Magazine January 27, 2020, Issue

The Populist Wager

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses with a sledgehammer, after hammering a “Get Brexit Done” sign in England, December 11, 2019. (Ben Stansall/Reuters)
Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West, by R. R. Reno (Gateway Editions, 208 pp., $28.99)

R. R. Reno’s Return of the Strong Gods is the latest book to present an intellectual defense of the transatlantic populist revival that includes Brexit and the election of Donald Trump among its triumphs. Rival accounts focus on economic concerns or disputes about sovereignty. Without dismissing these explanations, Reno focuses on the deficit of meaning that characterizes modern life.

By nature, Reno argues, human beings yearn to participate in groups. Such groups are not merely instruments to secure material goods. They are implicitly or explicitly devoted to shared purposes. 

Kinship offers a partial satisfaction of our nature by establishing obligations among persons

This article appears as “Twilight of the Idols” in the January 27, 2020, print edition of National Review.

Samuel GoldmanMr. Goldman is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University and the literary editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Quarterly.  

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