The idea that Trump’s ascendancy has made conservatism a ‘counter-culture’ has been put forward by several right-leaning persons I admire immensely. It was coined by Martina Markota last July, though Gavin McInnes has been playing with the theme since 2012. A few days after a conversation with Markota, Info Wars’ Paul Joseph Watson picked it up. And now it has its first Australian exponent: our own Daisy Cousens.
The concept completely baffles me. To my mind, ‘counter-cultural’ is the very last thing conservatism can be. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think conservatism means fidelity to mainstream values, traditional institutions, and the natural order. It’s about preserving Western culture, not creating a new one.
Anyway, do we really even want to be counter-cultural? Do we want to validate the Left’s vacuous notion that being ‘cool’ or ‘punk’ is the chief aim in politics? Do we want to resign ourselves to being – in the words of Dominic Perrottet – ‘nothing more than the speed bump on the Left’s eventual road to victory’ by lending credence to their perverse value system?
Maybe that’s just semantics. Yet it seems like the folks who talk about a conservative counter-culture are, without fail, talking about something that bears as much resemblance to conservatism as New South Wales does to old south Wales.
Take Daisy’s piece. Where she does recommend specific tenets of Millennial conservatism, they tend to be a mixed bag. There’s opposition to political correctness (yes), freedom of speech (yes), social libertarianism (no), eschewing identity politics (no) opposition to third-wave feminism (yes), and love of capitalism (no).
Let’s qualify those three no’s.
First of all, conservatives don’t eschew identity politics. We just don’t think our political identity should be as fragmentary as the Left does. It used to be that we had a very firm corporate identity indeed: Aussies understood themselves to be integrally apart of a locality, a nation, the Anglosphere, and the Christian West more generally.
We felt like one people, one large extended family. That gave our societies a common moral and cultural framework. Our politics were far less divisive because our values were largely the same. Even if those values were somewhat generic, they had a real impact on our everyday lives. We understood the deep-seated spiritual need for beauty, compassion, and order.
This mutual identification also made us feel more at home in our cities and towns, so our chief consideration in architecture was aesthetic. We decked our shared habitation with objects of personal significance that were lovely to the eye; hence the striking beauty and local character of old buildings. But it wasn’t just our artificial habitations: being so firmly grounded in our little corner of the world, we took great pains to preserve its natural beauty, too.
We had shared rules that regulated public behaviour, namely manners. And we obeyed them, because we felt more accountable to our countrymen, which made our society more civil.
We were more conscious of the way we dressed, too. Looking smart and presentable didn’t require a special occasion. It was the least we could do to show respect to our friends and neighbours. It was also of great personal significance: our neckties and dresses were the uniform of the civilised man. Covering our nakedness is a human instinct; but we made an art of this necessity, to show that we’re greater than the mere beasts that came before us. Beauty, and a beauty unique to our time and place was at the centre of our lives together.
Regardless of our individual beliefs, our language was laden with Cranmerian English – shot through with the lilting grace of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible. So even our speech was richer, lovelier, and more assonant.
Perhaps most importantly, our economies were more localised. We bought our furniture from local artisans – hearty, independent masters of their craft. We spent more for what we had, true. But our goods weren’t only more durable; they were also infused with that beauty and local character that decked our cities and towns. We spent more money on less stuff, but what we did buy is invaluable today. And when we bought them, we knew we were helping our neighbour earn an honest living and feed his family. That, too, brought our communities closer together: we were raised alongside the men and women we’d someday rely on for our livelihood, and who would rely on us.
What changed? Well, that brings us to the second point: conservatives don’t love capitalism. To quote Sir Roger, ‘To be a conservative is to be, at best, a reluctant capitalist.’ Or, elsewhere: ‘we should say of the market what Churchill said of democracy: a very bad system, but the alternatives are worse.’
Conservatives naturally recognise that no practical alternative to free-market capitalism is forthcoming. But people who ‘love capitalism’ destroyed our identity. They taught us to think of ourselves as individuals – atomised, dislocated, deracinated, serving only our immediate wants and needs. They extolled greed and called it ‘rational self-interest’. Our culture of beauty, compassion, and order was replaced by one of rank consumerism.
So our civil society collapsed, and our manners atrophied. Our buildings slowly took on the grey, drab pallor of utility. We thought nothing of destroying the Earth – God’s most precious gift to mankind – in order to make squillions of posters for Miley Cyrus’s latest striptease. We stopped regarding our neighbours enough to dress well for them, and came to the conclusion that personal refinement wasn’t worth the effort or the expense; it had no resale value whatsoever. Our speech was reduced to a series of inarticulate grunts – just enough to order a Big Mac and buy shares in Microsoft.
Worst of all, we allowed our economy to globalise. We patronised corporate multinationals instead of artisans, which made our goods cheap and disposable and generic. We don’t know personally who builds our tables and chairs, so we don’t care if they slave away fourteen hours a day, seven days a week in sweatshops for ten cents an hour. Marriage, too, became contractual – hence the absurd and ahistorical notions of no-fault divorce and same-sex unions. Even sex itself became a consumer product, leading to the explosion of prostitution and pornography, and the deadening of our capacity for real intimacy.
Capitalism, left to its own devices, made our days easier but robbed them of purpose. It told us that virtue is vice, and true virtue isn’t worth the extra sixpence. We no longer live – we subside.
And now we come to the third point. The nihilism that unleashed this cancer, initiating the slow decay of our civil society, is called social libertarianism.
This is why the departure of ‘Millennial conservatism’ – the school of Yiannopoulos, Watson, Cousens, and others – from traditional conservatism isn’t merely semantic. What they espouse is really just the progressivism of the nineties, a kind of ill-mannered Keatingism. The victim-crazed, state-suckling, trigger-warning Leftism of the Millennial majority is a response to the moral and cultural vacuum created by their ideological forebears. So is ‘white jihadism’, for that matter. These are all gravely wrong-headed solutions to the same existential crisis: our lack of identity. Our lack of community. Our lack of purpose.
The solution to Millennials’ woes (I should mention: I’m twenty-three) isn’t to mock and humiliate those searching for a new identity. It’s to help them rebuild our true identity – our identity as the Christian West. It’s to show them that they don’t need to create new communities based on their gender or race or sexuality because a far greater and far deeper sense of community can be fostered through a return to tradition. They need a purpose other than to consume and provoke. We’re built for greater things: beauty, compassion, order, love, intimacy, sacrifice.
I don’t say this to be nasty, but ‘Millennial conservatism’ is precisely what Dominic Perrottet means by those on the Right who resign themselves to being ‘nothing more than the speed bump on the Left’s eventual road to victory’. They’re not offering a solution to young people: they’re perpetuating – even relishing in – their suffering and confusion. They’re spurring on the decline, not reversing it or even halting it.
Still, I’m optimistic. Western youth is slowly awakening to the truth of classical conservatism. They’re going back to church, embracing monogamy, shelling out for locally-sourced goods, volunteering for charity, refurbishing old homes, and rediscovering the art of dressing well. They’re rejecting our culture of rank consumerism and embracing one of faith, virtue, and beauty.
And we should hardly be surprised. What alternative do we have? What alternative have we ever had?
Daisy’s quite right: ‘Generation Z, young people born after the year 2000, are projected to be the most conservative generation since World War II.’ But they won’t be ‘conservative’ in the way she thinks. They’ll rediscover the truths set out by the greatest of our forebears: Richard Hooker, Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Peter Hitchens, and all those great partisans of the Christian West. They may never crack the spine of any of their books, but the truth set down in them is inescapable. It arises from millennia of man’s struggle to wring meaning out of this world we’re forced to share, which is sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible, but always far too mysterious for any one man to chart alone. ‘Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants,’ Kirk told us, ‘able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.’
I’ll only say this in closing, Daisy: there are more of us than you think. Young Traditionalists are rising, and we won’t go clad in MAGA hats and band t-shirts. Our armies are ‘decked with majesty and excellency, arrayed with glory and beauty.’ The West is ours. It’s our inheritance. And we’ll reclaim it for you, too.
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