Saturday, August 13, 2011

A MANIFESTO CONCERNING CONSERVATISM

A.  I am disinclined to trust conservatives.  The very notion of conservatism is vague and frequently self-contradictory.  Most of the traditionalist conservatives I know decry the collapse of morals and speak sentimentally of "localism", agrarianism and the rosy past, while in fact embracing nine-tenths of the produce of modern culture.  The most socially conservative political organization at Yale University is populated by fans of South Park, and tends at its social gatherings to dance drunkenly to songs like "Hold it Against Me", by Britney Spears.  (This from a group which criticizes the "frattiness" of its main opponent on the right.)

B.  So, what exactly do conservatives want?  Fiscally they want less government intervention.  Socially they want an end to abortion and the restoration of anti-sodomy laws.  Culturally, conservatives tend to sympathize with the Great Books-ism of Adler and company, if they aren't simple anti-intellectuals.  They also tend to be nostalgic for the 1950s, which many traditionalists mistake for "pre-modernity".  One great curiosity of American conservatism is its continued love of the military. This is probably a relic of the Cold War, but two decades later it mysteriously lingers.  Conservatives are theists, nominally Christian, but usually don't talk about faith matters except in private, though they vehemently defend the right to speak about religion in the public sphere.  Lately, conservatives tend to be xenophobic and anti-Islamic, though the smarter right wing groups recognize that moderate Islam is a natural political ally. 

C.  Curiously, Christian conservatives rarely seem to appreciate the broader implications of their own religious views.  This becomes especially clear when asked about things like the meaning of life and the structure of morality.  The average conservative will tend to tell you that man's ultimate end is to have a family and treat people well, or to be materially prosperous.  Religion seems most of the time to be a vestigial feature of the conservative mindset: a piece of kitsch used to decorate one's life "the way they used to".  When asked about morality, most conservatives mumble a Kantian catchphrase they heard somewhere about "not hurting other people". 

D.  Conservatives have been a dying breed for a very long time.  Main-line conservatism today would seem very liberal to main-line conservatives of the early 20th century, and the same is true of the latter with respect to conservatives from the time of the French Revolution.  What this tells us is that the universal slogans of conservatism about restoring the old mores and cultural standards, returning to the golden age of the rosy past, etc., have repeatedly failed to win the hearts and minds of young people.  Conservative leaders and educators have failed to take advantage of the mass-propaganda tools of public education, and have been intellectually too dull to fight against prevailing liberal political structures and rhetorical formulae (e.g. within the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence), or to even see the basic opposition between classical liberalism and the maintenance of traditional social structures.

E.  But mostly, conservatism in America has failed for want of a coherent grand ideology.  Conservatives take a piecemeal approach to intellectual problems, accepting the prevailing (often tacitly liberal) orthodoxy without question except on certain fringe topics which touch on clear moral/political precepts.  No one can easily give an adequate definition of conservatism, while liberalism has a clear set of goals:

  1. the creation of a secular society (based on a combination of kantian and utilitarian thinking) in which the bounds of individual moral action are determined exclusively by the state,
  2. the universal acceptance of a secular scientific orthodoxy, which celebrates nominal difference while fiercely attacking substantial disagreement,
  3. the enablement of all citizens to pursue whatever variety of pleasure they like, within the bounds of the law.

What is needed is a basic understanding of the truth which will stand up to the precepts and rhetorical mainstays of liberalism, many of which have almost entered into the collective common sense.  This conservatives decidedly lack.

F.  Orthodox Catholicism can supply such a grand ideology.

G.  My opinion is that conservatism should be laid to rest, and people with decent moral standards and a desire for truth should (1) abandon their nostalgia for the past (2) reject secularized political rhetoric, (3) start challenging the secular/liberal underpinnings of the American political system, (4) accept Catholic orthodoxy, and (5) start preaching the Gospel.

H.  Fr. Romanus Cessario says that "chastity begets preaching".  Don't forget that, gentlemen.  I like the line, and, whether or not it's true, it is certainly true in general that the best proponents of an idea are people who actually live it out.

I.  This has been my first actual manifesto.  I hope it was sufficiently grouchy.  I tried to avoid impassioned rhetoric, parodies of Marx and Marinetti.  Perhaps that would have made it more entertaining.  Anyway, comments are appreciated.

J.  I should mention, as an afterthought, that I'm an enthusiastic founding member of the group mentioned in (A).