Recently on these pages, I wrote exploring the notion that true conservatives may further weaken Western culture by supporting a popular but materialist political agenda; that the free-market economics which enrich a nation may encourage more selfishness and social breakdown; and at best we may be merely fighting a temporary, rear-guard action in defence of our own culturally-educated minority while hastening our civilisation’s overall paralysis and decline.
Wealth, I suggest, is culturally beneficial where most people spend it wisely. If a majority see themselves as nothing more than consumers, then riches may further enable profligacy and moral deterioration. If the mob and its leaders are no more than Utilitarians who think that personal happiness is a sufficient end, and real conservatives help to enrich and empower them, then we have become Futilitarians who work unwittingly against the interests of our individuals and families, our nation and our civilisation.
This is not to deny that the expanding, Progressive state is an enormous threat, but rather that voting for a smaller dose of poison may still prove lethal.
If my fears are well-founded (and I may be wrong), then what should an imaginative and culturally-informed conservative do, initially regarding politics in a presidential election year?
The most common answer, often reflexive and unexamined, commands us to swallow hard and vote for the lesser evil. This is the age-old default position in America and other republics, where a mere political mechanism has been assigned an inappropriate moral value (for even genocide has been mandated by some electorates).
Voting for the lesser evil does not address what to do if both political options are cultural poison; say, a dainty, cocktail-glass of hemlock versus a full, pewter tankard of the same, each sufficient to send one paddling across the River Styx.
If one believes that unchecked appetite and enhanced wealth turn most men blind to the historical and cultural lessons of prudence, then even another wee, sherry-glass of materialism would further discourage respect for moral authority and the understanding of its origins.
In what is, to me, a seminal issue of just law, morality and timeless values, namely the rights of the unborn, of what use is an economically-conservative candidate who would strengthen self-centredness, and its economic enablers, in a country that has so far slaughtered 53 million of its potential citizens for often no more than personal convenience?
A case can be made for a true conservative to vote for neither evil.
Furthermore, since anyone’s vote is an unexplained tick-mark, then even our most grudging support will surely be used by the candidate to justify his every policy, including the few evil ones and the “merely” counterproductive many.
Using this logic, a true conservative ought not to vote for any candidate who is deaf to the need for Western cultural renewal, and who has not at least some policies to get us there beyond a losing effort to shore up embattled minorities.
If a true conservative is not to vote for more materialism, then other considerations still remain.
It may sound appealing for real conservatives to align themselves temporarily with other non-materialist or anti-materialist movements, but this would be folly; they are mostly socialists and/or ideologues of the worst order; and even if they share our suspicions of materialism they would misunderstand us or disagree with our principles and objectives. True conservatives have linked themselves with establishment statists and materialistic libertarians before, and these unholy alliances either failed at the voting booth or swept America further away from a cultural renaissance.
Moreover, in any misbegotten alliance, real conservatives would send a signal that would be misinterpreted by the media and the public, and thus, so to speak, debase the coinage of an informed conservatism or corrupt the “brand.” This would be worse that abstaining in silence, but another electoral opportunity remains.
In Britain, many people who believe that government has no business demanding to know one’s religious affiliation have responded to the ten-yearly census – but not by leaving the question unanswered. Instead, beginning in 2001, many Britons wrote-in their religious affiliation as “Jedi,” referring to the order of knights in the “Star Wars” films. These include university students and youth on the Left and the Right, and even a distinguished, middle-aged economist of my acquaintance.
The Jedi movement, which apparently began as an old-fashioned chain-letter in New Zealand, attracted, in the 2001 censuses, some 21,000 people in Canada, 15,000 in the Czech Republic, 400,000 in the UK, 70,000 in Australia and 50,000 New Zealanders. Since use of the internet and social networking grew enormously since then, we may expect the support to be much larger when the various, national, 2011 head-counts are made public later this year.
So, rather than not vote and permit our opponents to charge us with being disinterested, too illiterate to recognise election-day or too drunk to drive to the polls, real conservatives may choose to spoil their ballots and write-in an acceptable candidate. This would be a rather more effective protest were real conservatives to write-in the same candidate. It would take a modicum of organisation (which true conservatives generally lack), but we may recall how fast America’s Tea-Party Movement took root using modern technology. It could be someone worthy and dead, such as George Washington or Russell Kirk, or a conservative fictional character resembling the Randroids’ John Galt.
Although a real conservative write-in candidate would not command popular support equal to that of the substantially-economic Tea Partiers (who want to cut all government or perhaps only to cut government to support to their enemies), it would give us a crude yardstick with which to count our supporters.
The next question is what ought real conservatives to do in the longer term, especially if they withhold their support for both political parties.
A commentator on these pages complained that true conservative education lacks “centralisation.” He probably means coordination, cooperation or connectivity. This is important if moral and cultural traditionalists wish to become more effective and mutually supportive, particularly as the state grows larger and more hostile.
In an important respect this website shows the path forward; by rescuing from obscurity conservative writing forgotten over the past half-century, as well as by publishing modern, original works on cultural renewal. Thus it reaches audiences who lack the time or the understanding to mine the rich ore from back-issues of extinct publications or conservative periodicals still producing, and introduces new thought that breathes life into old values.
Expanding on our editors’ strategic foresight, and their use of modern internet technology, other opportunities become somewhat clearer.
Belatedly alerted to the early twentieth-century novels of Father Robert Hugh Benson, here in a recent article by Dr. Brad Birzer, I found that many examples can be downloaded for free as text-files from a variety of online sources. This website, or another, could assemble a vast, library of free literature and criticism that may be out of copyright, just as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) does such a splendid job of archiving its articles and talks. Providing an online, “one-stop-shop” or library for true conservatives would help to preserve and promote a canon of modern conservative thought.
Since, worldwide, people of many political persuasions grow disenchanted with their ruling oligarchies-of-the-deaf, we may assume that American conservatives will too, and indeed have begun to do so already. This suggests identifying other ways of strengthening conservative, cultural strength and mutual cooperation, in preparation for darker times to come.
Conferences, while fun and valuable in many ways, are costly and time-consuming; and one suspects that their attendance either dwindles or fails to attract attendees beyond the usual participants with institutional funding. These can be done less expensively, and reach an exponentially larger audience, by presenting them live and online initially, and preserved and webcast as streaming-video thereafter.
Indeed, a quick troll of Google reveals a growing number of academic courses, or even full degree-programs, now being conducted wholly online. Other examples lecture online, conduct tutorials by email, and require a single period of academic residence during a summer. Some fledgling but wholly online, full-degree programs have already attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital, chiefly from entrepreneurs who anticipate a growing public demand as the cost-effectiveness of residential degree-courses appears to diminish.
For a relatively small sum, genuine conservatives could thus learn, or even undertake a full degree course, from Western civilisation’s best conservative instructors who are now spread wide across North America and Europe. For proponents of Western culture it would be, apart from the printing press, the greatest single advance in cultural education since great minds and their students gathered to form universities in European cities almost a millennium ago.
Extrapolating other trends, we can presume that more youth may abandon state education for private alternatives, and those conservative institutions will require more culturally-informed teachers. Similarly, there may be a growing need among real conservatives for people expert in community organisation, as well as young people required to staff these efforts.
This suggests a need for conservative job-placement service online, perhaps with recommendations provided by the trustworthy and knowledgeable. It would provide officers and foot-soldiers for the Western cultural reconquista, and rescue some conservative youth from second-best careers in banks, politics or the local WalMart.
Costs are not great. But, while cultural-conservative philanthropists are said to grow older and fewer, we may presume that not all of them are intractably wedded to last-century strategies and venerable technologies. They have, perhaps, only been presented with repetitive and increasingly ineffective means. Facing despair, like so many of us, they may regard replicating yesteryear’s half-measures, or even failures, as their only option; and this may be encouraged by those unimaginative but genuine conservatives whose pensions depend upon them just “going through the motions.”
Dr. Kirk clearly loathed technology as a secular religion, but he was no enemy of technology if carefully applied. His electric typewriter (which surprised me when I saw it—I expected a quill pen) was the 1970s equivalent of the most modern computer technology. Watching this website republish his essays and others’ great works, for new and larger audiences, must have him ruffling his wings with pleasure.
If real, imaginative conservatives choose to abandon the partisan politics of materialism, we shall be rewarded for redeeming our time in preparation for the days ahead.
Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.