Earlier this week, I wrote an extended post of the French-Ahmari debate and then shelved it.
Instead, I want to approach the entire debate from another angle (while deferring to no one in my dislike for David French.)
The conservative movement is not monolithic. It never has been. It spans a range from libertarian to theocratic, from liberal to reactionary, and, more specifically, militant free traders and equally militant America Firsters, hawks and anti-war types, religious conservatives and objectivists.
I’ll probably find something to agree or disagree on with all of them.
That’s both the strength and the weakness of the conservative movement.
The Left boasts of diversity, but has virtually eliminated intellectual diversity within its movement. Its policies are monolithic. There’s no room for lefties who may question immigration, no room for pro-life Democrats or feminists who question transgender dogma.
In classic Bolshie tradition, you get with the party line or you get driven out.
Conservatives are not nearly as good at tapping into our own diversity. And our messages are often mixed and undisciplined. But we’re also able to tap into a wide pool and to make political adjustments, such as the Trump era, that the Left lacks the flexibility to do.
There’s more than one kind of conservative. And more than one way to fight the Left.
The Left used to be quite good at that. It still is able to present different fronts, though not as successfully, from the moderate weepy type preaching about decency to the militant rabble-rouser calling for revolution.
Having these debates is a good thing. Friction drives change, exposes weakness and evolves a movement. But this is a big country and a big movement. There probably isn’t just one answer.
Confrontation can work in certain contexts, while appealing to the better angels can work in another. The people we are dealing with, Democrats and independents, the apathetic and the single-issue voter, who may have some very unexpected issues, are not monolithic either.
There are compelling arguments to be made for both classical liberalism and cultural warfare. And there’s even more room for overlap between them than most of the debaters seem to want to admit.
The Left has always understood that aggression and moderation are tactics, not outcomes. (Though they have a way of turning out to be outcomes if you’re not careful and don’t think ahead.) We lack the Left’s ability to synchronize these varying tactics because we are not collectivists. But we should also remember that there is a common purpose. Not everyone in the movement shares it. The Washington Posters who began campaigning for Democrats clearly don’t. But we should also evaluate the success of tactics locally, not just in terms of a global philosophy.
There needs to be a big picture objective. But there can be a thousand smaller and very different ways to reach that goal.