Against Peacetime Conservatism.

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  • 08/21/2022

Before he launched an audacious plan to simultaneously murder the heads of the five crime families opposing him, Michael Corleone had to make a staffing decision.

He had to tell Tom Hagen, his consigliere and long-time friend, that he was fired.

Tom Hagen was a perfectly good, competent man. But he was the wrong man for the times. Michael Corleone needed to win his war, or he and his family would be murdered.

Tom Hagen was a peacetime consigliere. And the Corleones were not at peace.

Neither are we.


Peacetime conservatives complain that their colleagues have abandoned their principles. Wartime conservatives refuse to adhere to self-defeating principles.

Peacetime conservatives worry about setting precedents that Democrats could exploit in the future. Wartime conservatives recognize that Democrats do unprecedented things all the time.

Peacetime conservatives renounce government power and rely on invisible hand mechanisms. Wartime conservatives don’t hesitate to use government power to achieve conservative ends.

Peacetime conservatives insist that facts don’t care about your feelings. Wartime conservatives know that the scoreboard doesn’t care about your facts.

Peacetime conservatives think college students should pay off their college debts. Wartime conservatives think odious college debt is a good excuse to seize university endowments.

Peacetime conservatives think that social media companies should enjoy the blessings of liberty. Wartime conservatives think that platform access is a civil right.

Peacetime conservatives voted for Hillary Clinton, Evan McMullin, or stayed home. Wartime conservatives voted for Donald Trump.

[caption id="attachment_177593" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey[/caption]


The first rule of wartime conservatism: principles that prevent you from winning are probably bad principles.

The libertarian embrace of open borders position is one obvious example of a self-defeating principle. Libertarians argue that people should be free to live where they want and cross whatever national borders they choose, so long as they don’t violate the NAP.  The end result: a massive influx of voters who want socialism, and get it.

Remember — in the 1990’s, Democrats were the party of immigration restriction. Bill Clinton was positively Trumpian about the need to secure the border. Now, not so much. The Democrats are smart enough not to adhere to self-defeating principles. And if Joy Reid and Julian Castro are capable of grasping the issue at hand, so is their party.

Conservative objections to regulating social media companies are similarly self-defeating. David French has suggested that conservatives should not intervene because social media companies ought “enjoy the blessings of liberty.” They are enjoying them too much; Facebook and Twitter are using those blessings to remove conservative influencers from the public square and swing elections to Democrats. Oddly enough, outside of permitting social media companies to censor conservatives, Democrats don’t care much about instantiating the “blessings of liberty” in public policy. They play to win. If conservatives want to enjoy the “blessings of liberty” themselves, they need to be willing to restrict the liberty of adversarial social media companies.

Finally, conservative opposition to Trump’s election — once he won the Republican nomination — was itself a manifestation of a self-defeating impulse. It was obvious that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been disastrous for the conservative movement; indeed, we would likely be looking at a 6-3 Democratic Supreme Court had Trump not prevailed.

The pro-life movement is on the verge of the greatest victory in the history of its movement, and it’s because conservatives turned out for Donald Trump.

But even now, peacetime conservatives are oblivious to how important Trump’s victory was. Just yesterday, David French tried to claim — absurdly — that the recent surge in state-level pro-life legislation was a product of “patient, persistent, and courageous advocacy.

Not so: it was the product of Donald Trump winning in 2016, and getting Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. The pro-life movement is on the verge of the greatest victory in the history of its movement, and it’s because conservatives turned out for Donald Trump.

Oddly enough, you don’t have to persuade the conservative base that self-defeating principles are silly. While peacetime conservatives prattle on about technocratic issues, the base is focused on meta-political issues: social media censorship, immigration restriction, and confirming conservative judges. And while conservative thought leaders carp about Trump’s character, the base grasped that this was indeed the Flight 93 election, and voted accordingly.

[caption id="attachment_177594" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Covington Catholic Debacle[/caption]


The second rule of wartime conservatism: assume your adversaries are acting in bad faith.

Just this week, we had a great example of this dynamic at play. The media put out a story about how Trump demanded that the USS John McCain be removed from view at Trump’s press conference because of Trump’s lingering animosity towards the recently deceased senator. The story had all the hallmarks of fake news, and yet some conservatives still suggested it was probably true:

This is not the first time Mr. Shapiro has jumped the gun on a left-wing outrage festival. When the Covington Catholic kids were framed by a left-wing activist, Shapiro and Rich Lowry joined the pile-on:

The peacetime approach, embodied here by Shapiro and Lowry, is to assume that your opponents, like you, are just seeking out the good; and that you can collaborate with your opponents in a Hegelian dialectic to reach a policy synthesis that will benefit everyone.

The wartime approach is to assume that your opponents want to destroy you, are not interested in compromise, and have no scruples about misleading you and the rest of the public to achieve their political goals.

No one forced Ben Shapiro and Rich Lowry to join the pile-on against the Covington Catholic kids. No one forced National Review to publish a loathsome op-ed by Nick Frankovich — well after it was clear that the Covington kids were the victim of a valor-stealing left wing activist.  If they had simply withheld comment, presumed that there was more to the story, and waited for more facts to come in, they would have avoided looking foolish.

The problem with presuming good faith extends to the policy arena as well. During the debate over whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build the wall, peacetime conservatives objected on the grounds that doing so would “set a precedent” that Democrats would exploit in the future.

The problem with this analysis is the hidden presumption that Democrats only act within the confines of precedents set by Republicans. That’s just not true.

Our adversaries want conservatives marginalized. We shouldn't assume they are acting in good faith.

And one only has to look at where mainstream Democratic discourse is in 2019. Among other policy proposals, Democrats want to: pack the courts, abolish the electoral college, add a few new states (that are solidly Democratic, of course), and implement universal voter registration.

The Democrats offer pretextual, technocratic explanations for all these proposals. But their true rationale is clear: “[i]f we take power we will rewrite the basic rules to ensure our dominance. Because we are in the right, and only one of us can rule.”

Our adversaries want conservatives marginalized. We shouldn't assume they are acting in good faith.

[caption id="attachment_177596" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Student Debt (Creative Commons)[/caption]


The third rule of wartime conservatism: don’t just point out your opponent’s absurdities when you can use those absurdities against them.

A common notion among conservatives is that the college debt crisis can be solved simply: college students should *gasp* pay their debts. Kurt Schlichter, in every sense a wartime conservative, has a characteristically swashbuckling polemic making this point.

From a tactical perspective, this is perfectly fine. The baristas with gender studies degrees suffering under the weight of their debt loads aren’t voting Republican any time soon.

From a grand strategic perspective, however, this is a missed opportunity. Democratic presidential candidates are proposing both a massive student debt jubilee and free college for everyone. The former poses some fairness issues, but is ultimately not a major political problem for the right. The latter, however, would be a devastating blow to the conservative movement, as it would funnel enormous amounts of taxpayer money into institutions that are deeply adversarial to our movement.

Universities are staffed top to bottom with progressives. College campuses are deeply hostile to free speech. Conservatives send their children to be taught by Marxists.

Making college students pay their debt is a tactic.

Using college debt as a cudgel against universities is a strategy.

The fact that there are so many underemployed, over-indebted college graduates out there is solid evidence that the universities are defrauding their students. In any other industry, if customers were spending $200,000 on a product that had a 50% failure rate, the government would put the company making that product out of business. But when it comes to universities, conservatives are perfectly happy to keep right on donating.

But why? Universities are staffed top to bottom with progressives. College campuses are deeply hostile to free speech. Conservatives send their children to be taught by Marxists.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In the 16th century, Henry the VIII dissolved the monasteries, seized their assets, and used them to fund the government.

In the 21st century, why shouldn’t conservatives want to dissolve unfriendly universities, seize their endowments, and use the proceeds to fund a student debt jubilee? Perhaps the universities could be turned back into monasteries. A pleasant symmetry, no?

And if progressives complain? Well, they are the ones who have been calling for canceling student debt! The response should be — fine, but if the debt needs to be cancelled on such a scale, that means it’s odious. The fraudulent institutions that issued the odious debt should be made to cover the costs of the jubilee. Furthermore, those institutions should be shut down so the fraud cannot continue.

Ambitious? Perhaps. But if this goal serves as an Overton anchor, and makes defunding the universities seem moderate, it will have served its purpose.

[caption id="attachment_177602" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Wikimedia Commons[/caption]


If you’ve been following Human Events for a while, you’ll notice that we don’t have a strong stance on many technocratic issues. We’re open to heterodoxy — on things like taxes, trade, regulation, health care, and other issues that in prior decades might have been seen as issues where there was only one acceptable conservative position.

Conservatives must be ruthless enough to prevail on those issues so that they can prevail at the ballot box.

There’s a reason for that. We’re a big tent, positioned at the intersection of the MAGA grassroots and the Trump-friendly establishment. And within that tent is plenty of room for policy debates on technocratic issues.

But there are issues where we brook no dissent. Those are the meta-political issues — the ones that determine whether or not conservatives will be able to wield power. Social Media Censorship. Immigration. Courts.

Conservatives must be ruthless enough to prevail on those issues so that they can prevail at the ballot box.

We should preserve the rule of law. We should preserve the capitalist system that has made us free and wealthy. We should preserve the structure of our constitutional system and the liberties that we are blessed with.

And to do any of that, we have to win.

Will Chamberlain is a lawyer and the publisher of Human Events.