David Brooks has written a eulogy for American mainstream conservatism in the latest edition of The Atlantic. The great hope over there is to persuade the True Cons or suburban moderate center-right voters that Donald Trump is such a unique authoritarian threat to liberal democracy that they need to rake Joe Biden’s coals out of the fire and form an alliance with the Left.
“I fell in love with conservatism in my 20s. As a politics and crime reporter in Chicago, I often found myself around public-housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, which had been built with the best of intentions but had become nightmares. The urban planners who designed those projects thought they could improve lives by replacing ramshackle old neighborhoods with a series of neatly ordered high-rises. …
What passes for “conservatism” now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then. Today, what passes for the worldview of “the right” is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression. …
Burkean conservatism inspired me because its social vision was not just about laws, budgets, and technocratic plans; its vision was about soulcraft, about how we build institutions that produce good citizens—people who are moderate in their zeal, sympathetic to the marginalized, reliable in their diligence, and willing to sacrifice the private interest for public good. Conservatism resonated with me because it recognized that culture is more important than the state in driving history. “Manners are of more importance than laws,” Burke wrote. …
True conservatism’s great virtue is that it teaches us to be humble about what we think we know; it gets human nature right, and understands that we are primarily a collection of unconscious processes, deep emotions, and clashing desires. Conservatism’s profound insight is that it’s impossible to build a healthy society strictly on the principle of self-interest. It’s an illusion, as T. S. Eliot put it, to think that a society in which people don’t have to be good can thrive. Life is essentially a moral enterprise, and the health of your community will depend on how well it does moral formation—how well it nurtures ordered inner lives and helps balance sentiments, desires, and motivations. Finally, conservatism welcomes you into a great procession down the ages. …
On the right, especially among the young, the populist and nationalist forces are rising. All of life is seen as an incessant class struggle between oligarchic elites and the common volk. History is a culture-war death match. Today’s mass-market, pre-Enlightenment authoritarianism is not grateful for the inherited order but sees menace pervading it: You’ve been cheated. The system is rigged against you. Good people are dupes. Conspiracists are trying to screw you. Expertise is bogus. Doom is just around the corner. I alone can save us. …”
I thought it was a rather moving tribute.
We all know exactly what happened to this easy going, kind hearted, trusting old gentleman.
As David Brooks stepped down from the podium after delivering his respectful speech, he walked away from the casket of his old friend and into the restroom. He stood next to his associate and accomplice, the murderer, who was looking in the mirror, soaked in the blood of the old man and who was cleaning himself up and washing the blood off his knife. The old man had been taken advantage of and butchered in his home by this Bolshevik. Such was the image that came to mind while I was reading this essay.
You can think of the old man as symbolizing the sort of naive True Con who sees society as a complex organism and who instinctively distrusts those who want to make radical changes to it for sound philosophical and historical reasons and the murderer as the leftist who has butchered the social fabric with a thousand stab wounds. Every puncture and gaping wound in his political corpse was made by these people. They hated the old man and everything he stood for and murdered him out of sheer malice.
David Brooks would have the old man’s next of kin believe that we are the ones who murdered him. In reality, we are simply reacting to the sheer horror of the crime scene. The social fabric has been shredded in too many ways to count. There is the level of socially destabilizing mass immigration that has no precedent in world history. There is the assault coming from the Left on every amendment of the Bill of Rights. There is political correctness mutating into wokeness which is transforming America into a totalitarian surveillance state like East Germany. There is the total war on every icon of the American past including the Founders. There is the racial demonization of Whites and the sexual demonization of men. There is the weaponization of the FBI and the “intelligence community.” There is Congress which never seems to break away from its ongoing show trials. There are the pedagogues who want to confuse children about their gender. There is the censorship and repression of all dissent in the “mainstream.” There are the political officers purging the military of the “domestic extremists” and commissars who call themselves “journalists” who make a sport out of hunting down and destroying the lives of ordinary people for saying the wrong words. You can no longer escape from these people in the pleasures of sports, shopping, comedy or video games. What is supposed to unite a country where things like this are happening?
I could continue, but I will stop here. FOX News is reporting that their Christmas tree was set on fire last night in the latest sign of New York City’s descent. There are too many rips in the social fabric to count and we haven’t even touched on the incels. And yes, there are people who are nursing various cultural grievances – the vaccine mandates being only the latest log tossed on the fire – and who are angry that all of this has happened. It is certainly true that the Right has been provoked into an incandescent state of rage in which “lib owning” and those who excel at it is the only metric that seems to matter, but these political and cultural arsonists and the way in which they wield power and delight in trampling on their fellow citizens are responsible. The “Latinx” controversy illustrates how they just can’t help themselves even when it is in their overwhelming political self interest to show some restraint.
David Brooks knows that populist reactionaries didn’t invent open borders, critical race theory or transgenderism. They are responding to these issues. He whines about the “authoritarianism” of the “far right” which controls no institutions and which wields no power or authority in America and which only votes, complains on the internet and holds free speech rallies. Has anyone like David Brooks ever been challenged to book a hotel conference room? Are they hounded off college campuses by angry mobs? Do they live in precarity and fear of being doxxed for dissenting from establishment orthodoxy?
As an “authoritarian,” I spend most of my time working, not wielding cultural or political power which I do not possess. I follow the news. I see what is going on. I listen to people like David Brooks. It is no accident that Democrats are losing White rural voters by 80% margins now and have transformed Iowa and Ohio into safe Red states. I’m a populist voter and I don’t agree conservative orthodoxy on government and economics, but the Left has forced people who share my views into the Republican camp, which has demographically transformed its base. In lots of places in Middle America, the whole town sees what is going on and that matters more than smaller divides over economic preferences.
The Democrats could always reverse course and moderate on culture war issues. They could stop toppling statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They could stop using “BIPOC” or “White male” as a racial slur, but that would be “White appeasement.” It would be catering to the Karens who care more about their White sons than dismantling our system of “white supremacy.” Instead of defriending everyone who doesn’t share their progressive cultural views, they could embrace the “pluralism” that David Brooks talks about and which isn’t seen in any of our institutions these days.
How is a “center-right” and “center-left” alliance supposed to work in practice? The Bolsheviks are taking over and cancelling the liberals in these institutions now. These people have the “moral clarity” to perceive that Andrew Sullivan is “white supremacy.” Are they going to tolerate True Cons and their “little platoons” in other sense than in just using them as tools to advance their own authoritarian agenda? David French is always willing to write to the conservative case against manliness and the conservative case against anti-CRT laws and the conservative case for structural racism and the conservative case against Kyle Rittenhouse. At the end of the day, David Brooks just wants a “mainstream” conservatism that is willing to be steamrolled, absorb, affirm and then bless everything the hard Left is doing.
No one on our side choose to find ourselves in this world. No one on our side picked all of these fights. We’re not the aggressors in this conflict. We’re less bothered by disagreement. It is the other side which has shut down “pluralism.” If anything is true, we have been slow to anger and less willing to break with the liberal norms and more indulgent of our opposition. The political establishment threw off the shackles of the liberal norms while even the Alt-Right crusading for free speech and civil liberties.
You’re so unpopular now that you are going to get Donald Trump again.