The main reason I wrote my reply to Ben Domenech about Hugh Hefner, and the main reason I’m thankful to First Things for running it, is that I sensed—correctly, as it turned out—that Domenech’s sentiment was more widely shared on the Right than conservative evangelicals might want to believe. “Cultural conservatives,” those who argue not just for small government but for moral wakefulness and a virtuous public square, are increasingly seen as the pariahs of the Right. The election of Donald Trump, a cultural conservative’s foe if there ever were one, is proof that, politically speaking, what curries favor with conservative politicos nowadays is more about libertarianism and a kind of anti-Left disposition. Put another way: I don’t think most conservative Americans are like, say, Milo Yiannopolous, but I don’t think most have a big problem with him. Milo is not conservative in any sense, except for the sense that liberals hate him and he returns the favor. That seems to be enough to qualify as a conservative right now, and one implication of that trend is that the moral qualms of puritanical cultural conservatives (the kind who would excoriate Hugh Hefner no matter how many feminists he upset) are now obnoxious.

Does morality matter on the Right anymore? Before progressives and tradinistas respond with, “It never has! #Capitalism,” let me clarify what I mean. I’m not asking if morality matters to the Right, according to the Left. I’m not asking progressives if they think American conservatism has lost its conscience. No, I’m actually asking my fellow conservatives to be honest for one minute. Does morality, public and private, matter to the Right’s agenda in 2017? Does the fact that Hugh Hefner commercialized and weaponized pornography make a dent in his free speech, anti-pantsuit legacy? Domenech’s piece and others similar to it seem to suggest no, or not really.

This is very intriguing to me. The porn industry is awfully low-hanging fruit for a traditionalist conservatism. The scent of technocracy, Sexual Revolution, and abortion politics are all over it. Yet here we are in 2017, after the death of the Western world’s most powerful and most important pornographer, debating on the Right just how much of his legacy is actually worth celebrating, because it offended the easily offended. Something tells me this is a shift worth caring about.

After all, if morality is iffy on the Right today, where we will be in 20 years? Will Margaret Sanger become a conservative hero after her eugenicist ideals are banned from bookstores and libraries at the behest of progressives? Will Alfred Kinsey be “reconsidered” by the conservative movement for triggering the transgender literati? Will atheists and cultural deconstructionists who preach the end of faith be looked on with gratitude by conservative publications, just because they were willing to say the words “Islamic terrorism”?

Does morality matter on the Right anymore? Or is it just about not being the Left?


photo by Alan Light

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Posted by Samuel James

Samuel D. James is associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books.