Conservatives face many challenges today in a society eager to silence them. In academic, social, and professional settings alike, conservatives feel hesitant to express their beliefs for fear of retribution. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry and mainstream media ostracize and marginalize conservative ideas; diversity, tolerance, and acceptance, it seems, are marvels reserved for progressive tribalists.
Professor Robert P. George echoed these sentiments at the Western Conservative Summit earlier this month as he received the 2019 William L. Armstrong Award. “The virtue we lack today, I submit to you my friends, the virtue we lack — and it is an indispensable one — is courage,” George stated in his speech.
“Courage for conservatives today means refusing to be bullied or intimidated into acquiescing to, or silently going along with, the dogmas that the progressive movement, via the exercise of its extraordinary cultural power, is attempting to force on us,” George tells National Review. “Courage means boldly speaking truth to cultural (and economic) power — out loud and in public.”
Conservatives’ reluctance to assert themselves has allowed leftists to define the boundaries of acceptable thought. “Courage means standing boldly in solidarity,” George says, “with those whose rights of conscience are trampled by cultural elites deploying the coercive power of government to force them to conform to progressive ideological orthodoxy.”
It also means defending those who have been unjustly criticized and smeared with false accusations. “I agree that many Republican leaders have failed to defend people who have been smeared, and that certainly created an appetite for a leader who would push back and fight hard,” George says. “I’m certainly in favor of speaking out — forcefully, loudly — in defense of people who have been smeared with false charges of bigotry, ‘animus,’ etc. That’s central to my message.”
Courage will also be needed for conservatives to gain ground in the culture war. Fewer people believe in conservative values today — on marriage, for example, and on religion — than did in the recent past. Many of these trends are especially bad among Millennials. “We certainly seem to be looking at a 50-year horizon, at best,” George says.
But there are reasons for optimism. “In a democratic republic, as long as civil liberties are preserved, there are no irreversible losses — or permanent victories. We are, I believe, making progress on the pro-life front. Ultimate victory is not guaranteed, but there are grounds not only for hope but also for confidence. On the marriage and family front, things look dimmer, but not beyond hope,” George says. “Life is filled with surprises and remarkable sudden awakenings, revivals, and turnarounds. So, who knows? Our task, however, is simple: Stand up — faithfully, hopefully, lovingly — for what is right. Do that when things look promising; but also when things look bleak. Bear faithful witness. Take the risks and, if necessary, endure the blows. Never abandon the cause, or the fight.”
Granted, this ideological battle will not come without consequences. “Anyone who displays the courage I am describing will be smeared. He or she will be called vile names (‘bigot,’ ‘hater’). He or she may be placing at risk social standing, opportunities for educational or professional advancement, the future of the business he or she has worked hard to build, perhaps even treasured friendships,” George says. Yet “when people stand up to bullies, bullies — who are almost always cowards — will back down. Most conservatives, including young conservatives, who muster the courage to stand up and speak out for what is right will survive the battles.”
“And there is something else,” he adds. “The more conservatives who exemplify that courage and speak out, the fewer victims there will be. The more conservatives who cower in fear and capitulate to intimidation, the more dangerous the situation will be for those who do courageously bear witness.”
Strength in numbers evokes an old axiom: “The more we hang together, the fewer of us will be hanged separately,” George says.