The Next Conservatism
Conservatism has become so weak in ideas that during the presidency of George W. Bush, the word “conservative” could be and was applied with scant objection to policies that were starkly anti-conservative. Americans witnessed “conservative” Wilsonianism, if not Jacobinism, in foreign policy and an unnecessary foreign war; record “conservative” trade and federal budget deficits; major “conservative” expansions of the power of the federal government at the expense of traditional liberties; and nonchalant “conservative” de-industrialization and dispossession of the middle class in the name of Ricardian free trade and Benthamite utilitarianism. No wonder the American people are confused and disillusioned by conservatism if these are its actions when in power. Were Russell Kirk still with us, what would he now call himself?
If conservatism is to be re-established as an intellectual force, and not merely a label for whatever the establishment does to its own benefit, it must first re-awaken intellectually. We need a new conservative agenda.''
Weyrich and Lind point out that conservatism is not an ideology; whenever I read an ostensibly conservative writer who uses the phrase 'conservative ideology', that writer is immediately discredited in my mind. Ideology tries to fit reality to preconceived notions and abstract ideals; ideology is what liberals/leftists/progressives (and libertarians) cling to, and we see around us the unfortunate results of decades of ideology attempting to reshape reality and human nature. And the results are not pretty.
So Weyrich and Lind do well to remind us that conservatism is not, or should not be, an ideology.
Real conservatism rejects all ideologies, recognizing them as armed cant. In their place, it offers a way of life built upon customs, traditions, and habits—themselves the products of the experiences of many generations.''
[...] From this it follows that the next conservatism’s foremost task is defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture. Not only does this mean the next conservatism is cultural conservatism, it also tells us we must look beyond politics.''
Weyrich and Lind assert that the needed changes should best be accomplished not through politics but through the culture, through people's everyday lives. This is, after all, the way the leftist counterculture accomplished many of the changes which have become entrenched in our society since the 60s and 70s. As I've written here before, the changes in mores and in our daily lives was not imposed by government or politics or laws; it permeated the popular culture, and almost overnight it seemed as if the old standards and beliefs were replaced by the mores of the 'counterculture.' Somehow it seemed as though people had stopped believing in the old standards and the old guidelines; unfortunately the outward shell of the old order was all that remained, and it was only peer pressure that enforced the old morality, as people seemed to have abandoned the old belief system. Many people were emboldened to break the old rules when they saw that there was no longer any social sanction for doing so. For example, within my lifetime, we have gone from considering unmarried cohabitation scandalous and low-class to accepting it as just as valid as legal marriage. This change happened almost overnight. Similarly with unmarried motherhood; the stigma that was attached to it suddenly disappeared, as if it had never existed.
The problem is, these tendencies toward greater 'personal liberty', or license, are a natural consequence of human nature; it's easy for us to drop the old Christian standards of behavior and revert to hedonistic ways, doing what we want when we want; that is human nature, without a civilizing standard such as Christianity provided for many centuries. So can we ever reverse the trend towards hedonism, license, and selfishness, which has resulted in the excess of sexual freedom we see today? The pessimist would say no; but if we read history, we see that cultures have cycles. We think of the Victorian Era as one which was very moralistic and straight-laced; today's libertines would say that the Victorians were 'repressed' or uptight and prudish. No doubt the word 'hypocritical' would be deployed to condemn the Victorians.
But Victorian society had its good points; social 'pathology' as we now call it in our dispassionate, nonjudgmental language, declined considerably.
Like the low illegitimacy rate, the low crime rate is quite extraordinary. There was a drop in the crime rate of nearly fifty percent in the second half of the 19th century; again in dramatic contrast to the crime rate in our own times which in the past thirty years has risen ten-fold. The low crime rate was a reflection of the Victorian virtues – work, temperance, orderliness, and responsibility.''
And the thing to remember is that this era of moral revival followed a more licentious era; things need not be on a permanent downward slide, with no possibility of any reversal. Am I saying that we have to bring back the Victorian Era? No; we can never reproduce the conditions of that time. But I am simply saying that there are cycles in human history. The Elizabethan era was also a licentious era, as much of the literature of the time, with its bawdy humor, indicates. But at some point the cycle reverses itself, and a more modest and less libertine era follows. It would seem that we have hit a kind of moral and aesthetic nadir in our culture, and maybe that is a concomitant of a weakened West, which appears to have a death wish. But on the other hand, there are many people who are alarmed by the excesses of our time, and who want to restore a more civilized and restrained way of life, with standards and order.
Weyrich and Lind suggest that people should choose to 'secede' from the corrupt order of things, from the decadence and the rampant consumerism and the politically-correct hypocrisy and cant.
The next conservatism includes “retroculture”: a conscious, deliberate recovery of the past.
This recovery should not be, indeed cannot be, imposed through political power. This is the second action the next conservatism must take: putting power in its place. Tolkien’s ring of power is power itself, which in the long run cannot be used for good. The rejection of the counterculture that has become the mainstream culture must proceed bottom-up, person by person and family by family, on a voluntary basis.''
Further, the next conservatism should revive the dormant conservative agrarian tradition. As the Amish demonstrate, the small family farm can be economically viable. Organic farming, conservation and restoration of the soil, farmers’ markets and “crunchy cons” should find an honored place in the next conservative agenda. Family farms are good places for children to grow up. While environmentalism is becoming an ideology, conservation and care in the use of God’s creation have long-standing conservative credentials. In turn, agriculture has always been a conservative culture.''
The counterculture of the 60s and 70s represented a spontaneous change in society, which was merely the outward evidence of a change in people's beliefs. Quite simply people had stopped believing in the existing morality, and once the signal went out that it was no longer necessary to pretend to believe, people simply dropped the hollow pretense, and behaved as though the old ways no longer mattered. Of course, not everybody had jettisoned the old Christian-based morality; some people still remained faithful to the old standards of right and wrong, despite the peer pressure to do so.
Unfortunately, though, all too many professing Christians were happy to follow along with the 'if-it-feels-good-do-it' philosophy.
But I think that deep down, many people still hunger for some strong moral framework and realize that the traditional ways were more solid and that life made more sense before the triumph of the 'me' generation and the 'Playboy Philosophy.'
So can we re-institute the old standards and old mores? I don't know; I know that many people see the perils of the path we are on, and I know that many people are sick of the hypocrisy inherent in Political Correctness. Nobody but the most fanatical leftists really believes that 'diversity is our strength' or that 'Islam is a religion of peace' and just about everybody is weary of the constant playing of the race card, and the perpetual guilt trip inflicted on us by the ethnic shakedown artists. And almost everybody but the most deluded liberals is outraged about the invasion of our country by millions of illegals.
Most people realize, however vaguely, that the present liberal order of things is a house of cards, and that there is no substance and no truth to it; it's a rotting edifice that will shortly fall down around us if we don't evacuate and remove ourselves to a safer and saner place.
Most Americans I have spoken to know, despite the revisionist history which has been force-fed to us, that the old America was a much more liveable and free place than the dysfunctional counterfeit America that is being fashioned for us now, the multicultural, diverse, 'new' America.
Most Americans do not want to see the country they grew up in transformed into a multicultural boarding house or an overcrowded slum, thanks to mass immigration. Many apolitical Americans I speak to know that things are not tenable as they are. They sense, however vaguely, that we are reaching some kind of crisis point. We need, at the very least, to encourage people to 'drop out', as in the old counterculture days, and seek a healthier and more traditional way. The hippies of the 60s and 70s sometimes attempted to go 'back to the land' and to re-create a bucolic life in a commune somewhere, but since their plans were based on some airy-fairy utopian dreamworld, and since their ideas of an infinitely malleable human nature were not grounded in reality, their plans failed for the most part.
But if the 'retroculture' dropouts have a solid basis in the tried-and-true way of life which worked for Americans for centuries, there is a much better chance of succeeding.
Weyrich and Lind have the right idea; politics is not the be-all and end-all; grassroots change in our personal lives plays a much bigger part than many people realize, and when a critical mass is reached, the politics will conform to the reality of the grassroots.