The Issues Are Not the Issues Anymore

Ahmari and French Debate

It's perhaps a bit wrong of me to post this--or inappropriate, or ill-mannered, or something--because I probably won't actually watch the debate. Well, maybe I'll find a transcript and read it. But I'm posting it for one reason. I guess all conservatives and some others are aware of the intra-conservative argument which is represented by these two; if you're not, see this. For my part I don't really want to take a side, as I think both have pretty strong arguments.

The two met for an in-person debate a couple of weeks ago. Here's a report on it from a reader of Rod Dreher's blog. That page also includes a video of the event. But here is the one thing that really struck me, from the reader who was there:

There seemed to be something of an age divide. The older folks in the room seemed to more likely to be in French’s corner, whereas all of the Millennials and Gen Zers I talked to instinctually agreed with Ahmari....

I think that's very significant. The times they are a-changing. Again. I myself have noticed that people of more or less my generation, and maybe a bit younger--let's say people over fifty--tend to see our current politics in more or less classically liberal and constitutionalist terms, as David French does. That framework has less purchase on the minds of younger people. Of course that could be only an effect of age itself; the younger people may change their minds as they get older. And I emphasize "tend to"; I can certainly think of plenty of exceptions, in both directions. 


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I don't even know who these people are, so none of it seems ill-mannered to me! :)

Clearly you aren’t reading my blog as attentively as you should be. :-)

At first I thought it was about a debate in the French language, but apparently French is the last name of someone. Who knew?

Haven't watched the video, but I have read the main pieces by Ahmari and French, and I really don't see it as much of a true debate at all. French is specific in his stand on preserving the tenets of classical liberalism, but Ahmari offers no specifics on just what it is he would do to change things. Anyway, if you've not read it, French's first piece in response to Ahmari is very good; it's here.

Marianne, they came to my mid western U, and it was fairly much the same.

The young are a weather vane for checking which way the wind blows. But who is actually behind the wind? They are recording their elders’ opinions. Actual conservatives have done a bad job of explaining their arguments in the past 15 years or so. So the young are socialists, whether socialist socialists like the Bernie Bros or national socialists like Ahmari, Reno and Schmitz

I appreciate French's faith in "procedural liberalism" but I don't think it's sustainable long term for some of the very reasons Ahmari mentions.

And I think that Ahmari's right as far as it goes, in that he sees the cultural problem as a real actual problem, and not just something that needs tweaking. But as Dreher has said, you can agree with Ahmari's diagnosis without necessarily buying in to his treatment plan.

Two books by conservatives have recently come out that purport to offer ways forward that seemingly thread the needle between French and Ahmari. I've ordered both from the library, but only one has arrived, and that was just yesterday. In any case I'm interested to see what these guys have to say.

I don't know Goeglein or Osten, but I like what I've read by Frohnen, and Ted McAllister seems to be a solid "Tocquevillian" conservative.

Unfortunately I’m on the road and so can only tap out a brief comment. I agree with Marianne that in a sense it’s not a real debate. But it’s a real conflict, a real development. In posting that remark I quoted I’m saying “setting aside the question of who is right, intellectually and morally, is the ground truly shifting?”

The left has pretty much abandoned constitutionalism. It gives them a hell of an advantage. Is the right going to drift that way too?

Grumpy do you really mean to be calling Reno et al Nazis?

The point where I do have a firm opinion is the question of whether a truly value-neutral liberal structure will continue to be viable. I fear not. There’s a level of divergence in fundamental principle that it can’t accommodate. We’re near or past that point.

American ones

"There’s a level of divergence in fundamental principle that it can’t accommodate."

The mostly Protestant "civil religion" consensus we once were able to function under is gone. It's so diluted that many on the left are (ignorantly) saying it was never really there to begin with. That's a problem.

Being a pessimist, I don’t we much likelihood of anything like that being recovered.

Me neither.

I skimmed the American Restoration book over the weekend. It's good as far as it goes, being largely a plea/plan to restore some lost aspects of conservative thought to the mainstream. I'm all for getting more folks on the right to read Tocqueville, Kirk, etc., and to act on their thought, but the book hardly mentions economics, let alone consumerism, and in the end it comes across as a plan to save mainstream conservatism by injections of tradition. This new revived conservatism can then restore America.

Frankly, I don't see it. The patient is too far gone.

"Good as far as it goes" is more or less my reaction to the two links you posted. Or maybe "ok fine whatever." I mean, there's nothing wrong with anything they say, in fact it's all good as far as I can tell. But no book by a couple of intellectuals is going to have any big effect on the tide that's threatening American institutions and culture. It makes me think of an orchestral composer saying "Maybe if I give the cellos a bigger role in my new symphony it will knock Cardi B off the pop charts."


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