For much of my (young) adult life, I thought of myself as a political skeptic of sorts, and proudly so. The philosophical questions I was and am interested in seemed so much more important, and I felt like I could actually get traction on their answers. The bias, manipulation, lies, and bullshit inherent to political discourse, on the other hand, made it seem like a skepticism-inducing Matrix, and I had no desire to enter it. But it was reflecting on those philosophical questions that eventually allowed me to see how naïve my political skepticism was. I began to see that the answers I felt most sure of—that there is a God, that there is an objective moral order, that persons are intrinsically valuable and have awesome freedom and responsibility—had profound and inescapable political implications. And it was exciting to discover and tease out those implications. As I did that, what I thought was a radical political view began to emerge piece-by-piece; a view radically at odds with the one shared by my family, friends, and culture generally.
In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton famously recounts his intellectual journey to Christianity:
For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me. I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom. It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion. … I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy. (WaterBrook Press, 2005) pp. 5-6.
In Chestertonian fashion, I had come to traditional conservatism without really knowing it at first. This is not to say that traditional conservatism isn’t radical. Both it and the philosophical beliefs upon which it is based are the product of years of intellectual toil, books and book burnings, bloodshed, wars, revolutions, and most importantly, lessons learned from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I have in mind in particular the Judeo-Christian moral framework bequeathed to the West, whose sociopolitical expression has led to absolutely unprecedented levels of human flourishing worldwide. And if you don’t appreciate how radical the Judeo-Christian moral framework really is, you’re a provincial fish who doesn’t know you’re wet.
The above is a preamble to why I think the so-called “alternative right” is ultimately wrong. Many conservatives are chummy with the alt-right. There is considerable disagreement over what exactly the alt-right is, and how many distinguishable strains of it there are. But at the heart of the alt-right, as I and others understand it, is “a tribal view of Western civilization: Western civilization isn’t rooted in creed, but in nationalism and European ethnicity.” And this is precisely why I am not chummy with the alt-right (so-understood), and why I don’t think other conservatives should be either, even if it’s true that conservatives and alt-righters are united on some policy issues in particular (e.g., immigration) and in their opposition to leftist insanity generally. Western culture and conservatism is what it is because of radical philosophical ideas, not any fact, empirical or otherwise, about ethnicity.
But because the alt-right esteems Western tribalism over Western creed—due to ignorance or eschewal of the creed that made Western culture so great in the first place—I see no possibility of a Chestertonian conversion to traditional conservatism. The alt-right lacks commitment to the very moral and intellectual foundations that catapulted the West above the rest, and so offers no hope in restoring or maintaining its greatness. Without anything more substantial than the opposite extreme of leftist lunacy on race to fall back on, it can go forward with nothing. So for conservatives to ally with the alt-right is about as wise as leftists allying with Islam: as soon as the latter finishes using the former to advance its misguided ideology, thanks will be given with a dagger in the back. No, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. To be friends, we must have something deeper in common than that.
The alt-right and conservatism have about as much in common as sparkling grape juice and red wine. The alt-right is to conservatism what margarine is to butter, what decaf is to coffee, what a vape is to a cigarette, what pornography is to real sex. Or, perhaps more aptly, the alt-right is like a Christianity without Christ. There is something even more contemptible about a knock off of a good thing than something else entirely. At least something else entirely is, in its own way, authentic. That’s why I’d much sooner drink a Coke than non-alcoholic beer or tea instead of decaffeinated coffee, and why I’d become an atheist before an effeminate Christian who believes in an emasculated Christ. I want the genuine article, something else entirely, or nothing at all. The alt-right represents none of those options.
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