The Enemy of My Enemy

During a recent conference of nationalist conservatives—a faction attempting to bring intellectual substance and coherence to the political phenomenon of Trumpism—one of the movement's leading figures, Yoram Hazony, proposed “a new deal between national conservatives and traditionalists on the one hand, and anti-Marxist liberals on the other.”

This new coalition is intended to replace the American Right’s “fusionist” alliance between religious conservatives, free-marketers, and Cold War hawks, who were once drawn together by their shared antipathy to communism. Nationalists now regard fusionism with disdain, and by proposing an alliance with the center-Left, Hazony and his faction hope to downgrade the free-marketers and freeze out the secular libertarians.

This new alliance is a terrible idea, and liberals would be well-advised to treat Hazony’s offer with a whole lot of skepticism. Yet it seems that some of them are taking him up on it.

There is a basic rift on the “anti-woke” Right that is increasingly coming out into the open. Some of us oppose the censorious conformism of the social-justice Left because we are classical liberals who believe that freedom of speech and inquiry are critical to the functioning of a free society. Then there are those whose opposition rests on the belief that they should be the ones imposing limits on free inquiry in the name of traditional values. They don't want a free society, they want a virtuous society, in which their idea of virtue is promoted by government.

The nationalist conservatives are in the second camp. During his speech at the recent conference, for example, journalist Josh Hammer denounced the classical liberal wing of the Right as “effete, limp, and unmasculine, because it removes from the political arena, and consigns to the ‘private’ sphere, the very value judgments and critical questions that most affect our humanity and our civilization.”

Notice that the word “private” appears in skeptical quotation marks. Hammer goes on to denounce “the fundamentally and empirically false distinction between the ‘private’ and ‘public’ domains.” Those of us old enough to remember when “wokeness” was called “political correctness” might also remember that it was justified with a declaration that “the personal is political.” The nationalist conservatives have now embraced this slogan in pursuit of a quite different goal. In Hammer's words, that goal is “the defeat of cultural wokism and restoration of cultural sanity by partial means of the return of overt public religiosity—that is, the return of God to the public square.” He concludes:

We need a vision of conservatism that prioritizes not zombie free-market idolatry, but a vigorous political agenda dedicated, to quote a popular 2019 essay, to “fight[ing] the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils.”

That 2019 essay was a broadside written by the religious polemicist Sohrab Ahmari, and the full quote goes like this: “‘The only way is through’—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.” The “Highest Good,” capitalized like a proper noun, refers in Catholic doctrine to “obedience to the will of God.” Ahmari goes on to call for “the use of the public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality,” the aim of which is “to enforce our order and our orthodoxy.”

This is the context in which Hazony is offering his new deal to centrist liberals. The key concession he demands is this: “What we say to anti-Marxist liberals is where there is a large Christian majority in a county ... the public life of the country has to be Christian.” To which, he added, “Above all else we've got to get God and scripture back in the schools.” At the same conference, Rod Dreher—fresh from a residency with Viktor Orbán’s regime in Hungary—proclaimed, “We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power.”

What would this mean in practice? The nationalist conservative movement tends to be blustering and chest-thumping in its rhetoric, and vague and elusive when it comes to specifics. But we’re starting to see a few indications. Under cover of opposing the indoctrination of children in public schools, nationalists have pushed for intrusive bans on any teaching considered offensive to their political and religious sensibilities.

Some supporters have gone further still. In a bipartisan essay for the New York Times by four writers opposed to this project, the authors note that, "the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help ‘identify critical race theory in the classroom.’ The list included terms such as ‘social justice,’ ‘colonialism,’ and ‘identity.’” A conservative activist group in New Hampshire, meanwhile, is promising a $500 bounty to informants who denounce teachers to the authorities, causing them to “lose their jobs and licenses.”

On the national level, Rachel Bovard expressed the nationalist consensus that technology companies should be required to “prove themselves corporate patriots” or else “they simply cannot be allowed to endure” and should be broken into pieces by politically motivated antitrust prosecutions. The nationalists hope to fight progressive censorship by compiling their own lists of banned words, giving the state arbitrary power over the economy, and building a conservative surveillance state.

One of the characteristics of our era is that “anti-” has become a prefix that means “doing the same thing but in the opposite direction.” To be “antiracist” is to repurpose racial animus and prejudice against an ostensibly more deserving target. To be “antifascist” is to dress and behave just like a fascist, but under a communist flag. Following the same pattern, a faction of the Right believes that being “anti-woke” means employing the same tools of censorship and conformity, but to advance a conservative political and social agenda.

This gulf between the classical liberal Right and the religious/nationalist Right is not new. The old fusionists tried to paper over these differences, but occasionally coalitional harmony was disrupted by someone like Pat Buchanan bellowing about “religious war.” Yet, the fusionist coalition did have something to fuse it together—a shared vision close to that of classical liberalism, even if the factions sometimes offered different rationales in its defense. Some of these religious classical liberals are still around.

But the nationalist conservative agenda is so thoroughly illiberal that one wonders what the anti-Marxist liberals can expect to get out of the alliance. This is especially true considering how little liberals need the nationalists. Glenn Youngkin's recent victory in Virginia’s statewide election indicates that woke ideology is poisonously unpopular. Given the chance, people will vote against it and will cross party lines to do so. Nationalism is unnecessary, ideologically and electorally, to achieve this result. In fact, given that Youngkin performed far better than Donald Trump, who lost the state decisively a year earlier, nationalism is almost certainly a hindrance.

In spite of the nationalists’ assumption that they will be the senior partners in the new alliance, dictating its terms and conditions, it is they who need the boost of association with a popular cause. The cause doesn't really need them. So then why are some anti-Marxist liberals apparently ready to accept Yazony’s offer? Some of these intellectuals were featured speakers at the nationalist conference. As the Dispatch report notes, they include “Glenn Loury, a Brown University economics professor and prominent black conservative critic of the left's anti-racist dogma; anti-woke culture warrior Douglas Murray (don't tell them about his 2006 work NeoConservatism: Why We Need It); ‘classical liberal’ YouTuber Dave Rubin; the Somali-born champion (and, indeed, embodiment) of Enlightenment values Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”

A few of these speakers are associated with a proposal to establish a new University of Austin dedicated to freedom of inquiry and opposition to illiberalism. Yet, its board of advisors includes Sohrab Ahmari, self-described enforcer of “order and orthodoxy,” as one of only three members who does not hail from academia. A chapter in Ahmari’s recent book asks, “Should you think for yourself?”—a question he then answers in the negative. So why was he invited to join the Austin board? “I told the founders,” Ahmari explained, “that, standing in the ancient tradition of Catholic education, I don't, in fact, believe that the university can or should enshrine mere free speech or free inquiry as its highest ideal. I was pleasantly surprised when they replied, ‘That's why we want you.’”

If anti-woke liberals pursue an ideological coalition with anti-woke illiberals, it is liberalism that will lose out. This strategic error recalls the squandered promise of the Intellectual Dark Web, a name coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein, and popularized by Bari Weiss, to describe a loose network of bloggers and podcasters operating outside the reach of most mainstream gatekeepers. The eventual fate of the IDW reminded us that sometimes a contrarian is a bold independent thinker, but sometimes he’s just an angry crank who likes to say the opposite of what everybody else is saying. This has been harshly exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as some members of the IDW, most notably Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying (the latter of whom also sits on the University of Austin's board), have recklessly promoted anti-vaccine pseudoscience.

The line between “iconoclast” and “crackpot” can be a fine one, and those who understand the value of thoughtfully challenging the prevailing consensus should be more careful in choosing their allies. They should certainly be reluctant to throw in their lot with power-hungry nationalists openly opposed to free inquiry.

Nationalists are unlikely to be grateful to liberals once they’ve served their purpose—just ask those now being cast out of the old fusionist coalition. Classical liberals, Hammer complains, contributed little of value besides helping to “defeat the Soviet Union” and sustain “high GDP growth.” The defeat of the world's most powerful tyranny and decades of improvements to human life? Is that all? So now they are being ejected, and heaped with insults on their way out, because their efforts didn't help the traditionalists achieve an American religious revival. Some day, when the woke fad finally burns itself out, this is how anti-woke liberals who embrace the nationalists can expect to be treated.

It is not impossible, nor is it foolish, to benefit from work done by the nationalists or to cooperate with them on narrow issues. The conservative writer and activist Chris Rufo, for example, has done valuable work leaking internal documents that expose attempts at political indoctrination in the public schools. But he has also dismissed invocations of First Amendment protections against the nationalist agenda as appeals to “phantom freedoms.”

“Anti-woke liberals” must not forget that their advocacy of liberalism is the whole point of being anti-woke. For this reason, cooperation with the illiberal Right can only be limited and temporary, at spots where our immediate interests converge. But let’s remain clear in our minds what they really stand for, because sometimes the enemy of your enemy turns out, in the long run, to be just another enemy.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/11/22/the-enemy-of-my-enemy/
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If you trade the illiberal woke left for the illiberal religious conservative right…

THe enemy of my enemy in this case might be a tool you reach for if and when necessary, but let’s keep it at that.

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We are living in a convulsive period where in quite short order, we find ourselves shoved into the company of characters that not long ago we would never have considered talking to.

The brutal reality is that beggars can’t be choosers at certain points in this process. The Woke Ascendancy has the running and everyone else is scrambling to find any space that is likely to float in a storm.

I think it was Jarred Diamond who said that the reasons for successful animal domestication are few and for the failures many, applies quite broadly to any alliance, no matter what or who the species interlocutors might be in any period, let alone ones where everything appears to be coming up for grabs in an ideological free-for-all where the most rat cunning and lethal arsehole usually wins.

The post WW2 democratic consensus is crumbling, so we are all having to recanvas our options into a hierarchy of interoperability. Some are good for one-offs and some for more than that, but we’ll only find out what those parameters are by trying them out.

The thing to remember is that we are amateurs in this game who’s only unifying feature is that we all hate the Wokes.

My feeling is that the main casualty will be The Enlightenment, which is what is bound to happen when worlds fall apart and the middle ground disappears into an existential sink hole.

What I think we are looking down the barrel of is an end-of-epoch brawl over the fundamentals that will end in a series of wars of toleration not terribly dissimilar to the ones that kicked off the modern age in the first place.

We are living in a period where all the bets are coming off, the stakes are becoming enormous, no one can afford to lose and everyone is playing for keeps. It is not the age of reasonable so much as the Wrath of God, as it were…

None of this is easy. I find myself paralyzed athwart Hobson’s choices where all the protagonists have some very modest part of what might end up as a solution, but none have an integrated let alone viable overview, because this is early days and hardly anyone has grasped just how fundamental the game really is, as the world of business-as-usual starts to crumble.

We are about where China was at the end of the nineteenth century; an empire that was as vast as it was weak, feckless and unable to face the realities in front of it.

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In a perfect world, those of us who believe in liberalism and liberal values, would see a restoration of the liberal order that dominated our culture well into the 90s and early 2000s. And we’d do it by adhering to those values. However, thus far, the Marxists are winning and we are losing.

I am not yet at the point where I’d advocate abandoning liberalism by “fighting fire with fire”. I still think it’s possible that the Marxists will be defeated or at least curtailed without abandoning liberalism. That is certainly my Plan A.

But there is an argument here that the current approach isn’t working and that by focusing on defending liberalism instead of attacking Marxism, liberals are simply postponing our own demise. There is an argument that we must not be content to be liberal but must become “antimarxist” - even if that means making a Marcusian deal with the devil. We’d be preserving liberalism by forcing the Marxists to retreat back to liberal positions like freedom of speech - out of self-preservation.

There’s something of a cold war dynamic here where preservation of peace demanded the threat of overwhelming catastrophic war. But for that to work, both sides have to fear annihilation, which means a balance of power.

I am not saying I have bought into this - yet. We’ll see how the next 5-10 years goes. But if the next 5 years proceed like the previous 5 years I think we may have little choice but to abandon liberal values to destroy the Marxists.

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Very well said!

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Funny! That’s the best single phrase I’ve read, in an article, in a long time.

Masterful. Thanks to the original author.

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For years I thought of myself as a cosmopolitan liberal- I voted consistently with the UK’s Lib Dems, which in American terms is decidedly Left-leaning. But a combination of the repulsive scorn and ridicule heaped on those I voted against- the Brexiteers- and the shift of both the Lim Dems and Labour towards woke authoritarianism, convinced me I was wrong about my political ethos all along.

I am somewhat neutral on government, other than to say that I abhor the absolute waste of a precious resource which accrues in bureaucratic systems- but unlike conservatives I would simply reinvest the money in things which might actually be useful- like extending the UK’s mental health crisis lines so they operate outside of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday hours. But at heart I am a civic libertarian- I object to anyone telling a full-grown adult how they should conduct their lives or how they should think, least of all government. Advice is different, but we are well beyond advice in culture and politics at this point.

It’s ironic I am actually a Christian, but not a particularly observant one. Much as I enjoy a good conversation about the Council of Nicaea or how St. Augustine’s conception of Original Sin was incorrect, I am not exactly a regular churchgoer- I find my God in the simple contemplation of small things.

As usual, my essays are to found on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:

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I take the author’s point, but the reality is that actual classical liberals are completely outnumbered by the leftist mob and the conservative rabble, and thus seem likely to lose, either way. Much like the individual voter standing in the polling booth with a ballot that includes Moron (R) and Demagogue (D), often times the choice is simply whatever one judges to be the lesser of two evils.

One other point worth making: in the first half of the 20th century, all the cool kids were socialists and communists, because that was the wave of the future, don’tcha know. Thus, all the smartest and most energetic and forward-thinking people were on the hard left. Later, many of them become disillusioned with these utopian ideologies and become influential voices in the anti-communist movement, and the conservative movement more generally. People like Norman Podhoretz, Whitaker Chambers, Irving Kristol, etc. Obviously, you can debate whether the influence of some of these characters was for good or ill, but the main point here is that when all the smart people just know that they’re on the right side of history, if you’re both smart and independent-minded enough to recognize fashionable beliefs for what they are and side with the opposition, this may offer you a chance to wield influence you wouldn’t otherwise get to.

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Which could mean it was an appropriate coalition in its time, but now that we’ve gone beyond the End of History perhaps that should have been the end of the coalition.

Certainly all the smart people who believed for several decades that a little bit of Capitalism would help reform the Chinese into good liberal democrats missed the mark. The question today is whether they will subsume the West and erase a long tradition of consideration for individual freedom. And if that is a serious threat, then how we respond? Must we be assimilated? I can understand the author’s queasiness about aligning with Sohrab Ahmari and other Integralists, who question the Enlightenment, but perhaps there is more at stake, fundamental Western values dating back to more ancient times? And perhaps Woke Anti-colonialist rhetoric is an assualt which must be resisted, with necessary allies. That is the question here, and the author has not given an alternative, other than the current coalition of global corporations and radical libertarians.

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I’ve had a bit of an awakening recently, after reading Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political.

The political, he writes, is the friend / enemy distinction. And it implies conflict, even killing.

Curtis Yarvin makes it “real simple.” “There is no politics without an enemy.”

Whoever we are in America outside the radial left, the Woke Left is the enemy.

After we have defeated the Woke Left, then we can argue about nationalism vs. liberalism vs. traditionalism, and we’ll have a grand old time doing it. But we won’t be enemies. Not quite.

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This reminds me of high school, in the late 1970s. We were all against disco. We had little else in common: proto-punk, post-punk, proto-rap/hip-hop, classic rock, heavy metal, prog, jazz, classical, you name it.

Our disagreements continued, but disco did eventually croak, which left some of us a little sentimental. The world was big enough for fruitful tension, because we didn’t assume everyone had to like the same thing or be the same. We weren’t yet deep into the era of group narcissism that we’re in now.

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If there actually was a faction proposing to use the Left’s authoritarianism to promote actual good ideas, it would be a vast improvement over wokeness. Instead of forcing kids to chop their penises off and prostrate themselves before statues of St George of Floyd, it would force them to quit playing video games and watching porn and spend all day learning math. Every scare article about future Chinese dominance is an ode to the superiority of such an alternative.

But of course, the faction that would trade wokeness for a similar authoritarianism promoting different ideals was never the “Trumpists”. It has always been the self-described “center-left”. They are the Soviet Union that purports to share our disdain for the Nazis, but wants to retain Nazi collectivism, Nazi class warfare, and Nazi “order”. The “center-left” won’t torture Winston into saying that two and two make five - it will torture him into saying they make four, and it will ensure that the Two Minutes Hate only condemns Reagan and not Rowling. Elizabeth Warren won’t have to pretend to be a Cherokee to promote her wealth tax, and no land acknowledgements will be required in the preamble of the next multi-trillion dollar spending bill, which will not dishonestly describe itself as “infrastructure”, but rather “sensible regulation”!

Such is the Faustian Bargain of the Center-Left, which is always ever projecting its deceptions onto those who see its true nature.

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I gave this article a Like not because of the content per se, but because it puts forth the RINO perspective so clearly. Whatever else they may be, RINOs stupidly and willfully believe that their political rivals are honorable. All leftists, when centrist or progressive (crikey, what a misnomer THAT term is) have no problem wielding foundational principles to deprive the non-believers of their foundational principles. That is the essence of the argument against Chris Rufo. He is using his journalism skills and a stiff spine to illuminate the cowardly acts of companies and school boards who would hide behind the 1st Amendment to deprive others of their agency.

I used to be classically liberal – you do you, live and let live. But that presumed a high degree of personal autonomy inclusive of consequences. Once that evaporated and became social justice for victims of white supremacy, remaining classically liberal was no longer an option, as a concept it was consumed by its own naive belief system.

Donald Trump may cause continued wreckage in the Republican party. His antics and theatrics may cause the vapors for those who worship at the feet of Big Government, but his messages resonate with tens of millions of voters. I suspect that 2022 and 2024 will see voters who have also been red pilled in virtuous but vacuous towns and cities across the land.

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Certainly, Robert Stigwood’s Saturday Night Fever forever redeemed Disco and shed an early light on the systematic degradation of the working class and the exaltation of the credentialed class. The film remains, in my mind, the most important film of the last quarter of the 20th Century in the US.

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Tracinski seems to think that liberal latitudinarianism is a political way of thinking amongst the elites and quite separate from the underlying popular culture. Tracinski also seems to think that liberal latitudinarianism must be imposed in a top down sort of way. I happen to think that liberal latitudinarianism is the expression of the culture it arose from. When that culture is finally destroyed Tracinski’s notion of liberal latitudinarianism will also be destroyed.

Tracinski and his globalist neo-con friends will find no allies in the current environment. They are living a dream world and have no friends on either side of the debate.

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Perhaps Ahmari’s tweets gives more clues…
image

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Nice catch! TYTY, M. Ella-B.

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In terms of my own personal values, I feel close to those expressed by nationalist conservatives. But I cannot endorse the policies they prescribe, unless of course they want to revise them with some very substantial qualifications.

In much darker circumstances than those we face today Adam Michnik, writing from prison, defined some the characteristics required by the Polish resistance of the 1980s:

Blockquote

What it needs is the bond of shared aims and solidarity in action. And respect for individuality. And consent for plurality.

Blockquote

Michnik was writing about members of the Polish resistance, but it is clear from the whole context of his writing that, unlike Lenin, he believed that the respect and consent of which he wrote were due to everybodyemphasized text** , his political opponents as well as his political allies.

I don’t know what victory on Sohrab Amari’s terms would look like and what spoils he wishes to enjoy. But insofar as it consists of forcing my views on anyone else or constraining their right of expression or their right to live according to their own values, I want no part of it. I fear to become such a victor or to guiltily enjoy the forbidden fruits of such a victory.

I tend to agree with Josh Hammer (and perhaps disagree with the author of this piece) up to a certain point: Liberalism per se is not much of a conviction around which to organize one’s personal life, or society’s. Woke ideology has taken advantage of classical liberalism’s profession of value neutrality to attempt to impose its values upon others, and woke ideologists reveal a totalitarian mindset that believes that everyone else must conform to their values in both thought and deed. What should be opposed to the attempt?

What concerns me personally is my ability to live my personal values as well as to construct community based around those values. I believe it is legitimate for a local school board to decide, in conformance to voters’ wishes, to exclude CRT (however disguised and sugar-coated) from the community’s public education, or to decide that no public money shall be used for abortion. Where people like me are part of the majority I believe it is my right to shape the public sphere according to my values, and I do not want the Federal government to prevent me.

But what I wish for from others I must also be prepared to accord them. I may oppose a public ordinance requiring me to name men and women who have undergone mutilating surgery something other than men and women, but I cannot oppose the will of adults who desire, for reasons of their own, to undergo such surgery. I like the agenda of the new University of Austin and subscribe to the principle that there are higher values to teach than mere free speech or free inquiry. But if that is UATX’s creed I don’t think it should be pursuing its noble objectives on the public dime. In the same way I think the Federal government should be empowered to deny funding to institutions that de facto violate people’s freedom of speech and conscience, and be empowered to deny funding to programs that propagate values opposed to the republican values on which America’s society was founded. If it takes a constitutional amendment to do that then I am in favor of that amendment. But I think that coercing anyone, or any institution, to propagate my ** values is beyond the pale.

If anyone cares to read or engage with what I have written here - I don’t mean to assume that what I write is necessarily worth anyone else’s time and attention - I’ll be happy. But the topic should be understood: What are the limits of the public sphere, and what are the limits that cultural conservatives should acknowledge to their own power, even if they were to miraculously win an electoral majority sizeable enough to adopt constitutional amendments?

In the 1950s and 60s the Nobel-winning physicist Leo Szilard wrote a slim volume of essays, “The Voice of the Dolphins,” which I found in my father’s library. At one point in this book Szilard gently mocked the Americans of his day, stating that there were thoughts which Americans do not permit themselves to think. Exactly; and that is why the Jew Szilard fled to the States from Hungary, where people were free of such limits.
The basis of liberty is a moral stance willing to acknowledge that there are things one may not do to others even if one can.

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How’s that for an Orwellian formulation? Civil wars of toleration fought with nuclear weapons? What a charming prospect.

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