What of the culture? Doesn’t the liberal order eventually corrupt that, even as it insists that it is merely a framework within which all people may thrive? Writing at First Things, Sohrab Ahmari has argued vaguely that it does, and he has pointed to the existence of something called “drag-queen story hour” at a library in Sacramento, Calif., the existence of which apparently demonstrates that we are sliding to Gomorrah on John Locke’s back. Leaving aside that there is nothing intrinsic to the liberal order that prompted such an event — America had the same political, judicial, and constitutional system in 1930, and there is no way that this would have happened then; what has changed is the culture on top of that system — it is hard to discern in what alternative nonauthoritarian political system such a practice could easily be ended. Which is why, I imagine, Ahmari has not presented a plan of any sort.
What could he offer? Does he want more local control over libraries? If so, he’ll be disappointed when he learns what the locals in much of California choose to permit. Does he want free-speech zones imposed, as on college campuses, the better to limit the taking of offense? If so, he must explain how he differs in principle from his political rivals, and why he uses the illiberalism of progressive college campuses as an example of the problem with the status quo. Or does he just want to win — that is, to ban drag-queen story hours nationwide by any means necessary? If he does, he has only one option: to stage a coup and to replace the American system with a new order headed by those who think like him. Given that he doesn’t mention such a plan, I shall assume he does not want to do this. That being so, there are only two other ways that Ahmari can win this fight. The first is to move somewhere else — someplace where this sort of thing does not happen anywhere within the polity. (It is worth noting, incidentally, that Ahmari does not actually live in Sacramento.) The second is to win the argument culturally so that such behavior is marginalized and disdained, even if it is not illegal.
Despite having no other solution, Ahmari disdains this final option, which he disparagingly calls “David Frenchism.” He is wrong to do so even on his own terms. Why? Well, because absent the establishment of a dictatorship, any non-cultural solution to what ails America will itself be reliant on the culture.