these corporate morons are making it their own.”
Ahmari also added derogatory remarks comments about Polumbo’s “gigantic” head and Cox’s “overflowing cleavage” as they appeared in the ad graphic.
I asked Polumbo (full disclosure: he and I are both affiliated with Young Voices) if he expected that kind of reaction. Here is what he had to say:
Oh yes, we were expecting a pushback from the very online nationalist crowd. I don’t particularly mind that, even though some of them have been ad-hominem and juvenile, and that’s pretty pathetic, fan behavior. We will not stoop to that. But repression is somehow the goal. Nationalists want to redefine what it means to be a conservative so that it resembles Elizabeth Warren’s big government economics and social conservative more than Ronald Reagan. We still believe that the future of the right should be rooted in free markets, individual liberty, the Constitution, [and] limited government.
The term “based” originated in the black community as slang for being raised on crack. Perhaps there is a connection with “freebasing” or smoking cocaine. From there, the definition of the term expanded to cover all the odd and erratic behavior commonly associated with “crackheads”. A modern equivalent might be to say that someone “stumbles” or “tweaks”. This does not necessarily mean that the person is under the influence of psychedelics or methamphetamine, only that they act like it. “You’re crazy,” pronounced either with total disdain or with a hint of admiration, would have the same meaning.
“Based” began to take on its current connotation with rapper Lil B the Based God, who released his debut album, boys based, in 2007. According to Lil B, “Based means being yourself. Don’t be afraid of what people think of you. Don’t be afraid to do what you want to do.
According to an online dictionary, the term, now a “signal of power and bluster”, was associated with online law in the 2010s as a synonym for “politically incorrect”. Donald Trump was “based” because he was willing to say things that pissed off the libs and then laugh at their outrage.
“Can you believe OrangeMan said X?!” yells the indignant soycuck. “Lol, based,” the gigachad replies.
It seems to me that at this point, an earlier definition of “based” unrelated to West Coast drug culture began to influence the New Right’s use of the term. “Based” retained its sense of Trump’s manic, unconscious Twitter energy, but it also took on the meaning of being “based on” or “based on” something older and more solid than the endless stream of liquid modernity. Eric Zemmour is based. Viktor Orban too. Jailing pornographers, seizing Ford Foundation assets, and going to Latin mass with your nine kids and your trad wife are all based. In the darker corners of right-wing Twitter, Rhodesia, Mussolini and overt expressions of sexism are also “based”.
The mainstream definition of “based” is somewhere near the intersection of troll and trad.
Polumbo told me that he is fully aware that he is going against the usual meaning of the term: “Although it is not our only mission, a crucial part of our project is to explicitly combat the conservative nationalist movement in a substantive and idea-based way. We’re redefining what it means to be ‘based’ whether they like it or not. Freedom is founded. Catholic integralism and other forms of light theocracy are authoritarian and un-American.
The post-liberal answer, of course, would be that right-libertarianism, like progressivism, is a dominant ideology masquerading as disjointed resistance. They are two sides of the same beast called liberalism. They share the world: freedom in the meeting room and freedom in the bedroom.
I am not at all the libertarian that Polumbo is, but I am not yet a totally convinced post-liberal either. I think awakening is a much bigger threat than socialism. At the same time, I fear that any type of post-liberal political project will lead to tyranny. The levels of social conservatism and, frankly, religiosity it demands simply don’t have enough traction to win national elections.
Imagine the average Joe Rogan listener. Not the far-right white nationalist behemoth sketched out in think piece after think piece, but the representative of America’s median, “barstool conservative.” He is economically agnostic, an admirer of entrepreneurship who distrusts big business. Socially, he is slightly left of center. The idea of giving kids puberty blockers freaks him out, but he has no interest in banning gay marriage or no-fault divorce. He would be more likely than Polumbo to support trade protectionism and smash big tech, but Ahmari would struggle to sell him on porn bans and blue laws.
Polumbo and Cox bet that this electoral bloc will be more open to Friedrich Hayek than to Thomas Aquinas. Their plan seems to be to overthrow capitalism while presenting the awakening as a collectivist distortion of individual freedom rather than its natural extension. It is possible, they promise, to combat the excesses of progressivism — to be “grounded” — without rejecting many of the fundamental assumptions of American politics and culture.
It can work. If their attempt to recapture the “base” is successful, we will know that it is.