The Rise of the Chicken Little Conservatives

Earlier this year, when Glenn Beck, whose fear-mongering has filled many chalk boards, began fretting about unrest in Egypt, he found himself rebuked by Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. "When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society," Kristol wrote. "He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s."

The same thing can be said for all the Chicken Little Conservatives. Reduced to profiting off ideologically friendly audiences willing to forgive lack of rigor in the assertions of a fellow traveler, they brand themselves as Cassandras, but spend a lot more time flattering those who agree with them than trying to persuade anyone who doesn't.

In so doing, they marginalize themselves:



And even when they tackle a subject worth addressing -- terrorism really is a threat, Islamists really are our enemy, rioting really is destructive of civil society, multiculturalism actually has threatened free speech, European society does suffer serious pathologies -- their effect is too often akin to the boy who cried wolf, so established is their reputation for making up all sorts of outlandish stuff. It's a particular shame with Steyn, who is capable of sound analysis when he aims higher than pandering to Dittoheads. In interview after interview, however, conservatives who don't believe for a second that we're doomed treat his doomsday prophecies with passive credulity.

None of this is to minimize the challenges of our era, or to presume that relative peace and prosperity are our due. One needn't be cavalier about the perils we face, or silent about alarming trends in Europe, or sanguine about America's alarming fiscal situation, to maintain some perspective. Civilization is fragile. It is every generation's job to preserve it. But America is in a far better position than it was in 1776 or 1812 or 1860 or 1941 or 1962 (to pick a particularly dicey moment during the Cold War). And Europe, for all the talk of its dire situation, is on course for a 2014 that's much preferable to its 1914, or its 1939, or its 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980.    

As ever, dark clouds ring the horizon.

But this is no time for mourning in America.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong. I can't predict the future, and I'd hate to leave you, dear reader, unprepared for upheavals to come. As a hedge, I sought to find out, "How are the would-be Cassandras preparing?" With the president bent on intentionally destroying the American economy, Rush Limbaugh has launched a new small business. (He's selling Paul-Revere-themed iced tea).

And en route to "Armageddon," with London so far gone it ought to burn, and a grand jihad afoot, how are Mark Steyn, Victor Davis Hanson, John Derbyshire and Andy McCarthy preparing for the end of Western Civilization as we know it? Come November 12, they're all packing their bags and leaving America together ... for an eight day luxury cruise around the Caribbean.

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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