Home/Rod Dreher/‘Um, Conservatives Are Right,’ Says Leftie

‘Um, Conservatives Are Right,’ Says Leftie

Freddie de Boer is always worth reading because he’s a straightforward leftist. Even when he’s wrong — and from my conservative point of view, that’s often — he’s worth reading. Especially when he is calling out the left on its hypocrisies. Which he does in this post about how social conservatives are right about our increasing marginalization in our culture. Excerpts:

Social conservatism (that is, the conservative attitudes regarding the family, romance and sex, and adherence to conformity with the community) is wrong on just about everything, from my perspective. It’s also, thankfully, been in full-out retreat for several decades. I am glad about this because I reject the moral and political arguments of social conservatism. But there’s one thing social cons get right: they are correct when they predict the consequences of the next social change. The thing is those consequences are usually good or, at least, not bad in the way they think. But their predictions, as predictions? Usually correct.

Social cons said that no-fault divorce would read to vastly higher divorce rates, and it did. Social cons said that ending the norm of the two-parent family would lead to more single-parent households, and they were correct. Social cons said that widespread access to birth control would lead to sexual licentiousness, and they were right. Social cons said that legalized abortion would decouple sex from procreation, and that happened. Social cons said that decriminalization of gay sex would lead to social acceptance of gay people, and so it was. Social cons said that social acceptance of gay people would lead to gay marriage, and that was true. Social cons said that efforts to end stigma against trans people would lead to a general rejection of the gender binary, and so it has.

De Boer, who is an academic, says that campuses really are growing more and more intolerant of dissent from the Right — and left-of-center professors get all huffy when this is pointed out to them:

I hear people say that they won’t permit arguments against affirmative action in their classes — hate speech, again — despite the fact that depending on how the question is asked, a majority of Americans oppose race-based affirmative action in polling, including in some polls a majority of Hispanic Americans. The number of boilerplate conservative opinions that are taken to be too offensive to be voiced in the campus space just grows and grows, and yet progressive profs I know are so offended by the idea that they could be creating a hostile atmosphere, they won’t even discuss the subject in good faith.

And while I think conservative students can mostly get by fine on the average campus, I really can’t imagine going through life as a conservative professor, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Is that a problem? That depends on your point of view. But if it’s happening, shouldn’t we talk about the fact that it’s happening?

No, we cannot talk about that, Fredrik! We must no-platform any thought that might seem in any way sympathetic to the infidels. “An open mind is how the devil gets a foothold,” said our fundamentalist Christian grandmother, or was that the dean of the Duke Divinity School?


The idea that we need any intellectual diversity at all invites immediate incredulous statements like, “you’re saying we should debate eugenics?!?,” as though the only positions that exist are the obviously correct and the obviously horrible. The idea that you’re supposed to read the publications of the antagonistic viewpoint has been dismissed as a relic. People call for conservative books to be pulled from library shelves; they insist that the plays of conservative David Mamet have no place in the contemporary theater; they call for the resignation of some video game exec dude because he donates to Donald Trump. These are all the sorts of things that for years we said we weren’t doing, and now we’re doing them.

Conservatives have been arguing for years that liberals essentially want to write them out of shared cultural and intellectual spaces altogether. I’ve always said that’s horseshit. But I’m trying to be real with you and take an honest look at what’s happening in the few spaces that progressive people control. In the halls of actual power, meanwhile, conservatives have achieved incredible electoral victories, running up the score against the progressives who in turn take out their frustrations in cultural and intellectual spaces. This is not a dynamic that will end well for us.

Really, read the whole thing. 

The dynamic de Boer speaks of in that last graf runs both ways. Some cultural conservatives who get driven out of or persecuted in shared cultural and intellectual spaces by illiberal liberals are taking their (our) frustrations out by voting for illiberal right-wingers like Donald Trump. I am on record saying that I believe Trump is a con man and bad news all around, but I totally understand why conservatives who dislike and distrust Trump vote for him anyway: because while he is no friend to principled conservatism, he is not a left-wing Puritan who will advance the war against us.

Here’s what I want my fellow social conservatives to understand: Trump is at best going to slow down the inevitable. This week’s Executive Order on religious liberty is nothing more than social-conservative virtue signaling. If Donald Trump or the Congressional Republicans really wanted to do something substantive about religious liberty, we’d see in the case of the former an EO with teeth, and in the case of the latter — which is more responsible here than the president is — meaningful legislation. Here’s Ryan T. Anderson on the EO:

President Trump’s executive order on free speech and religious liberty, while welcome, is rather weak. It is woefully inadequate in meeting the challenges of our time.

Congress must act, therefore, to address the major threats to religious liberty in the United States today. It must correct the violations that took place during the previous administration, and prevent future administrations from violating the religious liberty rights of Americans.

Anderson details things that the Republican Congress can and should do. “President Trump promised to sign into law both the Conscience Protection Act and the First Amendment Defense Act,” he concludes. “Congress should send them to his desk.”

Trump can’t originate legislation. Note well: we have a Republican House and a Republican Senate, and a Republican president who has promised to sign these pieces of legislation. If they cannot be passed in this Congress, they cannot be passed. I’ve been told by people working in the religious liberty legislative arena that Christians at the local level just don’t call their Congressmen or state legislators to urge them to stand up for religious liberty. You should know that big business not only takes the opposite stance when it comes to religious liberty vs. LGBT rights, but it puts its money and its lobbying force behind those convictions.

People love to say that I’m a defeatist, that I’m surrendering. I suppose you could say that, but honestly, I hope to be proved wrong on this stuff, but I don’t think I will be. My thought is that we have to fight, but we also have to be realistic about the prospect of victory in the usual arenas. Social conservatism is increasingly unpopular. Look at these Gallup numbers from 2015:

The same survey found that people still describe themselves as economic conservatives. Compare those findings to these 2016 Pew data on where Americans stand on questions of religious liberty and sex (e.g., contraception mandate, transgender bathrooms, providing wedding services to gay couples). On contraception, there is very little support for religious liberty. On the other questions, people are split … but the trend lines from the Gallup survey indicate that the socially conservative position is in decline.

Again: we have to fight as hard as we can, but we cannot allow ourselves the illusion of thinking that we’re likely to win. So how do we live out our faith convictions despite this hostility? How do we keep future generations in the faith as the general culture quickly moves from post-Christian to anti-Christian? In my travels recently, I spoke with a very conservative Christian writer who is incredibly courageous, right on the front lines of the culture war. She told me that she’s a believer in the Benedict Option, and doesn’t understand why our fellow conservative Christian believers deceive themselves that we are in normal times, and that Donald Trump and the Republican Party are going to make everything great again. With the Executive Order effectively suspending enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, we are going to see a lot of campaign money effectively laundered through churches, and millions of gullible conservative Christians actually believing that the GOP is going to protect us.

Freddie de Boer is right to say that social conservatives predicted that what we have now was going to be the result of these incremental liberalizing changes we’ve made. What he doesn’t see (and why should he, as a leftist?) is that most social conservatives still can’t imagine the magnitude of our loss — and because of that, they don’t know how to respond to the new reality.

It is possible to remain religiously and socially conservative in the new order. But only if we change.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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