Discover more from The Freemen News-Letter
When People Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them
The left just as much as the right should be taken "seriously, not literally."
In 2019, a “fatphobia researcher” gave an interview in which she said that in order to eliminate “fatphobia” (along with transphobia, homophobia, racism, nativism, classism, and misogyny, one presumes), it would be necessary to dismantle Western Civilization root and branch.
While some might be tempted to dismiss that as the silly, unrealistic musing of a crank, the postmodern left has talked openly for decades about their desire to fundamentally destroy Western Civilization. It isn’t hyperbolic to say that is what some hard leftists state as their intention. Those with the slightly-less-sinister intention of radically deconstructing Western Civilization are greater in number and include the likes of Jesse Jackson and Jacques Derrida.
Thanks for reading Self-Evident! Subscribe for free to receive new issues of this and other Freemen News-Letter offerings.
I don’t open with this particular researcher to nutpick, or single her out. Rather, I chose a random example as being illustrative of the wider whole. If “dismantling Western Civilization” is now such a popular idea in the activist class as to be seen as a desirable good by gullible researchers, that should tell us something.
Self-described moderates might be quick to dismiss examples like this as the ravings of fringe activists, or the silly rants of college students who will grow out of it eventually. Even in conversations with moderate conservatives, I’ve noticed this tendency to immediately discount absurd statements like, “We need to dismantle the entire project of Western Civilization.” Yet, while I’m not someone easily inflamed by the culture war, and while I tend to take these statements with a healthy grain of salt, I do take the prevalence of such statements seriously. And I think we all should.
“Never Trump” conservatives, in particular, tend to downplay the excesses of the left because they think Trump and his base are worse. But if we are to take Trump seriously when he says, “I am your retribution,” why shouldn’t we take leftists seriously when they say, “Western Civilization is fundamentally evil?”
If we cringe when Trump says, “You can do anything when you’re a star,” why should we dismiss it when Joe Biden says that Republicans are instituting a new version of Jim Crow and want to put black people “back in chains.” If we (rightly) deplore Trump’s anti-American and anti-patriotic attitude, why shouldn’t we be disgusted by a left that tells us that America (and especially the American Founding) is evil?
For years now, we have been told we should take Trump “seriously, not literally.” And we should. But we should do that for the left, as well. Taking words seriously doesn’t require taking them literally, but it does require examining what is literally being said.
The Freemen News-Letter publishes all its content for free thanks to the generous donations of its supporters. Please consider joining those who value our efforts to elevate the political and cultural dialogue in America by offering a one-time, monthly, or annual donation.
Critics of textualism, of strict adherence to the Bible, of careful examinations of philosophical texts, often accuse their opponents of being too “literal-minded.” And, yet, in many cases, this criticism is a cover for doing the opposite: departing strikingly from the text of the Constitution (or statutory law), ignoring the words of Jesus and Moses and Abraham and Paul in the Bible, or reading into Plato’s Republic any words the reader wishes to place there. The avoidance of literal-mindedness, then, requires utter disregard for whatever is actually written down.
Clearly, neither Donald Trump, nor radical activists are as careful in what they say as the Founders, the Old Testament prophets, or Plato. But it isn’t just morons who spout this stuff. Successful academics like Noam Chomsky have made careers out of peddling reflexive anti-Western agitprop, and the New York Times—still (sadly) the paper of record in the United States of America—platforms those who say they literally want to abolish the police, and produced an infamous project dedicated to the proposition that America was irredeemably evil from the very beginning.
Which might cause one to ask the question, “How is it that right-wingers get hounded out of polite society for saying that men can’t become women, and yet the New York Times remains the paper of record after saying that America is evil (and covering up a famine in Ukraine)?”
The Asymmetry Between Conservatism and Progressivism
There is a fundamental asymmetry between right and left. The left has often been more sophisticated about its excesses and the right more boorish, meaning that when the right goes overboard, it is usually more obvious, crude, and even dumb, whereas when the left goes overboard, it is more subtle, sinister, and somehow more respectable. The left holds the cultural high ground, in part because people who tend towards the progressive vision of the world find themselves attracted to the arts, media, the academy, and entertainment, whereas individuals with a conservative bent tend to go into business, ministry, or the military.
This asymmetry is nothing new. It existed when the academy and the arts weren’t quite as dominated by the left. It existed before the right’s populist turn (back when the conservative movement was proudly elitist). When I was a small boy, I was told that Republicans were all just racist and sexist. There is a surprisingly common view, even on the center-left, that right-wingers are either willing dupes (fools) or venal (corrupt or actually evil). Nobody could really believe all that stuff about tradition and patriotism. Or, at least, nobody smart could (the smart ones were supposedly just cynically manipulating the rubes for personal gain).
Thomas Sowell explained this asymmetry in A Conflict of Visions. Setting aside the populist right’s recent unconstrained turn, the right is generally associated with a constrained vision of society (and a tragic view of human life), whereas the left is almost always characterized by an unconstrained vision of the world. And because these two visions begin from radically different assumptions about the nature of the world and human beings, they struggle to understand one another. Those with an unconstrained vision, in particular, have difficulty understanding why anyone wouldn’t see what seems obvious to them.
Sowell points out that it’s far more common for unconstrained thinkers to accuse their opponents of venality, evil, corruption, delusion, and bigotry, for the very reason that this seems the only obvious explanation for their obstruction of (what seems to be) obvious solutions to humanity’s problems. Thus, opposition to universal healthcare must be based on cruelty or selfishness, rather than an actual belief that the best way to help all individuals obtain the medical care they need is a free market.
This asymmetry can be infuriating at times, even to those who understand that it is enduring and (likely) eternal. It hurts to be relentlessly accused of things you know to be untrue about yourself. And it’s particularly infuriating when your attempts to hit back backfire and alienate the moderate public, while your opponents can get away with vileness, slander, and asininity.
And this, of course, is what many right-wingers found so intoxicating about Donald Trump. For the first time, the left couldn’t destroy him the way they destroyed good men like Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John McCain. They attacked him with everything they had, and he still won the 2016 election, proving that “Teflon Don” was impervious to the asymmetry.
That, combined with the freak victory of an extremely unlikely candidate who skated in by the skin of his teeth (to mix a metaphor), felt really good to a lot of people. This helps to explain why they fell so hard for a man who hated most of what has ever made America great, and whose only reliable right-wing position was on immigration.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words, But Words Tell Us Something
People don’t always say what they believe. But they do say things because they want other people to believe that they believe them. When Donald Trump said that he wanted to make America great again, many people believed that he meant that literally. When large numbers of people say that they believe Western Civilization needs to be destroyed, it is because they understand this to be a desirable thing to say, a desirable thing to be thought to believe. I’m quite sure that Western Civilization can survive the silly rants of fat activists.
But I’m equally sure that decades of assault upon the philosophical foundations of Western Civilization, a project that is rightly likened to self-harm or suicidality, take a toll. In C.S. Lewis’s prophetic The Abolition of Man, he explains that the project of undermining, debunking, and overturning ideas about objective truth, virtue, and honor won’t end well.
Those of a certain worldview see these things as oppressive structures holding back our authentic selves. They believe that, free of such constraints, we will finally be restored to our pre-civilizational romantic goodness. There can be no downside to eliminating the things that supposedly restrain us from vice when we are fundamentally good and are only corrupted by things like virtue and honor.
But we know better than that. We know that, when given excuses to indulge in their worst vices, human beings will. Lewis said that we mock courage and are surprised to find we lack it when we need it. “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” The project of abolishing man succeeded. Postmodernism produced Donald Trump. And leftists were as shocked as Captain Renault to find that someone was taking them seriously all along.
Ben Connelly is a writer, long-distance runner, former engineer, and author of “Grit: A Practical Guide to Developing Physical and Mental Toughness.” He publishes short stories and essays at Hardihood Books. @benconnelly6712
Currently, all freelance contributors to the Freemen News-Letter have volunteered their writing abilities Pro Bono, but one of our major goals is to have enough cash on hand to pay those who offer their submissions freelance fees for their efforts. If you value the written word as we do, please consider offering a one-time, monthly, or weekly donation to the Freemen Foundation and help us with this goal.