Conservatism and Its Discontents

The American Right has never been the most organized crowd around.  Uniting a broad demographic of laymen, pundits, politicians, and intellectuals, the term has stood as a sort of catch-all for everything that isn’t expressed in the left’s platform.  That’s how “paleo-conservatives” like Pat Buchanan are grouped under the same wing as neocons like John McCain and Bill Kristol, while all three of them supposedly share platform space with libertarians.  Of course, in reality, if leftism wasn’t as cancerous, insane, and obvious as it is today, these three groups would probably be their own separate political parties.  And if the 2016 election is any indication, that might now just be possible.

This isn’t meant to be a catalogue of the various sorts of right-wingers out there.  In fact, if you’ve been listening to the media, there isn’t any adequate answer to the question “what is a right-winger?”  The only thing that holds the right wing together is that everyone who self-identifies under the umbrella feels varying levels of disgust for the left, but often for different reasons.  And the media gladly pins the label on anyone who doesn’t subscribe to some politically correct form of identity politics.

But, of the right, there is a certain and rather large strain that comprises most of right-wing ideology: conservatism.  It, alongside neo-conservatism, form the bulk of the GOP establishment.  Neo-conservatism is an entirely separate beast—more aligned with liberal ideas than with conservative ones, particularly in the realms of nationalism, social policies, and moral values—so I won’t be getting much into that here.  Conservatism proper is more the interest here, and in particular, its failure.

Capitulations

Conservatism, by definition, requires there be something to conserve.  In American parlance, this typically means the conservation of ill-defined values such as liberty, freedom, and justice for all.  The less “moderate” conservatives will often invoke Christian appeals to natural law, claiming to conserve the sanctity of family (anti-SSM) and human life (anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia).  And while it seems there is no politician remaining that supports these, there are still some on the right that go even further: conservation of American culture (anti-immigration).  I frame these with anti- prefixes because that is how these arguments are commonly known in the media and in the popular culture.  That should tell you something: the media and the popular culture are not conservative.

So what is American culture?  It’s one in which one in four kids are legally murdered before they’re even born.  It’s one in which divorce rates hover around one in two, marriage has been contorted to include any form amiable relationship among consenting adults, and men are allowed in the women’s bathrooms at major department stores and schools.  And not only that, it’s a culture that tolerates the vitriolic condemnation of those who say, “hey, wait a minute,” when they realize that a man just followed their daughter into the restroom.

It’s hard to deny that whole swaths of America do not like this sort of stuff.  The red-painted electoral map of the country the morning of November 9th made that clear.  But the fact that there is no alternative to the popular culture capable of combating it—the fact that there are literal gatekeepers who hold such dominance in LA, NYC, and DC that voices dissenting to their totalitarian and upside-down Crazytown version of reality are dismissed outright—makes clear the problem.

Conservatism has been framed as a bulwark against cultural decay and the depravity that finds a strong tendency in leftism, but as a movement, conservatism has failed in that regard.  Perhaps, as I think, it never was that bulwark in the first place.  The modern American conservative movement started in the 50s with intellectual heavyweights like Russel Kirk and William Buckley, Jr., and it found its first political surge in the form of Barry Goldwater.  Its first national political win came in the form of Reagan in the 1980.  By the time the movement had seen its first national political victory, the ideas it stood for had already been eroded in Hollywood, the mainstream press, and—increasingly throughout that same decade—the public schools, having already been lost in the universities.  Despite predating the sexual and cultural revolutions of the late-60s and 70s, conservatism did nothing to combat the self-destructive nature of those ideologies.  America sat back and declared that it wasn’t any of her business, and the few conservative intellectuals that had any backbone merely declared their disgust in the columns of National Review.  Meanwhile, abortion clinics opened up and a new genocide began.

Given the origins of the modern conservative movement, it’s hard to see what, exactly, was supposed to have been conserved.  Perhaps “the Neo-Traditionalist Movement” would have been a better title, had it actually stood even for that.  Admittedly, with Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, the movement at least harkened back to mostly-admirable thinkers of a traditionalist vein, principle of whom being Edmund Burke and John Adams.  Yet no specific continuous movement held together the thinkers Kirk outlined in his landmark work.  Even the continuity of ideas across them was tenuous, considering that something as traditionalist as the acceptance of the Christian worldview and ethos was suspiciously absent from some of the more prominent figures.

In any event, contemporary conservatives who have been raised over the past three decades on a steady political diet of Clintonian lying, Bush II-inadequacy, and the Obamanite adoration have found themselves outmaneuvered at just about every turn.  Conservatism cannot be labeled as such; the courts were not conserved, a smaller government has not been conserved, domestic labor has not been conserved, the rule of law has not been conserved, and a sense of American national identity, in particular, has not been conserved—and that’s going easy on the criticisms, given that the first two on that list were already lost by the time Buckley founded his periodical.

So what do contemporary mainline conservatives call for today?  They make spirited but insubstantial odes to a smaller government, either ignorant or apathetic to the reality that bloated bureaucratic systems never shrink by any significant degree once they’ve been put in place.  They decry limitations on international trade as anti-free market, ignoring the hollowed-out labor economy of middle America, or fact that international trade isn’t as free market as they claim.  They call out their politically-active counterparts in the government to choose good judges and take strong conservative stances on social policies, only for those congressmen to cave under mainstream pressure—and the few who don’t cave rarely find reelection anyway.  And, perhaps worst of all, they make overtures to civic nationalism, and they welcome unrestricted—if legal—immigration from third world countries that share zero continuity with Western, much less American, values, while Mexican flags are erected over neighborhoods in the American Southwest.

Conservatism hasn’t worked.  The American right has capitulated and conceded on nearly every front, remaining steadfast on the only front that doesn’t even matter.  While they were mired in economic debates over government regulation of the economy, the importance of free market capitalism, and different discussions with the libertarians over Chicago versus Austrian theories, the left handed up neo-Keynesian figureheads while it gladly took over all of the other institutions.  Economics, like politics, could wait until the rest of the culture is so mired in modernity and relativism that no one could tell what was good or bad anymore.

Leftism’s Blame

It’s difficult to lay the blame entirely on the conservatives without coming across as reactionary and, perhaps, clueless as to how the fight has been waged.  Imagine blaming the naval high command for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—it would be ludicrous to pretend they were directly to blame for the sinking of several ships and the loss of 2,335 American lives.  Not all that dissimilarly, the culture war waged by the left was just as vitriolic and damaging to American values, and it happened with about as much warning.  But now imagine that, if instead of declaring war, or fielding a naval force, or even a mounting a military counteroffensive, the American high command sat back and let Japan leapfrog its way through the south Pacific and take everything it wanted, and imagine if they had waited until there were Japanese boots in Alaska, aircraft carriers flying the rising sun forty miles out from San Francisco Harbor, and Mitsubishis flying over LA before they began to mount a resistance.  Who would be more deserving of America’s shame?

Naturally, in this scenario, the Japanese deserve every bit of scorn attributed to them.  They attacked us first, right?  In this scenario, they’re out to bring an end the United States, its people, and its values.  They are the enemy and, naturally, deserving of a proper fight.  But what about the people entrusted with defending the American people from existential threats?  What about the generals who were sworn to protect everything the stars and stripes represented?  Or the President?  Or the servicemen?

Leftism is an ideological cancer, satanic in both its methodology and its origins.  It cannot create anything.  It imitates and contorts what already exists, it corrupts.  Everything it touches, if given enough time and left to its own devices, becomes hollowed out and replaced with leftism.  Take journalism: ostensibly an institution for conveying news with as little bias as possible—now, the entire mainstream establishment leans to the left, bickering amongst itself as to the degree to which each station, anchor, and reporter has embraced the left-elitist line.  Or Hollywood: a conglomerate of studios that are supposed to fill our hearts with joy and our minds with imagination while we fill our bellies with popcorn—now replaces the joy with tedium and the imagination with the dull pandering of regurgitated liberal clichés.

And the universities are even worse.  They became centers of dogmatic leftist nonsense a generation ago, corrupting the institution that was supposed to educate and enlighten into an institution used purely as a form of political control.  Education itself—in the form of the public schooling wing of the government—became not something to instill nationalist values and to homogenize children of varying backgrounds with the promise of a singular, unobtrusive civic culture, but rather an ideologically loaded system of concentration camps designed to instill distrust of families, promote political partisanship, and create the next generation of psychotic liberal drones.  Kids given a steadfast foundation of morals and values throughout their family years go off to college to major in liberal arts, and within a year, they’re transformed into screeching vessels of Marxist propaganda that they should be smarter than to believe.  Question: how is that possible?  How could a product of good parents result in a child who idolizes mass murderers like Che Guevara?  The Answer: twelve years of a public school system populated by socialist teachers and liberal administrators, run by those sympathetic to the idea of a secularized, orderly, egalitarian society.  Sure, the Soviets were bad, but the idea of equality…  Sure, the Soviets were bad, but the rights of the people… Sure, the Soviets were bad, but the CIA… but Reagan… but Bush…

With this as a background, it’s no small testament to the American spirit that conservatism even exists at all.  But the issue at heart is that the movement capitulated on every social and cultural issue until it reached this point.  Allegations of collaborations between dissenting liberal groups and Soviet communists were dismissed as conspiracy theories—only to be recognized as being legitimate long after the fact.  McCarthy’s fervent rampage through American institutions with his anti-communist investigations yielded far more fruit than anyone at the time thought imaginable; the whole reason “McCarthyism” is a term is due to how unbelievable many of the facts revealed at the time actually were.  The smear campaign, coupled with McCarthy’s own behavior, led to the public perception that he was simply a psychotic thug seeing enemies where there weren’t any, that it was all paranoia—silly conservatives, believing the communist threat to be legitimate!  But documents declassified after the end of the Cold War discredit that narrative entirely.  He might have been a nut, but he was right more often than he was wrong.  The subversion of American institutions by actively anti-American actors was very, very real.  And it could have been fought back then.  Instead, it was let to fester for three generations.

Dereliction of Duty

The guards on duty—those tasked with conserving Americanism—have been asleep in their booths.  The 2016 election roused them from their drooling slumber in time to realize that the things they were supposed to guard had already been set on fire by vandals.  This is beyond the rent-a-cop’s capacity to respond.

Perhaps this is too harsh a metaphor.  Is it the fault of the individuals at the time to act when they should have?  Naturally.  But, the magnitude of the failure suggests a systemic problem.  If conservative leaders each capitulated in similar ways for similar reasons, what needs to be addressed isn’t merely their bad decision-making, but the entire theory of politics they were working with from the start.  Conservatism itself is to blame.

I don’t have space here to analyze, nor even properly address, the problems that modern American conservatism has.  But with regard to leftism’s frantic encroachment, and conservatism’s retreat from the battle, only one point needs to be made: conservatism is not an ideology suited to attacks and combat.  Modern conservatism operates under a distinctly individualistic metaphysic.  It counters the trend toward collectivism on the left by offering the promise of individual liberty and a very liberal sense of individual empowerment.  While this tendency on the right is not altogether bad, the wholesale embrace of an atomized society makes fertile the soil from which the failures of secularism sprout.  By framing the arguments between conservatives and socialists—and between the entire right and left—as one fundamentally of individualism versus collectivism, “conservatism” comes to prioritize and incorporate libertarian and classically liberal ideas that much of the right wing has good reason to remain skeptical of.  The right wing has never been particularly enthused about individualism as such; it has valued it, certainly, but only as a means to a greater end.  Liberty for its own sake is simply anarchy.

Some of those staunch individualists who grew discontented with leftism’s cult-like animosity figured this out pretty quick.  It’s why libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism are today considered right-wing despite lacking the appeals to natural law, traditionalism, religion, and culture that are found in the classical writings of more revered rightist thinkers.  Anarcho-capitalists, like libertarians, frame their arguments in economics, invariably reducing man’s agency to his interaction with the market, and reducing his spirit to the measure of his wealth.  While quintessentially political, such arguments do not have the capacity to deal with the importance of traditions, questions of morality, and the role the state should play in private affairs.  The answer to the latter is, simply, “none at all,” elevating the aspirations of libertarian end goals to the same lofty utopic pipedream as its alleged antithesis.  But such a simple answer neglects the reality of the existence of some sort of state across every developed civilization in history.  If we could get along fine without one, there wouldn’t always be one.

So part of conservatism’s problem is its general alliance with the libertarian strain in American politics, which led to an over-enthusiastic incorporation of individualism among core conservative values.  In more practical terms, this means conservatives are more prone to defending the very platforms that leftists use to discredit them.  Platforms such as universal suffrage (a debate long-since lost), a free press (the debate waging presently), and even the general definition of liberty itself.  We’ll stick with the looking at the second one, for now.

Conservatives argue that free speech is not a form of violence, and that speech of any sort should be protected under law.  Specific prohibitions on the First Amendment notwithstanding, the conservative argument is that an unregulated flow of information and ideas is imperative to the preservation of a free society, but rarely do they define what a ‘free society’ means within the context of their worldview.  Leftists, on the other hand, argue that speech can be a form of violence, and as such call for vague and politically-convenient restrictions on speech that lead to rather Orwellian conclusions.  What the leftists want, essentially, is to regulate speech that runs antithetical to the purposes and foundations of their political theory.  Conservatives, on the other hand, do not.  The incorporation of a form of individualism unbound by religious, cultural, and traditional obligations is the key, here.

Leftists argue from a purely political arena; they have no organized religion that calls upon a transcendent reality, they do not frame arguments according to objective truths, they do not acknowledge the existence of a natural law, and they harbor active disdain for anything resembling the traditions of the West.  As such, their pragmatic approach to limiting speech in deference to the stability of their political narrative is perfectly logical, albeit evil and reasoned from bad premises.  Conservatives, however, have a much more difficult task in defending their worldview.  The muddiness of specific conservative principles with respect to the conservative worldview is hindered by the general confusion over what, exactly, the conservative worldview is.  Is it one based on Christian doctrine?  Hard to say.

Can a conservative ally himself with libertarian theses on the existence of God, the innate purposefulness of existence and of man’s moral obligations within the world, and the necessary truths that follow from these premises?  Libertarianism has no authority on such matters, and in fact, libertarianism’s general distrust of organized religions and traditions revoke any possibility for a libertarian analysis of these issues.  Worse still, purely economic arguments for the liberty of man spring from necessarily materialistic waters, leaving no room left in the social realm for the discussion of God or moral obligations at all.  As conservatives conceded to this economic model of arguing leftism, it has surrendered the debate of faith to the ever popular post-enlightenment atheist-political trend.  Matters of God, believes the modern conservative, are best left in church, in the home, and in private, and appeals to His natural order—despite having been the bulwark against anarchy and the self-destructive nature of mankind for a thousand years—shouldn’t be discussed in public.  The public realm is a secular realm, they argue, while they remain oblivious or apathetic to secularism’s own anti-Christian metaphysic.

As a result, the conservative wishes to respect the ‘rights’ of speech and press, including those who wish to advocate the implementation and teaching of worldviews that lead to the destruction of their own.  The recent debate over same-sex marriage is a great example: marriage cannot both be solely a binding institution formed between a man and a woman and be a temporary union of any consenting adults for purposes of hedonistic indulgence.  It can only be one of these two things.  Pathetic posturing of neutrality on this issue just acknowledges that marriage doesn’t have to be either one of these things: a de facto call of support for the abolition of marriage entirely.  And if you think it can remain a private affair, that government should not be engaged in the enforcement of marriage contract at all, then imagine a world sixty years from now, after marriage has been turned into a vague and ambiguous agreement between consenting adults, and try to explain to your grandkids why getting married is even important at all.  Already, due to rising divorce rates, an increasingly infantilized Millennial demographic, and the general destruction of what marriage stands for in the public eye, young people are showing less and less inclination to commit to marriage and raise children.  This affects the stability of the society.  This affects birthrates.  And these affect the future of your civilization.  We’ve been feeling this for three generations, now.

But conservatives frequently try to take a middle ground on an issue where there is no middle ground.  I don’t think it’s just ideological cowardice that facilitates this behavior.  I don’t believe that most conservatives are cowards.  I think, in fact, that most—specifically those Christian, American conservatives that live a hundred miles or more from Washington or New York or Los Angeles—harbor fundamentally optimistic views of their neighbors.  I think they, alongside the conservative intellectuals, the pundits, and maybe even the politicians, underestimate the sort of enemy that they are facing.  They do not recognize the satanic, self-servicing, corrupting ideology that has infected American social discourse.  With the riots in Berkley reviving memories of 60s and 70s, some are beginning to recognize that the sort of bizarre rhetoric of the news media and academics has driven tangible wedges between the left and the right—wedges made not of ideas, anymore, but of trash cans that have been set on fire and hurled through storefront windows, and bike locks swung by cowardly bandana-wearing Antifa rioters into heads wearing MAGA hats.  Riots are not fought with ideas.  Violence is not reasoned with.  Fistfights are not ended with calm conversations over the validity of virtue ethics.

I don’t know what the real answer is to all of this.  The easiest article to write is the one decrying everyone involved, lamenting the loss of an older order that made more sense, and standing on idealistic principles.  I’ve written enough of those to know how easy that is.  But using those principles as a shield against criticism—to say “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote at all!” when you had a clear opportunity to pick a side in a culture war that is giving no one the luxury of siting on the sidelines—is simply concession to the sort of anarchy the Antifa vanguards of leftism are championing.  Neglecting to fight a lethal cancer is the same as submitting to it.  And today, while establishment conservatives try to find the comfiest place in the room, having submitted to secular ethics and kowtowed to the leftist ethos, the American right has recognized that an alternative must be found if the preservation of their country is to remain a possibility.  In a battle between two factions that have abandoned the faith in public discourse, only the side with the strongest might is to prevail.  And while might certainly doesn’t make right, it doesn’t hurt if you’ve got a bit of both.

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