Conservative intellectuals tend to be a dismal sort and by natural disposition pessimistic. But perhaps we shouldn’t be so fast to blame them, especially when you considers the history of mankind and in particularly, the sorry history of human governance. From starting unnecessary wars to enslaving whole peoples, to reducing the masses to poverty through excessive taxation, man, when clothed with the right to rule others has shown himself to be a tyrant-in-waiting.
Moreover, we realize that human nature is intrinsically inclined to do evil, that utopias are unachievable and their pursuit dangerous, and that we are apt, over time, to lose our moorings to the commandments of God and His laws of nature. We thus tend to hold out little hope for the future.
As justification for this inherent pessimism we need only to look at the peculiar and sorry times in which we live: an era in which the Founding Fathers are considered “dead white men,” but in which the Constitution they gave us is held to be a living document, subject to change by the ruling party. We live in a time in which political compromise is vilified and commitment to principle is reviled as naive, quixotic. We live in an age where any kind of perverse speech or lifestyle must be celebrated in the name of freedom but in which free enterprise is stifled in the name of equality. We languish in an era where where information reigns supreme, but logical thinking and common sense is scare or nonexistent; an era in which we have attained the greatest technological know-how but in which we have the least understanding of beauty, goodness, and truth.
“We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.” T.S. Elliott
Keeping alive the flame, however, does not mean hiding its light. After all, a flame that is not open to the air will be snuffed out. Like Isaiah, we are under the Divine injunction to be “a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind.” This means that conservative thinkers should not talk exclusively among themselves, as we are prone to do, but shine forth the light of truth, goodness, and beauty through the best available means that can reach the masses; and today, that means the internet.
In fighting a worthy battle we must position our forces on the ramparts of certain premises: 1) that the Founding Fathers, despite their flaws, still have much to teach us today; 2) that the Constitution is not dead; 3) that free enterprise is inextricably linked to political freedom and ordered liberty; 4) that inquiry to be free must be grounded in reason and must be directed to the ascertainment of truth; and 5) that information and technology are not goods in themselves unless they serve the good.
Yes, our enemy is strong, but we must remember that temporary victories are indeed possible if we keep sharp our Kirkian Sword of Imagination. As the composer Richard Wagner said, “Imagination creates reality.” Who, for example, would have thought that Ronald Reagan’s vision of the early 1980s of American victory over communism would become a reality less than a decade later? Of course, since the collapse of “the Evil Empire,” new terrors have arisen in the world— abroad and at home—to threaten Western Civilization.
Western Civilization is undeniably in decline and indeed its very existence is in doubt. Yet these thoughts ought not to drag us down into a morass of defeatism. Sadly, though, some conservatives are indeed calling for retreat. They say that the hour is too late, that a remnant must run to the barricades and shield itself and whatever is left of Western Civilization from the barbarians at the gates.
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship; but it is not this day! An hour of woe, and shattered shields, when the Age of Men comes crashing down; but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!
You can read Stephen M. Klugewicz’s article “Stand Men of the West” at The Imaginative Conservative.