The Joy of Pissing People Off: A Reflection

The Joy of Pissing People Off: A Reflection

Luke Phillips

Being a true moderate- which is to say, the most progressive person in a room full of conservatives, and the most conservative person in a room full of progressives, on the bases of principle and temperament both- necessarily means being both the most popular and most reviled person in public.

I’m a case in point. Let’s review.

I recently published two scathing indictments of Jacob Ellenhorn for his immature right-wing antics, and received accolades of support from both my fellow moderates and the USC campus-activist intelligentsia (with the exception of the real kooks among them, the most radical ones.) Clearly plenty of liberals were ok with a professed conservative attacking one of his fellow “conservatives.”

In recent years, however, I’ve pointed my slings and arrows in the opposite direction. I implicitly attacked progressive campus activists- and to this day I still believe it was the Women’s Student Assembly’s covert action- for illiberally suppressing pro-life activists’ free speech by having the administration remove their banners from Trousdale Parkway. In a piece published in the Daily Trojan, I also suggested that the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation didn’t understand industrial development. For these, I received support from both my fellow moderates and lots of conservatives, for taking on the liberals and progressives.

What is more, I attacked these disparate radicals with similar language.

Here’s me attacking Ellenhorn for not being a true conservative, with the progressive disposition that implies-

“True conservatism is about preserving what is worth preserving, through incremental reforms and cautious experimentation. It’s about cultivating nobility of spirit and demanding not conformity but character from every individual. It’s about looking squarely in the eye the evil nascent in human nature, accepting it, and having faith that through institutions, traditions, and moderation, individuals and societies can curb the bad and promote the good. It’s a disposition and a temperament– never an ideology.”

And here’s me attacking the SCALE protestors for not being true progressives, with the conservative temperament that implies-

“Injustice is a natural part of human life, a part that so completely bathes all reality that it is impossible to fight it without partaking in it and revealing one’s own hypocrisy. Great change tends to be caused either by great injustice, or terribly slow evolution. The activist will never find satisfaction, for he or she desires a quick and just solution to a problem too complex to have one. Though they might be noble, their worldview does not fit the reality of this world.

This is not to suggest that we ought to simply accept the world’s imperfection and stay silent in the face of evil. To do so would go against our very nature, as the moral law is written on our hearts. It is to say, however, that the wise and just must acknowledge that there will never be anything like true justice, yet strive forever towards the best possible ends, with the most practical possible means. Justice is worth nothing less.”

And here’s me attacking the probably-self-described-liberals who covertly took down the right-to-life banners, condemning them for being illiberal-

“It is fundamentally an epic showdown between those who would respect the rights of others to voice their opinions, and those who would silence them in the name of justice. The principle of pluralism, of tolerance for others’ heresies, is at stake. Anyone with the guts to call themselves a “liberal” in the best sense of the term, ought to rally behind USC Students For Life’s right to express themselves, regardless of whether they agree with their cause or not.”

Now it’s true that most of my writings and postings nowadays attack right-wingers more often than left-wingers, but that doesn’t mean I’m more anti-right than anti-left. Here’s a couple case studies of proof that I am an equal-opportunity disdainer:

I think right-wingers are wrong for believing the Second Amendment’s purpose for existence is giving “the people” a nuclear option in case the government “takes away their rights.”

I think left-wingers are wrong for believing that climate change is actually a pressing security threat and that the best way to combat it is kneecapping the very oil industry that provides cheap, reliable energy for the poor and middle class.

I think right-wingers are wrong to believe that tax cuts, financial deregulation, flat taxation, and an end to investment subsidies they consider “crony capitalism” will lead to anything other than a financially-dominated plutocracy with shrinking opportunity for most and, more importantly, national weakness in critical productivity sectors.

I think left-wingers are wrong to believe that everything is “socially constructed” in the most oppressive way imaginable and that the task of justice lies in destroying our cultural inheritance and worshipping at the altars of feminism, critical race theory, gender theory, and cultural relativism.

I think right-wingers are wrong for peddling Islamophobic imagery and demonizing our brothers and sisters in the Muslim world, while turning a blind eye to the very real white nationalism, white supremacy, and Christian radicalism that have polluted our own civilization on our very doorstep.

I think left-wingers are wrong for continuing to insist that “women only earn x cents on the dollar to what men earn” (when study after study debunks it) and supporting clunky measures like increased minimum wages that empirically never do what they’re promised to do.

So there’s six heresies right there, three for the right and three for the left. Pissed off yet, that I’m not a feminist, or that I think white supremacy remains a danger to our Republic?

Well, you should be, for one reason or another, if you consider yourself a strong liberal or conservative. You see, in my opinion, ideologies are ideologies, and the stronger they are, the more like other ideologies they are. I don’t see much functional difference between the extremists among the USC College Republicans and the extremists inhabiting certain USC USG Program Board assemblies. The difference lies in what particular principles they worship extremely; the similarity lies in their failure to temper their principled zeal with a moderated core.

The moderate core is the important thing, though, rather than the principles espoused. A basic respect for human dignity and a basic philosophical pluralism and skepticism- as opposed to reactionary right-wing millenarianism or radical left-wing utopianism, both of which dualistically divide everything into good and evil- are crucial to an intellectual temperament that tolerates difference and helps us to arrive, through discernment and discussion, at higher truths. The great Isaiah Berlin told us as much in his Message to the 21st Century.

I have a good deal of respect for center-right and center-left thinkers with moderate temperaments (for example, my good friend the libertarian economist Eric Dubbery, and my former colleague the liberal journalist Nathaniel Haas) but even with them I disagree on principles and applications. It is a healthy disagreement, disagreement normally constructive for all sides, but it is disagreement nonetheless- Dubbery is assuredly a man of the right, Haas a man of the left. Those of my ilk can and should get along with them, but we are not them.

We of the varnished center, temperamentally moderate and philosophically conservative and dispositionally progressive, I think, are the most confused of the bunch. We have no real home nowadays; we are lost. There’s a freedom in that, but also a loneliness. As our great representative Edmund Burke (whom recent analysis determines to be as progressive as he is conservative, in the true senses of both words) said of times of chaos in free governments, “Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue of cowards, and compromise the prudence of traitors…” We of the center know that to be true.

And so we’ll go along pissing people off, alternatively getting cheered for it and condemned for it. That’s when you know you’re a true moderate.

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One response to “The Joy of Pissing People Off: A Reflection”

  1. Howard says :

    Very interesting. I left the Republican Party not over the social issues, but over Norquistism – ” no tax shall ever be raised ever ever” is no solution to anything. I still consider myself a social conservative ( and an economic moderate), but am confining my activism to the “life issues” – abortion to assisted suicide – and fighting against “political correctness” and “freedom from speech.” And I have a son in Film Graduate School at USC! I found out about you through Kotkin.

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