A recent dust-up over conservatism’s goals and methods was triggered by public libraries promoting drag queens to kids, which, if this Vice report is accurate, is not very dissimilar to the sexualization of kids in Afghanistan, where young boys are dressed as women to dance and are sexually abused by pedophiles.
The second issue was YouTube’s demonetization of Steven Crowder after concerted public activism by a Vox writer named Carlos Maza. Maza is self-declared gay and Marxist, so much so that this is his only identity and everything revolves around it. He claims to be against bullying, while relentlessly advocating direct action, assault, and deplatforming of conservatives, the irony completely lost on him.
Picture in your mind a Vox writer explaining why Fox news is bad, and you can imagine the tone and accent. This all overlays a raging protest and counter-protest on the Right that started with a tweet by commentator Sohrab Ahmari about David French and what he labeled “Frenchism,” a sort of benign, civil version of conservatism in an era of dogfights.
Put simply, conservatism is not conserving anything traditional, whether family, religion, social cohesion, or nation-state, but instead is fixated on liberal individualism, which ultimately destroys the bonds that hold a society together. This is the main line of argument against French and his idea of conservatism, or Frenchism, as Ahmari putsit, where everything is determined on the basis of individualism.
Put simply, Ahmari argued French is simply too nice while we are in a culture war, and to defend liberal public squares and neutral institutions there needs to be some sort of pushback including, if needed, punishment. “The only way is through—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good,” Ahmari wrote.
French wrote a lengthy rebuttal, claiming politics is not war: “My political opponents are my fellow citizens,” he wrote. “There is no political ‘emergency’ that justifies abandoning classical liberalism, and there will never be a temporal emergency that justifies rejecting eternal truth.” Plenty of others chipped in.
I initially hesitated to write anything on this, as it is as futile to opine on as anything—and because I have written for both First Things and National Review, and I like to read both French and Ahmari. But almost by divine Providence, two of Ahmari’s principal contentions were proved prescient in a matter of hours with the reports about sexualizing children during Pride Month.
Ahmari contended there’s no public square that the left has not captured, and that hypocrisy needs to be fought. If any idea, person, speech, or opinion that doesn’t conform to the liberal consensus is banned and de-legitimized, there’s no way a benign conservatism can win back an equal space in society.
I call this “The“Bridge on the River Kwai” paradox. The classic film shows the clash of two distinct sets of philosophy, between a British officer, who, while a prisoner of the Japanese, wants his men to build a bridge worthy of British honor and history so posterity can remember their names. The other is an American Navy sailor whose only objective is to sabotage the Japanese war machine, honor be damned.
The current philosophical clash somewhat signifies the same predicament. As the exasperated American finally shouts at the British officer, “You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules—when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!”
On one hand, there’s this set of conservatives who would rather honorably lose than manage to actually survive—meaning, in this case, have an equal say in a neutral public square. The others have not figured out what to do, but have realized that the old consensus is dead, regardless of how polite and civil one is and expects the other side to be.
Kevin Williamson also pointed out this paradox recently, although he comes to a different set of conclusions than I do: “Streitbare Demokratie is the idea that liberal democracies must sometimes behave in illiberal and anti-democratic ways in order to preserve liberalism and democracy from much worse threats. ‘Democracies withstood the ordeal of the World War much better than did autocratic states — by adopting autocratic methods,’ Loewenstein wrote.”
When your opponent wants to throw milkshakes at you for holding a different opinion, when you and your kind are essentially the only people continuously de-platformed from all the public platforms—media, social media, and academia, all of which are dominated by the left—when the norms of social interaction are broken beyond repair, what is to be done?
Look around you, and see the “slippery slope” argument being realized, as the Huffington Post proudly proclaims the “future is queer” showcasing a 10-year-old kid in drag, stripping and dancing as people throw cash at him, with full support of his parents. Or a self-declared communist claiming fetus is violence because “gestators” (not mothers) are not paid for their labor.
As Ross Douthat writes, “Liberalism has never done as well as it thinks at resolving its own crises. America’s gravest moral evil, chattel slavery, was defeated by an authoritarian president in a religious civil war, not by proceduralism or constitutional debate. The crisis of the 1930s ended happily for liberalism because a reactionary imperialist withstood Adolf Hitler and a revolutionary Bolshevik crushed him. The liberal peace that followed may depend on fear of the atomic bomb…a genuinely post-liberal politics might, indeed, someday be required — to save liberal civilization from dystopia or disaster.”
What do you do when you’re amidst a handful of activists determined to destroy the foundations of a society from within? You treat them like insurgents, and you root them out.
We are, for good or for bad, living in a new age of reaction. It was inevitable, as history suggests. The problem is no one on the right still has a clue about what to do next. Ahmari might be right in pointing out what is lost, but he doesn’t prescribe any policy on how to solve that problem, other than tautological pronunciations about finding a greater purpose for the greater good. If politics is genuinely about survival, as Ahmari suggests, then Ahmari and his ilk’s purification campaign would drastically reduce the conservative coalition and lead to its decimation.
On the other hand, Frenchism, (I guess it is a thing now) can only go so far against a bunch of people who are determined to demonstrate any non-leftist idea is evil, not to be reasoned or shared space with, but to be eradicated. To put it simply, for all his personal virtue and morality and sense of fairness, French is at an evolutionary disadvantage against a bunch of totalitarians-to-be, who are determined to see the end of his kind.
No sane, functioning society can survive the toleration of this level of public (and tax-funded) degeneracy in the name of liberal rights and freedom. A line must be drawn somewhere, by someone. And if the public votes for people who ban such deviancy and obscenity through a democratic majority, it’s only rational. Sometimes, simply “standing athwart history, and yelling stop” doesn’t make enough of a difference.