Recently Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed editor of The New York Post, saw something online that left him shaken. “This is demonic,” he tweeted. “To hell with liberal order.”
His moral indignation led him to write a much discussed essay in the religious journal First Things. Castigating conservatives who see a possibility of coexistence with the left, he called for a religious Reconquista of American politics. The right, he argued, should “fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square reordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”
The post that set Ahmari off was not, needless to say, about the spike in miscarriages among detained migrants, or the prenuptial agreement allowing Donald Trump to cut off support for his daughter Tiffany if she joined the military. It was about Drag Queen Story Hour, a public event series founded in 2015 in which drag queens read to children and lead singalongs.
Ahmari’s jeremiad launched a civil war among conservative intellectuals. It revealed a growing crackup of the so-called fusionist consensus on the modern right, which had long united social conservatives, economic libertarians and foreign policy hawks. Some of this debate is serious. But a not insignificant part of the reactionary intelligentsia is obsessing over the following question: How long can conservatives tolerate a political system that victimizes them by allowing Drag Queen Story Hour to exist?
Does it sound like I’m kidding? I’m not. “The effort to ban Drag Queen Story Hour starts when we have the courage to clarify the moral stakes,” Ramona V. Tausz wrote in a follow-up First Things piece. “This requires casting off the civility creeds of the woke liberal left.”
This is clarifying. There are times where the rights of religious believers and those of a pluralistic society conflict: when, for example, conservative Christian bakers are asked to make wedding cakes for gay couples, or some ultra-Orthodox Jewish parents are ordered, against their own convictions, to vaccinate their kids. The existence of Drag Queen Story Hour is not one of those times. Conservatives are not being subjugated because they can’t stop other people from holding a public event that offends them. It’s telling that some of them think they are.
A progressive truism holds that when one is accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. Ahmari and his allies seem intent on