‘What actions are you recommending for the pro-life movement?’ the New Yorker Radio Hour host asks his guest, a tenured university professor and author of How to Blow Up an Abortion Clinic.
‘Well,’ the guest replies, ‘I am recommending that the movement continue with the March for Life and crisis pregnancy centers but also open up for property destruction. We need to step up because so little has changed and so many babies are still being killed. So, I am in favor of destroying machines and property, not harming people. I think property can be destroyed in all manner of ways. It can be neutralized in a very gentle fashion, or in a more spectacular fashion as in potentially blowing up an abortion clinic.’
‘Do you yourself plan to be involved in such actions?’ the host asks, scandalized and titillated like a 16-year-old girl whose prom date just whispered his untoward intentions in her ear.
‘If I were planning things, I wouldn’t tell you, but I’m prepared to be part of any kind of action of the sort that I advocate in the book.’
God, he’s so cool.
Of course, this interview never happened. Not only would the author never have been booked on that particular podcast, he’d have been fired from his university, blacklisted by every major publisher, denounced as a terrorist, stripped of his bank account, and placed under federal surveillance.
But replace ‘pro-life movement’ with ‘climate movement,’ and you’ll find that this interview did happen, less than a week ago, with Andreas Malm, whose very real book is called How to Blow Up a Pipeline.
Malm is not the first scofflaw to be feted by the mouthpieces of American elite culture. Last summer, we were deluged with apologia for the Black Lives Matter riots, culminating in NPR’s puff piece interview with Vicky Osterweil, author of In Defense of Looting. Several district attorneys have since translated her views into public policy by decriminalizing shoplifting.
Earlier this month, that same ruling class let a caravan of 15,000 people wade across our southern border. About 12,000 of these interlopers have now been dispersed throughout the United States.
Our progressive elites have no qualms about advancing their agenda through extralegal means. For them, illegal immigration, anti-police rioting, and even light eco-terrorism are all examples of what John Lewis would call ‘good trouble.’ If legal maneuverings won’t get them what they want, the mob will. Like Machiavelli’s ideal Prince, they’re equally adept as fox and lion.
Alasdair MacIntyre described modern politics as ‘civil war carried on by other means,’ and in recent years the term ‘cold civil war’ has become popular among the Claremont set. Now, each side is so utterly convinced of the other’s depravity and total lack of ruth that trust in supposedly unifying institutions has eroded. The arguments for restraint are starting to make less and less sense. The cold civil war is heating up.
American conservatives have had a persecution complex since at least the ’90s, and the events of the past five years have revealed just how monolithically their country’s institutions are arrayed against them. Yet they still seem less willing than progressives to engage in lawless direct action. The instinct that automatically equates ‘subversive’ with ‘progressive’ makes little sense under the current regime, but it’s hard to shake.
When conservatives do open up that particular playbook (think January 6), the univocal response from the great and the good is usually horror. How could these reactionary bigots violate our sacred democratic norms? But the commitment to rule of law to which they appeal plainly does not restrain them when it comes to their pet causes. This reaction, therefore, raises the question of what exactly separates the Cliven and Ammon Bundy standoffs from, say, the Standing Rock protests. Or, to bring us full circle, why Andreas Malm can talk about blowing up pipelines but pro-life activist Lila Grace Rose could never talk about blowing up abortion clinics.
Both the militant climate movement and the (largely hypothetical) militant pro-life movement are based on debatable assertions, but both are internally consistent. If we only have a few years left to avert human extinction, it makes perfect sense to launch cyberattacks on Shell stations and slash SUV tires. If abortion clinics are really murdering human beings on an industrial scale, it makes perfect sense to break in and smash their medical equipment to smithereens. Louis C.K., no pro-lifer, admitted as much in a 2017 comedy special: ‘People hate abortion protesters. “They’re so shrill and awful.” They think babies are being murdered! What are they supposed to be like?’
The only real difference is that one movement reflects an officially sanctioned ideology and the other does not.
Pointing out this hypocrisy does not a bit of good. The mainstream conservative mantra of ‘Wow! Imagine if the situation were reversed!’ has even become a joke in certain corners of right-wing Twitter. Despite the urgings of David French and his ilk, conservatives have become increasingly unwilling to plant and harvest while the other side beats its plowshares into swords.
So far, the right has been largely restrained by its devotion to law and order and its habitual distaste for riots and vandalism, but that won’t necessarily last. School board meetings are getting violent. A woman on the NYC subway tore down ads promoting kinks, hookups, and pansexuality. The Twitter account Libs of TikTok is eagerly doxxing SJW activist teachers and trying to get them fired.
I fear that soon we won’t have to imagine what would happen if the situation were reversed.
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