I am not at all sure that that is a fair characterization of David French’s views, but let’s let that stand for the sake of argument. Ahmari wants a more robust, activist government, but active on the side of socially conservative goals. I can go along with that, and indeed there’s probably not much difference between how Sohrab Ahmari thinks the state should intervene, and my views. But here’s the thing: in a pluralistic democracy, if you’ve already lost the culture, how can you hope to elect a government that represents the will of the people, and that supports socially conservative policies?
I wish I saw more evidence that America is a socially conservative country. I wish I saw more evidence that we are a religiously traditional country. It’s just not true, and barring some kind of massive revival, it’s not going to be true for a long time. I am more concerned about religion and culture than politics. I believe in the Benedict Option as a practical response for traditional Christians to the crisis of our time in part because politics are so insufficient to the scope and severity of the crisis. It’s not that I am against politics; it’s that I think politics are downstream from religion and culture, and that we have to first restore a firm cultural basis for a decent politics. At this time, we are fighting (or should be fighting) with all we’ve got just to hold what ground we have.
Many conservatives I know wrongly think that the main part of the battle is political, when the truth is that the absence of moral and spiritual discipline in our own lives, and in the lives of our families and communities, is the root cause of disorder. A Christian academic friend and I were talking a while back about classical Christian education, and he lamented that most of the parents he knew from his local classical Christian school were running away from liberalism more than running towards a vision of classical virtue, Christian or otherwise. This is an important insight. Fighting political battles are necessary, but not remotely sufficient to keep the faith alive. And the faith is not just something we carry in our heads, but is a way of life. The way most of us conservative Christians live — I’m judging myself here too — can often be as much of a threat to passing on the faith to our children as attacks coming from progressives in power.
We have to fight progressivism in politics now in part to protect the institutions through which we pass on our virtues and religious beliefs to our children. But these freedoms won’t mean anything if we don’t use them.
I say all this simply to explain why I don’t have Ahmari’s faith in smashmouth right-wing politics of the Trumpian sort. David French’s fundamental decency as a man and as a Christian is not a fault, but a feature. I don’t get why his decency and honor is a liability. If we lose that for the sake of winning political battles, are we not at grave risk of having sold our souls? Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that sometimes politics may require us to do things we find distasteful (like, well, vote for Donald Trump) for the sake of the greater good. But we can’t let ourselves get to the point of despising decency as weakness — and this is where I depart most from Ahmari, who 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. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.
What does this mean? The leftists that I fear most of all are those who would throw overboard any standards of decency for the sake of destroying their opponents. These are the leftists who showed themselves in the Kavanaugh hearings, and in the Covington Catholic media pogrom. I don’t believe Sohrab Ahmari is that kind of conservative, not at all, but these kinds of figures have appeared on the pro-Trump Right.
A Twitter feud, but much, much more: The argument between Sohrab Ahmari and David French is the argument over how to respond when the Left is increasingly not decent, tolerant, or liberal. https://t.co/qhvXsAg474
— The American Conservative (@amconmag) June 3, 2019