Fighting the Cathedral

I caught up recently with Vanity Fair’s in-depth feature on “the New Right.” At one point, writer James Pogue interviewed neoreactionary Curtis Yarvin, who is quoted saying some provocative things. I fully agree with Yarvin’s gibes about the autocratic oligarchy that stifles dissent, his sneering at the media as “predators,” and his recognition that it may take a Caesar-like leader to pull us out of our present decadence. But Yarvin also made a statement with which I profoundly disagree. My disagreement may explain why, unlike Yarvin, I am never invited to address conservative conferences. 

Although I sound less edgy, I may in fact be more serious about pursuing the culture war. Unlike Yarvin, I would never argue “that conservatives waste their time and political energy on fights over issues like gay marriage or critical race theory, because liberal ideology holds sway in the important institutions of prestige media and academia”—an intertwined nexus he calls “the Cathedral.”

I consider those issues Yarvin thinks we shouldn’t “waste” our time defending to be of vital importance, starting with the antiwhite racialist hysteria, often incited by malign white elites, and rallying to traditional marriage and gender relations. Those are precisely the issues that a conservative movement should be energetically pushing, and it is foolish to pretend that we’re just too “reactionary” or isolated to have to care about them. Indeed, I would argue that Yarvin’s insouciance on such matters renders him palatable to those who don’t like messy fights over social morality. He simply exudes what the historian Fritz Stern characterized as “the politics of cultural despair.” 

For me, the issues Yarvin doesn’t want us to spend time engaging with are the ones that count, even more than striking counterrevolutionary postures or waiting for a right-wing authoritarian leader to save us. Those were the poses that I struck as a member of the Yale Party of the Right in the 1960s, when like-minded attention-seekers competed for who could sound the most quaintly reactionary. Such poses are utterly irrelevant to the present war for civilization.

The conservative movement has been in a moral and cultural slide for decades. It has rarely fought for socially traditional positions, except when pushed hard by the Christian Right. Moreover, the claim of Catholic integralists at the conference to be for “social democracy” against the “libertine” free market is a move in the wrong direction. Calls for surrendering economic and political power to a leftist bureaucracy to shuffle around our earnings won’t exactly weaken the Left. Advocating a Catholic social democracy is also an obvious nonstarter in America, and it has been that way since our country’s Protestant capitalist beginnings as a federal republic. Focusing on that position also diverts the Right away from sticky social issues, such as opposing gay marriage, feminism (in all its phases), and (need I bring this up?) the trans movement. 

Although I don’t expect much from National Review anymore, even I was shocked to discover how enthusiastically it is now backing the transgender movement. Four years ago, this onetime conservative fortnightly advocated a “compromise with transgenderism,” although it was unclear what our side is supposed to get from this coming to terms. The article also conspicuously went after those who dragged their feet in yielding to the demands of the gay movement and urged “conservatives” not to repeat this error by reaching out to those who choose to change their sex:

At present, it feels we’re still in the immature, demagogic phase. In some quarters, it remains fashionable to act theatrically repulsed by transgender people, emphasize their weirdness, and make populist appeals to the preposterousness of women asking to be called ‘him’ or surgeons amputating penises and so forth. Yet this seems more cathartic than anything, in the same way that showy judgment of gays did a generation earlier. As with homosexuality in the 1980s and ’90s, the loud revulsion of critics conceals a fading interest in actually attempting to ‘solve’ transgenderism, as even those most offended by it seem to quietly regard purported cures as quackish and authoritarian.

At this point, we may be justified in asking what would have happened if the authorized conservative movement had fought gay marriage with the same tenacity with which it calls for more defense spending or lowering corporate taxes. And what part of the heritage of human civilization is National Review’s editorial board still behind in protecting us from Yarvin’s Cathedral? Clearly, it is hard to undo the effects of the missing-in-action approach that the movement has taken in dealing with delicate social issues (late-term abortion aside) for decades. 

But we should ask ourselves whether the present situation would look different if National Review and the rest of the conservative media apparatus had not surrendered on issues they should have championed, when it was still possible to offer effective resistance. This may be worth pondering even more than the question of when our American Caesar will arrive.

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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