Posts Tagged With: Community

The Righteous Path

Since Kelse had a music-themed post recently, I thought I would join in. I was taking a walk this afternoon when the Drive-By Truckers’ song “The Righteous Path” came up on my MP3 player.

If you don’t know the song, here’s a video of the band performing it at Austin City Limits:

The narrator tells of his struggles to provide for his family and survive in a world that’s moving too fast. He’s not a philosopher and he doesn’t have answers to the dilemmas he and his society are up against, but what makes the song’s message so poignant is the refrain he keeps repeating in response to every challenge he faces:

“I don’t know God but I fear his wrath
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“More bills than money, I can do the math
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“I’m trying to keep focused as I drive down the road
On the ditches and the curves and the heavy load
Ain’t b****ing ‘bout things that aren’t in my grasp
Just trying to hold steady on the righteous path”

Drive-By Truckers

I don’t claim to know the political views of Patterson Hood (who wrote and sings lead on this song), but I would argue that the singer’s response to what we can call the “Crisis of Western society” is a fundamentally conservative one.

Western society has undergone a tremendous shift in recent centuries: the economic, technological, and social forces of modernity have brought about immense change. Unfortunately and for whatever reason, the spiritual and social forces that used to support humans have not always been able to keep up with those changes. The spiritual and moral guidelines that we tell our children to live by seem to have been written for simpler times. Traditional communities- filled with people who raised each other’s children, beared each other’s burdens, and felt a mutually-shared sense of responsibility for their neighbor’s well being- are now a thing of the past. The traditional family unit, once the bedrock of society, is now on life support.

This is the “Crisis” that Western civilization is faced with: millions of people in Western society no longer feel as if the world they live in was made for people like them. They feel lonely, alienated, dislocated, and unable to cope with the increasingly-fast pace of their increasingly-materialistic and increasingly-empty lives. Meanwhile, they seem no longer able to turn to those institutions and relationships that used to provide a source of meaning.

This “Crisis” engenders two basic responses: the first is the revolutionary response; the second is the conservative response.

The revolutionary response is summed up well in a line by Karl Marx: “Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.” Tired of feeling like the world he lives in is fundamentally broken, the revolutionary will take it upon himself to redeem it. Moreover, the revolutionary will inevitably feel that contemporary society is so thoroughly corrupted at this point that his only choice is to completely level the whole structure and rebuild from scratch.

Marx

It is this desire to change the world and remake it in our own image- in essence, to supplant God- that is the hallmark of every totalitarian philosophy. It’s what fueled Communism and Fascism in the 20th Century. It’s what makes the Islamists strap bombs to themselves in the 21st Century. It’s what makes revolutionary philosophers like Rousseau so dangerous, in spite of attempts by some conservatives to whitewash him. Ultimately, I believe it was this revolutionary response (in a somewhat milder form, thank God) that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

The conservative response is much more humble in its ambitions. Like the narrator in “The Righteous Path,” the conservative will attempt to do the best he can to provide for his family, try to live up to traditional standards of morality, and (to paraphrase Mr. Hood) not “worry about things that aren’t his grasp.” Fundamentally, the conservative believes that any resolution to the cultural “Crisis” will be brought about more as a result of his own inward moral development than of any government program or the regulation of others’ behavior.

This is not to say that the conservative never seeks to change his society. Seeking justice always requires some element of social alteration, but the conservative always sees society on the whole as doing more good than harm and will thus be apprehensive about jeopardizing the already-fragile social order through radical action. The revolutionary’s glossy visions of the world transformed hold no sway over him because he doesn’t believe Utopian goals can be attained.

—————-

Ultimately, those still fighting for the preservation of that which is best in the Western tradition have a difficult task at hand: they must find some way to make classical/Christian morality and traditional bonds of community and family once again accessible to a culture that can no longer take them for granted.

Until such a time, the fate of Western civilization rests on the uncommon strength of everyday men and women who, like the singer in “The Righteous Path,” try their best to follow traditional morality without understanding it and lacking the accompanying social pressure that used to encourage obedience to it. Our fate rests on the shoulders of people who “fear the wrath” of a God they no longer know, who hopelessly wander through the long-forgotten ruins of Athens and Jerusalem without every fully knowing what a healthy civilization looks like but still somehow sensing that the answer lies in some forgotten tradition.

Let’s hope they can keep it up a little longer. At least until my dissertation gets published…

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go ahead. Do something crazy. Vote for the Green Party.

Hey there. I’m here in an attempt to convince you of something that may, at first, seem crazy. I want you, as a traditionalist conservative, to vote for Green Party Candidate Jill Stein for president. Go ahead, get the laughs out, I’ll wait. Ok, done? Good, then let’s talk.

First off, Mr. O’Shea, in his defense of voting for Governor Romney declares that conservative politics must be about the possible, and therefore, the traditionalist must remain within the two-party framework, hoping beyond hope that the Republican candidate governs conservatively. What he forgets is that third parties historically have had a significant impact on American politics, even without electoral success. Dr. Stein and the Green Party are also thinking of the possible; they aren’t expecting to win, and in fact, the front page of their website implies that getting as little as 1% of the popular vote would be a success. This is because simply by taking away votes from the major parties can be enough for one of them to coopt the party’s positions in the next election in order to gain more voters. The beauty is that this works, if you take a look at the Populist Party platform from 1892, or any of the Socialist Party platforms under Eugene V. Debs, you’ll see that these parties managed to get plenty of legislation passed without ever winning an election.

Are you with me so far? A vote for Jill Stein isn’t cast in order to win the 2012 election, voting for her means you’re playing the long game (but you’re a conservative, so you should love the long game). But why vote for Dr. Stein of all people, isn’t she the one the people to the left of Obama are going to be voting for? Certainly, and last I checked, traditionalist conservatives have a lot in common with the American left, especially on issues such as foreign policy, the importance of community, society as an association that extends beyond the living, and the belief that successful acquisitive individualists should not, by default, rule because of their successful acquisitiveness. In order to look at these similarities more closely, I’m going to go straight to the Green New Deal, the platform that Dr. Stein is running on this year.

Let’s start with foreign policy, shall we? I think that after watching the last debate, we can agree that the next four years are going to be, at best, the same as the last four, and at worst, will result in the invasion of Iran. As far as I’m concerned (and I believe there’s something called a Constitution that backs me up on this) this is the most important aspect of President’s job, the area where he has almost unilateral power. As a conservative, a dealer in what’s possible, this is where you should be looking when you cast your vote, because let’s be honest, nothing is going to be possible domestically with a divided congress for at least two more years.

What does Dr. Stein say on foreign policy? Let me pull out a few choice quotes. For her, the problem is not vague Middle Eastern “terrorism,” but rather, “we must protect our liberty from those who would frighten us into surrendering our freedoms in the name of security. The Green New Deal will repeal the Patriot Act and those parts of the National Defense Authorization Act that violate our civil liberties. It will prohibit the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI from conspiring with local police forces to suppress our freedoms of assembly and of speech.” A good start, right? She continues, declaring that, “Protecting our liberty requires one additional, important step. Washington and Eisenhower, both generals who became president, warned us about the military industrial complex. They warned us about the dangers of empire.” Wait; did she just cite a founding father (I thought librools hated them!) and a Republican as examples? Whaaat?

There’s no talk of Wilsonian internationalism or the Bush doctrine here, her policy position is includes “a 50% reduction in military spending and the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from the over 140 countries in which our military is now located. It calls for restoration of the National Guard as the centerpiece of our system of national defense. It creates a new round of nuclear disarmament initiatives. Overall, it requires shifting from an economy in which the majority – the majority – of our discretionary budget is spent on war and the occupation of other countries, to an economy that provides the secure, just, peaceful future we all deserve.” If you’re looking for the candidate who wants to end the American Empire, I think you’ve just found her.

I’ll be honest with you though, you could also vote for Gary Johnson for the exact same foreign policy reasons. So what else does Dr. Stein have to offer? How about something that Governor Johnson certainly doesn’t stress, the importance of community. While Dr. Stein and the Green Party certainly use the symbolism of FDR in their party platform, a closer look reveals that the use of the term “New Deal” might be a bit misleading. Rather than large-scale federal programs, Dr. Stein calls for federal money to be implemented locally. For instance, “Our Full Employment Program will directly create 16 million jobs through a community-based direct employment initiative that will be nationally funded, locally controlled, and democratically protected against conflicts of interest and pay-to-play influence peddling. The program will directly create jobs in the public and the private sector. Instead of going to an unemployment office when you can’t find work, you can simply go to the local employment office to find a public sector job.” Notice that the point is to work, not receive unlimited unemployment insurance.

The emphasis on local implementation is not incidental, she continues by saying, “This program will not be run from Washington D.C. Our job in Washington will be limited to insuring that you have a say in how this program runs. Local communities will be responsible for putting this jobs program into practice through a process of broad community input and democratic decision-making involving you, your neighbors and local government – not corrupting monied interests.” Um, isn’t that like, you know, the definition of subsidiarity? And, if you happen to be a traditionalist with an agrarian bent, you might just be a fan of the idea that some of the jobs created at the local level will be in “regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture.” Yes. Jill Stein is also the Jeffersonian candidate.  

Let’s stick to this point for a minute, because I think it is, perhaps, the strongest reason why anyone who calls himself or herself a traditionalist conservative should vote for Dr. Stein. She continues by detailing one of these subsidiarity-driven programs, the “Green Transition Program,” which “will provide grants and low-interest loans to grow green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally-based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.” Take out the name “Green Transition Program” and it sounds exactly like something a traditionalist who admires Tocqueville might vote for. The emphasis on community also carries over to transportation, where one of the publically created, community-based projects is the creation of “’complete streets’ that safely encourage bike and pedestrian traffic.” Fact: Jill Stein wants to reduce the effects of the “Mechanical Jacobin.”

As you might expect, the Green Party is also interested in the environment. Of course, there’s nothing terribly un-traditional about this stance either, after all, didn’t Burke say that, “Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”  Dr. Stein is clearly in this spirit then when she says that, “A business model that destroys our forests, our fisheries, our topsoil, our water supplies, our health, and our climate – is a business model that will inevitably collapse upon itself. And an economy that is addicted to ever-increasing supplies of oil is not only doomed, it is a national security disaster just waiting to happen.”

Finally, Dr. Stein rejects the notion that successful acquisitive individualism is a legitimate reason to hold power. She believes that, “the takeover of our economy by big banks and well-connected financiers has destabilized both our democracy and our economy. We do not need and should not tolerate the dictatorship of bankers and financiers who manipulate money without doing productive work and who enrich themselves at the expense of real businesses and real working people. It’s time to take Wall Street out of the driver’s seat and to free the truly productive segments of working America to make this economy work for all of us.” Note that this is not a call to a revolution, a takeover of the means of production by the proletariat, or a wholesale rejection of the good that capitalism brings. Rather, it is an emphasis on the dignity of both labor and ownership that has suffered at the expense of financial gamesmanship.

There are many more examples in the Green New Deal of things that traditionalists would agree with (and certainly some things they wouldn’t), but here’s the thing, there is no other candidate in this race who emphasizes the dignity and importance of the local like Jill Stein does. Sure, her candidacy will attract all the hippies and crunchy co-op people, but lets face it, traditionalists have a lot more in common with them than they’d like to admit.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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