Usually, as if there were anything usual about this time other than that it has happened before and will again anywhere a civilization gets ready to die, you don’t think of existentialism as conservative.
When you think of conservative you think of fundamentalist religion, rock-solid proven formulas, social restraint and a seemingly religious need to punish the bad and have some heroes we praise above all else.
But existentialism, or the idea that we grow as we interact with life and therefore that life should involve great beauty and promise, is actually a conservative concept. (I’m setting aside theological existentialism, or “existence before essence,” because science has basically replaced predetermination with genetic determinism.)
In my mind, existentialism is a way of saying that we cannot live for either (a) a central authority or (b) an obsessive morality of helping others. Instead we must live through reverence for life, and through celebrating its beauty, transcend its ugliness. In other words, we don’t exist to fight evil; we fight evil so that we have more beauty, more pleasure, more adventure!
But people pervert those terms. They translate beauty from “meaningful moments or insights explaining reality as beautiful” to a crass materialist gluttony, where more of the symbols and signals of beauty are seen as desirable. You want love? Have lots of consequenceless sex. You want adventure? Have lots of tame danger, like bungie jumping. You want beauty? Have some mass-produced versions of things that were beautiful once.
What’s lost is the core of existentialism, which is a sense of adventure. Adventure requires danger. It requires uncertain outcomes and yes, some tragedies. It requires us to see all of life at once, warts and all, and to find it in a seed of transcendent reverence by which we realize that at the end of the trail, there is a great satisfaction in having prevailed. In having made ourselves better and through accepting the bad and triumphing, in having discovered beauty.
Here’s an existentialist conservative take on some modern issues:
I imagine that with each blog post, I say more things that make people uncomfortable yet are not taboo. The above are currently seen as heresy by most people, for the same reason that opposing liberal democracy is. “What, you don’t want freedom? Do you hate pleasure, because you’re against casual sex and gluttony? You want quiet, what, do you hate people?”
But at the end of the day, we know that it’s not having many moments of repeated “pleasure” that bring us pleasure, it’s having those significant moments where everything seems in balance, we feel our lives are going in meaningful directions, and we are merely thankful and content to in spiritual silence enjoy what life was brought us.