Friday, December 02, 2011

Conservative Tectonics.

I get the impression that I'm persona non grata at several traditionalist websites. I can understand their position as many of my comments are decidedly nontraditional. As I've argued before, in previous posts, part of the problem with current modern predicament is traditionalism, which paradoxically provides the "life force" for leftist ideas.  For example, the traditionalist idea of creating a social structure which subordinates women to exclusive domesticity innervates the feminist movement by reaction.  Happy women, like happy workers, are not militant except by injustice; and societal structures which rub against human nature are ultimately percieved as oppressive. Sure, there are individuals who are objectively evil and wish to destroy what is good, but evil ideas, much like weeds, can only grow in the fertile soil of discontent.

My contention, and that of G.K. Chesterton and Whittaker Chambers, is that traditional society, whilst good overall, had several "structural anomalies" which produced profound discontent. It's also my contention that traditional western society could have survived intact (albeit in different form) had it changed in a way that accommodated those pressures without compromising the foundations upon which it was built. The problem was that it didn't, and it created the pressure cooker situations from which radicalism emerged.  Of course, traditionalists deny this; attributing to outright malice the motives of their opponents. This has the dual convenience of entrenching their own sense of moral superiority and permits the avoidance of any self reflection as to their own part in the state of affairs.

Therefore the traditionalist is always always harking to reset the system to "initial conditions". The problem is that initial conditions generate the same pressures that radicalised society in the first place, and thus the seeds of revolution are re-energised again. Tradition is the midwife of modern radicalism.

And I think this is why conservatism has failed in the 20th Century; it's failed because it's hitched it's star to traditionalism. I mean, what Negro would want to go back to traditional society? What intelligent woman would? Or even your average worker? How many of them would want to return to peon's existence that was the lot of the worker in early industrial capitalism? Is it any surprise that the main advocates of traditionalism are reasonably prosperous white males?

Practical,  that is political Conservatism, has realised that a return to initial conditions is political suicide and hence has to accommodate the wishes of the electorate. The net result is that modern political conservatism gradually morphs into liberalism by incorporating many of liberalism's ideas as a matter of political expediency.  Indeed, today's conservatism would be regard as leftist radicalism by the conservatives of a century ago.  The question is, why does it morph liberal?

It's my contention that modern liberalism is the only "new ideas" generator out there at the moment. The problem is, because of the liberalism's intellectual underpinnings, it's highly likely the solutions proffered by it  a likely to wrong.  Conservatism, strongly influenced by traditionalism, doesn't generate new ideas because all the "solutions" were worked out years ago by our forefathers. There's no need for any new thinking as all the thinking has been done for us before; it's a question of defending. Conservatism is always on the back foot.

But it's worse than that. Because people don't want to return to "initial conditions" traditional conservatism becomes an exercise in defensive irrelevance. Russell Kirk may have been admired and read amongst thinking conservatives but no one else cares.  From James Kalb's recent essay:
The canonical writers weren’t much help even among conservatives. Kirk’s romantic Burkeanism never had many adherents. Weaver and Voegelin, from most people’s perspective, were off in an ivory tower. And favoring the free market over socialism has gotten some traction, but it’s not enough for an overall conservative movement.
Now, I've had philosophic differences with Mr Kalb,  and I think I'm "on the nose" with him, but being a  man of ideas and not personalities, I've got to applaud him for his this essay: Liberal Values and the Seduction of the American Right. It appears that Mr Kalb has had a shift in his thinking, and it's a shift in the right direction. Commenting on the failure of Conservatism:
We’re in a political hole because we’re in an intellectual hole. If the problem is what people think makes sense, then we have to change or at least challenge accepted understandings in a very fundamental way.
So much for the good. With respect to the true, it’s evident that we need the concept of transcendence, of something that exceeds what we can say or know. The point of talking about truth is that what we say about almost anything is certainly incomplete and might be altogether wrong. That shows we need “truth” as a higher point of reference. It’s an ideal standard that we can’t altogether attain, but can’t do without.
Our debate with the liberals is not over preference choices, rather, the conservative  understanding of reality implies that certain things are, or are not, in accordance with the "truth" of reality: Things are either right or wrong. Truth is the idee fixe of the Conservative, tradition is the idee fixe of the Traditionalist. Now, it's true that there may be truth in tradition, and the Conservative is happy to embrace tradition where it is true,  but where tradition is in error the conservative will ditch tradition.  Of course, by framing conservatism as traditionalism, this immediately pushes him outside of the conservative fold. Both the Left and the Right hate him.

The task then, for the modern conservative, is to look at history and ask, "Where did it go wrong"? "How can we change without compromising our core principles"? Even more importantly; What are our blindspots?" The most effective attack is the one that is not foreseen.

The fundamental error of thinking conservatism has been its assumption of the infallibility of tradition. This is the intellectual hole which conservatism has fallen in to and has effectively rendered it irrelevant. This is why any "Right Renaissance" is not going to occur within the mainstream right but rather outside it. It won't be the academy but the in the blogosphere where the right is reborn. This is not because I'm some technological junkie, rather because the internet provides a forum where all the "odballs" can debate and thrash the ideas out. Orthodox conservatism permits no such discussion. To quote Curtis Le May, speaking of American military culture in Fifties and Sixties:
We must-but do not-have a defense organization which permits controversy, which permits the "unthinkable" condition to be debated freely, which permits the screwball idea to come forth, and which tolerates the maverick officer. The Andrew Jacksons, the Zachary Taylors, the Ulysses S. Grants, the George Deweys, the Alfred Thayer Mahans, the Billy Mitchells, are not nurtured in orthodoxy. They are not products of a party line. And we have not infrequently called on them to save our shirts.
(Curtis Le May, America is in Danger. )

It is only after the traditionalists have been nearly ground into the dust that their prodigal sons will come back to save them.