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The Conservative Disadvantage
We are hobbled by our insight that the the political does not exhaust the real.
We American conservatives are at a certain disadvantage as compared to our leftist brethren. We don’t seek the meaning of our lives in the political sphere but in the private arena: in hobbies, sports, our jobs and professions, in ourselves, our families, friends, neighborhoods, communities, clubs and churches; in foot races and chess tournaments; in the particular pleasures of the quotidian round in all of their scandalous particularity. We celebrate the institutions of civil society that serve as a buffer between the naked individual and Leviathan. We are positioned midway between the individualism of the libertarians and the totalitarianism of both left and right. Our conservatism is tempered by classical liberalism while the latter is kept from the extremes of libertarianism and radical autonomy by our conservatism.
We don't look to politics for meaning. Or rather, we do not seek any transcendent meaning in the political sphere. We either deny that there is such a thing as transcendent meaning, or we seek it in religion, or in philosophy, or in such spiritual exercises as meditation. And those conservatives who seek meaning from religion will not seek it in history. An atheist conservative who denies that there is ‘pie in the sky’ will certainly not seek ‘pie in the future.’ No immanentization of the eschaton for him. He will not, like the leftist, look to a human future for redemption. He understands human nature, its real possibilities, and its real limits. He is impervious to utopian illusions. He does not ‘imagine’ in the mindless manner of a John Lennon. Nor does he confuse empty imaginings with real possibilities as Kamala Harris did recently. Her imaginings are as vacuous as Lennon’s. The conservative accepts no ersatz soteriology. And precisely because he understands human nature and the human heart, the typical atheist conservative will respect religion and the good that it has done, a good obviously not unmixed with evil. Respect for religion among nonreligious conservatives is due in large part to the fact that conservatism for the conservative is not itself a religion or a substitute for a religion. The leftist, by contrast is virulently against religion because leftism is an ideology that sees religion as a competing ideology.
A conservative could never write a book with the title, The Politics of Meaning. Politics for an American conservative committed to a constitutionally-based limited government is more like garbage collecting or sewage disposal: it is a dirty job; somebody has to do; it would be better if nobody had to do it; angels have no need of sewers; and we should all lend a hand in getting the dirty jobs done. But there is little by way of meaning, immanent or transcendent, in garbage collecting and sewage disposal: these are things one gets out of the way so that meaningful activities can first begin.
I’m exaggerating a bit. To write is to exaggerate, as a Frenchman might put it, which amounts to a meta-exaggeration. But I’m exaggerating to make a serious point. We conservatives don’t look for meaning in all the wrong places. And because we don’t, we are at a certain disadvantage. We cannot bring the full measure of our energy and commitment to the political struggle. We don't even use the word 'struggle.' We are not totally committed to defeating the totally committed totalitarians who would defeat us.
But now we need to become active. Not in the manner of the leftist who seeks meaning in activism for its own sake, but to defend ourselves and our values so that we can protect the private sphere from the Left's totalitarian encroachment. The conservative values of liberty and self-reliance and fiscal responsibility are under massive assault, and have been for some time by increasingly leftist administrations. The Democrat Party in the USA is now a hard left party. So if you value your life and liberty, you are well advised to inform yourself and take appropriate action.
So get off your conservative duff and vote! It matters. We must divest 'conservative activist' of its oxymoronic ring. There is too much at stake.