[Update: forgot to link to the article which is here http://heatst.com/culture-wars/donald-trump-vs-nevertrump-gamergates-vox-day-debates-conservatism/ Interestingly I Googled to get the link and this blog entry appeared higher on the list than the actual article! ]
‘Heat Street‘ is a newish center-right political website owned by Rupert Murdoch’s empire and run by Louise Mensch. Mensch is a Briish Conservative politician who is personable and relatively moderate (by US standards possibly very moderate).
In the fallout of what looks like the possible collapse of the main conservative party of the USA, Mensch decided to interview Vox Day. Quite why she things it is tactically smart to elevate Vox in terms of his status as a political pundit, I don’t know.
The contrast is remarkable. Mensch is somebody who if they were in government wouldn’t cause you to start building a bomb shelter and stocking up on food supplies and potable water. Vox is, well Vox. As with seen, Vox is not even that great a debate tactician. However, he simply walks all over most of Mensch’s arguments. How?
The answer is not some complex sociosexual dominance pseudo-gabble but rest on a core point that Vox gets across early:
LM: this is obviously a sad day for me and a terrific day for you as Donald Trump is crowned the presumptive nominee by the GOP establishment. Last night, while we were talking with each other, we were discussing the nature of conservatism.
To me, my duty as a conservative is to oppose Donald Trump because he’s not a conservative. I said that, to me, conservatism stands for equality of opportunity. You said in your view, it never had done. How do you define conservatism?
Vox: I define conservatism as an attitude more than a coherent ideology. If you look at the history of conservatism, which you as a British individual will be aware, it really is something different to the ideas that underlie the British Conservative Party or the Tory Party.
Russell Kirk attempted to turn that inherited tradition into a more coherent ideology, and he came up with the 10 foundational points of what he terms conservatism. So it’s less an ideology than an attitude – and a relative posture.
Equality of opportunity is merely something that fits that attitude, more than it is a founding point of the ideology, in the way that the “labor theory of value” is something that underlies the ideology of socialism
As painful as it maybe to say, Vox is right and Mensch is wrong. Sure, there may well be conservatives around whose core belief is ‘equality of opportunity’ but it is not a consistent position of conservatism, it is not a good predictor of conservative policies when in government nor is a point at which a conservative will react on principle (i.e. conservative politicians do not resign from government over the principle of equality of opportunity).
Mensch is fooling herself when she asserts equality of opportunity as a principle of conservatism. At best it is a sort of fig-leaf of decency over centrist or even center-left politics and even with one eyed closed and wearing wrong prescription glasses and giving that notion the most favorable reading I can, Mensch’s description fails to distinguish between Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton or a whole host of nominally non-conservatives.
Mensch spends the rest of the interview basically letting Vox run rings around her by letting Vox repeatedly control the terms of discussion:
LM: To me, that seems defeatist for a guy that I see, though I may differ with you on many things, at the very least as an alpha male go-getter. You’re not behind any particular set of principles. You just want to oppose somebody else! Doesn’t that put all the power in their hands?
Vox: It does, but it’s not defeatist for me because, as I have repeatedly told people for well over a decade, I am not a Conservative. I am an extremist and I’m a radical.
Ugh. Seriously Louise? Calling Vox an ‘alpha male’ isn’t a put down, it is something he’d take as a compliment and two-minutes of homework would have told you he doesn’t call himself a conservative.
Both Vox and Trump have applied a very simple set of tactics.
- Treat conservatism as an ‘attitude’ or as a set of in-group markers with which many people who feel conservative identify i.e. engage with conservatives on an emotional level.
- Critique the flaws and ideological inconsistencies of conservatism (and related ideologies such as libertarianism) by co-opting leftist critiques.
- Exploit a mix of far-right and right-populist fear mongering.
Point 2 works for them because conservatives have spent decades now dodging those critiques by responding only with a kind of lazy equating of all of the left with the soviet/maoist left. Consequently when somebody comes along who is just as capable of ranting about how the left are awful people because Stalin, a modern conservative has no rejoinder when that person also says that free-trade sucks.
As I’ve said prior, modern conservatism has systematically undermined their own intellectual defenses for decades. Mensch, superficially nice, not a bat-shit US wingnut or some sort of creationist obsessed with text-book selection, displays the same inability to handle a critique from a man whose political views are actively absurd. She doesn’t even seem to notice that discrediting Vox or Trump *should* be easy for her. She is at least as smart as Vox, she holds more reasonable views and she is an experienced UK parliamentarian – having a wannabe fantasy-author and semi-professional internet troll run rings around her should cause her to rethink what is going on.