One of the incidental features of the unedifying spectacle of Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court is the opportunity it provides for reflecting on the state of conservative discourse around sexual ethics.
Here it is interesting to consider the career of Mark Judge, the Washington-based journalist and author who's accused of being Kavanaugh's accomplice in an alleged sexual assault at a high school party over three decades ago. Judge exemplifies the all-but-universal shift in priorities among the conservative movement from religious opposition to the perceived decline of public morals — and the enshrinement of this decline in our law — to a more ad-hoc reactionary position. Judge is the author of, among other books, two memoirs about his own admittedly misspent youth. His journalism has tended to focus on popular culture, his views on masculinity, and high-toned apologia on behalf of sexual desire, which he considers a core element of Catholic moral theology. He has also worked as a videographer, allegedly filming young models wearing bikinis and cheerleader uniforms.
Judge has written in praise of, among other things, George W. Bush patting our former first lady on her buttocks, and has suggested that Barack Obama is effeminate because he has referred in speeches to trying not to displease his wife. Judge's writings about sex are full of disclaimers like "There's never any excuse to rape" and insinuations that "women who dress like prostitutes are sending out signals." He has argued that men must understand the "ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her." Men must "feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion." According to one report, Judge's column in The Daily Caller was terminated after he was allegedly caught using Craigslist to solicit "sexy women" for videos he intended to film at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
What a long way the movement has come from the days of Anita Bryant and "Save the Children." Judge himself has acknowledged as much in a prurient column about Sarah Palin ("the raw, fertile, wild Alaska woman sexuality") and welcomed the development. There was always more than a hint of this loucheness in the old social conservatism. William F. Buckley, Jr., was, after all, a frequent contributor to Playboy.
But it's still difficult to understand conservatives' indifference or outright hostility to the #MeToo movement and its predecessor, which sought to increase the public's awareness of rape on American college campuses. In the case of the former, conservatives have generally been cynical, jumping at the chance to use, for example, Harvey Weinstein's relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton as a rhetorical weapon but impugning the motives of many other accusers. In the case of the latter, they have tended either to deflect concerns about campus rape with procedural questions about how the Title IX system addresses accusations or by expressing blanket skepticism about the veracity of the victims. The most frequent insinuation is that most, if not all, purported rapes in these settings involve situations in which women expressed regret about actions to which they had previously consented.
I find these responses hard to understand. Why in the world would a Christian, who believes that fornication is a grave sin, stake his honor arguing in cases where the facts are unknown and perhaps unknowable that it wasn't rape? Why would it bring him comfort to assert, over and over again, that there is no epidemic of rape at our colleges and universities, only widespread fornication abetted by alcohol and drugs? Are they trying to conserve this debauchery? I, for one, want no part of it.
President Trump did not invent the new social conservatism, but he recognized, with the canniness of the entrepreneur, that it existed. He understood that the fronts upon which the culture war is being fought are not abortion or same-sex marriage or obscenity but the NFL, the entertainment industry, vague concerns about "political correctness," and, of course, libertine morals. Those who believed that he could somehow become the vehicle for the realization of older ideals were delusional. Those who rejected those ideals and seized upon their chance with Trump represent the future of the so-called conservative movement in this country.
There is nothing worth preserving in the rotten moral consensus of the last 40 years. The only coherent response to it is that of a Savonarola. If feminists and campus progressives are gathering oil for a coming bonfire of the vanities, those of us who hate the same things for many of the same reasons should be joining our fuel to theirs and lighting the torches, not throwing water on them.