David Brooks says that the Republican Party is headed off a cliff. He points out statistics showing that Millennials and Generation Z are very, very alienated from conservatism and the GOP. Excerpt:
These days the Republican Party looks like a direct reaction against this ethos — against immigration, against diversity, against pluralism. Moreover, conservative thought seems to be getting less relevant to the America that is coming into being.
Matthew Continetti recently identified the key blocs on the new right in an essay in The Washington Free Beacon. These included the Jacksonians (pugilistic populists), the Paleos (Tucker Carlson-style economic nationalists), the Post-Liberals (people who oppose pluralism and seek a return to pre-Enlightenment orthodoxy). To most young adults, these tendencies will look like cloud cuckooland.
The most burning question for conservatives should be: What do we have to say to young adults and about the diverse world they are living in? Instead, conservative intellectuals seem hellbent on taking their 12 percent share among the young and turning it to 3.
Well, Continetti identified me with the Post-Liberal bloc because of the Benedict Option, though it’s kind of a catch-all category for people who doubt the liberal project. I don’t oppose pluralism; I see it as a social fact. I support immigration restrictions now, not because I oppose pluralism, but because we are in a cultural period in which figuring out how to stop, even reverse, social fragmentation is one of the most important political challenges facing the nation — and maintaining or increasing immigration is only going to make that worse.
It is true that the GOP, and the conservative movement more generally, has massive problems figuring out how to pass on its politics to the younger generations. The Millennials and Generation Z are much to the left of Gen Xers and Boomers — and are starting to vote in big numbers. I wonder, though, just how successful the Democratic Party, and the Left in general, is going to be once the Social Justice Warriors are in charge. The militant illiberalism, misandry, and racism of the emergent Left is going to send a lot of people over to the Right. When liberal intellectual Mark Lilla wrote a book saying that the Democratic Party — his party — needs to get away from identity politics and find a way to reach the white working class that broke for Trump, he was denounced as a white supremacist.
It’s true that the demographic shift, and the ethnic diversification of America, benefits the Democratic Party, but it is doubtful that white males will have a future in that party unless they are prepared to accept conditions of woke dhimmitude. The radical, identity-politics egalitarianism that began on campuses and has now spread more generally through the media and the culture of the Left fragments people along racial, gender, and sexual lines, and sets them at each other’s throats, in a way that the economic solidarity proposed by, say, a Mark Lilla would not. But then, he’s “making white supremacy respectable again.”
If any disillusioned Millennials or Gen Zers make their way to the right, what kind of Right will they find? I don’t understand what David would have the Right do, except be not-crazy leftists. Better a sane leftist than an ideological monster! But we need an actual Right-wing party in this country, though it must be conceded that simple demographic and ideological reality will push the GOP further to the Left in some ways, for the same reason Reaganism ended up pushing the Democrats out of their New Deal-Great Society paradigm, into Clintonism.
Still, it’s impossible to see what the GOP Establishment class has to offer anybody. Brooks’s frustration is born of the failures of that class. The fact that Trump does little but shout and lie doesn’t make the fusionist establishment (that is, national security hawks + free marketers + social conservatives) that Trump displaced any more credible or attractive. Matthew Walther says that the whole Ahmari-French fight is a tempest in a think-tanky teapot. Excerpt:
Consider what the fusionists have done so far. At the height of their influence under George W. Bush, the old fusionist conservatives managed to cut taxes once before the Iraq War cost Republicans their majority in the House of Representatives in 2006. It would be another decade before the GOP once again controlled the executive branch, the House, and the Senate. What did they do with their all-too-brief stranglehold on Washington? Cut taxes again.
On its face, this more or less accurate summary of the Republican Party’s thin résumé while in power reads more like an indictment of fusionism and its ambitions than anything else. It certainly is that. But it is also a reminder of how little regard national politicians have had for anything that does not enrich the wealthy. How many leaders of the GOP have come forward to celebrate the pro-life victories of their counterparts in state legislatures and governors’ mansions throughout the country? How many of them will say that they think Obergefell should be overturned? Wall Street and Hollywood have made their positions clear on everything from trade to abortion to China: It’s dollars all the way down.
This is not to suggest that the post-fusionist right cease all of its present activities and disengage from American public life. Politics is inevitable. So too for the foreseeable future are political defeats.
That’s true, but that was always going to be true as the country stumbles towards political realignment. The post-Clintonite Left may yet lose the 2020 presidential election, but that will only be one stumble on the road to a very different party.
As you know, the single issue that matters most to me is building a strong shield around religious liberty. I will never, ever forget learning in October 2015 that the House and Senate Republican leadership had no plans for post-Obergefell religious liberty legislation. None. They did not care. They didn’t want to be portrayed as bigots in the media, and heaven knows the donor class doesn’t care about us bigoted church people. Donald Trump, as bad as he is in so many ways, has been more pro-active on religious liberty protections than most any Congressional Republican would have been absent his presidency. Conservative religious believers can’t afford to forget that.
Ross Douthat has written the most important piece yet to help you understand the stakes of the Ahmari-French battle. He wouldn’t agree that it’s a minor skirmish among conservative intellectuals and writers. There’s something big being hashed out here. He says that it’s a fight between the old-school Right of the fusionists (represented by David French), and the rebellious Right sick of the old settlement; they are represented in this debate by Sohrab Ahmari.
(I should add that I joined Ahmari in putting my signature on a manifesto published a short time ago in First Things, saying that whatever the differences among the signatories, we all agree that after Trump, things cannot go back to where they were on the Right. My sympathies are firmly on Ahmari’s side in what you might call his philosophical diagnosis of the crisis. I don’t get the point of attacking David French, and I think French-ism — as Ahmari calls it — can’t be dismissed so easily. I’ve written about this in several earlier posts this week.)
Douthat’s contribution to understanding this dispute is in identifying what the Ahmarists want that separates them from the French fusionists:
- A more assertive role for social conservatives within conservative coalition politics
- A more active role for the state in the economy, to serve socially conservative ends
- A philosophical consideration of where the liberal order has ended up
Douthat expands on that last point:
How radical that reconsideration ought to be varies with the thinker. Maybe it just means restoring some kind of lost conservative understanding of American institutions, as Yoram Hazony has argued in essays for First Things and the similarly post-fusionist journal American Affairs. Maybe it means questioning the philosophical underpinnings of the American founding itself, as Patrick Deneen argued in 2018’s big-think book “Why Liberalism Failed.” Maybe it means reinventing the Catholic anti-liberalism of the 19th century, and embracing the “integralism” championed by, among others, Adrian Vermeule of Harvard Law School.
The further this reconsideration goes, the more fanciful, utopian or revolutionary it might seem. (The integralists would cop to the last designation.) But the basic concept of a right rooted more in cultural conservatism and economic populism than in libertarianism and individualism isn’t fanciful; it describes the emergent right-of-center ideological formations all across the Western world. The American pendulum may swing back to fusionism after Trump — French is hardly alone in championing the old regime, and most Republican politicians remain instinctive fusionists — but some version of Ahmari’s turn is one that the right is making almost everywhere, for now.
Douthat points out the painfully obvious: that none of the dissident conservatives have figured out how to build any kind of coherent movement around the person of Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, Trump is such a polarizing figure that his person will determine our politics until he leaves the stage. Keep your eye on figures like Sen. Josh Hawley, who seems to be trying to figure out a philosophically coherent new conservatism from the fusionist ruins.
The most interesting aspect of the new conservatism is its skeptical attitude toward the Enlightenment. It’s not true to say that all the so-called Post-Liberals reject the Enlightenment entirely. Some may, but it’s more accurate to say that we are to various degrees Enlightenment-skeptical. It’s telling that the Fusionists treat this as heresy:
It seems to me that many of the Christian opponents of classical liberalism not only believe the following words to be false but to be actually destructive, over time, to public virtue and religious orthodoxy: pic.twitter.com/vtq2lbHmpT
— David French (@DavidAFrench) June 4, 2019
It’s a robust claim … but there’s truth in it. The argument is not settled by saying “how dare you?!” What if it turns out not only can liberal democracy not endure without grounding in stronger claims than “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” but also the particular features of liberal democracy — especially its project of emancipating the individual — serve over time to alienate citizens from the religious and social commitments they need to make liberal democracy work? We need to be able to talk about that without treating the Constitution like it is Holy Writ.
Though I was a signatory to the First Things statement, and though Continetti identifies me as a Post-Liberal, politics is only a secondary interest to my Benedict Option project. I see our entire political and social order disintegrating, much as the Western Roman Empire did in the 5th century. I’m not going to drag the argument out for you here, not after all this time, but basically the widespread decline of the Christian faith — both in terms of numbers, and in terms of elementary orthodoxy — is the greatest crisis of our civilization. The Benedict Option intends to address that. There is a political component to it, but the main thrust of the idea is not political. Whether the US is ruled by Republicans or Democrats is not ultimately important. That choice likely determines the rate of decline and fall, but not the fact thereof.
Bottom line: I’m interested in the survival of the Church, and in building resilient communities of traditional faith capable of resisting the disorders of the age, and bearing witness to a dark and chaotic time. Maybe even these communities will serve as the early Benedictine monasteries did: as strongholds of light, order, and channels of divine grace to a world in desperate need of same.
If we in the churches are going to build these communities, we need at some level to understand how the social, political, moral, and economic order we live under works against us. We also can’t be under the illusion that changing political leadership is sufficient to address the crisis. It may be necessary, but it is not remotely sufficient.
It should be said that it’s not only the Right that’s questioning the Enlightenment and its fruits in the classical liberal political order. The hatred with which many progressives regard First Amendment protections of free speech and religious liberty reveals that they believe equality (as they define it) is more important than liberty. Here is what I wish the Left understood about why so many of us Christians do not trust them with power. Alan Jacobs summarizes it well in this theoretical conversation on his blog:
Me: I’m concerned about the erosion of support on the left for religious liberty.
They: That’s a disgraceful calumny, we are passionately devoted to religious liberty.
Me: Only when you agree with, or at least are not offended by, the religious beliefs involved.
They: Another disgusting lie!
Me: So what do you think about that Masterpiece Cakeshop guy?
They: What a bigot! I hope the law comes down on him like a ton of bricks.
Me: But he says he’s acting out of his long-held religious convictions.
They: I despise it when people use religion to cover for their bigotry.
Me: So it’s like I said, you only support religious liberty when you agree with, or at least are not offended by, the beliefs involved — the ones you think are not bigoted.
They: Bigotry and religion are not the same thing! Religion is about a person’s relationship with whatever God they happen to believe in, it’s not about passing judgment on their neighbors.
Me: So having claimed the right to define what bigotry is, you’re now defining what religion is?
They: Look, you can go ahead and defend bigotry if you want to, but thank goodness there are laws against that in this country.
And with that, Your Faithful Correspondent, who has a wicked bronchial infection post-Walker Percy Weekend, is going back to bed. Y’all be good.
UPDATE: Reader BG writes:
Let me first say how much I appreciate this blog and all your efforts Rod. I want to add some thoughts here that explain why I think it’s so valuable, related to this issue:
I strongly agree with Matthew Walther’s take that this “storm” of controversy just DOES NOT MATTER, and that the Conservatism being fought over, in any of the described sects, is dead on the ground. Conservative thinkers and public figures are suffering from the same navel-gazing they so often accuse liberal journalists of. They may think they are out of the bubble, but they are still in it. All the issues and tactics they are giving so much thought and prose to matter almost nothing to most millenial (and Gen-X) voters. The Blue Wave isn’t just coming. It’s already here, having tsunami’d over the younger generation; the older generation just doesn’t realize it yet.
When I watched Trump pull off his surprise election victory in 2016, I remember two distinct thoughts coming to me, seemingly reflexively:
1) Wow, that was unexpected.
2) This is the dying gasp of an America that doesn’t exist anymore.
Conservative thinkers like to talk about Trump as though he’s a new direction for the movement. But there’s no new direction, because the moving volume has no mass. Statistically speaking, almost no one under 35 has a strong affinity for any of these brands of conservatism. And this is what makes the Benedict Option so critical to those of us still trying to raise families.
I’m a 30-year-old Christian conservative with a young family. I attended a private Christian college, in one of the reddest states in the country one with an emphasis on Apologetics and the Western Cultural Tradition. I would say more than 80% of its student body were what you would call “serious Christians”, and probably more than half would call themselves conservative. I graduated 8 years ago. In that time, among my peers from school, I’ve noticed:
-roughly half have stopped attending Church altogether
-more than half half are fully-affirming LGBTQetc “allies”
-more than half openly despise Trump and the GOP
-maybe 20% are already divorced
-more than ~25% had a child (or children) before they were married
-at least half believe the Green New Deal is the only hope for humanity’s future
-almost all of them are completely dependent on social media for their intellectual formation
Earlier this week, a close friend of mine from school came out to me as Transgendered. He (she?) was a leader on multiple mission efforts during our time as students. Another good friend of mine, who graduated as a Divinity student, is now an open advocate for more acceptance of human-animal relationships.
Now, keep all this in mind, and remember that this is a representative sample of what should be the MOST CHRISTIAN/CONSERVATIVE portion of the electorate. Religious/political affiliations with the “movement” decline logarithmically from there.
All this is to say that I very much appreciate the intellectual stimulation that the conservative thinkers provide. But they are playing a game with themselves. As Michael Anton said in his “Flight 93 Election”, “we are headed off a cliff”. I’m no saint, but I do feel very, very alone as a conservative Christian man trying to raise a faithful, thoughtful family in 2019. Our church is devout and fervent, but shrinking. Many of my friends would disown me if they knew the extent of my political beliefs. My wife, an extremely social person, found herself to be the only woman among her many peers that was skeptical of the Kavanaugh accusations. Thank God, we found a good classical Christian school nearby that we can save up for for our kids. The Benedict Option shouldn’t even be a debate anymore; the great deluge of secular Leftism isn’t coming in 2020 or 2024, it’s here NOW.
UPDATE.2: Reader PW:
I am a millenial. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Here are my top concerns in my day-to-day life:
1) The endless spiraling costs of healthcare. This is CRITICAL to young families, and something the SoCons seem constitutionally incapable of even talking about honestly.
2) Student loans. I spend as much on student loans as I do for food for a family of four. This expense cripples my family.
3) Housing costs. For those of us not in flyover country this has hit a critical point.
4) Childcare / education. As a family, this actually *exceeds* my housing costs.
5) Wages. Wages in my industry have been flat for 20 years, and I work in a “good” job!
Republicans have nothing – in fact, less than nothing, to offer me. All the SoCons seem constitutionally capable of doing is screaming about a flag somewhere. I cannot express how little that matters to me.
In my bones, I’m not really in line with the current Democrat party. I’m fiscally to the *right* of the Republican party (talk about irresponsible, modern Republicans never met a budget they couldn’t blow out). I’m socially close to Dreher.
And every year, the Republicans push me further and further into the Democrat coalition. The utter corruption of the Republican Party is breathtaking in it’s thoroughness. That corruption makes it utterly unable to respond to the concerns of anyone who isn’t a billionaire or a farmer in a narrow swing district.
The fact of the matter is, Republicans have made it clear: they have no interest in me, and they are not getting my vote.