Post-liberalism will reach a dead end
The most bracing pieces are sometimes the least defensible.
So it is with Sohrab Ahmari's fusillade in the religious journal First Things against my National Review colleague David French that has occasioned a cataract of conservative commentary.
Ahmari's piece is part of the "post-liberal" ferment among a coterie of mostly Catholic writers on the right. A Catholic convert who has written a widely praised memoir, "From Fire, By Water," he argues that conservatives should give up on defending a neutral public square and instead "impose our order and our orthodoxy."
This would seem a fierce rallying cry in the culture war, but really -- like the denunciations of the American political order from a smattering of Catholic writers -- comes from a place of despair that, if acted on, would promise only futility.
The animating insight of the "post-liberal" writers and their allies seems to be: We are losing the culture war so badly that the only option left is to impose our values on everyone else. How will they do that? Good question! We'll get back to you after we are done savaging our allies.
To simplify, Ahmari's prescription is fighting harder, being less civil, caring less about individual liberty and focusing energy on politics instead of culture toward the end of socially conservative government impositions. He also expresses suspicion of evangelicals (French is one) for being naturally inclined to oppose authority (for instance, national churches).
This hardly sounds like a winning formula. Ahmari says he was shocked into his current radical posture by the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight.
Imagine, though, if conservatives had argued for Kavanaugh on the basis that decency doesn't matter to us much anymore -- so we don't care about the truth of the allegations against him -- and furthermore, we expect him to impose his Christian (or more specifically, Catholic) values on the country. We would have lost in a rout.
Kavanaugh won the day by appealing to reason, fair play and the presumption of innocence -- in other words, things that the most disillusioned Catholic conservatives perhaps consider a sucker's game, yet still have purchase with the American public.
Needless to say, America is not a country ripe for the imposition of Catholic traditionalism. Among other things, conservative Catholics aren't operating from a position of strength. Overall, about 20 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic, and only about 37 percent of Catholics are Republicans. About half aren't particularly conservative on abortion or gay marriage.