Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Adam Serwer wrote a terrific essay recently about the absurd crazy-conservatives-versus-really-crazy conservatives debate that's been sweeping the unread rightwing web magazines. In it he pointed out that a lot of right-wingers are getting cozy with neo-fascists because they imagine themselves downtrodden because their positions on abortion and gay/trans rights are rejected not only by high-profile liberals but also by voters, which indignity must be answered with a turn away from liberal democracy, which is not delivering the results they desire. "If this is where Ahmari and his cohort are while the GOP still controls the courts, the Senate, and the presidency," says Serwer, "imagine what they’ll be willing to countenance should they lose them."

There's plenty more trenchant stuff in there, and New York Times theocon Ross Douthat has deigned to address one specific paragraph of it for reasons that will become apparent. Here's the Serwer graf:
Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate; instead they took up arms in two world wars to defend it. Japanese Americans did not reject liberal democracy because of internment or the racist humiliation of Asian exclusion; they risked life and limb to preserve it. Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of “Operation Wetback,” or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants. Gay, lesbian, and trans Americans did not abandon liberal democracy over decades of discrimination and abandonment in the face of an epidemic. This is, in part, because doing so would be tantamount to giving the state permission to destroy them, a thought so foreign to these defenders of the supposedly endangered religious right that the possibility has not even occurred to them. But it is also because of a peculiar irony of American history: The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted.
Douthat accepts that minorities had it rough and nonetheless stuck with the liberal order, but suggests -- in a roundabout, plausibly-deniable way -- that this is not a testament to liberalism but to the occasional harsh necessity of civil wars to win rights for underprivileged groups such as blacks and fetuses:
But it is not really true that the crucial turning point in the African-American relationship to America, the abolition of chattel slavery, was accomplished by activists working painstakingly within a system of liberal constitutionalism.
It is possible that it could have been, and that the Civil War was an avoidable tragedy; this was the pious consensus of 50 years ago, which the current occupant of the White House still expresses — usually to progressive derision...
Ho ho ho.
...[The Civil War] was, relative to the status quo ante, a good and necessary thing — but also a stark reminder that our system has advanced morally through effective re-foundings as well as liberal reforms, and that some moral-religious-cultural chasms can be closed only by extra-constitutional events...
After a long space, Douthat mentions that "liberalism has imposed via the judiciary, the least democratic branch, a constitutional right to abortion, a form of lethal violence that the church opposes for the same reasons it opposes infanticide — and after 50 years of small-d democratic activism by pro-lifers, the pro-choice side seems to be hardening into a view that such activism is as un-American as racism." Helter skelter, she's coming down fast!  The John Browns enlisted so far haven't done the job, but give the flame-fanners a chance and we'll see.

Though it may seem rude to say so -- and Douthat really does some energetic distancing in the final stretch; "I am not a post-liberal," as you will see in my upcoming book! -- all this illiberalism hooey is very clearly meant to either intimidate liberals into giving the far right what they want or else inspire radicals to seize it via "extra-constitutional events."

And this is why Douthat tightened his focus: it would take a reasonably intelligent person thirty seconds to grasp what's going on and disapprove of it, so Douthat characterizes that reality as a "complicated, sometimes baffling debate on the right about the relationship between religious conservatives and libertarianism... or maybe the relationship between religious conservatives and Donald Trump... or maybe" etc. so that they don't get those thirty seconds.

And he lays the notion that "religious conservatives are increasingly illiberal and authoritarian" on Serwer, when it is in fact proven by conservatives' own words, from the "Flight 93 election" gibberish of 2016 to the present ravings of Sohrab Ahmari.  One sees this sort of thing constantly in the feeder streams of modern conservatism. This week at the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse blog, for example, Justin Dyer explains that, contrary to what the heathens think, "the pursuit of happiness" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is actually very narrowly defined:
On the day C.S. Lewis died, his last written work was already in press with the Saturday Evening Post. “We have no ‘right to happiness,’” Lewis declared in the essay, by which he meant that we have no moral right to trample the rules of justice to gratify our impulses.
For a certain godly variety of wingnut, what C.S. Lewis says goes. While "some of the principal Founders... held unorthodox religious beliefs," there's no doubt in Dyer's mind that the Declaration "denies... any right to pursue happiness independent of the natural law." See here for some idea of what conservatives means by "natural law," and think about what would happen if the conservatives -- who already think you have too many rights, and that asking for income equality is the height of insolence -- were to thoroughly absorb the idea that what you want is not only unconstitutional but also blasphemous.

Oh, speaking of which -- from Douthat:
And in its internal life, beneath the post-Protestant tendency I’ve just described, progressive politics is also nurturing a fashionable occultism, whose rituals may be practiced somewhat ironically or performatively but whose anti-Catholicism seems quite sincere.
This links to a loony American Interest story about how Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez published her star chart, thus proving that "progressive millennials have appropriated the rhetoric, imagery, and rituals of what was once called the 'New Age.'" The article mentions "the coven of Brooklyn witches who publicly hexed then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh," but not Nancy Reagan, nor the observable fact that even the reddest of Trumpkins may be found reading astrology columns, hoarding crystals, and learning the Real Truth about Roswell. I suppose what these guys are really getting at is, cultism is as American as liberal democracy, and both will have to be swept away before we can get back to the feudal state our Founders really intended for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment