As progressives continue to tear our social fabric apart by mobbing people in restaurants, calling for social upheaval to overturn elections, and so forth, they naturally provoke stronger and stronger reactions from the Right. As we grapple with this new reality, conservatives have to figure out how far is too far when fighting back. But while appropriate restraint is always a part of this consideration, we go too far when we decide that we must always adhere to every aspect of a dying civility no matter the cost. Failing to openly defy the Left’s blatant aggression does not preserve civility — it only emboldens the uncivil and betrays their victims.
Conservatives make a category error when we declare that we should rather lose the culture war than be uncivil. Like most such errors, this one is rooted in a powerful truth: On moral absolutes, we should absolutely rather lose than violate them. It really is better to fail than to succeed by murdering; it really is better to suffer than to enjoy adultery; etc. Nevertheless, the error creeps in because conservatives tend to put certain kinds of traditional behavior into this same category. Contrary to this tendency, things like courtesy and civility are not moral absolutes; they are social contracts.
Nowhere is this made clearer than when our rules of courtesy and civility permit or even enjoin the violation of true moral absolutes. Go back a little ways into our history and you’ll find that dueling was a civil and courteous practice — violent, sure, but rooted in exactly the sort of manners, rules, and traditions that mark courtesy. That doesn’t mean it was moral — or even a terribly good idea — but it was civil.
Go back even further, and you can read some of the old stories of chivalry. Doing so will reveal the extent to which people romanticized things like knights errant committing adultery with their ladies because it would be discourteous to refuse. One such story has Lancelot not only sleeping with Guinevere at her request, but also following up the adultery by killing a fellow knight who (rightly) accused his lady of adultery. Chivalry, you see, demanded that Lancelot defend her honor. Conservatives pine over the loss of chivalry, but the truth is that it was often pretty messed up. There is, after all, a reason that Don Quixote was such effective satire.
Because civility is not a moral absolute and its form is always adjusting along with culture, it’s requirements are determined primarily by social contract — the kind of behavior we all implicitly or explicitly agree to when interacting with one another. Historically, some of these contracts have been great blessings while others have been reprehensible, but all are, by nature, contracts.
The detail that conservatives tend to forget is that when one party violates a contract, the other party is no longer bound by all of its terms. If you sign a contract to buy a car, and the dealer refuses to turn it over you, you aren’t “sinking to their level” by refusing to hand over your money. If you contract an employee who never shows up for work, you aren’t “repaying evil for evil” by withholding his wages. The same is true when dealing with people who are deliberately uncivil to civil people — it fundamentally changes what the rest of society owes them.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean that we must recklessly abandon civility whenever we get angry at the latest atrocious behavior from liberals. Civility is extremely valuable and is never something that should be tossed aside lightly. You need only look at the social justice left to see the consequences of doing so. Their enemies are not limited to conservatives. They rail just as hard against common sense when they melt down over beliefs that were shared by virtually everyone who ever lived until last week. They even cannibalize the very leftists who carried them to term whenever they’re triggered. Accordingly, conservatives are quite right to try and conserve valuable social structures like courtesy — they prevent all manner of chaos and suffering.
That said, civility does not actually exist between two parties when even one of them is deliberately uncivil. The unfortunate reality is that we increasingly find ourselves in circumstances in which there is nothing left to conserve. We need to stop taking the lazy road of “be civil though the heavens fall” and begin being deliberate about when to be civil — and when not to be.
For starters, I suggest the following guidelines:
First, always be civil to those who are consistently willing to be civil to you. There are liberals with whom you can sit down and have a rational conversation. We can certainly argue about how many there are as compared to social justice warriors, but I personally know some (and hopefully you do too.) And realistically, the more SJW’s turn on the old guard, the more liberals will start realizing that maybe civility isn’t such a bad idea after all and work to conserve it. That is, after all, how Jordan Peterson (who does identify as a liberal) became so popular.
Second, always be civil when a civil solution exists. This is why we don’t respond in kind when a Bernie bro tries to assassinate Republican politicians or when activists threaten to murder their children. The rule of law may be imperfect, but it’s still adequate for dealing with these kinds of problems. Patience is still a virtue. Given the inherent chaos of incivility, its worth waiting for legal justice in these kinds of cases. The same can be said of the unhinged liberal journalists and actors calling for violence. Their institutions and bully pulpits are already dying — and good riddance. We don’t need to speed up the process by threatening them in turn.
Third, always be civil when being uncivil will cause more harm than good. Even when incivility is thought to be justified, it may still remain unwise. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the pro-life movement. We know that the blood of the innocent continues to flow, but we’re also temperate enough to not only know that murder is wrong, but also that turning to violence is not a practical solution to saving the lives of the unborn. In the broader culture war, there can likewise be great value in restraint. After all, the more unhinged the left becomes, the more ordinary people will be repelled by them and gravitate towards the right.
At least that’s what would happen if ordinary people weren’t scared of being abandoned to these lunatics after accidentally saying the wrong thing. That leads us to the fourth point: When none of the above apply, we must be uncivil when we have a responsibility to protect the ordinary people in our care from uncivil people. For the most part, these situations crop up when we have to deal with committed social justice warriors — our modern heretic hunters continuously raising cries of “racist,” “sexist,” and so forth.
Some of the most pertinent of these situations concern simple participation in the economy. Civility is what allows people of different ideologies to work together effectively on those matters that aren’t rooted in ideology. I can, have, and do work with people whose politics are very different from my own, and getting along has never been a problem for any of us.
What is a problem is what we’re now seeing from the SJW’s who, unlike the rest of us, cannot abide working with people who are different. When they detect badthink in coworkers or business owners, they do everything they can to destroy them professionally. There’s no shortage of public examples, from Brandon Eich to Barronelle Stutzman to James Damore, but there are far more who never made the news.
Because of this viciousness, it is every good employer’s responsibility to avoid hiring SJW’s in the first place, and if that fails, to make sure they’re never put in any kind of position of authority where they can harm their coworkers. Those in charge of organizations also need to start reducing the power of human resources departments and rolling back the nebulous codes of conduct that SJW’s have weaponized.
It may not be how we’ve always done things, and it may be uncivil, but we absolutely need to blacklist the blacklisters. It’s not because they have different politics, but because they’re breaking our social contracts in terribly destructive ways and attacking our neighbors. When someone targets one of your people over something that turns out to be innocuous, it’s the accuser that needs to be disciplined. Anything less is a betrayal of the good people for whom we are responsible. You cannot conserve civility by constantly acquiescing to the uncivil.
Fifth, always be uncivil when truths that must be spoken are deemed uncivil. The whole leftist program of calling everyone a bigot over the tiniest of perceived slights is a transparent attempt to rewrite our social contracts and portray illicit common sense and other alleged thought crimes as uncivil, in order to enforce a code of silence. To our shame, these attempts have been successful inasmuch as conservatives have shrunk back in fear and agreed to these changes.
But truth is of far more consequence than courtesy. When the left forces these two into conflict, there should be no question about which of the two we need to maintain. We need to speak up, and we need to do so unapologetically. Apology is pretty much the default setting for conservatives. Having the capacity for self-reflection, we can always find something that we could have done better or said differently.
Our inclination is therefore to apologize on demand as a courtesy for the sake of defusing conflict (and usually demand that our compatriots do the same.) But when it comes to SJW’s, apologies don’t avoid a fuss — they whet appetites. Apologies are the inches which lead them to take miles, because they are frequently treated as confessions and therefore license for further retribution.
Finally, conservatives need to stop coming down so hard on people who are being uncivil towards the uncivil. Deciding when civility is appropriate is a fine line to walk, and it’s to be expected that we will stumble from time-to-time as we find our way. On one side of that line is bullying, but on the other is cowardice. As long as conservatives reserve their outrage for the former, their representatives are always going to be the latter.
President Trump is perhaps the quintessential example of this dynamic. I am on the record as being one of those who was very uncomfortable with electing him — because of his seemingly careless rhetoric, his character flaws, and because he had been a Democrat until about 5 minutes before running as a Republican. Nevertheless, I can’t help but admit that it’s looking more and more like I was wrong. I don’t agree with everything he’s done, and I think it’s literally impossible to agree with everything he’s said, but all-in-all he’s performed much better than any other Republican candidate was likely to do.
The recent violence against journalists at the Annapolis Capital Gazette has resulted in many people falsely blaming President Trump because of his open contempt for the mainstream media — despite the shooter’s clearly unrelated motives. Is the president’s rhetoric often uncivil? Certainly. And yet, we all know what kind of liars and ignoramuses often populate the mainstream media.
Uncivil or not, it is entirely appropriate to disrespect their professed delusions of being brave servants of the truth. And in fact, the lion’s share of Trump’s success has resulted from his blatant unwillingness to be civil to them. I might disapprove of his rhetorical extremities sometimes, but that’s a moral failing which pales in comparison to the atrocious cowardice shown by the average Republican tripping over himself to kowtow to The New York Times.
Now, given how many conservatives are Christians (as I am), we do need to consider whether these guidelines are acceptable from a biblical perspective. Christians are, of course, bound to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But we sometimes forget that this means doing unto all others.
Would you want your boss to hire as your coworker an SJW who wants to co-opt your organization for his political ends and purge you from your job? Then don’t do that to the workers under your own employ. Would you want people to merely give a dismissive shrug and continue patronizing restaurants who have thrown you out for you political beliefs because you’re less valuable to people than their being seen as well-mannered? Then don’t remain silent and shrug off what happened to people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Dear Christian, if you were to suddenly become a vicious person, wouldn’t you want to be restrained from harming your neighbors? Then do unto the vicious SJW as you would have done unto a vicious you.
By all means, love your enemies, as Christ said; but in so doing, don’t forget to love the family, friends, employees, and neighbors whom God has given into your care. And let’s face it: Jesus was not always civil and courteous, as many pharisees and money-changers could attest. Christians must not take civility and courtesy as license to abandon the vocations God has given us and thereby act immorally towards the past and future victims of SJWs. Christians are by no means commanded to abandon their neighbors by holding them to the terms of broken contracts.
Like it or not, we are in an existential struggle with the social justice left. They do not want to compromise. They don’t really even want to merely get their way. They want to annihilate opposing opinions. The whole point of calling everyone who disagrees with them Nazis is that punching Nazis is a socially acceptable solution. The only common debate about whether it would be okay to kill Hitler is about whether it would still be okay to travel back in time and kill him as an infant.
It is therefore no great mystery why the left is becoming more and more comfortable with violence. You do not compromise with Nazis, you eliminate them. So next time one of them flips out about Chick-Fil-A, ask yourself something: If they can’t even stand the thought of Christians selling chicken sandwiches; exactly what place do you think they will allow us to occupy in society when they’re in charge? Are you really going to abandon your family, your friends, your fellow conservatives, and your fellow Christians to the left’s non-existent mercy simply because it would be impolite to do otherwise?
One doesn’t have to don a black mask and start throwing bricks at social justice warriors in order to fight them. Nor do we need to eject from our lives anyone who disagrees with us. We do, however, need to protect our families and our nation from the ones who do these things. So stop virtue signaling about how you’ll be polite to the very grave, and start deliberating about when its right to be civil and when it’s not.