Left-wingers—the beatnik, the hippie, the flower-power revolutionary—used to be the subversives. But now their society is ripe for revolution, and it would seem that it is the conservative who is the new subversive…
T.S. Eliot wrote something somewhere along the lines of, “In a world of fugitives the one who stays home will seem to be running away.” So it is for the conservative in the world today. When everyone else seems to be running from reality into the latest technology, the latest ideology, or the latest hedonistic folly, the person who stays home will seem to be running away. By “staying at home” I mean staying with all that is old, not new, and all that is beautiful, good, and true.
For what is our modern, secular, atheistic society but one gigantic attempt to escape reality, responsibility and realism? Everyone seems to have his personal soma—that hallucinogenic feel-good pill in Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World. It may be sports, television, film, or music, as long as one remains a spectator not a participant. It may be the ceaseless acquisition of yet more consumer goods, the unthinking scramble for social success, status, and “winning,” or it may be sexual pleasure, street drugs, prescription drugs, or the tried-and-true drugs of alcohol and food. Whatever the vice, it is our attempt to escape, to revert to an infantile state of dependency, comfort, and shallow pleasure.
Earlier civilizations nurtured a sense of nobility which always included self-sacrifice, service, and self-discipline. This was the path to true happiness, it was taught; and the family, the school, the college and the workplace all encouraged that sense of self-respect, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Education was not just about the accumulation of facts in order to pass a test to achieve a good mark and get a good number to get into a good school to get a good job. Education was a method to acquire the tools necessary to face reality, accept responsibility, and earn respect.
I emphasize: The whole of society worked together to nurture, teach, and protect these values. The opposite now seems to be the case: the whole of society conspires together to teach dependency, decadence, and the instant gratification of every consumer desire. Everyone is good. Everyone is lovely. Nothing bad shall ever be said about anyone, and nothing shall be withheld because ”you’re okay and you deserve it.” The indignation once reserved for the indigent is now directed to the disciplined. The disapproval once registered against the decadent is now directed against anyone who stands against the luxurious beast of sexual depravity.
It used to be that to act against these conservative values was to paint oneself as a subversive. The beatnik, the hippie, the flower-power revolutionary all sang their protest songs, smoked their pot, slept with whomever they wished, and brought about a revolution. But when revolutionaries win they eventually become the new establishment. Now they are the ones who are greying and grumbling and balding and boring. Now their society is ripe for revolution, and it would seem that it is the conservative who is the new subversive.
It remains to be seen just how conservative President Trump turns out to be, but certainly his election was a kind of conservative revolution, and lest everyone imagine that those who elected him were “only old, angry white guys,” I predict that the real subversive conservatives will turn out to be the young people—the ones who in large numbers will march for life in Washington. I predict that the pendulum will swing back, and we will find an increasing number of young people who not only march for life, but also turn away from rampant sexual promiscuity, long to have stable and secure marriages, and look increasingly to all that is tried, tested, and true.
In other words, they will be conservatives.
If I am correct, then the subversive conservative must be wary of the temptations and faults of conservatism. Conservatives can also be the devotees of an ideology. Conservatives can also fall in line behind a charismatic leader who promises a brave, new world. Conservatives can fall into the trap of jingoistic nationalism, self-righteousness, scapegoating, narrow-mindedness. Imposing ideologies by executive order is not the sole preserve of liberals. Conservative subversives must avoid the temptation, just as liberals must, to impose their views on others and espouse a system that means well, but that ends in evil.
The subversive conservative must avoid these pitfalls by also being an imaginative conservative—understanding the rights of each person, cultivating a truly challenging and open-minded educational system, seeking all that which is beautiful, good and true. Most of all they must honor the religion of their ancestors, for that is the one rock that has stood amidst the swirling tempest of our times.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.