Postcard from a Coal Mine: CPAC 2018

As reported at the Resurgent, Breitbart, Barbwire, and LifeSiteNews, this year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) chose to embrace the sponsorship of the Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-homosexual organization, while denouncing and banishing Mass Resistance, a reputable grassroots network that defends traditional morality in schools and municipalities.

CPAC's decisions stem from their belief that gay Republicans are socially acceptable while people who militate powerfully against LGBT curricula in schools are not.

What on Earth?

At its main website, CPAC describes itself as a lodestar for authentic conservatism.  Its summary includes a warm reference to Ronald Reagan and a claim that its yearly February gathering fosters a praetorian guard of "activists and campaign managers."

Only a year ago, CPAC found itself in controversy for having scheduled as a keynote speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, the potty-mouthed homosexual enfant terrible.

When old video revealed that Milo had once been frighteningly blasé about sex with teenage boys, CPAC made a dramatic show of disavowing Milo.

Many fellow travelers came forward to defend Milo.  We viewed child molestation as detestable, but we consistently condemned it, even if this meant denouncing homosexual subculture.  Milo's survival of childhood sex abuse explained much of his aberrant and disorderly behavior.

Why did so many conservatives goad Milo on for years, then turn on him once his past abuse cast a pall on his public witness?  For the type of conservatives who flock to CPAC – think-tank parvenus, Ann Coulter fans, Fox News oracles, College Republicans, emulators of Laura Ingraham and Steven Crowder – conservatism mixes rebellion, wit, professionalism, and prestige.  They sense that pointy-headed political correctness and taxes are bad, while anti-liberal snark and a rising Dow Jones are good.  They delight in mocking liberals who embarrass themselves and relish the indignant outrage they feel when gazing on liberalism at its worst: transgender bathrooms, campus madness, Harvey Weinstein hypocrisy, or historical illiteracy.  Such mainstream, young, and urbane conservatives do not necessarily like being told to show restraint, self-critique, and repentance.

They want conservatism to stay fun.  They turned against the left particularly because the left grew preachy, ugly, and glum.

It's hard to know what left and right are anymore

In each institution the left has invaded, leftists have expelled all dissent and left themselves no check on their own errors.  In the wake of their collapse, opportunities will abound for enterprising and plucky people to mine the wreckage for profit.

Some will seize upon these opportunities to advance conservative beliefs because their traditional beliefs matter so much to them.  Others will seize upon such opportunities because they are opportunists.  If conservatives fail to discern their allies' true motivations, they run many dangerous risks.

Will conservatism work if it rests on rejecting the left rather than on edifying traditional principles?  A practicing homosexual can say he is against something the left does (for instance, driver's licenses for illegal aliens), but he cannot justify himself by citing tradition.  No tradition supports sodomy.

Therein lies the rub.  The assumption that conservatism means traditionalism can no longer go unquestioned, since so much of what we call "conservatism" lately entails opposition to the left, which can come from many sources that have nothing to do with tradition.

My first scholarly monograph, the long-forgotten Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman, diagrammed four political squares in American politics rather than two poles of left and right.  Back then, I had no clue that the model I suggested would play out vividly in my own life.





The left




Colorful Conservatives

The two axes that divided Americans politically, I posited, were convention and tradition.  While many dictionaries position these words as synonyms, their word roots betray a key difference.  Conventions come from the Latin sense of "coming together."  Conventional beliefs and practices arise out of peer review, social approval, consensus, and Jefferson's "decent respect to the opinions of mankind."  Conventional conservatives can suppress some of their own impulses to respect the judgment of living peers.  They may be liberal, at times, in the sense that they will accept change or at least accommodate it if it seems a change has attained massive support among people whose opinions seem to matter.

Traditions have roots in a distant, mythical past, almost always a time so remote from the present that it cannot be edited or altered based on the fluxing whims of people alive now.  Many but not all traditions are rooted in godly faith.  Some traditions matter deeply to people because a traditional temperament leads people to trust, above all, what is time-honored, time-tested, and impervious to careless trends.  Traditional people are almost always conservative in their temperament.

As I argued in Colorful Conservative, Americans are not merely left-right, but really oriented toward four corners of political discourse.  The architects of the present-day left rejected anarchy and individualism in the twentieth century, when leftist intellectuals sided implicitly with the socialists' emphasis on progress, collectivism, and egalitarian consensus.  Hence, what we call "the left" today, while dizzyingly fragmented, shares a conventional but untraditional sensibility.  Today's left actively rejects the authority of the distant past, which explains much of the left's problem with religions rooted in antique origins.  The left loves peer review and discourse based on pronouncements of experts while suffering from the chronic problems of groupthink and fads.

What now passes for the "conservative" movement is really an enormous smattering of disparate groups that have come to resist and repudiate the left.  Some "conservatives" share the left's love of convention but resist the left because of the left's allergy to tradition.  These, whom I called the "Burkean" conservatives in my 2011 monograph, defend ancient beliefs and time-honored customs by trying to persuade peers to join in honoring them.

These conservatives support religious doctrines but value tact and decorum. They will criticize the left-wing intelligentsia but will never criticize the idea of tenure; they do not want to destroy the lofty bureaucracies that issue political doctrines but rather wish to join and excel in such bureaucracies.  Their ideal ceremony is a wedding where plentiful guests cheer on elegant lovers while they recite vows written centuries ago.  From everything I have observed as an American Thinker contributor, these are not the conservatives who tend to prevail on this website.

American Thinker seems to gather people whom we call "conservative" today, who resist the left and also resist the very notion of convention – they are unconventional but traditional, so they have limited common ground with the Burkean conservatives and nothing but animosity toward the modern left.  These I call the "colorful conservatives," whom I trace as a persistent vein in American arts and letters.  These socially defiant traditionalists tend to view the approval of peers as something to be sacrificed in order to stay true to foundational principles.  Among the religious, these conservatives exalt the Scriptures that tell us, "What is exalted before men is an abomination before the Lord."  People who inhabit this square will reject not only specific peers, but popularity contests in general.  They will decry not only a worrying trend in academia, but the notion of a tenured professoriate functioning as a godless priesthood.  The colorful conservatives steer clear of groupthink but may be vulnerable to nostalgia.

One more group today falls into the same label of "conservative" only because of their hostility to the left.  Here I speak of those who are both unconventional and untraditional, the freethinking individualists who base all moral questions on their own conscience.  Whether they manifest their individualism as anarchy, libertarianism, or nihilism, they share a common propensity to rebuff the standards imposed by peers and the standards imposed by tradition.  They have nothing in common with the Burkeans and share with the colorful conservatives only a willingness to irritate and alienate their fellows.  They reject the left because of its political correctness, Orwellian insistence on forcing language on them, and taxes, even if they share with the left a rejection of tradition.

Can this a conservative movement make?

Trumpism is the ongoing struggle to make a chorus out of this anti-leftist din.  Why on Earth do we group libertarians, evangelical Christians, and Ivy League Republicans together in the same "conservative" movement these days?  They have little in common, but they all find reasons to fault the left.  The left's tremendously successful takeover of cultural institutions, accompanied by the left's utter failure to build anything socially functional, has created a vacuum that provides opportunities to the three other squares.  Yet if the left is finally defeated, who will rule the right?

Those who cannot surrender their principled objections to homosexuality serve as the canaries in the coal mine.  Conventional-traditional conservatives may pay lip service to heterosexual chastity but will respect the growing acceptance of homosexuality rather than alienate pro-gay peers.  They may say they support marriage, but they will lash out against other "conservatives" who violate the unspoken law against behaving crudely or disrespectfully in front of others.  Hence, Mass Resistance, full of Bible-quoters who fearlessly scream down principals and mayors to defend God's design for sexuality, must be shunned by the conservatives who share the left's love of convention.

The unconventional and untraditional types pose another challenge to the conservative movement.  Whether we call these libertarians, nihilists, pure individualists, or anarchists, the reality is that they are not conservative.  They are no friends to morality, antiquity, precedent, or decency.  They want most of all to have fun and feel good.  They have joined the conservative movement because in institutions controlled by the left, the political camp that attacks the left offers them the fewest rules and the most opportunities to let their hair down and have a good time.  Unfortunately, this libertine square provides the bulk of support for conservative causes among the young.

The influence of libertarians in the CPAC universe explains what happened with Milo and provides some context for the banishment of Mass Resistance.  Milo provided too much fun for anyone to slow him down until the seriousness of his past with sexual abuse made "conservatives" reconsider their allegiance to him.

When Milo was de-platformed, I thought he was the canary in the coal mine.  Maybe not.  By trying to get a seat at CPAC's table, Mass Resistance tested the viability of the Burkean-colorful-libertarian alliance.  I lead Mass Resistance's Texas chapter.  I know that our partisans defend their beliefs with dogged sincerity.  I also know that libertarians find us embarrassingly old-fashioned and Burkean mainstream conservatives fear we will not play well in Georgetown.

I spoke to Brian Camenker, the president of Mass Resistance, a few weeks before the CPAC brouhaha exploded.  At the time, I thought CPAC was a long shot, but I figured that if CPAC did not spike us, we would know that the ragtag alliance known as today's "conservative" movement really had a chance.

The unconventional traditionalists, I believe, constitute the lion's share of the Christian rank and file and Trump voters.  But we – I count myself among them – cannot fool ourselves that bons vivants or grant-starved bowtie-wearers want us at their shindigs.  For now, the Milo fanboys and Harvard graduates have joined ranks against us and made a separate truce with the left, brokered by the gays.  We were the canaries in the coal mine; we sniffed the gas and fell by the wayside.  What happens to the rest of the conservative movement is anyone's guess.

One thing is clear: the 2018 midterms will be a difficult time for all.

You can follow Robert Oscar Lopez on English Manif.

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