We are pleased to publish this guest feature by Bryan Baise.
On Monday, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) rescinded their invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos after a video recording emerged which many interpreted to be a defense of pedophilia. Milo has since clarified his comments (which are no less worrisome). Yet this did not prevent CPAC from pulling the plug on his keynote address to their conference.
Milo’s absence means two things.
- First, CPAC organizers now have a vacant speaking slot.
- Second, and more importantly, they also have an opportunity to replace the reactionary antics of Milo and the alt-right with a principled, intellectually serious spokesman for conservatism.
I submit that the best man for this moment in American conservatism is actually a Brit. Sir Roger Scruton, knighted in June 2016, is exactly the kind of conservative that CPAC, and the movement conservatism that it represents, desperately need.
The impetus for safe spaces and the restriction of free speech has been a clear issue for some time. Multiple campuses, from Yale to Missouri, have, in varying degree, sought to restrict free speech. Unsurprisingly, this restricted speech has often pressed back against the hegemony of illiberalism. Milo is, no doubt, one of the few individuals willing to challenge the status quo here. Yet Scruton has as well—and for longer.
Sir Roger was stigmatized out of academia for holding to conservatism. He writes in How to Be a Conservative that when he began teaching at London University he discovered that his colleagues were, to the man, standing against conservatism. They told him conservatism was everyone’s enemy. Scruton is well-aware of the hostility found on university campuses; he has written and defended free speech, and even has defended the right to offensive speech. This, it would seem, provides the same function of what they reportedly appreciated about Milo but with a markedly different form. Free speech should be defended, but it can be done in a way that is instructive rather than through cults of personality that merely parrot the worst characteristics of the left.
Conservatism is undoubtedly in the midst of an identity crisis. Wherever one wishes to pinpoint that origin of breakdown, the conversation has to begin to move beyond a mere airing of grievances. Milo reinforces the paradigm. Scruton could be a breath of fresh air for conservatives. Instead of continuing to play the political gamesmanship seesaw that is endemic of these kinds of gatherings, Scruton could lend a steadied voice that says what many of them no doubt are feeling (justified or no) but can do so with the kind of clarity that moves beyond headlines and soundbites. He can model the kind of principled conservatism that doesn’t, for example, conflate patriotism with nationalism, nor imagine the latter as some higher virtue to which we should aspire. To echo Yuval Levin, he would understand that constructive political change requires stability and prudence.
This is not a call to retain the status quo, but it is a reminder that the contemporary clarion call amongst some in the conservative movement, especially those who supported Donald Trump, sounds far more like French Revolutionism than it does anything that resembles conservatism. Conservatives fight, yes, but we learn how. Failing to fight effectively, even for a long time, does not necessitate mindlessly throwing punches, desperately hoping one will land.
Scruton would be a voice crying in the nattering nabob of negativism wilderness. What better place for such a case to be made than CPAC? CPAC’s rosters of speakers through the years do not inspire confidence that such a case will be heard elsewhere; indeed, the 2017 gathering looks primed to be yet another sampling of red-meat economic conservatism, preoccupied above all else with limited government, lower taxes, and a mentality that reduces human beings to homo economicus.
Scruton teaches us to see conservatism as more than political positions. Rather, it is a reinvigorated moral imagination that speaks to heart as well as head. It is a conservatism that can sustain when anger and resentment reside.
As he says in A Political Philosophy:
Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.
Scruton, having imbibed the great ideas of the classical conservative tradition, stands ready to dispense wisdom to those willing to listen. Conservatism needs more of this. You may question if this is the proper platform to attempt such a coup.
My answer is simple: have you seen the conservative movement lately? Isn’t saving the soul of conservatism worth at least a shot? I’ll gladly take a gentlemen (or lady) unpacking conservatism as a disposition first and politic second for 30 minutes, instead of a vile empty suit that calls the President of the United States, “Daddy.” Want to make CPAC, and conservatism, great again? Invite Roger Scruton.
Bryan Baise, Ph.D, is assistant professor at Boyce College, where he directs the Worldview and Apologetics Program and the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) degree. He’s married, has three children, and is an overly committed sports fan.