Everyone knows Kipling’s bit about “the gods of the copybook headings.” It’s the easiest lesson in the world to forget, and without the long view, it’s hard to tell when they’re coming back. For most of us, I imagine, conservatism has always been on defense. Who was the last major cultural figure to talk up old-school, small-government, Western civilization? Enoch Powell was considered a bizarre throwback in the Sixties. Guys like Lord Curzon went from being forward-looking statesmen to grunting Neanderthals in their lifetimes. Both Hitler and Virginia Woolf (now there’s a comedy duo!) picked 1911 as the annus mirabilis when the world became “Modern;” it’s hard to say they were wrong. One hundred years of default liberalism!(1)
But as the Z Man notes, that’s rapidly changing. The “alt-right” is on offense, and judging by the hysterical overreaction of establishment liberalism, they’re winning.(2) Now would be a good time to review the lessons of the gods of the copybook headings, and ponder where they came from.
It doesn’t need to be as pretentious as all that, but it does need to be done:
[David] Horowitz is a good guy to read as he spent a lot of time in radical politics so he knows how to play hardball. What he understands and what comes through in his column, is there can be no enemies to your Right. The Left perfected this strategy. They never spent a second defending or explaining the extremists on their Left. Instead they focused attention on their enemy, forcing him to complain and explain. The radicals these days are on the Right and the same tactics apply. No enemies to the Right.
This hasn’t always been called “hardball.” There wasn’t even a name for it back when, because that’s just the way things were done. Politics is forever lapsing back into the state of nature, where every man has the right to every thing and it’s the war of all against all to keep what’s his. If you prefer, call it “the Chicago way” — you bring a knife, we bring a gun; you put one of ours in the hospital, we put one of yours in the morgue.
Somewhere along the way, the Buckleyites forgot this. It’s one of civilization’s great blessings that we can talk about tactics as if they were principles. Buckley “conservatives” pretend to believe — and I’m willing to concede that some of them really do believe — that retaliation in kind violates some kind of sacred principle of political conduct. But that’s nonsense, as any brief glance at history shows. Armies didn’t somehow forget how to make poison gas somewhere between 1917 and 1938, and Stalin sure didn’t hold off on pushing the button because he was a nice guy. Only the guarantee of massive retaliation in kind kept these weapons from being used.
It’s important to note that, bizarre as it seems, liberals are convinced that they’re acting out of principle, too. They believe they’re battling capital-E Evil. You don’t compromise with Satan. Further, they believe that conservatives are not just Evil, but stupid — too dumb to see the benefits of liberalism, anyway, or else they’d be liberals. So every one of us they get fired, no platformed, etc. is an object lesson pour encourager les autres. In an existential struggle, all tactics are justified.
Only massive retaliation in kind will convince them otherwise, and the sooner it happens, the less painful it will be. Still nasty, of course, but as a great philosopher once said, you need to be nice until it’s time to not be nice. That time has arrived, and the “shitlords” of the alt-right are not being nice with gusto. When everyone on both sides realizes that the gods of the copybook headings are always right, we can have principles again.
(1) f any of our readers remembers the 1920s, please please please get in touch immediately.
(2) Yes yes, I know — “hysterical overreaction” is their only reaction. But it’s even more hysterical and apocalyptic than normal.