John Ingraham writes from Bouquet New York.
The essay about Rebecca West by Jigs Gardner in the last issue helped me to understand the current confusion about the best course for the conservative movement, confusion manifest in the profusion of articles in what might be called the "Whither?" series. Conservatives are all at sea because they are thinking politically, when what confronts them is a cultural phenomenon. Romantic Utopianism, the animating faith of lefty Democrats, seized the heights of our culture before it was politically victorious in 2008. Politics in a democracy is about contingency and compromise and incrementalism, but a cultural faith like Romantic Utopianism is absolute. Which is why the administration expects the announcement of a plan to be followed immediately by its approval, and also why it is so enraged and frustrated by opposition.
Conservatives tend, when they think about politics, to confine their thoughts solely to that sphere, but lefties, moved by utopian fantasies of the 1960s and 1970s, always combine politics with culture. Remember that they undertook the "long march through the institutions," and in forty years transformed all levels of education, from kindergarten to university, spreading their poisonous ideas into every nook and cranny of American life. Think of the teaching of American history and what it has done to a generation. A graduate student in his early twenties told me that soldiers in our Civil War committed much worse atrocities than the Japanese in the Bataan Death March, and that the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima was the ultimate war crime that began the ongoing U.S. career of war and oppression. He learned all that in school. Who do you think he voted for?
The cultural areas that Romantic Utopians have made their own are: education, the environment, race, and morality. They have done this by setting up all kinds of organizations, local, state, regional, and national to advance their interest, and they have worked consciously and deliberately. These organizations have been focused on specific issues, of course, but implicitly and often explicitly they have carried the message that this is part of the struggle for a better world.
As for conservatives, the only cultural issue in which they have been prominent is the abortion debate, and the conservative content of their participation has not been stressed. In other cultural areas, however, conservatives as conservatives have been absent. I am sure that individuals who are conservatives have supported vouchers and charter schools and merit pay for teachers and textbook revision, to list some educational issues, but so far as I know, no avowedly conservative organizations have been formed to advance the struggles. The same is true of Ward Connerly's efforts to dismantle racial preferences. And what conservative organizations are fighting same-sex marriage? The conservative record on Greenism is especially disheartening, perhaps because they think of farming and forestry and land use as "countryside" issues, far from their focus on Washington. For instance, conservatives as a group had nothing to say about the Endangered Species Act and its use to wreck the forest industry in the northwest, or its ongoing use to restrict and cripple farming and grazing in the West, not to speak of mining and oil and gas extraction. The people affected are ordinary Americans, and they are desperate for help, but although some individual conservatives may be sympathetic, conservatism as a movement ignores them. And then there is cap and trade legislation, which conservatives oppose on economic grounds, ignoring its wholly mythical foundation, manmade global warming. After all, National Review, the flagship conservative magazine, publishes articles asserting its truth!
The point is that conservatives should openly engage themselves in all these struggles, should create fighting organizations for the purpose, not only because they care, as individuals, about our culture, but because they will then reap substantial political rewards. Think of this: Reaganism did not last much longer than Reagan's presidency (look where we are today) because it was almost exclusively political, did not transform the culture, and it did not try to. *
"Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason." --Benjamin Franklin