This post is for Subscribers only.
Bari Weiss, the former New York Times editorial page editor who popularized the term “Intellectual Dark Web” and now runs her own Substack newsletter, was recently on Bill Maher’s TV show to declare, “I’m done with Covid!”, “Cloth masks do not do anything,” and a variety of similar sentiments. Here’s the relevant segment.
A lot of people were sharing this approvingly on Twitter, including among conservative Christians.
I made the observation on Twitter that any conservative looking to Bari Weiss for leadership is a sheep who deserves to be sheared.
This prompted some pushback from people like Rod Dreher who see center-left people and atheists like Weiss as important allies for conservatives in the fight. Others disputed that they were looking to Weiss for leadership, but merely signal boosting someone who is saying the right things.
I want to share some further perspectives on why Bari Weiss and the Intellectual Dark Web crowd - the “Ineffectual Dork Web” as Twitter user @BonifaceOption called them - may not be enemies to fight against, but certainly are not friends or allies to support or signal boost.
Firstly, tweeting or sharing with approval Bari Weiss' segment is to look to her for leadership. This is particularly true when it happens en masse such that it trends on Twitter as this Maher segment did. This anoints her as a spokesman for Covid skeptics. Someone who is a public spokesman for your position is your leader in some respects. That’s not to say we should never rebroadcast something like her segment, but I find it interesting how many people rush to the defense of Weiss when people criticize her, indicating more than just a passive investment in what she has to say.
Secondly, let’s assume that we should be willing to treat people who don’t share all of our values as de facto allies when they are supporting our position. I actually agree with this to some extent. But then why is that this only applies to Weiss and IDW type people and never to people on the right like Darren Beattie (or perhaps even Rod Dreher)? Beattie is a former Donald Trump speechwriter who now runs the Drudge Report alternative Revolver News. He has a Ph.D. in political theory from Duke. He was the only non-tenured tenure-track professor in the country to support Donald Trump in 2016. And he’s long been a Covid response skeptic, and extremely courageous in taking unpopular positions.
But how many of the people who are praising Weiss and her courage are willing to tweet Darren Beattie or even a link to Revolver News? It’s amazing that the people who were skeptical of the Covid response approach all along have been studiously ignored by some who now praise Weiss, who is a Johnny come lately to the skepticism train (and who is now just touting what is already increasingly popular among a certain set of Democrats).
It’s true that many non-Christians on the right have views on some subjects that make them people we shouldn’t partner with. I reject the alt-right for example. But strangely, it seems that some people can’t find any unpopular figures on the right to support. And why is it that the views of Weiss and her IDW friends, which are often deeply hostile to traditional Christian values, don’t similarly disqualify them as allies for Christians?
If you are willing to publicly support and endorse the positions of Bari Weiss, but not those of any unpopular figures on the right, that should prompt some self-reflection.
Thirdly, someone on Twitter compared Weiss and the IDW crowd to the neoconservatives. The original neoconservatives were leftists of various stripes, some Trotskyites, who migrated to the right as a result of the social upheavals of the 1960s. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they were left behind by a failure to shift along with the left’s trajectory in that era.
Comparing the neoconservatives to the IDW is at one level ludicrous. Whether you agree with them or not, people like Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and James Q. Wilson were very serious people. The IDW are not.
But there are some parallels. The neoconservatives found themselves politically homeless as the left shifted in ways they did not like. They needed a new home and found it in William F. Buckley’s conservative movement. As they entered conservatism, they not only became members but ultimately the leaders. Eventually, as they consolidated their power, they re-wrote conservative dogma and expelled people representing pre-existing strains of conservative thought that they did not like. Some of those, like former National Review editor Joe Sobran, basically ended their lives in exile and poverty. The neoconservatives were not allies or co-belligerants of conservatives, they were ultimately the new proprietors and bosses of Conservatism, Inc.
Similarly, the IDW people like Weiss now find themselves homeless. Save for a few likeminded legacy liberals, no one on the left takes them seriously anymore, nor should they. They are now homeless. As with the neoconservatives, they also lack a natural constituency in the country. Probably no more than 5-10% of people would really line up behind them, but like the neoconservatives, however, the primary appeal of people in the IDW have been those on the right, or at least those uncomfortable with the the direction the left has gone. This is a group of people they can co-opt or insert themselves as spokesmen for.
We’ve seen many online influencers arise on the right or at least in opposition to the left, but curiously, it’s only been the IDW people who have been signal boosted and treated as legitimate by the major media. (It’s similar to Catholic integralism, which despite being an extremist ideology that is completely foreign to the American political tradition is still somehow viewed as an acceptable public position to hold). Have any of the supposedly dangerous thinking IDW people ever been permanently banned from social media, for example?
Whenever I see something like this, I wonder, why is that?
That brings us to my fourth point. In the case of the IDW, we see that they are ready and willing, much like the neoconservatives before them, to play their role in defining what constitutes “legitimate” opposition. In fact, a central point of Weiss’ original IDW article was the question of who is a legitimate critic of the system (Eric Weinstein) and who was not (probably not Candace Owens). This is very much a power they want for themselves as that article makes clear - not just Weiss herself but others she includes in the IDW movement. They want to police the ranks of those who oppose the system (including on the right), and even to destroy people’s lives if they decide those people are not legitimate.
This is not hyperbole. There’s a right wing polemicist by the name of Pedro Gonzalez. He has taken up the online meme culture practice, originating in the manosphere, of making fun of people’s appearance under the guise of physiognomy, or the idea that our looks reveal our character. (A leading manosphere figure from years ago was famous for saying, “Physiognomy is real!”)
Gonzalez is well known for doing this to a wide range of people. But after he recently took aim at David Rothschild, Douglas Murray attacked him on Bari Weiss’ very own Substack newsletter in a post titled, “When the Right Plays With Jew-Hate.” Murray said Gonzalez was an anti-semite and called for him to be expelled from the right.
Personally, I think Gonzalez’s tweets were ill-advised. Anti-semitism is a well known social taboo, and given the history of people stereotyping Jews by physical appearance, you are asking for trouble of you make physiognomy comments about a Jewish person. It might be that Gonzalez does this to all comers, but it’s his job to understand the rules of our society and act accordingly. Is Gonzalez actually an anti-semite? No. In fact, his boss is an Orthodox Jew who wouldn’t keep him around if he were. But he was just asking for trouble with those tweets.
But Murray here is clearly trying to destroy Gonzalez’s career as a conservative commentator using one of the most powerful negative labels in our society as a weapon. We can also see that he’s as much interested in destroying political opponents not under the control of the IDW crowd, and who are offering more effective resistance to the left, as he is anti-semitism. Note that he describes Gonzalez as a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Fellows at think tanks like AEI or Brookings are typically full time or part time employees. They actually are part of the institution. But the Lincoln Fellowship is just a week long intellectual retreat in which members discuss books and the American Founding. Gonzalez isn’t an employee of the Claremont Institute. In fact, he works for Chronicles magazine, the paleoconservative publication edited by Paul Gottfried, where he’s an associate editor. But Murray never mentions Chronicles, only Claremont. If you’ve been following things, you know that the Bulwark/Dispatch crowd has been furiously trying to discredit Claremont. Murray here clearly aligns himself with them by trying to get in digs at Claremont as well as Gonzalez. And again, his post was published by Bari Weiss.
The Intellectual Dark Web - Bari Weiss, Sam Harris, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, James Lindsay and people like them - are not your friends if you are a conservative, especially a Christian conservative. None of them are actually conservative, virtually all of them are secularists (even militantly atheist), and they are strongly committed to a variety of positions hostile to Christianity.
If you are a Christian conservative who supports and builds up these people, you are only empowering them to serve as your overseer and gatekeeper - and perhaps at some point your social executioner. You can be sure that if your preferences ever did show signs of coming to pass in society, they would fight against that and you with a ferocity that vastly outstrips anything they have ever aimed at the left. Make no mistake, they will not hesitate to try to destroy your life if they perceive you as a threat to them or their values. These people are not your friends.
PS: Bari Weiss also tweeted gushingly about Honor Jones and her essay in the Atlantic about dumping her husband for no good reason.
It is a bitter indictment of the state of conservative Christianity that we actually need to be reminded that atheist lesbian Jews are not our friends.
Like Zman points out continually, conservatives are guaranteed losers because they share the same morality as their leftist masters, even if they insist on walking a few centimetres behind them being dragged on a chain.
In leftist morality, white Anglo-Saxon Christians are the outdated past who aren’t worth listening to and have no right to advocate for their own interests. Conservatives 100% agree with this so are constantly looking for someone who is NOT them to make their case for them. Their doing this is a sign of utter moral defeat.
Mr. Renn makes excellent points about signal boosting, and not becomingly naively fond of figures whose Venn diagram overlaps with your own just slightly. But, not too weigh a single word too heavily or miss the general point, as a generally traditional Catholic conservative I certainly consider Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson "friends." I think Peterson first came to major prominence from refusing to be compelled to use "preferred personal pronouns" at university. His Bible lectures show fascinating if not perfect insight and certainly warm feelings toward the Jewish and Christian stories. Dave Rubin has migrated steadily to the right even if he can go only so far, welcomes all comers, and like Peterson is another desperately needed power in favor of free speech and against cancel culture. So in my scheme these are friends and allies. Some of my *actual* friends are less welcoming.
But I take the point. I also pushed back against Rod (with a tiny Twitter account I use primarily for monitoring) when he faulted people rolling their eyes at now-you-tell-us Bari Weiss's latest epiphanies. For similar reasons--my main point being that many had suffered and are still suffering anthema and banishment, if not outright loss of employment, over the Covid saga. Watching Weiss being carried on a royal litter with palm fronds was a bit much.