Why conservatives are empty suits

James R. writes:

In the entry on the Madoff documentary, after calling the SEC people “empty suits,” you wrote:

“And let me add in passing, in connection with this, that I now believe that essentially the entire conservative movement is an empty suit.”

Thanks in part to your site I’ve reached much the same conclusion. I think we live in an era of “empty suits”—our current president, no conservative, could be viewed that way. This does not mean he’s an empty vessel with no views, but rather that (1) given how vague he was presented, as a man with no past but soaring rhetoric, he was a vessel people poured their own views into, only to be disillusioned; and (2) ultimately, there is no “there there”—having no real experience, he’s out of his depth.

I digress from the original point because it’s an illustration of one of your larger points: liberalism causes a hollowing-out of everything it touches, and by its nature it leaves nothing untouched. Even those who oppose it must swim in its sea. Noting this fact doesn’t release anyone for responsibility, be it the SEC or government generally or the conservative movement and its members, all of whom should know better.

But it does illustrate that if the thesis is right that liberalism has this affect, we are nearing its end-state, its hypertrophy. This will unfold over years, perhaps even decades, but it will unfold within our lifetimes. What comes next? Without a vigorous conservative movement based firmly in the principles of the Western Tradition, it is likely that something horrible will come next. And yet the conservative movement has hollowed out itself, and lost connection with its purpose, its telos.

Conservatism needs to be revitalized itself, before it can revitalize America and indeed the West, but most of its mainstream elements have deep flaws. One can only hope that out of a few sparks, the flame will grow again. Thanks for keeping the flame, and working towards that end.

The most valiant fights are always those against the odds, and the odds can be overcome. One thing is for sure, those involved in this fight will be doing it out of true, deep, honest conviction. It certainly won’t be for fashion or favor, as all of that is arrayed on the other side. Even the romance of the “dissident rebel” is denied to those who truly dissent from the liberal present; that is reserved for those who are activists for its progress and power. As Paul Weyrich said, we must recognize that we are no longer in a fight to preserve or conserve our tradition, but in a fight to restore it. This needs to be openly and repeatedly acknowledged, lest people remain confused.

I think many of the less intellectual conservatives are confused on this point (the others know better or ought to know better), and indeed they are encouraged by the larger culture to accept this mistaken assumption, because a movement committed to conserving what currently exists is no threat to its progress.

I apologize for the length of this.

LA replies:

That’s a great insight, that liberalism causes the emptying out of everything its touches, and thus tends to turn everyone into an empty suit.

Indeed, this description perfectly expresses Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose’s definition of Liberalism (which I capitalize here because it’s his style) as the first of the four stages of Nihilism. The Liberal, says Rose, does not believe in truth, higher truth, absolute truth, or Christian truth. Yet he retains “the name of truth, and the names of those truths men once regarded as absolute.” This is another way of saying the Liberalism (and thus Nihilism) begins with Nominalism, which says that the very things that we think of as truths, are really nothing but names that we conveniently apply to things, names that do not refer to any truth.

Thus the very essence of Liberalism, its most characteristic activity, is to hollow things out, to hollow out their meaning, to remove their meaning, even while referring to those things and even going through extravagant motions of believing in those things. And thus everyone living under the influence of liberalism tends to become a empty suit: first the leaders and high government officials, such as U.S. presidents and SEC enforcers, then all officials, such as university presidents and police department spokesmen. then virtually everyone having a respectable place in mainstream society, such as the spokesmen of the conservative movement, until, finally, everyone in the society becomes an empty suit.

But Nihilism, the denial of truth, does not stop with Liberalism; Liberalism is only its first and mildest phase, the phase that claims to believe in the truth of certain words, while actually extirpating their meaning. Think of the relationship between, on one hand, the neoconservatives, the conservatives of NRO, and mainstream conservative bloggers such as Allahpundit of Hot Air, and, on the other hand, the word “conservatism.” When people who call themselves conservatives start supporting the end of exclusion of homosexuals from the military, and the end of the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage, because such exclusion is discriminatory, and discrimination is bad, and the whole project of our society is to end discrimination and be inclusive of everyone and draw on everyone’s abilities because that is the most efficient and productive way of organizing society, then something has happened to the meaning of the word conservatism.

LA continues:

Looseness with the word “conservative” may not be the best illustration of the problem of hollowing out the meaning of words, since, even in the best of circumstances, and as was discussed at length at VFR in the past, conservatism has a somewhat amorphous and unstable meaning. Still, if “conservative” means anything, it means not liberal, and conservatives who define conservatism as liberalism have, to put it mildly, crossed a definitional line. They have obliterated the meaning of conservatism while continuing to use the word as the symbol of that which they believe. They are thus quintessential Liberals.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 31, 2010 10:15 AM | Send

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