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.  

1 comment:

  1. “Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it..”: This means learning from past experience, not the resurrection of past mistakes. When we, today, are oblivious to the, as Russell Kirk coined, “permanent things”, we become a society without a purpose.. Things like family, country, and God.