In the history of ideas, a monarch, who rules a State, always appears as an analogy to God, who rules the world. During the Middle Ages and well into the Modern era, kings had, for large masses of the people, a supernatural, character, even physically. Part of the vital force of the monarchy was that the king could perform miracles and, above all, heal with the imposition of hands, as the great French historian Marc Bloch explained, with numerous examples, in his famous book, The Royal Touch. According to Bloch, the last attempt to make the monarchy practical and serious with such religious representations took place in 1825, when Charles X of France wanted to heal by laying on of hands, an attempt that was nothing more than a painful romantic imitation.
The myth of the thaumaturge king lacked tradition in Spain. However, one hundred and fifty years after its end in France, there were attempts in Spain to fabricate a kind of wonder-king, not, of course, on religious grounds, but on political grounds. And it was thus in Spain, in the twentieth century, that the last establishment, not restoration, of a monarchy in Western Europe took place.
In November 1975, by sovereign decision of Francisco Franco, the monarchy returned, in the person of Juan Carlos I de Borbón y Borbón. Regarding the figure of the previous Head of State, any historian would, in my opinion, have to follow the message of Karl Marx to the letter in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, the least Marxist of all his works, when he stated that it was necessary to analyze “the circumstances and conditions that allow a mediocre and grotesque character to play the role of hero.”
The elites of the regime, as well as the opposition, did not have excessive illusions about the monarchical sentiment of the Spanish. Only José María Pemán or Luis María Ansón – the inventor of “Juan III” – could believe, at that point, in something as esoteric as “the magic of royalty.” For the majority of the right, Franco’s will was enough. And in reality, no one was too shocked when Franco chose Juan Carlos as his successor and not his father Juan de Borbón y Battemberg.
Juan Carlos himself did not hesitate to accept that decision, betraying not only his father, but the laws of dynastic succession. The truth is that he had no other alternative either. Based on this experience, the media, and later some court historians, began to manufacture the figure of the thaumaturge king, a process not only risky, but very complicated given the characteristics of the person in question.
Physically, Juan Carlos was handsome enough, dashing, young, even with a good face. However, his character could not bear a close-up. He was shy; and as a speaker, a disaster – as eloquent as a no-trespassing sign. Nor did the man stand out for his intellectual or scientific curiosity, although, yes, he was very athletic. His great obsessions were, as we have had the opportunity to see, money and sex.
With such meager strands, the image of a hearty, regenerating, sincerely democratic monarch was going to be woven, although, incidentally, it was never heard-said that the institution of the monarchy or its magistracy be submitted to a referendum. He would be the healer of all our social and political ailments – he was to be the author of the new “Spanish miracle.” As the always timely and opportunistic José María de Areilza pointed out, the young king was going to be the “engine of change;” that is, the promoter of the transition to liberal democracy.
In essence, there was no other possibility. The process of change to liberal democracy has often been, and continues to be, mythologized, almost in providential terms. As a historian I am not a determinist, but I believe that, in certain cases, such as the one that concerns us, it is necessary to accept, as the always lucid Raymond Aron pointed out, the validity of a certain “probabilistic determinism,” since the freedom of human choice always works within certain environments or restrictions received from the past.
Like it or not, Spain’s destiny was liberal democracy; or, if you like, the party state. The economic development of the 1960s, the expansion of the middle classes and the qualified working classes, the political consequences of the Second Vatican Council, the context of a liberal and social-democratic Europe, the emergence of the Common Market, the diplomatic and military influence of the United States – everything headed in that direction.
Of course, change can be made better or worse, depending on the context; but the path was laid out, in its general lines, beforehand. Franco knew it, as he told US General Vernon Walters in a conversation. Therefore, Juan Carlos I was impelled, whatever his inner convictions, if he had any, to the acceptance of liberal democracy, for lack of alternatives.
Given the contexts to which we have referred, the strange thing would have been the survival of the political regime born of the Spanish Civil War. The historical frame of reference for the new political system was, without a doubt, the Canovasist Restoration of 1874, Soldier King and bipartisanship included. And not only did Manuel Fraga want to play the role of Cánovas – his goal was the progressive integration of the left and peripheral nationalists into the new political system. The exception was the Republican parties.
As in the case of the Restoration, the fundamental dogma was the monarchy, as a guarantee of social continuity. The behavior of the whole of the real left, PSOE and PCE, and that of the nationalists – except for the ETA terrorists – consisted in taking advantage of the opportunities of the new situation. In reality, they were all advantages, since they achieved legality and great promises of social influence and political power.
In this sense, the young monarch’s relations with the old communist leader Santiago Carrillo were especially unctuous, almost pornographic. Of course, one and the other were needed. The 1978 Constitution was the consecration of that pact. Significantly, no monarchical institution underwent a referendum – which, as Professor Dalmacio Negro Pavón has pointed out, did not resolve the monarchical question; it simply postponed it. And there are pasts that do not pass, as Ernst Nolte said.
The new party regime was configured, in daily political practice, as a poorly representative political system, a mere partitocracy – the so-called State of the autonomies was established, which, as some denounced and later it would be seen, was and is a clear instrument of Spanish denationalization and economic waste. The left monopolized the sphere of cultural creation; and a kind of uncritical and superficial Eurofundamentalism hegemonized the social imaginary of the Spanish.
However, the figure of the monarch did not acquire authentic stability until his performance, or supposed performance, in the sad events of February 1981. And it is that when these lines are written we still do not really know what was the true role of the monarch in the gestation and the subsequent failure of the coup attempts that occurred on 23-F. As Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora said, the truth would perhaps be known on the day of the trial. At the Final Judgment, it will be finally understood.
Unsurprisingly, the blame fell on the so-called “extreme right,” which did not learn anything. In any case, the monarch, in the interest of the political, economic and media classes, consolidated his image and his role in the new situation. He was the defender of democracy; or, as Herrero de Miñón said, the defender of the Constitution. The idea, by the way, was Carl Schmitt’s. As a soldier-king he had managed to control the Armed Forces.
Of course, it must also be said, in case there were any doubts, that what was consolidated then was the charisma of Juan Carlos I, not the monarchical institution. Since then, reference has always been made to “Juancarlismo,” not to the monarchism of the Spanish in general and the left in particular.
In reality, Juan Carlos himself knew that his permanence on the throne depended on the acquiescence of the left. If they, at a given moment, questioned his legitimacy, and from his perspective it was very easy for them to do so, he was lost. For this reason, he sympathized much more with the astute and folksy Felipe González than with the hirsute and unpleasant José María Aznar; or, with the sinuous and elusive Rodríguez Zapatero who was with the rough and slow Rajoy Brey.
To top it all, a sector of historiography did not hesitate to fall very low when it came to legitimizing its status. Such was the case, above all, of Javier Tusell Gómez, and more tangentially of the mediocre and opportunist Paul Preston. They both tried, and partly succeeded, in becoming court historians. Although, truth be told, more than historians, their image was more like that of Hola tabloid journlaists. Next to them, Jaime Peñafiel looked like Ranke. Both Tusell and the plump Britisher made an effort to show that, in reality, Juan Carlos was never heir to Franco, but to his father Juan de Borbón; and that the restoration – beware of the concept, nothing neutral – of the monarchy was done against the General Franco and following his own dynastic logic.
Nobody believed it, of course, but both pseudo-historians gained notoriety, influence, and money. The press and all the mass media were complicit, not only in the mythologizing of the character, but in the concealment of Juan Carlos’s stormy private life and, above all, of his businesses and his relationships with characters of dubious morality. Looking for an antithesis to such a character, we have the ascetic Baldwin of Belgium.
Despite his Catholic status, Juan Carlos never made the slightest gesture against abortion laws; and he did not hesitate to sign the Historical Memory Law, which actually delegitimized his historical rank and that of the institution he embodied. And it is that in essence it supposed a mythification of the Second Republic. Apparently, nobody found out about it.
On the other hand, his role as constitutional king has been completely inoperative. It has neither stopped local separatisms, nor mediated between the parties, nor has it been a guarantor of the division of powers. After the entry of Spain into NATO, the figure of the king-soldier has lost much of its functionality. As Juan Vázquez de Mella would have said, he was “el Augusto Cero” (“Augusto Zero”) or “el Rey-Poste” (“the Post-King”).
However, the monarch has been very effective when it comes to living the high life and increasing his personal fortune, as we learn from some media. Little by little, his figure has been destroyed. It had become a broken toy. The real taboo was gradually diluted. Juancarlismo stopped being operative. His perceptible physical decline, his continuous and ostentatious conjugal infidelities, his little transparent businesses, and his lack of interest in public affairs, contributed to making him a character in the ValleinclanesqueRuedo Ibérico [The Iberian Bullring, a series of novels wriiten by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, in which distortion – esperento – is used. Trans.].
All of this culminated in the pathetic photo from Botswana. Juan Carlos had killed Dumbo; quite the symbol. His forced and necessary abdication was in character – a capricious, disloyal, impulsive, incompetent man when trying to control the economic corruption of his family; a frivolous man. His legacy is a hindrance to his current heir, Felipe VI, and for the dynasty itself. As Louis XV said, “After me, the flood.” We are in it.
What Spain did Juan Carlos I leave us? Perhaps the best thing would be to leave the answer to that question to a poet; and the exalted Luis Alberto de Cuenca said it best: Spain has become “a very sad place that has forbidden heroes, has allowed the roses of scandal to rot… a poor place that has lost its soul without gaining anything in return, a place without a future, a fistful of disunited and sterile land.”
Unlike his father, Felipe VI has nothing to offer to the left and the nationalists. Separatism no longer hides its unattractive face; it wants an independent Republic. And one part of the left, especially in the new generations, rejects the monarchy, whose meaning they do not understand and who prefer the Republic, which is not difficult to understand because, as we have already pointed out, the stability of the institution rested on the charisma of Juan Carlos I and in the myth of the Wonder King, which the King himself has been in charge of destroying. And charisma is not inherited. Nobody has taught young people what the monarchy consists of, its functionality or its advantages; perhaps because in the 21st century all this is already anachronistic. Instead, the benefits of the Second Republic have been sung to them.
We already know where the left will go. And the right? So far, they have supported the young monarch. However, it is not hidden from us that a sector of the right does not forgive Juan Carlos for his marriage with the left and his support for the state of autonomies. And Felipe VI has not had the opportunity to build his own charisma. And he probably never will.
In the background, a statue of Alfonso XIII. A monarchical, conservative and Francoist auditorium. Now, I not only defended the abdication of the monarch, but the need to raise debate on the viability of a presidential republic. They jumped on me. “Without the monarchy we will go to civil war,” Leandro de Borbón shouted. Others discussed my ideas vehemently. The most eloquent was Fernando Suárez, who defended Juan Carlos I and the monarchy. Most left without speaking to me.
A few months later the monarch abdicated. Yesterday we learned of his departure from Spain. Serious historical error. A convinced monarchist like Tom Burns Marañón predicts, inExpansión, the next advent of the Third Republic. All of this demonstrates the great fragility of the institution. In any case, it is more than evident that the right wing, for the most part, has a real fear of the Republic.
Lately it has been tried to manufacture a charisma for Felipe VI. His speech of October 3 could be, without a doubt, the foundation of that charisma, but it lacked real support and continuity over time. Soon they clipped his wings. And the speech was badly received by a sector of the left. The chubby Paul Preston, a lousy historian, but an influential actor paid for by Catalan separatism, claimed that it could have been written by Mariano Rajoy.
The subsequent speeches of Felipe VI have already been diffuse, accommodating, paternalistic, without precise content. The fact is that the institution lacks autonomy and cannot become a “party.” In his travels and appearances, he is seen isolated, without support.
The Pedro Sánchez government follows a path diametrically opposed to the content of the actual speech of October 3, 2017. The flight of his father does not favor Felipe in the medium term either. And we must not forget that their fate depends on the opinion of the left. A García Ferreras campaign in La Sexta could ruin the institution in weeks.
Of course, I do not pretend that the whole of the right will convert to republicanism. It would be petulant on my part, since I have no influence in those sectors. I have always been a heterodox conservative. Another thing is that the political, social and mental tendencies of Spanish society go against the monarchy. We are a country of deep social and economic inequalities, but very egalitarian in mentality. “Nobody is more than nobody,” they say. Nobody has taught the youth to be monarchist, or, at least, to respect the institution. And the most rebellious express their dissent by waving a flag of the tacky Second Republic.
In this context, I believe that a sector of the right, necessarily a minority, should defend, in the face of the gale that is coming upon us, the alternative of a presidential republic, compared to the federal or plurinational republic of the left. A presidential model, in which the supreme magistracy of the State comes from the popular election. Its source of democratic legitimacy is relatively direct. For this reason, even if he is a candidate nominated by the parties, once a president comes to power, he is freed from party discipline and a certain independence can be expected from him. Furthermore, by having a full territorial base, it could annul local separatisms and maintain national unity.
This presidentialism can ensure the independence between the legislature and the executive; and, in addition, it has historically been shown capable of limiting the interference of both in the judiciary. It also eliminates government instability and weak coalition cabinets, sometimes subordinate to a tiny minority. In a presidential Republic, the Head of State can actually perform an arbitration function between the parties, and has the advantage that, at the end of his term, the arbitration returns to the electoral roll – what cannot happen with the monarchy.
The negative management of the republican Head of State does not generally affect the institution itself, since at the end of his mandate the same condition that united him to the Head of State also disappears. The same does not happen under the monarchical regime, where any disputed action, and not only public, of the King or his family negatively affects the institution.
Moderation is, in short, a way of committing oneself, albeit slightly, and that entails a wear-and-tear that, in general, constitutional monarchs tend to avoid. In this sense, the Spanish case is archetypal. The King does not rule. Your legal actions are not valid, if they are not endorsed by one of your ministers; and you are not even subject to liability.
Only the moderator function remains. But make no mistake: the Monarch neither intervenes nor moderates. When has a Monarch mediated a conflict between the three powers? He has never done it; he cannot do it; and the Monarch himself knows that he never will do it. This is the message that, in my opinion, should be transmitted to the most critical, active and right-wing sectors. As the great Charles de Gaulle said, a project that would open “the horizon of a great undertaking.” And I will not say more – otherwise they will incinerate me.
Michael Anton is the man who today best communicates the fractures among the Right. He identifies, and exemplifies, growing incompatibilities among conservatives, both on the issues of the day and in beliefs about desirable political structures. Anton first came to public notice under a pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus, writing in 2016 during the brief life of a pro-Trump blog, the Journal of American Greatness.
In September of that year, Anton published a famous essay, “The Flight 93 Election.” His first point was that, like the passengers of Flight 93, Americans opposed to the permanent boot-stamping dominance of the Left had an existential choice. They could, as it were, charge the cockpit by taking a chance on Trump. Or they could passively accept Hillary, and face certain political death. His second point was that their behavior when faced with this choice showed that the conservative movement, as it exists now, was wholly worthless. These claims were, no surprise, controversial.
Within a few weeks Anton revealed his identity; after the election he worked for several months in the Trump White House, in the national security apparatus, until the swamp creatures managed to come to dominate the West Wing and the populism of Trump’s early months evaporated. So he departed for Hillsdale College in Michigan, and, for now, the life of a public intellectual. I hope he doesn’t spend the rest of his days in that role; he would probably agree that we have enough public intellectuals and not enough doers. My guess is that soon enough, in the unsettled times ahead, he will find a new role.
This 2018 pamphlet reprints the original “Flight 93” essay, a follow-up “Restatement” also published prior to the election, and a new essay, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” This last tells us what, exactly, it is that Anton wants our politics to be, to meet the criticism that he had earlier offered only a negative vision. In all these essays, Anton’s basic point is the same one as I am always hammering—we are in a new thing in American history, an existential struggle between the forces of Right and Left, respectively good and evil, and there can be only one. The Left has always known this and acted accordingly, with malice aforethought; the Right, or part of the Right, is coming to realize it. Between the modern Left and the principles of virtue there is no middle ground; there is no compromise; there is no universe in which the principles of the Left can continue to be allowed a seat at the public table. They must be defeated, and suppressed, root and branch. We must awake, and those Lotos-Eaters putatively on the Right who refuse to rouse from slumber must be thrown overboard. So says Anton, in essence, and I could not agree more.
Anton begins with a “Note,” a recap of the reception of his original essay. This primarily means its reception on the Right; the Left didn’t pay much attention then, deafened by their collective baying for Hillary’s imminent ascension, and has not paid much attention since, either, which is probably a mistake. Within the Right, because the sclerotic organized Right of think tanks and little-read journals was Anton’s main target, the backlash against Anton was fierce, though it was all of the pearl-clutching variety, free as a bird from all logic or reasoning.
Those same segments soon enough coalesced into the noisome #NeverTrumpers, rats following their diminutive, tubby Pied Piper, Bill Kristol, who has unfortunately not led them into the mountain to disappear forever. Here, and in the “Pre-Statement,” Anton in his usual pithy style refutes what few coherent objections to his claims have been made. I will note those later, but Anton is willing to admit one, and only one, failure in his earlier essays—that in his original essay, he was insufficiently generous to and appreciative of Donald Trump.
In his “Note,” Anton also explains his choice of pseudonym at more length, a name borne by two Roman men, father and son, who each sacrificed himself on the field of battle. He cites interpretations by both Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield to rebut his critics, using close readings of my favorite Machiavelli text, Discourses on Livy. Anton’s basic point is that Machiavelli “says that a republic may be led back to its beginnings ‘either through the virtue of a man or through the virtue of an order’ and goes on to say that ‘such orders have need of being brought to life by the virtue of a citizen who rushes spiritedly to execute them against the power of those who transgress them.’ In other words, orders and men are both necessary and neither is superior to the other; virtuous men are necessary to execute good orders.”
Anton here leaves some ambiguity as to his own goals. He says that “In 2016, I judged the modes and orders of my time—and especially of conservatism—to be exhausted and imprisoned within an inflexible institutional and intellectual authority. I believed that its conclusions on the most pressing matters were false and pernicious and that its orthodoxy therefore required smashing.” Despite Machiavelli’s warning that “nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders,” Anton chose to do so. But to what end? He refers to being led back to beginnings, but he also speaks of new orders. Which is it? That is one of the things I will examine here, after first evaluating the three essays.
In the original Flight 93 essay, Anton notes that all American conservatives agree that things are very bad in America, have been for some time, and are getting worse. If conservatives truly believe the critical importance to society of all the problems we face, from family breakdown to out-of-control government to an inability to win wars, they must conclude “we are headed off a cliff.” But—they don’t really believe it, as Anton illustrates with an article from the Weekly Standard (ironically, in retrospect, given that journal’s fate), recommending for all problems the usual tired litany of conservative solutions, such as decentralization, federalism, and civil renewal. “Which is to say, conservatism’s typical combination of the useless and inapt with the utopian and unrealizable. . . . ‘Civic renewal’ would do a lot of course, but that’s like saying health will save a cancer patient. A step has been skipped in there somewhere. How are we going to achieve ‘civic renewal’? Wishing for a tautology to enact itself is not a strategy.”
This is the gravamen of Anton’s complaint—conservatives keep offering the same solutions that have solved nothing, to solve problems that only get worse, as their power gets less and the Left grows ever more dominant. You can’t believe that things are awful and getting worse, but also that they can continue on their current path indefinitely; it is a contradiction. And that’s what today’s conservatives, that is, those in the public eye, believe. (In fact, since Anton wrote, “leading” conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg have come right out and admitted that they are happy to lose and for the Left to win completely, just a little slower, please).
Even those few conservative solutions that have been tried have failed or been quickly erased by the Left. “The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure. Its sole and ongoing success is its own self-preservation.” Such claims have made Anton a prime target of the happy losers whom he attacks, ranging from Goldberg (who specifically targeted Anton in his terrible 2017 book, Suicide of the West) to Michael Gerson. For reasons I will discuss below, Anton’s only organized allies appear to be the Claremont Institute, and perhaps The American Conservative magazine—both powers on the Right, to be sure, but isolated from the invitations to cocktail parties and pats on the head from the cultural elite of the Left that are so important to Goldberg, Gerson, and the other similar indistinguishable nonentities who cluster together.
So what passes for today’s American conservatism is of little or no value. I can get behind that. That doesn’t mean all alternatives are virtuous, or desirable. Anton makes a point I am often found making, that Trump’s mere existence is a sign of the times, not of good times, but as of an angel breaking a numbered seal. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying.” Sure, if you’re part of the professional-managerial elite, the past two decades have been pretty good to you.
For everybody else, and for the fabric of society, the opposite is true, and if you can’t see it, you’re too embedded in the ruling class, or too dependent on their tolerance and largesse for your daily bread. Others have expanded on this point, from Tucker Carlson to Richard Reeves to Kurt Schlichter, though few have made the focus of their ire the conservatives who are supposed to care about such things.
The non-Trump Republican presidential candidates, had any of them won, wouldn’t have done anything to stop or turn back the tide of the Left, since “their ‘opposition’ is in all cases ineffectual and often indistinguishable from support.” But a Hillary win would be a fatal disaster for America, cementing its destruction. It “will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire progressive-Left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled by a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most ‘advanced’ Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England.
We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the social justice warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.”
That all this would have come true is proven by the Left’s behavior since the election. They do what they would have done under Hillary, but lacking the power of the executive branch, the damage they can do is somewhat limited. On the other hand, their rage at losing to Trump has fueled the fire. Not having executive power, for now, doesn’t stop, among other evils, endless violence against any public display of support for Trump; aggressive campaigns on the state level to legalize infanticide and push the latest in sexual fluidity as the moral equivalent of abolitionism; mass censorship of conservatives on all social media platforms; and the personal destruction of anyone within their reach, or within the reach of their allies in all large corporations, the media, or the universities. And, most of all, we see it in their two years of whipping up hate in the media and using bogus “investigations” to cripple Trump and persecute anyone associated with him.
Swinging around again to his punching bag, the weak betas of Conservatism, Inc., Anton notes that they certainly aren’t going to lead resistance to the horrors of a Hillary administration. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t, since all opinion-making is controlled by the Left. But they don’t want to; they “self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree. Our ‘leaders’ and ‘dissenters’ bend over backward to play by the self-sabotaging rules the Left sets for them.” (I have complained before, for example, of the conservative lust for pre-emptive apologies, a perfect example of what Anton complains of).
What we need instead is a leader who will fight, who will punch back. He will stop importing millions of Third World migrants, who erode our economy’s strength and vote in lockstep for the Left. He will adopt trade and antiglobalization policies that benefit all Americans. “Who cares if productivity numbers tick down, or if our already somnambulant GDP sinks a bit further into its pillow. Nearly all the gains of the last twenty years have accrued to the junta anyway.”
What we can’t have is Hillary. Conservatism, Inc., is “objectively pro-Hillary.” Anton concludes that if we do get Hillary, in the longer term, “the possibilities will seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie as far as the eye can see . . . which, since nothing lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three. Oh, and I suppose, for those who like to pour a tall one and dream big, a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” We will return to these options, and whether any are desirable, below.
Anton’s initial piece got just about the warmth of reception one would expect. Actually, it got no reception at all, until Rush Limbaugh read the entire thing on his radio program. (That conservatives dominate talk radio is intolerable to the Left, and censoring it a prime goal of theirs. The ability of new thoughts like Anton’s to gain traction through that medium is why, even though talk radio can never set what the news is or what polite public opinion is allowed to be.) But then a wave of hatred and bile from those conservatives attacked (that is, nearly all of them) crashed into Anton, along with some tut-tutting from a few conservatives who saw that their rage was merely proving Anton’s point. Anton responded a few days later with “Restatement on Flight 93.”
Here he briefly addressed the most cogent attacks on him. Using the passengers of Flight 93 as a metaphor was simply standard drawing of inspiration from heroes. It wasn’t “disgusting.” “It’s quite obvious that’s what really is disgusting to these objectors is Trump.” Trump isn’t too immoderate to be President; he may be a “buffoon,” but “one must wonder how buffoonish the alleged buffoon really is when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.”
Trump is not too radical; in fact, on the surface he’s more progressive than other recent Republican presidential candidates. He’s actually quite moderate in his policies of “secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy.” The problem is that he is a threat to what is now called the Deep State, as outlined by John Marini: he might win, and he threatens “the current governing arrangement of the United Sates, [which] is rule by a transnational managerial class in conjunction with the administrative state.” Trump is not “authoritarian,” which is a meaningless term as used here (and as I have shown at length by analyzing post-election writings, merely means in practice “erosion of the power of the Left”). Trump does not want to “trash the Constitution,” which anyway is laughable, given that the Left’s entire, open and acknowledged, program of the past hundred years is to trash the Constitution.
No, reiterates Anton, he was right the first time. Conservatism is a miserable failure. Doom is at the door, and if you choose to let it in, your fate will be upon your own head.
We all know what happened next. Trump won. The Left lost its mind, and unleashed fresh helpings of savage hatred upon the land. (I did not predict this; I predicted a new era of optimism and limited comity. More fool me.) They marshaled all their resources, from that disgusting hate group the SPLC to Rod Rosenstein to Facebook to the FBI to Jonah Goldberg, in order to stop Donald Trump from fulfilling any of his promises. And we are still living through these days of rage, which are, probably, merely the foothills of our own coming hot civil war.
Anton, however, appears to have been stung by the claim that he only offered a negative vision, although on its face that claim is untrue. He therefore wrote a new piece, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” Anton seems grudging about writing it; noting that since the Left’s project is destruction, of all opposition and of all non-Left “people, institutions, mores and traditions,” “It’s a bit rich to be accused by nihilists of lacking a positive vision.” This piece is, I think, the least successful. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s excellent. The problem is that while it rejects what Conservatism, Inc. has to offer, it repeats an equally unrealistic prescription, namely a turn back to the Constitutional and political framework of 1787 and 1865.
A combination of political philosophy, political argument, and history, in the Pre-Statement Anton cites Aristotle for the basic claim that all human activity aims at some good. Beyond food, shelter, and security, “mere life,” the good life is happiness or felicity, which is achieved by developing our capabilities to reach the telos of man, “the completion or perfection of those traits which are uniquely characteristic of man.” “Radical individualism and private hedonism,” the goals of (though Anton does not say so) the Enlightenment, undermine human flourishing.
This much has been known, in the West at least, since the Greeks, but the American Founders brought political order in the service of these goals to near perfection (which was perfected by the post-Civil War amendments). Federalism, limited government, and representative republicanism created the best system ever. But it is not one that can be exported to all peoples in all times, nor can it work if there is inadequate “commonality in customs, habits, and opinions.” As everyone with any sense knows, diversity is the opposite of our strength.
This near-perfect system has been attacked repeatedly since 1787, Anton tells us. First, by the followers of John Calhoun, unsuccessfully. Second, by the early-twentieth-century Progressives, successfully and causing great damage. And third, fatally, by the acolytes of John Rawls, purveyors of so-called social justice and of forced equality, and the New Left, advocates of the tearing down of America, group rights, and oppression theory. All these attacks are incoherent and destructive, but they have collectively succeeded in destroying the Founders’ vision, and erecting in its place a system that maintains many of its outward forms but within is crawling with decay and worms.
As the Left’s power grows ever greater, they must either “compound the lies, or suppress and punish dissent.” They choose both, following the dictates of Herbert Marcuse and his heinous “repressive tolerance.” We need to “return to life and the conditions of life: the rule of law, responsible freedom, confidence in our civilization, patriotism, and concern for the common good instead of only the particular good of groups claiming oppression or disadvantage.”
I agree with nearly all of this as an analytical matter. As a prescriptive matter, though, it is sorely lacking, other than that Trump is somewhat better than Hillary in these regards. If I have a core political organizing principle, it is that you cannot go back; the way is shut. Truly insightful modern conservatives realize this and make it the starting point of their thought. But Anton seems to shrink from this conclusion, unwilling to realize, or recognize, that the vision of the Founders is dead. There is no path to return to it, and if we did, the massive changes in the world and in America would make their system a failure if re-implemented today. It was good, in a unique time and place, for a small and homogeneous country built on a politics of virtue.
The modern world is so very, very different from that; what the modern world needs is indeed a return to the principles of Aristotle, but not just those relating to the purposes of man, rather also those of varieties of political structure other than democracy, which Aristotle, and everyone else who matters, has always recognized as the worst form of government, for proof of which today we need only look around.
Anton is, therefore, a reactionary. I divide reactionaries into various camps, but the two relevant ones here are Straussians, followers of the German philosopher Leo Strauss, and what I call Augustans. Straussians, although they have various internal divisions, believe that the desired end of political history arrived already—and was left behind. Therefore, today’s Cthulhu State, a multi-tentacled horror of unlimited and unaccountable power, exemplified by the monstrous administrative state that finds no warrant in the Constitution, should be destroyed and the Republic restored by the simple expedient of turning back the political clock.
Augustans, on the other hand, focus on power and its uses. A more common term for this is Caesarism, but that is a misnomer, since Caesar merely toppled a tottering system. It was Augustus who created a new one, in which the forms of republican government remained, and even some of its application, but the real power shifted, toward a mixed government with heavy monarchical and aristocratic elements. Rollback is not the goal; the goal is seizing the levers of power as they exist now, and overthrowing the great as the opportunity presents itself, creating a new thing entirely. Thus, the focus is power guided by virtue, but always power.
In his original Flight 93 essay, Anton came across as Augustan. But he blurred this with his Pre-Statement, which is Straussian. Straussianism, while internally coherent, offers nothing, because there is no path to reach its goals. It is Reaction in the sense of turning the clock back, when what is called for is Reaction in the sense of building a new thing guided by the wisdom of the past. Anton is extremely intelligent, and I suspect he is deliberately hiding the ball. I think what he really wants to call for is either of two of his three stated alternatives to Trump winning: Caesarism (that is, an Augustan state), or secession/crack up.
This conclusion is strengthened by the sarcasm with which Anton refers in his original essay to “a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” Other than tax rate, that’s basically the Straussian solution, and he laughs at it. And since Anton says managerial Davoisieism will end up in Caesarism too, that suggests that the only two options left are the ones he wants to pick from. Trump, though, is not a good Caesar; he is a holding pattern, a finger in the dike while other pieces are being moved on the board. We are just waiting for the Man of Destiny, to be named later.
I don’t know Anton, but my bet is that he realizes that he can’t marginalize himself further by calling for the formal destruction of the Republic, even if it has already been destroyed in practice. He has to make a living, of course, and I don’t think he’s rich (despite Jonah Goldberg’s sneering, yet bizarre, efforts to slur him as rich). But he clouds the air by failing to make a choice. I see why he can’t, and instead tries to have it both ways. Me, I don’t have to make a living as a public intellectual, and “marginal” grossly overstates my relevance, so I’ll happily get behind an Augustan state, or the crack-up of the United States, or both. We’re going to get there anyway, after all – the only questions are how fast, with how much unpleasantness, and whether the destination will be the Pax Romana or something less pleasant. I’m all in for a Pax Romana updated by Christianity, the other innumerable blessings of the West, and modern science. Whether we’ll get it, I don’t know.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The image shows, Solitary Figure in a Theater, by Edward Hopper, ca, 1092-1904.
The death of Roger Scruton, following swiftly on that of Norman Stone, provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of British Conservatism. Scruton did not greatly contribute to political philosophy in a conventional sense, but he did offer a powerful engagement with aesthetics as a means of assessing and advancing values. He was by no means the only conservative to do so and, in particular, David Watkin (1941-2018), a Cambridge architectural historian, offers a powerful critique of modernism, not least in Morality and Architecture Revisited (2001) and Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2006). In practice, indeed, Scruton was significant in part because he tapped into, indeed helped articulate, a broader current of concern. So also with his interest in past lifestyles, notably hunting. If Scruton took this far further than most who held a commitment to continuity, nevertheless he was able to be more than merely an eccentric precisely because there was a wider concern.
Linking the two, and providing an ideological ballast, was the search for a vision of conservatism that was not simply that of the free market. Indeed, Scruton, like others, felt that the latter represented a form of Liberalism that he distinguished from a Conservatism of cultural weight which, he argued, derived from value and continuity, and not from advantage in the economic (or other) contingencies of the moment.
This approach appears stronger as a result of the growing salience of ‘culture wars’ in the 2010s, notably the late 2010s, and, indeed, Scruton can be seen as an early protagonist in defining an English conservative aspect in this struggle. In that respect, Scruton was different to Stone as the latter was more cosmopolitan in his conservatism, both in terms of his early engagement with Eastern Europe and later with his interest also in Turkey. Scruton also had a strong interest in Eastern Europe, but he was less grounded in its culture than Stone. Both, however, understood that the culture wars in England/Britain took on meaning not only with reference to the trans-Atlantic perspective and context that was so important during the 1980s, not least because of the Thatcher/Reagan relationship, but also against the background of a European culture that had been sundered by totalitarianism and compromised by Modernism and Socialism. Scruton, however, showed almost no interest in history, which was somewhat of a limitation for someone whose mindset was rooted in tradition and continuity.
It is reasonable to ask how far this is helpful at present. To return to the insular, does the future of the British Conservatives depend on their success in handling Brexit (with similar economic issues for Continental states), or will elections at least in part register new political alignments arising from cultural concerns and issues? The Labour Party’s focus in its leadership election of 2020 on the transgender issue suggests the latter, which raises the possibility that Muslim voters, hitherto reluctant to vote Conservative, might do so for cultural reasons in 2024 when the next general election is due.
Certainly, the cultural agenda has an institutional ambit, notably in terms of the BBC and the universities. Although both can be seen as middle-class producer lobbies financed from regressive taxation (licence fee and general taxation respectively) as opposed to user fees, there are clearly politicised dimensions, as discussed, for example, in Robin Aitken’s The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda (2018). The BBC’s favourite minority is certainly the London progressive middle class and it is easily manipulated accordingly by vested interests that play well with it. In contrast, the majority who fund it are poorly represented, a point made abundantly clear in the treatment of Conservatives. Over 40% of the voters who voted in the last two general elections did so for them but you would find that hard to appreciate if following the BBC or university curricula. There is a loop back to Scruton with the limited commitment of the BBC to programming higher culture in primetime. The BBC has always had a liberal bias, but we are now in a ‘culture war’ and it quite visibly favours one side over the other, both in storylines and in tone.
Ironically, however, there is an approach that Scruton, with his concern about market mechanisms and ‘majoritarian’ views would have been cautious about adopting: the insulation from market discipline registered via consumer preferences that other media organisations must live or die by means that, as viewing habits have changed, the BBC looks outdated in terms of its output, claims, financing and delivery mechanism. A similar debate could be held about universities. If Johnson is unwilling to wage the culture war with vigour, especially within key institutions, and in pushing bac against those who wish to hunt for heretics, it may be too late ten years hence.
Clearly conservatism relates to more than consideration of rivals, but the nature and character the public debate is significant. On the personal level, I feel that there is a contrast between an English/British conservatism able and willing to engage with a changing society, and a more ‘ultra approach.’ The former ranges (and this is a far from complete list) from support for Catholic Emancipation in the early nineteenth, via ‘Villa Toryism’ later that century, to the ‘Bolt from Empire’ and the Thatcherite engagement with the ‘C2s’ in the twentieth, and the more recent determination in the 2010s variously to offer a Broad Church social vision, a Conservatism that can breach the ‘Red Wall,’ and an engagement with Patriotic continuities. These are not merely political expedients or rhetorical devices, but, instead, representations of the complex varieties of Conservative thought and politics. As a result, it is not particularly helpful to seek an ‘ur’ or fundamental conservatism, and that is even less pertinent if the diverse national and chronological context is to be considered. This makes it difficult to move beyond a national context.
In the case of Britain, the role of contingency is particularly apparent in the case of the changes arising from the Blair government. The ‘New Labour, New Britain’ theme was linked to an active hostility toward history. Kenneth Baker’s plan for a Museum for National History for which he had raised seed-corn money and for which I was a trustee, was killed stone-dead, as was Baker’s plan for a history section in the Millennium Dome. More serious was the constitutional revisionism pushed through with little thought of possible consequences and with scant attempt to ground it in any historical awareness. There was also an eagerness to apologise about the past.
Many of the consequences were to be seen in the 2010s, not least a curious ignorance about constitutionalism, and a lack on the part of many of any real interest in a concept of national interest, let alone a capacity to ground it in an historical perspective. In what passes for the educational work this had been related to a ‘decolonisation’ of the syllabus which in practice represents a faddish and rootless presentism that has made more History courses follow those of English Literature in being undeserving of serious attention. That, at the same time, there has been an interest in fluidity in all forms of categorisation, most controversially that of gender, is not axiomatically part of this politicised postmodernism but, in practice, overlaps with it.
Again, conservatism in part is active in this context in advancing concepts of humane scepticism against the determination of assert and enforce that in effect are new regulations on behaviour, speech, deportment, and, in addressing ‘bias,’ thought. This scepticism offers a way to advance a conservatism based, instead, on freedom, debate, pluralism, and an acceptance that the very concept of value should be ground in a relativist willingness to accept contrary views, interests and preferences. Both democracy and capitalism rest on those assumptions. So does a classic English/British conservatism. That this is different to other conservative traditions does not make it better or worse, but the difference underlines the problem with having any unitary concept of conservatism, its past or its future. Indeed, this pluralism is part of the very strength of conservatism, as it can more readily adapt to local circumstances.
Roger Scruton drew attention to a fundamental truth when he argued that “conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal.” As a label for the distinctive social and cultural mood that Scruton represented, “conservation” may be preferable to the “conservatism” with which he is more often linked. As a label, it is certainly more useful. “Conservation” appeals to an instinct to protect and cherish, which quite properly transcends all political distinctions. But the label is particularly significant for conservatives. For “conservation” reminds us that “being conservative” is not primarily an identity, or a category, but a task. It shows that conservatives are people who find things to conserve.
Scruton understood that this task of conservation showed where modern conservativism have gone so badly wrong. In organising their agenda in subservience to the free market, the conservatives who dominate in present-day politics have too often allowed everything to be turned into a commodity. But in allowing everything to be for sale, they have admitted that nothing has any fixed value. And too often they have permitted this process of commodification to be applied to values in the electoral marketplace, so that the opportunities of the moment trump their obligations to the past and so also their protection of the future.
This explains why, in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party barters with established norms and venerated institutions in the hope of short-term electoral gains, while pretending to anyone who will believe them that their hurriedly formed values are judgements to which right-thinking people have always been committed. And so on cultural issues, the Conservative Party, like some similar movements elsewhere, is not going in a different direction to its major political rivals. It is going in the same direction at a slightly slower pace.
We can begin to grasp the failure of modern conservative politics when we ask ourselves what that politics has actually conserved. Political conservatives have done a good job of protecting an open economy. But the free market conserves nothing. The task of creating an open economy is much less important than the task of conserving culture. This is why, in the United Kingdom, the task of cultural conservation is being advanced by communities that see the Conservative Party as the problem. Across the country, in home educating families, in small congregations, and at irregular conferences, cultural conservation continues despite and not because of conservative politics.
This is evident when we consider the element of our culture that seems most obviously under attack – the family. Conservative thinkers have always understood that the family is the most important social unit to protect. In fact, the significance of the family is built into the language that we use to describe our conservation task. Scruton understood that conservatism and conservation are both about the responsibility of “husbanding.” The assumptions that underlie his metaphor are enormously significant. For it is only as we conserve families – the social unit in which the work of husbanding finds its archetype – that we build the cultural capital by which those larger projects of cultural preservation may be pursued.
Of course, there are no political solutions to problems that are ultimately spiritual in character. But conservatives need to stand against – and outside – a culture in which everything is up for sale, protecting the things that matter most in the dead-ends of modernity.
Labels can be misleading, they can, as Scruton pointed out, control speech, but they can also show our orientation or direction of thought.
The immediate inspiration for writing this short essay was the recent passing of Roger Scruton, the conservative’s conservative. I need not repeat all of the wonderful pieces that have been written about him. There are, however, two things I want to emphasize. Scruton and I were roughly contemporaries and we had our epiphany, unknown to each other, at the same time.
In 1968, Scruton was in Paris and witnessed the uprising. He has remarked that he suddenly realized the difference between himself and the rioters. The rioters, many of them intellectuals or inspired by French intellectuals, were interested primarily in tearing things down – believing, in romantic Marxist fashion, that the good will rise automatically from the conflagration of the old. Scruton suddenly realized that he was not interested in destroying things but in preserving what was most valuable.
From that moment one he became one of Britain’s most outspoken and courageous conservatives. At the same time, riots were occurring across America’s campuses, including my own university. Until that moment I had naively thought of myself as a liberal reformer, on the correct side of all of the major social issues. To see the destruction of higher education in America, although the corpse is still around, to see administrators unable and unwilling to defend the crucial importance of my beloved institution made me realize that I was also a conservator of our cultural institutions.
More recently I watched a U-tube presentation of Scruton trying to explain to a Dutch audience what was behind Brexit. He mentioned a number of things, including how his parents’ generation had successfully defended the UK from Nazi invasion, how Britons had no need to launder their recent history, how Britain was a bottom-up society and the home of the rule of law. It is the last point that inspired my recent publication of a book to substantiate that claim and to remind myself and others of the unique Anglo-American heritage.
Recognizing the confusion caused by labels, especially labels with a long history and multiple meanings, I nevertheless choose to call myself a ‘conservative’. This choice reflects the fact that the intellectual world is dominated by people who call themselves ‘progressive’, that progressivism seems to control the terms of discussion, and my instinctive desire to speak truth to power. Prudence has never been one of my virtues.
Before explaining my positive understanding of ‘conservatism’ I want to note what I disagree with in progressivism. To begin with, I object to bullying, to the silencing of dissent, the suppression of what used to be called free speech, and to coercing and penalizing people who oppose progressivism. Second, I am opposed to radical ‘social’ change instituted by the government and justified by appeal to abstractions designed to achieve a utopian goal. Third, I object to the invariable and inevitable distortion of the previous sentence by those who will attribute to me the position of opposing all social change.
What I mean by ‘conservatism’ is two things. First, it is impossible to think and speak about anything without employing an inherited background of norms and assumptions. We cannot explain or critique anything from a wholly external perspective. Our intellectual and social inheritance contain many norms, and there is no systematic way of organizing those norms without appeal to some extraneous perspective or without promoting one norm to a prominence it cannot rightfully claim. A good deal of what passes for philosophy is the elevation of one intellectual practice above all others. Our inheritance is too rich and complex to be so systematized. Progressivism is an example of the illicit claim of being ‘the’ uber framework. Rigidity is thus always on the side of Progressivism.
Our plurality of norms evolved over time (sorry, Moses) and reflected a particular set of circumstances. Inevitably and of necessity new sets of circumstances will lead us to recognize additional norms and conflicts and tensions within the norms we already have.
How then do we resolve these conflicts? The better or more accurate question, is what has our practice of conflict resolution or management been? Borrowing from Oakeshott, I would say our practice has been to engage in a conversation that begins by diagnosing our situation; we make proposals about what the response should be; we recommend this proposal by considering a large number of the consequences likely to follow from acting upon it; we balance the merits of any proposal against those of at least one other proposal; and we assume agreement about the general conditions of things to be preferred. Arguments constructed out of these materials cannot be ‘refuted’. They may be resisted by arguments of the same sort which, on balance, are found to be more convincing. The recommendation always involves a rhetorical appeal, an appeal to what we believe are the relevant overriding norms – the general conditions of things to be preferred.
The human condition can never in this life be utopian. Some good things can only be purchased by abstaining from other. We cannot choose everything. To open some doors is to know that others must remain closed.
What I seek to conserve is our practice. Progressives threaten our practices in the name of some abstraction. Armed with some such abstraction (e.g. ‘equality’) they will disrupt the conversation by claiming that the equal right to free speech means that any speaker they do not like can be shouted down. In vain do I remind them of what J.S. Mill said about censorship. In vain do I remind them that successful reformers like Martin Luther King prevailed because they reminded others into acknowledging what the inherited norms were.
For progressives, words (e.g. ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, etc.) mean only what they choose the words to mean. Any appeal to “the general conditions of things to be preferred” is illegitimate because what we thought were the relevant overriding norms (note the plural, please) is rejected as an appeal to something illegitimate. What are the legitimate norms? It is what they say it is and as they alone understand their holy abstraction.
On the contrary, I want to conserve the conversation, and the civility implied therein. It may very well be that there can no longer be a conversation. Communities do sometimes disintegrate, split into multiple communities, or find it necessary to destroy one another. Those who hold onto the illusion that the community can and must always be preserved (‘do-gooders’) are giving in to the belief in ‘the’ uber framework. Progressives, like Bolsheviks, always win in these situations because they will never concede anything. The ‘do-gooders’ will concede anything and embrace an Orwellian discourse. Progressives may control the commanding heights, but like all barbarians, in the end, they can only appeal to force.
As a “conservative” I want to preserve the inherited community, warts and all, not embrace an abstraction; I do embrace the need for periodic review; I vehemently oppose those who pretend to be conservatives but are merely intransigent about something or other; I patiently endure the process by which we engage in reform, however slow and painful. I am ready and willing to oust the disingenuous progressives (as opposed to the merely confused) who pretend to be inside the community in order to enjoy its benefits but reserve for themselves the exclusive privilege of not being bound by it when it suits their private agenda. I am prepared to let them go their way; but they cannot stay as is. The progressives will claim that I am the one who is leaving when in fact they are the ones who have abandoned the community long ago. To be a ‘conservative’ is to choose to stay and to be willing to pay the price; it is not to idolize any one institution.
How much did Sir Roger Scruton’s thought influence the current perception of Conservatism? This is hard to say. Had his mind widely reached the public opinion in depth, we could speak of an influence, but it was not so, for rarely a thinker’s mind has an influence on his own contemporaries, and more rarely on his own generation; in case on the next. I’d say that he was a bright and cold interpreter of a commonly shared, and mutual way of thinking and perceiving the political situation in the West, and its contradiction; but it is really problematic to assess if and how much he may have had an influence on the public political perception. For sure his work was carefully considered by specialists, and was often reported by the press, in and out of Britain, but how many people read such press and, among them, how many read this kind of news? No idea, but surely – no matter the country – they are not the majority of the public.
It is not easy to define Conservatism, and we must keep in mind that not all the categories we can apply to the so-called Western mind can be applied to countries whose culture does not rely on the European root.
In theory one should define Conservatism “a contrario” due to what it is not. This could be easier. It is enough to look around, at the most shared behaviours and mentalities, and then say: This is not conservatism.
Once the list of the “this-is-not,” is arrived at, you’ll identify “a contrario” what Conservatism is. On the other hand, we must also beware those people who calll conservatism whatever can be used to blindly hold at any cost against social changes, just because they are changes, or just because they do not know how to argue or discuss. There is another way to define Conservatism. Basically, the difference between progressives and conservers is similar to that between children and parents. Children are attracted by everything new because it is new. Children want to do what they want, because they want it. Children have no experience;
Hence, they cause dramatic damage, which sometimes is impossible to solve. Children are egoistic, looking for, and caring for their own interest only; they despise rules, are arrogant, pretend to know everything and teach lessons to everybody. Children are not educated, and know nothing about their families’ history and roots, and are accustomed to have their meals ready-made, their clothes ready-made, their homes safe and comfortable, and to cry when things are not as they like. And that’s it.
Parents know what can happen, and which consequence a particular action will normally have. Parents have experience and have learned from it – unless they are post 1968s or progressives at any cost – thus parents know which kind of result the children may get. But whoever has children knows that you can shout as much as you want, and repeat the same things as much as you want, but your children will never listen at you, till it’s too late, perhaps much too late. Then, after many years, they will also be able – at least some of them – to realize that their parents were right; but they will hardly admit it, and continue behaving the same way, or worse.
It’s easy to be a progressive: Just shout “why not this?” There is no need to support the cry with ideas and reason, whilst a conserver needs a lot of culture and skill to explain and to defend his position. Since 1789 conservers are always old-fashioned, thus guilty, who must keep and defend their positions, whilst progressive are right by definition. In brief, Conservatism in the good sense is a blend of culture, tradition, broad mentality, and attention; Conservatism is good sense applied to daily life.
A corollary: Look at how many wars were caused by leftist governments and how big those wars were, and then look at how many were started by conservative governments. Then make a comparison between the casualties caused by the former and the latter. The result: Progressives caused much more death than the conservers. Hitler was a progressive, Stalin was a progressive, Mussolini was born and remained his whole life a socialist thus a progressive. Is that enough?
Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.
The image shows, “The Chess Players,” by Thomas Eakins, painted in 1876.
I briefly learnt of and met Roger Scruton some forty years ago when his colleague, the philosopher Ruby Meagre, invited me to sit in on a lecture and tutorial he gave on Kant. From then on Roger Scruton has been a constant presence in my life, due to the seemingly endless parade of his writings on all manner of subjects that appeared in the new books section of my university library, or were reviewed in literary magazines, or journals, and through the outpouring of his opinion pieces in British newspapers and magazines, and the stream of radio and television interviews, and more recently Youtube lectures. Almost as numerous were the denunciations and attacks that were regularly launched against him. And although Scruton had carved out an enviable reputation for himself as a philosopher, he is, I think, most likely to be remembered for his role as a public intellectual and public gadfly irritating the progressive cause.
While The Meaning of Conservativism, which had appeared shortly before I met him, and which my friend Ruby assured me was ‘reactionary tosh’, had already put him in great disfavour with the academic consensus very early in his career, it was an essay in the Salisbury Review about declining education standards in multi-cultural Britain that rocketed Scruton, along with its author, the headmaster of a Bradford school, Ray Honeyford, into the public eye as a ‘racist.’ When I read the essay, I thought Honeyford had expressed serious concerns about what was happening in British schools, and that the response to him, Scruton and the Salisbury Review was a disgrace. But given that the Review was one of the earliest forums drawing people’s attention to the institutional damage being done by the elite ideological consensuses in the Western world, there was nothing surprising in the hostile reactions it generated.
It was around the same time I also learnt of Scruton’s role in helping Czech and Polish dissidents. And the magazine that was commonly denounced as reactionary bile by Western academics who earned their living by ‘critiquing’ everything about their society that did not follow their leadership by conforming to their ideas of what a just society and economy should be like, was treated by Eastern dissidents as a blast of freedom. In the East where the tacit and trans-generational accumulated social knowledge of tradition had been replaced by the ideology of the ‘know-all’ (i.e. for the party leaders, knowing their Marx and Lenin, knew all that was necessary about the objective laws of economics, society, and history), Scruton’s Burkean insights about collective life and tradition were a reminder of a more spirited life than that being made by the party.
In the West, though, where tradition had been defined as the enemy, and every pumpkin head who had read a few books on Marx or feminism knew how to bring about peace on earth, Scruton was a scapegoat who took on all the crimes and sins of the ‘right’ for academics, journalists et. al. that could be sacrificed to the god of virtuous abstraction that they faithfully served. Ultimately it was this scapegoat status that accompanied a general defiance of the consensuses of the elites of our age, rather than any single philosophical contribution that made Scruton one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. (The role of favoured scape-goat, however, even during his life-time would be taken from Scruton and passed onto the less philosophically, and less conservatively inclined Jordan Peterson).
In his role as scapegoat (and ironically enough René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and the scapegoat would be a frequent point of reference in Scruton’s later writing), Scruton reflected back everything that is appalling about his enemies and the kind of world they are making, as they attempted to block his career and smear his reputation, often in underhanded and secret ways, and just as often with a megaphone as they purported to speak on behalf of a public good, that they ostensibly represented. The last “hit job” on Scruton, not long before he died, was when George Eaton charmed his way into Scruton’s confidence and then twisted and decontextualized his position in an infamous essay in the April 2019 issue of the New Statesman, a magazine for which Scruton had often published. It was a cipher of the manner of behaviour that our ideas-brokering class now engages in.
The work by Scruton that I have most enjoyed is Fools, Frauds and Firebrands (originally published as Thinkers of the New Left.) For it goes back to what is probably the most defining event in Scruton’s intellectual life (apart from hunting, farming, and drinking wine), the Paris revolt of 1968. Scruton realized then that this discontented youth thought they knew so much more than they did, and the book sets about exposing just how little the great bastions of the New Left actually do know.
In many ways this Socratic twist, that we all know very little, is the essence of Scruton’s conservative political commitment. For he held that we need to factor in that we dwell in processes about which we understand far too little, and hence we should take seriously the accumulated stock of social knowledge of previous generations that is our heritage instead of puffing ourselves up as ‘judges’ of history, and replace it with our relatively paltry intellectual principles and abstractions.
In that book Scruton also made the salutary point that the New Left view of politics as power fails to understand the very nature of politics, as a means of mediating between different interests, to achieve peace. In spite of the New Left presenting itself as the representatives of the oppressed, they were bourgeois who have not only wanted their narratives about past, present and future to prevail, but have wanted to ensure their economic advancement in leading the rest of us.
Scruton was a significant obstacle to that interest because he urged us to think more rather than think we know everything. Now that he is dead there is one less major obstacle to the intellectual, spiritual, and social suicide of the West.
That conservatism can inspire historical research seems a priori absurd because to seek is to try to bring something new. This is not so. Research is a method, a disposition of mind, which can only be carried out in humility, with respect to its predecessors and to other researchers, taking into account the obligation of reproducibility of results. These requirements have value in history, which is both a human science, and therefore partially conjectural, and the science of a past to which we cannot return. How to avoid uchronia, the will to prove what we would like, or the unverifiable glimpse of such and such a person within history? How to duplicate ourselves, while putting aside our own being in our own time period, which may also affect the very object of our research? How to safeguard the requirement of reproducibility of results even in the social sciences? What if the answer was conservatism?
Writing history is not judging the past but exposing it in its truth, its entirety (that which we will come to know); it is therefore to seek the true, the probable and the possible in time-period that one studies. The historical method fixed in the last three centuries makes it possible to avoid slippages. A new methodology should not be rejected – otherwise, research would be a repetition of what has already been found. But it must fit into existing methods and knowledge.
Thus, the work of J.-P. Vernant has renewed our vision of classical antiquity. But his comparative path was of value only because he also practiced the usual methods and knew the ancient texts perfectly. Going from our time to antiquity, by that reverse reasoning dear to Marc Bloch, only makes sense if the end-point remains consistent with the knowledge we have about the past, through the usual channels.
If this precaution is taken, there is not opposition but enrichment by convergence of reverse reasoning and research (so dear to Jacqueline de Romilly) for what we owe to those who went before. But if we let yourself be carried away by the desire for something new at all costs, we will get a distorted view of the past. Bringing together, by way of a purely anthropological reasoning, the ancient world and some “primitive,” “wild,” or “non-western” ethnic group, as we sometimes do nowadays, will give new conclusions but sometimes an aberrant result or a dead-end because of non-reproducibility of the results: The conclusion of one researcher should be roughly similar to that of another researcher who uses the same sources.
Alongside the method, the exclusivist temptation claims to arbitrarily determine the historical object. The healthy reaction against positivist history sometimes rejects the history of events, the history of battle, political history, in favor of uniquely economic, societal or cultural history, to end up with history of concepts.
Historians have also looked for trendy subjects: foreigners, outsiders, women, etc. But should old areas be rejected? That is to forget their contribution. It is also forgetting to seek to renew old areas by way of new approaches – sociological, psychological, cultural. The study of leadership, or the comparative path brought battle history back to life. We cannot do history by intersecting the givens; traditional fields have their place and participate in the progress of historiography. Coming back to them is not backward-looking.
Searching history for a justification for our current outlook on life is also a dangerous pitfall. We have seen this in the past in Marxist history. We see it now for our conceptions of relations between the sexes or of life. Between current research on the history of sexuality and that of the past on the place of women in history, there is only one difference in expression, only a widening of the problematic.
But when the theorization of gender gives rise to work aimed at grasping history through gender, there is a double risk: finding a justification in the past for our contemporary points of view and modifying history to make it fit in with our views. our designs. Likewise, observe that, in ancient societies, abortion seemed normal as long as there was not coagulation of the sperm in the woman’s body and the fetus did not move – and to note that this corresponds to legal late-term abortion in many contemporary states is correct, but this cannot be used to search history for a justification: scientific knowledge and cultural or religious environments are too different to allow it. This form of moralizing history risks destroying its own purpose.
As we can see, faced with the three temptations of systematic methodical innovation, exclusivism and justifying moralization, conservatism is considered an essential safeguard. It alone will make it possible to revive and understand “this world that we have lost,” in the words of Peter Laslett, and therefore to anchor ourselves in this chain of epochs without which we cannot envisage the future.
Jean-Nicolas Corvisier, professor emeritus in ancient history, and Honorary President of the French Commission of Military History.
The original French version of this article is here translated by N. Dass.
The image shows, “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden,” by John Constable, painted in 1823.
In the era of politically correct unified networks, the term conservative is banned, obscurantist stuff, retrograde. Usually conservative makes the pair with medieval, two adjectives disreputable to the vassals of global finance who evidently do not know or pretend not to know “the Middle Ages,” praise Dan Brown’s fantasies and blame those who adore the fantasy of the “middle earth;” lovers of the world upside down, of the lie that becomes truth, imposed by the media power of the new world order.
In reality, between the nineteenth and twentieth century the best thinkers were conservative: Tolkien, Chesterton, Lewis, Belloc, Junger, Spengler, Papini, Prezzolini, Guareschi to name a few.
A conservative is the one who asks the basic questions. Who are we? What am I doing on this spinning ball? What is life? And looks for the answers deep inside! The depths of the heart that shouts, the depths of the brain that paw, to understand, not to surrender to the monotony of the welfare society that often generates malaise, to the alienation produced by the spasmodic search for answers to the ego and the desires of compulsive consumers abandoned to the loneliness of the global mall!
The conservative seeks God, seeks the end; and to do so, he looks to the origin, to those immutable values that characterize the life of man in all ages, so he is reasonable and realistic. A conservative could never reasonably claim that killing a sick person or a nascent life can alleviate suffering; he could never think that children are not born from a mother and father, from a man and a woman; he could never believe that wealth can be produced through speculation and not through enterprise. A conservative believes in simple things; those that have always happened, every day, a man and a woman love each other and generate life; a man invests his possessions in a productive activity to build a community of workers called enterprise. This is why the conservative loves the Fatherland, puts the community at the center of society, the person before the state and the market.
The ridge of the cultural and political challenge is no longer between the old ideologies; the line of the new conflict is between the inhuman anthropology that descends from the relativist ideology and the positive anthropology that descends from an integral humanism. A conservative, and therefore authentically popular and identity-oriented, project is needed to put man back at the centre of his essential relationship with God, to defend his dignity from conception to the natural end, to affirm a new economic and social paradigm that has as its reason the common good.
Reading the Gospels, I have always been struck by the fact that, in reference to the events concerning the life of Jesus and his relationship with his mother, Mary, the evangelists always write that she “kept all these things meditating on them in her heart.” What are they telling us with this? That a woman, in the face of the events of life, even those she does not understand, does not refuse, but keeps in her heart; does not throw away, but meditates. After all, the Truth is imprinted in the hearts of all men, and all seek it, even those who deny it, even those who today are at the service of their only god, money. Is there hope? And it is in the heart of each one of us, after all, to cultivate this hope. To set out on this journey means to be conservative. You give the answer! Don Bosco said to a pious woman, worried that Christians had become a minority – Is God with us? If God is with us we, are the majority!
Federico Ladicicco, graduate of the Department of Economics and Business at La Sapienza University of Rome, is an entrepreneur, and National President of ANPIT – the National Association for Industry and the Tertiary Sector. In the academic year 2016-2017, he was a lecturer in Economics at the Ecampus University of Rome. From 2008 to 2012, he was Vice-President of the Culture Commission of the Province of Rome, and President of the “Minas Tirith” study centre, an association that promotes and develops the integral formation of the person. He is also the co-author of the book, Santi eroi imprenditori. Storie di mestieri e comunità (Holy Entrepreneur Heroes. Stories of Crafts and Communities).
The image shows, “The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest,” by Willem van Haecht, painted in 1628.
In the last several months, Conservatism lost two of its family members: Norman Stone, a historian, and Sir Roger Scruton, a philosopher. How important they were is testified by the fact that they and Jonathan C. D. Clark, the author of a very important work on English history, entitled, English Society, 1688-1832, became objects of the liberal historian Timothy Garton-Ash’s attack in 1990. Attacks are never pleasant to those who are their object, but sometimes they tell the reader whose views deserve attention.
What do these three men have in common? They were staunch defenders of hierarchy, privilege and the Past. The Past is sacred; it is our guide to the future, and, therefore, to use one of Sir Roger’s favorite words, it must be approached with “piety.” The Liberal sees nothing sacred in the Past. Like hierarchy and privilege, it is an instrument of the oppressive “power-structure,” which today’s Liberal finds it imperative to destroy.
The chaos and lawlessness on the streets in America has brought to light what the philosophy of Liberalism has become, but it also highlighted the importance of the role that the State plays in upholding social order.
The State and History are what Liberals waged an open war against. The destruction of monuments, Nancy Pelosi’s (the Speaker of the American House of Representatives) wholehearted support for the removal of statues and paintings from the Congressional buildings, the destruction of Columbus’ monuments all over the country, and those of the American presidents (Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt) are open admissions that American history is in the process of being abolished even by American politicians.
The Washington D.C. mayor’s refusal to lodge members of the National Guard, while the President, for reasons of security, was put in a bunker, is also a telling fact: the enemy is not the thugs, looters and vandals who took over the protests, but the State.
Paradoxically, this sentiment is shared by many high State officials whose salaries are paid for by the State. According to the mayor of Durham, in North Carolina, the function of police, which White folks need to understand, was to police Black people, and to protect White people and their property. The absurdity of such an utterance becomes obvious when we reflect on the fact that police are present in all African countries with no White population. The function of police in every civilized and advanced society is not to protect one race from another, but to protect decent citizens from harm by anyone.
To be sure, America has a race problem which cuts both ways, but the racial conflict is augmented by media and demagogues, and the mayor’s statement propagates a socially dangerous view, according to which, the American police is an oppressive arm of the White race. That may have been true to some extent a very long time ago, but it is hardly the case nowadays. Even the most hideous racially motivated killings are the work of individuals rather than the White “power-structure” or effects of “systemic racism;” and very few Whites in the U.S. can be called racist.
I doubt that Durham’s mayor propagates her views out of malice or even ignorance. Such an outlook on American history is the effect of about three decades of multicultural indoctrination by an intellectually semi-literate academic establishment.
Many of the American politicians and activists see the political realm as theatre, on whose stage we are watching an eternal racial conflict where the Whites play the role of the oppressors and the Blacks the role of the oppressed. If it is politically expedient, the actors are the oppressed American Indians, or the privileged class and those without privileges, the obscurantists who look to the Past and the Progressives who look to the Future.
The script changes, depending on who wants to enter the stage. Last year, during the weeks of Congressional testimony by Justice Kavanaugh, the actors embodied the two sexes: men and progressive women. Several years earlier, when the Supreme Court, after several-thousand years of human history, was deciding what marriage is, the participants were the heterosexual oppressors and the oppressed homosexuals.
Next came the “transgendered” party and those who feel comfortable in their original skin. There are already signs that the future conflict will erupt between the monogamist oppressors and the oppressed groups of polygamists who will demand further changes in the structure of family. This scheme is like a mathematical equation, with one unknown, which can always be substituted by whatever minority variable one wants.
Nothing in this theatrical scenario is very original. The script was written in the second half of the 19th-century by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Socialism, in The Communist Manifesto, and by John Stuart Mill, the founding father of Liberalism, on the very first page of his On Liberty and the last two pages of his Utilitarianism. Both Marx and Engels, on the one hand, and Mill, on the other, view social conflicts always as bi-polar. History’s purpose is to abolish hierarchy and replace privileges by rights. At the end of History, once equality reigns supreme, there will be no need for the use of force! The State—its coercive institutions—will wither away.
By calling on the police to be “defunded,” the current protesters want to accelerate this process. When the mayor of Minneapolis said that he would not do it, the angry crowd shouted: “Jacob, go home.” Jacob, unless he does what the mob says, is likely to be voted out, and we can be almost certain that the new mayor will be elected on the promise of defunding police, or seriously limiting the scope of its power. The movement is aiming at further “withering” of the already weak liberal State.
To anyone with a modicum of critical-mindedness, such ideas are at best utopian and at worst dangerous. The danger seems to suggest, however, that the Western world may have reached the point where its two socio-political options—Conservatism and Liberalism which originated at the beginning of 19th-century — are no longer two forces mutually controlling and enriching each other in their occasional clashes over social policies.
Liberalism, which for the last sixty years or so has been slowly corroding social hierarchies, degenerated into a destructive social force. It is no longer the philosophical doctrine which drew our attention to unnecessary cruelty, brutality, arbitrariness in administrating the system of justice, and the abuse of power.
In its nascent stage, Liberalism promoted serious policies—unemployment benefits, education for the poor, taxation, greater participation of women and lower classes in political decision-making—that would help the poor and weak. All these items were addressed and tackled with high degree of theoretical subtlety by J. S. Mill in his Considerations On Representative Government.
Today’s Liberalism is not a doctrine that encourages the underdogs to make an effort to ennoble themselves, but encourages them to feel resentful. This resentment, as Nietzsche saw it, encourages the destruction of the social fabric and institutions that protect all individuals from one another. As New York authorities announced, they will not prosecute the protesters for damages, which is another way of saying, that one can participate in the destruction and still pay no legal consequences.
Is what is happening on our streets a matter of badly designed social policies or discrimination? One can seriously doubt it. What I would like to suggest is that what is taking place is the consequence of the Liberal doctrine.
Liberals have always been hostile to the use of force or coercion in human relationships. This is clear from reading Mill. The meaning of the term “force” or “coercion” in the Liberal dictionary is extremely wide. It can signify burning human beings alive, torture, lynching, brutal beatings, but it can also mean light spanking, screaming at someone for rudeness, using so-called “offensive” language, or any form of what was once considered discipline.
Lack of discipline is responsible for the state of American education and lack of respect among children and young people, without which polite society is impossible. Everything that is not negotiated is considered coercive and evil. Therefore, to achieve their social and political goals, the Liberals prefer to use legislation in order to regulate human relationships rather than discipline.
They see no contradiction between mounting legislation which regulates every aspect of human relationships and the diminishing scope of individual freedom. This paradox was noticed already by Tocqueville, who understood that the reason why there is so little freedom in America is that the democratic man does not understand that the laws he enacts can be the source of his own enslavement.
The Liberal State that sees power as evil does not know how to act in situations of national emergency, for example, nation-wide riots, which threaten social order. Can one defend the destruction of property, physical violence, or the killing of police? A commonsensical person should agree that the State can, should, and must intervene to deter the destruction of property, and the harm or death of many persons. Accordingly, it would appear that in such situations the Liberal is pushed into a corner and forced to renounce his naïve idea that, either there are no circumstances under which we could use force, or that all problems can be negotiated. But the Liberal mind can defy logic.
During recent protests, the liberal news outlets spared no effort to augment the protesters’ grievances, which go back to 1619, when the first slaves were brought to the New World. Grievances either obfuscate or justify the destruction, as they did in 1789 in France and 1917 in Russia. And as grievances grow, the destruction of cities and the deaths of several policemen become irrelevant. Today’s victims are the currency with which the Present pays off its historical debt. This is how the Communists thought and what they did.
In the words of Gletkin in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, “History is a priori immoral; it is not a brothel of emotions,” and, therefore, no point in shedding tears over the death of a few innocent men who died defending the Old order. Lack of coverage of those deaths in the liberal media proves that the old communists are today’s liberals.
The case in point is the behavior of Nancy Pelosi, after Congressional presentation by the sister of Patrick Underwood, the Black policeman who was killed by a looter. The Speaker of the House, who stood eight feet from her, did not even bother to express any condolences for his death. Why? Most likely because in defending order, the murdered policeman was on the wrong side of History, whereas his killer was part of the social movement whose origin can be traced back to 1619.
We should note, however, that American conservatives who believe that the imposition of curfew or martial law measures for a very brief period of time could have saved us from the destructive power of protests, do not have a firm conviction that one can find justification for the use of power.
This seems to have always been the case in American Conservatism, which from the beginning of the Republic was dominated by the Liberal idea of abstract rights. As Ronald Raegan said: “The state is not a solution; the state is a problem.”
To be sure, at that time in American history, conservative Raegan thought of the State as a huge bureaucratic machine, which needs to be reduced to make room for private initiative in the economic realm – but this leaves the problem of how much power the American conservatives would be willing to grant the State to prevent society from falling into chaos.The only legitimate realm where Americans feel the use of force is rather unproblematic is foreign lands—a matter of little interest to the uninformed majority of the American public.
The problem can be ultimately reduced to how Liberalism and Conservatism perceive the role of the State. While the former sees it as a means to shape and impose abstract social and political norms, always by legislative means, the latter sees the State as a product of a historical process, and considers its power as legitimate only when it is used in defense of the historical nature of the country: its institutions, religion, customs and traditions. The Liberals do not consider any of the above as particularly important. At best, they think of them as ingredients of what they term “multiculturalism.”
In a Conservative vision, on the other hand, there is no room for the State to use its coercive power to intervene in the family structure, educational programs (unless they are harmful to the development of children), forms of religious worship, marital relationships, let alone defining who is a man or a woman. These structures and institutions established themselves through a long historical process (and continue to evolve), and this is a sacred Conservative realm. They can never be changed according to an a priori blueprint or a legislative fiat of a democratically elected legislative body.
The decision of the Supreme Court concerning marriage is the most glaring demonstration of how divorced the Liberal mind is from History. Given the fact that there are no historical precedents, not in the entire human history of all peoples and races, to take marriage to be anything other than a union of man and woman, the decision of five American Justices of one of the youngest countries in the world tipped the historical scale.
The same disregard for History can be observed in the treatment of traditional educational curricula, Christian religion, or History of the United States. The books by minorities, despite the fact that they have had a marginal role in shaping the mind of the nation, are considered more important than the gigantic classics which shaped it; Protestant Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, despite the paramount importance of the role of Protestantism in creating American culture, are put on a par; and the three monotheistic religions are put on par with Eastern religions and different “New Age” doctrines.
What is ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the idea of equality, which does not tolerate discrimination, despite the fact that only some religions, books, cultures, peoples, and ideas have forged nations and their institutions.
The Liberals, who traditionally boasted that they are the defenders of a “minimal” State, are today the greatest defenders of an all-powerful State, one which constitutes a threat to traditional structures, social mores, and individual freedoms. Why is that?
The liberal polis is an abstraction, the denial of previous forms of social organizations, and its ultimate goal is the unconditional equality of all people and all cultures. It is inhabited neither by the Germans in Germany, the Poles in Poland, the Italians in Italy, nor the Americans in the United States.
The citizens of this Liberalopolis are abstract human beings, stripped of their historical identity. They are neither American nor Kenyan nor Japanese; nor are they White or Black or Yellow. And last but not least, they are neither men or women, and their sexual “preferences” are neither Natural nor of Divine design. They, like culinary taste, are a matter of individual taste and subject to change. The criterion of choice is not rational; it is a subjective feeling, or whim.
The conservative State in their eyes is a threatening “power-structure,” which is the bedrock of social hierarchy and privileges rather than rights. Even the old traditional educational programs are the enemy because they inculcate reverence for the Past, and in doing so, they unconsciously perpetuate old forms of oppression. For this reason, they deserve to be quietly destroyed. A superficial glance at the state of American universities suffices to understand how successful Liberalism is in destroying education.
The Conservative mind, the liberal argument runs, is implicitly biased and discriminatory against other groups or cultures. An Englishman has no more reason to feel proud for being English than a Gypsy or an Eskimo. English “superiority” on account of England’s achievements is an illusion because both an Englishman, and a Gypsy or an Eskimo, are simply human beings.
The superior attitude of, say, a proud Englishman named, “Nigel” can even be threatening to a Gypsy or an Eskimo; and calling a Gypsy “Gypsy” rather than “Roma” is a sign of English-supremacy. The threat, of course, is not of a physical nature. It is psychological. To ensure that a Gypsy and Eskimo have an equally high self-esteem as “Nigel”, colleges make sure that English history is not taught there, or, at best, it is one of many history courses, including Gypsy and Eskimo histories.
In the eyes of the Liberal, the defense of the Past, including the defense of programs which teach English history, is a sign of English or White (cultural) supremacy, and this must be fought against—lest it occur to “Nigel” to recreate the British Empire.
This way of thinking, crazy as it sounds, forms the basis of democratic-liberal politics in America and Western democracies. For example, in the words of former Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, “There are no illegal immigrants, because there are no illegal human beings.” Gillibrand, you might think, is an extremist! Not at all. Consider what American children learn in schools daily: fixed “gender” is a social construct. And since it is a construct, it can be deconstructed and changed.
For instance, the State’s refusal to accept my claim that I am what I claim to be (a woman in the case of someone who was born with male genitals and who shaves everyday) is oppressive, and the judge, the college professor, or the co-worker who refuses to acknowledge how I feel is a manifestation of “structural oppression.” Ergo, we must fight the State, educational institutions, and the way others see and think of us.
A most recent item in the Liberal Catechism, which American children are taught, is that there is no genetic basis for race. Accordingly, there is no White, Yellow, or Black race—there is only the human race. From here, there is only one step to Senator Gillibrand’s proposal for open borders: there should be no borders, no states, since our true citizenship is defined in terms of a shared humanity which overrides the old national categories, which teach us to be prejudiced against others.
As part of her campaign to raise racial consciousness, Senator Gillibrand even made a few trips to meet with White small-town folks to explain to them that they are beneficiaries of “White privilege.” The trip did not go well, and because individual calls to end “oppression” fall on deaf ears, the solution is to institute sensitivity trainings, and give the State more power so no student or employee in America can escape it. This is a pure form of ideological brainwashing on a national scale – which had never taken place under communism in Soviet Russia and its satellite countries.
Many such ideologically driven rules are already in place and govern our speech (the mandatory use of preferred pronouns, the censure of “sexist” language) and conduct (reorientation of sexual mores; correction of racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, and Islamophobic attitudes). So far, no university or institution has dared to defy it.
Rather, they have been at the forefront of its cause, ensuring that the new generation of American children learns the new catechism of social insanity.
Many of us believe that we fight barbarism. This is not quite true. Fascism and Communism were barbaric in the sense that they twisted historical heritage so that it would conform to the official ideology of a country. What we are facing is insanity, which is in the process of annihilating Western cultural heritage and our own understanding of ourselves as men and women.
What else but insanity can one call the state of mind of someone who, standing in front of a mirror, has doubts about his sex? What does one call the legal system where the judge rules, as happened in the UK last year, that Biblical teaching from the Book of Genesis about two sexes is “inconsistent with human dignity”? What justice system is it that redefines what marriage is? (Couldn’t one stop by granting homosexual couples exactly the same rights without abrogating the entirety of human tradition?)
Does one really need to be a religious bigot to defend his refusal to bow to insanity because he refuses to call a man a woman? Common sense should be enough. But ever since the new gender studies dominated education, common sense, as Orwell’s Winston discovered, became the greatest heresy. In his ruling, the British judge acted like Orwell’s O’Brian who made Winston believe that 2 + 2 = 5. There is nothing “dignifying” in making people with psychological problems believe that they are OK, and at the same time force the insanity of a few onto others. It is totalitarian oppression in its purest form.
Instances of insanity that defy common sense are endless. It has become common practice in America to reward failure. The members of school sports teams, which happen to lose the game, receive trophies. “Trophies for what?” you may wonder. For losing! This way a child, as I was told by my daughter’s coach, whose team never won, will not lose self-esteem. Clearly, no one thought what long-term psychological consequences such methods can have. Imagine a child whose room is full of trophies for losing! Self-esteem grows out of success in the face of adversity, and no new “psychology for losers” will ever change that.
These trophies for losers reveal only what Liberalism aims at: abolishing hierarchy. Hierarchy exists only in societies which retain a sense of excellence. For example, the idea of a “grade” or a “mark” (received in our schools) used to show your placement vis-à-vis an objective standard of excellence, and would thus signify where you are relative to others. But as excellence disappeared from education, so did a serious grading system. Almost everybody today is an A-student!
Why is that? As equality made its inroads everywhere, so hierarchy and its sister, privilege (right based on merit) disappeared. Right is the new form of privilege to which everyone is entitled; but since in every game there are winners and losers, to uphold equality, it is only natural to reward losers with a trophy.
This egalitarian mentality became all-pervasive, and it seized the minds of almost everyone. There is virtually no way to argue today about, say, the superiority of Beethoven’s “Fűr Elise” over Jay-Z’s rapping about “White bitches;” or the superiority of musical pieces performed by Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra over the sounds produced by street rappers on Michigan Avenue. Vulgarity and the greatest achievements of human spirit have finally reconciled.
Our inability to discern between the High and the Low is the result of a blurred distinction between “Culture” (like in “High Culture”) and “culture” (in the old anthropological sense).
The same goes for dress code. I have seen many people giving each other “strange looks” when they saw young men wearing pants sagging down, exposing their buttocks to the public, but have never heard anyone explain to them that what they think is a fashion is, and would have been called decades ago, “public indecency,” lack of manners, bad taste, or vulgarity. Today, we call it culture! Expecting that someone keep his pants above the waist would be considered an expression of “oppression” and “supremacy,” an “imposition of ‘your’ values” onto others, or, simply, intolerance. Many among us still know what is proper, but we lack the courage to say it.
The Liberal Left is becoming more and more anti-capitalist, anti-free market; and the defense of capitalism should be one of the goals of conservatives. However, the defense of capitalism is likely to be unsuccessful, if it means a defense of corporate business, which the Republican politicians in America are in the habit of partaking in.
Values of Conservatism are not the same as those of a political party, and the values of corporations are not the same as the values of a nation. As Lord Acton noted in his letter to Mary Gladstone, corporations have neither a body to kick nor a soul to redeem. They are soulless creatures, looking only after themselves.
The old slogan, “What is good for business is good for America” covered this truth for decades. It was accepted because, so long as most of the powerful world corporations were American, the American public profited from them. The true nature of business was realized about twenty years ago when American businesses moved to Asian countries. Once they discovered that what is good for business is cheap labor, they left their tricolor national dress behind on American soil, leaving American workers jobless.
The corporate world, however, can sometimes be an instrument endangering national interest. Everyone remembers the famous incident in a Starbucks two years ago when two Black men were arrested.
Instead of applying appropriate measures with respect to the employees’ posture in the location where the incident took place, Starbucks turned the isolated problem into a national problem of racism. It immediately instituted a nation-wide shut-down of all its stores for several hours to conduct “bias” trainings for all employees. It was a spectacle, the purpose of which was to demonstrate Starbucks’ commitment to fighting undesirable attitudes. How good was Starbucks’ decision for the nation?
As I write these words, destruction and anarchy are sweeping through a number of cities in the U.S., millions of Americans are burning cities and many young White people are feeling ashamed of being White. Some of them denounce their parents for being “racist.” Norms of civility are being crushed. All of this is done in the name of the same ideology which seeks to render the world free of biases.
Yet, those young people know little to nothing about racism. They are too ignorant about history and are too young to remember what racism was. They attend the same schools that Black children attend, they have Black classmates, Black friends, and some have Black girlfriends and boyfriends. They did not watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to fathom the obstacles of interracial marriage in the past. Yet the protesters act as if America was still a pre-Civil Rights country, and some think that as long as prisons exist, slavery still exists, too.
When we visit what we call “White trash” neighborhoods, we realize that the problems one finds there are the same that exist in Black: they are human problems, and most human problems come down to the disintegration of marriage, single-parenthood, familial troubles, lack of religious ties and moral code, and a weak sense of community. Those among the Blacks who talk to other Blacks about “acting White” do a profound disservice to Black Americans; just like the college teachers in poor community colleges who tell “White trash” students about “White privilege.” This is a language that can only anger people and further divide America.
Why have only few journalists and politicians dared to make a connection between the high level of incarceration among young Black men and the disintegration of the Black family, or the lower academic performance and the lack of appreciation for learning in Black communities? The answer is not shrouded in mystery: only certain, historically discovered and established methodologies, ways of thinking, cultures, and forms of behavior proved successful. All of them have roots in Western intellectual tradition, which far-East Asians do not reject because Dead White European Males invented or discovered them. They have adopted the White intellectual tradition because they know that that is the way to success. So do some of the Muslim-Arab and African countries.
But the Western intellectual tradition is under attack in America and Europe by the partisans of multiculturalism who promote the idea of equality of all cultures. If we are serious about “no child left behind,” we should educate every Black, Brown and White child in the Western tradition. There is nothing that can change the fact that the Frenchman Descartes invented analytical geometry, the German Leibniz, calculus, and the English Newton formulated the laws of Modern physics. If you want your child to be successful, you should make sure that they know it, rather than accuse them of acting White.
The hysterical nature of the protesters’ behavior, tearing down monuments of historical icons, is reminiscent of the “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984. Given their age, they should not act this way. If they do, it is because their behavior is the result of an artificially induced hatred of Present and Past America, of the West, and as long as there are any signs of it left, they will continue their destruction of the country and of Western civilization.
Today’s protests are not the end but, more likely, the beginning of a series of protests. Everything suggests that democracy, as Plato predicted it in Book VIII of his Republic, has entered the stage of disintegration of authority. Just like France in 1789, and Russia in 1917, the US shows the same symptoms of revolutionary fervor, including the attempt to erase the Past. After several years, in 1793, the experiment ended with the Reign of Terror that was followed by the seizure of power by Bonaparte. Revolutionary disorder ended with one man’s tyranny.
Only the blind in reason can claim that there is no connection between the mass indoctrination concerning race that young people are subject to in schools and colleges, and what is happening now in American cities. The same goes for gender indoctrination.
The crowds of hysterical women demonstrating against the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh on the steps of the Supreme Court looked like a religious chiliastic movement. Finally, the protesters’ disregard for recommended safety measures during COVID-19 showed that their desire for a perfect world overcame the natural fear of death. Such an attitude was not uncommon among the believers in eradicating evil from the world.
George Floyd’s death does not fit the category of American police brutality or “targeting” Blacks. His murder was an act of bestiality and sadism of one sick individual who happened to wear a police uniform. There was not a single American who did not condemn it. If anything, Floyd’s death made all Americans feel repulsed at the sight of unspeakable cruelty. Yet almost within hours, this moment of national unity was hijacked by different factions which gave it a label: racism.
After several days of anti-racial protests, the frenzy assumed anti-Confederate tones to underline the continuity of American history: 1619, the Civil War, and today. Several monuments of Robert E. Lee have been torn down. What followed was the destruction of the monuments of Christopher Columbus.
One could wonder, however: what does Columbus have in common with General Robert E. Lee, who lived almost four hundred years after Columbus discovered America? As American students learn now, Columbus was the father of “genocide.” Confederacy means “White,” “White” means “racial supremacy,” and since Columbus was White, he and Robert E. Lee belong to the same family: White European oppressors.
Accordingly, Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492 appears to have only been a preparation for 1619, when the first Black slaves were brought to America.
This script is known all too well. The general formula, as I said earlier, comes down to a bi-polar Marxian-Liberal view of history, in which the oppressed are dominated by the oppressors. Today’s protests carry the banner of anti-racism; tomorrow, they will carry the banner of anti-sexism, anti-misogyny, anti-homophobia, anti-xenophobia, and finally, the banner of anti-oppression of the transgendered by the “birth-naturalists,” and anti-monogamist.
Each protest will repeat the destruction of the part of historical heritage, removal of monuments, burning books, renaming buildings, all of which represent the ills that must be eradicated before we can enter the new egalitarian Utopia. Hierarchy and privilege—the foundations of “polite society”—will be two words erased from the American Webster’s Dictionary. This is a pattern that we know from the history of the French and Russian Revolutions, which aimed at equality, though somehow ended up with a Great Terror and purges.
America, the West, have reached a point where the only question left is: can anything be done? And if so, what can we do?
Ideas have consequences, and the current cultural climate is a direct result of what happened in the educational institutions since the beginning of the 1990s, or even earlier, as Allan Bloom suggested in his The Closing of the American Mind (1987). The philosophical doctrine of Relativism propagated by academics assumed the voice of a social message of multiculturalism—equality of all cultures. It purged from the curricula the greatest works of the human mind. Intellectual discipline, which the old classics would inculcate in the college graduates, was replaced by the idea that there is no Truth, only subjective feelings.
This idea went counter not only to Truth absolutists but also to the Classical Liberal notion that we find in John Stuart Mill: at no point in history, as Mill claims, is any single person in the possession of absolute Truth. We are progressive beings and as we travel through history, we discover more. Quest for Truth animates our lives. But relativism undermined both.
Individual sensitivity became a new cognitive criterion. Moreover, since every individual has his own threshold of sensitivity, different things appear true to different people, and different things offend different people. Today’s fight over the removal of names, monuments, and changing curricula is the direct result of relativism.
The Left today is offended by President Trump’s disregard for Truth and facts, but it was the Left of the 1990s which wholeheartedly promoted Relativism. It also invented the methodology of Culture Wars, which says that we can choose from among “competing interpretations.” Now the Left is crying “wolf” when Mr. Trump uses their own weapon to fight his adversaries. The Trumpian presidency is an unintended creation of the Liberal Left, which created the intellectual and moral conditions that made disregard for Truth and rational discourse possible.
The Classical Liberal idea of a rational society proposed by Mill, in which only people who are in possession of rational powers can be granted equal right to participate in a social conversation, has no place in the new America. The winner is not the one with the strongest argument, but someone who expresses the strongest emotion.
A prime example of how emotions can influence the political realm is the Swedish teenager’s walkout from school to protest climate change. Her protest was followed by the walkout of millions of children all over the world. Needless to say, the children do not know what to do about the changing climate, but climate change became the single most important socio-political issue, and as its importance grows, so the election of candidates who are concerned with the problem will be given high priority.
Election of a twenty-eight-year old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to the American House of Representatives is a telling fact. AOC is by far the most emotional and politically ignorant member of the House of Representatives, but her influence is growing. Like Greta, AOC is a climate activist, the author of the Green New Deal, and is a furious anti-capitalist.
New Green Deal anti-capitalism is the fastest growing ideology. Whether we like it or not, we need to take it seriously, just as we need to take seriously the fact that rational conversation with teenagers and political adolescents is not an option.
They do not understand that capitalism is the most efficient system of creating wealth, and that creating it has roots in the human desire to maximize profit, not to benefit anyone. “It is not because of the benevolence of the butcher, the baker or the brewer that you have your lunch, “Adam Smith writes in his The Wealth of Nations (1776), “but because of their self-interest.” The young people are not interested in maximizing profit, becoming entrepreneurs, or building anything. Their objective is the division of the wealth created by “selfish” individuals.
The mental universe of the New Green Deal anti-capitalists revolves around a few terms: sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and islamophobia. It is a world of intellectual and cultural poverty. Those words are like lenses which concentrate your vision on “evil.”
This new social theology says nothing about the world’s beauty, complexity, or the grandeur and tragedy of human existence, and since it is a world without God, there is no redeeming power. Collective, social activism is the only power which operates in it, and it claims it can save the world. Social activism has great appeal: it requires no knowledge, learning, or expertise. That is why it appeals to children, who, by definition, do not like school.
The election of Donald Trump, Brexit, and conservative parties holding power in a few European countries (such as Poland and Hungary), may signify a temporary win for conservatives. However, we should not assume that this situation shall continue.
As things stand, it is unlikely that conservatives will retake education and that we will return to the old forms of learning. One can suggest serious reform proposals, as did American philosophy professor Nicholas Capaldi, but the chances of their acceptance are slim. This means that the new anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-Islamophobic indoctrination, supplemented by social justice courses, will reign supreme and will continue to shape the minds of the new generation.
There is only one way, in my opinion, which in which Conservatism has a chance to succeed long term. Climate change is an almost exclusive political property of the Left, and insofar as it is something that all children deeply care about, unless conservatives present their own Green alternative, they are likely to lose the new generation for good.
We need to realize that conserving the environment can be presented as the most conservative of conservative causes. What, if not the beauty of Nature, is the most thrilling of human experiences? The English “landed” aristocracy and Thomas Jefferson’s attachment to land are expressions of it. Jefferson, who knew as much about agriculture as he knew about politics, understood that there is a direct relationship between Nature and aristocratic-republican virtues.
Unless Conservatives come up with a political program that makes the preservation of Nature a top priority, we will be in danger of losing the political power and social force which can defend all other conservative values and causes.
It is high time to stop airing programs that undermine the Left’s research about climate change. We need to understand that the people who are against racism, sexism, homophobia etc. are the same people who last year protested against the failure to restore climate.
Following the Roman rule of politics divide et impera (divide and rule), one could, and indeed should weaken and divide the Left by proposing a serious Conservative Green Deal. In this way, one could attract many reasonable Left-leaning Liberal individuals to a more conservative side. Without the “Conservative Green Deal,” the ignorant and psychologically unstable are likely to become the most powerful party in the world.
The experience of Communism taught us about the power of manipulating language. The books by the French intellectual historian, Alain Besançon, are an excellent guide to understanding how it worked, and they were appreciated even among the former denizens of socialist countries.
American English, as I have written elsewhere, displays all the signs of the communist Newspeak. In some cases, it twisted reality even greater than was done under Communism. Therefore, we should avoid using it and, with a little courage, we can return to Oldspeak to clear up our social reality.
Terms such as “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobic,” “islamophobic” and “racist” are not helpful in dealing with social problems. In fact, they obfuscate real problems which might otherwise be resolved. What is more, using them means that we have bought into the categories created by the adversary.
Here is an instructive example. Communists liked using the term “socialist economy,” and at each time of deep economic collapse, they would propose to “improve the socialist economy.” It was a futile attempt because a socialist economy meant the absence of private property, which is the basis of economy. Therefore, no reform could improve the economic situation of “the working class,” and people’s miserable condition existed for as long as they were imprisoned by language.
In the country of my birth, Poland, the 1980s were the years when socialist economy reached its peak: for several years the entire population lived off of food-stamps; buying basic goods, such as toilet paper, was hardly possible, and most of one’s time was spent waiting in lines for hours to buy whatever one could.
When the “socialist economy” was replaced by real, capitalist economy, the shelves were filled with all kinds of goods one could only dream of under the socialist dictatorship. What happened was not any miracle, but a change of language. No one believed that a “socialist economy” made sense, or that it is an alternative to the Western form of creating wealth.
A similar explanation can be applied to American Newspeak. Almost everybody uses the superfluous “he or she.” There is no reason to do it, and the old generic “he” (which meant “he” and “she”) is good enough. Yet since the beginning of the 1990s, people say it out of fear of being branded “sexist,” to keep from being accused of “excluding” women.
There is nothing “exclusive” about using the generic pronoun “he” instead of the cumbersome “he or she.” Gender is a grammatical, not a social, category, and everyone who studied other languages is familiar with it.
Nouns in English have no gender, with the exception of a few which follow the Latin gender (Church, in British English; ship, occasionally pieces of machinery, and some animals). In other languages, the gender of pronouns follows the gender of the noun (masculine, feminine, or neuter). In genderless English, ignorance of grammar evolved into a political problem: “exclusion,” “oppression,” and so on. It would take but a minor act of courage to return to the Oldspeak to create a different socio-political reality.
Self-Expression. Its Avoidance In Education
This term is used increasingly in education and politics. It even became synonymous with the word “speech,” like in “freedom of expression” instead of “freedom of speech.” That they are not the same can be shown by invoking Justice Holmes’ example of someone shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre. I can be held liable for causing harm to others only if there was no fire and someone got hurt because I shouted “fire.” I am liable because my speech did not correspond to the facts (there was no fire, and what I said was the direct cause of someone’s harm), or because what I said was untrue.
However, if the term “speech” was to be substituted by “expression,” I could defend myself by saying, that my shouting “fire” did not need to correspond to anything. I was expressing the state of my soul and my expression was genuine! The notion of “genuine” abolishes the idea of Truth.
Why did “self-expression” become so popular? Partly because it is a counterpoise to discipline, one thing that democratic man lacks, as Ortega y Gasset noted. Mastering skills and crafts was always a long and laborious process, and it was done under someone’s direction. Only when the apprenticeship was over could one claim intellectual or artistic independence. It was not a guarantee of being a genius but a good craftsman.
Today’s students, including art students, instead of being encouraged to master something well (like grammar, style etc.) are told to be “creative.” The result is that most of them write insignificant stories about themselves, how they feel about the text, instead of precisely answering a question assigned by the teacher. Their work is genuine but often without merit.
This was something that the great German poet, Goethe, in his conversations to his friend Eckermann, warned against. The world around us is richer than what we find inside ourselves, and to be a great writer or poet, we must study Nature, learn from others who discovered many things before us. By imitating the best of our past predecessors, we learn techniques and gain insights that we could never discover or create on our own.
Self-expression may give us a momentary sense of lightness, liberation from the shackles of the past, the discipline that the Past demands of us, and sometimes even a momentary success, but in the long run it will throw us back on ourselves and leave our souls empty.
In education, we need to go back to serious and difficult classical texts and teach the youngsters to read what great writers and philosophers said, rather than allow the student to “disagree” with great minds. Self-expression is not an educational method. It is a dangerous anti-educational tool. However, as Nietzsche observed, it fits the frame of mind of the democratic man, who claims to be equal to everyone.
Gender And The Professions
It is a commonly accepted claim that the low enrollment of women in, say, physics or civil engineering departments is a result “sexism.” And since no one wants to be branded “sexist,” we accept the idea, just as how under communism people talked about the “socialist economy.” Is it because of “sexism”? An alternative explanation could be that it is a result of innate differences between the sexes.
One could ask, for example: is the low percentage of men in the teaching profession at elementary schools (it changes as we go higher) a result of “sexism”? Women, generally speaking, are simply better at dealing with little children; no man would consider this assertion sexist. Would it benefit children if the profession was 50% women and 50% men? One can easily doubt it, but, once again, instead of opposing such policies, we accept the language of equality and discrimination, and frequently create policies which are hurtful.
Striving for equality is tantamount to creating a problem, and the problem in this case was created by extending the idea of equality beyond the legal realm (i.e. equality before the law). The demand that we have equal representation of the sexes, races, ethnicities, sexual minorities, and so on in any profession and politics, on any level, is utopian, unrealistic, and, above all, it runs counter to the idea of excellence.
There will never be a situation in which all minorities will have a sufficient number of qualified members to fill every profession at any given time. The only criterion that is truly just is to admit and hire people on the basis of what they know, and how good they are at what they do.
A critic might say: it is naive to think that the idea of excellence will always win, and that we will never be discriminated against. However true, this argument is rather weak. The push for more equality is tantamount to creating a situation in which nearly all standards of excellence have been abrogated, and an individual failure is never perceived as failure, but as the result of discrimination based on sex or race or religion.
The social, educational, and political costs of such policies are already proving to be too high. Secondly, we will never be able to make sure that someone’s decision is not influenced by his prejudices; and the only way to make sure that he is bias-free is by a system of repeated trainings (as commonly done in American already).
If a condition of employment consists in going through a series of training, we should make it clear that we do not live in a free country, but a totalitarian boot-camp. Furthermore, the State is not a moral institution. It has no right to intervene into anyone’s ways of thinking and perceiving the world. It can, however, intervene when traditional social norms are violated.
We need to decide whether we want to live in a totalitarian democracy, where all people are equal and, consequently, the same, or, in a society with many problems and imperfections in which we are free to act as different and free individuals.
Blind tests, examinations, and job applications would do the trick, but they would soon be attacked, as they are, for being culturally biased. This, of course, is nonsense, but very few people have the courage to oppose such sentiments.
Conservative Notion Of Law In A Liberal State
We are told that Justice Gorsuch’s recent ruling was a slap on the face of Conservatives. The prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of sex extends, according to him, to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” In other words, today’s notion of “gender” is what Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act considered “sex;” that is to say, biological differences between man and woman.
According to Nature there are only two sexes, but according to “Tumblr,” there are 112 of them (in 2020). One can ask, what happened between 1964 and now? Nature did not change. Culture did. Culture became subjectivist, and the old notion that there is a stable, unchangeable reality out there, has been abandoned.
In this new reality, a man who imagines himself to be a woman is therefore a woman; a White woman (e.g., the Black activist Rachel Dolezal) who imagines herself to be a Black woman is therefore a Black woman, and someone who claims to be an animal—trans-species-ism—is consequently an animal. One could simply end the conversation by saying that my being a woman is no more valid than my saying that I am 19 years old. There are things which we cannot change.
The Liberalism of today is committed to the unconditional defense of subjectivism and minorities, and even if some of the minorities are imaginary and self-created, Liberalism does not have the needed theoretical tools to reject individual self-identification. My being me is what I imagine myself to be, and because the Liberal State was created in response to the oppressiveness of History and Tradition, it is bound to defend social attitudes which are destructive to, and incompatible with, the preservation of national Culture and civilization. As a matter of fact, Liberalism is committed to the destruction of national heritage and civilization.
One does not have to believe that the idea of “human rights” is totally useless, but when confronted by recent rulings of the American Supreme Court Justices, one wants to join the English Jeremy Bentham in saying: It is nonsense upon stilts. Why did a conservative Justice Gorsuch rule the way he did? Either because he lacked courage to go against his liberal colleagues or because he does not believe in rights grounded in Natural Law.
Reforming The Police
Any foreign visitor to America, including her Mexican and Canadian neighbors, is surprised by the ubiquitous presence of police on American streets. Why is that? The immediate answer is: American attachment to guns, unheard of in most countries. American police deal with dangerous criminals who have weapons, and so must possess higher mental alertness than the police of other countries.
The other observation is that Americans are more aggressive and violent than other peoples. (Hollywood movies, TV programs about crime and criminals, shootings, etc.) The moment one crosses the American border, one gets the impression of entering a highly militarized zone. This feeling is additionally strengthened by the attitude of immigration officers, who do not make any effort to welcome you, as is almost universally the case in other countries.
The presence of guns, however, can only partly explain violence in America. Australia, for example, shares the same British roots: it was a colony, attachment to guns exists there too. Yet the level of violence there is much lower, and serious gun reforms had been undertaken without massive opposition.
But America has something that Australia does not. Australia was colonized by British criminals; America was colonized by Protestant Puritans. They were people who displayed an uncompromising theological spirit and who wanted to eradicate all evil. A cultural historian could say that such an attitude might foster a psychological state that causes violent responses.
Today, not much of this bellicose religious spirit is left. However, it is possible that the high-level of religious temperatures survived in a secular form, as national characteristic. The alcohol prohibition of the 1930s, and the anti-smoking campaign of twenty-years ago bear resemblance to the religious crusade against sinfulness. Now vegetarianism is becoming a new theological movement. (Meatless Mondays were introduced in California, in restaurants, and in all schools in New York City.). Now the fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia causes equally violent responses. The Protestant Spirit seems to be today’s “social justice warriorism.” Criticism of it meets with condemnation, ostracism, and public annihilation; and this has been described already by Tocqueville.
When Sinclair Lewis, an American author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930, he was not only denounced, but met with threats by those whom he described. As he said in his Nobel Lecture, “Now and then I have, for my books or myself, been somewhat warmly denounced—there was one good pastor in California who upon reading my Elmer Gantry desired to lead a mob and lynch me, while another holy man in the state of Maine wondered if there was no respectable and righteous way of putting me in jail.”
The causes that the population of a country fights for may change over time, but the historically shaped character of people seems to persist. One cannot change the character of a people overnight. Violence will likely continue, and will have to be dealt with by finding imperfect solutions to preserve the social order. However, to be successful, we should attempt to minimize wrongs and vices, not eliminate them completely.
Any attempt to make the world sinless, or to turn a blind eye to the violence and hatred of social justice warriors, is to encourage intolerant behavior and allow disorder to grow in the name of alleged future social benefits. The Left’s proposal to defund the police in order to dismantle them is naïve and dangerous. Any reform must begin by taking into account the use of force, something that the Liberal Left does not wish to consider.
Here, another opportunity for conservatives presents itself. Reasonable, but very firm restrictions on the police’s use of lethal force, which would include a guarantee of the officer’s safety, is in place. However, we must keep in mind that making police gentler will not change the behavior of criminals. If the desired reforms will not increase public safety, even the liberal public may come to the conclusion that avoiding walking on the streets for fear of harm or death is not the realization of their program of social justice.
Civility, Toleration and Politeness. Common values.
The 1990s witnessed the publication of several books about toleration. In a climate of diverse views, created by relativism, toleration is a virtue. The meaning of the term that emerges from John Locke and Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration means, “putting up” with views and behaviors that we loathe, disapprove of, dislike, and do not want our children to imitate.
The idea of toleration was invented to put an end to religious persecutions, and the killing of people who claimed to profess a different theology. Today, being tolerant means something else: accepting someone’s opinions and behavior as equal to our own. Any forms of disapproval, including mental acts, are considered to be acts of bigotry, and since all Cultures are cultures, all cultures are equal, and so are all forms of behavior.
In reality, only a few of us believe this, and most would prefer to live in a society in which all behave like us and have opinions similar to ours. This is not a utopian dream, but the psychological inclination of everyone who believes that it is better to share a common system of values and behavioral patterns than not. Violation of norms would traditionally meet with social and personal disapproval, which would also help the norm-breakers to act in a “civilized” way.
Such social norms no longer exist. They have been in decline since at least the late 1960s. Those who dare to uphold them are labeled “fascist.” Absence of common norms does not make life easier, but more difficult, and when conflict arises, we cannot appeal to the notion of “unacceptable behavior.” We must have recourse to law to arbitrate between parties.
Toleration, today, means that it is our duty to accept quietly any behavior from any individual, and if we do not, let alone if we openly oppose it, then we will be prosecuted by law on account of discrimination. Such a situation creates a social atmosphere in which a minority has the upper hand, and keeps the majority silent through fear that they may be labeled as “intolerant.”
This is true not only of all past cases of so-called “discrimination,” but of all future cases as well. Tocqueville and Mill feared that democracy will create a tyranny of the majority. What it turned into was rather a tyranny of the minority.
The tyranny of the minority exists not because the majority cannot stop or oppose it, but because the majority accepts the premise that all views are equal, and none can be suppressed. In the absence of recognized, rational, cognitive criteria, no argument can be persuasive. Our thought has no absolute or universal grounding; it is nothing other than “self-expression,” which is neither true nor false because it is always genuine.
This is one of Liberalism’s greatest weaknesses. Mill, as much as he was in favor of the Party of Progress, understood that what passes for the opinion of the majority is the opinion of the most vocal individuals in a society. Yet, despite the danger that he described in Chapter 3 of On Liberty, he never resolved the theoretical problem of the threatening power of the minority’s demagoguery. He believed that traditional rules of civility and politeness would guide us. Today, we know that this is not true, and that such rules must be inculcated; they stem from Tradition and a respect for authority, something that his Party of Progress waged the war against.
Thus, for example, we find ourselves in a situation where a single member of a minority can make demands that are destructive to the very tissue of culture and civilization. This mental attitude is most prevalent in academia, where a number of administrative emails to the faculty is about “name preference” (a male student can request that he be called by his chosen female name). Or, as it happened in Sweden, a group of Muslims who fled Syria demanded that a mosque be built for them in a small town. The quiet outrage of the local population was met with criticism, accusing the “Christian folks” of being intolerant.
Unlike Liberalism, Conservatism’s solution to resolve such conflicts is thorough appeal to the tradition and history of a nation. Thus, a Conservative could refuse, for example, to build a monument of the Prophet Mohammed next to Jefferson, Washington or Lincoln memorials on account of the tradition, religion, and history of the United States.
No matter how large the Muslim population of the US is today, Islam had no historical role in shaping the soul of the American people. The same goes for educational curricula and Protestant religion; they should not reflect the diversity of the population, but the ideas which created the United States of America. Similarly, no Catholic or Jew should feel “offended” by the Protestant religion and history, nor by History of Britain being prioritized in American history books.
Since Liberals are committed to a vision of the world in which a people and a nation do not exist, they are indifferent to a nation’s cultural heritage. Pulling down historical monuments is not an act of Al-Qaeda-like barbarism, but an act of liberation.
Church, Religion, Faith.
One could say that only people of faith or churchgoers should pronounce themselves on matters of religion and how the Church should act. This is certainly true, but one could also claim that insofar as religion and the Church is an important cultural and moral institution, what She does should not be a matter of indifference to those who may not be as engaged in Her life as others may be, or even atheists.
One could draw a parallel with status of monarchy. There are many of them in Europe: Spain, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and, of course, Britain. British monarchy is the most visible and, relative to other countries, occupies a special place among them.
The British monarch’s power is mostly symbolic, but symbols matter. They point to the Past. They speak the language with which History talks to us about ourselves. Monarchy is the last visible symbol of the old hierarchical order. “You, too, can become president” is a very well-known American phrase. “You can’t become a queen or a king” would be its British counterpart. (As a matter of fact, this is what the arch-Liberal J.S. Mill said).
It is a language of gentle submission that teaches us that our political ambitions must have limits. Such limits also exist for the monarch, and they do not come from legal limitations. The royals, nobility, are limited by aristocratic code. One can be almost sure that monarchy in Britain, and elsewhere, will last so long as the Royals behave like royals, not like celebrities. Once they do, monarchy will be gone.
The Church and its officials are not in the same situation. They, unlike the Royals, represent an eternal, not a worldly order, and, one could say, will never become spiritual celebrities. Someone might say that this is not necessarily true. It is enough to have a closer look at the state of Protestant churches in America, many of which turned into mega-churches, while their pastors behave like actors, peddling the “gospel of wealth,” rather than the attitude of humility, love, and forgiveness.
Protestantism was always more egalitarian and democratic (sola scriptura, as Luther said) than the Catholic Church, and Protestant Christianity’s slow demise, which we observe in America, is unlikely to be the lot of the Church of Rome. It is a hierarchical institution, with the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests, and therefore much resistant to changes. Any attempt to introduce democracy into it must fail.
This is true, but what matters the most is the message. It’s been decades since I heard a sermon when the word “sin,” “corruption of human nature” were used. Confession is frequently called dialogue/confession. But dialogue presupposes that the two interlocutors are equal. This is not the case of confession, where the sinner is not equal to the priest.
Some twenty or thirty years ago, the most popular language of the sermon was that of psychology (self-understanding, self-esteem); today, the language is that of social justice. In both cases, then and now, the language of theology (and this concerns also Judaism in America; particularly the reformed synagogues, which are becoming increasingly progressive) is the same that is heard on the street, on television, or in a coffee shop.
One could say, cultural trends are almost impossible to stop, and, unless religion adopts the language that the people respond to, it is likely to lose. This is not true. The changes in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council are proof. One of the “tricks” was to introduce popular music (guitars) into the Church. Reason? To attract more young people. But it did not work well, and much of the Catholic music was, luckily, preserved in High Anglican rituals, and those who wanted to listen to guitar music found better places.
The same goes for the religious message: “social justice” is likely to be better propagated by social justice warriors than by priests and pastors. There is also a danger: the Christian or Biblical message is not the same as that of the secular world, and by trying to squeeze the two together, we may confuse what is good for one’s soul with a secular ideology of intolerance and violence.
Many of today’s protesters who commit acts of violence call themselves social justice warriors. If they are the same people who attend Sunday mass and do not see a contradiction between religious values and what they are doing, the Church has then lost its battle for the souls. The more appropriate message is the old theological language of sin and corruption. It tells us that evil is in us, not in the institutions representing “power structure.”
Jesus’s teaching may have been the most culturally transformative experience of the Western world, and without Him, our world would be what all ancient civilizations were – cruel. Jesus was not a forerunner of today’s social justice movement. “My kingdom is not of this world” were His words. They point to us, our souls which must become pure. Nothing in His message is about changing “power structure.” “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – another of His important sayings – means that we owe obedience to the State; or, that the world cannot be fundamentally reformed.
If the Church is to play any social role it must remain the guardian of 2000 years of Western Tradition and historical memory. Any changes in it – music, rituals, rapid changes in theology — can only break Her historical ties to the Past. This is particularly important now as the secular Past is being destroyed.
The protests, the protesters’ demands, the government’s reluctance to use force to restore order: all of these problems lead us to ask, What’s next? Americans are scared and many are even thinking of leaving the country, suspecting that the situation can only deteriorate. And they are likely to be right.
Walmart has already announced: “Inside the company, our work to recruit, develop and support African Americans and other people of color will be even more of a priority.” Other companies will, undoubtedly, follow suit. This is nothing but a policy of appeasement, which, however well-intended, is not very likely to eliminate the inflammatory social situation. The opposite policy could be most desirable.
Instead of enticing African-Americans and other minorities to violence and destruction of their country, one should encourage them to be more American, show them that the Anglo-Protestant Western heritage belongs to them as much as it belongs to the Whites. There is nothing in the biological and genetic make-up of the Whites that make them “Westerners.” Culture—a people’s way of acting and thinking—is inculcated through education and patterns of the acquired behavior, not genetics.
It is truly instructive in this case to recall a classic movie, To Sir with Love, with the Black American actor, Sidney Poitier. It is a story of a Black man from the former British colony, British Guiana, who came to London to look for work. Unable to find a job as an engineer, he becomes a teacher in the working-class of East London. What are the English teenagers like? To put it simply, they are unruly, destructive barbarians, whom the Black man, the man whose people the British colonized, teaches the principles of civilization, civilized behavior and appreciation of civilized behavior.
What can bring Americans together is the collective effort to rid America of the destructive myth of multiculturalism. On a cultural level it means little, and in practice it promotes the mediocre works of other cultures, instead of those great works that elevate the spirit of those who need to be elevated. We should promote humanity’s greatest achievements which everyone, regardless of color, can recognize. The beauty of Leonardo’s “Lady with the Ermine,” Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are beautiful to everyone, regardless of color.
Multiculturalism, despite its pronouncements to the contrary, is a form of racist ideology. It insists that we look at ourselves as members of a single race or sex, leaving little room to perceive ourselves as people who may actually have something in common. In doing so, it fosters suspicions and hatred, the very things it claims to fight.
The question of the end of America is by no means rhetorical, and even very wise men, like Victor Hansen of the Hoover Institution, openly draw parallels between what we see on American streets and the French Revolution. As we know, the enthusiastic beginning brought the Reign of Terror and ended with Napoleon’s rule. Napoleon’s seizure of power fits Plato’s description of the tyrant who emerges to restore order after a democracy, by extension of equality, slides into anarchy.
Plato did not think this cycle applicable merely to the experience of Athens, but that it inheres in the logic of democracy. The expansion of equality is bound to dissolve all authority and social structures. The protesters’ demands to dismantle the “power structure” (defunding police, abolishing history by tearing down monuments, abolishing all intellectual and moral criteria that differentiate us, and, above all, making politicians responsive to protesters’ whims) fit Plato’s description perfectly.
If Plato was right, and everything indicates that he was, we are witnessing the end of democracy and of America, the American system of government. American historians of the past century would talk about the United States in self-congratulatory language, as if the American founding principles were solid, immune to criticism, and no structural problems could be found in this new political edifice.
A closer look seems to point to a fundamental crack in the foundation – equality. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…” But equality is what Plato identified as the problem of government. Equality causes the collapse of political structures, including democracy itself. It is an acid which dissolves authority, without which political order is impossible. Thus, the long-celebrated and idealized founding principle of the American Republic was flawed from the very beginning. Equality is a form of political steroid which worked for a while (about 200 some years), but now the runner is about to collapse without ever fulfilling his promise to leave no one behind.
Matthew Arnold predicted it in his essay, “Democracy,” arguing that the Anglican-hierarchical order is the glue which keeps England’s political system stable. But, as he warned, if the English adopt an American system of government by expanding equality, “the fate of America will be ours.” The protests in Britain, the behavior of a part of the British population, who demand that the statues of Winston Churchill be torn down, the adoption of American slogans, etc., only confirm that Britain is becoming another America, and the growing social disorder in America will show up there, too.
Today we see the secular consequences of the old war. In 1776, Americans fought the old hierarchical oppressive order. Today, they are fighting the oppression that was established in 1776. However, unlike in 1776, there are no new founding fathers who can offer an alternative to the old-new oppression, and the reason is simple: founding principles of political life presuppose a degree of hierarchy to ensure social cohesion, which a people must be willing to accept. It appears that the American understanding of freedom is what Plato termed “license.” It was what buried Athenian democracy.
Can anything be done? Yes, the return to the three concepts of Conservative thought that I mentioned at the beginning: reverence for the Past as the guide to the Future, privilege based on merit, and social hierarchy. If equality is the sole principle that animates social and political life, we are in danger of even further destroying the Past.