Dancing in the Ruins

Dancing in the Ruins June 26, 2019

I haven’t read it, but I love the title of this book.  If some schoolboy were to ask, “Is that really true?” we could easily reply: Look around.  Nothing will quite ever be the same now that Pandora’s Box has been opened.  A huge mirror was held up to the face of America on November 8, 2016, and even putting aside the popular vote, the image staring back at us was still quite ugly.

Some thought liberalism, or the left, died that day.  Not so.  The first casualty was traditional conservatism and the moderate right.  That world is gone now.  Trump saw to that.  Perhaps reality hasn’t caught up with some traditional conservatives yet, but it will.  The pre-Trump conservatives, those like George Will and Bill Kristol, have either fled the Republican Party, Trump and anything affiliated with him, or both—and rightly so.

One confirmation of this death is noted here—an essay published in First Things. I read this “Against” and thought: Here is what it means to throw in with Trump and his ilk.  Here is what it means to say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  This essay is really an admission of defeat, no matter the misplaced confidence and tone of the raised fist.  For these writers/signers, now, it really is all about power.

Before focusing on their most egregious affirmations, let me address what they claim is their true foe which are aspects of the liberal order/democracy or classical liberalism.  First, from Alasdair MacIntyre to John Milbank, to many other voices, there have been plenty of axes laid to the tree of classical liberalism.  However, one can be against many aspects of liberalism and the secular understood as autonomous—one could be against the entire thing—without aligning one’s self with the affirmations I will now address.

“Yes, the old conservative consensus paid lip service to traditional values. But it failed to retard, much less reverse, the eclipse of permanent truths, family stability, communal solidarity, and much else. It surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness. It too often bowed to a poisonous and censorious multiculturalism.”

Right, and elections, the hypocrisy of conservative religion and the right, unbridled capitalism, technological changes, media in general, current social media, and a host of other factors had nothing to do with those changes.  Sure.  And, multiculturalism is “poisonous?”  Seriously?  I guess these writers/signers will find heaven a hell then and must think very little of their Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

And what would these writers/signers propose—how would they “retard” or “reverse” these tides?  By throwing in with a buffoon like Trump?  No one has done more for the “eclipse” of any type of truth, in our current moment, than Trump.  Please don’t give the nod toward a pathological liar, and then tell us you care about “permanent truths” or that you could “retard” anything.

“In recent years, some have argued for immigration by saying that working-class Americans are less hard-working, less fertile, in some sense less worthy than potential immigrants. We oppose attempts to displace American citizens. Advancing the common good requires standing with, rather than abandoning, our countrymen. They are our fellow citizens, not interchangeable economic units. And as Americans we owe each other a distinct allegiance and must put each other first.”

Unless I missed all the young, white people lining up for jobs working in the fields, agriculture in general, dish washing, cleaning hotel rooms, mowing lawns, and many other low-paying difficult jobs, then there is a point to who is willing to do what.  As far as abandoning American workers, one can agree there is much to do in that regard, but what do these writers/signers propose beyond scapegoating?  Again, one can be against an unfettered free-market and corporate capitalism, without this appeal to nationalism, tribalism, and the “othering” of immigrants.  Such is the seed bed of fascism and racism.

“We believe home matters.”

Ah, yes, the “fatherland.”  Is this a Christian essay or one of the secular political right?  Christians are not looking for a city in this world, but a City still to come.  Home matters, but this world in the sense of political states, ethnicity, or borders, is not our home.  Our home is with the Christian in any country.  Further, our allegiance is to Christ as King, and the Church as His body, in the whole world.  Such is our home and it supersedes any home defined solely by birth, ethnicity, border, or citizenship.

Instead of worrying about “home” those responsible for this essay might want to decipher the real question they are asking: “And who is my neighbor?”  Here’s a suggestion: Crack open a Bible.  The self-unawareness, historical ignorance, and shallow theology evident in this work is rather startling for a publication like First Things.

“…We embrace the new nationalism insofar as it stands against the utopian ideal of a borderless world that, in practice, leads to universal tyranny.”

No nationalism, whether “new” or old can be embraced by a Christian, “insofar” as, well, nothing.  All nationalism is idol worship.  A respect and fondness for one’s neighbors, history, and the best a nation has to offer, whether one’s own, or another’s, is all well and fine.  A peaceful, respectful, and humble patriotism born out of a love of neighbor is fine.  Nationalism however is none of those things and hardly patriotism; it is the scaffolding necessary for the building of yet another idol and empire.

“Whatever else might be said about it, the Trump phenomenon has opened up space in which to pose these questions anew. We will guard that space jealously.”

Oh, there is much that can be said about it.  It has opened up a space for a disgraceful resurgence of racism, sexism, misplaced anger, pettiness, smallness, ignorance, and cruelty on a national level.  It has opened up a space for a crude, embarrassing, and parochial populism that is anti-intellectual, ethically challenged, and something that appeals only to very worst angels of our nature.

Jealously or not, what these writers/signers guard is the out-house of some of history’s worst political ideas.  Ideas, furthermore, that for all the appeal to “tradition” are thoroughly modern.  If they can stand the stench, go ahead and keep guarding.  They can have it.

Their essay reflects, not timeless truths, but the attempt to make respectable the type sentiments we might expect would arise from a crowd of angry drunks.  Caught up in events beyond their understanding, like tumble weeds blown by ill winds, they roll across our present landscape.  That’s what happens when something, like the noted essay, has no weight or gravity.  So much for, first things.  More like, small things.

And thus, with a morally and intellectually challenged oaf as their de-facto national leader, the modern, pre-Trump, conservative movement in America is dead.  Those conservatives with any principles and decency have left the Republican Party, or, at the least, any “conservatism” associated with it.  Those who remain, like these writers/signers, are merely dancing in the ruins.

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