The Right can offer what progressives won’t: letting people be
The road from Left to Right is a well-trodden path. Radicals who became conservatives include Kingsley Amis, Paul Johnson and Peter Hitchens.
But more recently, the road has become choked not with converts, but refugees. They retain their affiliation as liberals, social democrats or even full-on socialists, but for one reason or another find themselves cast out by their former comrades.
There is of course the whole Intellectual Dark Web thing which I don’t have the space to untangle here. Other refugees include radical feminists branded as TERFs just for defending women-only spaces; Jewish people forced out by Left-wing anti-Semitism; and old-fashioned Labourites sick of having their patriotism portrayed as bigotry.
The list is likely to lengthen as wokery tightens its grip. And thus, searching for a place where they can speak up without being shouting down, the dissidents of the Left find themselves rubbing shoulders with the Right.
It’s not always a comfortable experience for either side. In fact, it can get downright weird. For instance, there’s the strange case of Russell Brand’s latest adventures — or how about this from Naomi Wolf:
Disorienting AF – I’m meeting a lot of conservatives, libertarians and…I LIKE them. Former are ladies and gentlemen, and very hospitable. The latter are a pleasure as they don’t try to control your opinions or actions! What to do?? I was trained to fear, dread non-liberals…
— Dr Naomi Wolf (@naomirwolf) May 26, 2021
How should conservatives respond to a confusing situation?
First of all, with tact: don’t assume that every dissident is a potential defector. Secondly, with grace: the sharing of platforms with dissenting radicals is an opportunity not for point scoring, but to practice what you preach on free speech. Thirdly, with caution: not every new ally should be welcomed with open arms. For instance, the so-called Neocons — many of them former Trotskyites — did enormous harm to US conservatism by persuading it to embrace an adventurist foreign policy.
At a time when so many people are finding themselves politically homeless, there’s a danger that conservative intellectuals might attempt a new synthesis of these unmoored strands of thought. But even if the dissidents wanted to be assimilated into an expanded conservatism (and most of them don’t) it’s an impossible task.
The Left is now so intolerant that it’s driving out dissident groups that are directly opposed to one another. For instance, anti-war Chomskyans like Glenn Greenwald and liberal interventionists like Christopher Hitchens. It’s also hard to see the Rad Fems getting on with liberals who believe the #metoo movement has gone too far.
How can such a ferment of competing ideas ever be reconciled?
The answer is not to try. We should accept viewpoint diversity for what it is: a mass of contradictions. Conservatives must do what the woke Left won’t and that is let people be.