Sexuality, Nationalism, and What to Teach Kids
A conversation with Eric Kaufmann on the rise of LGBT
CSPI recently released a report on the rise of LGBT identity by Eric Kaufmann (tweet thread). This week, he joined me on the podcast to talk about his work. I thought this part on what conservative activism should focus on and what is worth worrying about was particularly interesting.
Eric: There’s also a question in here about the thrust of conservative activism going forward. To what extent are we going to have a conversation about sexuality and LGBT, or to what extent is it going to be more about secular issues around Critical Race Theory, for example?
My own view is that those sort of Critical Race Theory questions about history are more important and more consequential. And actually, there is where I’m more supportive of interventions. Whereas I think the LGBT one could be one where you’re chasing something that is really not necessarily that important, particularly long term. Because we haven’t even talked about these people getting older and settling down and what’s going to happen longer term, right? If you actually look long term like that it may be that this fizzles to some degree.
So I’m just not sure that it warrants the energy. Because any energy you’re directing towards one thing is energy you’re not really able to direct elsewhere. And I just kind of worry that this could be somewhat of a wasted effort. Whereas I think the bigger issues are around traducing national history and heritage in the schools, and that’s probably where you want to focus more of your efforts. But I think it’s drifted towards these sorts of questions, which I think is perhaps not necessarily the most productive direction. I don’t know what you think of that.
Richard: I don’t know if I would agree. Look, I would rather have a 100% chance of my children having to read Ibram Kendi than a 1% chance they’re going to be convinced that they’re trans, right?
Richard: So I get your point. It might go over the head of 99% of kids and it might not matter. But the potential harm here is so great if you want grandchildren or something, that I think it’s definitely worth worrying about. And that’s not even getting into the second order effects on our culture.
So I think both fights are worth fighting. And you know what, I don’t know if there’s much of a tradeoff between them. Because if conservatives get control of the schoolboard, the same people who don’t like Critical Race Theory are the ones who are not going to like LGBT propaganda. So they’re probably more synergistic than they are competing priorities.
Eric: Yeah I guess it depends on what the target is. If it’s the trans thing, or if it’s a wider thing about LGBT…
Richard: I think the trans thing is driving it; the non-binary, the trans. Somebody just being gay, I think conservatives might not like it but it’s not going to motivate huge political action. I think that’s focused on that and I think it’s the right choice. There’s an instinct here that’s good and pointing in the right direction.
Listen to the whole thing on the CSPI podcast, or watch on YouTube.
Not sure I agree with Eric on the importance of national identity. Switzerland and Singapore seem to do fine without much of one. The US is much bigger than those countries and therefore not directly comparable, but that means there's even less of a need for a strong national identity, given that we’re highly unlikely to be invaded or pushed around by anyone. Hungary might need one to not be completely controlled by Washington, and I’d say something similar about Texas. Group identity is a part of human nature, but the nation-state is often not the best outlet for that instinct, given how easily it can be manipulated towards negative ends, which in the American case in particular means foreign adventurism. The war in Ukraine is the result of “strong national identities,” as is China sticking to Zero Covid and not wanting to import Western vaccines. The problem with CRT is less that it attacks national identity than it is a thinly-veiled political movement that is pro-crime, anti-merit, and anti-market, and if a strong national identity helps push back against those things, fine. To the extent nationalism is good in the American context, it’s because it serves as a bulwark against other ideas that are much worse, not because of its inherent advantages. But religion or more localized identities – or even broader, more civilizational ones – can serve a similar role, and maybe even do it better because they are not inherently attached to state power in a country with an incompetent national government.