Lindsey made some remarks in his part of the exchange, that the Right should be embarrassed about previous racism, sexism, and prudery…. In the National Review I read as a teenager, edited by William Buckley, I don’t recall any of that. I recall its being sound, elegant, rational, cultured, with high intellectual standards. Lindsey should be prevailed upon to give specific examples of what he means by the sins of the Right in these areas.
OK, Carol, I’m happy to oblige. Let’s start with racism — specifically, support for the institutionalized suppression of blacks’ civil and political rights before 1964. Here’s an excerpt from a National Review editorial back in August 1957, exactly 50 years ago:
The central question that emerges–and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by meerely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal–is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced ace. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is byno means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.
And here’s more along similar lines, from a March 1960 National Review editorial:
In the Deep South the Negroes are retarded. Any effort to ignore the fact is sentimentalism or demagoguery. In the Deep South the essential relationship is organic, and the attempt to hand over to the Negro the raw political power with which to alter it is hardly a solution.
Now, on to sexism. Back in the late ’50s, when conservatives were still defending the “traditional values” of Southern race relations, pretty much everybody was still defending traditional sex roles. For example, in my book I quote from a December 1956 Life magazine article that decries what it calls the “suburban syndrome,” in which “the wife, having worked before marriage or at least having been educated and socially conditioned toward the idea that work (preferably some kind of intellectual work in an office, among men) carries prestige” become depressed as a result of being “just a housewife.”
Liberals, however, were much quicker to accept a broader role for women outside the home than people on the right. Here, 30 years after that Life article, is George Gilder in his 1986 book Men and Marriage (an updating of his 1973 book Sexual Suicide):
In successful civilized societies, man counterbalances female sexual superiority [i.e., women's ability to give birth] by playing a crucial role as provider and achiever. Money replaces muscle.
If society devalues this role by pressing women to provide for themselves, prove their “independence,” and compete with men for money and status, there is only one way equality between the sexes can be maintained: Women must be reduced to sexual parity. They must relinquish their sexual superiority, psychologically disconnect their wombs, and adopt the short-circuited copulatory sexuality of males.
I trust Carol does not believe she has psychologically disconnected her womb by competing with male bloggers.
Finally, on to prudery. Combing through National Review‘s digital archives, I found this gem from John Lukacs back in August 1970:
There are reasons to believe that by 1970 many people in the Western world behaved in bed differently than had their ancestors. For one thing, people in 1870 made love without saying much at all. By 1970 they were talking to each other, before and sometimes even during the sexual act — surely a sign that the intense awesomeness of it was no longer the same…. For another thing, women and wives were now told and taught that they were to reach the same peaks of sexual satisfaction that were previously supposed to have been the monopoly of their men and husbands. This was another imbecile outcome of primitive propaganda parading in the disguise of sophistication. It caused a lot of trouble, as women were told to forget that their satisfaction is of a different, though by no means less deep, nature than that of men….
I could go on, but you get the idea. I don’t suppose many conservatives today would share Lukacs’ dim view of female orgasms and sexual communication between spouses.
The point here isn’t to bash conservatives for benighted views from decades ago that most people on the contemporary right don’t hold. The point, rather, is that conservatives today should reflect on the fact that their predecessors did sometimes say embarrassing or even shameful things in the name of defending “traditional values.” Such reflection should lead to the conclusion that indiscriminate defense of traditional values isn’t proper conservatism at all. It’s reactionary populism.
Conservatives should therefore recognize that lapsing into reactionary cultural populism is a characteristic vice of the right, and they should be on their guard against it. These days, unfortunately, the right’s guard is down — as evidenced by the recent hysteria over gay marriage and Mexican immigration, as well as the sorry spectacle of the GOP presidential candidates’ tripping over each other to endorse torture, “doubling” Guantanomo, and other jingoistic excess.