Politics & Policy

On the Brink

Responding to Lindsey.

Brink Lindsey says that I “admit[]” the truth of his “main point,” that we can’t go back to the 1950s. I do not admit it. I affirm it! I proclaim it! I shout it from the rooftops — or I would, if it were not so banal.

That Lindsey makes a big deal of it is the result of his being trapped in an intellectual prison of his own construction. He treats opposition to civil rights, disapproval of the sexual revolution, ambivalence about the influx of women into the workplace, and support for the right to life of unborn children as of a piece. All of them are species of resistance to “the logic of social development under capitalism.” (He also exaggerates the extent of that resistance. How many Republicans campaigned on making it illegal to hire women?) He then concludes that conservatives should stop trying to fight the march of history.

Moreover, anyone who has taken up a social-conservative cause or two, or declines to sign on to all of Lindsey’s arguments, is supposed to don sackcloth and ashes and take historical responsibility for other conservatives’ having been segregationists. (Speaking for myself: No thanks.) The demand makes sense if all social conservative causes are the same, impermissibly reactionary thing, except when they happen to further “the logic of social development under capitalism,” whatever that means.

The traditionalists of Lindsey’s imagination are incapable of understanding how, say, illegitimacy rates dropped in the 1990s. These traditionalists, we are to believe, are astonished that any such thing has happened since Ozzie and Harriet are not back in prime time and men do not doff their hats when women enter a room. If such traditionalists exist, they are not worth Lindsey’s energy to set straight. That actual traditionalists might have played a role in tempering the social changes of the last forty years is not, of course, a possibility that Lindsey entertains. The history that Lindsey recounts should lead social conservatives to become more optimistic, or at least less apocalyptic; but there is no reason that it should cause them to disappear.

On to Lindsey’s solipsism. After challenging conservatives to follow his advice, Lindsey adds, “Those of us who don’t feel comfortable in either the red or blue camps will be watching with interest.” But there are a lot of people who are in neither camp. Some of them have Lindsey’s views, and would be delighted to see same-sex marriage and reined-in entitlements. More of them have exactly the opposite mix of views. Lindsey doesn’t “maintain” that the “center of American public opinion today” is with him; he asserts it, with almost no evidence and no attention at all to counter-evidence. It is only even plausible when his beliefs are presented as a platitude: Who doesn’t believe in “personal responsibility”?

To hold minority views is no shame; but it is tempting for those who do to assume that many people are really with them without knowing it, or that the tides of history are on their side. Lindsey has fallen for that temptation.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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