Although I generally agree with the Latin adage “de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est,” sometimes the death of someone leads one to reflect on the gushing eulogies that are showered on the deceased. The recent premature passing at the age of sixty-five of Peter Lawler, a professor of political studies at Berry College in Georgia and the Editor of Modern Age, is a case in point. Although from all accounts a decent person and a genuine devotee of Southern literature, Lawler provided, perhaps unwittingly, the textbook case of how a “conservative” academic can keep his professional standing without becoming, to use John Derbyshire’s phrase, the new “Emmanuel Goldstein” in our emerging 1984 society.
Lawler’s passing set off an explosion of praise in the authorized “conservative” press. National Review devoted a glowing eulogy to Lawler [Peter Lawler, RIP, by Peter Spiliakos May 23, 2017] The Federalist and Weekly Standard spoke about him even more extravagantly. [In Fond Memory Of Peter Augustine Lawler Upon His Sudden Death, By Yuval Levin, Federalist, May 24, 2017] And there were many others.
From these eulogies, it is possible to infer that Lawler was a faithful Catholic, but one with a sense of humor; he was also a devotee of Leo Strauss (on whom I’ve written an unmentionable book) and was on exceedingly friendly terms with Strauss’s disciples. Above all, he was a “thoughtful” conservative, who was polite about Bernie Sanders, described the notorious John (“Civil Rights icon”)Lewis, as heroic, and was offended by the bullying behavior of Donald Trump. [Lewis Baits and Trumps Trump, by Peter Augustine Lawler, NRO, January 17, 2017]
On the few times I met Lawler, it seemed that he was a low-key kind of person, who liked to talk in a non-threatening way about “values.” Both of us wrote at one time for ISI’s Modern Age, and I noticed that Lawler’s views, unlike mine, were safely conventional. It’s not that Lawler ever landed up in a really cushy job at a distinguished university. But he remained in good standing with Conservatism, Inc. by not taking on what the late Sam Francis once called in conversation with me “the hard issues.”
Let me explain what these hard issues are by providing illustrations of the opposite, starting with those positions taken by “cultural conservatives” that couldn’t hurt their careers because most Leftists don’t give a damn about them. Favoring the wider use of the Latin Mass, proposing more concentration in public education on classical languages, deploring the lack of “values” in the contemporary West, and mixing in the phrase “permanent things” during cocktail conversation all exemplify “soft” stands. These are the stands taken by intellectuals who are trying to navigate through life without Tsuris (go look it up).
Although one can certainly take some of these positions out of genuine conviction, they also provide an easy way out for someone who wants to be known as a genteel “conservative” but who doesn’t want to catch flak as a journalist or academic.
In the political sphere, one can easily recognize the advocates of soft positions, because they abound in Republican think-tanks and throughout Establishment Conservative journalism. They lament the racism of Democrats who refuse to pay for the charter schools attended by blacks (although for some reason blacks don’t seem to mind this outrage and vote overwhelmingly for the “racists” who won’t pay for their charter schools.) Then there’s the one-note “moderate feminists” whom I see on Fox News warning women who wish to be liberated not to vote for the Dems. The Republicans, we are told by these blond-haired adolescent deep thinkers, will do more for “moderate feminists.”
Another soft or safe position for “conservatives” to embrace: supporting the right of the Israeli government to build settlements on the West Bank until this area is made to look like a replica of Long Island. Indeed, being for the right of any Israeli Right to do anything it wants will not likely hurt any budding “conservative” career. Nor will denouncing Islamicist oppression, directed against women, gays, Jews and (oh yes!) Christians.
Another soft position mentioned by John Derbyshire: inviting Leftist professors on to “conservative” talk shows and weeping with them about how badly their more demonstratively Leftist colleagues have been treating them lately.
But why should someone on the real Right even care if one’s enemies start hacking each other apart? The more mayhem the better!
One final example of a “conservative” position, which probably does wonders in helping to raise money from neocon donors: beating up on the Germans. I’ve no idea why anyone would imagine this is a conservative thing to do, but reading the plethora of anti-German rants in National Review and the Weekly Standard leaves one with the impression that loathing Krauts is essential to a proper conservative identity. Of course, Victor Davis Hanson’s expression of his revulsion for Germans [The Old German Problem, NRO, June 1, 2017] in “conservative” publications is also echoed in Leftist sources, including German-language ones.
And certainly Max Boot’s tribute to Mayor Mitchell Landrieu for his “rhetorical masterpiece” when he defended the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans is unlikely to make Boot or Commentary a target for the SPLC. [The Military Must Break from the Past, by Max Boot, Commentary, May 31, 2017] As a member in good standing of Conservatism Inc., Boot also called for the renaming of military bases(Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, and Fort Polk ) honoring Confederate soldiers and/or slave owners. (I presume Washington and Jefferson be next on Max Boot’s list).
The “hard positions” that only the bold or foolhardy would dare to take are professionally harmful and, in the case of someone like Richard Spencer, may be physically dangerous as well. Allow me to cite examples of these positions in ascending order of toxicity for those who take them.
Let’s start with the once-harmless declaration that any government that claims to be derived from the popular will should not be allowed to flood its territory with a foreign population without the express consent of its citizens. Those who enter the country illegally should be forced to leave. Moreover, rights that are constitutionally accorded to citizens are not meant to be universally applied, and especially not to those who have broken the law by crossing the country’s border.
Let’s get on to something that may be even more perilous to say (although contributors to VDARE.com do say it quite frequently): native cognitive abilities vary for individuals—which some on the Left are willing to concede—but just as importantly these abilities seem to vary on average for ethnic groups. For simply entertaining the possibility that this might be true, I and others have been driven out of “conservative” organizations (yes I am using scare quotes again) like Lawler’s ISI.
It will also hurt the speaker if he brings up the high crime rate in the disintegrating black community, especially if he attributes this problem to genetics. Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily a prudent position for us on the Right to take because we land up excusing or palliating what is morally reprehensible. We do have a duty to demand the same standards of social conduct from all residents in this country and are fully justified in punishing those who grossly violate them, whatever their race. But this doesn’t mean that those who think differently on this issue should be professionally ruined and subject to physical attack.
Nevertheless, this is what is now happening. And Conservatism, Inc. seems to be more anxious about the fate of Leftist academics who are being isolated by other Leftist academics than about some thug punching a member of the Alt Right in the ear or about the same person being kicked out of a gym where he was minding his own business.
But I doubt this double standard is maintained simply because Conservatism Inc. doesn’t want to offend its donor base or be excluded from certain social functions. These may be factors but they’re not the only ones.
The plain fact is that Conservatism Inc, functionaries are now socially and culturally much closer to the rest of the political journalistic Establishment than they are to the real Right. They and their Leftist debating partners attended the same educational institutions, live in the same gentrified urban neighborhoods and frequent the same restaurants.
The Left, with an assist from Conservatism Inc. careerist apparatchiks has created exactly the “harmless persuasion” that it wants: a sock puppet Right that won’t venture outside an ever-more narrowly restricted circle of themes.
Thus I wonder, after reading for at least a week in the “conservative” New York Post about “New York’s Gay Pride parade in all its glory” together with digs at Eastern European countries that don’t encourage such displays, might it be appropriate to ask whether the Heritage Foundation would have kicked out Jason Richwine if he had posed half-naked in a Gay Pride Parade instead of pointing out that different ethnic groups have different median IQs?
I extend my condolences to Peter Lawler’s loved ones. And I do regret that his passing has occasioned such dark thoughts.