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Granville, Ohio, is a pleasant place — tucked among the Appalachian foothills of east-central Ohio, with all the old trees and old buildings an old soul could possibly love. Granville is a college town. Its residents are healthy and wealthy and comfortable with their lives. All this means, naturally, that Granville is a Democratic stronghold.
It’s a little odd, of course, that the Denison women’s studies professor comes home, every day, to her little Greek Revival cottage built by a misogynist pig and spends her evenings toying with recipes in the same kitchen where, a century earlier, a beleaguered woman stood barefoot and pregnant, but . . . that’s the oddity of America in 2020. Those who slander the country’s patrimony with the most vehemence happen to be its custodians.
The pattern repeats itself across the state of Ohio — and across the country. Are the lawns in your neighborhood meticulously landscaped? Are its boulevards lined with restored Victorian houses? Are there boutique shops along your Main Street? Do they do a bustling business? Then I’ll bet you that I can guess your city’s voting patterns. The split may be 60-40, or it may be 90-10. But it almost certainly exists, and it’s a reflection of the degree to which left-wing cultural and political sensibilities have become the bourgeois creed of the 21st century, much as Victorian morality was the bourgeois creed of the 19th.
Take a moment to browse the site Meetup.com. You’ll find feminist book clubs. You’ll find reiki healing circles. You’ll find feminist book clubs that double as reiki healing circles (but I repeat myself). You’ll find board-gaming groups. You’ll find leftist political organizations. You’ll find board-gaming groups that double as leftist political organizations. Does your city have an arts center of some kind? If it does, pay it a visit once the COVID apocalypse has come to pass. You may see a little art there. You’ll see a lot of fashionable propaganda.
If your city is anything like the city where I finished graduate school, the only art anywhere near the arts center is the building which houses it — a building which probably began as a Carnegie library or some industrialist’s mansion. Does your town have an orchestra? Hang around after Prokofiev is finished, and watch as the violinists retire to their cars bedecked in Bernie stickers and rainbow flags.**
. . .
Our world is living proof of Conquest’s second law: Every organization not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing over time. This is a more pessimistic observation than most conservatives realize. It may explain why the only institutions conservatives have managed to build are political ones. Only political institutions can be explicitly right-wing, and any institution which pretends otherwise is merely a political institution in disguise.* Look at Dan McLaughlin’s recent list of “vibrant” conservative institutions: The right has Fox News, the NRA, the Federalist Society (what good has it done?), a smattering of PACs and lobbying organizations, some political magazines, a handful of think tanks, and maybe a shooting club or bible study.
The left has academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, professional sports, local libraries, the media, the corporations, the non-profits, the Boy Scouts, and half the churches. Left-wing sensibilities — in both their call-everything-problematic and throw-money-at-the-problem varieties — are the sine qua non of elite and upper-middle-class membership. Keeping up with the Joneses means lapping up whatever watered-down version of critical theory dribbles out from the nearest university. It means fulfilling the Salah by complaining about racists, rednecks, kids in cages, rising oceans, or white males at least once a day. (In all fairness, the right has its own Salah: complaining about the left at least fifteen times a day.)
The result is peculiar: Those with the social capital to build and sustain institutions — and those who do build and sustain institutions — are often anti-institutionalist (and almost always anti-traditionalist) in their rhetoric. Yet, somehow, they manage to build them. Charles Murray and Yuval Levin may have mastered the art of describing the breakdown of American civil society (including elites’ failure to “preach what they practice”), but your local Episcopalian priestess and/or yogi has mastered the art of reversing the trend. Little platoons still exist in America. They just take the form of Antifa cells, Brony conventions (Father, forgive me), and food co-ops, rather than Elks lodges and bowling leagues. “Community organizing,” for all its malignity, is a kind of institution-building — one conservatives might do well to learn from. If there ever was a culture war, it was more akin to the Toledo War than World War II. It ended before it began, and without a shot being fired.
But Kephalithos! What about churches? Churches, I’m sorry to say, aren’t doing well. I don’t need to rehash the statistics about declining membership and growing distrust in religious leadership. Churches, I think, suffer from the same problem as institutional conservatism in general. Just as explicitly right-wing organizations are inevitably political ones, and thus limited in their reach, so, too, are explicitly religious institutions inevitably . . . erm, religious.
Churches are good at two things: Worshipping and charity. The most successful church-sponsored organizations are those which don’t stray too far from religion’s remit (hence the popularity of bible studies), or ones that strengthen already-existing ties between congregants (cookouts, coffee and doughnuts after mass, and so on). This is something I’ve observed in my feeble forays into the world of Catholic young-adult groups: The more tangential the activity to the Church’s central mission, the more forced it feels — and the less successful it is in the long run. A healthy religious culture should have secular manifestations, but that’s a difficult thing to achieve when the surrounding society is so overwhelmingly hostile.
But Kephalithos! Have you tried to do something? Have you put your money where your mouth is? No. I haven’t. Back in the spring, I played around with a few ideas, but COVID-19 put an end to those. Perhaps I’m part of the problem. Or perhaps part of the solution. We’ll see.
. . .
Social radicalism squats inside the shell of bourgeois morality, just as a vagrant squats inside the shell of a faded-but-beautiful Brush Park mansion, bursting holes in its walls and tearing out its plumbing in search of something to sell on the black market. For a time, the edifice stands. But sooner or later, the vagrant lights a fire that burns the entire thing to the ground.
Will halcyon Granville survive the aging and death of its current residents — mostly polite, liberal Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers whose political creed amounts to a vague desire to “be nice?” I doubt it. I’ve met their children. And their children really do want to tear it all down and begin anew.
* Here’s a thought experiment, to underscore my point: Try to think of one — just one — right-leaning cultural organization whose products are widely consumed by the left. I can’t.
** As the left cements its cultural gains, I expect a fight to erupt between the Augustinians and the Tertullians — that is, between those who think it’s possible to reconcile the new ideology with old forms of culture, and those who think that everything must go. Of course, thanks to its belief system, the Augustinian faction will lack any ability to make substantive defenses, and, for this reason, it may lose. “But . . . but, I like Beethoven!” is hardly a ringing battle cry.Published in