Stifling the Great Conversation

  1. Stifling the Great Conversation
  2. Threatening a “Right to Exist”?
  3. Quarreling querulously
  4. Toleration
  5. Bad Religion
  6. Net neutrality
  7. Does anyone have what it takes?


This makes enough sense to make it worth fighting through the courtly style:

The expanding conservative movement must expect to find a variety of works directed against its philosophical and political position. This is, among other things, a witness to its present importance and promise for the future. Furthermore, it is not impossible to think that some of these works will bring criticism which can be assimilated. Conservatives remain in this age almost the only believers in tolerance; in any age I think they will respect the spiritual admonition present in T.S. Eliot’s saying: “One needs the enemy.” The enemy helps one to define oneself: He can arouse conscience and bring chastisement for errors.

At least this is what I would have been willing to say before reading M. Morton Auerbach’s The Conservative Illusion. Now I begin to doubt; unless the critics of conservatism can furnish something more real than this, there is little chance that the great conversation can be profitably continued very long …

One begins to understand the presumptuousness of the attempt after looking at the author’s method. By a combination of dialectic and hypostatization he manages to create a definition of conservatism so artificial and so brittle that it shatters easily upon contact with historical circumstances, which he is always ready to supply in abundance. According to Professor Auerbach, if the conservative steps one foot in one direction, he becomes a “reactionary”; let him step one foot in another and he is a “liberal”; one foot in another and he is an “authoritarian.” And if he stays in the little corner that is defined for him, Professor Auerbach has a special set of postulates to belabor him with.

I am prone to believe that this peculiar quality of the book (which originated as a Columbia University doctoral dissertation) results actually from Professor Auerbach’s own isolation from his subject. Let me say here that he sounds throughout like a man who has learned everything that he knows about social orders from books. His understanding never seems to penetrate beyond the verbal representations of the things he is talking about. He appears to have no sense of the emotional factors which cause people to love and to try to preserve their communities and sometimes to do “contradictory” things toward that end. Hence, for all his invocations to history, his own concept of it remains jejune.

(Richard Weaver) Weaver is the author, most notably, of Ideas Have Consequences.

Or, I should say finally, he was the author, since Weaver died 54 years ago and his masterwork was published 63 years ago, though it continues to resonate. In this little essay he critiques a 1959 book.

But this little essay should continue to resonate, too, because in 2017, I suggest, both liberals and conservatives need better enemies. We sound like people who have learned everything we know about the other side from ThinkProgress if we’re liberal, Breitbart if we’re conservative.

It may be the death of our nation that we’re so unable to carry on the “great conversation.”

The antidote on my mind these days is to take the time to listen to the other side. For once, don’t argue; don’t spew bullet-points; just gently interrogate your counterpart on “Why do you believe that? Can you help me understand?”


It does not, I think, help the conversation to use over-the-top language like I encountered in a Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times story Gorsuch Not Easy to Pigeonhole on Gay Rights, Friends Say. I’m referring to people saying “their very right to exist is threatened” by people like Gorsuch. Stolberg’s story is pretty balanced, and that trope is quoted by her, not created by her.

Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I think the gay rights supporters come off looking hysterical and silly, with things like HuffPo articles headlined: “Why Neil Gorsuch Likely Believes It’s Perfectly Fine to Ban Gay Sex” based on tea leaf reading, ignoring direct evidence, and an entirely unwarranted fear that Trump is pursuing an anti-gay pogrom.

One more thing: how insecure must one be to think that what Gorsuch personally believes about gay sex matters one whit when the Supreme Court precedents are as they are and Gorsuch has not campaigned on reversing precedent even if (maybe, in his heart-of-hearts) he thinks those precedents ill-gotten gain?


Yes, many Presidents have quarreled with the courts, but none so querulously at The Mad Twitter King.

[I]f presidential attacks on the courts are nothing new, the history also underscores the smallness of Mr. Trump’s vision. Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR knew when to speak and when to keep silent. They invoked the great powers of the presidency to oppose the Supreme Court only when fundamental constitutional questions were at stake: the punishment of political dissent; secession and slavery; Congress’s power to regulate the economy. The occasion for Mr. Trump’s fury is a temporary restraining order of a temporary suspension of immigration from seven countries. Mr. Trump still has the opportunity to prevail on the merits. He hasn’t lost the case—at least not yet.

Questioning judicial decisions, and even the judiciary’s legitimacy, is entirely proper. But a wise president will reserve such attacks for extraordinary matters of state involving the highest constitutional principles. To do otherwise risks dissipating the executive’s energy, weakening the president’s agenda, and wasting his political capital. When criticizing the Supreme Court for upholding the Bank of the United States, declaring Dred Scott a slave, or striking down the New Deal, presidents were advancing constitutional agendas worthy of a fierce attack on the courts. Mr. Trump is upset about losing a minor procedural test of a temporary executive order. If he doesn’t learn to be more judicious, we’re in for a long four years.

(Sai Prakash and John Yoo)


There is no occasion for violence and injury, for religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried on by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected.  Let [the pagan persecutors] unsheath the weapon of their intellect; if their system is true, let it be asserted.  We are prepared to hear, if they teach; while they are silent, we certainly pay no credit to them, as we do not yield to them even in their rage.  Let them imitate us in setting forth the system of the whole matter: for we do not entice, as they say; but we teach, we prove, we show. And thus no one is detained by us against his will, for he is unserviceable to God who is destitute of faith and devotedness; and yet no one departs from us, since the truth itself detains him. . . . Why then do [the persecutors] rage, so that while they wish to lessen their folly, they increase it? Torture and piety are widely different; nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with cruelty.

* * * * *

But, they say, the public rites of religion must be defended. Oh with what an honorable inclination the wretched men go astray! For they are aware that there is nothing among men more excellent than religion, and that this ought to be defended with the whole of our power; but as they are deceived in the matter of religion itself, so also are they in the manner of its defense. For religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned.  For nothing is so much a matter of free-will as religion; in which, if the mind of the worshipper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away, and ceases to exist. The right method therefore is, that you defend religion by patient endurance or by death; in which the preservation of the faith is both pleasing to God Himself, and adds authority to religion.

(Lactantius, quote by J Budziszewski in “Is Toleration a Virtue?“)


Bad religion is used as a tool to close down discussion. It demands an orthodoxy that is irrational, obedient and unthinking. Bad religion not only imposes a set of beliefs and behaviors on people—it gathers the orthodox believers into a fortress of faith. When that begins, the truly sick psychology of religion kicks in. Irrationality takes over …

Anyone who imagines that there can be a world without religion … is terribly naive, for mankind is innately religious. We all want something greater to live and fight for. The problem is when there is no religion the religion that exists in the vacuum is the very worst sort of religion, and that is the religion that does not realize it is a religion

A person whose Christianity is unhealthy in the way I have described may, sooner or later, take to heart the gospel warnings against self-righteousness and Pharisaism. On the other hand, the secularist whose ideology has become a sick religion will never be able to criticize his sick religion because he does not think he has a religion. A self-righteous person will never be able to acknowledge his self-righteousness if the only thing he believes in is himself.

(Dwight Longnecker)


It’s probably a big deal, but I confess that I have not been able to arrive at a fixed conviction about the wisdom of enforced “net neutrality.” My visceral reaction supports it. My residual belief in what we are pleased to call “the free market” opposes it — my tendency to fear government oppression more than corporate oppression.

I suspect that ending net neutrality will not “kill the internet,” but will result in a different kind of growth and development than net neutrality produces.


I’ve been updating my blog “Do Evangelicals have what it takes?” as Rod Dreher continues getting interesting feedback.

The answer is trickier than “yes” or “no,” particularly if you throw into the mix “do Catholics, Orthodox or mainstream Protestants have what it takes?

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.