Food is conserved in conditions of scarcity. Forests are conserved when they are being wiped out. We conserve historical sites when they are in a state of disrepair or permanent disuse. The word “conservatism” suggests the preciousness of what is being preserved and a will to defend it, but it also suggests a climate of decay and a general trend toward decrepitude. Conservation, after all, is merely a way of staving off the inevitable.
The source of conservative despair is a weakness not of principles or ideals, but of posture. Our disposition toward the present context lacks adequate direction. We fight for things like neutrality, and the liberty to be left alone. (Acedia’s plea.) We gripe about our losses and reminisce about the good old days (of fifty years ago or fifteen hundred). We huddle together in increasingly isolated enclaves of fellow-thinkers. And this posture of conservatism, which is merely conservative, primes us for failure. The inevitable.
Christ did not send out the apostles to have them gather in the upper room and share morose reminiscences about the time they spent with the master. He did not tell them at the ascension to “Go out and cooperate with the Roman authorities, so they will give you tax exemptions and allow you to associate freely.” He sent them out like laborers into the field, to gather in the harvest. He sent them “like sheep among wolves”, and promised them an abundance of persecution and contradiction. He sent them, not to receive this persecution and contradiction with loathing and hesitation, or groan beneath its yoke, but to rejoice in it.
Christianity is a progressive, forward looking doctrine. What are we fighting for? Certainly not merely to preserve the lukewarm compromises of last century's democratized Catholicism. Not to work out a new modus vivendi on the world's terms.
Then what are we fighting to accomplish? What are our concrete plans?