Now, after what may have been a racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo (May 14) by a deranged young man, new insistent calls go out for the government to fight white nationalism and right wing domestic terrorism. Attorney General Merrick Garland has already signaled more than once that this is the nations major challengenot the illegal drugs epidemic, not the rampant criminality tearing our cities apart, not the huge spike in gang violence, not the literally millions of illegals coming across our borders; no, not any of these, but homegrown extremism coming from disaffected, white segments of the American population.
In addition to new surveillance and potential censorship measures, such as the Disinformation Governance Board, and additional government intrusion into the lives of American citizens, also come the now- accustomed demands from various anguished personalities, political and otherwise, with pained expressions on their faces, pleading for national unity. Cant we all get along, they mumble, echoing words uttered decades ago by Rodney King. (Remember him from the violence in the streets of Los Angeles?).
But such desired unity is always one-sided, meaning that we must discard our beliefs, our principles, and accept the latest agenda item, the latest conquest advanced by the post-Marxist Left. Far too many so- called conservatives in positions of leadership in America have embraced this elastic strategy, of first opposing something (e.g. same sex marriage), then almost abruptly reversing course, even showcasing their about-face, while defending it as completely consistent with conservative principles.
Then, whether from pundits at Fox News or from the Rich Lowry and Kevin Williamson types at National Review, we are instructed to follow suit, to unite around a refashioned definition of conservatism which always seems to tag along just a few steps behind the worst outrages of the radical Left.
The great Southern author, Robert Lewis Dabney, writing a decade after the end of the War Between the States (1875), expressed presciently this tendency of dominant, post-war Northern conservatism:
This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.
Thus, a Robert E. Lee and a Stonewall Jackson were only a few years ago honored not just by conservatives but nationally, but now lightweight Neoconservative historians like Allen Guelzo dictate for us positions scarcely indistinguishable from views current on the extreme Left. And Fox News personalities like Bret Baier and Brian Kilmeade do their damnedest in unserious, ghostwritten potboilers to publicize the greatness and sublime conservative vision of figures such as Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass, and Abe Lincoln.
We are told that we must discard what once we believed were fundamental principles, that we must unite around the evolving definition of conservatism.
But what are those beliefs around which we should unify? If what was once posited as fundamental truth can simply be discarded, tossed on the ash heap, or ignored, where does that leave us in the immense culture war that we have been losing now for more than half a century?
The strategy of the present-day conservative movement almost exactly parallels the observation made by Dabney nearly 150 years ago. It has failed abysmally, and, in fact, its most significant achievement is to lead well-meaning citizens away from genuine and effective opposition to the rot which threatens to engulf us.
On the contrary, my mentor the late Dr. Russell Kirk, who in many ways was the father of an older conservatism (back in the 1950s), stated what should and must be our essential credo: We hold a series of immutable beliefs as fundamental, and those principles and that vision are necessary for a just society. Those beliefs and principles come to us as a precious legacy from our ancestors and from our Western Christian traditions.
And as a necessary corollary: there can be no real agreement, no real unity with those who openly and forcefully reject that foundation and those essential principles as poisoned by racism, sexism, homophobia, and white privilege, not to mention hints of fascism and other not- so-pleasant isms.
Lets consider some history.
The old American republic was formed through a kind of understood compromise between the colonies; the Authors of our constitutional system fully comprehended that there were diverse elements and interests that must be balanced to make the new nation at all workable. But in 1787 there was essential agreement on fundamentals that a seemingly miraculous result was possible. Yet, those far-sighted men also feared what might happen should that which they created be perverted or turned from its original propositions.
The central Federal government was counter-balanced and limited by newly and fiercely independent states which jealously guarded a large portion of their own sovereignty. Voting was universally restricted to those considered most qualified to exercise the franchise. Universal suffrage was considered by the near totality of the Fathers of our Constitution to be a sure means of destroying the young republic: absolute democracy and across-the-board egalitarian views were considered fatal for the future of the country. Such views were sidelined to the periphery, without practical voice in the running of the commonwealth.
Above all the American republic was, in all but name, a Christian republic. Certainly, the basic documents of our founding did not formally state as much. There was no formal national religious establishment, as existed in almost all European countries. Yet, despite that lack of national confessionality, the new nation, while demanding freedom for religious expression, professed de facto the Christian faith as a kind of understood basis of the new nation. As is often pointed out, almost immediately after adopting the Bill of Rights in 1791 (authored, ironically, by slaveholder James Madison), including the freedom of religion First Amendment, Congress provided for paid Christian chaplains in the new Northwest Territories. Even more confirming is the fact that nearly every one of the original thirteen colonies/new states had a religious establishment or religious test of some sort on the state level, and those establishments were left completely untouched by the First Amendment, which was understood to mean only the formal establishment of a national supported state church.
Above all, there existed amongst the new Americans the ability to converse and communicate with each other, using the same language, and employing the same symbols and imagery that had brought them together originally as a country. Appeals to traditional English law and the historic rights of Englishmen, the belief in a God of the Old and New Testaments whose prescriptions found in Holy Writ informed both the laws of the state and the understanding of justice and virtue, and an implicit, if not explicit, agreement that there were certain limits of thought and action beyond which one could not go without endangering the republican experiment, formed a kind of accepted public orthodoxy.
That modus vivendithat ability to get along and agree on most essentialscontinued, sometimes fitfully, until 1861. The bloody War Between the States that erupted that year might have been avoided if the warnings of the Authors of the Constitution had been heeded, if the Federal executive in 1861 had understood the original intentions of 1787 and the precarious structural balance that the Philadelphia Convention had erected. But that was not the case, and four years of brutal war followed, with over half a million dead and thousands more maimed, and, most tragically, that essential via media between an increasingly powerful central government and the rights of the states and of communities, and eventually, of persons, distorted and perverted.
The resulting trajectory towards centralization, the growth of a powerful Federal government, has continued nearly unabated for 150 years. With it and with the gradual destruction of not just the rights of the states, but also of communities and persons, came the institutionalization of a large and mostly unseen permanent bureaucracy, a managerial and political class, that took upon itself the role of actually ruling and running the nation. James Burnham and the late Samuel Francis have written profoundly on this creation of a managerial state within the state. Indeed, in more recent days we have come to label this establishment the Deep State.
Concurrent with this transformation governmentally and politically, our society and our culture have equally been transformed. It is certainly arguable that the defeat of the Confederate states in 1865, that is, the removal of what was essentially a conservative and countervailing element in American polity, enabled the nearly inevitable advance of a more liberal vision of the nation. At base, it was above all the acceptance by post-war Americans of nearly all persuasions of the Idea of Progress, the vision that thingsevents, developments in thought and in the sciences and in culture, as well in governingwere inevitably moving towards a bright new future. It was not so much to the past we would now look, but to the new which always lay ahead of us. And that future was based squarely on the idea of an enlightenment that always seemed to move to the political and cultural Left.
While loudly professing and pushing for more openness and more freedom, liberation from the straight jacket of traditional religion and religious taboos, and propounding equality in practically every field of public and private endeavor, ironically, the underlying effect and result of this progress has brought with it, in reality, a severe curtailment of not just many of our personal liberties, but of the guaranteed rights once considered sacrosanct under our old Constitution.
This long term, concerted movement, and eventual triumph of nineteenth liberalism and twentieth century progressivism, politically, culturally, and in our churches, not only placed into doubt those essential and agreed-upon foundations that permitted the country to exist in some form of unity, but also enabled the growth of ideologies and belief systems that, at base, rejected those very foundations, the fragile creed, of that origination.
In one of the amazing turnarounds in history, the fall of Soviet Communism in 1991hollowed out and decaying after years of boasting that it would bury the Westwitnessed almost concurrently the exponential growth and flourishing of an even more insidious and seductive version of post-Marxism in the old Christian West, in Europe and the United States. A century of the ravages and termite-like devastation by liberalism and progressivist ideology had debilitated the foundations and the required willto resist the attractions of a cultural Marxism that eventually pervaded our culture, our education, our entertainment industry, and our religious thought. Older and gravely weakened inherited standards and once-revered benchmarks of right and wrong, of justice, of rights and duties, were replaced by what the Germans call a gestalt, or a kind of settled overarching Marxist view of society and culture which had no room for opposing views. Dr. Paul Gottfried has written extensively on this phenomenon.
That dogmatic vision now pervades our colleges and public education; it almost totally dominates Hollywood; it controls the Democratic Party and huge swathes of the Republican Party; it speaks with ecclesiastical authority through the heresiarchs who govern most of our churches; and, most critically, it provides a linguistic templatean approved language that must be accepted and employed, lest the offender be charged with hate speech or hate thought. Its goalsthe imposition of a phony democracy not just in the United States but across the face of the globe the legislation of an across-the-board equality which is reminiscent of the kind of equality the pigs in Orwells Animal Farm legislatedthe perpetuation of a largely unseen, unanswerable, unstoppable managerial and political class, secure in its power and omnipotencethe proclamation of the United States (and Europe) as an open nation with no physical bordershave been and are being realized.
It is this overlay, this suffocating ideological blanket, with its dogmas of multicultural political correctness, its anathematization of perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, and other characterized forms of bigotry as unforgivable sins, that now has assumed near total dominance in our society. The older forms of liberalism were incapable of offering effective opposition, for cultural Marxism utilized liberalisms arguments to essentially undo it, and eventually, absorb it.
Yet, there are still millions of Americansand Europeanswho have been left behind, not yet swept up in that supposedly ineluctable movement to the Left. They are variously labeled the deplorables, or perhaps if they do not share completely the reigning presumptions of the Mainstream Media and academia, they are bigots or yahoos, uninformed rednecks, and, increasingly, maybe white nationalists, or worse. The prevailing utter condescension and contempt for them by the established Deep State would make the most severe witch-burner of the 17th century envious.
So I ask: we are asked to unify around what? Unite with whom? On what basis and on what set of fundamental principles? Can there be unity with those who wish our extinction and replacement, or with those who urge us to surrender our beliefs?
Frankly, such unity is neither possible nor desirable
unless millions have a road to Damascus conversion, or some major conflagration occurs to radically change hearts and minds.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.