Although watching liberals react to him can be entertaining, this is not a sufficient reason to make a professional provocateur the figurehead of American conservatism.
His show, which is, above all else, a piece of performance art does not always advance the values of individual freedom and fiscal responsibility; often, it is only a forum to agitate and spite the Left.
Milo Yiannopolous, one of the most divisive individuals in contemporary political commentary is revered as a hero by many, condemned as a false prophet by a large faction of conservatives, and is just as frequently branded a Nazi by many on the Left. Above all else, he is a provocateur, and he admits this freely. But he is a provocateur who challenges the ideals and stereotypes that frequently dwell even in the mainstream of the conservative movement. In the past week, he has been a target for criticism by people across the political spectrum in response to controversial comments he had made that seemed to trivialize the gravity of the sexual assault of minors. The purpose of this essay is not to comment on whether these comments were taken out of context, making him a victim of establishment bias, or whether he was indeed in the wrong.
The most important question that must be considered, especially at this juncture in Mr. Yiannopolous’ career, is do we want this man to be the face of our seemingly endless struggle for liberty? Many Republicans do not because they view Milo as too controversial, especially in light of these new comments, which may serve to distract the public from his message of freedom. Perhaps the messenger has been tainted. The fact of the matter is that conservatives have many legitimate grievances with Mr. Yiannopolous methods apart from his recent comments on pedophilia. But even if his tactics are extreme or overly colorful, when have conservatives ever been shy of controversy?
Conservatism is about fighting the State when it becomes too intrusive into the lives of individuals, when the central government aims to do everything in its power to abridge our freedom and individuality. Sometimes challenging the ever-increasing intrusiveness of the state requires a movement marked by unapologetic and fierce boldness, characteristics that Mr. Yiannopolous embodies. Many on the political right recognize that freedom is best guaranteed through testing its boundaries, and they have wholeheartedly embraced this colorful persona. However, I might argue that these supporters fail to recognize that these traits are not the sole criteria for representing conservatism. Sometimes they may even prove to be a distraction from the actual issues.
Supporters of Milo enjoy his dissimilitude with the stereotype of a conservative: a straight, Christian with a penchant for traditional family values. Because of his identity as the antithesis of the textbook conservative, they seek to crown him as the leader of the political right. His supporters believe nothing is more annoying to the Left than to have a conservative leader who does not conform to the type of person liberals usually identify as their adversary.
Progressives cannot call him a racist or homophobic without appearing foolish. But this is not a compelling reason to make him the champion of the conservative cause. So what if he “triggers” Leftists? So what if university administrators despise him? So what if he confuses the liberal establishment? Although watching liberals react to him can be entertaining, this is not a sufficient reason to make a professional provocateur the figurehead of American conservatism.
The crux of conservatism is individuality and meritocracy rather than identity politics. If we elevate an individual simply on the basis of identity, we are doing a great disservice to the movement.
Milo is a warrior against the Left, but he is not necessarily a warrior for the Right. The crux of conservatism is individuality and meritocracy rather than identity politics. If we elevate an individual simply on the basis of identity, we are doing a great disservice to the movement. This is not to say that Milo has not won victories for the conservative movement, but, just the same, we must hold Milo accountable when he runs askew of the principles of conservatism. His show, which is, above all else, a piece of performance art does not always advance the values of individual freedom and fiscal responsibility; often, it is only a forum to agitate and spite the Left.
The Left needs to be challenged robustly. However, ridiculing political foes and reducing the movement to a circus act is hardly the essence of conservatism. I am not questioning whether Milo believes in the free market and American exceptionalism. I am rather taking issue with his delivery. His antics may be effective in attracting crowds of college students in “Make America Great Again” hats, but we need, instead, intellectual debate and discussion on real issues facing our country. Not just “trolling” the Left.
Nikhil Sridhar is an undergraduate at Duke University.