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On January 12, 2020, Roger Scruton died after a half-year struggle with cancer. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The lockdowns began the next week. Then came the masks. Zinnism became the official ideology of the American state in June. Thus the old world perished, and a new one was born.
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Roger Scruton’s conservatism was a philosophy of love. “The alternative to radical change,” he once quipped, “is not to change.” Indeed. Scruton belonged to a place, and he belonged to a culture — a web of beliefs and practices, all of which he cherished, and all of which he sought to protect from the Marxist onslaught of his early adulthood. His life’s work was to formulate a response to the Parisian student riots of May 1968: “I love my culture, and I love the place where I am — its customs and institutions.”
Would that we could all be like Roger Scruton! . . . Except that we can’t. Scruton himself was among the last of a breed. The world of his boyhood was still a world of Latin lessons and fusty old books. He went to university (as the Brits say) expecting to revel in the western canon — in Eliot, Goethe, and Wagner. His attachment to these things preceded his developing any sort of political awareness. So, for him, conservatism really was about preserving an inheritance.
The conservatism of the emerging “new right” (as a fellow Ricochetti calls it) is not a philosophy of love, but a recognition of loss. How can I love something I don’t have? I can lament what is gone. I can yearn for what might have been. In my darker moments, I might entertain the thought of seeking revenge for what has been taken from me. But I can’t conserve something that doesn’t exist. Scruton spoke of the oikophilia (love of home) of the traditionalists and the oikophobia (fear of home) of the globalists. What if my home isn’t lovable? What if I have no home to love? So much of the political right, and especially the Trumpian right, is effectively homeless. The one-time steelworker may be in Youngstown, but he isn’t of Youngstown. Not anymore. Not since the bowling alley closed and the church down the street disbanded. And what about his children who’ve known nothing but decay?
I’m not sure how it happened. Probably a combination of benign neglect, economic centralization, and ideological change. The point is that it happened. The “little platoons” intellectuals loved (and love) to talk about withered away under their noses. Few Americans living today, and next to none of us Millennials and Zoomers, are natives of the local and institutional world of Scruton’s experience. Instead, we’re natives of the Internet, the ultimate no-place, and our mother tongue is one of memes and text-message jargon. And for us, conservatism is an identity much like any other offering in the great restaurant buffet of atomized modern society. We can sample whatever we wish: astrology and “non-binary” sexuality today, Christianity and traditional marriage tomorrow. It all seems the same, somehow.
The right needs to be clearer-eyed about its own dire situation. To the degree civil society exists at all, it’s owned by the left. You won’t find any conservatives in the leadership of the Boy Scouts or the art museums or the libraries. The tidy and civic-minded in America are not conservative, but rather risk-averse, and they will side with the forces of cultural degradation as long as the costs remain low, and as long as virtue-signaling carries real benefits. Even the Catholic Church can’t resist worshipping the idols of our age. Polite, well-coiffed American families these days hang rainbow flags from their porches. The mushy middle owns the social capital, while red and blue America seem locked in a race to the bottom. Is there any real difference between the “ethically non-monogamous” AOC fangirl who cuckolds her “partner” and the Trump-voting bartender who dons her favorite American-flag underwear at her latest drunken hookup? What, exactly, separates the cocaine addict in Baltimore from the fentanyl addict in Harlan, Kentucky?
If we conservatives want to exist in America in 100 years, we’re going to need to find a way to reproduce our own way of life. We’re going to need to have a way of life worth reproducing. (Something substantive; not just watching TV and complaining about stolen elections.) The Amish accomplished this, and they did so by embracing insularity, isolation, and self-reliance. Who among us would go that far? Would I? Could I? Could you?
It may be necessary.Published in