A few months ago I mentioned the war of words going on between Sohrab Ahmari and David French and the people who supported each of them. Itt was kicked off by Ahmari’s article on First Things, “Against David French-sim” where he criticizes David French’s particular brand of “conservatism” that is focused on appeasing the left and maintaining a value neutral public space in the tradition of classical liberalism.
French and Ahmari finally debated face to face a few days ago at the Catholic University of America. The debate can be viewed here and got quite heated. Unfortunately the majority of the debate was focused around “Drag Queen Story Time”, the issue which provoked Ahmari’s criticism of the Frenchian brand of conservatism that allowed us to get to this point. This discussion largely retrod the same ground that the initial article and Frenches rebuttal covered, with Ahmari putting forward the case that Christians need to attempt to take control of institutions in pursuit of enacting their agenda while French defended the classical liberal ideal of a neutral public square where free speech is protected at all costs.
The general feel is that although Ahmari’s position was better French won the debate. Ahmari was sleep deprived from the recent delivery of his first child so he can be forgiven for not presenting his case as effectively as he probably could’ve otherwise.
French made a few missteps that Ahmari could’ve easily taken him to town on, but unfortunately missed. The first is that French conceded that he doesn’t believe pornography is a protected form of free speech, it took the moderator to point out “That’s Ahmari-ism!”. The question then is if pornography is not legitimate and protected free speech then how can French defend Drag Queen Story Hour which the founding fathers would’ve found equally immoral and offensive, perhaps more so because of the insidiousness of deliberately targeting children to “groom” them (their words, not mine).
The second is the salient point that French’s brand of liberalism has been in force the entire time of the moral decay of America and has had no effect on the decline. In fact it could be easily argued that it’s French’s own slavish dedication to classical liberalism that accelerated the decline since his own reluctance to say “Hey, this is wrong, we need to make a stand here” enables those bad actors to take advantage of his naivety. French’s position is basically “I don’t agree with you destroying my nation but I’ll fight for your right to destroy it”. Hardly something to be commended.
French comes across as someone severely out of his depth. He’s disconnected and has no idea of the scale of the hydra he fights. He eagerly walks into the maw of the slavering beast he claims he too is fighting and says “Hey now the beast deserves it’s voice too”. The question is what exactly is French trying to conserve? Even the Founders said that the constitution is only fit to govern a moral and religious people, without that foundation the constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Yet French holds the document up as something almost divine and holy. Certainly the US constitution is an excellent document written by extremely intelligent individuals, however without the Christian character of the people that underpins the values of the document it cannot fulfil its purpose. Indeed the constitution has been weaponized against Christians in an unduly broad interpretation of the establishment clause which prevents Christians from using public institutions to promote Christian values yet allows secular ideologies free reign in these institutions. Ideologies which are often aggressively hostile to Christian values.
French is simply naive, out of touch and tied to a very flawed and very WASPy way of viewing America. He should be left to go down with his sinking ship. Maybe eventually things will become so bad that even he has to admit that he was wrong, but it’s doubtful.