Against Conservative Doomerism
Younger right-wingers are rejecting the hopelessness of the older generation, and they want long-term plans.
Optimism is a dirty word on the British Right. With Toryism loosely defined as a political vehicle that resists needless change and longs for conservation, any hint of belief that things could improve is treated with disdain and refuted as a fanciful hope more befitting of a progressive.
Tories have traditionally opposed utopians, rightly noting that their dreams of paradise all too often end in the kind of misery, squalor and violence that would rival a Hobbesian state of nature. This gives rise to a reliance on pessimism, with the late Sir Roger Scruton writing a book titled The Uses of Pessimism in 2010, which uses the spirit of the conservative political tradition to take aim at the dangerous fallacies of false hope.
But the positive uses of pessimism also bring the burden of inaction. You hear it all the time, that cosy line that communistic social justice wokery is inevitable, and leftists will continue to dominate, so why bother fighting it? Just relax, be pessimistic about it all and try to occupy your mind with something else.
This is the mentality of the conservative doomers, it’s rife throughout the British and American commentariat, and it’s got to be challenged.
Conservative journalist Ed West’s excellent new book Small Men on the Wrong Side of History: The Decline, Fall and Unlikely Return of Conservatism lists a litany of defeats suffered by British and American conservatives in a witty, and often movingly personal account. West lets rip at the rise of the leftist activist base that props up the tax-guzzling charity sector, the huge amount of liberal success in the culture war that has been enjoyed due to the vast expansion of the university sector, and the thought-crushing effect of the PC brigade.
He is an immense writer; his arguments are buttressed with references to Burke and Sowell that succinctly summarize conservative opinion on issues that most would need a whole book to express.
But he also brings an attitude of doomer defeatism, the fear that things are only going to get worse, and that while the populism of the last decade could bring opportunities for right-wing reform, it might also hurry a partisan politics that causes irreparable harm to the intricately woven threads that produce the delicate fabric of civil society.
In one hilarious section, West discusses being courted for a job via telephone with one-time Trump strategist and then-Breitbart guru Steve Bannon, who kept telling him what he could “weaponize” in the culture war fight against the Left. West rightly notes that with its size and broader diversity of opinion, American conservatism has been better placed to fight the leftist march through the institutions, which was essentially unopposed during Britain’s Blairite era.
But America has endured the march nonetheless. Institutions like major legacy media organizations have been crippled by bias, with a 2004 Pew survey of journalists finding that just 7 percent identified as conservative; a 1962 study showed that 28 percent of Washington correspondents described themselves as conservative. Last week institutions like Vox and the New York Times were consumed by civil wars between data-driven, Popperesque liberals and the woke vanguard. This radical shift and the 1987 removal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission led to a starkly polarized media landscape, with shock-jock Right-wing radio hosts lambasting barely hidden Obama worship by CNN correspondents.
West fears the same affliction reaching Britain, and has written about why it needs to retain the BBC—which even its most dogged supporter must concede is at least implicitly biased. Its critics rightly note that it is packed with bias of a more explicit kind, especially on its flagship news analysis program.
This leads West to an interesting position: defend the institutions that support conservative downfall, because a revolutionary action that removes them would almost certainly lead to them being replaced with something much worse, fostering more political polarization and a body politic which is less of a mild-mannered debating chamber and more Mad Max-style winner-takes-all killing zone.
The doomers want us to put up with it, let the culture war rage on, because if we try to get stuck in, we’ll only make things worse.
I am sympathetic to this view and share much of it, but there are ways we can engage in the culture wars without giving additional attention and remuneration to the red-in-the-face raging grifters that pervade the right-wing media on both sides of the Atlantic.
New generations of conservatives—who have not been withered by the endless fads of liberalism like ceaseless drops of acid rain on a rock—are increasingly fervent with optimism. During our brief stints of being politically aware, we have seen a president elected to the White House on a national-conservative platform and a gigantic refutation of the British political quagmire through the Brexit vote.
Some might say it is just youthful naivete, but many of us feel like there are things we can achieve and leftist encroachments we can roll back without relying on the excessive pools of rage and partisanship that pervade alternative media.
If we don’t want to fight the culture war by going toe-to-toe in embarrassing media fights that no one truly wins, perhaps we should be looking to hamper our opponents by removing the apparatus that produces our enemy.
There is a ginormous surveillance-disciplinary network of organizations that exist almost exclusively to foster anti-conservative sentiment and give media-booking status to left-leaning activists. A new creation is spawned every so often. HateLab, which was launched in 2017, describes itself as a “global hub for data and insight into hate speech and crime.” A quick browse of its website reveals that it is funded by the government money and revolves around a nexus of academics at Cardiff University. It features some two-dozen publications, mostly revolving around policing ‘hate speech’ on Twitter. HateLab receives British government funding, and, bafflingly, cash from the U.S. Department of Justice. Are they accountable to the American or British taxpayer? Of course not. Do they contribute to a policy discussion which is used to beat down conservative voices online? Absolutely.
Britain is also burdened by an endless supply of semi-public administrative bodies (derogatively referred to as “quangos”) that rely on huge amounts of public money. The conservatives attempted a ‘bonfire of the quangos’ after being elected in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but only 199 out of 900 were listed as being “no longer a public body.” Many of the senior positions in quangos and other public offices are held by left-leaning activists, as the 2010 Equality Act protects diversity on the basis on gender, race, or disability, but not on socioeconomic background, leading to a rise in representation from middle-class women and minorities, who are more likely to be Leftist, and a massive underrepresentation from manual workers, who heavily vote Conservative. A renewed ruthless mentality is needed to deal with these outfits.
We are also burdened by a bloated higher education system. The pundits and so-called experts on the BBC that lament conservative reform often gain their stripes in the culture war fight from universities, which give them the necessary credentials to be booked by a producer. Two quangos—the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council—chuck eye-watering amounts of public money at left-wing research projects. Recent ESRC success stories include “Reforming Legal Gender Identity: A Socio-Legal Evaluation” and “Public Discourses on the Silence of Inherited Trauma.” The former taking place at the reputable King’s College London; the latter at the less-notable Roehampton University. Neither project can be said to be worthwhile, but they keep the left-wing culture warring troops on the march. They must be abolished.
Britain’s most-famous social conservative journalist and doomer-in-chief Peter Hitchens has been writing about his hopelessness in all political matters for decades. He hates and disregards the Conservative Party, which he thinks is a Blairite project, and dismisses opportunities for right-wing reform on the grounds that they are either silly or won’t be achievable. West voted to remain in the EU in 2016 on the understandable conservative grounds that the revolutionary aspects of Brexit would do too much harm to our political system; fervent eurosceptic Hitchens refused to even vote due to his long-held opposition to referenda, which he believes violate the norms of parliamentary democracy. Nowadays, I only check his columns for his beautiful prose on travel and trains, which read like they are being written through a pair of nostalgia-wettened misty eyes.
If conservatism is going to be viable in any meaningful political and civil sense, its adherents must adopt strategies for its long-lasting implementation. Achieving this might mean an overhaul of our typical approach, a rejection of the low-energy doomer mentality, and a move to abolish the institutions that serve to harm us. Burke, cover your eyes, but I think we need a revolution.
Charlie Peters writes from the UK.