The website “First Things” ran an article by Sohrab Ahmari, the man voted most likely to be a secret member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard by the Bulwark and Commentary Magazine. Mr. Ahmari’s argument is that within a pluralistic society, one or another social or political force must ultimately win out. Traditional Christianity cannot long “co-exist” with the forces of atheistic hedonism, one must control the institutions of this country and rule over the other. Ahmari puts it succinctly when he writes:
“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 later—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.”
Mr. Ahmari’s thinking here fits quite closely with my own thinking and resonates with how much of the dissident right thinks as well. He is pointing out the obvious fact that if you do not have power then you do not set the terms. No matter how nice you are or how good you think the institutions of your country are, the lack of power will always mean that your concerns and values will not be taken seriously.
Mr. Ahmari accurately points out that since French-ism, i.e. normie conservativism, values individualism and individual rights above all else, it must inexorably shift further and further to the Left. He writes:
“Here is the problem: The movement we are up against prizes autonomy above all, too… Only, the libertines take the logic of maximal autonomy—the one French shares—to its logical terminus. They say, in effect : For us to feel fully autonomous, you must positively affirm our sexual choices, our transgression, our power to disfigure our natural bodies and redefine what it means to be human, lest your disapprobation make us feel less than fully autonomous. They have a point: Individual experiments in living—say, taking your kids to a drag reading hour at the public library—cannot be sustained without some level of moral approval by the community.”
In other words, there is no such thing as the truly “individual” action or behavior. Every individual action or behavior ultimately butts up against societies’ approval or disapproval. So, in a sense, to truly defend absolute individual rights, one must approve of everything and never condemn human actions even if one finds them morally abhorrent. This is, of course, not tenable. There are immediately several actions that we could all think of that we would feel we had no other choice but to violently oppose. Establishing individual rights and autonomy as the highest ideal of our society means that those who wish to degrade and subvert the values and morals of this country will always have the upper hand because they can forever appeal to autonomy to defend their degeneracy.
In this article, Ahmari is making some points that, until recently, have only been made by the dissident right. Critiques of individualism, or “autonomy” as Ahmari calls it, have been very rare in American politics. Even rarer are critiques of American civic society and the way that it orders religion. The idea that one faith, Christianity, should be predominate in the public square, instead of the supposed neutrality of secularism, is heresy to the very core of post-war American values and its interpretation of the American founding. For the so-called “constitutional conservative,” it is unthinkable that the ACLU’s cases against nativity scenes on public property could be immediately struck down in court on the basis that this is a Christian society and not on any legal basis. The idea that there are matters that are so central to our society that they go beyond the Law and are above the Law is heresy to the constitutional conservative. Such an “extra-legal” ruling would be considered unconstitutional and offensive in their view, because their understanding of American government is based upon the fiction that this government or any government can be “neutral” on matters of faith or speech.
An aspect of Mr. Ahmari’s argument against David French-ism is that the free market and individualism portions of the conservative ideology work against the religious and family values aspects of the ideology. Ahmari writes:
“How do we counter ideological mono-thought in universities, workplaces, and other institutions? Try promoting better work-life balance, says French. How do we promote the good of the family against the deracinating forces arrayed against it, some of them arising out of the free market (pornography) and others from the logic of maximal autonomy (no-fault divorce)? ‘We should reverse cultural messages that for too long have denigrated the fundamental place of marriage in public life.” Oh, OK. … For French, the solution to nearly every problem posed by a politics of individual autonomy above all is yet more autonomous action.”
Here Ahmari is pointing out a long-running contradiction within conservatism. It makes little sense that the conservative movement in America supports free markets. Free markets are profoundly un-conservative. Capitalist markets have, since their origins, disrupted the family, national identities, traditional religious beliefs, and traditional ethnic and tribal ways of living. The free markets break down and destroy everything that the conservative values and individualism/absolute autonomy are simply the philosophical defenses for Capitalism. Viewed properly, Capitalism is the primary enemy of the conservative and it is this contradiction that Mr. Ahmari is pointing out here.
What is Ahmari’s response to David French-ism? Well, his response is to adopt the dissident right’s approach to politics. In short, to understand that we are at war with forces that wish for our pain and destruction and to think of politics in the same way that one thinks of war. Ahmair writes, “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. … To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.” And, with those words, Ahmari became a fascist. In the view of the establishment Left and Right, someone on the Right who makes friend/enemy distinctions and approaches politics as a war between conflicting groups, is a fascist by definition. To begin to actually fight in ways that are unacceptable to the Left is to take the first step towards fascism in their view. One must always think within the spaces that the Left allow us to think, and if one strays outside of those spaces, then one is necessarily a radical. To the normie conservative Right, Ahmari might as well be a Mullah in Iran right now, because to begin to take the gloves off against American globalism is to make yourself enemy number one.