onservatives should remember this, lest they become so angered by the trend that they give in to the same temptation to which Hill succumbed and end up burning themselves with their own fire. In many quarters, including this magazine, conservatism continues to play its role as the primary protector of America’s liberal order. And yet in other parts of the Right, including in the Trump White House, we have seen the rise of a host of self-consciously illiberal figures who have decided that because the system does not always yield their preferred results, the system must be junked. These people are wrong. To guarantee America’s future for everyone, we do not need a dictatorship but a robust federal system that is capable of accommodating profound differences in moral judgment and a culture that respects dissenters irrespective of where they sit on the political spectrum. I certainly understand the frustration that the post-liberals of the Right feel. But I do not understand their strategy. We cannot restore the principles of free speech, religious liberty, and genuine pluralism by aping the behavior of their enemies.
And if we try, we will lose. The Left’s descent into authoritarianism has been appalling to watch, but at least it has been explicable. Once, progressivism was the counterculture and needed liberalism to advance itself. Now that progressivism is the dominant culture, it has no such need. What, though, is the Right’s excuse? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that for a brief moment the government were empowered to crack down on profanity or pornography or “drag-queen story hour” or whatever is concerning illiberal conservatives today. Then what, when the pendulum swings in the opposite direction? Are we seriously supposed to believe that there is a political market for 13th-century integralism in America?
I’ll answer that one: There is not — thank goodness. Instead, our best friends are still our better angels, and our best bet is still the open order we have spent years assiduously protecting. History is littered with examples of men who, when pressing their case in the public square, have thought solely about the interests of their land, tribe, religion, or self; but it is sprinkled only lightly with men who, in making their arguments, have taken care to respect the enduring principles that have served to break the old cycles of strife, faction, and war. In the United States today, we seem increasingly drawn to the tribalistic over the principled. If we act now, we’ll have time to put out the pyre. But make no mistake: The flames are rising.