For the midterm, I turned in an analysis/review of three blogs that all shared an underlying theme of recalling some lost quality that our predecessors had. One blog sought to reestablish the strongman tradition of the 1970s; one attempts to promote the private farming that was common before we became so city-centered; the last sought to restore the appreciation of firearms, which have become less popular with, again, urbanization. This tendency to look back on the past and find a superior quality in the way Americans lived a century or a half of a century ago, is one that I share, at times. Obviously, I do not deny that America in 1900 or 1950 was the site of gross injustices that very much contradicted the principles upon which the country was founded; and I will admit that some of this yearning for yesteryear is probably a symptom of the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. Still, it seems evident that we, as a nation, would benefit if we adopted some of the ways of living that were formerly prevalent. In a nation that is obsessed with the newest and the latest, a nation that now changes itself out of habit rather than necessity, the idea that yesterday might have been better than today is not a popular one. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a book that embodies much of this concept: The Next Conservatism, by Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind.
In this book, Weyrich and Lind claim the mantle of true conservatism, a., conservatism that much in common with the beliefs of Edmund Burke, and almost nothing in common with the politicians of the Republican Party, who they consider to be, essentially, usurpers of a proud tradition of conservatism. The focus of the authors’ thoughts is a “culture war” within America. Their supposition is that, while conservatives sat on their laurels during decades of political supremacy in Washington, D.C., liberals waged a cultural war outside the halls of power, an approach that ultimately was much more successful than the one taken by the conservatives. According to Weyrich and Lind, liberals used “cultural Marxism” to chip away at traditional American values and institutions, with results like the deterioration of the nuclear family, the growing acceptance of drug abuse, and the increasing fixation on consumerism. They trace cultural Marxism to the Frankfurt School of philosophers, who believed that the traditions of the West (Europe, America) would have to be destroyed before a Marxist vision of socialism could be achieved in those areas (5). Weyrich and Lind envision a grim endpoint for the policies of cultural Marxism: the so-called “Brave New World,” a concept taken from the book of the same name by Adlous Huxley, in which a totalitarian government secures control through the instant gratification of sensual pleasures, extreme materialism, and genetic engineering (40).
The authors’ answer to cultural Marxism is “Retroculture,” a concept they believe to encompass true conservatism (47-48). Retroculture would be an attempt to “rebuild our old culture from the bottom up,” without seeking to “exactly recreate the past,” but using the past as “a guide” (49; 48). Some of the aims of Retroculture are environmental conservatism, an appreciation of agrarian life, a devaluing of materialism, an equal skepticism of big government and big business, a revitalization of urban and suburban areas, an effective public transportation system, and an acknowledgment of the danger technology poses to critical thought (50; 53; 55-56; 58; 61; 67; 70).
Above all, Weyrich and Lind stress the individual, local nature of Retroculture; their motto is “think locally, act locally,” a play on the “think globally, act locally” slogan of the political left, and also a certain evocation of the ideas of Edmund Burke (25). My favorite quote from this book concerns this individual, non-coercive approach: “the only safe form of power is the power of example,” (50).
Like I said before, these are ideas I largely support, and I was impressed to find so many of them expressed in one place. However, there are some that I find problematic. For instance, the authors object to large-scale immigration out of fear that new immigrants will not “assimilate”. I’m not sure just how far they expect newcomers to go in this regard. I would think that as long as new immigrants embrace the principles laid out in the Constitution, and as long as new immigrants develop the skills to interact and move within the larger society, it is unnecessary to ask more of them. Another point I differ from the authors on is the role of the military. I see our military as being an incredible force for international good and stability; perhaps this is an inconsistency on my part, both in regards to the above quote on the power of example, and in regards to the isolationist attitude embraced by the writers of the Constitution. However, I think we should not discount the precedent set by our military in helping to end the Second World War and the Holocaust. If we were to remove the ability to project our military strength overseas, we would rapidly lose the ability to react in a meaningful way to similar situations.
Overall, I enjoyed finding a cohesive and encompassing argument for many of the beliefs I hold. It will be interesting to see if any of these ideas will catch; not that any of them are necessarily new ideas, but there is a tendency for third-party ideas to get lost in mix between the Democrat and the Republican establishments.