“Indeed, the intra-conservative debate over the last year has generally been bereft of such details, even as it has been incredibly impassioned and often poisonous. The questions, What and How? almost never appear, i.e., what policies are we talking about and how are we going to achieve them? In the Tucker Carlson populism–free market debate, almost no one on either side mentioned what might be affirmative policies to address working-class discontents and why we should support or oppose them — a re-imagining of high school, increased apprenticeships, wage subsidies, lessons from Germany’s experience making its workers more productive, etc.”
Let me a take a shot at it.
The philosophy that is being attacked is classical liberalism from the perspective of historicism. The economic paradigm that is being attacked is the Austrian School of Economics and the Chicago School of Economics from the perspective of the German Historical School of Economics and developmental capitalism. Finally, one of the specific policy proposals to “address working-class discontents” is Universal Basic Income, as the primary challenge of the next twenty years is coping with the automation of the global economy and the subsequent loss of millions of working class jobs.
Here’s why we love Universal Basic Income so much: not only does it strike a blow against wage slavery by giving the working class more bargaining power who are currently in absolute thrall to their employers under Free Society, it also simultaneously subverts the political correctness by putting a financial floor under the working class and middle class. Not unlike the old family farm idealized by Thomas Jefferson, Universal Basic Income gives people the economic independence to say FU to their employers which makes them more culturally independent as well. The tyranny of political correctness is exercised mainly through the power of woke capitalism in our society, not through big government.
The goal should be to have a Universal Basic Income pegged to technological progress. As science and technology advance and generate more wealth, the UBI could be steadily raised from one generation to the next. Eventually, free-market capitalism will whither away and our descendants will have the leisure time to do whatever they want to in life after the abolition of wage slavery. In a world of abundance, the only issues left to solve will be the social issues. Social conservatism will still be relevant because the public will be faced with an infinity of lifestyle choices under liberalism.
What is mainstream conservatism’s answer? The answer it gives is that it hopes the creative destructive of free-market capitalism is a good thing that works out for the best in the end. It is also opposed to the gubmint stepping in to define any nature of the good and the beautiful unless, of course, we are talking about violently imposing the current American system of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism on our geopolitical enemies whether it be Russia, China or Iran.
“One of my biggest problems with the worldview that Sohrab Ahmari outlines in the course of criticizing David French — and, for that matter, with the general tenor of the Deneen-inspired “anti-liberalism” that First Things is presently indulging — is that it gets extremely fuzzy when it reaches the questions, “What do we actually want?” and “How do we intend to get there?” Ahmari says he wants 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.” Okay. But what does that actually mean in practice? What does a “defeated enemy” look like? By what mechanism is the “public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good”? Which “public square”? — there are many in America. And what is the “common good and ultimately the Highest Good”? Who decides? Ahmari? The Pope? Nicolás Maduro? …”
Okay, John Locke.
I don’t think it is that fuzzy at all. Basically, it boils down to the fact that the Prussians had it right and the English had it wrong, but history took the wrong course in the 20th century when liberalism survived the World Wars and now we are dealing with the consequences.
It is easy to imagine an authoritarian government with an economy oriented toward developmental capitalism, as opposed to free-market capitalism, guided by an overarching philosophy of historicism, which rejects classical liberalism, and maintains a close relationship and coordinates its activities with Protestant and Catholic churches in order to maintain a healthy culture by instilling good morals in its youth. The name of that country was Prussia before it was destroyed by the Allies.
“In the first sentence of his missive against supposed “David French-ism”—is there anything more Trumpian that reducing big ideological questions to a personal grudge?—Ahmari links to a manifesto published in First Things last March which denounced the “Dead Consensus” of the right. It is by way of explaining this attack on standard, 20th century conservatism that Ahmari has launched his weird personal fixation on French.
So what was that manifesto all about? It was about purging from the right defenders of civil liberties and the free market, who are, as Ahmari considers them, merely “conservative liberals.” Instead, Ahmari and First Things favor what can only be called illiberal conservatism. …
It accepts—absurdly and uncritically—that the essence of the “Progressive” left is a passion for “individual autonomy.” This can be refuted by spending five minutes on Social Justice Twitter getting yelled at for violating the minute and inscrutable network of rules imposed by the cult of “wokeness.” But this absurdity accomplishes its purpose. Having identified the individual’s ability to make free choices as the problem, the illiberal conservatives go on to identify freedom and its advocates as the true enemy. …”
94% of lolbertarians are on the Left.
Woke Twitter is angry at the Right for resisting the latest innovations and breakdown in the social order as “freedom” and “equality” and “tolerance” and “individualism” are taken to ever greater extremes. The whole arc of American history is the steady expansion of these ideas and their rhetoric at the expense of everything else since the time of the American Revolution.
“In practical terms, an electoral coalition on the right that rejects prosperity and free markets in favor of imposing religious values is a significantly smaller coalition. This is not a plan for conservative triumph over the public square. It is a plan for fewer but better Republicans—and more socialist Democrats in power.
The deeper contradiction is that this is a bunch of conservative intellectuals rejecting the case for reason and persuasion. But where, then, does that leave them?”
So, the 4 percent of Americans who are Right-Libertarians and reject social conservatism are being dumped for the 29 percent of Americans who embrace social conservatism while rejecting lolbertarian economics? Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman are being traded in for Georg Hegel and Friedrich List? How is this not a vast intellectual upgrade?
“Far more significant than the specifics of their dispute is the sense in which it functions as a kind of litmus test. Regardless of whether one lines up with French or Ahmari on every possible issue, everyone on the American right today will find himself or herself in sympathy with one or the other. I think that it is more or less beyond argument that most of the intellectual energy these days is with people on the anti-French side. They are the ones winning converts from liberalism and from the older establishments camps within the American right. What’s more, there is a good case to be made that the blocs named by Continetti have far more in common with one another than Catholic reactionaries did with libertarians and former socialist Jewish intellectuals during the Cold War. It is entirely possible that we could see a new fusionism emerge from the coalescence of populists, paleos, reformcons, and post-liberals, a four-legged table united in their rejection of classical liberal economics and failed proceduralist engagement with liberalism. …”
This was a great article.
The goal should be to shift the axis of American politics from economics to the social issues so that Reason and The Bulwark can unite in a new leftwing coalition with trannies on the Left.
“But then French misrepresents himself in the piece. He portrays himself as “walking humbly,” careful “not [to] fan the flames” of political enmity—but French can be as vituperative, dishonest, and petty as anyone in the public square, especially if his target is Donald Trump, his family, or his supporters. The Mueller report, a political document based on an investigation into a fabricated crime, should “shock our conscience,” he wrote in April. “The lies are simply too much to bear. No Republican should tolerate such dishonesty.”
He often brags about his personal and professional achievements to both assert his moral authority and blunt any criticism of him. He occasionally injects his adopted black daughter into political battles, using anecdotal evidence to accuse Americans, particularly Trump supporters, of being racists. (As the mother of an adopted Asian daughter, I find this tactic offensive and out-of-bounds.) …”
There used to be a hilarious Twitter parody account called Conservative Pundit with a smug face avatar and a tagline that said “people respect us” and it was the perfect description of David French.
“More importantly, Ahmari doesn’t shy away from what I call the camp-of-the-saints dilemma. Jean Raspail’s racist yet prescient novel grapples with the existential conflict between survival and principle. How do you keep your society intact when your own deeply held beliefs suggest a suicidal satyagraha? Put differently, how do Christians love their neighbor when their neighbors hate their guts and openly wish to reduce them to second-class citizens in the public square?
Does it ever become necessary to fight back, and be like Isaac in Manhattan and “get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them”?
This is the hardest question post-liberal types like Ahmari have to answer. What it comes down to is force: how willing is a conservative to use the government’s monopoly on violence to his own greater ends?”
It’s not really a hard question to answer.
Why are we facing this dilemma only now? Before classical liberalism, Christians had no problems confidently asserting their values in the public square. There was no morbid, suicidal impulse to commit national suicide until only very recently in European history. Spain spent centuries clawing its way back from the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Much of it has to do with the overreaction to the Second World War which became institutionalized over time. It came to be taken for granted that valuing the preservation of our national integrity is a bad thing.
“Catholic integralism—the idea that Church teachings should guide public policy—is not new. Ahmari doesn’t label his anti-Frenchist alternative as integralist, though he isn’t far off when he says the political right should be willing to use politics “to enforce our order and our orthodoxy.” But mostly he speaks of orienting society to the common good. Who could be against that?
The problem hardly needs stating: What is meant by the common good? Progressives too believe their policies are morally correct—hence the common refrain that it’s just wrong for bakers and florists to refuse to provide their services for gay weddings. And the disagreement isn’t only between partisans of the left and right. The fiercest culture wars are playground disputes compared to the actual wars that have been fought over doctrinal differences among conservative Christians. ..”
Germany has a great deal of experiencing in finding a suitable living arrangement in accommodating Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists while avoiding the pitfalls of classical liberalism in the English-speaking world. It had more or less solved that problem until the World Wars.
“Classical liberal values and institutions offer a robust bulwark against the worst excesses of the illiberal left. Do Ahmari et al. actually think the system that gave us the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling is so broken as to justify setting the whole thing ablaze? More to the point, do they really believe that what follows after the smoke clears will be better for religious traditionalists …”
I would say this is refuted by the history of classical liberalism. Historically speaking, the adoption of classical liberalism as the basis of the social order inexorably leads to moral and cultural decline. We’re now in the phase of coming off gay marriage while celebrating transgenderism as a positive good and a wholesome identity for young people to adopt.
“What such reflection shows us is that at least some intellectuals on the religious right are in the process of talking themselves into tearing down American democracy. …
When social conservatives thought they were the moral majority, it made sense for them to dream of exercising real political power. When they recognized that they were a minority, it made sense for them to resign themselves to adopting a defensive posture and preparing to live out their days in a country as dissenters from the reigning liberal consensus.
What makes no sense is for social conservatives to think they can be both weak and strong at the same time — a minority that wields the power of a majority.
Unless, of course, social conservatives no longer care about democracy. …”
The Jews are a tiny minority in this country.
And yet, we have a Jewish cultural elite that has utterly dominated mainstream culture for decades. There are vastly more Christians and social conservatives in this country. What if those Christians were even slightly better organized and as ruthless as the Jews in waging the culture war? Even the blacks and Hispanics don’t share the Jewish values.
There is a far more receptive audience in White Christian America ready for an assertive, authoritarian, socially conservative nationalism that has dumped the neocon foreign policy and the lolbertarian economics. This is why Blompf was successful in 2016 although he was a poor messenger and has sold out to the donors and lacked institutional support.
Should the Republican coalition be based on the authoritarian vs. libertarian axis (blue line) and the social issues, OR, should it continue to be based on economics (red line) as it has been since the Reagan era? What is there to be gained for social conservatives by continuing this abusive relationship of getting cucked in every election cycle for the sake of more tax cuts, more wildly unpopular foreign wars, more favors for the ultra wealthy that are harming working class family formation?
As for democracy, the graph above shows the real problem which is the cause of this entire debate. The GOP base is socially conservative and authoritarian. The GOP establishment and cultural elite is socially liberal and economically liberal. Thus, the challenge in every election cycle is to harness enough populist and conservative resentment to advance the unpopular lolbertarian economic agenda while the Democratic Party is perfectly in sync with the vast majority of its voters.