Who is the frivolous conservative?

Once upon a time and in a galaxy far away, John O’Sullivan led National Review in articulating a new, boldly pro-Western, immigration-restrictionist conservatism. Today, writing in the New York Post and FrontPage Magazine, O’Sullivan complacently states that the threat of Islam in the West comes down to mere PC silliness. There’s no Islamic threat, he assures us, there’s just leftist officialdom overly eager to accommodate every cranky Muslim demand.

It seems that a cute dog named Rebel was used in an ad for a non-emergency police phone number in Tayside, Scotland. A local Muslim councilor said that Muslims consider dogs to be ritually unclean, and he asked for a police apology. The police promptly apologized and withdrew the ad. “Heigh-ho. And ho-hum,” O’Sullivan comments. Meaning that what happened in Tayside is just the same old PC silliness. Most “ordinary Muslims,” he assures us (echoing how many other head-in-the-sand mainstream conservative commentators), are not offended by such non-Islamic things as dogs and hot cross buns. The problem, rather, is created by

the Islamist radicals who invent or exploit most of these trivial “outrages” to sow irritation among the majority and fear among the Muslim community … [and] our own officials in Britain and here. If they were to treat complaints like those in Tayside with robust contempt, the complaints would peter out, the Muslim community would feel less isolated—and the ordinary public wouldn’t get needlessly steamed up.

In other words, such stories convince the British majority that Islam is a threat, and they get (irrationally) steamed up about it, which makes the Muslims in Britain feel isolated and fearful. What O’Sullivan is saying is that a major concern in Britain should be to keep Muslims from being made to feel isolated and fearful by the rampant anti-Muslim prejudices of the British majority. If British officials simply refused to react to the nutty complaints of Muslim radicals, the apparent but fictitious Islam threat would go away, British whites would stop being angry at Islam, the Muslims in Britain could rest easy, and all would be well.

May I ask, when did the strings of John O’Sullivan’s brain get unstrung? How could a prominent conservative, thought to be a smart man (he certainly struck me as smart when I knew him in the early ’90s), display not the slightest concept of the reality of Islam? Has he read nothing of the expansionist and supremacist doctrines of that political religion, and of its steady advance in the West? Has he not noticed that a very substantial proportion of the Muslim community say they want to live under sharia, which, of course, their religion commands them to do? Does it not occur to him that where Muslims numerically dominate, sharia will steadily become the law, and that dogs will not only be unsafe in predominately Muslim areas in Britain, but will be increasingly marginalized in Britain as a whole? Or does he think sharia doesn’t exist, except as a fantasy in the heads of over-excited conservatives?

Such evasions about Islam are not new with O’Sullivan. Shortly after the July 2005 London bombings, he wrote a piece in the New York Post acknowledging the hostility toward Britain among the Muslim population in Britain and their very high support for terrorism. But then he concluded that, given the opposition to terrorism by the majority British population, the worst case scenario was “a series of terrorist bombings, perhaps separated by long intervals, into the uncertain future,” which the British could easily live with. He regarded the routine occurrence of domestic suicide bombings by Muslims as an acceptable prospect for Western society, and he dismissed out of hand, as I put it at the time, “any serious thoughts, such as that the Muslim presence in the West may actually represent a threat to us and our entire civilization and that we may actually have to do something about it.”

Now, some people feel that it’s counterproductive, a waste of energy, and divisive to the conservative movement (not to mention wicked, pathological, and dumb) for conservatives such as myself to criticize unserious establishment conservatives such as John O’Sullivan. They say that we should not worry about what the unserious conservatives and their millions of readers believe is true about Islam, but focus our energies on conveying what we believe is true about Islam and what we think needs to be done about it, and eventually the truth of our arguments will win out over the falsity of theirs, without our having to rail incessantly against their idiocies. The advice makes a lot of sense. But—I can’t help but ask—can we advance true beliefs without attacking the false beliefs that are currently accepted by almost everyone?

In this connection, I’m reminded of a passage in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which Zarathustra in his wanderings comes unexpectedly to the gate of a great city, where a fool waylays him. The fool is known as “Zarathustra’s ape,” “because he had gathered something of his phrases and his cadences and also liked to borrow from the treasures of his wisdom.” And the fool, mimicking many of Zarathustra’s own ideas, proceeds to rail, at irritating length and with disgusting vehemence, on the horrors, the corruptions, and the spiritual mediocrity of the city:

Here, however, Zarathustra interrupted the foaming fool and put his hand over the fool’s mouth. “Stop at last!” cried Zarathustra; “your speech and your manner have long nauseated me. Why did you live near the swamps so long that you yourself have become a frog and a toad? Does not putrid swamp-blood flow through your veins now that you have learned to croak and revile thus? Why have you not gone into the woods or to plow the soil? Does not the sea abound in green islands? I despise your despising; and if you warned me, why did you not warn yourself?”…

Thus spoke Zarathustra, and he looked at the great city, sighed, and long remained silent. At last he spoke thus: “I am nauseated by this great city too, and not only by this fool…. Woe unto this great city! And I wish I already saw the pillar of fire in which it will be burned….

“This doctrine, however, I give you, fool, as a parting present: where one can no longer love, there one should pass by.”

Thus spoke Zarathustra, and he passed by the fool and the great city.

[Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part III, “On Passing By,” Walter Kaufmann trans.]

- end of initial entry -

Hannon writes:

Thank you for the beautiful Zarathustra story. A good thought to keep, and a good way to start the day.

I’m glad you reiterated here your theme that popular pundits need to be addressed and critiqued. You seem to be one of the few commentators who takes this task seriously, getting to the underpinnings of thought behind the views of prevalent figures in the mass media. Often I think “Yes of course, that’s it!” when I read here, but these ideas would otherwise not occur to me. It takes a while to realize that the vast majority of media writings are shallow, inaccurate or misleading at best—and it requires reinforcement of thought to prevent being sucked back into the swamp. It is this depth which makes VFR indispensable.

LA replies:

Thanks much. But also recognize the suggestion, conveyed in the Nietzsche passge, that the “frivolous conservative” in the title is not just O’Sullivan.

Paul C. writes:

You wrote:

“May I ask, when did the strings of John O’Sullivan’s brain get unstrung? How could a prominent conservative, thought to be a smart man (he certainly struck me as smart when I knew him in the early ’90s), display not the slightest concept of the reality of Islam?”

Just a thought: but maybe he has been bought? Sometimes, we believe these people really believe these things or that their minds are slipping when, in fact, it’s just that they have been bought and paid for. I certainly don’t know that O’Sullivan is getting Moslem money, but I think it’s a mistake not to look at this possibility.

LA replies:

Here is an excerpt from the entry, Brimelow on Buckley, Nordlinger on Buckley, posted at the time of William F. Buckley’s passing, in which I infer that the severance package O’Sullivan received from NR when he was fired may have effectively silenced him on immigration:

One other observation. Given O’Sullivan’s own demonstrable lack of a sense of urgency about and even of much interest in the immigration question in the decade since he left NR (though he did have an article on the subject in the American Conservative last year), it is my guess that the real impetus for NR’s historic shift to immigration restrictionism under O’Sullivan’s editorship came from Brimelow himself, who was both O’Sullivan’s personal friend and a member of the editorial board at the time. I think that Brimelow supplied the intellectual influence and energy that moved O’Sullivan toward restrictionism, and that, when their active partnership ended with the firing of the two of them, O’Sullivan lost much of his concern about the issue, because the concern had not come from within himself, but from Brimelow.

That’s my theory.

Another point. Brimelow mentions in the article something about O’Sullivan that explains a lot. It seems that at the time of O’Sullivan’s dismissal as editor of NR, a severance package was worked out in which O’Sullivan, apparently in exchange for both money and a continuing relationship with NR, a relationship that continues to this day, would not say anything public about the circumstances of his firing. At the same time, we know that Brimelow has carried intense personal resentment of Buckley for the past 11 years over O’Sullivan’s and his firing. Given O’Sullivan’s bought graciousness toward Buckley whom Brimelow now hated, as well as O’Sullivan’s continuing presence at NR as an impotent elder statesman among the teeny-cons who had replaced him and Brimelow, it would be predictable that something of a rift would open between the two men. Clear evidence of a rift is seen in Brimelow’s comment that

Buckley had been embarrassingly upstaged by O’Sullivan, who—whatever his other faults—is a wonderful extemporaneous speaker…. [Italics added.]

Brimelow would not have made that gratuitous swipe about O’Sullivan’s “other faults” if he were still on good terms with him.

[end of excerpt]

Since NR went totally silent on immigration between 1997 and 2001, and since O’Sullivan under the terms of his severance package was not to discuss the circumstances of his firing in which presumably the immigration issue was a central factor, O’Sullivan went as silent on immigration as NR did itself. He’s written a couple of things on the subject here and there since September 2001, but as far as I recall offhand, they have been very muted compared to the things he published when he was NR’s editor. Furthermore, my fact-based speculation continues, since he had in effect consented, in exchange for financial benefits, to being silenced on such a fundamental issue as immigration, at least for several years, would that not also have had an effect on his will and spirit to discuss related taboo issues, such as Islam?

Harry Horse writes:

You wrote:

“They say that we should not worry about what the unserious conservatives and their millions of readers believe is true about Islam, but focus our energies on conveying what we believe is true about Islam and what we think needs to be done about it, and eventually the truth of our arguments will win out over the falsity of theirs, without our having to rail incessantly against their idiocies.”

I’m surprised that you even consider this as a possibility: This statement is predicated on “the truth” as an objective reality that others appreciate, understand, and accept as paramount. But we know that liberalism is the current master of Western Civilization, the namesake for the battlefield that we are to spar with our opponents. Since we know that the essence of liberalism is to deny objective truth, the notion of “winning” a foot race by reason is yet another liberal ruse: A premeditated forfeiture by the champion of all things lasting and honorable.

Until those that profess to love the truth, recognize the reality of the situation, and in response, sacrifice their individual safety to jump enthusiastically into the ring to attack the most unscrupulous of opponents (which you do daily), the death of the West will continue.

LA replies:

I don’t quite understand Harry Horse’s point. Is he saying that we can’t win the argument on the basis of reason, because the other side doesn’t believe in reason, but that if we attack the other side (and on what basis, if not reason?), we have a chance to win?

Rick Darby writes:

I made a very similar point about appeasing Muslims by pretending their conflicts with Western society were just a by-product of non-Muslims trying too hard not to offend.

James M2 writes:

I think Harry Horse is saying that the “unserious conservatives and their millions of readers” need to have illustrated to them, in a stark and irrefutable way, the disconnect between the principles of reason which are the foundation of everything they profess to love, and the liberal precepts which rule our society and which they unquestioningly live by. Only then will reasonable argument regain its efficacy with them, and it will follow that they will take up a true conservative position and begin to fight properly against the destruction of Western Civilization.

LA writes:

Ok, then what James M2 is saying is that the continuing exposure and critique of liberal irrationality is an indispensable aspect of traditionalist politics. I agree. At the same time, as I mentioned to Hannon, my initial entry contains an implicit criticism of myself for what may be at times my excessive railing against inadequate conservatives while not doing enough to advance the traditionalist cause in its own right. It’s not a matter of choosing between one and the other, but of establishing proper priorities. The criticism of liberalism is an essential aspect of traditionalism, but cannot be the main aspect.

Harry Horse writes:

Sorry for my delay. My reply is what James M2 said, who writes more potently than do I.

You wrote: “The criticism of liberalism is an essential aspect of traditionalism, but cannot be the main aspect.”

Agreed. I would only add that the criticism of liberalism is something that can be done by everyone/anyone who understands the falsity of that worldview. Few have the intelligence, education and rhetorical skills that an Auster has to critique shades of so-called conservatism; however, help decouple the predictable mythology of liberalism from the empirical experience of common minds, and they too will watch how the “house of cards” falls, and will enthusiastically demonstrate this to others.

As an example, I like to use racism, or at least what liberals define as racism. The emotional baggage is too heavy for even many of the strongest folks. But challenge them: How could racism be worse than the crimes of murder, rape, and bearing false witness (liberals and most conservatives behave as though it is). It is absurd and people often will recognize this with the slightest of challenging. Unraveling continues thereafter.

My point though is often that “enlightened” folks feel overwhelmed and powerless. We need to recognize the importance of unraveling the liberal worldview and hence, empower the masses to stay involved in a noble pursuit.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 09, 2008 02:30 PM | Send

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