The Glass-Jawed Party
Somebody needs to explain to me why conservatives are so defeatist.
It never fails. A setback occurs, and rather than rolling their sleeves and getting to work, they collapse into bawling, whining puddles. They’re like a glass-jawed boxer who take a hit and goes down immediately. But instead of hauling themselves back to their feet and slugging away, they just lie there, sobbing, “It’s over… there’s no point… wave goodbye to Lady Liberty for me…”
There’s nothing new about this. During the Obama epoch it was eight years of, “Obama is eight feet tall. Obama can walk through walls. He can see you and you can’t see him…” It was the end of the Republic, we were told repeatedly. No alternative, no way out. Time to wave the white flag.
Before that, it was Bill and Hillary, and before that, LBJ and the Great Society, and I’m sure, FDR’s endless reign. It never changes. Conservatives are the people who give up and give in, who consistently snatch victory form the jaws of defeat, who can’t go that last mile. When the going gets rough, they act like a Woody Allen character, sighing, shrugging and asking for directions to the kindergarten playground.
I’m aware that a lot of this, particularly on the comment threads, is the product of paid provocateurs, out to destroy morale and sow despair. But they’re working with raw material that’s clearly already present. Defeatism is a strong current in modern conservatism.
Conservatism is the sole political doctrine that features defeatism as a basic element. Look up “Albert Jay Nock” or “conservative remnant.” Nock looked around and concluded that things were simply too rotten, that western society was finished, that a collapse was inevitable. Best not to waste any energy, Nock concluded, and instead sit around and wait for everything to fall in on itself. Then we’d make our move – we’ll all trot out in our blue blazers and bow ties and hand out copies of The Conservative Mind in the road warrior encampments.
This manner of thinking became dominant during the New Deal epoch, and from there entered the mainstream of conservative thought through people like Russell Kirk, who retreated to his personal pea patch in Michigan and sat things out, too superior to dirty his hands with actual engagement. Whittaker Chambers, a good man who risked a lot more than anyone is risking today, explained his defiance of communism as “I have left the winning side for the losing side.” This style of superior, cerebral defeatism remains to this day a potent motive (I wouldn’t call it “driving force”) among the National Review crowd and their acolytes.
But just because something has been around a long time doesn’t mean it’s any good, particularly when it’s taken as a given, beyond debate or discussion, and continues to affect people’s behavior on near-subconscious level.
This shouldn’t affect 21st-century populist conservatism. Most of the populist wave that arose during the tea party movement and the Trump revolution came from outside mainstream conservatism, and simply aren’t familiar with this stuff. They haven’t read Kirk, don’t read NR or Human Events, and Nock isn’t even a name to them. Yet there it is -- traditional conservative depression, defeatism, and self-pity, this time wearing a MAGA cap.
It makes no sense in and of itself, and things that don’t make sense and are harmful need to be gotten rid of.
Back in the early 60s, an era I can barely, blurrily recall, things were much worse for conservatism. Liberalism reigned supreme and effectively unchallenged. Joe McCarthy (who actually started out as a New Deal Democrat) had been destroyed, taking down the GOP conservatives with him. Kennedy was going to bring the nation into a new liberal Eden, where there would be no room for those people. When conservatives weren’t a joke, they were a threat. From 62 to 64 there was a media-generated right-wing scare, with wild reports of militia armies about to sweep into California and take over. William F. Buckley was held to be even more dangerous, because he was well spoken, and the poor birdbrained common people might actually (gasp!) listen to him. It saturated popular culture through The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, and Dr. Strangelove. It all culminated in the personal destruction of Barry Goldwater during the 1964 election.
The liberals had things nailed down a lot more firmly in the early 60s. So firmly, in fact, that liberal Godfather Arthur Schlesinger went public with a plea to lay off conservatives – liberals needed them, Schlesinger insisted, to keep them honest.
And yet what happened to it all? The whole structure of regnant postwar liberalism collapsed with a few years. The liberal experts, the forefathers of Anthony Fauci, were exposed as liars and fabricators. The right-wing scare deflated of its own fatuity. Lyndon B. Johnson, the most liberal president of all time, was chased from office in disgrace only four years after trouncing Goldwater.
What we have today in the largely discredited, rabid remnant of American leftism doesn’t compare to this. Liberalism is long dead, and the leftism that replaced it is largely pathological, based on a lunatic denial of reality as it actually exists. The American left had complete control sixty years ago and they blew it, the same way they’re going to blow it today – by allowing their rabid elements to take the reins.
We, on the other hand, can look back at four years that have undeniably demonstrated the superiority of American principles and the political power of conservative populism.
So how do we lose? Well, by giving up.
One of more asinine assertions of the “let’s surrender” school is that the Internet will now be closed to us. We’ll be isolated, alone under a cold gray sky, to wither in misery, like a drawing on an early-60s avant-garde poster. We’re supposed believe that the Big Tech boys “own” the Net and can decide who and who can’t remain on their playground. This is idiotic. First, the internet is a public resource, owned by nobody. Second, it was designed by DARPA to continue operating even during a nuclear war. Thanks to the magic of packet switching (that’s one for you, Hedy), the Net routes messages around blocked or damaged points. As has been pointed out many times before, the Net interprets censorship as damage and simply goes around it. You cannot censor the Net (as China has discovered, despite all the help provided by Google.) Once you’re on the Net, you’re everywhere. As for getting on the Net in the first place, all you need is a server, a fancy name for a computer optimized for sending and receiving messages. You can find (as Parler has learned) people willing to rent servers by the thousands in every last country on the planet. Or alternately, you can buy your own. Small business servers start in the $1000 range and go up from there. (Rentals start at $50 to 60 a month). A server capable of handling traffic for a good-sized website might start at about $10,000. At this moment, there are smart entrepreneurs looking at the conservative market and scheming (one of them might well be a billionaire ex-president). Or we could start a conservative online media association, pool our dimes, and buy a server farm of our own, after which we can tell Jack, Jeff, and Mark to go scroo. The possibilities are endless.
So why defeatism? In the end, I think it may well be a matter of inflated expectations. When things go well -- when, say, Donald Trump is elected -- populist conservatives are high on life. They’re on the yellow brick road, off the see the Wizard. Nothing can possibly go wrong -- all they need to do is sit back and Donny will take care of it all.
Of course, life ain’t like that. Things will get complicated, and you have to take your beatings. But instead of brawling their way back into the sunlight, cons collapse in infinite gloom, the exact flip side of their earlier euphoria. That’s when we hear that it’s the end, the nothing will help, and that we should dive off the ledge together.
It’s a kind of political bipolar disorder, and it’s just as damaging, just as unwelcome, and just as difficult for the victims to shake.
That’s where we are today. Things look awfully dark, and they are dark. President Asterisk has promised us a “long dark winter,” and for once in his life has told the truth, since neither he nor VP Hotsheets could ever provide anything else.
We need to maintain an even strain, to adhere to the golden mean in politics as in everything else. As Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “never be too joyful, never be too sad.” That served to get him out of the Gulag in one piece. It will serve us against the far lesser threat of pf the Progressive Democratic People’s party.
If we’re looking for examples to pattern ourselves after, we need only to go back to 1942, with Pearl Harbor still burning, most of the Pacific under the thumb of a Shinto-maddened Japan, Hitler’s trained apes running wild across Eurasia and North Africa. It was defeat after defeat: Singapore, Wake, the Java Sea, Bataan, one after the other for six months. Then came the first week of June.
Or maybe even farther back, to 1862, where on a bleak evening with the rain falling hard, Billy Sherman walked up to Ulyss Grant and, beside a field on which 20,000 men had fallen just that day, said to him, “We’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”
And Grant answered, “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”
We’ve had the devil’s own day – but we’ll lick ‘em tomorrow.