A foundation of liberal democracy
Liberal democracy requires some core attempt at least to understand the arguments of your opponents in order to rebut them. It requires a minimal level of fairness. Fox News is therefore part of the problem. But so are [John] Oliver and [Jon] Stewart. All start from tribal loyalty and then skew all the facts that back them up and erase all those that don’t. But the Oliver-Stewart disinformation campaigns are in some ways worse because they pretend to be honest observers, backed by “research,” and are still respected by elites. They are, in fact, Fox-style tribal propagandists — telling lies of omission and commission. If we want to rescue liberal democracy, we have to defeat this mentality, from whichever tribe it comes.
Andrew Sullivan, on alleged (I say alleged because I’ve essentially never watched either Stewart of Oliver) lies of the two comics about gender dysphoria in teenagers.
Conservatives, Reactionaries, Counter-revolutionaries
What makes someone a conservative? As the term implies, it describes a person who wants to conserve something about the present. It may not be the present as a whole but merely one embattled or enfeebled aspect of it that traces its roots back into the past. But whatever the case, the impulse is toward protecting something that exists so that it might persist and even thrive into the future. In that respect, conservatism isn’t a destructive impulse or even a reformist one. It wants to keep things in our world (or some specific things within that world) as they are.
In addition to differing from liberals, progressives, socialists, anarchists, communists, and others on the left, a conservative stands in sharp contrast to reactionaries situated further out on the right. A reactionary is someone who believes a specific and crucially important aspect of the world that traces its roots back into the past has already been corrupted or extinguished in our time through prior revolutionary change. The reactionary believes this precipitous decline requires a counter-revolutionary response.
I think it’s indisputably the case that there are far fewer conservatives on the American right today than there were 20 or 40 years ago, and far more reactionaries.
Damon Linker, Opening Our Eyes to the Right’s Rising Radicalism
This raised a question: what if one agrees with much or all of the reactionary diagnosis but by disposition, or pacifistic convictions, or raw distrust of the counter-revolution’s wannabe leaders, rejects the “counter-revolutionary response”? In other words, am I a conservative, a reactionary, or off that scale entirely?
Linker immediately takes a stab at an answer:
[R]eactionary impulses also come in a range of intensities. At the moderate end of the spectrum, there are aestheticized reactionaries who lament the loss of some element of culture and set about reviving it in how they dress or speak or in the habits they personally cultivate. This a lonely (and largely apolitical) kind of reactionary, fighting a mostly individual battle against the cultural tide.
That sounds like a good thesis for starting a discussion. But let’s continue it.
Tyler Cowan dissects the New Right — “from Curtis Yarvin to J.D. Vance to Adrian Vermeule to Sohrab Ahmari to Rod Dreher to Tucker Carlson” — very effectively.
Remembering that “dissects” is clinical, as opposed to “eviscerates,” you should read it carefully.
For me, the Amen! moments in Cowan’s piece were these:
I … do not see how the New Right stance avoids the risks from an extremely corrupt and self-seeking power elite. Let’s say the New Right description of the rottenness of elites were true – would we really solve that problem by electing more New Right-oriented individuals to government? Under a New Right worldview, there is all the more reason to be cynical about New Right leaders, no matter which ideological side they start on. If elites are so corrupt right now, the force corrupting elites are likely to be truly fundamental.
The point is that good or at least satisfactory elite performance is by no means entirely out of our reach. We then have to ask the question – which philosophy of governance is most likely to get us there next time around? I can see that some New Right ideas might contribute to useful reform, but it is not my number one wish to have New Right leaders firmly in charge or to have New Right ideology primary in our nation’s youth.
Finally, I worry about excess negativism in New Right thinking. Negative thoughts tend to breed further negative thoughts.
Think about the plausible New Right candidates for high office — Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and possibly J.D. Vance in the not-too-distant future. You can add your own.
Then ask, “aren’t they disproportionately weathervane grifters?” Or, if you prefer, barnacles. Darn right they are. I trust them less than I trust “establishment” figures.
This doesn’t mean I find their critiques of liberal democracy meritless. Far from it. For that matter, I find Marx’s critiques spot-on quite often — but I don’t trust Marxists to rule us well, either.
The political eschaton remains non-imminent. That’s why I can largely buy the reactionary diagnosis while rejecting its prescription.
Bret Stevens and I do a Mind-Meld
To me, the choice these days between Republicans and Democrats is about as appealing as a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lecter: either you get your heart cut out or your brain removed, and both get served with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.
… the Republican Party is pretty much irredeemable, while the Democrats are … just not the team I’m ever going to bat for.
A Defense of Christianish Trumpism
Given the existential threat to Christianity in the U.S., I cannot understand how men like Dreher can fail to fall behind Trump. These parlour-room Christians seem more concerned about social graces and etiquette which are accorded a greater weighting than any other quality a man can have. Combined with their Christian Buddhism, they would rather suffer under an urbane tyrant than fight with a righteous braggart.
I do not agree with this (for several reasons, starting with its “existential threat” premise) but found it, then and now, an unusually plausible defense of Christianish Trumpism.
Edge case – is it is or is it ain’t politics?
In Richmond, Virginia,
Metzger Bar and Butchery recently canceled a conservative Christian group’s event reservation after staff members raised concerns about the group’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, according to Virginia Business.
“Many of our staff are women and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. All of our staff are people with rights who deserve dignity and a safe work environment. We respect our staff’s established rights as humans and strive to create a work environment where they can do their jobs with dignity, comfort and safety,” the restaurant said in an Instagram post.
The Christian group, called the Family Foundation, later addressed the incident in a blog post titled, “We’ve been canceled! Again.”
“Welcome to the double standard of the left, where some believe (a Christian baker) must be forced to create a wedding cake as part of the celebration of a same-sex ceremony but any business should be able to deny basic goods and services to those who hold biblical values around marriage,” wrote Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, in the post.
In the blog post, Cobb also accused Metzger Bar and Butchery of engaging in the same type of discrimination that plagued Black communities around 70 years ago.
- dignity, comfort and safety
- rights as humans
- a safe work environment
The Christian group:
- the same type of discrimination that plagued Black communities around 70 years ago
- biblical values
- double standard of the left
The tired tropes of Selma Envy.
Onion readers react to Britney Griner’s release
- Since they made her miss a whole season in the WNBA, Russia should really owe her $19 in lost wages as well.
- Hopefully now she has learned her lesson about murdering people, or whatever crime of that magnitude she must have committed to be handed such a harsh sentence.
The entire earth is alive
When education only consists of what can be coded into written words and numbers, then we are at the apogee of left hemisphere processing and are indeed behaving somewhat like machines. But if a tool, let’s say a bass guitar, is used by the hands and heart until the point of becoming alive to us, has not real magic happened? Is not the inert reenchanted, and revivified? What happens to the musician which we overlook here in modernity, is a thing Dougald mentions regularly – that his Indigenous friends find so hard to tell him that we’re missing – because there are no words for it. It is how the water is for the fishes. The entire earth is alive, and everything in it.
I’m unaware of any pernicious habit that shapes me more than dwelling in abstractions of things that “can be coded into words and numbers.”
Personality-driven hate-totem non-stories
Funny thing about the news: There is lots of it, which makes you wonder why so much so-called journalism in our time consists of tired political hacks trying to work up a good lather of outrage—I have seen 50-year-old men type "OMG" unironically—over whatever the personality-driven hate-totem non-story of the day is.
… There are basically two business models in modern digital journalism, those being 1.) the bigger-is-better mass-eyeball-commodification model, which works the magic of turning "You won’t believe!" clickbait headlines into erection-pill ad revenue, and 2.) subscriptions. We chose subscriptions here because the subscription-based model is a license to do good, interesting, honest, independent, original work. The nice thing about the subscription model is, we don’t need 40 million daily pageviews to make a buck. Our theory is that we can write smart stuff for smart people and make a decent profit doing so. I don’t expect Steve Hayes to end up in some future version of the Pandora Papers like that Pornhub guy, because there’s really only one business model that produces that kind of traffic, and it isn’t ours. But, as some of the media outlets that we do not wish to imitate have discovered, porn isn’t the only way to appeal to the baser instincts—there’s rage and hatred and titillation and mood-affiliation and bias-confirmation and a bunch of other stuff that may be good for something but that isn’t a part of good journalism.
Kevin D. Williamson, in an email promoting The Dispatch.
The Dispatch is definitely worth a try. It’s (mostly? I don’t know about their young hires) conservatives playing the news straight and commenting from the non-tribal center-right.
Some conservative corrolaries
… a certain skepticism is always appropriate when someone’s proposed system doesn’t have many existing models and the world as we know it tends the other way.
… a movement with utopian ambitions needs a recognition that it’s seeking a genuinely different society as well as a different set of laws.
Ross Douthat, Does American Society Need Abortion?
[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.
Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry
The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.