That Ship Has Sailed

Our previous post mentioned an article at National Review by David French. I’d also like to comment on another item by Mr. French, published two days earlier.

The piece was a commentary on Wednesday’s rifle attack, by left-wing kook James Hodgkinson, on Republican members of Congress as they practiced for a baseball game. Mr. French notes the increasingly harsh and angry tone of political discourse these days (perhaps I shouldn’t even call it “discourse”, as the word implies actual conversation), but worries about suppression of political speech in response. Rather, he argues, the problem is not with our liberty to speak, but lies an underlying degradation of comity, cohesion, compassion, and conscience.

We read:

The American experiment is built on a concept that’s rarely discussed in modern politics: ordered liberty. Edmund Burke famously and correctly argued that “the only liberty that is valuable is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them.” When John Adams insisted that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and that “it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” he was getting at the same point.

All too often, the response to a breakdown in this scheme — and make no mistake, an act of political terrorism represents just such a breakdown — is to try curtailing liberty, rather than repairing moral order. The gun-control debate is a perfect example: A criminal violates the law, and invariably the cry rings out for more law and less freedom. The free-speech debate (especially on college campuses) is following suit: In response not just to crime but even to the “injury” of hurt feelings, the cry rings out for more law and less freedom.

The answer, says Mr. French, is not a call for “civility”, which is a superficial remedy that only suppresses the symptoms. We must, he argues, get at the disease itself:

What we’re losing isn’t so much “civility” but the fundamental worldview in which even our ideological enemies are seen as human beings created in God’s image and in which an “ends justifies the means” instrumentalist morality is shunned in favor of respecting universal moral standards that bind both sides.

Despite our fraying social fabric, ordered liberty still exists. In fact (and ironically, given our gun-control debates) there’s one American community that exhibits a demonstrable commitment to it: concealed-carry-permit holders. They carry weapons every day (that’s the liberty) and yet they commit crimes at lower rates than even police officers (that’s the order). In fact, the exercise of their liberties is inextricably linked to their respect for order.

That’s how the system should work. That’s how it was designed to work. Absent virtue, liberty can lead to disorder. In the face of that disorder, however, we shouldn’t restrict liberty; we should rebuild virtue. That doesn’t mean standing down in the great political conflicts of our time, but it does mean standing up for a deep truth: Freedom carries with it responsibility, and that responsibility includes respecting the fundamental humanity and individual dignity of even your greatest foes.

I find nothing to disagree with in any of this. The diagnosis is correct, and the essay expresses a noble yearning: let us arrest our decline by rebuilding virtue!

To this I must ask, however: upon what foundation, exactly, is virtue to be rebuilt? Upon our cherished Anglo-American traditions? Upon our sense of familial and cultural commonality, and our sharing of history and heritage? Upon the sacred principles of our Christian beliefs? Upon our reverence for the past, and our sense of duty to the future? Upon our modern-day cultural priorities of frugality, self-sacrifice, discipline, and deferment of present enjoyment for the sake of the greater good?

You see the problem, of course. Read the essay here.

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  1. Magus says

    Apologies, but French is a cuck. There’s no other way to put it.

    It’s like someone walking around Normandy on D-Day going ‘tut tut now I say chaps why don’t we all just have a sit down and behave’.

    It’s insane, And that’s the GENEROUS interpretation. The not so generous is he’s a parasitic leech sucking off older conservative money funds with nothing to deliver but feel good platitudes to aging boomers and conservative virtue signalers.

    The sooner we rid ourselves of the David French’s of the world (remember the Never Trump draft French Debacle by Bill “I hate gentiles” Kristel?) the better.

    There is a new Right rising, that actually fights (sometimes literally), with talented Writers and figures. Every minute wasted on NR is a minute that could have been spent nurturing a future talent.

    Posted June 18, 2017 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi M (and I hope you are enjoying the mysterious Orient),

    For a while this blog’s tagline was a quote from Fela Kuti: “I go many places”. (The line is from his song Coffin for Head of State, from which the blog took its name.)

    Every minute wasted on NR is a minute that could have been spent nurturing a future talent.

    I read all sorts of things, across the political spectrum. (I find it informative, as well as useful, to do so.) One of the places I sometimes go is NR, where there are some good writers with whom I often disagree. (I think David French’s take on the Michelle Carter verdict, for example, was exactly right, and well said.)

    I agree with you that Mr. French’s proposed solution — to “restore virtue” — is an opium dream. I agree also that NR is a hotbed of cuckery. But that was my point here: that although Mr. French’s diagnosis of our disease was quite correct, we have gone beyond the point where such nostalgic optimism as regards its treatment is a sensible — or even, as you say, sane — assessment of our prospects.

    Posted June 18, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink