On Monday, Laura Ingraham’s Lifezette ran a piece from Edmund Kozak proclaiming that I had sold out true conservatism. According to Kozak, “The Constitution worship of those like Shapiro and Sen. Ted Cruz reveals that the mainstream conservative movement has largely forgotten the principle of imperfectability.”
That seems odd, given that the entire basis for the Constitution is man’s imperfectability – hence the needs for checks and balances, the division of power between the states and federal government, and James Madison’s famed prescription in Federalist No. 51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.
So Kozak obviously gets it wrong, because he doesn’t understand the basis of the Constitution.
But what did he believe was my sin? I’d written that the so-called alt-right represented a break with conservatism. “[C]onstitutional conservatives can’t stand the alt-right,” I wrote. “Conservatives — real conservatives — believe that only a philosophy of limited government, God-given rights, and personal responsibility can save the country. And that creed is not bound to race or ethnicity.”
This, Kozak wrote, was “hysterical.”
First, Kozak said that anyone who opposed the alt-right was a member of the “Establishment GOP Elite” – typical Laura Ingraham language applied to anyone who disagrees with the Dartmouth and University of Virginia Law School grad who pulls down several million dollars per year. So by opposing the alt-right, I had fallen in with the wrong crowd, presumably. This made me complicit in “Conservative Inc.,” which “dupes the base of the party into handing more power and campaign cash to an Establishment network that operates primarily against their interests.” Of course, this is absolutely nuts – if I’m establishment, there is no such thing as the establishment. But the term means nothing in the hands of ardent Trump supporters.
Then, Kozak got to his point: my definition of conservatism was wrong. What was wrong with a definition obviously based on the thought of the founding fathers as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Said Kozak:
In his criticisms against the French Revolution, Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke, Kirk’s biggest influence and the recognized godfather of conservatism, attacked the abstract nature of the revolutionaries’ ‘rights of man.’ Burke argued that men are not born with inherent abstract rights to which they are entitled. Instead, he highlighted the ancient inherited rights and liberties of the English people, the result of a specific set of historical circumstances and political and social developments unique to the English nation.
Of course, this neglects to mention that Burke explicitly called these rights “natural rights,” and that I and all other Constitutional conservatives speak of God-given rights in the same sense that Burke did – as rights inherently connected to a uniquely Western civilization rooted in Judeo-Christian philosophy. Whether the founding fathers defined rights as inherent from John Locke’s state of nature or Burke’s Ciceronian jus naturale means little when it comes to the presence of such rights, particularly those to life, liberty, and property.
Here’s Burke himself:
The rights of men, that is to say, the natural rights of mankind, are indeed sacred things; and if any public measure is proved mischievously to affect them, the objection ought to be fatal to that measure, even if no charter at all could be set up against it.
Burke is obviously right that Lockeian thought is a product of Judeo-Christian civilization. But setting up a false dichotomy between Lockeian natural rights and Burkeian natural law is just a façade for Kozak’s real argument: that opposing the alt-right means you’re an open-borders cuck.
Here’s Kozak again:
The mainstream conservative movement in America has forgotten this entirely. It is why it supports nation-building and mass migration without any serious attempt at assimilation, things all true conservatives find abhorrent…. The Constitution alone cannot guarantee some sort of political utopia. Man is fallen — a city on a shining hill cannot be guaranteed by a mere piece of paper….The mainstream conservative movement has also abandoned any pretense of defending an existing moral order or social traditions, custom, convention, and continuity. It has caved on almost every radical social issue, from abortion to same-sex marriage, and implicitly supports a corporatist globalism that can be as destructive of traditional local customs as Communism. Fundamentally, the mainstream conservative movement has forgotten that many of the political values it promotes are rooted in a culture it has failed to defend — and, in many cases, helped to erode.
This is a field of strawmen to which Kozak sets a torch. To begin, I opposed the war in Libya on precisely the basis Kozak suggests, as did Sen. Cruz; I oppose mass migration without assimilation unreservedly. And nobody says that the Constitution alone can save us – as mentioned, the Constitution embodies a vision of human nature that is accurate and true, but if we abandon our values, it means little. Hence my definition of conservatism including the phrases “personal responsibility” and “God-given rights” (note: not “human rights” that Burke scorned as too vague).
As for Kozak’s contention that mainstream conservatives have caved on “almost every radical social issue,” I’ve fought tooth and nail against abortion while Kozak’s beloved Trump was endorsing Planned Parenthood; I’ve opposed same-sex marriage on a social level while Trump backs it. And to say that free trade amounts to culture-destroying globalism is to simply be idiotic. Burke’s nation was an empire spanning the globe, trading with foreign cultures everywhere.
Finally, Kozak says, “The Left, however, has remembered the importance of culture and politics, which is why it attacks Western culture relentlessly. This comes in the guise of attacks on white privilege and racism. Indeed, if the Alt-Right is merely a white nationalist movement, it's not difficult to see why that such a movement has arisen.”
So, in the end, Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke are just a smokescreen for Kozak and Ingraham – Kozak thinks the Alt-Right offers something valuable. Their only error: mistaking ethnic solidarity for cultural maintenance. And Kozak thinks the Constitution is passé – we just need a Christian leader, a Strongman to fight the culture war.
Of course, he then endorses Trump, who rejects virtually every aspect of the natural law Burke claims to uphold. But don’t ask for coherence from Trump supporters writing on Laura Ingraham’s behalf. In the end, it’s all just excuse-making for ardent Trump supporters who can’t stand the fact that Constitutional conservatives aren’t falling into the trap of supporting a man who couldn’t care less about either the Constitution or conservatism.