The Whole Thing With Not Liking David French
Note: This article is about a religious figure, one who spends a lot of time instructing people in his religion on what he thinks God demands of them. As such this is gonna get pretty dang religious at some points. If you aren’t into that, cool. I just wanted to let you know.
In the same way, this article is about someone who claims to be conservative while holding a lot of left-accepted viewpoints. It’s going to seem like I’m criticizing those viewpoints, but that’s not my aim.
Edited to add: One of my friends points out that I, as a not very focused person, missed a step in not staying on track re: French’s changes over time. This is a probably-valuable footnote:
A few articles back, I wrote a throw-away joke about not liking David French:
OK, so, there’s this thing where if you write a bunch you hope you eventually build up some trust with your audience. You try to be generally reliable and trustworthy in hopes that they come to believe you are generally reasonable, that you wouldn’t try to trick them, and that you aren’t David French. If any of these three things aren’t true, they rightfully come to distrust you.
This upset a lot of people. Now, a lot of people is a relative term; at best I’ve talked to probably 1% of my regular readership; most people aren’t normal commenters, and that’s fine. But I got a bunch of emails, and a bunch of not-here comments sections took exception to it and it was overall pretty significant compared to the normal reaction I’d get for saying a controversial thing.
A few people suggested that I probably actually don’t dislike French that much. I sort of have to disappoint them. In the sense that one “likes” or “dislikes” a public figure based on their commentary (as opposed to hating the person), I dislike French very much. I don’t want him to drive off a cliff or anything, but I loathe his commentary.
This isn’t because I disagree with him on a whole lot of things. I do disagree with him, but I disagree with most people on most things, and that in and of itself isn’t enough to make me dislike a commentator. As an example, I like Freddie Deboer fine and I’m pretty sure we disagree on essentially everything besides hating widespread advice to pursue minimalist writing. I probably disagree with David MacIver on a ton of things, but he’s honest and I like him personally.
French is a different situation. People who like French a lot typically like him because he’s the current poster boy for both what you’d term the “reasonable right” and for a “reasonable Christian”, and there’s good reason why; he rarely says or does anything a center-left person would object to at all. French knowingly or unknowingly exploits this perception to the hilt; he spends a massive amount of his time explaining to non-French conservatives and Christians where they’ve gone wrong.
A person defending French will often stop me at this point to explain to me that French himself is a conservative and a Christian in an older, purer sense - that the world has moved around them just as the political spectrum has moved around the moderate in Colin Wright’s famous meme:
I don’t think this is defensible. To that end, I’ve brought what the kids refer to as “receipts”, and I’m going to spend a little bit of time on each trying to explain my perceptions of him with a few different examples.
The Religious and the Political
So first, some context on Christian theology:
Most Christians believe that there was a shift in what rules a follower of the Abrahamic God has to follow that occurred at or around the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. So, for instance, when you sometimes see a Christian eating bacon or not knowing a whole bunch about when to throw out clay vessels, it’s related to this; they believe themselves bound by a new covenant between God and his followers that comes complete with a different ruleset.
That doesn’t mean that every Old Testament teaching goes out the window, but things get complex. Usually, the way this gets parsed is that if a rule exists in the New Testament, it’s a live ball; you have to follow it. If it’s in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the same goes but the evidence is especially strong. But if it’s in the Old Testament alone, it’s often up in the air - we don’t stone people to death for adultery anymore, for instance, and most modern Christians don’t feel compelled to follow Old Testament dietary law.
We do this and a bunch of other equally involved rule-parsing stuff because it’s important to us - we want to obey God. But at the same time, there’s a real danger of someone coming along and saying “listen, I found something that says you have to do what I say” and manipulating that desire to achieve their non-religious ends. We don’t want to be caught by that person, but we also don’t want to be that person - if you tell someone that God is commanding them to do something, it’s a big deal if you can’t back that up.
We are careful as a result of this. We carefully examine scripture to try to see what it actually says and what we are actually compelled to do; we aren’t perfect at this (or anything) but we are at least supposed to try.
So, that boring stuff said, how does this interact with French?
OK, so first, pretend that I’m a Christian and I want to tell my also-a-Christian-friend to stop cheating on his wife. If I want to be able to tell him that in a more powerful way than friendly advice, I’m going to be going to the text of the bible to try and dig out an argument that it’s not just me telling him to do it, but also the deity he claims to believe in. In the case of adultery, this is actually pretty easy; both the old and new testaments take a pretty dim view of sleeping around on one’s spouse.
At some point, David French wanted to convince every other Christian in the US that they should support reparations and went digging around the bible in the same way. Here’s what he came up with:
But on the core issues of American racism, Platt is biblically and historically right, and it’s his detractors who are biblically and historically wrong. These “conservatives” have placed a secular political frame around an issue with profound religious significance. They’ve thus not just abandoned the whole counsel of scripture, they’ve even contradicted a core component of the secular conservatism they claim to uphold.
To understand the flaw in their argument, let’s first turn to biblical text. A pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of an intriguing and sobering story from 2 Samuel 21. During the reign of King David, Israel was afflicted with three years of famine. When David “sought the face of the Lord” regarding the crisis, God said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house.” (Saul had conducted a violent campaign against the Gibeonites, in violation of a covenant made with the Israelites many centuries before.)
Saul was king before David, and God was punishing Israel years after Saul’s regime because of Saul’s sin. It was the next king, David’s, responsibility to make things right. And so David turned to the remaining Gibeonites and said, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?”
The Gibeonites’ request was harsh—to hand over seven of Saul’s descendants for execution. David fulfilled their request, and “God responded to the plea for the land.”
He then uses it to call for this:
So how is a Christian to respond? First, let’s go back to scripture and recognize that the obligation to “act justly” is intergenerational. If there is injustice that predates our personal power, it is still our obligation to do what we can to set it right. Second, when you see these racist structures at work, you recognize that you need sociology, history, and economics to help understand not just their reality, but their remedy.
“Sola scriptura” doesn’t tell us how we should zone our communities, district our schools, or protect civil rights. Indeed, there’s an entire Christian doctrine of common grace that teaches us that truth can come from many sources. Even those “conservatives” who resist David Platt likely understand this in their daily lives. Is it the case that we can rely on non-Christian wisdom in, say, military strategy, trade policy, and law enforcement tactics, but when trying to untangle the effects of centuries of racial oppression, the Bible alone will be our guide?
Now for a note about conservatism. I simply don’t grant that the dissenters' objections to Platt are “conservative.” Right-wing, yes. Conservative? I object. Years ago, my friend Rod Dreher wrote that “the business of a conservatism with integrity is not to impose an idealistic ideological narrative on reality but rather to try to see the world as it is and respond to its challenges within the limits of what we know about human nature.”
I love that framing. Applied to race, it means that when we discern “the world as it is” (complete with understanding the structures that racists built) the policies a conservative might propose will be different than those of a progressive, in part because conservatives often (but not always) have a different view of human nature and human frailty than their friends on the left.
A conservative like me is suspicious of the effectiveness of central planning to ameliorate systemic injustice. I’m less likely to want to pour money into vast, centralized public school bureaucracies and more likely to empower school choice to grant families options in the short term and to provide competitive incentives for public schools to improve over the long term.
With regards to zoning, I’m more likely to suggest that property owners should be granted more economic freedom and that limits on multi-family housing are perpetuated by limiting people’s freedom to buy and develop land. The balance between planning and property rights should tilt more towards liberty. NIMBYism exists in part because government authorities sometimes control my backyard more than I do.
When it comes to inequities in policing, a conservative should double down on the Bill of Rights and seek to restore the original, expressed intent of America’s civil rights laws, which were explicitly designed to grant victims financial compensation when the state violates their rights.
Regardless of my ideology, the objective is justice. It’s not “conservative” justice or “progressive” justice. It’s simply justice. So if my ideology leads me astray, and the solutions I propose are inadequate to the enormity of the task, it’s my moral obligation to rethink my philosophical frame.
So he’s essentially saying “listen, Christians owe a blood debt, an eternal intergenerational blood debt caused by slavery. They must accept a modern conception of structural racism as true, and support various kinds of reparations as a result”. And if he’s right - if he can back that up - it’s a powerful thing. He’s telling Christians this is something God commands them to believe and do.
But there are holes in his argument you can drive a dump truck through. The first thing you should have noticed is that he was reluctant to quote the actual scripture he said supported his case. Here they are:
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?”
The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?” They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” And the king said, “I will give them.”
We have a pretty specific situation here where:
A specific oath was taken by an entire nation towards a specific people group which
Was then broken by a particular family who
Were punished with the penalty of death, as a family, for moving unilaterally to break a nation’s oath.
This might seem like rules-lawyering to you, but understand again that the context is that David French is saying that this clearly commands Christians to accept a modern viewpoint on race and to take certain specific actions to repay a debt. It’s significant that the type of sin is different; It’s significant that the penalties David calls for aren’t the penalties from the passage.
Edited to add: In the comments, Vaquero notes that I say “specific actions” and French is very general here. He further notes that the actions he proposes are right/libertarian themed to an extent.
I disagree with this a little in spirit, since anything he’s proposing as a solution for this is in the context of “paying reparations specifically meant to correct the left’s conception of structural racism”. But it’s a fair hit, he’s not wrong.
From there we look to see if he provided anything else that supports this, but the best he could find is even less related:
Note the underlying conception of justice here: Israel remained responsible for its former leader's sins, and they were required to make amends. This is a consistent theme throughout scripture. I’ve referred to it before. In the book of 2 Kings, Josiah “tore his clothes” and “wept” when the high priest found the Book of the Law neglected in the temple. Why? Josiah said, “because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book.”
Josiah was far from alone. Daniel confessed the sins of Israel’s fathers. In the book of Nehemiah, the Israelites confessed the “sins and iniquities” of their fathers. In the book of Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites to “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers.”
Note that again he doesn’t quote the scripture, and when we look we find that each of the references he uses doesn’t reference national policy at all, and speak to the person-to-God aspects of sin rather than with the person-to-person level of sin:
O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.
“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites1 separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
In every case, we see something different than what David tells us to see. We see people repenting general sins to their God without reference to blood debt, or we see a government taking action for a specific broken oath against a specific family of oath-breakers when directly commanded to by the God in charge of a theocracy.
Do these words mean nothing? No, not at all. They have a bunch of significance regarding following God, feeling regret. and moving away from bad behavior back towards obedience. Do they require a certain stance on your beliefs about the specific levels of racism that currently exist, or a specific stance towards zoning laws? No, but French is using them as if they do.
Then French gets tricky. Anticipating that someone will eventually check and notice his misuse of the verses, he reveals what he’s actually getting at, first saying the bible demands reparations and should be listened to:
So how is a Christian to respond? First, let’s go back to scripture and recognize that the obligation to “act justly” is intergenerational. If there is injustice that predates our personal power, it is still our obligation to do what we can to set it right.
And then-and-only-then revealing that only left-controlled viewpoints can be trusted to tell us what the bible means and what we should do:
Second, when you see these racist structures at work, you recognize that you need sociology, history, and economics to help understand not just their reality, but their remedy.
But even in the midst of all this complexity, some things are still clearly true. We still live with the legacy of the discriminatory structures our forefathers created. Our obligation to seek justice does not depend on a finding of personal fault. Christians must be open to truth from any source. And there is nothing—absolutely nothing—“conservative” about denying the reality of the consequences of centuries of intentional, racist harm.
If you are on the left, you probably feel attacked right now. Don’t. I’m not making an argument here that structural racism is completely wrong and you are wrong for believing it.
But what French is doing here should horrify a Christian who is trying to look to him for guidance. He starts by misusing scripture, saying it has specific significance to situations it doesn’t touch on. He then says, listen, absolutely ignore everything about those passages except the part I lied about - the part I’m saying drives your actions in this specific situation today. And then take only that piece and go talk to the real source of truth that you should always believe and follow: the current political leanings of the left. They will tell you what to do.
I can’t say things like “David only believes the bible should be listened to when it gets you to vote democrat”. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But if God is real and the bible should by virtue of that be listened to, there’s a need for him to be careful here; the words of his God are not something he should feel comfortable misusing and yoking to his preferred political outcomes in this way. And he’s not; he’s sloppy in a way that sometimes always comes out supporting his preferred politics - greater social safety nets, a growing welfare state, Biden presidencies, etc. It’s concerning.
Same thing but with “being conservative”.
I have often said that there is no battle conservatives want to win that David doesn’t think they should lose. I might be wrong about it (again, not a psychic) but I have again and again run into situations where David’s terminal value is not anything resembling conservatism nearly so much as it is a normal person trying to stay exactly centered in the left’s Overton window at all times, and doing whatever is necessary to stay there.
I wrote this article a while back talking about a bit of why. So first note that every time French talks about something like limiting whatever-you-call-CRT in public k-12 schools, he tries his very hardest to represent it as the end of liberal democracy. So where university educations enjoy a very different set of protections (since they are voluntary and students may choose to attend a particular school or not) he tries to conflate them as if they share a common legal footing:
Moreover, a number of states are considering applying these laws beyond public primary and secondary schools to include public colleges and universities. Applying such statutes to public university professors would not only flatly violate existing precedent, their very existence would cut directly against the longstanding conservative and libertarian legal effort to protect conservative, Christian, and libertarian public university professors from censorship and retaliation against their own countercultural viewpoints.
Or where Marcuse argues for censorship of the right in favor of the left in a general way that covers all speech in the social square, French indicates that this is the same thing as wanting to use normal representative democracy levers to have the government reign in governmental speech that many are legally obligated to have their children listen to:
For a generation, conservatives and libertarians have rejected Marcuse. They’ve litigated against policies inspired by Marcuse. We’ve quoted Frederick Douglass’s legendary “Plea for Free Speech in Boston” to argue that First Amendment principles aren’t repressive. Instead, the “right of speech” is the “great moral renovator of society and government.”
The New Right, however, has decided to give Marcuse another look. Some ideas and some freedoms are too terrible for it to tolerate. CRT is too dangerous to run free. And when a commitment to liberty means progressives moderate the platforms they made, then censorship and compelled speech become components of the “common good.”
And eventually settles on what I’ll call the “French Maximum” - the most action he’s comfortable with the right taking in any given situation:
The better course of action for Americans who are concerned about public school curriculum isn’t to support broad, vague bans on the expression of ideas, but rather to use your voice to advocate for specific courses and textbooks that you believe best teach American history and civics.
For the sake of making this sound reasonable, he’s set up a scenario that ignores a lot of what the people he is talking to are concerned about. The problem, he hopes you won’t notice him telling you, is just the curriculum. Any extra-curricular lessons a teacher might throw at your students don’t exist, and even if they did you should be OK with them anyway.
He’s threading a needle and even a slightly critical read of any of his pieces about this come up with awkward argument after awkward argument that all crumble under only a slightly critical glance. And if you listen to him, you end up losing - where you could solve something at the state level, he tells you to take it local. Where you could tell the government you want schools to teach X, Y and Z he tells you only to ask for Z and that X and Y don’t exist yet must be vigorously defended.
Where he doesn’t like a particular president much, he tells you to vote for another president who will actively work against you and to be willing to abandon literally any other political goal you might have while leaving out the bit that despite being a good deal more sophisticated, the other presidents aren’t particularly in line with Christian mores either:
For those who think and obsess about politics, this shift from big to small is hard. It’s hard to think that how you love your friends might be more important to our nation than what you think of CRT. It’s strange to think that your response in your church to a single toxic leader might matter more to America than every single word you ever say or every vote you cast about trans athletes or corporate activism.
If you hate Trump, you probably feel attacked right now. But you shouldn’t. Go on disliking him! Don’t vote for him! It’s fine; this is not an article attacking the left.
What this article is, and I’ll keep saying it different ways, is an article attacking a guy who claims to be a religious conservative but who is in every practical way always promoting the goals of a center-left politician. It’s a critique of someone whose only observable principle is “the left gets what it wants” who cloaks that in a dozen principles that always, always magically fall into line with his terminal goal of promoting the left’s current goals.
Right now some of you have an objection to this on the tip of your tongue - the one place that you’d know he’d never, ever falter.
But yes it’s abortion too.
David French, I am often told, is a conservative. And then I go examine his conservatism, and he’s functionally not that at all - he wants huge social safety nets and increased government spending and he wants you to accept every framing the left would put forth on any particular issue of note that day.
I am then also told he’s a principled religious Christian, and I go check on that, and I find he’s willing to use scripture in ways it doesn’t apply while again circling back to getting more welfare, government spending, making sure presidents he doesn’t like stay out of office, etc.
But after all the smoke clears on those, I’m always told that above all else he’s a principled voice on abortion; that he’s always been against it, and that he’s always been absolutely clear it’s a national blight and a horrible sin. On this, I’m told, he will never waver.
I have held that one of the ways you can get around people saying you can’t call someone a liar or a hypocrite is to make predictions about what they would do if they were a liar or a hypocrite, and then see what their actual subsequent actions are. It keeps you honest, but it’s also a really powerful tool if you are trying to teach people who someone actually is.
In that spirit, not quite a prediction but:
Note that May 2nd date. The last tweet is pretty falsifiable if I’m wrong; he’s allowed in this model to say he’s for the fall of wade, which he’s done. All he has to do besides that is not immediately crumble, argue against any and all effective bans, and then reveal all he wanted all along was more left-acceptable goals achieved and I’d have to eat serious crow. Now go read the May 15th article that gave us all these quotes:
Across the United States, then and now, countless women face similar situations. They face similar pressures, with similar levels of knowledge and understanding. An increasing percentage of women who face Denise’s choice now choose life (it’s one reason why abortion rates are down), but many women still abort.
Now, here’s my question. If a woman chooses to abort, should she be prosecuted for murder? Should her decision be criminalized? Is any legal regime that doesn’t criminalize women who obtain an abortion fundamentally unjust? Should she be forced to carry a pregnancy even if doing so endangers her life? If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you’re an abortion “abolitionist,” and you’re sadly misguided.
If you don’t follow the pro-life movement closely, you might be puzzled by the term “abolitionist.” After all, isn’t every single member of the pro-life movement who wants to end abortion an “abolitionist”? I believe that a just society protects unborn life in law and a healthy society celebrates and protects innocent life from conception until natural death. Doesn’t that make me an abolitionist?
Not in the vernacular of today’s pro-life movement. Why? Because I believe abortion laws should protect the life of the mother, I do not believe women who obtain abortions should face criminal punishment, and I do strongly endorse state statutes that make even incremental improvements to abortion law. And if the draft Justice Alito opinion holds, the distinction between so-called “abolitionists” and incrementalists/eliminationists like me is about to become very relevant indeed.
And what are we to make of the argument that abortion should be treated as murder not just as a matter of heated rhetoric but as a matter of law? After all, if you believe that abortion kills a human being, isn’t it inconsistent and perhaps even unjust to not to provide “equal protection” for that young life by holding out the promise of criminal sanction for a mother who seeks to abort her child?
Yet this argument misunderstands the vitally important legal and moral distinction between act and intent.
He goes on to argue that, listen, there’s a difference between manslaughter and murder. And since there’s a difference between manslaughter and murder, there shouldn’t be any punishments at all for getting an abortion, none whatsoever in any case. You might recognize this as something we usually call keeping abortion legal.
You doubt me. I get it:
Moreover, many women who seek abortions are also under extreme emotional distress, facing intense pressure—like my friend Denise—from friends and family to “end a pregnancy,” not “kill a baby.” As Beckwith notes, they’re not malicious or even reckless. They’re “well-meaning” even if they are terribly, tragically wrong.
There may be some women, at the fringes, who believe “my abortion is the same as killing a two-year-old, and I just don’t care,” but that is absolutely not the daily reality of abortion in America. Not only is there no intent to kill, there is no real awareness of what abortion truly does.
So if you recognize the child as a human life, yet you also recognize the mother’s lack of knowledge and intent, what’s the just approach? It’s to target the procedure itself, place legal penalties on the practitioners of the procedure, and to exhibit compassion and support for mothers and their babies.
David French is taking the strong position that if you dehumanize someone enough, it’s OK to kill them. Good news for murderous anti-semites, bad news for Jewish folks, I guess?
And he then moves around to his terminal goal:
I’ve spoken loudly and frequently, for example, in support of Mitt Romney’s child allowance plan. Last year he proposed transforming the child tax credit into a child tax allowance that could transform the financial condition of many of America’s poorest families. Under the Romney proposal, families would receive $4,200 per year, per child (up to age six) and $3,000 per year, per child (between ages 6 and 17). Families would receive monthly payments, and the payments would begin four months prior to the child’s due date.
We know that financial pressure plays a role in abortion decisions. We also know that Romney’s plan would dramatically ease child poverty. Isn’t that a far better and more just use of the state’s resources than pursuing and prosecuting desperate, grieving young moms?
Guys, this is going to be a shock to you, but it turns out what he’s actually OK with is an increased welfare state, not any significant restrictions on abortion.
Now, I fully admit that he’s talking completely about the demand-side; he’s claiming above that he’d be OK with supply-side penalties for abortion providers. But why on earth would I have any confidence in this? Every one of the arguments he makes in support of keeping abortion completely legal from a demand-side perspective also works for something like the following, which I fully predict he will say as soon as he has anecdotal ammo:
Today, it is much harder for a woman to find a safe, clean abortion clinic. This is especially true of the desperate and poor, who cannot drive state to state. Are we willing to look at this desperation and condemn these women to back-alley procedures that risk their lives?
Note to add: Because it’s coming up in the comments a lot, I should clarify that this is an actual concrete prediction I’m making. In the short term, French can make me look really really dumb here by indicating he supports actions that would meaningfully restrict access to abortion in some way; i.e. by saying “I think doctors that perform abortions should go to prison for some substantial amount of time in ways that track what we do for manslaughter or murder”. Long-term, he could make me look even dumber by sticking to it if it becomes a reality.
As it stands, he’s committed to “legal penalties on the practitioners of abortion” here, which is anything from execution all the way down to a $0.01 token fine. I’m as hopeful as anybody that the nation’s most prominant Christian-coded author speaking to secular audiences will hold firm on this and make me look dumb; like, please, do that, David.
David French has a couple of big advantages:
Any particular in-group very predictably loves harsh criticisms levied at an outgroup from a perceived member of the same outgroup.
Lots of people of all stripes of life hate Donald Trump.
Not only has digging deep into both of these made French an awful lot of money, but they give him cover. Where people point out that French is pretty far to the left of what would even be imaginable for a conservative in the ’90s on a number of issues (CRT, Structural Racism, voting for Democrats who will actively work against their goals for reasons of personality), they can claim that Trump fostered an entire nation of extremists who have taken over every aspect of conservative and religious life, and he’s just standing against that tide.
Once that mechanism is in play, he can hide a lot of stuff. He can say that conservative Christians should always have been OK with their kids being taught dozens of social philosophies in the schools they are legally mandated to send their kids to. He can say they would have always been OK with abortion being legal and really should have always seen UBI as the only solution. He can say they always should have believed in things like structural racism and always supported reparations.
But when you eventually start looking for where he’s conservative in any way that would have been legible to anyone else bearing that label for the last 20 years, you come up with nothing. When you try to find out how he’s anti-abortion, you find out he thinks it should be safe, legal, and rare.
And listen, I know, if you are on the left, you feel attacked right now.
But you shouldn’t. I’m not arguing that I’m right on any of these things right now. I’m not arguing that French is wrong. I’m saying that in every way that matters, French is a normal center-left person. In every practical sense, his religion intersects with his politics only and always to say that being center-left is right.
To put it another way, if French was a liberal and said so, I wouldn’t mind. If he only thought his religion was useful to talk about insofar as it could be used to promote center-left political views, and said so, I wouldn’t mind. If he was pro-abortion except to the extent that it could be limited by giving people money, and said so, I wouldn’t mind.
I’d disagree! Oh, how I’d disagree. But I wouldn’t say he was bad, or at least I wouldn’t find myself disliking him, so long as he was all those things and said so. But for whatever reason you want to assign to his unknown internal state, he won’t.
I thought, writing this, that some of the shifts that French has had to make to keep up with the left (Staying abreast of CRT, structural racism, etc) would do the work of pointing out some of how French has changed over time. But point well taken; I could have done better here. One thing that helps is this, supplied by the same guy who made the criticism:
I came here from ACX, and I was with you for a lot of this and gave you a lot of leeway given the recommendation, but you seriously think 'let's ban abortion but decriminalise the aborting mother' is a liberal left framing? You even outright say that decriminalised is the same as legal, which is astounding. I'm confused as to how I was directed here from a rationalist website, even.
I'll admit, French's abortion article was worse than I expected. I'm not fully sure how I should judge my prediction given that he does claim to be in favor of the ruling and of making abortion illegal from the supply side (though, as you note, he doesn't say what penalties he would be okay with—I now predict 70% that he would favor jail time for abortionists conditional on him making his views on the matter public). In any case, his current position is not what I had in mind when I said he would be "strongly" in favor of the ruling, and I think I was too confident.