This is the text of the Bradley Prize acceptance speech the author gave on Sept. 13.
My brother skipped a grade, so he was small for his age when three other junior high school boys stole something from him and roughed him up one Friday after school.
My dad asked my despairing brother how he felt about it. He said he was angry and wanted to get his property back.
Dad explained that if he didn’t handle it, the bullies would never stop. He had my brother describe the boys and asked if he thought he could take on the biggest one.
That weekend, dad and a neighbor taught my brother some moves and strategy. After the first period on Monday, my brother confronted his attacker and won the ensuing fight.
Today, everyday Americans are being bullied by a hard-left minority that unfortunately has taken over and controls most of the agenda-setting institutions in our country. As someone who works in the media space, I know what it is like to be a lonely voice taking on many of these powerful people.
I learned several things from my brother’s improbable victory.
First off, as Pat Buchanan wrote, “Courage is contagious, Defiance can lead to a recovery of will.” It is inspiring to see someone who chooses to risk his well-being for a higher good.
We live in a time when people act like stating one’s sexual preferences or whatever pronouns they’re using this week is courageous. I prefer David Azerrad’s definition that courage is the “Bold and principled defiance of the lies of the age.”
The conservative establishment, its politicians, and its media, don’t lack ideas or people. But too many of its leaders do lack determination and endurance and fearlessness. The people can tell. As it is said, “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.”
The conservative movement in D.C. has too often been engaged in insincere opposition to progressivism’s march through America’s institutions, both public and private. It has seemed mostly interested in negotiating terms of surrender or managing defeat than preserving the republic. It has stood athwart history impotently suggesting that progressives slow down. Michael Malice has therefore derided conservatism as just “Progressivism with a speed limit.” Institutional conservatism and its alleged leaders have too frequently accepted the propaganda press’s treatment of conservatives as second-class citizens.
For conservatism to mean anything now, it has to be about rejecting this rigged system. Don’t just say “stop.” Our duty is to not to say “stop” but then bend the knee in cowardice when the mob comes. That brings even more harm to our more vulnerable neighbors and does nothing to prevent the destruction of the country.
It’s not comfortable for conservatives who value order and civility to even think or speak this way. But the fact is that many Americans are alienated from and no longer feel at home in their own country. The moral climate has been degraded as the left has taken over every single one of the powerful institutions in the country and is actively pushing people to lead a life of godlessness, barrenness, selfishness, gluttony, and addiction to outrage and dopamine.
All of a sudden, the conservative project is not a conservative one, so much as a counter-revolutionary one.
Unfortunately, anyone who dares take on the broken and corrupt political and media complex is teed up for absolute destruction. As lesser men cower in the face of the risk, the cost of standing up to the system becomes steeper and steeper. While you will not be locked up for saying the truth, yet, you will be demonized, stigmatized, deplatformed. You may lose your job.
The end result is America’s ability to get the course correction it desperately needs gets delayed. And at some point, if more people don’t stand up and fight hard, the nation is going to die.
Having said that, we must inoculate ourselves against excessive, if fashionable, pessimism. The truth may not prevail. But until then, there’s a heartwarming amount of defiance left in this country.
Also guard against mindless hopefulness. Hope is a virtue, but it can be a bit of a vice if it’s an unwarranted faith that everything will work out in this world or for this country.
Before he was executed for his opposition to Adolf Hitler, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his letters from prison about people who had “hilaritas,” which he described as “optimism about one’s own work, as boldness, willingness to defy the world and popular opinion, as the firm conviction that they are doing the world GOOD with their work, even if the world isn’t pleased with it.”
Let us have high-spirited confidence and faith in our positions. John Adams was right that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Abraham Lincoln was right to sacrifice everything for the sake of government of, by, and for the people. These truths remain important, which is why so many powerful people are fighting to keep it from being shared.
It’s not enough, though, that someone fights. The fight must be smart and tactical. While we are clearly entering an era where dissidents will be required, there’s no value in secular martyrdom or being just another victim of the regime. The fight must be supplemented by prudence and strategy. Be bold and defiant, but we must also know where to aim our fire.
On the other hand, figuring out where to aim our fire is not that difficult right now. It brings to mind a quote from legendary Marine Chesty Puller: “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now!”
It’s a target-rich environment. Now go out and pick one.