Politics flows downstream from culture, so what’s a traditional conservative to do?

12 Dec

From Bruce Frohen:

In a previous post I argued something I believe most traditional conservatives understand in their bones: we will not “take back” our culture and way of life, or even preserve room within which to lead lives of decency and virtue, through any grand political effort to construct a national political coalition. The assumptions and very characters of too many Americans have been twisted too much for too long by our increasingly secular, individualist culture and our administrative and welfare state. Americans, as a people, no longer have sufficient character to govern themselves as citizens of a free and virtuous republic. 

What, then, is a traditional conservative to do?
 
I’ve remarked many times that the good thing about a predicament like ours, in which we have been routed for decades in every sphere, is that there is no end of choices of where to begin working for improvement. It is vitally important, however, that we begin by getting our priorities in order.

To take yet another analytic step back (a process made necessary, I think, by just how far off the proper path we as a people have stumbled), setting the right priorities requires adopting the proper perspective.
 
It would be easy for me to say, at this point, that the proper perspective is that of eternity. The human person is meant for eternity, so all that matters, finally, is the state of our souls. And it would be wrong for me to say that this is too easy an answer, for one who takes such a position as seriously as it deserves. But not all of us are called to enter a cloistered life and the rest of us must face the fact that, for both good and ill, our surroundings affect our characters. 
 
Though not of this world, we must live in this world, working in it, raising our children in it, and even worshipping in it. What is more, the permanent goods themselves—truth, beauty, and virtue, for example—exist for us in concrete objects, institutions, and practices. As one cannot know beauty save through, for example, an inspired, well-crafted work of art, one cannot know virtue save through the examples of good men and women who show their character through concrete acts of bravery, magnanimity, or charity.
 
No grand structure, no Great Society, can teach our children (or us) how to lead decent lives, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Even books and the utterly essential moral imagination they feed and inspire can do nothing to prevent formation of misshapen, abnormal characters if the reader has no living, breathing, human parents, teachers, and mentors on whose conduct to model his own. 
 
It’s not just pedagogically necessary to have face-to-face relationships, it’s absolutely necessary for us to be happy that we share our lives with other people. And we won’t be able to do this, won’t even be able to live with others in peace, unless and until we are bound together by custom and tradition. Even with strangers it is a custom (rooted, to be sure, in natural law) of respect and charity or magnanimity that prevents the war of all against all; not all cultures are or have been good about dealing with strangers. Families, churches, and other associations are all the more dependent on traditions in ordering their common lives because the relationships within them are closer and more important.

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One Response to “Politics flows downstream from culture, so what’s a traditional conservative to do?”

  1. irishsignora December 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    You’ve done a neat job of explaining why the whole concept of “hyphenated Americans” is so incredibly destructive to the culture of America. A house divided against itself cannot stand; many who claim to be Christian are discovering the same thing. Thanks for an insightful post. Peace be with you — Kelly

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