Those who fold before the centralized legislative power of the left will equally fold before the localized legislative power of the right.
Washington Post columnist and all-around oddity Jennifer Rubin is livid.
The DeSantis administration’s actions put to lie the notion that the attack on “critical race theory” is aimed at “socialist ideas” or educationally suspect pedagogy. This is about rewriting history to wipe out a critical part of our American experience, to deny the wrongs done to millions of Americans and to exempt institutions from the obligation to take a hard look at remedying past injustice.
The Florida governor, in continued demonstrable prudence, has blocked the new AP African American History curriculum because it “violates state law and is historically inaccurate,” and includes highly politicized segments on queer theory and abolishing prisons.
Channeling his inner Nixon, DeSantis has also doubled down as a law-and-order governor, legislating on issues that most other Republican governors are unwilling to touch, but which the public wants anyway. This has included taking on the “reformative justice” cartel, proposing life imprisonment for pedophiles and fentanyl dealers that target children, as well as allowing the death penalty with a supermajority of jury votes rather than a unanimity. His other initiatives include family-focused tax relief and an effective transformation of the education sector in Florida.
In an essay last year, I described an ascending form of governance in polities worldwide as “reactionary vanguardism.” I predicted then that there would be, as in Hungary, a resurgence of localized reaction, aided by democratically elected politicians, determined to retake power from centralizing bureaucrats with a powerful legislative push towards socially conservative ends. DeSantis is providing a template of this tendency in action.
Parties with a determined cadre persuade voters, win elections, and then use the mandate and the power of the state to accomplish certain ends. I wrote that the “United States, a federalized country, is thirty-two times the size of Hungary. An exact imitation of reactionary politics of the Hungarian model might therefore be unlikely. But localized replication of reactionary vanguardism is possible, and Anglosphere conservatives are indeed paying attention.”
This highlights the biggest cleavage within Anglosphere conservatism: between those who want to leave national direction to the “marketplace of ideas,” and those who want a more localized hands-on approach, which might, depending on circumstances, demand top-down legislative reaction to bureaucratic drift. There is theoretical merit in both. The overtly centralized system is more European. Consider, on the other hand, the invertebrate British Conservative party in Westminster managing British decline for over twelve years. But recently the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a middle manager by disposition, in a rare act of moral courage sided with the public mood and blocked the Scottish government’s gender self-identity bill, even at the risk of a constitutional crisis.
America, going strictly by population, is almost as big as the entire European Union. It is vast, very different in parts, and the problems present during its foundation are still present now. One cannot centralize something this big without force, and localism is not just a required means at this scale, but at times the only compromised-upon end.
Conservatism in America, lacking a throne-and-altar history, is mostly a right-wing reaction to the overwhelming centralizing instinct of transnational liberalism, which in turn, increasingly provides both the throne and altar, with its own providential theology and its own colorful flag. Any American reaction is therefore philosophically inclined to discourage a strong center in the U.S.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
For all the talk of some form of a nationalized conservatism, the most popular policy suggestions I have heard discussed in the last few years were all opposed to the Leviathan. They focused on resisting mask and vaccine mandates, or dismantling the “woke and weaponized” bureaucracy, or opposing an imposed critical race theory pedagogy. And since politics is often not a question of theory but one of expediency, the state-led counter-revolution is proving to be an efficient pathway towards that end.
A significant portion of the left, albeit afflicted by the tribalism that is natural in any democracy, now understands that social liberalism has overreached and that the elites on their side are detached from the needs of Johnny Public. The Democratic Party is captured by the “middle-class and mediocre” surplus college graduate demographic. But these self-aware leftists are unable to do anything about it, because, first, they do not want to sound “illiberal”—for them a sin equal to blasphemy—and second, they are handicapped by their compulsion about “inclusion.” This allows the fringe elements of their side to have equal respect and voice without the required ridicule or gatekeeping.
Reactionary vanguardism is therefore not just a requisite tactic for the moment, but a structural advantage for the right. Johnny Public—mercifully—remains to the right of the elite. A conservative politician would not have to do much to persuade the public to see the ridiculous ideas of the other side, to win elections and legislate them out of society. The real lesson, from all of this, is that despite the relentless noise from the papers of record, those who fold before the centralized legislative power of the left, will equally fold before the localized legislative power of the right. And some politicians on the political right are starting to realize that.