Good Friday Morning, except to Joe Biden, who spent his week spinning up every common lie Democrats tell about the Second Amendment. I highly recommend a breakdown by Stephen Gutowski at the Washington Free Beacon who knows his stuff on guns and the law, “Biden Gun Speech Filled With Falsehoods.”
The uncomfortable reality for Democrats is this: they’re losing the Second Amendment argument, and losing it badly. Tennessee became the 19th state to sign into law constitutional carry laws (for handguns). Throughout 2020, data consistently showed that minorities were rapidly becoming the fastest-growing segment of gun owners (up nearly 60%). The more people who become legal gun owners, the more gun control loses power. Democrats have long relied on ignorance and fearmongering, but the social media age is making that harder.
And if they do decide to crack down on guns, they’ll only be able to do that in blue cities and states. That likely means cracking down on minorities who are newly proud gun owners and building a new culture. And given the already racist past of the gun control movement, it’ll be interesting to see how hard Democrats decide to push that line.
This week, I’m jumping down a rabbit trail full of Tik Tok meme music, Shakespeare quotes, and a heavy dose of conservative and progressive philosophy. I promise it makes sense (in my head). Links to follow.
- Quick hit fun facts on vaccinations: 1 in 3 Americans has had at least 1 dose of a vaccine. 1 in 5 is totally vaccinated. 25% of Adult Americans are fully vaccinated. 77% of seniors (65 and up) have had at least one vaccine dose. 58.4% of seniors are fully vaccinated. We’re averaging 3+ million vaccination doses a day. The end of the pandemic is very near. Go get vaccinated and end the pandemic, the restrictions, and everything.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter and become a subscriber at The Dispatch, where I’m a contributor.
No podcast this week due to Easter.
Biden can’t ignore political gravity – The Conservative Institute.
The emptiness of woke capitalism – The Conservative Institute.
Tik Tok, Rasputin, Integralists, and Progressvism.
I’ve been told by more than one person that my writing significantly improves when I’m sleep-deprived. Perhaps it’s my old survival instincts kicking in from college and law school that saved my butt countless times. I’ve written, what professors told me, was brilliance, even though I couldn’t tell you how exactly I drafted. I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that because it’s currently 11 pm, I just got off an hour and a half phone call with an excellent friend and answered several emergency work emails (being a lawyer is fun! yay!). We’re about to dive headfirst into a labyrinth of ideas I’ve had mulling around to see what happens. Keep your seat trays up and your seats in the upright position.
Another fair warning, and I blame Tik Tok repostings on Instagram for this, I’m writing this under the influence of the 1978 disco song “Rasputin” by the German group Boney M. I’ve got it on a loop. I sincerely hate how catchy this stupid song is, and I think it’s hilarious that Tik Tok dancers have made this song a viral sensation from all the dumb 10-second videos people are making. It’s something old remade into something new.
I’m pretty sure, too, that none of those kids on social media know anything about the song other than its fun in memes. Which, to be fair, I fully respect. The song is a lot more fun as a meme song.
The concept of remaking something new has been on my mind for a few reasons. The first comes from internal debates within intellectual conservatism. I often notice the same thing among modern educated writers. Take Sohrab Ahmari and David French as examples and their “great debates” about determining the future of conservatism. If you break down the beliefs and sayings of both, they’ve both got the depth of a Tik Tokker repurposing an old song to have fun.
I say that because, instinctually, as a conservative, I know neither of them is arguing anything new. I’m bringing these two up in particular because I was working on a more extended essay about them. I’m stuck on whether to run it anywhere. I revisited Ahmari’s article, where he tried to explain why he disliked French and most conservative thought. Take these two passages:
Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side. Even if the latter—that is, the libertine and the pagan—predominate in elite institutions, French figures, then at least the former, traditional Christians, should be granted spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe.
Well, it doesn’t work out that way, and it hasn’t been working out that way for a long time—as French well knows, since he has spent a considerable part of his career admirably and passionately advocating for Christians coercively squeezed out of the public square. In that time, he—we—have won discrete victories, but the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us, and I think that French-ian model bears some of the blame.
This is not a serious argument. It’s a cartoon of an argument. The idea that politics, especially the cultural flareups in America, is equivalent to war and enmity is hilariously absurd. Are there real stakes involved in legislation, policy, and law? Yes, of course. But we’re not crossing physical swords here. Any victories get codified in either a new court decision or the CFR.
This belief is what you get when someone sticks their head into the planet-sized fire hydrant pipe of the internet and then believes that water blast is real life, and nothing else is true. It’s like the book/movie Ready Player One, where people prefer the virtual world to the dullness of reality. Politics as a war on Twitter sounds good when you’re firing off those snarky tweets or Facebook posts and keeping a digital scoreboard in your head, but it’s ultimately a facsimile of reality.
(Editorial note, I’ve switched to hard rock songs looping to finish out this newsletter. I finally had enough disco for one night.)
It’s taking the concept of “all the world being a stage” and saying the stage directions are real and doing that to ignore the nuances and complexities of life. Speaking of, let’s drop that section from Shakespeare in here. These lines are from the comedy As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Ahmari and those like him look at everything, see the stage, and say everything must follow the stage directions. They want to make the stage reality by force. But accomplishing that ends in, as Shakespeare says, “a second childishness and mere oblivion.” It’s both death and childishness. And I can think of nothing more descriptive of these “conservatives.” Their beliefs have a childish depth and would kill conservatism as we know it. It’s not a rebirth, as they believe. They’ve become what they claim to hate.
False conservatives who become progressives
And it’s to that point that the Ahmari’s and those like him lose me. They don’t realize two things. First, No one in their right mind wants to live in their stage-created world (Ahmari and the integralists are a minority in the minority position of conservative Catholicism). They inhabit a world so tainted by self-created rose-colored glasses filled with fake pasts, impossible futures, and a present where everyone is supposed to hold the same common-good mindset (just like everyone in a good play or movie does to move a story along). Everyone in a play or movie has the same general views of the protagonist, or they will by the end of the story, anyway (according to the author).
Second, they don’t realize that nothing they’re saying is new. They’re like the Tik Tokkers dancing to the Rasputin song because they randomly came across it, found it interesting, and that’s about it. There’s no depth or meaning. And there’s no knowledge beyond that. Ahmari is, famously, more skeptical towards capitalism than your average person. He uses cultural flashpoints to make his points.
Here’s a test, then. Who said the following things?
“Anti-government rhetoric appears to offer a vision of greater efficiency, self-reliance, and personal freedom. (For obvious reasons, it also usually enjoys greater financial backing and better organized support.) Unfortunately, this rhetoric ignores what has historically been most valuable about our skepticism toward government—the emphasis it places on personal responsibility from all citizens. Instead, it argues against the excesses of government but not against those of the marketplace, where there is great power to disrupt the lives of workers, families, and communities. It even argues against the basic protections government extends to the well-being of individuals, families, and communities, without offering an alternative way of safeguarding them. In fact, its extreme case against government, often including intense personal attacks on government officials and political leaders, is designed not just to restrain government but to advance narrow religious, political, and economic agendas.”
“Let us admit that some government programs and personnel are efficient and effective, and others are not. Let us acknowledge that when it comes to the treatment of children, some individuals are evil, neglectful, or incompetent, but others are trying to do the best they can against daunting odds and deserve not our contempt but the help only we—through our government—can provide. Let us stop stereotyping government and individuals as absolute villains or absolute saviors, and recognize that each must be part of the solution. Let us use government, as we have in the past, to further the common good.”
You could pull those lines out of any Ahmari or integralists textbook. That’s why it’s highly ironic to me that these lines come from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s infamous book “It Takes a Village.” If you’re a conservative and agree with those lines, you’ve fundamentally agreed with a progressive’s worldview.
I call integralists like Ahmari right-wing progressives for a reason: that’s what they are. They fundamentally agree with people like Clinton about what government is and can do. They only differ on the ends. I come at it differently. I don’t believe government should have these powers. I don’t think it’s possible to have a “common good” where everyone agrees. And I don’t mean this from a libertarian standpoint: I mean it from a conservative one. Parents and local communities should have powers to direct themselves.
Case in point: the pandemic. We have 50 states, and each one handled the pandemic differently. There are broad similarities, but everyone managed it differently, even though, allegedly, we all had a “common goal” in mind. If a generational pandemic can’t even produce an agreement on the “common good,” how on earth does anyone in their right mind expect us to achieve it in any other context?
These so-called conservatives have done nothing more than repackage and warm up their own version of progressivism and passed it off as something new and novel. But if you’ve studied this topic to any degree, there’s the unmistakable stench that something’s wrong in Denmark.
Without chasing another rabbit trail, my problem with French is far more basic. He’s the actor who walks on the same stage as Ahmari and chases the applause lines. Those lines can sound really good, but over time, he chases so many of them that they form an amalgamation of thought that makes no coherent sense. And that’s why Ahmaris’ criticism has some bite against French because even if Ahmari is wrong on everything, he’s consistent (like Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul). French claims consistent principles but randomly applies them. Hence my continuing frustration with him, even though on first principles and morality, he and I are likely in lockstep agreement.
That brings me to my last and concluding point, which I’ll make short.
I said at the beginning that the Rasputin song was fun because it was a younger generation repacking something old to make it new again. Last week, I focused on recent American history and how we were in a world where conservatism was mainly lost and trying to find its way. Reagan worked because he had both consistent principles and applied them in a way to achieve specific ends. But because we haven’t seen similar touchpoints, the movement is lost.
The key to conservatism is that it understands there are objective truths that govern the world. I fully subscribe to the Federalist/Madisonian view that the only way to control politics is through factionalism and division of powers. The most important part of the constitution is the division of power, far more than the Bill of Rights. The progressive view of the world (left and right) views these divisions as dangerous inefficiencies and that we need to make government more responsive and efficient to serve the people.
But those inefficiencies are the most crucial point because consolidated power has consistently proven to be lethal to the freedom and flourishing of humanity throughout all of history in every form of government.
The project for conservatism is to convey these truths to each successive generation so we can build off that, instead of thinking we can foolishly reinvent the wheel. We cannot be so prideful to believe our age is somehow unique and will magically avoid mistakes of the past. That’s how I knew, instantly, “Defund the Police” would fail. As a conservative who reads history, I know there’s never been a prosperous long-term civilization that existed without a police force or something that compelled obedience to the law. If humans could live without that, we’d have a historical record of it and already tried it. There’s a reason we don’t have it now. There’s a reason we can’t do it now.
We can’t reinvent the wheel because, and this is the scary part, we’re far more similar to our ancestors than we’d like to think. Our technology and wealth separate us from our past, but we’re not intrinsically better than them. We’ve made some parts of society better, but we’re not far removed from their mistakes. Take this an example: the last African slave who was kidnapped and brought to American shores died in 1940.
Conservatism has to be the shepherd. We have to take objective truth and the lessons of history and guide humanity as we move forward. That’s far different than being a cartoon argument. It requires actual knowledge and work.
(I lied, I find these lyrics absolutely hilarious
Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on)
Links of the week
Biden’s Gun-Control Theater – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
WHO: After an Extensive Investigation . . . We Know Nothing – National Review
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!