Our “conservative” punditry go forth daily in what seems increasingly to be an already lost battle against the agenda of the left and its progressivist minions in and outside the Biden administration. That agenda enjoys overwhelming support in hysterically “woke” academia and counts on unwavering backing from cheerleaders and mouthpieces in the establishment media, entertainment, and the sports industry. Increasingly, corporate America—major international conglomerates and the all-but-invincible tech monopolies—use their power to staunch and disauthorise and ban any dissent. And when corporate America speaks, so-called “conservative opposition” to what is happening tends to melt away in retreat. Real jail time or at a minimum police harassment may await anyone accused of “misusing” (e.g., disagreeing with the Left), even in the most discrete manner, platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. That has already happened in California to Ryan Wentz who mildly criticized Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter.
Watching just a few minutes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” will disabuse any curious viewer of the belief that somehow this nation, at least as we have known it, is not spiraling rapidly towards extinction.
We are told that the only hope we have is to continue to support the current Republican Party establishment and its array of spokesmen who show up periodically on Fox News or Newsmax. But those so-called forces of opposition have been in constant and ignominious retreat for decades, indeed I would argue for more than a century.
Explanations for this “conservative rout” (to use a phrase once used by the late Dr. Russell Kirk) vary. To listen to a Dinesh D’Souza or Brian Kilmeade on Fox, a Dennis Prager, or to the Neoconservative followers of the late Dr. Leo Strauss, all we must do to recapture the initiative—the high ground—is get our message out there to the hungry minds of 20-somethings, to those besotted by the poison administered by academia and by the dominant American culture, who are eager to hear the truth.
The problem is that by and large the intellectual weapons presented for recovery are like the muzzle-loading muskets with limited ammunition distributed to the forlorn British auxiliary regiments at the Battle of Isandlwana (January 1879)—the single greatest defeat for the British Army at the hands of a native (Zulu) army: they are almost useless against the arms of the Left. (Recall the superb 1979 film, “Zulu Dawn,” with Peter O’Toole.)
Without a clear understanding of the American Founding, of American history and the intentions of those in the late 18th century who cobbled together the confederation of independent former colonies which would become the United States of America—without that comprehension—efforts to fend off, much less defeat, the seemingly unstoppable progressivist phalanxes will flounder and result in further disaster.
Indeed, the nostrums offered by establishment conservativism and its acolytes in the Republican Party end up only enabling and codifying the advances and success of radicalism. What was radical ten years ago—and at that time opposed by the conservative opposition—now becomes solidly conservative and acceptable. Thus, same sex marriage, once stoutly opposed by “mainstream conservatives,” is now part and parcel of the conservative ideological arsenal. Here in North Carolina as late as 2012, for example, Tar Heel voters rejected same sex marriage overwhelmingly, 61% to 39% (as did other states where it had become an issue). Many conservatives denounced it at the time…but only a few years later after the infamous 2015 Obergefell Supreme Court decision (by a 5 to 4 vote), most rushed to embrace it. And now all over Fox News the commentariat is overflowing with representatives involved in same sex arrangements, which are now considered “normative,” an extension—a “civil rights” penumbra, if you will—somehow derived mysteriously from the Constitution.
And same sex marriage is not the only instance where what my friend Paul Gottfried calls “Conservatism Inc.” has engaged in enabling progressivism to continue advancing the goalposts of what are called “equal rights.” More recently, Charlie Kirk and other luminaries in the ostensibly “conservative” youth movement, Turning Point USA, and representatives of Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, embraced transgenderism and “drag queen” culture, or as BigLeaguePolitics reported in an expose’ on October 30, 2019, “yucked it up” and posed for photographs with its epigones.
No doubt the next conquest will be the normalization of polyamory, which the Wikipedia defines as “the practice of…intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved.” The Wiki continues: “Polyamory has come to be an umbrella term for various forms of non-monogamous, multi-partner relationships, or non-exclusive sexual or romantic relationships.” In other words, polygamy without the no-longer-needed window-dressing—the charade—of formalized marriage. Federally-supported NPR featured a laudatory segment on it back in March.
And lurking in the wings—and heralded in recent news—are efforts to implement programs standardizing the manipulation of gender--gender “re-assignment” surgery and the use of puberty blockers—for children as young as eight or nine. You see, every eight year old has the right to determine what gender he or she wishes to be, nature be damned.
Although criticized now by some conservative personalities (e.g., Tucker Carlson), how long before this, too, will be considered an essential principle in the mainstream conservative quiver of arrows...and we behold young sixteen year conservatives parading on Fox proudly, and thankful that surgery saved them from sexual dysphoria when they were only eight?
Again, I am put in mind of the justly prophetic words of the great Southern post-War Between the States divine, Robert Lewis Dabney, who fiercely opposed women’s suffrage as contrary to both nature and Holy Writ. Dabney’s arguments go beyond the suffrage issue, however, for he recognized then the inherent weakness within the conservatism that came out of the defeat of the Southern Confederacy...and is still very much with us.
Here he writes in 1871 (The Southern Magazine):
“It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted?
The defeat of the Confederacy was, in a very real sense, the triumph of what was and is an essentially egalitarian view of the American founding, which declared that the American nation was founded on an “idea,” or rather a “proposition,” and that proposition is that “all men are created equal.” That principle as the foundation and promise of America is false and based on a faulty and ahistorical view and reading of the Declaration of Independence as the fundamental document of our history. As Professor Barry Alan Shain of Colgate University has demonstrated convincingly in his encyclopedic study, The Declaration of Independence in Historical Context: American State Papers, Proclamations, and Letters from the Age of Revolution (Yale University Press, 2014), that is not at all what the Founders meant when they debated and then employed those words in the Declaration. But it was the vision that, with “Father Abraham” Lincoln, triumphed in trajectory in 1865. And it is the vision that informs the modern Conservative Movement….and fatally debilitates the so-called opposition to the rampant radicalism we are drowning in.
That vision informed the “Advisory 1776 Commission,” named by President Donald Trump to supposedly counter the historical fabrications of the much ballyhooed “1619 Project,” whose findings are now being frantically incorporated into every level of the American educational system. In essence, it is the same vision, with a few modifications, advanced by the 1619 progressivists.
This piece was previously published on MyCorner on April 10, 2021.
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Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.