Column: Yuval Levin and denial of progress

Yuval Levin. (Screenshot/YouTube/The American Mind)

Yuval Levin, one of America’s leading conservative commentators, is hesitant to declare a state of emergency for the Republican Party despite the rise of their Frankenstein candidate. In an April 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed he laid out his vision for pulling the GOP out of ruins.

Though Levin wrote of the troubling sympathies stirred by the current GOP front-runner’s pseudo-policies, he neglected to confront the true failure of the conservative movement: the sustained commitment to anachronistic social views. 

In his op-ed, Levin labeled the Reagan-era, “when economic liberalization was accompanied by a resurgence of national pride and a renewed emphasis on family values,” as the nostalgic anchor for Republican and conservative thinkers. For liberals, Levin identified “the 1960s, when cultural liberalization seemed to coexist with a highly regulated economy” as a suitable nostalgic equivalent.

Referring to both periods as laden in nostalgia is duplicitous on Levin’s part, as he uses his language to tacitly suggest that though the Reagan-era is thought of with a nostalgic glow, this has not resulted in hyperbole. When writing of liberals and the 1960s, Levin injected semantic elements of doubt, while speaking of the Reagan years with authority.

For liberals, he linked the era of regulation and failed social welfare systems with the nostalgic aura of cultural liberalization and the recent push to the left.

For Levin, the increasing polarization of American politics, economics and social views in the years following the WWII is a lamentable fact. Though he ostensibly afforded even-handed treatment in analyzing the root causes, his vague discussion of ‘family views’ foreshadowed a familiar conservative attack on the supposed erosion of American morality. In his eyes, and those of many conservatives, this erosion has been catalyzed by liberal influences. 

After lauding the fruits of the Reagan era, Levin drew attention to “…a loss of social order and structure, a loss of cultural cohesion…and a loss of political and moral consensus” resulting from the shift in American culture from WWII to present. This vague reference to broad transformation alludes to a broad range of social and cultural changes in America. Among these is the erosion of anachronistic social views. 

When understood through the modern conservative lens, these views give the illusion of a lost uniformity in the American dreamscape. These are the views responsible for defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, resisting the sexual revolution, condemning the decisions of Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges, and eroding the power of the 1965 Voting Rights Act under the Roberts Court. 

When Levin writes “conservatives can much more clearly see the bankruptcy of a nostalgic politics” while “liberals still cling complacently to the anachronism of social democracy as their vision of the future,” he ignores the crucial role of social platforms.

Further, his attempt to equate the bigoted, nativist and isolationist policies of fiery conservative nostalgia with a push for a social democracy is a dishonest parlor trick with disastrous implications. Depicting runaway capitalism as less anachronistic than social democracy is ahistorical and self-serving.

The depth of this denial is reinforced by this sort of lip service paid to social views by conservative thinkers. To believe the GOP can survive while clinging to social views suited to a bygone era is willful ignorance.

The true anachronism on display – conservative social views – are in their death throes. Levin believes political debates, such as those surrounding religious freedoms “will remain essential to preserve the space for moral traditionalism,” but “social conservatives must increasingly focus on how best to fill that space in their own communities.”

This argument is based on compartmentalizing Americans devoted to backward social policy, poised to pass discriminatory legislation, gut essential freedoms and further divide the nation.  

For the GOP, it will not be enough to carve out portions of the map for bigots, racists and religious zealots who aim to infringe upon the rights afforded to their fellow human beings. Levin is correct in believing Democrats will not easily heal internal wounds earned over economic and political policy battles.

However, his belief that conservatives will still be able to tacitly support obsolete social views and survive constitutes a failure to recognize the current and future power of the youngest generations.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.