Recently I’ve covered stories which in passing mention a piece by Sohrab Ahmari at First Things titled, Against David French-ism, which was itself a followup to a less personal piece co signed by the same titled, Against the Dead Consensus. This morning I was reading a piece by Jonah Goldberg at National Review titled, The Conservative Divide, which again referenced it, and so I made the point to fully read the source material.
Goldberg predictably decries the “win-at-all-costs crudity of President Trump,” preferring instead the failed faux civility of French. Ahmari correctly points out that the Left has little use for such harmonious discourse, writing that there is no “polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war.”
French, you may recall, was once nominated by Bill Kristol to run as an independent candidate against Donald Trump in 2016, in the hopes he would spoil the race and facilitate Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Iron Throne. French fortunately had the good sense to decline the invitation, and subsequently a little known CIA agent by the name of Evan McMullin, thankfully failed in the attempt.
Ahmari paints the conflict as one of Christians vs. everyone else, an understandable, even if misguided viewpoint, but directs his enmity primarily at the libertarian element of conservative fusionism. This is an increasingly familiar theme, as the toothless, laissez-faire, live and let live attitudes of our non-aggressionist friends, have met their match in the ravenous Leftist onslaught of political correctness and identity politics.
Having crossed the chasm of this great divide myself in recent years, I find the debate quite stimulating. Though perhaps I abuse the word debate in its usage here.
What has shaken me from my libertarian slumber is just how averse to debate the libertarians seem to have found themselves. Once eager to assert themselves in the political sphere, frustrated by their lack of recognition, they have largely shrunk from the existential questions of our current epoch.
This is not to say they have no response at all, but rather that their responses have become more chants than meaningful contributions. “Facebook is a private company” we are often reminded, as if that should bring us comfort while the world’s largest disseminator of information tries with surprising success to convince mankind that men can give birth to children fathered by women. “It’s the welfare state” is an all too familiar copout on nearly every topic from immigration to single motherhood. Just like the Leftists they once claimed to oppose, their solution to every problem is to double down on their failed ideas, as if they expect the Republican Party to formally embrace anarcho-capitalism and abolish the State, before their equally deluded counterparts in the Democrat Party impose full global communism on the world.
The grim reality is that neither of them will succeed. We will no more see a stateless market Utopia than we will a Marxist workers’ paradise. Both fantasies are doomed to failure, at which point the Right will be left with the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess. The challenge before us today is asserting ourselves before either failed ideology has the opportunity to bring the sort of havoc such failures have been known to precipitate.
To this reality, Ahmari says “The only way is through” – that is – “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.”
Aware of the peril involved in framing the conflict as a religious one, Ahmari notes that “religious-liberty absolutism will put Christians and other traditional believers in a bind. If the moral law is merely a matter of ancient, if sincere, conviction, then of course it must give way to the demands for autonomy of people in the here and now.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput made this point in his 2017 book, Strangers in a Strange Land. If traditional moral precepts are “purely religious beliefs,” he wrote, then “they can’t be rationally defended. And because they’re rationally indefensible, they should be treated as a form of prejudice. Thus two thousand years of moral truth and religious principle become, by sleight of hand, a species of bias.”
This is well illustrated by a recent story about Democrat Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, who saw fit to equate the pro-life movement with racism. “There’s no moral equivalency when it comes to racism. And I do not think there’s a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom,” Gillibrand said.
Conservatives of course decried this as slanderous, though it holds more truth than most pro-lifers would like to confess. The Pro-Life movement is the pro-science movement the ghouls of the infanticide industry pretend to be, and the same dynamic exists for our current racial discourse, in that science has been decried as racism by the dogmatic Left. Conservatives, having been beaten into submission on the topic of ethnic disparities, then on the topic of sexual orientation, are now about to lose the same fight over biological sex and human life itself, unless they take Ahmari’s advice.
Again and again, French insists on the sincerity of the believers whose causes he takes up, as if asserting sincerity of belief can move the heart of an enemy who finds you and your beliefs repulsive: “The biblical sexual ethic is based on a sincere conviction. . . .” “Evidence of devout faith is frequently evidence of a sincere commitment to fairness, compassion, and the faithful discharge of one’s constitutional duties. . . .”
But they won’t listen. Tub-thump long enough about your sincere but irrational (in the eyes of the reigning ideology) views, and soon opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, polyamory, kids in drag, and much else of the same kind will come to resemble the wrongheaded and indeed irrational opposition to vaccination mounted by ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York. Sorry, Pastor French, but your superstition will have to give way to public health and the smooth functioning of the autonomy-maximizing society.
To which Goldberg predictably responds by falling back to the prior failed strategy of federalism.
The solution to the culture wars is to allow more freedom for these “little platoons” of civil society from which people draw a sense of meaning and belonging. If Sacramento wants Drag Queen Story Hour, so be it. If some other community holds a socially conservative version of the same, that’s fine too.
Only it’s not fine, as Ahmari points out.
Only, the libertines take the logic of maximal autonomy—the one French shares—to its logical terminus. They say, in effect: For us to feel fully autonomous, you must positively affirm our sexual choices, our transgression, our power to disfigure our natural bodies and redefine what it means to be human, lest your disapprobation make us feel less than fully autonomous.
They have a point: Individual experiments in living—say, taking your kids to a drag reading hour at the public library—cannot be sustained without some level of moral approval by the community. Autonomy-maximizing liberalism is normative, in its own twisted way. Thus, it represents the interiorization, and fulfillment, of French’s worldview. And this is how David French-ism gets trapped.
Thus we are met with anti-discrimination laws, hate speech prohibitions, and ever expanding definitions of who and what may no longer be criticized or ostracized. “Safe, Legal, and Rare” becomes “Shout Your Abortion”. “In the privacy of their own bedrooms” becomes pride parades and drag kids. Racism eventually encompasses every demographic disparity, and every explanation thereof. The family itself becomes a source of oppression, until the entire environment becomes so hostile to the human condition that the citizenry ceases to reproduce.
The Left, seeing that any productive person who can escape their nightmare world will, necessarily tends toward territorial expansion with the ultimate aim of planetary domination. They cannot abide this fabled federalism, because it provides escape routes to its intended victims. Conservatives have for decades retreated from one issue or space to the next, all the while relentlessly chased by their tormenters, who are hell bent on the total annihilation of their way of life.
The discourse between libertarians and the “Old Right” would be a healthy one in the absence of a rapacious Left. We do not want to become the incarnation of the Horseshoe Theory, and reminders of the virtue of restraint have their place during peacetime.
But we are not in peacetime. Not only are we at literal war with our military spread thin throughout the Earth, but our country is being invaded under the laughable guise of “asylum” claims. Both of those crises are facilitated by what amounts to a civil war internally, as the Democrat Party aims to erase our history, abolish our constitution, and replace our populace with more compliant and gullible foreign stock.
The consensus is thus indeed dead, and not a moment too soon, as those party to it would all quickly die with it absent the fracture. What interestingly seems to be emerging is a new consensus I’d have had trouble imagining just a few short years ago. Liberals, particularly those of lighter skin tone, have had it with the repressive and regressive far Left.
Bill Mahr recently told Chris Cuomo “I think a lot of this far left political correctness is a cancer on progressivism. I think, when you talk to Trump supporters, they are not blind to his myriad flaws, but one thing they always say is ‘He’s not politically correct.’ I don’t think you can overestimate how much people have been choking on political correctness, and hate it. There were two studies about this recently… the vast majority of liberals in this country hate it. They think political correctness has gone way too far, noone likes to be living on eggshells.”
Whereas White liberals once sacrificed their own interests to punish the perceived intolerance of their conservative neighbors, they are now met with the much more appealing option of punishing the real intolerance of the Left by pursuing their own interests. In turn, we must wield the powers we are granted while time remains to do so, and turn every lever of influence to the destruction of our foes and their ability to compete. The prior consensus of libertarians and social conservatives was formed in opposition to communism abroad, and the new consensus is emerging from the same opposition closer to home.
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