I hurried up to Columbia University to inform my friends on the campus that I had located the Communist Party, had made contact with it, and was, in fact, a registered member. By chance, the first man I met as I crossed the campus was one of my literary friends. I told him the news. As usual, he squinted one eye and lifted the eyebrow of the other, so that he looked as if he were peering through a monocle. “Do you drill in a cellar with machine guns?” he asked airily. It was he who, when I was first seeking enlightenment about Communism, had given me The Communist Manifesto to read. Now I saw that Communism as an idea was disverting. Communism as an idea to do something about was amusing. I turned away. I looked up another friend who was later with the Theatre Guild. More than any other individual, he had been directly responsible for swinging me toward Marxism. Now that I was a Communist, I explained, I would be able to bring him into the party at once. There were some moments of painful embarrassment. He was delighted at my political enterprise, but he had no intention of joining the Communist Party. Nevertheless, his position was awkward and he felt obliged to put me off without actually saying no. The same pattern was repeated with others. For the first time, I understood the contempt with which Communists pronounced the word ‘Intellectuals.’ I thought: “That miscellaneaous mob in the English speaking branch may not know the English language, but they know a good deal about history. They are not as intelligent as my college friends, but they do not think that ideas are ping-pong balls. They believe that ideas are important as a guide to coherent action. They have purpose and they have courage. They are grown men and women, and these are children.” I felt a sudden warmth for my shabby, quarrelsome comrades and a readiness to overlook their failings in the name of their faith and purpose. I began to see less and less of my college friends. -from Witness, by Whittaker Chambers
Damon Linker thinks our front porch neighbor Rod Dreher has a gay fixation. Andrew Sullivan cheers him on. Linker is especially irked that Dreher would fall back on church teaching as support for his position vis-à-vis gay marriage. Says Linker:
Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he’s perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he’s modern — that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey — because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.
Linker is a one trick pony, and this trick hasn’t even changed much over the years. Years ago Linker chastised Ross Douthat along similar lines:
Is my opposition to theoconservative ideology not better understood as opposition to orthodox Catholicism? Can you and Neuhaus, as Catholics, be good citizens of a liberal polity like the United States? My answer is simple: Of course you can-on one condition. Like every other citizen, you must be willing to accept what I call “the liberal bargain.” In my book [Theocon], I describe this bargain as the act of believers giving up their “ambition to political rule in the name of their faith” in exchange for the freedom to worship God however they wish, without state interference. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that your belief in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches is irrelevant, politically speaking. It simply shouldn’t matter whether or not you think that justice has a divine underpinning, anymore than it should matter whether you prefer Jane Austen to Dostoevsky. In a word, liberal politics presumes that it’s possible and desirable for political life to be decoupled from theological questions and disputes.
Curiously, most respected “conservative” defenders of heterosexual marriage tend to agree with Linker. Maggie Gallagher leveled the same basic critique of Dreher’s neo-traditionalism several years back:
We have lots of choices in our society but we don’t have the choice to be genuinely traditional, as far as I can see, and nothing in your book suggests otherwise. Yes, the absence of traditional bases for identity creates a genuine hunger. If you want to try to satisfy that hunger by “attaching” to a tradition, I have no objections. I really don’t. I just can’t look at that process and see that its will achieve what you claim for it. Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods. You make that choice, other people make other choices. God bless, I hope it works for you. … I personally think the benefits of the modern condition seriously outweigh its liabilities (and so there we may differ). But don’t imagine you are recreating a traditional world. It’s not true. You are creating a personal world.
Meanwhile, another erstwhile conservative intellectual, Gilbert Meilaender, bashed Dreher’s crunchy legions as stuck-up prigs for wanting to focus on anything more permanent that a YouTube clip. It’s a dry erase culture and you can rewrite your life three times a day if you want, said Meilaender, and never lose a convivial moment with the neighbors. For Meilaender and Gallagher, it’s a Burger King World, baby, and you can’t leave, so best get comfortable.
In fact, the Whopper and ESPN are transcendent modern goods for which conservative theorists will man the ramparts against any rebellious backwards glances at apple pies and baseball. Meilaender, Gallagher, Sullivan, and Linker are bonded by all being people who want to embrace the suburbourgeoisie so much they will attack anyone who wants to focus on children, tradition, and real membership that imposes anything above and beyond subjectively chosen “obedience” as dangerous.
This is the real reason Linker opposes traditional notions of marriage, and one can only wonder why Gallager and Meilaender can’t just get on board already. Why so upset with gays for wanting to satiate their thirst for consumptive tradition by attaching themselves to bourgeoisie institutions? This is likely how Sullivan and others like him see themselves and the issue along with their own desire to normalize.
What I find so fascinating is that both sides of the marriage debate tend to accept what Linker calls the “liberal bargain” which requires that we all forsake the notion of tradition as a living, authoritative matrix for life. Good citizens of the consumptive state must accept a bastardized version of tradition as just one more product on the shelves chosen to therapuetically aleviate certain “itches” that are understood in an entirely materialistic and personalist way. Liturgy for you, lechery for me, it makes no difference.
In this sense, Gallagher becomes the perfect pin-up girl for Linker’s vision of America, even though he would likely describe her as one of the theocon boogeymen. What a fraud this entire discussion is!
The bottom line is this: Linker, Gallagher, Sullivan, and Meilanender fail to see themselves as effective noisemakers who provide distracting cover for the real political actors and power plays. Which is to say that each, in their own way, are dupes and stooges for the prevailing political consensus of the middling, consumptive, servile state.
All four are essentially correct about what motivates most allegedly “neo-traditional” movements afoot today–which makes this discussion very relevant to the Front Porch. This motive brings us the bizarre spectacle of both “gay marriage” and of people who plop their Burger King have-it-your-way Whopper drive-through on their “handcrafted Amish dinner-table” and then turn around and pop in the latest London Philharmonic CD into their made-in-China Wal-Mart standard-issue under-the-cupboard CD player. Comodify your dissent!
After this kind of cultural diet, I doubt many have the wherewithal to recognize a genuine cultural artifact if it rose up and bit them in the collective ass.
Speaking of which, let me utter a word of praise for the genuine queer article. Walker Percy noted that “Christians talk about the horror of sin, but they have overlooked something. They keep talking as if everyone were a great sinner, when the truth is that nowadays one is hardly up to it. There is very little sin in the depths of the malaise. The highest moment of a malaisian’s life can be the moment when he manages to sin like a proper human (Look at us, Binx-my vagabond friends as good as cried out to me-we’re sinning! We’re succeeding! We’re human after all!)”
Sin is a dead letter in our consumptive malaisian state. I agree with the commies and the queers–if you wanted to be truly radical you would reject the notion of marriage altogether as a tool of partriachical, agrarian, household economies. It’s a tragedy that Gallagher et al have saved them the trouble by doing it for them. I say bring back the blue eye shade and “moral fugitives”–to borrow from Santayana–in lieu of this sanitized, sterile, infertile marital dead fish tool of the corporate state!
So, finally, if there is any valid critique of Dreher’s “crunchy cons” (or even of the Front Porch Party) it may be our predilection to similar distraction. We, by and large, still value and cultivate our citizenship in the consumptive state–we daily make the liberal bargain. What else can we do? But every so often it is worth asking, where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the malaisian condition? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the consumptive, servile, sterile state?