Politics

The incoherence of conservatism

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I don’t know who “Publius Decius Mus” is, except in the Samnite War sense, but this is the best article I have ever read at the Claremont Institute. It very clearly makes the case for the need for the Alt-Right, if not for the Alt-Right per se. And in doing so, it also underlines the petty narcissism of the dwindling #NeverTrump crowd:

If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.

But it’s quite obvious that conservatives don’t believe any such thing, that they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff. A recent article by Matthew Continetti may be taken as representative—indeed, almost written for the purpose of illustrating the point. Continetti inquires into the “condition of America” and finds it wanting. What does Continetti propose to do about it? The usual litany of “conservative” “solutions,” with the obligatory references to decentralization, federalization, “civic renewal,” and—of course!—Burke. Which is to say, conservatism’s typical combination of the useless and inapt with the utopian and unrealizable. Decentralization and federalism are all well and good, and as a conservative, I endorse them both without reservation. But how are they going to save, or even meaningfully improve, the America that Continetti describes? What can they do against a tidal wave of dysfunction, immorality, and corruption? “Civic renewal” would do a lot of course, but that’s like saying health will save a cancer patient. A step has been skipped in there somewhere. How are we going to achieve “civic renewal”? Wishing for a tautology to enact itself is not a strategy.

Continetti trips over a more promising approach when he writes of “stress[ing] the ‘national interest abroad and national solidarity at home’ through foreign-policy retrenchment, ‘support to workers buffeted by globalization,’ and setting ‘tax rates and immigration levels’ to foster social cohesion.” That sounds a lot like Trumpism. But the phrases that Continetti quotes are taken from Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, both of whom, like Continetti, are vociferously—one might even say fanatically—anti-Trump. At least they, unlike Kesler, give Trump credit for having identified the right stance on today’s most salient issues. Yet, paradoxically, they won’t vote for Trump whereas Kesler hints that he will. It’s reasonable, then, to read into Kesler’s esoteric endorsement of Trump an implicit acknowledgment that the crisis is, indeed, pretty dire. I expect a Claremont scholar to be wiser than most other conservative intellectuals, and I am relieved not to be disappointed in this instance.

Yet we may also reasonably ask: What explains the Pollyanna-ish declinism of so many others? That is, the stance that Things-Are-Really-Bad—But-Not-So-Bad-that-We-Have-to-Consider-Anything-Really-Different! The obvious answer is that they don’t really believe the first half of that formulation. If so, like Chicken Little, they should stick a sock in it. Pecuniary reasons also suggest themselves, but let us foreswear recourse to this explanation until we have disproved all the others.

Whatever the reason for the contradiction, there can be no doubt that there is a contradiction. To simultaneously hold conservative cultural, economic, and political beliefs—to insist that our liberal-left present reality and future direction is incompatible with human nature and must undermine society—and yet also believe that things can go on more or less the way they are going, ideally but not necessarily with some conservative tinkering here and there, is logically impossible.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

One thing that I expect has become clear to most readers here, whether of the Alt-Right or the conservative persuasion, is that conservatism is utterly unequipped to deal with the current situation. Even if conservatism were a coherent ideology – it isn’t, read Cuckservative – or if it were not partially culpable for the current situation – and it is – conservatives are both intellectually unarmed and emotionally unprepared to deal with the ongoing transition from ideology politics to identity politics.

A favorite phrase of mine is, “let reason be silent when experience gainsays its conclusions.” Conservatives correctly point out the ways in which American liberalism, Leftism, and progressivism all fail the test of experience. However, conservatives completely fail to recognize their own pie-in-the-sky thinking when they appeal to Magic Dirt, Magic Words, and the Zeroth Amendment. They do not understand the significance of the Supreme Court’s version of the US Constitution not being the same as the original written version of the Constitution, they are unaware that most immigrants, children of immigrants, and grandchildren of immigrants neither know nor care what any version of “the Constitution” is, says, or represents, and they ignore the very purpose of the Constitution as laid out in the Preamble.

Most importantly, they elevate a single phrase from the Declaration of Independence, a meaninglessly utopian piece of rhetoric which is not only contradicted by the Preamble, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the acts of the First Congress, but by subsequent phrases in the Declaration itself, and proclaim it to be the foundational core of both state and nation. To conservatives, “all men are created equal” is a Magic Spell of unlimited potency that is not only, contra literally ALL the evidence, historically definitional, but can even be invoked to instantly transform any individual, tribe, people, or nation into Americans.

However, neither the Magic Spell nor the Magic Words prevented the Civil War, or if you prefer, the Second War for Independence. And the Magic Words will not prevent Round Two, or if you prefer, the Third War for Independence, or what is considerably more likely to be the free-for-all that follows the general collapse of the US central state. Very few saw the Soviet collapse coming, and I expect even fewer genuinely see the US collapse coming, despite the profiteering of opportunistic media doomsayers who have never seen an Apocalypse, a Ragnarok, or a Rapture they didn’t like.

Where conservatism has proven intrinsically fragile and self-contradictory, the Alt-Right is anti-fragile and intellectually consistent. A nation has considerably more ruin in it than a state; the state cannot survive long without a single dominant nation but as the Jews, the Kurds, and many other peoples have proved, a nation can survive indefinitely without a state. The architects of 4GW theory and the globalists alike have chronicled the way in which we are coming to the end of the Westphalian period where the state held a monopoly on violence. Therefore, it should surprise no one that as the international state system is in the process of coming to an end, the ideology politics that arose within it and subsequently dominated it should also be in decline.

So, conservatism is not merely incoherent, it is now as entirely irrelevant as a biplane during the Battle of Britain. Neither a Balanced Budget Amendment nor pledging undying loyalty to AIPAC nor deciding to “rededicate ourselves to the notion of liberty for which generations of Americans fought and died” are going to even begin to address the implications of the post-Westphalian shift to identity politics, much less prevent the collapse of the USA.

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