Lost Cause Conservatism…

Daniel J. Mahoney reviews a book of conversations with Roger Scruton, and concludes

Near the end of this delightful and instructive book, Mark Dooley notes “Scruton’s reputation is certainly not what it used to be.” He is now a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature and has recently been knighted by the Queen. It is a far time from the 1980s when Scruton was something of an intellectual pariah…Thankfully, these days are mainly behind Scruton. In the conclusion of this volume, Dooley asks Scruton if he is hopeful “about the cause of conservatism generally.” Scruton responds that he is not.

For all that I admire Scruton, it must be sad to reflect that such a glittering career has co-existed with the failure of one’s beliefs.

In the New Yorker, meanwhile, Joshua Rothman profiles the conservative Christian Rod Dreher…

He sees orthodox Christians as powerless against the forces of liquidly modern progressivism; on his blog, he argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

I am not an orthodox Christian (or any kind of Christian) but this sounds like a rather limp position to adopt.

Finally, on Twitter Peter Hitchens announces

I have completely given up politics. Instead I am writing the obituary of the country. Do what you like. Nothing will come of it.

I have criticised Mr Hitchens’ doommongering before. I am no great optimist. Much of what is good will die and much of what is bad will come to be. Nonetheless, I think that what is valuable deserves spirited defence, not tired resignation.

I also wonder if the ability of these men to find a place in our progressive age is partly due to the idea that they have accepted defeat. They have not turned their backs on their conservative causes yet appear to have accepted that they have been lost. This makes them no threat to cultural orthodoxies. It makes them museum pieces: interesting but irrelevant.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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8 Responses to Lost Cause Conservatism…

  1. Whyaxye says:

    Yes, the “museum pieces”, devoid of threat, is an interesting hypothesis. Hitchens used to be a lot less defeatist (say, ten years ago) but then he used to complain bitterly that he couldn’t get a hearing on the BBC or other mainstream outlets. He claimed to be persona non grata. Today, however, he is often asked for his opinions, like an old hulk towed out for target practice.

    Both Hitchens and Scruton have a strong elegaic tone, although Hitchens appears lumpen by comparison. I suppose this is partly because they concentrate on social and cultural conservatism, rather than economics or law or the constitution. A conservative disposition invariably condemns one to loss and weeping. It might be that the condition drives one to find the threatened and the fragile in one’s world, and pay it attention even as it passes.


    • Simon says:

      As the German conservative historian Oswald Spengler once quipped: “Optimism is cowardice.” (his main work bore the title “Decline of the West”)


    • bsixsmith says:

      And I must admit there can be a strange beauty to that which is dying, or decaying, or neglected. I think abandoned buildings, filled with all the ghosts of their history, can be the most beautiful places.


  2. Simon says:

    I spent much of 2016 wondering if Alasdair Macintyre/Roger Scruton-style High Toryism would have its revenge over Thatcherism just like the rise of Trump would lead to Pat Buchanan-style paleoconservatism usurping the Goldwater/Reagan types as the dominant ideology on the US right just like they did the Dwight Eisenhower/Gerald Ford centre-right… but now that Trump seems to be backing down from most of those campaign promises that actually represent the biggest departures from current Republican consensus, I’m no longer as certain.

    On the other hand, the fact that High Tories seem to have a larger presence in UK academia and mainstream right media than paleocons in the US might also make things easier for them? As someone who saw neither Brexit nor Trump winning I’m nowhere as certain in my ability in prognosticating the future (or my overall model of how the world works) as I used to be just a year ago…


    • bsixsmith says:

      Patrician British conservatives are quite diffuse. MacIntyre is a socialist while Scruton is a critical admirer of free markets. I would like to think that intellectual conservatism could become more a force in Britain – and I would do all I could to encourage that! – but the British right is erring more towards crude populism of the kind Nigel Farage embodies, and Conservatives are doing bad impressions of him. But, like you, I have far less faith in my predictive abilities than I once did!


    • Simon says:

      The Brexit/Trump era having put the post-war populist right in its biggest positions of power ever, only to squander most of their key issues, has made it clear that right-wing populism’s entire premise of setting out to preserve their respective countries’ social structures while intensely distrusting their actually existing institutions is a recipe for failure.

      I don’t consider it a coincidence that the single most competent far-right politician alive right now is Japanese PM Shinzô Abe – who is visibly embarassed to be seen next to Trump like no liberal or progressive statesman is – and the Asian far right is explicitly avowedly elitist in stark contrast to its Western counterparts. (see also Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan, Suharto’s Indonesia or South Korea under Park Chung-hee for examples)


      • bsixsmith says:

        Good points. I don’t want to sound too much like Moldbug but Singaporean and Japanese leaders can rule as elitists and as nationalists because their mainstream and high culture tends towards hierarchy and ingroup preference (in their traditional senses). Also, it comes more naturally to them as individuals. I’m not sure if Trump has coherent principles, and the Conservatives are just reacting to populist pressure.


      • Simon says:

        Now that you mentioned Moldbug… what happened ot that “why I’m not a neo-reactionary” essay that you had thought of writing back when NRx still was a thing?


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