Sunday, April 21, 2024

Resisting the Reactionary Impulse

Many of us in conservative circles long for, what we envision as, those halcyon days of an American monoculture. There is, I will admit, good reason for this yearning. Robert Putnam, in The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, characterizes the time after the Gilded Age and before the 1960s liberation movement as an era of we-ness, where social cohesion was strong and civic-engagement was blossoming. 

Putnam illustrates this time with his famous inverted-U curve (otherwise known as the "I-we-I" curve):

Many of us would like nothing more than to return to the mid-20th century, when we truly had a common culture and deep love of country. 

But we must face the music: times they are a-changin'. Actually, they've already changed drastically.

Troy Olson, whom I often have disagreements with regarding "turning the clock back," conceded in a recent piece for this blog that the period of the 1950s - characterized by a dominant Christian ethos, ethic homogeneity, and the primacy of the English language - "is gone." 

Harvard University's Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Theda Skocpol, documented this reactionary impulse within the conservative movement extensively in her 2016 book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism:

When Tea Partiers talk about "their rights," they are asserting a desire to live again in the country they think they recall from childhood or young adulthood. Their anger evinces a determination to restore that remembered America, and pass it on to their children and grandchildren (whether or not they are asking for this gift). 

We must escape the past-tense and look toward a new, communitarian future. For, to think as a reactionary is to romanticize a time that cannot be resurrected. 

But, we need not lament the passage of this previous chapter in our history. What good would that do us, anyway? Plus, there was plenty bad about, say, the 1950s: racial segregation, the mistreatment of women, and overall social rigidity. 

I, of course, am not advocating for a disregard for the past - for that would fly in the face of what it really means to be a small-c conservative - but, rather, an application of what worked in the past to the recipe of the American future. This will entail the revival of organized religion, the unification and promotion of families, and, of course, a robust patriotism. 

Some of the newer ingredients should include: New Urbanist city planning (read more about that here), social media applications that can facilitate new iterations of community, and non-profit organizations that can address our epidemic of loneliness head-on. 

There is no need - or utility - in weeping over the past; the future can look much brighter.  

Saturday, April 20, 2024

On A More Perfect Civic Nationalism

The namesake of this great corner of cyberspace and I have been debating this topic in mostly agreeable fashion the last few weeks. We both agree that American life needs a civic and communitarian rebirth. It is the absence and need for civic nationalism that brings us to this issue but where we differ (or do we?) comes from whether we believe the project could be a success and how it could be a success. 

One might think my proposal for an alternative would focus intently on America's demographic makeup, especially the pre and post-1965 immigration and naturalization act which for the first time opened up America to basically everywhere in the world through the same rule of law, specifically of federal immigration law. The 1980s brought us one round of amnesty which punted the issue of illegal vs. legal immigration down the road another few decades not unlike the compromises in the 19th century did for slavery and the southern states economic dependence on that system. Slavery was both a moral issue and a practical political question of who is an American citizen? The former was solved by the bloodiest war in American history, including a slain president. The latter goes back to the founding itself and animates our politics and culture to this day.

What does it mean to be an American? Can anyone who raises their hand be an American? Right now we really have the worst of all worlds. In that people are coming over our border illegally either as economic migrants or taking advantage of our asylum system and Joe Biden's open invitation, receiving and draining resources, and worse, many of them have no intention to become Americans. Now they may stay here for some time. If the Democrats get their way, they'll all be voting one day. Yet even if that occurs they do not have intentions of becoming Americans because the animating force of the left and mainstream Democratic Party even is that America is merely an "idea" and immigration law is a poem on a statue. 

Against these odds and this scope, civic nationalism, even if aggressively pursued through the family, through education, has little chance of success.

But merely rewinding the clock back to a pre-1965 America, even though many immigration law changes can and must be made, is not feasible either as that America is gone. Instead, what may work is considering our times of crisis a "fundamental time for choosing" between two differing and ultimately incompatible visions of America. If we are led by wise and prudent people, we may just avoid the major wars of the prior crises at home and abroad. 

In this existential struggle for a 21st century United States of America we have Obama's vision of "America as an idea" that is both placeless and atomized into various identity groups around race, sexuality, and gender identity, where "our democracy" just keeps existing somehow around a vague set of slogans like "diversity is our strength" and the "rules-based", "liberal world order", or in their eyes, around a set of political ideas like the rule of law, due process, equal protection of the law, and so forth. The problem with this vision is the slogans barely exceed the impact of a hashtag trend and in the past decade Obama's party has deeply undermined all of the political ideas that people agree to make up "America." Simply put, there is no genuine effort to get new people whether they are called illegals, new arrivals, migrants, criminal aliens, or what have you to become Americans in a political sense of the word. In addition to the fact that politics is downstream from culture anyway, Obama's vision of America is simply not going to work and is already dead on arrival outside the coastal corridors of power who do not have to live with the consequences of their own ideology usually. 

What could work is admitting that America needs a common culture. Needs a monoculture. And this culture is reinforced by what largely already has taken place and takes place that works. First off, a common language. Americans speak English. That is our common language and 4 out of 5 Americans speak no other language than English. While just like with religion, accomodations are made for those who do not, our daily realities reinforce a majority American culture. The customs and norms that flow from this common culture are the basis to build a new monoculture. Obama's vision of multiculturalism doesn't fail because it's diverse and people cannot get along, broadly speaking -- people can get along and America more so than any nation has this history. Rather, his vision of multiculturalism is failing because a common American culture already did exist. 

America also does not exist just anywhere because of a set of political ideas and foundations. America was founded in a specific place, by people who shared a common language, a common religion with only denominational exceptions, and common ancestors. From that core beginning a political union was then established and that founding period was both an experiment in self-governance and also the most extremely well-thought out and deliberate attempt to form a more perfect political union in human history. In this sense, America is a miracle. However, it is also a miracle that happened at a place of peace with incredibly blessed geography and natural resources to be cultivated. The land of hope between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is some of the most fertile land of abundance and possibility on planet Earth. 

This fact should have informed American humility abroad, that while our ideas and nation are indeed exceptional, it would be difficult to merely repeat this elsewhere in other lands with greater historical burdens, inferior lands for cultivation, or areas that lack common language, ancestors, and customs. 

This is why people were so harsh when Obama was so cavalier about American exceptionalism. It was one of the few times where our nation's 44th president truly showed his cards. Another, was a "fundamental transformation" of the country that was so vague that it could be interpreted as anything from getting US troops out of Iraq and focusing on the home front or if you're a post-national progressive, you could read all of your hopes for transforming the system you do not like to your mind's imagination and heart's desire. 

Barack Obama will not be the last articulator of his vision, but he will be the last one who is successful at it. The gloves are off now, and the progressive view of the future is now utterly exposed as unworkable. 

And Donald Trump will not be the last articulator of the alternative vision, rather, I suspect he will have a Wilsonian role to play in the establishment of a new political era. And that era must build and stress a one nation cultural Americana just as much if not more than it stresses a civic nationalism. 

Next Article(s):

On Economic Nationalism and Reindustrialization 

In Defense of the 1950s 

Changing the Culture Will Mean Staking Out a New Counter-Culture First 

Troy M. Olson is an Army Veteran, lawyer by training, and co-author (with Gavin Wax) of ‘The Emerging Populist Majority’ now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. He is the Sergeant-at-Arms of the New York Young Republican Club and co-founder of the Veterans Caucus. He lives in New York City with his wife and son. You can follow him on X/Twitter, Instagram, and Substack at @TroyMOlson.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Becoming a Communitarian: A Guide of Sorts

Lately, I've been reading a lot of Amitai Etzioni, the late Israeli-American sociologist, sometimes referred to as "The Godfather of Communitarianism," and I've come to realize that he was not a man content with mere theoretical pontifications: he was a man of action. 

Often, after describing a societal problem, he will offer readers some practical prescription. While coming up with answers to deep-seated problems may seem like a daunting task, it doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try.

All of my pieces for National Review conclude with at least a few sentences of prescriptive measures that we can take to improve our current situation. None of the measures I suggest for combating loneliness - like throwing dinner parties, joining softball leagues, or talking to people in the supermarket - are particularly novel, but they sure can't hurt. 

For a few months now, I've considered compiling a short, comprehensive list of communitarian acts that we can all employ in our daily lives. This is, by no means, a complete how-to guide, but rather, a simple blueprint for conducting yourself in a more communitarian way. While I've been putting these ideas into practice in my own life, I thought I'd share these tips and tricks with anyone interested in reading. Amitai Etzioni in his 1999 book The Limits of Privacy writes, "...we are not merely rights-bearing individuals but also community members who are responsible for each other." We ought to listen to Etzioni... 

Here are seven tips for becoming a communitarian:

1. Always hold the door for people. This is an easy one. There is never an excuse not to hold the door for someone, especially if they are carrying groceries or some other heavy objects. This applies even if the person in question is far away. When opening a door, you should always look behind you and see if there is anyone coming. This simple action can make someone's day. 

2. Acknowledge customer service workers.  Again, this shouldn't be a tall order, but unfortunately it is. I've worked as a barista, making coffee all over the city for years, and I can tell you: people can be cruel. Perhaps the worst form of cruelty is indifference or apathy. When you greet a customer, and they say nothing in response, it makes you feel utterly invisible. The people who bag your groceries at a supermarket or bus your table at a restaurant deserve to be seen. Always make it a point to greet and thank them. They matter too. 

3. Listen without inserting yourself. I've heard David Brooks articulate this point before. Often times when a friend is grieving or telling you about a problem they are experiencing, we find it useful to, in turn, respond by offering them our own personal anecdotes. This is a rational response. We are attempting to relate to them by, in effect, saying, "you are not alone." This approach, while seemingly innocuous, is actually quite selfish and me-centric. We should, instead, just listen. If a friend's cat died and she is mourning, don't tell her about the time your cat died; just listen and be with them.  

4. Avoid saying "no problem." This one might strike you as odd, but I am totally adamant about this: when someone asks you for a favor and you reply with, "no problem," you are, in effect, insinuating that there might have been a problem. Or, at the very least, you are implanting the idea of a problem into their head. Instead, you should reply with, "my pleasure." I would highly recommend reading Micah Solomon's article on this. 

5. Send the elevator back down. My dad repeats this one ad nauseam. If you take the elevator up to the tenth floor, you should make it a habit to send it back down to the first floor as you get off. This is a small deed, but a thoughtful one. 

6. Shame your friends for littering. We ought to take pride in our communities. There should, therefore, be zero tolerance for littering. Most littering, I would wager, is not deliberate. Your friend, for example, may go to toss an empty bottle of water into a garbage can, only for it to miss and land in the street. Indifferent, your friend may just keep on walking. Don't let them. Tell them to go back and pick it up. Try not to sound too sanctimonious when doing this, though. 

7. Always answer your phone. We've become accustomed to texting our friends, "can I call you later?" when we can't answer the phone. This deprives the caller of your human voice, an important part of social connection. Instead, pick up the phone and tell your buddy that you'll call him back later. I've blogged about this before here.   

I encourage readers to send me your tips for living like a communitarian. I'd love to read them!