The Sohrab Ahmari-David French conflagration is the latest chapter in a series of ongoing debates amongst conservatives.
These have been happening since at least January, when Tucker Carlson aired a scorching monologue admonishing many of the ‘sacrosanct’ tenets long held by French and company. Carlson offers a feistier, Trumpier alternative for our present crises.
Ahmari defines French-ism as “more a persuasion or a sensibility than a movement with clear tenets.”
First Things magazine published Sohrab Ahmari’s controversial essay: “Against David French-ism.” In his essay, Ahmari indicts the hybrid free market libertarianism/cultural traditionalism long associated with National Review. This creed, Ahmari writes, is “bound up with the persona of one particular writer”: National Review’s David French. Ahmari defines French-ism as “more a persuasion or a sensibility than a movement with clear tenets.”
This “sensibility,” Ahmari goes on to say, is an accommodationist approach to the “technocratic market society”. In Ahmari’s view, French sees this as a “neutral zone” that is still capable of assorting a peaceful pact between “traditional Christianity” and “the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side.”
This so-called “conservative-liberalism” would, in theory, grant Christians and traditional conservatives “spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe”. In short, it’s a sort of workable compromise that would guarantee protection to Christians, even in the face of an increasingly hostile and “paganized” liberal culture.
Ahmari derides this sacrosanct approach, which he claims “doesn’t work” and “hasn’t been working” for quite some time. American culture is replete with broken families, drug addicts, homelessness, and rising suicide – especially among the working class.
The time is nigh for a muscular approach to politics, one that would allow conservatives to prioritize, above all, the common good and use all means necessary to achieve it.
The time is nigh for a muscular approach to politics, one that would allow conservatives to prioritize, above all, the common good and use the means necessary to achieve it. Even if such means flout the customs and procedures conventionally cited by “professional” conservatives as being indispensable to the label.
This should come as no shock to anyone familiar with French’s work or National Review.
Early on, National Review took a dogmatically anti-Trump stance. While that stance has softened, it still discernibly informs the magazine’s animating cynicism towards the administration and the burgeoning conservative movement it helped sow.
French, embodying this perspective, was and remains ‘anti-Trump’ for reasons less owing to a substantive intellectual counterargument and more to a hackneyed self-righteousness over Trump’s alleged ‘immodesty.’
The nostalgia for a Bush-type Republican Party is worn out. Its claimants remain steadfast in their convictions, though bereft a winning alternative. Likely because one does not exist. When pressed for substance, they default on the same Leftist tropes about the new Right’s “incivility” and eschewal of political “decorum”.
Like French, the opponents of conserving prize “autonomy above all” – personal autonomy. This could only be acquired through the destruction of the same traditions French professes to worship: marriage, organized religion, private schools.
Liberalism will always consolidate power dispassionately, whether in the public or private sphere.
The driving proxy of liberalism is power. Liberalism will always consolidate power dispassionately, whether in the public or private sphere. It is usually uncharitable to local customs and traditions that are responsible for engendering genuine civic happiness.
Immigration exemplifies this. In order to drive profits, which conservative-liberalism has redefined as being essential to the common good, immigrants must be imported from third world countries, domestic wages and communities be damned.
Marriage, likewise. So long as conservative-liberalism places the highest premium on individual autonomy, the regime would necessarily have to pervert marriage into its own amorphous image. No-fault divorce and same-sex “marriage” have become incontrovertible rights, to be imposed by federal mandate, obfuscating the transcendental purpose of the institution.
An entire generation of Americans are coming of age without any idea of what marriage is or how it works. Not unexpectedly, marital rates have plummeted across every demographic in America – except, of course, our ruling liberal overlords.
The French types would object to this dystopian account of America. They believe the culture is strong enough to cultivate virtuous citizens despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Even if they begrudgingly concede the reality of the present situation, which would undermine their agenda, they would say as ‘principled conservatives’ they, too, cherish the traditions and ideals held by their more impatient compatriots. Thus the criticism by Trump-inclined Rightists is misguided. The Frenchists surely could not be assigned blame for overseeing the country’s debasement.
These folks fail to recognize their dogmatic priority of abstract and meaningless “conservative” principles only benefits their opponents – the Left.
These folks fail to recognize their dogmatic priority of abstract and meaningless “conservative” principles only benefits their opponents – the Left. Their desire to uphold such principles, even at the expense of the common good, insinuates a deeper fidelity to procedure over “principles”. Based on this, the French conservatives value liberal abstractions over the common good, which should be the pursuit of all conservatives and forms the crux of Ahmari’s thesis.
Mobilize state power to break up conservative-censoring monopolies? Blasphemous! Use the administrative apparatus to eschew Congress and erect a southern border wall? Apostasy!
Andrea Yang did a number on conservative-liberalism in a recent essay for American Mind. The piece entitled “Creed and Culture in Clown World” cut to the heart of the issue, calling out the inefficacy of Frenchism-conservatism. The article bitingly probed what, exactly, are these conservatives still trying to ‘conserve’ from our etiolated society:
“More broadly, the way that mature, polite, and self-described “principled conservatives” talk about the Republic strikes me as endearing but overly sentimental. These boomers write nostalgic love letters to a world I never knew. They talk about the American creed as if a collective agreement on 18th-century political philosophy was enough to unite our country not only in the past, but to keep it united even now.”
Today’s Americans are living in, as Yang describes, “a hollowed-out shell of a once-great nation.” French-types become apoplectic about Trump’s “unmannerly conduct” without realizing the conditions that resulted in that erosion of our political norms as being intrinsic to liberalism itself.
Liberalism is an ideology that breeds mediocrity because it necessarily lowers civil order to the lowest common denominator. This is inherent in the principle of egalitarianism. It is likewise encapsulated in the New Left’s theory of justice that radicalizes America’s founding vision into demanding equality not just in opportunity, but in lived reality for certain agreed-upon “oppressed” groups of people.
The big tech multinationals who fetishize censoring speech welcome the radicalization of our culture with open arms.
The big tech multinationals who fetishize censoring speech welcome the radicalization of our culture with open arms. They work in tandem with the state by reorienting modern man’s sights onto worldly, materialistic ends. He becomes a strictly consumptive being, beholden to his baser passions and bestial instincts.
Our moribund ‘popular’ culture, reflected in the loss of perspective for true aesthetics and beauty; our languishing humanities departments; our nonexistent (in any meaningful sense) literary, architectural, and artistic cultures; our categorical lack of a common creed, let alone common religious beliefs or even a national identity. All of these things, coupled with the militant regulations imposed by our corporate overlords, reveal our national trend towards cultural debasement.
French is either too cloistered in the ivory towers of “respectable conservative opinion” to understand the world below, or too much of an egg-head to even try to understand it.
I will not speculate as to which it might be. But considering that nearly all our high-end economic services – Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the entertainment industry – and the the curricula of our nation’s leading universities have been thoroughly liberalized, it would take preternatural obliviousness to remain optimistic in the ‘free-market’ or the trite and vacuous ‘conservative rulebook.’
I am a Republican.
And I will destroy big business in a heartbeat.
See, the corporations don’t hesitate to purse their interests at my expense.
And no cheesy True Conservative (TM) principle in the world will stop me from pursuing mine. pic.twitter.com/beBFpwKi0r
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) June 9, 2019
As Leftism reaches advanced stages it becomes more authoritarian and less liberal in complexion. Political ideasmen like French, Jonah Goldberg, and others who cannot see political power must be used to thwart these alarming trends are nailing their own coffins shut.
Ahmari outlines a welcome change of direction for political conservatives. One that is aware of the gravity of the present crisis and unwilling to appease its enemies and be swept into silence.
French can’t quite grasp this concept.
Neither could many in his Never Trump-holdout of a magazine.
National Review was founded to call out Eisenhower’s moderation. The same moderation that French and company would have preferred in 2016 over Trump’s rough-and-tumble politics.
Intra-party infighting and purification goes part and parcel with the history of American conservatism. William F. Buckley, for one, decided this was necessary for the GOP brand in the early 1960s when he exiled the racists and anti-Semites from the party base. This helped insure the Reagan Revolution over a decade later.
However, Buckley, unlike today’s conservative standard-bearers, did not set “big-tent party” as an absolute principle to his version of conservatism. National Review was founded to call out Eisenhower’s moderation. The same moderation that French and company would have preferred in 2016 over Trump’s rough-and-tumble politics.
In more ways than one are Trump and Buckley aligned. Trump, like Buckley, helped begin the much-needed overhaul of the GOP brand.
Reagan and Buckley at a party celebrating the opening of NR’s new Washington office, March 20, 1983. Via Levan Ramishvili, FlickrAnother indication that these French-types are out-of-step with the rest of the party is who they direct their grievances towards. These often are misguided targets like Trump, Tucker Carlson, and Mr. Ahmari – who roused much controversy by the ‘respectable’ conservative class in simply igniting this discussion.
Their failure to recognize the savior of conservatism bespeaks the irrelevance of the ‘Frenchinistas.’ Blind deference to outmoded customs and procedures (many of which work to undermine their stated goals), and an unbending obstinance to the exercise of prudence when necessary, only compounds the desire to make them irrelevant.
Their failure to recognize the savior of conservatism bespeaks the irrelevance of the ‘Frenchinistas.’
In response to this criticism, some French backers rejoined that David French personally did more for conservatives by winning lawsuits that guaranteed First Amendment liberties to conservatives who were unjustly censored on college campuses.
“We persuaded left-dominated institutions to turn back from repressive illiberalism and re-commit to religious pluralism,” French wrote on behalf of his conservative bona fides. In fairness, French, by most accounts, is sincere. He genuinely desires a conservative political society, or what he thinks constitutes such an outcome.
But this defense shows obliviousness to what conservatism is, and how benighted claims to liberty and freedom play out in our public square. Lacking a well-established moral foundation, “religious pluralism” quickly degenerates into relativism, which degenerates further still into secular militancy.
French should dust off his books on classical philosophy.
As all authentic displays of religious belief are forcibly privatized, which is antithetical of most established religions, the deracinated public square becomes susceptible to authoritarianism. A kind more theocratical than anything French or his liberal sympathizers could have ever dared conjure up from the American Right.
French should dust off his books on classical philosophy. He touts a patently self-defeating argument. One that is blindly insensitive to the reality of the liberal power-brokers who define the increasingly limited goalposts for today’s conservatives in virtually all walks of life.
Perhaps this owes in part to the type of conservatism French espouses, which yet has been deemed non-threatening or still tolerable by our powers that be. Eventually such need for “controlled opposition” will become obsolete, and so too will follow French-ism.
Can you imagine if French were young William F. Buckley’s attorney, who was being sued for writing up an op-ed on managing the AIDS crisis by tattooing those afflicted with the disease? A position Buckley originally articulated in the 1980s and upheld in the 2000s.
Would French have even taken up this case? Or would Buckley, his position so disreputable in the circles of ‘polite’ conservatism, been deemed an alt-right loon, coerced by French et al. to “get with the times”?
Better yet, Russell Kirk. Could you imagine Russell Kirk loving National Review today? The man who referred to automobiles as “mechanical Jacobins” and once tossed his daughter’s television off the roof of his house.
National Review would rather to bully Covington schoolboys than pick on conservatism’s true enemies dwelling in the Beltway swamp and Silicon Valley.
If National Review were to spend just a quarter of their time they do now bashing Trump, defending Robert Mueller, or writing a “Conservative case for [insert liberal idea here]”, and expended that energy on meaningful ways to build up the new post-Trump coalition, then maybe it would tap into what made it the pinnacle of conservative commentary throughout the second half of the twentieth century. National Review would rather to bully Covington schoolboys than pick on conservatism’s true enemies dwelling in the Beltway swamp and Silicon Valley.
Fortunately today’s conservatives have a lot of ground on which to build their movement, owing to what President Trump uncovered back in 2016. By leaving the unsavory parts of conservatism behind once and for all, a more confident brand of conservatism might ultimately emerge.
Our present times desperately call for a new formula, and that formula looks more like Donald Trump than David French. Kudos to Ahmari and many others who are doing their parts in seeing that reality come to fruition.
Paul Ingrassia is a co-host of the Right on Point podcast. To listen to his podcast, click here.