Antebellum Reasoning

I grew up in a conservative family. The people I talk to most frequently, the people I call when I need help, are conservative. I’m not inclined to paint conservatives as thoughtless bigots. But a few years ago, listening to the voices and arguments of commentators like Shapiro, I began to feel a very specific deja vu I couldn’t initially identify. It felt as if the arguments I was reading were eerily familiar. I found myself Googling lines from articles, especially when I read the rhetoric of a group of people we could call the “reasonable right.”

These are figures who typically dislike President Trump but often say they’re being pushed rightward — sometimes away from what they claim is their natural leftward bent — by intolerance and extremism on the left. The reasonable right includes people like Shapiro and the radio commentator Dave Rubin; legal scholar Amy Wax and Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic who warns about identity politics; the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt; the New York Times columnist Bari Weiss and the American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, self-described feminists who decry excesses in the feminist movement; the novelist Bret Easton Ellis and the podcaster Sam Harris, who believe that important subjects have needlessly been excluded from political discussions. They present their concerns as, principally, freedom of speech and diversity of thought. Weiss has called them “renegade” ideological explorers who venture into “dangerous” territory despite the “outrage and derision” directed their way by haughty social gatekeepers.

So it felt frustrating: When I read Weiss, when I listened to Shapiro, when I watched Peterson or read the supposedly heterodox online magazine Quillette, what was I reminded of?

3 thoughts on “Antebellum Reasoning

  1. Mark

    Robert Caro’s first book is called the Power Broker. It’s a biography of Robert Moses that feels pretty essential to any New York resident wondering “Why the hell does this road go here?” or “What’s this whole MTA funding issue about?”

    I’m not sure I’d recommend it if you don’t live here. But his style encouraged me enough to try his second book, The Path to Power, the first of his LBJ books. In fact, all of his subsequent books have been LBJ books. The third one, “Master of the Senate”, outlines the history of the Senate and especially the rhetoric used therein, from pre-Civil War to LBJ’s assumption as Senate Majority Leader. It’s fascinating, actually leaps-off-the-page fascinating, and every single conservative argument quoted in its pages – from anti-abolitionism to anti-communism to anti-internationalism to anti-Civil Rights – is language I hear in the newspaper every day.

    It’s quaint to hear that this is a “dangerous inheritance.” It’s nothing kore than the common ingredients of partisan rhetoric. I’m so glad you found this article.

  2. John D. Thullen

    Yes, cleek, great find.

    This article encapsulates something I’ve been trying to articulate, that the predominate, and for the time being, the majority conservative political culture and its base, following well-documented precedence, are working up a venomous bolus of butt-hurt victimization via this rhetoric, in fact, co-opting the historical grievances of the very groups whose “identities” this conservative culture (the Confederacy …. Democrats .. were conservatives) have marginalized and maligned since THEY coined the word “Identity”, but cleverly misnamed it “all men”.

    Please add Rod Dreher and his supporting cast at Buchanan’s The American Conservative (is there any other political figure in the last 55 years who has so relentlessly demagogued this rich vein of majority religious, nationalist, and political faux victimization than Buchanan, and mined it to advantage) to the list of perpetrators.

    In Dreher’s case, that the predominate Christian culture of America and Europe is under siege and its survival threatened by the Left, particularly the very minority LGBT movement, with dire, hysterical warnings of what is coming to the Church and its adherents, in all walks of life.

    They must go underground for their survival. But first, buy my book and and I’ll tell you why and where to hide.

    When the lynching and burnings at the stake commence, drop me a line.

    This western civilization, with churches every few blocks in every town and city, among the only structures protected from demolition by historical preservationists, who are mostly liberals of one faith or another, or agnostic, or atheists, but only the religious tax exemptions supported across the political spectrum.

    When you read the history of the Civil War period, it’s astounding the “politically correct” lengths Abraham Lincoln was willing to resort to rhetorically (not that some of his opinions regarding race weren’t of their time) to assuage the butt hurt of the likes of John Wilkes Booth, in the interest of preserving the Republic.

    This every-opinion-deserves-a-hearing ploy of course extends to the sciences as well, global climate change, vaccines, the Moon landing, etc, although in the case of vaccines, some on the Left originated the doubt, along with other medically-related crapola …. supplements.

    Of course, once something becomes a profit-center in America, all political posturing falls away, and let the bullshit run free.

    Now, may we hear from the anti-gravity caucus. Equal time for all.

    This phenomenon extends to the rest of the worldwide nationalist conservative as well.

    Not that some of the rhetoric on the left isn’t bullshit as well. I can do without a nominal Leftist disrupting a Physics class by announcing that they “feel like” they can fly and leaping off the balcony to prove it and then conjecturing quasi-scientifically from their body cast in a hospital bed that the resulting “splat” is in fact evidence of flight.

    Especially now that two conservative exhibitionists will dive head first into the ground to prove their superior flying skills over the Left. And the media inviting Wilbur Wright and Isaac Newton on for elite expertise and ask “How can you say that these people weren’t really flying. If we slow the video, it “looks” like gravity was suspended for at least a split second, wouldn’t you admit?”

    Anyway, I encourage you to post this in a comment, or at least the link, at Obsidian Wings, should the occasion arise, which it will, every thread being open.

  3. Girl from the North Country

    Yes cleek, it is a fascinating article, and I strongly second JDT’s proposal that you post this in the Other Place. I think over the years I for one have been (despite my actual views) overly receptive to some of this antebellum argument, and so seeing the issue in this perspective is important and illuminating.

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