By now, Sohrab Ahmari is familiar to TAC readers. The life story of someone who was born to Muslim parents in Iran, moved to the U.S., worked in the neoconservative vineyards—The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and now The New York Post where he’s the op-ed editor—would be interesting enough. And yet his conversion to Catholicism and his feud with National Review’s David French adds even more interest. (Ahmari started at least the public portion of that feud when he published an article in First Things titled “Against David French-ism.”)
As Ahmari wrote in The Catholic Herald in 2016, his personal odyssey took him from Shia Islam and Sharia law in Iran to atheism, Nietzscheanism, and Marxism in the United States, and then to “dabbling” in evangelical Christianity before arriving at the Roman Catholic Church. So perhaps it’s fitting that he names Caravaggio’s The Denial of St. Peter as his favorite painting—after all, Caravaggio, too, had a tumultuous life.
Speaking of tumult, we can note that the word “war,” as in culture war, appears five times in Ahmari’s First Things piece. As he wrote, “’The only way is through’—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”
Ahmari’s goal—winning the culture war and restoring a conservative cultural order—is, um, audacious. And if that order is intended to be defined, more specifically, by Catholic integralism, well, that’s doubly audacious. Yet there’s been a lot of successful audacity lately, from The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, to The Audacity of Trump, by Donald Trump.
So while the percentage of Americans who support a truly conservative order is tiny, the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo is far from tiny. In their different ways, figures as diverse as Trump (surely the most anti-incumbent incumbent in presidential history), Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Josh Hawley, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all speak to a deep-seated dissatisfaction with business as usual. And while it’s possible that these divergent leaders will simply cancel each other out, leaving the status quo intact, it’s also possible that some new political and cultural synthesis will eventually emerge.
For clues about any such synthesis, Americans might study the right-leaning “post-liberal” leaders who have been freely elected to top offices in countries as disparate as Poland, Hungary, Italy, Brazil, India, and the Philippines. Needless to say, American liberals—including libertarians—are horrified at the thought of any such anti-liberal politics making its way to our shores. And liberals in all those foreign countries were horrified, too, but that didn’t stop the illiberals from winning.
Indeed, there seems to be at least one post-liberal American already in high office: Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. Unlike Ahmari and many in his circle, Hawley is a Protestant, yet he notably stood up for the Catholic Church—and stood up to the Trump administration—when he derailed the judicial nomination of a man who had written a legal brief comparing the Church to the Ku Klux Klan.
Moreover, it’s a safe bet that Ahmari and Hawley are on the same side when it comes to the Pelagian Heresy, which raged through Christendom during the fifth century. In fact, at a commencement speech in May, Hawley gave it to Pelagius with both barrels.
So if one takes the long view—as Hawley did when he nuked that ancient scribbler—it’s possible to see that with the passage of enough time, anything is possible. That is, just as liberalism blossomed in the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to Locke, Voltaire, and Jefferson, so, too, could it wilt, perhaps even in this century. Of course, the post-liberals might put the matter differently; they would likely say that they are simply restoring good health to the body politic.
Indeed, in March, fifteen “tradicals”—a play on “traditionalist” and “radical”—including Ahmari, published a manifesto, “Against the Dead Consensus.” The dead consensus, of course, was the consenting of conservatives to be “fusioned” with classical liberals and neocon interventionists, many of whom are cultural liberals.
Indeed, the post-liberal, post-fusion vision extends beyond the United States of America to the rest of the Americas. On June 21, Ahmari tweeted a 2017 talk by José Gomez, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, in which Gomez described Mary, taking the form of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as the fons et origo of Mexican Catholicism, as “America’s true foundress.”
As Gomez put it, “The nations of the Americas all trace their faith to the coming of the Virgin at Guadalupe. We share a common story of origins. And we are joined in a common destiny.”
And that common destiny, in Gomez’s telling, is to follow the banner of the Catholic Church:
The Church was established to be the vanguard of a new humanity and a new civilization, one family of God drawn from every race and every nation and every language. …Guadalupe shows us that holiness knows no color. Beyond the color of our skin or the countries we come from, we are all brothers and sisters, children of one Father.
Ahmari put his own cards on the table when he observed, “Part of our work is recovering the Hispano-Catholic Founding of America,” which preceded, he added, “the second, Anglo Founding.” So we can see: Ahmari aims to position the Catholics of South and Central America as prior to the Protestants of North America. The apparition of Mary at Guadalupe, just outside of Mexico City, came in 1531, and the slowpoke Pilgrims didn’t get to Plymouth Rock until 1620.
Okay, but is that precedence just an historical fun fact, or will it matter politically? That’s hard to know, but we can know this much: it matters demographically. To illustrate this, on June 22, Ahmari retweeted a tweet highlighting photos of a Catholic confirmation ceremony at Santa Margarita Church in Pharr, Texas—a little town hard on the banks of the Rio Grande. Those in the picture appear to be all, or almost all, Hispanic. Indeed, the tweet was written in Spanish.
So we can start to see a vision of North and South America united culturally, if not politically—but maybe politically, too, perhaps in some sort of Holy Roman Empire of the Americas.
To put it mildly, this is not the vision of Donald Trump, whom many post-liberals seem to support. Yet it’s obvious that the post-liberals, tradicals, integralists, surviving paleocons, and all their fellow travelers are playing a longer game, planning for when Trump will have departed from the national stage.
So to play that game a little bit, we might think ahead to the year 2031, which will be the quincentennial of the Virgin of Guadalupe, that dark-skinned queen of the church. What will America look like then? Might it, too, be a darker hue?
Without a doubt, the U.S. will be more Hispanic, a result of higher birth rates as well as immigration. And while there’s no certainty about their Catholicism—Ahmari’s Church, after all, is embroiled in sex scandals that some deem lethal, and Protestantism has been on the rise—it’s a given that Hispanic Americans will have at least a Catholic heritage, which will help shape their political outlook.
All these demographic changes might seem to be good news for Democrats, even if, say, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would beg to differ. At the same time, the growth of Hispanic Democrats might not bode well for liberal Democrats. After all, there aren’t a lot of Planned Parenthood members in Pharr, Texas.
Moreover, by 2031, most Baby Boomers will be gone, and their passing, one suspects, will see the passing, too, of the sort of hyper-individualism that we saw in the ’60s and, for the most part, in the decades since.
So who will remain? Answer: lots of people of all colors who grew up with computers and the Internet as their second selves. And how will all that screen time have shaped their thinking? This author has speculated on the possible effects. Short version: paradoxically, for all the liberation of the Internet, users may become cautious, rigid, even dogmatic.
Yet come what may cyber-wise, in 2031, the post-liberals will be ready—either to rule or to rumble.
James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.