The downward spiral of movement conservatism into an abyss of political and cultural irrelevance is accelerating at a staggering rate. The election of President Trump exposed the hopeless futility of contemporary conservatism, and as events continue to unfold during Trump’s tenure, the dialectic of “tradition-lite” has morphed into an industry of perpetual virtue signaling.
The first example of this pathetic development is Rod Dreher’s response to Pat Buchanan’s article, If We Erase Our History Who Are We? Dreher denounces the founder of the magazine he writes for (The American Conservative) with a vocabulary appropriated from the enemies of truth, beauty, and goodness. Dreher describes Buchanan’s article as, “disgusting, racist, indefensible,” and continues by saying (original emphasis), “It is abhorrent, and must be rejected in the strongest of terms by conservatives.” Never missing an opportunity to virtue signal his outstanding level of courage, Dreher says, “If this is where the Right is going, it can go right off that racist cliff without me.”
There is a significant problem with this puerile reaction (at least one that goes beyond the desire to make sure progressives see Dreher as “one of the good ones”), which is in the same article he implicitly identifies exactly what Buchanan is attempting to do with his argument. Dreher says,
“It is fine to disbelieve in egalitarianism as an ideology and as a basis for policy. Most conservatives do, and most conservatives rightly reject the idea that all cultures are equally good. And it is reasonable to argue against the puritan iconoclasts who would destroy monuments and historical memory in the name of a mindless, ideological dogmatism.”
This is kind of analysis identified by Dreher is precisely what Buchanan’s argument accomplishes! Anybody who is remotely familiar with the writing career of Pat Buchanan would know that he has made this argument multiple times. And to summarize, the argument is basically this: how far back should history fall into the memory hole given the unconstrained idealizations of the progressives in antifa? Why stop at Confederate statues? As President Trump stated in his press conference, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, so are they the next victims of the cleansing of American history?
So here again we see Dreher giving with one hand what he takes with the other in order to prop himself up as the likeable “crunchy-con.” You cannot be a critic of the progressive ideology if you continually enslave yourself to progressives’ delicate sensibilities.
The virtue signally does not end with Rod Dreher. This trend now has a home in the “intellectual” circles of movement conservatism. Not only are conservatives piling on the South with progressives looking to reshape reality in the image of their faceless Utopia, but they are now openly defending the pathetic sophistry of philosophers who defend the gratuitous evil of abortion.
Sherif Girgis goes out of his way to defend the presentation of Professor Elizabeth Harmon’s argument for the continued killing of preborn children. Girgis says of Harmon’s view, “Professor Elizabeth Harman of Princeton University defends a striking and original view of when the unborn have moral status—when it might be wrong to harm them.”
This is false. Professor Harmon’s view is neither “striking” nor is it “original.” The argument is a sophistical re-articulation of attributing moral status upon the preborn baby when consciousness is acquired through natural development. However, Harmon’s argument is much worse than this because she bases the moral status of the preborn on our knowledge of whether or not the mother will make a choice to abort the baby. If the mother is going to choose to abort the baby then this baby never had moral status to begin with, and if she chooses to continue the pregnancy the baby now has moral status. This is circular reasoning in defense of evil. It does not deserve to be taken seriously, and it most certainly does not need to be treated with respect.
Another thing to take note of is the demeanor in which Professor Harmon makes the argument. Her expression of nonchalant indifference regarding the life of preborn human persons borders on sociopathic.
To be sure, Girgis goes on to offer criticism of the argument, but the most significant error he is guilty of making is virtue signaling his ability to take garbage philosophy seriously.
Conservatism Inc. has transformed itself into an enterprise of endless virtue signaling. All the evidence you need for this is found in conservatives allying with the left in the denunciation of the South as collectively racist and the conservative defense of sophistry in the name of feigned intellectual hospitality.
– Lucas G. Westman