If you spend any time on social media, you will see people comment that someone else “said the quiet part out loud.” This phrase, which apparently originated with The Simpsons, means that a person took the subtext of a public statement and announces it plainly for all the world to hear.
John Daniel Davidson said the quiet part out loud at The Federalist last week with his post “We Need to Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives.” To use Davidson’s own words, he argues, “The conservative project has failed, and conservatives need to forge a new political identity that reflects our revolutionary moment.”
In the post, Davidson calls for conservatives to abandon the idea of preserving Western civilization, with its commitment to small government and personal freedom, in favor of “a willingness to embrace government power.” For Davidson, a small government that exists to protect natural rights should be jettisoned for a government that is committed to the “common good.”
Davidson does not shy away from calling for a “second revolution,” but he fails to see what made the first revolution so, if I may say it, revolutionary. When you read through the Declaration of Independence, you see that the philosophy of Thomas Paine drips from its pages. Paine believed government existed to protect natural rights–like life, liberty, and property–and that a government that fails to protect these rights should be replaced with another.
The American experiment was built on the foundation of individual liberty. It was such a concern for the founders that many would not support the new United States Constitution without the promise to attach a Bill of Rights to it. The idea that people should be able to speak freely, worship according to the dictates of their conscience and live their lives free of government interference was at the heart of the revolution.
Conservatism has been heading away from these ideas for quite some time now. Anyone who listened to Donald Trump’s campaign speeches in 2016 would not hear any of the themes that animated American conservatism for the last fifty years. Frankly, you would not hear any of the ideas that drove the founders of our nation.
Instead, Trump painted a picture of “American Carnage” and promised that “I alone can fix it.” Conservatives aided his vision of being the only one who could fix it by ousting any and all Senators and Representatives who dared to think their responsibility was anything but rubber-stamping the wishes of the 45th Commander-in-Chief.
Davidson has said the quiet part out loud because this has been the direction that “conservatives,” probably better spoken of as “The New Right,” have been moving for some time now. The only time the New Right speaks of freedom is when they are talking about guns and religious freedom. However, it’s not religious freedom for everyone or even gun rights for everyone. When you listen to them, it is really only for the people who think like them.
Davidson envisions a government that, in the name of “the common good,” sounds a lot like a theocracy. He would reward the people who take part in the activities he approves of while jailing many of the people who take part in unapproved activities.
The idea of a government that is big enough to pass laws that you like to enforce your view of the common good sounds great, but what happens when you lose? What are you going to do when the other side who wants a big government to enforce their view of the common good wins? How are you going to respond when they tax churches, pass laws that allow abortion up to the moment of birth and forcefully remove children from parents who won’t allow them to transition their gender at the age of 13?
Americans have championed liberty for two and a half centuries because we recognize that in a republic, our side is going to lose sometimes. The other side losing may mean we don’t get our way on policy issues, but it never means that we lose our basic natural and constitutional rights. Conservatism, as it has been understood for most of American History, got this and lived by it. The mantra was, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will die for your right to say it.”
Most of the folks who advocate for government based on “the common good” point to the behavior of woke corporations, big tech, and blue state liberals to justify their desire for power. They say that since these bad actors want to use government power to get their way, we should do the same.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not abandon our principles because the fight has gotten dirty. We must continue to uphold the value of personal liberty and responsible self-government even when the people around us aren’t. If we put aside our principles to fight a temporary political battle, we may find when the dust clears that our principles are gone.
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Thomas Kelley/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”