You may not be able to choose whether you are a conservative. To read Russell Kirk, who analyzed it as profoundly as Edmund Burke espoused it, conservatism is halfway between an IQ test and a prudent cast of mind. Prudence suspects untested change, while intelligence and education identify the wisdom hidden within tradition. This may imply some truth behind Gilbert & Sullivan’s satirical lyric: “Every boy and every gal,/That’s born into the world alive,/Is either a little Liberal,/Or else a little Conservative.” While prudence and even brain-power can be inculcated somewhat, just in case you still wish to choose, here are the ten best reasons NOT to be a (real) conservative.
1: Can’t “Pull” Guys/Girls — scientists cite a high statistical likelihood that quoting C.S. Lewis, or even Tolkien, won’t get you into the sack with that fox/stud in Chemistry Lab–in fact, quite the opposite. So, does that sentence conservatives to a lifetime of lonely nights curled up reading Tocqueville? Not precisely. P. J. O’Rourke, a generation ago when real conservatives felt some affection toward the GOP, wrote that Republican guys date Democrat girls but they marry Republicans. You get my drift. Fellow conservatives who are interested in permanent lifetime partners – and decades of all that deepening love and affection stuff, plus children – may well swoon at your first mention of Burke on tradition. It’s a tipoff for the informed conservative, just as 1970s gay guys used to wear identical Pancho Villa moustaches and black leather sea-captain’s caps to help recognise one another in bars. After all, discreetly advertising that you are intelligent, educated, stable, serious, moral and – remembering W.C. Fields said it takes a live fish to swim upstream – willing to buck the prevailing Progressive Orthodoxy, can be an attractive additive to life’s long haul. The next step is often the clincher – invite your intended to church.
2: No Stylish Friends – conservatives just don’t make or keep them, especially on either coast. The glamorati who wear the best designer clothes, and who take vacations at all the prestigious spots, will avoid you like B.O. in polyester. This may be crushing. They won’t even talk to you while looking over your shoulder to see if someone more useful has entered the room. They won’t include you among their dear personal friends whom they savage as soon as they’ve left the party. Best yet, they won’t repeat whatever derivative drivel they read in The New Republic, The New York Times or even National Review, if indeed they read anything longer than Tweets. But you won’t even notice. You’ll either be over in the corner, laughing and sharing wisdom with kindred conservative spirits, or you’ll all be blocks away somewhere less trivial and annoying.
3: The Hate Thing – modern conservatives are expected to hate and it gets tiring. And if you aren’t sufficiently hateful, your favourite right-wing relatives will accuse you of being anti-American. Every problem must be ascribed to President Obama even if it began under President Bush, because if the latter’s party gets back into the White House it spells cushy government jobs for us all (actually they hire corporate lickspittles, but never mind). Long ago, the father of real American conservatism, Russell Kirk, had good things to write about – and even liked – Democrat Senator and Presidential-hopeful Eugene McCarthy, and Malcolm X too! Nowadays that thoughtful scholar and courtly gentleman would be expected to shout them down on television and kick them “where the moon don’t shine.”
4: You Won’t Get a Job in Media – not a conservative; assuming that you wanted one in the first place. Well, that’s not exactly right. You will certainly not get past the first job interview with any Establishment Media, where contrary to right-wing rumour you don’t need to be a firebrand leftist. All those vast media consortia are owned by billionaire tycoons; the tycoons are frightened of the powerful, so they hire slavish toadies who pay constant lip-service to any prevailing fashion. This is why even the most leftist media suck up to war-mongering imperialist politicians in either party – the tycoons also own arms manufacturers. The exception is Fox News, a potential media career if you go to the interview with foam on your lips (shaving cream works well) and don’t mind the mandatory lobotomy afterward.
But I said this isn’t precisely right, because we conservatives have our own media, thanks partly to new technology and big demand. Real conservatives, including sound religious folk, have television networks, radio stations, websites aplenty, plus there are successful independent conservative films, Christian pop music of various sorts, and even a town full of wholesome theatre and vaudeville in Branson, Missouri. So, whether you want to write penetrating essays, or be a television anchor, cut a hit single, direct Shakespeare or even tell jokes on stage, you need not check your values at the door. But you won’t be invited to posh parties full of air-heads (see Reason No. 2). If your friends are a bit backward and still think that Establishment Mass Media is the only media that matters, or even the only media, and complain that they never see your work, get new friends.
5: David Brooks – this should be self-explanatory. The in-house, “tame” conservative for The New York Times works hard to be their version of what Dennis Rodman is to North Korea. Dripping with self-doubt, surrendering on the important issues after pages of trendy angst, he has honed his poodle impersonation for ages while the salary rolls in. Next he may abandon his family for a gay marriage – and move up a pay-grade. At least Mr. Rodman does not seem to be rewarded in boiled rice, kimchi, or whatever Kim Jong-un (“The Great Sun of Life,” etc.) pays nowadays. Fearing comparison with Mr. Brooks, thousands of American conservatives have grown beards and donned Groucho Marx nose-glasses, subscribed to The Washington Compost or fled to Papua New Guinea.
6: Rule Out Politics – which 19th Century novelist George Gissing denounced as the preoccupation of the “quarter-educated.” For the wannabe politician, and even those who aspire to toil behind the scenes, remember the British pol Enoch Powell’s warning that “all political lives end in tragedy.” He meant that failure, decline and often anonymity precede death, but he could have mentioned the defeats along the way, the endless sacrifice of values for sake of building coalitions, and that people have always been ungrateful, fickle and selfish. Lest one believe that there is any lasting success in mortal life, read the 18th Century Christian polymath, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s, wise poem, “The Vanity of Human Wishes” (download). And yet, if the lure is still too strong, try single-issue politics. Intrepid right-to-lifers, tax cutters and others attract fewer opportunists, entail fewer tactical retreats, provide more focus, fun and a better life. Even more lasting fame – compare that of issue-centred Ralph Nader (bad on big government, good against empire) to former Vice President Dan Quayle (who?).
7: Lousy Food – back when William F. Buckley, Jr. was still alive, any self-respecting conservative was expected to exist on haute cuisine and a decent Bordeaux that didn’t originate somewhere called San Juan de Sushi. Not that we always did, of course, but it was something to which we aspired. Nowadays, it’s off-limits if it doesn’t come in fifty-pound boxes from Sam’s Club.
8: Abandon Principle – really, get it out of your head if you want to be a real conservative. If you wish to stay up all night with the silver polish, burnishing your principles, become a Progressive Leftist, a Scientologist or a libertarian and you’ll never have to think again. Like Chairman Mao’s guys, a billion wearing the same suit, you can look up everything you need in a little book. It’s a sound reason against being a conservative because, in addition to our guiding values that differ from iron principles, we have to reconcile so many factors, perceive tradition, support order, respect authorities but contrast them when needed, read extensively and think. Apart from the well-meaning people who handle rattlesnakes in church, Christian conservatives rely upon Scripture, authoritative theology, prayer, the lives of the saints, conscience, education and our God-given powers of Reason. From real-conservative Jews, the West gets the sanctity of tradition and law, and Man created in God’s image. Yeah, so what if that’s what the Almighty intended! Nowadays it’s much simpler if all the heavy lifting was done by some Harvard professor (or French philosopher, German intellectual or former science fiction writer – choose your favourite).
9: Live With the Shame – as do all true conservatives. The conservative brand is badly contaminated by ideologues, by both leftists/libertarians and right-wing “neo-cons” – the former for whom conservative just means bad, and the later who, like the cuckoo, take over another bird’s nest after smashing all the eggs. Are you in favour of international imperialism and constant wars, ignoring all the advice of George Washington and most other Founders? Then you’re called a conservative. Want a Soviet-style command economy and stultifying bureaucracy to match? Gosh, you must be a conservative! Object to flag-worshipping nationalism on your local church altar? Then you can’t be a conservative, can you? If you choose to be a conservative – a real one – get ready for explanations that take longer than the conversations themselves.
10: Waste Precious Time – as conservatives must, and not just while trying to define the real thing. Books are voluminous and heavy, while even Kindles require buying batteries, and both take time to read. There are many hundreds of conservative websites and webcasts to consume, maybe more. Then there’s travel – how can you defend Western culture from attacks within and without unless you visit art galleries, concert halls and cathedrals, as well as other counties featuring things to copy or avoid? Wouldn’t it be nicer to spend Sunday mornings in bed, rather than haul your sorry self to church? And think of all the time to spend on prayer! Sure, that’s a true conservative’s lodestone or pole-star. And yes, most Christian conservatives see the Holy Ghost at work in their lives, just as they know what to expect afterward. But couldn’t all that time be better spent downloading movies, ordering pizza, or entertaining your hundreds of Facebook friends whom you’ve never met? Get your priorities in order, dude!
Then again, maybe it’s not worth becoming something else, and so we must learn to live with our conservatism – partly because we’d feel such fools and hypocrites otherwise. If so, perhaps we had better nurture our conservative instincts, and feed our knowledge, until we come as close as our talents allow to understanding – and spreading – what Plato called the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Care to join me at the art museum? After church of course!
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.