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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Defenestrate the Overton window*

Conservative leaders need to push the boundaries of acceptable discourse a little harder.

T here is no great love between conservatives and liberals in this country. But if Donald Trump loses the upcoming election, the conservative base will rise up with such rage against the never-Trumpers on the Right as to make the liberal-conservative battle look like a hippie love-in.

Of course, conservative leaders know this: Jonah Goldberg, perhaps the NRO writer with the sharpest ear for politics, has written about it several times. The conservative base has casually mentioned it a few times themselves.

Trump was no politician. He started out with the most abrasive, clumsy campaign imaginable, proposing things that the intellectuals could never swallow. But over time he has developed more sophisticated and realistic positions. He has shown enormous skill in manipulating the news media and deflecting their ovine criticisms. Even nuance is almost within his grasp. But the neocons have gone over to Seizy P. McParkinson and the oldcons seem determined to stick to never-Trumperism to the bitter end. That is their nature; if Trump loses it will also be their epitaph.

Blood-filled river
There goes one now

The time-honored conservative strategy was to stand athwart history and wait for communism to collapse from its internal flaws. Throughout the 1950s and sixties, many thought this a foolish strategy. Whittaker Chambers, for example, believed that in deserting communism he was crossing over to the losing side.

A Samurai proverb, sometimes falsely attributed to Sun Tzu**, says “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” And so they did: a veritable hemoglobin-filled river of Ceauşescus, Brezhnevs, Hoxhas, Honeckers and other dead, mustachioed Europeans (and Asians). The worst thing that can happen to an ideology has happened: the kids think it happened automatically.

The drawbacks are now apparent: oldcons are beginning to adopt the language of their enemy. Some praise ‘gender equality’ and speak about ‘people of color.’ As new groups have sprung up to fill the ideological void, the oldcons criticize them as being racist and bigoted.

Modern conservatism follows Russell Kirk, who saw conservatism as appreciation of the past. He believed that the main role of conservatives was to slow down the pace of change. In The Conservative Mind Kirk wrote:

Conservatism never is more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation.

Russell Kirk's principles of passive resistance, conciliation, and respectability have allowed the enemy to pull the boundaries of discourse far to the left. But the example of communism shows that when conservatives were most successful, they did more than just passively resist. As during the Cold War, we cannot rely on our enemies always self-destructing; conservatives must also be agents of change in the culture wars, or the enemies of freedom will eventually prevail.

The impulse of today's oldcons is to expunge the heretics from conservatism as they did to the Birchers. But that will only leave a greater ideological vacuum. What's needed now is not to keep conservatism pure and respectable, but to stretch the boundaries of what is respectable.

Communism may be dead, but the social forces that produced it are very much alive, and they are largely unexamined. How important are urbanization, population density, and demographics in determining collectivization? Nobody knows. James Delingpole wrote the other day about how capitalism in Hong Kong is still red in tooth and claw. But why does freedom survive in one place and not in another? Why is it dying in Europe, and why is America being torn apart by leftist hate? Is cultural diversity the cause? What about feminism? Leadership means asking these uncomfortable questions.

An ideology, like a man, is tested in adversity. For a man, adversity happens when he is suffering and in pain. For an ideology, just as for a scientific theory, adversity happens when its assumptions are challenged by empirical reality. Conservatism has become too comfortable as a resistance movement and reality is now banging on the doors.

The problem with the samurai strategy is that before the bodies of your enemies float by you might see the bodies of all your former friends and allies.

* Or at least push on it until it breaks, then defenestrate the pieces

** Sun Tzu wrote about river warfare, but contrary to what SGOTI (some guy on the Internet) says, the saying about bodies floating by does not appear in Art of War; the philosophy is not even Chinese but an expression of Japanese individualism. What Sun Tzu actually said about rivers was: “If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the invader near a river which he has to cross. Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy. So much for river warfare!” Wise, but not very helpful in this context.

Last edited sept 26, 2016, 4:52am

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