What is to be done?
Dr. Thomas Fleming, the magisterial editor of Chronicles for many years and one of the most perceptive commentators of our day, will occasionally share an essay with us, generously taken from his subscription website www.fleming.foundation.
A young reader from Scandinavia came to see me a month ago in order to talk strategy. Since then he has had a few meetings with conservative organizers and plied me with questions about tactics. In particular he wondered how we might make use of emerging "stars" in the media and social media. Here is the response (amplified a bit) I sent him.
I have taken some time to answer your queries, because I believe you have started at the wrong end. That is a very conservative habit, unfortunately. Conservative activists begin with the premise that we need to elect conservatives and then hope they will carry out the mandate they have been given by their supporters. This overlooks what used to be known as Stan Evans Law. Stan's law was essentially an observation, put in the form of a question: Why is it, whenever one of our people gets in a position to do any good, he becomes one of their people?
You make several good tactical suggestions, which could be quite practical if they were implemented, but, before devising a set of tactics, one has to have a strategy in mind, and before one can devise a strategy, there must be an objective or set of objectives that determine our course, and, before establishing objectives, one first has to have a set of principles which make the objectives not only desirable but worth the effort to attain them. When conservatives take the opposite approach—devising tactics before they have clarified their principles—they are doomed to reenact the old nursery rhyme, said to have been a summation of Bosworth Field: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of the rider, the battle was lost— all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
To take an analogy, suppose we were getting in a boat with the vague objective of going somewhere to have a good time. We'd have to know what kind of good time we wanted to have. Fishing? Relaxing at the beach? Visiting historical monuments and soaking up 'culture'? If this last, then which culture do we wish to absorb? Let us say South Italian Catholic culture, infused with ancient classical civilization. We might, then, head for Siracusa (Sicily) and then begin plotting our course, deciding on how big a boat, what provisions to take, what sort of crew we'd need. Could we communicate with the natives, if we did not speak Italian? Could we appreciate the monuments if we were ignorant of Greek religion and architecture?
If we were typical conservatives, we'd just get in the boat, cast off, and wonder why we got stuck in the Bermuda Triangle.
Briefly, what are the objectives in organizing a conservative political movement? Is the goal to re-establish a movement that would lead to a political victory that would accomplish more than the Reagan-Bush administrations did in their 12 year reign? Or is it something else? And if it is a right-wing victory, in whose interest and for what motives would that be desirable? To answer that, one would have to be clear about what is wrong with the leftist regime and why, because only then it would be possible to to design a plan of attack.
By and large Anglo-American and North-European conservative parties and movements have pursued a two-track strategy: Their first and most urgent objective is to halt or at least slow the apparently inexorable leftist advance, at least on key fronts such as the growth in the size and scope of government. The second is to work toward restoration of some imagined happy time in the past—generally speaking, this is usually the world of one’s childhood or early adulthood. When I was working with conservatives, they always seemed to hanker after the Eisenhower years. Now, most of their pious wishes are prefaced with, “When Ronald Reagan was President…..”
The flaws in such strategies are pretty obvious. Most obvious is that they are rooted only in nostalgia or folklore, not in the realities of power or the realities of human nature. This preference for nostalgia over principle helps to explain the second much greater flaw: Conservative strategies simply don’t work. They never have, they never will.
The so-called Right never knows what it wants. The Left, by contrast, almost always knows what it wants: Continuing success in eliminating human distinctions and in obliterating the past. Naturally, this requires a never-ending pursuit and increase of the power of the state over its victims. Even high school English teachers and Midwestern Democratic state legislators are dimly aware of this, and, while two years ago, they might have supported same-sex marriage and opposed transgender rights, they are now on board with the transgender movement and will soon be championing the equal rights of all mammals.
A century ago, G.K. Chesterton traced our future in the little essay on prophecy he used as preface to The Napoleon of Notting Hill?
“Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed ("shedding," as he called it finely, "the green blood of the silent animals"), and predicted that men in a better age would l live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called "Why should Salt suffer?" and there was more trouble.
If it is not the rights of pets and Maryland crabs, it will be something else equally preposterous that stimulate the pop culture sensibilities of the over-schooled and undereducated American ruling class. It really doesn't matter which fantasy they are advancing. Government party leftists are like the Epicureans, who argued that it does not matter which scientific explanations of natural phenomena are correct, because what matters is to reject supernatural explanations and eliminate religion. On the leftist agenda, neither truth nor justice is ever really at issue but their own increase of power over their increasingly helpless victims that pay their salaries, buy their newspapers, watch their movies, and listen to their “music.”
So, when asked about tactics, I say: We must begin with strategy, and any real ‘conservative’ strategy will include the following elements:
1) A serious anthropology, that is, an understanding of human nature and its potential. Marxism failed because they shut their eyes to the universality of private property and hierarchies rooted in status. Democratism in its modern form especially fails because democrats, capitalists, liberals, and libertarians all misunderstand man’s social nature and fail to acknowledge the realities of power. Machiavelli is an excellent corrective.
2) A serious historical grasp of revolutionary history that does not fall back on cliches about 1960’s radicals or Communists.
3) A hierarchy of priorities—social, ethical, economic. To draw up such a hierarchy, one has to keep in mind both what is most important—these days that would seem to be the need to distinguish humanity from other forms of life—and what can be actually accomplished. For example, the welfare state is a blight on Western societies but its elimination may not be practicable until other objectives can be attained, such as the marginalization of non-contributing and hostile elements of society—for example, the aliens who consume vast resources and serve as a voting block in support of the Left.
Until we are clear about these elements, any talk of rolling back the revolution is useless. There are no historical analogies that will serve us in our current misery, because conservative tactics in the past have always failed. As I used to tell people until they were sick of hearing it: When Jimmie Carter was President, any talk of homosexual rights was ridiculed even by most Democrats. By the time George H.W. Bush was leaving office, it was acknowledged by both parties that homosexuals were possessed of distinctive rights not possessed by normal people.
On all the most important fronts, those twelve years were a far worse disaster for the American people than any other comparable period of time. Yes, the growth of government spending was temporarily slowed--big deal!--and the Soviet Empire finally collapsed. In citing these “facts,” Reagan’s apologists fail to acknowledge an obvious bit of reality: The Bolsheviks, as evil and crazy as they were, were far less evil and crazy than the current leadership of both major parties in the United States. That is why Stalin's heir is now idolized by so many American conservatives. Sure, Putin is a crook and a murderer and a tyrant, but he, unlike the Clintons, McCains, and Grahams, is not an enemy of normal humanity.
That is a measure of how far we’ve come—and how fast we have arrived to a position in which we may say, as Tacitus observed of his own age, “the remedies are worse than the disease.”
Note: This piece was originally published on The Fleming Foundation website on August 23, 2018.
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Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina.