Walking my dog last night, I was ruminating about your recent entry in which you announced that you had stopped thinking that small steps—e.g. repealing Obamacare—could suffice to turn around our culture’s present disastrous course. It struck me all of a sudden that this change in your attitude represents the death of a last dying ember of your native liberalism. Think of it: taking small steps to fix the world, and move it closer to an ideal situation—is that not exactly the sort of thing that the leftists are constantly doing? Granted, your ideal and mine is not gnostic or utopian, but merely practical. But still. [LA replies: I must jump in here to clarify that the “small steps” of which I spoke were not political acts such as repealing Obamacare, but small intellectual or spiritual steps away from some aspect of liberalism, such as we occasionally see in mainstream conservatives, but which, I said, are not going to gather into a large-scale rejection of liberalism.]
We live in a basically liberal culture; that’s part of what we mean when we say that it is “modern.” We are living in a culture that is engaged in working out the last few absurd consequences of the Enlightenment experiment with materialism. If materialism is true, then there is no such thing really as a rule; rules then are, on the contrary, merely conventions. Almost everything we do, and almost all our social institutions, presuppose this materialistic or relativistic notion.
And people have arranged their lives, naturally enough, around the myriad institutionalizations of that presupposition. They are also, naturally enough, attached to their lives, and to the positive values that the arrangements thereof deliver to them. People are naturally conservative, so they don’t want to jettison all the costly arrangements they have so far set up, if they don’t have to. People like living in a liberal society, which lets them indulge in whatever they want, and never scolds them about anything but being a scold. They like being left alone, and feeling that it is only right that they be left alone. People like being liberal, and they think that liberalism (rightish or leftish) is true.
All this is to say, that something like a traditional society cannot come about unless there is a sea change in prevalent attitudes. There must be something like a Great Awakening for that to happen, a Great Repentance, and a widespread repudiation of modernism’s basic assertions. Absent such a radical re-booting of our culture’s Weltanschauung, any short term measures we conservatives succeed in implementing will be perverted somehow by the prevalently liberal tendencies of society, and twisted to serve liberal ends.
The only thing that can really work is a mass apostasy from liberalism.
What then is to be done? We must do all we can to engender a Great Awakening. A traditionalist cultural strategy must focus on First Things, and on the conversion of individual minds and hearts. We must preach the eternal verities, bear witness to the absurdities of the present day, analyze current events fearlessly, and sharpen our apology for traditionalism—and do our best to conduct our own lives virtuously, so that our lives exemplify the values we espouse, and so that the manifest success and prosperity thereof function to our fellows as an attractive and concrete proposal, a really achievable alternative. We needn’t abjure politics altogether, but we should rest no hopes in it. The politics of a liberal culture is doomed to reproduce its liberalism.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon all hope. Despair is not an option; indeed, it is a sin. A Great Awakening is unlikely, to be sure, short of a catastrophic social or economic collapse (although the constraints of reality upon the liberal utopian project made inescapably evident by the ongoing financial crisis has begun to shove even the liberals in the right direction, willy-nilly); but they have happened before. We’ve had several of them in the last 500 years, that were prompted, not by general social collapse, but by vigorous, attractive, compelling preaching.
The existence of such things as VFR, then, is crucial. The Internet provides us with an unprecedentedly effective means of propagating our apology, and our warning. Who can tell which of our online statements will be the spark that ignites the bonfire?