“But he fights” was a common refrain from many of the decibilically vociferous calls in the MAGA movement, and it is a sentiment raucously championed by many on the “new right”, or as some call themselves, the “common good conservatives”, “national conservatives”, or simply those who aren’t the so-called “conservatives”. Indeed many, if not most, of these individuals bemoan “principles” (a word they treat as a pejorative) and blame people who hold them in the current political climate for being the “surrender caucus” who insist on “fighting with one hand tied behind their back”, assuming they are not outright accused of treason and only wanting to “go to cocktail parties”. That this is shortsighted will become evident, if it isn’t already, but it is also historically illiterate, and while ignorance is never an excuse, that some know better but repeat the “fighting” trope does them no favor. When you hear what their fighting plan is, it usually involves the “underpants gnomes” logic (without the manifest sensibility):
- Hear the lamentations of their women (or some transgender/feminist variation thereof).
This, of course, ignores the question, for which your humble author begs, so as to speak, of “what then”? This is the question that seems perpetually side-stepped. Yes, you fight for victory, but what is that victory beyond the defeat of the enemy a la mode?
Much of the argument that justifies “fighting” by tossing aside all rules and principles, is that they will be able to fight with full force against an enemy who is not bound by the rules that the “fighters” seem to want to break. First of all, this is fallacious on its face. The actual rule of law, even if bent, bruised, ignored, avoided, or poked to sieve still stands, and not only provides a way back from those on the Left would erase, but a perpetual obstacle to them that clarifies what we must protect and why it is so important to protect it, but also who we must defend it against. The enemy wants those principles destroyed. Indeed, that is their main goal, and those disdained principles now face a co-belligerent against them, abet in the name of the policy or cultural consequences that those principles birthed, or at least midwifed. Why, if you defend principles, you’d almost be accused of siding with the devil…
Increasingly, the “new right”, or whatever appellation or nomenclature is preferred, seem to agree about what must fundamentally be destroyed in order to get at the very real secular devil of the Left. What then? Ah, there is that question again. Many on the Left believe that absent the “culture war” of the right, or other “reactionary barriers” imposed now and/or in the past, human society will spontaneously create a utopia, as it was before the dreaded “Kyriarchs” came and invented capitalism, biological sex, race, cis-heteronormativity, &c. Others on the Left believe that some assembly will be required, but that ultimately those with the correct thinking can act as intelligent designers who can build a superlative society from scratch if need be. Increasingly, many on the purported right seem to think they can get rid of the prinicples upon which America is founded and once their policy/cultural goals are met, either their on eschaton will have been immanentized or they can recreate fundamental principles at will… or at least the consequences of those principles without needing the prinicples; this is, fundamentally, Leftist thinking, and not the last we’ll see of that.
They see the only solution to the Lefts machinations is an equal and opposite reaction, much like how Ibrim X. Kendi views “anti-racist” as necessary to eliminate “racism”. And much like this nouveau Marxist view they believe that their enemy will disappear, or baring that, will require a permanent revolution and search for Mensheviks to attack. Kendi also saw non-racism as a form or subset of racism, and that you had to be anti-racist or racist; similarly the “fighters” on the right believe that if you aren’t fighting with out principles or constraint then you are proactively supporting the Left by supporting their domination via the Gramscian march. Thus not only principles, but fundamental rights and the rule of law become enemies to be crushed by “will to power”.
But is the manichean view of “principled surrender” vs. “fighting unbounded by rules” a true dichotomy, or simply a rhetorical trick and false-dilemma fallacy that advocates of the later used to emotionally drive people to their side? Ironically, it is the actions they champion of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that demonstrates that the manichean is indeed truly fallacious.
DeSantis not only pushed through a redistricting plan that no not only favored the Republicans, but did so in a way that resulted in compact districts that at a glance once can ascertain to look fair. As with many other states that are battling Critical Race Theory and “gender/sexuality ideology” that is being imposed at younger and younger ages, the Florida Republicans passed a bill—decried quite falsely as the “don’t say gay” bill—that restricts the ability of increasingly woke credentialed teachers in public schools to push their indoctrination, and did so against the might of woke corporations such as Disney, which have been “skinsuited” by exponentially crazed Leftist lunatics. All of this was indeed fighting against the Left, but it was also done with principles and in defense of longstanding rules of law.
However, for some, that isn’t goal. Victory isn’t the goal, but simply for some the excuse to “hear the lamentations of their women”. The ball must be spiked in the end zone, and those who dared legally oppose this victory must be made an example out of. To this end, Florida unilaterally revoked the special district which greatly benefited Disney as punishment for their speaking out against those in power. This “victory” was hallow and the principles that allowed the real victories was tossed aside for that thrill of a brief emotional rush and quick shot of political Heroin™. It was superficially legal, in large part because it hid specific mention by peculiarly and narrowly tailoring an allegedly neutral general law until it only applied to a single target.
Some may argue that this is indeed within the rule of law because those who rule made the law. But this blatantly contradicts one of the things that make the rule of law in America truly… American: We do not have as a principle, and more often than not in practice, those—selection by whatever means—who rule over others, but rather those who govern under the law, including the Constitution, longstanding precedent, and foundational principles that hold America far above others in a manifestly exceptional way.
This then, is the view held my many, that to avoid “soy boys” who surrender, we must be “muscular” and by sheer manly willpower defeat their enemies. Or, to put it another way: “This is a perfect example of the kind of fighting Right now required: a Right, that is, which is willing to wield political power in muscular fashion to reward friends and punish enemies within the confines of the rule of law.” So, why give the Devil the benefit of the law?
“Government policy toward individuals and businesses should be neutral to whether or not those in government agree or disagree with a given person or entity. Conservatives cheering on the idea of the government splitting the populace into friends and enemies should also recognize that there are times when they will end up as enemies of the state.”
This is why principles in governance exist and why it is so important to not toss them aside: “It contradicts the purpose of the rule of law.” The entire purpose is to, as much as possible, take government out of the equation and prevent it being used as a tool. There is too great a temptation, a real-life version of Sauron’s ring that could corrupt even a good Hobbit.
Your humble author is fully with DeSantis with his redistricting plan and the falsely so-called “don’t say gay” bill. I am believe that corporate wokeness in Disney is a problem and that it is a cultural war that we must fight and win. Heck, your humble author also believes that special districts like the one Disney had shouldn’t exist.
What is horrible governance and government action is to specifically target a company for punishment, despite even an accusation of a crime, because they advocated for a political position you don’t like.
And no, there isn’t a manichean choice between supporting government being able to target companies for supporting what they don’t like, and supporting the company and those things it supports.
Doubtful that almost any person supporting this action would support a blue state from targeting a company that advocated the opposite position as Disney over pro-woke educational legislation.
If they wanted to limit the scope of these “special districts”, they could have done that in a truly general way, and that would have been good governance and good policy. Instead, they tailored the change in law in such a way that it only effected a single targeted company without specifically naming that company to get around myriad restrictions against bill of attainder level shenanigans. Plenty of states and local governments do this all the time, and it ought to be opposed because no government ought to be attacking or stripping protections of anyone under a general sounding peculiarly tailored law, rule, or regulation.
Using Florida’s increasingly large population and K-12 school enrollment to pressure schoolbook publishers to dump woke idiocy is another example of the state acting with principles yet nonetheless fighting. Since those school books of wokeness would be imposed through the state via it’s education system, it is right to tell those companies to “shape up or ship out” when it came to academic quality; that these schoolbook makers will be changing those books, for cost-effective reasons, for jurisdictions outside Florida (as both California and Texas have done) is a consequence of principles, not despite them.
One of the major and core elements of American civics and rights is the tenet that the government is always the greatest threat and that non-governmental shenanigans are a small price to pay to keep the government in check. Some on the purported right, however, agree with the Left that evil corporations are the greater threat and that the government must take sides against their enemies… never once considering that they might be considered the evil to be crushed.
The purpose of conservatism is to help protect against short term follies that seemed like a good idea at the time. It is this purpose that many on the purported right seem to disdain as much, if nor more so, than the Left. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Oh, there are examples of the “surrender caucus” who disagree with anti-CRT bills or bill aimed against “queer” school lessons, such as from Gabriel Malor or David French. And while your humble author does indeed believe that said individuals are wrong, it does but show in contrast that there are many principled conservatives who support such things but oppose the almost cartoonish caricatures of Conan or Thundarr.
Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws in businesses exist. Declaring, rightly, that DEI, CRT, or the imposition of “gender” madness to be discriminatory and/or harassment is indeed principled and effective.
Oh, that claim of “fighting with one arm tied behind the back” is one that does not hold up to scrutiny. The basis of this claim is that we play by the rules but that the other side does not, and that therefore we should not play by any restrictive rules either. This view is akin to that of the Left’s “Systems of Oppression” supported by “base/superstructure” interaction that can only be solved by “liquidating” the enemy as a class. Yes, where have we heard such logic before?
Perhaps one of the more astute defenders of the falsely labeled “surrender caucus” puts it better:
Dan McLaughlan further goes on to state:
“Hammer’s argument, as best as I can summarize, is that government actors — both political and judicial — should make ‘the common good’ their central organizing principle. His view is that conservatives overemphasize individual liberty, free enterprise, small government, private civil society, and the evenhanded rule of written law, and that the state should be less restrained by such concerns. There are three major problems with this approach.
“First, what exactly is ‘the common good’? This is a problem of perception (how a common-good movement could be sold to American voters), of substance (how policy-makers should apply the common good), and of process (who gets to decide what the common good is in order to apply it).
“There are plenty of sources in pre-American philosophy, from Aristotle to Aquinas, that one might consult for a philosopher’s rendition of the idea. Ultramontane Catholic theocrats such as Adrian Vermeule argue that these ought to be the primary sources of legitimacy for American political actors more or less without regard to the consent of the governed. But that is not the argument advanced by Hammer or other more populist national conservatives. Nor should it be. As a Catholic, I might be perfectly happy living in a society ordered by the catechism of the Catholic Church, but I have no illusions that this is a practical political project in the United States. In fact, experience suggests that even the godliest communities are unsuited to purely religious rule over a nation of significant size.
“If advanced within the American political tradition and the American democratic system of government, common-good-based politics run immediately into an obstacle: the American people. “The common good” as a lodestar requires a concise definition of “the common good” that is easily understood by the people and that provides a shared understanding that political actors can use to coordinate their actions. Right at the outset, this falls apart. It seems impossible to elicit a generally agreed definition of “the common good,” and Hammer never even tries to offer one. Moreover, the term is itself an unfamiliar one in the argot of American political discourse.
“Most of us are conversant enough with the utilitarian idea of the greater good: the most good for the largest number of people, regardless of what that costs particular individuals. The greater good is an easy concept to grasp. In economic terms, we think of it as maximizing gross domestic product (GDP) and national wealth. A utilitarian greater good, efficiency-maximizing analysis should be part of every conservative’s intellectual toolkit in analyzing policy proposals, but no serious conservative argues that ours should be a solely utilitarian creed. Hammer, for his part, derides the focus of economic policy on maximizing GDP.
“So, if the common good is neither the imposition of a specific body of religious law nor a utilitarian analysis of the greater good, what, exactly, is it? Hammer’s argument seems to be that each public official should promote a robust moral vision, but . . . whose? That brings us eternally back to that most paramount of all political questions: Who decides?”
To this, I would add a response to points made in that debate.
First, and foremost, this is not, yet another, false dilemma fallacy between a so-called “neo-liberalism” and a national/common-good “prism” as Mr. Hammer puts it. The Conservative movement didn’t really begin, as an intellectual or organized force until after the Second World War, at a time when the Left was in full power, and more importantly, shared at least its overall inclination with a vast majority of the population. Under the view of Hammer, et al., the right just perpetually surrendered in slavish devotion to libertine freedom (which ignores the authoritarian, if not totalitarian, nature of the Left) until the national/new/common-good conservative rose up. This ignores the simple fact that it takes time and effort to not only coalesce, both on an intellectual and organizational level, but also to chip away on the consensus of Leftist drift mid-century America was under. It only seems like they were more conservative, intellectually, for the simple reason that America had more ablative armor in its mores and traditions that we do now. That some things are worse is a sign that there is less cultural ablative armor, and not that there has been no substantive action taken against the multi-faceted attack on American culture by the Left. Mistakes for the right did cause set-backs and allowed to the Left to accelerate their plans (as the 16 years after Goldwater’s Presidential defeat demonstrates), but even then the Leftist consensus was torn apart and the conservative and traditional American stances, beliefs, and principles not only became viable, but increasingly embraced. The attack by the Left has and is being pushed back, and while worse we are not in a position where histrionic self-immolation is warrented.
Yes, even slowing down an advance is the necessary precursor to stopping and reversing the change. Some, such as author John Ringo who in his pseudo-coherent and historically ignorant ranting, see the “principles” embracing right as ceding the high ground to the Left, with the conclusion that it is necessary to toss out all rules in order to regain that high ground. This military parallel with Dien Bien Phu he makes ignores the reality outlined previously, and is silent on how those who already hold only the low ground can take the high ground from those who already have it!
It’s almost as if some people are climbing onto the shoulders of giants, and the piddling all over those giants heads while calling those giants principled white-flag wavers!
Mr. Hammer, though, seems to forward yet another false dilemma fallacy, specifically of “unrestrained freedom above all else vs. ‘common good’ above all else”.
As Mr. McLaughlin asked, to no substantive reply, “who decides” what the “common good” is? Is it really the “common good”, or just the “good” of whoever is in charge or can summon forth the biggest mob? What is to protect the people from a “common good” without any principled anchor and no rudderless consensus beyond “All within the common good, nothing outside the common good, nothing against the common good”, with the “common good” being synonymous with the will and power of the state? His is a vision of “substantive justice” (ah yes, where else do we see “justice” qualified somehow?) is that we should treat the good good and bring harm to harm. Yet again, we see “gangster” government declared a “common good”, with advocates who assume that they will be the ones who define what the “common good” is and practically presume that others will agree with the same… much like how socialist of various stripes presume everyone else will agree with how things will be in their utopia.
But then there is that question of who decides? American conservatives, veritably called, already have an answer: That great inheritance of liberty and the rule of law that goes back centuries if not longer. “Who decides” is synonymous with “who rules” in the view of both the “common-good” types and Leftists. The answer is for no on to rule over others, but for those who represent us to govern under the law. This, then, flows into another salient difference, one of process vs. outcome. The “common good” is not some abstract philosophical prism that most would have to agree in to achieve consensus to run a society if it were to remain a going concern. Conservative norms and principles are the extant framework and lens that leads demonstratively to the actual common good. It is there; we must but open our eyes.
It is not by intention “common” or collective will that it happens… that is like playing intelligent design with society. “Common good” is not an “analytics prism” but an existing inheritance that we must conserve, or suffer the dice roll of face as the societal discombobulating reconstructors, those intellegent designers, fight over the vision of the future to be imposed.
That false dilemma fallacy, that “unrestrained freedom above all else vs. ‘common good’ above all else” assertion is, fundamentally, Unamerican. This is a view that compels one to allow freedom only so long as it doesn’t contradict the “common good”—this is how European and other countries declaration of rights are and different fundamentally from the American Bill of Rights which recognizes that rights are independent of, and antecedent to, government or even the “common” itself, and that it is quintessentially American to reject the very idea that rights and freedoms can be dispensed by “greater good” excuses. Many of these so-called nationalists don’t seem to like what makes their nation so exceptional among nations in the world.
Nor is this a false dilemma fallacy of a valueless society vs. one where the government declares what the social good is and that it itself is the vehicle for the implementation of that good. It is the peculioar characteristic of America that embodies both the freedom to choose and the wisdom to choose rightly.
No government will ever be truly “values free”. But those “common good” values are the inherited wisdom of those who came before us and we who ought to have learned from their successes and failures. Thus, the laws ought to be conducive to virtue and the common good, but not mandative; similarly the laws ought to be dissuasive to the counter influences, but not generally prohibitive outside of clear and present dangers of the sort that seen in current 1st Amendment jurisprudence..
Government, then, should not direct society, for no matter how pure in motive temporal temporary majorities are not wiser than the wisdom of centuries, if not millennia. Government should be directly by that tradition that we ought to conserve.
Nor should we conflate government with society. Neutral government in operation does not mean society ought not have any values, but that limited government prevents corruption thereof. Society has values and it is those traditions that ought to steer those values and provide guidance in a way that minimizes misuse by those who would impose “their good” in the name of “common good”.
Perhaps this can be seen in the leaked 1st Draft of Alito’s majority decision which stood upon precedents nearly a millennium old and on principles unequivocally much older, and that relied on the rule of law rather than despite it. Though the draft may change, and hypothetically even votes switched to change the overall outcome, this 1st Draft of the majority stands as an example what the principles we should be fighting for and the lawless common good we ought to be defending against.
This is why overturning Roe is so important to the system itself: doing so vindicates playing the long game, by the rules, with votes & persuasion. It would prove that, at long last, democracy works. The rule of law works. Principled advocacy & scholarship work. https://t.co/jvgXuST0Mq
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) May 3, 2022
Hey Democrats, the pro-life community played by the rules, elected Republicans, advanced pro-life judges, etc. But not a bit of it would have mattered had y'all not broken the Senate rules and scrapped the filibuster for judicial nominations. YOUR RULE BREAKING DID THIS.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 3, 2022
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