Whither Conservatives?

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.

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A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Reformation Day is upon us. In that spirit, remember the words of this hymn from the pen of Martin Luther. (Here’s an English version being sung.) Pray for reformation in the Church, that the Word would call us back to true worship, that we would remember our spiritual fathers and mothers and the battles they fought for true doctrine. Be willing to work for a modern reformation.

Above all, remember that our God is a mighty fortress, and His Word abides above all earthly powers. He will win the battle.

Friday Five: 2

One of my goals in life is to see traditional patterns of living restored in some measure. I don’t have utopian dreams of a society-wide rediscovery of past wisdom; I’m pessimistic on that front. I do think, though, that it’s possible for some of us in small communities to resurrect aspects of our common Western heritage. To that end, this week Friday Five has something of a theme. One way in which we can learn from our ancestors is to consider how they crafted the built environment and the government they instituted to protect it. None of this is heavy reading, but I hope it is helpful in fleshing out what I’m after.

Home Rule

By Phillip Campbell at the Distributist Review. How have cities traditionally related to higher governments? Are there ways to devolve power back to local communities?

A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform Atlanta

Written by Richard Fausset in the New York Times. If I had to call a (sort of) major city “home,” Atlanta would be the one. I go to university here, and it’s the closest one to my actual home. That being the case, I have a particular interest in seeing how the BeltLine project proceeds. It has the potential to be a great success, or a dismal failure. My hope is that the project leaders are able to resist the temptation to rely too much on government aid.

The Alpine Heart

From Stephen Heiner of Front Porch Republic. This one got me to wondering what local, communal traditions we have here. Has the ease of mobility erased them all?

Why Sprawl Is Not the Only Choice

By Matthew Robare, writing for The American Conservative. Urban sprawl is something of a cancer in the eyes of traditionalists and localists.

My Take on the Local Food Movement

By Rachel Quednau at Strong Towns. I think of a comment from Lewis in one of his letters:

“Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when the family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.”