An uncharacteristically ambivalent article by Daniel Greenfield on David Horowitz’s FrontPage website today: usually, Greenfield charges straight ahead, target always in his sights, exposing contradictions and mercilessly mocking the evasions of his victimary opponent. Today, while openly asserting the need to fight Political Correctness, he proceeds to, rather than commence the fight, distinguish between more and less acceptable modes of struggle. While contending that Republicans need to fight PC on causes that might be uncomfortable for many conservatives, like the right to display the Confederate flag and resisting the replacement of Andrew Jackson by Harriet Tubman on the currency, Greenfield adds the following:
There are two ways to fight political correctness. There is the low road of populist vulgarity, of political incorrectness for the sake of political incorrectness, mocking and demeaning cultural scolds to make them seem ridiculous. And then there is the high road of challenging them as privileged demagogues who attack civil rights in the name of civil rights, who are not victims but witch hunters aided and abetted by powerful media interests, and whose tactics represent a grave threat to individual freedom.
The low road is enjoyable, but plays into the portrayal of politically correct activists as victims. The high road exposes them for the totalitarian bullies that they truly are. But it requires fighting for the rights of the politically incorrect people that you may disagree with. And when conservatives fail to fight for fairness and due process, they cede the fight to a class of politically incorrect activists who have no conservative principles and who stand for nothing except egging on the other side to extremes.
I am almost certain that this is an oblique attack on Breitbart, and in particular provocateurs like Milo Yiannopolis closely associated with it and, probably, the alt-right in general. Greenfield is being, again uncharacteristically, but perhaps wisely, cautious here. Greenfield surely shares much of the alt-right’s critique of mainstream conservatism, especially on the point he is addressing here—the seemingly congenital inability of those conservatives to resist the victimary onslaught. At the same time he is no doubt aware that much of the alt-right transgresses the boundaries Greenfield himself observes regarding the norms of liberal democratic political culture, especially regarding issues of race and antisemitism. Greenfield, I assume, wants to distinguish himself from without entering into open combat with, the alt-right. I think Greenfield’s attempt here exposes the limitations of his approach, but I’m not interested in taking sides—I’m far more interested in observing the tiny shoots of new discourses and new conversations on the non-obsolete right.
Greenfield’s caution makes it difficult to tell exactly what he is against, and why. I suppose vulgarity and populism are by definition “low,” but does Greenfield want to withdraw entirely from the “low” field? Should that be left to the left? I suppose political incorrectness for the sake of political incorrectness leaves us no way of distinguishing more and less effective manifestations of un-PCness—but in the very same sentence Greenfield provides the point: making the cultural scolds seem ridiculous. Surely Greenfield is not opposed to the time-honored political activity of demeaning and ridiculing one’s opponents—the truth is, Greenfield himself does this kind of thing all the time, often brilliantly and highly entertainingly. Maybe he prefers his own brand of cutting word-play to the more physical forms of confrontation evidenced, for example, at Yiannopolis’s, Stephen Crowder’s and Christine Huff Sommer’s recent appearance at the U of Amherst, where they (Crowder and Yiannopolis, anyway) exchanged insult for insult, rant for rant, middle finger for middle finger. But why exclude the latter? Clearly, a key part of fighting the SJWs is being able to confront them on whatever level they choose to attack, giving no quarter. If the more responsible rightist Greenfield wants to be here can defend the Confederate nostalgiacs, on the ground of “process” (as liberals used to, as Greenfield himself notes, used to defend the Communists), surely that same procedural defense can be extended to the more rambunctious anti-PC warriors.
The “low road,” Greenfield claims, while “enjoyable” (is fun to be completely discounted as an element of politics?), “plays into the portrayal of political correct activists as victims.” Does it, though? When you strike back at the SJWs in such events, they seem to invariably return fire—rather than presenting them as victims, one draws them into an arena of combat, which knocks them of the high road they claim to be on. There are two ways of exposing the SJWs as totalitarian bullies: defend their victims, or bait them into acting on their worst impulses. As far as I can tell, Greenfield wants us to restrict ourselves to the first approach, but that means being always on the defensive, whereas the “low road” suggests all kinds of innovative ways of going on the offensive—for example, I’ve been wondering what would stop whites from simply checking off the “African American” box in their college and other applications, thereby forcing those institutions to account for the way they enforce their racial classifications. Regarding the current bathroom wars, why not march into a Target, or some other PC-friendly corporate coward’s premises, with a group of men and a group of women, clearly “normal,” with each proclaiming that they feel like a man/woman right here and now, and going into the “wrong” bathroom? Again, you would be forcing them to enforce their own incoherent categories. Why should we wait until some poor woman complains about a man in the bathroom along with her and her daughter, and is subjected to a Twitterstorm, loses her job, etc.?
I don’t believe that Greenfield is really worried about the fallout from such stunts (I use the word “stunt,” I want to be clear, in a completely non-pejorative way). He is similarly tentative in his approach to the issues he chooses to discuss: the Confederate flag and the Jackson/Tubman currency switch. What distinguishes the alt-right is its complete lack of ambivalence or hesitation in addressing these issues: I’m a Union man myself, but a direct line passes from the “Rebels” to the generations of courage and commitment that has sustained the US military to this day, and I have no problem embracing the “Lost Cause” as an integral part of America on those grounds alone (of course, I know that most of the alt-right would be much less hesitant, even, than that). Moreover, out of respect for the truth, we should vigorously oppose the conflation of the Confederacy with Nazism, which drove the recent “flag wars”—the Confederates invaded no territory, committed no genocide (as far as I know—and I think we would all know—there is no evidence of atrocities carried out against slaves or freed blacks during the Civil War, even though the assumption must have been that they sympathized with the enemy)—in sum, they defended their cause honorably. The case for Tubman, meanwhile, is completely ridiculous, and only conservative pandering to blacks makes this seem problematic. First of all, with very few and mostly failed exceptions (Susan B. Anthony, Scajawea…) the figures on our currency are all people who served in official capacity in the Federal government—indeed, unless I’m wrong, with the exception of Alexander Hamilton, all the figures who lasted on major denominations are presidents. Andrew Jackson was a heroic and transformative figure, whose deeds are public record and uncontested—and we should defend the Indian Wars, for his part in which he is currently excoriated. (Should Indian attacks on frontier settlers have gone unanswered?) Tubman’s aura, meanwhile, seems largely a product of Communist propaganda, uncritically absorbed within the public education system.
All this is debatable, of course, but the problem for Greenfield is that he can’t say any of it because he is invested in the argument that the Democrats are the real racists, so, in the end, as far as I can see, he avoids taking a position on Tubman/Jackson, and can only support the Confederate flag on the grounds that today’s Republicans represent today’s southerners, which is pretty feeble, considering that the Republicans presumably would like to represent southern blacks as well. Greenfield refrains from his usual practice of pursuing the SJWs back to their lair, which in this case would lead to the exposure of the ongoing demonization of whiteness. There is, at this point, no anti-racist position that is not also anti-White, no feminism that is not androphobic, no support of immigrant rights that is not anti-American, and so on—the old liberal consensus has shrunk so that you can’t stand on it, even on a single tippy toe. To use Greenfield’s procedural terms, there is no choice but to offer an affirmative defense of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, Christianity and all the rest, within a comprehensive defense of civilization.