Being a conservative academic can be tough and thankless. On college campuses, all the accolades will go to the Left. When you apply for teaching positions, you have to hide your own convictions just to get the job. If you do get the job (remember that F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize but couldn’t get tenure at the University of Chicago), your peers won’t really respect you, or they’ll only grant you the grudging respect of an outsider who doesn’t belong. Intelligent media outlets like the New York Times and NPR will feed your colleagues an endless stream of tidbits on just how dumb people like you really are, and how superior they all are in comparison.
Given the culture we live in, it’s understandable that a lot of conservatives will start longing for the praise that their liberal friends receive, but which is always denied to them. It’s a process that anyone who’s spent any time around conservative students and academics has seen countless times. You realize that you can’t win any praise by pushing conservative ideas, so instead you push liberal ideas from a so-called conservative perspective. People like Bruce Bartlett, David Frum, and Sam Tanenhaus have turned it into an art form.
Ann Coulter recently made a lot of waves by calling libertarians “pussies” for doing essentially the same thing. Libertarians like to focus on their support for gay marriage and legalized pot, which earns them a few pats on the head from liberals. But at the same time they downplay their positions on things like economics and employment discrimination, which would invoke liberal hostility. She’s right to call this cowardly. Drug legalization is certainly important, but so are free markets—and focusing on one and not the other is just a cheap way to court praise and avoid confrontation.
Joe Ptak’s recent string of posts on this blog represents a perfect example of the cloying conservative begging for praise.
Most recently, he tells us that conservatives must accept gay marriage, because, in his words, it isn’t as bad as “some radical left wing gay orgy.” Okaaay. They should also oppose the March for Life because—gasp!—it is “ideological.” And if they object to the massacre of peaceful Branch Davidians at Waco, well, then they’re just a bunch of “tin-foil hat wearing oddballs” who “ignore or deny the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.” (I’ll admit I’ve heard the tin foil part before, but the second part . . . well, that’s a new one.) Rather than attacking the modern state, conservatives are also supposed to “touch the ‘why’ of power.” (I don’t know what that means, or even what a “why” feels like. I just know that touching one doesn’t seem overly important, especially if it takes away from real opportunities to delegitimize the state.)
Of course, though all of these positions are justified from an allegedly conservative perspective, they all reach conclusions that perfectly align with the Democratic Party platform.
In this kind of “conservatism,” the liberal is the one who makes history; the conservative just lives in it. So, if the world that the liberals made empowers the government to massacre peaceful separatist groups, so be it. Conservatives will just make sure the liberals don’t go too far. (Joe writes: “It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts.”) But of course, with every successive change, the definition of “going too far” expands. Twenty years from now, we can expect Joe to support “radical left wing gay orgies” as being preferable to pedophiliac orgies.
Here, the liberal is the rock star who passes through town impregnating groupies and trashing hotel rooms. The conservative is the meek lawyer who stops by the next day to settle accounts and smooth over hard feelings. But never does the conservative question that preventing destruction in the first place is a worthy goal. Nor does he question the justice of a world that leaves only destruction in its wake.
No: “Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die.” After all, to call social destruction “unjust” would be radical or ideological or . . . something.
Maybe Michael Oakeshott or Peter Viereck would recognize this as conservatism, but—as Joe asked of the Waco massacre—why should we care? If your version of conservatism just so happens to justify everything the Left does, then what’s the point of even calling it “conservatism” at all? Does it really matter if you like Burke’s epistemology if you also vote for Barack Obama and make peace with the modern state? Why not just drop the pretense and call yourself a liberal?
It’s always respectable to stand up and fight for your principles. So conservatives should be willing to accept the Left’s ire if that’s what sticking to your principles leads to. But to constantly tailor your positions just to fit in with the popular kids—that’s just a middle school morality that should be totally rejected.