As my devotion to the spirit of ecumenical conservatism latterly has been revealed to be rather shaky, please indulge me a Credit Where Credit is Due moment. Mark Steyn, whom I have elsewhere criticized in very harsh and dismissive terms, has posted a response to Jason Lee Steorts on l'affaire Duck Dynasty, and his response is of the scorched earth kind I wouldn't have expected to hear from him. It would seem that Steorts adheres to the "GLAAD is just using its right of free speech so nothing bad has happened here" school of cultural warfare. Steyn is having absolutely none of it, and his reply signifies that he grasps the real stakes in the ongoing homosexual Kulturkampf:
I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. I’m well aware of that, thank you. In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us – that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court – but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.
This is an important point in a critical debate on the right. It simply will not do to bless the behavior of outfits like the Human Rights Campaign on the grounds that they are not engaged in anything illegal when they seek to destroy a man for violating some liberal piety or other. Steyn zeroes in on the same statement that nearly inspired me to write a post of my own on the subject, that is the facially totalitarian threat on the part of a GLAAD spokescreature that, having deprived Phil Robertson of his standing and no small part of his livelihood, it was now time to begin the "next step" of his re-education, namely that he sit down with a few real-life homosexuals and, presumably with some GLAAD-approved political officer on hand to guide the proceedings, get his mind right. Robertson will love Big Brother.
Steyn concludes his reply to Steorts's admonition thusly:
[I]f he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point – that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal. As to his kind but belated and conditional pledge to join me on the barricades, I had enough of that level of passionate support up in Canada to know that, when the call to arms comes, there will always be some “derogatory” or “puerile” expression that it will be more important to tut over. So thanks for the offer, but I don’t think you’d be much use, would you?
It would seem that Steyn made use of a couple of off-color jokes in his weekend column (which must have come as an enormous shock to his colleagues at National Review). Now, I've long been put off by Steyn's almost reflexive resort to potty humor and the frivolity with which he talks about serious matters. But Steorts does not criticize Steyn on the grounds that his language is unbefitting a conservative publication, or that it undermines his credibility as a commenter on a serious issue of real importance. Rather, he criticizes Steyn in distinctly liberal terms, recoiling in politically correct distaste from the "derogatory" language inflicted by Steyn on homosexuals (the language, which Steyn was quoting in order to illustrate a point, wasn't his own to begin with, and wasn't particularly nasty by the standards of any but the present era). The sum of Steorts' position is that GLAAD's openly tyrannical campaign of vilification is not even in bad taste, where Steyn's horror at their tactics, what they mean for society and, most especially, his "derogatory" joke about liberal homosexuals, are all things from which he feels it necessary to distance himself. Steyn is right in seeing Steorts's breezy promise to man the barricades of freedom with him at some future date as the weak sauce that it is.
We should recognize the nebulous connections that necessarily extend, where judgments of moral anathema are concerned, between the de facto and the de jure in the life of our law and our politics. Steorts essentially concedes that it is just for Phil Robertson to be hounded into obscurity by the twisted, authoritarian degenerates at GLAAD and the HRC. He seconds the liberal claim that political correctness--at least as it manifests itself as a tool for destroying enemies of liberalism itself--is basically a good and healthy thing because its depredations fall mainly on bigots and the uncouth. He appears to believe, rather stupidly if in fact he does believe it, that this portends nothing of especial significance in our formal public life, now or in the future. And he ignores the rather obvious connection between such left-wing inquisitions and the denial of basic freedom of association for conservatives and those of real religious conviction.
To put it another way, there is an (admittedly diminishing) extent to which the jackals of the liberal regulatory state depend for their authority on the general belief by the public that they are putting some public good into practice. Conceding not only the homosexual lobby's legal privilege to engage in its execrable bullying, but granting that such tactics are an essential part of maintaining a decent public order, leaves one with very few effective arguments against the imposition of such public standards through the bureaucracy, at least from the point of view of the average person. Part of the problem is that the promise of procedural liberalism, in which the machinery of State expresses no particular loyalties on questions of basic value, is a lie, and one that most people don't really want fulfilled anyway. Steyn probably would not agree on that point, but he is nonetheless to be commended for seeing just what this episode portends, and standing his ground when criticized in terms that go so far as to grant the substance of the issue to the left's enforcers, whose ambition and taste for power is unbounded.