This is Jonah Goldberg's last "G-File" for National Review Online. For my money, it's one of his absolute best.
The focus of Goldberg's discussion is on something that has fostered a huuuuge controversy among conservative pundits: Sohrab Almari's piece "Against David-Frenchism". (Additional background: "What Are Conservatives Actually Debating?" and "The Pointless Argument Tearing Conservatives Apart".) Here are two key, I think, paragraphs from Almari:
French is, in effect, telling the cultural revolutionaries: We will grant your autonomy in the neutral institution (in this case, Hollywood). Won’t you grant us ours? Though culturally conservative, French is a political liberal, which means that individual autonomy is his lodestar: He sees “protecting individual liberty” as the main, if not sole, purpose of government. Here is the problem: The movement we are up against prizes autonomy above all, too; indeed, its ultimate aim is to secure for the individual will the widest possible berth to define what is true and good and beautiful, against the authority of tradition. . . .
He [Trump] believes that the political community—and not just the church, family, and individual—has its own legitimate scope for action. He believes it can help protect the citizen from transnational forces beyond his control.
There are thus three related questions conservatives in the Almari and French camps are trying to answer. Should securing individual liberty be a--probably the--principal goal of conservatism? Given that the Liberals who oppose us fight really dirty, should conservatives fight dirty also? And should we enlist big government in that fight? (Is big government, as long as it is run by good guys, OK? Should big government be pressed into service in restoring "tradition"?) For a rallying cry for traditon, morality, and religion, see Andrew Klavan, "Can We Believe?"
I believe thoughtful conservatives of good will can be found on both sides of these questions. (But I hope that this internecine warfare damps down quickly. We have much bigger problems to solve.) But I fully support Jonah's views. I think protecting individual liberty should be a principal aim of conservatives. No, we generally shouldn't fight dirty (with perhaps an exception or two). And no, even government run by good guys should keep it's grubby hands off morality and tradition and culture. Some key bits of Jonah's argument:
His [Almari's] conversion to one form of illiberalism — or, if you prefer, anti-liberalism — is surely sincere and a byproduct of his good-faith Catholicism. But that just demonstrates the point. For Sohrab, to be a good Catholic, as he understands it, requires jettisoning – or again, in abundance of fairness, questioning — the classical liberal and civil-libertarian faith in pluralism that David French models in almost everything he does . . .
The idea that David French — and the civility and decency he manifests daily — are what’s holding social conservatives back from “victory” in the culture war strikes me as one of the most preposterous claims to be taken seriously by intelligent conservatives in recent memory. . . .
[Sohrab has] become intoxicated with the bizarre notion that social conservatives can win the culture war if they lean into Trumpism, nationalism, and some of the worst caricatures of the Christian right. R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, is giddy about the fact that Trump broke the old conservative consensus around limited government, free markets, individual autonomy, and the foundational metaphysical claims of the American Founding. He sees the New Deal as a nationalist attempt to impose social solidarity from above. And he’s right. He just celebrates the effort, while traditional conservatives do not. . . .
As Sohrab often implicitly concedes, most of the outrageous assaults on religion don’t come from liberal democratic capitalism, but from the state. Capitalism didn’t attack the Little Sisters of the Poor, the state did. And as both Charlie and David note, the best and only available means of defending such victims are the tools provided by the liberal order and the Constitution. . . .
And then he quotes that magnificent scene--one of my very favorites--from A Man For All Seasons in which Thomas More schools Roper about why rules and limits matter.
One more Goldberg paragraph:
People are misdiagnosing the problem of social, institutional and familial breakdown. A healthy society is a heterogeneous one, a rich ecosystem with a thousand niches where people can find different sources of meaning or identity. A sick society is one where people find meaning from a single source, whether you call it “the nation” or “socialism” or any of the other brand names we hang on statism.
For another good take on the dispute, see "The Death of Liberal Democracy: A Few Notes on the Ahmari-French Controversy". It includes this statement with which I agree 100%:
As I see it, the great insight of “libertarian” thinking is not what Deneen discusses—an emphasis on absolute and unfettered human autonomy—but the terrible truth of unintended consequences and perverse incentives. Well-intentioned policies can go horribly awry for reasons never foreseen by their designers . . .