Feature 06.15.2023 6 minutes

There Is No Escape Hatch

black and white chess battle

Hunkering down in red states is not enough.

There is much to admire in Hillsdale College Professor Kevin Slack’s cri de cœur for the recovery of American self-government in our steadily worsening times. His powerful jeremiad against “the false priests of the kleptocracy” and righteous indignation against Republican Party elites who have been complicit in the plundering of America’s industrial capacity call to mind the late Angelo Codevilla’s momentous framing of our great national divide—not as one between the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee but between the “ruling class” and the “country class” (or the “deplorables”).

I find Slack’s call for the Right to deploy militant language such as the words “evil” and “degenerate” outright commendable; I have been arguing for years that the Right must advance more overtly moralistic arguments. And Slack’s immense skill as a polemicist is undeniable, as evinced by this merciless depiction of our ruling class heathens: “A newfound indignation will give the confidence to shame the huckster financiers who have bled our country, the incompetent Ivy Leaguers who direct clownish bureaucracies, and the cosmopolitan perverts who peddle transgenderism, pornography, and pedophilia.”

But while he accurately diagnoses the terrifying depths of our current national predicament, I am uncertain that Slack’s prescriptions for the New Right (a label with which I readily identify myself, though it is debatable whether such a “movement” still really exists) rise to the level our moment requires. Slack concludes by imparting three lessons to the New Right: the aforementioned invitation to rediscover militant language, a call for more “moral aggression” and “newfound indignation” directed at the insidious uniparty, and a plea for “singling out and holding accountable individuals in the bureaucracy who demand compliance.”

Pace the esteemed professor, I am not sure that is going to cut it. My skepticism is exacerbated, moreover, by Slack’s seemingly dissonant appeals in his concluding paragraphs to “[s]mall republican communities” on the one hand and to “genuine nationalism” on the other hand. I suspect I am not the only one a bit confused by this seemingly contradictory fixation. It would behoove Slack to focus a little less on vivid depictions of our civil strife, which has no doubt reached a fever pitch, and focus a little more on tangible and concrete means by which we can rebuild a healthy politics and culture.

Slack’s essay has the whiff of Benedict Option-esque escapism. That is, Slack seems to focus intently on red-state leadership and urge as many as possible to relocate to our formidable red-state redoubts. I do not disagree with this; on the contrary, I have explicitly urged it in this very publication: “[R]elocate as much as possible to safe red states, such as Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, where the arm of the ruling class’ Leviathan is less likely to pose an existential danger and where active Republican attorneys general offices will sue the Democratic-held Leviathan on behalf of the deplorables for the mere right to be left alone—and do so posthaste.”

To that extent, then, Slack and I agree. Slack is plenty interested in bold red-state leadership, and I—a one-time Coloradan who relocated to the Sunshine State during COVID—could not possibly agree more. My concern is that Slack is insufficiently interested in the fight for civilizational sanity at the national level. Because, as I also wrote in a recent column:

[T]o retreat from our decadent civilizational morass more generally in the hope that all can be cured by wishing it to be so, is not merely naive. It also evinces an underselling of modern progressivism-secularism’s fundamentally hegemonic impulse. Much like Pac-Man, the modern Left has an insatiable appetite, attempting to gobble up ever-more cultural, political, and geographical terrain and permanently vanquish the forces of traditionalism and Americanism.

If I am misunderstanding Slack’s project to imply ducking out of politics at the national level, then I apologize. But I suspect I am not mistaken. And if I am not mistaken, then the fundamental shortcoming with Slack’s essay is that it insufficiently grapples with the thorny and unfortunate fact that there is simply no escaping our current cultural and civilizational battles at any governmental level, because those battles implicate “fundamentally distinct theological and anthropological visions of mankind—of man’s very biology and his relation with his fellow man, the state, and God Himself.”

There is nothing wrong with nostalgia for Tocquevillian localism or well-worn recitations of Burke’s little platoons. But while those remedies are necessary, they are nowhere near sufficient. Quite simply, there is no escape hatch out of our current contretemps between the “country class” forces of civilizational sanity and the “ruling class” forces of civilizational arson. The only way out is through.

The civilizational arsonists, otherwise known as the wokesters, harbor no qualms about enforcing their dystopian “theological,” anthropological, and political vision upon all skeptics and dissenters from ruling class orthodoxy. “You will be made to care,” radio host Erick Erickson’s line from 2013, has quickly become “you will be subjugated.” For the conservative, nationalist, traditionalist, or non-wokester, there is no escaping the ever-growing tidal wave of leftist illiberalism. We see it everywhere we look: woke edicts as religious dispensations emanating from our transmogrified Civil Rights Act regime, the suffusion and weaponization of DEI and ESG throughout corporate America and Wall Street, grooming and pornography pervading elementary school classrooms, and so on. Worse, the Democratic Party, which in the year 2023 simply does the ruling class’s bidding, continues to rig the electoral system through underhanded, extra-legal means at all levels of government.

The only relevant question is: Will the Right respond in kind by rejecting “live and let live”-style faux neutrality at all levels—including at the national level—and instead impose its own common good-oriented theological, anthropological, and political vision of mankind? And as a natural corollary: Will the Right get its hands dirty at the national level and do something about horrifically biased prosecutorial apparatuses, responding in kind to the Left’s weaponization of those apparatuses by rewarding the forces of civilizational sanity and punishing the forces of civilizational arson within the confines of prudence, reason, and the rule of law?

The concrete form this rightist common good-oriented vision ought to take, at both the national and state levels within the respective confines of their legitimate constitutional spheres of influence, is a political order heavily inspired by specific religious sentiment—and ecumenical Christianity, in particular. Only a rightist vision of political order firmly rooted in something no less tangible than the dictates of overt religion—and not lofty appeals to a vague “morality”—can present the polity with a compelling totalizing alternative to that great pseudo-“religion” of our present age, wokeism. One recalls George Washington’s famous exhortation, which is here apropros, from his 1796 Farewell Address: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

It is therefore imperative that we return the Bible to the classroom, Scripture to the public square, and end once and for all the ahistorical, noxious charade of “separation of church and state.” In conjunction, a properly oriented rightist political order must wield the levers of all available intermediary institutions—meaning behavior-incentivizing changes to the tax code, changes to the process of constitutional interpretation, and so forth—to bolster the forces of civilizational sanity (e.g., the truism of sexual dimorphism) and punish the forces of civilizational arson (e.g., the transgender agenda). If this sounds at least a bit like what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán once referred to as “illiberal democracy,” well, that’s because it is.

This is the only path that will give us a fighting chance of surviving the wokeist onslaught. That is the simple truth.

Perhaps Slack agrees and merely understated the point. I hope he did not search in vain for a non-existent escape hatch.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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