The Future Is Philistine

by Kevin D. Williamson

Matt Bruenig, writing in the esteemed pages of Salon, believes that he has me dead-to-rights on charges of hypocrisy. His indictment rests on two points of fact: 1. that I have in the past written that the best way to deal with businesses that engage in unpleasant behavior is through civil society and the market; 2. that I am critical of the civil-society and market actions that resulted in the departure of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who was chased off because of a $1,000 donation to Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defined marriage in traditional terms. Regarding my case for preferring civil society over legislation, Mr. Bruenig writes: “These are nice-sounding arguments, and many conservatives certainly held them up as emblematic of their position at the time, but in reality almost nobody actually believes in them.” On the specific matter of Mr. Eich, he writes:  “They don’t think anti-gay gestures that many find unconscionable are actually worthy of any disciplining.”

On that last point, so far as the case of Mr. Eich goes, Mr. Bruenig is correct: I do not believe that holding traditional views on marriage and supporting like-minded campaigns is the sort of thing for which people ought to be punished. Muppet News Flash.

As for such positions’ being “unconscionable,” I would echo Mr. Bruenig’s own words: In reality, almost nobody believes that. “Unconscionable” is a pretty high bar to clear. For instance, such criticism as there was of Barack Obama’s anti-gay-marriage position in 2008 was quite muted. Our so-called liberals seemed to find him more than conscionable—they did not hold their noses while voting for him, but literally chanted his praises in song. If there is, for example, evidence that Mr. Bruenig found Senator Obama’s views “unconscionable” until one fine spring day in 2012, I have not been able to locate it. But like Senator Obama on the question of gay marriage, I remain “open to the possibility” that I am “misguided,” and if there is evidence that the president’s “unwillingness to support gay marriage” was treated as “unconscionable,” I would be pleased to see it.

My own view is that such crusades as are organized under the auspices of the National Organization for Marriage are nowhere near to “unconscionable,” but are more accurately considered empty and sentimental gestures. There is no reliable set of abstractions that can prepare us in advance for every eventuality, which is why we terribly square conservatives are always going on so tediously about judgment and prudence and proportionality. So it may be the case that my criticism of the witch hunt against Mr. Eich was the product of what Mr. Bruenig’s headline (which I will charitably assume that he did not write himself) identifies as “gay-haters’ free market hypocrisy.”

A competing explanation is that fact that I am not seven years old.

What Mr. Bruenig gives no evidence of understanding is that both ends and means are relevant considerations, the relative importance of which is not fixed. For example, some decades ago I was part of a group of right-leaning students who offered testimony against the Texas sodomy laws, which in my view were stupid, intrusive, and dishonest. (They were used mainly to justify employment discrimination against homosexuals and as a cudgel for corrupt local authorities to extort  protection money out of gay bars and the like.) I would have been pleased to have seen the Texas legislature repeal them. I was not pleased to have the Supreme Court repeal them, because I do not believe that the laws were unconstitutional. Antonin Scalia has proposed that all federal judges be provided with a rubber stamp reading: “Stupid But Constitutional.” Again, because I am not seven years old, I am forced to confront the fact that there are competing goods in politics. On the one hand, I do not wish to see homosexuals prosecuted for consensual private acts. On the other hand, I do not wish to see the Supreme Court acting as the American version of the Iranian Guardian Council, which is what it already resembles visually—black-robed scholars pronouncing from on high—and, increasingly, politically. To appreciate that these goods produce a political tension between them is not hypocrisy. It is an occasion for the exercise of judgment, which is all the more necessary in the face of a howling mob with retribution on its mind.

I do prefer reliance upon the means that were deployed against Mr. Eich over such alternatives as are generally favored by the Left, which range from using civil-rights laws to imprison nonconformist wedding photographers to rounding up people with the wrong views on global warming and throwing them in prison, as is advocated by Gawker’s teacup totalitarian Adam Weinstein. But the fact that I prefer those means to other means does not mean that they cannot be put to illiberal ends: They could just as easily be deployed for the purposes of anti-Semitism or anti-gay bigotry. Similarly, I prefer that our laws come from legislatures composed of elected representatives rather than from twig-crowned oracles with heads full of vegetable hallucinogens, but that does not mean that I believe every law passed by a legislature is a good law.

It is important to appreciate that the civil-society remedies used against Mr. Eich are part of a broader campaign that goes well beyond private boundaries: The Left proposes to use the law to enforce sea-to-shining-sea conformity on the question of gay marriage, and though some of my left-wing correspondents have distanced themselves from Mr. Weinstein’s call to imprison people with the wrong political opinions, their comportment in the wedding-photographer and baker cases places them at only one degree of separation from Mr. Weinstein’s desire to simply lock up dissidents. Justice Breyer’s opinion in the recent McCutcheon case—that individuals’ free speech must be suppressed in order to preserve some sort abstract atmosphere of collective expression—suggests that the goblins in Mr. Weinstein’s head have colonized better-furnished crania as well. And the IRS’s retaliatory leaking of the confidential tax documents of the National Organization for Marriage is only one instance of official state power’s being put to lawless ends in the service of the Left. In the long term, culture trumps lawmaking, and the culture being built brick-by-brick right now by the Left is illiberal and totalitarian. So of course we have to care what Gawker thinks: The future belongs to the philistines, and it always has.

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