Milo Yiannopoulos, the famed alt-right apologist and campus firebrand, only says things he believes. Here are some of the things Milo Yiannopoulos believes: that liberal arts students are “snowflakes”; that affirmative action is horrible, “except in the bedroom”; that transgender people should be institutionalized; that “Harry Potter and rape culture are both fantasy”; that Anthony Kennedy has single-handedly “domesticated” the gay community; that feminism and Black Lives Matter and social justice are “cancer”; and — in one of his more profound moments — the bizarre ontological claim that “lesbians don’t exist.”
Yiannopoulos also disturbingly believes that although pedophilia is “disgusting,” some 13-year-old boys are “sexually mature enough” to consent to sex with older men. Not an older man — men.
This final revelation apparently proved too much for the Conservative Political Action Conference, which recently disinvited Yiannopoulos after a video surfaced online of the troll providing a quasi-defense of pederasty. One can’t help but suspect Yiannopoulos’ not-so-subtle embrace of his own sexuality had something to do with CPAC’s decision: “Look, we already think you guys molest children, but we’re willing to turn a blind eye as long as you say some really outrageous stuff about social justice warriors. But yeah, definitely keep the molesting children thing on the down-low, otherwise we’ll have a problem.” Even if you reject that cynical interpretation, it’s hard not to marvel at the absurdity of it all. After the socially conservative CPAC was willing to tolerate Yiannopoulos’ fetid brand of libertinism and obloquy in the name of “free speech,” this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Then again, perhaps it’s fitting that the self-professed “cultural libertarian” should be undone by an organ of the conservative establishment. Yiannopoulos’ relationship with the American right has always been a marriage of convenience, held together by a shared antipathy toward the scripts and strictures of the ruling class. Cultural conservatives were willing to condone his vulgarity so long as it undermined an ideology that justified their elimination from public life. They objected not to the concept of taboos, but to the sense that their taboos — their values — were under attack by a left that had long ago abandoned any recognizable commitment to pluralism or propriety. Yet Yiannopoulos’ political philosophy — to the extent he has one — is fundamentally anti-taboo. Its maxim is freedom for freedom’s sake — “all I care about,” Yiannopoulos insists, “is that people can say whatever they want.” Few political aphorisms are less conservative, or more crass, than this one.
CPAC and Yiannopoulos’ divorce, then, represents a much deeper fission within the American right. For decades now, social conservatives have inured themselves to a kind of “liberal-tarianism” — free markets, free speech, free love — that is utterly at odds with the structures and institutions they claim to value. Yiannopoulos’ career is a testament to this contradiction: he gained, and now stands to lose, all that he has because conservatism is in crisis, defined more by opposition to what it hates than any positive vision of what it loves.
But the strain of leftism against which Yiannopoulos rebels (and which dominates campus politics) is itself ripe with contradictions. It hates labels, but can’t seem to stop inventing them. It prizes tolerance, but silences dissent. It values sexual autonomy, but welcomes the federal government into collegiate dorms and bedrooms. Above all, the American left worships at the church of cultural Marxism and pays for it with neoliberalism, prioritizing diversity over cohesion, champagne over socialism.
So Yiannopoulos is, in many ways, both a symptom and a driver of the politics of negativity. To the left, he is a tangible manifestation of patriarchy and privilege, those pesky but often invisible poltergeists of liberal imagination. To one strand of the right, he is an iconoclast who calls the left on its B.S. And to another, he is a symbol of the vulgarity that permeates our politics, a debased and depraved reminder of everything conservatism must resist. One way or another, Milo Yiannopoulos allows all Americans — Bernie bros and Clintonites, Breitbart boys and Reaganistas — to join hands in a resounding chorus of “That’s Not Who We Are.”
But here’s the problem: Nobody — at CPAC or at Yale — knows who “we” are anymore. That so many take so seriously this plainly unserious man confirms the central thesis of Miloism: Our politics are a joke. We fight our culture wars through proxies and provocateurs so that we don’t have to acknowledge the pathetic crisis of self-definition playing itself out across the ideological spectrum. To treat Yiannopoulos as anything more than a crude and ultimately harmless entertainer is to reproduce the same malaise that spawned him in the first place.
We, the present and future intelligentsia, elevate and intellectualize Yiannopoulos because laughing at him is like laughing at ourselves — and for many, the joke hits too close to home.
Aaron Sibarium is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .