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Mark Steyn, Booted and Spurred

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.

Comments (25)

Yes, exactly. As a con-law geek and a bit of a snob, I cringe a little bit when the Robertsons make any mention of the 1st amendment in their response to this bullying, because strictly speaking, the 1st amendment isn't relevant. Well and good.

But it also has occurred to me that it's rather cheeky for the leftists suddenly to join me in being con-law geeks when they've spent the last several decades teaching every air-headed co-ed to mouth the platitude that abortion is her "constitutional right" in response to even the most purely persuasive attempts by pro-lifers to object to the murder of the unborn and to induce women not to engage in it.

Beyond that, as you and Steyn both imply, the GLAAD types would like nothing better than to criminalize what Robertson has said, as it might well be a crime in some part of the EU, in the UK, and in Canada right now. Their move now to make everyone treat his comments as utterly beyond the pale is a scarcely subtle move in a larger game, whereby they will twist the constitution as best they can, via more and more microscopic "underlying crimes" attached to state and federal "hate crime" laws, via every sort of government discrimination in its own hiring, and so on and so forth, so as to make speech criticizing homosexuality criminal de facto even if not yet de jure.

And that is in addition to the fact that bullying is bullying and that trying to get people (many of whom can't afford it as well as Phil Robertson can) fired for these opinions is obviously absurd and despicable bullying. Of all people, the bizarre and unreliable Camille Paglia even sees that.

Also, after the left have spent decades working on expansive civil rights acts and anti-discrimination laws and protected classes and public accomodation lawsuits and hostile environment findings, in a futile attempt to ensure that nobody with the least amount of power does anything mean...

"Asking for a friend. Why does A&E get to refuse to do business with someone based on their views on sex, but bakers and photographers can't?"

(For those late to the party, the baker and photographer are these: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/august/nm-supreme-court-photographers-cant-refuse-gay-weddings.html , http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/12/12/Christian-Baker-Willing-to-Go-to-Jail-for-Declining-Gay-Wedding-Cake )

Frankly, I think that Steort's comeback at Steyn about civility and all that is garbage. I can't find enough in Steyn's article that sounds even slightly like "derogatory" other than the second joke, and since both the concept of a joke about gays in general, and the specific content of this particular joke were things Steyn wanted to bring out, there was reason to say what he said, which is the antithesis of blindly using stereotypes as a replacement for thought. In other words, fully justified.

But even aside from that, Steort seems to be doing GLAAD's work for them. There really isn't anything in Steyn's article that anyone OTHER than GLAAD would have any serious problem with, and the only kind of objection GLAAD could have with it is basically fraudulent at root anyways: It's not that they don't want Steyn to speak his mind in a more civil tone, it's that they don't want him to be free to speak his mind because they don't want his point of view to be free to be THOUGHT or spoken - but they don't want this for any other reason other than sheer distaste for people who don't like them and who think their behavior is evil. There isn't any rationality behind their offended attitude at such remarks. Frankly, if Steyn's remarks count as uncivil then GLAAD has already won most of their objective and Steort has been another in a long line of useful fools.

There have been a few similar scandals in computer circles lately. One at PyCon (not hard to find on Google) and another where a woman went out of her way to ingratiate herself into Linux kernel development only to launch an assault on Linus Torvalds. To the surprise of no one familiar with him, Torvalds maintained his status by doing the precise opposite of what most conservatives would expect. Not only did he not apologize for what offended her, but verbally bashed her head in and humiliated her. Unlike National Review editors, Torvalds knows the score. You don't compromise with these people. Either you turn your enemies into your foot stool or they'll turn you into one in this environment.

It's a disgrace that Steorts has the position he does at NR.

Unfortunately, it's how they've rolled for a long time. Look at how they treated people like Derbyshire and Sobran. They fundamentally accept the liberal premise that protected groups must never be subjected to any criticism.

I dub thee National Review officially, "Useful Idiot".

I was shocked to find out that this behavior goes back to Buckley himself. It was Buckley who carried out the first "denormalizations" on the right that drove out the "undesirables" from any position of influence.

Some ideas _should_ be "denormalized," if a society has the misfortune of their having been normalized in the first place. I wish present philosophical culture would denormalize infanticide. It's presently hip to treat that as a completely open moral option. Conservatism should denormalize eugenics. And so forth. So it isn't denormalization itself that is the problem. It's denormalizing things that, bluntly, are actually normal. Such as opposition to the homosexual agenda.

Lydia, I think you know what I am referring to. Derbyshire was purged for his alleged racism and Sobran for his alleged anti-Semitism. I emphasize alleged because to my knowledge they've never expressed anything that is actually racist or genuinely hateful toward Jews.

My point is merely that I have no beef with denormalizing. It all depends on what is denormalized. That simply doesn't address the specifics of whether someone really held x or y position. My point is just that a conservative organization may, under some circumstances, actually have to denormalize and, yes, even "purge." Whether that is bad or good depends on the truth of the matter--both as to what the ideas that are deemed beyond the pale and as to whether the people in question are really advocating those ideas.

The point here is that this whole thread isn't, "Oh, how bad any organization, especially any conservative organization, is for treating some ideas as beyond the pale. Let's think of any case in which any conservative journal did that and tsk about it and say how far back the rot goes, regardless of subject matter." This is about purging and denormalizing *disapproval of homosexuality*. Specifically.

Lydia writes: "As a con-law geek and a bit of a snob, I cringe a little bit when the Robertsons make any mention of the 1st amendment in their response to this bullying, because strictly speaking, the 1st amendment isn't relevant. Well and good."

I've grown more sympathetic to the "popular" usage. If state or local government mandates that employers follow an anti-discrimination policy, and the courts and the legal community (in alliance with GLAAD or a similar group) hold that statements XYZ run counter to such policies, then the government has effectively banned statements XYZ, using the employer as a mediator.

This is about purging and denormalizing *disapproval of homosexuality*. Specifically.

Why don't you just come out and admit that you approve of their past purges, but now that they've hit on something in which you agree with the target now you are suddenly offended. For the record, you don't have to go far to find their previous purge. It happened in 2012.

Why don't you just come out and admit that you approve of their past purges, but now that they've hit on something in which you agree with the target now you are suddenly offended[?]

Maybe because she is disinclined to follow you down this particular rabbit-hole?

Kevin, I don't think this would be a case of the employer firing the employee and claiming that the employer is simply *following* anti-discrimination policies. There *are* such cases, and your point is very interesting concerning them. Specifically, such cases arise when the employer claims that it "had to" fire the employee because his statements created a "hostile work environment" or constituted "harassment" (even when they obviously didn't) and therefore that his statements of his views must be suppressed and that, in essence, his Christian beliefs must be discriminated against in the name of not discriminating against homosexuals (or some other group) who might be offended by them. The case of Peter Vadala probably falls into this category: He was nagged at by a lesbian superior at his job who tried to get him to express approval of her "marrying" her girlfriend. Eventually, he quietly expressed disapproval. He then was fired, and the employer alleged that this was a necessary consequence of its non-discrimination policy.


But I don't think anyone, even A & E, is claiming that that is the case with Robertson. For one thing, the statements in question weren't made in a "work environment." For another, A & E is more or less just coming out and saying that it is committed to homosexualist ideology and therefore won't tolerate having a contracted star state in any published milieu that he disagrees with it.,

Mike T., in fact, you are wrong. My views on those cases are a mix of this and that on the particulars. But I simply refused and refuse to allow you to wrench the thread, as you so often do, into an attempt to badger, not to say bully, people to agree with you on topics quite far removed from the original post.

Lydia, did you ever consider the possibility that I was not attempting to wrench this thread in any particular direction but to put it into context of a larger pattern of extremely bad behavior by the National Review toward conservatives who dare to push the left a little too hard? That's not a rabbit hole, but a valid point. The fact that they just purged someone for making a highly relevant set of observations about race as racial violence is worsening in America only shows that they care nothing for truth and only how the left perceives them. They'd rather be defeated and deemed polite and civil than be victorious and have people think ill of them.

Merry Christmas, Mike.

The first amendment protects citizens from being persecuted by the GOVERNMENT what they say . It does NOT mean that a private employer such as A & E may not take action against
Phil Robertson for saying what he did . It was well within its right to put Duck Dynasty on indefinite suspension , and Robertson cannot say his right to free speech was in any way
violated .Nor does this mean that free speech is threatened in America .A& E feels that Robertson's bigoted and stupid comments do not reflect well on it .
What if some celebrity with socially liberal views had a relity show sponsored by a
conservative, religiously oriented corporation and had given an interview for GQ where he
blasted homophobic bigotry and stated that gay people should be free to live their lives
in peace without having their jobs thretened merely for being gay (it's still legal in many US states to fire someone merely for being gay ), and that they should be free to marry, join the Boy Scouts, serve in the military and raise children . And that what the Bible says about homosexuality is nothing but stupid ancient superstition ?
And the conservative organization did the same thing to him as A& E?
Would conservatives all over the US be outraged ? I doubt it. On the contrary, they would have condemned him for his alleged "anti-christian bigotry" and say he got what he deserved .How hypocritical can you get ?

Hey Berger, last time you tossed out a drive-by comment you never waited around to consider a reply to your importunate questions; should we expect that sort of lowlife behavior again?

Would conservatives all over the US be outraged ? I doubt it.

Well that's because homosexual behavior (as in Bob and Fred sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g) is actually wrong, while Phil Robertson is right for pointing it out. The truth of the matter ought to, you know, matter.

Sage, last I looked Steorts was managing editor of the print publication. In case you missed his interminable, fallacy-filled attack on George and Girgis's defense of traditional marriage, it's here: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/263672/two-views-marriage-and-falsity-choice-between-them-jason-lee-steorts?

He's not wishy-washy, like Goldberg, or giving off signs, like Ponnuru, that he might be able to make some sort of peace with it. Rather, he's all in and gung-ho.

"they care nothing for truth and only how the left perceives them. They'd rather be defeated and deemed polite and civil than be victorious and have people think ill of them."

One of the finest observations I have ever read about the current state of both theological and political conservatism.

Merry Christmas to all!

What was "lowlife" or "importunate" about what I said ? I was merely asking question .

Lowlife behavior is firing off a drive-by bad comment that is long on attitude, short on patience and politeness, and then vanishing. I suppose there is a chance you'll stay clear of it.

Importunate is perfectly sound description of the character of your comment. Lots of platitudinous outrage expressed immoderately and bereft of consistent punctuation.

Meanwhile, your analogy to anti-Christian bluster in celebrities borders on hilarious in its innocence. Perhaps you really don't know that every third offering from the entertainment industry is a slam on tradition and Christianity, or that liberal orthodoxy on matters of sexuality is regnant throughout the ranks of actors, producers, marketers, etc.

A&E is a joint business venture of Disney and Hearst, two huge media corporations. Its purpose is to make money by producing popular television that can command healthy advertising capital. Duck Dynasty is the network's most popular production by far. Even in the midst of this inquisition, A&E aired holiday programming that included Duck Dynasty "marathons" of back-to-back episodes. Perhaps this is not the proper context for ostentatious denunciations of hypocrisy.

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