If you believe that there is a “crisis facing religious conservatives” arising from the dominance of a tyrannical liberalism, and you want to defeat those enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their (trans) women, how, exactly, do you further that goal by attacking … David French? What precisely is the strategic benefit of that? If you’re Ahmari, don’t you need people like French on your side? Or do you think you’re such a massive movement that you can do without people like French? Or do you think that French will be abashed by the incisiveness of your attack, your mockery of “Pastor French,” and will come over to your side, ultimately meekly submitting to the claims of the Catholic Magisterium? Or do you think that other people will read your attack and think “Wow, just look at how Ahmari dealt with that pathetic loser French, I want to be on his side”? Seriously: How’s this supposed to work?
He’s talking about the recent declaration of intellectual hostilities between two different wings of contemporary conservatism, with Sohrab Ahmari launching an attack on David French. The post-2016 battle lines are becoming more entrenched, with Ahmari and others around First Things representing a mostly-Catholic, social conservative, pro-Trump (♫ one of these things is not like the others ♫) coalition, opposed to the more classically-liberal, free-market, Never-Trumpers around National Review. That’s always the way of it, I suppose — there’s none so blind as them that don’t agree. Apostates are more offensive to us than infidels. My sympathies are entirely with the Frenchies, and even if they weren’t, I think the Ahmarian vision and strategy is delusional. But, whatever, none of that’s very interesting. No, Jacobs’s rhetorical questions here reminded me of a recent column by Christopher DeGroot, who I assume is very much on the Ahmari side of the barricades (he also recently attacked French as a “phony conservative par excellence”):
It is partly by struggling with and against others, in order to actualize our values, that we can find meaning today. Nor is this so different from how people achieved meaning in the past. Like other right-wing writers, I spend a fair amount of time criticizing liberalism, but I realize that the regimes which preceded it also were necessarily fleeting, and had serious problems of their own, which indeed gave rise to liberalism itself. And just as people in the past found meaning through struggles that eventually produced liberalism, so in our time people can struggle to produce something that, in some respects, may be greater than liberalism. Nobody knows what that might be, and that, too, is a good thing, because that very uncertainty is what makes the meaning possible.
“Life never was a May day for men,” said Thomas Carlyle. And yet our struggles are intrinsically meaningful, and perhaps more important than our goals. Speaking for myself, anyway, I generally find that the satisfaction I get from an accomplishment—whether it’s a good piece of writing or winning a basketball game—is relatively brief and somewhat anticlimactic. The process, the striving, the struggle—that is the main thing, for that is what fills up our days and gives them a forward drive, something to live, to fight, and even to die for.
So, if I were to offer an answer to Jacobs, I might say: considerations of “strategic value” are beside the point here. In fact, maybe those considerations are too proceduralist to be of interest. Strategy? Allies? How boring! The point is to fight for a glorious, even doomed cause, to exult in the thrill of combat. In the meantime, we can have skirmishes with our ideological neighbors stemming from the narcissism of small differences. It all just goes to reinforce the bedrock conservative insight: there is no cumulative moral progress. People just invent new rationalizations for indulging in the same old actions.