An Atlantic Magazine Liberal's Jaw-Dropping Attempt to Redefine 'Conservative'

Andrew Sullivan is a "conservative," which represents a virtuous mean between the extremes of "liberal" and "reactionary."  He does not ever actually define "liberal," but a "conservative" is content to "resist, slow, or even mock the nostrums of the left."  To a "reactionary," by contrast, "it is essential that they [the nostrums of the left] be attacked — and forcefully."  What is more, reactionaries, like the Left, advocate "social engineering," thereby abandoning something that Sullivan calls "liberal democratic moderation."

A conservative, perusing the "social, cultural, and demographic changes of the last few decades" seeks only "to reform its [sic] excesses, manage its [sic] unintended consequences, but otherwise live with it [sic]."  The conservative, typified by Sullivan, is "more comfortable [than a reactionary] in a multicultural world, and see[s] many of the changes of the last few decades as welcome and overdue."  These changes include "the triumph of women in education and the workplace; the integration of gays and lesbians; the emergence of a thriving black middle class; the relaxation of sexual repression; the growing interdependence of Western democracies; the pushback against male sexual harassment and assault."

America is supposed to be an "ever-changing kaleidoscope," if you weren't certain.

Sullivan's comfort with all these improvements apparently was consistent with his support of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Although Clinton, in Sullivan's estimation, would have been "a terrible president," she was, nonetheless, a "defender of liberal democratic norms" (those, presumably, attained by the practice of "liberal democratic moderation").  This made her, hands down, superior to Donald Trump, an "equivalent but even more deranged enemy of liberal democracy."

This endorsement of Hillary Clinton is perhaps a little confusing — is Hillary Clinton a defender of "liberal democratic norms" or an enemy of them, but less "deranged" than Donald Trump?  Since he voted for her we must conclude that a "conservative" in Sullivan's lexicon is someone who takes Hillary Clinton for a defender of liberal democratic norms, in some sense, at least.  Is a conservative, then, a fool?

No doubt, Clinton will escape indictment for her apparent violation of espionage laws while secretary of state — that is, for maintaining classified communications on an unsecured server, in order to conceal the corrupt intermingling of her official actions and the business of the Clinton Foundation.  No more did she suffer consequences for abetting her husband's sexual predations, as she organized a campaign of character assassination against the female victims, or for the tragedy of Benghazi and its mendacious cover-up.  But the primary democratic norm is supremacy of law and its equal application to persons of every stature and wealth.  "Where law ends, tyranny begins," wrote Locke, as much as any author responsible for modern liberal democracy.

Returning to the topic of reactionaries and conservatives, Mr. Sullivan explicates the superiority of those he calls "conservatives."  For "a conservative is worried about the scale and pace of change, its unintended consequences, and its excesses, but he's still comfortable with change."  Now, that is clear enough: a conservative is comfortable with change, whatever sort of change it is, subject only to scrutiny of its degree.  Sullivan extols "change."  He is also a defender of "modernity," we deduce, since he reproves the reactionary's "hostility" to it.  He is much like what others today describe as a "progressive."

Sullivan is unrelenting: "Nothing is ever fixed.  No nation stays the same.  Culture mutates and mashes things up.  And in America, change has always been a motor engine in a restless continent."  A facility for emitting platitudes is another attribute of the conservative, it seems.  How about a "motor engine" that repeals Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex "marriage"), Roe v. Wade, and all of the jurisprudence interpreting the First Amendment's Establishment Clause for the past 75 years?  How comfortable would Sullivan be with that?  Or would it not be "change"?  Does change have to be in the direction of an augmented egalitarianism and politicized hedonism, the only commandments on the tablet that the modern liberal brings down from Sinai?

Obviously, no political position is vindicated or refuted by placing a label upon it.  And those who run around with white oak tag and a can of yellow paint, affixing a "conservative" sign upon positions and politicians that plainly are not (the presidential campaigns of John McCain here come to mind), tend to be fakers and courtesans, seeking either to ingratiate themselves with both sides or, by their very incoherence, to affect a disinterested wisdom.

Our business is preserving the republic bequeathed us by the American Founders.  When we have expounded views consistent with that objective, we entreat Mr. Sullivan to call them reactionary, radical, revanchist, rhomboidal, or raspberry-raisin, if it pleases him.  Certainly, he is correct about those of us who see the current advance of the Left as something to be resisted and driven back before it engulfs the nation. 

The change intended by the "progressive" movement now extant in this country is the obliteration of its constitutive institutions and characteristics: its republicanism, by which it differs from pure democracy and governance by the mob; the philosophy of natural right enunciated in its Declaration of Independence, which the Constitution as positive law effectuates; its majority religion and all morality derived from the Bible; the demography that it has always known; and its very way of life.  The "fundamental transformation" of America means nothing less than that.  It is no virtuous moderation that counsels acquiescence.

The author rightly acknowledged to be the morning star of modern conservatism writes that society is a "partnership not only between those that are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born" (Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France [Oxford: 1993; 1999], 95–96).  He uses the legal terminology of inheritance to uphold the intention of the "testators" (those who created and left us the country that we inherit).  He also reminds of our duty to take care that what we leave to our descendants is as good.

There must be a principle of respect for  what has previously been erected and sustained the nation, says Burke, "lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail [the intentions and conditions of the testators], or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole fabric of society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them, a ruin instead of a habitation — and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers."

Let us, then, be reactionaries enough to keep faith with those who bequeathed us our republic and to turn back the tide that threatens to sweep it away, or to cast ourselves in the path of that tide when no more is left to us.

Image: Real Time with Bill Maher via YouTube.

Andrew Sullivan is a "conservative," which represents a virtuous mean between the extremes of "liberal" and "reactionary."  He does not ever actually define "liberal," but a "conservative" is content to "resist, slow, or even mock the nostrums of the left."  To a "reactionary," by contrast, "it is essential that they [the nostrums of the left] be attacked — and forcefully."  What is more, reactionaries, like the Left, advocate "social engineering," thereby abandoning something that Sullivan calls "liberal democratic moderation."

A conservative, perusing the "social, cultural, and demographic changes of the last few decades" seeks only "to reform its [sic] excesses, manage its [sic] unintended consequences, but otherwise live with it [sic]."  The conservative, typified by Sullivan, is "more comfortable [than a reactionary] in a multicultural world, and see[s] many of the changes of the last few decades as welcome and overdue."  These changes include "the triumph of women in education and the workplace; the integration of gays and lesbians; the emergence of a thriving black middle class; the relaxation of sexual repression; the growing interdependence of Western democracies; the pushback against male sexual harassment and assault."

America is supposed to be an "ever-changing kaleidoscope," if you weren't certain.

Sullivan's comfort with all these improvements apparently was consistent with his support of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Although Clinton, in Sullivan's estimation, would have been "a terrible president," she was, nonetheless, a "defender of liberal democratic norms" (those, presumably, attained by the practice of "liberal democratic moderation").  This made her, hands down, superior to Donald Trump, an "equivalent but even more deranged enemy of liberal democracy."

This endorsement of Hillary Clinton is perhaps a little confusing — is Hillary Clinton a defender of "liberal democratic norms" or an enemy of them, but less "deranged" than Donald Trump?  Since he voted for her we must conclude that a "conservative" in Sullivan's lexicon is someone who takes Hillary Clinton for a defender of liberal democratic norms, in some sense, at least.  Is a conservative, then, a fool?

No doubt, Clinton will escape indictment for her apparent violation of espionage laws while secretary of state — that is, for maintaining classified communications on an unsecured server, in order to conceal the corrupt intermingling of her official actions and the business of the Clinton Foundation.  No more did she suffer consequences for abetting her husband's sexual predations, as she organized a campaign of character assassination against the female victims, or for the tragedy of Benghazi and its mendacious cover-up.  But the primary democratic norm is supremacy of law and its equal application to persons of every stature and wealth.  "Where law ends, tyranny begins," wrote Locke, as much as any author responsible for modern liberal democracy.

Returning to the topic of reactionaries and conservatives, Mr. Sullivan explicates the superiority of those he calls "conservatives."  For "a conservative is worried about the scale and pace of change, its unintended consequences, and its excesses, but he's still comfortable with change."  Now, that is clear enough: a conservative is comfortable with change, whatever sort of change it is, subject only to scrutiny of its degree.  Sullivan extols "change."  He is also a defender of "modernity," we deduce, since he reproves the reactionary's "hostility" to it.  He is much like what others today describe as a "progressive."

Sullivan is unrelenting: "Nothing is ever fixed.  No nation stays the same.  Culture mutates and mashes things up.  And in America, change has always been a motor engine in a restless continent."  A facility for emitting platitudes is another attribute of the conservative, it seems.  How about a "motor engine" that repeals Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex "marriage"), Roe v. Wade, and all of the jurisprudence interpreting the First Amendment's Establishment Clause for the past 75 years?  How comfortable would Sullivan be with that?  Or would it not be "change"?  Does change have to be in the direction of an augmented egalitarianism and politicized hedonism, the only commandments on the tablet that the modern liberal brings down from Sinai?

Obviously, no political position is vindicated or refuted by placing a label upon it.  And those who run around with white oak tag and a can of yellow paint, affixing a "conservative" sign upon positions and politicians that plainly are not (the presidential campaigns of John McCain here come to mind), tend to be fakers and courtesans, seeking either to ingratiate themselves with both sides or, by their very incoherence, to affect a disinterested wisdom.

Our business is preserving the republic bequeathed us by the American Founders.  When we have expounded views consistent with that objective, we entreat Mr. Sullivan to call them reactionary, radical, revanchist, rhomboidal, or raspberry-raisin, if it pleases him.  Certainly, he is correct about those of us who see the current advance of the Left as something to be resisted and driven back before it engulfs the nation. 

The change intended by the "progressive" movement now extant in this country is the obliteration of its constitutive institutions and characteristics: its republicanism, by which it differs from pure democracy and governance by the mob; the philosophy of natural right enunciated in its Declaration of Independence, which the Constitution as positive law effectuates; its majority religion and all morality derived from the Bible; the demography that it has always known; and its very way of life.  The "fundamental transformation" of America means nothing less than that.  It is no virtuous moderation that counsels acquiescence.

The author rightly acknowledged to be the morning star of modern conservatism writes that society is a "partnership not only between those that are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born" (Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France [Oxford: 1993; 1999], 95–96).  He uses the legal terminology of inheritance to uphold the intention of the "testators" (those who created and left us the country that we inherit).  He also reminds of our duty to take care that what we leave to our descendants is as good.

There must be a principle of respect for  what has previously been erected and sustained the nation, says Burke, "lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail [the intentions and conditions of the testators], or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole fabric of society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them, a ruin instead of a habitation — and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers."

Let us, then, be reactionaries enough to keep faith with those who bequeathed us our republic and to turn back the tide that threatens to sweep it away, or to cast ourselves in the path of that tide when no more is left to us.

Image: Real Time with Bill Maher via YouTube.