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Can Conservatism Win?

Is conservatism’s vision of a well-ordered society nothing more than a mirage?

“I will never, ever, hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don’t care if you are a perfect fit or technically excellent or whatever. I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision.”

So allegedly wrote one Adam Fletcher in 2015. Is Fletcher a white supremacist lurking amongst the halls of corporate America? A backwards homophobe creeping amongst the cubicles? A privileged misogynist sneering from above the glass ceiling? Maybe he is actually a hero for swinging an iron hammer upon a clearly toxic and dastardly employee!

In actuality, Fletcher works for Google, and, first of all, should definitely know that nothing he says on the Internet is private. Fletcher's 2015 comment was recently linked to the 2017 publication of the so-called "anti-diversity manifesto" (which, in reality, proposed ways to increase the number of female tech wizards at Google) penned by one James Damore.

Damore’s only crime against Fletcher? Being conservative, white, and male.

Damore has recently filed suit against Google for unfair discrimination in accordance with its hiring practices. Now, I’m no legal expert, but I do know that—within certain bounds—private companies are generally free to enact the hiring policies and quotas they want.

In California, though, there are broader protections for employees’ political opinions than what federal protections proffer. But I would posit that California did not exactly envision placing the shield of the state over beleaguered conservatives when it drafted those political ideology protections.

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The visceral response to Damore’s memo is also not surprising in a world where “Campus Bias Teams” have emerged at over 100 colleges and universities. Despite their name and expressed mission of supporting students and faculty who experience incidents of “bias and discrimination,” I hardly think these groups imagine themselves to be defenders of conservative campus minorities that are often on the receiving end of real bias.

But how the tables could turn! Imagine Damore wins his suit, or that conservative students and faculty could successfully initiate and win campus bias responses against discriminatory hiring and promoting practices, disinvited speakers, suppressions of academic expression, and more. The liberal machinery would be turned in upon itself, leveraged for the advancement of its opposition.

But no self-respecting conservative would ever allow themselves to be considered an oppressed class in need of institutional protections. If they really did want to chalk up an imagined victory like the ones above, all they would have really done is leverage liberal tools and liberal frameworks to do so, and that would be no victory. The absolute last thing conservatives would ever want is special treatment, affirmative action, or legislation to tip the scales in their favor.

So then, where do conservatives find their Ws? In many ways, conservatism can appear paradoxical. When it comes to government, less is more. When it comes to morality and virtue, we need as much as we can get. People should be permitted to act in their own self-interest, but law and order are necessary for fallen mankind.

Even given these intellectual puzzles, I believe that I accurately capture most of the large conservative ideological tent when I say that liberty, morality, virtue, and tradition are pillars of conservative thought. But while these pillars provide something akin to victory conditions, the path towards them is decidedly less clear.

Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if a society governed by those noble forces is just as quixotic and as much a mirage as modern liberalism’s vision of equality and protection enforced by an all-benevolent state. Morality and virtues do not always course strongly through our society, and they are not easily developed or instilled in most people.

Legislative victories might bring some semblance of virtue or morality to the political system, but they would not increase those habits in individuals. Inducing or incentivizing people to behave virtuously is not the same thing as embracing virtue for its own sake. If Damore wins his suit, for example, that might make Google change its hiring practices, but it wouldn’t unharden the hearts of employees like Fletcher.

Surely though, there are better and worse visions of utopia to strive for. We are fools to believe that existence is relative, even if morally complex. If there is no true good or true bad in this world, then existence is quite meaningless. It is not closed-minded or intolerant to remain steadfast and resolute on an intricate but significant issue; rather, it takes great intellect and courage to resist the temptation to waver and equivocate and instead stick to reasoned principle. When the world understands that there is objective right and wrong, then, I believe, conservatism can win.

Grace M. Chao ’19 is an Economics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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