Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Is Charlie Kirk a conservative?

There is an organisation in America called Turning Point USA (TPUSA). It's active on campuses and it promotes itself as a conservative organisation, even selling T-shirts with the slogan "Keep it conservative".

As good as this might sound, the reality is different. To give you a sense of what TPUSA really stands for take a look at the exchange between its leader, Charlie Kirk, and an audience member at a recent campus talk. I'll provide a summary below, but you can watch it live from 40:40 onwards:


The gist of the exchange is as follows:

Audience member: I'm against mass immigration. I'm from California and things have declined there since mass immigration began in 1965. Its changed the voting trends. It's made cities like Los Angeles culturally divided.

Charlie Kirk: I think the growing anti-immigration part of the Republican movement is dangerous. There's a difference between coming here legally and border jumping. However, I do believe that what makes America different and what will continue to make America exceptional is that the best, the brightest and most aspirational from all over the planet earth should be able to get a shot to come here legally...this country was built by immigrants, this country is a shining city on a hill for immigrants.

Audience member: But is a million a year a sustainable number? Before I die more than 60 million foreigners will come in who will bring their culture with them. 80% of immigrants vote Democrat. And the trend holds through the generations.

Charlie Kirk: I don't think you can design immigration policy based on politics. I think that's very dangerous. If someone graduates from a US university and we send them back to Korea or to Japan that doesn't make any sense. They should be given a green card or a visa upon graduation...What makes this country so different is the embracing of coming from somewhere else to be able to achieve your dreams here. When an immigrant entrepreneur comes here with an idea and comes here to take a risk basic economics will tell you it's a net benefit for everybody. I want the best, smartest people here in America.

Kirk is obviously misguided in thinking that America is exceptional in having a large scale immigration programme - most Western countries do. The more significant thing to note, though, is that Kirk has a typically right liberal attitude to what matters in life. For him, what matters is success in the market, and he therefore idealises America on the basis that it offers people from around the world the opportunity to pursue such success.

This, however, is anything but a genuinely conservative world view. What, after all, does it end up conserving? If the aim is to have the fewest constraints to participation in the market, then you will end up radically dissolving the core, traditional aspects of a society rather than conserving them.

Think, for instance, of the family. If success in life is measured by material success in a free market, and if the core value of society is a "freedom" of having the least constraints on participation in the market, then why would people devote themselves to family? On what basis would women forego participation in the market to devote themselves to home and children? Why would people forego a consumerist lifestyle to direct their energies and resources instead to the raising of children? And why would people not begin to treat relationships themselves as a kind of commodity, i.e. as a lifestyle choice based on personal preference - rather than as a sacramental union, or as a commitment to an ongoing familial legacy spanning the generations.

It's the same when it comes to traditional national ties. If what matters is the absence of constraints on participation in the market, then it will be thought a positive development for people to arrive from around the world to join the national economy (the "shining city on a hill"). It will be thought wrong to limit who might come in order to conserve an existing identity. In some ways, the "aspirational immigrant" will be seen to be a better representative of the nation's values than the stay-put native born resident. And so the end result is an outlook that dissolves the existing identity and tradition, and replaces it not with anything new and stable, but with continual change as new waves of immigration roll onto the country's shores.

It is therefore misleading to associate right liberalism with the term conservatism. Right liberalism does not conserve, it dissolves. Nor does right liberalism succeed on its own terms. For instance, the slogan of right liberalism is usually something like "free markets, individual freedom and limited government". However, in the longer term the inner contradictions of right liberalism fail to secure these things. Government tends to grow larger and more intrusive under the philosophy of right liberalism, despite the call to limit its influence.

One reason for this is that it is the state that is used to break up the traditional structures of society that once placed limits on the market. If, for instance, you want women to participate in the market to an equal degree to men, then you have to use the power of the state to create affordable childcare; to enforce anti-discrimination laws; and to replace the social welfare functions once associated with the family. Similarly, if there are mass waves of immigration that gradually undermine social cohesion, there will be less social engagement and potentially issues of crime or social decay that then require state intervention (e.g. government agencies to undertake welfare work once managed by volunteer organisations, a greater presence of law enforcement etc.).

The other reason why right liberalism fails was pointed out to Charlie Kirk by the man in the audience. By having such a glowing account of immigration, and refusing to think in practical political terms about the consequences of this immigration, right liberals are handing political power to the left. California is a very clear example of this: in 1988 52% of Californians voted for the Republican candidate for President, but by 2016, after large-scale demographic change, that percentage had fallen to 31%. California is now a stronghold of the left.

Those right-liberals who are willing to confront this issue often have a change of heart and rethink many of their political positions. But for the Charlie Kirks, who still centre their politics on the "shining city" philosophy, this isn't possible. They will hold fast to their philosophy, even as evidence mounts that the philosophy will ultimately hand power to those who stand openly for big government and government regulation of the economy.

Finally, we need to call out right liberals for having too "thin" an account of what matters in life. It's true that success in the marketplace can bring a sense of achievement, as it requires self-discipline, self-sacrifice, industry, judgement, perseverance and boldness. Material success can also give access to other goods in life, including success in relationships, financial freedom and so on.

The reality, though, is that participation in the market is not very glamorous for most people. It consumes time and energy, it separates us from our family, it prevents a more rounded development of our talents, it places us often in stressful conditions in which we are subject to a boss, and it leaves most people in a merely modest financial position.

Many people, therefore, do not live to work. They make the rational decision to base their life values elsewhere, often in family commitments, but also in friendships, in a church community, in sporting or artistic endeavours, or through identifying with the larger ethnic or civilisational tradition they belong to.

Most people won't succeed in any notable way as entrepreneurs in the market. In right liberal terms, they will be failures. And so right liberalism is, at best, an "apex" philosophy for a relatively small number of people - it cannot genuinely represent the values of the greater part of the population. If anything it undermines the sense of meaning, identity and belonging that most people once found in society.

It is therefore a pity that the opposition to the left still comes primarily from right liberals rather than from a more genuinely socially conservative political movement.


  1. This, however, is anything but a genuinely conservative world view. What, after all, does it end up conserving?

    These are conservatives who believe in conserving corporate profits and the personal wealth of the rich. They're not interested in conserving anything else because they can't conceive of anything else that might matter. If everything else gets destroyed they don't care.

    We need to stop describing such people as conservatives. Neoliberals or the term you favour, right-wing liberals, are more accurate descriptors.

    We also need to stop describing people who serve the interests of global capital as leftists or Marxists.

    I know I'm a bit of a bore on the subject of terminology but if you control the words that get used in a debate you control the debate. It is important.

    1. The purpose of Cultural Marxism is to dissolve the "false consciousness" that once removed will leave only "class consciousness" of Old Marxism.

      That neoliberals are today aligned with gay pride and mass immigration does not discount that the left truly despises the Ancien Regime.

    2. The purpose of Cultural Marxism is to dissolve the "false consciousness" that once removed will leave only "class consciousness" of Old Marxism.

      I strongly disagree. That may have been the theory, a very long time ago. But "Cultural Marxism" as it has existed in the West for the past few decades is fundamentally anti-Marxist. Its purpose is to create false consciousness so as to prevent a true class consciousness from arising.

      "Cultural Marxism" in its modern form is a weapon that has been used to destroy the Left. The purpose of modern "Cultural Marxism" is to make the world a safe place for the ruling class.

  2. Charlie Kirk has been quick to place the "racist" card against ethnonationalists concerned about immigration, and he and those like him deserve pushback on this point.

  3. I can't think of one thing American conservatism has conserved. Meanwhile, filth and blasphemy spread unchecked throughout every corner of society. Nice job.

  4. Turning Point is indeed one of the worst organizations in the US Right, because it is quite subversive while still being criticized by older conservative youth organizations as undisciplined and too tolerant of racists.

    In a time of reckless student debt and wage stagnation, it is risible to ever expect college students to be on the Right. Turning Point is often so cringe inducing that I wonder if it would be better off if there were none of these right-liberal youth organiztions, as they seem to cause Dem turnout to increase.

    A better idea for a conservative youth organization is to be like the various "Black Student Unions" and other ethnic student groups. Their primary purpose isn't electioneering, its socializing. Obviously you can't call it "White", but for all intents and purposes "conservative" is really an ethnic group. The struggle of the Campus Right should be to stop conservative leaning students from assimilating out of a desire to fit in the dominant liberal culture. Leftist discourse on "whiteness" is illustrative, as to the experiences of minority students.

    1. "I know I'm a bit of a bore on the subject of terminology but if you control the words that get used in a debate you control the debate. It is important."

      Get used to be called names. Making sense versus the amen corner.