It’s worth noting that virtually anybody who could be called ‘conservative’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries was alarmed by the shift to an industrial society from an agrarian one. Our seers consulted the stars and were able to discern many of the deferred costs we’d have to pay for our newfound material comfort and ‘progress.’ They saw, with a clarity that amazes me, the social, political, religious, and economic goods that we’d eventually be forced to relinquish. Fatherlessness, wage slavery, loss of inherited liberty, sexual deviancy, breakdown of kinship relations, rootlessness, ennui, and more besides were all foretold. And while I don’t think industrialism is the sole cause of any of those, it is difficult to overstate the role it has had in producing them.
John Crowe Ransom states well the old conservative sentiment: “Industrialism is rightfully a menial, of almost mircaulous cunning but no intelligence; it needs to be strongly governed or it will destroy the economy of the household. Only a community of tough conservative habit can master it.” The fact that modern Americans, whether self-professed conservatives or no, will scratch their heads at talk of ‘the economy of the household’ is enough to show that we did not have a sufficiently conservative habit. Since Ransom’s day, we’ve more or less capitulated to the industrial mindset, left, right, and center.
And so modern political and social (even religious) discourse consists of talk among various wings of the industrial party. Ironically, our ‘conservatives’ are some of the most ardent defenders of the industrial gospel. (Which makes me wonder what exactly they mean to be conserving.) They have made an about-face. ‘Conservative’ is more or less synonymous with Republican, and everybody knows Republican politicians will back Big Business to the hilt, family, religion, and tradition be damned. The average conservative is somewhat better than the politicians, of course, but even there you won’t find a very robust esteem for the past. You can occasionally arouse a fighting spirit that will take on corporations, like what we’ve seen with the NFL and Nike. But that’s a fickle spirit and not to be relied upon.
So where does a young conservative go? What does he do with his energy? If he wants a settled household nestled within a community that is committed to a particular place, that is largely independent politically and economically, and a church that proclaims the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to whom does he turn? Who are his brothers-in-arms? Neither major party represents him. Ostensible ‘lay’ conservatives often are committed to fortifying the very forces that are undermining that vision of the good life.
That’s basically me. And as angsty as that sounds, I’m more hopeful than anxious. But boy do we need good conservative voices to interpret the times AND provide practical advice for living, which we haven’t had in a long time. May the Lord raise them up for us.