Why traditionalism is not a big tent

The below comment by me was posted in the thread, “Richard Spencer’s neo-pagan, anti-Christian readers,” but as it is highly relevant to recent attacks on me, I’m copying it here on the main page.

The reason I annoy so many people (look at the two recent anti-Auster manifestations, a.k.a. blog threads, at Dennis Mangan’s site, here and here) is that I draw definitional lines between what is a legitimate part of conservatism and what is not. I say, for example, that anti-theism, anti-Christianism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and the material reductionism that leads to moral nihilism are both wrong in themselves and not a part of conservatism. But many people on the right today are “big tent types”—or rather “big website types.” They want to include in the discussion anyone who calls himself conservative or right-wing, or, for that matter, anyone who posts a comment. Therefore someone like me who draws lines—who says that there are certain things that are both wrong in themselves and not a legitimate part of conservatism—is committing the worst sin. The fundamental premise of the big tent types is liberal and relativistic: they nonjudgmentally include everyone. By contrast, I say that there is no chance of a viable conservatism unless certain things that ought to be excluded from the outset, are excluded from the outset.

There is no escape from making judgments as to what is acceptable and unacceptable. Even the uber tolerant ones make such judgments: they think that to make judgments as to what is acceptable and unacceptable is unacceptable—a contradictory position that Bob Dylan identified when he talked about the people who “don’t hate nothin’ except hatred.”

Now, people will have different views about which substantive things ought to be excluded. But that is an honest and legitimate disagreement, the kind of disagreement that politics ought to be about, as contrasted with the dishonest and illegitimate disagreements created by liberalism, which says that we must tolerate everyone—everyone, that is, except for the intolerant ones, who must be discredited and destroyed.

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Clark Coleman writes:

The self-contradiction of the “tolerant” types who are intolerant towards others is not the only problem here. The big-tent conservatives draw lines on political issues. If someone were to self-identify as a conservative blogger, but then posted entries over a month’s time supporting (1) government-run single-payer health care, (2) higher taxes so we can reduce the deficit without having to reduce spending, and (3) more gun control laws, then you can bet that the big tent conservatives would declare that this fellow is not really a conservative.

So, what makes these issues more central to conservatism than civilizational suicide via immigration, or the weakening of our Christian heritage, for example? Perhaps big tent conservatives could honestly engage in discussion about what makes some issues a higher priority than others. (Note that I am not referring specifically to Mangan, but more specifically to the host of anti-Wilders mainstream conservatives as even better examples of this problem.)

This is a new verse of an old song: Someone claims to differ in kind from that evil person over there (often as an act of public triangulation), but in fact they differ only in degree. We all draw lines; some of us do it openly, while others pretend that it is only that divisive person over there that draws lines, not them. The same illogical argumentation occurs in churches, when someone wants to draw a line against heretical teaching, while others just want us all to get along. When pressed, they will admit that there are lines that they will draw, as well.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 15, 2010 02:58 PM | Send

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