As a conservative profoundly involved in the “culture wars,” I have come to realize that the problem I have is not with liberals, Leftists, apostles of Woke, and other assorted ideologues and disreputables. I expect nothing from them but deceit, vulgarity, hate-spew, and ignorance, and so do not feel especially shocked by their behavior. The problem I have is with conservatives, too many of whom do not appear to fully honor conservative principles and values. They often seem to temporize with their antagonists, can act at times quite autocratically, and are occasionally distressingly superficial in their assessments of contemporary events. Human, all too human, of course; still, one might have thought better of those brave combatants in the political trenches.
To list just a few examples of conservatives acting badly:
Some years ago, the founder and editor of a popular and important conservative magazine, along with a number of collaborators, launched a virulent attack on the patriot author of the meticulously researched American Betrayal dealing with the infiltration of the American political establishment by communist sympathizers and spies. Perhaps her critics felt she was encroaching on a field of historical study which they had reserved to themselves. Or possibly they believed she was genuinely misguided. I have no objection to conservatives arguing among themselves, even passionately. It was the nature of the blitz that was so disheartening. The assault on her credibility and character was vicious and obscene, a depressing spectacle of nastiness among those who see themselves as the standard bearers of rational debate and civil decency. I am still appalled when I think about it.
A few years back, one of Canada’s most prestigious conservative authors and columnists, who enjoys international repute, penned an article in which he condemned former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper—who, we recall, steered us through the 2008 financial meltdown—as a “sadistic Victorian schoolmaster” and praised Liberal Justin Trudeau as “flexible in public finance [with] a very alluring personality, a quick intelligence and an apparently reasonable combination of principle and openness.” Trudeau’s levity of mind and blatant unfitness for office were tangibly evident to anyone with eyes to see and nose to smell, but not to this pre-eminent conservative pundit. A belated turn of opinion does not rescue him from a tendency to editorial dyskinesia. It has become nearly impossible to take him seriously now.
In general, many conservatives seem to accept feminist doctrines and appear desperate to burnish their feminist bona fides, often missing the core of the subjects they address. To take just one notable example, a highly acclaimed conservative thought-leader, discussing a major second-wave feminist, got her outrageously wrong. He accepted that her landmark The Feminine Mystique had told the truth about her and other women’s apparently suffocating suburban lives that deserved to be compared to living, as she wrote, in a “comfortable concentration camp.” The tone-deaf frivolity of the claim, considering that both author and reviewer are Jewish, is beyond the pale. In short, the conservative reviewer was unaware that she was solidly middle-class, was an active communist sympathizer, and wrote for leftist publications, and that her domestic narrative as a deeply suffering suburban housewife was a total lie, as even her admiring biographer was constrained to admit.
Similarly, in a recent Daily Wire ‘Backstage’ discussion of the hot-button issue of abortion, a distinguished group of conservative thinkers and media personalities endorsed the feminist terms of the debate, faulting men and absolving women. Most conservatives can’t bear to blame women for making the independent choice to kill the life within them. Preferring to massage the situation, the participants went out of their way to paint women as the innocent victims of the sexual revolution, and abortion as a technology that reckless, predatory men had invented to guarantee male sexual hedonism. This portion of the discussion (beginning at approximately 24 minutes) seemed far more like a form of tactical ingratiation than conservative conviction.
On the issue of gay marriage, many conservatives have also lost the plot. For example, a conservative internet celebrity will, like Democrat featherbrain Pete Buttigieg, publicly refer to his male partner as his husband. Not only that, his conservative friends are unanimous in applauding him for his courage and candor. I may be old-fashioned, but a man referring to another man as his husband strikes me as decadent. Conservativism champions the procreative family; same-sex relationships are no one else’s business, but same-sex marriage is a violation of conservative principle.
In a highly publicized Stanford University incident, a student was arraigned on two counts of rape and three counts of assault on a woman he’d met at a frat party—a case shrouded in layers of ambiguity and culminating in a guilty verdict concerning which the facts were highly problematic. In a video discussion, a triumvirate of well-known conservative stalwarts plainly had not studied the details of the case, having failed to perform their due diligence, sift the evidence, and read the lengthy police report and the dubious victim impact statement. Suitably scandalized, they essentially bought the accepted narrative while the young man went to jail, had his life blighted for a crime of which he was far from clearly guilty, and the Twitter mob had a field day.
In an eloquent article defending the recently re-arrested Trucker Freedom Convoy organizer Tamara Lich and excoriating a “barbarous and unjust” Liberal government, one of Canada’s premier conservative voices conceded that “None of this is to say that everything about the Freedom Convoy protest and those attracted to it was wholly defensible and justifiable. A bright light invariably attracts a few bugs.” These “bugs,” however—attempted arson, urinating on the Cenotaph, and so on—were well-known false flag operations intended to tarnish a good-faith, peaceful, and patriotic protest. There was no need to introduce a concession, a typical conservative move: admit to flaws on one’s own side in order to show reasonableness, to appear modestly self-deprecating, to appeal to doubters, etc. But the effect of such admission is merely to weaken the case. Here one can take a lesson from the Left, which has no use for jugular temperance.
What conservatism offers, conservatives should not take away. What, then, does conservative thought offer that should not be diluted or enfeebled? As Russell Kirk observes in The Conservative Mind, the “canon” entails a belief in the rule of law, equality before God and the courts, a respect for tradition, including the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and the procreation and raising of children, and suspicion of “hasty innovation” in mores, customs, and social usages. Conservatism warns against the temptation to put private calculations above civic duties and the inclination to submit to hierarchical and unaccountable authority. Fundamentally, it affirms the preservation of a “community of souls,” a “reverence for life,” and a “vindication of the norms of human existence…despite the follies of the time.”
The question remains: What is one to do when one’s friends and colleagues on the Right are sometimes hard to distinguish from their putative enemies on the Left—the age-old problem of corruptio optimi pessima, when influential thinkers who lay claim to intellectual insight and moral fortitude are seen instead to fudge and equivocate? In some cases, personal animosities, in others a kind of laziness, and even the spirit of convenience can adulterate or impair the force of justified argument. This is the route to eventual defeat.
Christopher Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an aide to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, advised: “The way to win the culture war is to demonstrate strength, blast through false taboos, and play for keeps.” This is wise and indispensable counsel. Conservatives must remember that if one has just cause on one’s side, there is never any need to engage in acts of strategic deflection, compromise, or apology. One cannot help suspecting that the culture wars may be lost, not because the adversary is so powerful but because the ally can be so vanilla, myopic, self-important and adroitly deferential, because there is a camber among conservatives not to play for keeps. It is high time for the Right to recognize its polemical strength and the moral and intellectual value of its contestation, and to act accordingly, without excuse, contrition, or hesitation, and always in possession of the facts.