In her small office I sat with one of my favorite professors, a colorful writer and quirky, stylish lady. We had a meeting set for the day after the 2016 presidential election. Before she arrived, I had studied her door, which was covered in anti-capitalist cartoons.
“Can I ask you a question about your signs?” I pointed to the door.
“Sure,” she said, looking amused.
“Would you consider yourself a socialist?”
She said yes, but conceded she wasn’t always consistent because she loved buying shoes (and indeed wore a fabulous pair of grey boots that day). She mentioned a desire to fight “The Man.” I then realized a fascinating opportunity bubbled just below the surface.
“Would you consider yourself anti-authoritarian?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she said.
“That’s interesting, because so would I. I’m a conservative.”
I went on to ask her how she could be both anti-authoritarian and socialist, given that socialism requires higher taxes to function. She explained kindly that we as Americans have been blinded and that socialism would not need higher taxes if we only cut defense spending.
Within that conversation lies a world of potential that favors conservatives. We just need to begin to use a word that has been co-opted by the left. That word is authoritarian.
For One, We’re All Already Using the Word
Mark “The Great One” Levin, author of “Rediscovering Americanism” and host of “The Mark Levin Show,” warned President Trump to give up on “economic authoritarianism” in December 2016. Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, warned about the authoritarian nature of Trump’s nationalist streak in February 2017. Both Shapiro and his peer, Steven Crowder, host of “Louder with Crowder,” are known to use the a-word on Twitter from time to time.
These small-government champions are not the only ones using power dynamics to explain the true nature of politics. The Left is too, but more frequently and less accurately.
“Our country is moving in an authoritarian direction,” said self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders in June 2017, unironically. He and many of his supporters signal that they are opposed to authoritarianism, although they misunderstand the concept. Liberalism is authoritarianism, and conservatives should not be shy to articulate this. Yet the large majority of those who claim to be conservative have been unwilling to approach liberal ideas, overwhelmingly so.
For example, many progressives argue that institutional oppression is of the utmost concern for their political worldview. Conservatives usually recoil at the phrase “institutional oppression” because we understand the irrational and fervent thought-train that follows: racism, sexism, homophobia, oh my!
This is the wrong response. If we want to spread conservatism, we must begin to clarify our shared ideological goals and demonstrate how to achieve them. Here we must remember that conservativism does not dismiss institutional oppression. It is the only ideology that truly fights it. When Sanders and Co. say that we should fear institutional oppression, we should not immediately prepare the cannons for battle. We should respond with an enthusiastic, “Yes! And government is the largest institutional oppressor.”
Another recent example of goal confusion was when sales of George Orwell’s “1984” skyrocketed after the election, although the more clearly authoritarian candidate lost. The “anti-authoritarians” who rushed out to buy this book should have celebrated Hillary Clinton’s loss. She unabashedly favored power centralization. Instead, they mourned the election results, even though the small(er) government candidate won. Is, then, anti-authoritarianism truly the Left’s goal?
Opportunity’s At the Door
Conservatives have a unique opportunity to make allies of certain liberal-thinking Americans. Many current political conversations assume two separate visions of America. This is reasonable, even prudent. Make no mistake, a cultural civil war rages in this country.
But what if we, like President Abraham Lincoln, could make friends of our enemies to destroy their allegiance to bad ideas? Much of the Left is unwilling to even hear conservative ideas. But a certain strand of liberalism left over from 1960s counter-culture already has the appropriate reaction to the word authoritarianism: detestation.
It is fairly easy to explain how small-government conservatism prevents authoritarianism. It is impossible to successfully argue that big-government liberalism prevents it. If the shared goal is anti-authoritarianism, conservatives have the clear upper hand in the idea marketplace. Logic, philosophy, and history are on our side.
We’re all good capitalists here, so let’s capitalize on this chance. Conservatives should be recruiting these types of leftists (or at the very least, exposing their hypocrisy) by exploiting mutual dislike for being unduly oppressed. This shared value has led people like Christina Hoff Sommers and Dave Rubin, self-proclaimed Democrats and liberals, to become considerable allies to the conservative movement. With shared animosity toward authoritarianism fully established, the argument need only answer “how.”
The old adage that we all want the same things does not apply to most Democrats and Republicans anymore. But it does apply to some free-thinking liberals and true conservatives. So let’s stop talking about right and left and begin discussing big and small. Power dynamics are the key to good messaging.
Our enemy is authoritarianism. Their enemy is authoritarianism. The enemy of our enemy is our friend.