The other day, Kevin Williamson wrote this piece at National Review. It is interesting for a number of reasons. One is that Williamson is a tiny bit brighter than his colleagues at the magazine. Many of them are young and from the managerial class, thus having little to no experience with reality. By comparison, a middle aged man like Williamson sounds like Confucius. He has partnered up with Charlie Cooke, the British libertarian, to form a sort of senpai – kōhai routine that makes Williamson sound like a sage.
The older crowd at National Review has a refrigerator bulb quality to them. They are reliable and important to the functioning of the magazine, but you have no reason to notice them. If Rich Lowry were hit by a truck tomorrow, his absence, as well as his splatter, would be noticed, until the splatter was mopped up. By comparison, a guy like Williamson is a towering intellect. His odd style and choice of topics stands apart from the older guys kicking around the site.
Leaving the comparison stuff aside, I’ve often suspected he is at least vaguely aware of the problems afflicting the American Right and elite dogmas in general. He has written some things on race and culture, for example, that suggests he is not blind. His story on Appalachia and the Oxycontin Express is very well done and free of the modern habit of trying to jam everything into the mythology of our time.
He has to make a living so he engages in the esoteric subterfuges to stay out of trouble, but you still see enough to suggest he is a guy who could one day end up sleeping in Steve Sailer’s basement. Then again, it could just be part of the act to seem edgy, when he is thoroughly conventional. The edgytarian is a real thing. Anyway, the conclusion of the article I linked above has this:
During the Civil Rights Movement — the real one, not the ersatz one led today by Jesse Jackson et al. — politics did genuinely intersect with brunch. On one side of the issue were people who argued that the social situation of African Americans at the time was so dire and so oppressive that invasive federal action was necessary. On the other side were well-intentioned conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and any number of writers for this magazine, who argued that if the reach of Washington were extended into every mom-and-pop diner in the country, it would constitute a step toward the abolition of private life, that the natural and inevitable extension of the principle at work would ensure that rather than being treated as private property, businesses reclassified as “public accommodations” would be treated more like public property, that the greasy snout of politics eventually would stick itself into every last precinct of what had been considered the sphere of privacy beyond the public sector.
As it turns out, both sides were right.
That last sentence is the grabber. Both can only be true if you exclude the possibility of a moral society based on individual liberty. The godfather of the modern Right, Harry Jaffa, certainly thought that was the case. Equality trumps everything and no man’s liberty can come at the expense of another. When equality is in conflict with liberty, then liberty must yield, which may sound great until one tries to nail down what equality means and how to define it.
As I said at the start, Williamson seems like a bright guy and he surely sees the problem, but the alternatives are currently off the table. There’s no way to claw back the idea of individual liberty without opening up the old wound of race relations. Any attempt to restore liberty as the dominant partner in the equality-liberty relationship, lands you in the same trouble as Rand Paul found himself in when asked about the Civil Rights Act. The heretic has no future in public life.
The bigger problem is that the very ideas of equality are at odds with observable reality backed by an growing body of scientific evidence. Boys and girls are not the same. Intelligence is distributed unequally. Variations in environment, culture and history have led to differences between human groups that go beyond track and field. Even if accept the triumph of equality over liberty, you’re chasing an imaginary thing that can never be realized.
That can only end in madness. When one person goes mad, we can lick him up. When the ruling classes of whole countries go mad, the results are catastrophic. I don’t know how we break out of this spiral. The Cult holds all the high ground in American life. They run the the cultural institutions, the academy and most of government. Even if the people in charge snapped out of it and suddenly realized the insanity of their ideological obsessions, there’s no going back. After the Year of the Four Emperors, the ruling elite of Rome knew that the system was broken and could never be fixed, but there was no way to go back to the Republic. They just had to make it work, until it didn’t.