Conservatives Should Bemoan Trump’s Election

Some of my conservative friends who did not support Donald Trump are nevertheless inclined to gloat over the misery his election has caused among liberals. This tweet from James Matthew Wilson typifies the reaction I’ve been hearing:

I don’t mean to pick on Wilson, much of whose work I admire. He’s only one of many conservatives having a good time crowing over the defeat of liberalism.

But I can’t join in on the fun. At least these liberals have the good sense to feel their own pain, as John Lennon advised, unlike those conservatives who blithely look past their own ruin to engage in schadenfreude. I imagine them laughing at the damage done to properties along the riverbank as the swollen waters rush the raft they are riding toward the falls.

Conservatives have greater reason to weep than liberals. Progressivism will come back from this defeat stronger than before. The sense that Bernie Sanders might have fared better against Trump than Hillary Clinton did is going to strengthen the left wing of the Democratic Party. Look for Elizabeth Warren to assume a leadership role in the years ahead. Michael Moore senses an opportunity.

Conservatism, on the other hand, has been crushed. We will not see a revival of conservatism as a factor in real politics during my lifetime. All that will remain is what Albert Jay Nock used to call “a remnant,” irrelevant to the national political dialogue.  There will be no political party to which it can attach itself. The man who has commandeered the Republican Party and captured the election is as far from being a conservative as a man can get.

What do I mean by a “conservative”? Andrew J. Bacevich’s definition will do nicely for me:

  • a commitment to individual liberty, tempered by the conviction that genuine freedom entails more than simply an absence of restraint;
  • a belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law;
  • veneration for our cultural inheritance combined with a sense of stewardship for Creation;
  • a reluctance to discard or tamper with traditional social arrangements;
  • respect for the market as the generator of wealth combined with a wariness of the market’s corrosive impact on humane values;
  • a deep suspicion of utopian promises, rooted in an appreciation of the sinfulness of man and the recalcitrance of history.

Does that sound to anyone like a description of Donald Trump? Would it not be easier to fit that definition to, say, Jimmy Carter than to our new Republican President?

Conservatives are the ones who should bemoan the election of such an anti-conservative man. A tear or two, a sad sigh, at least would be evidence that they are still alive, having suffered a devastating loss. Anyone for whom “the permanent things” matter should thank God that those things are permanent. They’ll have to be around for a long time before they receive any notice in the public forum again.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Top 7 Books to Read through the Trumpenreich

I’ll spare you my election hot takery. Frankly I don’t really think anyone has a good grasp on the particulars of how this happened, where it happened and why. We probably need to wait a few weeks to see how it shook out once we have the full story. From there we can distill and discuss.

Nonetheless it doesn’t take an oracle to realize this is a massive upset. For many across the political spectrum; mainstream Democrats, hardline progressives and conservatives of many stripes, it was a confusing result. Alarming even. In particular for young conservatives who will bear the brunt of the legacy of this moment, we are stuck wondering, “Where do we go from here?”

I don’t rightly know, but I do know there’s some reading that can help elucidate how we got here and how we can help rebuild the cause of prudence, virtue and tradition. So in true millennial style, here’s my listicle:

The Top 7 Conservative Books to Read through the Trumpenreich

7. Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.

Cover of Bowling Alone by Robert PutnamYou must read this book if you want to understand some of the root causes of our modern political dysfunction. Putnam records the increased decline in institutional trust, civic decline and social capital in America. Trump v. Clinton does not happen in a country with a healthy civic culture. A Trump victory does not happen in a country with strong, trusting communities. Social scientists quibble over Putnam’s proposed causes and solutions, but it is a critical diagnosis if we are to move forward.

6. Coming Apart by Charles Murray.

Cover of Coming Apart by Charles MurrayMurray writes on a similar theme: There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. While Putnam speaks to Denmark as a whole, Murray hones in on specific provinces. It’s not necessarily that America writ large that is dysfunctional, it’s downscale whites. In particular he convincingly lays how out how the biggest cultural chasm in America is between white Americans. Since 1960 outcomes for white working class Americans has stagnated or declined. The reverse holds true for middle and upper class white Americans. More poignantly, white Americans of different classes live in totally different worlds. One tribe is educated, the other is not. One goes to church, one shows up for holidays, if that. One stays married, the other doesn’t bother or divorces. One succeeds, the other fails. Meanwhile the successful ones disdain or totally ignore their hapless kin. These are harsh generalizations and other conservatives have contested his casual prognosis, but facts remain facts even if they are uncomfortable. America’s core cultural/ethnic grouping is coming apart at the seams.

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

Cover of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. VanceStop what you are doing and read this author’s interview by Rod Dreher. The social science of Murray and Putnam, backed up by footnotes and copious numbers, can only penetrate the mind so far. Vance brings it home with a haunting, complicated and uplifting personal narrative about rural white poverty in the Greater Appalachia. If you want an up close look at the hardcore Trump voter, look no further. What’s novel is Vance accomplishes this without the saccharine, tokenizing nonsense that much of the right’s commentariat indulges themselves in. The same people that crow as loud as the day is long about the broken culture behind Hispanic and black poverty work themselves into a triggered fit of self pitying rage when the same is pointed out about poor, rural white communities. Are you a liberal trying to find some way to connect with Trump voters but can’t find the heart? Read this book. Are you a conservative with some nostalgic, rose-tinted view of “real America?” Read this book.

4. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.

Cover of After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyreMacIntyre’s book is totally different from the first three I just suggested. But this Scottish Thomist speaks to the cultural and moral moment we find ourselves in.  To sum it up: liberal modernity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and the current way we talk about moral and political ethics leaves the “modern man” woefully unfulfilled. To wit, “In the dominant liberal view, government is to be neutral as between rival conceptions of human good yet in fact what liberalism promotes is a kind of institutional order that is inimical to the construction and sustaining the types of communal relationship required for the best kind of human life. The moment we find ourselves in is largely due to the absence of virtue in our civic life.

3. The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk.

Cover of The Conservative Mind by Russell KirkWhither goest thou, Conservatism? Part of the reason why Conservatism, Inc. is in such a crisis is because of how intellectually shallow it really is. It’s a comically tragic attempt to keep Reaganism (itself an occasional, unique adaption to the late Cold War) alive, like an ideological Weekend At Bernie’s. Trump tore through conservative pieties mainly because modern establishment conservatism had all the roots of a day old leaf shoot. If you’re a conservative and you’re looking for something more (that also isn’t the hodgepodge of national greatness populist horse manure that Trumpism aspires to), this is a great introduction to the depth and breadth of the wider Anglo-American intellectual tradition. Also, on a side note, it’s bizarre to me how many liberal friends of mine pontificate on conservatism and yet have never even heard of this book.

2. The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet.

Want to truly make America great again? Want to make sure another Trump doesn’t come across the political horizon? Read this book and follow its advice. Radically reject the atomization of society that breeds demagoguery, statCover of The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbetism and civic corruption. Join one of Burke’s little platoons of society. Talk to your neighbors. Do the hard, necessary work of building your local community. Alarmed communities produce elections like this one. Peter Hitchens put it like this, “This is a frightened society. Many people live in a constant level of fear. There is a general decay of social obligation. There is a sense you don’t intervene. I think the answer is the reestablishment of the free and ordered society we so recently had.” Voting isn’t the answer, nor is your signaling on social media. The best activism you can actually engage in is helping build a robust local community.

1. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.

Cover of The Benedict Option by Rod DreherThis is more geared toward orthodox Christians (small or large “O” depending on your preference). We need to face facts. The Religious Right is dead. If it wasn’t dead before, it has finally given up the ghost by hitching its wagon to a venalvice peddlinghedonisticgroping serial adulterer who brags about how he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness. But even if Trump had never happened, the writing was on the wall. Christians are going to have to fess up to the reality that we live in an increasingly post-Christian culture. Named about St. Benedict, who helped build strong Christian communities which weathered the fall of Rome, Rod Dreher lays out a strategy for how Christianity can survive in the modern West and enrich our communities in the process.


Regrettably we live in interesting times. America escaped a very bad candidate and in return got one that is arguably worse. In the meantime Americans are divided, scared and angry at each other. These books aren’t magic recipes but they are good starts (also we will all need something to do while sitting around in between our morning and evening Public Displays of Praise for our Dear Leader). No one is going to rebuild public trust for us. We will have to do it ourselves.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quotation from President Abraham Lincoln (who is criminally under-appreciated among conservatives today):

We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Get reading, kids.

Featured image: “Daily News, India” by Bo Nielsen (BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Conservatism and the End of the World

This week in The New Inquiry William Osterweil explores the recently prevalent “Ancient Apocalypse” film and TV genre. From Gladiator to Apocalypto to Noah to an endless shambling parade of zombie films, an Ancient Apocalypse doesn’t depict the literal end of the world, but situates its heroes at the end of an age, the downfall of a quasi-historical civilization. Osterweil explains:

There is a subnational social group: a tribe, city-state or family, living, if not happily, at least in stability and relative peace. That group receives a prophecy of a coming apocalypse. The prophecy proves true almost immediately, though it refers to the end of the world only insofar as it is the end of the group as currently constituted, the end of the group’s forms of life, the group’s world. This end is violent, sudden, and comes from the outside, in the form of natural disaster, foreign hordes, or rival groups with better technology—although its effects are exacerbated by internal decadence, corruption, weakness, willful ignorance, and/or betrayal.

At first blush, these apocalyptic fantasies may seem to promote conservative values. They feature strong heroic individuals who win survival or glory against all odds in the burning debris of a collapsed civilization. Continue reading Conservatism and the End of the World

The Impossibility of Conservatism; or, Why I am a Reactionary

Part 3 of 3 (see also parts one and two)

All good things come to an end, they say, and so must this series on the limits of Burkean conservatism. First, we discussed how the landscape of tradition has changed: what was revolutionary and inimical to the great heritage of mankind has since become “traditional” while even more radically progressive features dot the minds of many men. Thus, the moderate change championed by fair Edmund would simply be part of the problem—to assert the truth, goodness, and beauty with which Burke himself was trying to preserve makes one into a sort of radical himself, often contrary to the tastes and policies of his immediate predecessors. Similarly, we looked at Chesterton’s critique, where there’s a sort of Social 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We must not simply accept evolutionary politics—if something is a universal truth or goodness, then it needs to be restored, often against the tide of fans of moderating inertia. In many ways, the eternal God and His Law cannot be kicked out of the equation. One sometimes has to willfully fight against a kind of political and social entropy—a practice that is not easily gathered from Burke’s corpus of thought.

On the other hand, something has changed through history. I am different from the ancient as well as the medieval man, in a way similar to how I am different from a foreigner. What has changed—especially for Western contemporary man—when contrasted with his ancestors? Continue reading The Impossibility of Conservatism; or, Why I am a Reactionary

The Impossibility of Conservatism; or, Why I am a Reactionary

Part 2 of 3

In my first essay of this series, I asserted that Alpha-Wolfe Conservative Edmund Burke deserved careful reassessment in light of impoverished tradition. Now I want to investigate his claims regarding the evolution of culture and institutions. I confess that I will be using that great reactionary romantic G. K. Chesterton as my intellectual crutch in dismantling some problems with Burkean conservatism. Once again I will also assume that my reader is familiar with the general theses of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

The ever-prudential Edmund is remembered best for rejecting the radicalism of the French Revolution. Whereas Continental ideology encouraged the sans-culottes and the parlor-bound intellectuals to violently turn the world upside down, Burke looked to the slow moderate change of individual nations to organically alter the social order. History not only sifted through wisdom and foolery; it also established the rights of Englishmen. The contract theorists’ abstract “rights of man” and individualist rationalism posed a threat to the easy-going acculturation of reflective reform and historically-rotted progress.

Now, what bothered Chesterton was not Burke’s rebuttal against (most) of the Enlightenment. Instead, it was conservatism’s practical atheism in response to liberalism. In a chapter of the magisterial What’s Wrong with the World called “The Empire of the Insect,” the author observed that “Burke was certainly not an atheist in his conscious cosmic theory” but rather “that in the quarrel over the French Revolution, Burke did stand for the atheistic attitude and mode of argument, as Robespierre stood for the theistic.” He asserted:

[Burke] did not attack the Robespierre doctrine with the old mediaeval doctrine of jus divinum (which, like the Robespierre doctrine, was theistic), he attacked it with the  modern argument of scientific relativity; in short, the argument of evolution. He  suggested that humanity was everywhere molded by or fitted to its environment and  institutions; in fact, that each people practically got, not only the tyrant it deserved, but  the tyrant it ought to have.

In other words, Burke chose Montesquieu over Aquinas. Continue reading The Impossibility of Conservatism; or, Why I am a Reactionary

The Hipster Conservative and the Future

Douglas Haddow writes in Adbusters Magazine, “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” Conservatism often inspires similar spite from modern liberals, technologists, and neo-conservatives. In The Future and its Enemies (1998), Virginia Postrel characterized people of a conservative disposition—“reactionaries” and “stasists” she calls them—as opposing the increase of knowledge and improvement of human life (“progress”).

Postrel, while critical of conservatives, made a number of surprising observations in which she was ahead of her time. We hipster conservatives can only turn green as we imagine how soon we might have hopped that bandwagon, if only we had not been in middle school at the time. Postrel observed various instances of individuals on the political Left finding common cause with others usually considered “right-wing.” Continue reading The Hipster Conservative and the Future

Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games

Cover of "The Hunger Games" by Susanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2010
384 pages, paperback, $8.99

(Given the wide-spread popularity of The Hunger Games and the multiplicity of reviews of it, this review will not summarize its plot; the reader can find a summary here.)

The Hunger Games presents its readers with a nihilistic world in which evil actions can be excused based on necessity. It accurately portrays the potential endgame of a big, centralized government and a population addicted to mass-media entertainment. In such a world, survival becomes the basis of morality and people mere objects in the pursuit of survival. While such a Machiavellian ethic seems realistic given the situation in which Suzanne Collins places her characters, she presents no alternative ethic. Instead, she crafts the plot to mitigate, as much a possible, the moral culpability of her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Continue reading Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games

The Unthinking Christian’s Whig History

Gustave Dore: "Job Speaks with his Friends"
Gustave Dore: "Job Speaks with his Friends"

When you visit the edges of the Christian pseudo-intellectual world, you’ll come across some hilariously embarrassing fringe nuttiness. As a historian by training, I’ve encountered a good many interpretational frameworks, several of them really bad. As a Christian by faith, I’ve seen a plethora of these erroneous understandings hitch their wagons to religion. I had the distinct displeasure of spending an entire class having arguing over “providentialist” history and its antagonists (which is just about every historiographical school on the field). Take for example Peter Marshall, David Manuel, and Stephen Keillor, a veritable triumvirate of nincompoops.

Cover image of "The Light and the Glory"
The Light and the Glory by Marshall and Manuel

You would be wise to say, “Mr. Adulescens, it seems that your youthful vigor has gotten the better of you here. Where is your intellectual and Christian charity?” I can answer with confidence and frustration that hours upon hours of fruitless class discussion have caused me to conclude something quite revolutionary: that the most loving and kind thing to do is put down this academic mongrel. I label providentialist history as a “mongrel” since it could only have come to be in the Christian intellectual ghetto, with some crossbreeding of Rushdoonyite Reconstructionism, over-reaching Calvinism, and confident fundamentalism. In The Light and the Glory, Marshall and Manuel try to argue that God has special, unique plans for America as a nation (as if He didn’t for the other countries as well). Every step since Plymouth Rock has been a resolute march toward what could be a godly, free, virtuous, and Christian (read: Protestant) republic, full of wholesomeness and family values. Continue reading The Unthinking Christian’s Whig History

Response to Star Parker: The Two Rons

Picture of Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan talking
Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan chat during Reagan's presidential campaign.

Star Parker is a conservative commentator we hipster conservatives generally appreciate. We believe she agrees with us that America’s biggest problems can’t be fixed at the ballot box, but require change to happen in America’s hearts, households, communities, and churches. So we were disappointed when she recently slammed some of our fellow young conservatives for supporting that perennial Republican presidential candidate and libertarian crank, Ron Paul.

What’s Star got against conservative young people? First, she says, “increasing numbers of my campus hosts ask that I not talk about ‘values.’ Leave out the stuff about marriage, family and abortion, please, and just talk about the economy. The materialism and moral relativism that created our left-wing culture is now infecting our youth on the right.”

Having met many young GOPers, we’d place them in two categories. There are those who are exactly as Star describes: modern materialist libertarian libertines. But there are also those who are not any of these things; who share Star’s and our deep concerns over America’s moral condition. And many in this second category, perhaps more than in the first, support Ron Paul.

It may be true that Ron Paul lacks the conservative bona fides of an acceptable Republican candidate. Yet Star’s three characteristics of Reagan-era conservatism–“Individual freedom, respect for constitutional limitations on government and traditional values”–hew pretty close to Mr. Paul’s constitutional-conservative, pro-individual, pro-life platform.

Star’s subtitle gets to the heart of her objection: “The Ron Paul youth have little interest in a Reagan-like ‘shining city on a hill’ message, or talk about a threatening ‘evil empire’ abroad.”

On economic liberty, national debt, and even family values, Ron Paul stacks up pretty well to other likely Republican nominees. Which is to say, it’s slim pickings this cycle. What truly disqualifies him in Star’s estimation is his rejection of aggressive American foreign involvement. For her, it is a belief in American exceptionalism and invocation of an “evil empire” abroad that make a true conservative.

We agree with Star that America’s problems are primarily moral ones. Even the so-called economic issues (unemployment, education, taxes, government spending, national debt, personal indebtedness, welfare, corporate welfare, and health care) are actually moral issues with a significant economic dimension. But we disagree with the idea that America’s moral character is best displayed by an aggressive drive to bring democracy to the world. Reagan had the Soviets to compare us to: what do we have today? Radical Islam and rogue regimes–i.e., the terrorists Reagan and other presidents funded when we were fighting the Soviets. Perhaps Reagan should not represent the apogee of consistent conservatism.

Young conservatives should care more about moral issues in American politics. But we must also consider whether America remains or ever was the Shining City on a Hill that Reagan imagined. For instance, how can we continue to denounce Communism and all kinds of tyranny while maintaining despotic China as our most-favored trading partner and chief creditor? If we’re serious about knocking out radical Islam, why do we continue to import oil from Saudi Arabia, where women are brutally repressed, gays are flogged or killed, and Christian converts are decapitated? Where is our moral superiority now?

Ron Paul’s variety of classical liberalism is similar to Reagan’s. Both have major problems and for many of the same reasons. Neither is a good foundation for conservative politics today, but American conservatism has much bigger problems than a few young conservatives who support Ron Paul.

–Holgrave