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95-pilgrim modernRecently 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.

97-pilgrim 2In 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.

99-revo war 2So, 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

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17 replies to this post
  1. This is the first article I've read on this site, having jumped here from another Imaginative Conservative article reproduced in Crisis Magazine. Thanks for a great introduction! I'm feeling tentative stirrings not only of relief at how reasonable and…good!…you sound, but also of hope that this way of thinking is more widespread than I have thought it was, and that it may spread more widely, with some organized connections using current communication technology. Great ideas!

    I don't love the idea of our all voting for a fictional character as an act of protest, however. Refusing to use the opportunity to vote for someone I want in office doesn't sit right with me. Aren't there ANY true conservatives who might be statesmen (or -women) we could support? I'm about to comb this site and perhaps some others looking for a candidate, following trails I know will be old ones for most readers of this article.

    I hope readers will forgive my naivete, arising from years of rather unimaginative conservatism in my own life. Naivete can always be outgrown, right?

    Again, thanks, and if any of you have ideas about a better way to approach the Presidential election–facilitated by networking and continually improving conservative education–I hope you'll speak up!

  2. Well put, Steve. In the days before the idiot amendment–the one allowing children to vote–I cast my first presidential ballot for Lyndon Johnson. I don't regret that one, because I didn't know any better. The only presidential vote I do regret is the last one, giving in to the foolish argument about the lesser evil, and voting for McCain. Had he been elected, we would now be at war in Syria and Iran, and the economy would therefore be even more tanked. I will not make that mistake again, for any number of reasons related to the career and character of Willard Romney. And that's saying something, since we are laboring under the most narcissistic and least qualified President in our history. A Romney victory may help the economy improve, slightly, but nothing else will. Politics is simply a dead end for imaginative conservatives. We must take the long view, suck it up and expect a New Dark Age, and do something along the lines that Steve here suggests; and like Russell Kirk, remain convinced that the permanent things will remain…permanent.

  3. The Tea Party is not an organization, but does indeed tend to focus on economic matters. It is not, however, correct to characterize them as anarchists, as this article appears to do.

    The arithmetic is pretty simple: if you are conservative and withhold your vote, or vote third party, you are granting your support to Obama and his fascism-in-a-not-so-velvet-glove.

    So, unless you think Romney is not better *at all* than Obama, your course (following the National Convention in case of any improbable surprises) would need to be to vote for Romney, even if without enthusiasm.

  4. Beth, welcome home! You will find all manner of good, wise and imaginative souls here, and your thoughts are always welcome. Jump right in! Meanwhile, if no candidates are ultimately any good for Western civilisation, and we’re going to vote for protest alone, then I think that writing-in a consistent fictitious or dead candidate simply makes our message clearer. Unless you’re referring to a local or state election with a real conservative candidate – then by all means charge on! Anyway, I learn a lot here every time that I visit the site, and I hope that you have just as much fun.

    Steve, the Tea Partiers (whom I carefully do not describe as an organisation) have more or less ONLY economic interests in common: some have foreign policies straight out of the Wehrmacht, others sound more like the prudent Dr. Paul or writers on this website. Some sound and look intelligent; others, well, the Lord must have made them for a reason. Your opposition to Strategic Disengagement is not unusual, and does neither harm nor help to civilisation: Mister Romney may lead America to a materialist-statist Gehenna more slowly than Mister Obama will, but you had still better pack your asbestos BVDs. Strategic Disengagement is neither for everyone, nor even for most conservatives who are best occupied at GOP rallies. At this point in Western history, we need imaginative conservatives who are strategic thinkers and organisers and makers; we now need the Father Noahs who can build boats, not yet so much the valiant sailors or the wondrous passengers to come aboard.

  5. Alasdair MacIntyre on this topic:
    "We note at this point that we have already broken with both parties
    and both candidates. Try to promote the pro-life case that we have
    described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard
    and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic
    justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you
    will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we are doing, that
    these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its
    complement, and you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the
    recognition of this is precluded by the ideological assumptions in
    terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same
    time neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which
    it is the ostensible defender. Republicans happily endorse pro-choice
    candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so. Democrats draw
    back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to
    their advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration
    disguises what is lacking in political commitment."

  6. Steve,

    Thank you for this article. Salvation by Political Action seems to be the mantra today, even if only on a subconscious level. Working in politics and policy, I am surely torn, and I feel the tension daily. On the one hand, there's the instinctive drive to follow John Willson's advice to "take the long view, suck it up and expect a New Dark Age, and do something along the lines that Steve here suggests; and like Russell Kirk, remain convinced that the permanent things will remain…permanent." On the other hand, the general current in the political arm of the so-called conservative movement is to remain relevant, involved, and steadfastly convinced that your candidate or elected official is the change we've been waiting for, etc. But nowadays that really means fighting for candidates and elected officials who are merely the lesser of two evils (and often, not lesser by much).

    But even more specifically, I can't avoid the conclusion you drew — that advancing the "free market" (which I'm paid to do) is little more than "a temporary, rear-guard action in defence of our own culturally-educated minority while hastening our civilisation’s overall paralysis and decline."

    What, then, is the role for a traditional conservative in politics today? Is there a role? How do you advance liberty, knowing what Edmund Burke said?:

    "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity,—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption,—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."

  7. John, I believe that the answer is to fall back and regroup like King Alfred, or General Washington at Valley Forge; or as Britain rebuilt her little platoons after Dunkirk. Avoid culturally counterproductive materialist parties and candidates. Instead, because even among broadly self-identified conservatives our real numbers are few, stop wasting our time and, as Dr. Kirk advised, to start redeeming the time, behind strong gates and thick walls. When we grow stronger, numerically and institutionally, and when our networks are linked together better, then consider where and at what level to re-engage politics. Meanwhile look to exemplars such as Winston, Barbara and Brad, imaginative conservatives who advance Western culture through technology, social engagement and teaching; there will be others too.

    Not all conservatives will pass the IQ test; many will squander precious time in the politics of materialism reflexively because they know no better, or from misplaced patriotism or because politics gives them enough easy money to think deep thoughts in relative comfort, while believing that they are helping even though their efforts may be less effective than they could be, null or even counter-productive.

  8. In the last presidential election, I was disgusted with the two-party choices, so I wrote in Wendell Berry. I know he would never accept office, but we need so much of what he writes about.

  9. Cultural revolution and reinvigoration of our civilization is a project that takes time. A rear guard action has value in order to buy time for the main body to accomplish its important work. In this case that is to create ways for people to learn and choose to join a true, modern Western civilization that is part of a continuity that stretches back before the founding of the US and, absent despair and resignation, will continue long after.

    So yes, agreeing that Romney is an amble towards the cliff while Obama is a full jog, I choose to amble so that I may also have more time to prepare and seek to convince the majority to change course.

  10. My methodology is based in tangible investment. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds, I invest in the Knights of Columbus, my mortgage, canned goods, ammunition, and tools. I am just now getting to the point where I'm pretty damn sure I could survive the collapse of society in style.

  11. Love the strategic thinking. Here's my empty headed prognostication:

    Christian classical education and home schooling are the foundations of the new civilization – or there won't be one.

  12. I will proudly cast my vote for Mitt Romney. I say this as a good conservative, though I probably do not meet Mr. Masty's imaginary standard of a true, imaginative conservative, a standard he reserves for the people who run this web site (how generous!). I will vote for Romney because he is a better choice than Obama. Taking any other route is tantamount to turning one's back on the country and guaranteeing further liberal control of the government. The choice is not absolute: pure good versus pure evil. The choice is between flawed individuals. If when you vote (are you a U.S. citizen?) you feel like you are compromising, remember that our country was founded on compromise, and a life without compromise would be nasty, brutish, and short.

    Steven F. Miller, IV

  13. Mr Miller, by all means vote! It only takes a moment after all. I do wonder if entire lives might be better spent out of politics. Oh, and you can find in my posts plenty of references to imaginative conservatives on and off this website, in addition to our editors. You may be suitable company too, for all i know. cordially, s masty

  14. Mr. Miller seems to have figured out that this is not a Republican web site, which could have been accomplished by merely reading its self-description. It is also, thanks be to God, not simply a political web site. So to accuse its handlers of being willing to encourage contributors to seek solutions that come from places other than politics, and to suggest that those who are not lockstep Republicans are somehow are "turning one's back on the country" ("unpatriotic conservatives"?) is rather beside the point.

  15. Great article (and comments). Profound and wise. The same ‘Hobson’s choice’ exists here in Britain between the Labour and Conservative parties. Voting for the least worst option, I feel, is a pragmatic and sensible path to take. Compromise, as ‘anonymous’ notes above, is necessary if we are to live together in a free society.

    The issue of renewal, however, is a wider and deeper thing. It belongs on a bigger stage than can be offered by the merely political or economic. It’s first and foremost concerned with an individual’s standpoint and orientation. What are the values that motivate and animate us? How do we connect and interact with others who share a similar worldview? How do we then go on to map that onto the world?

    I like Stephen’s King Alfred analogy. King Arthur is another name that springs to mind. In between these leaders however, it’s worth thinking for a moment about the Irish monks who preserved culture and learning throughout the Dark Ages and laid the foundation for the great Christian civilisation to come. They were lantern bearers, and I think – roughly speaking – that’s where we are today. So, Stephen’s idea of a library and an online university chimes with the educative, restorative role those monks played.

    The most important thing, in my view, is to keep despair at bay. We never know what opportunities might suddenly arise. There’s a popular religious book over here called ‘God of Surprises.’ I like that title 🙂


  16. There are those commenting on this post who could do a better job than I at presenting an alternative, but they have not,and so I must try.

    We must build a bold third party that provides a plan to systematically and peacefully redistribute not income but ownership of both land and new wealth, with the goal the restoration of the particular economy in place at the end the fifteenth century which was overthrown by capitalism in the guise of a religious change to protestantism. That dear economy was neither capitalist nor socialist and often goes by the name distributism. It was the culmination of centuries of development in which Europe went from a typically slave economy, through serfdom, to the blessing of a fully enfranchised citizenry which had virtually one hundred percent ability to earn their living off their own land, with tools necessary to that job. Tools that were too great an investment for an individual, mills and forges, were owned in common, by shares. We could do that break-up of the too-big-to-fail peacefully, over generations. We have tried to have small projects that demonstrate the superiority of cooperation within wide-spread ownership over the wasteful competition that characterizes capitalism and the disastrous passivity of state-dominated socialism without realizing the role of religion a distributist economy, American distributists have tried to establish a foothold for a secular distributism, but they have failed. The call for a reset to the rational economy of distributism cannot be disassociated from the Faith that sustained it, Catholicism. The sacraments, the holy mass, the unwavering support for the natural family, all contribute to a level of virtue that is essential to a free society in which people are responsible both for their living and for their sins, unlike our own, where we are encouraged to rely on government assistance and in life-style play the victim card. Virtue and responsibility go together. We would have to relinquish the poison idea of religious freedom and accept that any sustainable society has a dominant morality consistent through the various organs of government, through courts and schools and hospitals and businesses, and that this dominant morality does not rule out tolerance of other faiths, but simply assures a certain level of accordance, of coherence, that can reach and engage the average person, including the average south-side Chicago kid with a gun.

    The five hundred year experiment in capitalism is over. It has failed. Appeals to the always-fictional Free Market are useless, socialism has failed before our very eyes in Europe, and of course communism failed even earlier. There are no alternatives except a reset to what worked for Europe for millennia. The idea that families can be successful in small communities hiding from the Man is that old hippy dippy [stuff] of the sixties. And we tried it. And it is a decent stopgap. But it will not solve the crisis for the majority of citizens.

    Those who know how to build such a platform must step up now, leave their speaking engagement tours, and lead us to back to the future.

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