On Protests and Protesting

Or: Two Things Can Be True at Once

It is a good maxim in Politicks as well as War to put and keep the enemy in the wrong.

– Samuel Adams

As I survey, from my tropical post, the most recent upheavals on the campuses of what were once considered our national universities—the Ivy League—I am reminded of three perennial truths.

First, these colleges have always been elite and always been wild, just not in the same way or for the same reasons they are now uninhabitable and insane. Second, protests are never organic, and this includes so-called “insurrections.” Let the reader understand. And third, not all protests are created equal, and rightly so.

In the early eighteenth-century, around the time Samuel Adams attended Harvard, students, as Stacy Schiff puts it, “distinguished themselves as much for insubordination as for academic excellence.” At the time, Harvard was comprised of three Gregorian buildings, some outhouses, an orchard, and 100 students. For perspective, New Saint Andrews College is more than twice its size and Patrick Henry College is almost three times as large. But that small body was disproportionately productive. Harvard records feature youngsters being disciplined for defacing copies of Montesquieu in the library, getting drunk in church, planting snakes in the beds of tutors, “contemptuous hallowing,” cheating on tests, skipping class, getting slaves “dangerously drunk,” and stealing game from local farmers.

Sticking with Samuel Adams—my favorite “founder” and the one figure most deserving of the name—the protests that erupted in Boston in the mid-1770s were never purely spontaneous. The angst was, but the action was not. He existed above the fray, intentionally and carefully, but Sameul Adams—no one ever called him “Sam”—and his Sons of Liberty, along with the several more secret societies he belonged to (e.g., the Monday Night Club, Caucus Club, the Loyal Nine, etc.), orchestrated nearly all of it.

Had the Guardian, Esquire or Talking Points Memo—I was shocked to discover that the latter is still a “publication”—been around in late eighteenth century Boston they wouldn’t have time for something as innocuous as the Society for American Civic Renewal, which, if Adams had joined it, would have been much scarier than anything maximum leader Charles Haywood has said. The Merchants’ Club was much more dangerous, and don’t even get me started on the Masons. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Anglo-American coffee shops were seedbeds of sedition and radicalism, and the equivalent of biker bars (if everyone was armed with a cutlass) for this reason—Starbucks would never. Fraternal lodges? Child’s play.

Schiff has a great line about how men of eighteenth-century New England like Adams were rarely home for dinner because they were so active in political affairs and madeira-fueled secret meetings in blue pipe smoke tavern rooms. By contrast, today, we’re opting out of everything, at least those of us who have not embraced the vibe shift.

Adams was a master propogandist, operating some 25 pseudonyms—maybe more—often debating one another to generate controversy. (The country wasn’t built by protestors; it was built by anon accounts.) He would often fill the newspaper he edited from front to back with his own articles under different names. Adams controlled New England public opinion. Truly a glorious feat.

No one appreciates this today and, despite the extreme democratization of communication, no one could do it today; such genius and industry are in short supply. There are reasons Samuel’s contemporaries, his cousin included, attributed the revolution—as C. Jay Engel recently and rightly said on J. Burden’s show, this term must be understood in a limited way for ourselves—as well as many of the political ideas enshrined in the constitution, to him. His enemies called him, not without cause, “Machiavellian,” a firebrand, “the grand incendiary,” and justly accused him of rabblerousing. His friends called him “the last Puritan.” Both parties probably underestimated his propaganda skills.  

He was, in so many ways, the source code, and it is fitting that this smooth operator has been so relatively untreated by biographers—Ira Stoll’s is the best because, inter alia, it accounts for his staunch Puritanism. There are some 900 books on Washington and a meager nine on the eldest Adams.   

All this to illustrate my second point, protests are almost never organic. Organization, propaganda, and funding are behind them. Willing participants need not be clued into larger motivations or theories, they just have to show up. This is demonstrably true of the current Harvard and Columbia vandals. Most of the people don’t know why they are there, but they are enthusiastic all the same. I remember my old professor, Carl Trueman, instructing that the youthful campus energy, we might say, behind the Reformation need not be discounted. Some youngsters just want to burn something, including papal bulls and books of canon law. The same is true today, and the left doesn’t care as long as people show up. For our own purposes and efforts, the right shouldn’t care either. More on that momentarily.  

In the case at hand, there is no doubt that, as Doug Wilson humorously put it, “non-matriculating” mobsters are leading the charge, backed by outside money. This is the way things work and it shouldn’t surprise us. With this in mind, the latest “occupy” efforts—always ironic given that the institutions being occupied are already owned by the class from which the occupiers hail—can be understood as a vector of anarcho-tyranny, one piece of a larger puzzle. This is not new and, again, should not surprise us.

All this is made especially clear through the inequity of protests, or rather, reaction to and treatment of protests. That is, that not all protests are treated equally, as I’ve argued elsewhere. Again, this should not surprise us. Raucous demonstrations are always treated according to established expectations, customs, and morality. Circumstances govern too. An appeal to protesting as some kind of fundamental right did not keep Washington from saddling up to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.

Don’t Despise the Youth

I am quite confident that the only student learning anything on an Ivy League campus this year is Rory Douglas Wilson, son of the Moscow Mood and grandson of the guy from Tucker Carlson’s show. Monday night, in the grandfather’s telling, protestors “got onto campus (through dorm windows and such), and tried to take over Hamilton Hall. Rory [a senior at Columbia] and a friend stood in their way while calling on help from the university—which not surprisingly failed to materialize.” N.D. Wilson, Rory’s father, tweeted out the video of the incident.

Why would we not praise this? Launching into system-level critiques on this level is counterproductive. We want men, young men, forged in the crucible of the leftist assault on our way of life and institutions, even our buildings—our inheritance. More basically, we want, for the fight ahead, men with a cultivated and tested instinct to defend place and home. Hamilton Hall—ignore for a moment that Alexander Hamilton probably conjured up the Whiskey Rebellion and had William Findley silenced—is Rory’s castle, at least at present. This isn’t about defending Columbia or the decision to attend Columbia—both questionable—it’s about something more basic and primal. And in the interim prior to our rebirth or Reconquista—whichever it is—we will inevitably have men standing in the rubble. If you don’t like the reasons, at least embrace the vibe. Two young, straight, Christian white young men from flyover country—deplorables—resisting a deranged, privileged, mob that is apparently still afraid of Covid-19, with no police in sight. Is this not a microcosm of our political situation?

Maybe men like Rory shouldn’t be there to begin with, and, yes, young Christian men should’ve defended with the same resolve the monuments to our forefathers during the fiery but mostly peaceful summer. But we should encourage courage, and certainly not over-intellectualize it. Further, we should not immediately, and publicly assert the black-pill over and against their martial, protectionist spirit—No Enemies to the Right! Redirection and reeducation come later, solidarity, where possible, comes first. That is, if we want to beat the left, and we should. These moments can be more galvanizing than theory. More people will appropriately hate the Ivies and question our dilapidated institutions generally after this than they will after reading an op-ed.

A Tale of Two Protestantism’s

I am generally loath to let a Romanist or a foreigner (i.e., Tocqueville—please, no more!) instruct me about my country, but there’s something to what Ross Douthat tweeted out this week: one way to interpret what is happening is as a clash between two Protestant visions. The old mainline, which became increasingly neurotic in the mid-century and abrogated its leadership more than a generation ago, is still in slow collapse, at least its institutional vestiges are. Columbia and the rest are a real time picture of their demise.

To not accept this thesis in some regard is self-defeating for Protestants because it otherwise denies Protestant origins and ownership of the country. From a Protestant perspective, all domestic conflicts should be interpreted either as a foreign incursion or a civil war. To conceive of it otherwise is to immediately any historic (or future) claim to predominance. Moreover, we can capitalize off this thesis. A reckoning within Protestantism is necessary, growing pains, to save our nation. It is our reckoning and we should lay claim to it as a distinctively Protestant project. In other words, we need to be self-assertive and presumptuous again. Indeed, per Emmanuel Todd, Protestantism lies at the heart of the West.   

Getting the New Right, Right

Now I must address the nearly entirely correct New Right takes on the goings on.

Do not interrupt an enemy destroying himself, that’s the basic line. Why defend institutions that hate you and are irredeemable? That’s the basic question. All true. The Ivies house the priesthood of the Cathedral. They are incubators of radicalism, trainers of the regime Bene Gesserit. They are run by cheaters and liars, as Chris Rufo has repeatedly shown.

Most of us would love nothing more than nationalizing their endowments, firing all their personnel, and confiscating the stately buildings they deface—Colin Smothers is right, the left hates beauty. Ashli Babbitt was shot for less than what the campus criminals are doing.

If that’s not on the table, then watching these places cannibalize is the next best thing. Harvard—Haiti on the Charles, it should be called—has made it clear they hate the American way of life and that their anti-Asian bigotry is surpassed only by their utter disdain for White Americans. The curriculum at these schools is a joke—Brown is basically undirected, gradeless independent study. Little learning, except self-loathing, is happening, except for the trial by fire people like Rory Wilson get. Striving for Ivy—really any “respectable” college—acceptance only reinforces the incumbent status hierarchy, along with regime-approved vision of the good life: the Harvard to McKinsey pipeline, rootless, churchless, and childless all the way through. As I’ve suggested before, we need to rethink what colleges actually do and act accordingly. In this sense, the Ivies still perform their primary function, viz., conveying status, the kind of currency the regime accepts.

We all know this by now. There is no silver lining on these schools and currently (and appropriately) they serve as the site of the left’s civil war over what minority interests will reign supreme.

Stephen Wolfe asked why conservatives are “using their bodies to defend institutions that only hate them [and] actively promote almost every sort of evil and gross degeneracy we so actively oppose?” Fair question. Auron MacIntyre insists in his Blaze column this week that the right must “stop protecting institutions that are committed to destroying your way of life.” Agreed. Give them no aid, no money, no students, no loyalty, no support. Let the campus disaster continue. Maybe some rightwing business leader should set up a sledgehammer sales venture near all the Ivies. As Chris Rufo said, don’t impede the progress, “let the Ivy League own the pro-Hamas Left.” Keep your enemies in the wrong, as Samuel Adams would advise. More concretely, governors and mayors should do nothing to silence or disband the protests. Let them flounder.

But this analysis is not incongruent with the above assertions. In principle, we shouldn’t risk anything for these institutions.

Destroy them, let them burn, watch them buckle under their own corruption and internal contradictions. But why disparage those caught in the crossfire bowing up to our enemies and acting like men? With real men, both figuratively and literally, in short supply these days, we aren’t exactly at a troop surplus yet.

This is why we lose. For all the New Right’s proper castigation of feeble “principled” politics of yesteryear’s conservatism, clear-eyed, based, and red-pilled analysis can become something of a principle of its own. Give people time and grace to come along. Maybe coming face to face with Soros stormtroopers will have a way of radicalizing them. If we don’t balance this we’ll become either just like the old right or will waste away in lonely obscurity like Buchanan et al.

Statemen must lead people; law, even the new law, must lead men to virtue gradually. This is not a big tent thing. It’s not “standing athwart history.” It’s a question of strategy given the cards we’re dealt at the moment. Shaving the fat off of our movement is still required. Some people must go, and we can put substantial wind in our sails by continuing to rake them over the coals and by critiquing the tired pieties of incumbent elites both within and without Big Eva. Others simply need to be quietly put out to pasture.

But young Protestant men protecting their own beds from intifada is laudatory. Don’t over think it, and don’t smack down the kids, just point them in the right direction. Beyond college campuses, there are some municipalities in America that are lost causes, beyond saving. The advice should be to exit post haste. But that doesn’t mean we criticize the armed Boomer couple protecting their McMansion from a rabid mob. It doesn’t mean we question the doubtless simple, instinctual motives and undeveloped political acumen of the Chapel Hill fraternity encircling the flag. Ultimately, who cares? In the latter case, most of those guys now planning a $300,000 “rager” were raised in “lone bulwark” families. With time and maturity, they might just join our ranks.  

The left doesn’t nitpick their own. When their people are persecuted, they don’t question the location or the logic of the forum, nor really the legitimacy or circumstances of the cause; they dutifully circle the wagons and progress their narrative. They never ever make live issues or events occasions for public correction of their soldiers, even if they fraternize with a literal communist spy. In most cases, correction is done privately and elsewhere.

The point is that images, scenes, move people. We need to get better at propaganda and better propogandists. We need more Covington Catholic schoolboys.

Now, Auron’s analysis is well taken. There is a risk that by presenting a united front of frat boys against the leftist protestors the left is, in turn, solidified in opposition to a shared enemy. Whereas if we opted out of the situation entirely, intramural conflict on the left would continue apace and to our benefit. True enough. This is a risk.

But this will always happen. The left always rebounds. They aren’t equal parts suicidal and apathetic like much of the right. They possess internal discipline. Cannibalization won’t be the source of their destruction. Only a unified right willing to exert comparable force will. That requires expanding the coalition and winning normies without letting a good crisis go to waste. In other words, it is good optics, a good story, when sympathetic plaintiffs, as it were, are vilified and attacked for doing normal things.

Jon Harris is right, the national anthem-singing frat boys at Ole Miss represent a “leaderless movement, waiting for someone to represent them… [but] no one in power seems to want that crowd.” Trump did (and does) that’s why he won, and we should too. And we should also capitalize off their ill-treatment, how the governing elites treat them with salutary neglect at best. How they love the American way of life, their patrimonial heritage, order and stability.

Carpe Deim

Communicating that message effectively unto action requires images and, yes, propaganda. When in January 1770 a schoolboy was shot by a customs official for throwing rocks through his windows, Adams called it a “barbarous murder” indicative of an injured country. A weeklong propaganda effort in Adams’ Gazette produced what was at the time the largest funeral procession in American history. Thousands turned out, pallbearers, carriages, the works, all because some boys vandalized the home an agent of the Crown—no particular motive was discernable.

Alleyway brawls became more frequent, especially at night. When a crowd assembled on King Street in early March, wielding oyster shells and snowballs, shots were fired, and the rest is history. Five dead and several injured became a “massacre” in New England papers. Adams himself had been conspicuously unaccounted for the day prior. Though suspected, his involvement was never proven. Many assumed the entire assembly that led to the violence had been another Sons of Liberty operation. Some thought it counterproductive. Parliament was at that very moment debating whether to repeal the Townshend duties. Acceleration seemed unwise; Adams begged to differ. None of the Boston Massacre participants were briefed on this strategy, they were simply there. Whether he planned the whole thing or not, Adams seized the moment in the press, garnered sympathy for the colonists and thereby solidarity.

We need to think more like this. Normal people doing normal things, expressing normal frustrations and outrage are our friends. They represent the vestiges of the American way of life we want to preserve. The normies may not always have the right motives or understanding—or none at all—but their images and stories are helpful, from the Idahoans at Columbia to the frats at Louisiana State. We shouldn’t stop the left from eating itself, but we also shouldn’t stop our own people from acting, well, naturally.

What’s the story? “Christian kid at Ivy League protects his dorm from the rabble, authorities sit on their hands.” It’s perfect. Not for the sake of saving the college, but for highlighting reality via microcosm. We want to keep our enemy in the wrong; we don’t want to interrupt their infighting and self-induced implosion. Saving them from this is foolish and self-defeating.

But many things can be true at once. As we build coalitions, we can’t succumb to ideological purity tests, however based.

The radical critique must be maintained. At the same time, the assertive and self-confidence acts of the not-quite-radical must be affirmed even if said acts are wrong in the object—so long as they are right in principle.

We can’t let a good crisis go to waste either. Rory guarding the door of his dorm, UNC frats reenacting Iwo Jima in standard issue Vineyard Vines. It’s all gold! Not because either school is worth saving or because these guys are red-pilled, but because it makes the other side look lame and insane, which they are, and it signals base, masculine instincts we want to encourage, however embryonic.

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Timon Cline

Timon Cline is the Editor in Chief at American Reformer. He is an attorney and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary and the Director of Scholarly Initiatives at the Hale Institute of New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in the American Spectator, Mere Orthodoxy, American Greatness, Areo Magazine, and the American Mind, among others. He writes regularly at Modern Reformation and Conciliar Post.

10 thoughts on “On Protests and Protesting

  1. Cline doesn’t waste his gifts with using hyperboles and reductionism in the above article. He wants to paint the left in the same way that MAGA commercials on immigration want to paint current immigrants. Both take the worst examples and give those examples the title of the face of their groups. Should remind people here that describing a group or institution as being monolithic leads to either canonizing or demonizing that group or institution. Somehow, the commandment prohibiting the bearing of false witness has escaped Cline’s notice or memory.

    Take the encampment at Columbia for example. It was planned by Jewish and non-Jewish groups. They held a Seder service at the encampment. They held a teach-in on anti-Semitism. They had joint prayer services. Yes, there were individuals who actions and words were reprehensible. But why are those individuals counted as the picture of the protest at Columbia while peaceful organizers and protesters are ignored? Perhaps Cline’s one-sided reporting is due to deliberate ignorance?

    But the hyperbole and reductionism leading to monolithic descriptions of groups is a problem for those on all ideological sides, not just for conservatives like Cline. And that use of hyperbole and reductionism has at least one purpose: to influence like-minded audiences and followers: that they have everything to teach and nothing to learn from those they target with criticisms. And in so doing, influencers like Cline are using the same building blocks that white racists used, and still do, to portray blacks. They portray others as people who are their inferiors because their own significance comes from feeling superior to some group. Such is one of the 3Fs that influencers use from all ideological sides to manipulate and lockdown their audiences and followers from reading and learning from forbidden sources. Those 3Fs are fear, fury, and flattery. They incite fear in their audiences. They enflame fury in their audiences. And they flatter audiences and followers to give their listeners a greater sense of significance. And those 3Fs work well with authoritarian followers because authoritarians believe in hierarchy. And the best hierarchy one can ask for is the one that put one’s own group at the top.

    1. If Commie Curt was a doctor, he would diagnose my cold as stage 4 cancer. He just can’t stop misinterpreting everything and getting scared!

      1. Andrew,
        Like Ryan, either you are either unable or unwilling to show objections to specific statements of mine. Rather, like Ryan, you prefer personal attacks. And those personal attacks show an authoritarian reaction.

        Also, no communist would regard me as one. Why? Even though I believe in redistributing power from the bourgeoisie to the workers, I don’t believe in doing that in an absolute sense. For example, I very much support and promote Germany’s codetermination laws and hope that some version of them would be enacted here in the U.S. Communism itself and many socialists believe that such laws are a capitulation to the bourgeoisie.

        That shows that you don’t what the term Communist means. And so you must be using it as pejorative. Therefore, go back to GO, which is the first paragraph of this comment, without collecting any Monopoly money.

        Finally, your analogy really applies to Cline’s view of the student protests at places like Columbia. If anything, he regards the protests there as if it was a stage 4 cancer while I am not quite calling it a cold.

        1. You don’t make reasoned “statements.” You make fashionable mouth sounds. We’re just pointing that out. You not liking it is admittedly a nice little bonus though.

          1. Ryan,
            Let’s test your claim here. I made the following claim about Cline from his articles:

            Cline doesn’t waste his gifts with using hyperboles and reductionism in the above article. He wants to paint the left in the same way that MAGA commercials on immigration want to paint current immigrants. Both take the worst examples and give those examples the title of the face of their groups

            I don’t know if you have seen the MAGA commercials, but they a picture of an immigrant who is a gang member and has murdered someone and that immigrant the ‘face’ of immigrants. How does Cline refer to the Left in the above article?

            Willing participants need not be clued into larger motivations or theories, they just have to show up. This is demonstrably true of the current Harvard and Columbia vandals. Most of the people don’t know why they are there, but they are enthusiastic all the same. I remember my old professor, Carl Trueman, instructing that the youthful campus energy, we might say, behind the Reformation need not be discounted. Some youngsters just want to burn something, including papal bulls and books of canon law. The same is true today, and the left doesn’t care as long as people show up.

            So the Left doesn’t care about its people being informed and most of the people participating in the activities at Columbia and Harvard have no idea why they are there? Do you see how the Left is painted? It is there to enflame rabble rousers regardless of whether those raising heck know what they are talking about. Knowing at least one of the organizations involved in the planning of the Columbia encampments and reading the comments of the some of the participants, which included students and faculty, involved, the data indicates that Cline was not making an informed comment.

            But most of all, look at the comparison. The MAGA commercial gives a monolithic description of today’s immigrants: gang members. Cline gives a monolithic, and ill-informed, description of the Left: users of enthusiastic, but ignorant for the most part, participants to further the Left’s agenda.

            Did Cline know that those who organized and planned the encampment included Jewish groups, like Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as non-Jewish groups? That included in the planning for the encampment was a Seder Service (a.k.a., a Jewish Passover Service), a teach-in on anti-Semitism (anti-Semitism has been increasing on Columbia’s campus for the most part independent of the pluralistic groups that have been protesting the Israel’s War on Gaza), a joint prayer service, and a lot of kids who while encamped were studying. Where was Cline’s mention of those activities?

            And what is the media’s portrayal of those in the encampments? And didn’t Cline want that portrayal to stand for how the Left works?

            So tell me, what is so unreasonable about the comparison I made with how Cline describes the Left?

          2. Ryan,
            Please tell me why the comment below is unreasonable.

            They portray others as people who are their inferiors because their own significance comes from feeling superior to some group. Such is one of the 3Fs that influencers use from all ideological sides to manipulate and lockdown their audiences and followers from reading and learning from forbidden sources. Those 3Fs are fear, fury, and flattery.

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