Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Failing On The Right

She left conservatism for right-wing ideology -- and caused untold damage in her life
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I posted a really good letter this morning from a reader giving advice to “Weary Ghost”. The reader talked about how she was a fired-up progressive feminist in grad school, but shed those immiserating dogmas, and has built a life of joy and meaning. She tells Weary Ghost not to fall victim to the ideological lies of the cultural left.

In the comments, a reader said that he (she?) made the same mistakes “from the right” — that is, tried to build a life around ideological certainties, and made a hash of it. I asked the reader to please explain this. I haven’t heard from him or her, but I did get the following letter from a different reader. She asked me to reword it somewhat to protect her privacy. Here she is explain how she messed up her life “from the right”:

I’m not the commenter you addressed this to, but I might have similar experiences. The commenter refers to the (mistaken) “moral certitude that being right will bring you happiness.” I can connect with this in a few ways.

I used to be fiercely attached to Catholic orthodoxy, and I took child-raising advice without questioning from respected people on the Right. This ended up severely damaging my relationship with my children. What’s more, years spend in the traditionalist/conservative Catholic turned my heart to stone. It drove me out of Christianity, and straight into nihilistic atheism.

(Who brought me out of that black hole? Jordan Peterson.)

The right-wing Internet is also a cesspit. There are so many blogs and online forums consumed with racism and all kinds of vicious rhetoric and behavior. People get swept up in it. It changes the way they relate to friends and neighbors. They become different people.

I have also seen personally how people lose their ability to think clearly and practically about the real world because they get so caught up in various historical myths. We see this on the Left too, but on the Right, this uncritical hero-worship of America, and the Founding, and America’s role in the world seriously damages people’s ability to deal with problems. I’ve seen plenty of it.

Russell Kirk says conservatism is the negation of ideology, but lots of conservatives don’t live that way. Conservatism should be an attitude or a set of basic principles that can fit a whole society like a comfy old shoe. When it becomes an ideology, and conservatives turn into a clique that scared, angry people run to, all kinds of pathologies come out of it. We need to remember that life is complicated, and that what really matters for most people is how we relate to real people in our lives.

Does anybody want people to stand around at their funeral, saying, “He was right about politics”? No! They won’t care about that. They will only care about how you treated others.

I allowed ideological conservatism, in a Catholic package, to rule my life for years, and it did a lot of damage that I struggle to repair. The problem is not really conservatism, but allowing ideas to be more important than people. I used to think that you were paranoid to have so much fear of the Democrats, but then came the Kavanaugh hearings, and boy, did I ever understand your point after that.

Is this your story too? Do you have a similar story from the Left? Let’s make this a storytelling thread, shall we?

UPDATE: Here’s a good test as to whether or not you’re an ideologue. If you fail to be moved by this scene at the US Capitol today, chances are that you have allowed your politics to replace your humanity:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRJc3QMO4A8&w=525&h=300]

UPDATE.2: Reader “Badger,” who inspired the above e-mail, comments:

Like your writer, my issue was politics. I governed my personal relationships by agreement with my ideology. I was a jerk for truth, including with you. For that I am sorry and apologize. Anyhow, I didn’t value my career or finances. I didn’t subscribe to the health and wellness gospel, but my beliefs certainly rhymed with it. At 30ish I found myself financially ruined and jobless. Being a jerk for Jesus and Catholicism wasn’t working. Concomitant with that was holding my fellow parishioners in contempt. Not many people escaped my contempt but boy was I right. The writing was on the wall though, and I could see that I needed to change.

I went back to school and got my degree. Toward graduation, I gave up blogging. A few years ago, I stopped having public political opinions. This is a rare indulgence, and I now do it anonymously. I have a healthy relationship with my parish. I have a fulfilling career and financial security.

On the negative side, my oldest is an atheist. My daughter is an SJW looking to make all of my mistakes except under a different banner. I retain hope for my youngest but am not optimistic. My children are good, for which I’m thankful, but I lament my failures. I am chastened. I would like to think my priorities are now in check and pray that it is so. Do not let my tombstone read, “But I was right.” I got some things right – don’t get me wrong – but boy did I get some huge things wrong.

On the right the biggest thing I see is on the personal relationship side. So many men and women lament that “I’m a good and holy person who wants to make a family but I just can’t find anyone.” Many of these folks are in their late twenties or early thirties. While right thinking has some importance, it isn’t the be all and end all, be it personal relationships or career development. Idiots manage to have good careers and personal relationships. Sometimes you have to just learn from an idiot.