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Abandoning Social Conservatism For ‘Horny Bro’ Voters Is A Self-Defeating Strategy

The ‘Barstool conservative’ philosophy, a selfish focus on sex and pleasure, would only lead conservatism to betray itself.

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The cultural roots that nourish American conservatism are withering. A new poll from The Wall Street Journal shows steep declines in the number of Americans who highly value patriotism, religion, having children, and hard work. This poll tracks with what is evident to any cultural observer, and conservatives need to adapt to the challenges this poses.

But some proposed changes to conservatism would be self-defeating. For instance, the creation of a sort of horny-bro conservatism would be a disaster for conservatism. This latest addition to right-wing taxonomy comes courtesy of Jane Coaston of The New York Times, who argues, “Some conservatives seem to have decided that winning over a new constituency — one that hates rules and ordinances and loves hot people and cool ideas and sex, sex and ideally more sex — is worth changing what it means to be a conservative in the first place.” This is politics for the anti-woke “horny bro” who is not a social conservative but who really hates the hectoring and moralizing of the woke left.

This is not a new observation. Coaston draws on Matthew Walther’s “Barstool conservatives,” and those of a certain age may remember “South Park conservatives.” The questions have always been how many of them there are, how much they can help the conservative movement electorally — and at what cost? Coaston, as a non-conservative observer, thinks this faction could help the right win, but that in the long run, its ethos is incompatible with conservatism, which views the casual disavowal of all moral norms regarding sex as civilizational poison.

It is not that social conservatism is utopian regarding sex; we know that the Christian ideal of sexual purity is rarely realized. But it is one thing to push the boundaries, or sometimes stray outside of them, and quite another to insist on their abolition as a matter of principle. A culture can endure a great deal of the former, but not the latter, for it is the negation of civilization, which is based on (and continues through) the stable union of the two halves of the human race.

This is why making the horny-bro ethos central to conservatism will destroy the latter. As Coaston sees it, “A hornier conservative movement might be more electorally successful, but it will run headfirst into a wall of longstanding conservative policy commitments — to end abortion, eliminate pornography and reinforce the ‘nuclear family.’ Goals that are, at the very least, not very horny.”

But this is also where her analysis goes wrong, and where conservatives have hope. What she does not seem to see is that the horny-bro lifestyle is a failure on its own terms. Put bluntly, perpetual horniness is the state of those who aren’t getting any.

The promises of the horny-bro life are plausible only for men who are able to attract a steady supply of women (and supply is the right word here, as the point is sexual service, not relationship). But relatively few men have the status or charisma to secure a new sexual partner whenever they want. No wonder so many end up splitting the difference between commitment and playing the field, meandering through a string of hook-ups and short-to-medium-term relationships. But for most men, this pattern of intermittent sexual conquests results in extended sexual droughts that are likely to lengthen with age. The sexual marketplace is ruthless, and a lot of men are left in want of a partner.

Consequently, horny bros fill the gaps between sexual partners with the endless supply of internet porn. But they still crave emotional connections, and so living the horny-bro life often means pretending to believe personal messages from a guy in Manilla who is pretending to be an Eastern European model who pretends to care about fans and fakes orgasms in front of a webcam. That’s a lot of pretense covering the reality that when you strip away the glamour of those selling it, the horny-bro life leaves a lot of men lonely and sexually frustrated.

The conservative solution to this problem is marriage. The most reliable way for a man to have both companionship and regular sex is to be in a long-term relationship, which marriage formalizes and secures. A social norm of lifelong monogamous marriage functions as a form of sexual distributism, ensuring a widespread and stable distribution of sexual partners.

Of course, marriage is much more than just a means to provide men with sex, but it is nonetheless worth noting that it is generally better at that task than the Playboy/Barstool ethos that “loves … sex, sex and ideally more sex.” It takes a lot of hook-ups for an unattached horny bro to have as much sex as the average married man of the same age. Furthermore, the horny-bro attitude and lifestyle make men less fit to be good husbands and less able to attract women who will be good wives. Relational habits don’t automatically change with the decision that it is time to think about settling down.

We should not be surprised that a selfish focus on pleasure tends to be self-defeating. In contrast to the horny-bro life of self-indulgence, marriage demands we give of ourselves — binding ourselves with oaths regardless of what the future brings. Yet this self-giving is more likely to lead to genuine flourishing because we are relational beings; we do not really thrive without love.

Thus, marriage is both the basis for civilization and the fulfillment of many of our deepest needs and desires. As the union of the two halves of the human race, it is both foundational to human civilization and also the source of much of what is highest and best in this life; marriage is able to both give joy and sanctify sorrows.

This is why conservatism cannot abandon its commitment to marriage without betraying itself. But ours is not a dour, killjoy message, but one of joy, for it directs us away from self-defeating libertine selfishness and toward genuine flourishing.


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