What Are the Permanent Things Now?
Since I’m now busily editing an anthology for Cornell University Press on the present conservative movement, my eyes were drawn to two relevant articles in the Sunday New York Post. One was a mocking report on “Poland pol’s LGBT bigotry,” which dwells on how the “leader of Poland’s right wing ruling party” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, continues to oppose same sex marriage. The article quotes Kaczynski, whom we’re told is a “sixty nine year old bachelor” (are we supposed to infer a hidden sex life here?). Kaczynski insists that the Polish government, does not want to punish gays but opposes “same sex unions concerning the unions themselves and the right [of gay couples] to adopt children.” The Post’s less than balanced report ends with a taunt by “the gay leader of the (Polish) Spring Party” in which opponents of gay adoptions in Poland are accused of covering up “pedophilia in the Catholic Church.”
The other material in the Post that I carefully read was an excerpt from a new book The Right Side of History by media conservative superstar Ben Shapiro. This excerpt indicates that Western civilization draws on the ideas of both Jerusalem and Athens. (I recall Russell Kirk saying something similar in more elegant language, although Kirk brought up the legacy of Rome as well.) Those who rejected this synthesis, according to Shapiro, have “collapsed into dust,” and as evidence of their shared fate, he cites the disastrous cases of Nazi Germany and various Communist dictatorships. Apparently the same fate awaits another country that is now very much in the news: “Venezuela rejects Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law and citizens of their oil-rich nation have been reduced to eating dogs.” One might ask whether the failed economic experiment in Venezuela belongs in the same moral category with the Third Reich, which, according to Shapiro, “shoved children into gas ovens.” It may indeed be for the Post, which on March 18 called for an American military invasion of Venezuela in order to protect us from something supposedly even worse.
There is, however one observation offered by Shapiro that “the West has been running on fumes for generations” which applies with particular force to his own movement. Allow me to repeat an argument that I’ve been making for the last thirty years. Although the conservative movement rattles on about “permanent things” and “values” it’s also been all too willing to abandon or change its “values.” This is the price that it pays in order to be “relevant” and in order to attract and hold on to sponsors. “Permanent things” have become an increasingly vague concept in “conservative” discourse, and that has happened for good reason: Conservative media personalities don’t want to seem “intolerant,” for example, by stating that the only form of marriage that they recognize is the heterosexual form and that they are resisting such innovations as gay unions, incestuous unions, or group marriage.
As late as 1996 this was interestingly enough the view of the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party, which voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. Today this view is ascribed to a supposedly contemptible bigot in a newspaper that still describes itself as “conservative.” But what precisely are the ”permanent thing” or “values” that the conservative establishment still clings to and is willing to defend against the Left? My own list of what they seem to be would be exceedingly narrow and stress interests rather than civilizational principles. These interests would be fronting for defense industries, professing unconditional support for the Likud Party in Israel, denouncing anti-Semitism and racism in the Democratic Party, and pushing out of conservative discourse all inconvenient moral questions. Certainly media conservatives who hope to have futures in their line of work avoid bringing up other messier subjects. They typically shun those moral positions that the Left considers no longer open to debate and which Fox-news’s highly paid opposition (e.g., Donna Brazile, Juan Williams and Shepard Smith) may find too uncomfortable to discuss.
A predictable brouhaha in the conservative establishment and one that illustrates my point is the recent dispute over the removal of Judge Jeanine from her perch on Fox-news. Needless to say, the decision to deep-freeze this outspoken judge, at least for the time being, did not come over a deep moral issue, for example expressing DOMA’s view on marriage. Rather the former judge offended a sponsor by getting overly excited over what has become a timely GOP talking point. She had the temerity of going after an outspokenly anti-Zionist Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, first for being anti-Israeli and then for wearing a hijab. One needn’t like the Congresswoman in question, her childish tweets, or her refusal to recognize Muslim intolerance in order to recognize that the GOP is using her as a political football. They are raging over Ilhan Omar in an obvious attempt to peel away Jewish voters from the Dems. This is precisely what Judge Jeanine was enthusiastically engaged in doing, when she seems to have been carried away by her work. And this may be the closest to defending a now controversial moral position that the conservative establishment may care to come.
Leave a Reply.
Paul Gottfried is the president of the H.L. Mencken Club, a prolific author and social critic, and emeritus professor of humanities at Elizabethtown College