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French Hero, Dreher Goat?

If Conservatism Inc. exists primarily to negotiate terms of the Right's surrender, then let's be done with it
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One of you sent me this article by a Yahoo News writer explaining why David French is a hero and I am a goat. Excerpts:

The drift toward illiberal and antidemocratic impulses has also been embraced by a significant portion of the conservative religious community.

Catholic intellectuals like Adrian Vermeule and Patrick Deneen for a few years have promoted what’s known as “Catholic integralism,” the view that Catholicism should be the foundation for public law and policy. And in another sphere of Christianity that is very different from Catholicism — a low-church, charismatic or Pentecostal stream known for its expressive singing and belief in miracles and healing — there has also been a shift over the past decade toward the belief that Christians should take control of government.

These are “people who really want to tightly entangle church and state,” said David French, a conservative writer and senior editor of the Dispatch. French has begun a formal effort to persuade American Christians, especially those on the conservative end of the political spectrum, to reject these ideas.

“The fundamental reality is that none of these movements really have a high degree of respect for individual liberty. They especially don’t have a high degree of respect for the free speech or free exercise rights of those who disagree with them,” French said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast. “That’s a movement that is building.”


Dreher, however, is one of a growing number of conservatives who believe that democracy is actually impossible, because in his mind, progressives want to eliminate those like him and his way of life.

“I would prefer the flawed liberal democracy that we had in our country until about thirty years ago, to the illiberal secularist democracy now coming into existence … that renders people like me into enemies of the people,” Dreher wrote last year to a New Yorker journalist who profiled him.

“We all seem to be barreling towards a future that is not liberal and democratic, but is going to be either left illiberalism, or right illiberalism,” Dreher wrote. “If that’s true, then I know which side I’m on: the side that isn’t going to persecute me and my people.”

But to French, that kind of talk from Dreher is an ends-justifies-the-means philosophy that departs from fidelity to Christian teaching.

“The fundamental thrust of what it means to be a Christian is the imitation of Christ, and the imitation of Christ is [to] take up your cross,” French said. “That’s just a paradigm shift; it’s not a domination paradigm.”

Read it all.

OK, here we go.

I don’t believe that “democracy is actually impossible.” The man who wrote that is not a careful writer. I believe that democracy as we have known it is probably impossible, because of cultural shifts — primarily the rise of wokeness as the successor ideology (Wes Yang’s term) to liberalism. Look at what’s happening just this week, with mobs of pro-abortion protesters outside the houses of Supreme Court justices. What are they protesting against? In part, democracy! If SCOTUS overturns Roe, all that will do is return the abortion issue to the states, and put it into the democratic process. California can be California, and Alabama can be Alabama.

But these people don’t want democracy. They want illiberal leftism. We see this over and over, day after day, in arena after arena. These illiberal leftists have completed their march through the institutions and are now consolidating power, in part by making cultural and religious conservatives into pariahs. I cannot for the life of me understand why this is not more clear to David French and his crowd.

I am neither a Catholic integralist nor an Evangelical MAGA-lord. In fact, I am trying to work out to my own satisfaction what a reasonable and moral political response to current conditions are. But I know for a fact that standard GOP right-liberalism is a dead end that is resulting in the subjugation of the unwoke. As I said, I would rather live in a liberal democracy such as we had well within living memory, for all its flaws, than in what we have today. But that is not a choice in front of any of us. I do not wish to live under a political system that gives unaccountable corporations the power to attempt to force democratically elected legislatures and officials to change course on issues having nothing to do with the business of that corporation. As Paul Kingsnorth pointed out in his most recent interview with Jonathan Pageau, back when he (Kingsnorth) was an environmentalist protester active in the anticapitalist movement, all his comrades saw the World Economic Forum as the enemy. Now that the WEF has become woke, Kingsnorth’s old pals are all on its side.

(This, by the way, is a good time for us conservatives who have been too accepting of unbridled corporate power in the past to reflect on our sins, so to speak, and to repent.)

What I am for is a form of conservatism that is more like what obtains in continental Europe, where corporations are not as free to do what they want to do, and there is a greater appreciation for society and traditions than in the US, with its hyperindividualism. I like French, so I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he seems to believe that American conservatism as it has existed since 1980 (or more broadly, in the postwar era) is the last word in conservatism. It’s not. There are continental European versions, and even minority versions within the American tradition (see Russell Kirk and Peter Viereck). The kneejerk American mainstream conservative fear of the State is like surrendering the only weapons you have in the face of an enemy onslaught. The State is the only major institution in American life in which conservatives have any influence. The kind of conservatism French supports amounts to de facto surrender.

Here’s the thing: I agree that we Christians cannot do evil for the sake of achieving a good end. But what is the evil here? Is it evil to rein in corporate power? Is bloodying the nose of woke capitalists and telling them to stay in their own lane any kind of sin at all? Liberal democracy is not mandated in Holy Writ. Most Christians who have ever lived have not done so under liberal democracy. The idea that to be skeptical of what liberal democracy has become, or even to oppose it, is a sin — well, that’s simply wrong, and makes those who believe it just as guilty of deifying the American system as those MAGA folks they oppose.

I cannot see what conservatives like David French have conserved. Mind you, I hate the way many on the French-skeptical right have demonized him personally. It’s wrong, and in some case it has been evil. I condemn that strongly! And I have pointed out in the past that we who are moving towards skepticism of liberal democracy need to listen to French, if only because he is a seasoned First Amendment litigator, and he understands better than laptop theorists how the system works. The difficult situation conservatives, especially religious conservatives, find ourselves in is that we are going to have to depend heavily on the First Amendment in the years to come, as we become more and more of a despised minority.

That said, the First Amendment is not a force field that prevents all harm from coming to us. The First Amendment will not protect our schools from being conquered by an activist class that wants to poison the minds of children with gender ideology, for example. More deeply, as Christopher Caldwell has written so bravely in his book The Age of Entitlement, our classically liberal Constitution is on a collision course with itself over civil rights and individual liberties. The experience of contemporary American life, especially for cultural conservatives, is one of dispossession. To this, I can’t find that the French-style conservatives have much useful to say, other than trying to talk us into making peace with our dispossession and eventual subjugation, and calling it being Christian.

In Europe, the conservatives I hang with, both in Hungary and across the continent, have no use for the old Christian Democratic parties, which they say are no longer Christian in any meaningful sense, and exist mostly to bring along what’s left of the Right to accept the neoliberal consensus. They are trying to find effective alternatives within their own nations, according to their own national traditions. Good. These are our people. Don’t you believe it when our media, and when establishment conservatives, call them “fascists”. Once again, last summer in Hungary, when I shared a stage with the strongly anti-Orban liberal Peter Kreko, Kreko told the audience that as much as he opposes the Orban government, he was sick and tired of Westerners describing Hungary as “fascist”. It’s simply not true.

Now, you can find real fascists on the broad European Right, just as you can find actual Communists. Similarly in the US, you can find truly alarming extremists on both sides of the broad coalitions. But this from David French (quoted in the Yahoo article) is really misleading:

These are “people who really want to tightly entangle church and state,” said David French, a conservative writer and senior editor of the Dispatch. French has begun a formal effort to persuade American Christians, especially those on the conservative end of the political spectrum, to reject these ideas.

“The fundamental reality is that none of these movements really have a high degree of respect for individual liberty. They especially don’t have a high degree of respect for the free speech or free exercise rights of those who disagree with them,” French said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast. “That’s a movement that is building.”

French said these ideas don’t yet have “a huge power in numbers,” but that is changing because these notions of politics as an all-or-nothing battle with one’s opponents is “mapping itself onto partisan animosity.”

To be fair to French, I don’t know the context from which these quotes were drawn. It could be that the journalist is distorting his message. In my case, I do not want to “tightly entangle church and state,” mainly because I think that would be bad for the church(es), but the integralists certainly want that. (This is one reason why I am not an integralist.) That said, when French complains about the lack of respect on the New Right side for free speech for those who disagree with them, I just shake my head. What world does he live in? The Left runs almost everything now, and dissenters — conservative, moderates, and old-fashioned liberals — have to watch their every word for fear that they will be outed and cancelled. And David French is worried about right-wingers not having sufficient respect for speech?

Is this about Drag Queen Story Hour? Maybe. French was smeared by many on the Right, who said that he called DQSH a “blessing of liberty.” That’s not what he said. French said that the fact that both Christian conservatives and storytelling drag queens can use the public library is a “blessing of liberty.” That’s a meaningful distinction. But that controversy really does raise a fundamental question about politics and society — and this is where French and his critics on the Right could have a useful debate: At what point does the American liberal system permit too much vice?

It’s not just a right-wing question. Many on the Left wish to restrict speech and religious liberty in the name of protecting minorities. We decided in the middle of the twentieth century that the civil rights of black Americans were more important than the rights of states to make their own laws governing race — in other words, that the Constitution did not permit the vice of segregation. The question today is whether or not the US Constitutional order can still be made to work — and, relatedly, whether we can remain together as one people.

These are not easy questions to answer, or to talk about. But I do know that dismissing all critics to the right of The Dispatch and The Bulwark as aspiring fascists is not only wrong, but it’s silly. We are not going to vote our way out of this civilizational crisis, as I keep saying, but that does not mean that politics is useless. If all the Republican Party and Conservatism, Inc., is good for is negotiating the terms of the Right’s surrender, then let’s be done with them, and find politicians who are willing to fight, and able to fight intelligently, to protect free speech, religious liberty, and the possibility of the people to rule themselves without being dictated to by left-wing authoritarian bureaucracies.



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