07 Apr 2018

The Atlantic Narrows the Overton Window to an Arrow Slit (For Conservatives)

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I think Jonah Goldberg did the best job of putting Kevin Williamson’s rapid firing by The Atlantic (after a single editorial) in the appropriate perspective.

Michael Anton, who penned “The Flight 93 Election” back when he was hiding behind a pen-name, articulated very well in an exchange with me what millions of conservatives believe to be true:

    The old American ideal of judging individuals and not groups, content-of-character-not-color-of-skin, is dead, dead, dead. Dead as a matter of politics, policy and culture. The left plays by new rules. The right still plays by the old rules. The left laughs at us for it — but also demands that we keep to that rulebook. They don’t even bother to cheat. They proclaim outright that “these rules don’t apply to our side.”

I disagree with Anton’s prescription — to surrender to identity politics and cheat the way our “enemies” do — but I cannot argue much with this description of a widespread mindset. Many on the right are surrendering to the logic of the mob because they are sick of double standards. Again, I disagree with the decision to surrender, but I certainly empathize with the temptation. The Left and the mainstream media can’t even see how they don’t want to simply win, they want to force people to celebrate their victories (“You will be made to care!”). It isn’t forced conversion at the tip of a sword, but at the blunt edge of a virtual mob.

I could go on for another 2,000 words about all of the double standards I have in mind. But let’s stick with the subject at hand: Kevin Williamson’s views on abortion put him outside the mainstream. And he was fired from The Atlantic merely for refusing to recant them.

Meanwhile, extreme views on the left are simply hot takes or even signs of genius. Take the philosopher Peter Singer. He has at least as extreme views on a host of issues, and he is feted and celebrated for them. He is the author of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on “Ethics.” He holds an endowed chair at Princeton. He writes regularly for leading publications. And he argues that sometimes it’s okay to kill babies, as in his essay “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong.” “Newborn human babies,” he writes, “have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.” He cutely asks whether people should cease to exist. (He ultimately and grudgingly answers “No.”) Oh, he also argues in favor of bestiality.

And he’s been profiled favorably in the pages of The Atlantic.

And that’s okay. I can’t stand his utilitarian logic-chopping and nihilistic view of humanity, but at least going by Nock’s Ark of the Covenant rules, he should be free to make his arguments anywhere willing editors want to publish them. We have a right to be wrong.

But that’s not the point: Singer’s work does not render him anathema in elite circles, it earns awards, praise, and celebration for its ruthless consistency and edgy provocation. He is not fired for what he writes never mind what he thinks. I have no doubt some people don’t think this is a perfect example of a double standard, and I could come up with some objections to it myself. But if you can’t see why some people — fellow American citizens — see it as a glaring double standard, you are part of the problem.

Kevin was hired by The Atlantic because he is among the best of the homeless conservatives in the Trump Era. That’s why Bret Stephens went to the New York Times, and it’s probably why I’ve gotten my share of strange new respect from some liberals. But what Goldberg — or his boss — and countless others fail to appreciate, I think, is that the Trump Era is merely one facet of the larger age of tribalism that we live in. In an age when evangelical Christians and constitutional conservatives can overlook the sins of a Roy Moore, it’s easy to see how people could mistake a Trump critic as a useful voice in their chorus. But Kevin isn’t one of them. He sings from his own hymnal and he stands athwart the tribalisms of Trumpism and the tribalisms that gave us Trump. He is in The Remnant (which Nock described in, of all places, The Atlantic). And I am honored to be a happy warrior by his side, hopefully at National Review once again.


It seems to me that The Atlantic disgraced and embarrassed itself so badly that it really did far more damage to itself than to Kevin Williamson.

7 Feedbacks on "The Atlantic Narrows the Overton Window to an Arrow Slit (For Conservatives)"


I really don’t care much about Kevin Williamson. But it’s not like his point of view want already out there when the Atlantic hired him.

Seattle Sam

The Atlantic was about as embarrassed as the Kennedy family was when Teddy killed Mary Jo. And the consequences will be similar — i.e. none.


I don’t think that the left has a double standard or that they ‘can’t see’ what they are doing. They have a standard and know exactly what they are doing by driving you all the way to the rail cars to the camps. It’s the rights failure to see and acknowledge the lefts real standard that is the problem here. The right always makes this mistake. The left aren’t like you, they don’t care. They want you dead.


Fred is right. The left is the left. They are Marxist/socialist/communist/fascist. Almost all Democrats are this or a version of this today. They are not your grandfathers Democrats. In the 20th century the left, i.e. the Marxist/socialist/communist/fascist of the world killed over 100 million of their own people and if you include the toll during the wars it could be 150-200 million people. This is what the left does.

They might call themselves “antifa” but they are under the sheets fascists. They may say they believe in diversity but under the sheets they are the KKK and intend to enslave half the population. They may say they want to have gun control to save lives but under the sheets they intend to first take our guns and second take our lives. Have we learned nothing from history???

Seattle Sam

Your interest in permitting debate on a topic is very much related to the strength of your argument. This is why global warmers must declare “the science is settled”. They cannot afford to have it appear that there might be contrary evidence. It is also why abortionists cannot have a discussion about whether a late term abortion is “murder”, because they may be forced to argue that it is “murder with benefits”.


My problem with the #NeverTrumpers is encapsulated here. The Goldbergs, Williamsons, et al insist upon thinking the adherents to Cultural Marxism are not at war with the rest of us, and that refusal to acknowledge such a war exists means it will remain confined to the faculty lounge and .. words. The conflict has long since escaped the faculty lounge at the Frankfurt School, and the media, academia, entertainment, and much of government now comprise enemy territory. Mr. Trump has caused the enemy to drop its mask, which provides much clarity for those willing to open their eyes. Here is one of many useful examples:


People wired like this will not be content with mere political hegemony. The Left has a solid track record of making its most extreme impulses standard operating procedure. The domestic Left, once having consolidated power, will emulate its intellectual predecessors and get around to loading into boxcars the people with whom they disagree.

A final question: will you refuse to share your foxhole with someone who can shoot well and knows where to aim, simply because he exhibits questionable public manners? Imagining this question will not become pertinent in the near future is as delusional as thinking this culture war is resolvable at the ballot box.

Unless we are rescued by a most undeserved Act of Divine Intervention, we are in for a very rough patch, and it is prudent to prepare for it.



Nailed it.

Wish I had your pen.


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