Thursday, January 10, 2019

Life After the Conservative Label

I find writer Selwyn Duke relentlessly interesting. He commented to me a few years ago that he had stopped calling himself conservative. I have found others, some but not all tied to the alt-right, also rejecting the label conservative. Roosh of the famous Return of Kings even wrote an entire blog post entitled "Conservatives are losers."

I've wrestled with the question of whether "conservative" is a useful label anymore. During the last few years the question gained greater importance. My beliefs have not changed but my feelings about the notion of a conservative movement have changed. Much of what the conservative movement does fails to advance the conservative movement. Increasingly, the conservative movement has split into two problematic scenarios. 

Scenario 1: Some people under the conservative label lost sight of conservative principles and prioritize simply advancing the organizations they work for, or their own careers. Often they rationalize this by saying that they need to position themselves as spokespeople for conservatism. People in this scenario tend to have many verbal maneuvers that convince people that they are far more devoted to principles than they actually are. For instance, a lot of people I would class in this category vehemently oppose Trump and claim conservatives are abandoning their principles by supporting or even working with  Trump. Most so-called "fake" conservatives are actually more like Never Trumpers: they abandon principles of faith, tradition, and decency by engaging in ad hominem distractions about Trump, neglecting the value of policies that Trump can enact, which others cannot. Also, in many cases the Never Trumpers are not defending pure conservative ideals, but rather protecting conservative organizations against scrutiny and reform. The reality is that the Deep State got deep, in large part, because conservative leaders had hidden deals with liberal leaders. The Trump movement brought added scrutiny to all sides, which is healthy in general regardless of people's labels.

Scenario 2: A second camp of problematic conservatives are the babes in the woods. These are people who genuinely believe in conservative principles and have sincere faith in conservative spokespeople. They just have no realistic plan of how to fight back against the left and think, somehow, that conservatives who get smeared and blacklisted have taken the wrong approach and brought harm upon themselves by making bad choices. This camp of people means well but is simply too gullible to be anything other than a hindrance. They constitute a significant "opportunity cost" in the movement because they place their financial support and work time in the hands of people who abuse them and exploit them, with the result that people who want to champion conservative values and put them into practice do not have the help they need to get things done. 

For many years I perceived these problems in the conservative movement as side issues, minor glitches that did not pose an existential problem. Now I have realized that these are not exceptions to the conservative movement or flaws in it--these are the conservative movement.

The "conservative" label has gradually lost its meaning because in public discussion we hear it so often defined by these two groups.

A massive chasm opens up between the challenges conservatives deal with in their life, typically consisting of cultural intrusions into their family's ability to live out traditional values, and the discussion of the conservative movement, typically consisting of abstract debates about conservative ideas or about policy ideals that nobody believes will ever be put in place. 

We need a new label. Much like shedding the word "gay," a decision to shed the "conservative" label might free us from the implicit suggestion that we have to protect leaders who used the conservative label to enrich themselves at our expense, or policy ideas that have been tried for thirty years and are seemingly destined to fail.