Scares and scars from the Oscars stars.
What Have You Got to Lose?
Two criteria for membership in the new conservative “in-crowd.”
We treat those inside differently than we do those outside. This is necessary and good. The disaster at the southern border is an illustration of what happens when a community refuses to police its boundaries. A nation simply can’t exist without them. But neither can any human organization, whether it’s the family, a neighborhood, a corporation, or a school of thought. Knowing who’s “in” and who’s “out” is essential for allocating resources, building consensus, and organizing effectively to pursue goals.
At the same time, policing the wrong boundaries—or policing them too severely—can lead to paralysis and death. From the 1960s until the end of the Obama Administration, the borders of the conservative movement were very clearly understood. This was true even as, or perhaps in part because, the movement was growing more and more sclerotic. Trump played a key role in breaking up this ossified Republican establishment, but he wasn’t the initiator. The structure was already hollowing out, and Trump’s victory in the 2016 primaries only administered the final push.
The rain came down, the floods rushed in, the winds blew and beat against that house, and great was the fall of it. After the collapse, we didn’t simply aim to re-build. We set ourselves to the work of building a new movement—leaner, stronger, and custom-designed for the powerful new storms we face. Elements of the old guard have recognized the need for something new and brought their wisdom to bear on the new coalition. But many have “self-deported” or been replaced. The old priests of the commentariat—Boot, Kristol, French, etc.—have been cast, teeth gnashing, into the outer darkness, and a great diversity of new voices and ideas has risen to prominence.
In the last six years, we have made enormous progress. So much, in fact, that some are feeling the urge to begin marking our new borders and policing who is inside and outside. This is a natural impulse, and it is a task that will need to be done eventually—but in my view, it is too early to begin gatekeeping. There is still much building to be done, after all, and our progress to this point has been a product of a vigorous dialogue among a broad array of thinkers with divergent ideas and common interests. Nevertheless, we do need strategies that allow us to best allocate our resources. We need some criteria by which to evaluate where effective alliances can be made—a way to know the people with whom we can have a productive dialogue, and a way to know when we’re wasting our breath. I propose two criteria by which to make these determinations: honesty and sacrifice.
The first criterion for identifying potential allies and partners is that they must possess a brutal honesty. This honesty should reflect two things: that a person will not be cowed by “ethical” or physical intimidation into speaking the platitudes of the fence-sitters (or worse, our enemies), and that a person is able to see the world clearly. We cannot waste time with half-hearted equivocators, crowd-pleasers, or those who miss the forest for the trees.
The first truth that potential allies need to be able to state is that the old conservative establishment was increasingly afflicted with a serious problem of dishonesty. Self-serving plutocrats within its ranks betrayed typical Americans in a thousand ways—collaborating with globalists to gut American manufacturing, looking the other way while illegal immigration displaced the most vulnerable American workers, and backing down from defending conservative ideals out of embarrassment as the Left reshaped our public culture into a spectacle of degeneracy. The first test of honesty is whether one can acknowledge this betrayal.
But that isn’t the only test of honesty. There are a whole host of other truths that allies need to acknowledge before they can meaningfully advance the causes of the “new Right.” These truths are treated as heresies by the regime, because although they are demonstrably true, they must not be spoken—certainly not without consequences. The speaker must be attacked as stupid, dangerous, dishonest, foolish, or some combination of these things. The “heretical” truths in our warped era are too many to count, but here are some starters:
The 2020 election was neither free nor fair.
The best evidence indicates that Covid-19 came from gain-of-function research in a Chinese virology lab. Whether it was released accidentally or on purpose, world governments (including our own) leveraged the crisis to achieve aims that had nothing to do with public health.
The intelligence arm of the state colluded with the campaign of the Democratic presidential nominee to game the 2016 election. After failing to do so, they amplified falsehoods to poison a new presidency in what amounted to a soft coup.
The January 6 unrest at the Capitol was not an “insurrection.”
Most universities are expensive political indoctrination camps.
The government hasn’t secured our southern border because those in charge don’t want our border to be secure.
Transwomen are not women. Transmen are not men.
The corporate legacy media is the information arm of the state.
Black Americans are not killed by police in disproportionately high numbers.
The threat of “global climate change” has been purposefully and systematically exaggerated to achieve aims that have nothing to do with the environment.
These truths are plainly evident to any careful observer with the courage to admit what they see. If someone can’t see the truth of claims like these, then they probably can’t be of much use in the fight for the nation. If someone can see these truths but is unwilling to say so—whether out of embarrassment, overinvestment in “civility,” “politeness,” or fear of the consequences—then they probably can’t be of much use either.
A Willingness to Sacrifice
Of course, though, the fear of consequences is not groundless. Our political enemies sit comfortably at the heights of nearly every cultural power center: the bureaucratic state, Hollywood, media, journalism, academia, and the corporate world. They understand that the reformed conservative movement is a vital threat to their power, and they have no reservations about wielding that power to crush their opposition.
This means that dissident speech—true speech on censored and suppressed matters—can come with very stiff consequences. They may try to get you fired. They may expose embarrassing details about your private life or your past. They may ban you from social media. They may smear you with falsehoods. You may lose friends and dinner invitations. You might be passed over for an overdue promotion. Perhaps nothing so severe will happen. Perhaps they’ll just make you feel like you’re stupid—but that, too, is an emotional cost to bear.
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that we cannot reclaim America without cost. If we’re going to succeed in reclaiming our liberty, dignity, and inherited model of governance, we will each have to pay a price. The price paid will be different for all of us. But we will all have to pay. Anyone who sympathizes with the conservative cause but is unwilling to make any sacrifice to advance it has consigned himself to the sideline.
I am not saying that every ally must be willing to sacrifice everything. There are things that matter more than politics. There are things that I am not willing to lose just to play some tiny part in saving the America that I was born into. You probably feel the same. But each of us must determine what we are willing to risk for the cause.
Some might be willing to sacrifice their job for speaking “heretical” truths. Others might be willing to lose a friend or two. Still others might be unwilling to risk their livelihood or reputation, but they may have time or money that they can sacrifice to help the fight behind the scenes. Your political action must be calibrated to preserve the sanctity of what you are unwilling to lose—to ensure that you don’t have to pay a price you feel you couldn’t pay. But whatever is left to lose—whatever you are willing to lose—must be leveraged in such a way that it best serves the cause.
Your sacrifice doesn’t need to be enormous. But each of us needs to have some skin in the game. One’s willingness to accept some risk is not merely a sign of dedication—it signals to potential allies that you are trustworthy. Why would someone risk losing something of value if he didn’t really believe what he’s saying?
Honesty and Sacrifice
These are the two criteria that might allow us to know who “belongs” to our movement: honesty and sacrifice. But each one on its own is incomplete. Ideally, both demands should be satisfied. There will be some who will honestly and openly speak but will take measures to avoid paying the price that is required.
In the past, I have criticized online anonymity as a means to speak while risking nothing. (Many have reminded me that it’s easier to speak freely when you’re a tenured professor, as I am. That is true—but tenure doesn’t provide the safety that it once did.) Anons and pseuds can be effective allies, but their anonymity makes it difficult to assess what (if anything) they’re sacrificing. For this reason, I argue that they should be viewed with a precautionary degree of skepticism. The reverse is also true: there may be those who are willing to make some sacrifice who cannot see or will not speak heretical truths.
Certainly, both of these groups—sacrificers who are hesitant to speak the truths and bold speakers who sacrifice little or nothing—can contribute to the cause in some ways. Better to have someone who speaks the truth but avoids risk than to have one fewer honest voice. Conversely, it would be ridiculous to reject a potential ally’s sacrifice because he is unwilling to speak honestly and publicly about the truth.
Ultimately, though, having skin in the game and a demonstrated honesty is the most reliable indicator that one should be recognized as a trusted member. Honesty tells us that, as Dave Reaboi says, you “know what time it is.” Sacrifice tells us that you’re willing to do something about it. These two criteria should be the glue that binds our movement.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.