July 4, 2014


Let Your Right Brain Run Free : For too long, conservatives have ceded the popular culture to the Left. (Adam Bellow, 7/07/14, National Review)

Recently I was asked to comment on the state of conservative publishing for an article in BuzzFeed. My major focus was the difficulty of publishing the sort of serious, intellectually demanding books that used to be the staple of the movement. I ticked off relevant factors such as the rise of conservative mass media, the proliferation of publishing imprints, the decline of book reviewing, and the bifurcation of political media into spheres of left and right, leading to the disappearance of serious controversy.

What I didn't say is this: The real problem isn't the practical challenge of turning serious books into bestsellers. The real problem is that we may have reached the limit of what facts and reasoned arguments can do. The real problem is that the whole conservative nonfiction enterprise has peaked and reached its limit of effectiveness.

Yes, conservative voices can now be heard throughout the land, and the GOP is poised for victory in the upcoming midterm elections. But even as we appear to be winning the political argument, for the moment anyway, we are losing on the cultural front. For proof, you need look no farther than the recent successful attacks on conservative spokesmen.

The Left has always demonized conservatives, and many of my authors have been subject to that kind of ugly treatment. Those who cannot win an argument often fall back on ad hominem attacks. In the past we could ignore such attacks -- indeed, they often worked in our favor. But lately they have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Those who dissent from the prevailing liberal dogma are quickly branded as extremists and declared to be bad people. Do you support the traditional view of marriage? You're a homophobe who wants to deny equal rights to gay Americans. Do you question the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage? You are a selfish Scrooge who hates the working class. Do you want America to establish control over its borders? You hate hard-working immigrants who just want to enjoy the American dream. Do you believe a human fetus has legal and natural rights? You are a misogynist who wants to control women's bodies. Do you support the death penalty in certain cases? You're a heartless savage no better than the killers themselves, according to Charles Blow of the New York Times. Do you oppose any aspect whatsoever of Barack Obama's transformative agenda for America? You're a racist. Racist, racist, racist!

This is a bare-knuckled attempt to enforce an ideological orthodoxy by policing the boundaries of acceptable speech. The methods used -- anonymous accusers, public shaming, forced apologies, reeducation programs -- come straight out of the Stalinist playbook, and they are not only shockingly illiberal. They are shockingly effective.

By harnessing the passions of offended minorities to the power of social media, the Left has created a hurricane of politicized indignation that can be directed wherever it likes and levels everything it touches. Meanwhile the general response is the same as it was for me at Clarion: embarrassed silence and the fear of being targeted yourself. This is a key point, for just as bad as outright censorship (which cannot be imposed to the extent the Left would like) is the censorship people impose on themselves in order to avoid being punished with the loss of their reputation and livelihood.

The Left has adopted this strategy for obvious reasons: They cannot win the argument on its merits, and unlike their counterparts elsewhere they can't consistently win (or steal) elections. Political power eludes them. But like Mark Antony at Caesar's funeral, they have become expert at using the media pulpit to turn the passions of the mob against their enemies.

Conservatives do seem to understand that this is a battle that must be engaged. But they don't seem to know how to fight it. What they urgently need to realize is that this is not a battle that can be fought in the realm of ideas and politics. We can win every election for the next 50 years and it won't matter, if conservatives are not allowed to speak. Nor can we debate and argue this incipient totalitarian movement out of existence. We can publish all the polemics and blog posts we want. But if that is all we've got, we are still going to lose the larger war.

Fear not, however -- this is no doom-and-gloom scenario. I actually come bearing good news. A second front is opening in the oddly misnamed culture war (which has nothing to do with culture). The tools of our salvation are at hand. There's a new posse in town. We just need to wake up and support them.

The late Andrew Breitbart understood the importance of popular culture and was determined not to neglect it. "Politics is downstream from culture," he famously said, and he continually called upon conservatives to quit griping about liberal media bias and do something constructive instead. Write your own books, he exhorted. Record your own music. Make your own movies. Everyone agreed that this would be a great idea. But no one knew how to go about making it happen.

Well, guess what: Andrew was right. The conservative counterrevolution is coming. Indeed it is already here. It's just that most conservatives haven't noticed it yet. It came to my attention only because of the position I occupy in the New York publishing world.

As a nonfiction editor throughout my career I never missed publishing fiction. It just seemed a little bit beside the point. I figured we would win the battle of ideas first, and then the imbalance in the culture would correct itself. But that didn't seem to be happening. If anything, liberal dominance of popular culture seemed more entrenched than ever.

Meanwhile, more and more, I started hearing from conservative authors asking if I would look at their novels. I read quite a few of these, and while some of them were awful, many others were entertaining and well done. But they didn't rise to the level of proficiency required for mass-market publication, and no sectarian market existed for conservative-themed fiction. So I suggested they self-publish, making use of the new digital-distribution technologies.

At first I thought of this as an isolated phenomenon. But the queries continued and after a while I began to see it as a trend. I started poking around the Kindle store to see what was up and found dozens of self-published books by conservative authors bravely putting forth their work and hoping to be discovered. I already knew that science fiction had attracted many libertarians. But this phenomenon was clearly more extensive. Conservatives were writing books in every genre -- thriller, mystery, historical, military, western, gothic, supernatural, romance, and young adult, not to mention numerous hybrids. Similar searches at iTunes and YouTube turned up dozens of conservative and libertarian pop songs and videos.

Andrew didn't live to see it, but conservatives are making their own culture. They are writing and publishing their own books, recording their own music, and making their own videos and films. It is Breitbart's Revolt.

Posted by at July 4, 2014 7:35 AM

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