Why conservatism needs a Pope


Jonah Goldberg’s acknowledgment that the conservative movement “has an unhealthy share of hucksters” seems to have sparked a bit of debate.

Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf calls Goldberg out for not personally calling the hucksters out:

 [T]here’s one thing missing from Goldberg’s column: examples. It’s difficult to offer them at column length, so their absence here can be forgiven, but going back through Goldberg’s archive of columns, and recalling all the coverage at National Review generally, I cannot find Goldberg or anyone else warning their readers about any particular “huckster.” Why not? If there are an “unhealthy share” of hucksters in your midst shouldn’t they be challenged?

In my estimation, Goldberg was probably wise not to name names.

I’m not sure even he has the juice to pull off such a maneuver. To paraphrase Don Corleone, It’s true, he has a lot of friends in conservative politics, but they wouldn’t be friendly very long if he started calling people out…

We no longer respect leaders or institutions. This phenomenon manifests itself in almost every sphere of modern life, including conservative politics. In fact, were conservative icon Bill Buckley attempting to stand athwart the Birchers and Randians of the world today, he would probably end up yelling, “STOP!” as they lambasted him.  (One can imagine these folks would have thrived on Twitter. The fight wouldn’t have ended with Buckley telling them to cancel their own goddam subscriptions, at least.)

Or maybe Goldberg was thinking about another Corleone line when he declined to name names: “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.” For better or worse, there is still a taboo against speaking ill of another Republican — of breaking Reagan’s 11th Commandment (which was an ironic, if convenient, maxim for a man who ran against a sitting Republican president in the 1976 primary.)

Ultimately, Goldberg, of course, is right about the problem — and Friedersdorf is right that someone needs to say something.

But — though he is generally respected on the right — is Goldberg the right man for this thankless job?

Not to conflate religion with ideology, but I’m reminded of another column Goldberg penned a few years ago, in which he lamented that Islam needs a central authority to bestow moral clarity.

“Too many of these retail Islamic Martin Luthers,” Goldberg wrote, “compete with each other to be more devout, more angry, more willing to deflect the anxieties and shame…”

Sound familiar?

Goldberg concluded by saying: “[T]he Islamic world doesn’t need any more Martin Luthers. It needs a pope.”

You could probably say the same thing about conservatism.

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