A regular topic of debate on the Dissident Right is whether or not gentry conservatives know they are just props for the Left. Some argue that they know and have always known, but they like the lifestyle that comes with being on the receiving end of Progressive beatings. There’s no getting around the fact that guys like Jonah Goldberg live fabulous lives while being nothing more than stooges for the Left. The sheer volume of losing by gentry conservatives should be enough to wake even the dumbest and most naive.
Others are more generous, arguing that the boys and girls writing for official conservatism are simply naive or mistaken about the nature of the Left. They come out of orderly upper middle-class suburbs where the rules makes sense and everyone abides by those rules as a matter of courtesy. That makes gentry conservatism and Reason magazine libertarianism attractive to them. After all, their Progressive friends are great people, the best people, so they can surely be persuaded. It just takes the right argument.
Reading Kevin Williamson’s latest retelling of his firing from the Atlantic, those arguing in favor of gross stupidity get a boost. At the start of his piece, he claims to have predicted what would happen to him if he took the Atlantic job.
In early March, I met up with Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of the Atlantic, at an event sponsored by the magazine at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. He had just hired me away from National Review, the venerable conservative magazine where I’d been a writer and editor for 10 years.
“You know, the campaign to have me fired will begin 11 seconds after you announce that you’ve hired me,” I told him. He scoffed. “It won’t be that bad,” he said. “The Atlantic isn’t the New York Times. It isn’t high church for liberals.”
My first piece appeared in the Atlantic on April 2. I was fired on April 5.
Assuming this is true, he took the job knowing it would result in a mob of angry liberals calling for his death. His decision to go through with it could be seen as just part of the Progressive passion play, with Williamson gladly playing his part. The trouble is he rather clearly thought the very liberal Jeffrey Goldberg was some sort of honorable guy, rather than a typical fanatic. More important, he thought Goldberg would stand up to his coreligionists when they came to haul away the heretic. That’s remarkably stupid.
Of course, for gentry conservatives, being remarkably stupid about the nature of motivations of the Left has been a badge of honor for as long as anyone reading this has been alive. The hallmark of gentry conservatism for generations has been the insistence on playing by a set of rules the other side refuses to respect, a set of rules that guarantees failure by the so-called Right. Even the allegedly hard-boiled realists of Buckley Conservatism, like Williamson, can’t seem to grasp this obvious bit of reality.
Then there is this tidbit later in the column. Williamson writes “If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.” No doubt he was thinking of the internet meme, probably thinking the quote is from Voltaire. The line is actually from an old white nationalist named Kevin Alfred Strom. Dumb people tend to believe what they see on the internet, without making sure of the source and accuracy.
At the end of his column, Williamson writes this.
Where my writing appears is not a very important or interesting question. What matters more is the issue of how the rage-fueled tribalism of social media, especially Twitter, has infected the op-ed pages and, to some extent, the rest of journalism. Twitter is about offering markers of affiliation or markers of disaffiliation. The Left shouts RACIST!, and the Right shouts FAKE NEWS! There isn’t much that can be done about this other than treating social media with the low regard it deserves.
But when it comes to what appears in our newspapers and magazines, some of the old rules should still apply. By all means, let’s have advocacy journalism, but let’s make sure about the journalism part of it: Do the work, ask the questions, give readers a reason to assume that what’s published adheres to some basic standards of intellectual honesty. To do otherwise is to empower those who dismiss the media as a tangle of hopeless partisan opportunism.
Without credible journalism, all we have is the Twitter mob, which is a jealous god. Jealous and kind of stupid.
Conservatism, at its root, is the acceptance of reality. The man of the Right accepts the world as it is and acts accordingly. Williamson looks out at a world overrun by Progressive mobs, egged on by our Progressive rulers, and concludes that the only proper response is to pretend it is otherwise. He’s nobly walking in front of the speeding train, because trains should not speed. That’s not principled conservatism. That’s suicidal stupidity. Williamson is the example for the side arguing that these guys are morons.
In the end, it probably matters little if gentry conservatism is dying from subversion or stupidity, other than as a cautionary tale. The lesson that Williamson is unable to learn is not lost on the others hoping to get on the big Progressive stage. They will be sure to scrub their time lines and avoid saying or writing anything that could offend their Progressive paymasters. The golden rule is immutable. The man with the gold makes the rules, which is why the Dissident Right needs to build its own institutions.