We are fortunate to live in interesting times — and cursed, because in interesting times the ground shifts under you and you do your best to hold on.
Since our primate ancestors crawled out of the primordial jungle and began to cultivate crops, the basic questions and problems of civilization have been with us. They will always be with us, because they are inherent to group collaboration.
The main question of starting a civilization, other than the collective questions of goal and method, is the relationship between the individual and the whole — and this is where we humans struggle the most. When can I tell someone they’re wrong, and according to what? What can I demand from society?
Originally, societies handled these questions through roles. Kings had one role; peasants another; most people were in-between. You were owed the privileges of your role, and in turn owed society the fulfillment of that role, and you got what you gave — in addition, the social maxim was “to each according to his due,” which contained a secondary meaning of doing good to those who were good, and to those who were bad, giving nothing.
The Birth of Conservatism
We would never have conservative or traditional ideology at all had it not been for The Enlightenment.™ A culmination of the previous centuries of religious conflict, The Enlightenment™ was not a new ideology so much as the democratization of Christianity, furthering a process that began long before that.
Christianity was in itself a revolution against the idea of role and the divine right of kings it entailed. Under the reign of Jesus Christ, each person was seen as equal and important. They were commanded to usurp the kings and institute a religious order in which even lepers and prostitutes were important.
The democratization of Christianity extended this process further. Not only was each person important in the eyes of God, but each person could interpret the commands of God to his or her own satisfaction. Suddenly we went from a replacement role to dispensing with role entirely.
Of course, this still created problems in that with a taste of freedom, the peasants wanted more than a taste — they wanted NO BARRIERS (think a NO FEAR sticker). So they secularized Christianity and from that, or rather from derelict intelligentsia pandering to the dominant mood, The Enlightenment™ arose.
With The Enlightenment,™ human society changed from a hierarchy to a flat order. We are all equal now, and we have to assume — unless proven otherwise, by some kind of definitive result like a Darwin award — that each opinion, lifestyle and outlook is equally as valid as the others. When everyone is a king, no king can have an opinion that conflicts with that of any other.
This “new” but old style of thinking culminated in the French Revolution, when The PeopleTM formally overthrew their aristocratic masters. However, in all politics since then it has been the norm, or at least the underlying assumption. Conservatism is a rearguard action which attempts to slow its advance or at least decrease its rapid institution of unproven, conjectural and idealistic “reforms.”
Creation of the Old Right and the Neoconservatives
Fast-forward 150 years. We’ve had a series of revolutions, and then the problem of the nation-state. With the breakdown of traditional culture comes a new type of nation, one in which allegiance to political system and/or economic system trumps nationality. This causes a series of wars ending in 1945, and when that’s over, conservative ideology — which sided with the nations, not the modern nation-states — has lost.
At this point, the right realized it was going to have to lose monarchism, or support of caste systems and monarchs, and nationalism, or the ethnostate. As a result, conservatism splintered into two directions:
This caused a problem in that with either one of these, conservatism abandoned the idea of being a serious contender in any meaningful way in the political system. It relegated itself to being a niche, and in doing so, became acclimated to the idea of equality and pluralism, or lack of a dominant idea/culture/theory to a civilization.
The problems with this are manifold, but two immediately spring to mind. First, conservatism reversed itself from “find the right answer” to “keep the peace,” with the latter causing the tail to wag the dog, in that a society dedicated to keeping the peace avoids internal conflict to find answers, direction, etc. This is why pluralistic societies have difficulty making decisions or keeping consistent courses of action. Second, conservatism ceased to offer an actual alternative to liberalism, offering instead either a retreat or an assimilation.
As a result of this marginalization through either retreat or assimilation, conservatives became forced to support any and all likely partners. This led to an identification with religion and social factors, so that issues such as abortion, prayer in schools, and denial of Darwinism/natural selection took precedence. The tail wagged the dog again: in order to keep the peace between the remaining conservative-ish groups, the religious faction took center stage.
This conflict had been nascent for some time, since the Scopes Trial and even before, as the new ideas of Darwinian clashed with what many knew as their “alternative” to the official histories of liberal society — they reverted to what they felt they could grasp, which in the face of a rapidly changing world was the tried and true, stable, and seemingly indivisible absolutes — origins of the reasons for things — that religion gave. And if you’re either (a) planning on being a marginalized minority or (b) compromising your viewpoints in public so you can keep a private hope alive, that’s not the worst idea.
Rise of the New Right
Some time later, things changed. Several factors coordinated:
All of this is showing us the need for a return to conservatism, but a new kind of conservatism. Science won’t go away, nor will the complexity of the modern world, so we cannot resort to a theocracy and throw a spanner in the works. Instead, we need a conservatism that is purely logical and compatible with whatever the future can throw at it.
In the New Right, conservatism has found this logic:
Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Most people think it is a gift from God, who revealed His laws and elevates us with His love. A smaller number think that we figure the rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and choosing a philosophical system to live by.
Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that we have moral sentiments that have emerged from a long history of relationships. To learn about morality, you don’t rely upon revelation or metaphysics; you observe people as they live. – The New York Times
What Brooks is saying here is that morality is derivable from nature, which is a restatement of the original conservative ideas of (a) natural law and (b) natural selection, or Darwinism.
Natural law states that nature creates situations that reward certain types of responses, like building campfires in response to chilly nights. There may not be a God-ordained or theoretical “one right way to do it,” but there’s a general direction that makes sense. On cold nights, make warmth.
In turn, this leads to Social Darwinism, which is a form of Darwinism that says that societies select who reproduces based on what behaviors they reward. In other words, if a society starts rewarding logical behavior, it will begin to produce people who are more logical. If it does this consistently, it rises.
On the other hand, if it insists on subsidizing everyone for simply being human, it lowers the quality bar and the people in that society get dumber and less able to think clearly:
Traditional peasant societies believe in only a limited amount of good. The more your neighbor earns, the less someone else gets. Profits are seen as a sort of theft; they must be either hidden or redistributed. Envy, rather than admiration of success, reigns.
In contrast, Western civilization began with a very different, ancient Greek idea of an autonomous citizen, not an indentured serf or subsistence peasant. The small, independent landowner — if he was left to his own talents, and if his success was protected by, and from, government — would create new sources of wealth for everyone. The resulting greater bounty for the poor soon trumped their old jealousy of the better-off. – The National Review
Do we want a society of peasants, or a society of leaders?
A society of peasants will ignore what happens in the world around it. It will create nothing new. It will forever be easily manipulated by cunning marketers, lying politicians, and dramatic events. It will not be able to direct itself toward anything other than immediate gratification and, as a result, it will rapidly become stagnant and pass into irrelevance. Life keeps moving forward; if we don’t, we fail.
We’ve been taught that “progressivism” is moving forward, but really progressivism is just moving toward the peasant society described above. Peasant societies form when individuals desire something irrational and know they cannot ask for it for themselves, but can “game the system” if they demand it as a group for everyone. That way, it’s not selfish, or at least doesn’t appear selfish.
Progressives make peasant societies out of ire that someone has more than they do, and they invent a fake morality of equality to demand these entitlements. In doing so, they kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and leave behind ruins of civilizations. Do we need to mention Russia, which is now even more of a kleptocracy than it was under the Soviets? France which was once a world power, and now is a punchline?
The Left, or Should We Say, The Left Behind
The Left has been hopelessly outpaced by the rise of the new right. For the past 200 years, the left has thrived on its stock and trade of insults and epithets to hurl at the right:
The world has now had it with this oversimplified view. For starters, the left have revealed themselves to be crass manipulators who use public demands for equality as a means of gaining power; for all their anti-racism, they don’t seem to mind racism when it is directed against successful groups like Jews or Caucasians. For all their blather about how religion is dumb, they cling to certain unscientific social conventions as if they were a religion. And for all the talk about progress, we’ve had nothing but more wars for equality that fail to solve problems, and we’ve got a new crop of enemies popping up after each one. The left has failed to do what it said it would do.
Because the left is mostly unified by people who spend inordinate amounts of time watching media and consuming trendy information sources in order to sound profound to each other in conversation, the left has been brutally blindsided. The rise of the new right did not occur in the mainstream media, and Hollywood ignored it as unfashionable. As such, the left still has no idea what the new right stands for, so when they haul out their stock-in-trade insults, they end up looking like clueless idiots.
What is the New Right?
The New Right is very much part of the conservative tradition, just not the confused elements of conservatism from the past 200 years.
Conservatism is an invention of the desire to un-do or at least resist the radical changes brought about by the left, which have one thing in common: the equality of each individual, whether political equality or a perceived equality of potential, moral logic, or so on. We could call this leftist logic “effect-based” reasoning, in that it determines what effect it desires, and then acts as if it were so.
On the other hand, Conservatism is “cause-based” reasoning in that it attempts to figure out what action produces the best effect, and then repeat it. It’s the scientific method and natural selection in one: out of all responses to a situation, keep the ones that worked and chuck the ones that do not. Avoid untested theories. Avoid the tail wagging the dog, where because we can declare Equality and act as if it were so, we should.
The new right integrates that basic conservatism with an awareness of how the world has changed since the dark ages:
That’s far too much already for most voters, but the best thing is that they don’t need to understand it in detail, just in spirit. We’re moving from the spirit of making sure our handouts are equal to the spirit of constructing new things and rewarding those who do it best. That’s how we’re going to stave off an ugly potential:
Debt is sinking America. Both parties are to blame. So vote out incumbents. Spare no one. We need new leadership, another Reagan or Truman. Congress better get the message: Cut that budget, or they’ll dump the rest of you in the coming Great Purge of 2012.
Unfortunately they’re tone deaf. Congress cannot see past the election. All that changes in November.
So thanks Tea Party, Vegas odds must favor a Second American Revolution. Actually, the revolution is already roaring, hot, it’s about time. The GOP and the Dems had more than a decade. But America’s worse off. We need a real revolution to restore sanity — or we can kiss democracy and capitalism good-bye, permanently. – MarketWatch
With the fall of America as an active superpower would come other consequences: the rise of the brutal and often unthinking Chinese, the dominance of Europe by Russia (who outnumbers them 20-to-1, which is how Russians win wars, since they’re otherwise incompetent), and the lack of worldwide law and order in a time when nuclear proliferation, terrorism, slavery and kleptocracy are rising not falling problems.
We live in exciting times. I’m glad to see the socially acceptable lies fade, and be replaced by more realistic thinking, because it means that the shadow of failure (and consequent denial) under which my generation matured can finally be cast aside. What a new world, a fresh world, an exciting lifespan awaits us, once we cast aside the tired old lies and embrace reality instead!
Dedicated to Laura Wood, whose blog “The Thinking Housewife” inspires many posts.