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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Respectability Trap

If our ideology is limited by what others think is acceptable, we let the opposition define what we are entitled to believe.

W hatever the outcome of the 2016 elections, it will be a golden opportunity for mainstream conservatives to re-evaluate their approach and their philosophy.

The elevation of politics over philosophy in the mainstream was evident last month when they struck out at the white working class, from which some imagined the Trump movement drew its strength. The debate hit rock bottom at one point when one guy informed us that their communities needed to die.

To be fair, with his background in economics he probably just meant their economies are not viable. But it sounded like he was saying their pathology created their support for Trump.

To say that this nihilism would be the worst possible message to deliver during a time when Western civilization is hanging by a thread would be a huge understatement. But it's the inevitable result of our focus on gaining power and respectability while paying insufficient attention to ideas.

To be sure, Democrats are in far worse shape. As liberalism moves farther and further left, it sheds adherents. Their two candidates represent the two reasons why mainstream liberalism is failing: on the one hand they're corrupt and dishonest, caring only about power, and on the other they have no viable new ideas, and can only offer bribes.

Politics is downstream from culture (as Breitbart famously said). Culture is downstream from philosophy. Philosophy is downstream from politics. This vortex creates a giant sucking sound.

So they must move even further left to find new ideas, and they are forced to adopt more and more radical nonsense like income inequality, Confederate flags, and bathroom rights for transexuals. When these aren't exciting enough, they start chewing on their old toys of inciting race riots, fomenting revolution and sticking it to the fuzz.

The reaction from a liberal to any new idea has become predictable. And that's their problem: when your basic ideology consists of finger-wagging moralizing and calling people names like racist, sexist, hydrophobic (homophobic, whatever), you've stopped thinking. If you no longer come up with new ideas, and all your old ideas fit on a bumper sticker, people stop listening because they know what you're going to say.

You can easily tell which way the libs are headed by what they scream about the loudest. The more they take offense and call your comment an outlandish, hateful accusation, the greater the likelihood that they've either already done it or they plan to.

Ideas have been dead on the left for fifty years. But if there are no fresh ideas on the right either, voters have no incentive to switch.

What's a poor former lib to do when the two most important goals of mainstream conservatism are (1) to gain power and (2) to be respectable in the eyes of liberals?

The mainstream conservative strategy has always been to make the center right respectable. That is why WFB drove out the Birchers and is part of why they hate Donald Trump. But the more ‘respectable’ conservatism looks to the left for validation, the more its incrementalist approach is inadvertently evaluated on the basis of its respectability.

Ideas are not just for intellectuals. Voters, even those in upstate New York, may not keep up with the nuances in political philosophy, but they look to the candidates for practical ideas about what to do. In an age when everyone is afraid to speak the truth, populist candidates who are not afraid to express their ideas, even wild impractical ones, will fill the vacuum.

Here's the issue: if our ideology is limited by what others think is acceptable, we are letting the opposition define what we are and are not entitled to believe. If we can't even talk about the problem, we have no chance of solving it.

Western civilization is slowly disintegrating. The collectivism we defeated again and again in the 20th century is coming back. Evolution is happening as we speak. But our intellectual leaders are so afraid of being associated with ideas their opponents consider unrespectable they are content with criticizing specific cultural figures. As enjoyable as that may be, if we are not only afraid to tell the truth but afraid even to say there is a truth that needs to be spoken, it will be as fatal for our ideology as for our civilization.

Standing in front of change yelling ‘stop’ is a beautiful image, but what people really need are radical new ideas expressed with concern only for their truth, not for respectability. If they don't get them from conservatives, they'll get them somewhere else.

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