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Conservatism Inc.'s Complicated Relationship with "Freedom"
Spoiler: It's really about power.
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1. The UnPopulist
Aaron Ross Powell writes about a very strange thing we have going on within Conservatism Inc. right now: One faction views being asked to wear a KN-95 as tyranny. Another faction openly advocates for theocracy.
And yet these two factions overlap and view themselves as allies.
Take Adrian Vermeule: He’s a Harvard law professor, Catholic integralist, piner for theocracy, and a leading intellectual of the post-liberal conservative turn. A few weeks ago, he got dragged on Twitter for setting out his wishlist for a post-liberal order. He was asked: What do you traditionalists and national conservatives want? His answer was quite simple:
. . . Most of the conversation about Vermeule’s demands focused on the constitutional issues it raised or how much authoritarianism the “etc etc” lacuna appeared to hide. However, the bigger issue is not the extremism of Vermeule’s brand of integralist conservatism. Rather, it lays bare the inherently illiberal currents in conservatism’s political project. . . .
Trump ushered in an era of “post-liberal” conservatism, whether that was his own crude and unfocused populism, or the more intellectual approach of national conservatism, or the fringe integralists. The idea that government should, above all, respect and protect individual and economic liberty, is increasingly sneered at by the American right, and that disdain for liberty is finding purchase, and, it seems, dominance, within the GOP establishment.
The clearest example is Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), a highly educated and rather intellectual politician, who also happens to hate your freedom and does nothing to disguise that. He’s written and spoken at length, both before and during his political career, about the need to abandon liberalism in favor of a “common good” conservatism that is willing to exercise state power to advance the common good as he defines it.
It’s a good essay. You should read the whole thing.
Vermeule explains that he wants to use the power of the state to ban a bunch of things and dictate economic terms. How does this reconcile with his cliquemate and fellow integralist Chad Pecknold’s complaint that he must have the freedom to do whatever he likes and that private businesses should be required to continue to serve him, irrespective of his choices?
It’s the same dichotomy that has Ron DeSantis stanning for the freedom rider Canadian truckers who are angry about vaccine mandates . . .
Freedom for me, but not for thee.
The interesting part of the integralist / common-good conservatism posture is that it is nakedly anti-liberty. There is no pretending that they view liberty as a core value.
Yet the integralists see themselves as on the same side as the people bleating on and on about muh freedoms.
And the freedom lovers? The people who say they must never be required to wear a mask—but must be allowed to own as many guns as they want and say whatever they like on Twitter without consequence? They seem to think the common-good conservatives who want the power to micromanage large parts of the government and private society are on their side.
Which of these two groups is confused?
My guess is: Neither. They both know exactly what they’re about. And it has nothing to do with either “the common good” or “freedom.”
They all know which side they’re on and which side they’re against. And they will say whatever they have to, construct whatever framework is necessary in the moment, in order to hurt the out group.
This is why both sides—from integralist Adrian Vermuele to freedom-loving Tucker Carlson—are so invested in Viktor Orbán.
They don’t care that Orbán’s authoritarian regime mandates vaccines, heavily restricts gun ownership, and has no interest in free speech. Because they recognize that Orbán knows who his people are. Who his enemies are. And acts from there.
There is no conservative philosophical attachment to freedom or liberty any more than there is an integralist or populist love of the common good.
There is only power.
2. I Might Be Wrong
Love the name of this newsletter. Jeff Maurer has some thoughts about getting out of the cycle of the SCOTUS dead pool:
I’ve spent the past year thinking: “There is no possible way that Stephen Breyer is too dumb to not know that he has to retire before the 2022 midterms.” And, indeed, he is not too dumb; all credit to Justice Breyer. If nothing else, he’s saved me from the prospect of having to spend another Republican presidency keeping tabs on the health of an octogenarian liberal Justice. That’s huge — I was dreading a repeat of this absolute fucking nonsense:
How the fuck did liberals convince ourselves that you can beat cancer by doing dumbbell curls? You cannot. The fact that we spent three and a half years imagining that it’s possible to GirlBoss cancer into remission is one of the more pathetic cases of mass delusion in recent memory. . . .
Have you ever wondered what will happen the next time a seat comes open while the White House and Senate are controlled by different parties? Will the seat just sit open until after the next election? It might — McConnell’s refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland was such a violation of norms that if the shoe’s ever on the other foot, even process-and-order sluts like myself will want to dish out some payback. Though, consider: If the subsequent election doesn’t align the Senate and the White House, will the seat just sit vacant for another four years? Don’t rule it out! Either party’s base will demand exactly that.
We have a problem. There is no “regular” process for confirming Supreme Court Justices anymore. Republicans have managed to engineer a 2/3 majority on the Court despite commanding nothing close to that in terms of popular support. Justices are timing their retirements and are even attempting to time their deaths; we will surely eventually have a Justice stay past the point of senility because they’re trying to hang on until their party regains control of the White House. The public has noticed the naked partisanship. Appointments are getting ever younger; we’re perhaps a decade away from some pimple-faced appointment being sold to the public as “the Doogie Howser of Judges!”
We need to reform our process, but “reform” is a word like “organic” or “love” that can mean a million different things. So, I’m going to spend most of this article clarifying my goals, which will ultimately lead me to a very simple and completely unoriginal proposal.
3. The Daily Stoic
Who doesn’t need some stoicism in their lives?
I’ve taken a lot of wisdom from you and the Stoics. I intentionally practice Stoicism enough to know, ‘Okay, this comment or this tweet or this simple take shouldn’t disrupt or even ruffle my emotions’…I’m also aware that good television requires debate—someone has to take the side that the Rams are doing cool things and somebody has to take the side that they’re not. Then they banter about it—that’s all just noise that is part of being in this business. And if it gets you to doubt what you’re doing, your process was probably a little bit flawed.
Remember what Marcus Aurelius pointed out: We all care about ourselves…a lot. Yet for some strange reason we often value other people’s opinions of ourselves, of our actions and choices, more than our own. Often we cede authority to and accept the premise of arguments from people with no idea what they’re talking about!
When you know what you’re doing, Les explained, you have to let your competence double as armor against criticism and complaints. It’s not that he’s egotistical or that he thinks he’s better than anyone else who has his kind of job—it’s that he knows there was a well thought out strategy in place that guided their decisions to trade away all those first and second round picks (In short, the Rams view is that since drafting in the early rounds is so hit or miss, they’d rather trade for proven players than gamble on the potential of a first rounder, in order to win right now). And with this he can rest easy and move confidently in the work still in front of him.
Read the whole thing. Go Bengals?
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