Watching Fairfax’s and the ABC’s outraged and breathless coverage of the violent Left protesters outside the Melbourne venue for the Anglo-American provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s understandable that many on the Right are reveling in his visit to Australia.
Yiannopoulos is a self-proclaimed conservative warrior, a sequined defender of the values of – what exactly?
He is not the defender of the ideas of classical liberalism and conservatism. His name is not fit to be uttered in the same breath as Locke, Burke, Mill or Jefferson. He is not the defender of good taste. He even is not the defender of free speech.
He is nothing but a petulant, flamboyant, self-regarding poseur. Yiannopoulos is no conservative.
A true conservative has a sense of history, of tradition. He values social, political and economic institutions. He values family. He conducts himself with modesty and consideration of others. He respects his fellow citizens, and accepts that they are as entitled to hold their views as he is to hold his. If his opponents shout down or bully him and others, he does not stoop to their level in retaliating.
And he supports the rule of law, not provoking public disorder.
True conservatives do not seek attention, as they know the whole of society is greater than the self, and they conduct themselves accordingly. After all, civil society is based on civility.
As much as ratbag Lefties goaded ratbag Righties to brawl outside Yiannopoulos’s Melbourne venue, true conservatives should be ashamed and embarrassed of the cause of the trouble; Yiannopoulos himself. This faux conservative, this walking rudeness, has appropriated what they profess to believe in – and conservatives themselves – to promote his own eponymous brand.
Conservatives and classical liberals can unite on only one thing about Yiannopoulos. They are right to say that free speech needs to be protected, even if what is being said is repugnant. As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
In return, Yiannopoulos should realise that to conservatives, free speech is not an absolute right. It is a privilege conferred by civil society, to be used wisely, respectfully and, dare it be said, conservatively by its citizens and its visitors. Even when that privilege is enshrined, as it is in the American Bill of Rights, it remains a conferred privilege. To offend is always subjective – what offends me may not offend you. But to be gratuitously offensive for the sake of it is another thing altogether.
If intellectual battles between Right and Left are seen in terms of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, it’s understandable that some influential figures on the Right welcome the disruption that Yiannopoulos has brought to Australia. It’s also understandable that parliamentary provocateur David Leyonhjelm brought him to Parliament House today: anything that gets up the priggish nose of Sarah Hanson-Young is, by definition, a good thing.
But while those conservatives and libertarians may enjoy the spectacle of Yiannopoulos discombobulating the Left, they must understand that in promoting him they are nesting a cuckoo. Yiannopoulos may be highly intelligent, but he is no conservative: his outrageous, look-at-me behaviour insults and embarrasses true conservatives even as he takes aim at shared targets on the Left. Even as they take his bait as well as his insults, Yiannopoulos’s antics give succour to the Left, as well as its acolytes in politics and the media. He especially legitimises the similar behaviour of unpleasant and self-regarding Lefties who, like Yiannopoulos, egotistically seem to believe that giving gratuitous offence, and humiliating and bullying people they don’t like, constitutes genuine intellectual discourse and leadership.
Contrary to the views of the Q and A crowd, it would have been a mistake not to allow Yiannopoulos into Australia, or gagging him as the self-righteous, censorious likes of Hanson-Young demand. Let him make money from those attracted by his act, say what he likes and defend himself and his opinions – if he can.
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