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The Storm Before The Storm

Here’s a must-read piece by Jacob Siegel [1], reflecting on how dissatisfying he found a public debate last weekend between editors from Dissent and American Affairs. Siegel says that for the past 10 years he has been moving both right and left politically, as the center has become hollowed out. He didn’t like the debate because “the left pandered and the right was coy.”

In Siegel’s account, the two Dissent editors, Tim Shenk and Sarah Leonard, carried on as if the Left were obviously correct, had nothing to talk to the new Right about, and simply had to wait for the Left’s inevitable triumph. Siegel says that is a pretty incredible position to hold when Republicans are winning all over. And:

“As someone who considers myself a leftist,” one audience member said during the Q&A, “I did feel sometimes a little bit uncomfortable with the only calls for building broad solidarity coming from the right.”

What the questioner was getting at I think, was Shenk and Leonard’s refusal to even acknowledge any conflict between identity politics and the formation of broad class-based coalitions. An especially notable omission given how commonly this issue [2] comes up in intra-left debate [3].

At various points both Dissent editors dismissed concern over political correctness and campus radicalism as petty preoccupations of the right. This at the same moment, while “the Left turned on its own” [4]  that videos of the Evergreen college protests were going viral. Broadcast—forget about just on cable TV—in millions of youtube clips that are played, refracted, remixed and replayed to a vast audience of Americans who are still, as Shenk rightly noted, deeply invested in the culture war.

Siegel says that the Left makes a huge mistake in minimizing this stuff. He’s correct in that. Political correctness may be extreme on certain campuses, but it will inevitably be mainstreamed by institutions run by graduates of these colleges.

A small but telling example: the announcement that the US men’s and women’s national soccer teams will be wearing pro-gay jerseys [5]:

And notice how the Fox Sports journalist described this move:

U.S. Soccer has dropped some spiffy new rainbow kits to raise money for a good cause, coinciding with LGBTQ Pride month in June.

What if you are a US Soccer player who is Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, or otherwise religious, and objects morally to celebrating gay pride (even if you have no problem at all with gays and lesbians playing professional soccer)? Too bad for you. If you objected publicly by refusing to wear the jersey, you would put your career at risk. So: violate your conscience or suffer professional consequences. This is one example of how coercive political correctness moves throughout the system.

There are others. Progressives have a bad habit of dismissing or minimizing them (see, for example, this dishonest and inaccurate Snopes.com piece [6]explaining away the violent anti-white radicalism of Texas A&M philosophy professor Tommy Curry), but people outside the bubble notice this stuff.  [Side note: I used to trust Snopes as a source of debunking, but after having had personal interaction with the Snopes reporter, and seeing what she wrote about a controversy I was a part of, I will not trust Snopes again. — RD]

Turning to the Right, Siegel criticizes Gladden Pappin and Julius Krein of American Affairs. He says they talked about building “working-class solidarity,” but left it vague as to what the glue of that solidarity would be. They were clear about what it would not be, however:

Krein and Pappin went out of their way to disassociate themselves not only from ethno and white nationalism but with anything resembling, as Schmitz puts it, “the chthonic forces of blood and soil.” No surprise then that Krein dismissed the alt right as something marginal and unimportant.

Which leaves the question, which I put to them at the debate: If not race or ethnicity or romantic nationalism, what is the force that will keep the civic and legal procedures undergirding this renewed nationalism from coming apart as happened not very long ago, to the last version of civic nationalism in this country?

What, I was asking, will hold the laws and procedures together? Laws and procedures, they answered.

 To be clear, Siegel says that the American Affairs guys share much of the critique of liberalism that the Alt-Right does, but they reject the racial and ethnic politics of the Alt-Right. But the Alt-Right, he says, is more honest:

The difference is that in the alt right it’s clear what holds their concept of politics together: racism, white identity, ethno-nationalism or some combination of the same.

Given all the premises they share, either the white nationalists of the alt right are American Affairs secret allies or they are the competition. Dismissing them as marginal figures and figments of the opposition’s imagination as the left does with its problematic radicals won’t make them go away. If it did they wouldn’t be here to begin with.

Siegel quotes “someone close” to American Affairs explaining this as “probably dancing around religion.” Siegel adds:

That’s certainly plausible, and an understandable apprehension given the presumed secularism of the crowd. But it doesn’t really matter. Whether it’s a cross up your sleeve or a knife, people see you hiding something up there they think you’re a sneak. That is not a feeling that attracts people to new ideas.

Siegel concludes in part by saying this:

I don’t think the country can survive the way it’s going. That doesn’t mean it will fall apart tomorrow. But if society continues to balkanize—now with more street fighting—if the Federal government keeps expanding its power while failing at its most basic duties, as Amazon, Google and the like keep moving towards quasi omniscient information monopolies that add wealth at the top while shrinking jobs, wages and the middle class….well, I don’t know exactly, and I don’t counsel despair, but it doesn’t end well.

I agree with him. “[T]he stakes are high, so say what you mean,” Siegel said. Read the whole thing.  [1]

I advise you to read Matthew Schmitz’s account of the evening here.  [7] Here’s Schmitz expressing puzzlement with the inability of the Dissent editors don’t see how sexual liberation and market capitalism go hand in hand (a question that I have been putting to my fellow social conservatives for a long time):

But what makes today’s left so sure that economic justice and sexual liberation coincide in the way, say, that truth, beauty, and goodness do in the schemes of theologians? Granting that culture and economics intersect, isn’t it a bit odd that the social views of the average leftwing editor are indistinguishable from those of the CEO of Apple? Men like Eric Schmidt think that free markets and free love are by no means irreconcilable. In this judgment they are joined by every pope since Leo XIII. Any left unable to see the way we are enslaved by lust will end up the unwitting handmaiden of those who exploit.

Ross Douthat sums up the meaning of Siegel’s piece succinctly:

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This is exactly right. Siegel calls for us to say what we mean, so let me say what I mean.

  1. I agree with Siegel that we can’t go on like this. Something has to give. It might not give next year, or ten years from now, but we can’t muddle through forever.
  2. The rising Left is bound and determined to crush or at least permanently sideline people it deems heretics — in particular, whites, males, orthodox Christians, and skeptics of the LGBT project. It does not want a pluralistic modus vivendi; it wants total domination. The establishment Left lacks the will to stop them. Its members are terrified of appearing un-woke. All a major corporation has to do to buy off the Left is declare itself in favor of Pride, and so forth.
  3. The establishment Right lacks the will to stop them either, for fear of being called bigots. And it lacks the will or the imagination to stand in any way against corporate interests. It tried to stop Donald Trump, but failed.
  4. Neither Republicans nor Democrats know how to address the conditions that gave rise to the Trump presidency. It would offend too many interests within their respective coalitions.
  5. Trump is a reckless man whose presidency is going to end badly for America. It will also end badly for the people who voted for him; he has no principles except self-promotion, and will sell them out. He also will not be able to get anything serious done, in part because of his total lack of discipline. Trump is a symptom of our political crisis, not a solution.
  6. The real glue holding the dynamic Left together is hatred of the Other. You can see this in part from the Dissent editors’ unwillingness to explore any kind of alliance around economic issues with the right-wing dissidents of American Affairs. For them, the culture war is of such paramount importance that it precludes economic-based alliances.
  7. The real glue holding the dynamic Right together is hatred of the Other. The American Affairs guys would like to suspend the culture war and make common cause with the economic Left, but the Left is not interested.
  8. Christianity, in whatever diluted form, was for most of America’s history the ties that bound us together (whether or not we were Christians). Those days are gone.  Liberalism, in the broadest historical sense, is secularized Christianity, and as such is parasitic on Christianity. When Christianity disappears, as it has largely done in Europe and is well on its way to doing in the United States, it takes with it the basis on which liberalism operates. Laws and procedures alone do not hold a people together.
  9. In a post-Christian nation like ours, there is no realistic hope that religion is going to hold the nation together, or even the forces of the Right. The faith that the old Religious Right (= politicized white Evangelicals) has placed in Donald Trump is self-deceptive, to put it mildly.
  10. As American politics becomes more extreme on both sides, serious Christians will be squeezed out. A significant number of conservative Christians will give themselves over to a Christianized version of blood-and-soil politics. The uncritical embrace of Trumpism by many conservative Christians today opens the door to this.
  11. The future of American politics is highly uncertain. Christians have to do the best they can to fight for moral values in our politics, and in particular for religious liberty. But the “imperium” — meaning the American political order — is probably beyond saving at this point.
  12. The most important thing by far to be conserved is the orthodox Christian faith — and that entails a particular set of moral beliefs and customs, including the traditional family.
  13. Contemporary American life is corrosive to this end in many ways, not all of which are understood by the Christian Right at the moment, mostly because they still confuse Christianity with The American Way Of Life™.
  14. Those orthodox Christians who understand the radical nature of the crisis before us will devote themselves to building up their faith, communities, institutions, and ways of life to be resilient and resolute in the face of American decline. I call this the Benedict Option [10]. The politics of the future may be more left-wing or right-wing, but they will be increasingly anti-Christian. Keeping our heads clear and our hearts stout during this long time of trial will be the most important task facing Christians in this new Dark Age. We too will have to bind ourselves together more tightly to Jesus Christ and to each other in his church.

Bottom line: Identity politics will dissolve the traditional bonds that have held Americans together, and re-bind forces of the Left and forces on the Right to each other. Absent Christianity as a meaningful force in American life, liberalism will continue to fade into exhaustion and senescence. Illiberalism of the Left and of the Right is not yet fully mainstream, but that day is coming. The only thing that can save us from it is a rebirth of Christian consciousness, which at this stage would require a miracle.

Miracles can happen. But I wouldn’t bet the future on them. Read the signs of the times, and prepare.

164 Comments (Open | Close)

164 Comments To "The Storm Before The Storm"

#1 Comment By Double D On June 8, 2017 @ 7:36 am

“Identity politics will dissolve the traditional bonds that have held Americans together, and re-bind forces of the Left and forces on the Right to each other. Absent Christianity as a meaningful force in American life, liberalism will continue to fade into exhaustion and senescence. Illiberalism of the Left and of the Right is not yet fully mainstream, but that day is coming.”

But “liberalism”, whether in its classical or modern forms, produces the pluralism that shatters the public role of Christianity and undermines its foundations.

Contra Dreher the forces of “re-traditionalization”, including a rising nationalism, are necessary steps in the re-creation of a traditional, hierarchical, patriarchal, and (ultimately) Christian social order.

Because Christianity first exploded in the “cosmopolitan” structure of imperial Rome, Christians don’t always grasp that the passing of the faith from one generation to the next will proceed far more naturally and organically where the social order is familial and traditional. The attack on the family–and the nation as an extension of family–has ultimately had the destruction of the faith as its end game. And “liberalism”–which also spawns pluralism, egalitarianism and host of other evils from its Pandora’s Box–has been the bludgeon.

Dreher, though he writes for a magazine called “The American Conservative”, retains the ideoneurological reflexes, knee-jerks and emotional gestalt of the Left.

#2 Comment By Temmy On June 8, 2017 @ 11:40 am

Zebesian says:
June 8, 2017 at 12:50 am

I dont see you guys making much of an effort to marginalise these people or denounce them or no platform them. Your opposition is most tepid. You seem quite willing to tolerate them.

That is why we on the right are forming our own squads to protect us and “physically remove communists”.

#3 Comment By James Solbakken On June 8, 2017 @ 11:55 am

“Plenty of liberals dislike antifa. I am one of them.”
If you don’t like antifa, then antifa will kill you just the same way as they will kill anybody else who does not submit.
I will admit that antifa is not “liberal,” in the sense that you think of your self as “liberal.” It’s just that a lot of us are not “liberal” because we think of “liberal” as being like antifa. So you’ll have to explain in more detail what the difference between you and antifa is, otherwise, we are skeptical.

#4 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 8, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

I’ll see Zabesian and raise him. Any socialist or communist with even a shred of maturity or experience with actual working class organizing would disdain the 21st century antifas as anarchists and bohemians having no coherent politics at all. The Soviet use of the word “hooligan” comes to mind. Like most thugs, they pick on the weak and vulnerable. They wouldn’t consider the risks, let along the discipline and coordination, necessary to challenge real power.

#5 Comment By JonF On June 8, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

Re: That is why we on the right are forming our own squads to protect us and “physically remove communists”.

If you are resorting to lawless violence and terrorism then I hope the authorities throw not just the book but the whole law library at you, just as I have said before should be done with the mirror image people on the Left.
There is no place– none, zip, nada– for political violence in this country. As the old Church Councils used to say “Let it be anathema”.

#6 Comment By Lawrence Larson On June 8, 2017 @ 4:38 pm

JonF

“European Jews were a small minority.” Based on what has transpired over the past several decades of American Christianity, I wouldn’t be sanguine about Christians taking up arms against the radical left. They’ve been trampling you for two decades at least and what has your response been? Frustration and angst aren’t animating emotions. And those whose predilection seems to be to go underground are not the warriors who will be necessary.

“Anybody who can’t see that, horribly flawed as he was, Trump was the last, the only hope of deflecting the 16 year leftist SMOD?”

8 years of Obama + 8 years of Hillary = 16 years of leftist SMOD. Sorry for not being obvious enough for you.

#7 Comment By Zebesian On June 8, 2017 @ 7:07 pm

Temmy says:
June 8, 2017 at 11:40 am
Zebesian says:
June 8, 2017 at 12:50 am
I dont see you guys making much of an effort to marginalise these people or denounce them or no platform them. Your opposition is most tepid. You seem quite willing to tolerate them.
That is why we on the right are forming our own squads to protect us and “physically remove communists”.

Nobody no-platforms Antifa because they don’t have much of a platform. They show up purely to disrupt events, they don’t usually organize out in the open and there are maybe a few hundred of them. Go ahead and form “defense squads”, I don’t care what happens to Antifa.

James Solbakken says:
June 8, 2017 at 11:55 am
“Plenty of liberals dislike antifa. I am one of them.”
If you don’t like antifa, then antifa will kill you just the same way as they will kill anybody else who does not submit.
I will admit that antifa is not “liberal,” in the sense that you think of your self as “liberal.” It’s just that a lot of us are not “liberal” because we think of “liberal” as being like antifa. So you’ll have to explain in more detail what the difference between you and antifa is, otherwise, we are skeptical.

How many people have Antifa killed? You’re confusing them with Islamists. They are college-aged hipsters who shy away when they don’t have a 4-1 numerical advantage over you. If you don’t go to one of a handful of colleges that gets brought up here frequently, you’ve probably never even seen them.

Liberal: Pro choice, pro equal marriage rights, pro pot legality, anti war, pro environment, pro union, pro minimum wage, pro redistributive taxes, pro same pay for same work, anti-racial profiling. Also, anti-gun and anti-nuclear, although I’m not personally those.

Antifa: Often anarchist, although many are socialists/communist “revolutionaries”. I’m sure many hold a few of the above views, but nothing about those views entails being them.

#8 Comment By LFM On June 8, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

“The real threat IS always from the right Viking. Liberals are right-wing from where I stand.” Ah, I remember when that was what all leftists, especially leftist academics (a horrifying notion to you, I’m sure) used to say.

The trouble was that none of these people ever seemed to mean what they say. They would claim to be Marxists but then vote for social democratic reform parties like Canada’s NDP. (Whatever happened to ‘the worse it gets, the better’ where working class living conditions are concerned?)

In as far as Marxists, socialists and social democrats did try to be revolutionary, like Britain’s Labour Party, they were revolutionary in stupid and self-defeating ways, like destroying old working-class neighbourhoods and replacing them with the English equivalent of American ‘projects’. They wanted houses and apartments to be like machines (and in some cases nearly succeeded in achieving this). They encouraged architectural ugliness, clothing-as-uniforms, bland food, preachy books and various other follies.

Marxists and their fellow-travelers also hated sexual liberation movements of any kind – for women, for homosexuals, for prostitutes and free love. Although in theory they supported them, everyone would have to wait until *after* the revolution, the big one, to indulge. Few people were willing to do so. No wonder you fellows – after a few impressive post-war victories – lost the thread, as we say now. Even the most puritanical religious movements have provided more emotional and aesthetic satisfaction than your lot managed…

#9 Comment By Joe Mack On June 8, 2017 @ 10:57 pm

We understand a Manichean future. Either shut up and bake the damned cake or have freedom of conscience.
Not sure either major political party supports freedom.
We are being torn apart by the media and our politics.
Personally, I am a pessimist, but prefer a civil war to submission.

#10 Comment By Temmy On June 9, 2017 @ 10:55 am

Zebesian says:
June 8, 2017 at 7:07 pm

“Nobody no-platforms Antifa because they don’t have much of a platform. They show up purely to disrupt events, they don’t usually organize out in the open and there are maybe a few hundred of them. Go ahead and form “defense squads”, I don’t care what happens to Antifa.”

Your activists support them by bussing them around, giving them intel, giving them legal representation and paying for medical bills. You support them by glamourising them in your magazines and websites. You support them through your silence. You dont force them out of your protests nor do you work with the authorities to unmask them. I have not heard any major leftwing figure denouncing these people.

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 9, 2017 @ 3:25 pm

If you don’t like antifa, then antifa will kill you just the same way as they will kill anybody else who does not submit.

I can’t recall that they’ve killed anyone yet. Should they do so, and local authorities decline to investigate or prosecute, we would have something to really worry about.

I have not heard any major leftwing figure denouncing these people.

Whether there is such a thing as a “major left wing figure” in this country is debatable. I recall with some glee the time William F. Buckley, Jr. remarked that introducing Michael Harrington as ‘the foremost socialist in America today’ was “rather like pointing out the tallest building in Wichita.”

Be that as it may, it is true that those of us denouncing the Antifas from more or less of a Bolshevik perspective are not major figures.

#12 Comment By JonF On June 9, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

Re: They’ve [the radical left] been trampling you for two decades at least and what has your response been?

Odd that I do not feel trampled!
Too many people seem to confuse “not ruling the roost” with “being discriminated against”. And yet Christianity is not a religion about holding power over others, but rather about opening oneself up to the power of God and his love.

Re: 8 years of Obama + 8 years of Hillary = 16 years of leftist SMOD.

Calling either Obama or Hillary “leftists” is as silly as calling a baby carriage a motor vehicle. Both of those two were fairly centrist liberals, though in Clinton’s case I suspect her only real ideology was herself, a common failing among politicians. Obama at least did seem to have some principles lying around somewhere.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 11, 2017 @ 6:58 pm

Calling either Obama or Hillary “leftists” is as silly as calling a baby carriage a motor vehicle. Both of those two were fairly centrist liberals, though in Clinton’s case I suspect her only real ideology was herself, a common failing among politicians. Obama at least did seem to have some principles lying around somewhere.

All true. In 2009 I had people look at my Obama bumper sticker and flash signs calling him a socialist. I thought to myself, oh, if that were only true. But it isn’t.

#14 Comment By Salvatore A. Luiso On June 12, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

I think that this is generally an informative, perceptive, and thoughtful article, and I agree with much of it. With all due respect to the author, though, it seems to me that there is a significant mischaracterization in it.

Dreher says: “Liberalism, in the broadest historical sense, is secularized Christianity, and as such is parasitic on Christianity.”

It seems to me that the author is ignoring the history and cultures of Christianity previous to the Enlightenment. These cultures do not, for the most part, have a reputation for what today are called “liberal values”, e.g. freedom of religion, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience.

That’s why, for example, in the early 17th Century the Pilgrims left England for The Netherlands, and, later, North America.

Of course, the Pilgrims themselves are not known for liberal values–nor the Roman Empire after Constantine, the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and almost all of the other empires and kingdoms of Europe until the 17th or 18th Centuries.

Thus it seems to me that–unless one considers the Enlightenment itself to be “secularized Christianity”–a revival of Christianity in America will not necessarily bring about a revival of liberalism.