The Futile Rage of the Illiberal Conservatives

The right-of-center Internet has been lit up for the last few days by an assault by Sohrab Ahmari on David French and something Ahmari improbably calls “David French-ism.” Supposedly, this is about French, a lawyer and contributor to National Review, being too weak-kneed and polite because he is interested in using persuasion to try to promote his political views. Ahmari, on the other hand, has taken up the Trumpian “But He Fights” credo and declares that “there is no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war.”

There is actually a much deeper rift here, and it isn’t about politeness or civility. What looks like a debate over how we fight for our political goals is actually a fight over what our political goals should be. Ahmari is advocating the purging of advocates of freedom from the right, in favor of a conservatism that consists of—well, what it consists of is not entirely clear, but it seems to be a new program for vaguely collectivist coercion in the name of religious values.

In the first sentence of his missive against supposed “David French-ism”—is there anything more Trumpian that reducing big ideological questions to a personal grudge?—Ahmari links to a previously little-regarded manifesto published in First Things in March denouncing the “Dead Consensus” of the right. It is by way of explaining this attack on standard 20th Century conservatism that Ahmari launches on his weird personal fixation with a fellow pundit.

So what was that manifesto all about? It was about purging from the right defenders of civil liberties and the free market, what Ahmari refers to as “conservative liberals,” in favor of what can only be called illiberal conservatism.

Read the rest at The Bulwark.

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