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What To Do When The Chikin Is Chicken?

Social Justice Warriors win again (Photo by photovs/Getty Images Plus

Nope, nope, nope:

I believe Franklin Graham is being played here. He should have asked Dan Cathy if, in its future charitable giving, Chick-fil-A has ruled out donating to faith-based organizations that adhere to traditional Christian teaching on LGBT issues. That’s the one question that could clear the air. If he says “no, we have not ruled that out,” then they can accurately said not to have bowed down to the left’s demands. If he says, “yes, we have ruled that out,” then of course they caved.

Until and unless Chick-fil-A answers that question clearly, they should not be given exoneration on this question by Christian leaders.

Jake Meador has a thought-provoking piece about the meaning to intra-conservative politics of Chick-fil-A’s surrender. Excerpts:

Because Chick-fil-A offers a superior product, so the story goes, it is immune to cultural pressures. The market is free and fair. Rod Dreher, no fusionist himself, recently described this narrative: “Quality work and a good product will always win out, even over left-wing prejudice. It was possible to look at Chick-fil-A and draw that conclusion.” This is conservative fusionist theory applied to Chick-fil-A: The soft power of cultural norms is marginally important at best. In America’s pluralist society, conservative Christians are best served by arguing for viewpoint neutrality while aligning themselves with the forces of economic progress, thus carving out a space for themselves alongside progressive businesses. When they do that well, they can thrive and be insulated from woke cultural forces.

Events this week disproved that, says Meador. Why, he asks, did Chick-fil-A yield, even though it was not under meaningful economic pressure to do so (indeed, Chick-fil-A has become America’s third-richest fast food chain, despite all the absurd hatred from progressives)? Meador says it has to do with the fact that progressives are no longer liberal, in the “tolerance for pluralism” sense, and don’t apologize for it. He writes:

I suspect that this is because progressives, unlike conservatives, are willing to say, “We know what the good life is and what human beings ought to be.” And this is so powerful that even businesses that seemingly have no commercial need to do so, like Chick-fil-A, feel pressure to give ground to that vision of the good. The conservative fusionists are wrong about how societies work. Pluralistic societies and neutral markets without a shared vision of the good aren’t natural; human beings need shared loves and a coherent narrative about human identity and common life. That is what the nation’s progressives are offering (however imperfectly) in their story of expressive individualism and LGBTQ+ rights. They know what they believe about human identity. And they know that society ought to reflect that ideal.

Read it all. I agree with Meador in theory, but I’m not sure what Meador wants Christian conservatives to do about it, though. This goes back to the question at the heart of the French-Ahmari debate: are Christians better served by fighting for their rights within liberalism, using liberal means, or should they abandon liberalism for an illiberal strategy, as progressives have done?

David French, a fusionist, can speak definitively about how to defend conservative Christian interests within liberalism. What do you do, though, when liberal values are in decline, and you don’t have a negotiating partner? An academic friend was telling me recently that among his conservative Christian colleagues, there’s still a strong sense that if only we make better arguments, in more prominent places, we can turn this thing around. My friend said that his colleagues don’t seem to understand how emotionally hysterical the situation is within institutions.

For example, I wrote in an update to earlier post today that at Syracuse University, whose campus has been rocked by racist threats, has determined that the threats were probably a hoax … but the school president nevertheless agreed to protesters’ demands for a million-dollar investment in “diversity” classes, and mandatory political education for faculty and staff. This is par for the course these days. This is exactly what you would expect of an institution that is terrified of progressives, so much so that it won’t defend itself when falsely accused. This is the kind of thing we see over and over in all kinds of institutions — including, alas, Chick-fil-A. The idea that by giving to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, it was funding “hate,” is the kind of bullsh*t smear that the left excels at these days. And you know what? It works.

What is the alternative for us on the right? Let’s say we decided to do exactly as the left is doing. Do you really want to harass businesses that donate to LGBT causes until they stop? I don’t, and you’re not going to be able to find many conservatives who do. It’s not a matter of cowardice; it’s a matter of not wanting to live in such a puritanical, emotionally fraught society. It’s not necessarily the case that the left believes in its view of human flourishing more strongly than conservative Christians do. It’s that the view of human flourishing — or at least political flourishing — that many conservative Christians hold allows for them to be tolerant of certain kinds of sin, for the sake of the greater good. Not everything that is sinful should be illegal, or should even necessarily be the target of public vilification.

This, of course, is not at all the way the progressives (as distinct from old-fashioned liberals) see it. The Social Justice Warriors really are a cult. I can’t say enough good things about Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government, a monumental history of the Bolshevik Revolution. Reading it, and getting into the mindset of the Bolsheviks, has helped me understand our own SJWs, and why they are so dangerous. Slezkine describes the Bolsheviks as an apocalyptic millenarian cult — a left-wing political version of religious cults of the past. Though they did not have God, they shared with Christian cults a radical sense of Good and Evil, and the belief that if only the Good severely punish the Evil, then peace and justice will reign. They — these cults, including the Bolsheviks — believed that the line between Good and Evil ran between them and everyone outside the cult, and that to fail to exact strict and severe punishment on ideological deviants was to fail God (or the Revolution). It is very hard for more moderate, liberal-minded people (whether or the left or the right) to stop these fanatics, because they cannot be reasoned with. They see reasoning as a temptation to compromise with evil. The reason the Bolsheviks succeeded in marginalizing the other leftist and revolutionary parties is that they were the most ruthless. They understood the weakness of their opponents — not just the decaying Tsarist order, but also the liberals who would replace autocracy — and hammered-and-sickled them to death. Writes Slezkine:

“The revolutionaries were going to prevail because of the sheer power of their hatred. It cleansed the soul and swelled like the flood of the real day.” [“real day” means here “Judgment Day,” or the “Day of the Lord”. — RD]

You might wonder: What kind of person walks around obsessed with the fact that a chicken restaurant gives money to the Salvation Army, and reads that as a manifestation of evil? The answer is: the kind of people who eventually win, in large part because they can count on a sympathetic media, and an elite class that is either with them, or at least afraid to oppose them.

Do conservatives, Christian or otherwise, want to become that kind of fanatic? I don’t, and you probably don’t either. But we had better be willing to become some kind of fanatics in defense of old-fashioned liberal values — free speech, free assembly, tolerance of difference, etc. — or we will lose them.

Yet Jake Meador — like, I think, Sohrab Ahmari — sees the problem with this. Defending liberalism as a guarantor of the neutral public square is not the kind of cause that fires people up. The SJWs don’t want a neutral public square. They don’t want a public square where they can propose their own version of human flourishing, and let people decide which is more appealing. They want a public square purified of evildoers. Often they use the language of liberals (e.g., “equality”) to describe what they seek, but make no mistake, this is not liberalism as we have long understood it. There is nothing liberal about standing outside a university building screaming and cursing and trying to prevent people from going in to hear an author speak, as happened at UC Berkeley last night.

To recap: though a man of conservative religious, cultural, and political beliefs, I do not want to live in the right-wing version of the coercive left-wing order advocated by the SJWs. I do not want to fight for such an order, because I believe it would be unjust. You will not find me joining a mob surrounding a university building to prevent people from going to hear a left-wing speaker, and not because I’m too cucked, or whatever, to take that stand. I believe that outside of extraordinary circumstances, justice is served by allowing free people to listen to a freely delivered speech. A right-wing mob trying to shut down that talk is not preferable to a left-wing mob doing so.

But, as the history of Spain in the 1930s shows, it is possible for a country to get to a point where there is no liberalism to defend, and one has to choose between which extreme — right or left — with which one will align. It may come to that here. I hope not, but who knows?

In the meantime, I’m at a genuine loss for how to strategize outside the liberal order. This is a major conceptual challenge we on the post-fusionist right have yet to meet. It’s why Patrick Deneen wrote the only realistic conclusion he could to Why Liberalism Failed, but it was still unsatisfying. It’s why Sohrab Ahmari is mostly correct in his diagnosis of the maladies of liberalism, including right-wing liberalism, but he has no plausible solution. We are all so deeply formed by liberalism’s principles that we can scarcely imagine a world outside of it. The SJWs succeed because they make their ideology sound like a distillation of liberalism — like the logical next step, or, as Communist propaganda of the 1930s falsely described their wicked creed, “Liberalism in a hurry.”

That’s why to oppose them appears to a lot of people to be the same as opposing diversity, inclusion, and equality. It’s Stalinist what progressives, and their fellow travelers in the media, have done with language, but this is the world we live in. It’s a world in which they can successfully paint the Salvation Army as a conspiracy of hatemongers. They get away with this in part because the progressives build on what Americans have already come to believe about human identity. How conservative Christians compete with this, I honestly don’t know. We can’t even get many of our own people to understand their own faith, and the implications of a Christian anthropology. It’s like I say to the Catholic integralists: before you can hope to create an integrated Catholic political order, you’d better first convince Catholics to integrate their own lives with the teachings of the Church. Good luck with that.

And look, all of us trad-minded Christians need the same “luck,” as even within our own ecclesial polities, there is a conspicuous lack of, to use Meador’s words, “shared loves and a coherent narrative about human identity and common life.” In the matter of Chick-fil-A, progressives won because they have built on the Sexual Revolution’s narrative that sexual desire is at the center of human identity and dignity. And they have built on the widespread conviction in American culture that religion is a strictly private matter. Again: how would an orthodox Christian counternarrative be effectively incarnated today, in this post-Christian, individualist culture? I’m having a real hard time thinking this one through.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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