WHAT’S AT STAKE IN THE FRENCH-AHMARI DEBATE?

First Things | 9/19/2019 | R. R. Reno
jenny1246 (Posted by) Level 3
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One wag has called it the “Franco-Persian War.” The debate between David French and Sohrab Ahmari has spurred a tremendous number of tweets and longer interventions. Sorting out the issues is difficult. But most observers agree that the exchange reveals real disagreements on the American Right.

Since Donald Trump’s election, American conservatives have divided themselves into two camps. One camp sees Trump’s rise as perilous, even disastrous. By this way of thinking, Trump polarizes public opinion, inflaming progressives and drawing them toward an extremism that, once in power, will brutally punish conservatives—especially social conservatives.

Camp - View - Trends - Society - Postmortem

Those in this camp often hold a pessimistic view of the long-term trends in American society. The postmortem of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss commissioned by the Republican National Committee is illustrative. It assumed that American voters had turned a corner on social issues, and that the best strategy going forward was to emphasize economic freedom and growth while conceding ground in cultural matters. For social conservatives, this meant strategic retreat while defending our freedom to dissent from the progressive cultural consensus.

In my experience, those who sympathize with David French, a principled Never-Trump conservative from the outset, often think about our present moment in this way. For obvious reasons, my friends in academia who are under regular assault by the PC police tend to be among them.

Conservatives - Camp - Cohort - Society - Cohort

Most establishment conservatives are attracted to this camp. We are among the university-educated cohort that increasingly dominates American society, and in this cohort the progressive cultural consensus is strong. As I sit in my office in New York, I have to work hard to imagine anything other than a defensive posture. This posture, as Ahmari points out in “The New American Right” (October), leads with urgent defenses of freedom. It emphasizes classically liberal ideals of economic freedom and defends the liberal tradition animating...
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